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.

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.

On Barb’s (Prayer) Book Shelf: 3 Books of Prayers for All Seasons

I love to read books about prayer, but sometimes what you really need is a book of prayer: a collection of prayers for various situations. So far this year, Ave Maria Press has published three prayer collections designed to help you, your family, and your parish find just the right prayer for just about any occasion. All of these books are excellent prayer resources for liturgical living.

Bless Us, O Lord: A Family Treasure of Mealtime Prayers by Robert M. Hamma is a wonderful collection of prayers before meals. For many families, grace before meals and bedtime are the prime times for family prayer — but I’d venture to guess that most of us don’t venture too far beyond the familiar “Bless us, O Lord …” that became the title of this book. If you and your family would like to incorporate the liturgical year into your mealtime prayers, this is a wonderful resource.

Inside this book, you’ll find a robust selection of prayers based on the liturgical year: days of the week, liturgical seasons, and feasts throughout the year. The author has included not only meal blessings particular to those days and seasons, but introductory material to help your family understand why these saints and seasons we celebrate are important.

There are many ways to use this book: I suggest keeping it handy at mealtimes and letting school-age children take turns checking whether there’s a saint to celebrate today, or selecting one of the many traditional options and prayers for special occasions. Bless Us, O Lord has special mealtime prayers for birthdays, Baptisms, school milestones, visitors, and even “when we’ve had a bad day.”

Justin McClain’s Alleluia to Amen: The Prayer Book for Catholic Parishes is probably not the kind of book you’d expect a family to want to use. While it was designed for parishes, many of the prayers in this book are appropriate for family use as well as use by small church groups such as prayer circles or book clubs.

Alleluia to Amen includes morning, noontime, and evening prayers for each day of the week (perfect for students and working adults). You’ll also find a section dedicated to the liturgical year, connecting prayers for the parish and those who serve in it to various feast days and seasons. If you feel insecure with the idea of spontaneous prayer to begin a meeting, this book contains many options. A handy index will help you find the right prayer for just about any special intention you can think of, including these:

  • for an end to gossip within the community
  • for the return of loved ones to the Church
  • for a couple before a wedding
  • for healing and recovery after a natural disaster
  • for parents transitioning their child to college
  • for students before exams
  • for parishioners battling addiction
  • for people within a wide range of occupations and ministries in the parish

Alleluia to Amen is a comprehensive and easy-to-use tool to find the perfect prayers for various occasions within parish life, ministry work, and even family life.

Prayers are beautiful in any language, but if you have an interest in exploring the beauty and poetry of the Latin prayers that have been part of the fabric of the prayer life of the Church for many centuries, Oremus: A Treasury of Latin Prayers brings it all together in a small-format book that’s easy to carry to Mass or Adoration or keep on a side table.

All the prayers and litanies in this book are presented with the English translation side by side with the Latin, on facing pages. This will help you follow along with the prayers as you learn them. The index includes both English and Latin titles for the prayers so you can find exactly the ones you want. Sections of this book include:

  • Morning Prayers
  • Prayers at Meals
  • Evening Prayers
  • Prayers for Adoration and Holy Communion
  • The Rosary
  • Consecration to Mary
  • Stations of the Cross
  • Divine Mercy Chaplet
  • Marian Prayers
  • other prayers, Gospel sequences, and a selection of psalms

In the Introduction, the book’s editors explain that “when you pray in Latin, you are making the unity of the Church more visible” and “praying in Latin also gives us a way of separating our everyday speech from the words we use to speak to God.” A pronunciation guide at the beginning of the book provides clues about how to say (or sing) the words of the prayers in Latin. Oremus is a lovely book; the word “treasury” in its title is absolutely accurate: these prayers of the Church are indeed historical and spiritual treasures.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz
I received review copies of Oremus and Bless Us, O Lord from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. 

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Pray Fully”

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CatholicMom.com contributors Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet are known for their encouraging spiritual books for women, Divine Mercy for Moms and The Friendship Project (both from Ave Maria Press) and Our Friend Faustina (from Marian Press). They have teamed up once again to write Pray Fully, a practical guide to deepening your prayer life.

