On Barb’s Bookshelf: Forgiving Mother

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Born of a mother-daughter relationship that goes way beyond “it’s complicated,” Marge Steinhage Fenelon’s Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace (new from Servant Books) speaks to the heart of those who carry the burden of wounds from the past.

forgiving mother

I need to state right up front that I have a good relationship with my own mom. But this book about healing touched me deeply — because there are relationships in my life that have been difficult and hurtful, and I’ve hung onto those hurts for too long.

Citing the Gospel story where Jesus heals the blind, crippled man at the Sheep’s Gate (John 5: 2-9), Marge shares this thought that anyone who’s holding onto old hurts can relate to:

Do you want to be made well? Believe it or not, for a very long time, my answer to that question was no. I was afraid of what it would take to be made well, so I preferred to stay just as I was, ignoring my pain and hiding my past. (Chapter 1)

Healing is hard. It takes work. Jesus isn’t going to wave a magic wand and make everything better. We have to want it, and we have to work for it.

Marge’s experience of healing hinged on developing her relationship with the Blessed Mother, noting that

God decides and provides the means by which you eventually can let go of the past, live in the present, and look to the future with hope and confidence. There are two keys to attaining this: trust in God and love of Mary. … Our Lord Jesus Christ is the ultimate healer; he will mend your wounds and restore you to health and vibrancy. Mother Mary will nurture and protect you. In her tender, loving way, she will accompany you each step of the way. She is, and wants to be in every way possible, truly your mother. … [Mary] is anxious to fill the void that has been left in you. She hears—has heard and will hear—your cries of distress, and she anxiously waits to answer them. (Chapter 9)

Marge’s book is a primer on forgiveness. It’s not easy to forgive, especially those hurts we know we’ll never be able to forget. Quoting St. John of the Cross, she notes in Chapter 3 that “the devil can use our memories to gain influence over our souls.”

Healing our hearts, healing our memories, healing our relationships (when possible) is at the heart of this book and the novena prayers accompanying it. The titles of the novena prayers speak to the essence of this book:
Day 1: Lord, give me the grace to want to heal
Day 2: Mary, let me grow closer to you
Day 3: Mary, help me look back
Day 4: Mary, let me see myself as a child of God
Day 5: Mary, let me see my mother as a child of God
Day 6: Mary, let me be transformed in the Spirit
Day 7: Mary, draw me into your heart
Day 8: Mary, let me grow
Day 9: Mary, let me be healed

Marge’s honesty and courage in sharing the harrowing details of the abuse she suffered from her mother as well as the redeeming power of the relationship she developed with Mary, Mother of God and Mother to us all, will encourage any reader who needs to find healing, forgiveness and hope in a difficult relationship. Forgiving Mother is not easy to read. The prayers are not easy to pray — but God’s mercy, freely given, becomes easier to accept as healing begins.


Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book via Netgalley, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: Sacred Reading, the 2018 Guide to Daily Prayer

Advent is more than a time to light candles at the dinner table and eat chocolates of questionable quality from behind the little windows of a cardboard calendar.

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Copyright 2013 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

There’s much more to this holy season than shenanigans involving wax and flames. It’s the beginning of the Church year: a new year, a fresh start, a time to prepare our souls for the coming of the Savior.

This year, Advent begins December 3. But you can start getting ready now by purchasing your copy of Sacred Reading: The 2018 Guide to Daily Prayer.

 

Ave Maria Press publishes this annual prayer book, which highlights the gospel reading for each day in a simple lectio divina framework.

sacred readingDon’t let the words “lectio divina” intimidate you just because they’re Latin. This book outlines a six-step process each day for praying with that day’s gospel reading:

  1. Know that God is present and ready to converse. A short opening prayer helps you place yourself in the presence of God.
  2. Read the gospel. The entire reading is provided for you; you won’t have to search for it online or in your own Bible.
  3. Notice what you think and feel as you read the gospel. A brief summary of the reading highlights the important points.
  4. Pray as you are led for yourself and others. A prayer prompt based on the gospel gets you started; then you are directed to continue in your own words.
  5. Listen to Jesus. A short meditation written from God to you is provided; then you are invited to consider what else Jesus is saying to you.
  6. Ask God to show you how to live today. A resolution to act on the gospel wraps up your prayer time.

