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New Season, New Devotionals

‘Tis the season to think about a new devotional. Whether you prefer a daily or weekly format, you’ll find something to love about these five new prayer resources. The first three are weekly devotionals; the final pair offer daily reflections.

One Sunday at a Time by Mark Hart

I’ve had this book for weeks and have been impatiently waiting to really begin reading it—because it’s designed to help prepare for Sunday Mass! One Sunday at a Time: Preparing Your Heart for Weekly Mass by Mark Hart is a companion to the Cycle A readings that begin in Advent (November 27 this year), from Ave Maria Press. This is a companion to Cycle A (2023, 2026) so I’m hoping we can expect similar volumes for Cycles B and C.

You’ll want to have the readings available when you use this book (or a Bible where you can look them up). After an opening prayer, you’ll get a look at the message in these readings—and some behind-the-scenes info, always fascinating to me—and then there are some journal questions and a challenge for the week. You can even use the journal questions as conversation starters! This book will help you dig deeper into the meaning of each Sunday’s Mass readings and apply them to your life.

As a musician in my parish, I admit that I need to be focused on the next cue, to be ready to start hymns and acclamations at just the right moment. This means I’m not paying attention to what I’d really like to pay attention to. I look forward to using this book this year, outside of Mass, to help fill in what I’ve missed.

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Loving God, Loving Others from Blessed Is She

Of the five devotionals listed here, this one wins the prize for Most Likely To Be Given as a Gift. Loving God, Loving Others: 52 Devotions to Create Connections That Last is a beautiful book that would make a lovely gift for a friend, mother, or sister. This multi-author volume is set up in a fascinating way: each of the six authors has written a particular section of the book, each exploring the different types of relationships we experience throughout our lives and sharing from her heart about her own path of growth within that particular type of relationship.

Authors Beth Davis, Megan Hjelmstad, Nell O’Leary, Bonnie Engstrom, Sarah Erickson, and Emily Stimpson Chapman offer three-page-per-week meditations, followed by a brief recommended Gospel reading and two questions for prayer and journaling. A brief discussion opens each section, and reflections are interspersed with simply illustrated pull quotes. The book is printed on lush, thick paper and includes illustrated end papers, a white ribbon bookmark, and a dedication page.

Loving God, Loving Others is not tied to the liturgical or calendar year, so you (or your friend) can begin praying with this book at any time.

 

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel by Pope Francis

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel: How to More Fully Live Out Your Relationship with God by Pope Francis (Image Books) is a compilation of homilies or talks given by the Pope at the Angelus prayers over the years and readings from the Church Fathers. Each weekly entry begins with an excerpt from that Sunday’s Gospel, but not the full Gospel, so you’ll want to have a Bible or missal nearby.

The homilies are brief, running about 3 pages each, with an additional page or so for the reading from the Church Fathers. The Introduction by Pope Francis is excellent, accessible catechesis about paying attention at Mass, teaching our children, and “encountering the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord”—and what the homily is there for in the first place.

Reflections on the Sunday Gospel is for the Cycle A readings only, though I had to go hunting to verify that information. The back of the book provides dates for each Sunday in the next 3 incidences of Cycle A (2023, 2026, 2029) and a table of sources for both the Pope’s and the Church Fathers’ selections.

 

What Matters Most and Why by Jim Manney

For anyone interested in Ignatian spirituality, Jim Manney’s What Matters Most and Why: Living the Spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola offers 365 daily reflections inspired by Ignatian wisdom. Each daily entry begins with a quote, mostly from Jesuits throughout history but from other sources as well, including Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, the wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous, and occasionally Scripture. Following that is a brief two-paragraph reflection on this quote.

Jesuit spirituality ultimately invites us to a way of living and leading characterized by heroism, self-awareness, love, and ingenuity. (Chris Lowrey in the Foreword)

The entries in What Matters Most and Why follow monthly themes, including Awareness, God, Love, Freedom, Work, Desire, Humility, Compassion and Trust, Choosing Well, Relationships, Practical Truths, and Becoming the Person You Are Meant to Be. This daily devotional is a good way to dip your toe into this powerful spiritual way of life.

 

 

A Year in the Word by Meg Hunter-Kilmer

If your goal is to read the Bible in a year but podcasts aren’t your thing, Meg Hunter-Kilmer has your answer with A Year in the Word Catholic Bible Journal from Our Sunday Visitor. You’ll need your Bible handy as you use this journal. A one-year reading plan is the first thing you’ll find as you open this book, with a checkbox next to each day’s reading, so if you miss a day (or more than a day) it’s easy to pick right up where you left off.

