On Barb’s Bookshelf: God Is Not Fair and Other Reasons for Gratitude

Daniel Horan, OFM’s new book, God Is Not Fair and Other Reasons for Gratitude (Franciscan Media, 2017), is a collection of essays exploring how “the very core of Christianity appears foolish in the world.” (p. 3) This makes it Franciscan to the core: St. Francis of Assisi spent his life as a “fool for Christ” in his quest to fully live the Gospel.

God is not fair

My favorite chapters were the ones that concerned St. Francis and Franciscans. The essay titled “What’s Not-So-Special About Franciscan Spirituality” was a comfort to this Franciscan; I may work with words for my livelihood, but it’s tough to put into words exactly what Franciscan spirituality is about! “The Franciscan tradition advances only the Gospel in a way that is at the same time shockingly simple and incredibly difficult.” (p. 41)

The second section of the book, “Gospel and Culture,” is an exploration of how we can go about living the Gospel. It’s not easy, and it’s going to be different for every person–but it’s a question we all must seek to answer.

I had to read almost half this book before finding the reason for the title, but when I got there, the central premise behind the book became clear after the author considered two of Jesus’ more difficult parables regarding fairness, the story of the Prodigal Son and the one about the vineyard owner who paid all workers the same wage regardless of what time they started.

It is difficult for us to accept the gratuitous love, generosity and mercy of God. We hold one another accountable to rules of fairness, sometimes even baptized in the water of religion, but it is not the radical unfairness of God; it is not the radical justice that is equivalent to God’s infinite mercy. (p. 61)

Father Horan and I do not see eye-to-eye on many matters. I knew that before picking up this book, and I wondered a bit what I could learn from someone with whom I disagree on certain subjects. A few statements made in the book reinforced my disagreement with Father Horan–but those are specifics, and I don’t think they’re deal-breakers. Ultimately, this book is written for people seeking to model their lives more closely to the Gospel standard. While the author and I approach this differently, we still aim for the same target.
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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book by the publisher, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Rightfully Ours

I’m thrilled to help introduce Carolyn Astfalk’s most-recent novel, Rightfully Ours (Full Quiver Publishing, 2017.) This one is written for the YA audience, but I’ve read it twice already and savored every page, so don’t leave it for just teenagers to enjoy! The book is already available for Kindle and the print edition can be pre-ordered–it will ship the week after Easter.

Rightfully Ours blog book tour/Barb Szyszkiewicz/Franciscanmom.com
Copyright 2017 Carolyn Astfalk. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

In this refreshing YA romance, readers have the chance to get into the head of the romantic hero. Paul lives in the Muellers’ guesthouse during his father’s deployment. He and Rachel, his landlords’ daughter, find their friendship turning into something deeper; while they struggle against temptation and Rachel’s dad’s opposition to their relationship, they discover historic artifacts buried beneath Rachel’s flower garden. I found Paul to be a more likable character than Rachel, perhaps because she is a few years younger than he and a little more immature.

A coming-of-age story of first love, buried treasure, and discovering some things are worth the wait.

 

One of the ways Carolyn helps to make her characters more real to the reader is by offering extras such as recipes, playlists and more. In this novel, music plays a huge role: when Paul inherits his father’s iPod, he listens to it to keep his connection to his dad alive. He puts the songs on shuffle and discovers that very often the song lyrics speak directly to a situation he’s working through. Carolyn has set up a Spotify playlist with the songs referenced in the novel. You can find that playlist, plus two recipes and other bonus content, on the Rightfully Ours Extras page.

Carolyn describes Rightfully Ours as a “Theology of the Body coming-of-age story.” That doesn’t mean it’s full of heavy theological content. It does mean that this book deals with the very real issues of sexual temptation that teens face, and the characters are challenged to reconcile their moral beliefs with their impulses to give in to that temptation. Readers also get a look at what parents of teenagers go through when they see their teens facing these issues.

