Elizabeth Scalia Our Sunday Visitor, $14.95
Every morality course should make this book required reading. Scalia focuses on the faults that make us less than we would want to be and that might evolve into serious sins, like the capital sins. Some of the topics are procrastination, griping, self-neglect, excessive self-interest, suspicion, and gossip. The reader will cringe to realize that, yes, that’s me. But Scalia admits it first. In fact, she refers to herself as “the walking embodiment of all of these bad habits and sins.” Each chapter, sometimes with painful honesty, is shored up by personal examples of faults either in her or those who are in her life.
Each chapter opens with a quotation from diverse sources ranging from Homer Simpson to St. Benedict. After a discussion of the bad habit, it is further enhanced by a list of related quotations culled from the Church documents, popes, and saints. For those who can claim the little sin as their own, Scalia offers several practical recommendations for combating it. A few times she suggests praying to our Guardian Angel (another invisible friend who is always with us). The chapter concludes with a prayer.
You would expect that, considering the subject, this would be a heavy, boring book. Far from it. The author’s light tone, wit, and funny bone all come into play. Although this book could be used to make an examination of conscience, it is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time.
Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle Servant Books, $15.99
This May, Pope Francis is expected to canonize Francesco and Jacinta Marto, two of the three children who witnessed Mary’s appearances at Fatima. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first apparition on May 13, 1917. The book Our Lady of Fatima could not be more timely.
The author presents a carefully detailed exposition of the apparitions, beginning with the Angel of Peace’s visits in 1916 that prepared the three visionaries for Mary and concluding with Mary’s final visit, when the miracle of the dancing sun occurred, witnessed by thousands of people. This is followed by accounts of the lives of the three cousins, Francesco, Jacinta, and Lucia after the Fatima apparitions. The siblings Francesco and Jacinta died as children, but Lucia lived to become a Carmelite nun and died in the year 2000.
People who are familiar with the Fatima story, perhaps from viewing the movie about it, will learn new facts. For example, I didn’t know that Mary continued to speak to the children individually after the famous apparitions. Also, I was surprised to learn the extent of the sacrifices the three children undertook as a result of their special mission and the suffering it entailed. They truly did lead the heroic lives of virtue required for canonization.
Found in the book are explanations of the “three” secrets of Fatima and Mary’s requests, in particular, consecrating the world to her Immaculate Heart and the devotion of the Five First Saturdays. Included are various Popes’ reactions to Our Lady’s requests. Of course, the story of St. Pope John Paul II’s survival after being shot with four bullets on May 13 is recounted. The Pope attributed this miracle to Our Lady of Fatima and had one extracted bullet inserted in Mary’s crown on her statue in Portugal.
Woven through the book are numerous quotations from Popes and personnel of EWTN, where the author is a host. Each chapter ends with thoughts for reflection, suggestions for application, and a prayer. In an Appendix is a collection of prayers and devotions related to Fatima.
The book is marred by needless repetition and a few errors: beautified for beatified, lightening for lightning, and some incorrect punctuation. These can be overlooked in light of the book’s content; for the outstanding messages of Fatima are pray for world peace, especially the rosary, and perform sacrifices for sinners. This advice is sorely needed today. Reading this book promises to kindle a renewed zeal for living a holier life.
Mary Lea Hill, FSP Pauline Books & Media, $14.95
Sister Mary Lea admits to being crabby, and therefore seems an unlikely guide to understanding happiness. Still, she has produced a book that translates those nebulous beatitudes of Christ into something anyone can practice in order to be happy. Her tone is delightful, as though she is right beside you sharing her knowledge and laughing. In her own words, her book is “not a scholarly treatment of the beatitudes; rather it is a friendly stroll through them.”
In two-page chapters, Sister covers various and diverse aspects of each beatitude, like a bee flitting from flower to flower. As a bonus, she concludes the book by delving into the lessons Jesus delivered after the beatitudes according to Matthew’s Gospel. Throughout the eighty chapters, she introduces and illustrates points by drawing on childhood experiences with her family and her life in the convent. She sprinkles her text with worthwhile quotations and allusions to poems and fairy tales.