This easy-to-use prayer guide is appropriate for teens and adults, and provides a wonderful way to enter into the spirit of each day’s gospel readings.

Sacred Reading is available in paperback and Kindle formats. Plan ahead: it’s time to order yours now.


Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Franciscan Saints

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

Franciscan saints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

#OpenBook: September 2017 Reads

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:

Fiction

in the light of the gardenIn the Light of the Garden by Heather Burch. Set on an island on Florida’s Gulf Coast, family secrets come to the fore when Charity Baxter inherits her grandfather’s estate and moves to the island to continue his work making custom pottery. Her return to the island reawakens a twenty-year-old burden of guilt about the death of her grandmother. Charity’s neighbor Dalton battles heartbreak of his own, and the meaning of family and the destructive power of long-held secrets are revealed. An excellent story.

dancing with firefliesDancing with Fireflies by Denise Hunter. I couldn’t even tell this book was the second in a series — it’s that well done. Pregnant after date rape, Jade returns to the hometown she’d hoped to leave behind, but she doesn’t feel she can trust her family or neighbors with her secret. Complicating matters is the town’s mayor, a young man who always had a crush on Jade, and whose love she doesn’t feel she’s worthy of.

loves vowLove’s Vow by Melissa Storm. This novella concludes the story of Summer and Ben’s whirlwind romance. When all the little things and some of the big things go wrong as their wedding day approaches, Summer and Ben will need the help of the whole town if they want to get married. I enjoyed reading more about the characters in the “First Street Church” series, including the Kindle Worlds series written by other authors about the same small town.

something like familySomething Like Family by Heather Burch. Abandoned as a teenager by his drug-addicted mother, Rave finds himself entangled with an adrift single mom because he doesn’t want the same thing to happen to her son. When he’s notified that the grandfather he thought was dead is very much alive and wants to meet him, Rave returns to his mother’s home town to seek the family ties he never had — but that little boy is never far from his thoughts. A beautiful story of family, community and devotion.

black narcissusBlack Narcissus by Rumer Godden. When an order of Sisters is given an estate on a mountain in the Himalayas in order to build a school and medical clinic, they must battle temptations of all kinds as they struggle to survive in a new culture and climate. This was a really disturbing story, but that didn’t come without warning. It was noted right at the beginning the the location would be enough to unsettle anyone.

Children’s/YA

PlayingbyHeart coverPlaying by Heart by Carmela Martino. Set in 18th-century Milan, Playing by Heart is a symphony of romance and faith with an undercurrent of social commentary. Will Maria and Emilia’s father sacrifice their futures on the altar of his own ambitions to join the noble class? Carmela Martino’s new novel for teen readers explores family ties, vocations, and discernment of the best ways to use God-given gifts. Cue up some Vivaldi or Pachelbel and settle in for an intriguing tale. Read my full review. (ARC provided by author)

standing strongStanding Strong by Theresa Linden. Continuing the series she began with Roland West, Loner and continued with two more novels, Linden’s next novel about the West brothers centers on Roland’s two older brothers, who are twins but as opposite as can be. While Jarret works to figure out how to move forward after a life-changing experience (described in Battle for His Soul, which you really need to read before you read this), his twin has a struggle of his own as he discerns whether to join the Franciscan brothers. It’s not easy to reinvent yourself while you’re still in high school, as Jarret West discovers as he seeks a way to turn his life around after an intense spiritual experience. His twin brother couldn’t be more different: Keefe contemplates joining the Franciscan friars. Theresa Linden recounts twin spiritual quests in her newest novel. (ARC provided by author)

