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.

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On Barb’s Bookshelf: God Is Not Fair and Other Reasons for Gratitude

Daniel Horan, OFM’s new book, God Is Not Fair and Other Reasons for Gratitude (Franciscan Media, 2017), is a collection of essays exploring how “the very core of Christianity appears foolish in the world.” (p. 3) This makes it Franciscan to the core: St. Francis of Assisi spent his life as a “fool for Christ” in his quest to fully live the Gospel.

God is not fair

My favorite chapters were the ones that concerned St. Francis and Franciscans. The essay titled “What’s Not-So-Special About Franciscan Spirituality” was a comfort to this Franciscan; I may work with words for my livelihood, but it’s tough to put into words exactly what Franciscan spirituality is about! “The Franciscan tradition advances only the Gospel in a way that is at the same time shockingly simple and incredibly difficult.” (p. 41)

The second section of the book, “Gospel and Culture,” is an exploration of how we can go about living the Gospel. It’s not easy, and it’s going to be different for every person–but it’s a question we all must seek to answer.

I had to read almost half this book before finding the reason for the title, but when I got there, the central premise behind the book became clear after the author considered two of Jesus’ more difficult parables regarding fairness, the story of the Prodigal Son and the one about the vineyard owner who paid all workers the same wage regardless of what time they started.

It is difficult for us to accept the gratuitous love, generosity and mercy of God. We hold one another accountable to rules of fairness, sometimes even baptized in the water of religion, but it is not the radical unfairness of God; it is not the radical justice that is equivalent to God’s infinite mercy. (p. 61)

Father Horan and I do not see eye-to-eye on many matters. I knew that before picking up this book, and I wondered a bit what I could learn from someone with whom I disagree on certain subjects. A few statements made in the book reinforced my disagreement with Father Horan–but those are specifics, and I don’t think they’re deal-breakers. Ultimately, this book is written for people seeking to model their lives more closely to the Gospel standard. While the author and I approach this differently, we still aim for the same target.
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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 by the publisher, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Saint Junípero Serra’s Camino

My fascination with St. Junípero Serra began in grade school when I learned about the California missions. Already familiar with Franciscan friars, I made the connection to the real-life priests and brothers I knew.

On my only visit to California (in 1995), I insisted on having the chance to visit one of the missions. We attended Mass at Mission San Diego and I took the opportunity to explore the grounds. As it doesn’t look like more trips to California are in my future, I’ll need to explore the remaining missions in a virtual pilgrimage of sorts. That’s where Stephen J. Binz’s new book comes in.

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Saint Junípero Serra’s Camino: A Pilgrimage Guide to the California Missions (Franciscan Media, 2017) offers armchair pilgrims like myself the chance to go behind the scenes at each of the 21 missions in the state of California. An impressively comprehensive guidebook of the 21 California missions featuring a short biography of St. Junípero Serra, a look at the colonial and missionary climate of the 18th century, and separate chapters for each mission. Readers are invited to take walking, driving or virtual pilgrimages in which they learn the history of each mission site, examine its architecture, discover its patron saint and engage in prayer.

This book digs more deeply than you’d expect in a guidebook. Binz does not gloss over the problems that occurred during the colonization period in an attempt to re-canonize Serra, nor does he demonize the friars and others who journeyed to California to evangelize the people there. I found his approach to the whole Serra controversy balanced and well-documented.

Pilgrims can follow the route laid out by Binz, which is in geographical order from south to north. The author also includes a list of the missions in order of their founding, in case pilgrims wish to follow that path instead (admittedly, this would work best for virtual pilgrimages, as it involves a good deal of backtracking.)

That’s Mission Santa Bárbara on the cover. Founded in 1786, it’s the first mission founded after Serra’s death. If I could only visit one mission, that’s the one I’d pick, because it’s named for my patron saint. This book also helped me learn more about her–because she lived during the fourth century, details of her life are sketchy, so I knew very little.

My only complaint about this guidebook was its lack of photos. There were few photographs, and the ones that were included were small and in black and white.

If you’re planning a trip to California, definitely get your hands on this book and plan to stop to visit at least one of these missions! If you’re like me, this book will help you learn about a fascinating chapter in our nation’s history and that of our faith.

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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: 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.”

