Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book Review: The Catholic Study Bible

The Catholic Study Bible Second Edition
New York: Oxford University Press, 2006

Perhaps you have "reading the Bible more" as one of your New Year's Resolutions, or perhaps you are simply in the market (as I was) for a new volume of a much-loved worn-out Bible. "The Catholic Study Bible" is a perfect choice. It contains the full text of the New American Bible (the text used in the lectionary readings of the Roman Catholic Church).

It also offers extensive notes which are very helpful when one wants to know more about the history or interpretation of a given passage. Additional features include several articles including topics such as the origin of the Bible, Biblical history, the Catholic interpretation of the Bible, and the Bible in the Lectionary. There are also reading guides dedicated to the major sections of the Bible. Several maps, a glossary, a listing of lectionary readings for the liturgical year, and a concordance are also included.

This Bible is truly all I hoped for. I look forward to making good use of it for many years to come.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

If You Love, You Will Hurt

Today's Gospel (Luke 2:22-35) features those famous words of the prophet Simeon to Mary: "And you yourself a sword will pierce."

Sr. Melanie Svoboda, S.N.D. offers these thoughts on that passage in today's Living Faith:

These are sobering words. But in one way they can be said to any new parent - or to anyone who has reached out in love to someone else. Though love is filled with many joys and delights, it also exposes us to pain, grief and anguish. Simply put: If you love, you will hurt. The infant in Mary's arms will grow up to exemplify these words.

Faithful God, help me to persist in loving others despite the hurt it may entail.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Two Short Prayers from Consoling the Heart of Jesus

These two prayers are part of the collection found in Consoling the Heart of Jesus - Prayer Companion

When my Sin Discourages Me

O Jesus, I feel that I've ruined everything by my sin. I'm so sorry for what I've done, and I will do my best not to do it again. Dear Jesus, by the power of your infinite mercy, I trust somehow you can fix not only the evil I've done but bring an even greater good out of it.

For Conforming My Will to God's Will

Jesus, behold, I give you my heart. If my desires aren't in harmony with yours, then please change them according to your wisdom and love. Dear Jesus, you know that by myself, I'm too weak to change my desires, but you can do it. Jesus, I trust you to do it. Jesus, I thank you in advance for doing it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Review: Consoling the Heart of Jesus

Consoling the Heart of Jesus - Prayer Companion
by Michael E. Gaitley, MIC
Stockbridge, MA: Marian Press, 2010

"Consoling the Heart of Jesus: Prayer Companion" by Father Michael Gaitley is a purse or briefcase-sized book designed to be a "simple guide to living Consoling spirituality." This small book is a companion volume to the longer "Consoling the Heart of Jesus" do-it-yourself Ignatian retreat book. A reader wrote to Father Gaitley. She carried the 430 page book everywhere she went and asked for a smaller book that contained the major prayers and ideas. He was happy to comply.

I have not read the longer volume. Nevertheless, I found this prayer companion easy enough to understand and benefit from. "The core of Consoling spirituality is a compassionate response to Jesus in his sorrow." In his encyclical letter Haurietis Aquas, Pope Pius XI teaches "we can and ought to console that Most Sacred Heart which is continually wounded by the sins of thankless men." Fr. Gaitley presents the various ways to help console Jesus, especially accepting our suffering, praying for souls, and turning over our weaknesses and sinfulness to Jesus. Perhaps the most important component is to trust in Jesus.

As the title suggests, a good portion of "Consoling the Heart of Jesus: Prayer Companion" is devoted to self-examination and prayer. It contains a detailed examination of conscience, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Divine Mercy Novena, as well as several other helpful prayers. This small book is a very useful introduction to consoling spirituality.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Qualities to Work on in the New Year

With the new year right around the corner, many of us make lists of physical things we’d like to change. Losing weight and exercising more seem to top many lists. Quitting smoking or drinking less may top others. Simplifying, organizing, and reducing clutter is another popular item. These are all good things and worth striving for.

Yet, in the second reading for this week, St. Paul offers us an even better guideline for making the coming year (and all those that come after) the best that they can possibly be. The Apostle to the Gentiles tells us: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” (Col 2:12-14)

This is a tall order. I invite you to consider these qualities again: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love.

Compassion means to suffer with someone – to be with him in his sorrow and to seek to alleviate it as much as it within our means to do so. Who do you know that is suffering – physically, spiritually, emotionally? What can you do to help? Can you offer assistance in some way? Perhaps there is no way to actually remove the source of suffering, but can you spend time with the person? Listen to them? Pray for them?

Kindness is a general goodwill towards others. Do you wish others good things, or do you get jealous when others lives seem to be better than yours? Do you indulge in gossip? Do you treat service people with respect? What about the homeless? Do you greet others with a smile?

Humility is to see ourselves as we are before God. It is to realize that we are totally dependent on God for all the blessings and gifts we have received. It also calls us to serve others. How can you better serve those you come in contact with?

Gentleness, sometimes known as meekness, goes together with kindness and humility. It calls us to be slow to anger. It also means to care about God and others more than we care about ourselves.

Patience means to be willing to wait, whether that be something as simple as waiting in line at the grocery store without complaint, or something more difficult, such as waiting for God to come through on a long time prayer request. How can you be more patient with the difficult situations you encounter in life? How can you make good use of those times when you must wait?

Forgiveness asks us to not hold another’s wrongs against them. We all make mistakes. We want God to forgive us. So, too, must we forgive others, even when it is hard – especially when it is hard. What wrongs are you still holding on to? Who do you need to forgive?

Love means wanting whatever is best for another person, even when it hurts you – it requires us to put other’s needs before our own. How can you better love the people in your life?

As I said, St. Paul asks a great deal of us. Yet, all these qualities are interconnected. All come under the mantel of love. Making even small steps to love more will help make this coming year the best it can be. It won’t be easy, but it will bring you closer to the eternal goal of loving God and neighbor with all that you have. What goal could be more important than that?

I wish you all a very blessed New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

"And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us."

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Prayer Request

A reader wrote and asked for prayers for Nicolas, a child in critical condition.

Thank you.

Book Review: "Women of Opus Dei in Their Own Words"

Women of Opus Dei: In Their Own Words
Edited by M.T. Oates, Linda Ruf, and Jenny Driver MD
New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2009

Opus Dei received a great deal of negative publicity a few years back when "The DaVinci Code" by Dan Brown was making headlines. In some ways, this book is a response to that publicity. The women of Opus Dei wanted to tell their stories and explain their lives.

I came to "Women of Opus Dei in their Own Words" not knowing anything about Opus Dei. I was pleasantly surprised. Founded by St. Josemaria Escriva in Spain in 1928. The name "Opus Dei" is Latin for "Work of God." The organization "is dedicated to helping lay men and women throughout the world find and love God through their daily work and social interactions, and to spread the Christian message in and through their daily lives."

They offer a combination of resources to help members live out this mission. Among them are "a daily, flexible plan of prayer . . . weekly, monthly, and annual Catholic spiritual and theological development programs . . . personal guidance sessions . . . Centers and conference centers . . . managed as settings where Opus Dei and many others can find a Christian home environment to inspire and encourage them."