Rightfully Ours cover

About the author: Carolyn Astfalk is a friend of mine and fellow Catholic Writers Guild member. She resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where it smells like either chocolate or manure, depending on wind direction. Carolyn is the author of the inspirational romances Stay With Me and Ornamental Graces and the coming-of-age story Rightfully Ours. Carolyn is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and Pennwriters and a CatholicMom.com contributor. Formerly, she served as the communications director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public affairs agency of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops. True to her Pittsburgh roots, she still says “pop” instead of “soda,” although her beverage of choice is tea.You can find her online here: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and at CarolynAstfalk.com.

 

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Visit the other stops on the Rightfully Ours book launch tour:

Monday, April 3 Virginia Lieto http://virginialieto.com

Tuesday, April 4 Bird Face Wendy https://birdfacewendy.wordpress.com

Wednesday, April 5 Plot Line and Sinker https://ellengable.wordpress.com

Thursday, April 6 Sarah Damm http://sarahdamm.com and Our Hearts are Restless heartsarerestless.blogspot.com

Saturday, April 8 Olivia Folmar Ard http://www.oliviafolmarard.com

Sunday, April 9 Things Visible & Invisible https://catholicbooksblog.wordpress.com/

Monday, April 10 Terry’s Thoughts www.thouchin.com and Erin McCole Cupp http://erinmccolecupp.com

Thursday, April 11 Peace to All Who Enter Here dmulcare.wordpress.com

Wednesday, April 12 Plot Line and Sinker https://ellengable.wordpress.com

 

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Getting Past Perfect

I found Kate Wicker’s book on perfectionism, Getting Past Perfect (Ave Maria Press, 2017) to be a book of surprises, beginning with the fact that a “seasoned” mom like me, with kids age 15 to 25, can learn important lessons from a mom whose oldest child is younger than my youngest.

 

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I may be a more-experienced mom, but that really only means that I have logged a lot more years of falling into the comparison trap. I’m old enough to know that it’s not good for me (or for my family) but I’m not always strong enough to keep myself from teetering over that precarious edge.

Clearly I spend too much time listening to what Kate calls the “evil earworm.” She begins each chapter with one of these, then counters is with the “unvarnished truth.”

quote from Getting Past Perfect @franciscanmom

We need to hear this kind of truth. We need to acknowledge that there’s a difference between perfectionism and striving for excellence. As Kate observes in chapter 3 (the same chapter from which the text in the above graphic is quoted):

What often prevents God’s grace from working in our lives is less our sins or failings than it is our failure to accept our own weaknesses–all those rejections, conscious or not, of what we really are or of our real situations. We have to set grace free in our lives by accepting the parts of ourselves that we want to perfect, hide or reject. (35-6)

While I definitely agree with Kate’s premise that perfectionism is damaging to us as women and as mothers, I do believe that there’s also a danger in perfect imperfection. We need to be careful about crossing that line between openly admitting our own flaws and foibles in the name of commonality and bringing comfort to others who are stuck in that “grass is always greener” mode, and showing off how bad we have it (even if that’s our schtick.) I confess to being guilty of the latter and even though I tend to fall into that trap, I find it very annoying when all I hear from someone is how “crazy” her life is. It’s almost like we’re competing for the booby prize: who has it worst? We all need to find a balance here–there’s a time and a place for the good, the bad, and the funny.

Whether you’re a brand-new mom or, like me, over 25 years into your mothering journey, Getting Past Perfect has truths you need to hear. My copy has stars and arrows and comments; I’ve circled and underlined and even written down some of the most important points. When you read it, keep your pen handy and open up your heart to realizing that you really are enough.

Don’t forget to sign up for the Getting Past Perfect Book Club at CatholicMom.com! The book club kicks off with an author interview tomorrow, and we’ll begin discussing the book on April 1.

 

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I received a free review copy of this book courtesy of Ave Maria Press, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

On Barb’s Bookshelf: All In

Pat Gohn is “all in” with her faith, and it shows. She hosts Among Women, a podcast that celebrates faithful women through interviews and stories of saints. She’s the editor of Catechist magazine. And her first book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious (Ave Maria Press, 2013), challenged women to be bold about living their faith.

