On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

Dare to Be More: Introduce Your Kids to Blessed Carlo Acutis

Do your kids know about the millennial who’s on the path to sainthood? Carlo Acutis, whose feast day we celebrate today, was born in 1991 and only lived to the age of 15, but in that time he made an extraordinary impact on the world — through the internet. Colleen and Matt Swaim tell the story of Carlo’s work on a website that displays information about eucharistic miracles in their new book, Dare to Be More: The Witness of Blessed Carlo Acutis.

Dare to be More

 

The 48-page book contains photos of Carlo Acutis throughout his life: as a young child, in kindergarten, building a snowman, praying in an Adoration chapel, and even with his puppy and his soccer team. The book, appropriate for readers 10 and up, discusses the many ways this teenager changed others’ lives for the better. The Swaims explain the Church’s process of declaring someone a saint and describe the miraculous healing of a child in Brazil, healing that has been attributed to the intercession of Carlo Acutis. This led to Acutis’ beatification in October 2020.

Dare to Be More is much more than a biography. On every two-page spread, readers will find websites to visit, Scripture verses to memorize, or questions for journaling, reflection, or group discussion. Each chapter ends with Saintly Challenges: small actions related to the concepts presented in that chapter. These challenges as chapter divisions make this biography easy to read a bit at a time and focus the reader on relating aspects of his or her own life to Acutis’. Dare to Be More would be an excellent gift for a teen preparing for Confirmation.

Dare to Be More: The Witness of Blessed Carlo Acutis is available from Liguori.org and on Amazon.com.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image created with Visme using a photo by Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author. 

Travels in Search of the Saints

Traveling around the world seems like only a pipe dream as we slog through a second year of pandemic restrictions and lockdowns. Although we can’t travel wherever we’d like right now, there’s nothing to stop us from reading about it. Readers who misses traveling will thoroughly enjoy Mary Lea Carroll’s two saintly travelogues, Saint Everywhere and Somehow Saints.

Saint Everywhere: Travels in Search of the Lady Saints begins with the story of a trip to Italy in the year 2000. After spending several days touring battlefields, Carroll convinced her husband and daughter to take a side trip to Siena to view the relics of St. Catherine — and she was hooked. Carroll enthusiastically summarized St. Catherine of Siena’s life and accomplishments.

I pondered in the dark this whole implausible tale of St. Catherine. Do I believe it? It’s hard to say yes. But I want to believe. Life seems bigger, grander, more fun if you believe that a person can have mystical powers. That one woman can quell a war. (29)

Subsequent travels took Carroll to places as diverse as Prague, New York City (more than once), Colorado, Bosnia, Mexico City, and Spain. She pondered St. Elizabeth Seton’s influence on Catholic education and her challenging life of suffering, recounted her pilgrimage to see the tilma with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and discovered that a quote from St. Teresa of Ávila would be an apt reminder as she waited in line at the DMV. And she considered her own motherhood in the light of the Blessed Mother’s visit to Guadalupe.

Thinking about Guadalupe, who appeared as the mother of us all, the one we can turn to when we’re afraid or when things turn awful, makes me realize how few women can actually be that type of mother. I never confided in my mother because she’d just judge and correct me. My grandmother, who lived with us, was so vain that she wouldn’t lift a finger around the house, driving my mother nuts. Me, of course, I’m perfect. Well, maybe I care a little too much about some things and get a little uptight sometimes. My girls call it “going crazy on them.” But I’ve tried to do my best, just as my mother did her best. We all continually try. Falling short and feeling bad is part of our lot. But humanity’s been given a gift in the idea of Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, who infinitely does not judge, who infinitely says just keep trying, who infinitely advises us to turn to her Son. (125)

Somehow Saints; More Travels in Search of the Saintly finds Carroll sharing more stories and insights from her travels. She begins the book with her trip to Philadelphia to visit the tomb of St. Katharine Drexel in the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul. St. Katharine’s extraordinary life and work inspired Carroll to consider the frustrations we experience as mothers, the saint’s contribution to the Church’s work against racism and other injustices, and St. Katharine’s emphasis on Eucharistic Adoration.

Further travels took Carroll on visits to upstate New York to the shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha; to St. Marie of the Incarnation’s shrine and the Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupré at Quebec, Canada; Emmitsburg, Maryland to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s shrine; to New York City to see the resting place of Bl. Pierre Touissant; to St. Brigid’s shrine in Kildare, Ireland; and finally to Venice, Italy, to the tomb of St. Josephine Bakhita.

In each place, she considered how she should pray for saintly intercession.