St. Josemaria was very supportive of women and encouraged them to be the best they could be in "whatever professional sphere they chose." He was always adamant that "work in the home is a professional job as well." The women who share their stories in this book come from all walks of life. Some have families. Others have chosen to remain celibate in order to serve God exclusively. Some work solely in their homes. Others have high-profile professions. All are united in their desire to live their lives for God. They share their conversion stories, their call to become part of Opus Dei, and their struggles and successes. I think most women reading this will find that these women are very much like women we know.

The "Women of Opus Dei" is an inspiring, informative book. Even if one has no call to join Opus Dei, it is interesting to learn about their lifestyle. There are also wonderful suggestions about ways to integrate one's service of God with all aspects of life.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Simple Christmas Pleasure

For days (weeks maybe), I've been longing to play some Christmas music on our piano. Now, I am not a good pianist. The extent of my skill is to hammer out one note of the melody at a time, yet one can recognize the tune (despite the occasional clunker note!) and this simple action gives me such pleasure.

I finally had the opportunity to indulge today. Playing the piano brings back such wonderful memories from my childhood of playing the organ while my older sister played guitar, and the simple melodies do help to up my Christmas spirit a few notches.

The piano was a Christmas gift a few years ago - given by a friend of a friend of a friend who was moving and had no use of it. We had to pay the moving costs and tuning costs, but it was ours and I was thrilled to have it. I dreamed that my boys would someday play beautiful music on it. Alas, that hasn't been the case. Unfortunately, it mostly sits unused. I'd like to think that it was happy to be played a bit today, and as I played, I wondered about the people who had played it before me. At one time, it must have been used quite a bit - the keys are quite worn in places.

In any event, that was my simple Christmas pleasure for today. Perhaps I'll get another chance to play a carol or two amidst the busyness of the next few days. I hope that you get a chance to do something you love to mark the season as well.

One Solitary Life

One Solitary Life
(the original version by Dr James Allan Francis)

Let us turn now to the story. A child is born in an obscure village. He is brought up in another obscure village. He works in a carpenter shop until he is thirty, and then for three brief years is an itinerant preacher, proclaiming a message and living a life. He never writes a book. He never holds an office. He never raises an army. He never has a family of his own. He never owns a home. He never goes to college. He never travels two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He gathers a little group of friends about him and teaches them his way of life. While still a young man, the tide of popular feeling turns against him. One denies him; another betrays him. He is turned over to his enemies. He goes through the mockery of a trial; he is nailed to a cross between two thieves, and when dead is laid in a borrowed grave by the kindness of a friend.

Those are the facts of his human life. He rises from the dead. Today we look back across nineteen hundred years and ask, What kind of trail has he left across the centuries? When we try to sum up his influence, all the armies that ever marched, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned are absolutely picayune in their influence on mankind compared with that of this one solitary life…

I understand that this is the original essay by Dr James Allan Francis in “The Real Jesus and Other Sermons” © 1926 by the Judson Press of Philadelphia (pp 123-124 titled “Arise Sir Knight!”).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Review: "Safe Haven"

Safe Haven
by Nicholas Sparks
New York: Hachette Book Group, 2010

I indulged in some leisure reading this past week and savored every word of Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks, author of such best-sellers as "The Notebook," "Dear John," and "The Last Song." I have read almost all of his books and enjoyed every one of them. Some are definitely better than others, however, and Safe Haven is Sparks at his finest. It is a well-told story about a young woman, Katie, attempting to start over after escaping from her abusive husband. His skillful handling of the difficult topic of domestic abuse is to be commended.

As with all Sparks' stories, this is a love story. Despite all her intentions not to, Katie begins to fall for a local storekeeper, Alex, and his two young children. Alex is a widower who has been hesitant to give his heart away as well. Katie's neighbor and friend Jo encourages her to pursue their relationship, but cautions her not to break his heart. Katie and Alex cautiously fall in love, but their road to happy ever after is haunted by Katie's past. The ending of this book is the best part. I won't spoil it, but it literally gave me chills.

This is a quick-read, which is a blessing, because you won't want to put this book down until you reach the very last word. If you are a Sparks' fan, you simply must read this book.

Christmas Should Disrupt our Life

I came across this quote in an article "Awaiting New Life" by Sebastien Lacroix in the Knights of Columbus magazine. It provides a different take on the Christmas season:

What is certain is that Mary and Joseph were forced to face the unexpected. The experience of the months leading up to the birth of our first child has allowed me to better understand what that means. Welcoming a child means that we must accept the fact that our lives will be unsettled. The arrival of Jesus did just that: It disrupted the established order, and it continues to disrupt wherever there is injustice and hatred. Each Christmas invites us to be disrupted by a God who wants to be close to us, a God for whom the gift of life is one of the greatest proofs of his love.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Believe in Miracles

I’m not sure at what exact age it happened, but at some point my Christmas wish list changed from things that fit under the Christmas tree to less tangible things that don’t come in boxes.

I wish for healing for friends and family members who are suffering, either physically or emotionally. I wish for peace among family members and in the world at large. I wish for wisdom in parenting my children. I wish for belief when I am burdened with doubt. The list goes on. Perhaps you have one of your own?

Unlike my children, who are eagerly awaiting (early!) Christmas morning to open their presents, I know that most likely my wish list won’t magically be fulfilled simply because the calendar states it is December 25th. Yet, still, I hope. I do believe in miracles. I’ve seen them happen.

Isn’t that what Christmas is about? Hoping in the face of unbeatable odds? Think of the Jewish people who waited and waited for a Messiah. At times, it must have seemed that the Savior would never come. And when He did come? He came in a way they never expected – as a poor baby born in a stable.

He would go on to counter all of their expectations. They expected a military leader, someone to conquer the world for them. What they got was a carpenter who would preach the need for love and forgiveness and who would ultimately die on a cross as a criminal. How could they continue to hope in the face of all that? Wasn’t it all just some cruel joke? Many stopped hoping. Who could blame them?

Yet, for the select few that held on to their hope, their faith was richly rewarded. It was the ultimate surprise ending. The unthinkable happened. Death was conquered!

We celebrate Christmas because of Easter. For those of us who have heard both the Christmas and Easter stories over and over again, they may have lost some of their shock value. This Christmas, try to listen to the Gospel with fresh ears. The Savior of us all, the Son of God, came to earth as a baby in the humblest of circumstances. Angels announced his birth. Both shepherds and kings bowed before him.

Christmas is a miracle of the greatest degree. God still works miracles today. Believe that they can happen. I hope and pray that your Christmas wishes come true.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Prayer Request

Please pray for a friend of mine who is undergoing cancer surgery on December 22nd. Thank you.

On Jesus' Genealogy

This was the reflection from Joyful Meditations for Every Day of Advent and the 12 Days of Christmas: Years A, B, and C for today. (It's a little late to get the book for this year - but definitely worth purchasing for next year!)

From the record of Jesus' genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17), we learn he is descended from Abraham, who is known as the father of three major religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Jesus' DNA also matches that of kings, adulterers, godly men and women, a prostitute and a murderer. Jesus the human person is the offspring of generations of saints and sinners - just as we are. . .

