Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Book Review: Kandoo Kangaroo Hops Into Homeschool

Kandoo Kangaroo Hops Into Homeschool
by Susan Ratner; Illustrated by Bryan Miller
Master Books, 2000

Kandoo Kangaroo Hops into Homeschool by Susan Ratner is a cute picture book designed for a child just beginning homeschooling. Kandoo is full of questions and her mother is happy to help her to find the answers. Her mother tells her, "God wants us to know all about the interesting people, animals and things he created. This world of His is a fascinating place and I've been noticing that the time has come for you to start learning more about it."When her daughter is scared, she reminds her of Phillipians 4:13, that with God's strength, we can do everything.

The pair engage in some fun learning and gather with new friends at a homeschool picnic. At night, she tells her father all about it.

This is a great book for a child wondering why all her friends are going to school and she isn't. It introduces the ideas that learning can take place anywhere and that God's world has a great deal to teach us and that homeschoolers have communities of their own.





Monday, February 01, 2016

Book Review: Rediscover Jesus



Rediscover Jesus

by Matthew Kelly
Beacon Publishing, 2015

As Catholics, we often think that we know Jesus. After all, most of us have been hearing the stories of his life since we were small children. They are part of who we are, and that is good. But sometimes, we can feel too familiar with the stories and we start to tune them out because we have heard them over and over again. What new thing could we possibly learn? 

Yet, knowing about a person doesn’t mean that we actually know them. Matthew Kelly of DynamicCatholic.com invites us to actually know Jesus in his latest book, “Rediscover Jesus: An Invitation.” He invites us to have a dynamic relationship with Jesus – one that would change our lives in more ways than we could ever imagine. “The more we discover who Jesus truly is, the more we will place him at the center of our lives. . . . The more we place Jesus at the center of our lives, the more life begins to make sense. 

Kelly challenges us to consider our answers to two important Jesus questions: Who do you say that Jesus is? and Who does Jesus say that you are? He also examines the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . .You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) This commandment seems straightforward and simple, but it “may also be one of the hardest aspects of the Christian faith to live. . . until we learn to love ourselves as God wants us to, our ability to love others will be limited and deformed.” This type of self-love is not full of pride and self-interest. Rather, it is one that is rooted in humility.

Living as Jesus calls us to means living a radical generosity, practicing forgiveness, and loving others with an agape love. We also need to pray in order to have a meaningful relationship with God. Kelly explores all of these aspects of Christian life, as well as the importance of self-denial, an idea that is not popular in the world today. “Each time you deny yourself is a spiritual exercise, a spiritual push-up that strengthens the soul. This allows the soul to increasingly respond to grace and choose what is good, true, noble, and just in every situation.”  Kelly encourages us to work to close the gap between “the person we are and the person he created us to be.”

“Rediscover Jesus” is intended for all Christians. There is no discussion of the Mass or any of the sacraments. The book is weaker for it. Nevertheless, Kelly has a great deal of thought-provoking material in these pages. It serves as either a good introduction to the person and call of Jesus or as an important wake-up call for those of us who have been just going through the motions. No matter where we fall on the spiritual spectrum, we all have room for improvement.

In addition, Dynamic Catholic is offering a “Best Lent Ever” program for this upcoming Lent which will feature daily two-minute videos focusing on the topics covered in “Rediscover Jesus.” Find out more at http://dynamiccatholic.com/bestlentever/.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Three New Lenten Resources from Ave Maria Press



Bringing Lent Home with Pope Francis is designed to “provide and encourage a daily occurrence of family prayer and communication as you move through this holy season together. By following the suggestions regarding how your family can apply Pope Francis’s wisdom to your lives, you will participate more fully with the rhythm of the Church regarding Lenten prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”

This book, which can be used every year during Lent, offers a mini prayer service for each day which includes a quote from Pope Francis, a reflection for parents to read on their own, a family prayer, a story from Pope Francis’s life, an idea for something to give up for that day and a way to practice almsgiving. 

Cooper O’Boyle has created a valuable resource. The ideas for fasting and almsgiving are especially creative and will add great spiritual meaning to these practices. While designed for family use, it is probably most suited for use with children ages eight and up.

Sacred Reading for Lent 2016
by Apostleship of Prayer (Douglas Leonard, Executive Director)

Excerpted from Sacred Reading: The 2016 Guide to Daily Prayer, Sacred Reading for Lent 2016 is designed to help readers practice the ancient tradition of Lectio Divina (sacred reading) during the holy season of Lent. “What better way to deepen one’s friendship with Jesus Christ, the Word of God, than by prayerfully encountering him in the daily Gospel?” 

Each day offers a short prayer, the Gospel reading for that day, a short reflection, a time to listen to Jesus speaking to your heart and an invitation to ask God to show you how to live that day. Ideally, one should have at least ten quiet minutes a day to best utilize this book.

Stations of the Cross with the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus
by Apostleship of Prayer (William Prospero, S.J.)