Pray Fully: Simple Steps for Becoming a Woman of Prayer (Ave Maria Press) is written from that friend-to-friend point of view that Michele and Emily do so well. Taking turns chapter by chapter, they share their own stories of struggles and victories in prayer, offering advice based on what they’ve learned the hard way.

pray fully

The authors back up their own advice with saintly examples; each chapter has a section titled “Meet your Heavenly Friend,” in which readers learn about the prayer lives and practices of Sts. Gemma Galgani, Teresa of Kolkata (Mother Teresa), Gianna Beretta Molla, Louis and Zélie Martin, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and Margaret Mery Alacoque. Each chapter also includes a reflection by one of the authors, a “Let’s Pray” section that explains a particular prayer practice, inspiring quotes from the saints, and a prayer prompt.

Because prayer is not a one-size-fits-all experience, and our own prayer needs, opportunities, and preferences change, Michele and Emily outline several different approaches to prayer, along with providing the opportunity to explore each of them. These approaches include resting in Jesus’ presence, lectio divina, making an examen, and creating a legacy of faith. They address the tough questions associated with unanswered prayers, and also discuss personal devotions such as dedication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The final chapter offers meditations, reflections, and journaling space for readers to explore the various prayer approaches discussed in Pray Fully. You’re not expected to do it all — there’s not enough time in the day to do it all — but encouraged to find a way to add or deepen a prayer practice.

Pray Fully would make an excellent Lenten spiritual read.

CH 2 PF


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

Encouragement for moms of growing-up kids: “Giving Thanks and Letting Go”

 

Before my oldest became a teenager, I found Danielle Bean’s writing, tucked each day at the bottom of a newsletter for a Catholic electronic-greetings service. I looked forward to those newsletters and the little stories about family life, paired with some food for the soul, that Danielle included each day.

It never even crossed my mind that there was a possibility that one day we’d even meet: but here we are, with our then-little kids grown — and growing — up, working together. Originally the publisher of Today’s Catholic Teacher, Danielle is now the brand manager at CatholicMom.com, so I’ve worked with her in two places, and that’s something my 2004 self could never have imagined.

After all these years, I feel like I know her kids … from what she says on Instagram, her 17-year-old sounds an awful lot like mine. And her new book speaks to my heart right now, in this emptying-nest season of life.

giving thanks and letting go

Danielle’s newest book, releasing today from Ave Maria Press, was written to encourage us moms of growing-up kids. In Giving Thanks and Letting Go: Reflections on the Gift of Motherhood, Danielle doesn’t sugar-coat the tough stuff, but reminds us that yes, it’s worth it; it matters; we’ve got this.

Can this small work, unseen and unthanked, wiping up spills and cooking macaroni, really matter? … God tells me yes. And it’s him that I meet in that gap, that space between what I know and what I feel. It is God who sees me there in that space and calls me to trust and to grow closer to him inside my suffering. I just have to remember to look for him there. (46)

I don’t know about you, but I definitely need to be reminded that I’ve got this — and that God’s got this — when struggles get me down.

Getting used to new seasons in life can be hard. In Giving Thanks and Letting Go, Danielle acknowledges that, and gives us permission to grieve (a little) for days gone by and missed opportunities, but calls us to look forward in hope and joy to what life will bring.

Find Danielle:

The Catholic Momcast (CatholicMom.com)
Girlfriends podcast with Danielle Bean (Ascension)
The Gist (CatholicTV)
DanielleBean.com

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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.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Living Memento Mori” by Emily DeArdo

 

Emily DeArdo’s Living Memento Mori: My Journey through the Stations of the Cross, is a little book that packs a big spiritual punch.

A couple of years ago when I first started seeing books on the topic of memento mori (several of which were written by Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, fsp, who also wrote the foreword to this book), I wasn’t sure what to make of the whole idea. I’m a head-in-the-sand girl when it comes to thinking about my own mortality, or that of the people I love. I roll my eyes when my mom (yet again) re-plans her funeral and sends me a new list of instructions, right down to the musician she wants to play at the Mass. (A classmate of one of my kids, he lives 150 miles from my parents’ home and has never met them, so I’m not sure how this is going to work out, but Mom’s entitled to her hopes and dreams, I guess.)

