Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Holy Week Reading

Apparently, blogging is dead. I will miss Blogging for Books as it moves to other platforms, which I'm loath to join. In any case, I am grateful to Blogging for Books to have snagged a last book: a copy of Scott Hahn's The Fourth Cup: Unveiling the Mystery of the Last Supper and the Cross. He digs deep into our Jewish roots of the Passover and applies them to the Paschal Mystery. Our redemption has been thought of from the "very foundations of time." I raced through this book even though deadlines are pressing me from all sides. As always, Dr. Hahn makes history and Scripture accessible for the layman and does so in a highly entertaining manner. Here's a sampling of his sub-heads: Pasch, Presence, and Future; Sealed with a Curse; Seder Rite Words; The Roast is History; Ready, Willing, Abel; Cups and Downs; Faith Up to the FAQS; Marquette Value. He keeps this up, folks. But it's in no way shallow. There's a LOT of theology in this book and it's presented in the order that Dr. Hahn himself studied on his own, based on a little question: What exactly is finished when Jesus says those words from the Cross? Read this book to understand the most central belief of our faith: Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. 

Dr. Hahn also shares his own history of his conversion. He practically re-invents Catholic rites in his Presbyterian Church the more he studied the Church Fathers. The Bread of Life discourse (John 6) frightened him; he could no longer continue to be a pastor; he couldn't accept the position of Academic Dean even though this was what he'd dreamed about. He writes, "I was not yet ready to take up the cup with Catholics. But I was more than ready to read the Bible with them."

Hahn became a doctoral student at Marquette. "There comes a time when a critic must turn his criticism upon himself." He consulted the Baltimore Catechism about the nature of Mass. "If Catholics were right about the meaning of Mass, mere attendance was a potentially seismic event in the spiritual order. Was I ready for that? If the Catholics were wrong, of course, then their Mass was the greatest blasphemy possible--and I wanted no part of that. In thinking about the Mass, there was no safe middle ground." When he went to his first Mass he wept. "I realized it was really Jesus, and he was offering his own flesh to me as "living bread come down from heaven.""  

If you don't have time to read the book, do get the 1-hour lecture on this on Formed or from Lighthouse Media. You will not be disappointed.

ETA: a short article by Scott Hahn that explains the parallels between Passover and Easter.

I'm also enjoying Hahn's The First Society: the Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order. Again, he explains simply and clearly how if we get marriage right, society flourishes. He recalls a lecture in which a priest mused, "If Catholics would simply live the Sacrament of Matrimony for one generation, we would witness a transformation of society and have a Christian culture." Wow! It's both that easy and that difficult. It's a must read given how confused modern society is about marriage. Get your free copy from the St. Paul Center.

The Friday morning men's group is reading Flannery O'Connor so Michael is bringing lovely insights from Msgr. McInerney about the stories. I'm re-reading some of my favorites in light of them. One thing that struck us both is how we see ourselves in those stories. We are so aware of our sinful nature, yet where sin abounds, so does grace, and Flannery captures those moments so eloquently. By the way, if you are a writer, I highly recommend Mystery and Manners. It's a book I have to read periodically to get my head straightened out, given that I write for the educational market.

Great books are our best teachers. I am thankful for them. Happy Reading!!! Please share some of your besties. And have a very happy and holy week. God bless you.  
NB: Paul, Apostle of Christ is a fantastic movie! It's about the early Christians in Rome and centers around the last days of St. Paul. Much of what we know about him comes from St. Luke and vice versa. It was so lovely to see their bond of love. And the filmmakers bring to life Priscilla and Aquilla from Acts, how the Christian community loves each other, how they are martyred. We had a chance to see it last week at the Citadel Mall and it's playing there still. Don't miss it.

And please come see me at Mt. Pleasant Barnes & Noble on Sat. 11 am. I'd love to see you. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Story Time with Duckling and Ten Easter Eggs

Local friends, please bring your little ones to the Mount Pleasant Barnes & Noble Sat., Mar. 31st, 11 am for Story Time. I'll be reading Mo Willems' The Duckling Gets A Cookie!? and my Ten Easter Eggs. We'll have an egg hunt afterwards, color traditional pysanky designs, and sign books. I hope to see you there. Please spread the word! I'm sharing a few pictures of cute kids with TEE!!! This is always the best part!!! And I'd love it if you share your pictures of TEE in the wild. Thank you! Hoppy Easter!!!



Thursday, March 22, 2018

On Retreats, Reading, and Education

About a month ago I overheard Michael and Max talking on the phone. Max was busy and wondering if he should take some time off to make a retreat. Michael encouraged him to do so because the studies and work are always there. "Don't be like me and wait until you're 55," he said. I had to laugh--Max has been on a retreat nearly every year in high school and knows how beneficial they are.

Michael made his first ever retreat and returned home so very rejuvenated, he booked another one that he's been wanting to go for quite some time. He was busy mentoring the kids doing robotics and never wanted to miss one of Max's football or rugby games. So, with Max in college, he finally feels like he can take the time to retreat.

I really, really recommend retreating from the daily responsibilities and noise of the world at least once a year. I'm a homebody so it's easy for me to make a retreat at home, but still I have to work on maintaining the silence. But for a man who's been working all his life, I cannot even imagine how wonderful it must've been to lay down his burdens and be free to pray and contemplate deeply.