As we recognize that the whole of humanity is reflected in Jesus' family, we renew our commitment to treat ourselves and all people with love and respect.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book Review: "Marley: A Dog Like No Other"

Marley: A Dog Like No Other: A Special Adaptation for Young Readers

by John Grogan
NY:Harper Collins, 2007

I saw "Marley: A Dog Like No Other" at the library and picked it up to read to my children. I had never read the adult version of the book, but I had seen the movie "Marley and Me," so I did have a general idea of what the story would entail. All of us loved this book. It may be geared for the 8 - 12 age range, but it is just as enjoyable (and heartbreaking) for adults. All of us laughed and cried with this story about an incorrigible dog and the family that loved him. This is a must-read for all dog lovers.

Book Review: Red in the Bed

Red in the Flower Bed by Andrea Nepa is a children's picture book about interracial adoption. Truly, though, it is a simple beautiful book about not belonging, being different, and finding a place to fit in which could be used in many different situations. It tells of a poppy seed carried by the wind. The seed finds itself in a distant flower bed, filled with roses, marigolds, and violets. The poppy flower grows in the fertile soil and helps complete the perfect rainbow of color. The poppy is exactly where it belongs.

Andrea Nepa is the mother of an adopted Vietnamese daughter named Leah. In 2001, Adoptions from the Heart assisted with the international adoption. Andrea dedicated her book to her daughter: "For my dear Leah, whose journey in her young life has already taken her to far away and unexpected places." In 2006, Leah was diagnosed with cancer. She is currently in remission. Andrea lives with Leah and her husband, David, in Haddonfield, New Jersey. She is a registered dietitian for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

To find out more, please visit

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book Review: "Where do Sisters Come From"

Where Do Sisters Come From?
by Elizabeth Ficocelli
Illustrations by Shannon Wirrenga
Waterford, MI: Bezalel Books, 2010

“Where Do Sisters Come From?” by Elizabeth Ficocelli is the perfect introduction to women’s consecrated religious life for children. In an era where Catholic children may be exposed to relatively few sisters, their way of life may seem very mysterious indeed. Who are these sisters and what is their life like? “Where Do Sisters Come From?” answers these questions with honesty and beauty. While this book is written for girls to encourage them to consider the possibility that they might be called by God to this way of life, it is important to note that it is equally informative for boys.

Ficocelli begins by describing the process of discernment. What does it mean to hear God’s call and to respond to it? She discusses the importance of prayer and finding the right religious community. The three vows a sister takes are defined, as is the habit many sisters wear.

Ficocelli then explores the many ways sisters can live out their vocational call, working in many different professions, serving as a missionary, or living within their own religious community as a nun. She emphasizes that they have lives outside of their work as well. They have their families of origin that they are still a part of, as well as friends and hobbies. As she states, “Sisters come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. But one thing they all have in common is a love for their faith, and a desire to be like Jesus, leading people to God.”

“Where Do Sisters Come From?” is a wonderful book to share with your children or grandchildren. It would also make a great addition to a parish religious education program or library. It is a magnificent vocations tool.

A Memorare for Anyone Who Needs It

I am currently reading Women of Opus Dei: In Their Own Words. In it, one of the women comments about how she makes it a daily practice to say a Memorare for "Anyone who might need it." What a wonderful practice! I never thought of doing that. Of course, it does not need to be a Memorare. It could just as easily be a Hail Mary or Our Father. There are so many people in this world who need prayers and have no one to pray for them. By the same token, people you love may have prayer intentions you are not even aware of. Why not make this part of your daily prayer?

The Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.

Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Time for Confession?

My family and I went to our parish's Advent Penance service tonight. Even though I go to confession on a regular basis, there is something powerful about going in a large group where everyone is acknowledging their sinfulness and their need to be reconciled with God and neighbor.

When I attend these penance services where there are many priests, most of whom I do not know, I always pray to get the person I need at that time. The priest I had tonight really spoke to my heart (I cried a bit which was something I didn't expect at all) and he gave me one of those creative penances that I need to do over a couple days. It was quite a meaningful experience.

For those of you questioning whether you actually need to go to confession, or need a refresher course on how to go, The National Catholic Register has a wonderful one page guide: The How and Why of Confession

Monday, December 13, 2010

40 years of the Permanent Diaconate

When I was in graduate school, I had the pleasure of taking some of my classes with my diocese's diaconate class. Those students have now gone on and been ordained as Permanent Deacons, and two other classes have taken their place. These are men so willing to give of themselves, and the Church is so lucky to have them. My parish has two permanent deacons and we are the better for it. U.S. Catholic has an article looking more closely at the blessings and challenges of the permanent diaconate and the men (and their wives) who serve.

The Church's "Married Clergy": 40 years of Deacons

Sunday, December 12, 2010

It's Hard to Be Patient

The second reading for this week (James 5:7-10) exhorts us to be patient in waiting for the coming of the Lord. James urges us to look at the example of farmers who must wait for the fruit of the earth. This is a good example. Some things, such as the growing of food, or a mother waiting for her child to be born, simply cannot be rushed. This does not negate the fact that it is hard to be patient. It is a lifelong challenge and God does provide us with many opportunities to practice it.

This time of year is especially hard on children’s patience. I remember being a child. Advent moved at a snail’s pace. The lighting of that pink candle meant so much. We were getting close. Christmas was coming! As an adult, the opposite is often true. Advent passes by in a blur of activity and the lighting of the pink candle is more likely to induce panic than joy. Christmas is right around the corner. There is so much left to do!

Parenting, on the other hand, is a daily lesson in patience. Looking back, children grow up so quickly. Where did all those years go? Most days, however, dealing with the struggles and crises of the moment, it seems as if progress is being made ever so slowly. We want our children to be out of whatever difficult phase they are going through, even if we know that it is a learning experience for them and for us. Growing up takes place one small step at a time. Being a good parent means being patient with both our children and ourselves.

It takes patience to pray. We live in a world filled with instant gratification. We can watch what we want when we want. We can access any information we need to know at the touch of a button. We can talk to friends via email or text message all the time. We take this instant world for granted, and we sometimes carry that over into our relationship with God. “Dear God, these are my problems and I would like them fixed right now. Thank you. Amen.”

And how does God respond? “Yes, I hear you and I know your needs, but it will take some time to get everything sorted out. There are lessons here that you need to learn. There is a reason for it all. I have plans for you that you can’t even imagine.” All of which means that we are going to spend some quality time waiting. Like the plants growing or the child forming in the womb, we are developing and changing and growing. It’s a process. We need to be patient with God and with ourselves, even when it is very hard.

By the same token, we need to have patience with our fellow brothers and sisters in the trenches. Going back to that letter of James, he tells us, “Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another, that you may not be judged.” It can be so easy to see the faults in other people. If only she would do a, b, and c, her problems would all be solved. It is so simple. Why can’t she see it? That would be because she needs to grow, too, and she is traveling her own difficult road. None of us is perfect. We are all merely travelers on the journey, waiting for that second coming of the Lord when everything will be made right.

