Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Reading Round Up January 2019


Side by Side: A Catholic Mother-Daughter Journal
by Lori and Ava Ubowski
2018 Ave Maria Press

This book is intended as a way for a mom to bond with her tween daughter; however, I decided to use it as a means to connect with two of my daughters as knew that both my 15 year old and 12 year old would appreciate and enjoy the process. It will take a little bit of adapting as we go along to make it work in this way, but so far we have just divided the daughter responses in half. We have the book in a Ziplock bag with a different colored pen for each of us. This will be a good way for the three of us to connect, while also nurturing our faith as it connects to Catholic Saints and scripture woven among other general topics. As a mom still adjusting to having 5 girls and trying to navigate meeting the needs of each daughter, I appreciate this as one means to keep open the lines of communication with my oldest two as they navigate their first years of middle school and high school. As I anticipated, we are all enjoying it so far. 
*Note: Review copy provided by the publisher.

by Sister John Dominic Rasmussen, O.P. 
2015 Lumen Ecclesiae Press
paired with
2018 Ascension

I am still reading the Life of Christ Lectio Divina Journal with The Great Adventure Catholic Bible for the Scripture readings (as the readings are not included in the journal). I started this journal back in August and am not about half way through the book. I have really appreciated the format of the book - some predictable structures and prompts mixed with those tailored to the specific reading. I had been wanting to read Scripture beyond daily readings more consistently and also wanted to explore lectio divina. This has been a perfect scaffold for me to be better equipped to pray lectio divina on my own. However, I was also excited to see that there is also an Advent Journal and a Lenten Journal by the same author with a similar look and feel that I will likely read in the future, perhaps in the next liturgical year. 

I also continue to love my The Great Adventure Catholic Bible. I love the aesthetics of the Bible, as well as the way it feels physically. One area that has taken some adjusting for me though is that it is a different translation than what is used for daily readings on the USCCB site that matches the lectionary at my parish. There are some verses where I miss the wording I am more familiar with; however, having different wording of some of those passages has also helped me to consider based on the subtle differences. I love thinking about language and translation, so I have enjoyed that layer. 

A Family of Saints: The Martins of Lisieux
by Fr. Stéphane-Joseph Piat, O.F.M.
2016 Ignatius Press

This has been on my to read pile for over a year. I am still on the initial pages but am excited to delve deeper into it. Jackie and Bobby Angel recently mentioned it in one of their Ascension videos, and it was a great reminder to prompt me to finally pull it out. 


Broken and Blessed: An Invitation to My Generation
by Fr. Josh Johnson
2018 Ascension Publishing

I have loved Fr. Josh's voice since I first saw him on Altaration from Ascension where he shared his vocation story alongside Fr. Mike Schmitz - I Will Follow. I saw him in some other Ascension Presents videos, including one that I especially loved about lectio divina, so I was thrilled when earlier this summer he started the podcast, Ask Fr. Josh and then when he announced his book. This break in between terms I read it, and as expected, really appreciated the ideas. There were a lot of familiar concepts and stories based on having listened to his podcast and viewed his other videos; however, the book also provided other details and suggestions. It also wove together the ideas with a common thread of prayer linked to the ideas in order to nurture a stronger relationship with God. 

The Grace of Enough: Pursuing Less and Living More in a Throwaway Culture
by Haley Stewart
2018 Ave Maria Press


Don't Forget to Say Thank You: And Other Parenting Lessons That Brought Me Closer to God
by Lindsay Schlegel
2018 Ave Maria Press

I read these two books at the same time throughout the fall because I just couldn't choose one to begin and finish before starting the other and they were both featured as online book club books. I enjoyed the voices of both (I was already familiar with Lindsay Schlegel from her CatholicMom posts). Both of these books inspired me and gave me a lot to think about related to my vocation. I appreciated both of their experiences. There were concepts in both that I revisited multiple times and want to keep both to re-read in the future. Both had concepts that highly resonated with me and my experiences/thoughts/feelings in this phase of life. 


by Fr. Jacques Philippe

In anticipation for a retreat later this spring with Fr. Jacques Philippe, I am re-reading his books, and this was the first one. Read just about a year after the first time, I benefited from refreshing my memory and once again enjoyed his ideas.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Gaze Upon Jesus: A Q&A with Stephanie Landsem

Last night I posted about Gaze Upon Jesus. I was most excited to read an advanced copy of this book because I could not wait to read Stephanie Landsem's latest writing.

