Friday, February 23, 2018

St. Joseph Gems — Learn About and Reflect on St. Joseph

St. Joseph’s feast day is on March 19th, but any day is a good day to learn about and reflect on St. Joseph. As Fr. Donald Calloway writes in the introduction of his latest book, St. Joseph Gems (Marian Press), St. Joseph “is our spiritual father! As such, he desires to lead us to Jesus, Mary, the Church, and growth in virtue.” 

I’ve always heard from tradition that St. Joseph was an older man, possibly a widower with other children, who died while Jesus was still a young man. This book quotes several prominent Churchmen who describe St. Joseph as a younger man in the prime of life, perhaps just a few years older than the teenage Mary. They also have him being a virgin like Mary. While Scripture is silent on this matter, what is definitely true is that St. Joseph was a righteous, just man who played a major role in Jesus’ life.

“Along with his virginal bride, the first to bring the Messiah to the nations, St. Joseph is the second greatest human person in history because he, too, shared in the role of bringing Jesus to souls.” In addition, because he listened to the message of the angel and took Mary and Jesus to Egypt to save the young child from being killed by King Herod, “St. Joseph is the only human person who has been given the title of ‘savior of the Savior.’”

St. Joseph Gems is set up as a daily devotional. Each day of the year features a quote about St. Joseph from a saint, blessed, or pope, as well as an invocation to the saint of the day to pray for us. Each month begins with a beautiful painted image of St. Joseph. The book concludes with the Litany to St. Joseph.

While I do ask St. Joseph for help in certain circumstances, as a woman I tend to focus on Mary as a confidante and role model. However, as St. Peter Julian Eymard states in the quote for May 31st, “Devotion to St. Joseph is something very precious for Christian mothers because St. Joseph is patron of Christian families.” 

St. Joseph Gems offers much spiritual food for thought. It is a wonderful choice for anyone seeking to increase their devotion to St. Joseph.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Enjoyable Christian Fiction- The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck

I first discovered Rachel Hauck by reading her book, TheWedding Shop, part of a trilogy of wedding-themed books. When I saw her latest offering, The Writing Desk, advertised, I knew it was a book I wanted to read. Hauck did not disappoint. I savored every moment of this story. 

After Tenley Roth’s father died, she poured her heart into writing a book which went on to become a bestseller. Now, her deadline to write a second book is fast approaching and she is suffering from a massive case of writer’s block. To complicate matters, her estranged mother has called her from Florida, asking Tenley to leave New York and come care for her as she battles cancer. Her decision to help her mother will lead to lasting changes in her life.

A century earlier, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of a rich couple during the Gilded Age. Her whole life is planned out for her, including an arranged marriage to a man she doesn’t love.  She is also a writer, but no one takes her efforts seriously. 

The connected parallel stories are both well-written and enjoyable. The Writing Desk is a delightful romance, but even more importantly, it is a moving portrait of two women struggling to share their stories with the world and discover who they are as individuals in the process. Hauck is a talented writer and I am already looking forward to her next book.

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Friday, February 09, 2018

Draw Closer to Christ with an Icon Retreat

In recent years, icons have increased in popularity. What makes an icon different from other types of sacred art? As Joseph Malham explains in Drawing Closer to Christ: A Self-Guided Icon Retreat, They are created not for the image themselves, but rather for the prayer involved in the process. They are designed to cultivate a relationship with the subject of the icon. As Most Reverend Robert Barron states in the Foreword, “The iconographer’s fundamental task is not merely painting, but prayer. Thus, the iconographer is not just the proponent of an artistic craft but a servant of the Lord. . . It is enough for the iconographer to be God’s instrument.”

Malham, who spent time as a novice at St. Meinrad Seminary, has been an iconographer and artist-in-residence at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Chicago, Illinois where he leads icon workshops, retreats, and lectures. Drawing Closer to Christ is designed as a seven day retreat, but participants can take as long as they need. The retreat is structured around the seven days of the Biblical creation story. Each “day” includes a theological reflection, a list of materials, and detailed instructions. 

Malham explores many topics related to theology, iconography, and creativity in his beautiful reflections. They are both informative as well as inspirational.  While the process of creating an icon can seem daunting, his instructions are very straight-forward, breaking complex tasks into simple steps. There are many helpful photographs, include several in full-color to help in understanding the process of creating an icon. 