I was surprised to find that Sr. Theresa Aletheia’s books were anything but creepy and morbid. But I didn’t let myself get too deep into the whole topic … and then, this fall, I entered into a season of life in which I just can’t avoid the thought anymore. The reality of my loved ones’ mortality was brought to the fore in some very big ways, and it has been a very stressful time. Couple that with the fact that my teenager lives with type 1 diabetes, a disease which he keeps under very good control but which has its scary, sometimes random moments, and I was perfectly positioned for the comforting take on this topic that Emily DeArdo provides in Living Memento Mori.

living memento mori

Yes, I said “comforting.” I’m not the one in my family facing health problems, but I’m supporting several loved ones with theirs, and there have been times when that was very overwhelming. I didn’t think I’d want to touch a book on the topic of death when the idea seemed way too close for comfort as it was, but I truly felt that DeArdo gets it. I needed to read this book.

You get news that shatters your world to its core and smashes your heart into a million pieces. And yet you still have to do laundry and make dinner and put gas in the car. It was the same for Jesus. On that day in Jerusalem, people still had to earn a living, clean their homes for Passover, buy vegetables, and fruits for dinner, get water at the well, tell their kids to stop fighting, and set the table.

But even if the world doesn’t stop, Jesus does. He know what we’re going through when our hearts break. Jesus knows what it’s like to be judged, to lose everything, and to receive a death sentence. … In our heartbreak, we can go to the Lord, and he wants us to come to him. The question isn’t whether Jesus is with us; the question is whether we will turn toward him or away from him in our pain. (5)

What if realizing you can’t do this on your own and surrendering your will to God — giving him the whole messy situation, all the pain, all the emotion — is what God wants you to do? (48)

Each of the 14 chapters corresponds to one of the Stations of the Cross. DeArdo begins each chapter with a short meditation on a particular Station, then discusses her own spiritual journey as well as the particular health challenges she faces as a cystic fibrosis patient and lung transplant recipient. Keep a notebook or journal handy as you read: every chapter concludes with several questions for journaling.

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One of the Stations of the Cross at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston, Massachusetts. Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

I’m not unfamiliar with the Stations of the Cross; my great-aunts and great-uncle, to whom I was very close, had a deep devotion to the Stations and made sure to get to a church daily to pray them. Over the years I’ve prayed various settings of the Stations of the Cross, but Living Memento Mori has brought this devotion home to me in a way that hasn’t happened before. It’s an encouragement and a comfort, even upon contemplating the horrors of Jesus’ Passion, to know that He understands our suffering. DeArdo’s insights into this topic make the burdens we face a little lighter.

I’ve learned that saying yes, even through clenched teeth in a whisper, is better than saying no to God. Why? Because even when you’re saying it amid a torrent of tears as you’re curled up in bed and you have no idea how this yes can lead to anything good, God is there. On the Cross, on Good Friday, Jesus felt abandonment. He felt the loss of God. He is the only one who can really understand the way you feel. (64)

Lent is an excellent time to foster a devotion to the Stations of the Cross, as many parishes offer weekly services on Fridays. But you don’t need to attend a special service to pray the Stations of the Cross. You can bring Living Memento Mori to church with you to walk the Stations as you pray; there’s an Appendix with a specially written meditation for each of the 14 Stations. Or you can pray the Stations at home. You don’t even have to wait until Lent to start. Living Memento Mori is an excellent prayer companion for anyone going through a time of trial and challenge.

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One of the Stations of the Cross at St. Casimir Church/Resurrection Parish, Riverside, New Jersey. Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz.


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

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Advent 2019 Devotionals, plus Prayer Books and Journals

Advent 2019 Devotionals plus Prayer Books and Journals (FranciscanMom.com)
Image credit: By Daria Shevtsova (2018), Unsplash.com, CC0/PD. Text added by author.

With Advent only one short month away, this is the perfect time to choose a new devotional, prayer book, or journal. Whether you’re looking for a seasonal booklet or something you can use year ’round, there are plenty of new options available. Here are some of my new favorites.

Advent Devotionals

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The Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Advent 2019 (Ave Maria Press) was penned by four Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart. Keep your Bible handy as you read these devotions, each based on the Gospel reading for the day. After a short reflection on the Gospel, the writers offer concrete ways to live the message they find in Scripture. Each day’s entry ends with a brief prayer. Don’t skip the Introduction — it’s a wonderfully encouraging set of tips that we can all use as we ponder how to keep a spiritual focus in an increasingly secular season.

