Friday, February 14, 2020

Explore Mary's Magnificat

In Exalted: How the Power of the Magnificat Can Transform Us, Sonja Corbitt offers a verse by verse study of the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55). The Magnificat is Mary’s prayer of praise when her cousin Elizabeth acknowledges that pregnant Mary as “the mother of my Lord.”

Corbitt is known as the “Bible Study Evangelista” and brings a solid knowledge of both the Old and New Testaments to her discussion of Mary’s song. She not only describes the historical and theological background of the Magnificat; she strives to explore the ways the Magnificat has meaning in each of our own lives. She challenges us to believe that, like Mary, God can do great things with our lives if we surrender our lives to Him. The question we should ask ourselves is not, “What do I want to do for God?” but rather, “What does he want to do with me?”

Corbitt also invites us to see the hand of God at work in our lives in every circumstance. The key point is to be humble like Mary. “One of the most pervasive impediments to going all-in with God is the fear we will lose ourselves by doing so . . . And yet what we miss in our unwillingness to be humbled in the exaltation he intended for us all along.”

One of the interesting things I learned is that Mary’s name comes from the same root as “myrrh” which means “bitter.” In the Bible, one’s name reveals much about the person. Myrrh was present with the magi, on the cross, and in the tomb. Myrrh was also used in the tabernacle incense used in front of the Jewish holy of holies. Mary was a “myrrh bearer,” experiencing great bitterness in terms of the suffering that she would endure. “Mary received her suffering as a precious gift, because the object of her suffering was her son.”

Exalted can be used by individuals or groups. At the end of each chapter, there is a review, invitation, and a God prompt to help readers go deeper in their spiritual lives. We, too, are called to give praise to God with both our words and our lives.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Looking for a Lenten Devotional?

A number of Lenten Devotionals have crossed my desk recently. With Lent right around the corner, I'm sharing the ones that caught my attention:

The Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Lent 2020 
Deacon Greg Kendra of the Diocese of Brooklyn and The Deacon's Bench Blog offers this Lenten book designed for use for 2020. Each day offers an opening prayer, scriptural passage, reflection, suggested action, and closing prayer.

Deacon Kendra says that during Lent, "we want to return to God. We want to be home." It is a time to fan the fire of the light of Christ within us.

Living Water: Catholic Prayers for Lent - Mary Marrocco

If you are looking for a devotional you can use for one minute per day, this is the booklet for you. Each day offers a short scripture passage and prayer. It can used for any Lenten season.

Messages of Trust for Lent 2020 by Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran

Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran, both from the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, offer scripture passages, reflections, and prayers for Lent 2020. Saturdays feature a Psalm and Sundays offer an overview of the theme for the coming week.

"As you make your way through these brief scripture passages and messages about growing in trust, we pray that you will experience the gift of disorientation. We pray that your heart will be touched and your mind will be stretched to grow.

"In turn may you receive another gift - the gift of reorientation. This occurs when we synthesize new insights and understandings with old paradigms. . . . Our minds and hearts are expanded to receive more of the blessings and grace of God."

Living Lent with Laughter and Love by Fr. Thomas J. Connery

Laughter is not the first thing I think of when I think of Lent, but Fr. Connery uses humor to teach spiritual lessons. Most of the Lenten reflections include a joke, but it always serves a greater purpose. Each day's reflection includes a scripture passage, reflection, and prayer. It can be used for any Lenten season. If you are looking for a different approach to a Lenten devotional, this one is for you.

Lent with the Saints by Connie Clark

This is billed as a Lenten devotional, but it could be used any time of year. It offers profiles of saints along with a short reflection. It will introduce or reacquaint you with these holy men and women.

"Reading about and reflecting on the often difficult, but ultimately joy-filled lives of the saints helps us to join in their joy and love for the Lord."

