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.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh


One of the greatest theologians of our time, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a complex man of contradictions. The author, Mr. Marsh peels back every layer so we can see the whole picture of a man obviously enamored of Catholicism but who never converted. He remained a protestant preacher although highly intellectual and he spent a life time finding the truth to some of our biggest questions of "Who is God? and "Where is God during tragedy?".
Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 in Breslau, Germany in a wealthy upper class family. He had a life of privilege, with all the books, music and education he wanted. He earned two doctorates in theology. He loved travel, music and putting on skits and plays to entertain his family and friends. He had a twin sister, Sabine, whom he was very close until she got married. He was well traveled, traveling throughout Spain, England, India and the United States. He believed in ecumenism and reaching out to other religious leaders to combat evil.
Bonhoeffer's story is told not just against the backdrop of World War II but in the thick of it. He was originally arrested for avoiding joining the Nazi army to fight in a time when the idea of being a  conscientious objector did not exist. But during his incarceration it was revealed he had been involved in plotting to kill Hitler. He was killed in a concentration camp.  His famous last words were "This is not the end for me; it is the beginning of life"
Bonhoeffer found Lutheranism lacking with sola fide or faith alone. He recognized true faith and the common man especially when faced with the racism of the American South. His world view changed to include the understanding that faith is wrapped up in how we treat each other. He originally found being a parish preacher to be mundane and trifling but learned the richness to be found in each parishioner's life. He loved the beauty of the Catholic mass especially during Christmas and Easter. He recognized the inequality against Jews that began in Germany in 1933 and reached the level of evil slaughter and the height of the Holocaust in 1942. This was the year that most people died at the hands of the Nazis. He knew he could not stay silent and spoke out and wrote in opposition to the Aryan paragraph of Jewish exclusion and white supremacy. A quote from Bonhoeffer includes "This denotes a moment in which the church, in order to be true to itself and its message, must distinguish as clearly as possible between truth and error".
Bonhoeffer fought the evil of the Nazis first through the intelligence bureau and finally advocating murder of the fuhrer even though he was a pacifist. A protestant preacher and theologian that believed it mattered what we did in our works. As I said previously, definitely a man of contradictions.
I would recommend this book to you. It is a beautiful biography written by Charles March, the foremost expert on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He served as the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Visiting Professor at Humboldt University in Berlin. There was great detail and I loved the black and white photos. I was fascinated by what I learned about history and theology. Within Glory Days there was the intrigue of spy stories, love stories and news stories. This is a scholarly work that could be difficult to read at times but definitely worth the effort.

Friday, November 27, 2015

God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe

Emmanuel is the meaning of Christmas. Emmanuel means God With Us, the title that says it all. This is a beautiful Advent devotional book in its 4th printing. This quote is from the preface by the author "Christmas is the feast of the Incarnation, which is the mystery of God with us in the flesh. When we cut through the sentiment and marketing to the spiritual riches of Christmas , we recover not only a sense of who God is, but also who we are as human beings." I like the format of the book with the unpacking of the scriptures for the four weeks of Advent  followed by Christmas to Epiphany. The history of the feast days by Beth Davis was very informational and I learned a lot about each of the 12 days of Christmas has history and has a specific meaning and purpose. I like the variety of authors from Richard Neuhaus to Kathleen Norris. I did not like that the scripture readings were cited at the beginning of each chapter and not included for convenient reading. I guess I'm just showing laziness, maybe this is made to make the average reader seek out their bible for the readings. Advent is a special time for the church and for me personally. We are an incarnational people where the gift of ourselves is important for the season because of God's gift of himself not just on the cross but by the stable manger. This quote from God with Us "Christmas is about incarnation, and incarnation is God’s becoming what he is not, in order that we might become what he is. Thus does God reveal himself" is a powerful affirmation of our humanity. I would recommend this book to deepen your experience of this spiritual season. From the book is the best recommendation  "As this season of preparation continues, Holy God who is with us, may we lean into every moment of our days to redeem the time, to make the most of our every moment."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Time to Get Ready: An Advent, Christmas Reader to Wake Your Soul by Mark Villano

Advent is almost here so it is definitely Time to Get Ready for Advent and ultimately Christmas. There are many Advent devotionals available but I think this one stands out among them. It is steeped in scripture and include many quotes and stories to help the reader get more out of their spiritual life during this time of year. I liked that the readings are included at the beginning of each chapter. There is a description that unpacks the biblical message then a scriptural response. At the end of each chapter there is a summary statement that packs a punch.
We are introduced the idea of chronos and kairos to measure time. Chronos is linear time and Kairos is God's time. But we are not just passively waiting but we are called to action. We are called to bring ourself as gift to others during this season of preparation. When the author speaks "God does not want to fit comfortably into our schedule. God wants to be a living presence in our lives, fire in our hearts." This is evidence of God's call  in our lives to minister to others. First we have to find our true selves "Come to know yourself better and you will be able to know others better as well. Be happy with who you are and who you aren’t. You will see more clearly the One who gave you your true self."
From the beginning of advent to the epiphany, Time to Get ready will keep you engaged. For instance with quotes like this "An epiphany is defined as a manifestation of Christ. Franciscan author Richard Rohr, in Everything Belongs, gives his own twist to that definition: an epiphany is a place where God is both hidden and revealed. Perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed — like the manger or the cross. Not everyone is looking for those epiphanies, not everyone sees. But those who do will “ gather together.” Their journeys converge in Bethlehem. Their hearts “thrill and rejoice.”
I would recommend this book to you for inspiration during your Advent and Christmas season. The format is easy to follow. The author's voice is conversational and punctuated with scripture throughout the book. Time to Get Ready will help you make the most of your waiting for the Incarnation when God is with us in history, mystery and majesty.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning


This is the 25th anniversary of The Ragamuffin Gospel written by a former Franciscan priest. It is a beautiful exposition on God's grace. It is to the point and in your face in a good way. It wakes you up to the reality of God's love for you. Definitely a "come as you are" love freely given and not earned or deserved is at the core of the book's message. The Ragamuffin Gospel was very controversial when it was originally written in 1990 because it was not about a restrictive love based on sin and judgement. The author left the priesthood to get married and he is not shy in laying out his own faults of alcoholism for instance. The back cover says it nicely that we don't need spiritual cosmetics to make ourselves presentable to God. Ultimately that God IS Love is spelled out chapter after chapter in addition to the whimsical titles of each chapter.
One of my favorite quotes from The Ragamuffin Gospel is "Counterfeit Grace is as commonplace as fake furs, phony antiques, paste jewelry and sawdust hot dogs. The temptation of the age is to look good without being good.....The dichotomy between what we say and what we do is so pervasive in the church and in society that we actually come to believe our illusions and rationalizations and clutch them to our hearts like favorite teddy bears." I think this book is about "keeping it real" and being genuine even as we evangelize in sincerity to others. "To evangelize a person is to say to him or her , 'You are loved by God in the Lord Jesus'. And not only to say it but to really think it and relate it to the man or woman so they can sense it."
The author, Mr Manning, has written more that 20 books, and was a gifted speaker. He was a Korean war veteran and as I mentioned before a Franciscan priest. His final book was his memoir titled All is Grace. He died in 2013. There is a preface and afterward in this book written by people who knew that author personally that is specific to this 25th anniversary special edition. This helps the readers get to know the man and the author better.
I would definitely recommend this book to you. You will not be disappointed. There are multiple examples and quotes in each chapter. The voice of the author is highly relatable. The reader will discover that we are all Ragamuffins and that we are all loveable. What better message could there be and what more could you want from a book. Love and spirituality are central to the book as perhaps they should be in our own lives.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