The icon that is created is that of Christ Pantocrator – Christ the All-Powerful, the Teacher (pictured on the cover of the book). “We honor the icon of Christ and reverence it because it is a created reflection of the human face of God in the flesh.” Creating this icon provides an opportunity to meditate on the mystery of the incarnation and allows us to develop a deeper relationship with Christ. 

Anyone who has ever been interested in sacred art or the process of icon-creation will love Drawing Closer to Christ. Malham’s reflections were fascinating and offer much to ponder. While the book is designed for at-home use, it could also be a small group project.  This book provides an innovative retreat experience, both prayer-filled and creative.

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Ways to Help Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.)

If I had my way, I'd skip from mid-October to March each year. The days are too short, the weather turns cold, the ability to get outside is limited. I feel like a plant that has gone to sleep for the winter. I feel depressed and discouraged, especially once the Christmas lights have all been put away.

Compounding this issue is the fact that my oldest son has inherited this tendency as well. So, as Mom, I need to help him get through these days that I'm barely getting through myself. I have the advantage of years of experience and the wisdom of knowing that spring will indeed come. He lives in the teenage moment of now when everything seems overwhelming.

We do have some ways of coping . Everyone in the house takes Vitamin D supplements, with my son taking the highest dose. My best friend very thoughtfully got me a Nature Bright Sun Touch Plus Light for Christmas which both my son and I have been faithfully using each morning and which does seem to be helping a bit. We make sure to get regular exercise. And of course, there is chocolate!

I recently came across this great infographic from which help explains SAD and what to do if you or someone you love is suffering through these dark months.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Do You Want to Be Happier This Year?

Do you want to be happier? Do you feel that something is missing in your life, but you can’t put your finger on what it might be? Do you know you should focus on what really matters in life but aren’t sure where to begin? In Resisting Happiness, best-selling Catholic writer Matthew Kelly invites us to take a hard look at our lives and our habits so that we can achieve those elusive goals of happiness and a sense of purpose. 

Given the title of the book, one might think that the primary focus is on happiness, but “resistance” is actually the main topic. Kelly defines resistance as “the desire and tendency to delay something you should be doing right now.” It is something that we all struggle with every day of our lives, often from the time we get up to the time to go to bed. It “stands between you and the person God created you to be. Resistance stands between you and happiness.” The purpose of this book is to help you overcome resistance so that you can be the best version of yourself, Kelly’s term for the universal call to holiness. We are made to be saints, but resistance often keeps us from getting there.

Kelly emphasizes that nothing on earth can satisfy your desire for happiness other than God. “Only God can fill that hole that represents our deepest longings.” Yet, most of us spend our time trying to fill that hole with something else, whether it be other people or food or entertainment or any number of things. If we want to keep everything else, even good things (such as other people), in its proper place in our lives, we need to place God at the center.

Nothing Kelly states is new. Saints have been pointing the way to holiness since the Church began. Kelly discusses the importance of daily prayer, the value of Mass and Confession, the importance of sacrifice and self-denial, the need to love and serve others, discerning and then doing the will of God. These are the ways that we focus on God and gain true peace and happiness. Never-the-less, the struggle of life is real. Resistance is real. What Kelly excels at is making the path to holiness seem within reach for the average person. He offers concrete simple steps that anyone can take to move closer to God and to being the best version of ourselves. 

Understandably, Kelly writes from a male perspective. As moms, we have some unique challenges that men don’t necessarily face (and I would imagine, vice versa). This is especially true in the sections on using our talents for God’s kingdom. I know that there have been times in my mothering journey when it seemed that my talents were exactly what God was asking me to sacrifice. While I’ve always tried to contribute to the world using my gifts in some small way, this often has had to take a back seat to the vocational call to motherhood. My family has needed me more. The daily chores have required my attention. Things I wanted to do, or even felt called to do, had to come second, or third, or even last in the list.

That being said, Resisting Happiness is a valuable book to spend some time with. I plan to have my teenage sons read it as part of their homeschool religion class this year. Even if you know what you should be doing to get closer to God (our ticket to lasting happiness), this book serves as a helpful reminder. You are sure to find one or two spiritual practices you could incorporate into your life. 

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