Friday, February 27, 2015

The Encounter the Saints Series

The Encounter the Saints Series from Pauline Books and Media features biographical chapter books about some wonderful saints such as St. Gianna Molla, St. Pope John Paul II, St. Kateri Tekawitha, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine Laboure and many more. Aimed at ages 9 - 12, they are great for reading alone or reading aloud as a family.

On the Pauline Media Website: http://store.pauline.org/english/kids/categoryid/747/level/a.aspx

On Amazon: Encounter the Saints

Monday, February 23, 2015

Why Schools (and Society) are Failing Our Boys

Jennifer Fink wrote an insightful article about her eight year old son and his school experience: Why Our Schools are Failing Our Boys

She writes,
Re-entry after winter break has not been easy for him. The rules and restrictions of school – Sit Still. Be Quiet. Do What You Are Told, Nothing More, Nothing Less. – have been grating on him, and it shows. His teacher recently emailed me; she’d noticed a change in his behavior (more belligerent, less likely to cooperate) and wanted to know if there was anything going on at home.
My guess, I said, was that he was upset about having to be back in school after break. I was right.
The lack of movement and rigid restrictions associated with modern schooling are killing my son’s soul.

Does that sound dramatic to you? Perhaps. After all, most of us go through school and somehow survive more or less intact. But if you really think about it, you might remember what you hated about school. You might remember that it took you years after school to rediscover your own soul and passions, and the courage to pursue them.

The stress of school, of trying to fit into an environment that asks him to suppress the best parts of himself, recently had my son in tears. Again.

Truly, this is a woman who would make a wonderful homeschooler, and perhaps she will eventually consider that option. But, sometimes I reflect on our life today and realize that it isn't just school, but our society at large that has made growing up as a young man so difficult.

A fellow mom and I were chatting at my daughter's gymnastics class this other day. She, like I, has both older and younger children and we were commiserating over raising teenage boys. I shared with her how a parenting book I read recently referred to them as "developmental lumps," a phrase which all too often describes the state of my children. Not particularly athletic, they spend a lot of time sitting, sometimes reading, often engaging with technology of some sort. They have friends over and they'll play games or engage in technology side by side.  This lifestyle is not entirely their fault.

At their age, throughout history, at 12 and 13 they would have been doing something productive with their lives - working on a farm, working in a factory, being apprenticed to learn a trade. Even my father back in 1950 started working at age 9. and continued to work until age 71 when he was laid off. That was only two generations ago. Working and contributing to society gives a person a sense of purpose and usefulness. But today, young people generally don't have that opportunity.

Some homeschoolers live on farms and their children work very hard and contribute to the family's livelihood. That isn't really an option for those of us who live in urban areas. There aren't that many chores to do around the house (and my children do help with them), which after lessons, leaves them with little productive to do. They are very involved with acting and enjoy their time attending classes, practicing, and putting on productions. But that is something I pay for them to be able to do.

While I certainly am not advocating a return to the 12 hour days that children worked in the factories, it would be wonderful if our society provided more opportunities for young people to have responsible, meaningful work. Is it any wonder that adolescence lasts to the late 20s today when we rob our teenagers of the opportunity to be truly productive members of society? Instead we plunk them in a classroom all day, without any concern of whether they are actually geared for academic learning (when they might actually be very geared to some sort of on-the-job vocational training), tell them to study for some future day when their life will begin, and blame the teachers when they fail. Nobody is winning in that equation.

Schools and society are failing our boys (and our girls, but that's a topic for a different day).  What are we as a society going to do about it?


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Book Review: Erin's Ring

Erin's Ring

by Laura H. Pearl
Waterford, MI: Bezalel Books, 2014

Erin's Ring by Laura H. Pearl is a delightful Catholic young adult novel. Molly McCormick is the new girl in Dover, New Hampshire. An 8th grader, she is the oldest of six children with one more on the way. Her father is a pilot based at Logan airport while her mother cares for their bustling brood. Theresa Grant's parents are separated, torn apart after the death of their younger child. She lives a lonely pain-filled life. Yet, she and Molly soon become friends, bonding in a library one day.

