Held together by the grace of God, coffee, and crazy glue
Barb Szyszkiewicz is a wife, mom, Secular Franciscan and freelance writer and serves as Editor for CatholicMom.com. Mom to three young adults, she enjoys writing, cooking, and reading. Barb is a music minister at her parish. She is also an avid Notre Dame football and basketball fan. Barb blogs at FranciscanMom.com and shares her family’s favorite recipes with nutrition information for diabetics at www.Cook and Count.wordpress.com.
If you’ve ever found it a bit puzzling to listen to Advent readings at Mass and hear so much about the Four Last Things (death, judgment, hell, and heaven), Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP’s latest devotional is for you. Memento Mori: An Advent Companion on the Last Things is based on the daily Mass readings for Advent (the Gospel is included, and you can find the rest on the USCCB website or look up in your Bible as you go along; references are provided). Each day’s entry contains a meditation on the daily readings, inspiration from a saint, and questions for journaling and prayer. Space for journaling is not provided each day, so you’ll need a separate journal or notebook for that.
A few years ago, Sr. Theresa Aletheia began a devotional practice that used to be fairly commonplace, but is much less so in the 21st century: she put a skull on her desk. Every day, she tweeted a spiritual observation about the Last Things — observations that resulted from this practice, using the hashtag #mementomori. This turned out to be so popular on social media that Pauline Books & Media published several devotionals and journals by Sr. Theresa Aletheia. Her author bio reads, in part, “Meditating on her death daily has changed her life and led to greater union with God.”
This devotional will help you remember that in Advent, we don’t only recall the Incarnation — Christ coming into the world as a baby — but we look ahead to the coming of Christ at the end of the ages. And we anticipate in hope our own entrance into new life with Christ.
Advent would mean nothing if Jesus did not come to save us from death, humanity’s most intimidating enemy and impossible adversary. (3)
The Advent Companion is divided into four sections to correspond with the four weeks of Advent. Each section focuses on one of the Four Last Things. There is also an entry for Christmas Day and an appendix with a daily Memento Mori examination of conscience.
This Advent devotional can be used in any year, so if you find that you’re not able to focus on each day’s entry, you can save it and use it for your prayer time next year. Each day’s entry includes a beautiful full-color illustration, either by contemporary Catholic artists (who are credited in a banner next to the art with their website or social media information) or sacred art in the public domain. The art, in a variety of styles, will have wide appeal. The book’s design was done by Sr. Danielle Victoria Lussier, FSP, who also created the illustration of the skull on the cover.
If you’re not keen on the idea of keeping an actual skull on your desk, the Memento Mori: Remember Your Death and Live for Heaven daily desk calendar is the perfect alternative. Its design is simple and beautiful, with the same skull design as the Advent Companion on each day’s page. The font for the reflections is easy to read, and the presentation is very eye-catching but not at all garish. Some of the daily reflections are written by Sr. Theresa Aletheia; others come from Scripture and the wisdom of the saints.
Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.
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Advent is a busy time for moms. Advent is a time when we can definitely give in to that temptation to be “anxious and worried about many things” — after all, we’re usually the ones who take care of all those details that make our family’s Advent and Christmas celebrations meaningful and special. That means we’re often taking on too much, and midway through Advent finding ourselves nowhere near that ideal of peaceful, intentional preparation.
It’s good, during Advent, to take a little time for ourselves and use the techniques Claire McGarry shares in Grace in Tension to acknowledge our feelings, make an effort to view the situation through God’s eyes, and take action to scale back, even in small ways, so this holy season doesn’t become an unholy frenzy.
Why I love this book:
For Catholic women who, like me, deeply identify with Martha in her worry and distraction, Claire’s balanced discussion of how busy women can learn to sit at the feet of Jesus is both a challenge and a gift. Learn to find the grace amid your daily cares and burdens.
When we think about the story of Mary and Martha, it’s very easy to fall into the “Martha bad, Mary good” trap. Claire does not do that in Grace in Tension(and that’s why I’m reading the book for a second time).
When Mary chooses to sit at Jesus’ feet while Martha chooses to serve, I think initially Jesus approves. He knows both decisions are made with the sisters’ hearts. Each sister is living out her “better part” by drawing closer to God with her choice. It’s clear that sitting and listening to all that Jesus has to say definitely brings Mary closer to God. After all, Jesus affirms her choice by calling it “the better part.” Yet choosing to serve Jesus as Martha does can bring her closer to God too. There’s a sacrifice that comes from serving and a beauty in putting others’ needs before our own. Both paths lead straight to God. Martha’s problem isn’t that she chooses to serve. It’s that she eventually compares her choice with her sister’s. (67)
It’s not highly likely that I’ll be able to change my natural Martha tendencies. Cooking for my family and our guests is a big part of how I show my love. And over the years, I am happy to report that I have mellowed, so my family doesn’t have to live with Screaming Meemie Party Mom (yes, I’ve been called that and yes, I’m 100% guilty) every time company is expected.
