Exciting News!

My new book just came out!!! And it’s all about Sacrifice!!

My new book just came out!!! And it’s all about Sacrifice!!!

Not a moment too soon, either, for we are living in trying times. The world seems to have lost its way, and many of us feel powerless to correct its course. We begin each day wondering what happened to the world we once knew, and some are fearful of the future. But it’s very possible that Our Lord has allowed this opportunity in history as a reminder for us that this world is passing away. (1 John 2:17)

Now is a perfect time to step back from material things and remember that there is something more for which we were made. As Christians, our allegiance is not to this world, but to God alone, through His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. So what should we do? Perhaps we should take this time to return to our roots, examining what it means to be a Christian in the world today.

It would seem that anyone who truly desires to follow Christ, should return to His words and find out what He actually said to His would-be followers. We owe it to ourselves and to Him to consider His call as He made it, unblemished by the mores of the culture:

“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?

(Matthew 16:24-26).

Surely Christ’s words are challenging. I don’t know about you, but if given the opportunity, my natural inclination is to avoid the cross like the plague. I’d rather walk around it, step over it, crawl under it or run from it – anything but embrace it.

Yet these were the words of Christ to his disciples. These are His living words to us. Today. The question is, how do we go about doing this? What does denying myself look like? How exactly must I carry my cross? That is the subject of my latest book — The essence of what it means to be a Christian. Essentially, it means sacrifice.

In The Lost Art of Sacrifice, you will learn

  • The difference between suffering and sacrifice.
  • Why life is not measured by what you get – it’s about what you give.
  • The reason God prepared your soul for sacrificial love.
  • How to avoid Satan’s traps by recognizing lies of the culture that are sure to lead you astray.
  • Why sacrifice is not something that happens to you but is an act of the will.
  • How to cultivate the Art of Sacrifice in your life.

Find your copy now at most booksellers near you or online! Click on the book below to order at a discount directly from the publisher, Sophia Institute Press:

The Family and The Mystical Body of Christ

Some days I feel like the entire day is spent encouraging, lecturing, threatening, and punishing kids into applying the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…When you think about it, families can be composed of individuals who would never choose to live in the same hemisphere, much less in the same home!

I struggle as a Mom. Some days I feel like the entire day is spent encouraging, lecturing, threatening, and punishing kids into applying the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Knowing my goal is not tyrannical subjugation, but rather a “disposition of reciprocal openness and autonomy together,” I’ve tried every analogy under the sun. The one I use most frequently is that as a family, we are all part of the same team (our younger kids have been around team sports a lot more than they’ve studied anatomy). As a team, we celebrate each other’s victories, because, well, they are victories for all of us. And we mourn each other’s losses because, well, they are our losses too. And most importantly, we build up, we do not tear down. When we build one another up, we are building up the entire team. When we tear down, we are harming the entire team (i.e. the family).

At times, this is easier said than done, given the wide variety of personalities in our home. But apparently, our home is not alone in this struggle. G.K. Chesterton once said,

“The best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down a chimney into any house at random, and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each of us did on the day that he was born.

This is, indeed, the sublime and special romance of the family. It is romantic because it is a toss-up.” – Brave New Family, p. 43

Of course that’s true. For when you think about it, families can be composed of individuals who would never choose to live in the same hemisphere, much less in the same home! In The Birth Order Book, Kevin Leman says that if a family is a tree, the children are the branches – and of course, branches grow in all different directions. In fact, Leman says,

“One of the best predictions in life is that whatever the firstborn in a family is, the second born in the family will go in a different (and oftentimes opposite) direction.”

What better soil for the organic development of a healthy and robust Body of Christ? For growing in consideration, patience and selfless love?

Of course, if our family is any indication, sometimes I don’t have much hope for the rest of world. In those moments I’m mediating until my tongue is in knots, or separating a couple of rowdy kids because I fear the damage resulting from being together will out-do the damage caused by being apart. In those moments, I question God’s grand plan for the sanctity of the world. In those moments I would give anything just to walk away from the awesome responsibility of raising saints.

But there are others. There are moments — thankfully, many moments —  that give me hope. Those moments can only be described as sacred portrayals of God’s Holy Will for all of mankind. When one notices a slight, and goes out of her way to offer comfort and support. When another takes his siblings out for dessert in a restaurant, just because. When one repents harmful behavior and seeks forgiveness; but even more, reconciliation, and there is mercy and acceptance and…love. When they help each other with schoolwork, do a chore without being asked. Write a note. Draw a picture. Say a prayer for a family member. These are moments that offer hope for the future. There are moments of heaven in family life – when all the struggles, sacrifices and suffering have their reward.

Even more importantly, in those moments, our family is a family. It is in those moments what God intended it to be. We are one body, united in the Holy Spirit, pouring ourselves out for one another in love.

If we can become one body within the confines of our own homes, beginning in the confines of our own hearts, than there is hope that we can be one unified body in our communities, in our states, in our country, and throughout the world. And that hope is necessary. Because when I watch the news, read the paper or browse through social media, I see a diseased body, contorted and vulgar in disparagement and hatred, inflicting violence against herself. There is no discourse. There are only cancerous walls full of anger and hatred and inexplicable disdain.

I cannot change the world. I cannot heal the Body of Christ. But I can pour my heart and soul into our own little domestic church, calling upon the Holy Spirit to strengthen the cells of this microcosm of Christ’s Body within our home. By God’s grace, perhaps one day our children might be sent out into the greater Body of Christ, full of strength, probiotic in nature, resilient and immune to the cancers of hate and selfishness.  I can keep grasping at those little moments of hope I am privileged to witness every now and then, as my husband and I do our best to infuse our home with the love of Christ, knowing that the infusion is our path to sanctity. Over time, we are bound to witness an increase in the  reciprocal openness and autonomy together, that simultaneous intimacy and dignity which comes from the Holy Ghost. 