Pat’s second book, All In (Ave Maria Press, 2017), is addressed to an audience that might be dealing with discouragement, uncertainty, and a lack of deep commitment. Subtitled, “Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters,” this book encourages readers to begin by making a healthy self-assessment of their faith. In chapter 1, Pat observes,

“Even though I may not always feel like a confident person and I fail and flail on a regular basis, my own frailties do not undermine my confidence in my faith. They provide a catalyst to turn to my faith and to place my trust and hope in the eternal truth and goodness of a God who loves me. God came to save and redeem every frailty, every weakness, every sin, and every broken heart.” (15)

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Pat is realistic about facing the obstacles that come with an imperfect Church. Because the “flawed humanity of the institution of the Church” (32) is clearly visible and often well-publicized, it can lead people to question why and whether to stand with the Church. Pat responds to this stumbling block by reminding the reader that the Church is the Bride of Christ, delving deep into marriage imagery and concluding that the Church’s “source of power is the Beloved who came from Heaven in search of her, and who longs for her to make her home with him there.” (42)

Honest discussions of sin, mercy, grace, the Sacraments, and human dignity fill out this book. Each chapter concludes with a 3-part reflection: pray, learn and engage. This last section includes concrete action steps readers can take to heal or deepen their relationship with God and with the Church.

This book is just as much for the struggling and/or “recovering” Catholic as it is for the faithful churchgoer. Readers on any stop along their faith journey can benefit from the wisdom and action steps provided here, on their way to going “all in.”

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you!

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Saint Junípero Serra’s Camino

My fascination with St. Junípero Serra began in grade school when I learned about the California missions. Already familiar with Franciscan friars, I made the connection to the real-life priests and brothers I knew.

On my only visit to California (in 1995), I insisted on having the chance to visit one of the missions. We attended Mass at Mission San Diego and I took the opportunity to explore the grounds. As it doesn’t look like more trips to California are in my future, I’ll need to explore the remaining missions in a virtual pilgrimage of sorts. That’s where Stephen J. Binz’s new book comes in.

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Saint Junípero Serra’s Camino: A Pilgrimage Guide to the California Missions (Franciscan Media, 2017) offers armchair pilgrims like myself the chance to go behind the scenes at each of the 21 missions in the state of California. An impressively comprehensive guidebook of the 21 California missions featuring a short biography of St. Junípero Serra, a look at the colonial and missionary climate of the 18th century, and separate chapters for each mission. Readers are invited to take walking, driving or virtual pilgrimages in which they learn the history of each mission site, examine its architecture, discover its patron saint and engage in prayer.

This book digs more deeply than you’d expect in a guidebook. Binz does not gloss over the problems that occurred during the colonization period in an attempt to re-canonize Serra, nor does he demonize the friars and others who journeyed to California to evangelize the people there. I found his approach to the whole Serra controversy balanced and well-documented.

Pilgrims can follow the route laid out by Binz, which is in geographical order from south to north. The author also includes a list of the missions in order of their founding, in case pilgrims wish to follow that path instead (admittedly, this would work best for virtual pilgrimages, as it involves a good deal of backtracking.)

That’s Mission Santa Bárbara on the cover. Founded in 1786, it’s the first mission founded after Serra’s death. If I could only visit one mission, that’s the one I’d pick, because it’s named for my patron saint. This book also helped me learn more about her–because she lived during the fourth century, details of her life are sketchy, so I knew very little.

My only complaint about this guidebook was its lack of photos. There were few photographs, and the ones that were included were small and in black and white.

If you’re planning a trip to California, definitely get your hands on this book and plan to stop to visit at least one of these missions! If you’re like me, this book will help you learn about a fascinating chapter in our nation’s history and that of our faith.

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: 3 Lenten Reads

It’s not yet Lent, but I’ve had the chance to peek into a Lenten book from Ave Maria Press as well as two new daily devotionals from Franciscan Media, each offering a spiritual companion for your Lenten journey. All three books are sure to help readers have a spiritually fruitful Lenten season.

A book doesn’t have to be brand-new this year to benefit its readers. Paula Huston’s Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit (Ave Maria Press, 2011) is packed with timeless wisdom. The cover blurb touts it as a “practical book,” which means it’s right up my alley. I am, at heart, a practical person, and I can get bogged down and discouraged by books that don’t address my pragmatic side.

