On my bookshelf with shelf of Catholic fiction

New in Catholic Fiction: In Pieces

In this richly detailed post-Revolutionary War love story, Rhonda Ortiz transports the reader to 18th-century Boston. Molly Chase, the beautiful and talented only child of a prominent Boston fabric merchant, suffers nightmares and other mental-health challenges after discovering her father’s body following his suicide. Her family’s former servant, Mrs. Robb, takes her in, but the church ladies find much to gossip about when Mrs. Robb’s young son, Josiah, who’s as close to Molly as a brother, returns to the city from a long sailing journey. And they won’t let up, even though Josiah isn’t even staying in the house.

In Pieces by Rhonda Ortiz

 

With no parents, no husband, and no means of support, Molly decides to turn her hobby into a (literal) cottage industry and uses fabric from her father’s warehouse to start her own business as a dressmaker. Mrs. Robb’s small home, owned by her son, suddenly houses Molly, Mrs. Robb, Josiah’s sister Deborah, and enough cloth to dress half the fashionable young women in Boston. And those young women make fascinating characters in their own right, as does Mrs. Robb.

Readers will cheer for the strong female characters and the smitten, determined hero who battle rigid social expectations and a villain you’ll love to hate. An “oh, no, he didn’t!” King David-style conflict, a Custom-House mystery, some PTSD, and even a little espionage make In Pieces a novel you won’t be able to put down. There’s even a cameo by Alexander Hamilton!

 

 

I called this book Catholic fiction, but you’ll discover in the reading that Molly is actually a member of Old North Church, an Episcopal assembly, and Josiah and his family belong to Old South Church, a Congregational church. But Josiah has friends who are Catholic, and his studies of theology are leading him closer to the Catholic church than his mother, the daughter of a minister, might like. We’ll have to wait until another book in the series to find out how this plays out, but this is not one of those annoying novels that ends on a cliffhanger; it’s a satisfying story all on its own.

I’ve read In Pieces twice already, and chances are good I’ll read it again.

 

 

In Pieces is published by Chrism Press, an imprint of WhiteFire Publishing dedicated to stories informed by Catholic and Orthodox Christianity.

About the author: Rhonda Ortiz is an award-winning novelist, nonfiction writer, and editor. A native Oregonian, she attended St. John’s College in historic Annapolis, Maryland and now lives in Michigan with her husband and five children. Find her online at RhondaOrtiz.com.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images copyright 2021 Rhonda Ortiz, all rights reserved, used with permission.
Amazon links in this article are affiliate links; your purchases benefit the author.
I received an advance copy of this book for the purpose of this review.

Advent wreath

Advent Resources for You and your Family

Don’t think for one second that it’s too early to plan for Advent. With the current news of paper shortages and shipping delays, the time to purchase what you’ll need for Advent (and Christmas, really) is now. I had the opportunity to peek at two new Advent resources: one for adults, and one for the whole family.

For the Family

Catholic Mom contributor Emily Jaminet’s booklet, On the Way to Bethlehem: Advent Daily Devotions for Families, is great for families with preschoolers on up. A QR code on the back of the booklet takes you to a website where you can download coloring and activity pages. There is not a printable page for every day, but there are 21 in all, including a day-by-day tracker. Your children can color or add a sticker to each day’s square as your family prays together that day. There is also an Advent Wreath coloring page with instructions to color one candle each Sunday. This extra resource is a great value for families because it’s easy to print enough coloring or activity pages for each child to have one.

My favorite part about this booklet is the call to action. Each day, there is a themed call to action that individuals or families can do. These correspond to the four themes of Advent: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. Emily also includes suggestions for parents to talk with their children about topics such as Heaven, trusting in God, and loving others when that seems difficult. On the Way to Bethlehem is available for Kindle and in print from Creative Communications for the ParishPrint copies are only 99 cents when you purchase two or more, and bulk discounts are available.

For you

Ave Maria Press has published a beautiful new Advent prayer journal by Fr. John Burns and illustrated by Valerie Delgado. Adore: A Guided Advent Journal for Prayer and Meditation is such a beautiful book, I could hardly resist the temptation to grab my favorite pen and start using it right now.

Adore is organized into four weekly themes: watchfulness, preparation, nearness, and Emmanuel. Each day’s section contains four parts: a quotation from Scripture, a saint, or a great teacher; Fr. John Burns’ meditation, space to reflect along with journal prompts based on that meditation, and a closing prayer.

The book’s design is spare and uncluttered, with a different color palette for headings, quotations, and prayers each week. To begin the week, a beautiful painting by Valerie Delgado spans a two-page spread. You won’t want to stop looking at this lovely art!

There’s a free leader’s guide available from Ave Maria Press if you’d like to use Adore with your family, prayer group, or even your whole parish. Each week, you can get free access to the author’s video series. Adore is available in ebook and print format. The print version is priced at $10.95, with discounts available for purchases of 10 copies or more.