Amid this busy Advent season, may we take the time to pray for patience with God, ourselves, our children, and all we come in contact with.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Where are You, God?

I imagine that there are people who have strong enough faith that they never ask this question. I am not one of them. On a recent very bad day, I found myself at adoration, tears streaming down my face, screaming at God (in my head), "Where are you? Why don't you care?"

I know intellectually that God cares. I certainly do not always feel it. This is an article that speaks to those feelings:

Where are You, God?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Where Do Sisters Come From?

Where Do Sisters Come From?

by Elizabeth Ficocelli
Bezalel Books

Many young girls have never had the pleasure of meeting a religious Sister. This beautiful introduction to the religious life for young girls and their families explains the important roles Sisters perform in our faith, whether in classrooms, hospitals, learning centers, or behind convent walls. Where Do Sisters Come From? addresses questions such as: How do young women become Sisters? What is their day like? Where do they live? What do they do for fun? Ideal for use in the classroom, too.

Where Do Sisters Come From? is the second in a series of children’s picture books designed to increase awareness of and appreciation for religious vocations. Where Do Priests Come From? was released in July 2010 and Where Do Deacons Come From? is scheduled for mid-2011.

This is the twelfth book by author/speaker Elizabeth Ficocelli. For more information on her books, magazine articles, and presentations for conferences, schools, parishes, and other events, visit

1/2 Price Book Sale

Sophia Institute Press is having a 1/2 price sale this weekend on any book they sell (which includes some great ones!). Check it out at: Sophia Institute Press

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Mystery and Beauty of Water Crystals

In reading Holding on to Hope: The Journey Beyond Darkness, I came across this paragraph:

In his book, The Hidden Messages in Water, Masaru Emoto, a Japanese scientist and original thinker, shows that water crystals are affected by pollution and the vibrational energy of music and even words. By photographing water crystals that have been exposed to pollution, various types of music, and words of love and peace, or alternatively, anger and hate, he was able to observe that water absorbs energy and the energy is reflected in the crystals when frozen. The most beautiful and unique crystals are formed when exposed to the energy of loving and peaceful words. Words of anger and hatred produce deformed and broken crystals.

I found that fascinating. There are some examples of these water crystals on

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Marian Apparitions in Wisconsin Declared "Worthy of Belief"

On this Marian Feast Day, Bishop David Ricken announced that he officially approves the Marian apparitions at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help at Champion, Wisconsin. To learn more, please visit: Worthy of Belief

Book Review: "Holding on to Hope"

Holding on to Hope: The Journey Beyond Darkness
by Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP
with Healing Exercises by Helene Cote, PM
Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 2010

As someone who has suffered from depression for many years, I was excited to get my hands on a copy of “Holding on to Hope: The Journey Beyond Darkness” by Sr. Kathryn J. Hermes. It is a follow-up to her best-selling book “Surviving Depression” which resonated with so many. “Holding on to Hope” is the next step in the journey. Rather than merely making our way through the darkness, it “is about learning to be receptive to God connecting with us do that God can indeed heal us – heal us, I repeat, not cure us – of depression or erase the sorrows of failure or restore lost loves.”

Each chapter in the book includes several elements designed to provide healing for mind, body, soul, and spirit. These include Images, which are stories of interactions with God; Scripture References, “the divine element of the healing plan;” reflection questions for personal or small group use; Contemplative Exercises; Resting, which invites us to “rest” in God’s word and allow God to do His healing work in us; and Inner Healing Exercises (written by Sr. Helene Cote) which “offers truly helpful and powerful ways to integrate the topic of the chapter into your everyday life. Those who enjoy meditation will love this book. There are many beautiful guided imagery exercises designed to engage the reader with God’s Word.

“Holding on to Hope” is meant to be used over a long period of time, perhaps in conjunction with a spiritual director. Despite how much we might want it to be the case, very few people are healed of long-standing pain in a short period of time. It is a process. One particular poignant reflection is on the words of Jesus, “Do you want to get well?” (Jn 5:6). Sometimes we are so stuck in our pain we can’t even hear Jesus asking us that question or allow Him to come into our hearts to do the work that needs to be done. What is wonderful about Hermes’ reflections is that she, too, has been in that darkness. One can relate deeply to her experience and learn from it.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Holding on to Hope. They are also a great source for first communion gifts and Baptism Gifts.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

What would life without sin look like?

Tomorrow (December 8th) the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Immaculate Conception. When I went to the vigil Mass this evening, our priest spoke about how being born without sin was a privilege given to Mary. She didn't have to ask for it. Unlike when the Angel Gabriel arrived with his life-changing news, she didn't need to say "yes."

Obviously, I wasn't so privileged. I can't feel too badly about that. After all, Mary was unique in that regard. The rest of us have to suffer with sin and it's consequences.

Nevertheless, the feast does have me pondering the question: What would my life look like if I had never committed a sin? I honestly don't know. I can safely say, it would be radically different.

What if I had never told a lie? Always obeyed my parents? Never felt jealous? Was never proud? Never experienced lust? Never committed a sexual sin? Was always the perfect parent? Never acted out of any motivation but love?

Because I am human, I have made a whole slew of mistakes. God has brought good out of some of them. Still, it is hard to imagine my life without its corresponding failings.

Heaven will have no sin. We will all be perfect. All of our weaknesses will be wiped away. Can you even imagine that? No more mistakes. No more failings. How cool is that?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Reflection on God's Love and Healing

This is part of the reflection from Joyful Meditations for Every Day of Advent and the 12 Days of Christmas: Years A, B, and C for today:

Yet only God's power can change us. Only God knows where we need healing. Only God knows the deep wounds that distort our thinking and prevent us from loving ourselves and others the way God loves us. Only God has the power to touch our hearts and forgive all that prevents us from being fully human and holy.

Only God knows who we are really are. And God loves each of us just as we are, unconditionally, without reservation, and for all eternity.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Learning to Trust Like St. Joseph

Being a woman, I tend to focus on Mary rather than Joseph when I look at the Holy Family. However, in the season of Advent, Joseph has much to teach us about what it means to wait, trust, and be faithful to God.

Joseph was in a difficult situation. The woman he loved and was supposed to marry was with child, and he knew that it wasn’t his baby. He was a good man who wanted to do the right thing. Under the law, she should be stoned, but he doesn’t want that to happen. Instead, he decides to divorce her quietly. Before he can do that, an angel appears to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. . . When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” (Matthew 1:20-24)

In an instant, Joseph’s life was turned upside-down. Whatever he had imagined his life with Mary was going to look like, this wasn’t it. Like Mary, he had a choice. He could have said “No.” He could have ignored the dream, divorced Mary, and gone on to have a nice quiet life with another young lady from Nazareth. Sure, he would have had some challenges, but he could have avoided the need to flee from Bethlehem in the middle of the night. He wouldn’t have had to bear the responsibility of making sure that the savior of the Jewish people made it to adulthood. No doubt, it would have been the easier path.

Joseph didn’t do that. Instead, he took the message to heart and obeyed God without question. He had no idea where the path would lead. He was only given the next step – take Mary as your wife. He had to wait and trust in God to see how it would all turn out.