I probably can’t change my tendencies, but as Claire encourages readers of Grace in Tension, I can — and should — derail the anxiety and worry that I often allow to carry me away from the joy of the moment. By taking steps like choosing a new response, drawing healthy boundaries, asking for help (and accepting it without judging), and adjusting expectations, in addition to the 10 other steps Claire outlines in this book, I can find the gifts God has for me in the moments where He has placed me.
Advent is a time to sit at God’s feet. And it’s usually a time when we wrap gifts. This Advent, unwrap God’s gift to you: the grace within your tension and the transformation of your heart and mind.
Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
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I have a new article up at Our Sunday Visitor’s SimplyCatholic.com: Prayer as Liturgy.
A few highlights:
Liturgy, which includes but is not limited to the Holy Mass, is considered “formal” prayer because it follows a certain pattern, or rubric. Liturgical prayer is also “common” prayer, meant to be prayed by the community as a group.
The liturgy of the Church includes the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the celebrations of the sacraments.
Liturgical prayer invites us to engage in praise, blessing and adoration, thanksgiving, petition and intercession as a community.
The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:
Jennifer the Damned by Karen Ullo. This is not at all the kind of book I usually read. I don’t touch horror or vampire fiction at all. It is a testament to Karen Ullo’s skill as a writer that I stuck with this book beyond the first 2 chapters – and more than that, couldn’t wait to keep reading. Normally I think of horror books as about as anti-Catholic as they can be, with religion either anathema or afterthought or, at best, superstition. But this is a very, very Catholic book, dealing with themes of conscience, our immortal souls, and the overarching power of the sacraments. The many sides of the title character are well explored: Jennifer as vampire, Jennifer as teenager trying to fit into that world, Jennifer as a child abandoned by her mother (and clearly traumatized by the facts of her own situation and what her mother has taught her), Jennifer as a young woman raised in a convent by religious sisters who don’t know the whole story.
The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan. A World War II novel of the British home front. This book really brought home the kinds of deprivations citizens of the UK suffered during the war. Two sisters, a servant, and a professional chef compete for the opportunity to host a radio show helping homemakers work around food shortages and serve nutritious and good-tasting food to their family. All of them face threats to their way of life, and their stories intertwine in interesting and surprising ways. The book includes recipes, but except for the scones, I’ll pass (sheep’s head roll? no way). This was an enjoyable story, with an ending you won’t see coming.
A Freedom Such as Heaven Intended by Amanda Lauer. The latest “Heaven Intended” book, set in the same timeline as A Life Such as Heaven Intended, follows a group of runaway slaves as they begin a perilous and uncertain journey to freedom. Plenty of historical detail leaves the reader immersed in the world of Civil War-era Georgia, as characters struggle to discern whether to risk their lives in the service of others. Faith plays a role, in often surprising ways, in the twists and turns of the plot of this compelling novel. (Advance copy provided by the author.)
A Song for the Road by Kathleen M. Basi. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel where I’ve identified so deeply with a character as I did with Miriam Tedesco, who undertook a cross-country road trip a year after the death of her husband and their twin teenagers in order to handle some unfinished business that was deepening her grief. It wasn’t so much Miriam’s circumstances as it was her personality that I related to: she reacted to things in much the same way I do. Along the way, Miriam encountered a young pregnant woman traveling alone and clearly hiding a medical secret. Outside of a few misses in the Catholic details (Miriam was the music director at a Catholic church) this was a flawless read.
A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. A young woman, physically handicapped due to a mysterious childhood illness (rheumatic fever or polio?), lives in an isolated area of coastal Maine. Artist Andrew Wyeth used her as the inspiration for a famous painting, as she hosted him in the summer for two entire decades, even as her own isolation and physical limitations made the scope of her world no larger than her own living room. This is the kind of book you wish would go on forever – and at 352 pages, it’s good and long already – perfect for a long winter’s read!
The Fault Between Us by Bette Lee Crosby. Historical fiction about the San Francisco Earthquake. Templeton, a driven young woman from Philadelphia who wants nothing more than to create her own fashion line, has a whirlwind romance with a man from California, who marries her and brings her to his grand home in San Francisco. Templeton throws herself into fulfilling her professional ambitions, leaving ideas about family life to the side until tragedy strikes: while she is back in Philadelphia visiting family and experiencing a complicated pregnancy, the earthquake devastates her neighborhood, and her father makes a perilous journey to California to try to find Templeton’s husband. I couldn’t put this one down.
Dare to be More: The Witness of Blessed Carlo Acutis by Colleen and Matt Swaim. The 48-page book contains photos of Carlo Acutis throughout his life: as a young child, in kindergarten, building a snowman, praying in an Adoration chapel, and even with his puppy and his soccer team. The book, appropriate for readers 10 and up, discusses the many ways this teenager changed others’ lives for the better. The Swaims explain the Church’s process of declaring someone a saint and describe the miraculous healing of a child in Brazil, healing that has been attributed to the intercession of Carlo Acutis. This led to Acutis’ beatification in October 2020. (Advance copy received from publisher. Read my full review.)
