On Barb’s Bookshelf: Catholic Fun from Ave Maria Press

Barb's Book shelf blog title

Celebrate the fun of being Catholic with two clever offerings from Ave Maria Press.

Tommy Tighe’s Catholic Hipster Handbook reminded me of what I love about handbooks.

True confession: when I was in high school, The Preppy Handbook came out. My high school was preppy long before Lisa Birnbach told the rest of us how to imitate the real deal, complete with detailed drawings of what to wear for all occasions. I studied that book relentlessly, though it was clear from the subtext that as alligator-logo shirts and Weejuns weren’t in my budget, I wasn’t worthy to be among those who were to the manor born.

The Catholic Hipster Handbook is packed with plenty of Catholic inside baseball without making the reader feel unworthy. This book won’t teach you how to be a cool Catholic. Instead, it revels in what’s cool about being Catholic and invites the reader to revel in it too.

Tommy Tighe gathered together 15 cool Catholics, many of whom you’ll find speaking and tweeting and writing and hosting Catholic radio shows, to help put this handbook together. One of my favorite essays was Tommy’s own “Take a fresh look at that rosary” which encouraged readers to explore other forms of the rosary and chaplets. I’d add the Franciscan Crown to Tommy’s list of rosary-based prayer alternatives. Lisa Hendey details the must-have apps: I love the way she uses Evernote! And Anna Mitchell’s essay on the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) is excellent as well. And and and …

This isn’t a book you need to read start-to-finish. Skip around. Open at random. The only thing this book doesn’t have (that I wish it did) is a detailed table of contents that includes the title of each essay. In a book of this nature, that would have been very helpful.

Who should read it: anyone who’s into history, trivia, and great stories — and who possesses a healthy sense of humor.

Speaking of trivia, reading The Catholic Hipster Handbook will prove very handy when you open up Catholic Puzzles, Word Games, and Brainteasers. (It’s not cheating if you read the Handbook before you do the puzzles! It’s priming your brain!)

Matt Swaim included puzzles of all kinds in Catholic Puzzles. If crosswords aren’t your thing, there are plenty of anagrams, code scrambles, word-link puzzles, and more. Do you like a challenge? Try the word search with missing vowels.

Some of the puzzles are quick to complete, like “Misspelled Books of the Bible” (of course I did this one first!) and “Scrambled Partner Saints.” Others, such as “Alphabet Fill-Ins,” will take a while.

When you’ve filled in all the blanks in Catholic Puzzles, Word Games, and Brainteasers, you’ll be relieved to note that there’s a Volume 2 with even more Catholic-puzzle fun.

Who will love it: teachers, youth-group leaders, and anyone who enjoys puzzles! Pair it with a pack of mechanical pencils for a terrific gift.


Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz
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.

Advertisements

Inspired by Mother Teresa, Catholic T-Shirt Club Urges Recycling to Bless Others

Catholic T-shirt Club Mother Teresa
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

As we celebrate the feast of St. Teresa of Calcutta today, the Catholic T-Shirt Club found two ways to honor this contemporary saint.

First they designed a T-shirt featuring St. Teresa’s words: “Intense love does not measure. It just gives.”

Then they found a creative way for customers to reuse the mailing boxes from their T-shirts to bless people in need. Whether you choose to keep these boxes in your car or donate them to shelters or other agencies that help the homeless, blessing boxes such as these are easy to make and an excellent way to involve the whole family in helping others. Finding small ways for everyone in the family to help the vulnerable is a beautiful and simple way to carry on Mother Teresa’s work in our own part of the world.

What can you put in a “blessing box”? Mine will include:

  • toothbrush
  • toothpaste
  • travel-size mouthwash
  • socks
  • pack of wet wipes
  • band-aids
  • travel-size deodorant
  • tissues
  • water bottle
  • granola bar

Later in the year, warm gloves will be added to the boxes I put together. I’ll also be enclosing the toiletry items in a ziplock sandwich bag to ensure that any leaks don’t ruin the food items in the box. And look at the side of the box–there’s a Mother Teresa quote front and center.

Catholic T-shirt club Mother Teresa
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

This T-shirt is my favorite design so far from the Catholic T-Shirt Club. I prefer designs with quotes rather than pictures of faces on a T-shirt, and I love that the shirt’s designer referenced the signature blue-striped garb worn by Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity in the heart design on the shirt. The card inside the box featured one of Mother Teresa’s most famous quotes, “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier,” but the lesser-known quote on the T-shirt is not only a conversation starter but food for my own meditation as well.

I’m a fan of the way Catholic T-Shirt Club has turned an evangelization tool into an opportunity to help those in need.

Catholic T-shirt Club Mother Teresa
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
I received a free Mother Teresa box from the Catholic T-Shirt Club in exchange for my honest review.