Fr. William Prospero lived from 1965 – 2014. He was born on the feast of St. John Vianney, patron saint of priests, and died on our Blessed Mother’s birthday. As his spiritual director shares in the Foreward, Fr. Prospero, who died of kidney cancer, had a “profound love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Eucharist, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. . . Fr. Will lived these reflections. He walked the Way of the Cross with Jesus, surrendering himself to the incomprehensible and perfect will of the Father.”


These reflections are designed for private, rather than group, use. Fr. Prospero’s writing is beautiful and invites those reading into a deep relationship with Christ as he suffered and as He continues to meet us in the Eucharistic. Each station features a short Scripture passage, a reflection, and prayer. This book would be perfect for a time of Eucharistic adoration, however it can also be used for a meaningful prayer at home during Lent or at any time of the year. 
 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

True Radiance: Finding Grace in the Second Half of Life

True Radiance: Finding Grace in the Second Half of Life is a book I haven't had the opportunity to read, but I've heard nothing but good things about it and wanted to give it a plug.


The promise of True Radiance, Finding Grace in the Second Half of Life is simple: Prayerful, faith-filled women become more beautiful as they age, not less. As a woman matures spiritually, as she grows in wisdom and holiness, she increasingly reflects a radiant inner beauty that touches others in countless ways. If you've ever felt negative about the onset of middle age with its array of physical and psychological challenges, this book can help you redefine your perception of aging. Along the way, you'll gain a greater understanding of the possibilities for relevance, value and contribution waiting to be discovered. Positive, personal and practical advice from fellow traveler Lisa Mladinich will inspire and motivate you to thrive in the second half of life.

"Lisa Mladinich helps mature women see themselves as God sees them: His beautiful and beloved daughters, increasing in authentic feminine beauty through all the stages and ages of their lives." Susan Tassone, Author of Day by Day for the Holy Souls in Purgatory: 365 Reflections
"You don't have to be sporting gray hair or walking with a cane to appreciate the beauty and poetry of Lisa Mladinich's view of women and aging. In fact, each of us need this holy and hopeful perspective, and I plan to share this book with all of my women friends, whatever age they are. This book is a gem that I will enjoy more than once!" Sarah Reinhard, Author of Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Pope Francis' Message for World Communications Day


Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Holy Year of Mercy invites all of us to reflect on the relationship between communication and mercy. The Church, in union with Christ, the living incarnation of the Father of Mercies, is called to practise mercy as the distinctive trait of all that she is and does. What we say and how we say it, our every word and gesture, ought to express God’s compassion, tenderness and forgiveness for all. Love, by its nature, is communication; it leads to openness and sharing. If our hearts and actions are inspired by charity, by divine love, then our communication will be touched by God’s own power.
As sons and daughters of God, we are called to communicate with everyone, without exception. In a particular way, the Church’s words and actions are all meant to convey mercy, to touch people’s hearts and to sustain them on their journey to that fullness of life which Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to bring to all. This means that we ourselves must be willing to accept the warmth of Mother Church and to share that warmth with others, so that Jesus may be known and loved. That warmth is what gives substance to the word of faith; by our preaching and witness, it ignites the “spark” which gives them life.

Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society. How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories and to build peace and harmony. Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world. Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred. The words of Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.

For this reason, I would like to invite all people of good will to rediscover the power of mercy to heal wounded relationships and to restore peace and harmony to families and communities. All of us know how many ways ancient wounds and lingering resentments can entrap individuals and stand in the way of communication and reconciliation. The same holds true for relationships between peoples. In every case, mercy is able to create a new kind of speech and dialogue. Shakespeare put it eloquently when he said: “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: it blesseth him that gives and him that takes” (The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I).

Our political and diplomatic language would do well to be inspired by mercy, which never loses hope. I ask those with institutional and political responsibility, and those charged with forming public opinion, to remain especially attentive to the way they speak of those who think or act differently or those who may have made mistakes. It is easy to yield to the temptation to exploit such situations to stoke the flames of mistrust, fear and hatred. Instead, courage is needed to guide people towards processes of reconciliation. It is precisely such positive and creative boldness which offers real solutions to ancient conflicts and the opportunity to build lasting peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:7-9)

How I wish that our own way of communicating, as well as our service as pastors of the Church, may never suggest a prideful and triumphant superiority over an enemy, or demean those whom the world considers lost and easily discarded. Mercy can help mitigate life’s troubles and offer warmth to those who have known only the coldness of judgment. May our way of communicating help to overcome the mindset that neatly separates sinners from the righteous. We can and we must judge situations of sin – such as violence, corruption and exploitation – but we may not judge individuals, since only God can see into the depths of their hearts. It is our task to admonish those who err and to denounce the evil and injustice of certain ways of acting, for the sake of setting victims free and raising up those who have fallen. The Gospel of John tells us that “the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). The truth is ultimately Christ himself, whose gentle mercy is the yardstick for measuring the way we proclaim the truth and condemn injustice. Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love (cf. Eph4:15). Only words spoken with love and accompanied by meekness and mercy can touch our sinful hearts. Harsh and moralistic words and actions risk further alienating those whom we wish to lead to conversion and freedom, reinforcing their sense of rejection and defensiveness.