What would I want to pray to St. Anne for? I knelt down. How about ever more strength and the desire to do and be more? And for my own motherhood, even though my daughters are grown up. Help me be what’s needed now; help me to offer good advice and to keep my mouth shut. Help me to both be there and not be in their way. I prayed for possibly being a grandmother—to be a magical, fun, fairy grandmother. A grandmother who’ll bring out a box of treasures, who’ll take them on trains, who’ll have the patience for loud noise, who won’t be too tired. (81)

This book also contains shorter selections that focus on the heroic efforts of people Carroll knows in person: living women, saints in the making.

Mary Lea Carroll’s books are not fancy travel guides. They’re memoirs of journeys of the soul and reminders how the lives of the saints can inspire us in little ways. They’re stories of memories (good and bad) told with relatable honesty and humor. Maybe, when we can freely travel again, we’ll take inspiration from Mary Lea Carroll and begin our own journeys to visit shrines of the saints along the way.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz; photo copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author. 

Distracted by St. Joseph

Lately, during the quiet prayer time after Communion, something has been catching my eye. At this time of year, the sun slants just right to cast brilliant reflections from one of the stained glass windows onto a century-old statue of St. Joseph.

I’ve never really paid attention to that statue before.

To be honest, I’ve never really paid attention to St. Joseph before.

But in that quiet time, I look at that statue and I think about the saint. I reel in my thoughts from where they are trying to wander (I’m a mom, and a multitasker, and my thoughts are always wandering) and I think about what St. Joseph has to teach me.

This has been a fruitful distraction. After all, I could contemplate far worse things after Communion than what I can learn from a saint.

Everything we know about St. Joseph shows his caring love, his protectiveness, his sacrificial nature. Without saying a word, he shows us how to live.

Many times, we put our saints in boxes. Mary is a saint for women, and particularly mothers, we think. Men, and particularly fathers, have St. Joseph. And of course Mary is a beautiful patroness for women and mothers, and St. Joseph a wonderful patron for men and fathers.

But why should we limit the saints in that way?

Today, Pope Francis has proclaimed a Year of St. Joseph, beginning today (December 8, 2020) through December 8, 2021. The pope has also released an apostolic letter about St. Joseph, titled Patris Corde (With a Father’s Heart), and I am going to make it my business to read it in the days ahead.

Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.

(Pope Francis, Patris Corde, Dec. 8, 2020)

We have so much to learn from St. Joseph. Seek out ways he is portrayed in art — like the statue in my church. Most statues show St. Joseph carrying carpenter’s tools, but not this one. In this statue, he holds the toddler Jesus in one arm, and Jesus is grasping his other hand in that way young children do when they’re being held by someone they love and trust.

God trusted St. Joseph with the care of the Holy Family. We, too, can trust St. Joseph.

This year, let yourself be distracted by St. Joseph. Let him lead you to Jesus.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photo copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

New Graphic Novel Tells the Story of a Favorite Saint

Calling young readers who are fans of graphic novels: an exciting new saint biography tells the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who’s best known for volunteering to die at a concentration camp in the place of a total stranger, and whose feast we celebrate on August 14.

Maximilian Kolbe: The Saint of Auschwitz doesn’t just tell the story of Kolbe’s death, however: it celebrates the sacrifices he made throughout his life as he sought to serve God.

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World War II novels are popular summer-reading assignments for schools. While many of these center on fictional characters who make heroic sacrifices, Maximilian Kolbe tells how a Polish Franciscan priest faced persecution in Europe as he protected refugees of all faiths before his arrest in 1941.

Parents and teachers need not fear that the graphic-novel format dumbs down the story or reduces its impact. I found that this book was more challenging than many middle-grade novels and biographies, with sophisticated vocabulary and plenty of visual interest. Readers can’t skim a graphic novel and expect to understand its message: it’s a very concentrated format that demands a deep level of reader attention.

The graphic novel by Jean-François Vivier, illustrated by Denoël, depicts a man who from an early age was dedicated to the Blessed Mother and entered religious life before his 17th birthday, and spent the next 30 years establishing a religious group (The Militia Immaculata), a radio station, a wartime hospital, two monasteries (one in Japan), and a religious newspaper.

Celebrate the upcoming feast day of a devoted, tireless saint with the action-packed story of his life.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Links in this article are affiliate links; your purchase benefits the author.

‘Though War Be Waged Upon Me’: Praying to St. Michael the Archangel

After the second wave of Church scandals two summers ago, my pastor requested and received permission from our bishop to lead the assembly in praying the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel after each Mass.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl around the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

It struck me, those first weeks as we all prayed together, that there is power in this prayer.

I did not know that there is so much more to the story of St. Michael and devotion to him until I read Carol Puschaver’s Though War Be Waged Upon Me: A Saint Michael Treasury of Prayer and Reflection.

though war be waged

This booklet, only 68 pages long, details interesting saintly connections with St. Michael the Archangel as well as encouraging the faithful to make frequent recourse to him in prayer.