St. Nicholas: Better Late than Never

We came late to the St. Nicholas “treats in the shoes” party. St. Nick didn’t start visiting our house to leave a sweet treat for the kids on his feast day until after 1996. That’s the year my oldest started school.

At that Catholic school, all the children would leave one shoe outside the classroom door at some point in the day. While everyone was in the classrooms studying, St. Nicholas would come along and put a candy cane in each shoe.

My son came home to tell us how he’d gotten a surprise in his shoe. Then he asked, “How come St. Nicholas doesn’t visit our house?”

To be honest, I hadn’t known that this was a thing. It’s not something we did when I was growing up. I distracted my curious 4-year-old somehow and resolved to start up the custom the next year.

Over the years, it became something everyone looked forward to; the night before, they’d all go searching for their boots (to have the biggest shoe possible in order to hold the treats or small gifts St. Nick would leave behind) and put them near the door.

The first year my older son was away at college, TheKid wondered how St. Nicholas would fill his brother’s shoe if he was in the dorm. That’s where Priority Mail came to the rescue! I started picking up the small boxes and stuffing them with packets of microwave popcorn, small candy bars, a new toothbrush, and a few candy canes. (It’s amazing what I can jam into one of those small boxes; remember, if it fits, it ships!)

St. Nick mails away 2 boxes now (this year my daughter took her box after Thanksgiving and promised not to open it before today.)

st-nick-2016

This morning I mentioned on Facebook that I’d cued up every version of “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” that Spotify has to offer in my neverending attempt to get my teenager out of bed. A friend of mine replied that she’d forgotten to set out treats in her children’s shoes today.

“Leave them for an after-school surprise,” I replied.

So if you missed the boat this morning or have never begun at St. Nicholas custom in your home before, there’s no reason you can’t start now.

Better late than never!

Too Apologetic: An Open Letter to a University Admissions Office

Author’s note: I started writing this article over three years ago. It’s been sitting in my drafts folder ever since. I have removed all identifying information about the university in question and respectfully request that any comment-box discussion does the same; I am considering forwarding this to the university administration so that they can plan future admissions events with this in mind. But as college-tour season is in full swing, this has been on my mind lately. I wanted to publish it and invite discussion.

When I take a high-school student to visit a Catholic college, I don’t expect the tour guides to genuflect at every statue in the quad. That’s just not reasonable.

It’s also not reasonable for a student tour guide at a Catholic university to stand in the chapel with a group of high-school seniors and their parents and say, “We don’t force religion on you here, except for the 2 or 3 religion classes everyone has to take.”

Why is this university apologizing, through its tour guides, for its Catholic character–a Catholic character which is evident not only in the statues on campus and religious art in the classrooms, but in its huge commitment to community service and in the presence and participation of an impressive number of Religious who are not only professors but also administrators, counselors, support staff, and (in some cases) dormitory dwellers?

Doing so weakens the very foundation upon which Catholic education is built. Excuses should never be made for offering religion classes, community-service opportunities and religious services or for encouraging students to take part in them.

Perhaps our tour guide, who was quite competent in the art of giving a tour and in her knowledge of the University, its history, and what it offers, was acting on her own when she made this statement. I certainly hope that this is the case, because I would hate to think that a university with a long history of Catholic character and community service that encompasses all the corporal and spiritual works of mercy would deliberately downplay the very character that makes the University stand out among the other institutions of higher learning in the same city.

The University’s Catholic character is to be celebrated, not swept under the chapel rug. No one expects the University to force religion down its students’ throats, but neither should you pretend that it is not an important part of both academic and community life there.

"Too Apologetic: An Open Letter to a University Admissions Office" by Barb Szyszkiewicz @franciscannmom
NOTE: This campus image is deliberately not from the college described in this article. Photo via Pixabay (2011), CC0 Public Domain.

###

This month I’m joining all the cool kids in the #Write31Days adventure! I didn’t pick a keyword or a theme, because just getting something written for all 31 days is challenge enough for me right now.

Fast 4 Francis: Welcome the Holy Father

Text-Mock-up-3-Final-3-1024x416

Yesterday, Tommy Tighe wrote about the report that about 31% of Catholics are completely unaware that the Pope will be here next month.

Clearly that 31% lives nowhere near Philadelphia, because everyone around here, Catholic or not, knows that the Pope is coming and that the city is going to just completely shut down. Or the world will end as we know it. Or something like that. It’s all-catastrophe, all the time around here.

While you won’t catch me anywhere near Philly during the Pope’s visit, I think it’s very cool that he’ll be here–and it’s good for the city. Really, it is. I think the mayor’s going a bit overkill on the lockdown part, but the visit is a good thing.

But no matter where you live, you can do something to help prepare for the Pope’s visit.

You can fast, and you can pray.

It’s Spiritual Bouquet time–for the Pope.

