Monday, December 29, 2014

On Self-Denial and Love of the Cross

If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. ~ Matt 16:24

I admit readily that I have a very difficult time carrying any cross. I suffer from chronic migraines and this year has been better than previous years, and still I've complained. Dec. was a tough month but it took me a while to give thanks and praise to God and sadly it was more with a spirit of resignation than that of rejoicing. However, this month, with St. Alphonsus' help I've been able to look at the many blessings that come with this particular cross. 1. Letting go of expectations. 2. Lying in bed in prayer. 3. Scribbling in my notebook -- pouring out my heart to God on the page. 4. Awaiting Him. Come Lord Jesus. 5. Offering it as a sacrifice for the conversion of others. 6. The time to contemplate what is to come. 7. Watching my husband and children care for each other and me.
We are so conditioned to do things, it's hard to just be. This is when I remember how sweet it is to waste time with God, just like I did when Michael and I first met and we wasted hours together, doing absolutely nothing but simply being together.
The words of the great Spanish mystic, John of Avila, come to mind: “Do not think now of what you would do if you were well, but be content to remain sick as long as it pleases God. If you are seeking the will of God, what matters it whether you are sick or well?” St. Frances de Sales (patron of writers) maintained that we can serve God better by suffering than by laboring. And I have to remind myself of this every time I get hit on the head with Harry.
My cross is not that heavy when I compare it to others' but it is mine to carry. I have wondered why suffering is the way to God; wouldn't it be easier if the path were more pleasant? More people would walk it. But it is not the way of our Lord.
St. Alphonsus begins this chapter with, "The love which our Divine Master Jesus entertained for the cross was so great that He embraced it from the first moment of His Incarnation. The will of His heavenly Father had decreed that His life on earth should be the way of the cross; accordingly, He began His sorrowful journey to Calvary's Mount the very moment that ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’.
"Hand in hand with the love of the cross is the virtue of self-denial, for he who is attached to the comforts of life or to himself lacks courage to walk in the bloodstained footsteps of the suffering Savior.”
Peace of Heart
"Patience hath a perfect work, says the Apostle James (1:4), for by patience in bearing the crosses of life we make a perfect sacrifice to God. ... Patience is to be preferred to the courage of the hero. Many a man will display great courage in undertaking and bringing to completion some pious work; but he may not have patience enough to bear with the little annoyances and contradictions he encounters. For such a one it were better to be steadfast in patient suffering than courageous in great undertakings. ... In a word we all have something to endure ...
“Accordingly, we can enjoy true peace of heart only when we carry our cross with patience and resignation.
Value of Suffering
"If you are forced to acknowledge, dear Christian reader, that you have offended your God, and you wish at the same time to sanctify your immortal soul, you should rejoice when God sends you suffering. ... When God gives you something to suffer, says St. Augustine, He acts as a physician, and the suffering He sends is not a punishment but a remedy. ... But suffering is not only an excellent means of atonement for past sins, it is also an abundant source of merit.
Proof of Love
St. Alphonsus says, “Suffering is the touchstone of love. … Love is patient, says St. Paul, it beareth all things (1 Cor. 13:4). It patiently carries the external as well as the internal cross: for example, the loss of health, of fortune, of honor, of relatives and friends; anguish, temptations, pains and spiritual aridity. By patience virtue is tried. … “Because thou wast acceptable to God, it was necessary that temptation should prove thee (Tobit 12:13).”
To Suffer is to Pray
“You say you cannot pray? Why not?” asks St. Alphonsus. “What prevents you from turning your eyes to Jesus Crucified and offering Him the sufferings you must endure? The best prayer you can say is to resign yourself to the will of God in the midst of your sufferings, uniting your pains to the pains of Jesus Christ and offering them as a sacrifice to God.”
Spiritual Aridity
I wanted to share this bit because we all go through periods of spiritual dryness. I’m still in a honeymoon period since our conversion, but I know there will be greater trials and I want to remember these words of St. Alphonsus. “There is a great need of patience in bearing the cross of spiritual abandonment, for it is one of the hardest trials that a soul who loves God can endure.”
Patience again!
“By means of spiritual aridity, God unites Himself intimately with the souls He loves in an especial manner. What hinders us from being truly united to God is attachment to our inordinate inclinations. When God, therefore, desires to lead a soul to His perfect love, He endeavors first to free her from all attachment to created things. To this end He deprives her little by little of earthly goods such as riches, honors, relatives, bodily health and so forth. Then follow contradictions and humiliations of every sort. These are so many means that the Lord makes use of to divest the soul of all attachment to creatures and to self.
“In the beginning of the soul’s conversion, God often gives her a flood of consolations. In consequence of this, the soul is gradually weaned from attachment to creatures and gives herself to God; but not as yet in a perfect manner, for she acts more for the sake of the consolation of God than for the God of consolations.”
This describes me so well. I only pray that my will be strong to do what is pleasing go God. Let us therefore place our unbounded trust in God.
 
 
 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas from the Lowcountry










                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Tonight we celebrate the birth of our Savior with Missa cum Jubilo. The Bodachs four wish you peace and joy this Christmas and throughout the New Year.



Sunday, December 21, 2014

Rorate Sunday

My daughter has been making these amazing chocolate balls ... and they're almost like dewdrops from heaven!

Here's a picture of her winning horse. He's finally home!


Tonight, we sight-read this beautiful hymn, Rorate caeli. It expresses my contrite and sorrowful heart for the sins of my youth even as I am grateful and filled with joy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Best Books I Read in 2014

I read many amazing and wonderful books this year. But I want to highlight three because they are extraordinarily good. And this is why I am a writer, because I strive not just to write, but to write well. I want to make a difference and these three books have done that for me. They are keepers. They are friends to accompany me on my journey.


Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. If I loved Code Name Verity, I loved Rose even more. It had so much heart. I know some people don't like all the details of flying or cars or whatnot, but I absolutely adored all the details that allowed me to imagine more fully as I read the book. The author's voice is sure and strong in both books and I trusted her to take me for a brilliant ride again. I've been interested in Holocaust survival stories since I first picked up the Diary of Anne Frank. These are stories we must never forget and I thank Elizabeth Wein for writing an unforgettable story about the Polish *rabbits* and their friendship with the women in Ravensbruck. Despite the difficult subject, there were moments that made me laugh. It just goes to show that joy is the most infallible sign of God's love. This is a book I will definitely read when I want to remember the power of perseverance and the power of words.




The 12 Steps to Holiness and Salvation by St. Alphonsus Ligouri. I might have started off a bit sour, thinking it's too hard to practice these Christian virtues but this great saint has been guiding me this entire year on increasing my virtue and it's a book I will return to again and again, perhaps even next year. This is not a self-help book. This is a book about getting to heaven. And for less than ten bucks, you can't afford not to study and live this book. Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect. ~ Matthew 5:48 






Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling by Donald Maass. I'm only halfway through this book because I'm doing the writing exercises and boy does Don push you to dig deeper and deeper. I already have his Breakout Novel Workbook and it helped me to revise the first novel I ever completed. But this book, through various prompts and exercises forces you to think beyond the obvious. If you ever hang out at Writer Unboxed, you will discover what a generous fellow he is. Even his comments are mini-lessons.

What are the best books you read this year? What are you looking forward to? Please do share. I value the recommendations that come from you.

Wishing all my Jewish friends a very happy and blessed Hannukah!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Theokotos)

Today we celebrate not the miraculous conception of Jesus by the Holy Ghost (that's Mar. 25, the Annunciation), but the miraculous conception of Mary, the Mother of God, by her saintly parents Joachim and Anne.

16th century, Russian icon


Extra-Gospel sources tell us that this devout older couple was ridiculed for their barrenness, their offerings refused by the High Priest. St. Joachim, filled with grief, went to the desert to pray. St. Anne prayed at home. When I first read about them, I thought, oh people, you have to be together, work with God, you know? Thankfully, an angel appeared to both of them telling them that their prayer will be answered, not just with any child, but with Mary, full of grace, who would give birth to the Savior. Joachim and Anne met at the temple :) and the rest is history.

As you can imagine, many women who hope to conceive a child ask for these saints to pray for them. Myself included.

This feast of the Immaculate Conception causes a lot of confusion ... when we were going through RCIA, we wondered about Mary, full of grace. What does it mean? And what did it mean to be preserved from the stain of original sin? Does it mean Mary has no need of a Savior? I am not sure I can explain this well, but let me try with an example. It means that Mary, instead of falling into the pit of sin like all of us and then being saved by Jesus, was prevented from falling into the pit in the first place (by the merits of Jesus before He is Incarnated as a human). She was given ALL the graces necessary to become the Mother of God, but she still had free will and could've said no. But she didn't. She lived in the Divine Will by the grace of God.

Here's the official language of the Feast:

We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful. —Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854

Saturday, December 6, 2014

You Better Watch Out!


This Advent might be a good time to read Ross Douthat's Bad Religion: How we became a Nation of Heretics, mend our ways and avoid a punch from St. Nick.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

On Prayer

We ought always to pray, and not to faint. Luke 18:1
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thess 5:16
Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Matt 6:9


I blame a late Thanksgiving for doing my Nov. post in Dec. This was another favorite chapter because like Tweety Bird I can say, “I did! I did! I did pway.” Nowadays, my heart and mind are lifted to God many times throughout the day. It is as natural for me to be with Him as it is to be with my family or a good friend and in prayer, time and distance from loved ones dissolves. I didn’t come by this at once, rather in small steps, first by thanksgiving and sorrow for my sins, later petitioning, and still later in contemplation. I find it fascinating that I lose nothing of myself by being open to Him. I am still me, but being with Him makes me as I ought to be. There are times even now when I don’t want to talk to God, but it’s laughable that I can even try to keep a secret from Him. He knows the depths of my heart even when I don’t want to admit to some of my longings and desires. Even if I begin my prayers like a recalcitrant child, I end up in His arms, content. 

When I lost my faith at age 12, I didn’t stop praying immediately. In fact, I wept because I thought I lost my best friend, but a few months later, my mind hardly turned to Jesus, and a few years later, I gave Him no thought at all. And I can honestly say that it was the path to perdition. It is so easy to become your own god, to do what is right for yourself (moral relativism), and not give a care to anyone else. I am not the most charitable person on this planet, but in my 20s, I was downright callous. The poor and suffering were not even worth a thought, a tear, a prayer. And yet, prayer … sweet hour of prayer. It is the *one talent* we are all given, by which we can gain all other graces. I never thought about this until St. Alphonsus pointed it out in this chapter and which was discussed in a beautiful homily by Father Ryan: http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-one-talent-prayer-gains-all-rest.html   
St. Alphonsus says, “The worship of God takes the first place in the order of moral virtues; it is occupied more with God and leads us nearer to Him than the others. For every Christian, therefore, who is striving after perfection it must be a matter of no little concern to make this virtue his own in the highest degree. Now the easiest means of doing so, a means that we can employ at all times and in all places, is found in prayer. Whether it be a prayer of praise or thanksgiving or impenetration or propitiation, we are worshipping God, for every prayer is a humble acknowledgement of the greatness or goodness or fidelity or mercy of God.”
“Vocal prayer, or prayer pronounced by the lips, is very pleasing to God because by it the endless Majesty of God is acknowledged and glorified. … In order, however, that vocal prayer may tend to God’s glory and our own salvation, it must be accompanied by attention and devotion. Such prayer is like sweet-smelling incense that is agreeable to God and wins for us treasures of graces. On the other hand, prayer without recollection is insulting and offensive to God and calls down His wrath on the offender."

OUCH!!! I am mortified at all the times I have given lip-service but my mind was elsewhere. St. Alphonsus always gives it to me straight.
We can blame the devil for the worldly distractions. St. Alphonsus says, “It’s because he desires to rob us of the benefit we derive from fervent prayer; and on the other he wishes to make us guilty of disrespect towards God, and therefore deserving of punishment.” As always, he gives some practical suggestions. “Offer Him beforehand (Mass) the prayers you intend to say, and beg Him to preserve you from distractions. During prayer, avoid haste... Abstain from everything that is incompatible with interior recollection, ex. gazing at every distracting object, speaking with others, etc. Interior attention is threefold: it may be directed to the words you utter, or to their sense, or, finally, to God. When during prayer, your mind is fixed on God with a view to adore Him, to thank Him, to love Him or to ask Him for His graces.
“The easiest means of practicing vocal prayer consists in uttering fervent ejaculations. These pious outpourings of the heart need not be restricted to any particular place or time. They are in order at all times and in all places, at work, at meals, at recreation, at home or away from home. They may take the form of acts of desire, conformity, love, oblation, or self-denial; they may be acts of petition, thanksgiving, humility, confidence and the like. ... Those who frequently utter ejaculations close the door against Satan and prevent his constant annoyance and wicked thoughts." Some examples:
O my God, I desire only Thee and nothing else.
I give myself wholly to Thee.

My God, I love Thee.
My Love, my All!

Jesus!

That last ejaculation was sometimes all I could say when I was in severe pain. Just "Jesus." On better days, I find myself singing various hymns or parts of the Mass, like the Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei.

St. Alphonsus reminds us, “The invocation of the holy names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph should have first place. All that we love and desire and hope to possess is summed up in these beautiful names. Jesus Christ has not saved us only once; He is continually saving us by His merits, when in accordance with His promise, He frees us from the danger of sin as often as we invoke His Holy Name. Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, that I will do. John 14:13

"With the holy name of Jesus we must unite the beautiful name of Mary. It is so powerful that all hell trembles when it is pronounced. ... If the King of Heaven and earth conferred on Joseph the honor of being the foster father of His Beloved Son and the protector of the holy and immaculate Mother, surely it behooves us to honor him and invoke his powerful intercession.

“You may also, without uttering a word, raise your eyes to Heaven or cast a loving glance at the tabernacle or the crucifix. … The best acts of love, of course, are those that well up from the depth of the heart at the impulse of the Holy Ghost."

St. Alphonsus then focuses the remainder of the chapter on silent prayer and meditation. He says, "Our Divine Redeemer had no need to retire to a lonely place to pray; for as His blessed soul was constantly in the presence of His heavenly Father … He did this to teach us the necessity of interior prayer."
"Mental prayer is like a mirror. If you have a speck of dirt on your face and come before a looking glass, you see the dirt at once and remove it. Had you not looked in the mirror, you would not have thought of the dirt nor washed it away. So it is with mental prayer; we are standing before the mirror of our soul. It is then we recognize our faults and the danger we are in, and accordingly we take measures to rid ourselves of the faults and to escape from the dangers that threaten us."

He then gives a method that is in three parts: preparation, consideration and conclusion. Since this post is already too long, I direct you to: St. Alphonsus' method of mental prayer

I agree with the saint completely when he says, "Without prayer it is absolutely impossible to lead a virtuous life." If you do not pray, do not despair. You can start now. Let the Jim Reeves song give you hope. It still brings tears to my eyes. I used to sing these songs with my mother. Requiescat in pace, Ai.






Saturday, November 29, 2014

On Art and Electronics

Looks like Max isn't the only winner. Dagny's horse won a blue ribbon at the county art fair ...


And here are a couple more noteworthy pieces. Dagny's best friend at school drew her mother using the photograph. It might have been taken 20 years ago, but she still looks the same!  And Max made the bowl and Christmas tree in his ceramics class.


 I find that the children used to spend hours drawing and experimenting. Now that they are older, their creative output is so much less. They play computer games or read the news or participate in social media ... I can't help but think they're swimming in the shallows. We routinely turn off everything so that they can reset (and just look at my own language -- it reflects how much the electronics have taken over my own life).

I will be ever grateful that we had some sense to keep all this away for the first decade of their lives so that they could develop their minds. We introduced the electronics in a limited way 4 yrs ago, but as they enter adolescence, we are letting them have full use and it's interesting (and dismaying and sad) to observe how quickly they discard the development of their own art in favor of becoming consumers. So we let them loose, and rein them in. And trying hard to cultivate a few good habits since the electronics are here to stay in their lives. But I mourn the loss of hours and hours of play. Even my own creative life thrives when I take the time to walk and observe all the beauty around me, listen to bird-song, play the piano, and write for no reason except to put words on paper or play with the arrangement of words. I often switch between different projects with poetry  because it shakes things loose in my brain. I do not want the children to waste this wonderful time in their lives glued to a device in their *free time*. Now it's not all bad. It is the computer that has allowed us to play with pictures and make little home movies. But note the operative word: PLAY.

Parents, tell me, how do you strike a balance with your children? 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Lizard's Tail


A LIZARD'S TAIL by Bish Denham: From the moment he hatches, Marvin P. Tinkleberry knows he is destined for greatness. For one, he has a marvelous, well-groomed tail. For another he can puff out his throat pouch in the most spectacular way. Maybe the other lizards in his colony don't take him seriously, but he knows the truth. It lives in the marrow of his bones; he's going to be a hero.
When a feral cat threatens the lives of all who live at Stone Wall in the Garden by the Sea, Marvin knows it's HIS destiny to get rid of the fearsome beast. Travelling Over the Hill to find help should be as easy as snapping up a sleeping moth. But it doesn't take long for Marvin to see that the world beyond Stone Wall is not the same as his pampered life back at the garden. From the deadly Sucker Cactus Forest to deadly mongooses, danger lurks around every corner and Marvin will have to decide if he's willing to be the hero he's long bragged about being.

 
 
I encountered Marvin P. Tinkleberry soon after I met Bish on the ICL boards. She mentioned she had a first draft of an animal story and I'm a sucker for animal stories so I offered to read. Wow! It was the best first draft I've ever read. All the advice you might ever have read about just getting the story down is spot on. This story seemed to pour out of Bish and Marvin was such a great character, I fell in love with him right away.
 
Not only is this a fantastic animal story, it is set in a marvelous locale -- a tropical island. I found myself musing about the habits of lizards vs. geckos. Or the smells I lost long ago, like that of hibiscus, frangipani. Best of all, we really get to see how tragic it can be when a cat (I love cats) goes after a colony of lizards. I have evidence right here. In defense of the cat, she was only playing with this fellow ... and it's too bad he didn't make it. But I digress. A Lizard's Tail makes a great read-aloud. I highly recommend it for lovers of animal stories who are wanting something a bit different than the usual mouse or rat or pig tales. 

You can find A Lizard's Tail on Amazon. Bish is also the author of Anansi and Company: Retold JamaicanFolk Tales.

Bish Denham was raised in the U. S. Virgin Islands. Her mother's side of the family has lived in the Caribbean for over one hundred years and she still has plenty of family there whom she visits regularly. She says, "Growing up in the islands was like living inside a history book. Columbus named the islands, Sir Francis Drake sailed through the area, and Alexander Hamilton was raised on St. Croix. Then there were the pirates who plied the waters. Life for me was magical, and through my writing I hope to pass on some of that magic." Bish has known many lizards in her life. Marvin and Leeza are based on two that lived in her bedroom.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Cold Snap

My sweet clementines, my hot peppers! They aren't liking this cold snap one bit. Neither am I. This weekend we harvest everything.

 

Seventh and eighth graders got to go on a field trip to the Cotton Museum and a farm. I missed it because of Harry. Blasted Harry. But Dagny took some great pictures and I'm happy the kids had a wonderful time. I remember when Max went two years ago.

 
 


Dagny is developing a good eye for taking pictures. Here are some she took on her walk with the dog. Enjoy! The apple cake was delicious too ... she's an excellent cook as my growing girth will testify.

 




Saturday, November 8, 2014

It Can Wait Texting and Driving Winners!

It Can Wait Writing and Video Contest Winners

I am so proud of all these boys for taking the initiative to spread the word on not texting and driving. You can read the full essay and watch the videos here: http://scpress.org/ItCanWait/ 


We got the news yesterday just before Max got home from school. I could see the smile on his face well before he got home ... he had his cell phone out. "Look up," I whispered. We had a great time reminiscing about all his writing adventures before he headed off to film a football game. He remembered how he wrote a 20-page story about magic basketball shoes in fourth grade. I remember how he wrote and wrote, with utter concentration. The assignment was for 2 pages and he didn't look up until he had about five pages. He remembered how much he liked the story he wrote about the Egyptian scribe, his first historical. We cracked up thinking about his salmon story, how the males fought before spawning. Suspense till the very end! And I remembered the story he wrote in first grade, where the twist was so great, I wanted to steal it for a magazine article. He's given me permission!

Ah, Max! I pray you live up to this essay. You bear a greater responsibility because you've been given much. You have the hand of God upon you. May you always let Him lead you.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Story of Ten Easter Eggs

I can finally shout out my happy news from last year and spill all the beans. My dear readers, this book is TEN years in the making. It was purely a math book at first, as a tool to teach combinations of ten and my chicks were very mathematically oriented. I sent it out ... and received a few good rejections. The first time I used the term, my husband said it was an oxymoron. Ah, yes. But thank goodness for those rejections. Over the years, I kept the original concept but kept making the book more fun, letting the chicks do chicklet things instead of math. It was getting better ... I dreamed of pop-up chicks, fuzzy chicks, sound cards at the end, but most novelty books are made by paper engineers. I am not an artist or an engineer but a writer with lots of imagination. I was stumped. It could be a picture book though ...

Then a few years ago, I met a delightful novelty writer/illustrator on the Blueboards. She is a household name now -- Salina Yoon. We became friends and I asked whether she could take a look at my manuscript. She was incredibly gracious and suggested I tell the story in rhyme. At first, I was daunted. I'm not a poet. I can write a little poem once in a while. It is something I do to switch from fiction to nonfiction or vice versa. It's a way to play with words, shake things up. But a book in rhyme?!!! Could I pull it off? I took Salina's advice and found myself enjoying the process thoroughly. It was like a puzzle, chicks must do chicklet stuff in rhyme.

Ten eggs.   All is quiet. Not a peep.
Nine eggs.  One chick hatches. "Cheep, cheep, cheep."


And suddenly, I knew I'd hit gold. Kids will make their parents read this to them 500 times and the parents will not go crazy. Or maybe they will. I don't know. You tell me.

Last year, Debbie Ridpath Ohi posted on the Blueboards about her interview with Celia Lee, editor at Cartwheel books, and her open window of submission for about a month. I thought Ten Eggs would be perfect, so I spit-shined it and sent it off with a prayer. A few weeks later, I got a letter of interest. The rest is history and it's been most educational to learn how a novelty book is made. Celia always kept me in the loop and never minded the many questions I asked and the suggestions I made, but in the end, it's clear I'm just a writer, not an artist or engineer.

When I saw the layout and a sample illustration by Laura Logan, I was over the moon. I couldn't help but use adjectives like cute and darling and adorable.

My heartfelt thanks to my family and critters in WA who read all those iterations of TEE, Verla Kay for the Blueboards, Salina, Debbie, Laura and the entire team at Scholastic for making a dream that began a decade ago a reality. I am delighted.

I need to learn to write summaries like this (taken from the Scholastic website): In this sweet story, clever die-cuts, touchable plastic pieces, and fuzzy flocking all come together in a rhyming adventure all about Easter traditions. Follow and count along as ten quiet Easter eggs become ten colorful chicks ready to celebrate the holiday! A fun, engaging novelty story just right for the littlest of readers.

"This book begs to be touched," says Kirkus. Oh YESSSS! Read the full review.

Monday, November 3, 2014

On Recollection

Having dismissed the multitude, he went into a mountain alone to pray. ~ Matt. 14:23


October flew! We're coming to a quiet time in our lives and that's exactly what we need. We are enjoying eating dinner together without having to rush to volleyball practice or a football game. And Michael and I are back to strolling in the moonlight. He tells me the mosquitoes are gone but they bite me still. Sweet blood and all ... 

Our little hamster died from old age, fat and happy, no diseases. Dagny had cleaned his cage and he was looking a bit tired as he clambered up to eat and wash himself. He made himself a little nest. The next morning we discovered he had passed on to a land of carrots and bananas, peanuts and sunflower seeds. It's strange to no longer save the rolls of empty tubes for him. He took great joy in tearing up the tissue, and we took joy in watching him. But, I'm supposed to be writing about St. Alphonsus' teaching on Recollection.

This was by far my favorite chapter so far. Everything resonated because I am living that life right now ... psst, you don't have to be a nun :) St. Alphonsus says, "To preserve recollection of spirit or the constant union of the soul with God, three things are necessary: solitude, silence, and the recollection of the presence of God.

"I will lead her into the wilderness and I will speak to her heart. Osee 2:14. God speaks to the soul in solitude, and by His words the heart is inflamed with divine love. My soul melted when my beloved spoke, said the spouse in the Canticle (5:6).

So, seek solitude, practice silence, and rest in God by keeping the thought of His presence ever before you."

The saint reminds us that it's not only solitude of the body that is important, but the solitude of the spirit. He says, "What benefit it is to live in the desert if the soul still clings to the things of the earth? Solitude of the heart consists in banishing from the heart all desires and inclinations that are not for God, and in performing our actions simply with God's good pleasure in view. The solitude of the heart consists in being able to say, "My God, Thee alone do I desire and nothing else."

I loved this because it reminds me that although I live in this world, I do not have to be attached to it.

The saint exhorts us not to be idle. "It is not to be supposed that solitude and retirement are synonymous with idleness. Many live in retirement, but it is an inactive and useless retirement of which they shall have to render an account. Devout souls, on the contrary, are like bees that are never tired preparing honey for their cells. No time must be lost, but every moment employed in prayer, in reading, or in performing the duties of your state in life."

St. Alphonsus extols the virtues of work. "Work is an effective remedy against temptations. While our hands are occupied with external occupations, our heart can be fixed on God. The good intention we make in performing our labors sanctifies them in the sight of God and even makes labor a prayer, for prayer has been called the raising of the mind and heart to God.

"Those who have the spirit of prayer love silence, which has deservedly been called a protectress of innocence, a shield against temptations and a fruitful source of prayer. Silence promotes recollection and awakens good thoughts in the heart. Silence preserves us from many sins by removing the occasion of uncharitable talk, rancor and curiosity; on the other it aids us in the attainment of many virtues, like humility and meekness."

The saint reminds us that remembering the presence of God is an excellent means of "quieting the passions and of resisting temptations to sin ... Men fall into sin because they lose sight of the presence of God. It was the thought of God that gave the chaste Susanna courage to spurn the wicked advances of the men who tried to seduce her and even threatened her with death. She said, It is better for me to fall into your hands without doing evil, than to sin in the sight of the Lord. Dan 13:23.

"Union of the soul with God is the third happy result of walking constantly in His presence. Love is always strengthened by the presence of the object loved. In order to remain intimately united to God, it is not sufficient to make a morning and evening meditation. If you remove boiling water from the stove, it will soon cool off. And so it is with the human soul; to keep the fire of God's love aglow, the thought of His presence must be constantly before us."

As always, St. Alphonsus gives practical suggestions to practice the virtues. He says, "picture our Lord as present with us wherever we may be. We may think of Him at times as a little babe in the crib of Bethlehem; as a poor exile on His way to Egypt; as an apprentice in the workshop of Nazareth; a man of sorrows who was condemned a criminal to suffer and die; as scourged and crowned and crucified. One needn't strain the imagination, which is apt to be very fatiguing and might possibly be injurious." (I had to include this last bit because it makes me laugh. I suppose for us writers, this exercise is not at all strenuous.)

"Another way is based on the truths of holy faith. It consists of seeing God with the eyes of faith and being thoroughly persuaded that He is present and a witness of our actions. It matters not that we are unable to see Him with our bodily eyes; we cannot see the air around us, and we never doubt for a moment that it exists and that without it we could not possibly live. It is sufficient to make little acts of faith.

"Another beautiful practice is that of seeing God in His creatures. The beauties of nature such as the rising and setting of the sun, a magnificent landscape, a majestic river, a garden of beautiful flowers are so many reflexes of the beauty of the Creator. The thought of a learned or handsome or holy man can lead us to admire the wisdom and beauty and sanctity of God and return Him thanks for permitting His creatures to share in His holy attributes.

"The most perfect method, however, of keeping alive the thought of God's presence consists in beholding God within our very selves. It is not necessary to ascend to Heaven to find the Lord God; we need only to recollect ourselves, and we shall find Him within us. St. Paul says, Know you not, that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? 1 Cor 3:16. And our Divine Savior Himself has said, If anyone love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him. John 14:23

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Reading

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

I have not read very many books where the narrator is developmentally challenged. I've only read one other MG book. It is far easier to let a sibling or friend tell the story. I had toyed with having alternating viewpoints in my own contemporary novel, but sustaining the voice of the intellectually impaired sister was difficult. In the end, her voice comes through clear and true through dialogue and I stuck with a single viewpoint, that of the sister who is ... for lack of a better term, normal. Except she's not. Ms. Giles has written a powerful story about two girls, Biddy and Quincy, who transition to living independently once they turn 18, the prejudices and hardships they face just because they are "speddies" and their hopes and dreams of the future. I found myself cheering them on for facing obstacles and crying with them when they were hurt. Giles left them in a good place, but I couldn't help but worry for them long after I finished the book. These characters will remain with me always.

Impossible by Nancy Werlin

This was one of the most romantic books I've read in a long time. Based on the song, Scarborough Fair, the author weaves a tale involving a family curse and the love that breaks it. I loved the contemporary setting with a great cast of characters who race against time to solve the puzzle. As it says on the cover: a haunting, thrilling romantic puzzle. Just read it.

By the way, this book breaks many so-called writing rules. It has a prologue, multiple viewpoints, some by adult characters, mixing of genres ... but it's also brilliant. Anyway, just a reminder to write what the story demands.

True Grit by Charles Portis

This is probably the first old Western I've read. I enjoyed it tremendously. It speaks of a world where one is beginning to create law. By far, the 14-year-old Mattie has the strongest sense of justice. Loved her voice. This is a book appropriate for children and adults alike, a true American classic.

The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser

I have always enjoyed time travel stories but this one was very unique with body-swapping as well. Shay, a 20-yr old girl, stares into her grandmother's mirror on the eve of her wedding and is transported into her grandmother's body (Brandy) on the eve of her wedding. Shay-as-Brandy even gives birth to her own mother. Now think about that ... all the conundrums it causes, foreknowledge, etc. A really fun read.

The Ten Commandments by Msgr. Charles Pope

A concise little book by one of my favorite preachers. Fr. Pope shows how the commandments apply to daily life, how they free us to love God and our neighbor as we ought. It also has a good examination of conscience.  

Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity by Anthony Esolen

This is one of my favorite authors. I always look forward to his clear reflections in the Magnificat, and he does not disappoint in this book. In the Family Honor class Dagny and I just took, the last skit was about a couple who gets married and has a lot of baggage. They came to the altar broken. That's not to say that the grace of God cannot work in them ... Michael and I are prime examples of a couple who went through heartbreak and betrayal before we were married and who went on to make numerous mistakes, but we have finally come to the Truth and how it resonates in our hearts. Holy Matrimony: a covenant between one man and one woman, holy because it is set apart from any other kind of relationship; it makes us co-creators with God. The author makes arguments for traditional marriage not just because God meant it to be so, but through the lens of history, literature, and plain old common sense. This is a beautifully written book, perfect as supplemental material for marriage preparation classes.


The Gift of Living in the Divine Will in the Writings of Luisa Piccarreta by Fr. Joseph Iannuzzi

I'm smack dab in the middle of this book when my kindle freezes up and I am not reading this on the computer screen. I tried deleting this a dozen times and reloading and finally, after a week, it is working. This is the first instance of a kindle snafu. Still, it is a difficult book to read on the kindle. I often want to go back and look up something and unless I bookmark the sections, it is difficult to find. But this book is incredible in what it proposes, that we are coming into a new era where God is bestowing gifts that only Adam and Eve received before their fall from grace. Mary was the last human on earth before Luisa to receive the gift of living in the Divine Will. Much of this stuff I cannot wrap my head around, but it is making me understand my faith in a deeper way.

Christianity, Islam and Atheism: the Struggle for the Soul of the West by William Kilpatrick.

This is a must-read for people who are interested in what is occurring in the Middle East -- the persecution of Christians. I grew up knowing about all the world's major religions and believe me, they are not the same! Many people in the West simply do not understand that Islam is not tolerant of any other faith. Infidels are to be converted or killed. This is why we had the Crusades.

I wish we had a leader like Winston Churchill who wanted to stir the hearts of the British people to make war against Germany. He said:

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory; victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

St. Francis and the Sultan (1300s) Cappella Bardi, Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence

I think that's enough for now ... Tell me, what good books are you reading right now.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sacred Fire

I've been reading a ton of books but I wanted to review Sacred Fire: Practicing Devotion to the Heart of Jesus by Philip Michael Bulman by itself since I have  many thoughts on it. And also because it's the Feast of Saint John Paul II the Great!!!

Sacred Fire is the second book I’ve read on the Sacred Heart; the first one being a classic by Fr. John Croiset, the spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690). However, I wish I’d gotten my hands on Bulman’s book first because it’s much easier to read.

The first part of the book traces the evolution of this devotion beginning with St. Gertrude (1256-1302), who not only had visions of Jesus but also of St. John the Evangelist! On his feast day, she asked why he had not written more plainly about the Sacred Heart in his Gospel, given that he rested upon the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper. St. John said that such "revelations about the Sacred Heart had been reserved until later ages, that the world might be aroused from its torpor, and animated, when it had grown cold, by hearing of these things."

Wow! It makes me want to get her works. And this is the beauty of Bulman's book. With each saint who was given some revelation about the Sacred Heart, it makes me want to dig deeper, so that I too may have the pleasure of being enclosed within His Heart.

And this is the way Bulman traces the history of this devotion. The last two sentences of the chapter on St. Gertrude are: A French edition of Gertrude's Legatus was published in 1671. It is possible the book was read aloud in an obscure convent in Paray-le-Monial, where a young woman named Margaret Mary Alacoque had recently become a novice.

Bulman follows St. Margaret Mary, who popularized  devotion to the Sacred Heart, then the various Carmelite nuns who picked it up. St. Therese's Story of a Soul fell into the hands of Teresa of the Andes, and ends with modern-day St. Faustina, whom St. John Paul II canonized, the first saint of the new millennium. It is this continuity that makes Sacred Fire such a joy to read. 

The second half of the book deals with the actual devotion, its Scriptural roots, and the promises of the Sacred Heart. Fisheaters has an excellent summary. Briefly, one must receive Holy Eucharist frequently, keep a Holy Hour on Thursday night, attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on first Fridays of the months as a reparation not just for our own sins but the sins of the world, and celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart. This means, one must go for confession frequently as well :) Just sayin'

I remember our priest exhorting us to devote ourselves to the Sacred Heart because It is the fount of all graces. Catholics are often shown with the rosary, but as anybody who prays the rosary knows, Mary takes hold of us and brings us to Jesus. We'll be celebrating our second anniversary of consecration of our family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on Nov. 9th. I am so very grateful for this book that has brought a greater love and understanding. Thank you, Mr. Bulman, for writing a very important book.

A happy Feast day to all.
Pray for us, Saint John Paul II.