We'll Never Tell Them by Fiorella de Maria

A masterful story from beginning to end, We'll Never Tell Them has many layers and stories within stories. Our two main characters are Kristjana and Leo, who are kindred spirits separated by years and history. The background is World War I and World War II for the story told by Leo about his mother Liljana. Liljana has had a very hard life growing up in Malta with an abusive mother with mental illness and moving to England where she finds her first family through her friend Emily. She meets the love her life as a nurse during WWI.
Kristjana is a nurse who has run away from her life in England back to Jerusalem where she interned during college. Her life parallels Liljana's in that she is also from Malta and moved to England. Leo is her patient dying of cancer and wanting to pass on the history of his family through storytelling. Kristjana is learning about herself and her life through Leo's story of his mother, Liljana.
We'll Never Tell  is written from the point of view of the Kristjana character. She matures and decides what direction to take her life. The overarching story is about love and loss as seen through World Wars I and II. This points to what is important in our humanity and dignity. There is strong family themes of what makes a close family and what keeps us apart. James Hampton stands out as a constant character throughout Liljana's story. He is a lawyer that Liljana meets as a child and has a reoccurring role and plays a significant unexpected part in Liljana's life.  The descriptions really transport you to a different time and the reader easily becomes invested in the story of Liljana. The story is tragic and involves some adult topics but nothing is explicit. The modern day character of Kristjana is a little harder to identify with for me but I am still interested in what will happen with her as you follow her thoughts and struggles in modern day. There is a sense of hope at the end and this book that makes you want to know about the history of war torn England.
I would recommend this book to you as a fictional story that will keep you reading to the end. Fiorella de Maria, the author, is a winner of the National Book Prize of Malta for her previous book The Cassandra Curse. She was born in Italy of Maltese parents and this gives the story authenticity. In this story of We'll Never Tell Them there is a connection between Kristjana and Liljana and perhaps even between Liljana and the reader. I will not spoil the ending but let you discover it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Broken Gods: Hope Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart by Gregory K. Popcak, PhD

Don't let the title fool you, because it sounds almost blasphemous, but the author is speaking of gods, small g. The author, Dr. Popcak wants to help us be our best selves but not just in a superficial way of self help but in a deep soulful way of spirituality. I was skeptical at first upon introduction, although you can not argue with St Thomas Aquinas "The only begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods" Chapter two is where we start to understand about the seven longings of the human heart and how these align with the seven deadly sins, and the seven heavenly virtues. First it important to understand how the brain is most open to change when the mind experiences four qualities represented by COAL or curiosity, openness, acceptance and love.
By chapter four we have the format set for the rest of the book which is a desciption of the longing of the heart, how the deadly sins keep us from it and how specific virtues can help us counter this tendency and reach our hearts desire. Dr. Popcak is a counselor and it is evident in his approach to spirituality. I liked the format and thought the prompts at the end of each chapter would be helpful to revisit when you need support in a particular area of longings of the heart or to avoid a certain deadly sin.
I would recommend this book to you because I felt like I learned a lot. For instance being overzealous about your health and diet can also be the sin of gluttony or thinking you can attain salvation through the body. Broken Gods may be a little technical for some readers and steeped in pyschological terms but definitely a good read. This book is comforting in how it helps you to see your barriers to spiritual fulfillment and how to address them one at a time.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Abbey: A Story of Discovery by Father James Martin, SJ

Finding good Catholic fiction is sometimes hard. Look no further, Father Martin has hit the mark with his new book The Abbey. There are characters in this fiction story that we care about due to Father Martin's power of description and his insight into their minds and hearts. There is Anne, who has lost her son 3 years ago at just 13 years of age. Her heart ache is palpable and you can relate to her loss. She rents a home to Mark who is a handyman carpenter at the local monastery and their interaction brings her face to face with the Abbot, Father Paul. The Abbey of Philip and James is a part of her memories of her parents, herself as a child, and ultimately how she sees God and religion. Through her experiences at the abbey with iconographic Marian art and heart to heart conversations with Father Paul you experience her spiritual journey. There are sessions of spiritual direction with Father Paul even though Anne does not recognize them as such and she doesn't know why she is drawn back there time and time again. Each of the characters grow spiritually on their journey throughout the story with their relationships that develop between them.
The book is more about asking the right questions than it is about finding the answers. The characters are changed at the end but it is open ended enough for us to fill in the end for ourselves. Anne wants to know how to talk to God and how to know when God is speaking to her. Perhaps we have all had these questions at one point or the other. The dialogue is beautiful between Anne and Father Paul. The conversations between Anne and Mark seem purposefully clumsy and so appropriate for their thoughts that are going through their heads. I loved the quote from Thomas Merton "“The first and most elementary test of one’s call to the religious life—whether as a Jesuit, Franciscan, Cistercian, or Carthusian—is the willingness to accept life in a community in which everybody is more or less imperfect.” Father Paul is honest about religious life and the challenges and joys of living in community. But being a Secular Franciscan myself made me appreciate this quote from the book "But people on the outside faced pressures that sometimes made it harder to remember God. For one thing, there were the constraints of time. That’s why Paul believed mothers and fathers and doctors and lawyers and teachers and janitors—at least many of them—were holier than monks. They had to make room for God in a world that often crowded out God.
I would definitely recommend this book to you. You definitely won't be sorry. The story is realistic and hopeful. To be Father Martin's first novel it is promising and definitely delivers what it promises in the subtitle: A Story of Discovery.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

New Testament Basics for Catholics by John Bergsma


After reading this book, I want to read the previous book by Dr. Bergsma called Bible Basics for Catholics: A new Picture of Salvation History. But don't worry if you have not read it yet because the first chapter in this book gives you a quick summary of the Old Testament. One of the things that appealed to me about reading this book is an interest in understanding the overarching story of salvation history and more specifically the history of the Church founded by Christ and told in the new testament. I love the organization of the book. It simplifies the whole of the new testament by revealing the differences and similarities of the Gospels and Paul's letters. You will find shortcuts and  suggestions to help you remember important points of the bible and chronological timeline. But there is also an indepth analysis of the books of Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Hebrews and Revelation. Dr. Bergsma states "Every sacrament is rooted in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Baptism is a sharing in Jesus’ dying and rising . In Matrimony we give our body to our spouse as Jesus gave his body on the Cross. The Eucharist makes present once more the sacrifice of Christ’s crucified body . And we could go on."
It is a big help in bible study to understand the audience the author of the original bible books  intended and the Greek meaning of words unpacked for the reader. But, I also think in Testament Basics the author speaks in common language we can all understand. You can read it like a novel straight through and keep it close by when studying the new testament. There is also enough catholic theology that helps in understanding the church's perspective as well. Bergsma states "We should call them “the books we read when we celebrate the New Testament,” or “the books that tell us about the New Testament,” because that’s what they really are. The New Testament itself is the Eucharist . To read the New Testament books without going to Mass is like looking at a menu without ever eating the meal, or reading about swimming without ever jumping in the pool. The Bible says the “new testament” is the Eucharist."
Dr. Bergsma is an associate professor of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville Ohio. He is a Catholic convert as of 2001 and a Catholic Biblical Scholar and Theologian. He earned his PhD in Scripture from Notre Dame. I would definitely recommend this book to you. It was a pleasant surprise to find humor and ease of reading. I was prepared for a more professorial dry read but Basic Testament is very readable, easy to understand but gives the more experienced bible student a vast insight into scripture.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Eve by William Paul Young

