Thursday, August 1, 2019

Women's stories offer concrete tips for daughters of God

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Women are all about stories. We grow in faith through conversations and mutual sharing. Three recent books aim to fill a gap in publishers' catalogs: books about feminine spirituality.
In previous decades, little was available for Catholic women, who are pressured by modern values, objectified, unequally paid, judged by externals, and tempted to unhealthy, unbalanced lives.
These three authors use autobiographical vignettes to encourage women to be, above all, daughters of God. Each reveals personal secrets to affirm, shock and challenge women to live their faith confidently.
Both in their 20s, Claire Swinarski and Emily Wilson Hussem offer concrete tips for women today and write as if visiting over coffee. Occasionally promoting a prosperity Gospel, Rose Sweet returns to the '50s and '60s with autobiographical reminiscences of bygone days.
Swinarski's fun colloquialisms ought to appeal to millennials primarily, and Sweet to women past 50. In addition to Wilson Hussem's intended audience (pre- and college-age women), those wanting to talk with young women about their concerns will find great conversation starters in her book.
Each of Wilson Hussem's chapters ends with questions and suggestions for action. Similarly, Sweet includes reflection questions, beginning with softball ideas and moving toward deeper ones later.
Swinarski's approach is feisty, laced with terms like moxie -- something she thinks all Catholic women need. "Listen, sister: The church is my family. ... I love it fiercely ... and just like my actual family, sometimes I want to punch it in the face." Swinarski answers, "Why stay Catholic?" with a passionate loyalty to the church, her "home and lifeblood." She writes, "It can be so frustrating to belong to a church made of broken humans, can't it? I mean, really. Fix it, Jesus."
She offers great advice on discernment: "The Holy Spirit whispers kindly; the devil slaps you in the face. The Holy Spirit encourages; the devil nags."
A feminist "because Jesus was," Swinarski comes across boldly and occasionally irreverently or as she writes, "ragey." The title refers to Jesus' command: "talitha koum." She asks Catholics to reclaim the word feminism.
Don't expect support for women deacons in any of these works. Even the edgy Swinarski writes, "Aren't there a million and one ways for women to serve the church? What if instead of focusing on what we can't do, we started focusing on what we can do?"
Both pro-social justice and pro-life, Swinarski writes, "We can't only love people who agree with us." Getting to know people is "the first step toward loving them" and "a tangible way to live out the Gospel."
Swinarski quotes Pope Francis; Sweet frequently quotes St. John Paul II and Wilson Hussem occasionally does, but quotes Scripture more.
Rather than use gender-neutral language for God when it's easy to do so, both Wilson Hussem and Sweet frequently use "him" when speaking about the triune God. Swinarski does a beautiful job of referring to God with language that transcends gender.
To close her chapter "Encountering God," Sweet asks, "How has your relationship with your father or other men in your life affected how you see and relate to God?" She fails to ask how relationships with women have. This oversight is one example of this book's old-fashioned views.
Conversely, Wilson Hussem writes, "There is no action necessary to earn the love of God." All women need to hear this today.
Writing mainly about family and parenting, Sweet's work is built on the traditional four levels of desire by Aristotle. Some stories will help newcomers to the interior life. Others will raise eyebrows, such as her use of the word magic to reference the supernatural. "Happily-ever-after will come only when and if we follow the specific conditions that God has set," she writes.
All three authors employ short chapters. Wilson Hussem's will invite readers to pause and prayerfully reread rather than rush to the next topic. She offers a framework for women making life decisions regarding dating, self-care, food, careers, dependence on God and more.
"God is not out to torture you and force you into a vocation that will make you depressed, unhappy or lifeless. God wants us to feel alive and deeply fulfilled," Wilson Hussem writes. It takes courage to tell stories about people's cruel remarks under the guise of friendship. Hussem's stories about such experiences should help young women struggling with feeling unattractive or unlovable.
Storytellers are in great company; Jesus told many. Bookshelves need more works by women about our unique experiences of God.
"Go Bravely: Becoming the Woman You Were Meant to Be" by Emily Wilson Hussem. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2018). 142 pp., $13.95.
"Girl Arise! A Catholic Feminist's Invitation to Live Boldly, Love Your Faith and Change the World" by Claire Swinarski. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2018). 106 pp., $14.95.
"A Catholic Woman's Guide to Happiness" by Rose Sweet. Tan Books (Charlotte, North Carolina, 2018). 183 pp., $19.95.
-- Loretta Pehanich for Catholic News Service. She is a Catholic freelance writer, blogger, spiritual director and former assistant editor for the Diocese of San Jose, Calif.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