While being entertained by the author’s quirky sense of humor, the reader will imbibe ideas for living a happy and holy life. Each chapter concludes with suggestions and questions for personal reflection.
David Haas, ClearFaith Publishing, 2016, $20.00
David Haas is the composer of a great many of the hymns we love to sing. Appropriately, he is now the author of a collection of prayers that has grown out of his love of the psalms. These ancient prayers express the gamut of human emotions and have the underlying theme of trust in God. Haas has taken all of these 150 psalms and after much reflection has rewritten them in whole or in part and has sometimes interpolated them to include his own thoughts. His paraphrases are not rooted in theology but spring from his heart. They are simple and intended to be used to cultivate the reader’s reflection and stir up love for God. The prayers lend themselves to both personal and communal prayer.
In the back of the book are several helpful indexes. One is a detailed list of topics and situations when the prayers can be prayed. This is followed by a correlation of the psalms and liturgical seasons, feasts, and sacraments. Then there is a calendar of saints and other people and the respective psalm that is fitting to pray on their day.
People who like The Message Bible will like this new presentation of the psalms.
Robert Ellsberg Liturgical Press, 766 pp. $29.95
If you subscribe to the daily devotional Give Us This Day, you are familiar with Ellsberg’s feature “Blessed Among Us,” in which he presents saints and other holy people. The book Blessed Among Us is a collection of these short biographies: two for each day of the year. The book is fascinating because it not only gives an account of familiar saints, but lesser known ones, including Blesseds and Venerables. Moreover, acknowledged Saints and candidates for sainthood are paired with people like Fyodor Dostoevsky, Florence Nightingale, Galileo, and Mahalia Jackson. Each one-page entry concludes with a quotation from the person or someone speaking about them, or from Scripture.
They saints are arranged according to the Church calendar. The contents in the beginning of the book lists the people by date, and an index in the back lists them in alphabetical order. The book is handsome: a hardback book that has icons of some of the people on its dust jacket and end sheets. A ribbon is attached to keep our place as we go through the year with the people as our companions. But you may be like me and not wait a year to finish this book. I agree with one reviewer who called it “a literary treat.”
Regina Alfonso, SND 154 pp. $11.95
Jesus was a master teacher who held crowds of thousands spellbound. Two thousand years later we still benefit from his teachings. In her book “Go Teach!” And Jesus Showed Us How, Sister Regina looks to Jesus for methods and tips for teachers today. She studies him as he teaches large and small groups as well as individuals. She watches him adapt to different learning styles, utilize concrete things, and engage and correct students. Then she applies the wisdom she gleaned from Jesus to today’s classrooms.
Any teacher, but in particular religion teachers and catechists, will discover in this book ways to hone their teaching skills. Because the book is Gospel-based, at the same time teachers will also be meeting Jesus in his Word and getting to know him better.
The book’s text is set in sense lines rather than block paragraphs, inviting the reader to read slowly, to reflect on the messages, and to absorb them.
Anyone, teacher or not, would profit from reading this book.
“Go Teach” was originally published by Alba House in 1986, as How Jesus Taught: Methods and Techniques of the Master. People who were disappointed when that book went out of print can now rejoice at its resurrection as a new and improved version.
Heidi Hess Saxton Servant Books (Franciscan Media) $12.99
Using the daily readings as a springboard, Saxon has created a set of meditations that I found fascinating. A short quotation from one of the Scripture readings of the day is given. Then based on that main idea, a reflection unfolds that weaves together various strands:
- Short quotations from Mother Teresa, such as “Be faithful in little things, for in them lies our strength” and longer ones from her writing such as the litany of who God is for her.
- Quotations from people about Mother Teresa.
- Quotations from others, even the eight levels of giving from the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides.
- Accounts of events from the lives of Mother Teresa and her Sisters. Some of these stories were familiar to me, but it was good to refresh them.
- Personal narratives of the author that lent interest to the subject.
- Inspiring observations that have power to touch hearts and change lives.
After each reflection several questions help the readers ponder how the key message of the day has been borne out in their lives and how they could apply it in the future. These are followed by a prayer to God, but each one ends with the invocation “St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!