You can start using A Year in the Word whenever you want, as the reading plan is not tied to the liturgical or calendar year. In the Introduction, the author explains that her reading plan (which includes a psalm or part of one, a section from the Gospels, and chapters from either the Old or New Testament each day) is not a chronological approach but one that mixes the “harder books” with easier ones (her words) to keep you moving along and motivated to do so. By using this reading plan, you’ll actually work through each of the four Gospels twice.

This hardbound journal, with its sage-green cover, thick cream-colored pages, and simple design, will appeal to men and women alike. Wide lined spaces at the bottom of each brief daily reflection invite you to record your thoughts, and a timeline at the end traces the writing of the books of the Bible and the major events in salvation history.

 

 

 

 

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Images: Canva

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One-Verse Reminders

Every morning I begin the day with Liturgy of the Hours and the daily Mass readings, along with the Daily Gospel Reflection from CatholicMom.com.

That means I’m reading parts of three psalms every single morning.
The Psalms have the power to derail my morning prayer—or, more accurately, switch it to a different track—like no other element of the readings and prayers for the day.
Usually that’s because, as a musician and sometimes cantor at my parish, I can’t help but hear the melody for those psalms from when I’ve sung them at Mass. (This is only a bad thing when the verses I’ve sung before are different from the verses I’m reading now.)
But Psalm 42:3 (from yesterday’s responsorial psalm) hits different.
Athirst is my soul for God, the living God.
When shall I go and behold the face of God?
I don’t hear a melody behind that one: I hear a voice.
There’s a woman in my parish who served faithfully for many years as a sacristan for daily Mass and a frequent lector. When I read that psalm, which comes up fairly frequently in the weekday readings, I hear Cathi proclaiming it. Her accent (there’s more than a hint of New York City) sounds like home to me, so that might be the reason her delivery of the first part of that verse made such an impression.
Athirst is my soul for God—the LIVING God.
That’s not a word I would have emphasized, but every time she did so, I’d lose track of the rest of the psalm while I mulled over how it’s important to remember that God IS a living God. Living, present, active, and loving. And our souls long to see Him. We were created for exactly that.
I suppose it’s OK to be derailed a bit if you’re actually thinking about the message of the readings, as opposed to your grocery list or how behind you are on the laundry or how you’ll solve this or that problem at work.
If you’re a lector, your natural inflection and emphasis can lead the reader to contemplate in a way you probably never expected. You are bringing the LIVING Word of God to your parish. And our souls long to hear it.
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Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images created in Stencil

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Walk With Me

“Walk with me,” she beckons, one hand outstretched as if to take mine, and one hand over her heart. That heart, ringed with a garland of beautiful flowers, has been deeply and thoroughly pierced with a sword.

Her smile trembles as her eyes brim with tears about to spill over—but her eyes do not leave mine. She does not shy away from meeting my gaze, even in her own pain.

Young—so young—and newly postpartum, she reaches out to me, inviting me to hold her hand as I shoulder the cross of my troubles, that ever-heavier burden of cares and worries that knocks me down at times under its weight.

“I’ll help you up,” she assures me, reaching out her hand again to lift me off my knees, to catch me as I stumble forward, my vision blurred by my own tears.

“I’ll walk with you,” she promises. Sorrow and joy are no strangers to her. As I cast down my cares with each bead that slides between my fingers, she listens.

She knows all my pain—the pain I’ll talk about, and the pain I feel I have to keep inside. She knows. And she cares. And in my pain, I know I’m not walking alone. I know she is beside me, holding out her hand to guide me, to lift me up, to hold me up.

“I’m here,” she assures me, as every mother assures her little child in fear or pain. “I’m here.”

And as I stumble along, bolstered by contemplating the joy, the light, the sorrow, and the glory she has witnessed, I look into her eyes, answering her trembling smile with my own.

Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.

 

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Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos: unattributed painting of Our Lady of Sorrows, found in Resurrection Parish Adoration Chapel, Delran, NJ; photographed by Barb Szyszkiewicz

detail of stained glass window with heart and line from Prayer of St Francis

At Simply Catholic: Prayer as Petition

My latest article on prayer, Prayer as Petition, is available at SimplyCatholic.com.

A few highlights:

Prayer of petition, quite simply, is asking for God’s help. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus encourages us to place our needs before God in prayer.

In all humility, we reach out to God, knowing that he is the source of all good things, including forgiveness.

Prayers of petition are often very spontaneous: “God, help me!” Even if we feel far from God, we are able, in our supplication, to turn to him for help.

Read it all at SimplyCatholic.com.