Fast4Francis is an opportunity for participants to embrace the Pope’s visit as an invitation to a deeper faith life and to pray for his safe travel leading up to and throughout his visit to the USA.

Darcie Nielsen, Assistant Director of Live the Fast, says “Prayers (novenas) and fasting together are powerful tools used in preparation for important events. This is a proactive effort to stimulate a fervent environment of prayer and faith for our Holy Father’s visit.”

The Fast4Francis novena will take place September 18-26, the nine days leading up to the pope’s arrival in Philadelphia.  Anyone from any faith may take part in the nine day fast. There are various tracks of fasting that participants can take part in. All tracks of fasting involve giving up certain foods, praying the prayers of the novena and taking part in a sacrament (like Holy Mass or Reconciliation). For example, Track 1 involves giving up coffee, Track 2, fasting from snacks and dessert, Track 3 involves skipping one meal, Tracks 4 and 5 bread and water fasts. Since prayer, fasting and almsgiving are inseparable, participants are invited to choose one of the Works of Mercy as well. Participants may also begin in one track and move to another or combine tracks during the nine day novena. For those who cannot fast, spending more time in prayer and/or going to adoration for the nine days is an ideal alternative.  As well, fasting can also entail giving up social media or television.

Pope Francis has said, “Fasting makes sense if it really chips away at our security and, as a consequence, benefits someone else, if it helps us cultivate the style of the good Samaritan, who bent down to his brother in need and took care of him.”

Want to learn more? Visit the Fast 4 Francis site and learn about the several suggested ways to fast and pray in preparation for the Holy Father’s trip to the USA.

Want to spread the word? You can print and share this flyer about Fast 4 Francis.

Image and press release material provided by Live the Fast. All rights reserved.

I Don’t Know Enough

A friend of mine recently approached me with many worries on her mind–not worries about her family or someone’s health or even things that are happening in the community, nation or world. Her worries are about the Church.

I feel ill-equipped to address the worries my friend enumerated, many of which concern Vatican II, the existence of a Pope Emeritus, and the Catholic press. I have the feeling that some of her concerns come from mis-reading certain resources, but I can’t be positive.

Catholic booksI might have shelves upon shelves of Catholic books, but most of mine are devotional, not political in nature. I don’t even own a copy of the Documents of Vatican II (I did read it for a college class, but college was a long time ago).

My stumbling blocks are not my friend’s stumbling blocks, and I don’t feel informed enough to debate the points she wants to make.

I did tell her that anyone who writes books based on conspiracy theories, such as the one she is trying to get me to read, are usually written by someone with an axe to grind.

It’s not that I want to hide my head in the sand here (well, I do, but there’s a lot more to it than that.) My Catholic to-be-read pile grows higher all the time, and I’ve got to be selective about what I read. Questionably-factual books aren’t going to make it into that pile.

And now I need to find a way to return that book to my friend, because I’m neither going to read it nor get into a debate with her about its contents. I just don’t know what to do with all the concerns she’s dumping into my lap. I certainly don’t know enough to address them.

Art and Irreverence

Last summer the Four Evangelists came to church.

evangelists behind altar
Last summer’s Evangelists, AKA the Traveling Willburys

They were set up behind the altar where they distracted me at each and every Mass. There they were, looking over Father’s shoulder as he recited the prayers. If I didn’t keep my eyes closed, I’d find my gaze wandering over to see if I could find the guy on the left’s other hand. The Evangelists were larger than life, but oddly proportioned, with any visible hands flat and deformed and smaller than mine.

And they weren’t in any kind of order, either, as we found out when the pastor conducted a little Who’s Who tour during the homily one day. Not alphabetical, not chronological, and not the order in which the Gospels appear in the Bible.

We musicians, of course, dubbed them “John, Paul, George and Ringo.” After about two months, they disappeared, but we found them again at the other church within our parish. That’s when they got a new name:  the Traveling Willburys.

I’m pretty sure that the purpose of art in a church isn’t to inspire the assembly to new heights of snark. It’s also not there to distract from worship. It should lead the mind to God. It should inspire not sarcasm but devotion.

Gary ColemanI’d forgotten about this particular venture in ecclesial decor until today, when a new set of Evangelists had taken their places behind the altar. These were even larger, and from where I sat in the choir area, it seemed that the one on the far right was giving the musicians the side-eye.

My teenage neighbor told me after Mass that she thought they looked creepy. For the moment, I’ve dubbed them the Suspicious Evangelists.

(That would be a pretty good band name, come to think of it.)

I’m guessing that the Traveling Willburys have taken up residence in the other church, and now that we have two complete sets (collect ’em all!) we’ll all get to be distracted by the various Evangelists until the end of Ordinary Time.

If I had my druthers, the only things behind the altar would be the crucifix and the tabernacle. There’s got to be a spot somewhere else in the church where the Evangelists could go, somewhere that can’t be seen from the pews during Mass.