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Let the Heavens be Glad Advent Devotions: Inspiration from Henri J.M. Nouwen (Creative Communications for the Parish). The Advent reflections in this booklet are not based on the Scriptures for the day, but instead begin with excerpts from some of Nouwen’s inspirational writings. Following these are short reflections and prayers. This booklet would work well for individual prayer, or it could be used by a married couple or prayer group.

Daily Devotionals

There’s no law that says you must begin reading a daily devotional on January 1! Jump on in anytime — just flip to the current date and begin from there. Both of these are gift-quality books.

Jesus Speaking

Jesus Speaking: Heart to Heart with the King by Gabrielle Bossis (Pauline Books & Media). This is one of those devotionals that’s as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside. The hardcover book is a beautiful teal color embossed with the title and an image of the Sacred Heart. And I don’t know what kind of paper this cover is made of, but it’s so smooth and almost soft in my hands. A built-in gold ribbon bookmark will help you keep your place. Do you think you don’t have time for a daily devotional? You can definitely manage this one. Each day’s reflection is only a few short sentences long, beginning with a verse or two from Scripture and ending with a prayer prompt.

who do you say that I am cover

Who Do You Say I Am? Daily Reflections on the Bible, the Saints, and the Answer that is Christ by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan (Image Books) is a full-size hardcover with a one-page (often a full page) reflection per day, beginning with a Scripture verse. I enjoy Cardinal Dolan’s down-to-earth style; he writes like he speaks. The tone is never academic, complicated, or stuffy. Last week on his radio show, Conversations with Cardinal Dolan, the Cardinal noted that the book is made up of excerpts from homilies, speeches, and columns — all of which he wrote himself, because he feels uneasy preaching or teaching in someone else’s words. I confess: I have a hard time putting this book down after reading only one reflection. It’s a wonderful mix of personal stories, deep devotion, meditations on the Gospels, saintly inspirations, and nuggets of historical facts. (And if you love the Rosary, you’ll see it coming up again and again in this book!)

Prayers, Retreats, and a Journal

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Melanie Rigney’s Woman of Worth: Prayers and Reflections for Women Inspired by the Book of Proverbs (Twenty-Third Publications) is an encouraging book for women that underscores their value, no matter what their vocation, age, or state in life. Melanie discusses the virtues behind the ideal woman presented in Proverbs 31. In the Introduction, the author notes, “maybe it was progress that I thought my relationship with Jesus did make me a woman of worth.” In each of these 20 chapters, the author examines a verse or two from Proverbs 31, offering a personal reflection and meditation on the virtue, a brief profile of a saint who is a model of that virtue, three questions for discussion or personal journaling, and a prayer. This book would make a wonderful Advent spiritual read. I read it, a bit at a time, in the Adoration Chapel.

abide in the heart of christ

Take a DIY retreat for Advent — or before Advent — based on St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. Joe Laramie, SJ, has put together a 10-day personal retreat in Abide in the Heart of Christ (Ave Maria Press). “You and I may feel intimidated by these spiritual giants,” the author notes, “but they can become great models for us because they help us to realize that God works through our spiritual talents and abilities” (68). You can do the retreat in a single 10-day span, or pick one day per week for 10 weeks, or whatever combination works for you: it’s designed “to help busy people grow closer to Christ” (7).

holy angels

Holy Angels Prayer Book is the latest in the Catholic Treasury series from Pauline Books & Media. This small prayer book, like the others in the series, boasts a leatherette cover, gilt-edged pages, and a bound-in ribbon bookmark. I had no idea there were so many ways to pray for the intervention of the angels! There’s even a Rosary of the Angels, novenas to each Archangel and to the Guardian Angels, chaplets, and individual prayers. For those interested in learning more about the angels, there’s even a handy list of Scripture references to angels. This purse-sized book would make a beautiful gift.

my real story journal

Another excellent gift (or gift-to-yourself) book is Becky Thompson’s new journal, My Real Story: One Year to Record, Reflect, and Remember (WaterBrook Press). This undated keepsake journal can be started at any time. It offers a modern, bullet journal feel, with both dot-grid and ruled pages. Throughout the book are some journal prompts and anecdotes, plus pages with three different headings:

  • To be honest, this is how I really feel today
  • For the record, these are the moments I don’t want to forget
  • Give thanks in all circumstances: 3 things I’m thankful for today

This pretty journal offers plenty of room to reflect on how God is working in your life, even in the little things.