In the Introduction, Huston notes,

The beauty of the Lenten season is that it encouragees the development of a humble heart. (xiii)

The beauty of this book, for me, is its learn-by-doing approach. Each day begins with a meditation (usually a vignette from the author’s own experience) and ends with a task. The concreteness of this appeals to me. The author explains that this is not a “handbook for self-improvement” but instead “an invitation to self-knowledge and . . . a small step in liberation from destructive complicatedness–that is, from sin.” (xv, xvi)

My challenge, with this book, will be slowing it down. It’s seriously motivational, and I found myself wanting to do All The Things right now. Slowing down, for me, can be almost penitential in itself, and I need to remember to focus on one day’s task and not try to jump ahead. Lent is 40 days long for a reason. But anything that has me ready to scrub gunk out of hidden corners with an old toothbrush gets motivation points! It reminds me of St. Teresa of Avila’s observation that God is with us every moment, “even amidst the pots and pans.”

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Take your Lenten inspiration from Pope Francis with Diane M. Houdek’s The Hope of Lent: Daily Reflections from Pope Francis (Servant, 2016.) Each daily entry is divided into 5 compact parts:

  • Bible readings (find those on your own or at USCCB.org)
  • A Word from Pope Francis
  • Taking the Word to Heart
  • Bringing the Word to Life
  • Pope Francis Prays

I was charmed by the “Word from Pope Francis” sections: each one an anecdote or homily excerpt that showcases both Pope Francis’ down-to-earth style and his desire that the faithful deepen and radically live their faith. You’ll want to keep a journal handy for your own reflections, inspired by “Bringing the World to Life.”

From the Introduction:

The greatest hope of Lent is the discovery that it’s not only about penance deprivation, spiritual struggles, and rooting out sin in our lives. Those are often the things we do during Lent. But the hope of Lent lies in what God does. From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has made mercy his hallmark. It’s no surprise that he declared a special year dedicated to the contemplation of mercy. Pope Francis wants us to realize that God’s mercy and grace surround us not just in special times and places but always and everywhere. Lent is a time to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary, to be surprised by God’s mercy when we least expect it. (vii-viii)

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Heidi Hess Saxton shares the wisdom of a beloved modern-day saint in Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Servant, 2016.) Begin your daily prayer with a short scripture passage, followed by a meditation with a story or quote from St. Teresa, reflection/application questions, and a brief closing prayer. The book is described by the publisher as a “helpful resource for reflecting upon the mercy of God—and modeling the generous heart of this saint from Calcutta in our own lives.”

Saxton takes an unusual path in the Introduction to the book, dedicating most of it to the story of four Missionaries of Charity who were martyred by ISIS in Yemen in March 2016, while the local priest, Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, was captured (his fate is still unknown). The author notes that this story “calls us to consider just how far we are willing to go when the Lord asks us to take up our cross and follow him.” (ix, x) She continues,

As we contemplate Scripture and the life and teachings of St. Teresa of Calcutta during this Lent, we have a daily inspiration and opportunity to follow her example and that of her community in spreading Christ’s fragrance to others. And whatever the fuure holds–pain or healing, uncertainty or assurance, dismay or delight–we can anticipate with great joy the glory of the Risen Christ at our journey’s end. (xiv)

Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta offers daily reflections in a slightly longer format than Houdek’s book, and the subject matter is a bit more challenging. There are two reflection questions per day, which make excellent journal prompts.

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: This Dread Road

An intriguing tale of two young women, a generation apart, who must learn to live with the consequences of romantic choices they make–and one man who figures prominently in both their lives. This Dread Road, Olivia Folmar Ard’s latest novel, is the third in the Bennett Series, but it works as a standalone novel (that said, I highly encourage you to read the other books in the series as well! You can get the whole Bennett Series for less than $7 on Kindle.)

Annemarie, a college freshman far from home and the reach of her overbearing mother’s attempts to set her up with every eligible bachelor in the region, falls hard for a man her parents certainly wouldn’t approve of. Her immaturity leads her to handle all of this the wrong way, with results that prove disastrous for her family relationship, her mental health and her love life.