I think that St. Teresa, who cared for the unborn, the marginalized, and the disadvantaged, would be pleased that the Gospel values she preached through her life are being passed on through this book today, when we need to hear them more than ever. As she exhorted, may we each try to make our lives something beautiful for God—like she did
BOOK REVIEW: The Hope of Lent: Daily Reflections from Pope Francis
Diane M. Houdek
Franciscan Media $14.99
This companion book for the weeks of Lent is an opportunity to delve into and mull over some of the wisdom of Pope Francis. Each day begins with a lengthy passage from one of his talks that is linked to the readings of the day’s Mass. We hear Pope Francis deliver some aspect of the Gospel in his simple, unique way. This is followed by “Taking the Word to Heart,” a down-to-earth, practical reflection on what Pope Francis said. It offers food for thought like Lent is “not about what we do, it’s about what God does.”
Next there is “Bringing the Word to Life,” an application of the passage to our live that day. For example, because Pope Francis focuses on gossip as a trickle that might grow to a tidal wave, the suggested practice is be aware of opportunities to say no to gossip for a few days and keep track of them by a paper tally, a counting app, or moving an item from one pocket to another.
The section concludes with “Pope Francis Prays.” This is either a short prayer of pope or a topic he suggests we pray about, for example, “Let us ask for the grace that our hearts not harden . . . .”
Anyone admirer of Pope Francis who wishes to have a collection of his words will treasure this book. An added advantage is that it enables us to walk with him on our Lenten journey.
BOOK REVIEW: On the Other Side of Fear: How I Found Peace
by Hallie Lord
If you are human, at certain times in your life, you experience panic. Hallie Lord has had more than her fair share of challenges—like having her utilities turned off and giving birth to her seventh child alone in the bathroom. In her autobiographical book, as Haillie recounts these scary events, she traces her journey from being fearful and worried to casting out fear by love. You might expect this to be a sad book, but no, it is a delightful read.
Haillie honestly bares her thoughts and feelings as she tells how she rises to one challenge after another. Gradually she recoups her ability to live up to her grandfather’s motto to perform “Feats of Bravery.” Her style is simple and sparked with humor. Even her acknowledgments are entertaining! Quotations and anecdotes from others like Saint Pope John Paul II bolster her main message that we can trust God in all the ups and downs of life. When we do, remarkable things occur. We need not fear.
Besides being a mother, wife, and author, Lord is a Sirius XM raadio host and the co-founder of the Edel Gathering for women.
BOOK REVIEW: Saint Junipero Serra’s Camino: A Pilgrimage Guide to the California Missions
by Stephen Binz
This is a fascinating book about the twenty-one California missions, the result of the faith and passion of the recently canonized St. Junipero Serra. He saw these jewels along the west coast as a holy ladder. Today, traveling an old route connecting the missions constitutes a national pilgrimage. Each mission originally was a community of Indians guided by Franciscans and protected by Spanish soldiers.
The first six chapters of the book are introductory. They cover the meaning of the pilgrimage, the life of St. Junipero, his inspiration from St. Francis’s concept of missionary discipleship, the spirituality of the native peoples, an honest appraisal of the history of the missions, and a collection of quotations from and about the saint.
The bulk of the book is chapter seven, which presents for each mission the story of its founding, information about the Indians who were served by it, a biography of its patron saint, a detailed description of the buildings, its history, the museum connected to it, and other nearby sites. The thorough explanations are obviously the product of diligent research as well as the author’s personal familiarity with each mission.
More than a history book, this book is intended to be used for a pilgrimage undertaken by the reader, either by making the journey physically in California or spiritually by “visiting” a mission each day. For this purpose, each section about a mission is followed by a prayer about a page long that includes a Scripture reading.
An appendix offers a map of the missions, a list of their founding, a prayer to be prayed by those making the pilgrimage, a glossary, and a list of references for further reading.
The book is well-written, clear and complete. It provides much insight into the early days of our country, the spread of Christianity, and our relations with the Native Americans. My only wish was that the photos of each mission were larger.
Reading this book, I learned a great deal, for example, what an enormous “city” each mission was. And for another thing, did you know that Bob Hope and his wife were buried at the San Fernando Mission? It also kindled in me a desire to make this pilgrimage along Saint Junipero Serra’s Camino, which, no doubt, was the author’s purpose in writing it.