Advent 2019 Devotionals plus Prayer Books and Journals (FranciscanMom.com)
Image credit: By Daria Shevtsova (2018), Unsplash.com, CC0/PD


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.

Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Our Lady of Charity”

Maria Morera Johnson’s new memoir, Our Lady of Charity: How a Cuban devotion to Mary helped me grow in faith and love (Ave Maria Press), is a beautiful testament to the ways the patroness of Johnson’s native Cuba helped her grow in faith even after she moved with her family to the US.

This quick read introduces la virgencita — Our Lady of Charity, the patroness of Cuba. Johnson traces the history of devotion among Cubans to this depiction of Our Lady, a devotion that has continued within the Cuban-American community to this day.

Johnson found in devotion to la virgencita a connection with her ethnic and spiritual heritage. I particularly enjoyed the chapter “Ermita de la caridad” (Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, in Miami), not because of the description of the shrine itself, but because of the discussion of Pilgrims, Thanksgiving, and the ways in which immersing herself in her ethnic traditions has enriched her.

our lady of charity

I have to admit, this left me more than a little envious of the rich traditions Johnson observed with her family. As an Irish cradle Catholic from the Northeast, I didn’t experience much in the way of that kind of tradition. There was plenty of Marian devotion (my grandmothers had the well-worn rosaries to prove it, and one grandmother prominently displayed a picture of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help icon in her home) but there really was no food, music, particular devotion, or patron saint we could call our own. I don’t know if that’s an ethnic or geographical phenomenon, or if it’s because the most recent immigrant in my immediate family tree arrived in New York in the 1930s.

But — and this is the point of Johnson’s book, I think — the kind of devotional tradition she describes here nurtures faith. When you look beyond the externals of statues, paintings, rosaries, hymns, and food, there’s a deep tradition of faith that underpins all of it. As Johnson notes in the final chapter, devotion to Mary can lead us to Jesus:

Mary is the first disciple. She brought the Good News of salvation to Elizabeth and then the world! If I’m going to learn all I can about Jesus and how to be a disciple, what better teacher is there than Mary? (100)

I highly recommend Our Lady of Charity. You’ll learn about a beautiful devotion to Our Lady, but more than that, you’ll learn how she can bring you closer to her Son.


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: My Queen, My Mother

My Queen My Mother book notes
Image created in Canva using free elements.

My Queen, My Mother by Marge Fenelon (Ave Maria Press) is more than simply a novena of prayers: it’s a pilgrimage memoir, travel guidebook, and prayer book all in one. Fenelon leads the reader on a journey around the USA, visiting nine holy shrines to the Blessed Mother and sharing what makes each a unique and worthwhile place to visit and pray.

As Fenelon’s spiritual itinerary crisscrosses the United States, she reveals the close-to-home spiritual treasures we may have overlooked. Along the way, readers are guided through a novena of consecration to the Blessed Mother. The book can be read over nine days, weeks, or months — but I had a tough time stopping at the end of any single day’s entry.

my queen my mother

Each shrine has a particular “personality,” emphasizing a different aspect of the Blessed Mother. For example, the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche (St. Augustine, Florida) is the center of devotion for women seeking intercession for infertility and other difficulties of motherhood. The Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation (Carey, Ohio) is visited by many seeking healing. And the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace (Santa Clara, California) offers refuge for all seeking peace in the hustle and bustle of daily life in the Silicon Valley, one of the busiest places in the country.

The author ends by emphasizing the importance of making regular visits to holy shrines, as these are in danger of disappearing due to lack of visitors and funding. To my shame, I can witness to this: I’ve lived within 15 miles of the Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel since 1992, but I only made one visit there, in 2015, before it closed permanently. But shrines, large and small, dedicated to the Blessed Mother and to various saints, dot the American landscape: chances are good that there’s one near you.