 


I previewed several other Advent resources this year which are Christian but not Catholic. Those haven’t been included in this article because they are set up on an “Advent has 24 days” model, and that’s not the way the Church works. For Catholics, Advent has four Sundays before Christmas. It can actually have as few as 22 days, in years when Christmas falls on a Monday – or as many as 29 days, as it will in 2022 when Christmas falls on a Sunday. For some materials, that doesn’t matter; it really depends on the individual resource, so check things like that carefully when you purchase such resources.

Advent resources are often evergreen, so if you’d like to check out some items I’ve reviewed in the past, last year I had a list of 10 books and booklets you can try. Visit Prepare the Way: Advent Prayer Resources to learn more.

Finally: it’s not too early to purchase your Advent candles! Visit your local Catholic shop or order them online now, and put them in a place where you won’t forget them come November 28. I suggest you store them inside your turkey roaster, if you’re hosting Thanksgiving this year!


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author. 

Open book autumn

An Open Book: October 2021

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. We’re not even going to talk about how long it’s been since I’ve done a real reading recap. Here’s a (very small) taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

In Pieces by Rhonda OrtizIn Pieces by Rhonda Ortiz is a richly detailed post-Revolutionary War love story. Rhonda Ortiz transports the reader to 18th-century Boston in this well-told love story. Readers will cheer for the strong female characters and the smitten, determined hero who battle rigid social expectations and a villain you’ll love to hate. A King David-style conflict, a Custom-House mystery, some PTSD, and even a little espionage make In Pieces a novel you won’t be able to put down. At one point when I was reading this book, I emailed the author and said, “Did so-and-so seriously just …” (I can’t tell you more, because I don’t want to spoil the fun!). This novel is even better the second time around! (Advance review copy received from author. Full review coming soon.)

Life on the Grocery Line: A Frontline Experience in a Global Pandemic by Adam Jonathan Kaat. I’m honestly not sure if I should file this under “nonfiction” because it’s sort of a memoir/social commentary, but it’s a fictionalized memoir so I’m calling it fiction. It takes place during the first few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, in March and April 2020. Daniel, a grocery cashier, describes the rapid pace of changes in store procedure, the stress and emotions store workers experienced and expressed as the pandemic began, and the attitudes and actions of store customers. I was interested in reading this book because I’m fascinated by food marketing in general, and because I wanted to see how authors are handling the topic of the global pandemic in their work. This is one of only two authors I’ve seen mention it so far. Although the author spends a lot of time calling out the well-heeled customers of an upscale grocery store for the way they treated store employees, I think snobbery goes both ways. He was very contemptuous of the customers. Be warned: the language in this book is fairly raw. (Advance review copy received from author.)

Mr. Nicholas: A Magical Christmas TaleMr. Nicholas by Christopher De Vinck. A sweet Christmas-themed novella. The title character is not the main character in this story of a young dad who doesn’t know how to relate to his 10-year-old son with Down syndrome, nor his artistic wife who has begun divorce proceedings. When his son JB becomes fascinated with Mr. Nicholas, the friendly but mysterious hardware store owner, Jim begins to look at the people around him with new eyes. And as Christmas approaches, some very interesting things start to happen around that hardware store. Who, exactly, is Mr. Nicholas? It seems like only a little boy knows the truth. A fun read! (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

Autumn by the SeaAutumn by the Sea (Muir Harbor #1) by Melissa Tagg. Sydney, abandoned as a toddler and on her own after aging out of foster care, is contacted by a private investigator who thinks she’s the long-lost granddaughter of an elderly woman who owns a blueberry farmer in Maine. The woman’s three adopted children, all young adults as well, are skeptical, but Sydney has to find out if there’s a true family connection. A sweet romance and exploration of family bonds.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. Edward feels like he’s anything but a “miracle boy,” as the sole survivor of the plane crash that killed his parents and older brother. At 12, he has to start over in a new town with his aunt and uncle, who grieve the same loss as well as their inability to have children. The story is told in split time, varying between a minute-by-minute account of the doomed flight and the back stories of some of the passengers, and the 6 years Edward spends in middle and high school in the suburbs, a time he gets through because of his friendship with the girl next door, Shay, who patiently helps him process his emotions as they go through the sacks of letters the “miracle boy” receives from total strangers, including many family members of other passengers on that flight who seek some sort of closure and intend to get it from him.

YA/Children’s

Old Men Don’t Walk to Egypt: Friends in High Places #2 by Corinna Turner. Katie has the boyfriend every girl wants, but he’s controlling and not at all nice to her. When Daniel, a social outcast, suggests Katie study St. Joseph for a school project, she wonders how relevant this saint could be to her life. A relatable story with memorable characters in real-life situations. This series combines compelling fiction with facts about saints whose lives and actions can inspire teens today. This novella is appropriate for readers 12 and up.