Nonfiction

super girls and halosSuper Girls and Halos by Maria Morera Johnson (Ave Maria Press). I love that Maria Morera Johnson began her new book, Super Girls and Halos (Ave Maria Press, 2017), with a quote from the only superhero movie I ever liked: The Incredibles. Mrs. Incredible is probably the first “supergirl” I could relate to. She’s a mom. She worries about her family. She’s the most real superhero I’ve encountered. Maria found a way to show the human side of superheros and saints without diluting their extraordinary virtues. Read my interview with the author. (ARC provided by publisher)

igniteIgnite: Read the Bible like Never Before by Sonja Corbitt and Deacon Harold Burke-Silvers (Servant Books). This book challenges both individuals and groups to try reading the Bible. Acknowledging that many faithful people try reading the Bible but are daunted by dry and difficult readings and commentaries, Sonja and Deacon Harold share some strategies that work for them, setting up a Lectio-Divina-based study structure that can include technological resources such as Bible apps, online daily readings, and print or audio resources. Read my full review. (ARC provided by publisher)

st faustina book conversionTwo Saint Faustina prayer books: Susan Tassone’s “St. Faustina Prayer Book” series focuses the power of intercessory prayer on two great needs: the Holy Souls in Purgatory and the conversion of sinners. The St. Faustina Prayer Book for the Conversion of Sinners and The Saint Faustina Prayer Book for the Holy Souls in Purgatory contain more than prayers. st faustina book holy soulsYou’ll also find essays on conversion, sin, penance, Purgatory and the spirituality of St. Faustina Kowalska. Organized by theme, the books lead the reader through learning and devotions. Read my full review. (ARC provided by publisher)

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

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

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

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: 101 Places to Pray Before You Die

Thomas J. Craughwell’s unusual guidebook to our nation’s vast treasury of Catholic churches, shrines, retreat houses and universities helps travelers add a Catholic element to their vacations, business trips or Sunday drives. If you plan to visit a city for any reason, take a look in 101 Places to Pray Before You Die: A Roamin’ Catholic’s Guide to see if you’ll be near any of the featured locations. Visits to some of these sites may not require very much time; others (like the retreat houses) beg for longer stays.

Since many holy sites are closing due to lack of visitors and funding, like the St. Katharine Drexel Shrine near Philadelphia, PA, this book is a well-timed reminder to take the opportunity to visit such places while the opportunity still exists. Your visit supports the efforts of those who maintain and staff these churches, shrines and other sites.

101 places to pray before you die

Craughwell makes sure to note that some of the locations featured in his book are “hidden treasures”: you might not guess from a building’s plain facade that it holds a beautiful collection of statues or boasts unusual painted ceilings, for example.

The author takes a “big tent” approach with this book, making sure to include at least one site from each state plus Washington, D.C., and selecting places with connections to a variety of ethnic heritages. The destinations include universities, cathedrals, churches, retreat houses, and shrines. Many are working parishes, so you can plan your visit to include Mass, if you wish (one of the highlights of my only trip to California was the chance to attend Mass at the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, so I’d always want to time a visit to a church, cathedral or shrine to include Mass)!

101 Places to Pray Before You Die also includes notations of special events or times of year when visitors might enjoy special displays, such as the collection of 76 Nativity scenes each December at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, CT.

Each site’s description is short (only a page or two in length) but includes website information as well as address and telephone number. I would have loved a photo from each place and a location mark on the state map illustrating each holy site. I’d hope that most readers know where the various states are, but not everyone knows the locations of cities within those states.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who travels frequently.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: “Born to Soar,” a spiritual journal

The beautiful monarch butterfly is the source of much fascination, the subject of many grade-school science lessons, and the motif around which Born to Soar, Melissa Overmyer’s new Scripture and prayer journal (Servant Books, 2017), was created.

The image of soaring flight evoked by a brilliant butterfly is a metaphor for the soaring prayer experiences described in the poetry of the mystic St. John of the Cross. The author includes short excerpts of this mystical poetry to remind the reader that, in prayer, our hearts seek to soar toward heaven.

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This journal is designed to be used over the course of six weeks, so it’s a perfect summer spiritual retreat. Each of the six chapters of the book corresponds to one of the stages in the life cycle of the caterpillar who ultimately becomes a beautiful butterfly. That science lesson we remember from grade school becomes a lesson for our souls in Born to Soar.

Don’t let the butterflies and flowers on the cover of the book fool you: this journal is designed to push you out of your spiritual comfort zone and motivate you to explore ways in which you can take the risk of growing closer to God.