After reading Walk in Her Sandals, I went on to read her Living Water series. I have noticed that having read her writing has had a long-lasting impact on my interactions with scripture. The additional depth that provides an understanding of what the overall historical context was like and a plausible backstory sticks with me, and I recall possibilities from her imagination when the excerpts that inspired her writing come up as readings at Mass or through my personal Bible study.

I also believe in the power of mentors when learning something new. Approaching Scripture through a lectio divina lens is something relatively new for me. I have a lot to learn, and reading Stephanie Landsem's writing has served as an extensive glimpse into how someone can deeply ponder Scripture and imagine the possibilities and through the process be transformed by better understanding the narrative of God's love in our lives.

Because I admire her work so much, I am happy to share a Q&A with Stephanie Landsem.

Q: Considering point of view and perspective is something I love as a reader. Each chapter in this book, part of the building anticipation was to see how you would enter into the story, the lens through which you would capture the scenes. I appreciate the blend of people present in the Bible developed by your imagination alongside people fully from your imagination but authentic and plausible for the time period. What would you like to share about your process as an author or your author's craft related to perspective?

A: For both Gaze Upon Jesus and Walk In Her Sandals—as well as in the Living Water series—I really try to represent women from as many walks of life as I can. In Walk In Her Sandals, my characters are from all age groups, from Veronica, young and newly married, to the widowed Zilpah. In Gaze Upon Jesus, I wanted to challenge myself and the reader with an even more diverse perspective. With Anna the Prophetess, we see the wisdom brought by age and loss, and from Lila, we get the perspective of an orphan, handicapped and alone. Then we have Adrina, who looks upon the child Jesus with the eyes of a foreigner. My hope is to show that Jesus, even as a child, came for all of us, no matter our age, status, or religion.

Q: What was it like to write from Mary's perspective as opposed to other real people from the Bible or those that were completely from your imagination?

A: To write a story from Mary’s perspective was daunting, to say the least. Mary was, of course, a real person, and imposing my own ideas of her personality seemed presumptuous. Not to mention portraying the most important event to happen to a woman in human history, the Annunciation! So I thought and prayed a great deal, then I asked myself what it would be like to be a young woman in first century Nazareth and how Mary might feel about her family and her betrothal to Joseph. Then I tried to imagine what the Angel’s message might mean to her, both on a spiritual and practical level. I hope I’ve captured both the young woman of the time period and some glimpse of the new Eve that God chose to be the mother of his Son.

Q: What did you most enjoy about collaborating with others for Walk in Her Sandals and Gaze Upon Jesus

A: I was amazed at how all of us writers—with only a few conference calls—so fully complemented each other’s ideas. The way this book came together can only be attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. And, of course, it was an honor to work with talented and holy women like Kelly Wahlquist, Sarah Christmeyer and Teresa Tomeo—women who have been my heroes for years!

Q: How did you discover your love of this specific type of writing?

A: When I began to write, I tried a few different genres and just wasn’t inspired. Then one Sunday I heard the Gospel reading of the woman at the well and I started wondering about her. Before I got home from Mass, I had a story in my head that turned out to be my first novel, The Well, and the beginning of the Living Water Series. Since then, I’ve discovered that I love imaging the ‘rest of the story’ about real people who are mentioned in the Gospel accounts, especially women who encounter Jesus and are transformed by that encounter.

Q: How do you nurture yourself as a writer over time?

A: I find that in order to stay motivated I have to nurture myself both spiritually and physically. I have a real love for the beautiful Adoration chapel at my parish. I find myself there when I’m stuck on a scene or mentally drained and I always leave refreshed. I’ve also taken up biking and find that a good ride clears the cobwebs and I often get a great idea while I’m cruising along the road or zipping along a trail.