In Advent, we call to mind that unfailing trust that Mary and Joseph had in God’s plan. They were one-hundred percent willing to cooperate with God’s plan. They were human. They must have had fear and uncertainty. There were plenty of times when the road was hard. They must have had moments when they wondered where God was leading them. Yet, they trusted.

I have much to learn from that trust. Admittedly, God’s messages to me don’t come straight from an angel (at least not any that I am aware of). They come in quiet whispers in prayer, in God’s Word in scripture, in the words of a trusted friend or the guidance of my spiritual director. Still, I am much more likely to question then to answer with a trusting “Yes.” I debate, pray some more, think about it, try it my way, fall on my face (repeatedly), get up, try again, pray some more, and eventually come around to doing it God’s way. Perhaps you can relate?

During these days of Advent, I want to try to be more like St. Joseph. I want to trust that God has a plan that is better than mine, even when I can only see the first step. I want to believe that God will always keep me in his loving care and that faithfulness to God will always work for my eternal good. Lord, I believe. Please help my unbelief.

A Good Christmas Story

This was forwarded to me this morning. Perhaps you have read it before. In any event, as you read it, I invite you to consider what "secret" gift you could give someone who is in need this Christmas.

In September 1960, I woke up one morning with six hungry babies and just 75 cents in my pocket.

Their father was gone..

The boys ranged from three months to seven years; their sister was two.

Their Dad had never been much more than a presence they feared.

Whenever they heard his tires crunch on the gravel driveway they would scramble to hide under their beds.

He did manage to leave $15 a week to buy groceries.

Now that he had decided to leave, there would be no more beatings, but no food either.

If there was a welfare system in effect in southern Indiana at that time, I certainly knew nothing about it.

I scrubbed the kids until they looked brand new and then put on my best homemade dress, loaded them into the rusty old 51 Chevy and drove off to find a job..

The seven of us went to every factory, store and restaurant in our small town.

No luck.

The kids stayed crammed into the car and tried to be quiet while I tried to convince who ever would listen that I was willing to learn or do anything. I had to have a job.

Still no luck. The last place we went to, just a few miles out of town, was an old Root Beer Barrel drive-in that had been converted to a truck stop.

It was called the Big Wheel.

An old lady named Granny owned the place and she peeked out of the window from time to time at all those kids.

She needed someone on the graveyard shift, 11 at night until seven in the morning.

She paid 65 cents an hour, and I could st art that night.

I raced home and called the teenager down the street that baby-sat for people.

I bargained with her to come and sleep on my sofa for a dollar a night.

She could arrive with her pajamas on and the kids would already be asleep

This seemed like a good arrangement to her, so we made a deal.

That night when the little ones and I knelt to say our prayers, we all thanked God for finding Mommy a job.. And so I st art ed at the Big Wheel..

When I got home in the mornings I woke the baby-sitter up and sent her home with one dollar of my tip money-- fully half of what I averaged every night.

As the weeks went by, heating bills added a strain to my meager wage.

The tires on the old Chevy had the consistency of penny balloons and began to leak. I had to fill them with air on the way to work and again every morning before I could go home..

One bleak fall morning, I dragged myself to the car to go home and found four tires in the back seat. New tires!

There was no note, no nothing, just those beautiful brand new tires.

Had angels taken up residence in Indiana ? I wondered.

I made a deal with the local service station.

In exchange for his mounting the new tires, I would clean up his office.

I remember it took me a lot longer to scrub his floor than it did for him to do the tires.

I was now working six nights instead of five and it still wasn't enough.

Christmas was coming and I knew there would be no money for toys for the kids .

I found a can of red paint and st art ed repairing and painting some old toys. Then I hid them in the basement so there would be something for Santa to deliver on Christmas morning.

Clothes were a worry too. I was sewing patches on top of patches on the boys pants and soon they would be too far gone to repair.

On Christmas Eve the usual customers were drinking coffee in the Big Wheel. There were the truckers, Les, Frank, and Jim, and a state trooper named Joe.

A few musicians were hanging around after a gig at the Legion and were dropping nickels in the pinball machine.

The regulars all just sat around and talked through the wee hours of the morning and then left to get home before the sun came up.

When it was time for me to go home at seven o'clock on Christmas morning, to my amazement, my old battered Chevy was filled full to the top with boxes of all shapes and sizes.

I quickly opened the driver's side door, crawled inside and kneeled in the front facing the back seat..

Reaching back, I pulled off the lid of the top box.

Inside was whole case of little blue jeans, sizes 2-10!

I looked inside another box: It was full of shirts to go with the jeans.

Then I peeked inside some of the other boxes. There was candy and nuts and bananas and bags of groceries. There was an enormous ham for baking, and canned vegetables and potatoes.

There was pudding and Jell-O and cookies, pie filling and flour. There was whole bag of laundry supplies and cleaning items.

And there were five toy trucks and one beautiful little doll.

As I drove back through empty streets as the sun slowly rose on the most amazing Christmas Day of my life, I was sobbing with gratitude.

And I will never forget the joy on the faces of my little ones that precious morning.

Yes, there were angels in Indiana that long-ago December. And they all hung out at the Big Wheel truck stop.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Some final thoughts from "The Confessions"

I did finally finish The Confessions of Saint Augustine . I'm pretty sure that one could spend an entire life studying the text of that book. No doubt some people have.

In any event, here are some parting thoughts from St. Augustine.

Everywhere we find that the more pain there is first, the more joy there is after.

Indeed, Lord, to your eyes the very depths of man's conscience are exposed, and there is nothing in me that i could keep secret from you, even if I did not want to confess it. I should not be hiding myself from you, but you from myself.

So it is not certain that all men want to be happy. Those who do not want to find their joy in you (which alone is the happy life) certainly do not want the happy life.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Free Bible Study on the Book of Matthew

Catholic Exchange is offering a free Bible study on the Book of Matthew. The first installment is up today. Read more here: Why Start with Matthew?

Infinite Space Infinite God II Book Tour

I'm excited to be part of the ISIG II Book Tour!

Once again, the editors of Infinite Space, Infinite God are presenting adventures in time, space and faith. Infinite Space, Infinite God II has twelve science fiction stories that span the gamut of the genre, from time travel to alien abduction, space opera and near-future space exploration stories. The stories all have one twist in common: each features a Catholic hero or theme. Just like with Infinite Space, Infinite God(known as ISIG), the Fabians had a three-fold requirement: great sci-fi, great story, and great display of the Catholic faith. The combination garnered ISIG literary and popular acclaim; it won the EPPIE for best science fiction and was a top ten finalist for best science fiction in the Preditor and Editor polls.

"ISIG and ISIG II look at faith and the future in a unique way," said Karina Fabian. "Science and faith are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they can work together. In both volumes, you see wonderful examples of faith informing the moral use of science, and of giving the characters the courage to act upon their convictions. Both are very positive books--not only about faith and the progress of Man, but of our future in general."