Kevin Lowry, Our Sunday Visitor, 158 pp. $15.95
Lowry’s book has two parts. The first part is the story of his unlikely conversion to the Catholic faith, thanks to God’s grace. The son of a Presbyterian minister, the author became a student at a Catholic university. There he spent semesters drinking beer and skipping classes to the point that he was asked to leave. After working three years, he returned to the university and eventually got an MBA. Drawn to the Catholic Church, he began speaking to people about it and praying the rosary. He joined an RCIA program, and his wife accompanied him. When he was twenty-five, they both were baptized into the Church.
The second part of the book contains discussions of seven stumbling blocks to becoming Catholic, including Mary, the Eucharist, and the Church’s imperfections. These are clear and convincing and, in my opinion, the most valuable section of the book. Directors of RCIA programs, RCIA candidates, people returning to the Church, and non-Catholics who would like to understand what Catholics believe will find this book helpful. Others will find it interesting.
BOOK REVIEW: Cooking My Way to Heaven: My Convent Life & Notre Dame Recipes
Mary Ann Quinn $20.00 Available on Amazon.com or from her
If Catholic Sisters, particularly the Sisters of Notre Dame, played a role in your life, you will especially enjoy this book. Perhaps you wondered what life behind convent walls was like. Mary Ann Quinn offers insights as she recounts her experiences as Sister Sean Maureen, a cook Sister in the Notre Dame Community.
Along with colorful stories of her escapades in various convents, she explains convent terms and customs. The wit and humor in these pages are like the icing on the cake.
After Quinn’s memoir, she serves up a collection of recipes. Most of them are straight from the kitchens of the Notre Dames, a community with German roots.
Cooking My Way to Heaven makes a delicious read for cooks and non-cooks alike.
(I wrote this review for the back cover of the book, which I edited and designed.)
Pope Francis Loyola Press, $18.95
This is an utterly delightful book. Jesuits ministering in twenty-six countries asked children to write a letter with a question to Pope Francis and draw a picture to accompany it. When these letters were presented to the Pope, Antonio Spadaro, S.J. transcribed his answers.
The format of Dear Pope Francis is attractive. Each left hand page has a sidebar showing a photo of the child; his or her name, age, and country; and a typed version of the question asked. The rest of the page is a copy of the child’s original letter and drawing. On the facing page is the Holy Father’s typed answer. Sometimes as he answers a question, he refers to the drawing.
The children’s questions are fundamental: “Can our deceased relatives see us?” personal: “When you were a child, did you like dancing?” or poignant: “Do you know why some parents argue with each other?” The Pope’s answers are thoughtful and charming, simple and yet profound. It is as though he is dealing with the child face-to-face.
The book concludes with the story of Fr. Spadaro’s meeting with Pope Francis to gather his responses to the children’s letter.
The hardcover book would appeal to both children and adults.
Brian Doyle, Corby Books
This book is a must for all book lovers and a delight for anyone to read. Brian Doyle, a prolific author of books for adults and children as well as an editor, presents a potpourri of topics related to books. Besides discussing reading in bed (and surreptitiously reading the book your bed partner is reading), he also covers observing books on other people’s bookshelves, books people have in cars, the physical properties of books, writing rejection letters as an editor, and the refrigerator as a large, humming book. He refers to his writing appropriately as “nutty, inky adventures.” His whimsical style is characterized by sentences that run on and on but are understandable, striking vocabulary, and thoughts that take you by surprise.
As you read, you can hear Doyle speaking to you personally with a grin on his face. The book is highly entertaining while being informative. For me, the most valuable feature are the books and authors Doyle mentions that will serve as a guide for me in my next trip to the library.