In the end, whatever struggles we endure and whatever sacrifice is necessary, we must persevere. For the family is the only hope for the world, particularly as it applies to the mystical body.  As Saint John Paul II said in a 1986 homily,

The family is the “first and vital cell of society”. In its own way it is a living image and historical representation of the mystery of the Church. The future of the world and of the Church, therefore, passes through the family.

 

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Art: The Happy Family by Jean Honoré Fragonard, c. 1775

 

The Sorrows of Motherhood

In this, the month devoted to the Seven Sorrows of Mary, it seemed fitting to examine the sorrows inherent in motherhood. Let’s begin with a quote by Saint Pope John XXIII in his Journal of a Soul. It is a little long, but hang on – I think you’ll find his message to be profound: 

During this retreat, the Lord has been pleased to show me yet again all the importance for me, and for the success of my priestly ministry, of the spirit of sacrifice, which I desire shall from now on evermore inspire my conduct ‘as a servant and prisoner of Jesus Christ.’ And also I want all  the undertakings in which I shall take part during this present year to be done in this spirit, in so far as I have a share in them; all are to be done for the Lord and in the Lord: plenty of enthusiasm but no anxiety about their greater success. I will do them as if everything depended on me but as if I myself counted for nothing, without the slightest attachment to them, ready to destroy or abandon them at a sign from those to whom I owe a obedience.

O blessed Jesus, what I am proposing to do is hard and I feel weak, because I am full of self love, but the will is there and comes from my heart. Help me! Help me!

The keen sense of my own nothingness must ripen and perfect in me the spirit of kindness, great kindness, making me patient and forbearing with others in the way I judge and treat them. Although I am only just 30 years old, I begin to feel some wear and tear on the nerves. This will not do. When I feel irritable I must think of my own worthlessness and of my duty to understand and sympathize with everyone, without passing harsh judgments. This will help me to keep calm.

The work I am doing now requires great delicacy and prudence as it frequently means dealing with women. I intend therefore that my behavior shall always be kind, modest and dignified so as to divert attention from my own person and give a richer spiritual quality to my work. Past experience is an encouragement for the future. Here again, if I think poorly of myself and distrust my own powers and raise my thoughts constantly to Jesus, returning to his embrace as soon as I have ended my task, it will be a great protection. It would be dangerous if in this work I were to presume on my own powers for a single moment. – Journal of a Soul, page 179 – 180.

If we changed PRIEST to MOTHER and 30 years to _____ years old, John XXIII could have been reading about the vocation of motherhood. Allow me to walk you through the passage.

The Lord has been pleased to show me yet again all the importance for me and for the success of my [motherly] ministry, of the spirit of sacrifice, which I desire shall from now on evermore inspire my conduct ‘as a servant and prisoner of Jesus Christ.’ The joys of motherhood are often discussed. But the difficulties, not so much. Perhaps you’ve never thought about it, but motherhood is actually a cross. Despite all its joys, there is a very painful aspect to our vocation. Whether concerned about a child’s character, sufferings, future decisions, safety or any number of other issues, our hearts can become overwhelmed with a love so powerful that it would be better expressed as excruciating sorrow. At times, the responsibility of a mother to lead her children to heaven is too daunting to comprehend.

Until recently, I never paid much attention to the Seven sorrows of Mary, but I’ve been reading about them lately. Mary was such a powerful example of Paul’s instruction in Roman’s 12:1, “… Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Each day we must we willing to crawl back up on that altar, regardless of the cost. It can be a challenge, but we must continue to persevere in faith.

And also… all the undertakings… are to be done for the Lord and in the Lord:  Plenty of enthusiasm but no anxiety about their greater success. I will do them as if everything depended on me but as if I myself counted for nothing…  This is the greatest challenge of all. We all know of parents who have done their best to raise their children to become saints, praying and sacrificing daily for them; but their children still left the faith, lived in sin, and tormented their parents with their decisions. This is devastating to witness and causes considerable anxiety for countless mothers who, in general, would claim to be devout in their Faith. Is it possible that we’ve learned to trust God with everything but the salvation of our children? More than anything, we must let go of our own pride and know that whatever happens, Ours is a God who answers prayer, and that He will lead our children Home.

O blessed Jesus, what I am proposing to do is hard and I feel weak, because I am full of self-love, but the will is there and comes from the heart. Help me! Help me! We can only carry on from day-to-day by the sheer grace of God, because when we presume to act on our own, it is disastrous, as noted by Pope John XXIII. 

Most of us would like to say that the keen sense of my own nothingness [has ripened] and [perfected] in me the spirit of kindness, great kindness, making me patient and forbearing with others in the way I judge and treat them, but if you’re anything like me, more often than not it only causes you to question everything you do as a mother. Like many parents, my husband and I have some children who, although they are certainly not perfect, tend to be kind, gentle, patient, compassionate, diligent and full of faith. And we have others who, while good at heart, insist on rocking the boat and questioning virtually everything we say. Because of the friction that parent/child relationships inevitably bring from time to time, I’ve taken to frequently questioning myself. Have I not been kind enough? Strict enough? Loving enough? Available enough? Am I too matter of fact? Or too wishy-washy? Am I to harsh? Or to meek? Sadly, while we often turn to The Lord in desperation, in reality, we tend to lean too hard on our own understanding. Why else would we be so unsure of ourselves? Trust more than anything will result in a foundation of peace that enables patience and kindness to bloom.

The work I am doing now requires great delicacy and prudence as it frequently means dealing with [children]. I intend therefore that my behavior shall always be kind, modest and dignified so as to divert attention from my own person and give a richer spiritual quality to my work. Recently I read the biography of Saint Monica, who suffered for many years as she begged God to lead her son back to Him. I found Monica’s story one that offers much in the way of hope and perspective. Unfortunately, most of us are not living saints. When dealing with our children, too often kindness and dignity go out the window when everyone needs mom and the chores all need to be done. There is a solution. We must take time out to strengthen our relationship with God. We must, must, MUST pursue holiness for ourselves. That intimate relationship with Our Lord will establish a profoundly spiritual dimension to our vocation and will enable us to approach our children with the delicacy and prudence necessary for long term success.

