On Barb’s Bookshelf: St. Faustina Prayer Books

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Susan Tassone’s “St. Faustina Prayer Book” series focuses the power of intercessory prayer on two great needs: the Holy Souls in Purgatory and the conversion of sinners.

The St. Faustina Prayer Book for the Conversion of Sinners and The Saint Faustina Prayer Book for the Holy Souls in Purgatory contain more than prayers. You’ll also find essays on conversion, sin, penance, Purgatory and the spirituality of St. Faustina Kowalska. Organized by theme, the books lead the reader through learning and devotions.

Tassone explains the spirituality of St. Faustina in The Saint Faustina Prayer Book for the Holy Souls in Purgatory:

The essence of Divine Mercy is twofold. First, to totally trust in Christ’s mercy. And second, to show mercy to others, acting as a vessel of God’s mercy. (24-25)

Peppered with prayers from the saints, Bible quotes and instructions on Catholic teachings such as fasting and the spiritual works of mercy, Tassone’s books are not necessarily designed to be read straight through. I recommend using colorful flags to mark your favorite spots or hold your place in a novena. There are prayers you’ll find yourself returning to again and again. If you’re new to the Divine Mercy Chaplet, you’ll find instructions for this beautiful prayer practice in both books.

Tassone observes in the Introduction to The Saint Faustina Prayer Book for the Conversion of Sinners,

Time and again, you sin. Time and again, I sin. Time and again, Jesus calls each of us to turn, to return, to our Heavenly Father and do His will. (19)

Whenever you have a few minutes, you can read one of the short essays in these books and then conclude with one of the many prayers. These small-format books fit easily in a handbag or briefcase and are perfect to take to Adoration.


Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz
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.

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: Super Girls and Halos

Barb's Book shelf blog titleI always felt like female superheroes were for sporty girls who were physically strong, and beautiful too — and who could rock a form-fitting, skimpy costume.

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By ABC Television – eBay itemphoto frontphoto back, Public Domain, Link

I did like that Batgirl’s real name was Barbara, like mine, but that was about it for my appreciation of superheroes.

I love that Maria Morera Johnson began her new book, Super Girls and Halos (Ave Maria Press, 2017), with a quote from the only superhero movie I ever liked: The Incredibles. Mrs. Incredible is probably the first “supergirl” I could relate to. She’s a mom. She worries about her family. She’s the most real superhero I’ve encountered.

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Comic books and action movies aren’t my go-to genre, maybe because I didn’t find superheroes relatable. My taste in comics, as a kid, ran more to Archie than to Wonder Woman, and you won’t find either Betty or Veronica in this book. But superhero comics, movies, TV series and video games are super-popular, and I think Maria has hit on the reason for that:

We can envision ourselves in the roles we see on the screen and respond to these courageous characters with admiration and appreciation for the fortitude or integrity they exhibit. Characters such as Katniss Everdeen and Wonder Woman often resonate with us because we admire their virtues. We might live vicariously through their fictional adventures, but can emulate their traits, such as courage or justice, in our daily lives. (viii)

super girls and halos

Let’s chat with Maria Morera Johnson, author of Super Girls and Virtues: My Companions on the Quest for Truth, Justice, and Heroic Virtue:

Was it difficult to pair up the fictional heroines with real saints?

The fictional heroines were easy — they are my favorites! The saints, however, had a way of finding me. A saint of the day would pop up when I was organizing the heroine’s attributes. Or I’d see a holy card and investigate. I mean, I’ve had these Catholic things around me, now they were suddenly coming to life! The most dramatic happened on vacation in Scotland when I encountered a small shrine to an Australian saint, St. Mary MacKillop. I’d say, the saints wanted to play with me, and I was happy to invite them along for the adventure.

Unlike the heroines who depend only upon themselves and the development of their human virtues, the saints, cooperating with God’s plan, receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit to help them grow in holiness. They accept God’s will in their lives, regardless of the sacrifice or tedium. This can be called heroic virtue. (xv)

Which saint/heroine pair was the most surprising to you?

I think Rey from Star Wars and St. Clare of Assisi caught me off guard. It was a tough section to write about, Justice, but it came together rather easily when I was able to find the right saint and the kind of heroic virtue that understands God is due our worship as well as our love. I think people understand Wonder Woman in a chapter about Justice, but Clare, who is peaceful rather than warrior, has raised some eye brows and a little head-scratching. I think I do the pairing justice, if you’ll pardon the pun.

