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Sacramental Stories

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Photos copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Your purchases made through the Amazon affiliate links in this post support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!

New Advent Resources for All Ages

‘Tis the season when you can find books and booklets designed for Advent devotion and meditation. If you haven’t done so yet, check a couple of items off that to-do list: purchase your Advent candles and decide on an Advent prayer practice for yourself or your family. Try one of these resources:

For the Whole Family

5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath by Lisa M. Hendey. This booklet is filled with Scripture-based, simple prayers for the Advent season, plus questions to ponder for each day as you prepare to welcome the newborn Christ. These Advent prayers are appropriate for individuals as well as families, classrooms, and small faith sharing groups. Available in paperback or Kindle format. Read my full review. (Ave Maria Press)

 

nullThe Adverbs of Advent: Daily Devotions for Children and their Families by David Mead. This devotional covers the story of salvation history, from Creation through the story of the Adoration of the Magi, with hints at what is to come for the Child born in the manger. Each day, one adverb is chosen as the focal point. A brief Scripture passage, short meditation, and prayer comprise the daily entries. Best for families with children in primary grades. (Bayard Faith Resources)

 

nullLight Shines in the Darkness: Family Devotions for Advent by Karla Manternach. Some of the activities in this booklet require a printable coloring sheet. There’s a QR code inside the front cover to download and print the page. Family members can take turns coloring the sheet, or each person can use his or her own. Along with daily Scripture verses and a brief reflection and one-line prayer, this booklet offers a call to action based on each day’s reflection. Best for families with children in elementary and middle school. (Bayard Faith Resources)

 

 

 

For the Kids

nullCome! Lord Jesus: A Coloring Book of Advent Devotions, illustrated by Brian King. Independent readers will enjoy this coloring book with two daily entries on one side of a spread and a picture to color on the other. Each entry includes a Scripture verse, short meditation, and prayer. Appropriate for children ages 5 and up. (Bayard Faith Resources)

 

 

 

For Teens and Young Adults

nullIt’s About Time! Daily Thoughts for Our Advent Wait is a devotional focused, very gently, on the virtue of patient waiting. It’s not a heavy read, and the writing is in a very informal tone. Bible verses are referenced but not included in the text, so readers will need to bring their own. (Bayard Faith Resources)

 

 

 

 

 

For Adults

nullMessages of Light for Advent and Christmas 2022: 3-Minute Devotions by Michael White and Tom Corcoran is an uncomplicated daily devotional in a conveniently-sized format. Monday through Friday, entries begin with Scripture passages and end with a call to action, and weekend devotions are structured differently. Saturday’s reflections are the Responsorial Psalm from daily Mass, and Sunday offers a devotion and call to action but no Scripture. Available in paperback or Kindle format. (Ave Maria Press)

 

nullWelcoming the Christ Child with Padre Pio: Daily Reflections for Advent by Susan De Bartoli offers longer reflections for those able to devote more time to daily spiritual reading during this season. Because this book is undated and can be used in any year, there may be more reflections than you need—but in 2022, with Christmas on a Sunday, you’ll need them all! Franciscan spirituality is incarnational, so this book’s focus on Padre Pio’s love of Advent and “hope that he would one day be with Jesus and Mary in Paradise” (1) fits right in with that. Bonus content includes a brief outline of important events in Padre Pio’s life. Available in paperback or Kindle format. (Ave Maria Press)

 

nullMy Daily Visitor: Advent 2022 by Fr. Patrick Mary Briscoe, OP, focuses on the hope of the season. Each single-page daily entry in this small booklet begins with a Scripture citation (bring your own Bible!), then includes a brief reflection, prayer, and call to action. At the beginning of each week of the season, a longer reflection sets the tone for the week ahead. This booklet offers daily entries through January 9, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (the last day of the Christmas season). Daily video messages based on the reflections in this booklet are available free at MyDailyVisitor.com, and a free newsletter is also available. (Our Sunday Visitor)

 