Molly found an Claddagh ring in the dirt outside her parish Church and is eager to find out who it belonged to. She shares her quest with Theresa and with the help of a friendly librarian, begin delving into the Irish history of Dover.

Interwoven is the tale of Ann O'Brien who came to Dover from Ireland in 1827 to work at the Cocheco Mill.

This tale is great for middle-school or older girls. Even as an adult, I eagerly read it. Perfect for anyone who enjoys history and light romance. Teaches much about life in the mills for Irish immigrants and the struggle to have Catholic places of worship. A great treat!


Friday, February 20, 2015

The Power and Gift of Prayer

There are times in life when we feel like we can't contribute much to the world whether it be due to our family circumstances or our health or what have you, or perhaps a friend is hurting but we have nothing to say or do that can make it better. But there is one thing we can always do and that is to pray. Whether it be saying formal prayers or speaking to God in our own words or offering up our sufferings, we can always be of help to someone. Admittedly, we often do not get to see the fruits of our efforts, but we trust that in a way we can't fully understand, God uses our prayers for good.

The Spring 2015 issue of Marian Helper features a story about a ninety-three year old woman named Blanche who works as a volunteer for their intercessory prayer line. Twice a week she volunteers her time to pray individually for the hundreds of intentions. "One by one - for hours - she reads them to herself before the Blessed Sacrament while praying for the the outpouring of the Holy Spirit." What an incredible gift she is offering to those in need. What a wonderful inspiration for all of us to follow!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

40 Days for Life Going On Now!

I can't believe that I forgot this was going on until I got a mailing from MA Citizens for Life today. 40 Days for Life - the Lenten edition - is going on now. If you are making a sacrifice for lent, consider offering it up to help the unborn. To find out more about ways you can get involved in this pro-life effort, visit: https://40daysforlife.com/

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

On the Coming of Lent

Some years I embrace Lent with all that I am because I'm desperately in need of it. Others, I just sigh and say "Really? Lent? Already?" It feels like one more thing to add to the to-do list.

This year, I definitely fall into that second category. Maybe it's because we're buried in piles of snow, I've been non-stop crazy busy, and the kids (two figuratively; one literally) are bouncing off the walls from being inside too much. Yet, the days are getting longer, the sun is growing stronger, and somewhere under those mounds of snow, my daffodil and tulip bulbs are just waiting to burst forth. Spring is coming even if it doesn't seem like it.

Lent is a reminder that the eternal spring is coming, that winter, neither the earthly frozen version nor the spiritual exile, does not last forever. Lent is a reminder that Christ suffered and died for us, and that we need to die to ourselves as well in order to be one with Christ. And so, the Church in its wisdom invites us to a deeper level of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting for these six weeks.

In our house, rather than ask the kids to pick something in particular to give up, I've set up a sacrifice jar. I told them that every time they do something they don't want to do or give up something or are kind to their siblings when they don't want to be, they can put a bean in the jar. The goal is to have the jar filled by Easter. We shall see how this goes. 

This year, I'll enter Lent with some mild kicking and internal screaming, but hopefully by the end of the six weeks, my spiritual life will be a little bit better and I will be able to embrace Easter with all that I am.

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

From the Hub to the Heart

Andrew LaVallee lived the fast life. A man of extremes, LaVallee grew up in a tough neighborhood and he drank, swore and gambled his way through most of his adult life. He achieved financial and worldly success in his bakery distribution business. After his conversion, LaVallee embraced the Catholic faith of his youth and felt God calling him to promote fasting. 