The Fire of Eden by Antony Barone Kolenc. Antony Kolenc’s third book in The Harwood Mysteries series of historical novels for readers 10 and up is a suspenseful novel set in 12th-century England. The Fire of Eden continues the story of Xan, a teenage orphan who lives with other orphans at a monastery. Parents and teachers will appreciate the 2-page readers guide, “How to read historical fiction,” at the front of the book, and the author has also provided a map of Xan’s world, a glossary of religious and historical terms, and an author’s historical note that explains Church and feudal practices of that time and place. In this story, an accident causes John, who’s been Xan’s nemesis in the monastery for quite some time, to lose his sight. Angry at his sudden dependence on those around him, John is more cruel than ever, but Xan is forced to cooperate with him as they seek to solve the mystery of a missing precious ruby belonging to a young monk who’s about to be ordained to the priesthood. Along the way, they encounter dishonest monks, traitorous guards, and a frightening magician who lives in the woods. This novel would make a very exciting movie! (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

The Case of the Campground Creature: Sisters of the Last Straw #7 by Karen Kelly Boyce. I will never miss a chance to read an installment of the Sisters of the Last Straw series by Karen Kelly Boyce (TAN Books). Written for young readers age 6 to 12, the characters in these chapter books form a community of religious sisters who struggle, not always successfully (but always hilariously), with bad habits. Even though they don’t succeed all the time, they do try to be patient with their own faults and those of others, and to help and encourage each other along the way. In The Case of the Campground Creature, the Sisters are given a camper and decide to take a much-needed vacation. When the camper breaks down on the way to their destination, they’re towed to a new campground while the repair shop waits for parts to fix the camper. But the new campground isn’t as welcoming as it seems at first: dark woods, strange noises, and a mysterious creature frighten the Sisters, most of whom have never camped before. You don’t have to read the books in this series in order. The Case of the Campground Creature would make a fun family (or classroom) read-aloud, especially at this time of year since the book has a spooky (but not too scary) theme. (Advance review copy received from publisher.)

Lucia of Fatima: Brave Hearts #3 by Kathryn Griffin Swegart is an excellent introduction to the story of the apparitions at Fatima. It is the third book in a series of children’s books about courageous Catholics whose faith changed their lives in extraordinary ways. Told from the point of view of Lucia, who was 10 years old when the Blessed Mother first appeared to her and her younger cousins at Fatima, this historical novel gives readers a look into what it was like for the young visionary and how her life was changed afterward. The author, a gifted storyteller, skillfully portrayed each scene. The story brings home the message that you are never too young to follow God’s call. Lucia of Fatima is written for ages 10 and up, but would be a good read-aloud for age 7 and up. (Advance review copy received from author.)

In the Palace of the Great King by Julie Ash. This novel for middle-school readers and up follows two young girls as they try to make sense of their place in the world and God’s place in their hearts. In the Palace of the Great King explores themes of religious vocation, teenage pregnancy, poverty’s effects on the family, and the call to conversion. Three teens from two very different backgrounds meet when they take shelter in an urban church during a terrible storm. Char, who lives in the shadow of her younger sister Kayla, feels overcome by loneliness; Tia is overwhelmed by school, her job, and caring for her little brother when the adults in her life are unable to watch him after school. All three are changed after they stumble into that church, with Char struggling to make sense of her mother’s violent objections to religion and the prolife movement, and Tia wondering if God is calling her to join the community of nuns who welcomed the girls during the storm. Currently In the Palace of the Great King is available only on Kindle; a bound version is due out later this year. (Advance review copy received from author.)

Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, illustrated by Ann Xu. I’m not a big fan of graphic novels, but this one caught my eye with its emphasis on cooking. Cici, who dearly misses the grandmother her family left behind when they moved to the USA from Taiwan, decides to enter a cooking contest for kids to earn the money for a plane ticket so her grandmother can visit. Determined to fit in even though she only knows how to cook Taiwanese food, Cici perseveres through the contest as well as school pressures and the challenges of making new friends in middle school. This was a well-told story of persistence, the importance of family, and true friendship.


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

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

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

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

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

The Franciscan Option

I am a Secular Franciscan and I live in the suburbs. I have a husband and a family and a job. And as the minister of my Secular Franciscan fraternity, responsibility weighs heavy on my heart.

You see, it is the role of the minister to serve the fraternity. We’re not called the president or even the leader, though ministers preside over meetings and are called to lead by example. The minister is called to serve. In the case of my fraternity, that has been a difficult call to follow in the past several years. Ministers are normally allowed to serve two 3-year terms. My six years were up six years ago, and I’m still here.

Not all Franciscans live in community and serve in the inner city or mission territories. All my life, I have known Franciscans who did this; in fact, having such Franciscans in the background of my life is surely part of the reason I followed the path to becoming a Secular Franciscan. I grew up knowing friars from the Holy Name Province of the Order of Friars Minor who ministered in New York City, in the mountains of Bolivia, and in a soup kitchen in Philly’s Kensington neighborhood (where my older son later volunteered a few days a week during his college years). Later I came to know one of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, a priest who regularly takes a stand against the culture of death by leading prayerful processions to abortion clinics twice a month. When he’s not involved with that work, he serves as a leader for the Good Counsel Homes, a network of housing, educational and parenting support, and prayerful encouragement for women in crisis pregnancies and their babies. When he’s not involved with that work, he’s living in the South Bronx and serving those in need in his neighborhood.