Behold: A Guided Advent Journal for Prayer and Meditation by Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT continues Sr. Miriam James’ ongoing Lent-and-Advent series of journals. As are the others in the series, this is a beautiful book, with weekly art by Josiah Henley and plenty of room for personal journaling. This undated book can be used in any year. The themed Advent journal focuses on the journey of the Holy Family: Mary as healer, Joseph as protector, the Child Jesus, and the Holy Family. Each day’s entries include a Scripture quote, one-page meditation, two journaling pages (with a writing prompt for each day) and closing prayer. Visit AveMariaPress.com/Behold each Sunday in Advent for free companion videos. Available in paperback or Kindle format, but I don’t recommend the ebook format as this is a journal, meant to be written in. (Ave Maria Press)

 

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Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil
Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Franciscanmom.com. Thank you!
Books listed above were received from the publishers for uncompensated review.

Start Your Advent Preparations Now!

It’s September 30. Do you know where your Advent candles are?

I do, because I bought about 6 packs in bulk a couple of years ago, and we’re still working through that supply. I don’t have an attic; we keep them in a mini-closet in the basement where the Christmas decorations live (which automatically means we can’t go too crazy buying Christmas decorations, because I insist that we keep the Christmas decorations there, and only there.

So I’ve got my candles (and enough for a few more years) and now I have the brand-new Advent devotional by Lisa M. Hendey: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath.

 

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This booklet is filled with Scripture-based, simple prayers for the Advent season, plus questions to ponder for each day as you prepare to welcome the newborn Christ.

These Advent prayers are appropriate for individuals as well as families, classrooms, and small faith sharing groups.

If you’ve spent any time around this blog, you know I’m hardly an expert about Advent. Around here, it’s the season where table manners and fire collide. But now that all my kids have come out the other side of the teenage years, I’m figuring that maybe—just maybe—we can add in some devotion to our family Advent-wreath ritual.

It’s only 5 minutes a day. We can do it! Join me!

And it’s not too early to think about Advent, my friends. It’ll be here before you know it: Advent begins November 27 this year. And all the craft stores are already putting Halloween stuff on clearance, so if you don’t have candles yet, don’t wait. And while you’re buying your candles, go ahead and order this book, too.

5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath is available on Amazon, through Ave Maria Press, and at your local Catholic bookstore.

Ave Maria Press offers even more Advent devotional materials based on this booklet: check those resources out for free!


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Photos copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.
Article contains Amazon links; your purchase through these links support FranciscanMom.com at no cost to you.
I received a free review copy of this booklet from the publisher and was not compensated for this review in any way.

open book and coffee mug near a lake

New Spiritual Reads for Lent 2022

While Lent is still a whole month away (Ash Wednesday is March 2, 2022), ongoing supply-chain and shipping issues mean planning ahead is a good idea. This year I’ve had the chance to preview four new resources: one family prayer and activity booklet, one guided prayer journal, and two daily devotionals.

Claire McGarry’s booklet, Abundant Mercy: Family Devotions and Activities for Lent, is perfect for families with school-age kids. Each day’s prayer page is right-sized for busy families, with a quote from Scripture, a micro-story or reflection, a meditation on our faith, and a Mercy section at the bottom of each page: a one-line prayer (“Receive Mercy”) and a call to action (“Extend Mercy”).

My favorite feature of this booklet is that Mercy section. The prayers are for intentions kids can understand and relate to, and the suggested actions are do-able for kids who are old enough to be in school.

For example, Wednesday of the First Week of Lent features Matthew 5:44, a paragraph about the Christmas 1914 ceasefire in Germany, a reflection about making the first move toward reconciliation, a prayer for help in forgiving our enemies, and this call to action: “Extend Mercy. Write a prayer for someone you’re having trouble with. Work for a ceasefire by praying that both of your hearts become filled with peace.”