When he decided to write his story, he joined forces with writer Leticia Velasquez who writes, “This book tells the story of what happened when a movie star known for his portrayal of Jesus Christ in The Passion of the Christ, Jim Caviezel, looked into this successful man’s eyes one day and challenged him just as Christ challenged the rich young man. He dared Andy to visit Medjugorje, an obscure, poor village in Croatia, where for over thirty years it has been alleged that the Virgin Mary has been visiting earth and calling her children to live lives of prayer, penance and fasting. Andy’s reaction was predictable; ‘No way am I flying fifteen hours to pray a Rosary!’ But little by little, Our Lady’s call to Andy opened his heart and he boarded that plane, prayed that Rosary and his life has never been the same.”

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston has high praise for Andy: “The past decade of Andy LaVallee’s life shows the power of Men’s Conferences, the impact of good Catholic friendships, the help of the Blessed Mother to draw near to Christ Jesus, the power of fasting, and the positive impact of Catholic social teaching in the workplace. We are fortunate in the Archdiocese of Boston to have leaders such as Andy LaVallee who actively reach out to invite others to experience the joy of living as a disciple within the Catholic community.”
Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart, Foundress of Daughters of Mary of Nazareth says, “In (Andrew’s) pilgrimage we each can experience the fullness of our conversion when the new life of faith from within intersects with the old world from without….writing and publishing this journey is yet a testimony of his desire to reach the fullness of his conversion not only for himself but to share its grace with others. May God’s Name be glorified and many people be inspired by this conversion pilgrimage and journey deeper into their own conversion through this book.”

This inspiring book is available in print and on Kindle via Amazon.com: From the Hub to the Heart: My Journey
 and is also available via the author’s website: livethefast.org






Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book Review: Art with Anything

Art with Anything: 52 Weeks of Fun Using Everyday Stuff (Mary Ann Kohl Books)

by MaryAnn F. Kohl
Silver Spring: Gryphon House, 2010

Designed for use with children ages 4 - 10, "Art with Anything" by MaryAnn Kohl features a year's worth of art and craft ideas guaranteed to keep kids busy and creating. Using many items found around the house such as foil, buttons, old CDs, duct tape, magazines, paper plates, etc, these projects are great for those who want to do art but don't want to break the bank in the process. While you may want to go out and purchase some additional supplies for some of the projects, this is a great book to pull off the shelf when you are looking for something new to do with what you have on hand.

As Kohl writes in the Introduction, "All the art activities in 'Art with Anything' value and stress the 'process of art,' and encourage children to think for themselves about how to use materials to make the art their own." Each week contains five projects utilizing one common item. For example, week number one has five projects making use of address labels.

"Art with Anything" is a great resource for any parent or teacher looking for ideas for art projects.


Sunday, February 08, 2015

National Human Trafficking Awareness Day

Today, February 8th, the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, is the first annual National Human Trafficking Day. I apologize for posting this so late in the day, but I didn't learn about it until I went to Mass today. Still, it is important to build awareness of this tragedy any day of the year.
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St. Josephine Bakhita was born in Sudan in 1869 and enslaved as a child. She was eventually brought to Italy where she ultimately obtained her freedom and joined the Canossian Daughters of Charity. At the Mass when she was canonized, St. John Paul II stated, "in St. Josephine Bakhita we find a shining advocate of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence . . ."

There are currently over 27 million people enslaved worldwide, including here is the U.S. These include forced labor, sex trafficking, debt bondage, forced child labor, child soldiers, and child sex trafficking. Approximately 14,500 - 17,500 individuals are trafficked into the US each year. 50% of those are children.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center can be reached at 1-888-373-7888

To learn more about the US Catholic Sisters efforts against human trafficking, visit www.bakhitainitiative.com

Book Review: The Power of Daily Mass

The Power of Daily Mass: How Frequent Participation in the Eucharist Can Transform Your Life

by Bert Ghezzi
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2015

For moms of younger children, the option of attending daily Mass is often non-existent. Yes, I know there are some intrepid souls who manage to bring their children faithfully on a near-daily basis and I truly admire those women. I, however, am not one of them. Sunday attendance is all my nerves can handle. When I get to heaven, I plan to ask Jesus, why if he wanted the little children come to Him, he couldn’t miraculously make them sit and be quiet during Mass!