50 years later, that same man mentors Claire, an heiress trying to escape her own mother and her own past.

In this parallel tale, you see young people making bad decisions–often due to immaturity and a lack of communication. Ard’s focus on the two young women, years apart, proves the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Release Date: February 14, 2017
Published by: Three Amigas Press
Genre: Historical Romance, Women’s Fiction

Available from: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Createspace

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– Summary –

It’s September 1968, and Howard Knox freshman Annemarie Vanderhorst is happy to be free of her controlling mother’s societal expectations. She vows to spend her time at college wisely in pursuit of her own dreams. But before she can figure out what she wants from life, Henry Eden, the dark and handsome stranger in her philosophy class, takes over every waking thought.

Nearly half a century later, Claire James returns to Bennett after leaving her fiancé, determined to be independent for once in her life. After convincing her father to let her work for the family business, she soon realizes being a responsible adult isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Loathed by her coworkers, neglected by her best friend, and held captive by a terrifying secret, she doesn’t know how much more she can take.

The lives of these two women, decades apart but uncannily similar, finally intersect one fateful night. With broken hearts and hope for the future, will they find the answers they’re looking for?

This Dread Road (The Bennett Series #3)

– About the Author –

Olivia started writing creatively at eight years old. During middle and high school, she attended several writing conferences. Her short story “By Its Cover” placed first in its divisi15800522_10209756472760857_6955444529121609696_oon in the 2008 District III Alabama Penman Creative Writing Contest. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Montevallo in 2012, married in 2013, and published her first novel in 2014. She received a Readers Favorite five-star review for her holiday novella, ‘Tis the Season, in 2016.

Olivia lives in central Alabama with her husband JD and their cats, Buddy and Lafayette. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys watching quality television, teaching herself how to cook, and playing Pokémon GO.

– Connect with the Author –

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Pinterest

– Advance Praise for This Dread Road

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Meeting God in the Upper Room

Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi describes the Upper Room as “the most important room in Christendom” in his new book, Meeting God in the Upper Room (Servant, 2017). In one whirlwind 8-week period, the Upper Room was the location for three significant events in the birth of the Church:

  • the Last Supper
  • Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances to his disciples
  • Pentecost

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By Assaf Yekuel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Msgr. Vaghi notes in the Prologue that the Upper Room, or Cenacle, was renovated in the 14th century, which explains the architectural style of the room as seen above.

What must the disciples have felt during their time in that room? Did they celebrate the Passover with trepidation, having heard Jesus tell them again and again that this trip to Jerusalem would end in his death? Were they astounded and elated when the risen Christ appeared to them in that room, continuing to teach them to take on the work of building the Church? Were they simultaneously energized and terrified at the descent of the Holy Spirit and their commissioning to make disciples of all nations?

“Once we catch a glimpse of the events that transpired in this room, we will be forever captivated by the mystery of the God who loves us so much that, even as he prepared to return to the Father, promised that ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.’ (John 14:18, NRSV)” (1)

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Msgr. Varghi’s discussion of the history of the Upper Room based on Gospel accounts complements the meditations that are the meat of this book. I found the history fascinating; in various chapters, you’ll read about personalities, prophecy, sacraments, and Catholic social teaching. Each chapter ends with a section titled “Preparing Your Upper Room” in which the reader is invited to consider the personal implications of Jesus’ message.

I recommend Meeting God in the Upper Room for spiritual reading during Lent or, even more appropriately, beginning in Holy Week and continuing through the Easter season, when you can read the book as you liturgically relive the events depicted in it.

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: A Sea Without a Shore

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The weary, lonely and brokenhearted are the audience for Jeannie Ewing’s new devotional, A Sea without a Shore.
Jeannie Ewing often writes on the meaning of suffering. Her words will resonate with readers who feel alone in their pain. While this book is centered on suffering, it is infused with hope. The meditations in chapter 8 (“Faith, Hope and Charity”) are some of the most powerful ones in the book. This, I’m sure, is no accident: these are powerful virtues, as they must be to conquer the despair that can so easily come to those beaten down by life’s difficulties.
These meditations are not casual or flip: they are heartfelt, reverent outpourings of the soul. The language is formal, even poetic, with a unique cadence. Written in the first person, each meditation invites the soul to cling to God in prayer.