As a lover of literature, I find that the most compelling, realistic characters are those that remain true to their natures. (xii)

Which saint or heroine do you think is most like you?

I definitely found Dana Scully from The X-Files to have a similar, or at least familiar quest for the Truth. It’s the most personal chapter in the book, where I talk about my own falling away from the faith and my struggle to come back. It pairs beautifully, I think, with St. Benedicta of the Cross, who converted to Catholicism after leaving her Jewish faith for atheism. Most of us are familiar with Edith Stein, and so she immediately popped into my mind for pairing with Scully. Dare I say these were matches made in heaven? I crack myself up … but I think there’s some truth to it!

As we move from the heroines’  stories to the lives of saints, we see how the cardinal virtues, strengthened by God’s grace, led these women to holiness. We learn through these saints that we grow in virtue by practicing the tenets of our faith, too. (xiv)

And now for some book-launch fun, courtesy of Maria Johnson! Enter her social-media contest for a chance to win a Wonder Woman plush OR a T-shirt featuring a truly Catholic heroine.


Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
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: The Friendship Project

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Today I’m your hostess for “Friendship Friday” on The Friendship Project blog tour. This new book from Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet (Ave Maria Press, 2017) inspires women to foster friendships based on holy virtues.

The title of this book immediately made me think of Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, but there’s a big difference here. Rubin’s book is all about how to make things more pleasant for yourself. The Friendship Project invites you outside your personal cocoon into a world of relationship where you and your friends encourage each other. As Sister John Dominic, O.P., remarks in her back-cover endorsement,

“We live in a technology-driven world where people are instantly connected, yet in our own personal lives, we often feel isolated and alone. … [The Friendship Project] underscores the truth that happiness lies in living a virtuous life.”

Friends since college, Michele and Emily write from their own experience, sharing the joys of their twenty-year friendship. Each chapter features a pair of women saints who were friends, and focuses on one virtue that will help us to become better friends and deepen our spiritual friendships.

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I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I was struck by this book’s lovely cover design featuring images by Ivona Staszewski. The folk-art style portraits of saints fit so well with the down-to-earth treatment of saints and holy friendships that Emily and Michele discuss in this book.

Emily Jaminet (l) and Michele Faehnle with advance copy of The Friendship Project at Catholic Marketing Network 2017. Photo copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.
Emily Jaminet (l) and Michele Faehnle with advance copy of The Friendship Project at Catholic Marketing Network 2017. Photo copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

I met Emily and Michele earlier this summer at the Catholic Marketing Network, where they displayed advance reading copies of their book. They are powerhouses: energetic, prayerful, dedicated women–and clearly BFFs. When you meet them in this book, you’re going to want what they have. When you read The Friendship Project, you’ll find out how to get it.

Friendship Friday blog tour for
Courtesy of Ave Maria Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Visit the other stops on The Friendship Project blog tour!


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: Busy Lives & Restless Souls

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If you think you’re too busy to read a spiritual book, Busy Lives & Restless Souls (Loyola Press, 2017) is the book for you. The title grabbed me immediately. Yes, I’m busy (who isn’t?) — but I’ve learned the hard way that checking off to-do list items at the expense of nurturing my soul leaves things off-kilter.

I picked up this book because I knew nothing about Ignatian spirituality and I welcomed the chance to learn something new. As a pragmatic person, I found comfort in the practical advice that I learned is a hallmark of the Ignatian way of life and which is so clearly explained by author Becky Eldredge.

busy lives and restless souls

Becky Eldredge is in a different season of “busy” than I am (my youngest is 15, while she still has toddlers underfoot) but despite our difference in years and experience, her advice rings true. I’m no longer interrupted in prayer by a toddler who wakes up early, but there are different demands on my time and energy that can tempt me to neglect my soul. And then there’s that tendency toward perfectionism (“if I can’t pray Evening Prayer without listening to that movie someone’s watching at top volume in the next room, well then, I’m just going to wait until later” … and later, of course, never comes). So that good advice in chapter 2 (“Creating Spaces”) had nothing to do with blissful quiet and pretty journals and luxurious fountain pens. Instead, it was simply this: “Stop judging your prayer … stop beating yourself up about how you are not praying and celebrate how you are.” (p. 12)

The end of each chapter is as practical as the material preceding it: it’s entitled “A Look at Your Life Now.” The reflection questions and action items there are concrete and do-able. The chapters present plenty of examples of real people applying Ignatian spiritual principles in ways that make sense with their current state of life. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to prayer. The best prayer is the prayer you can pray, and what you can do today is probably different from what you will be able to do next year. But since it’s not next year, do what you can today. That’s extraordinarily practical, and extraordinarily comforting.