From the Author of The Shack comes a new novel, Eve. This work of fiction takes on the story of creation like the Shack took on the topic of death. There is a science fiction atmosphere of the story of Eve. The story opens with John in the Refuge, a place between worlds, where a large storage container washes ashore with multiple dead bodies and one survivor. The main character is a 15 year old girl named Lilly Fields. She is paralyzed initially and has amnesia. She is in and out of consciousness while her body is being repaired but what sounds like aliens. She is told she is to be a witness of beginnings, presumably the creation story, a real Adam and Eve story. The author has some wild ideas about God as seen through an old woman Eve and a young woman Eve, an Eternal Man, Adonai, amd Elohim. Mr. Young appears sincere in his use of the main character Lilly searching for God and God's love. I think the nod to the biblical story of Lillith gets lost. I thought from the description before reading this book that Eve would be the one to wash up on the shore. Lilly has the DNA of everyone on earth but its not clear as to the significance of this fact.
I thought the descriptions were sophomoric and juvenile. True to form, Mr. Young goes very dark in his main character when she realizes that she is a rape survivor when her memory comes back. Simon enters the story and says he is her only friend and the 3 other people including John that claim to be her friend are lying and using her for their own gain. Lilly does not know who to believe. As to the creation story it certainly does not follow any of the biblical accounts, so be warned, if as a Christian you are reading this book as a scripture lover. The discrepancy is gaping and some might find it offensive.
When addressing original sin we hear “It happens when humans turn from face-to-face trust and let the darkness of death enter them. Thanks to Adam, we all have inherited shadow-sickness in our mortality. Resisting it is the war in which we are all engaged.” "Then when addressing free will “Trust is not a once-in-a-lifetime decision, but a choice made within each moment as the river runs. We are thankful for the gifts that surround us, and then we let them go, trusting that nothing will be lost, even if we lose it for a time.”
I would not recommend this book to you. It was confusing when I think the aim was to be mysterious. It misses the mark for enriching our spirituality as readers. It asserts to be of deep thought but only reinforces that God loves us. I found it simplistic and worth missing all together.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

In God's Holy Light: Wisdom from the Desert Monastics by Joan Chisttister


Meet the Desert Monastics face to face or should I say heart to heart. I loved this book for the spiritual wisdom that it imparts. I learned so much about what is important in life. It's like having a spiritual director in your pocket. I realy liked the quotes from the desert fathers that were at the beginning of each chapter. Then the rest of the chapter unpacks the meaning of the quote and expands on the explanation of how this applies to each of us in modern times.
There are 35 chapters that are short and digestible but the reader might want to give time to meditate on each. This book would be good as a Lenten retreat. The first few chapters discuss what you might want to be leary of in a false spirituality. The middle chapters describe what an adult spirituality might look like. The last chapters concentrate on an individual's place in the bigger Christian world.
One of the most interesting ideas of consulting the desert monastics is that what they dealt with in their society in Egypt in the 3rd through the 6th centuries in trying to not get caught up in the materialism and selfishness in their cities is common now for our time as well. So how do we become like the monks and nuns of their time in our modern day society? We are generally seeking a closer relationship with Christ as modern day Christians but so much is distraction and gets in our way.
The abbas advice and stories are about how to simplify our lives and get to the heart of the matter and capture our inner heart strings too. I was intimidated about the topic of the desert monastics at first but the author has made them fun and easy to understand at first read but with enough depth in spirituality to interest the seasoned reader of Christian spirituality.
I would recommend this book to you as a book to savor. It is definitely one I will keep close on my shelf and you will want to have a copy too.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Complete Francis of Assisi: His Life, The Complete Writings and The Little Flowers by Jon Sweeney

This a first for me, a review of three books in one. I love the title becasue it gives you a preview of the three titles that Sweeney has included under one cover. The first book is "The Road to Assissi: The Essential Biography of St. Francis" by Paul Sabatier. This is the first biography I ever read about St. Francis which was given to me by a friend and I reread it for this review. The second book is "The Essential Writings of St. Francis", here you can read the actual sayings and letters of St. Francis. The third book is "The Little Flowers" by Brother Ugolino which is a book about the legends and myths of St. Francis. I find this approach of including these three books to be a very inclusive approach to give the reader a comprehensive look at who was St. Francis. Let's now take a closer look at each of these books.
The Road to Assisi to was first published in France in 1893 by French Prostentant Paul Sabbatier. More than 45 editions have been published in French alone. So it is definitely a classic. This book gives you specific historical facts with dates needed in a good biography, but there is also a reasonable flow of interesting stories. This makes this book informative and entertaining. It starts with his early life raised an aristocrat as a Bernadone in Assisi, Italy. It goes through his meeting with the Sultan, his later life receiving the stigmata and his death including his writing the Canticle of the Sun.
The Essential Writings of St Francis edited by Sweeney, the author of this compilation, give us insights into the thoughts and mind of St. Francis. He was not a scholarly man and was a man of few words. Some of his best loved writings are letters.
The Little Flowers ia a best loved Christian favorite that many have quoted from and it includes amusing anecdotes. It is interesting to hear stories that apear to have been told by his closest followers and brothers.
This is an important look at St. Francis as a whole. Sweeney has included personal comments all the way through the book. The author seems to be a modern day expert on St.Francis including this book and many others.
I would recommend this book to you but it is a rather long read taken as a whole. One thing I think that could be made more clear is the spirituality of St. Francis. I don't think this was the aim of this particular compilation but it is more of a get to know the man and his legacy book. The book gives you a thorough introduction but only an introduction that skims the surface of the impact St. Francis has made and the depts of his spirituality.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Man Who Wasn't There: Investigations into the Strange New Science of the Self by Anil Ananthaswamy

This isn't a catholic book and some might argue not even a religious book at all, but it has meant alot to me spiritually. It is all about our sense of self and I have found this not only to be about neurobiology and psychology but our intangible spirit. Our perceptions and thoughts that make up our sentient being and our body together make up who we are. This book has been a big piece of my recent spiritual journey. In a more conventional sense, we all know someone who has Alzheimer's, Autism, or schizophrenia, and this book helps to understand their unique perspective of themselves and the world.
I have a medical background so I am fascinated with the anatomy and physiology of our brain. I was surprised at how much we really know about the brain in the diseases mentioned above. The descriptions are easy to understand and if I am a loved one of someone with these conditions this book would definitely help me. My favorite part is the delving into our sense of self, our sense of self as subject or our "I" narrative, also our sense of self as object or "this is my body". Understanding ourselves is important before we can pursue a relationship with God or with our fellow neighbors we seek to help.
Most interesting is the descriptions of ecstatic seizures that are described as like mystical experiences of God and out of body experiences or OBEs being explained away. I don't think these physical descriptions point to atheism but that the hand of God works through our physical world. If you love science, psychology, medicine and spirituality, then this book has it all. Each condition has a detailed case study that makes the point more directly with an entertaining slant.
I would recommend this book to you but it is a bit technical in its language so be warned. It may not be for everybody. The science is sometimes hard to follow but the personal stories make up for it. I heard an interview of the author on NPR radio and was immediately intrigued. I'm glad I got to read this book for review and you definitely will not be sorry for your time spent checking out this book

