Sunday, August 7, 2016

Who Does He Say Who You Are: Women Transformed by Christ in the Gospels by Colleen C. Mitchell

How do we define ourselves or more importantly who defines us? We might say we define ourselves but shouldn’t we be looking to God about who we should be.  The author states in the prologue, “ I began to remember God’s vision for who I am, to hear him remind me of who it was he made me to be, by drawing near to him in prayer and reading scriptures, which had always been my favorite way to encounter Jesus and build my relationship with him”. The title “Who Does He Say You Are” is of course a play on words from the Gospel of Mark 8:29. “Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah”. The author, Colleen Mitchell shares with us her personal story of loss and grief as the backdrop of her book.  She brings us along on her spiritual journey.  She includes, “And somehow we found our way through the grief and I found my way back to intimate friendship with Christ, back to who he says that I really am”. 
I liked that the bible verses were provided not simply their bible reference pages at the beginning of each chapter. Description of the women in the New Testament like the Virgin Mary, the Samaritan woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, and Mary and Martha to name a few, are the topics of the chapters.  A feminine spirituality is explored by the author and is also consistent with Catholic teachings. The best part is her confrontational style of addressing us her readers. You can see yourself in the characteristics of each woman’s story in the bible. The author draws us out with questions and reflections. I loved the prayers at the end of each chapter. The author concludes with, “I hope you are encouraged to see the Gospels as an invitation to consider who we are in light of who Christ is and to accept the grace he offers us to be transformed by our encounters with him”.
I would recommend this book to you because it accomplished its purpose in drawing me closer to God. In times of grief we can feel lost and this book makes you feel found again.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Men, Women and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility By Edward Sri

We think as a society we cannot define love. But I would say to you Saint John Paul the II did just that with his writings in Love and Responsibility and later in his Theology of the Body. The author, Edward Sri, does a wonderful job of unpacking a complicated topic for us the readers. Real love he explains is not just the "butterflies in your stomach" when you first date the love of your life but what you feel after 60 years of marriage. But this book not only delves into marital love but love in all aspects like friendships and family. “Love is a virtue that involves sacrifice, responsibility and total commitment to the other person. Hollywood love is an emotion” says Edward Sri.
My favorite example that brings it all together is the reference to the movie Titanic. In the movie many people glorify the emotional romance between the two main characters. “Two people whose romance develops over just a few days, which don’t really know each other and have no true commitment to each other.” says Edward Sri.  Is this our ideal kind of love? John Paul the II explains that when we are carried away by our emotions, sentimentality may hinder our ability to know that person as she or he really is. Mr. Sri asks "Is this the kind of person who will make sacrifices for me and put what’s best for me or our family before them?" The Catechism defines love as willing the good of the other.
Original sin is explained as when “Shame” entered the world. “Shame involves fear of another person, the sense that we’re not sure we can trust that person. We fear being used or being hurt, so we are afraid of being vulnerable in letting others see us as we really are.” Matthew Kelly wrote: “We can’t be loved for who we are if we won’t reveal ourselves. Unrevealed we never experience intimacy.” The more the Holy Spirit transforms our selfish and lustful hearts with the total self-giving love of Jesus Christ, the more relationships will recover their original meaning that God designed for us in the Garden of Eden.
I would recommend this book to you and for those we love who are living in difficult relationships. It would be a great gift to our young teens trying to make sense of dating and beginning relationships with the opposite sex. I found myself in many ways within the pages of this book. It is about healing and raising up the value of tr

Monday, January 18, 2016

City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul Il's Krakow by George Weigel