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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: Meeting God in the Upper Room

Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi describes the Upper Room as “the most important room in Christendom” in his new book, Meeting God in the Upper Room (Servant, 2017). In one whirlwind 8-week period, the Upper Room was the location for three significant events in the birth of the Church:

  • the Last Supper
  • Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances to his disciples
  • Pentecost

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By Assaf Yekuel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Msgr. Vaghi notes in the Prologue that the Upper Room, or Cenacle, was renovated in the 14th century, which explains the architectural style of the room as seen above.

What must the disciples have felt during their time in that room? Did they celebrate the Passover with trepidation, having heard Jesus tell them again and again that this trip to Jerusalem would end in his death? Were they astounded and elated when the risen Christ appeared to them in that room, continuing to teach them to take on the work of building the Church? Were they simultaneously energized and terrified at the descent of the Holy Spirit and their commissioning to make disciples of all nations?

“Once we catch a glimpse of the events that transpired in this room, we will be forever captivated by the mystery of the God who loves us so much that, even as he prepared to return to the Father, promised that ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.’ (John 14:18, NRSV)” (1)

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Msgr. Varghi’s discussion of the history of the Upper Room based on Gospel accounts complements the meditations that are the meat of this book. I found the history fascinating; in various chapters, you’ll read about personalities, prophecy, sacraments, and Catholic social teaching. Each chapter ends with a section titled “Preparing Your Upper Room” in which the reader is invited to consider the personal implications of Jesus’ message.

I recommend Meeting God in the Upper Room for spiritual reading during Lent or, even more appropriately, beginning in Holy Week and continuing through the Easter season, when you can read the book as you liturgically relive the events depicted in it.

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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: Refuge of the Heart Review and Giveaway!

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Crises involving refugees are in the news right now, but once a situation moves off the front page, it becomes easy to forget that refugees are real people with real needs who have gone through really awful situations–and their problems are not solved overnight.

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Love the cover art for this book!

Refuge of the Heart, a new novel by Ruth Logan Herne, introduces the reader to Lena, a young woman who fled war-torn Chechnya with her 5-year-old sister Anna. Lena, who was a medical student on her way to a promising career before the war tore her family and her life apart, wants nothing more than to complete her nursing degree and find a job that pays well enough for her to move to a safer neighborhood with a good school for Anna. As the novel begins, D.A. Mitch Sanderson happens upon Lena and Anna as they discover a flat tire on their car on a snowy night. One broken date later, Mitch arranges for tire repairs for Lena’s car, and slowly goes on to win the independent Lena’s heart.

Lena’s past proves to be a complication for their relationship, as she fears legal reprisal for some of the things she did in order to survive the living hell of war in Chechnya. Mitch’s high-society family doesn’t help matters either.

This novel is a tribute to resiliency of spirit and a life lived gratefully. Lena has very little, but she constantly looks for ways to give back.

FM_Color_LogoTo help me introduce this book to more readers, publisher Franciscan Media is offering a copy of Refuge of the Heart to one lucky reader! To put your name in the hat for a FREE copy of this novel, simply answer this question in the comment box:

Thanksgiving dinner (two of them, actually–one at church and one at Mitch’s family home) is the first holiday celebration Mitch and Lena enjoy together. Name the one dish that must be on your family table for Thanksgiving.

This contest ends Tuesday, October 20 at noon Eastern. Winner will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond before another winner is chosen. USA only, please!

Want more chances to win? Visit the other blogs on the book tour and enter your name in their giveaways!

About Author Ruth Logan Herne:

herneBorn into poverty, Ruth Logan Herne is the mother of six and grandmother to thirteen. She and her husband, Dave, live on a small farm in upstate New York. She works full time but carves a few hours each day to write the kind of stories she likes to read, filled with poignancy, warmth and delightful characters. She is the 2011 award winner from the American Christian Fiction Writers.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Sweetest Rain Review and Giveaway!

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On my bookshelf today: a sweet Catholic romance novel that takes place in Depression-era Arkansas. As historical fiction goes, this is one of my favorite time periods to read about; I think this is because characters are too busy surviving to do much navel-gazing.

ofu5Nt5bAI1EOJeG-oPAco0tPN9Tk6LCDMtIAp0NsxAMyra Johnson’s novel, The Sweetest Rain, finds a tenant farmer’s responsible oldest granddaughter in search of a way to supplement the near-nonexistent farm income during a drought season. Boldly approaching the plantation owner, she lands a housekeeping job in his grand home and upsets the status quo by getting involved in “upstairs, downstairs” politics–and falling in love with the owner’s son.