New summer reading for teens, kids focuses on morality, Bible, Jesus

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The following books are suitable for summer reading.
For teens:
"Road Signs for Catholic Teens," edited by Jennessa Terraccino. Our Sunday Visitor (Huntington, Indiana, 2019). 199 pp., $21.95
Tap into your teen's excitement at earning a driver's license by giving them this book to accompany their new independence and freedom. Better yet, give them "Road Signs for Catholic Teens" to read as part of your own family's driver's education class. The contributions are relevant, interesting, direct and impactful for teen readers. Divided cleverly into chapters using road signs as titles, authors offer personal anecdotes and lessons intended to help shape a teen's understanding of God's role in his or her life during this incredible phase of impressionable change and independence. Each chapter includes points of discussion, making it user-friendly for summer book clubs or family catechesis. Topics include relativism, sin, purgatory, Christian charity, prayer and dating. Ages 16 and up.
"Sydney and Calvin Have a Baby" by Adrienne Thorne. Gracewatch Media (Winona, Minnesota, 2018). 212 pp., $13.00
Parents, brace yourselves. The concepts addressed in this book -- rape, references to pornography and casual teenage birth control and sex, intentional parental deception, and abortion -- are not new to your teens. However, what might be new is a fictional discussion of these themes within a Catholic framework. Author Adrienne Thorne offers a compelling, albeit distressing, novel about a teen who was brutally date-raped then pressured to have an abortion. Her rapist is vile, and her only friend is pathetic. But her true hero encompasses a morally mature teen eager to fuel her inner strength. The young man, whose selfless compassion regardless of his own personal struggles, gives readers a solid role model of decency. Good versus evil is clear here, and in the true promise of the Catholic faith, light and life shine over darkness and death. This book is intended for mature teens. It might be beneficial for parents to read with younger teens. Ages 16 and up.
For children and toddlers:
"Stories of the Blessed Sacrament" by Francine Ray. Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 2019). 96 pp., $16.99
Young readers will be pulled into a greater understanding and love of Jesus in the Eucharist through these engaging and beautifully illustrated stories. In the Old Testament, God gave the Hebrews manna in the desert to sustain their physical and spiritual survival. In the New Testament, the Blessed Sacrament was revealed to the faithful through the story of the multiplication of the loaves, the Last Supper and more. The stories in this book do not stop there and continue into modern times, making this book truly special. Children will learn about saints' special devotion to the Eucharist and eucharistic miracles through the stories of St. Thomas Aquinas, the miracle in the church of Faverney, France, and the clandestine ordination of Father Karl Leisner at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. Ages 7-12.
"The Word of the Lord," edited by Katie Warner, illustrated by Meg Whalen. Tan Books. (Charlotte, North Carolina, 2019). 24 pp., $9.95.
Many parents will agree that board books are a saving grace for occupying wiggly toddlers at Mass. Here is another to add to the lot. Within its sturdy pages, interestingly paired vivid color patterns with simple figures illustrate familiar Bible quotes. A smiling shepherd, a beaming pregnant mother and a gentle-looking Jesus help bring the Bible to life for little ones and will hold their attention. Ages 0-4.
"Jesus Invites Me to Mass" by Sabine du Mesnil. Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 2019). 18 pp., $7.99.
Simple and sweet, this book is a good primer for preschool and young elementary school students who are starting to build an awareness that the Mass is not just a place to go on Sundays. Intended for children who do not yet fully participate in the Mass through the Eucharist, it gives gentle reminders of appropriate behavior and what to do during times of silence. Direct and to the point, it explains to children why Catholics go to Mass, and what exactly goes on while they are there. Ages 3-6.
"Little Prayers for Little Ones" by Pauline Sister Patricia Edward Jablonski, illustrated by Becky Fawson. Pauline Books and Media (Boston, 2019). 24 pp., $12.95.
Here is another sturdy board book to add to the collection of quality ways to survive Mass with young children. "Little Prayers for Little Ones" taps into the innate (though sadly fleeting) ability for children to innocently see joy and God's grace in so many things adults take for granted: bouncing raindrops, tweeting birds, tall trees, or even sad friends. The illustrations are refreshingly multicultural, a stark contrast from similar, generations-old prayer books. The characters are children with and without physical disabilities, representing many ethnicities, and they see God everywhere: in the city, at the zoo, in nature, at home, and within each other. Ages 0-4.
"Sweet Dreamers" by Isabelle Simler. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2019). 74 pp., $19.
Isabelle Simler has done it again. The author and illustrator of "Plume" and "The Blue Hour" offers children an opportunity to pause and truly escape the world in her uniquely whimsical illustrations and beautifully written prose. The colors she chooses illuminate an almost iridescence and her language and use of vocabulary show attention to purpose and restraint from unnecessary superlatives. Ages 2-5.
"Mozart: Gift of God" by Demi. Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 2019). 42 pp., $15.99.
Mozart is well-known for his musical talents, which he revealed to his musically gifted family as a 5-year-old prodigy. However, his faith isn't often a topic of conversation when discussing his impressive repertoire. But indeed, Mozart and his family were Catholic: They went to Mass, prayed together and participated in liturgical celebrations and traditions. At 13, he wrote "Te Deum" in praise of God. He told his father in letters that he feared God but knew his love, mercy and compassion. Mozart also attributed his happiness to God. This book is a children's biography of Mozart, told from a perspective appealing to Catholic families and illustrated with great detail. Ages 8-12.
"The Life of Jesus According to Luke" by Sophie de Mullenheim. Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 2019). 96 pp., $16.99.
Clear off your kitchen table for some home-grown vacation Bible school and use "The Life of Jesus" to get you started. Although this resembles a textbook to the savvy parent, its expert layout and design can be quite appealing to a willing younger learner. Biblical stories are expanded with foundational sidebars and visually welcoming extensions, giving readers a chance to digest and further explore the Bible study. Ages 7 and up.
Reviewed by Regina Lordan, a mother to three young children, has master's degrees in education and political science and is a former assistant international editor of Catholic News Service. She is a freelance editor for various online and print publications.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Surprising facts can deepen Catholics' understanding of Bible