Here again, if I think poorly of myself and distrust my own powers and raise my thoughts constantly to Jesus, returning to his embrace as soon as I have ended my task, it will be a great protection. When my oldest was five years old, I remember sobbing through a rosary, begging Mary to lead my children to her son in spite of me. Being aware of our lack of power is usually not the problem; hopefully that knowledge helps us to spend more time on our knees. All failings aside, we must remember that it is by God’s grace alone that our children will grow to know love and serve Him, and it must be our daily prayer that, like Saint Joseph, one day in the not-so-distant future each and every one of them will die in the arms of Jesus and Mary.

Obedience – Loving Oblation or Outmoded Virtue from a Bygone Era?

To a mother, obedience has to be the most lovely concept in the world.  

You can have all the beautifully made breakfasts-in-bed, the meticulously prepared artwork that that says, “I love Mom,” in every conceivable medium from crayons to macaroni; you can have all the dedicated essays, all the sincere apologies offered after the fact; you can even have all the hugs and kisses (OK, maybe that’s taking it a little too far).

But on any given day, show me six children (nix that – just show me three teenagers) who, when asked to do something – anything – will each stand up and do it the first time out of love and respect for their mother, without being asked twice, and without a question, excuse or argument as to why x, y or z cannot or should not be done – or even why it has not yet been done – by said child.  

Throw in a Yes Ma’am (or two, or three), and my joy will flow to the ends of the earth. 

But I wonder, do you think God feels that way sometimes? About US?  

Does He look down on me as I kneel in my room beneath the prayer table/dresser, complete with the beautiful Immaculate and Sacred Heart pictures, candle and rosary case and think, “Yeah, yeah, yeah – I see all your efforts and I really appreciate them; I do –  the altars dedicated in My name, the sacrifices offered for love of me, all the prayers and the this and the that – but you know, if you would just OBEY me once, without question, argument or excuse, then maybe we would get somewhere!!!”  

Or, when I do obey does he shake his head and think, “Just once could you obey because you LOVE Me and not because you’re afraid of what I might do to you if you don’t?!”

No doubt that thought goes through His head a lot when He looks down on me from heaven. Most likely while I’m busy patting myself on the back for doing good!

St. Peter of Alcantara once said, Obedience is the most grateful oblation to God, wherein man offers himself for a sacrifice.

I have to be honest.  When I first read this quote, I took issue with the notion that obedience is a sacrifice. I thought maybe St. Peter had something wrong. Because personally, I’ve always been pretty good at the obedience part.  But I’m terrible at sacrifice.  Naturally, I wondered how it could be that in obedience I sacrifice, while I struggle everywhere else. Something didn’t add up. 

And then it occurred to me.  

Sacrifice is born of love.  But often I obey out of fear.  

While there was a time that I questioned the existence of God, for much of my childhood I remember believing that, even when no one was around, someone was watching.  But that wariness about the presence of some other person, whom I assumed was God, was not couched in love.  It was shrouded in fear.  Fear that I would be punished for my behavior.  Fear of being smited by God.  

Sadly, not much has changed since I was five years old.  While I’d love to say that I “behave” myself out of love, that I want to please God and make him proud of my best little efforts down here on earth; the truth is that I fear his disdain more than I seek his pleasure.  

And that mindset is not limited to my spiritual life.  Truth be told I break down in a torrent of tears if I’m ever stopped for speeding, because I fear being judged a bad citizen. A lawbreaker.  In the presence of a police officer (or any other authority figure), I was taught to stand straight, say “yes sir/ma’am” and do whatever I’m told.

Fear isn’t the best reason for obedience. But it works.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, imperfect contrition is still contrition (CCC 1453).  Doesn’t it follow that imperfect obedience is still obedience? 

Whatever the motivation, it seems that often in our world today, obedience takes a back seat to autonomy.  Disregard for authority is not only growing among certain circles, but is encouraged by elements of the press, the establishment and the macrocosm of social media outlets; young people today are being particularly influenced by this mindset.

Just turn on the TV and you are bound to see another cop harassed or even killed for doing his job.  Or you’ll hear about the spiking crime rate in the inner cities.  These days a healthy fear of authority (also termed “respect for authority”) is virtually discouraged and authority figures are presumed to be in the wrong in a confrontation unless they can prove otherwise.

We live in a culture where love does not provide much motivation for obedience, because the greatest example of love we witness in the modern world is a love of SELF.  This serves as yet another consequence of secular society – driving God out of the public square left a vacuum that has been filled with SELF-reverence.  I am the captain of my ship; the lord of my castle; the master of my destiny. 

What room does that mindset leave for authority?  

Additionally, while a fear of worldly consequences may provide a slight deterrent (and the jury is out on that one), there is no longer a widespread fear of eternal punishment.  

Those with little or no faith refuse to recognize the authority of God.  As a country, we are paying the price. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough resources in the world to control people who fail to use self-control.  If the system is the only thing standing between me and what I want, I might just go for it, hoping I won’t be caught.  

Within this framework, our Constitutional Republic cannot possibly sustain itself.  

In the 1830s, a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville traveled extensively through the United States, meticulously recording his observations about the success of this great American Experiment.  

He concluded that our democracy worked well specifically because individuals were governed by their religious values, and that these values were an inimitable contributor to our nation’s success:

I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors…; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution.

Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.

America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.

Both love of country and fear of authority are on the decline in our country; unless we stem the tide, matters will only get worse as time goes on.  

Obedience for love of God or love of country are good.  Certainly a sacrifice of self. While obedience out of fear is also productive, unless we are governed by a fear of God, there is not a police force large enough or powerful enough to control us.  Not to mention the fact that a police state cannot be imposed upon a free republic.  Rule of law in a free society cannot be enforced with tyranny.  It must be freely adhered to by a people that recognizes that this world is not our true home.  

Note: If you like what you just read, please share and/or comment below. Also, please “Follow” to receive future posts promoting the virtue of sacrifice.