Saintly Moms: 25 Stories of Holiness by Kelly Ann Guest. Moms need friends to inspire us in our vocation, no matter what our stage of motherhood. Kelly Guest’s book introduces you to 25 saintly friends to encourage you in the challenges of parenting. Meet a new holy BFF, and gain a fresh perspective on familiar motherly saints. Saints highlighted in this book include the Blessed Mother, St. Monica, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Rita of Cascia, Venerable Margaret Bosco, St. Gianna Molla, and more, and for the most part are arranged in chronological order. (Advance copy received from publisher; full review coming soon.)
Behold the Handmaid of the Lord: A 10-Day Personal Retreat with St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary simplifies de Montfort’s approach without watering down its wisdom. The book, new from Ave Maria Press, is a do-it-yourself retreat that helps readers learn more about Marian consecration. Fr. Edward Looney dedicates each of the ten days of the retreat to a different title of Mary, consolidating teachings from True Devotion to Mary to clarify the rich writings and deepen devotion to the Blessed Mother. His writing style is clear and approachable, and both his scholarship and dedication to Mary are evident throughout the book. Each day’s chapter is 10 pages or less (in a small-format book; it measures just under 5×7 inches) and begins with a teaching on that day’s title of Mary, a prayer for the day, and a traditional Marian prayer or hymn. (Advance copy received from publisher. Read my full review.)
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Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.
Do you want to grow closer to the Blessed Mother, but find yourself intimidated by the lengthy devotions and lofty language of St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary? Fr. Edward Looney, a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay and vice president of the Mariological Society of America, has put together a new book to help you prepare for a 33-day consecration to Jesus through Mary.
God is at work through Marian consecration; it is powerful, and it changes lives. (xv)
Fr. Edward dedicates each of the ten days of the retreat to a different title of Mary, consolidating teachings from True Devotion to Mary to clarify the rich writings and deepen devotion to the Blessed Mother. His writing style is clear and approachable, and both his scholarship and dedication to Mary are evident throughout the book.
Each day’s chapter is 10 pages or less (in a small-format book; it measures just under 5×7 inches) and begins with a teaching on that day’s title of Mary, a prayer for the day, and a traditional Marian prayer or hymn. I was surprised to find that Serdeczna Matko (“Stainless the Maiden”), a traditional Polish Marian hymn I recently sang at a funeral at my parish, was one of the hymns included in the book. Its English translation, which I had never read, is beautiful. Other prayers and hymns include the Memorare, Regina Caeli, and “Ave Maris Stella.”
During this retreat, readers will learn about these Marian titles and devotions:
Queen of All Saints
Our Lady of the Holy Trinity
The New Eve
Mother of the Interior Life
Mother of Disciples
Star of the Sea
Queen of All Hearts
Mediatrix of Grace
The Mold of God
My Mother and My Queen
I recommend that you keep a pen and journal close at hand as you read Behold the Handmaid of the Lord. I was highlighting this book all over the place as I read!
Bonus material in this book includes a chart of dates to begin Marian consecrations to end on feasts of Mary. The next three start dates are November 5, November 9, and November 29. Another very useful section is a list of 17 devotional practices found in the writings of St. Louis de Montfort. Many of these are practices you can begin with your family, such as praying the Rosary, carrying a Rosary in your pocket, praying or singing prayers and hymns in Mary’s honor, and placing an image of Mary in a place of honor in your home.
Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil This article contains Amazon affiliate links, which provide a small compensation to the author of this piece when purchases are made through the links, at no cost to you.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
Do your kids know about the millennial who’s on the path to sainthood? Carlo Acutis, whose feast day we celebrate today, was born in 1991 and only lived to the age of 15, but in that time he made an extraordinary impact on the world — through the internet. Colleen and Matt Swaim tell the story of Carlo’s work on a website that displays information about eucharistic miracles in their new book, Dare to Be More: The Witness of Blessed Carlo Acutis.
The 48-page book contains photos of Carlo Acutis throughout his life: as a young child, in kindergarten, building a snowman, praying in an Adoration chapel, and even with his puppy and his soccer team. The book, appropriate for readers 10 and up, discusses the many ways this teenager changed others’ lives for the better. The Swaims explain the Church’s process of declaring someone a saint and describe the miraculous healing of a child in Brazil, healing that has been attributed to the intercession of Carlo Acutis. This led to Acutis’ beatification in October 2020.
Dare to Be More is much more than a biography. On every two-page spread, readers will find websites to visit, Scripture verses to memorize, or questions for journaling, reflection, or group discussion. Each chapter ends with Saintly Challenges: small actions related to the concepts presented in that chapter. These challenges as chapter divisions make this biography easy to read a bit at a time and focus the reader on relating aspects of his or her own life to Acutis’. Dare to Be More would be an excellent gift for a teen preparing for Confirmation.
Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image created with Visme using a photo by Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved. This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author.