Ask his help!
How wonderful it is when someone turns to you with complete confidence and asks your help! They know you are capable, they entrust their need to you, and they give you a chance to shine with your God-given talents!
Recite the Prayer to St. Michael often, and seek his intercession, especially in time of danger, trial and temptation.
Ask him for the gifts of spiritual, moral and civic courage.
Ask his help to know and discern right from wrong and act accordingly. (57)

I love how this brings home the truth that we don’t need to wait for the big stuff to happen to call upon the saints for their intercession. Indeed, we shouldn’t wait. We should keep them close. We wouldn’t want our loved ones to wait for situations to get completely out of hand before asking for our help, after all.

Learn to pray the Litany to St. Michael, the St. Michael Chaplet, and other prayers listed in Though War Be Waged Upon Me, and find the best way to keep this powerful intercessor close to you.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Sweet Little Saints for Christmas in July

Little Drops of Water Christmas in July
Image courtesy of Little Drops of Water. All rights reserved.

It’s Christmas in July this week, and there’s no better way to celebrate than taking a peek at the cutest little Nativity scene! Little Drops of Water, a family business based in Portugal, created their line of saint figurines when Anna Amaral, now a teenager, asked her father to help make child-friendly toys that celebrate the saints. The company recently introduced special Christmas products, including its Nativity scene — and they’ll have a Santa coming soon.

Little Drops of Water Nativity
Image courtesy of Little Drops of Water. All rights reserved.

This is the Nativity I wished we’d had when our children were small. We eventually got a Playmobil Nativity set, but that is not appropriate for toddlers, with all the tiny parts! But a Nativity like this — it looks like wood, but it’s made of high-quality resin — is basically indestructible and child-friendly. This would be perfect to bring out each Advent so the children can help prepare for Jesus’ birth.

I’m really impressed by the workmanship behind these figurines. I first reviewed Little Drops of Water products in March of 2016, and my collection of figurines is still in great shape — even the Holy Family that sits on the very narrow windowsill above my kitchen sink. It’s taken more than one tumble into the dishwater, but the colors are still bright and there’s not even a chip or a crack. That’s a huge plus when you’re selecting toys for small children.

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Image courtesy of Little Drops of Water. All rights reserved.

Yes, I said “toys.” They’re religious figurines, but they’re made to be held and carried about in little hands or little pockets. Most of these figurines are 3 inches high (statues with crowns, such as Our Lady of Fatima and the Infant of Prague, top out around 4 inches) and they fit well in small hands.

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Image courtesy of Little Drops of Water. All rights reserved.

There are two dozen different Mary statues, ranging from the Madonna and Child to regional favorites such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Fatima, Maria Pomagaj (Slovenia), and Our Lady of Lourdes — and more. In addition, Little Drops of Water offers dozens of saints, from St. Anthony through St. Therese. There’s even Padre Pio, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and the newly-canonized Fatima visionaries, Saints Francisco and Jacinta.

Francisco Jacinta
Image courtesy of Little Drops of Water. All rights reserved.

As Little Drops of Water is based in Portugal, the Fatima connection is strong. In fact, they are the number-one supplier of statuary in both Fatima and Lourdes, and they offer several products related to each. They also create charms, plush toys, and more.

Little Drops of Water offers free coloring pages and craft activities for parents, teachers, and catechists to download and use, and you’re invited to share your creations with them!

Shop at Little Drops of Water using the coupon code BN63EE5EA9Y6 and you’ll receive a 30% discount on your order! They also offer free shipping (always my favorite perk) on orders of $50 or more.


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Opinions expressed here are my own. I received a Nativity set and other figurines from the manufacturer for the purposes of this review.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Franciscan Saints

In the month when we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (which is actually a solemnity if you’re a professed Franciscan), it’s only fitting to read about some notable figures among his followers. There’s a long list of official Franciscan saints, but author Robert Ellsburg did not limit the selection to canonized saints in his new book The Franciscan Saints (Franciscan Media, 2017).

Franciscan saints

I discovered quite a few surprises in the table of contents, noting that the foundresses of several religious orders of women in the nineteenth century were listed: sisters from some of these orders educated members of my own extended family. And once I saw that the table of contents was organized chronologically (by year of death) I immediately went to the back of the book to discover more about contemporary Franciscans notable for their heroic virtue.

Father Mychal Judge, OFM, was listed, of course. The first certified victim of 9/11 died as he ministered to others dying after the attack on the World Trade Center. Judge, like a few of the other figures who died since 2000, has not had his cause for sainthood advanced enough (yet) to be referred to as “Servant of God,” an early step in the canonization process.