Praying through journaling can be a liberating and beautiful means of expression. Your writing can take on the feeling of a love letter or a song and can be accompanied by a heart-wrenching release of emotions. . . . Do not be afraid of writing down how you truly feel — God knows your heart already. Instead, offer yourself — in all your beauty and your brokenness — freely to God and ask him to use your journal to bring you closer to him. Do not be afraid to give it all to God, who can turn our ashes to beauty, heal our deepest wounds, and set us free. (from the Introduction, p. xvii)

Each of the six sessions follows this format:

  • Description of the physical stage of the caterpillar’s life cycle
  • Overmyer’s reflection on how this stage compares to the process of spiritual renewal
  • Thoughts to ponder, with space for journaling
  • A moment with St. John of the Cross, including a quote from the saint’s writings, questions for reflection, and space for journaling
  • Thoughts for discussion (for group discussion or journal prompts)
  • Prayer
  • A “renewing truth” to be revisited on multiple occasions during the course of the week
  • Scripture passages for daily reflection, followed by a journal prompt and space for writing

I’d recommend Born to Soar to any reader who seeks to go deeper in the spiritual life. Overmyer makes the mystical works of St. John of the Cross accessible even to people like me who tend toward the practical. Her inviting approach and simple language engage the reader; I found myself wanting to go beyond each day’s reflections because I was hungry for what would come next.
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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: McCracken and the Lost Lady

Engineer, solver of mysteries, faithful Catholic and owner of a zeppelin: “Mac” McCracken is an intriguing character even before he ventures into the Russian wilderness in search of a lost icon.

Fifth in Mark Adderley’s adventure series for readers 10 and up, McCracken and the Lost Lady can be read as a standalone story due to the author’s careful inclusion of just enough backstory to inform the reader of what came before–without quenching the reader’s desire to read the rest of the novels.

Lost Lady Front Cover

In the spring of 1917, the world is embroiled in an ugly war and on the brink of change as revolutionaries are poised to take over the government in Russia. McCracken and his team overhear a conversation that leads them straight to Lenin, then receive a surprise commission to seek out the missing icon of the Blessed Mother: the lost Lady of Kazan. Restoration of this icon to its proper place is key to bringing peace to the world.

As we celebrate the centennial of the Fatima apparitions this year, McCracken and the Lost Lady is the perfect historical fiction to accompany a discussion of the historical context of the Blessed Mother’s message at Fatima.

Readers will enjoy the suspense and adventure that follows McCracken as he travels the world with his wife and toddler plus a fascinating crew from all over the world–in a zeppelin complete with its own library, chef’s kitchen, and a wealth of scientific equipment.

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Fatima, the Apparition that Changed the World

As the Church marks the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions, it seems that everyone is reading about Fatima. Jean Heimann, longtime Catholic blogger and author of two books on the saints, offers a historical view of the Blessed Mother’s apparitions to three young children in Portugal in her new book, Fatima: The Apparition that Changed the World, coming May 22 from TAN Books.

Besides a careful chronology of the six apparitions of 1917, this book provides a fascinating chapter titled “The Popes and Fatima.” This chapter explores the significance of the Fatima apparitions in Catholic life and in world history. I was surprised to learn that there were no papal visits to Fatima before 1967, although it is clear from the information in this chapter that the popes before that time all found the apparitions and the Fatima message compelling.

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This book leaves the reader wondering: how will the world continue to change as a result of the Fatima message? Heimann makes it clear what ordinary Catholics can do to effect change in the world, explaining,

Our Lady’s message was not only relevant for the time period during which it occurred. It is a message that remains relevant for us today. In fact, Pope John Paul II has told us that the message of Fatima is even more relevant for us today than it was when it was first given to the visionaries by Our Lady in 1917.

Today, we are facing the greatest spiritual battle of our time. Radical secularism has become the new communism in our Western civilization. . . . Secularism seeks to remove religion from the public square, to steal our religious freedoms, and to weaken the sanctity of human life by promoting abortion and attacking the basic tenets of Christian morality, particularly in regards to marriage and family life. (118-19)

Heimann concludes that we must follow Our Lady’s call to live the message of Fatima in our daily life.

