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.

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”

Pray Fully-h

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

DBrelease

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.

Advent 2019 Devotionals plus Prayer Books and Journals (FranciscanMom.com)

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.

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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