I enjoyed the portrayal of the two very different worlds that Bryony, the heroine, walked between, and the strength and grit she showed in helping her family survive. In some ways, she reminded me of George Bailey, doing what had to be done for her family, even at the expense of her own dreams. How this plays out as the story goes on–well, I don’t want to give any spoilers here. But I will say this: if you like Downton Abbey, you’ll like this novel!

Since this book is from the genre known as “sweet romance,” it’s appropriate for teens as well as adults.

FM_Color_LogoTo help me introduce this book to more readers, publisher Franciscan Media is offering a copy of The Sweetest Rain to one lucky reader! To put your name in the hat for a FREE copy of this novel, simply answer this question in the comment box:

What’s your favorite time period to read about in historical fiction?

This contest ends Tuesday, October 13 at noon Eastern. Winner will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond before another winner is chosen.

Want more chances to win? Visit the other blogs on the book tour and enter your name in their giveaways!

Myra Johnson 2014About author Myra Johnson:

Myra Johnson’s roots go deep into Texas soil, but she now enjoys living amidst the scenic beauty of North Carolina. Myra’s debut novel, One Imperfect Christmas, was a September 2009 release from Abingdon Press. She has also written six novels for the Heartsong Presents line. Most recently she has completed a three-book historical romance series, “Till We Meet Again,” for Abingdon Press. Myra and her husband, Jack, have two married daughters and seven grandchildren.

 

Book Review: Chime Travelers series for kids

For the past 8 years I have spent 1/2 day per week volunteering in the library of our local Catholic elementary school. I check books in and out, help kids find books, put books away, and talk with kids about what they like to read. In those 8 years I’ve seen , talked about, and read an awful lot of children’s books.

(Yes, I read children’s books. Sometimes it’s because the librarian has asked me to read something aloud to a class. Sometimes it’s because, as I was putting a book on a shelf, I was intrigued–so I’d take the book home.)

It’s a Catholic school library, but there’s almost no Catholic fiction in it. Except for Tomie dePaola’s picture books, I haven’t found any Catholic fiction in it.

chime travelers bannerThat’s about to change; I’m going to be donating copies of Lisa Hendey’s Chime Traveler series to the school library. And I’ll be talking them up when the first- through fourth-graders come in.

The first two books in the series were released today! I’ve read them both; they center on a set of twins who are thrust into adventures with saints from long-ago times. These adventures help the twins learn a life lesson related to something they’ve been struggling with.

chime travelers book 1

Book 1 is titled The Secret of the Shamrock. In this story, Patrick meets his patron saint, St. Patrick, and travels (with his frog in his backpack) across Ireland. On his journey, Patrick wrestles with the mystery of the Trinity and learns about trusting in God.

I don’t think we’ve seen the last of that frog, though.

chime travelers book 2

Book 2, The Sign of the Carved Cross, tells the tale of Katie’s adventure as she journeys with St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Katie struggles with the popularity issues so many kids will relate to, trying to fit in with the “mean girls” by excluding others. Her encounter with St. Kateri will help her learn about true friendship and compassion. 

 These are fun stories, complete with mischief and humor, that feature the bonus of learning what it might be like to walk side-by-side with a well-known saint. The novels portray the saints as real people who become friends with Patrick and Katie and whom young readers will want as their own friends!

I’m glad to introduce these novels to young Catholic readers. They’d make great classroom novels or family read-alouds as well as being fun reads for independent readers getting their feet wet with chapter books. Kids will easily relate to Patrick and Katie, who try to be good but don’t always succeed and who struggle with the usual stuff: family, friends, chores and school. 

 I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the superb work done by illustrator Jenn Bower, whose art features a fun, lively, retro feel. The covers are totally eye-catching; I had the books on my coffee table one evening when a few friends came over, and everyone was picking them up. But there are more charming illustrations within the books as well.

Im a chime traveler

You can order the Chime Travelers books from the Amazon links above (the books are $5.99 each) OR you can purchase autographed copies directly from the author for only $5 each postpaid! Bulk orders save even more. Use this form for direct purchases

 
The fine print: I received advance reader copies of both Chime Travelers novels from the publisher, Franciscan Media, in return for my honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review. Opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. 

 
More fine print: Links to the Chime Traveler books are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchase of a book using those links adds a little something to my Amazon piggy bank, but costs you nothing extra. 

 Image credit: Chime Traveler Kids page on Facebook. Used by permission of Chime Travelers author Lisa Hendey. All rights reserved.