This devotional is the kind of book you can flip through, scanning the headings to find just the meditation you need for that day.

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 About the Book

Everyone experiences suffering and trials throughout life, whether in the form of death or significant loss of a relationship, finances, a home or job, and even a pet. Loss affects us all, and we are often left feeling empty, lonely, and lost in the midst of such excruciating darkness. Others may attempt to ameliorate our fears, concerns, and struggle, but to no avail. Even our faith may seem to fail us. Jeannie Ewing understands that holy darkness may veil us in a cloud of unknowing for a time, but we don’t have to capitulate to despair. Instead, we can journey through the mysteries and misunderstandings through the eyes of faith. In A Sea Without A Shore: Spiritual Reflections for the Brokenhearted, Weary, and Lonely, you will find a familiar friend journeying with you throughout the often murky and tumultuous waters of grief. No matter the cause of your pain and strife, this devotional will offer short but poignant insights that open your heart to God’s love and mercy.
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 About the Author

Jeannie Ewing believes the world focuses too much on superficial happiness and then crumbles when sorrow strikes. Because life is about more than what makes us feel fuzzy inside, she writes about the hidden value of suffering and even discovering joy in the midst of grief. Jeannie shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers and is the author of From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph. Jeannie was featured on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition and dozens of other radio shows and podcasts.

Facebook – Love Alone Creates: https://www.facebook.com/lovealonecreates
Click to enter for a chance to win one of two paperback copies of Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers or one of two paperback copies of A Sea Without A Shore!
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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: What Pope Francis Really Said

Every time Pope Francis writes an encyclical or makes an off-the-cuff remark on an airplane, the media (both Catholic and secular) jump all over it with various interpretations.

That’s a problem, states Tom Hoopes, author of What Pope Francis Really Said (Servant, 2016). Depending on your news source (or who you follow on Twitter and Facebook) you’ll get wildly different versions of the same wrong story. Add in our lack of critical-reading skills and our willingness to accept “fake news” at face value and you wind up with a great deal of confusion about the Pope’s teachings and motivations.

He is celebrated by some for saying things he never said and rejected by others for doing things they don’t really understand (ix).

That airplane photo on the cover isn’t just a convenient file photo. It’s a symbol of the world’s eagerness to take one sentence out of an entire speech and make a huge (and often hugely inaccurate) news story out of it. The problem is not that Pope Francis holds news conferences on airplanes. The problem lies in what people do with the statements he makes.

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I can’t remember so much attention being paid to things previous popes said and wrote. It’s good, because the world (including the Catholic world) is watching and learning, but it’s challenging, because it’s so easy to take things out of context. I eagerly read Hoopes’ book because I find myself having to say, “That’s not what he said” way too many times when the subject of Pope Francis comes up!

Tom Hoopes traces Pope Francis’ papacy chronologically, from a speech then-Cardinal Bergoglio made in the conclave to the World Meeting of Families in the fall of 2015. Beginning with the retelling of the Gospel story in which Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath and is vilified by the leaders of the synagogue for doing so, Hoopes mentions that Jesus refuses to be “stage-managed by what officialdom is asking him to do and instead [turns] his attention to those who are looking to have a real encounter with him.” (2) Pope Francis operates in much the same way.

Hoopes assures readers who have painted the Pope as “too liberal” of Pope Francis’ unswerving commitment to the dignity of marriage and the right to life, while reminding those who believe he’s “too conservative” that Pope Francis decries the violence that begets more violence and often leads to war. Hoopes also mentions that Pope Francis is not saying anything new. He paraphrases the Catechism of the Catholic Church, echoes Popes John Paul II and Benedict, and frequently references Scripture.

In a fast-paced world with a second-by-second news cycle that reduces entire speeches to 140-character tidbits, Catholics need to read What Pope Francis Really Said to catch up on the truth behind what Pope Francis has said in the past so that they can be prepared to defend, and live out, what the Pope says in the future.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book from the publisher, Servant Books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.