Thursday, February 27, 2020

Spend 30 Days with Hildegard or Catherine of Siena

The 30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher series is a collection of short devotionals edited by John Kirvan that offer readings and prayer based on the work of a spiritual master.

I recently had the pleasure of reading two books in this series: Let There Be Light, based on the work of Hildegard of Bingen; and Set Aside Every Fear, which focuses on the writings of Catherine of Siena. Both of these women are saints and doctors of the Church. 

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was an aristocratic abbess of the twelfth century. She was a “mystic, visionary, prophet, reformer, a scientist, an encyclopedist, a composer, and a dramatist – a Renaissance personality well before the Renaissance.” She wrote on a wide variety of topics. The goal of this devotional is “to bring together passages of spiritual wisdom from many different places in her writings” that focus on the theme of night and day, light and darkness. The readings are based on her visions and are largely symbolic. The reflections and prayers invite you to use and trust your imagination.

The daily readings for each morning in Let There Be Light feature two sections: prophecy and commentary. There is then a mantra to carry with you throughout the day. Night prayer includes a reflective exercise for bringing the day to an end and a prayer based on Psalm 36. The readings and reflections are brief but offer much to ponder.

One reflection relevant for Lent is the one offered for Day Six:

It was the face of a jealous God.
We are born, each of us,
With a desire for good
and a lust for evil.
We are called to life
and attracted to death.
We hear: “Do good.”
And we respond: “Choose pleasure.”

We embrace bitterness,
stealing from ourselves a treasury of good
and laying up a treasury of evil.
A jealous God sees us
and turns a terrible face to us.
But rather than condemning us,
he calls us to penitence
he recalls us to life.
He uses his power sparingly
with mercy,
never slaying, but breathing new life,
hearing our prayers.

I know what I deserve.
Your mercy humbles me
but gives glory to your name.

Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380) was a lay Dominican who lived a life of fasting, prayer, and service to others. She also was a gifted mediator, helping solve disputes, both locally and in the papal courts. Her most famous work is The Dialogue, a “summary of her theology, her spirituality, her pastoral concerns, and her convictions.” 

Set Aside Every Fear focuses on “the image of the river and the bridge . . . The irreducible connection between love of God and service of humanity . . . [and the] dialogue of love between the God-who-is and we-who-are-not.” Each day begins with a passage of God speaking. There is a single-sentence mantra meant to accompany you through the day, and an evening meditation in which we respond to God. 

Day Four offers a powerful reflection on love of neighbor.

God Speaks . . .
I want you to know
that every virtue and every failing
involves your neighbor.
Anyone who does not love her neighbor,
who does not help her,
who does not pray for her,
injures herself.
For to cut yourself off from neighbor
is to cut yourself off from grace.
Unless you love me you cannot love your neighbor,
and to deprive your soul of love for me and
your neighbor
is to do evil.

Both Let There Be Light and Set Aside Every Fear offer beautiful, powerful meditations and prayers. Both would be perfect for an at-home retreat. 

There are several other books in the series. If you want to spend some time with the two other female doctors of the Church, Let Nothing Disturb You is based on the writings of Teresa of Avila, and Simply Surrender focuses on the teachings of Therese of Lisieux.

Blog Tour: Come Back to Me

Today I'm happy to be part of the book tour for Come Back to Me by fellow Catholic Writers' Guild member Carolyn Astfalk. 

I had the chance to read this story the past couple days and it was a great read! First, it was short, and I appreciate that in books because I don't have a lot of extra time. It was wonderful to have something I could read and enjoy in a short period of time. This was a very engaging story that kept me swiping on my Kindle. 

Astfalk writes about real life in all its messiness. Her characters are multifaceted and dealing with struggles readers can relate to. Faith is part of her stories, but it isn't portrayed as something that fixes everything. Rather, belief in God is what provides strength in the hard times.

Alan Reynolds slid into marriage. When his wife kicks him out, it looks as if he may slide out just as easily. Forced to bunk with his newlywed younger brother and his pregnant wife, Alan gets a firsthand look at a blissfully happy marriage while his wife rebuffs his attempts at a reunion.

Caught in the middle, Alan and his wife’s mutual friend Megan grows increasingly unhappy with her own empty relationships. If that weren’t enough, her newly sober brother has found happiness with Jesus, a goody-goody girlfriend, and a cockeyed cat.
When Alan and Megan hit rock bottom, will there be grace enough in their bankrupt lives to right their relationships and find purpose like their siblings have?

Author bio:
Carolyn Astfalk resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where it smells like either chocolate or manure, depending on wind direction. She is the author of the contemporary Catholic romances Stay With MeOrnamental Graces, and All in Good Time, and the coming-of-age story Rightfully Ours. Carolyn is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild, Catholic Teen Books, Pennwriters, and is a and Todays Catholic Teacher contributor. True to her Pittsburgh roots, she still says “pop” instead of “soda,” although her beverage of choice is tea.

Please check out the other stops on the blog tour:

Mon., Feb. 24 - Sarah Reinhard, Snoring Scholar

Tues., Feb. 25 - Barb Szyszkiewicz, FranciscanMom

Wed., Feb. 26 - Ellen Gable, Plot Line and Sinker

Fri., Feb. 28 - Theresa Linden, Things Visible & Invisible


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