Q: How has being a writer in this specific genre impacted you as a mom?

A: I often wonder what my kids would say to that question! This path—my novels as well as the short stories and being involved in WINE—has been a period of immense spiritual growth for me. Instead of what you would think—that writing would take away from my role as a wife and mother—it has actually increased my commitment to my vocation and, I hope, made me a better mom. I prioritize better than before. I’ve found that everything works better when I prioritize prayer and the sacraments, then my responsibilities as a wife and mother. The writing comes more easily and naturally after that.

Thank you, Amanda for having me on your blog! I hope you and your readers enjoy the stories in Gaze Upon Jesus as much as I loved writing them.

Thank you, Stephanie for sharing these glimpses into your life!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Gaze Upon Jesus

I loved Walk in Her Sandals during Lent 2017, so I was excited to read an advanced review copy of the new release Gaze Upon Jesus: Experiencing Christ's Childhood through the Eyes of Women. The book had a similar format to Walk in Her Sandals, a unique blending of different contributors with a consistent feel chapter to chapter.

A new element of this book in contrast to Walk in Her Sandals was visio divina linked to sacred art, linking perfectly with the title and cover image. While I could not fully appreciate this element of the book because I was reading it on a Kindle and didn't have access to the color images, I recognized the potential of this aspect of the book because a lectio divina book that I just started incorporates that element as well. It has been beneficial, so I know that had I been reading from an actual paper copy of the book (or a Kindle Fire or other e-reader that has color), the visio divina sections of the chapters would have been of great benefit.

I appreciated that the book centered on the joyful mysteries of the Rosary with the addition of the flight of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to Egypt. I highly recommend Gaze Upon Jesus for Advent this year. It is set up to be a six-week Scripture study, providing plenty to read, view and reflect on, a chance to slow down and ponder the beauty of the liturgical season during a time of year that can often be associated with busy, busy, busy.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Ascension's The Great Adventure Catholic Bible: Preliminary Thoughts

I can remember being drawn to the Bible again and again and reading it at different phases in life with memories back to childhood; nonetheless, I do not ever remember having much guidance on how to read and understand the Bible well until recently. When I heard about the Salvation History narrative on a Symbolon session a few years ago, I was fascinated. A video by Fr. Josh Johnson also contributed to a recognition of the value of Scriptures. Listening to homilies at Mass daily after having read and reflected on the readings was also of great benefit.

I have a longing to get a Master's in Theology with a layer of that desire linking to wanting a better foundation in Sacred Scriptures; however, that seems to be something to wait patiently for, rather than something that is intended to be a yes in this moment of my life (a September 2018 Catholic Digest article titled "Going Back to School Later in Life" provided consolation in the waiting). In the meantime, I am grateful for other avenues to develop and deepen my interactions with Scripture.

Last weekend I received my copy of Ascension's new The Great Adventure Catholic Bible. The release of their version of the Bible came at a perfect time because I had already been planning on dedicating a specific block of time on the Bible this academic year. Building on my existing practice of starting the day with daily readings, I was looking forward to consistent, intentional general Bible reading.

Right before preparing to go back to work, Ascension started to promote the upcoming release. I have heard about the Bible Timeline but have not had any first hand experience other than having purchased The Bible Timeline chart. I loved it for the same reason that I appreciated the Symbolon session - it helped to have a better sense for the big picture and connections between different sections.

I am so excited to have the timeline integrated right into a version of the Bible providing guidance along the way. There is an introduction to the concept of the timeline, followed by an overview of the full timeline at a glance. Then before each key period represented in the Bible further explanation about the periods is incorporated. There is also a reading plan to read the fourteen books that provide the overarching narrative across the Old and New Testaments in three months.

As a teacher educator with a focus on reading and writing methods, I have been thinking about how what I know about literacy can help support me as I seek to better understand the Bible. Naturally, I loved the sections on How to Interpret the Bible and Lectio Divina in this Bible. They complemented the Symbolon session I loved so much (not surprising since Dr. Mary Healy, one of the editors of The Great American Catholic Bible, participates in an interview with Dr. Edward Sri in the Symbolon session).