This is the eighth and final article in a series on prayer.

detail of stained glass window with heart and line from Prayer of St Francis


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photo copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

At Simply Catholic: Prayer as Intercession

My latest article on prayer, Prayer as Intercession, is available at SimplyCatholic.com.

A few highlights:

Intercessory prayer is a powerful way to support others spiritually.

We are always encouraged to pray for others, ultimately entrusting their needs to God’s will.

Just as we might pray for someone in need, whether a loved one, friend, or stranger, we can also call upon the saints in heaven to pray for them as well — or for our own needs.

Read it all at SimplyCatholic.com.

This is the seventh in a series of eight articles on prayer. A new one will be published each Tuesday at SimplyCatholic.com.


stained glass window in church

 


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photo copyright 2015 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

Our Lady of Fatima statue

At Simply Catholic: Prayer to Mary and the Saints

My latest article on prayer, Prayer to Mary and the Saints, is available at SimplyCatholic.com.

A few highlights:

The saints and Mary cannot answer our prayers; only God can do that. But they can, and we believe they do, hear our prayers and pray for us, acting as intercessors on our behalf with God.

Our holy helpers, the saints, are the “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in the Letter to the Hebrews who surround us, helping us “persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (12:1-2).

By uniting our prayers with those of Mary and the saints and learning more about their lives and their example, we can draw closer to God.

Read it all at SimplyCatholic.com.

This is the sixth in a series of eight articles on prayer. A new one will be published each Tuesday at SimplyCatholic.com.

Our Lady of Fatima

Miraculous Medal holy card

At SimplyCatholic.com: Devotional Prayer

My latest article on prayer, Devotional Prayer, is available at SimplyCatholic.com.

A few highlights:

Rosaries, chaplets, novenas, the Stations of the Cross, the Angelus, grace before meals, the veneration of relics, and sacramentals: all of these are related to devotional prayer.

Our physical human nature benefits from the use of objects and actions that increase our focus on prayer.

Through devotional prayer, Catholics sanctify time (time of day, days of the week, and months of the year) as well as observe holy days and liturgical seasons.

 

 

 

Read it all at SimplyCatholic.com: Devotional Prayer.

This is the fifth in a series of eight articles on prayer. A new one will be published each Tuesday at SimplyCatholic.com.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photo copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

St. Casimir Church Riverside NJ detail of Brother Sun stained glass window

At SimplyCatholic.com: Prayer as Thanksgiving

My latest article on prayer, Prayer as Thanksgiving, is available at SimplyCatholic.com.

A few highlights:

Expressing our gratitude to God reinforces our relationship to him, in the same way expressing our thanks to someone for giving us a gift or helping us can strengthen our friendship or family bond.

Prayer of thanksgiving can be a spontaneous “Thank God!” after hearing good news after a difficult time, or a formal prayer such as Grace before Meals.

We need to look for, and be grateful for, God’s gifts even in difficult times or when we’re dealing with something unexpected.

Read it all at SimplyCatholic.com: Prayer as Thanksgiving.

This is the fourth in a series of eight articles on prayer. A new one will be published each Tuesday at SimplyCatholic.com.

St. Casimir Church Riverside NJ detail of Brother Sun stained glass window

At SimplyCatholic.com: Prayer as Blessing

My latest article on prayer, Prayer as Blessing, is available at SimplyCatholic.com.

A few highlights:

Blessing, as prayer, most fully exemplifies how prayer is a two-way street.

Praying in blessing and adoration is our deepest communication with God. We’re not asking for anything, confessing anything, or even thanking him.

By praying in this way, we put our spiritual priorities in order.

Read it all at SimplyCatholic.com: Prayer as Blessing.

This is the third in a series of eight articles on prayer. A new one will be published each Tuesday at SimplyCatholic.com.

Monstrance


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photo copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

Holy Cross Cathedral Boston 2019

At Simply Catholic: Prayer as Liturgy

I have a new article up at Our Sunday Visitor’s SimplyCatholic.com: Prayer as Liturgy.

A few highlights:

Liturgy, which includes but is not limited to the Holy Mass, is considered “formal” prayer because it follows a certain pattern, or rubric. Liturgical prayer is also “common” prayer, meant to be prayed by the community as a group.

The liturgy of the Church includes the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the celebrations of the sacraments.

Liturgical prayer invites us to engage in praise, blessing and adoration, thanksgiving, petition and intercession as a community.

Read the whole thing: Prayer as Liturgy.

This is the second in a series of eight articles on prayer. A new one will be published each Tuesday at SimplyCatholic.com.

 

Boston's Holy Cross Cathedral, copyright 2019
Boston’s Holy Cross Cathedral

 


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photo copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.