Artwork: Photograph of unidentified girl in dress holding an American flag and ball; between 1860 and 1870

Has Your Child Left the Church? You are not Alone, but Elisabeth Leseur Can Help

In a recent homily, our parish priest discussed the staggering fact that 80 percent of baptized young people are leaving the Faith before they are 25 years old.

In a recent homily, our parish priest discussed the staggering fact that 80 percent of baptized young people are leaving the Faith before they are 25 years old. He was sharing the findings of a newly published study conducted by St. Mary’s Press, in conjunction with Georgetown University. The report —  Going, Going, Gone! The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics — discusses the self-reported reasons Millennials give for leaving the Church. Our pastor mentioned three:
  1. They do not believe in God
  2. The Church is full of Hypocrites.
  3. What the Church has to say about morality (particularly sexual morality) is diametrically opposed to what the culture is teaching Millennials.
Elisabeth intuitively recognized and understood each of these reasons, and sought to eradicate them through the only productive means possible —  personal transformation. May each of us be inspired to adopt her resolutions, that His light may be encountered by every soul we meet:
Elisabeth_LeseurIt is not in arguing or in lecturing that I can make them know what God is to the human soul. But in struggling with myself, in becoming, with His help, more Christian and more valiant, I will bear witness to Him whose humble disciple I am. By the serenity and strength that I mean to acquire, I will prove that the Christian life is great and beautiful and full of joy. By cultivating all the best faculties of my mind, I will proclaim God is the highest Intelligence and that those who serve Him can draw without end from that blessed source of intellectual and moral light. The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur, p. 10

 

Elisabeth Leseur, Pray for us!

 

Important Note: The brief reflection above was written for a wonderful website promoting the cause for Elisabeth Leseur’s canonization – an effort I pray will be fruitful, as there is so much we can learn from this holy woman. Please check out elcause.org for more information and join EL Circle of Friends!

 

Spiritual Reading for Children

A list of great spiritual reading books that will inspire Catholic children from preschool through high school.

This post is an answer to a reader who must have seen my post on Lenten reading. She specifically requested a list for kids under 12. For those of you with older kids, I’ve included teens as well! I wrote a version of this for National Catholic Register a couple of years ago – I tried not to overlap here too much; regardless, anything from either list is highly recommended! Keep in mind, this is an organic list – please comment with your own great recommendations!

 

Pre-school, Elementary and Middle School

Because there is such a wide range of reading levels in this age group, it’s virtually impossible to judge exactly where any particular book would fall. I would consider just about any of these books to be a great read aloud for younger kids. I’ve estimated age appropriateness, but please check out the links so you can see for yourself how each book would work for your family.

gloriaGloria Children’s Books (12 Volumes) – Ages 3-8; These tiny treasures are beautifully illustrated and simply written for the youngest of souls. And yet, with titles like The Our Father, Ten Commandments, The Story of Mary, The Rosary, The Hail Mary, The Guardian Angels, The Holy Family, Favorite Prayers, The Apostles Creed, The Mass, The Boy Jesus and The Sacred Heart of Jesus, these books provide wonderful catechetical instruction.

treasure boxTreasure Box Books – Ages 3-9; Available individually or as a set of 10 or 20, these are perfect books for younger children! Reprinted from the 1950’s, each book includes wonderful poetry, games, and stories about saints, guardian angels and more. They inspire a great love for God, and are full of doctrine that is taught for the hearts and minds of little children. On top of all that, the illustrations are lovely.

Angel FoodAngel Food for Boys & Girls (4 Volumes) – Ages 3-9; Wonderful little stories, each of which shares an important moral. Just a little skim through Volume II will find The Boy who Weighed an Elephant  (purity), The Orphan’s Plea (love of God), The Boy who Dusted the Devil’s Tail (never trust the devil), and many more.


weight of massThe Weight of the Mass: A Tale of Faith
 by Josephine Nobisso – Ages 3-103; A beautiful picture book about the value of a Mass and a life lesson for an unbelieving baker. This is a precious story that you will read with your children over and over again.

 

 

king of golden cityKing of the Golden City by Mother Mary Loyola – Ages 7-107; Great book to read with First Communicants! Mother Mary Loyola does a dynamite job of demonstrating that our Faith is about not “rules,” but rather, love. That said, she does inspire readers to live a life of orthodox faith in response to Christ’s love for us and our desire to be united to Him. (There is a study guide available for this book.)

 

book of saintsLoyola Kids Book of Saints by Amy Wellborn – Read aloud ages 3-10; self-reader grades 3-5; I love reading this to my kids! The stories are lively but brief, and Wellborn demonstrates that the issues we face today are the same issues faced by saints of 1,000+ years ago. These stories offer inspirational alternatives to worldly responses when addressing the human condition.

 

ChristophersChristopher’s Talks to Catholic Children by David L. Greenstock- Read aloud with ages 7-11; otherwise information for ages 7-107; Sadly, this book is out of print. But it is so good that I highly recommend searching high and low for a copy. It will be well worth your effort. As a convert, I’ve learned many things from children’s books – this one in particular. Greenstock inspires a great love for Christ and His Church, along with a desire to know, love and serve Him as a member of the Body of Christ. He takes challenging doctrines and simplifies them for young ears without removing a scintilla of their depth or beauty. I’ve read this book aloud to my kids at various ages.

bronze bowThe Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare – Grades 4-8; Newberry Medal historical novel that takes place during the time of Christ. It is about a young man’s conversion from blind hatred and vengeance to understanding and love. A story that will move hearts and minds.