Thursday, January 23, 2020

St. Giana's Poem in Praise of Smiling

This week I am reading St. Gianna, Her Life of Joy and Heroic Sacrifice by Giuliana Pelucchi. In it, Pelucchi shares a poem St. Gianna wrote in praise of smiling. Her husband, Pietro, referred to as a "hymn to joy":

Smile at God, from whom all good things come.
Smile at God the Father with ever more perfect prayer.
Smile at the Holy Spirit.
Smile at Jesus when approaching him at Holy Mass, in Communion, in a visit to the Blessed Sacrament.
Smile at the one who represents Christ, the Pope.
Smile at the one who makes God personal, the confessor, even when he challenges you to reject sin.
Smile at the Blessed Virgin, to whose example you must conform your life, so that, seeing you, please might be led to holy thoughts.
Smile at your Guardian Angel, because this angel has been given to you by God to lead you into Paradise.
Smile at your parents, brothers, and sisters, because you must be a torch burning with joy, even when they challenge your pride.
Smile always in forgiving offenses.
Smile [at all the people you associate with], banishing all criticism and murmuring.
Smile at everyone the Lord sends you during the day.

St. Gianna also had this to say on the subject of happiness:

 I was always told that the secret of happiness is to live moment by moment, and to thank the Lord for everything he sends us, day by day.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Rediscover the Saints

For the past several years, my parish has given out a book by Matthew Kelly as a gift to parishioners at Christmas. This year's offering was Rediscover the Saints.

There are many books about saints. What makes this one different? It doesn't offer biographies about the profiled saints. Kelly includes a few details about each saint, but that is not his primary focus. Instead, he shares a lesson we can learn from that saint's life and example. He encourages those who are attracted to a particular saint to seek out additional information.

The subtitle of Rediscover the Saints is "Twenty-Five Questions that Will Change Your Life." Kelly doesn't want readers to simply read about these saints and then continue on with their lives. Kelly wants readers to engage in some serious self-reflection and make the changes that they need to in their lives to grow closer to God. 

For example, for his reflection on St. Benedict, Kelly asks, "Do your daily routines reinvigorate you?" For St. Francis of Assisi, "What are you dissatisfied with at this time in your life?" For St. John Vianney, "Are you open to the possibilities that only God can see for you?"

As with all of Matthew Kelly's books, there is much to ponder in these pages. The chapters are brief, which makes it a great book to pull out whenever you have a few minutes to do some spiritual reading. Rediscover the Saints will give you much food for thought; even if only one of the questions spark you to make a change in your life and progress on your journey towards God, reading it will be worth it.

Monday, January 13, 2020

New Series on Stress, Anxiety, and Mental Health from a Catholic Perspective

The new edition of Ave Explores takes an in-depth look at stress, anxiety, and mental health.

In this multimedia series, clinical experts and those who have struggled with mental health issues will help everyday Catholics better understand grief, addiction, loss, spiritual direction vs. therapy, depression, suicide, and forgiveness from a Catholic perspective. We also offer a list of resources where you can seek more information.

Here's some of the content for the four-week series:

Week 1 focuses on why we need to talk about mental health issues.
Week 2 looks at faith and mental health.
Week 3 considers addiction and grief
Week 4 will wrap up the series with healing and forgiveness

Sign up for limited-time weekly emails with this series of content at

Please note: If you are in crisis, call your doctor or 911 immediately. If you are having suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Monday, December 30, 2019

The New "Little Women"

Please note: Spoilers are included.

Twenty-five years ago, I fell in love with the movie version of Little Women that starred Wynona Ryder as Jo. It was cinematically beautiful and the acting was excellent. I had read the book as a child, but that movie truly made the story come alive for me. 

Fast-forward to this past year. My daughter asked if she could watch the 1994 movie. I wasn't sure if she'd like it, but she did. She then asked to listen to the audio version of the book. Once again, upon seeing the 17 CDs in the case when I took it out of the library, I had my doubts as to whether we'd make it through the whole thing, but we did. 

I am so glad that I did have the opportunity to revisit the story. I hadn't remembered many of the details of the book. Plus, reading it as an adult certainly lends a different perspective than I had as a child or even as a teenager.