One thing I found distracting in this book is the author’s refusal to use a pronoun for God. Yes, it’s nitpicky of me to notice, but when the word “God” comes up three times in two sentences it starts to get awkward; after all, isn’t that why God invented pronouns in the first place? This is the first time I’ve encountered this practice outside of hymnals and the people who insist on replacing pronouns in Mass responses and proclaiming those loudly, so it didn’t engender (pun completely intended) a positive response from me.

That aside, the book is definitely worth reading–it’s a great encouragement to any parent or other busy soul.


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: 101 Places to Pray Before You Die

Thomas J. Craughwell’s unusual guidebook to our nation’s vast treasury of Catholic churches, shrines, retreat houses and universities helps travelers add a Catholic element to their vacations, business trips or Sunday drives. If you plan to visit a city for any reason, take a look in 101 Places to Pray Before You Die: A Roamin’ Catholic’s Guide to see if you’ll be near any of the featured locations. Visits to some of these sites may not require very much time; others (like the retreat houses) beg for longer stays.

Since many holy sites are closing due to lack of visitors and funding, like the St. Katharine Drexel Shrine near Philadelphia, PA, this book is a well-timed reminder to take the opportunity to visit such places while the opportunity still exists. Your visit supports the efforts of those who maintain and staff these churches, shrines and other sites.

101 places to pray before you die

Craughwell makes sure to note that some of the locations featured in his book are “hidden treasures”: you might not guess from a building’s plain facade that it holds a beautiful collection of statues or boasts unusual painted ceilings, for example.

The author takes a “big tent” approach with this book, making sure to include at least one site from each state plus Washington, D.C., and selecting places with connections to a variety of ethnic heritages. The destinations include universities, cathedrals, churches, retreat houses, and shrines. Many are working parishes, so you can plan your visit to include Mass, if you wish (one of the highlights of my only trip to California was the chance to attend Mass at the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, so I’d always want to time a visit to a church, cathedral or shrine to include Mass)!

101 Places to Pray Before You Die also includes notations of special events or times of year when visitors might enjoy special displays, such as the collection of 76 Nativity scenes each December at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, CT.

Each site’s description is short (only a page or two in length) but includes website information as well as address and telephone number. I would have loved a photo from each place and a location mark on the state map illustrating each holy site. I’d hope that most readers know where the various states are, but not everyone knows the locations of cities within those states.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who travels frequently.

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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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Back-to-School Reads from Pauline Books

As the summer winds down and the school year begins, it’s time to look at some books for readers of all ages from Pauline Books and Media. I’ve organized these by age, beginning with one for the bedtime-story set.

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Beginnings by Lori Ann Watson is an excellent read-aloud for the start of a school year. Capitalizing on young children’s fascination with the natural world, Watson shows the beginnings of such diverse things as flowers, rivers, trees, butterflies, rainstorms and baby birds, then concludes with a child’s own beginning: God giving a child to a family, where the baby grows within the mother’s womb and then is born. This book carries a beautiful message about God’s love and God’s loving plan. Reinforcing the humanity of the unborn child, Beginnings would make a special gift for a child feeling a bit displaced by the impending birth of a sibling. Beautiful, gently-colored illustrations by Shennen Bersani complement the story and feature children from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

beatitudes explained
The Beatitudes Explained by Silvia Vecchini is for independent readers in intermediate school. This book, available Tuesday, August 15, is a small booklet that breaks down the beloved teaching from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount into lesson-sized pieces. Each Beatitude is related to other Gospel stories, events or parables. Readers then consider what Jesus is asking us to do, and read “Words to Live By” which come from Scripture or saints. Finally, the “Notebook” pages at the end of each section offer journal prompts about how we can better live the Beatitudes on a daily basis. This book is an excellent supplement for religious-education classes and would also be a good resource for families to work through together.
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Anointed: Gifts of the Holy Spirit by Pope Francis (compiled by Jaymie Stuart Wolfe) is designed specifically for teens who are preparing for Confirmation or are newly Confirmed. Most of the book is comprised of quotes from Pope Francis’ Wednesday Audiences. These short quotes are laid out on colorful pages with energetic, eye-catching design. Grouped according to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the quotes are encouraging and inspiring. The final chapter is made up of prayers, many of which are Holy-Spirit centered. There is also a short introduction to Lectio Divina, a list of Bible verses to inspire prayer, and a list of relevant sections from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I like the idea of gifting this book to teens at the beginning of their formal sacrament preparation so it can be used as a prayer resource for them as they ready their souls to receive the Holy Spirit. Visit Pauline Books to preview this book and download a free poster!
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A new Catholic coloring book from artist Veruschka Guerra, Jesus Speaks to You, provides a creative prayer outlet for fans of coloring books. Beautiful images inspired by Jesus’ words in Scripture fill the pages of this large-format book. My favorite design is an intricate botanical drawing inspired by the Parable of the Mustard Seed (but I reserve the right to change my mind about that as I keep coloring in this book!) You can download a free sample page from the coloring book along with a coupon code for a special offer through August 14.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
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.