Don’t let shrines become a thing of the past. In My Queen, My Mother, Marge Fenelon makes it clear that visiting a shrine — even briefly — can be a beautiful spiritual experience.


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Last Call for Lenten Reading

Last call
Image credit: Pixabay.com (2018), CC0/PD. Modified by author.

With less than a week to go before Lent, it’s time to finalize your spiritual reading plans. My bookshelf is packed with recent releases, and any of these eight books are worthwhile choices for Lent.

called

Begin this one now, and you’ll finish by Holy Week: Called by Kevin Cotter (Ave Maria Press). Subtitled “Becoming an everyday disciple in a post-Christian world,” this book is designed to focus on how Jesus proclaimed the gospel and to inspire others to do the same. What does it mean to be a disciple? How do we live that life? Most days, entries are three pages long, which is an easy enough commitment. You’ll find fascinating background information that will help you understand the gospel better. A reflection question ends each day’s entry. The approach is tied into a program the author recommends, Alpha for Catholics, a faith study based on a model developed by Protestants. Readers will learn to look at everything in their lives and ask, “Does this help me follow Jesus?”

remember your death

Designed to be read day by day during Lent, Remember Your Death: Memento Mori Lenten Devotional by Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, fsp (Pauline Books & Media) was a surprise to me. I was afraid that all this talk of death would feel really morbid — but that’s not the case at all. It’s at once challenging, comforting, and hopeful. Memento mori reminds us why we live, and the power we have through Baptism to live for God. I confess that I opened this book and started reading and didn’t stop until I’d gone through almost a week’s worth of reflections. (Then I figured I’d better save some for Lent!)

this is our faith

Are you looking for a refresher course on the Faith? Michael Pennock’s This Is Our Faith: A Catholic Catechism of Adults (Ave Maria Press), newly revised and updated, is an excellent book to read through the season. I’ve done the math for you: read only 9 pages per day and you’ll be finished before Easter! Each chapter begins with a story or reflection, then follows a question-and-answer format to lead readers through an in-depth presentation on each of the four pillars of the Catechism: the Profession of Faith; celebration of the sacraments, liturgy, and the Paschal Mystery; life in Christ (foundations of morality); and Christian prayer.

strangeness of truth

Leave The Strangeness of Truth around for your teenager to find. Father Damian J. Ference’s new book (Pauline Books & Media) has a cover that reminds me of vintage sci-fi novels (and is even designed to appear scarred and well-worn) but there’s no fiction here — just a dynamic use of the power of story to bring home the mysteries of God’s love in our lives and our world. Fr. Ference explains in the preface that each chapter of the book builds upon the next, so it’s best read from start to finish, and even better if read with a friend. Chapters are short and each include a story at the beginning and another at the end, plus some explanation of the chapter’s topic and (sometimes) the story of a saint whose life fits in with that topic.

jesus and jewish roots of mary

Take a new look at the Blessed Mother as you read Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary by Brant Pitre (Image Books). Learn what the Bible says about Mary, what early Christians believed about her, and how our Catholic beliefs about Mary are rooted in ancient Jewish tradition. This book is great for anyone with a devotion to the Blessed Mother as well as for people who want to deepen their understanding of her role in salvation history.

Two new additions to the Catholic Treasury series from Pauline Books & Media are perfect for devotional prayer at home or in the Adoration Chapel. Mary, Mother of God Prayer Book by Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, fsp, and Eucharistic Adoration Prayer Book by Sr. Marie Paul Curley, fsp, are both beautiful, gift-quality books that are small enough to tuck into your handbag and bring to the chapel (or to read anywhere). Sturdy leatherette covers with gold embossing, gold-edged pages, and ribbon bookmarks complement the simple design of the books, which are filled with basic prayers such as the Mysteries of the Rosary, various novenas, and litanies, in addition to original meditations.

fourth cup

Lent (and particularly Holy Week) is an excellent time to meditate on the Last Supper and Jesus’ Passion and death. In The Fourth Cup (Image Books), Dr. Scott Hahn explains the connections between the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the ancient Jewish rituals of Passover. If you’re interested in exploring the Passover references throughout the Old and New Testaments, this book details how everything fits together and even informs the way we celebrate Mass.


Copyright 2019 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.