Sadly, Doyle had surgery for a brain tumor the day before Thanksgiving. He and his family are in great need of prayers. A friend has put up a fundraising site for them.http://www.gofundme.com/betenderandlaugh
Mary Kathleen Glavich, SND, 145 pp., $12.00
The Bible is Sacred Scripture for Christians who regard God as its author. It is a gift by which God reveals himself to us and communicates with us. Sadly, for too many people, it is a hidden treasure. If they own a Bible, it may lie gathering dust instead of becoming dog-eared. Praying with Scripture introduces the reader to the Bible as God’s letter meant to be taken personally—a love letter. For the uninitiated, the book briefly explains the history and composition of the Bible and how to find your way around in it. But the large majority of chapters are devoted to how to use the Bible for prayer. Topics found in the book include ways to read the Bible, methods for meditating on Scripture passages, how to personalize passages, various ways to pray psalms, lectio divina, and lacing the Rosary and Way of the Cross with Scripture. A new chapter not found in the original version of this book is “Teaching Children to Pray with Scripture.”
At the end of each chapter are questions for personal reflection that may also be used for group sharing in book club or retreat settings. These questions are followed by a number of suggestions for Bible-based prayer related to the subject of the chapter.
In Praying with Scripture Sister Kathleen shares simply and clearly the knowledge she’s acquired from years of teaching and writing about God’s Word as well as from using it for prayer herself. People who are looking to nurture their personal relationship with God (and helping others to do so) are bound to profit from reading this book.
Today’s paper reported that 300 animals are being eaten into extinction, air pollution is a contributing factor in the death of about 600,00 children per year, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has spiked even as far away as Antarctica. The number of men, women, and children killed in Mideast wars and as they flee their countries is staggering. In the face of this senseless destruction, Pope Francis has made the care for creation a top priority. Repeatedly he has reminded humankind about our responsibility for the gift of creation in homilies, speeches and most extensively and powerfully in his encyclical “Laudato Si” (Praise Be to You).
“Caring for Creation” is a compilation of the highlights of the Holy Father’s messages exhorting us to curb our self-centeredness and greed for the sake of the poor and future generations. In the carefully chosen selections, Pope Francis exhorts us to care for and share our beautiful planet and its resources.
That fact that the book contains many important passages from “Laudato Si” is a boon for those who find reading the entire document quite daunting. Interspersed with these passages are quotations from homilies and speeches concerning what the pope does not shrink from calling our “environmental crisis.” An interesting feature of the book are the pope’s tweets like the following: “When the world slumbers in comfort and selfishness, our Christian mission is to help it rouse from sleep” and “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”
Like a prophet, Pope Francis opens our eyes to truth and calls us to conversion. He urges us to change our culture of consumption and waste and our thirst for possessions and profit. He points out that we are to provide the rights of land, lodging and labor for all. He makes us realize that as we destroy the environment we are also destroying the human race. Reading this book spurs one on to join the revolution to restore our planet home and protect all its inhabitants.
Franciscan Mediam 139 pp., $19.99
Anyone familiar with Henri Nouwen and his books will delight in this biography, which reveals the very human man hidden behind the famous persona he showed in public. Nouwen, a towering figure in the realm of spirituality and the author of popular books, forty of which are still in print, entertained with enthusiasm and energy the thousands who came to hear him speak. At the same time he suffered from periods of depression brought on by an awkward relationship with his father, struggles with his homosexuality, and his intense desire to be loved and accepted for himself. He was the quintessential “wounded healer.”
Burns tells the story of Henri with simplicity, honesty, and compassion, revealing little known facts, such as Henri being laughed at by classmates because he was cross-eyed. He relies heavily on quotations from Henri and also those gleaned from numerous interviews with people who knew him, in particular his brother Laurent. Prior to writing this book, Burns produced the award-winning documentary “Genius Born of Anguish: The Life and Legacy of Henri Nouwen” for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Obviously he knows his subject well. A bonus is the book’s Afterward in which Burns presents nine ways that his life and Henri’s are alike.
Burns traces Nouwen’s journey from his birth in the Netherlands to his death from a heart attack in France. Along the way he introduces us to Henri’s heroes (Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt) and many friends as this eccentric priest teaches at Harvard, lives with a L’Arche community in Canada, and follows a circus. The result is a fascinating book about a unique life. I think Henri would be pleased with it. Reading this book makes me want to reread Nouwen’s books. I would have a new perspective now.