Fabian said that this book differs from its predecessor in that the stories are more hero-centered. "In ISIG, we were thrilled by the ideas our contributors explored, although the characters were great, too. Here, however, the conflicts seemed more individual and less issue-oriented."

The Catholic Writers Guild awarded the book the Seal of Approval, signifying that it adheres to Catholic traditions and beliefs. Fabian said that was important to them because they want religious bookstore owners to feel comfortable stocking it. "Catholics generally go to secular bookstores for their entertainment, but ISIG and ISIG II make wonderful and unique gifts, especially for Christmas or Confirmation."

Story Summaries:
The Ghosts of Kourion by Andrew Seddon: Professor Robert Cragg thought that he could escape the grief of losing his wife and daughter by traveling back in time to study a city soon to be destroyed by an earthquake. He felt safe in the fact that he could do nothing to save these people, but when he befriends a local family, however, he realizes he must try. In the end, he cannot save them, but he learns that if he cannot save the ghosts of Kourion, he can at least ease their sufferings.

Antivenin by Karina Fabian: Three nuns from the Order of Our Lady of the Rescue offer help to a ship that is off-course and not answering hails. They find the ship crawling with venomous snakes who have killed their handler and bitten the pilot. When one bites her partner, Sister Rita must conquer her phobia and snatch the antivenin from their nest.

An Exercise in Logic by Barton Paul Levenson: An ancient alien satellite has diverted an asteroid toward a human colony planet. The people who built the satellite refuse to veto programming logic installed by their ancestors. Can an Ursuline sister who is also an alien contact specialist change their minds?

Cathedral by Tamara Wilhite: Katarina's kind were engineered to love scientific research and dedicate themselves to bettering mankind until their jumped-up neurology caused them to die an ignoble death while in their twenties. Perhaps Katarina could have lived with this, but when she discovers the medicines she created were actually drugs to control the population, she spends the last of her tortured days righting her wrongs.

Otherworld by Karina Fabian: Father Jonas is haunted by the loss of his mother, who died while in a virtual reality world. As a priest, he's driven to evangelize to the players in Otherworld--to remind them of reality and the God who cares about what they do on both worlds.

The Battle of the Narthex by Alex Lobdell: What do you get when you mix a royal assassination, alien militia and the Saturday night Mass-and-Spaghetti dinner? Battle of the Narthex tickels the funny bone and touches the heart!

by Colleen Drippe': Bishop Tenniel must fight the leader of the Wolfbane clan to win the conversion of the tribe to Christianity, saving their lives as well as their souls. Another exciting tale from Colleen Drippe's Lost Rythar universe.

Tin Servants by J Sherer: Father Paul's desire to serve his people in war-torn Ghana that he allowed himself to altered to resemble the androids sent to provide medical help. Once there, however, he finds himself limited in the comfort he can offer, and embroiled in a conspiracy to convert the andorginacs into soldiers.

by John Rundle: A Navy buddy needs help fixing up an old clunker of a spacecraft and Father Carpizo arrives to do his old friend a long overdue favor. As he turns wrenches, however, Carpizo finds a mystery to whet his appetite: a riddle deep rooted in the history of the Church. The scholarly priest unwittingly uncovers a dark secret which others have paid for with their lives. He is suddenly confronted by unspeakable evil and now Carpizo must make the ultimate sacrifice to destroy it…if only there is enough time.

Cloned to Kill
by D. Mak: The power of Baptism helps a clone programmed to kill find her humanity--but to what lengths will Father Markham have to go to protect his new ward?

Frankie Phones Home by Karina Fabian: Sixteen-year-old Frankie was kidnapped by aliens who wanted to understand the mysteries of her human religion. Now, as they return to Earth to make First Contact, Frankie calls her family.

Dyads, Ken Pick and Alan Loewen: Father Heidler's latest assignment takes him to Cathuria, where the Catholic Church and all of Earth are blamed when a failed missionary's desperation boils over into terrorism. With the planet in the midst of riots and the Archbishop/Ambassador to Cathuria severely injured in a retaliatory strike, Father Heidler negotiates a delicate maze of politics and religious convictions to find a way to restore peace and reconcile the two worlds.

Please visit other stops on the book tour:

18-Nov Tour schedule, info
20-Nov Writing Faith-Filled Fiction
21-Nov Interview
22-Nov Interview
23-Nov Review
23-Nov Interview
24-Nov Interview
25-Nov Interview
26-Nov Interview
29-Nov Interview
29-Nov http:// About Karina's stories
30-Nov Karina Talks about the stories
1-Dec Interview
2-Dec Interview
2-Dec http:// About Contributors' stories
3-Dec What is Catholic Fiction?
3-Dec Interview
4-Dec Interview
5-Dec Interview with Contributors
6-Dec Information
6-Dec http:// Reviews

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Book Review: "Shepherds Abiding"

Shepherds Abiding
by Jan Karon
New York: Penguin Group, 2003

I recently returned to the world of Mitford and indulged in Jan Karon's "Shepherd's Abiding," a touching Christmas story featuring Episcopal priest Fr. Timothy Kavanaugh. I am a fan of the Mitford series and have read many of the books, however one could pick this one up without any prior knowledge and still enjoy it immensely. Fr. Tim bravely takes on the project of fixing up an old battered nativity scene to present as a Christmas gift for his wife, despite the fact that he has no idea how to do this. Meanwhile, other Mitford residents are facing change and upheaval in their own lives. One can't help but love this motley crew of characters and care about their lives.

This is a quick, enjoyable read, perfect for getting you into the holiday spirit.

Mother Teresa on God's Love

This quote from Mother Teresa was today's Living Faith reflection.

God love me. I'm not here just to fill a place, just to be a number. He has chosen me for a purpose. I know it. He will fulfill it if I don't put an obstacle in his way. He will not force me. God could have forced Our Lady. Jesus could have come just like that. The Holy Spirit could have come. But God wanted Mary to say yes. It is the same with us. God doesn't force us, but he wants us to say yes.

Mother Teresa
Total Surrender

The Christmas Tree Who Wished for a Star

Stop by Catholic Mom and read a wonderful short Christmas story by Katherine Valentine. It's perfect for reading to the kids or simply enjoying yourself.

The Christmas Tree Who Wished for a Star

Monday, November 29, 2010

Great Deals at Bezalel Books

Bezalel Books puts out some great books, many of which I have had the pleasure of reading and reviewing including "Our Jewish Roots," "Where do Priests Come From?" and "Dear God, I Don't Get It." For great Christmas deals on these books and others from their collection, please visit

The Christmas Novena

It is time once again for the Christmas Novena. It begins on Tuesday, November 30th and goes through Christmas Eve. It is time to prayerfully consider what we want most for Christmas this year and bring those desires to God. I've seen different versions of how to say this novena - some say to say it 15 times a day while others have it as just once a day. However you do it, humbly request God for the blessings that you desire 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.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Who is Jesse and Why Should We Care About His Tree?