Monday, August 3, 2015

Sacred Reading: The 2016 Guide to Daily Prayer by the Apostleship of Prayer

I have been pursuing a better understanding of Lectio Divina. This ancient spiritual practice seems simple but yet complex and hard to begin. I love Sacred Reading because it takes you by the hand and walks you through the process. The steps are 1) Knowing that God is present, 2) Read the Gospel reading for the day, 3) Notice what you think or feel, 4) Pray as you are led, 5) Listen to Jesus, and 6) Ask God to show you how to live today. Starting with Advent 2015, the beginning of the Catholic Church year, the gospel readings are included for each day following the church year calendar. The Saints for each day are included as well. The Apostleship of Prayer is an international Jesuit prayer ministry. They have a popular website Apostleshipof Prayer.org. Their organization has put together this different type of prayer book. Just as important as the content is what is not written within the pages, your prayers, thoughts and hopes. What we bring to the book, the more we can reap from the instruction in Lectio Divina. I truly believe that after using this book for a year, I will have evolved in my knowledge and practice of this ancient prayer practice. The other benefit is helping the reader tap into the life of the Church and the liturgical seasons. I definitely recommend this book to you. I am looking forward to rereading and using Sacred Reading in my prayer life in the next church year. This book has helped me to grow closer to God’s word and enriched my prayer life and relationship of faith. If you ready to go beyond basic bible study and are ready to pray with the bible, then this book is for you. Living the bible and incorporating God’s word into your daily life is within reach using these pages as teacher and guide.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Arriving at Amen: Seven Prayers that Even I can Offer by Leah Libresco

I have always found conversion stories to be fascinating, but an atheist converting to Catholicism is the most interesting story of them all. I am especially attracted to the intellectual thought process laid out by Libresco in Arriving at Amen. Libresco takes the reader from Javert in Les Miserables to Peter, the rock on which the church is built. The author starts with treating faith and proof of God like a mathematical proof and ends with the beauty of the Eucharist. Arriving at Amen is organized by different types of prayer such as petition, confession, examen, rosary, divine office, lectio divina, and mass. For all the readers who have wondered how to start praying and am I doing it right, this book is a refreshing comfortable reinforcement of faith and your growing relationship with God. Libresco has a fresh approach to learning about praying with the perspective of a new Catholic. The use of humor makes the book very conversational and easily approachable and digestible. My favorite quote is “For me, this is the resolution to the ancient paradox of Theseus: the grace present in the Eucharist alters me, but it does so by making me more myself. Like a mellified man, I find that I am changed by what I consume, but the holy food distributed at mass brings me healing and eternal life, not just sweetness in death.” This gives you a flavor for the book and is a beautiful sentiment of what the Eucharist can mean to you. I would definitely recommend this book to you. I thoroughly enjoyed the format and the voice of the author. Arriving at Amen is a different kind of prayer book that gave me many new ideas of how to begin different types of prayer that I was previously not familiar. Libresco’s conversion story is overarching throughout the story but the reader can also feel confident in the author’s knowledge and leadership with strong Catholic prayer details.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life by Joan Chittister


Our modern world is full of contradictions and I think this is part of our being plugged in all the time. We live busy lives in order to feel fulfilled and are sometimes lonely in a crowd. We want more free time but then are bored easily. How do we navigate this modern day conundrum? Between the Dark and Daylight explores this question. I wanted to read this book because I was intrigued by the title. I am kind of a late night owl myself and I can identify with the late night anxieties and thoughts that keep you awake and pondering before you go to sleep or during the night. Sister Joan is very insightful and thoughtful. She suggests it is these very contradictions that trouble us but also by embracing them we can become more aware and more human. What exactly is more human? I think it means more our true selves. From the chapter entitled “The Noise Within the Silent Self” I quote ‘The major question of a person’s life lies in whether or not we are willing to bring both parts of the self together- the public one and the hidden one- to stop pretending, at least to our selves, in order to become the person we seem to be”. I think this encapsulates the overarching theme of the book. The chapters are short and easily managed during one sitting, but I found myself shutting the book and pondering the content. Right after finishing the book, I started to reread it again and I hardly ever feel that way about a book. Sometimes you need to sit with a sentence a little longer. I will be using my highlighter and making more connections the second time read through. This is the type of book you will cherish and reread. I would definitely recommend this book to you. Possibly the best time to read it would be during your “Between the Dark and Daylight”. Of course this can mean when we feel the “dark” of loneliness or uncertainty and the “light” of consolation and clarity. You won’t want to miss this spiritual journey during both these times of our life.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Interview with Sonja Corbitt author of “Unleashed”