 

 

ravenhurstOutlaws of Ravenhurst by Sister M. Imelda Wallace – Grades 5-8; A great novel with many lessons on the Catholic faith. This quote from an Amazon review speaks volumes: “My late husband was taught by Sister Mary Imelda in Auburn, Nebraska back in the late 20’s. As a reward for their good behavior she would read her next installment as she completed it. He never forgot the story and always felt that this was what gave him his love and devotion to the Eucharist. This is a must for…Catholic youth.” (There is a study guide available for this book.)

activity bookCreative Catechism Series from Holy Family Press – Read aloud and work along with younger children, or independent for Ages 8-12; These are not regular reading books, but rather, informative activity books. We have given them for Easter gifts and as supplements for First Communion gifts. They are also great for a family road trip or a rainy day. Available titles: Miracles of the Holy Eucharist, Mary Our Mother, Our Lady of Fatima, Children’s Prayers, The 7 Sacraments, Sacramentals, Guardian Angels, The Great Battle for Heaven, The World of the Holy Angels, Creation, The Ark and the Rainbow

 

High School

morning glory33 Days to Morning Glory by Father Michael Gaitley – An engaging and doable preparation for Marian consecration. Gaitley profiles four great saints to illustrate the role of Mary in our lives.  This is a great book for teens who have little time, but want profound inspiration in bite-sized chapters.

 

before i goBefore I Go: Letters to Our Children about What Really Matters by Peter Kreeft – All the letters I would love to write to my teens, but written from the heart of a loving father. These letters are short, easy to read, and yet packed with catechetical wisdom that only the intellect of Kreeft can offer.

 

bibleThe Gospels – One chapter a day is a sure way to renew your relationship with Our Lord through Lent.

 

 

 

home for goodHome for Good by Mother Mary Loyola – Unlike most of the recommendations in this section (which were written for a broad population), this book was written specifically for teens about how to navigate the temptations of the world – poignant for that age when the world beckons from every direction. The wisdom here speaks to teens today with as much relevance as it did to those for whom it was written over 100 years ago.

imitation of christImitation of Christ by Thomas A. Kempis – the classic spiritual guide upon which countless saints meditated daily. Each page speaks directly to the heart of the matter; timeless wisdom for all.

 

 

lambs supperThe Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth by Scott Hahn – Revives a great love for the Eucharist, using Sacred Scripture to demonstrate the value of the Mass, and its supreme role as heaven on earth. Hahn’s enthusiasm is contagious – this is an inspiring read that will help teens to approach Mass with renewed eyes and an open heart.

 

mapA Map of Life: A Simple Study of the Catholic Faith by Frank Sheed – From beginning to end, this is a thorough yet concise guide that will lead us on the proper path toward our true Home. Profound and life-changing.

 

 

mere christianity

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – In this great work, Lewis offers a rational argument in favor of Christianity. Compelling – particularly for teens who are hearing from every direction that faith and reason are incompatible.

 

 

screwtapeThe Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis – A must read for everyone who risks allowing the world to distract them from life’s purpose (meaning EVERYONE). Lewis’ humor is engaging and his angle – letters from a senior devil to his protege on how to trip up humans, that they might forego heaven for an eternity in hell – make this the most original plea for holiness ever written.

 

mark hartA Second Look: Encountering the True Jesus by Mark Hart – The first line in the introduction is, “The road from your head to your heart is the longest journey you’ll ever take.” Need I say more? Hart brings a unique and amusing perspective to profound biblical texts. He speaks in a way that invites teens to relax and engage.

 

story of a soulThe Story of a Soul by Saint Therese of Lisieux – A “little way” to holiness. I have met countless young ladies who were forever changed by this humble work of profound faith.

 

 

trustful surrender

Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence by Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure and Saint Claude de la Colombiere – A tiny book of monumental proportions. This will help every teen to know that, no matter the challenge or however great the struggle, we can trust that God will use it to guide us toward our greatest purpose, which is perfect union with Him.

 

the wayThe Way by Saint JoseMaria Escriva – Brief bits of wisdom that don’t beat around the bush – Escriva offers the frankness that teens are looking for, divided into categories for easy reference or organized meditation.

 

 

 

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Before the Most Holy – A Lenten Meditation Series

As you make preparations for Lent, perhaps you plan to carve out some time for Eucharistic Adoration. If so, we invite you to join us in reading a wonderful book by Mother Mary Loyola. 

As you make preparations for Lent, perhaps you plan to carve out some time for Eucharistic Adoration. If so,  we invite you to join us in reading a wonderful book by Mother Mary Loyola.

If you’ve followed my posts at all, whether here or at spiritualdirection.com, you know that Mother Mary Loyola is one of my favorite spiritual writers. Beginning with The King of the Golden City (a children’s book) many years ago, I have eagerly sought her work. Imagine how thrilled I was to learncoram sanctissimo
that St. Augustine Academy Press has beautifully reprinted all her books, that pilgrims in the 21st Century might be as blessed as those in her own generation.

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Pelican’s Breast is so excited to share excerpts from Mother Mary Loyola’s book, Coram Sanctissimo (Before the Most Holy). With 40 chapters, intended as reflection for 40 hours of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, this book beautifully lends itself to Lenten contemplation. As we humble ourselves before the Almighty, offering from the depths of our hearts acts of repentance, prayer and fasting, we can be inspired by the words of Mother Mary Loyola, whose sole desire is to draw us ever closer to Him.

On Ash Wednesday I will post the Preface, and then every Thursday throughout Lent,  – and perhaps thereafter – I will post one chapter from Coram Sanctissimo. I pray it will give you much fodder for thought as you approach Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. No doubt time spent with the insightful words of Mother Mary Loyola will help you to grow in humility and love, two great virtues necessary for true sacrifice.

 

 

 

 

 

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Thank you so much to St. Augustine Academy Press for cooperating with this endeavor! If you are interested in this or other works by Mother Mary Loyola (as well as many other great books for spiritual growth and meditation), please check out their website.You will find many wonderful treasures from which to choose!

10 Great Books for Lent That You Won’t Find on Other Lists

Most of us are looking for spiritual reading suggestions that will serve us well during the Lenten season. Of course, there are the tried and true recommendations – Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux, Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales and  others are amazing choices, and can certainly be read over and over again. But if you’re looking for something a little different this year, I have just the thing.