Learn more about the process of canonization in this video from Busted Halo:

I was also surprised to learn that St. Roch, to whom many members of my family have had a particular devotion, was a Franciscan. (I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by that; for over 100 years my family attended a parish staffed by Franciscan Friars.) My grandmother had a relic of St. Roch — the first holy relic I had ever seen.

The saints in this book come from all walks of life: missionaries, princesses (yes, a princess!), poets, widows, martyrs, reformers, Secular Franciscans, prophets, mystics, stigmatists, and popes.

This book will be useful when members of my Secular Franciscan fraternity choose patron saints at the beginning of the year. We’ll have quite a few new names to choose from and new saints to get to know.

Teens preparing for Confirmation would do well to check out this book; the biographies of each saint are brief (averaging 2 pages) and include a quote (usually a quote from the saint).

I enjoyed this peek into the “who’s who of the Franciscan family” and flagged several saints for further study. If you like to learn about saints and you’re particularly interested in Franciscans, The Franciscan Saints is an excellent starting point.

Barb's Book shelf blog title


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: 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.

Yvonne_Craig_Batgirl
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.

incredibles

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.

#WorthRevisit: St. Therese

At daily Mass on Monday, Father gave me two hosts.

Actually, he gave most people two hosts, unless they receive on the tongue.

The gentleman in line ahead of me stopped, looked at his hand, and said to Father, “You gave me two.”

“Yes. Yes, I did,” replied Father, and continued distributing Communion to the other people in line.

After Communion Father mentioned that he should have said something before we all lined up. He was giving everyone two hosts because they want to deplete the reserved Eucharist in the tabernacle before Holy Thursday.

With two churches in our parish and a succession of substitute priests this spring, we have a lot of consecrated hosts in those tabernacles. So on Tuesday, when Mass is celebrated in the other church, we all received two hosts again (this time, with fair warning from Father before Communion.)

I expect that the same will be true today.

story of a soul tan classicsWhenever I receive a portion of a host, it makes me think of the moment in St. Therese of Lisieux’s autobiography, A Story of a Soul, in which she worries about only receiving part of a host:

I do not normally feel any anxiety about going to Holy Communion, but there was one occasion when I did. There had been a shortage of Hosts for several days, so that I had received only a small piece, and on this particular morning I most foolishly said to myself: “If I only receive part of a Host today, I will know that Jesus does not really want to come into my heart.” I went up, and to my joy, after a moment’s hesitation, the priest gave me two complete Hosts: what a lovely answer! (p. 105)

I actually like when I receive only a piece of the host, because it makes me recall an extra time, “This is my Body…broken for you.”

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For #WorthRevisit Wednesday I’m linking to my review of Shirt of Flame, which chronicles author Heather King’s year spent delving into the life and work of St. Therese.

…this is a saint to whom I don’t take easily.  A priest once described her in a homily as “immature, fussy, and a bit of a drama queen” and I’m inclined to agree.  I read her autobiography as a teenager, and I think it appealed to me more then than it does now that I’m fortymumble years old (I’m actually 50 now) and most of my idealism has melted away amid the cares and worries and chores of taking care of my husband and family.

That book got me reconsidering my opinion of St. Therese.

Have you ever found a book that completely altered your thoughts on a particular saint?

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

Recommended Reading: The Diaries of Joseph and Mary

March is the Month of St. Joseph. What better time to enjoy a little historical fiction starring the Holy Family?

diaries of joseph and maryDennis P. McGeehan’s book, The Diaries of Joseph and Mary, invites the reader to journey with Mary and Joseph from their early childhoods until Jesus sets out for his baptism at the hands of his cousin. These fictional diaries allow the reader to peek into the minds and hearts of Jesus’ mother and foster father.

McGeehan’s imagination is complemented by extensive research into centuries of Church scholarship regarding the Holy Family. He is careful to distinguish what we do know (from reading the Gospels) from what we can surmise (from reading history and Church scholarship). This book does not pretend to be anyone’s biography; it is clearly historical fiction with a basis in actual history and tradition.

While Mary has more pages in the book (since she lived longer than her husband), Joseph definitely has a featured role in this story. Mary’s diary entries are often devoted to praise of her spouse.

I found that this book offered much food for meditation. It allowed me to think about Gospel events and other events in the life of Christ in a different light, as I considered what Jesus’ parents would have been experiencing.

Don’t miss the appendix at the end of the book: 101 Questions and Answers about St. Joseph. Here McGeehan showcases the results of his research, sharing what centuries of Church Fathers and other scholars have taught about St. Joseph.

This book is appropriate for readers in middle school and up, so I’d recommend that you leave your copy around for your teenager to explore!