The past few years, my children and I have put up a Jesse Tree to mark the days of Advent. Looking at our various Advent traditions and feeling a bit overwhelmed by them all, I thought I might skip it this year. My children had a different plan. In fact, in Church on the 1st Sunday of Advent, my younger son leaned over to me and whispered, “Mom, we need to do the Jesse Tree,” with as much urgency as he could possibly muster at that moment. Yes, this is one tradition that will not be faded out any time soon. And, despite my initial reluctance, this is a good thing.

Who is Jesse and why does his tree matter? Jesse was the father of King David. Jesus is considered to come from the line of David (through his foster-father Joseph who was from the house of David). The name of the Jesse Tree is taken from Isaiah 11:1, in which Jesus is referred to as a shoot coming up from the stump of Jesse. A Jesse Tree tells of many of the significant individuals in salvation history.

There is no official version of a Jesse Tree, but it generally begins with Adam and Eve and includes such notable figures in Biblical history as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, Jesse, David, and Solomon. It ends with Joseph and Mary and finally the Christ Child himself.

Hanging one ornament a day during Advent for each of these figures allows us to walk with all those who came before Jesus and waited for him. It also provides the opportunity to learn more about these Biblical figures.

The word “Advent” comes from the Latin “adventus” which means “coming.” In our liturgical Advent, we wait for the annual commemoration of Christmas, but we are also waiting for Jesus’ second coming. Like the Biblical figures of old, we too are waiting.

How does one go about creating a Jesse Tree of one’s own? A Jesse Tree can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose to make it. In our house, we use a paper tree taped to the wall and glue paper ornaments on it. Others use a branch brought in from the outside, plant it in a pot, and then hang ornaments on it. For those who choose not to decorate a Christmas tree until Christmas Eve, Jesse Tree ornaments can be hung on the evergreen itself, thereby creating an “Advent” tree. Ornaments can be created out of paper or out of felt or fabric.

There are many listings of symbols and readings on-line that can help you in creating your Jesse Tree. I have provided a few below. However you choose to create a Jesse Tree, I hope that it will be a fruitful and enriching activity for you and your families this Advent season.

The Start of Advent

Here are the words of my Bishop, Bishop Timothy McDonnell, on the start of Advent. They were written in "The Catholic Mirror," the magazine of the Diocese of Springfield, MA.

On each of the four Sundays of Advent, as an additional candle is lit, you might want to reflect on a particular aspect of God's presence in your life.

C: Christ came to us the first Christmas.
O: Christ comes to dwell in others and ourselves.
M: Christ is present to us at Mass and in the sacraments.
E: Christ will come again at the end of time.

In other words, Advent is not simply a season in which we get ready to celebrate Christmas. It is not merely a time in which we consider the way God set the stage for the birth of Christ. Advent is more. It is a time to pray, "Come, Lord Jesus. Come to us as once You came at Bethlehem. Come and help us see your presence in us and in others. Come and deepen our recognition of you at Mass and in the sacraments. Come to make all things new."

Friday, November 26, 2010

Our Lady's Latest Message at Medjugorje

I belong to a group on Facebook that shares Our Lady's messages at Medjugorje. I realize these visions have never been officially approved by the Church (they actually can't be until they stop), but I do believe in them. This message from yesterday spoke right to me:

"Dear children! I look at you and I see in your heart death without hope, restlessness and hunger. There is no prayer or trust in God, that is why the Most High permits me to bring you hope and joy. Open yourselves. Open your hearts to God’s mercy and He will give you everything you need and will fill your hearts with peace, because He is peace and your hope. Thank you for having responded to my call."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Bless this House

Bless this house, O Lord, we pray

Make it safe by night and day;

Bless these walls, so firm and stout,

Keeping want and trouble out;

Bless the roof and chimneys tall,

Let thy peace lie over all;

Bless this door that it may prove

Ever open to joy and love.

Bless these windows shining bright,

Letting in God's heavenly light;

Bless the hearth a-blazing there,

With smoke ascending like a prayer;

Bless the folks who dwell within,

Keep them pure and free from sin;

Bless us all that we may be

Fit, O Lord, to dwell with Thee,

Bless us all that one day we

May dwell, O Lord, with Thee.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Movie Review: "Letters to God"

Before you sit down to watch Letters to God, I strongly suggest grabbing a whole box of tissue to bring with you. By the end of this movie, you are definitely going to need it.

Tyler Doherty is an 8 year old who is battling cancer. His way of praying is to write letters to God. He has one for the mail carrier almost very day. Brady, a man whose life has fallen apart and who seeks solace in alcohol, is a new mail carrier who takes over the route. On his first day, Tyler pukes on his shoes. Nevertheless, he and Tyler soon become friends. He still isn't sure what to do with all of his letters to God, however. In time, both his friendship with Tyler and his family, and the letters himself will change his life.

The idea of writing letters to God takes off and by the end of the movie, many people have joined Tyler in praying in this matter. This movie just may inspire you to write one or more of your own to God.

This is truly an amazing, heartbreaking story about faith and trusting in God even when all seems hopeless. It is rated PG and is appropriate for ages 7 and up (due to subject matter). As an added plus, Ralph Waite (the father from "The Waltons") does a remarkable job as the grandfather of Tyler's best friend Sam.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More from "The Confessions of St. Augustine"

I definitely need to finish this book . . .

Here are a few more quotes worth pondering (obviously the whole book is worth pondering, but I can't reprint the whole book here.)

For Thou shalt light my candle, O Lord my God, Thou shalt enlighten the darkness; and of Thy fullness have we all received, for Thou art the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world; for in Thee there is no variableness, neither shadow of change.

But, Lord God of truth, does a man please you by knowing all these things? For the man who knows them all, but does not know you, is unhappy, and happy is the man who knows you, even if he does not know these other things. And he who knows both you and them is not the happier because of them but is only happy because of you, if knowing Thee, he glorifies Thee as God, and is thankful and becomes not vain in his imaginations.

Who else is it who calls us back from the death of error, except the life that does not know death, and the wisdom which, needing no light, enlightens minds which are in darkness, that wisdom by which the whole world, even to the leaves of trees drifting in the wind, is governed?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Review: "Unlocked"

by Karen Kingsbury
Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010

New York Times Bestselling writer Karen Kingsbury has weaved another compelling, inspirational story in "Unlocked." Holden Harris is an eighteen-year old locked inside himself. When he was three, he withdrew into his own autistic world, a world his mother Tracy has been trying desperately to release him from. Autistic children like routine. Part of Holden's routine is to watch the same movie every day after school - a home movie that shows him playing with his best friend from childhood - a beautiful little girl named Ella.

When Ella meets him again in their senior year of high school, she doesn't remember him but something about those blue eyes seems so familiar. One thing she does know is that he loves music and she advocates for him to be able to listen in on her music/drama class. That act of kindness will open the door to an eventual miracle.

Kingsbury has also included a secondary plot about bullying including a teen suicide. This is a topic that has had a great deal of media attention lately and she handles it well and with compassion.

As I read this book, I felt somewhat disheartened. It is a wonderful story and I do believe in miracles, but so many children today have autism and the vast majority of them won't ever get a miracle. It really seemed like a great deal of wishful thinking (although that is certainly allowed in fiction.) It wasn't until I read the "Reader Letter" at the conclusion of the book that I discovered that it was loosely based on a real-life autistic miracle. Music had brought this young man out of his inner world and given him back to his family. That "Reader Letter" made me cry more than the book!

"Unlocked" is a quick read, great when you just want to lose yourself in a story. It will keep you turning pages, eager to find out what happens. It is, in turns, both extremely painful and incredibly heartwarming. In the end, God conquers and triumphs over all.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Sense of Home

The holiday season will have many of us focusing on home. Whether we are traveling back to it, decorating it, or welcoming people into it, home takes center stage. In part of his forthcoming book, A Time to Plant: Life Lessons in Work, Prayer, and Dirt(to be released in January 2011 by Ave Maria Press), Kyle T. Kramer reflects on what it means to call a place “home.”

He speaks of embracing a “‘vocation of location’ in which we make and maintain a particular place of belonging in the world.” That vocation can include a whole list of domestic duties. These are the things that we are so familiar with – cleaning, doing the laundry, cooking, doing dishes, paying the bills, etc. Those are all important and necessary tasks, but home should mean more than that.

Kramer writes, “‘home economy’ means finding and creating a peaceable home in the overlapping circles of family, friends, neighbors, church, and the wider community.” With so many people so busy with obligations outside of the home, the concept of “home has been replaced by the cheaper idea of ‘house’ . . . an afterthought of a place where we grab a bite to eat, watch television, escape from our jobs, make love and war with our family members, pay the bills, surf the Internet, and collapse for a few hours of sleep.”

Kramer challenges us to think of home as much more than that, to perhaps reclaim a sense of home that earlier generations possessed. “Home can and should be a center of meaning and purpose in our lives. Home should invite us and strengthen us to the good work of belonging fully to a place and to its people.”

Sometimes moving to a new geographical area is necessary. It can be part of a God-given calling. However, there is something to be said for making a commitment to a certain area, for putting down roots and staying there through thick and thin. Even in an era when we can keep in contact with friends and relatives around the world with a touch of a button, face-to-face relationships are still vitally important.

There is no replacement for the friendships and family relationships that develop by spending quality time with others over a number of years. Watching children grow up, sharing meals, knowing and trusting your neighbors, worshipping together – these are the things of which true homes are made.

In this holiday season when so much emphasis is placed on home, it is a good time to think about what it means to create a sense of home. How can the environment we create within our own four walls then carry out to the world at large? How can we better commit to the people who share our house, our extended families, our neighborhoods, and our churches?

Catholic Writers' Guild Catholic Arts and Letters Award

Are you a Catholic Fiction writer or know someone who is? I encourage you to submit your novel for consideration in the Catholic Arts and Letters Award sponsored by the Catholic Writers' Guild.

Catholic Arts and Letters Award
Official Rules

The CALA award shall be awarded for works of fiction in which judges find exemplary literary merit. All submissions must first be awarded the Catholic Seal of Approval to guarantee that content does not disregard Catholic doctrine. (Submission for the SoA is under separate committee jurisdiction and may be found at the Catholic Writers Guild website.)

The CALA shall be awarded at the CWG conference/CMN tradeshow each year for books published in the previous calendar year, and bearing a copyright date for that year.

One book in each category will be awarded when there are at least five books in a category, and the judges deem that at least one book in its specified category is worthy of the award based on scoring criteria. The award committee and judges reserve the right to not offer the award if it is determined there is not an award-worthy book entered.

Books must be original and presented in book form. Neither reprints nor abridgements are eligible. Retellings of traditional stories and scripture may be considered if the presentation is original, but the books must be by contemporary living novelists. (Awards may be given posthumously if the author passed away during the year in which the book was published or thereafter.)

Co-authored books are eligible.

Only full-length print books, in the form of hardcover or bound paperback, will be considered. No e-books at this time, but those may be considered next year.

All submissions must be published in North America in English.

Books may be submitted between April 1st and December 31st of the year in which the book is published. Books should be submitted in finished form, not galley presentation.

All entries require a $60 non-refundable entry fee (in US dollars, checks drawn on a US bank) and five copies of the published work. For each winning title, the publisher must also agree to participate in the promotion of the work to the media. The CWG and the CALA committee shall have the right to promote all entries without further written or verbal permission of the author or publisher, and without compensation to author and/or publisher, through all media outlets, including but not limited to radio, television, print and internet venues. In addition, photos and videos of the author, publisher, and the work may be used for promotion through any media, including the CALA and CWG websites. Furthermore, entry means that the publisher and/or author agree to pay for copies of the seal, and must agree to affix the seal to the winning entry at their own expense. (A digital copy of the seal will be available free of charge for printing on covers.)

Prize shall consist of a trophy for each category. No monetary prizes will be awarded.

Winners, or a representative for the winner, must be present at the award ceremony, which will be held during the CWG conference/CMN trade show.


The CALA is an award for outstanding FICTION, and will be awarded based on literary merit.

Because the CALA is a new award, this fledgling year may be limited to one award, unless there are sufficient entries to justify additional awards as described below. However, all books will be judged according to genre guidelines even if only one is offered, and therefore genre should be designated on the entry form.

Each sub-category must have at least five entries to stand alone.

Historical Fiction Award:
This category includes all historical stories from biblical through mid-1900’s, including historical romance. This category may be divided into additional sub-genres when there are five or more submissions in that sub-genre. All remaining entries will be grouped together for a single award in the general Historical Award. Genre is to be designated by author/publisher on the application. Separation into such categories will be at the discretion of the committee based on number of submissions as of January 1st of the judging year.
Scoring will take into account which sub-genre, style and setting is used.
• Young Adult fiction—includes all sub-categories, intended to reach teen readers through age twenty.
• Romance—stories in which the romantic intrigue is the primary focus. Includes dramatic romantic plots (excluding historicals—see above). Includes titles that are light in tone and theme.
• Suspense—mystery, adventure and thriller stories where terror, the unknown, or solving a crime are the main focus of the plot.
• Biblical—General fiction of Biblical times.

Contemporary Fiction Award:

This category may be divided into additional sub-genres when there are five or more submissions in that sub-genre. All remaining entries will be grouped together for a single award in the general Contemporary award. Genre is to be designated by author/publisher on the application. Separation into such categories will be at the discretion of the committee based on number of submissions as of January 1st of the judging year.

• Young Adult fiction—includes all sub-categories, intended to reach teen readers through age twenty.
• Contemporary—stories dealing with contemporary issues set in modern times. (1960-present), excluding romance, unless there are too few romances for a separate category.
• Romance—contemporary stories in which the romantic intrigue is the primary focus. Includes dramatic romantic plots. Includes titles that are light in tone and theme.
• Suspense—mystery, adventure and thriller stories where terror, the unknown, or solving a crime are the main focus of the plot.
• Visionary—science fiction, futuristic, and fantasy titles. Any work in which the setting is outside the historical or contemporary known world. Stories may include high technology, magic or other unknown elements.

Children’s Fiction Award:

Children’s fiction, including picture books, early readers and middle readers. Illustrations and presentation will be considered in the scoring.

To find out more, please visit: Catholic Arts and Letters Award

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