In addition, there are aesthetic aspects that I love about this Bible. Blue is my favorite color, and the cover and pages have a soft feeling. Even just thinking about sitting in my quiet church coupled with the feel of the Bible and power of the words makes me feel a sense of peace. The font is easy to read with plenty of white space in between the rows of text, and in the Gospels, I love that Jesus' words are in red. I appreciate Bibles that have tabs on the edge of pages to easily navigate between different books of the Bible, but this one is even better because each tab is color coded to align with the timeline concept.

I am looking forward to this extra time dedicated to Sacred Scripture, and I know that having this version of the Bible will enhance that experience. I am grateful to the editors, Jeff Cavins, Mary Healy, Andrew Swafford, and Peter Williamson for all of the thought put into how this Bible was crafted with aiding people in understanding.

I am hoping that before too long there will be a Spanish version since they have the timeline resources available in Spanish. If they do provide it in Spanish, I will be very excited to get a copy for my husband so that we can better experience all that the Bible and this specific version of it have to offer.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Plans and Priorities: Routines for this Season


I recently went back to work (after maternity leave for my 5th baby late spring term and summer vacation), and it is now back to school time for my three oldest. With a new school year comes re-envisioning plans and priorities for this season of life. I am focusing on gratitude for what is and celebrating the context of different layers of my life, leveraging what is as I continue to work towards proper prioritization. 

Re-start: 5 am Prayer & 40 Weeks Sacred Story Prayers
After having my baby, along the way my practice of waking up at 5 am slipped. Throughout the summer I still typically read the daily readings upon waking and daily Mass continued as a core part of my day, but I missed this space for prayer waking up before anyone else in the quiet of my home. It's time to get my body used to waking up early again. It will still be a phase of knowing that it will be flexible depending on whether I am nursing/holding my baby or not (or if I have had a particularly sleepless night, I might set the alarm back). 

I used to do my 15 minutes related to 40 Weeks as part of my 5 am waking up. Then towards the end of my pregnancy, it seemed like I was not able to focus as well at that time and often felt like I was falling back to sleep once I switched from daily readings to my 15 minutes. At that time I shifted to typically doing my 15 minutes before or after daily Mass. I was still able to complete my 15 minutes of prayer specific to the sacred story process for the most part after my baby was born and throughout the summer, but my journaling practices stopped based on often holding my baby. The last couple of weeks, just as I was getting ready to transition back to work/the first little bit of work (and right as I was at about week 39 in the book), I have barely been doing the 15 minute sessions. I have not decided yet how I am going to layer this back in. I did end up getting a paper copy of the book recently (rather than just on my Kindle), and it was right when the 2nd edition was available. The physical copy is going to make it easier to refer back to certain parts of the book as I revisit and re-integrate this back in. 

Possibilities in the Present Moment: Mass & Scriptures
I am currently in a phase of about 5 weeks without access to daily Mass, but once it is available again at our parish, I will be in an academic year of going to daily Mass on my own after a year of attending with my 4 year old before taking her to preschool and then with the baby while on maternity leave. I will savor that extra space and time to enter more deeply into prayer. The Eucharist is sure to continue to be an anchor. 

This season of life is also about not being in an active role in ministry for now. It was hard to actually follow through with letting go, but one of the layers of being grateful for what is related to this phase of life is knowing that I will be able to prioritize some focused time with Scripture. I recently started a book I bought earlier this summer (I'm loving it), and just today I received my copy of Ascension Press' new The Great Adventure Catholic Bible (especially excited for this one and will write more about my preliminary thoughts about it soon). 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Reading Round Up July 2018

Ultimate Makeover: The Transforming Power of Motherhood
by Carrie Gress
2016 Beacon Publishing

When I saw this book, it naturally made me think about Teresa Tomeo's Extreme Makeover based on the title. One main difference between the two books is that Tomeo's book was focusing on women in general, while Gress' book was focusing specifically on motherhood as a pathway to sanctification. She emphasized how motherhood has its challenges, but ultimately, the ways it stretches us and helps us to grow facilitate recognizing vices (that otherwise might be buried under the surface) in order to move toward the complementary virtues and to grow in intimacy with God. 