Some feel that a vision of society rooted in mercy is hopelessly idealistic or excessively indulgent. But let us try and recall our first experience of relationships, within our families. Our parents loved us and valued us for who we are more than for our abilities and achievements. Parents naturally want the best for their children, but that love is never dependent on their meeting certain conditions. The family home is one place where we are always welcome (cf. Lk 15:11-32). I would like to encourage everyone to see society not as a forum where strangers compete and try to come out on top, but above all as a home or a family, where the door is always open and where everyone feels welcome.
For this to happen, we must first listen. Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands listening and acceptance. Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good.

Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says. It involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice, as we try to imitate Moses before the burning bush: we have to remove our sandals when standing on the “holy ground” of our encounter with the one who speaks to me (cf. Ex 3:5). Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.

Emails, text messages, social networks and chats can also be fully human forms of communication. It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal. Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups. The digital world is a public square, a meeting-place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks. I pray that this Jubilee Year, lived in mercy, “may open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; and that it may eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination” (Misericordiae Vultus, 23). The internet can help us to be better citizens. Access to digital networks entails a responsibility for our neighbour whom we do not see but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected. The internet can be used wisely to build a society which is healthy and open to sharing.

Communication, wherever and however it takes place, has opened up broader horizons for many people. This is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility. I like to refer to this power of communication as “closeness”. The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates. In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2016

Friday, January 22, 2016

Lord, Help Me, I Have Teenagers

Susan Hines-Brigger wrote an article, "Lord, Help Me, I Have Teenagers" for the January 2016 issue of St. Anthony's Messenger. That simple prayer is one I think all parents of teenagers can relate to. I know I can. While I have always prayed a great deal for my children, having two teenage boys has brought it to a whole new level. And I don't even want to think about the young girl as a teenager. One day at a time - that's all I can handle.

There are days when I truly question God's decision to allow teenagers to have free will. I want so much for them to make good choices and to be the people God wants them to be, and yet, I know from personal experience that being a teenager often means making some poor choices and needing the Sacrament of Confession perhaps more than at any other time in our lives.

The decisions made as a teenager can have such lasting consequences, for good or ill. The stakes are so high. Being a teenager isn't fun - while it has its moments, it's a challenging time of change and figuring out who you are and what you believe in. I think it might even be more painful being the parent of teenager when one has to figure out how much to hold on and how much to let go, and how to love your child even when he is being completely unlovable. God is the only one who can help me. He's going to be hearing a lot from me over the next fifteen years. 

In her article, Hines-Brigger shared the following prayer from the book What Teens Want You to Know (But Won't Tell You):

Lord, help us to really see deep into the hearts of teens, in the same way you search and probe our own hearts. Give us the grace to want to see you and your Spirit as you dwell within each of the teens in my life. Amen.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Book Review: My Badass Book of Saints

When I got a review copy of "My Badass Book of Saints" in the mail, I tossed it aside after looking at the cover. I mean, really, how horrible a title! How could I possibly endorse this book?

And there the book sat, waiting in the review pile until I read an interview with the author on CatholicMom.com.  In that interview Maria Morera Johnson, who is Cuban American, explained that the title was an English translation of the Spanish word tremenda, a word with many meanings that doesn't translate easily.

In the introduction to the book, she explains further. "It translates as bold. Daring. Fearless. Smart. Courageous. In a lot of cases, it can be used as a modifier to express both judge-y disdain and profound admiration." In short, it describes my own spirited strong-willed little Latina girl perfectly. Apparently, we needed a Spanish word to describe her! And so, she is now, and most likely always be tremenda. While I am the person least likely to be referred to as a badass ever, I read this book in my daughter's honor, because she needs holy role models.

As Johnson shares, "I longed to find role models who matched my own approach to life - saints with boisterous laughs and quick tongues that sometimes got them in trouble, women unafraid to be themselves and say what was on their mind, even if they ruffled a few feathers." She found twenty-four women who fit the description.

In each chapter, she pairs a modern-day holy but not canonized woman with a recognized saint. They are grouped by their defining characteristic. For example, Sr. Blandina Segale and St. Teresa of Avila are "Audacious Sisters Who Acted Fearlessly" while Phyllis Bowman and St. Gianna Beretta Molla are "Valiant Women Who Lived and Died to Uphold Human Dignity."

Johnson, an educator of at-risk college students, mother of adult children, and caretaker for a husband with Lou Gehrig's disease has learned lessons from each of these women. She shares her own stories and how these women have helped shape her life. She invites each of us to learn from them as well.

Despite the title, this book is well-worth reading. I learned a great deal in its pages about inspiring women I had not previously heard of. Johnson's personal story also tugged at my heart, bringing me to tears in several pages. If you have young children who are able to read and you don't want them to see the title of this book, I would suggest an old paper bag book cover or perhaps reading the e-version.

CatholicMom.com is currently running a book club featuring this book called "Saints in 16." It's not too late to take part. You can find out more here: http://catholicmom.com/saints-in-16-book-club/