We Secular Franciscans do not live in community and not all of us can do that kind of work. All of us, however, can pray for those who do. We can financially support those who do. We can cast our votes and contact our government representatives and advocate for those who are most vulnerable, whether they be unborn children in danger of abortion, pregnant mothers with nowhere to go, people who are hungry, or people who are lonely.

While we cannot devote our lives 24/7 to the kind of service that vowed Franciscans do, we can live our call to serve others in many ways. Anyone, no matter what their state in life, can find ways to live out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

As I watched The Franciscan Way, a video featuring one of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in the OSV Talks series, I was inspired to renew my commitment: a commitment I made 20 years ago, on October 4, 2001. I made a promise “to live my life in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Secular Franciscan Order.” I need to recommit my life of service, because I am not the same wife, mother, professional, and Franciscan I was 20 years ago.

The Franciscan Option is the belief that the radical Christ-centered incarnationalism of St. Francis, renewed in those called to engage society, has the power to transform the world. (Fr. Agustino Torres, CFR)

How can we engage society? How can we bring Christ to the world today? How can we bring Christ to our own family? How can I bring Christ to my fraternity?

Right now, my Secular Franciscan fraternity is in a time of struggle. We don’t have many members who are able to attend meetings and serve the fraternity on the Council. We can’t elect a new Council because we don’t have enough people to serve on it. Our members have served for many years, and I need to remember that some of them are now the needy I am called to serve. I’ve been trying to find ways to do this. They’re not big things, and they’re not time-consuming. But doing a little thing can be meaningful. I’m listing a few to help you think of things you can do to serve the needy in your life.

  • Each week during folk group rehearsal, I call one of our homebound members, put the phone on speaker, and we sing one of the songs we’ll be singing at Sunday Mass.
  • When our parish wasn’t giving out printed bulletins during the pandemic, I printed the PDF from the parish website and mailed it to one of our members who doesn’t have access to a computer or smartphone.
  • The week of a fraternity member’s birthday, I dedicate my holy hour for their intentions and send them a card.

Francis would say that we need to incarnate Christ in our own lives. (Fr. Agustino Torres, CFR)

Love of the poor; joy of the cross; loving a Church with the Eucharist as the center: this is the Franciscan Option.

St. Francis embracing the leper
Jim McIntosh, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

Images: Wolfgang Moroder, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Jim McIntosh, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This post was inspired by Fr. Agustino Torres’ Talk in the OSV Talks series, a series of topics from prominent Catholic leaders to spark discussion, explore new or re-explore old approaches, and inspire creative thinking, all from the heart of the Church.

Four Fall Reads for Kids and Teens

Are your kids looking for some new reading material? You can count on the content of these four new books to be fascinating and faithfully Catholic. They’re listed in order from youngest to oldest audience. Three of these books are parts of series, but thanks to their skillful authors, readers can jump right into the stories (though they’ll probably want to catch up on the rest after reading one).

 

The Case of the Campground Creature: Sisters of the Last Straw #7

I will never miss a chance to read an installment of the Sisters of the Last Straw series by Karen Kelly Boyce (TAN Books). Written for young readers age 6 to 12, the characters in these chapter books form a community of religious sisters who struggle, not always successfully (but always hilariously), with bad habits. Even though they don’t succeed all the time, they do try to be patient with their own faults and those of others, and to help and encourage each other along the way.

 

Sisters of the Last Straw book 7

 

In The Case of the Campground Creature, the Sisters are given a camper and decide to take a much-needed vacation. When the camper breaks down on the way to their destination, they’re towed to a new campground while the repair shop waits for parts to fix the camper. But the new campground isn’t as welcoming as it seems at first: dark woods, strange noises, and a mysterious creature frighten the Sisters, most of whom have never camped before.

You don’t have to read the books in this series in order. The Case of the Campground Creature would make a fun family (or classroom) read-aloud, especially at this time of year since the book has a spooky (but not too scary) theme.

 

Lucia of Fatima: Brave Hearts #3

Lucia of Fatima by Catholic Mom contributor Kathryn Griffin Swegart is an excellent introduction to the story of the apparitions at Fatima. It is the third book in a series of children’s books about courageous Catholics whose faith changed their lives in extraordinary ways.

 

 

Told from the point of view of Lucia, who was 10 years old when the Blessed Mother first appeared to her and her younger cousins at Fatima, this historical novel gives readers a look into what it was like for the young visionary and how her life was changed afterward. The author, a gifted storyteller, skillfully portrayed each scene. The story brings home the message that you are never too young to follow God’s call. Lucia of Fatima is written for ages 10 and up, but would be a good read-aloud for age 7 and up.

