Advent reading

5 Books For Advent Reading (And A Bonus Book For Kids)

Advent is a great time to focus on Catholic traditions for the home, and also a great time to work on your own spiritual development. Many parishes offer special prayer services, Scripture studies and talks. We know how easy it is to get caught up in the commercialism that surrounds this time of year, and the busy-ness many of us feel as check things off our Christmas lists. Advent is the perfect time to treat yourself to some spiritual reading and to nourish the soul. Here are 5 suggestions:

  1. The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins, John Zmirak, author. If you haven’t ever read Zmirak, you’re in for a treat. His sense of humor blasts through every page of the Bad Catholic’s series and will have you laughing out loud. However, Zmirak is not “lite” on catechetics. He takes the teachings of the Church seriously and you’ll learn fabulous things about our faith.
  2. Tears of God, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, author. For many people, the holidays are very difficult. The loss of loved ones, personal illness, loneliness: all of these can make the “happiest time of year” very bleak. This little gem of a book by Fr. Benedict Groeschel addresses how life’s difficulties are not inconsequential to Our Lord. For those crying out, “Lord, where are you? Why has this happened to me, to my family?” this book is balm for the soul.
  3. Parched, Heather King, author. Heather King bares her soul in this memoir. King, a Catholic and an alcoholic, recalls her family’s tepid faith and her chaotic childhood. As an adult, her alcoholism cost her nearly everything and drove her to her knees. King’s writing is both eloquent and utterly humble. Even if you do not suffer from substance abuse yourself, Parched is ultimately about the search for God, that unquenchable thirst we all share.
  4. How to be Holy: First Steps in Becoming A Saint, Peter Kreeft, author. Kreeft is a convert to Catholicism, having been raised a staunch Calvinist. He now teaches philosophy at Boston College. Philosophers can sometimes be daunting to read, but Kreeft has a gift for making heady thoughts manageable. In this book, he reminds us that each of us shares exactly the same destiny: to be a saint. However, we must choose this. So just how does one become a saint? Check out this book and see.
  5. Seeds of the Word, Bishop Robert Barron, author. Bishop Barron, known for his wildly popular “Word On Fire” videos and website, knows that God can show up in the most unexpected places. How can we find God in our culture, especially in a time when our culture is in such upheaval? Barron explores popular media (primarily movies) to show us that since all Truth is of God, then God is in Coen Brothers movies, “True Grit,” “The Giver” and a host of other pop culture offerings. Who knows? Maybe this book will spur you to a reading AND a movie expedition for Advent.

Finally, here is a book the whole family can enjoy together: Saint Francis Celebrates Christmas, Mary Caswell Walsh, author and Helen Caswell, illustrator. This incredibly charming children’s book tells the story of how St. Francis of Assisi brought the birth of Christ to life in order to deepen the faith of the people he served. Out of this grew the tradition of the Nativity set, which so many of us set up in our home for Christmas. With its charming illustrations and touching story, this will surely become a family holiday favorite.

When preparing for Advent, keep in mind this quote from St. Jerome: When we pray we speak to God; but when we read, God speaks to us.

back to school

Back To School: Happy New Year!

A priest once told me, “The calendar may say that January 1st is the New Year, but everybody knows it’s really September, when school starts again.”

There is some truth to that. Children head off to a new year of learning, navigating new skills with a new teacher and trying to figure out who they will sit with at lunch. (Don’t underestimate this last one; it can strike fear into the heart of a middle schooler.) Teachers must rouse themselves from their well-deserved summer downtime and get their classrooms in order. Parents scurry for school supplies, realize that everyone has grown since June and will therefore need new pants and shirts and socks and shoes. College freshmen unload trailers full of stuff for dorm rooms, and wonder if they will be able to handle the rigors of college life. Yep, it’s a new year, all right.

So what can this new year teach us about our spiritual life? First, we should all take time to pray for the students in our lives: may God grant them not only knowledge but wisdom, to not only follow the rules but to be kind, and that they learn to trust in the Lord in all things.

Why not take this time to add a new dimension of faith to your home? As a parent, did you know you can bless your child? Get some holy water (just take a small bottle to church and either get it from the baptismal font or the holy water dispenser.) Make it a habit to bless each child at bedtime or as they head off to school.