She reflects on how "God in his mercy has given us the most gentle (and adorable) avenue to grow in virtue. Yes, we make many sacrifices for them, but with each sacrifice our love grows. While it is true that raising children is likely one of the hardest things you will ever do, there are much more difficult ways to become holy, such as martyrdom or prolonged illness. God in his mercy and love wants us to become holy, and he gives us a gentle path to get there. The sacrifice is real, but so are the joy, the peace, and the awareness that our gift is fruitful" (p. 66). 

The book complements others I have been reading and an aspect a priest recently reminded me of related to love being willing the good of the other (more about the will, rather than an emotion). At 135 pages, the book was a quick read, written with a conversational style. Each chapter started with a quote and ended with Questions for Reflection. In general, the book celebrates the vocation of motherhood and provides encouragement for layers of how the vocation can be counter-cultural. 

Making Room for God: Decluttering and the Spiritual Life
by Mary Elizabeth Sperry
2018 Ave Maria Press

Lately I have been in a phase of life where the different obligations I had made keeping up with organization around the house feeling like a struggle at times. Right now I am on maternity leave/summer break and am focusing on relationships and routines around the house to position us for shifting back to another academic year in August. It has felt good to be able to do some decluttering and organization, so I appreciated having another book to help me think through the process. At just over 100 pages, the book is a quick read but gives a lot to think about. Most chapters end with the features - my journey where Sperry talks about her own story, Signposts for your journey where Sperry gives areas to consider related to application to the readers' lives, thoughts for the journey with reflection questions and try this with actionable items.

When I read about the concept of Making Room for God, it made me think of Not of this World: A Catholic Guide to Minimalism. The description for Making Room for God refers to it as "the first book on organization from a Catholic perspective," so I was curious to see what it would add that would be different than Not of this World since that book came to mind as one that was already out there with a Catholic lens. Without referring back to Not of this World to verify, if my memory is correct, a key distinction is that Not of this World focused more on a Catholic lens for thinking about minimalism and our stuff, while Making Room for God moves beyond that to also have a parallel in depth dialogue about the spiritual life or how we can take the concepts about decluttering and organization and apply it to our journey with God in general, not only with things but with the intangible layers of life. For example, Sperry makes the connection between decluttering and retreats or penitential seasons of the liturgical year. She emphasizes how both organization and spiritual journeys are about the process and on-going.

I am enjoying the in progress discussions about this book with the St. Teresa's Online Book Club.

The Discerning Parent: An Ignatian Guide to Raising Your Teen
by Tim and Sue Muldoon
2017 Ave Maria Press

In the last year I have read multiple books to try to understand St. Ignatius's ideas related to discernment and the teenage years still feel new to me as a parent, so I loved The Discerning Parent. I appreciated that the book focused on our role as parents - how to model and guide, while also remembering that our teens have their own free will and are learning to navigate towards adulthood. In this sense, their ideas aligned well with the role of a teacher in reading and writing workshop, the way that I love to nurture literacy development as an educator. With workshop teaching, teachers need to be readers and writers, they need to model the process, they are careful observers of their students and provide support tailored to the individual reader/writer. With The Discerning Parent, it was about parents focusing on themselves and their growth in discerning God's will in order to then be able to support their teens, as well as recognizing there are not any easy solutions that will work for all teens. There was also an emphasis on remembering to try to see our teens as God does. The authors also included Scripture passages and reflections on how that might connect to parenting teens.

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living
by Shauna Niequist
2016 Zondervan

I have had this book in my to read pile for a while. Last weekend when I was at a women's conference, one speaker was talking about how she spent the last couple of years learning how to live in the present moment after a spiritual director talked to her about the importance of entrusting the past to God's mercy, the future to God's providence and live in the present. The concept resonated with me and where I am at in this phase of my life. It also made me think about how I should finally read this book.