Most of us are looking for spiritual reading suggestions that will serve us well during the Lenten season. Of course, there are the tried and true recommendations – Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux, Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales and  others are amazing choices, and can certainly be read over and over again. But if you’re looking for something a little different this year, I have just the thing. You may not find many of these books on other lists. You may not even have heard of them (with the exception of the top two, which I mention in my book and in just about every interview I’ve ever done:)). Regardless, every book on this list is an absolute classic that is sure to inspire tremendous change in your life!

secret diary of elisabeth1 The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur (1866-1914) – Marriages seem to struggle more often than not these days. Elisabeth Leseur had an amazing knack for seeing only light in the souls of those around her. Her goodness resulted in her husband’s conversion from atheism to Catholicism. In fact, upon her death, he even entered the priesthood! Rather than pray that others would change for the better, Elizabeth asked only that she could love more, and that the Holy Spirit would use her as an instrument to share Christ’s light with others – most especially those who mistreated her in any way. Read this book if you want to see your relationships thrive. Not only will you learn to focus your eyes on your spouse’s better traits, but you’ll learn to love and appreciate everyone else that God made as well.

trustful surrender2. Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence: The Secret of Peace and Happiness by Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure (1588-1657) and Saint Claude de la Colombiere (1641-1682) – Anyone who knows me knows that this is one of my all-time favorite books and a life-changing one at that. Having been held at knifepoint in college, I spent years afraid to be alone. Instantly upon reading this book, I was able to hand my life over to God, trusting Him with every moment of my life, and even the hour of my death.Suffice it to say that there is a world of wisdom within the pages of this tiny little companion and it will completely shatter any touchy feely paradigm you may have about God and His Hand in your life.

12 steps3. The Twelve Steps to Holiness and Salvation by St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1987) – The title says it all. Step by step, you can walk through Lent in a way that will help you to grow in holiness as you unite yourself to Christ. Liguori’s writings cover the twelve key virtues necessary for salvation, including faith, hope, love of God, love of neighbor, poverty, chastity, obedience, meekness and humility, mortification, recollection, prayer, and love of the cross. For those who appreciate practicality, order and simplicity, this book is a treasure trove of teaching that is concise and yet profound.

way to inner peace4. Way to Inner Peace by Fulton J. Sheen (1955) – If you long to be directed in the way of humility, love and service, Fulton Sheen will lead the way. With 59 specific recommendations for practical steps one can take toward inner peace, Sheen offers inspirational stories, entreaties into psychology, theology and good old common sense to lead you to a place of calm contentment, no matter the storms that threaten your progress as you continue on the path toward heaven.

 

hidden power5. The Hidden Power of Kindness by Father Lawrence Lovasik (1962)  – If you’re not quite sure what to do for Lent this year, this book will give you plenty of ideas on how to grow in holiness. No matter how kind you think you are, you’ll find plenty of room for improvement, and you will feel much better for making the effort. Even better, your relationships will flourish and you will wonder why you never read this book before. Be prepared to have highlighter in hand, for every page is filled with practical wisdom and sage advice.

summa6. Summa of the Christian Life (3 Volumes) – Writings of Venerable Louis of Granada (1504-1588) – Beginning with the existence of God and what that means for our everyday lives, Granada’s words direct readers clearly and succinctly toward holiness. His writing is simple yet beautiful. Venerable Louis of Granada was a favorite spiritual writer of St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Francis de Sales, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Rose of Lima and many others. You can’t go wrong if you allow this great man to guide you on the path to holiness.

7. Guidance to Heaven by Cardinal Giovanni Bona (1658) – guidance to heavenGuidance to Heaven begins by making clear the purpose of this life in preparing for eternity. Cardinal Bona will help readers to prepare themselves for death by addressing vices with which many of us struggle, and helping us to bring them under control. The jacket of my book says it all and reads in part,

If the reader derived no other value from this book than the realization we are each one going to die – we know not when – and pass to our real life which will last for all eternity, and that our every waking hour of this one should be a preparation for that one, then a reading of this book would have been for him of ultimate value – the best thing he ever did.

jesus of nazareth8. Jesus of Nazareth: The Story of His Life Simply Told by Mother Mary of Loyola (1906) – If you are looking for a book on the life of Christ, this one is beautifully told. Jesus of Nazareth was originally written for children, and I did read it to my kids last year. But it was also re-packaged as an adult book because at 300+ pages and with beautiful language and captivating commentary, this book is a must read for anyone ages 10-110. If, like me, you struggle with imperfect contrition, Mother Mary of Loyola will help you to love Christ implicitly for His simple, yet beautiful goodness, for His loving obedience to the Father and for His great sacrifice, made selflessly for the sake of our eternal union with Him.

counsels of perfection for christian mothers9.Counsels of Perfection for Christian Mothers by the Very Reverend P. Lejeune (1913) – This is an amazing book for mothers. If you are anything like me, you strive for perfection in so many areas that you sometimes forget to put first things first. Wisely, Fr. Lejeune recognizes this temptation for women, and begins his book with a discussion of the meaning of perfection. Clarifying the only definition that matters – Perfection is accomplishing the will of God in a constant and generous fashion – Lejeune then sets out to direct us on how to actually achieve perfection in that light. Advising mothers on everything from how they spend their time to what they say and how they say it, this book offers a plethora of things to consider in the pursuit of holiness, as well as how to take proper steps to achieve it in our lifetime.

practical commentary10. A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture by Bishop Frederick Justus Knecht, D.D. (1923) – A great way to read the Bible through in story form with commentary that helps you to understand the Faith, as well as practical applications for daily life. I found it to be a wonderful supplement during my time spent reading Sacred Scripture. According to the back cover of my edition,

This book is a great introductory Bible study all by itself – for it brings out the Catholic teachings that are hidden in Sacred Scripture! A famous book – one which received recommendations from 14 bishops when first published and which went through at least 16 editions – this commentary is not a work for scholars; but rather a very practical book for the ordinary Catholic.

 

 

Tolstoy’s Warped View of Authority Served to Destroy in Russia the Institution He Held Most Dear – The Family. Are We Doing the Same?

The authority of the Church is necessary. It is that familial authority that secures the foundations of civilization. It reinforces the sanctity of sacred institutions such as marriage and family. This is the authority that, in love, could have protected Tolstoy’s beloved Russia.