 

The Fire of Eden: The Harwood Mysteries #3

Antony Kolenc’s third book in The Harwood Mysteries series of historical novels for readers 10 and up is a suspenseful novel set in 12th-century England (Loyola Press). The Fire of Eden continues the story of Xan, a teenage orphan who lives with other orphans at a monastery. Parents and teachers will appreciate the 2-page readers guide, “How to read historical fiction,” at the front of the book, and the author has also provided a map of Xan’s world, a glossary of religious and historical terms, and an author’s historical note that explains Church and feudal practices of that time and place.

 

 

In The Fire of Eden, an accident causes John, who’s been Xan’s nemesis in the monastery for quite some time, to lose his sight. Angry at his sudden dependence on those around him, John is more cruel than ever, but Xan is forced to cooperate with him as they seek to solve the mystery of a missing precious ruby belonging to a young monk who’s about to be ordained to the priesthood. Along the way, they encounter dishonest monks, traitorous guards, and a frightening magician who lives in the woods. (This novel would make a very exciting movie!)

 

In the Palace of the Great King

Julie Ash’s novel for middle-school readers and up follows two young girls as they try to make sense of their place in the world and God’s place in their hearts. In the Palace of the Great King explores themes of religious vocation, teenage pregnancy, poverty’s effects on the family, and the call to conversion.

 

 

Three teens from two very different backgrounds meet when they take shelter in an urban church during a terrible storm. Char, who lives in the shadow of her younger sister Kayla, feels overcome by loneliness; Tia is overwhelmed by school, her job, and caring for her little brother when the adults in her life are unable to watch him after school. All three are changed after they stumble into that church, with Char struggling to make sense of her mother’s violent objections to religion and the prolife movement, and Tia wondering if God is calling her to join the community of nuns who welcomed the girls during the storm. Currently In the Palace of the Great King is available only on Kindle; a bound version is due out later this year.

 


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
I received review copies of each of these books, and no other compensation, from the publisher or author. Opinions expressed here are my own.
This article contains Amazon affiliate links.

statue of angel

New from Magnificat: Nine Days with Saint Michael

We celebrate the Feast of Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Rafael on September 29. This is the perfect time to begin a novena to the original prayer warrior, St. Michael the Archangel. Magnificat has just released Nine Days with Saint Michael, a beautiful novena of prayers for spiritual protection.

It takes a spiritual battle to be good, a battle we fight with Heaven’s help. (4)

 

Nine Days with Saint Michael

The prayers and meditations for each of the nine days focus on one aspect of St. Michael the Archangel, from his name meaning “Who is like God?” to his dignity as an archangel and Prince of the Heavenly Host, to his rebuke of the devil and affirmation of his own promise to serve God always, to his heavenly worship and the battle against the dragon (as detailed in Revelation), to his service of God at the time of our judgment.

Each day’s novena entry is structured as follows:

  • Sacred art
  • Introduction
  • Hymn
  • Scripture (the reading is included in full, so you won’t need to juggle your prayer book and Bible)
  • Meditation
  • Intercession: entrust St. Michael to bring your special intention to God at this time
  • Our Father
  • Intercession of Mary, Queen of Angels
  • Closing Prayer
  • St. Michael Prayer

Bonus content in this book includes the Litany of St. Michael and the Chaplet of St. Michael, so this book will be handy to keep around long after you finish praying the novena.

The print edition of Nine Days with Saint Michael is a lovely little book, with heavy, glossy paper that complements the sacred art (a different artist’s depiction of St. Michael, in worship and in battle, accompanies the meditation for each day). It’s a good value for the $5.99 cover price. An interior view is pictured below.

 

interior spread from Nine Days with Saint Michael

 

Nine Days with Saint Michael is available at Magnificat.com. Bulk pricing is available. A Kindle version is available on Amazon.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images: Canva; Magnificat.com, all rights reserved.
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author.

Back-to-School Special: Amy Cattapan’s New Book for Teachers

Just in time for the beginning of the school year, Ave Maria Press has released Amy J. Cattapan’s first nonfiction book, Sweet Jesus, Is It June Yet? 10 Ways the Gospels Can Help You Combat Teacher Burnout and Rediscover Your Passion for TeachingWritten for new and veteran teachers alike, this book is the perfect read at the beginning of the school year, offering Bible-based strategies teachers can use to battle discouragement, stress, and burnout.

 

As a fellow member and volunteer for the Catholic Writers Guild, I’ve known Amy for several years. She’s a middle-school teacher and author of two novels for middle- and high-school students, a Dame of Malta, an avid runner, and (in her free time?) recently completed an Ed.D. This summer, Amy organized the Catholic Writers Guild conference, a hybrid event with in-person and online speakers and attendees. Amy also hosts a YouTube channel featuring the “Cath-Lit Live!” video series, in which she interviews Catholic authors about their newly released books. Amy is energetic (as you can see from this list of accomplishments) and always ready to share what she’s learned with others. You can learn more about her work at AJCattapan.com

 

 

It was my pleasure to interview Amy about her newest book.