Q: You identify as a “Scriptural Evangelista” Tell the readers what that means?
A: That just means that I use scripture in every media, radio, television, written workbooks, everything, in order to nurture a love for Christ in the bible, and a more serious, not just a knowledge of him in a head kind of way but in a heart kind of way. So that’s basically all it means to me. I’m all bible all the time and that’s how I say that “Scriptural Evangelista”.
Q: You have a radio show called “Pursing the Summit” on Real Life radio. Tell us a little about that.
A: Well, actually, you know I do have a show but that’s kind of funny. I’m really just pretending. I mean I have this very first shot on a radio show for me and I am just totally green. But it’s fun and what I love about it is that I am able to teach my original studies and since I have an hour every single day I can really delve in to the detail in a more thorough way than I can even in a regular weekly teaching. So where as I’ll use the same workbook on the radio show as I do with teaching a study at a particular location on a weekly basis; but I only have an hour for a physical study whereas on the radio I can take 4 days if I want to. I’m really enjoying that and it’s a lot of fun. In the beginning when I first started I thought I might take calls and then somebody, I forget who, said “No, you don’t want to do that, you’ll lose your train of thought when somebody calls in.” Then I thought, you know what, that’s probably true. I love it; it’s been a lot of fun.
Q: You mention in the book, you have done talks at conferences and retreats. What gave you the idea to turn them into a book?
A: You know it’s kind of funny. I have a love hate relationship with facebook. But I was on facebook and I got a private message from someone and I hear this lot. Have you ever thought about writing a book? I answered and said sure, what would you like me to write about? She said “We publish Lisa Hendey’s books.” I almost fell out of my chair that this was a real publisher. So then I was trying to put her profile together to find out who this was and it ended up being the editor for Ave Maria Press who worked with me to bring “Unleashed” to fruition. What was interesting was when she first contacted me, I remember talking to the Lord and I said “You know I don’t like books, I like studies”. But I just felt like I needed to just kind of go with the flow because he had something in mind. That’s how that started, I really I had no intention whatsoever of writing an actual trade book, but it just worked out that way and I actually really like that format to be perfectly honest.
Q: How did you decide on the title “Unleashed”?
A: That’s a great question because that was not the title at all when it first started out. It was called “When God Breathes” because the Spirit of God is said to be his breath or the wind of God. That was my title then the publisher changed it and I’ll just confess that’s a big masculine word “Unleashed” so I wasn’t too thrilled with it. I mean I went with it because I just felt like the Holy Spirit was accomplishing something and I just needed to keep my mouth shut and go with it. So I did. But I wasn’t happy with it to begin with, it just seemed very, it was a strong, strong word whereas the whole premise of the book is how gentle the Holy Spirit is, so it kind of bugged me. But then when the cover came and they paired that beautiful feminine cover with that big manly word. I thought that is so perfect. I ended up being thrilled. Everybody that knows me asks me, my mother even, thought that the woman on the cover was me. Everybody asked me that “Is that you? Is that you” It’s not but I told the publisher when they first sent the picture over I said you’re not going to believe this but I swear I have those boots. And it’s funny on my very first book signing I wore basically that cover outfit because I had the skirt and all that. Anyway it was fun. The cover thing has been really cool.
Q: I liked the structure of your book “Unleashed”. There is a Question at the beginning and at the end the Invitation and God prompt. Do you find this is a good way to unpack the bible in your other bible studies?
A: That is actually exactly the way I do it at the very end. What I typically do in the workbook is I lay out the pathway that God led me in and I ask the same questions of the participants as God asked me as I was studying so I just lead people in the very same path then at the end when I have all the information, the factual stuff then I’ll start applying it and I’ll ask those kind of questions those God prompt questions in order to apply what they just learned to their own lives. So I use almost exactly that same, I don’t usually use a review until the end of a whole chapter. But I do like the review because it gives me an opportunity to say the very same thing in a different way. It helps to reinforce everything that we are learning so far and I love the God prompt because that’s just a very simple way to get people in touch with God themselves. I don’t think that a lot of Catholics realize that God is really waiting for them in the Bible that way. One of the greatest privileges of my being Catholic has been leading people to that place with God because how cool is that, that God is sitting right there waiting on us.
Q: Can you talk more about predominant fault? I find this very interesting and an important point in the book. Tell the readers what that means in the book?
A: Well for me, the predominant fault, I share it in the book mine is rebellion and it comes out in rage. The bible calls it “The sin the so easily besets us”. The one that we trip up on the most often because it’s usually the most rooted. We don’t typically know that’s its operating. That’s really part of why I wanted to use that exact phrasing in the book. Because when I first read from the church fathers and doctors on prayer about that fault I thought “Oh my word, how true”. I’d never considered the fact that we all have one, just that phrase kind of gets stuck in her head. You sort of meditate and mull over it. I wanted to be careful to include that exact phrase. But it’s that sin that trips us up on a repeated basis and we may or may not get very fed up of going over this process over and over and over. For me I did, I kept wondering, “Am I ever going to be done with this?’ But eventually I came to realize that the whole point of being here is to finally eradicate that completely. It’s so deeply rooted sometimes that we don’t even know how to get to it. For me, because of the nature of my own faults, it really came to color how I viewed God and who he was and my perceptions of him was really distorted because my thought was rooted in my relationship with my own dad. So, this not only kept me from God but it kept me from relating properly to my children, who are both boys. The way we view God colors every single relationship that we have, and that is a barrier to all of us and our spiritual growth. That’s why it’s so important.
Q: I like the part of the book when you talked about survival mechanisms and self protective systems. I’m going to read you a couple of quotes from the book and maybe you can expand on the topics. The first quote is from Chapter 3 titled “Has No one Condemned You? The Reference here is John 8:10. “My distortions and patterns were rooted in parental beliefs and attitudes, coping mechanisms and other ‘Baggage” I brought forward from childhood and projected onto God and even other people. The system was built for a reason that no longer exists. It was a survival mechanism for a powerless child in an overwhelming family situation. It served a legitimate purpose at that time, but later became a powerful, secret trap.” What more can you tell us about this?
A: There were really two areas that I struggled with without really understanding why. One of them was I had a terrible habit of just bold faced lying to any male that was in authority over me that confronted me over something that I had or had not done, because that’s what I did with my dad. He would ask me, ‘Do you know so-and-so?’ and I would just say ‘Nope” because I just didn’t want to get in trouble and I didn’t want to get screamed at, so I would automatically lie. It would just fly out of me and I couldn’t have controlled it because I didn’t even realize it until it was already done. As you get older, such as in my early twenties, that was completely inappropriate. I remember going to a therapist, and I sat down in his office, and it was funny because there was an issue of Time magazine there that had an interview with a pathological liar, and I took that magazine into the office with me, laid it down on the table, and said, “This is me. I don’t know why I’m doing this, and I need help.” He almost laughed, which made me a little mad. The very first thing he asked me was about my relationship with my dad, and I just broke down sobbing. That was one of the traps that I was in: I would lie. I lied to employers who would ask me whether or not I had done something, and of course eventually I would have to back-track and tell the truth and look stupid, so I finally had to stop and ask myself why I was doing this. I went to a therapist and he helped me. I never even went back. As soon as he uncovered that it came from my fear of getting in trouble with my dad, suddenly it had no more power over me. I knew right then that this person is not going to be able to do anything to me. I don’t have to be afraid of them, and I needed to stop. So it was a struggle to overcome it. The other one was closely related and it goes back to the criticism thing. As soon as I was criticized by that same kind of person, I just went into this total kind of tailspin. I would plot revenge and seethe on the inside. When I couldn’t act out aggression I would just seethe and seethe on the inside. I don’t know how I didn’t have an ulcer. It was just a mess, and eventually you just get so sick of feeling that way. I share it in the book that I felt like the prodigal son in the pigpen where I just realize and ask myself what’s wrong with me. When I was a child, that’s what I did. I would lie in order to not be criticized by my dad because it was extremely painful and I knew I was going to get in trouble. I tried very hard to stay away from any instance that I was going to get me criticized. I always tried for good grades and anything else that would make him proud of me so that he would only say good things. I got so miserable doing it, and until I realized it was a coping mechanism, I stayed trapped in it. I shared in the book that you have to ask yourself, when is the very first time I remember feeling exactly like this, and for me there was a memory associated with it. I would have to identity exactly where those feelings come from. Then you have to sit there wallowing in how crappy you feel about it, and once that’s done, once you have acknowledged that pain and that memory, and let that really hurt, and talk it over rationally with yourself and with God, then it has no power over you. That was one of the most incredible realizations of my entire life. I don’t have to feel like this forever.
Q: The second quote is from Chapter 4 titled “Why do you see the speck in Your Neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the Log in your own eye.” The Reference here is Matthew 7:3. “We remember events the way we need or want to remember them, because they reveal what was, and continues to be, most important to us. Subconsciously, we pick and choose the specifics; we attach feelings and memories to the wounds we received and remember. Our memories speak volumes about who we are, not because we recount completely and accurately what has happened to us but because the Holy Spirit wants to unleash us through them. What more can you tell us about this?
A: A very difficult realization for me was when I realized that my memory may not be completely accurate. In fact, it almost never is. I began to notice it in other people too, like with my mom. Whenever we would talk about different circumstances in our lives together with my dad, she would say things that I wouldn’t remember, or my sister would. What I came to realize, and it’s not like I just realized it one day, is that you do attach those emotions to those memories because of what they draw up in you at the time. That’s why we have to be careful in our accusations against and our judgments of the people who do things to us, especially when we’re young, because oftentimes we’re not recalling it perfectly, and that’s ok. That’s the way it is. What is interesting and useful for us in those memories is how the Holy Spirit wants to use it. What is it that we do remember? Whether or not it is completely accurate, it’s a perception and memory that you have and it’s important to you. So, without judging other people, we have to determine how the Holy Spirit can use it in our lives to help me through that. What was it that was so painful for me? For me, when I would analyze it that way, almost unemotionally, if you can separate rationality and emotion in that way, suddenly you realize things about it that you couldn’t before because it was all emotion. That was the difference for me. When I could be rational about my feelings, and separate the feelings from the reality, that’s when things really started to make sense for me. It’s a hard acknowledgment to make that I may not be remembering this perfectly and this person who did this to me may not have been as bad as I thought. That was really hard for me because I wanted to blame my dad for everything. Truly he is a human being who is just like everybody else. I make mistakes with my kids, probably not the same mistakes, but I make mistakes too. We really need to give other people the room to be faulty.
Q: You spoke briefly in the book about converting to Catholicism. Being a convert myself I find this very interesting. Can you tell us about what led to your conversion?
A: Interestingly enough, it was the very same process. I just love how economical God is with his resources. It’s so shocking to me that he uses absolutely everything that was going on in my life at the time, and still does. The conversion came about when we experienced a couple of church splits. I was in my early twenties; I had barely been married for a couple of years. I was very young and I didn’t really know the pastor so I kind of got sucked into the gossip. I just remember thinking ‘at least I had a daily prayer time with God and the scriptures’ and He was just constantly telling me to keep my mouth shut. He told me he didn’t want to hear anything I had to say, I don’t know what I was talking about, and to let him handle it. That church split and it ended up being nothing but a matter of personality and some of the stronger personalities in the church rose up against the pastor and basically they just crucified him for absolutely no reason, but I didn’t really know him very well so it didn’t affect me too much. Now, fast-forward about five years, we have a new pastor with a strong personality, but this one I absolutely loved. I began teaching classes, and the more I taught the bigger they got, so a few men started using those passages in the bible about how women should be silent in the church. Well my pastor gave me my own Sunday school class, and when he did that in the face of all the criticism I was hearing it was one of the very first gifts that somebody in his position gave me, and it still makes me cry. Then, we experienced a second church split against this pastor who I loved. It was the same situation, there was a personality conflict and the same exact people did the same exact thing to a second pastor. It upset me so badly that I thought ‘Lord why have you not done something about this when you have corrected me over and over about this kind of rebellion?’ So I was upset because I felt like he should do more about it, but it turns out he was grooming me for the questions about authority that the church answers through the hierarchy. I started realizing I know what the bible says about his pastors, and I know he cares about them, and he has made better provision for them than this. It was a perfect storm because at the same time I was doing my own research on the early church fathers. I believe it was Scott Hahn who said “The center of the church is the Bishop and the Eucharist is the real presence of Christ”, and I just remember thinking that that was a lie. So I get online and I start looking for the ante-Nicene fathers and I find them, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and what do they say? They say exactly what Scott Hahn says and it was a big ‘Oh My Gosh” moment for me. It all kind of conspired together to draw me to the authority of the church, which I understand to be proper. Especially looking at Martin Luther and reading his own writings and seeing that what he had done was basically what these church people had done in my own churches. So that was it; that was when the snowball kind of gained momentum. I hid it for a long time but eventually that verse in James that says “For he who knows that to do and doesn’t do it, for him it is sin.” So I just said well I guess I’ve got to come in.
Q: The book gives some personal details about your life and your family. It’s not really about your conversion story but about leading the reader into deeper spiritual relationship with Christ. How does the book help to do this in your opinion?
A: Well all I can say is, I say it does. My attempt was simply to lead people in the exact same ways that it lead me, and still leads me today, make it as simple as possible, and as accessible as possible. That’s why I use a lot of personal detail. I think that too often, especially women, will put on this air of holiness because we think that’s what’s going to be effective, especially if you have any kind of ministry to other people. We think that this air of holiness is what’s going to draw people to you, but that is not it. I had to realize that was makes a person powerful in the hands of the Holy Spirit is that absolute authenticity. That’s just it: Integrity and authenticity. You can’t be one way with God and another way with other people, because something in them knows it. The more authentic we are the more transparent we are, not they we have to let every single detail hang out, I’m not saying that, but the more authentic we are and the more integrity we have with God, the more powerfully he can work through us, without us even knowing about it. That’s what’s so cool about it. He hides it from us because we’d get proud. That is what I’ve found to be the secret. I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you said this,” and I’ll just answer that I didn’t say that, but you have to learn to just roll with it because the Holy Spirit works and I just try to get out of the way. What I really tried to do with the book was lay out my own process and then get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit work.
Q: Is there anything else about the book you would like the readers or potential readers to know about the book Unleashed?
A: I would like the readers to know that there is a DVD series that is ready now, I just don’t have it posted to my website yet, and it’s not on amazon, and it’s going to air on Catholic TV. So I’m very excited about that, and the book and the DVD series go together. It’s a 13 part DVD series and the book is only eight chapters, but the TV series is 13-30 minute episodes. You just get more opportunities to get into the scripture and hear from God. They go right along with the book. I even used the same questions as I asked in the book.
Q: Will the series and DVD have the same title “Unleashed”?
A: Yes and I’ll be posting it so it’s available to people. I’m not sure when it’s going to air but sometime in June on Catholic TV. They can get the DVDs on my website: https://www.pursuingthesummit.com and I’ll be putting them on Amazon as well. Thank you so much for talking with me today. Good luck with your book and your ministry.