Fatima: The Apparition that Changed the World is available in both hardcover and Kindle formats; because the book is packed with compelling historical photos, I recommend the print edition so you’ll be able to enjoy the full-size pictures.

author Jean HeimannAbout the author: Jean M. Heimann is a Catholic author and a freelance writer with an M.A. in Theology, a parish minister and speaker, a psychologist and educator, and an Oblate with the Community of St. John. She is a member of the Blue Army and founder of Our Lady of Fatima Rosary and Study group. Jean is the author of Seven Saints for Seven Virtues (Servant, 2014) and Learning to Love with the Saints, A Spiritual Memoir (Mercy, 2016). Visit Jean at her website through which you can access her award-wining blog, Catholic Fire.

Visit the other stops on Jean Heimann’s Fatima Blog Tour:

May 1 – Carolyn Astfalk, My Scribbler’s Heart

May 2 – Ellen Gable, Plot, Line, and Sinker

May 3 – Virginia Lieto, VirginiaLieto.com

May 4 – AnneMarie Miller, Sacrifice of Love

May 6 – Steven R. McEvoy, Book Reviews and More

May 7 – Lisa Hendey, CatholicMom.com

May 8 – Jeannie Ewing, Love Alone Creates

May 9 – Lisa Mladinich, Amazing Catechists

May 10 – AnneMarie Miller, Sacrifice of Love

May 11 – Barb Szyszkiewicz, CatholicMom.com

May 12 – Allison Gingas, Reconciled to You

May 12 – Marge Fenelon, MargeFenelon.com

May 13 – Esther Gefroh, A Catholic Mom in Hawaii
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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: 3 Lenten Reads

It’s not yet Lent, but I’ve had the chance to peek into a Lenten book from Ave Maria Press as well as two new daily devotionals from Franciscan Media, each offering a spiritual companion for your Lenten journey. All three books are sure to help readers have a spiritually fruitful Lenten season.

A book doesn’t have to be brand-new this year to benefit its readers. Paula Huston’s Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit (Ave Maria Press, 2011) is packed with timeless wisdom. The cover blurb touts it as a “practical book,” which means it’s right up my alley. I am, at heart, a practical person, and I can get bogged down and discouraged by books that don’t address my pragmatic side.

In the Introduction, Huston notes,

The beauty of the Lenten season is that it encouragees the development of a humble heart. (xiii)

The beauty of this book, for me, is its learn-by-doing approach. Each day begins with a meditation (usually a vignette from the author’s own experience) and ends with a task. The concreteness of this appeals to me. The author explains that this is not a “handbook for self-improvement” but instead “an invitation to self-knowledge and . . . a small step in liberation from destructive complicatedness–that is, from sin.” (xv, xvi)

My challenge, with this book, will be slowing it down. It’s seriously motivational, and I found myself wanting to do All The Things right now. Slowing down, for me, can be almost penitential in itself, and I need to remember to focus on one day’s task and not try to jump ahead. Lent is 40 days long for a reason. But anything that has me ready to scrub gunk out of hidden corners with an old toothbrush gets motivation points! It reminds me of St. Teresa of Avila’s observation that God is with us every moment, “even amidst the pots and pans.”

simplifying_the_soul

Take your Lenten inspiration from Pope Francis with Diane M. Houdek’s The Hope of Lent: Daily Reflections from Pope Francis (Servant, 2016.) Each daily entry is divided into 5 compact parts:

  • Bible readings (find those on your own or at USCCB.org)
  • A Word from Pope Francis
  • Taking the Word to Heart
  • Bringing the Word to Life
  • Pope Francis Prays

I was charmed by the “Word from Pope Francis” sections: each one an anecdote or homily excerpt that showcases both Pope Francis’ down-to-earth style and his desire that the faithful deepen and radically live their faith. You’ll want to keep a journal handy for your own reflections, inspired by “Bringing the World to Life.”