Lead us not into distraction, Lord, and deliver us from creepy Evangelists.

Lawn Chair Catechism Ch. 6

lawn chair catechism 2014 header

Join the Lawn Chair Catechism discussion at CatholicMom.com every Wednesday this summer. well built faith lawn chair catechismWe’re reading A Well-Built Faith by Joe Paprocki, but you can participate even if you haven’t read the book. Check out the free Leader’s Guide, which covers the main points of the book.

Discussion Questions from the Leader’s Guide:

  • What does it mean to say that spirituality is not just a slice of the pie that represents our life, but is the whole pie?
  • What’s the difference between belonging to the Church and being Church?
  • What does the concept of stewardship have to do with spirituality and Church?
  • What does it mean to say that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic?
  • Why do Catholics place such great emphasis on Mary and the saints? Explain our understanding of the Communion of Saints.
  • How would you summarize the Catholic understanding of the afterlife?

Joe Paprocki starts off strong on page 37 with the statement that “the Church is not a club.” This is a concept that Father H at my parish drives home very regularly. At every baptism and wedding, he reminds the congregation that these sacraments are not private family moments but joyful occasions for the whole parish and the whole Church. And he exhorts the assembly to offer not only prayer support but the support of a true community to these families, because these sacraments are not only for a moment, but the beginning of a lifetime.

This is a concept that, I feel, is lost in a world where the Catholic culture is not as strong as it was when my parents were young. And I think that Father H is telling all of us that we need to be Church, not just “belong” to the parish and show up when we feel like it.

My parish, right now, is engaged in a community-building effort that they’ve described in our church bulletin:

Many times we ask ourselves, what more can we do as  individuals and as members of a Church family to reach out to others in our parish community. We would like to create a caring community where fellow parishioners know the names of their neighbors and where the church members come forward in times of difficulty and joy.

This is sorely needed, and I’d venture to say that my parish isn’t the only one that needs an effort like this.

The folk group I’ve belonged to since 2006 is that community for me. We’ve celebrated births, baptisms, First Communions, graduations and marriages together. We’ve rejoiced together at someone’s good news, prayed for each other frequently, delivered dinners when someone is ill, laughed together, and even provided tech support. I am so grateful to call these fellow musicians my friends, and I know I can call upon them for whatever’s needed–and they can call upon me. But we are united by more than friendship and the common bond of music. We are united by faith. We are Church for each other.

I used to dislike the phrase “being Church” because I felt it was just more spiritual jargon with nothing behind it. That’s before I had an actual experience of what it means to be Church.

What’s your take on this week’s chapter?

Lawn Chair Catechism Ch. 5

 

lawn chair catechism 2014 header

Join the Lawn Chair Catechism discussion at CatholicMom.com every Wednesday this summer. well built faith lawn chair catechismWe’re reading A Well-Built Faith by Joe Paprocki, but you can participate even if you haven’t read the book. Check out the free Leader’s Guide, which covers the main points of the book.

These sentences from Chapter 5 really struck me:

Salvation in Jesus is not a guarantee–it is a gift. The only way to embrace salvation is to embrace the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This means that we constantly strive to die to sin and live as a new creation, performing good works in response to this great gift. (p. 36)

Salvation is not only a gift. It is a gift that came at a great price:  the Passion and Death of Jesus. We can honor the gift of our salvation by trusting God, by praying, by performing works of mercy even when they cost us greatly. Especially when they cost us greatly.

What’s your take on this week’s chapter?

Lawn Chair Catechism Ch. 4

lawn chair catechism 2014 header

Join the Lawn Chair Catechism discussion at CatholicMom.com every Wednesday this summer. well built faith lawn chair catechismWe’re reading A Well-Built Faith by Joe Paprocki, but you can participate even if you haven’t read the book. Check out the free Leader’s Guide, which covers the main points of the book.

Are you brand-loyal?

Over the years I’ve come to develop a short list of brands I’ll choose as a rule:

peppermint bark talenti gelato

  •  Talenti Gelato
  • Arm & Hammer or Purex detergent
  • PG Tips decaffeinated tea
  • Martin Silk & Steel guitar strings

I can be flexible on most other things–but not these. Joe Paprocki makes the point in chapter 4 of A Well-Built Faith that there’s a reputation associated with brand names, much like there’s a reputation behind our faith. In fact, there are three names behind the Catholic Faith:  the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The best part of this chapter was the “So What?” section at the end.

To live in loving relationship with others is to share in the divine life of the Trinity. This also means that we have a name to live up to….Since we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we need to live up to the name of God, the Trinity. (pp. 29-30)

We’re also reminded that acts of self-giving love share in the life of the Trinity. I never though of it that way. It takes that whole “give a cup of water in My Name” thing to a whole new level.

What’s your take on this week’s chapter?