Is Sweet Jesus, Is It June Yet? for Catholic school teachers only?

The initial audience for the book was Catholic school teachers, but I’ve found that DREs and catechists are also relating to it, as well as other Christians who work in education. Basically, anyone who reads the Bible and does some kind of teaching can appreciate the connections between the Gospel stories and the work that they do.

 

How can homeschooling moms (or dads) benefit from this book?

Homeschooling parents can benefit in much the same ways that classroom teachers and catechists do. It can help them to focus on why they decided to homeschool in the first place, as well as find guidance for how Jesus can be a role model for them as educators as well.

 

What’s your advice for teachers who feel that admitting feelings of teacher burnout means that they’re not good teachers?

Even people who love their jobs and are very successful often go through periods of burnout. This is why we need to take breaks from our work and then come back refreshed. Feeling burned out is a normal reaction to caring about the job you do. If we are feeling burned out, it’s an indication that we’ve been pouring out heart and soul into the job. While it’s great that so many teachers care so much about doing a great job, we also need to remember that it’s necessary to step back and “fill our own cups” whenever we feeling like we are running on empty. Don’t forget how many times Jesus had to go away to a quiet place! If He needed rest and quiet, then so do we!

 

In one of my favorite chapters, “Jesus Knew When (and How Far) to Bend the Rules,” you mention the destructive power of negative attitudes. When I was teaching, I stopped eating lunch in the teachers’ lounge because of the negative attitudes among some other teachers. While I cut myself off from the cynicism, I also missed opportunities for sharing ideas and getting help. Is there a better way to handle that kind of situation?

Excellent question! I know many teachers who avoid the lounge; sometimes it is necessary to do that. However, that shouldn’t mean we isolate ourselves entirely. Try to find the coworkers with whom you can have constructive conversations. Seek out times that you are free, and make a point of connecting with that person(s) regularly — perhaps during a mutual planning period or even a few minutes before or after school. Also find ways to connect with teachers outside of your own school. For example, go to teacher conferences, talk to friends who are teachers at other schools, and participate in informal professional development opportunities, like the #CatholicEdChat discussions that happen on Twitter the first and third Saturdays of each month.

 

It’s providential that your book has been released just as teachers are beginning a second full school year with the challenges of pandemic restrictions. Which chapter would you recommend to teachers who are feeling anxious about this?

I would recommend chapters 8 and 10. Chapter 8 is called “Jesus Took Challenges in Stride.” We’ve had a lot of challenges over the last 18 months. Jesus can teach us how to handle them with grace. Chapter 10 is called “Jesus Knew When to Stop and Just Let It Be.” There is so much we can’t control during a pandemic. Jesus can show us how to let go of unrealistic expectations and focus on what we can do.

This book makes a great teacher gift!

Sweet Jesus, Is It June Yet? is available from the publisher, Ave Maria Press, on Amazon, and wherever you purchase Catholic books. If you’re interested in ordering multiple books for all your kids’ teachers, contact Amy about a discount code for bulk orders! (Don’t wait until Christmas to share this book with the teachers you know. They need it now.)


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Author photo courtesy of Amy J. Cattapan
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book by the publisher, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

girl copying off boy's paper in school

Time to Stop Looking

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” (Matthew 5:29)

This pretty much sums up Instagram for me, some days.

I like some things on Instagram. One of my kids shares photos of mountains he’s climbed (though sometimes the views are a little scary for me), and another posts little videos of her silly cat. I like the graphics with encouraging phrases. I like the prayers. I like the pictures of delicious dinners (and cookies) with links in bio to recipes.

What I don’t like so much is my reaction to the other stuff on Instagram. Since Instagram has become a replacement blogging platform, it’s populated by women who fill it with their perfect homes, perfect furniture, perfect flowers, perfect perfection. Their heartfelt 800-word articles accompany these illustrations.

“So beautiful!”

“Such an inspiration!”

“So vulnerable!”

“So wise!”

The comments go on and on, and I’m over here feeling left out in all that beauty and all that sentiment.

 

girl cheating off a boy's paper at school

 

We had our house repainted in December 2019 and the pictures are still not back on the walls. I had this grand idea that I wanted to re-frame them in all the same frames (I probably saw something like that on Instagram), but was only able to find half of the sizes I need when I went shopping for those in January, and that project has simply stalled out. That pile of new frames and the pile twice as high of old pictures? There’s no beauty there.

Maybe if I spent less time on social media and more time cleaning my house, it would look like something out of a magazine too (oh, who am I kidding – it’s never going to look like that, but it would look better for sure).

Maybe if I got off the couch and used my phone to play an exercise video instead of tormenting myself with other people’s salads and waistlines, I’d find my waist once again.