(Editor's note: This interview was conducted on 5/18/15. Since that time Catholic TV has released the schedule for Unleashed and it will air the first time on Sun June 7th at 12:00AM, then Mon 8:30AM, Tues 4:30PM, and Sat 9:30PM. There is also an interview with Sonja Corbitt on This is the Day on Catholic TV that will air the first time on June 16th 7:30PM, then Weds 4:30AM and 5:30PM, and Thurs at midnight. )

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Pilgrim by David Bunn

This is a work of historical fiction based on Helena, mother of Constantine, finding the true Cross. There is a sense of realism that is engaging. I was previously fascinated with this story of Helena. Now I feel like I have lived it. Helena appears courageous to the point of abandonment. She doesn’t give up and has total trust in God to protect her and continue to lead her on her quest. She is inspiring to those who join her on their journey, in The Pilgrim and equally inspiring to the readers. David Bunn helps the reader become invested in the characters such as Anthony, Cratus, and Favian. I liked Macarius, an old priest who often offers mass to the pilgrims, who has seen a lot and offers wisdom on the journey. I like the encounter with the leper, Aquilina. Helena and Aquilina have a tremendous effect on one another and Aquilina is important to the conclusion of the story. I had chill bumps as they discovered the true path of Christ to Calvary. Although I have never been to Jerusalem, I think we take for granted that we know where events from Jesus’ life take place. To have been there early on in the first centuries after Christ and not know where these historic sites were located adds to the realism and awe of this story. Also, to have been there when the tides were turning for Christians in the legalization of Christianity and release from tyrannical violence and slavery was momentous. You could feel God there every step of the way. I would recommend this book to you to help you get closer to this heroic story of Helena and closer to God. This is an amazing story that changes everything for Christianity. St. Helena is attributed with helping to rebuild the churches at the nativity and the Ascension. I’d like to think I would have done the same thing as Helena. It is said she brought back a piece of the true cross to her son, Constantine. You can imagine what impact this would have made on him and the local church. This story takes place before a time of unprecedented growth of Catholicism throughout the world.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Blessed Are You by Melanie Rigney

This is the sequel to the Sisterhood of Saints: Daily Guidance and Inspiration. If you love saint stories like I do you will love this book. But do you know what’s even better is that these stories are aligned with the eight beatitudes. There is an introduction related to each beatitude, then stories of four saints who embody these virtues. Then there are bonus short stories if you want to know more. There is a good mix of saints that are well known like Maria Faustina Kowalska, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Therese of Lisieux and ones that you are newly introduced like Claudine Thevenet, Eurosia Fabris, and Lura Vicuna in Blessed Are You. I especially connected with the stories of Jeanne Jugan, Germaine Cousin, and Anna Schaeffer. Jugan was selfless in taking care of others. Cousin was strong in persistence and forgiveness. Schaeffer underwent great physical trials and showed grace in her response. These saints demonstrate spiritual poverty and great love. Melanie Rigney is especially good at making the stories of saints accessible to the readers with descriptions that we can identify with in Blessed Are You. The format was predictable but was comforting and allowed this to sink into the background and the reader to focus on the Saint stories. There are 64 women saints in the book and an unpacking of the beatitudes. There are reflection questions at the end of each chapter that challenge the reader to take action in living out the beatitudes. I would recommend this book to you for learning about the beatitudes, introduction to many interesting saints, and how to apply these to our lives. Melanie Rigney writes in an easy to follow conversational tone. The saints are a good example of how to live our lives and persevere in time of trouble but I also appreciate that the saints are women allowing an even better identification with their stories.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Soul of a Pilgrim by Christine Valters Paintner