Maybe it’s time for you to go back to school, at least in terms of your faith. When was the last time you read a great spiritual book? Either read one on your own, or start a Catholic book club. (Check the list below for some suggestions.) Also, your parish or diocese offers adult small groups or classes. Consider joining one.

It could be that your prayer life isn’t as strong as you’d like it to be. Some of us do well with formal prayers, such as the rosary, while others just need time to be peaceful in God’s presence. Both require time, effort and commitment. Perhaps the “new year” is just the gentle “push” you need to spend time with Jesus.

If you don’t enjoy reading, there are many great Catholic CDs that you can listen to in the car or at home. If you have to drive to work every day, why not make it time spent learning?

Back to school and Happy New Year! May it be a time when we all are open to learning and to deepening our relationship with God!

(Here are just a few book suggestions:

  1. Graced and Gifted: Biblical Wisdom For the Homemakers Heart: Scott Hahn
  2. Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God: Scott Hahn
  3. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism: John Zmirak (If you haven’t yet read any of Zmirak’s books, you are in for a treat. He’s very funny, yet very serious about the Faith.)
  4. Waking Up Catholic: A Guide to Catholic Beliefs for Converts, Reverts, and Anyone Becoming Catholic: Chad R. Torgerson
  5. Be Not Afraid: A Book of Quotes for Catholic Men: Sam Guzman
  6. Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality: Raymond Arroyo
  7. Arise from Darkness: What to Do When Life Doesn’t Make Sense: Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R
  8. Why Go to Confession?: Father John Flader
  9. Loaded: Money and the Spirituality of Enough: Heather King
  10. My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir: Colleen Campbell King

Finding Peace In Troubled Times

Humans crave peace and security. We want to have that feeling of a small child, gathered up in a parent’s arms, knowing  that all in that little world is well.

That sense of peace will never be here, in this world, for long. As sad as that is, it is the truth of a fallen world. And no one can escape it. We will all be touched by something bad, even evil. Our world is filled with grief, injustice, poor health, war … we hope it will never touch our lives’ or that of a loved one, but it will.

As Catholics, what do we do? How do we handle anxiety and grief, serious harm and grave injustice? Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, spent his life answering these questions. A priest of the order of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, Fr. Groeschel was also a psychologist and a retreat master. He knew, from years of experience of counseling people, what lay heavy on their hearts. He wrote a book called Arise From Darkness: What to do when life doesn’t make sense that tackles the questions of hearts that ache and souls that grieve.

He tells the reader that true peace comes from trust in God, but he also cautions that this trust in God does not mean everything will always be okay.

It means that, whatever happens, we believe that God is there with us and that, if we cling to him, he will bring good out of evil, even out of the evil that he has only permitted to happen. I must make up my mind now that in the darkest hour of life, I will believe that God is with me. And I believe that he will be with you and all who turn to him and even with those who do not know enough to turn to him. This life at its best or worst passes quickly, but God is always there.

There is not situation so dark that God’s grace cannot shine through. Right now, there are parents mourning the loss of a child to violence. That is a cruel and horrid thing to face. Yet, as they grieve, their neighbors and friends are feeding them, sitting with them, running errands. This is God’s grace.

Right now, there are men and women in uniform fighting for the freedoms we hold dear, and that we believe all people should share. They stand in harm’s way for all of us. Many are far from home, living in uncomfortable conditions. They serve proudly; they volunteered to do this for us. This is God’s grace.

Right now, there is a child battling cancer. They must deal with the side effects of powerful drugs, endure long days and nights in the hospital, and the loss of childhood innocence. Yet, there are gentle hands that care for them, doctors and nurses who work long shifts but always seem to have a smile for their little patient. Volunteers stop by to play video games or take the child for a walk. That is God’s grace.

Things are not always okay. In fact, most of the time they are not. What must we do in times of trouble? First and foremost, we must pray. Pray for peace in our own hearts and in the world. Pray that all people realize the presence of God in their lives. Then, when we have prayed, we go out into the world and we share the truth that God’s peace is us all, and especially with those who need it most.