Some of these “Extend Mercy” actions are individual; others are things families can do or discuss together. At only a page a day, the reflections in this booklet could be used at the beginning of the day or around the dinner table. Abundant Mercy is available on Kindle or in print from Creative Communications for the Parish.

RESTORE: A Guided Lent Journal for Prayer and Meditation, the new seasonal journal by Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT and illustrated by Valerie Delgado, is a beautiful journal that invites you to write your thoughts and prayers throughout Lent. This book is appropriate for moms, dads, and other adults, including college students.

Four pages for each day of Lent, as well as Easter Sunday, include a line of Scripture, a one-page meditation, and two full pages with journal lines, topped by a question to ponder and ending with a one-line prayer.

The meditations and prayers by Sr. Miriam James are complemented by Valerie Delgado’s inviting art, shown at the beginning of each week’s section. The book’s design is uncluttered, eliminating unnecessary distraction during your prayer time, and accented in subdued Lenten purple.

RESTORE will be released February 11 on Kindle or in print from Amazon and from Ave Maria Press. (I recommend purchasing the print book—the ebook price is almost equal to the print version, and since this is a journal, the print book makes more sense.)

Thy Kingdom Come: A Lenten Journey by Fr. Dennis Gallagher, AA, Provincial of the Augustinians of the Assumption, offers daily reflections based on the daily Mass readings. Fr. Gallagher writes in a simple, accessible style that brings home the truths of each day’s Gospel without being complicated.

The daily entries in Thy Kingdom Come include a line from the daily Gospel, a brief reflection (most are two short paragraphs in length), and a concluding prayer related to the topic of that day’s reflection. All the reflections in this book are centered on the theme of choosing to follow God’s will for our lives.

If you’re unable to attend daily Mass during Lent, the reflections in this booklet will serve as mini-homilies and are an excellent accompaniment to each day’s readings.

This booklet is geared toward an adult audience and would be suitable for a married couple or prayer group to read and discuss together.

Thy Kingdom Come is available on Kindle or in print from Amazon or from Creative Communications for the Parish.

Fans of the spiritual writing of Dutch priest Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932-1996) will enjoy Drawn to the Cross: Inspiration from Henri J.M. Nouwen. This booklet of Lenten devotions includes a Scripture quote for each day, a line or two from one of Nouwen’s works, then a reflection on that theme. The reflections and the prayers that conclude each day’s entries are written by Gil Duchow.

This booklet, designed for adult readers, explores the meaning of the cross in terms of humility, service, and sacrifice.

On the back of the booklet, readers will find a list of Nouwen’s published works quoted in the daily entries. While that’s required for copyright purposes, it’s also an excellent resource for readers who want to explore this author’s work in more depth.

Drawn to the Cross is available in print from Creative Communications for the Parish.

 

 


Copyright 2022 Barb Szyszkiewicz

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

statue of Blessed Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus

A Simpler Approach to Marian Consecration

Do you want to grow closer to the Blessed Mother, but find yourself intimidated by the lengthy devotions and lofty language of St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary?  Fr. Edward Looney, a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay and vice president of the Mariological Society of America, has put together a new book to help you prepare for a 33-day consecration to Jesus through Mary.

 

Behold the Handmaid of the Lord

 

Behold the Handmaid of the Lord: A 10-Day Personal Retreat with St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary simplifies de Montfort’s approach without watering down its wisdom. The book, new from Ave Maria Press, is a do-it-yourself retreat that helps readers learn more about Marian consecration.

God is at work through Marian consecration; it is powerful, and it changes lives. (xv)

Fr. Edward dedicates each of the ten days of the retreat to a different title of Mary, consolidating teachings from True Devotion to Mary to clarify the rich writings and deepen devotion to the Blessed Mother. His writing style is clear and approachable, and both his scholarship and dedication to Mary are evident throughout the book.