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#OpenBook: July 2017 Reads

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:

Fiction

things we knewThe Things We Knew by Catherine West. When I reached the last page of this book, I found it very hard to leave this family of characters behind. Catherine West has created a wonderful group of flawed-but-working-on-it characters, most from one family, and all of whom have been wounded by a family tragedy that no one quite understands. Lynette, the youngest and most wounded, holds the key to everyone’s healing, including her own–but it’s been used to lock up the traumatic memories of what a middle-schooler once witnessed. Addiction and dementia in some characters add to the challenges this family faces. I read this book because Carolyn recommended it! It’s definitely the best novel I’ve read this month.

murphys luckMurphy’s Luck by Benjamin Laskin. A very different romance–quirky, captivating and a terrific story. Murphy Drummer has the worst luck. Everything falls down around him, though he manages to escape unscathed. After he’s kicked out of school, his grandfather keeps him at home, where he tries out every hobby under the son while managing never to leave the house. Murphy manages to make a name and a nice living for himself as a blogger. Once his grandfather dies and he does leave, a chance encounter with a woman who always seems to land on her feet raises the possibility that Murphy’s luck just might change.

cub creekCub Creek by Grace Greene. This novel paints a disturbing picture in a beautiful setting. Libbie is running from a tragic past, but her impulsive purchase of a home in the middle of nowhere turns eerie quickly when she feels like she’s being watched and has flashbacks to some of the horrors in her formative years. Her relocation isn’t enough to keep tragedy from following where she goes. There’s hints at some sort of mental illness on top of Libbie’s abusive family background.

loves highwayLove’s Highway by Jane Lebak. This novella is part of the “First Street Church Kindle Worlds” series by over a dozen different authors. I’m a fan of Jane’s work so I read hers first. Casey, a young woman on the run, shows up in Sweet Grove and lets her guard down immediately when she sees someone abandoning a litter of puppies. She can’t help but be captivated by the community there, especially Peter, who’s willing to put off his own future in order to see his brilliant sister through veterinary school. Casey is challenged to learn her own lessons in sacrifice and trust. This story stands alone, but you’ll want to read more about the town–and I do hope Jane will be writing more about these characters!

loves prophetLove’s Prophet by Melissa Storm. A sweet love story that continues the “First Street Church” small-town romance series. Widower Liam has shut himself off from the world, including his young daughter, who’s on a mission to carry out her mother’s dying wish: to complete the family once again. Molly Sue has her heart set on Jennifer, an old friend of her mom’s; will old memories get in the way of new romance?

 

YA/Kids

spokesSpokes by Deanna K. Klingel. Two homeschooled teens team up to train for a triathlon after a tragic hit-and-run claims the life of Kelsey’s mom. With the help of friars from a nearby monastery, Kelsey and Brendon set out to solve the mystery that has police stymied while each of them works through emotional journeys through grief. Recommended for readers in middle school and up.

Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

Follow my Goodreads reviews for the full list of what I’ve read recently (even the duds!)

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at CatholicMom.com!

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

 

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Dying for Compassion

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Dying for Compassion (The Lady Doc Murders Book 2) by Barbara Golder. A murder mystery by an author whose mysteries include enough character development to satisfy readers like me who usually avoid that genre (and very little gore, especially considering the main character’s profession as the local coroner). Dying for Compassion puts a human face on the euthanasia debate and how it plays out in cases involving children and adults. dying for compassion

In my review of Dying for Revenge (The Lady Doc Murders Book 1) I noted,

There’s much more than a mystery in this thriller; it’s the story of a soul in torment.