And I guess I’m just not the sentimental sort, but I’m just about driven to tears here by all the moms who are weeping on Instagram about back-to-school, especially those sending children off to college. Maybe it’ll hit me after my kid actually leaves for college, since he’s my last one, but at this point I’m just glad for the prospect that he’ll get to go live at college at all – homecolleging is not the best way to go, especially when you’re a science major. But I see all the moms lamenting their babies leaving home and wonder what in the world is wrong with me.

My coping mechanism is to “keep it real” and post something self-deprecating (or – worse – something that makes someone else in my house look bad) because this way I shame myself before someone else gets the chance. I do this way too much for that to be considered a healthy strategy.

Is my right eye causing me to sin? When it’s looking at Instagram, yes, I think it is. I find myself giving in to envy about other people’s homes, stuff, appearance, and emotions. I don’t resent that they have what I don’t, but I wallow in self-pity because I don’t have what they do.

I think it’s time for me to take action in two ways.

I need to go to confession. And I need to start using the unfollow and mute functions on social media until I can have a better attitude toward the total strangers whose carefully curated lives I’m comparing to my own, and falling short every time.

 

sad woman looking at cell phone


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images: Canva Pro

bookshelf with Catholic fiction titles

On My Bookshelf: Adoration for Beginners (and everyone else)

Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is much more than a guidebook about a particular type of devotion. This new book by Merridith Frediani, 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.

Draw Close to Jesus cover

Merridith explains in the Introduction to this book why it’s addressed specifically to women:

In adoration we approach God as women and pause in these tasks to acknowledge that God calls us in the deep core of our hearts. He wants us to come to him and rest. We do not need to bring anything. He knows the world is pulling at us and can be overwhelming. He knows we make mistakes, and he keeps inviting. When we come to him, we open ourselves to the one who loves us most deeply. (12)

I like to bring a journal to Adoration with me, and the short reflections in the middle of this book are perfect jumping-off places for spiritual journaling. Each reflection is brief (about two pages in length) and most are based on Scripture. At the end of the reflection, there is a “to do” item — not one that’s going to stress you out by adding more to an already overflowing list, but a spiritual action — and an invitation “to go deeper,” which notes a Scripture passage and offers a prayer prompt for contemplation and journaling. You don’t have to go through these start to finish; the book is made for readers to pick and choose the theme for their prayer.

At the end of Draw Close to Jesus, you’ll find what Merridith calls “a Catholic toolbox to rescue you when prayer just won’t seem to come” (128). There are instructions on praying the Rosary (which I find to be a good way to ease into Adoration, as the repetition of the prayers helps clear my mind of the to-do lists that distract me); the Memorare, the Litany of Trust and Litany of Humility, novenas, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Of course, any of these prayers can be prayed at any time (not just during Adoration) but it’s handy to have them right there if you’d like to make them part of your prayer routine.

monstrance in Adoration chapel

After keeping a weekly holy hour for more than five years, I can say that no two adorers approach this devotion the same way. In fact, I don’t approach all my holy hours the same way. But there’s useful material in Draw Close to Jesus, whether you begin your Adoration time with a Rosary or end it by reading the Bible. This book has earned its place beside my journal, pen, and holy cards in my Adoration tote bag.

Draw Close to Jesus is available for preorder now and releases Friday, August 13.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Photo copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.

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.

books on a bookshelf

On My Bookshelf: Saints, Parenting, and Family Finance

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Today, I’m taking a look at 6 new books on the topics of saints, parenting, and family finance.

Pray Along with Married Saints

If you and your spouse are looking for a different way to pray together, try this new devotional by Kent and Kaitlin Lasnoski. 30 Days with Married Saints: a Catholic Couples’ Devotional includes a month’s worth of reflections inspired by the Holy Family and eleven saintly couples or individuals who evangelized by example.

The married saints passionately loved their spouses, delighted in their children, opened their homes to strangers, gave generously to others, and lived an intense piety. They also managed to find joy amid their day’s equivalents of dirty diapers, dishes, laundry, cubicles, traffic, and office meetings. They were the salt and light of the world and the presence of the risen Christ to those who met them (see Mt 5:13-16). Now from heaven these married saints continually intercede for the faithful’s intentions, including for your marriage. Through their example and prayers, may the married saints lead us to Christ! (4-5)

Each daily section (5 to 10 pages) includes an opening prayer, a reflection inspired by a saint or saintly couple, suggestions for spiritual practice, and a closing prayer. This book would make a wonderful gift for an engaged couple, newlyweds, or to celebrate a wedding anniversary. Available from Pauline Books & Media.

 

What Is Good Catholic Parenting, Anyway?

Mark and Melanie Hart explain in Our Not-Quite-Holy Family: A Practical Guide for Catholic Parents that there’s no one way to be a good parent. This is an honest and often clever look at what family life is really like, written by a couple with children in college, high school, middle school, and elementary school. In this book’s seven chapters, the authors discuss proactive parenting, dealing with extended family, marital intimacy, creating a domestic church, prayer, screen time, and raising future saints. Each chapter includes a prayer and a number of practical steps you and your spouse can take to meet your ultimate parenting goal: leading each other, and your children, to heaven.

