Sacramental Stories

Recently I read the new book by Allison Gingras, Encountering Signs of Faith: My Unexpected Journey with Sacramentals, the Saints, and the Abundant Grace of God. Interspersed with stories of Allison’s own spiritual journey as she and her husband adopted a profoundly deaf young child from China is “sneaky evangelism” about grace and the ways it’s shown to us—and the ways we hold our faith in our hearts. Allison had to make the faith visible and tangible to her daughter, but the Church made that easy for her through its traditions of sacred art and sacramentals.


This book contains not only a fascinating testimony but also an invitation to make your faith personal, by incorporating meaningful devotions, developing relationships with saints, and learning to see God’s grace and providence in every aspect of your life.




As I read Encountering Signs of Faith, I was reminded of the many sacramentals with which I’m surrounded every day. I’ve had this little prayer card of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in my kitchen window for at least fifteen. My grandmother kept a larger version of the same image in her kitchen, and having this image in my kitchen not only helps me recall my grandmother, but reminds me to look to the Blessed Mother as an example of my motherly vocation.

While I didn’t inherit my grandmother’s picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, I do have her statue of the Infant of Prague. That’s another treasure from her house that is now in my office, behind my desk, watching over me (and my work) every day. I remember from my childhood that my grandmother would keep blessed candles in front of the statue, and if a bad storm came, she would light those candles and pray there. I don’t know the story behind that devotion, or whether it’s something she did on her own, but that was her custom.




This little grouping of crosses hangs near the Infant in my office. I have several San Damiano crosses around the house; as a Secular Franciscan, those are precious to me. There’s so much going on in that icon! I purchased the tin Sacred Heart cross at the Catholic Marketing Network trade show one year, and my daughter gave me the milagros cross, which she purchased at the Shrine of Saint John Neumann in Philadelphia.



In my office window, you’ll find this tiny Nativity scene, figurines of various saints (those move around; some are on my desk as prayer reminders, and others are near the window), my jar of rosaries and chaplets—which would be full if I collected the ones in my handbag and on various tables around the house—and a big bottle of holy water.




My sacramentals might be a little dusty, but they’re reminders of what I believe in and what I’m here to do each day. To me, they’re simple treasures.

Ask for Encountering Signs of Faith at your local Catholic bookseller, or order it from or the publisher, Ave Maria Press.


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Photos copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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Recommended Reading for the Eucharistic Revival

To renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. (


The United States Congress of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will initiate a three-year Eucharistic Revival beginning Sunday, June 19, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. During this revival, Catholics will be called upon to deepen and strengthen our belief in and devotion to the Eucharist: the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Here are some of the books I’ll be reading during this time, and others I’ve recently read. Join me!

Merridith Frediani’s Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is much more than a guidebook about a particular type of devotion, this book, published by Our Sunday Visitor, begins with an explanation about Adoration that is definitely not for beginners only. Not every parish or Adoration Chapel offers advice or instruction on customary prayer practices associated with this devotion, so you’ll find that this book fills in those gaps in a helpful way.

nullIvonne J. Hernandez is the author of The Rosary: Eucharistic Meditations with St. Peter Julian Eymard, Apostle of the Eucharist. This is a beautiful book of meditations on the Mysteries of the Rosary. I prayed my way through this book over the course of four holy hours in the Adoration Chapel, but there’s enough material in the entry for every mystery that you could focus on a single mystery each day for three weeks, if you prefer.

Just published by Aleteia+OSV, My Daily Visitor: Eucharist by Patrick Mary Briscoe, O.P. is a devotional booklet with 40 days of meditations inspired by Gospel stories and the writings of the saints. Entries are short (one page per day) and the book’s small format makes it easy to take with you or keep inside your Bible or breviary for daily reading and prayer. This devotional also contains a collection of prayers before the Eucharist, written by saints including St. Catherine of Siena, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and St. Maria Faustina Kowalska.

7 Secrets of the Eucharist  by Vinny Flynn, published by MercySong/Ignatius, is a favorite of three authors whose opinions I deeply respect: Maria V. Gallagher, Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur, and Allison Gingras, who commented, “This book literally changed my life.” Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur noted in her Amazon review, “[this book] helps readers to once again be amazed by the mystery of the Eucharist. While no one can fully understand the Eucharist, Flynn uses Scripture, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, certain Church documents, and the Diary of St. Faustina to help explain it as much as possible. … This book provides complex information about this sacrament in a highly readable format.”