Each day’s chapter is 10 pages or less (in a small-format book; it measures just under 5×7 inches) and begins with a teaching on that day’s title of Mary, a prayer for the day, and a traditional Marian prayer or hymn. I was surprised to find that Serdeczna Matko (“Stainless the Maiden”), a traditional Polish Marian hymn I recently sang at a funeral at my parish, was one of the hymns included in the book. Its English translation, which I had never read, is beautiful. Other prayers and hymns include the Memorare, Regina Caeli, and “Ave Maris Stella.”

During this retreat, readers will learn about these Marian titles and devotions:

  • Queen of All Saints
  • Our Lady of the Holy Trinity
  • The New Eve
  • Mother of the Interior Life
  • Mother of Disciples
  • Star of the Sea
  • Queen of All Hearts
  • Mediatrix of Grace
  • The Mold of God
  • My Mother and My Queen

I recommend that you keep a pen and journal close at hand as you read Behold the Handmaid of the Lord. I was highlighting this book all over the place as I read!

Bonus material in this book includes a chart of dates to begin Marian consecrations to end on feasts of Mary. The next three start dates are November 5, November 9, and November 29. Another very useful section is a list of 17 devotional practices found in the writings of St. Louis de Montfort. Many of these are practices you can begin with your family, such as praying the Rosary, carrying a Rosary in your pocket, praying or singing prayers and hymns in Mary’s honor, and placing an image of Mary in a place of honor in your home.

Fr. Edward Looney has written several books about Mary and frequently posts on social media about his visits to Marian shrines throughout the United States. Listen to his How They Love Mary podcast on Spotify or your favorite podcast app.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil
This article contains Amazon affiliate links, which provide a small compensation to the author of this piece when purchases are made through the links, at no cost to you.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

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. 

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.

5 New Books About Prayer

Happy Easter! I hope Lent has been a spiritually fruitful time and that you’ve been inspired to continue a spiritual practice you began during that season. Or maybe you want to try something new during the Easter season? Let’s take a look at five newly published books about prayer that will help feed your soul.

Divine Mercy

Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, has written Understanding Divine Mercy, part of the Explaining the Faith series from Marian Press. Whether you are new to praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet or a longtime devotee of this prayer practice, this book will shed new light on Divine Mercy. Chapters are divided into short sections (usually two to four pages in length) so you can easily read a section a day before praying your chaplet. Easy! The book begins with a deeper look at the mercy of God (a perfect Easter Season read), followed by an introduction to the life and spirituality of St. Faustina Kowalska, whose life and writings helped spread devotion to Divine Mercy throughout the world. The next two sections discuss the feast of Divine Mercy (the Sunday after Easter) and the image, novena, chaplet, and hour of Divine Mercy. The book concludes with a beautiful chapter titled “God’s Mercy in the Midst of Suffering and Loss.”

God wants to show us what His mercy can do. He wants to show us that His mercy is greater than anything, even our sin. (141).

If you are going through a difficult time and wondering how you can even find a way to pray, I recommend Understanding Divine Mercy.

Get Close to God

Ten Ways to Pray: A Catholic Guide for Drawing Closer to God by Carolyn Pirtle is part of the new Engaging Catholicism series from Ave Maria Press. This 10-chapter book introduces many different ways to pray: with Scripture, through devotions, with the Church in the liturgy, using the Examen, and more. Each chapter answers these four questions:

  • What is this form of prayer?
  • Why might a person pray this way?
  • When and where can one practice this form of prayer?
  • How does one pray this way in practice?


A free discussion guide is available from the publisher; use this for a formal or informal book study or even for your own prayer journaling.

Real Presence: What Does It Mean and Why Does It Matter? by Timothy P. O’Malley is also part of the new Engaging Catholicism series from Ave Maria Press. University of Notre Dame theologian Timothy P. O’Malley helps unravel the complicated biblical teachings and Church tradition about the Eucharist, and discusses Eucharistic devotion.

I count this as a prayer book because one of my favorite prayer practices is Eucharistic Adoration, and this would be a perfect book to bring along to the Adoration chapel, to ponder the mysteries of the Eucharist. Ave Maria Press offers a free discussion guide to use for book study or prayer journaling.