Summer Reading

Given that even writing was on the back burner for a few months in favor of a demanding summer, I was a little surprised when I picked up Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina 120px-Leo_Tolstoy,_portraitfor my summer reading. Maybe it was the relentless drumming of Russia, Russia, Russia over the airwaves every time I turned around. Or perhaps at a more subtle level it was the constant reference to socialism as a possible solution to our own country’s woes [Socialism, according to Archbishop Fulton Sheen is a “wet nurse to Communism” – Capitalism and Socialism Or Capitalism and Communism are Related?]. Or maybe I just really needed the intellectual stimulation that a classic would offer. Whatever the case, for a while I was basking in the sunlight and fragrance that only the most poetic language and intriguing ideas can offer. This man addresses issues that weigh on the soul of every human being. Family life, love, humanity and love of country. At some point I began to feel I’d found a kindred spirit in Tolstoy. Given the depth with which I was moved by his pointed defenses of the family, his patriotism and his romantic notion of traditional values and the idyllic lifestyle of the Russian farmer, I wasn’t exactly surprised by my infatuation. The more steeped I became in high society Russia, the more I began to wonder about the views of this man so driven to warn the world about the dangers he recognized in his own time – dangers that appear not so different from those I see in ours.

A Man who Cherished the Family

I began my research by turning back to the Introduction – something I am often loathe to do when it comes to classic fiction (In my experience, reading introductions takes away from the freshness of a novel). But in this case it was different. Reading the introduction made me all the more interested in Tolstoy and his writing. He witnessed tumult in his time as I do in ours, harboring great concerns about the direction of his beloved Russia. And he took to the pen to illustrate in a beautifully intimate way what he recognized as grave threats to a great country.

Anna Karenina was published only 40 years before the Russian Revolution of 1917. There are references throughout the book to communist ideology and to a distinct move toward nihilism in the way of sexual freedom and away from the traditional values associated with family life.

I was especially moved by these words in the Intro:

To publish such a book in the 1870s was an act of defiance, and Tolstoy meant it as one. By then the family novel was hopelessly out of fashion. The satirist Saltykov-Shchedrin noted at the time that the family, ‘that warm and cosy element…which once gave the novel its content, has vanished from sight…The novel of contemporary man finds its resolution in the street, on the public way, anywhere but in the home.’ The radical intelligentsia had been attacking the ‘institution’ of the family for more than a decade. Newspapers, pamphlets, ideological novel-tracts like N.G. Chernyshevsky’s “What Is to Be Done?”, advocated sexual freedom, communal living and the communal raising of children. Questions of women’s education, women’s enfranchisement, the role of women in public life, were hotly debated in the press. On all these matters, Tolstoy held conservative views. For him…family happiness was the highest human ideal. As Nabokov observed in his lecture notes on Anna Karenina, ‘Tolstoy considers that two married people with children are tied together by divine law forever.’ An intentional anachronism, his novel was meant as a challenge, both artistic and ideological, to the ideas of the Russian nihilists. — Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, p. ix (emphasis mine)

For his heroic defense of this foundational institution, I fell in love with Tolstoy.

But then I began to dig a little deeper.

A Man Who Misunderstood the Word Authority

I decided to Google Tolstoy and Religion, just to see where he stood with respect to the Church. After all, he shared with the Catholic Church a rather sacred view of family life. I wondered whether he was strongly convicted by Church teaching.

Apparently not.

Rather than find a great conversion story in his bio, I found that Tolstoy was actually excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901 for his vocal rejection of traditional Christianity. He responded to his excommunication with a rather revealing entry in his diary:

“A conversion about divinity has suggested to me a great idea…the founding of a new religion…the religion of Christianity but purged of dogmatics and mysticism; a practical religion not promising future bliss, but giving bliss on earth.” 

It turns out that his rejection of organized religion influenced huge numbers of people, including other writers, philosophers, critics and public voices; this growing rejection of authority grew into a crescendo of “intelligentsia” who rejected any and all authority in Russia, which ultimately led to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, out of which – ironically enough – came a despotic authoritarianism the likes of which no Russian ever could have imagined. Communist rule resulted in the deaths of over 20 million Russian citizens (Soviet citizens) and over 5 million Ukrainians.

In the August 1917 issue of The Catholic World, a theologian called out Tolstoy for his great responsibility in the promotion of what was ultimately an evil that worked to destroy all that Tolstoy, himself, held dear:

He devoted the last years of his life to a ruthless war against Christianity. By terms he strove to deform the content and the teaching of the Gospels, to sneer at and repudiate the fundamental theses of Christian dogmatics; to launch the most violent invective against the clergy; to nullify or deny the supernatural and moral influence of the sacraments of Christian life. The religion of Tolstoy effaces all the characteristic features of Christian revelation. Under the pen of Tolstoy and his disciples Christianity was stripped of its supernatural brilliancy…Tolstoy and his school promoted a radical socialism with mystical anarchistic tendencies and imbued with a hatred against historical Christianity.

According to one report I read, even Dostoyevsky, his contemporary and another of my favorite authors, accused Tolstoy of “promoting, in effect, a Christianity without Christ.”

I must admit that I was shocked and devastatingly disappointed to find that Tolstoy, who considered the family to be a sacred institution, was complicit in its destruction in Russia. And we should take this opportunity to learn from his serious mistake.

Like the misguided Ayn Rand, who fled from the destructive authoritarianism of communism a generation later, Tolstoy threw all authority into the same pot, rather than distinguish between the good and the bad. He believed the authority offered by the Church was as destructive as that offered by czar. But according to Archbishop Fulton Sheen,

Authoritarianism is based on force, and therefore is physical, but authority is founded on reverence and love, and therefore is moral. – Life is Worth Living, 5th Series

The authority of the Church is necessary. It is that familial authority that secures the foundations of civilization. It reinforces the sanctity of sacred institutions such as marriage and family. This is the authority that, in love, could have protected Tolstoy’s beloved Russia.