What does it mean to be a pilgrim on a pilgrimage? The Soul of a Pilgrim seeks to answer this question with us. Being on a spiritual journey is not new to most but to define yourself as a pilgrim is more than just being a traveler. I would say it is by way of seeking that makes the difference. The author speaks of letting some things find you and not to push to hard to understand but let it wash over you. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the story of the physical move of the author to Ireland and her inner spiritual journey. The book is more about being open and taking chances. I liked the creative praying the scriptures with immersing yourself into the story and speaking interiorly with the characters. I also, liked the photographic walks where you receive photos instead of taking photos. Using photography as meditation was a new concept to me and I love photography. I thought the biblical reflections by John Valters Paintner, the authors husband was the best part of the book. The introduction seemed a little new age like with yoga and meditation for me, this traditional Catholic. The reflections are explaining how to do Lectio Divina, which is a very Catholic way of prayer and bible study. The writing exploration through midrash is an ancient Jewish practice of explaining problems encountered in bible study. There is a part in Chapter 6 of the book about being okay with feeling uncomfortable. That may be a way of realizing something you need to learn and this spoke to me of letting things happen and not pushing so hard. I’ve been so schooled on making things happen that letting things wash over you is foreign to me. Intentional silence and intentional letting go of control is freedom. My favorite line in the book is “All of the feelings I encounter that make me want to slam the door on my inner life, these are precisely the place we are called to meet God”. Mrs. Painter goes on to say “I hope you see that much of our lives rest in the space between loss and hope. Our lives are full of Holy Saturday experiences.” I would recommend this book to you in beginning spiritual exploration and bible study in Lectio Divina. I was definitely left wanting more which is a good thing.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

This Is My Body: From Obesity to Ironman, My Journey into the True Meaning of Flesh, Spirit, and Deeper Faith by Ragan Sutterfield

I have a confession to make that this is not a Catholic book. The author Ragan Sutterfield is in the process of becoming an Episcopal priest. He has a strong faith in the Episcopalian tradition. I felt drawn to this book because of the topic of how are body fits into our spirituality. We are an Incarnational people where Jesus has come to us in our humanity in human history and through the Eucharist everyday. We believe in the Resurrection of the body at the end of times. Jesus’ resurrected body still had the wounds of his crucifixion when he appeared to his disciples in the upper room. We are called to accept our bodies as part of ourselves as to who we are in this life and the next. That can mean different things to different people. I can identify with the main character in This Is My Body as he struggles against his body early in his life then comes to terms with his body as part of his identity. It is an amazing journey described by Sutterfeld from obesity as a child to an Ironman competition of 140.6 miles of swimming, biking, and running. The book is steeped in scripture and theology throughout. I am not an athlete or a runner but I can understand when the author says when he runs his body and spirit are one. We take our faith into ourselves through our body in communion and interface with our environment and other people living out our faith through our hands and postures to bring God out to the world. I enjoyed the format of the book where the author counts down to the Ironman competition in every other chapter in current time and then alternates with his biographical history. There is a restlessness Sutterfield describes with being locked into cubicles in the city and in isolation with living on the farm that is very relatable. I think we can often feel this way when we are trying to find our place within the world where we feel satisfied, engaged and fulfilled. This is My Body is so motivating to connect with your interior life, with God, and with the physical world. I would definitely recommend this book to you. This Is My Body was difficult to put down and a “page turner” as they say. It challenged me in thinking of the body as not just a temple of the Holy Spirit but integral to our experience of God and our expression of our faith.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Unleashed by Sonja Corbitt

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Unleashed and the spiritual journey Sonja Corbitt takes us on as we learn how to let go and rediscover our interior life. Each chapter has a review for important points, an invitation to apply scripture and the chapter to our lives and a God prompt for specific ways to get closer to God. The author suggests keeping a journal with our thoughts and questions regarding the content of the book. The title Unleashed has several meanings such as our desire to have the Holy Spirit unleashed within us and our desire to unleash that which holds us back from going forward from our past. Each chapter quotes a question from Jesus in scripture to us today. For example the first chapter is “What do you wish?” from Matthew 20:21. Jesus is ready to come onto our lives and because of free will; he wants to know that we seek him in our life. We are to discern what is really important to us (our values) and be true to seeking that which brings us closer to this. Sonja Corbitt asks thought provoking questions taken from scripture that bring us closer in our relationship with God. Within Unleashed, the author points out that St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross have described the Holy Spirit’s action as outward to inward and an upward spiral action. I mostly identify with the letting go of childhood survival mechanisms that are no longer useful but can be actual barriers to our growth in our spiritual life. Another interesting facet of the book is discovering what the author describes as our “predominant fault” that keeps us at bay from our true relationship with God. This book is steeped in scripture with an almost Lectio Divina attitude toward scripture and bringing it into our lives and making it relevant for us today. The author uses personal experiences and scripture to help the reader discern what we want for ourselves and our relationship with God. There are group questions at the end of the book that help to unpack the richness of the book content. From the beginning to the end I would recommend this book to you.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Discerning Hearts App Review

I believe in simplicity of living, but I have to admit I am tempted by technology. I have probably downloaded and tried out most Catholic apps. So I have decided to veer from my regular content of book reviews and include a review of one of my favorite Catholic apps on the Android platform. It is called Discerning Hearts and it is available on Google Play. Did I mention it’s also free to download? There is a plethora of audio and video resources on Catholic faith and spirituality within this app. There are, also, a variety of Franciscan, Dominican and Ignatian spiritualities represented. There are a lot of different aspects of this app to explore like scripture study, prayers including the Rosary, Stations of the Cross and the daily examen. There is a Discerning Hearts You tube channel access through the app. There are audio books from St. Theresa of Avila: Interior Castle and Way of Perfection and St. Francis De Sales: Introduction to the Devout life. You can listen to episodic audio for example from Mike Aquilina, Father Timothy Gallagher, Joseph Pierce, Deacon James Keating and many others. As the name implies there is a lot to discover within this app that will help you along your spiritual journey. It is educational, prayerful, entertaining, and there is always something new. There is a link through the app called “What’s New” or you can also sign up for a newsletter to be dropped into your email inbox with what’s newly been uploaded to the app. I connect my phone through the audio system in the car and love listening to this app through my car radio. I also like to listen with my ear buds at home. I would definitely recommend this app to you. It is not often found on recommendation lists for Catholic apps you see on a variety of websites, so it is a good find and a secret treasure I am sharing with you.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change It Again by Mike Aquilina and James L. Papandrea

I have always been intrigued by church history and this is why I wanted to read Seven Revolutions to see the impact the church has had on historical and contemporary culture. Aquilina and Papandrea give a fascinating analysis and description of pre-Christian pagan Roman culture. There are so many constructs we take for granted that did not exist in pre-Christian Rome. The value of human life, the dignity of work, and the taking care of the least among us did not exist before Christ. There are seven revolutions described in the book by the author that changed our world forever. They are person, home, work, religion, community, death, and politics. Aquilina and Papandrea ask hard questions like could we be returning to some of these per-Christian values in our modern era. My favorite part of the book is the last chapter which gives the reader an abundance of ideas of things we can do to continue to change the world in a positive way. I would definitely recommend this book to you. It has opened my eyes and given me perspective on the life and times of Jesus when he was here on earth. It gives background and context when reading the bible. I think we do not realize that some of the things we read in the bible, that Jesus and his disciples were saying were quite revolutionary for their time. Their message was very opposite to the current cultural environment at the age. With our current church message of the new evangelization, Seven Revolutions can give you concrete things you can do to spread our Christian faith today. Aquilina and Papandrea write about universal truth and that this does not change with time because God is truth. There is call to continual conversion and we have a responsibility to continue to help build up God’s church. This book is for all Christians and non Christians to have a better understanding of what is Christianity is all about.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