I enjoyed seeing glimpses into Niequist's journey. Some of her words felt like they perfectly captured my experience while others did not resonate. That is the beauty of being able to learn from someone else's experiences - noticing the connections and differences, considering implications for my own life and pondering how some ideas might fit with my context. Niequist is not Catholic but did include some references to the Catholic faith and how it fit with her experiences, as well as including some quotes or concepts from Catholics like St. Ignatius, St. Catherine of Siena, and Thomas Merton. I appreciated how she showed different phases of her realization to recognizing she needed to make a change in her life and the reality of it being a process to enact the changes, how it is an on-going process, something that I can relate to.

I loved Brené Brown's books when I read them about 5 years ago, so I enjoyed seeing a foreword by her and also noticed a reference to Tsh Oxenreider in the book, so though I had not read Shauna Niequist's other books, she seemed like a familiar voice as she has common values and priorities to other authors and bloggers that I have enjoyed.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Reading Round Up June 2018

Lately my blogging has been focused on my monthly posts at Catholic Mom. I have not been keeping up with posting about each book as I finish them. We recently welcomed our fifth daughter into our lives, and though I have many blogging ideas, I am unsure of how much I will actually blog as we settle into new rhythms and routines. For now, I decided to at least do a reading round up post (perhaps monthly) to capture books I have completed and I am currently reading (like I did here). It will be a quicker glimpse into each book than the older plan of an individual post for each, but it might be what is more realistic for now.

The Light Entrusted to You: Keeping the Flame of Faith Alive
by John R. Wood
2018 Ignatius Press

As a parent and DRE/Youth Minister, sharing the faith with others is on my mind frequently. I love how this book has the foundation in the essential concept that in order to share the faith, we need to have a strong foundation ourselves. The intent of the book is to share what the author views as the basics for working towards sainthood. He presents each concept in its own chapter as a "class", forming the acronym SAINTS: Saving Grace (new life), Athletics (strength), Instructor's Manual (the Bible), Need to Know Him (royalty of God and His kingdom), Theology of the Body (health of mind, body, and soul), and Sacrifice and Service (brightening somebody's day). He also has a color linked with each "class" chapter. 

Wood explains in the introduction that the intent is to prompt people to think about each component while also considering the big picture of how it all fits together. He develops each concept by sharing parts of his own journey in different roles throughout various phases of life, interspersed with wisdom from others. I enjoyed his voice and learning from his experiences. 

by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli
Translated by William Lester and Robert Paul Mohan
2013 Catholic Way Publishing
(1945 by Newman Bookshop)

Back in February I went to a women's conference at a neighboring diocese and listened to the rector of their seminary talk at a couple of breakout sessions. In one he highly recommended and read excerpts from The Spiritual Combat. This book gave me a lot to think about related to seeking to grow in holiness and complemented other books I have been reading well, such as Introduction to the Devout Life and books related to Ignatian discernment. There was an emphasis throughout the book on humility and great trust with suggestions of how to grow in both. It also gave guidance to understand different scenarios that might arise in a spiritual life, while trying to grow closer to God. There was also an emphasis on perseverance and encouragement to do so, as well as great gratitude. 

The concepts resonated with me based on an emphasis I have had on recent years to "do the next thing" when the overall big picture feels too overwhelming to accomplish all at once. Instead, we keep the big picture in mind while considering manageable steps along the way. There were many suggestions to focus on what we can do to proactively strengthen ourselves (through God's grace) in order to progress spiritually. 

Gaudete et Exsultate: On the Call to Holiness in Today's World
by Pope Francis
2018 Our Sunday Visitor

I was excited when I heard about Pope Francis' latest exhortation from a Catholic Mom post, especially as I saw that the focus was on the universal call to holiness. I especially loved how Pope Francis framed his exhortation. He highlighted the value of learning from the Saints, as well as from everyday people in our lives, that "reflect God's presence" (Location 89) but then also included, "We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable. There are some testimonies that may prove helpful and inspiring, but that we are not meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us. The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf 1 Cor 12:7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them" (Location 104). I appreciate the encouragement to embrace the journey of discovering how God is uniquely calling each of us to glorify him by our lives and the recognition that there are many pathways.