Against a prequel background to World Youth Day 2016 by a renowned author George Weigel is set the biography of a great saint. I learned so much about St. John Paul the II and I had not read anything about his life story before this book. The black and white photos are amazing surpassed only by the color photos in the center of the book taken by George Weigel's son, Stephen Weigel, while Carrie Gress has provided historical notes.
The book has an unusual format that is linked to maps and history with a personal story as a guide. City of Saints makes me want to visit Poland and see the sites mentioned in the book. The reader can better understand where St John Paul got his ideas of freedom from after being forged in Poland during World War II. I never thought of Poland as a beautiful place or as a vacation destination. But now I know so much more about the history of Poland and its link to saints such as Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska. Pope John Paul the II canonized her in the Jubilee year of 2000. He was responsible for the feast of Divine Mercy Sunday. He knew there was much healing needed in the world after World War II and the assaults to human dignity that were perpetrated. George Weigel tells us in City of Saints that "John Paul the II's response to the mystery of evil was to embrace the cross of Christ as a priest of the Catholic Church, spending out his life in defense of the dignity of others."
I would recommend City of Saints for you to discover the life story of St John Paul II, which is inspirational and this book takes you on a journey worth taking through the contemporary history of the  Catholic Church. I did know John Paul was an active outdoor person that liked skiing and kayaking but I did not know he was an actor. He used his acting during World War II before becoming a priest to help continue the Polish culture that the Third Reich was trying to extinguish. He was Archbishop of Krakow and his best accomplishment to me is his Theology of the Body. This theological document is rich in the dignity of the human person and what true love looks like between humans and between humans and God.
City of Saints would make a great travel guide of Poland at anytime and is perfect for the upcoming World Youth Day in 2016. I would recommend reading it before you visit Poland, studying the maps included and making a travel plan according to the book of sites to see.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

My Badass Book of Saints: Courageous Women Who Showed Me How to Live by Maria Morera Johnson

The Saints are true models of how how to live faith filled lives. My Badass book of Saints brings their stories out of the clouds and shines a light on their true life stories. I have always liked reading about the saints but I loved the format of this book. First there is a personal story from the author, then a story from a contemporary cultural icon, then a tie in with a saint story and a rap up at the end to connect the three stories. This format makes the saints more approachable and relatable. Some of the saints included are: St. Joan of Arc, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Rose of Lima, just to name a few. Each chapter has a theme such as selflessness or perseverance and there are questions to ponder at the end of each chapter. This makes it perfect for discussion and group reading.
I like how Maria Johnson teaches us how this all applies to our daily life with her quote "All of us are called to do our best . These ....don’t inspire me to go out and look for opportunities to do good. Rather, they inspire me to keep a more watchful eye within my own circles of influence to see what needs to be done there, especially with my family, friends, and people with whom I interact." I know I can often be looking for a project in the community at large,  instead of looking inside my life already for opportunities to do good.
I would recommend this book to you as a fun way to get to know some remarkable women to inspire you. I liked being challenged to think of women in our own lives that are courageous and compassionate as some of the themes and questions suggest. The title is great and I love the description of bodacious women we can not just imitate but find their qualities in ourselves already, waiting to be tapped into to bring more to our lives and those around us.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The St. Teresa of Avila Prayer Book by Virginia Hampton Wright

St Teresa of Avila is a doctor of the Catholic church now but I learned she was controversial in her day. Her contemplative connection with God was looked on with skepticism in her day. The author seems to know St Teresa like a family member. You can tell she did her research. The first part of the book is biographical but fun, not dry. St Teresa's prayers in her own words are beautiful. The most distinguishing feature of this book is the alignment of St  Teresa's prayers with a liturgy of the hours type format with morning and evening prayers.
St. Teresa had a hard time with formatted prayer and sought a more personal relationship with God. She felt herself drawn to God's presence without even trying. She naturally tended to contemplative prayer but she also studied about it in the book by Francisco of Osuna called the Third Spiritual Alphabet. Her marked up and worn copy is still available to view today. One of her students became known as St. John of the Cross.
I love the description of prayer straight from St. Teresa, "She described prayer as different ways of watering a garden. Sometimes we must draw water up from the well, which requires much effort on our part, and other times we simply direct the water to where it needs to go; and then sometimes the water arrives as rainfall and we don’t have to do anything but enjoy it."
Virginia Wright helps us to see and pray with St. Teresa stating, "Ultimately, what St. Teresa of Avila brings to us is confidence in God’s great mercy toward us and God’s willingness to meet us in our flawed humanity and dwell with us right here and now."
I would recommend this book to you to understand St. Teresa of Avila better and deepen your prayer life. The author makes St. Teresa approachable, understandable and a prayer partner which is definitely a plus. I like that there are themes and structure provided for prayer and inspiration from St. Teresa of Avila.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Pray Like a Gourmet: Creative Ways to Feed Your Soul by David Brazzeal