This new Engaging Catholicism series (more books in the series are coming soon) would make excellent resources for new converts or Catholics returning to the faith.

Pray the Rosary

Word on Fire recently published The Rosary with Bishop Robert Barron, which is bundled with a pretty (and sturdy) wooden rosary in a cloth pouch. This glossy book is packed with sacred art to accompany each Mystery of the Rosary. The book begins with an excerpt from St. John Paul II’s Rosarium Virginis Mariae (2002), then includes step-by-step instructions for praying the Rosary.

For each of the 20 Mysteries of the Rosary, two reflections are offered (one long, one short) along with the art. The accompanying rosary is made in Jerusalem of polished olive wood beads.

Praying a Christ-Centered Rosary: Meditations on the Mysteries by James L. Papandrea is part prayer book, part history book, and all fascinating. You can use this book, new from Ave Maria Press, in a variety of ways. In the introduction, the author encourages readers to explore different ways to approach the Rosary to “enrich your devotional life and enliven your faith with new insights” (6). Don’t skip the introduction to this book!

Each of the four parts of the book is devoted to a set of Mysteries of the Rosary. A short “A Mystery in History” reading begins each section. After that, the chapter for each mystery contains the answer to four questions:

  • What is (this mystery)?
  • Where was Mary?
  • What does it tell us about Jesus?
  • What aspects of this mystery should we imitate?

A brief meditation ends each chapter. At the end of the book, you’ll find a walk-through of the Rosary in one appendix, and a second one with those brief meditations all in one place so you can access them more easily as you pray.


Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of the featured books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Image created in Stencil.

bookshelf with Catholic fiction titles

Gather Together: Recipes for Fellowship

The ultimate challenge in 2020 might be releasing a book about the blessings of gathering as friends … in the same week that several states restricted such gatherings to 10 or fewer — and some cities even prohibited getting together with anyone outside the household.

But we Catholics are people of hope. We know that these measures will not last forever, and we eagerly anticipate the day when we can gather outside our household or social bubble to enjoy food, fun, and fellowship.

In the meantime, there’s no point in wasting any of the wonderful recipes you’ll find in Catherine Fowler Sample’s new cookbook, Gather Together. I always recommend that you try a recipe on your family before serving it to guests — so now’s the time to taste-test these dishes, make note of any “to taste” seasoning adjustments you made, and bookmark the ones you’ll want to use when (finally!) you can invite friends over for a meal or afternoon tea.

In the Introduction, the author offers a few creative ideas for making connections with family and friends we can’t see in person:

You could make the recipes with loved ones over video chat, or plan an evening of reflection by phone based on the questions and prayer prompts. While distance makes forming community more challenging, the consistency of intentional connection can be a unique balm during uncertain times.

I firmly believe that the best kind of cookbook is one I can read like a novel or memoir. Gather Together is that kind of cookbook. Each chapter begins with a story from the author’s life, along with a spiritual reflection, a prayer for gathering, a few conversation prompts, and a soup-to-nuts themed menu for brunch, dinner, or afternoon tea. Each menu offers at least four dishes including dessert. 

Gather Together, which releases Friday, November 20, was written with both the cook’s and the guests’ needs in mind. Author Catherine Fowler Sample anticipated the possibility of substitution of certain ingredients containing dairy, as well as where in your grocery store you should look to find specialty ingredients. There are also prep-ahead tips, and along with ingredient lists for each recipe, there’s a list of kitchen equipment needed. That’s a feature I almost never find in cookbooks (and I have a big collection of cookbooks) — but whether you’re a beginner cook or very confident in the kitchen, having this list handy saves you time. When I taught my children to cook, I told them to always get everything in place (ingredients and equipment) before you start. Gather Together makes all of that easy.