This confusion remains in effect today, perhaps as a result of Tolstoy, Rand and other well-known writers, speakers and media representatives. Sheen addressed the confusion, which is no doubt worse, today, then when these thoughts were shared:

There is nothing more misunderstood by the modern mind than the authority of the Church. Just as soon as one mentions the authority of the Vicar of Christ there are visions of slavery, intellectual servitude, mental chains, tyrannical obedience, and blind service on the part of those who, it is said, are forbidden to think for themselves. That is positively untrue. Why has the world been so reluctant to accept the authority of the Father’s house? Why has it so often identified the Catholic Church with intellectual slaver?  The answer is, because the world has forgotten the meaning of liberty. – Communism and the Conscience of the West, 1948

In these days where Russia is so often in the news, perhaps we should acknowledge that, while we may stand in solidarity against the government that came to power in Russia in 1917, Americans may hold in common the threshold of a Russian people that sought to eradicate authority and thereby nearly suffocated beneath it.

This is where the West sits today. In a world that is increasingly hostile toward the idea of an organized Church. Of anything that resembles a moral authority, for authority has become a dirty word in the West. And yet, Christ, who is Christianity, exhorted us to submit to the Church. His Church.

We need His Church. Yes, she is made up of faulty human beings. Yes, some of her representatives have done horrible things. But that is exactly why we need her. Because horrible things are being done by people in every institution. Yet, unlike those institutions – which are also made up of sinners – from the beginning we were promised that The Holy Spirit would be with us forever, guiding the Church in all her work (John 14:16). That God, the Son, would never leave Her (Matthew 28: 18-20). Most importantly, we have been assured that the gates of Hell would never prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18).

It is critical that we understand this. As we stand here today, Americans share a lot in common with the Russians of Tolstoy’s time. The gates of hell are fast encroaching upon the institutions and values we hold most dear. How much have we already lost in the name of individual “freedom”? Are we going to follow Russia’s path? Will we make Tolstoy’s mistake? Are we confusing the authority of the Church with the authority of a rogue government? Like Tolstoy and Rand, will we ideologically lump them both together and toss them both out? If so, where will Americans sit in 50 years? Will history repeat itself in an ultimate display of irony, the likes of which the world has never seen?

We may want to think twice about how we’re addressing our nation’s greatest problems; because in the grand scheme of things, the Church may be our only safe haven from – nay, our only defense against – a culture that seems hell-bent on pursuing “freedom” (ahem. license) at all costs. At the rate we’re going, it’s only a matter of time before our most sacred institutions are destroyed as well.

The gravest danger to American democracy…is not from the outside; it is from the inside — the hearts of citizens in whom the light of faith has gone out. Keep God as the origin of authority and you keep the ethical character of authority; reject Him and the authority becomes power subject to no law except its own. — Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Whence Come Wars, p. 64

 

 

Bibliography:
Leo Tolstoy and the Catholic Church, Fellowship of Cathoic Scholars Quarterly, Spring 2007
Anna Karenina, Introduction, Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, 2000

The Terrible Beauty of God’s Love

Despite our complete inadequacy before God, we know that He desires that we open up ourselves in order to give ourselves to Him to the best of our abilities—even if it falls short.  Love requires an openness that makes one vulnerable.

by Fr. Jeff Loseke

There is nothing more beautiful—and more terrifying—than to reflect upon the love of God.  God’s love is so beautiful and so terrifying because God’s love is utterly real.  It is Believer Heartnot merely an emotion, a thought, or an ideal.  Rather, the love of God is His very self.  To stand before the love of God is to stand before Him who made us and who knows us better than we could ever know ourselves.  Despite our complete inadequacy before God, we know that He desires that we open up ourselves in order to give ourselves to Him to the best of our abilities—even if it falls short.  Love requires an openness that makes one vulnerable.

As human beings, we do such a good job covering up our weaknesses and donning various armors and defense mechanisms all for the sake of protecting our weak and vulnerable selves.  On the one hand, we desire love and intimacy.  On the other hand, we want to remain in control.  We struggle with weakness—both in ourselves and in others.  We are often perturbed by our own lack of strength and fortitude, and we are not always gentle and understanding with the weaknesses and shortcomings of others.  And so, as an antidote, we must look to the Cross.

The Cross of Jesus Christ is God’s most perfect communication of His love for us.  On the Cross, Jesus chose to become weak, broken, despised, and even forgotten.  What an act of faith to look at Jesus’ Cross and see God there!  To the nonbeliever, one would see only a criminal, beaten beyond recognition, guilty of treason, and left to die on an instrument of profound humiliation and torture.  He is a loser, defeated… and yet, in that total emptying of self, He gives all, and He gains all.  This is the truth about love, which makes little sense to our secular society that is driven primarily by feelings, emotions, and personal desires.

To understand and relish the truth about love requires one to spend time studying, digesting, and even entering into a relationship with the truth.  I use the word relationship to highlight this reality because if God is truth, then to know and relish the truth is to know and relish one’s relationship with God.  That relationship, however, ought not to collapse in on itself, however.  Therefore, to translate the truth into the way one lives his or her life is necessary for love to be complete.  Love must bear fruit, give life, and bring people together.  It must be relational, fruitful, and affect the way we live our lives—for God and for others.  This is the mystery of love, the mystery of God, and the mystery of the human person.  To be open and vulnerable before another in total self-gift is to be real.  This is what makes God’s love both beautiful and terrifying at the same time.

 

The Reverend Jeffery S. Loseke is a Priest of the Archdiocese of Omaha and is currently the pastor of  St. Charlccn_father-les Borromeo Parish in Gretna, Nebraska.  Ordained in 2000, Fr. Loseke holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) from the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm in Rome and is working to complete his doctoral degree (Ed.D.) in interdisciplinary leadership through Creighton University in Omaha.  In addition to parish ministry, Fr. Loseke has served as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, taught high school theology and college-level philosophy, and has been a presenter for various missions, retreats, and diocesan formation days across the country.

Art: Christ, helped by angels, decorates the believer’s heart wit, 2014 (Wikimedia Commons)

 

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