Remember the goal of your parenting is to raise well-formed young souls. If you see your spouse beginning to lose their temper in a situation, look at them and simply say, “Remember the goal.” God has entrusted these souls to you for a reason. You are capable of more than you think you are with the help of his grace (13).

You’ll also find an appendix packed with prayers and devotions for couples and families, and short testimonials from 5 Catholic families. Available from Ave Maria Press.

 

A Deep Dive into Catholic Parenting

Conor Gallagher’s Parenting for Eternity: A Guide to Raising Children in Holy Mother Church takes a look at how parents can direct their efforts toward saving their children’s souls. This book is not a light read, and it seems to be geared to parents of younger children; the writing style is decidedly old-fashioned (if I hadn’t seen the 2021 copyright date, I’d have pegged the book to have been written at least 65 years earlier). If you are a fan of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen’s work, this parenting book is for you.

As a parent, you must examine your conscience: do you give greater attention to your child’s physical or spiritual well-being? Have you gone to great lengths to construct your entire life around your child’s health, education, social life, and sports so they can be well-rounded, productive, and successful citizens? A resounding yes comes to mind. But have you given even 10 percent of such effort to their spiritual formation? Have you considered Heaven and hell 10 percent as much as you consider wordly success for your growing child? (3-4)

Chapters discuss the Four Last Things, piety, humility, the Church, Our Lady and the saints, awareness of the angelic and demonic, and the School of Calvary. You’ll also find four appendices that include Christ’s warnings about hell, prayers and novena for the holy souls, the Angelus, and a prayer for your child’s vocation. Available from TAN Books.

 

Beatitudes-Based Healing for Parents

In All Things New: Breaking the Cycle and Raising a Joyful Family, Erin McCole Cupp reaches out to parents who don’t feel equipped for the task because they didn’t have good parenting models as they grew up. If your childhood was marked by dysfunction, difficulty, and a lack of nurturing, you’re not doomed to repeat that scenario with your own family — you need a new parenting toolkit than the one you were provided.

We know what not to do. But God is a good father, and he knows that we need more than directions on the negative. He knows we need directions on what to do instead. That is why, in preparing to give us the new covenant of his blood on the cross, Jesus first climbed a mountain, sat his people down, and gave them directions on how to live within the boundaries of freedom. In other words, in the Sermon on the Mount, he gave us the Beatitudes. He gave us a new script. (76)

This book is not designed only for parents just starting out. Of course, parents of newborns or expectant parents will benefit from the information and encouragement in All Things New, but parents of children of any age (even young adults) can learn strategies for forgiving, trusting (where appropriate), making emotional connections, practicing gratitude, and more parenting skills of the kind those regular parenting books don’t teach you — because they assume you learned them during your formative years.

 

The Parents Behind the Holy Cards

Are you raising a future saint? Get your parenting inspiration from Patrick O’Hearn’s new collective biography, Parents of the Saints: The Hidden Heroes Behind Our Favorite Saints. O’Hearn tells the stories of more than 100 parents whose children became saints. The book is organized by seven hallmarks of holiness: sacramental life (including Our Lady), surrender, sacrificial love, suffering, simplicity, solitude, and sacredness of life.

Behind every holy card, image, and statue of the saints lies the story of a person who came from a father and mother. It is within this school of love, this domestic church, where most saints learned to pray, love, and receive the mustard seed of faith, which, in time, developed into heroic virtue (3).

Some narratives are longer than others; Louis and Zélie Martin’s story spans 15 pages, while Karol and Emilia Wojtila’s is a single page long. The book can be read straight through, or you can pick and choose as you go. No matter what order you read about these saints, you’ll be inspired and edified by their lives and example. Available from TAN Books.

 

Setting Financial Goals, Catholic Style

A Catholic Guide to Spending Less and Living More: Advice from a Debt-Free Family of 16 by Sam and Rob Fatzinger took me back to the early days of my marriage, when we lived on one income and I scoured The Tightwad Gazette (borrowed from the library, of course!) for money-saving tips as my financial contribution to the family. Not only does this book contain plenty of tips that families (or singles) can use regardless of their family situation, it also simplifies some basic financial concepts and offers spiritual insight about how we use our money.

Do you want God to give you the strength to avoid going further into debt? How about skipping a meal? Or giving up dessert for a week? Maybe you have a thing for sugary coffees; could you go a few days drinking black coffee? Or, dare I say, no coffee at all? Offer a prayer with each short fast for an increase in the virtues that will help you avoid overspending (65).

Sam and Rob Fatzinger share their own stories of figuring out the best ways to save money and stay out of debt while living on one income. Recommended especially for newly married couples and singles starting out on their own. Available from Ave Maria Press.


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

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

Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz