Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Catholic Company Book Review: Holiness for Everyone

It's the eve of All Saints, so what better day to review a book about a saint?

Some of the most intriguing saints, I think, are the relatively-contemporary ones. While St. Josemaria Escriva has garnered more than his share of notoriety due to a famous work of fiction, there's much less popular factual knowledge about this modern-day saint. Eric Sammons sets out to correct this imbalance with Holiness for Everyone: The Practical Spirituality of St. Josemaria Escriva.

The book is less a biography of the saint (although an early chapter in the book does cover those details) than an introduction to the saint's writings and philosophy. In fact, this book is not meant as a stand-alone text, but as a companion to the primary sources--the saint's actual writings--all of which are freely available online. Suggested readings, including web addresses, are included at the end of each chapter, along with meditations, suggestions for prayer, and concepts to contemplate.

I found this book challenging to read but not ridiculously academic. It's not meant to be "downed" in one sitting, but instead to be a tool for reflection and prayer. St. Josemaria Escriva's writings were intended the same way; many of them are in "nugget" form, so that a reader could take a single sentence as a gateway to action and meditation.

Chapters are organized by theme and include topics such as freedom, work, contemplation, evangelization and holiness, among others. The idea of "holiness for everyone" is not unfamiliar to me as a Secular Franciscan; after all, the idea of this life is to dedicate my particular state in life, and all that I do, toward living according to the Gospel in the spirit of St. Francis. St. Josemaria Escriva's teachings reinforce the same ideas, though without the particularly Franciscan bent that I am used to seeing.

This book achieves its purpose: it's an appetizer, not the main course. It introduces the teachings and writing of a contemporary saint and leaves the reader hungry to learn more. Holiness for Everyone is an excellent introduction to the spirituality of a saint who has been misrepresented by popular culture.

You can purchase this book here.
I wrote this review of Holiness for Everyone for theCatholic Company Blogger Review program, created by The Catholic Company. The Catholic Company is a great resource for tools to help you participate in the Year of Faith, including Year of Faith bible studies and exclusive Year of Faith personalized gifts. The Catholic Company also has all your Advent needs in stock, such as Advent calendars and Advent wreaths. A review copy of the book was provided to me. I did not receive other compensation for this review.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

By the Light of the Silvery Moon

Little Brother is getting ready to go on his very first camping trip with the Boy Scouts. The troop has invited the Webelo 2 den along on this weekend's camping trip so that the Webelos can begin to learn the camping skills they'll need as Boy Scouts.

There has been much packing and preparing. Last night he began gathering his stuff and stuffing it into an old backpack. We had gotten him a multi-tool-utensil (Swiss Army silverware?) and it was still in the plastic clamshell package. He spent more than 10 minutes with his Scout knife, stabbing that clamshell in random places.

I could have taken care of the situation with one swipe of my kitchen shears, but I let him struggle with it himself, even when that struggle proved potentially dangerous to his fingers and my coffee table.

That's a lot of trouble to go to, especially when you consider that this kid still doesn't use utensils on a regular basis.

This morning I tripped over his fully-packed backpack with the flashlight sticking out of the front pocket. I asked him if he'd packed extra batteries for the flashlight.

"I won't need those," he informed me. "I'll have the moon and the stars to be my light."

Good luck with that.

(He packed the batteries.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Did you hear that deep, deep sigh yesterday around 11:30 AM Eastern? That was me and TheDad after we met with the very personable surgeon at the cancer center. Under the circumstances, we got the best possible news.

The tumor (what's left of it) is in a place that is easy to access. It is not in, on or near any organs and it has not spread anywhere. Next Friday he will have it removed in a same-day surgery.

After he recovers from the surgery he will begin radiation treatment. There will not be chemo because chemo doesn't work on this type of tumor. Beyond that he will just need regular imaging to see if anything has returned but with this type of tumor the chances of it returning are pretty slim.

I am ever grateful for your prayers and support. I feel like the really hard part is over now. We have a game plan, and we have assurance that the tumor is contained.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Little Brother's not going to be little forever, and that means all those Little Brotherisms are going to come to an end someday. I'm savoring them while they last. Here's today's:

We were in the car after soccer, discussing that we were both surprised to see the soccer coach smoking.

Little Brother:  "He should try to stop smoking. Maybe he could get some of those patties that you pat on your arm that help you stop smoking."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Limbo, Limbo, Limbo

Just trying to keep things normal here in my house, for my kids, and for my husband and myself, as we sit here in Oncology Limbo getting through a few more days until we have a better idea of what he's fighting and how the hospital plans to fight it.

For the record, he will be treated at one of the best cancer hospitals in the country; I was there for my non-cancer surgery 6 months ago and we are comforted by the first-hand knowledge of the wonderful care I received as a patient in that hospital.

I am comforted by relatives and friends alike who have showed us so much care and concern (and made offers to help that I know enough to accept--and will do so soon). Some of these people are fighting their own battles with cancer right now. But they have reached out anyway--that means so much. Other friends have beaten cancer in the past.

Today I received a lot of encouragement from Pat Gohn. We were supposed to be recording a conversation to be used in her Among Women podcast, "Midlife Madres" series. I don't know if Pat got anything she can use or not, but she knows how to listen and she knows what it's like to go through this kind of scary time. I am grateful for each and every minute we spent on the phone today.

As I told Pat at one point, I am wrestling right now. There will be many decisions to be made. There will be things I'll have to "outsource" to others, kids' games I'll miss, plans I'll need to lay aside. It's not so much a "why me?" kind of wrestling as it is a "how do I handle all of what we've got going on and keep our collective sanity relatively intact?"

I might look calm on the outside, but my unscientific research is showing that hot flashes increase exponentially along with one's stress levels. Every so often it reaches its peak and the hot flashes bring along impatience, anger and, yes, tears. Even when I try my hardest to keep that from happening. So yes, calm on the outside, but my stomach is in knots and I think those knots are extending to the rest of me, because my pain level is off the charts today.

But there's a rosary in my pocket, ever ready for a prayer or ten. I'm getting to daily Mass as much as possible. I'm thankful for the encouragement and advice I have received. And when this after-dinner cup of (decaffeinated) Irish tea doesn't cut it, like now, I'm glad there's a carton of chocolate-peanut-butter-cup ice cream in the freezer.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pray Your Way Through It: A Rosary, A Giveaway and a Twitter-Style Interview with Author Sarah Reinhard

It's my honor to be among the reviewers, promoters and pray-ers in the Rosary Blog Tour for author Sarah Reinhard's new book--the first in the series from Ave Maria Press. The book is called A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism.

This is no ordinary "What to Expect" type of book, although it does include some information on the physical changes that mom and baby experience during pregnancy. It is more of a spiritual guide through pregnancy, touching on areas that most pregnancy "instruction manuals" won't give more than a passing mention. It's the book I wish I had back before each of my kids was born. (It's not just for first-time mamas!)

Sarah is all about Twitter--I guess because as a mom of 3 kids under 8, it's hard to think in more than 140 characters at a time. So when she offered to do an interview, I decided to borrow one of her own techniques and ask her to reply to the question in the form of tweets. You'll have to follow her on Twitter, however, to appreciate her amazing use of the hashtag.

You have 3 young children. How did you manage to find the time to write this book?
It was made possible mostly by 3 people: my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, & best friend. I also squeezed writing in during fits & starts.

Besides the Blessed Mother, is there any other saint who particularly inspires you as a parent?
A whole host of them! St Joseph in a special way, as well as Monica, Therese the Little Flower, Elizabeth Ann Seton, & Francis deSales.

What's the best advice you can give to an expectant mom who's not having an easy time of it?
Look to the prize at the end and grip Mary's hand as hard as you need to (she can take it).

Are you afraid of being considered a pessimist because your book focuses on difficulties moms can experience during pregnancy?
If pregnancy is a walk in the park, we need to acknowledge the weeds & thorns too, right? But there's hope & that's not pessimistic at all.

In each chapter, you list "One Small Step," in the form of a prayer activity. What's the one that made the most difference to you during your pregnancies?
Eucharistic Adoration, hands-down, no competition. Laying my head in Jesus' lap, letting him carry me & the rest, transformed & blessed me.

To celebrate the launch of her new book, A CatholicMother's Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism, Sarah Reinhard invites all of us to spend her blog book tour praying the rosary together. Today, she shares this reflection on the Scourging at the Pillar:

There’s no doubt it was painful to be scourged. Jesus’s flesh was torn by the shards on the end of the whips.
Picture the people observing. There’s no reason to suspect the Romans would have had any fondness for him, but in the crowd of leering, goading people, there had to be people who had listened to Jesus’s preaching. There must have been people who were close to him, who had even cheered him on in his ministry and encouraged his miracles. It’s possible that his mother was there, too, seeing her son ripped to shreds.
What must it have felt like to see those people laughing and even enjoying the scourging? How must Jesus have felt in their betrayal? How much more did it hurt, knowing his mother—who had also done no wrong—was suffering as she watched (or would suffer later while seeing him)?
We’ve all experienced betrayal. There’s a special sting when we find out that someone who seemed to be our number-one fan maybe isn’t so much or seems to have changed his or her mind. There’s also a prick I often give myself, thinking that I know what someone else thinks of me. I’ll get myself all worked up, thinking that Susie believes I’m a total idiot about the decision I made (and am standing by).
Is it worse to be betrayed or to be flogged for something we didn’t do? I change my mind on this, depending on the day.
The lesson in this mystery is one that I need: Jesus understands. Oh boy, does he understand. Maybe he wasn’t ever pregnant with his fourth kid and up to his ears in housework and feeling the pressure of a distant family member to come visit as soon as the baby’s born. Having gone through the exact scenario isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for being able to understand though. Can’t you picture his pain and torture in this mystery? Can’t you imagine, to some extent, the horror and weight of it?
Turn to Jesus, in this mystery, and tell him about what scourges you. Give him the heaviest burden you have, the one you think he will least understand. Use this mystery as your common ground, as the place where you meet him. Let him guide you to the place of blessing, where the pain might make sense or have a purpose, perhaps even eternally.
As we pray this decade of the rosary, let's hold all those brave women who have said yes to difficult and challenging motherhood in our intentions in a special way. Don't forget, too, that we are praying for an increase in all respect life intentions as part of our rosary together this month. (If you’re not familiar with how to pray the rosary, you can find great resources at Rosary Army.)
Our Father . . . 
10 - Hail Mary . . .
Glory Be . . . 
O My Jesus . . . 

Now for the fun part: you can WIN STUFF!

And I have TWO copies of this book to give away to lucky readers of this blog. If you'd like to win a copy of the book, just leave a comment below. I will keep the giveaway open through 11:59 PM EDT on October 26, the last day of the Rosary Blog Tour.

UPDATE:  Giveaway closed! Comments #1 and #4 are the winners and will be contacted so I can arrange delivery of their prizes.

Monday, October 15, 2012

An Open Letter to the High-School Principal

As the principal, I'm sure you get plenty of emails from parents that concern complaints and problems. I would like to take this opportunity to let you know of the very positive experience I had today with a group of students from your school.

My daughter had asked if we could host a pasta party for the JV girls' soccer team. When the girls arrived after practice today, they immediately began thanking us for hosting and asking if they could help in any way. I'm sure I heard the words "thank you" at least three times per student:  when they came in, when they got their dinner, and when they departed. Everyone was respectful of me and my home. They enjoyed each other's company and were a pleasure to have as our guests. The girls on this team were a credit to their families and to the school.

This is my seventh straight year as the parent of a student in your school, and I have come to expect nothing less of the young people you help to educate.

I emailed this letter to the principal after this evening's pasta party. I know this was a small matter, but it was wonderful to have such a positive experience--it really made my day.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Upside Down

I spent the morning yesterday in a hospital waiting room. My husband was there for same-day, minor surgery. I drank a lot of coffee, prayed the Rosary, and tried to ignore the overly-loud, overly-large TVs. I was nervous, of course, but not very worried, because we'd been told so many times that it was " probably nothing."

I should have known that my uncharacteristic optimism was misplaced.

I kept thinking to myself that it would be No Big Deal, all the while in denial of just how easily No Big Deal can turn into a Very Big Deal Indeed. Minor can go to major in less time than it takes to spell my last name. And your whole world turns upside down as the surgeon says those 3 words nobody wants to hear.

As we try to let it all sink in, as we think of how to find the words to make the kids understand, we simultaneously scribble down specialists' phone numbers on Post-It notes and assemble folders full of referrals, test results and form after form after form after form.

It is all these details, I think, that will make me crazy and at the same time keep me from going crazy. If I concentrate on the details, I won't have to think about the big picture. I don't want to see the forest for the trees.

We will have to wait more than a week before the next step can be taken, before all the results are in and appointments can be made with just the right doctors. And all those other minor-league problems we've been dealing with? We're not feeling the need to deal with those just now. Can we please just put that stuff on the back burner for a while?

One thing at a time, Lord. It's hard to turn this over when I want to take the ball myself and run with it. I'm a ball-hog in that regard, just as much as some of the hotshots on Little Brother's soccer team. It's hard to turn it over because if I abandon it, if I relinquish the control I try to hard to maintain, I might just go to pieces when it is least convenient.

Mom doesn't get to fall apart, you know. That's a rule. And if nothing else, I'm a rule-follower.

Even--perhaps especially--when our world has just been turned upside down.

Pray for my husband, if you would; for his doctors; for the kids and for me as we negotiate this new and scary road.

And thank you to Barbara for the beautiful Rosary!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

In Honor of the Feast

Today is the Feast of St. Francis. I didn't get to Mass this morning, because I was substitute-teaching at Little Brother's school.

But I told them that I could only do half a day today, because this afternoon, the Secular Franciscans were getting together for a little retreat led by our very own Secular Franciscan Deacon! Together we reflected on being Franciscan, on minority, poverty, commitment and renewal. We closed the retreat with Adoration and Benediction.

So what does it mean to be a Franciscan in today's world? Among other things, it means that we decide to serve rather than to be served; to "rebuild the Church" person by person, and to witness that people are more important than things.

And it means that we seek to surround ourselves with other who are striving for the same goal.

Today I am thankful for my Franciscan family! May this feast, and all days, be blessed.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Tuesdays with Martha

That's SAINT Martha, not Martha Stewart.

The ladies at Suscipio have learned that Tuesday is the day traditionally associated with the devotion to St. Martha, patroness of stressed-out homemakers everywhere.

I've got a soft spot for her myself. And I think it's neat that Tuesday is "her" day, because in my house, Tuesday always seems to be that tough day in Homemaking World. (On Monday, everyone is off to work and school and the house is quiet and I quietly putter around here getting all sorts of things done. On Tuesday...well, Tuesday is always another story with its special brand of crazy, especially during soccer season and even more especially when you have failed to plan ahead because you got caught up reading Catholic sci-fi...but I digress. Time to hide the Kindle until after dinner.)

Click on over to Suscipio if you, too, have a soft spot for St. Martha. Pray the novena for your intentions and for those of all the other women who seek strength, encouragement, and support.

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