Daniel P. Horan, OFM, Franciscan Media, 133 pp., $15.99
The title of this book, “God Is Not Fair,” is the title of one of its forty-eight chapters or essays. These usually run only two pages and comprise a smorgasbord of reflections on relevant topics. They include clericalism, racism, the death penalty, care for creation, equality in the Church, and mercy. Horan states in his introduction that his reflections are founded on “a belief that we must consider our faith at the intersection of theology, Scripture and culture” and be willing to “to see with new eyes, think with open minds, and care with loving hearts.”
Horan divides his reflections into three parts. In the first part he discusses the Church in the modern world. The second part is composed of his thoughts on selected Gospel passages and resembles a collection of homilies. In the third part he focuses on everyone’s vocation—the call to discipleship.
The essays challenge us to examine our lives in the light of Gospel teaching. Repeatedly Horan exhorts us to walk in the footprints of Jesus. An appealing feature of the book is that it is laced with references to Pope Francis, St. Francis, and the Franciscan way of life.
The themes and thoughts in this book are rooted in Horan’s experiences of writing articles for America magazine, Give Us This Day, and in honor of the Year of Consecrated Life. Although comparatively young, age thirty-two, Horan has a wealth of wisdom to share.
ACTA Publications, $12.95
Children love poetry. Its rhyme, rhythm, and repetition delight them. Perhaps the steady rhythm of poetry reminds them of their mother’s heartbeat. This is all well and good because by hearing and reciting poems, children develop a sense of language and increase their vocabulary. Poetry is also an excellent way to introduce little ones to the faith.
The Heartbeat of Faith offers moms, dads, grandmothers, grandfathers, and teachers of preschool and primary age children an assortment of original poems. Some poems are about the children themselves—their eyes and noses, feelings, families, and growing up. They come to see that God made them who they are. One poem teaches “good words” to say, and another poem encourages them to share things. Because little children are learning about God’s world, other poems are creation centered and deal with things like chicks, birds, and raindrops.
Most important are the poems that nurture children’s relationships with Jesus, Mary, and their Guardian Angel. Some poems introduce the children to the Bible and a few of its key stories that are child-friendly. Other poems are about Church feasts we celebrate. Poems in the form of prayers are also included, such as a child’s version of Psalm 139. A poem already a favorite among teachers explains how to act in church, God’s house.
During a good number of the poems, the children add gestures or actions, making the poem even more appealing and memorable. In one poem, for example, the children use their fingers to represent a caterpillar that changes into a butterfly.
A bonus of the book is the “We Talk” feature that follows each poem. It suggests talking points and questions for interacting with the children and together delving more deeply into the poem’s topic.
Simple blackline drawings enhance the pages.
The Heartbeat of Faith aids faith formation, develops language, and fosters a love of reading. It also creates a bond between the reader and listener. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a precious memory of sitting on the lap of a parent or grandparent and listening to a story . . . or a poem. Chances are, you can still recite nursery rhymes you learned as a child. The poems of faith in this new collection will certainly leave an indelible mark on children’s minds and hearts. And maybe yours too.
The Heartbeat of Faith by Mary Kathleen Glavich, SND, 100 pages, is available from ACTA Publications and from the author for $12.95.
Some Good Faith Builders
Sacred Scripture and The Catechism of the Catholic Church, of course.
To encourage faith in teens, especially those preparing for Confirmation see new, exciting products at www.altaration.com
To enrich your faith, subscribe to the following organizations and receive daily e-mails:
- www.Zenit.org: This news agency covers items related the Holy Father and Church events.
- www.dailygospel.org: This organization sends reflections on the Gospel of the day culled from Church writing and the writings of the saints.
- www.takefivedaily.com: This service provides short daily reflections as “daily renewal for busy Catholics.”
- www.americancatholic.org: This Franciscan website e-mails information about the saint of the day.
Helpful websites are the following:
- www.vatican.va: Official site of the Holy See
- www.usscb.org: Catholic bishops website
- www.catholic.org: All things Catholic including latest news
- www.biblestudytools.com: Takes you to a verse or passage in any version of the Bible
- www.ecatechist.com: A portal for all things catechetical
- www.sacredspace.ie: A beautiful prayer for each day