St. Peter’s Bones: How the Relics of the First Pope Were Lost and Found…and Then Lost and Found Again by Thomas J. Craughwell

I am curious about religious relics since I have a protestant background and converted to Catholicism twenty plus years ago. What relics would be more prized than our first pope’s St. Peter? This is a mystery woven with history and integrated with archeology and technical advances. St. Peter’s Bones takes the reader on a journey to discover the relics of St. Peter and the difficulties that have arisen over the years in validation of these artifacts. Interwoven in these pages are stories of explorers and Popes as well as skeptics and believers. The story begins with Pope Pius XII in the 1940’s and ends up in 2004 with statements by George Weigel. Within this time period is the announcement in 1968 by Pope Paul VI of the finding of St. Peter’s Bones. Our technology has advanced during this time period to include carbon dating, but this does not turn out to be the answer to the mystery anticipated. Many of the characters in the book are concerned about reverence for burial places and making available the human remains for testing. I have learned more about archeology than I ever thought I would. Craughwell adds very specific details of the archeological search which add to the mystery as the story unfolds. St. Peter’s Bones tells the life story of Peter in real time when he walked the earth in each chapter then the author integrates the modern day archeological search. I would recommend this book to you, the reader. Craughwell expresses his love for his subject as he carries you through the journey and mystery of first century Christians and the importance of Christian relics as they help to form our faith. I have a new found appreciation for veneration of relics and why they are important to our faith history. The growth of Christianity throughout the world has been reliant on this practice and has enhanced the reality of Christian history.

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial: …And Other Strange Questions from the Inbox at the Vatican Observatory by Guy Consolmagno, SJ and Paul Mueller, SJ

I love science and religion, therefore I thought reading Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial would be a great extension of these two interests. You often hear in the media how these two do not mix. You even hear about the Catholic Church being at odds with science, but this is a false impression. Consolmagno and Mueller point out that “God wrote both books of Scripture and Nature and God does not disagree with himself. Truth Cannot Contradict Truth.” The title is certainly catching to the imagination and the authors certainly do no let their readers down. What about ET being baptized, you might ask? Consolmagno and Mueller tell us that that would depend on whether ET wants to be part of the Kingdom of God and how he hopes to treat the least of his brothers. It is fascinating to ponder the analysis outlined by the authors regarding faith and extraterrestrials. The authors state that believers usually say evidence of ETs would support their religious faith, while nonbelievers sat this would invalidate religious faith. The format of the book is easy to follow since it is conversational between the two Vatican astronomers. Many topics are covered like Pluto becoming a non planet, the Galileo controversy, the star of Bethlehem theories, and the end of the cosmos as we know it. The book is fun and lighthearted while still being steeped deep in faith and scientific facts. I would recommend this book to all Christians as well as nonbelievers for information to bridge the gap between the two. The science was a little weighty at times but I learned a lot about physics and astronomy. Consolmagno and Mueller interpret these sciences well and open our minds with further questions. We can be steeped in these mysteries and further our faith because as the authors say, “Mystery is where the human capacity for understanding gets swamped-not because we haven’t yet figured things out, not because there is a problem to be solved, but because the proper response to God and to love is not to understand but rather to treasure and to ponder”

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Archeology of Faith: A Personal Exploration of How We Come to Believe by Louis J. Cameli

I am fascinated by how each of us finds our faith. I wanted to read this book to learn how to unpack my faith history but what I found was so much more than this. I have the privilege of previewing the Archeology of Faith. The author can trace his faith history back 2500 years. Not many people can say this or imagine how this can help define who we are today. My history is a bit spottier than this when it comes to faith. There is a parallel history of Christianity and the author’s personal family history unpacked in each chapter. Archeology of Faith is divided into three parts. The first part of the book is the author’s personal account of his faith, through exploration of his genealogy. Although the definition of faith can be elusive, Cameli, analyzes what is faith and what is an honest faith in contrast to a distorted faith. The second part of the book is an in-depth explanation of faith as the interaction between us and God in our response to his call in faith. The third part of the book is concentrated on four biblical accounts of faith. Specifically discussed in the latter part of the book, is Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, Martha and Thomas. This is my favorite part of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion of the faith of these biblical figures and how we can see ourselves in their stories. I would have loved even more of these stories from the bible explained. This gave me more appreciation of the depth of knowledge and scripture perspective of the author. I would definitely recommend this book to you. It will help you to look beyond yourself regarding your faith. It’s been said we inherit our faith; this book opens the reader up to this idea and makes it worth exploring. Although this book is written by a priest, I think all Christians would find this book thought provoking. This deeply spiritual book will take the reader on a faith journey, looking at many different aspects of what makes faith meaningful to us all.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lectio Divina: From God’s Words to Our Lives by Enzo Bianchi

My love of scripture drew me to this book about the ancient practice that is having a resurgence in our times. I am speaking of Lectio Divina, which is a beautiful spiritual reading and praying of scripture. I am new to this practice so I wanted to read this book right away when I read the subtitle “From God’s Words to Our Lives. The original version was written in Italian in 2008. Now I have the privilege of previewing this new English translation. According to Origen (a third century church father), “There are three senses concealed in the words of scripture-literal, moral and spiritual.” We need to draw all of this out of the Bible as we read. The author tells us “The Bible as the heart of the church was rediscovered in Vatican II’s conciliar document Dei Verbum.” I love the analogy of scripture being God incarnate not just Christ (The Word) as he descends into flesh as a baby in the manger but also as he descends into the written human words of the bible. Lectio Divina first tells of the history of how we have read the bible, which has changed over time. Next is the importance of scripture in the church with the liturgy of the word. The unity of the scriptures is described from Old Testament to New Testament in light of our covenant relationship with God. The Bible calls us into an encounter with God. My favorite part is the description of the four parts of lectio divina: lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. Lectio is the literal historical part. Meditatio is about discovered revelation. Oratio is prayer and dialogue with God. Contemplatio is applying what we have read to our lives. There are several examples of how to apply this to sample bible readings. I have a new reverence for the bible as relationship. It can be a vehicle to spend time with God in his word. I have learned a lot about divine reading through this book. I would highly recommend this book for those who are already experienced readers of scriptures and for those who are new to bible reading. This is a Catholic approach to bible study and prayer but all Christians would enjoy learning about this process of divine reading started during the time of the early church fathers and the beginning years of Christianity.

Monday, March 9, 2015

St. Francis and Pope Francis:Prayer, Poverty, and Joy in Jesus by Alan Schreck

St. Francis and Pope Francis, these are two men you want to know better. Pope Francis is now widely popular and his namesake St. Francis is still popular over 700 years later. Why is this? What is the fascination with each? How do they compare with each other? I have read several books about the life of St. Francis and yes this book has drawn me in and helped me to understand him so much better. The format of Dr. Schreck’s book which gives big insights into St. Francis and his history, then switching to the current Pope Francis is fresh approach. I loved the quotes from Pope Francis. The book was easy to read but not light on content. The contrasts between the two are also brought to light since Pope Francis is not Franciscan but Ignatian. Both men have changed the face of Catholicism. This book is a biography of both men and how both found Christian joy. Isn’t this what we all want? We want joy and peace. We first learn about their conversion stories, then the core of prayer, poverty and communion. We see what is church and how our mission is the same throughout the ages. It all starts and ends with authentic joy through Christ. I would definitely recommend this book to all of you. It will not just give you history facts but a look into the thought processes of both men. Catholics and non Catholics will both enjoy this book.