In addition, I read Meg, Jo, Beth, May: The Story of Little Women and Why it Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux. It provided much fascinating background information on Louisa May Alcott and her writing of the famous story. 

My daughter was eager to see the new Little Women movie released in theaters on Christmas Day and this was one movie trip I was happy to indulge. I couldn't help but compare the new film to the one I loved so much, but I tried hard to judge it on its own merits. 

First, the good things. Director and screenwriter Greta Gerwig truly loves the story and wanted to provide an updated version for a new generation that would still be faithful to the original story. In that she does succeed. She is faithful to the story, bringing out parts of the book that were ignored in the 1994 version. In this version the relationship between Laurie and Amy is explored much more. We also get to see an adult Meg struggling with her desire to have a beautiful dress that is out of the budget provided by her poor husband. Jo and Beth are seen taking the beach trip that Jo desperately hoped would heal Beth of her illness. 

My favorite part of the new movie was the ending. Jo is negotiating with her editor about the publication of Little Women. Louisa May Alcott never married, preferring to retain her independence, and she didn’t want her heroine to be married. She only had Jo get married because readers were demanding it. The original Little Women was published in two parts so readers had read the portion when the girls were younger and were eager to offer their opinions on what should happen to them. In the movie, the editor tells her that Jo needs to get married. She agrees in exchange for increased compensation. It is a delightful scene, faithful to who Louisa May Alcott was, even if not faithful to the book. 

Now, for the less-good things. The movie is confusing. If you haven't read the book, it would be impossible to understand. It hops back and forth in time repeatedly. Scenes from the book are shown as vignettes without a great deal connecting them. 

The casting also seemed to lack something. Amy, who is supposed to be the youngest, looks and acts older than Beth and is too old to play a young teen Amy convincingly. There also doesn't seem to be much chemistry between Jo and Laurie, and Professor Behr, while handsome, is too young. 

Overall, seeing the movie made for a pleasant excursion; one I was happy to be able to share with my daughter. If you plan to see it with your children, I highly recommend making sure that they have read the book first.

 I also enjoyed reading Little Women: The Official Movie Companion which offers much behind-the-scene information and beautiful photographs. Even if you don't watch the movie, you will enjoy this book if you love the story.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Lessons on Life and the Love for a Child

If you plan to read Finding Chika by Mitch Albom (of Tuesdays with Morrie fame), I strongly suggest you keep a box of tissues nearby. Albom tells of the young child he met at the Have Faith Orphanage in Haiti, which he and his wife run. When Chika is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness no one in Haiti can treat, Albom and his wife, Janine, bring her to America in the hopes of finding a cure.

It is not a spoiler to tell you that their search for a cure is unsuccessful. Albom shares that news on the first page. Indeed, the ghost of Chika is a prominent character in the telling of her story and the ways it changed Albom forever.

Having never had biological children, taking care of Chika thrusts Albom in a role of father he never expected to have. The fact that she is fighting an unfightable disease makes parenting that much more of a challenge.

As writers are prone to doing, writing Finding Chika was a way for Albom to process and reflect on all that happened to him. But within this book's pages are powerful lessons on life and what it means to love a child.

Here are a couple of quotes that especially struck me:

There are many kinds of selfishness in this world, but the most selfish is hoarding time, because none of us know how much we have, and it is an affront to God to assume there will be more.

I could not understand why a child had to suffer . . . This does not mean I lost my belief in God. Nut it was tested. . . .As your condition worsened, my clinging became more desperate. I often got angry at the Lord.

The reason I didn't walk away altogether, I guess, harkens to something an old rabbi named Albert Lewis once told me. He had lost his four-year-old daughter to an asthma attack in the 1950s.

I asked if even he, a righteous clergyman, didn't get mad with God over that.

"Oh, I was furious," he said.

Then why didn't you stop believing?

"Because," he said, "as terrible as I felt, I took comfort in having something I could cry to, a power to whom I could shout, 'Why?' It is still better than having nothing to turn to at all."
Purchase Finding Chika on Amazon (affiliate link)

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