Pope Francis provided attention to different vocations and life contexts and how there are means to grow in holiness with each. He focused on purpose in our Christian life and the core of our relationship with God as a priority in our lives. I appreciated that the exhortation provided a lot to think about written in a way that was easy to understand.

Made for This: The Catholic Mom's Guide to Birth
by Mary Haseltine
2018 Our Sunday Visitor

I loved this book and it was released at a perfect time as I prepared for my 5th labor. I already had other books in progress but put others on pause as I felt I needed this book at that moment. It ended up being a great book to continue to help me to shift from anxiety to peace approaching labor. I wrote more about it for my May Catholic Mom post.

The Hidden Power of Kindness: A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare to Transform the World, One Deed at a Time
by Lawrence G. Lovasik
2011 Sophia Institute Press

A priest who has been a great support and guide over the last year read me an excerpt from this book that made me want to read the full book. As the title notes, the book is all about how critical it is to focus on kindness and how many other virtues flow from this. It talks about an intentional act of the will to choose kindness and the benefits of growth in charity with pure motives, making a positive impact on our lives and the lives of those with whom we interact. For example, Lovasik states, "A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves" (p. 11) and "Kindness purifies, glorifies, and ennobles all that it touches" (p. 11). Lovasik also points out that being devout does not automatically equate with being a kind person. I appreciated the depth afforded by focusing an entire book on the concept in order to explore many layers of how it impacts our everyday lives and relationships, giving plenty of ideas to consider in order to grow in virtue.

Humility Rules: Saint Benedict's Twelve-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteem
by Augustine Wetta
2017 Ignatius Press

I had seen this book in different mailings and was looking forward to reading it. When I finally began reading it on my Kindle while traveling for work, I smiled at the overall style and voice because they surprised me. Somehow I had missed that Saint Benedict is holding a red skateboard on the cover. Had I noticed that detail, I would not have been so surprised. The overall topic of the book was still serious but just told through a different lens than anticipated. I think I was also picturing it to be an older work, such as Introduction to a Devout Life, rather than something written by an author living in the same time period as us. Augustine Wetta described concepts in the book in contrast to popular notions or attitudes that are encouraged in our culture.

Similar to the other books I have been reading, this one focused on growing in holiness with a specific focus on humility and discovering our true selves in the context of the purpose of life. I appreciated his ideas that aid in discernment and knowing which dreams to follow in life. He also addressed the reality of following God's will, stating, "So often, we find ourselves saying, 'If I only knew God's will, I would do it.' Well, sure. Who wouldn't? The point is to accept God's will without knowing it--to sign our lives onto a blank check. That is what is meant by Christian obedience, and it is the only legitimate source of self-confidence" (Location 331). He explained the concepts in the book in relation to his life as a monk while still relating to those in other vocations.

Like The Hidden Power of Kindness, this book focused a lot on attitude and how we approach life, with an emphasis on how we choose to use our will, as well as the importance of creating space to listen to God.

The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of the Little Flower
by St. Therese of Lisieux
2015 TAN Books
First Published in 1899

After learning about St. Therese through different sources, including Fr. Gaitley's 33 Days to Merciful Love, I appreciated reading her own words in their fuller context. I enjoyed seeing her inner thoughts, including her humility, her perspectives on suffering, and her growth over time. While reading, I also found through her words consolation to be content with God's plans for me over time, encouragement to recognize and accept which doors are opened and which are closed with great peace. I also appreciated the thread woven throughout focusing on patience and time. Reading about her experiences and how God worked in her life helped me to make sense of layers of my own life. As with others, this book gave me a lot to ponder.

In Progress

I am currently on week 30 of 40 Weeks by William Watson, SJ.

Starting my days with Reading God's Word in order to read the daily readings prior to daily Mass continues to be a routine (though I have not been waking up at 5 am as I adjust to different sleep patterns with a newborn). 

I am reading Mary Sperry's Making Room for God: Decluttering and the Spiritual Life, the current pick for the St. Teresa's Online Book Club.

On Mother's Day a parishioner handed out Ultimate Makeover: The Transforming Power of Motherhood courtesy of a Dynamic Catholic initiative in which we receive a free resource each month, so I have also started to read that book.