Ave Maria Press has recently published two books by Timothy P. O’Malley, in its Engaging Catholicism series, which I’m reading now. Real Presence: What Does It Mean and Why Does It Matter?, the first book, explains the biblical origins and long tradition of the Church’s doctrines of real presence and transubstantiation, and encourages spiritual practices that will help us recognizing Christ in the Eucharist and in others.

The second book, Becoming Eucharistic People: The Hope and Promise of Parish Life, discusses ways to cultivate a culture in our parishes that treats Real Presence not only as an important Catholic doctrine, but also as the most important part of parish identity. This book is not just for priests and parish ministers—there’s valuable information and food for thought for every reader.


What will you be reading during the Eucharistic Revival? Share your recommendations in the comments!


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photo copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of some of these books, but no other compensation. Others were purchased on my own. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Humility, Gentleness, and Patience

ephesians 4

I wake up in the morning and as I begin each day, I start thinking about how I’m going to spend my time. What work needs to be done? How much laundry will I need to wash and fold? What will I cook for dinner?

This morning I woke up and those same thoughts started spinning through my head. And then they were interrupted by a new question:

How will I bless my family today?

Living and working in close quarters, limiting or eliminating trips outside the house, dealing with the uncertainty of it all: we are going to need to bless our families by living out Ephesians 4:1-2 to the best of our ability.

We need to ask God to give us the grace to do this.

We are all going to need every bit of humility, gentleness, and patience that we can muster.

We are going to need to remember that this is hard on everyone. (I’m fully aware that I’m just as hard to live with, if not more so, as the one in the household I’m most exasperated with at any given moment.)

While we are deprived of some freedom right now, we are not, and can never be, deprived of God’s grace. He will shower it upon us. Let’s lean on that grace and bless our families with humility, gentleness, patience, and love.

Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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)

all in

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.”

Barb's Book shelf blog title

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

"The Evangelizing We Need" by Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS @franciscanmom

The Evangelizing We Need

In a conversation a few weeks ago, a friend observed that people have been leaving parishes (and, by extension, the Church) because they’re not being evangelized.

I was all in with that sentiment until it became clear that by “evangelized” she meant “told what they want to hear” and “affirmed in what they’re doing, even if it’s not what the Church asks of us.”

Actually, I think that if that’s the definition of “evangelization” we’re seeing too much of it, not too little.

If all evangelization does is affirm what we are doing, it’s a failure.

Evangelization is meant to call us to be better. It’s going to involve telling us things we don’t want to hear and calling us on our bad behavior.

As Elizabeth Scalia observes in Little Sins Mean a Lot,

If we were naturally good, we would not have needed God to go to the trouble of spelling out to Moses that, no, we cant just abandon our parents when they get old and feeble; we can’t just take what we want; we can’t kill whom we please and have indiscriminate sex all day long. As obvious as those prohibitions sound to us now, we need to be told not to do those things–because otherwise we would.
. . . if we are going to try to become really good persons, we need to identify and then detach from the faults and sins that we so readily give into, and thus keep us always playing defense. (18-19)

little sins mean a lot

About a decade ago, we had a pastor at our parish who worked hard to evangelize us. I wish I’d kept the church bulletins from that era, because he wrote a weekly column that was a real spiritual challenge.

He didn’t last long at our parish. People were vocal in their opposition to him. I suspect that what they really didn’t like was the spiritual challenge. Nobody likes hearing that they’re not on the right track. But everybody needs to hear that–or they won’t grow at all.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. (James 1:5)

It won’t necessarily be what we want to hear, but surely it will be what we need to hear.

"The Evangelizing We Need" by Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS @franciscanmom
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz @franciscanmom All rights reserved

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

Sharing YOUR Faith Story

How do you witness to your faith?

In his homily last weekend, our deacon observed that people always advise against discussing religion and politics–but no one actually shies away from talking politics. He asked, “why, then, don’t we feel comfortable talking about our faith?”

Maybe we just don’t know how.