Book 2 in the series is less about the tormented soul and more about trust. Dr. Jane Wallace is just about to let herself fall for Eoin when his ex-wife shows up and makes it clear that he’s not free to marry Jane. The doctor finds herself vacillating between wondering if he can be trusted at all to traveling to Ireland to clear his name after he’s indicted for murder.

Meanwhile, mysterious deaths at home vie for Jane’s mental attention as she considers the impact of an assisted-suicide advocacy group that has entrenched itself in the town, including its health-care workers and her own assistant medical examiner. Can that assistant be trusted to do her job without bias? Can Jane?

In this series, the second book is just as good as the first (and a good deal less violent). I highly recommend both!

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: Cinder Allia

Karen Ullo’s brand new novel, Cinder Allia, is the perfect read for a rainy summer day. A Cinderella story like you’ve never heard it before, Cinder Allia fills in a grim backstory to the famous Grimm fairy tale. More Joan of Arc than typical fairy-tale heroine, Allia is a take-charge girl who knows that she’s the only one who can change her circumstances.

This novel answers the burning question every reader has about the fairy tale: why would Cinderella’s father allow her stepmother to treat her so badly? Ullo reveals Allia’s stepmother’s motives in keeping her in servitude and serves up a surprising twist in the form of a not-so-perfect Prince Charming.

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Who knew that a reader could manage to feel sympathy for the Evil Stepmother? It turns out that she’s trapped between a rock and a hard place too–though she’s still clearly a villain in this tale. And don’t go looking for fairy godmothers, pumpkin coaches or sweet little birds that put together ball gowns. Cinder Allia has none of those.

What it does have is a strong heroine with a keen survival instinct, struggling to overcome circumstances beyond her control in a world rife with treason and treachery. Move over, Katniss Everdeen: there’s a new leading lady in town.

Allia tightened her grip on the sword. Her scabbed palms burned with the wounds of hate while her heart drummed against the cross-shaped scar of love. No matter which she chose, it would leave her bleeding.

I highly recommend this book for teen and adult readers.

About the author: Karen Ullo is the author of the novels Jennifer the Damned (Wiseblood Books 2015) and Cinder Allia. She is managing editor of the Dappled Things journal and also writes recipes for Catholicmom.com. She holds an MFA in screenwriting from the University of Southern California. She is also a classically trained soprano who works as the music director at a church in Baton Rouge, LA, where she lives with her husband and two young sons. Visit her website: www.karenullo.com, Facebook page: www.facebook.com/karenulloauthor and blog: https://karenullo.wordpress.com/

(ARC received from author, who is a fellow member of the Catholic Writers Guild)

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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: “Healing Promises: The Essential Guide to the Sacred Heart”

My 1970s-era Catholic upbringing did not include the passing along of devotion to (and knowledge of) the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I am one of the many Catholics Anne Costa mentions in the introduction of Healing Promises: The Essential Guide to the Sacred Heart (Servant Books, 2017) who

“know the image but have yet to experience the depths of the love story behind it. . . . the graces that flow from enthronement of the Sacred Heart are being missed by far too many today.” (xi)

What’s devotion to the Sacred Heart all about? Where did this devotion come from? What’s “enthronement,” and how and why do we do this?

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“Through the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we encounter [the] faithful love of God.” (4)

Chapters are punctuated by prayer prompts called “Heart Notes.” These are invitations to contemplate the information presented and ponder it in our own hearts. Sometimes these are invitations to engage in works of mercy; others are Scriptures to read, topics on which to journal, or traditional prayers.

I’ve been a Catholic all my life, but until I read this book I did not understand the significance of the First Friday devotions I’ve seen practiced in many parishes. There’s a whole section about that devotion, and I appreciate Costa’s balanced approach to it, cautioning readers not to practice such devotions in a legalistic, ritualistic or superstitious manner, but to remember instead to “approach it with sincere and simple love in our hearts.” (49)

Costa leads the reader through an account of the revelations experienced by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, then breaks down the ways in which the faithful can foster devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in their own lives.

Costa’s writing is clear and to the point, and that does not get in the way of her obvious devotion to her topic.  As I tend to be turned off by overly-flowery prose, Costa’s simple and direct style proves that yes, you can invite the reader into a deep experience of prayer without using the type of language that was in vogue before your reader was even born.

Healing Promises is packed with opportunities for growth in prayer and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Whether you’re already familiar with St. Margaret Mary’s revelations and their application in our lives or this topic is new to you, Costa’s book will invite you into a deeper practice of the 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.