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"101 Surprising Facts about the Bible" will provide Catholic readers, including the young, with an excellent introduction to the Bible. A number of its facts are indeed surprising and will inspire and deepen the understanding even of those who are reasonably well versed in biblical studies. Each of the facts is richly illustrated, in color, with relevant Christian art works from over the centuries which adds to the reader's pleasure.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

One new book on papacy stands out

Each of these three new books on the papacy is informative and interesting. "The Pope: Francis, Benedict, and the Decision That Shook the World" is by the author of the screenplay for a dramatic film with the same title being produced by Netflix. The co-authors of "The Papacy: What the Pope Does and Why It Matters" are a former Baptist who became a Catholic and a literature professor and deacon who spent eight years in a Catholic seminary. Gerard O'Connell, author of "The Election of Pope Francis: An Inside Account of the Conclave that Changed History," is an associate editor and Vatican correspondent for the Jesuit weekly magazine, America, as well as a reporter on the Vatican for various other English-speaking Catholic news outlets.
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"The Papacy," by Ray and Walters, is a compact, accurate discussion of the papacy, its history and theology. It would make both a good college level textbook and ideal reading for any adult who wants to understand what the papacy is all about. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Pope, youth minister offer ideas for bringing back young Catholics

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The statistics are staggering: Roughly one-third of young Catholics in the United States leave the church before their 18th birthday.
Understandably, those who work with them are very concerned by the numbers and are engaged in conversations about what can be done to stem the tide of those departing, and to bring back those who have left. These two books are a welcome contribution to that conversation.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Explore virtues through Great Books

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In our present political age when blaming and counter-blaming is all government seems able to do and public discussion is focused on finding fault, it is refreshing to have a new book that focuses on humanity's good behaviors.
In "On Reading Well," author Karen Swallow Prior uses pieces of fiction to show how a virtue is illuminated in a narrative. She uses "Persuasion" by Jane Austen to illustrate the virtue of patience, "Ethan Frome" for chastity and "A Tale of Two Cities" for justice. Sometimes a work of fiction such as "The Great Gatsby" illustrates a virtue by showing the moral opposite of a virtue; temperance is discussed by showing intemperance.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Author’s journey confronts privilege

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It can be a shock to realize the advantages a person enjoys simply because of the socioeconomic and racial background from which she comes. While some people in today's volatile political climate hesitate to discuss these issues even with friends and family, this book invites readers to dare to examine the privileges they enjoy and to talk about them.