The first time I was called upon to share my faith story, I had just returned from a Christ Renews His Parish (ChRHP) retreat. Newly married and new to the area, I was already feeling shy, and I was dismayed to discover that after you’ve attended a ChRHP weekend, you’re expected to be a presenter at the next one. I sat there at the follow-up meeting, listening to other women share dramatic stories of conversion and renewal of faith. I didn’t feel like I had anything to add or contribute; certainly, I had nothing that could compare to those witnesses. Finally I fled the meeting, weeping, and in a full-blown panic attack. I never returned. I felt like a fraud.

We need the right tools to help us evangelize.

SYFS coverNancy Ward has created a DVD seminar on evangelization that’s designed to help those of us who feel we don’t know how to share our faith. Sharing YOUR Faith Story is a 3-part study on telling our story effectively. It includes

  • Sharing Your Conversion Story
  • Sharing Your Renewal Story (or healing, miracle or answered prayer)
  • 10 Tips for Sharing Your Faith Story (in person, in writing, and on the Internet)

Nancy’s gentle presentation motivates viewers to persevere in prayer and to listen to the encouragement of the Holy Spirit to discover and share their faith.

My favorite section of Nancy’s DVD is Part 3: 10 Tips for Sharing Your Faith Story. (I’m all about tips!) She grounds these tips in Scripture:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

I’m looking forward to sharing this DVD with the members of our Secular Franciscan fraternity. Each month, we make time for ongoing formation. The lessons in this DVD will help members of our group share our faith more effectively–both within the group and outside it.

NancyGravatar2Nancy Ward is a fellow member of the Catholic Writers Guild and contributor at She shares her faith at

Would you like a sneak peek of the video?

Here’s a short (4-minute) excerpt:

Nancy is hosting a contest to win a Sharing YOUR Faith Story DVD plus a $25 Amazon gift card. Here’s how you can enter! There are 10 ways to get your name into the weekly drawing for the SYFS DVD and the grand prize of a $25.00 gift card.

  1. Comment on featured blog of the day (See the schedule below)
  2. Comment on Sharing YOUR Faith Story now available on DVD! or
  3. Follow featured blog of the day (See schedule below)
  4. Follow Nancy on Twitter:
  5. Tweet and Retweet #SharingYOURFaithStory tweets from 10/12 through 10-24 from any source.
  6. Comment on featured blogger’s Twitter or Facebook post about SYFS
  7. Comment on Nancy HC Ward new author FB page
  8. Comment on YouTube Encouragement Excerpt
  9. Review (1-2 paragraphs) on YouTube Encouragement Excerpt
  10. Review (1-2 paragraph) on Facebook: Nancy HC Ward

Comments need to include ideas for using Sharing YOUR Faith Story, such as:

  • Sharing YOUR Faith Story seminar is ideal for Catholic groups such as . . ..
  • I will use Sharing YOUR Faith Story DVD to …..
  • Sharing YOUR Faith Story is effective for evangelization because…
  • What I like about Sharing YOUR Faith Story DVD  is ….

Reviews would be 1-2 paragraphs encouraging ministry leaders to bring Nancy Ward to a Catholic group to present the seminar live.

At the end of this week the name of each supporter will be put in the drawing, once for each incidence listed in 1-8 and twice for 9, 10 – reviews.  A DVD will be awarded to the person whose name is drawn. Drawings are held on October 25th and announced on Nancy HC Ward and All entries from both week one and week two are put in the drawing for the $25.00 gift card, awarded Oct 25th.

Featured Blogs to visit this week:
Monday Oct 19 – Lisa Hendey –
Tuesday Oct 20 – Jean Heimann – CatholicFire
Wednesday Oct 21 –Barbara Szyszkiewicz – FranciscanMom
Thursday Oct 22 – Melanie Jean Juneau –,  Joy of Nine, Association of Catholic Women Bloggers
Friday Oct 23 – Margaret Rose Realy – Morning Rose Prayer Gardens
Saturday Oct 24 – Sarah Reinhard – Snoring Scholar
Monday Oct 26 – Contest prize winners for second DVD and $25.00 gift card announced on and Facebook Nancy HC Ward.


Book Review: Waking Up Catholic

waking up catholicOpening your soul to faith (or re-opening your soul) can be a little scary. You might have objections, reservations, hesitations and misunderstandings. And not everyone is the type to tackle the Summa Theologica.

Chad Torgerson has been there, done that, and he’s written the book on how to handle just this situation. He skillfully interweaves his own journey into Catholicism with concise explanations of just what this all means. If you’re exploring the Church for the first time, rebuilding the faith of your childhood or just looking for an excellent review tool, Waking Up Catholic covers all the bases.

Topics covered in this 156-page book (MUCH less intimidating than the Summa) include:

  • Tradition with a Capital T
  • Guardians of the Faith
  • Shepherds of the Flock
  • The Trinity:  Central Mystery of Our Faith
  • Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church
  • The Communion of Saints
  • More Than Bread and Wine
  • Reconciled
  • Becoming Catholic
  • Heavenly Conversations
  • Everyday Catholic
  • The Next Step

I found this book to be easy to read without being an insult to the reader’s intelligence. It challenged the reader to reflect and pray and consider what the truths discussed in the book mean to them. Torgerson’s honest account of his struggles with certain aspects of the faith and how (and where) he sought for answers drives home his explanations of the “basics” of the faith so that both the reader’s mind and heart are engaged in learning and exploring.

Who should read this book? I’d recommend it to:

  • people considering becoming Catholic
  • people in the RCIA program who seek full Communion with the Church
  • ALL teachers in faith-formation programs (for children, teens and adults)
  • parents of children who are preparing to receive Sacraments
  • anyone who wants to learn more about the Faith

Most of the people on my list above are already Catholic. But that doesn’t mean that any of us are experts. We can all benefit from the opportunity to refresh our knowledge and to have our faith refreshed. Chad Torgerson achieves both these goals in his simply-written yet deeply compelling book.

I read this in e-book format, but I’d recommend that you purchase the print version. You’ll want to mark this book with your questions and comments, and there are sections to which you’ll want to return.

The Fine Print:  The opinions expressed here are mine alone. I received an e-book version of this title, and no other compensation, for the purposes of this review.

Lawn Chair Catechism 1.0

Lawn Chair Catechism has officially launched over at! I don’t have my book yet, since I only just ordered it yesterday, but I’ll be sure to catch up on the Recommended Reading once my copy arrives.

In the meantime, I read the introductory discussion that Sarah posted this morning. There’s discussions going on in the comment box, and there’s a link-up for blogs as well, for longer responses to the questions raised.

I really related to the story of the parish leader who confessed that she didn’t have a “relationship with God.” I have felt that way myself. I remember attending a Christ Renews His Parish retreat shortly before I was married. My husband was very involved in that retreat program at the time, and he encouraged me to go on the women’s retreat. It seems to be a self-seeding organization–you attend a retreat and then you’re on the team of presenters for the next one.

I was 25–a good bit younger in years and life experience than most of the other women there. That was fine during the retreat itself, but in the weekly meetings afterward where we began to prepare for the next retreat, it became an issue. We were supposed to be able to give a talk about the moment where God really came into our lives.

I didn’t have a big, dramatic moment. All the other women did. I actually fled the meeting in tears, feeling like a fake because I couldn’t come up with some time in my life when God smacked me in the head and made me notice Him.

Throughout most of my life, I have been a leader in my church:  through music ministry, campus ministry, religious education, and Secular Franciscans (where I hold a leadership position in my local fraternity.) And many, many times I feel like a fraud because I don’t have that outward, obvious Relationship With God for all to see. I pray the Liturgy of the Hours. I play music at Mass and attend daily Mass when possible. I wear a Tau. And I find myself leaning on God more, and trying to do the right thing.

Am I an Intentional Disciple? I think I’m working on it. I’m getting better. It’s a SLOW process, this growing-up-in-faith, and baby steps seem to be the name of the game, at least for me. Could I define my Relationship With God? I don’t think so, and if pushed, I’d probably flee in tears, just like I did at that meeting 22 years ago.

Recently on Twitter, someone mused that she wished she had a thicker skin. I replied that I wished the same for myself, but that a thick skin can keep love out just as effectively as it keeps hurts out–and God is love, so praying for a thicker skin might be counterproductive.

The fact that I recognized this is, I think, a sign that I’m opening the door a crack–a door that I’ve kept closed far too long.

What we’re up against

Michelle lays it on the line. I think she hits the nail on the head here:

The goal here is to marginalize anyone who is devout. Devotion is bad because it induces guilt in those who are not devout.

Read the whole thing. It’s worth your time. And it’s more worth your time to think about what you and your family will do in response to this.