Yet, I do try to make it to Saturday morning Mass on my own on a regular basis and that is a great gift. It provides the opportunity to actually pray and reflect and listen to the readings. I believe Sunday Mass feeds my soul and that God understands I’m doing the best I can to pay attention, but on Saturdays I actually leave Mass feeling refreshed, centered, and spiritually nourished.

In "The Power of Daily Mass: How Frequent Participation in the Eucharist Can Transform Your Life," popular Catholic author and speaker Bert Ghezzi shares how attending daily Mass has enriched his life. He also offers quotes from other daily communicants on the value this practice has for them. He reflects on the liturgical year, including not only the major seasons of Advent, Lent, and Ordinary Time, but also the individual feast days of the saints which offer the opportunity to reflect on their lives, their sufferings and their example.

The Liturgy of the Word invites us to hear Scripture each day. “God wants to communicate with us daily through the readings and homily. We expect that he has a personal message for us and listen carefully.” Ghezzi even suggests bringing a notebook to Mass in order to jot downs any thoughts that come to us while listening to the readings. He also discusses the power of the prayers of intercession.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist offers us spiritual fortification for our lives. “Daily Mass both revives our spiritual strength and also galvanizes our will to resist temptation to serious wrongdoing. Venial sins erode our capacity to love God and others, bur reception of the Eucharist restores it.” Of course, if one has a mortal sin on one’s soul, one should receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving the Eucharist.

Ghezzi also reflects on the community that forms among the individuals who attend Mass every day in the same parish. Before and after Mass often holds a social component. They notice who is missing on a given day and they carry each other’s prayer intentions to the Lord. These individuals leave Mass equipped for the day’s service, ready to do the Lord’s work in the world. Ghezzi does understand that attending daily Mass is not an option for everyone, but encourages the faithful to try to attend at least one or two extra times a week. The spiritual benefit is great.

An appendix of prayers for before and after Mass as well as the General Roman Calendar are included. “The Power of Daily Mass” is a brief book and most likely would not be of use to someone already devoted to the Mass and aware of its benefits, but it does provide a great overview of the spiritual rewards of attending Mass on a regular basis.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Book Review: The Christmas Quilt

The Christmas Quilt: Quilts of Love Series

by Vannetta Chapman
Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013

Don't let the title make you think "The Christmas Quilt" is only a story for the Christmas season. This feel-good story will make you smile any time of year. Annie and Leah are two young Amish women, both expecting their first babies. They are also best friends and sisters-in-law. Leah is pregnant with twins, very uncomfortable, and her marriage is suffering as a result. Annie, who was trained as a nurse in the English world, assists her husband Samuel in tending to the sick in their community. When Leah's pregnancy takes a turn for the worse and she forced to go to a hospital far away, Annie stays by her side. Meanwhile, the two women work on a meaningful quilt for the babies and share some wonderful stories in the process.

"The Christmas Quilt" is part of the Quilts of Love series of books. I read another in the series and while it was a passable read, I couldn't really recommend it enthusiastically. So, I can not speak to the series as a whole, but this book was a great read. If you enjoy Amish fiction, this is one book you'll want to add to your to-be-read list.


Monday, February 02, 2015

Catholic Library World

Catholic Library World is the official publication of the Catholic Library Association. I recently became a book reviewer for this periodical and as such received a complimentary copy of the December 2014 issue.

I was very impressed by the scope of the articles and reviews included. Intended for those who work in Catholic libraries, including school libraries from elementary through the university level and parish libraries, it offers news and reviews to inform that population, but anyone who loves or is interested in Catholic books would be sure to find it of interest. Reviews of books on theology, pastoral matters, the library profession, and books for children and young adults are all included.This is a text-heavy professional publication, full of quality information.

To find out more about the Catholic Library Association and Catholic Library World, please visit http://www.cathla.org/


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