If you think the cover is beautiful, wait until you see what’s on the inside of this book! Gather Together would make a wonderful engagement or wedding gift; it’s also perfect for a young person moving to his or her first apartment. But since it’s about building community as much as cooking, this cookbook is an excellent housewarming gift as well.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author.
I received a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation, for this review. All opinions are my own.

bookshelf with Catholic fiction titles

Eliminate the Negative: Two New Books that Encourage Holy Habits

As we approach the month when we celebrate All Saints, it’s good to look to their example — and their advice on living holy lives. New books by Gary Zimak and Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP, aim to help readers conquer our tendency toward negativity, as shown in anger, stress, and complaining.

Let Go of Anger & Stress! by Gary Zimak employs St. Paul’s wisdom about the Holy Spirit as an encouragement to transform our mindset. Subtitled “Be Transformed by the Fruits of the Spirit,” this book explores each of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (found in Galatians 5:22-23) and demonstrates how living out the Fruits of the Spirit in mind can change our lives.

Anger and stress are the opposite of the Fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), and Gary discusses how yielding control of our lives to the Holy Spirit will give us the grace to resist the temptation to give in to stress and anger.

It’s significant that the call to action in the book’s title is “let go” and not “conquer” or “get rid of” — that shows that we are holding anger and stress much too close, and are all too ready to grab them out of our emotional toolkit. Gary’s book explains the ways St. Paul challenges us, instead, to reach for positive virtues: the Fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Each chapter of Let Go of Anger & Stress! is divided into short sections, so if you don’t have a lot of time to read all at once, that won’t be an obstacle. The chapters end with a list of the most important points, several reflection questions (keep your journal handy!), and a closing prayer.

If you’ve listened to Gary speak at a parish mission, podcast, or radio appearance, Gary’s writing style will be immediately familiar to you. He writes like he talks: simply and honestly, with relatable examples from his own life. His books aren’t filled with buzzwords, jargon, or complicated theology; instead, you will find sincere words from someone who clearly loves God and wants to follow His will.  

Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP, goes by @CrabbyMystic on social media, so it’s not a reach that she’d write Complaints of the Saints: Stumbling Upon Holiness with a Crabby Mystic. Anyone who knows me knows of my tendency to complain (even if I turn it into a joke, I’m still often complaining), so it’s a comfort to me that saints (AKA people much holier than I am) complained too.

But just because St. Paul, St. Teresa of Ávila, St. Thérèse of LIsieux, St. Damien of Molokai, and St. Faustina, among many others, had their moments of complaining, Sr. Mary Lea reminds readers that this is not an excuse for us to indulge that tendency. 

We aren’t getting off scot-free. If we learn from those who were holy before us, then we need to offer this same example to those whose paths we cross, as well as to those who will follow us. (127)

With each of the 66 chapters running just over two pages, Complaints of the Saints is an excellent spiritual read for people who don’t think they have time for spiritual reading. The last section of the book emphasizes our call to do better: to follow the holy example of the saints who, we have seen throughout the book, have lived with difficulties and challenges and learned to handle those with grace. Sr. Mary Lea offers concrete ideas at the end of each chapter that will help us channel our negativity in a better direction. Some of these include:

  • Pray the news in order to bring all the events of our history to God’s throne (138)
  • Read the life of a saint (80)
  • Pray for couples we know who are experiencing difficulties in their relationships (101)
  • Recall a disappointment that brought you closer to Christ (82)
  • Reflect on a time you blamed another for something that turned out badly (120)
  • Note Gospel incidents that might have sparked both human and holy reactions from those involved (37)

The last part of the book goes through the famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, the Characteristics of Charity, expanding upon St. Paul’s list with examples from the life and writing of saints and saints-to-be. It’s different from the rest of the book, but is an excellent summary of the ideas Sr. Mary Lea discusses in a lighter form in the earlier chapters.


These two books were released several months into a pandemic, and the challenges we have faced this year often seem like they’d lead even the most saintly person to complain and to give in to stress and anger. Gary Zimak and Sr. Mary Lea Hill’s understanding approaches and sound advice lead us to follow God more closely, even in difficult circumstances.


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