Monday, September 17, 2018

Rethink Your Relationship with Stuff


Haley Stewart and her husband Daniel made the decision to move with their three young children from a cozy house in the suburbs to a 650 sq. ft. apartment with no flushing toilet on a working farm in central Texas for a year. In The Grace of Enough: Pursuing Less and Living More in a Throwaway Culture, she shares the lessons learned through that family adventure. As Brandon Vogt states in the Foreword, “Haley and her family model what it looks like for a modern family to live an intentional, radical Gospel lifestyle.”

Does what you buy make you happy? The world tells us that “happiness is within our grasp if we can only buy enough, acquire enough, achieve enough.” Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that those things may bring momentary satisfaction, but don’t lead to lasting happiness. 

For the record, Stewart does not advocate that everyone should move to the country to live off the land. What she does argue for is living an intentional lifestyle, one in which the truly important aspects of life are prioritized.

Some of those aspects are family togetherness, embracing simplicity, nurturing a love for the Lord, rediscovering beauty, making home a priority, eating leisurely meals with friends, extending holy hospitality, rebuilding our communities, using the internet for good, and choosing hope in a dark world.

Each chapter ends with practical ways to find “the grace of enough” in our own lives, regardless of our circumstances. A collection of reflection questions are useful for private or group use. 

While The Grace of Enough is primarily aimed at the millennial generation, those of any age can benefit by reflecting on one’s relationship with stuff, with other people, and with the environment.  

Friday, August 31, 2018

A Roadmap for Living a More Grateful Life


I am not the poster child for positive thinking. My proverbial glass is frequently leaking. But, it is something that I am working on. Every night, I make a concerted effort to find some moments to thank God for. It has helped my general outlook tremendously.

In Gratefulness: The Habit of a Grace-Filled Life, Dr. Susan Muto invites us to take thankfulness even further. She asks us to follow St. Paul’s instructions in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in all circumstances.” We are called to give thanks in both good times and bad, to trust that God is always with us. “We believe that our trust in the Lord will never be disappointed, that no prayer goes unanswered and that the gifts bestowed by God bear lasting fruit in the long run.”

Muto discusses the benefits of positivity as well as the dangers of negativity, offering practical ways to quiet the negative voices inside our heads. She also explores the signs that we are making progress in grateful living as well as the lasting fruits of thankfulness.

In addition, each chapter profiles two saintly companions in grateful living, providing role models for us to imitate. There are also reflection questions for private or group use. The Conclusion offers 12 tried-and-true ways to foster receptivity to and cooperation with the grace of gratefulness.

The Appendix could actually be considered a bonus book. Muto includes 21 reflections which could be used as a self-guided retreat. “Counsels on the Grace of Gratefulness: Twenty-One Days with the Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Spiritual Masters” features short biographies of each spiritual master, followed by a quote by them and reflection questions. 

If you want to embrace a more grateful spirit, Gratefulness: The Habit of a Grace-Filled Life will help you on your journey.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Historical Fiction about Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller's Teacher


I enjoyed Sarah Miller’s historical fiction Caroline (about Caroline Ingalls of Little House fame) so much, I decided to check out a book from her backlist: Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller (athenaeum Books for Young Readers, 2007). 

This novel tells the story of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, from the time she leaves Perkins Institute for the Blind to the point young Helen’s mind finally makes the connection between words and meaning (with some flashbacks to pivotal moments earlier in Annie's life). This work of historical fiction is primarily based on the letters Anne wrote to her housemother at Perkins as well as a biography of Anne written by a close friend. 

It is interesting to experience the well-known story through Annie’s eyes. Ultimately, it is a story of a teacher trying to reach a student facing huge obstacles. As I read it, I reflected on the methods Annie used, some of which would likely be considered abusive today. Annie’s purpose was always to educate, not to harm, and we shouldn’t judge someone of a different time by our own standards, but I still didn’t know what to make of these methods. Clearly, they worked. 

How would the same story have played out today? Helen probably would have had some early intervention to help her from the time she was a small child so that she wouldn’t have been such a wild young girl. Would she have made as much progress using different methods? 

These are all moot questions, yet Miss Spitfire does inspire much debate about methods of special education. While it is billed as a book for young readers, it makes for excellent reading for older children, teens, and adults.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Give Your Baby a Name in Honor of Our Lady

Catholic Baby Names for Girls and BoysDo you want to give your daughter a name in honor of Mary as a first or middle name? Did you know you could do the same for your son? Katherine Morna Towne has put together an excellent resource to help you do just that.

She has researched all the Marian names she could find “so that other Catholic parents would have a resource for finding the perfect tribute to Our Lady,” and shares them in Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady.

For each entry, Towne has included pronunciation, commentary on the history of the name and its connection to Our Lady, nicknames, variants, and related feast days. The names are fascinating to read through.

Admittedly, many of the names are rather unusual, but given the current trend of giving children unique names, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Overall, this is an interesting book to peruse and a wonderful resource for baby or confirmation name inspiration.
 

Thursday, August 09, 2018

22 Rules of Knighthood (for women as well!)

The Knight of Columbus published an article by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput on "Knighthood and the 'New Man'." It's intent was to help Catholic men live their Christian manhood in a way that is pleasing to God. Included with the article were 22 Rules of Knighthood. As I read through them, I thought that these made good rules for women as well.

22 Rules of Knighthood

In his Feb. 3 address in Phoenix, Archbishop Chaput summarized the rules of knighthood written more than 500 years ago by Erasmus of Rotterdam in his book The Manual of a Christian Knight.
1 Deepen and increase your faith.
2 Act on your faith; make it a living witness to others.
3 Analyze and understand your fears; don’t be ruled by them.
4 Make Jesus Christ the only guide and the only goal of your life.
5 Turn away from material things; don’t be owned by them.
6 Train your mind to distinguish the true nature of good and evil.
7 Never let any failure or setback turn you away from God.
8 Face temptation guided by God, not by worry or excuses.
9 Always be ready for attacks from those who fear the Gospel and resent the good.
10 Always be prepared for temptation. And do what you can to avoid it.
11 Be alert to two special dangers: moral cowardice and personal pride.
12 Face your weaknesses and turn them into strengths.
13 Treat each battle as if it were your last.
14 A life of virtue has no room for vice; the little vices we tolerate become the most deadly.
15 Every important decision has alternatives; think them through clearly and honestly in the light of what’s right.
16 Never, ever give up or give in on any matter of moral substance.
17 Always have a plan of action. Battles are often won or lost before they begin.
18 Always think through, in advance, the consequences of your choices and actions.
19 Do nothing — in public or private — that the people you love would not hold in esteem.
20 Virtue is its own reward; it needs no applause.
21 Life is demanding and brief; make it count.
22 Admit and repent your wrongs, never lose hope, encourage your brothers, and then begin again.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

A "Little House" Book for Adults


Sarah Miller has created an excellent work of historical fiction in Caroline: Little House, Revisited. The original Little House books were written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and were based on her childhood as a frontier girl. Even though she wrote them much later in life, they were written for children and were told from Laura’s perspective as a child. Considering the same story through Laura’s mother Caroline’s eyes offers a vastly different perspective. 

Caroline was written with the full approval of the Little House Heritage Trust. Miller describes the book as a “marriage of fact and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s fiction.” She departs “from Wilder’s version of events only where the historical record stands in contradiction to her stories.”

The story is set in 1870 when the Ingalls family left the “Big Woods” of Wisconsin behind to travel to the “Indian Territory” of Kansas. Much has been made recently of the anti-Indian sentiment in the original books. Miller acknowledges that “the Ingalls family’s reactions were entirely a product of their own prejudices and misconceptions.” That may be true, but their fear was real and Miller has done a remarkable job of illustrating Caroline’s fear, a fear that seems perfectly understandable given the circumstances.

Mothers will especially identify and sympathize with Caroline’s struggles. She left all her family behind in Wisconsin. She made the difficult journey while pregnant with her third child and was deeply worried that she would have no other woman to be with her while she gave birth. While her husband Charles was able to go off riding to town, she was left alone with two small children. She suffered from great loneliness. 

The story also delves into the relationship between Caroline and Charles, offering a poignant intimate portrait of a woman deeply in love yet not always understanding the man she married.
Caroline is highly recommended for any adult fan of the original Little House books as well as for those who enjoy historical fiction. Miller has written an outstanding portrait of this pioneer woman.

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Monday, July 30, 2018

Why You Should Write a Spiritual Will




It’s not every day that I read a book whose foreword is written by a funeral director. Death is one of those things we don’t like to think about too much. We know it’s there, looming on the horizon, but we tend to ignore it until it rears its inevitable head, either through the death of someone we love or our own serious illness or accident. 

We are too busy living to spend much time contemplating death. Perhaps that is how it should be. Yet, it is good sometimes to think about the reality of death. It’s important to make practical plans, such as making provisions for the care of our children. It is also important to think about the spiritual lessons we want to leave behind. How do we want people to remember us? What do we hope that they have learned from us?

This is the purpose of The Journey Never Ends: How to Prepare a Spiritual Will by Sr. Mary Petrosky, F.M.M. In the foreword, funeral director Thomas Lynch discusses the recent trend of “Celebration of Life” ceremonies which often take the place of a faith-based funeral. They are “memorial events designed not so much around what they’d hoped for or kept faith in, but what they did with their free time.”

Sr. Mary, a psychiatric social worker and spiritual director, invites us to dig deeper so that people remember us for more than our hobbies. She emphasizes that creating a spiritual will in document form is not just an effort for old age. After all, none of us knows the day or hour of our passing from this life. But even if we were guaranteed another fifty years, creating a spiritual will provides the opportunity to discern “what is of enough value to you to dedicate your vision, your gifts, and your energy to.” It offers the chance to reflect on what you learned from previous generations as well as through your own experience.

In this brief book, Sr. Mary provides a template for writing a spiritual will as well as offers examples of spiritual wills made by individuals at various ages from their 40s to elderly.
The Journey Never Ends is recommended for anyone who wishes to consider life and death more purposefully.

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