Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Do You Want to Be Happier This Year?

Do you want to be happier? Do you feel that something is missing in your life, but you can’t put your finger on what it might be? Do you know you should focus on what really matters in life but aren’t sure where to begin? In Resisting Happiness, best-selling Catholic writer Matthew Kelly invites us to take a hard look at our lives and our habits so that we can achieve those elusive goals of happiness and a sense of purpose. 

Given the title of the book, one might think that the primary focus is on happiness, but “resistance” is actually the main topic. Kelly defines resistance as “the desire and tendency to delay something you should be doing right now.” It is something that we all struggle with every day of our lives, often from the time we get up to the time to go to bed. It “stands between you and the person God created you to be. Resistance stands between you and happiness.” The purpose of this book is to help you overcome resistance so that you can be the best version of yourself, Kelly’s term for the universal call to holiness. We are made to be saints, but resistance often keeps us from getting there.

Kelly emphasizes that nothing on earth can satisfy your desire for happiness other than God. “Only God can fill that hole that represents our deepest longings.” Yet, most of us spend our time trying to fill that hole with something else, whether it be other people or food or entertainment or any number of things. If we want to keep everything else, even good things (such as other people), in its proper place in our lives, we need to place God at the center.

Nothing Kelly states is new. Saints have been pointing the way to holiness since the Church began. Kelly discusses the importance of daily prayer, the value of Mass and Confession, the importance of sacrifice and self-denial, the need to love and serve others, discerning and then doing the will of God. These are the ways that we focus on God and gain true peace and happiness. Never-the-less, the struggle of life is real. Resistance is real. What Kelly excels at is making the path to holiness seem within reach for the average person. He offers concrete simple steps that anyone can take to move closer to God and to being the best version of ourselves. 

Understandably, Kelly writes from a male perspective. As moms, we have some unique challenges that men don’t necessarily face (and I would imagine, vice versa). This is especially true in the sections on using our talents for God’s kingdom. I know that there have been times in my mothering journey when it seemed that my talents were exactly what God was asking me to sacrifice. While I’ve always tried to contribute to the world using my gifts in some small way, this often has had to take a back seat to the vocational call to motherhood. My family has needed me more. The daily chores have required my attention. Things I wanted to do, or even felt called to do, had to come second, or third, or even last in the list.

That being said, Resisting Happiness is a valuable book to spend some time with. I plan to have my teenage sons read it as part of their homeschool religion class this year. Even if you know what you should be doing to get closer to God (our ticket to lasting happiness), this book serves as a helpful reminder. You are sure to find one or two spiritual practices you could incorporate into your life. 

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Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Not All of Me is Dust is Intelligent, Well-written Catholic Fiction

In her debut novel, Frances Maureen Richardson explores the lives of three Catholic siblings over the course of several decades. Not All of Me is Dust is an ambitious, sprawling work exploring what is means to be human, face temptation, and listen for and follow God’s will. 

Kathleen is the burdened oldest sister, forced to take over a maternal role to her two younger siblings after their mother’s untimely death. Clare is the youngest, broken-hearted as her older siblings leave home. She is desperate to grow up herself and figure out what she should do with her life. The majority of the story focuses on Stephen, idealistic and intellectual, who answers God’s call and becomes a Jesuit priest. 

Richardson, who has a master’s degree in religious studies, has penned an intelligent, well-written story. The characters are well-developed, multi-faceted and flawed. They are fully human, struggling with life and the consequences of their actions. Not All of Me is Dust is an excellent addition to the genre of Catholic fiction.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

How to Keep the Christmas Spirit All Year Long

The secular world has already said "goodbye" to Christmas. I went to a local store today, two days after Christmas, and not only were the Christmas items all 50% off and the Valentine gifts/candy predominantly displayed, but there was also Easter candy now on sale! Yet, even for those of us who prefer to enjoy the 12 Days of Christmas until January 6th, it's easy to lose that joyful spirit of giving that permeates Advent and Christmas as the year continues on.

Christmas Jars is a ten-year-old book by Jason F. Wright, but I read it for the first time on Christmas Eve. What a lovely story! On a New Year's Eve, Louise Jensen finds an abandoned baby girl at a local diner. She names the baby Hope and raises her as her own.

Many years later, Louise has died and Hope, a journalist, is facing Christmas Eve on her own for the first time. She goes home to her apartment only to find that she has been robbed. Yet, in the midst of all that chaos, someone leaves a jar full of coins outside her door. It is labeled, "Christmas Jar." Her journalistic instincts take over and she is determined to find the source of the Christmas Jar, but that investigation will reveal more than she ever expected.

This book has inspired many others to keep Christmas Jars, saving loose change throughout the year to share with someone anonymously in the days leading up to Christmas. The version I read is a collector's edition which includes stories of some of those who have received these jars and the difference it made in their lives. It is truly touching and beautiful and it might just inspire you to keep a Christmas Jar of your own all year long. Every time you throw in some loose change, you'll remember Christmas, and keep a little bit of that spirit all year long.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Book Review: The Noel Diary by Richard Paul Evans

Part of my Christmas preparations each year is reading the new book by Richard Paul Evans. I’ve enjoyed his stories ever since TheChristmas Box. This year’s offering is “The Noel Diary.” Jacob Churcher is a bestselling romance author who hasn’t been home since he was sixteen, when his mentally ill mother kicked him out of the house. After her death, he’s forced to go home and confront the past. He’s also on the search for any information about a strange woman he’s always had dreams about. 

Meanwhile, Rachel is a young woman who enters Jacob’s life searching for the birth mother who gave her up so many years before. The two begin to delve into the past and start to heal in the process.

This is a poignant story about the challenges of mental illness, motherhood, adoption, and the need we all have to feel loved. 

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Listening for God's Voice

This is part of the reflection by Karla Manternach from Living Faith on December 9th (but it is a good reminder at any time).

Even when I feel empty and frustrated at God's apparent disinterest in me, I know my prayer is an expression of trust. When we are faithful to prayer, we open our hearts to God's guidance. God's guidance rarely comes as a booming voice saying, "THIS IS THE WAY!" Rather, it comes as a tiny nudge, a nagging feeling. Submitting to God's will is like inching your shoulders just enough to turn your back to the wind and feel it behind you, pushing you along.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Book Review: The Christmas Angel Project

Abby Wentworth died suddenly of a brain aneurysm while only in her 40s, but not before she had completed her Christmas presents for her closest friends - the fellow members of her book group. While her friends grieve the loss of a woman who lived life well, they decide to use the Christmas Angel ornaments she gave them as inspiration to start a new project - being "Christmas Angels" themselves.

The idea is for each of them to bring some good to the world. As each woman uses her personal talents and gifts to make a difference, she will learn some valuable lessons about herself and her life, aided by yet another secret gift Abby left behind.

The Christmas Angel Project is a lovely, inspiring novel by award-winning author Melody Carlson, perfect for enjoying during the Advent or Christmas season.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Christmas Novena

It is time once again for the Christmas Novena which begins on the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30th) and goes through Christmas Eve. Some say to pray the following prayer 15 times a day each day; others have it once a day. However you decide to pray, humbly ask God for whatever your heart desires most this Christmas.

The Christmas Novena

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
At which the Son of God was born
Of a most pure Virgin
At a stable in Bethlehem
In the piercing cold.
At that hour vouchsafe, I beseech thee,
To hear my prayers and grant my desires.
(Mention your request here.)
Through Jesus Christ and his most Blessed Mother. Amen.

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