From the Introduction:

The greatest hope of Lent is the discovery that it’s not only about penance deprivation, spiritual struggles, and rooting out sin in our lives. Those are often the things we do during Lent. But the hope of Lent lies in what God does. From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has made mercy his hallmark. It’s no surprise that he declared a special year dedicated to the contemplation of mercy. Pope Francis wants us to realize that God’s mercy and grace surround us not just in special times and places but always and everywhere. Lent is a time to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary, to be surprised by God’s mercy when we least expect it. (vii-viii)

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Heidi Hess Saxton shares the wisdom of a beloved modern-day saint in Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Servant, 2016.) Begin your daily prayer with a short scripture passage, followed by a meditation with a story or quote from St. Teresa, reflection/application questions, and a brief closing prayer. The book is described by the publisher as a “helpful resource for reflecting upon the mercy of God—and modeling the generous heart of this saint from Calcutta in our own lives.”

Saxton takes an unusual path in the Introduction to the book, dedicating most of it to the story of four Missionaries of Charity who were martyred by ISIS in Yemen in March 2016, while the local priest, Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, was captured (his fate is still unknown). The author notes that this story “calls us to consider just how far we are willing to go when the Lord asks us to take up our cross and follow him.” (ix, x) She continues,

As we contemplate Scripture and the life and teachings of St. Teresa of Calcutta during this Lent, we have a daily inspiration and opportunity to follow her example and that of her community in spreading Christ’s fragrance to others. And whatever the fuure holds–pain or healing, uncertainty or assurance, dismay or delight–we can anticipate with great joy the glory of the Risen Christ at our journey’s end. (xiv)

Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta offers daily reflections in a slightly longer format than Houdek’s book, and the subject matter is a bit more challenging. There are two reflection questions per day, which make excellent journal prompts.

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

On Barb’s Bookshelf: What Pope Francis Really Said

Every time Pope Francis writes an encyclical or makes an off-the-cuff remark on an airplane, the media (both Catholic and secular) jump all over it with various interpretations.

That’s a problem, states Tom Hoopes, author of What Pope Francis Really Said (Servant, 2016). Depending on your news source (or who you follow on Twitter and Facebook) you’ll get wildly different versions of the same wrong story. Add in our lack of critical-reading skills and our willingness to accept “fake news” at face value and you wind up with a great deal of confusion about the Pope’s teachings and motivations.

He is celebrated by some for saying things he never said and rejected by others for doing things they don’t really understand (ix).

That airplane photo on the cover isn’t just a convenient file photo. It’s a symbol of the world’s eagerness to take one sentence out of an entire speech and make a huge (and often hugely inaccurate) news story out of it. The problem is not that Pope Francis holds news conferences on airplanes. The problem lies in what people do with the statements he makes.

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I can’t remember so much attention being paid to things previous popes said and wrote. It’s good, because the world (including the Catholic world) is watching and learning, but it’s challenging, because it’s so easy to take things out of context. I eagerly read Hoopes’ book because I find myself having to say, “That’s not what he said” way too many times when the subject of Pope Francis comes up!

Tom Hoopes traces Pope Francis’ papacy chronologically, from a speech then-Cardinal Bergoglio made in the conclave to the World Meeting of Families in the fall of 2015. Beginning with the retelling of the Gospel story in which Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath and is vilified by the leaders of the synagogue for doing so, Hoopes mentions that Jesus refuses to be “stage-managed by what officialdom is asking him to do and instead [turns] his attention to those who are looking to have a real encounter with him.” (2) Pope Francis operates in much the same way.

Hoopes assures readers who have painted the Pope as “too liberal” of Pope Francis’ unswerving commitment to the dignity of marriage and the right to life, while reminding those who believe he’s “too conservative” that Pope Francis decries the violence that begets more violence and often leads to war. Hoopes also mentions that Pope Francis is not saying anything new. He paraphrases the Catechism of the Catholic Church, echoes Popes John Paul II and Benedict, and frequently references Scripture.

In a fast-paced world with a second-by-second news cycle that reduces entire speeches to 140-character tidbits, Catholics need to read What Pope Francis Really Said to catch up on the truth behind what Pope Francis has said in the past so that they can be prepared to defend, and live out, what the Pope says in the future.

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