Prayer is relationship. It is important to spend time enhancing our relationship with God. We can get in a rut in any relationship and can need a refresh. Pray like a Gourmet is definitely refreshing. I was initially concerned about the association with food. If you think about it though, food is one of our basic needs like love and relationship, so we can all relate easily to this analogy. I like the mix of traditional and creative prayers with a simple or complex mode according to your wants and needs in your prayer life. You can literally use your whole self; mind, body and spirit and all your gifts and talents as a gift to God in prayer.
One of my favorite parts of the book is the analogy in the introduction about a meal in France versus American fast food and our prayer life. Mr. Brazzeal teaches how to savor our time with God and give him the best of ourselves and also that we can be real with God. The format of the book is interesting, such as part two which describes types of prayers, with biblical references and lots of examples. Types of prayers discussed are: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Petition, Observation, Intercession, Meditation, Contemplation, Blessing, Lamenting, and Joining.  There are Catholic undertones and sometimes it is even more explicit with confession and saints, etc. One thing I did not like is that the words of importance that are supposed to summarize and stick out to you are in light yellow print. I think a bold darker color would have been more effective but it did cause me to have to look closely.
The author makes his home in France, has lived in Brazil, and has worked in Guadalupe and Quebec. The description in his biography includes "all his work is inspired by the organic fusion that exists between the spiritual and the creative". In chapter two, Brazzeal tells us "Several religions practice specific food restrictions and fasting as spiritual reminders.." Also that, "Abstaining from physical food can play a powerful role in creating a hunger and receptivity for spiritual food.." There is a lot of food analogies in organized religions and specifically Catholicism in the Eucharist.
I would recommend this book to you to enhance your prayer life. The book is very visually appealing with tons of prayer ideas. You can take your time reading the book as you try all the great suggestions. Let yourself be challenged as you grow spiritually and closer to God.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Passion and the Cross by Ronald Rolheiser

The crucifixion is the other side of the coin of the nativity. As we approach Christmas through the doors of advent we see the love of God through the incarnation. Both the incarnation and the crucifixion show not just how much God loves us but they also show us how to love each other. The first chapter explains about the passivity of Jesus and how all during the crucifixion Jesus was not only passive about resisting but showed great love to his tormentors. Jesus demonstrated how to turn anger, hate and hurt into peace, love and health. Subsequent chapters unpack the mystery of the cross and Jesus as redeemer not rescuer. God did not promise we would not suffer but showed us how to turn bad into good. Christ redeems our suffering and gives it meaning. Rolheiser states, "the love that Christ reveals in the cross is so strong that it can descend into any hell we can create, thaw out our frozen souls, and lead us into the light and peace of paradise, despite our fears and weaknesses."
True love is sacrificial. In The Passion and the Cross, "This is what constitutes the sacrificial part of his love; namely, the excruciatingly pain (ex cruce, from “the cross”) that he had to undergo in order to take in hatred and give back love. But that is the only way that sin can ever leave a community; someone has to take it in, hold it, carry it, and, through a certain excruciating sacrifice of self, transform it into something else." Love is relational and transformative. We see this in the baby Jesus, stated by Rolheiser as "But God’s power is the power of exousia— a baby that lays helpless, muted, patient, beckoning for someone to take care of it. It’s this power that lies at the deepest base of things and will, in the end, gently, have the final say. It’s also the only power upon which love and community can be created because it, and it alone, ultimately softens rather than breaks the heart.
It is important while standing at the manger at Christmas we remember the standing at the cross that will be forthcoming at Easter. This completes the love story of Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection. I would recommend this book to you to bring forth ideas I had not otherwise been exposed to in theology and exposition of the love of God. Why did Jesus have to be crucified? How are we redeemed? The Passion and the Cross brings the answers into focus.