He was at the same Carmelite retreat center I'd been to two years ago. Fr. Juan Velez led all the prayers and meditations but there were also a couple of guest lectures. Michael said he loved the silence, but he also enjoyed the few conversations he had with the other men at the end of the retreat. He came home with the biography of Cardinal John Henry Newman, signed by Fr. Velez. We've been using the Newman guide to educate ourselves on Catholic schooling and have learned so much about the purpose of education. No, it's not about getting a degree. Or a job. It's so much more. It's fulfilling that deepest desire to know more, where you came from, where you're going, why you're even here! It's trying to appease that restless heart and the only way it will rest and be at peace is when it rests in the Lord. St. Augustine was right all along. I can't believe how late my own real education is beginning but every day there's joy and wonder at all the things I'm learning. I'll be at it till the day I die :)

I'm curious. What do you think is the purpose of education? Are you happy with what you received? Are you hungry for more? What are you doing about it?

We built a home library back in WA and building a smaller one here (you can't see it very well but the overall shape of the crates mirrors the shape of Max's room) and I'm delighted that there's space to add more books. And I'm very organized when it comes to books because books are my friends and I need to able to find particular ones quickly :) Also, all this pleases my inner librarian.

Max's room--adult nonfiction
Hallway--adult fiction/children's F and NF books/poetry
and we won't talk about my messy office :)
I picked up a couple more books and can highly recommend this slim gem of a book by Fr. James Schall: Liberal Learning. And I'm looking forward to digging into Fr. Velez's books.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Renovations, Celebrations, and Ruminations

We've been having Mass in the parish hall so that the floor could be repaired--it was damaged during Hurricane Irma. But we're back in our beloved Stella Maris and even the pews have been refinished and installed on the new floor. But the best part has been the painted dome with stars. My cheapie phone camera doesn't do justice but you can see how pretty it is. And the red sanctuary light showing that the Blessed Sacrament is reserved shows up better too. 

We had a High Mass to celebrate this weekend, along with a potluck supper and how fitting to do this Laetare Sunday. Rejoice!!! I loved the simple Gregorian chant Mass and motets for Holy Communion. There's a reason this music has endured. It truly lifts the soul heavenward. And the rose vestments also remind us that Lent is more than half over. And just a word of encouragement here: if you've failed to keep your Lenten resolutions, begin again. I love that our God is a God of second and third and hundred chances. We can always pick ourselves up after we fail and fall and resolve to do better the next day, the next hour, even. My head hasn't been the greatest and I've failed to detox as I should but I'm starting over.

I'm getting behind in sharing some of the good books I've been reading so without further ado... 

Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life's Storm by Tim Tebow and A. J. Gregory is a book for anyone who is struggling with the ups and downs of life. Tebow writes in such a straightforward manner about his own disappointments and setbacks in his football career, but the thrust of the book is remembering Who he belongs to. Always, always, Jesus is the answer. Tebow gives lots of examples from his own and others' lives how Jesus transforms people, gives them hope and faith to weather life's storms. Although this book is probably geared towards sports fans, I found it interesting to read about having a high pressure career like football and how he's able to keep God front and center. Highly recommended for young men. Thanks to Blogging for Books for a review copy.

To Love Fasting: the Monastic Experience by Adalbert de Vogue is a slim book that reminds people that Jesus expects us to fast, to pray, and to give alms. He doesn't say, if you pray, if you fast, if you give alms, rather *when* you pray, *when* you fast, *when* you give alms. However, the practice of fasting has all but disappeared from the lives of most Christians. This hermit-monk details his own experience as he returns to the rule of St. Benedict, gives the history of fasting, and the reasons for its decline and also for a revival of the practice, so as to love it.

I also like the companion book: Fast with the Heart by Fr. Slavko Barbaric. Both books have a similar message to revive this practice because it is a very Christian thing to do. 

Catholics are required to abstain from the flesh of warm-blooded animals all the Fridays of Lent and Ash Wed. and expected to fast on Ash Wed and Good Friday. However, most Catholics find fasting very difficult and it's because we do not practice it. Since the beginning of our conversion we decided to keep the Friday abstinence in place always (because the problem with choosing your penance is that you'll end up choosing nothing at all, or silly things like giving up Brussel sprouts). Michael and I started to fast on a regular basis only last year (see this post about Nineveh90) and the first six months were difficult. The latter half of the year went much easier. Fasting on Fridays is a habit now. And Michael is becoming monkish in his ways. But I see how it has drawn him closer to God, how much more self-control he has in all aspects, and a side benefit has been weight loss. I've begun to do longer fasts for therapeutic reasons alone with excellent results. Something about longer fasts resets the body so that the migraines stop. I also combine this for special intentions.

I happened upon The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera (translation by Sonia Soto. Isn't it a pretty cover? It exudes a certain lightness. But what it is, is a love story to a more traditional, simpler life, where neighbors care for one another, take care to educate the children well, and have delightful conversations about books and philosophy. I don't think I spotted a single cell phone :) The story is Miss Prim's discovery of San Ireneo when she responds to an advertisement in the newspaper. "Wanted: a feminine spirit quite undaunted by the world to work as a librarian for a gentleman and his books. Able to live with dogs and children. Preferably without work experience. Graduates and postgraduates need not apply." Why, Miss Prim reminds me just a little bit of myself. And her incredulity at discovering children knowing Virgil was mine as well. Her awakening mirrors mine. My only quibble is that I was just a little bit annoyed at the reference to Miss Prim's employer as the "Man in the Wing Chair"--it was fine for a chapter, but not over and over, given that she knows the names of the other people in the village. In any case, if you are interested in the Benedict option, this is a book you will enjoy. 

I picked up An American Childhood by Annie Dillard for a buck at the Friends of the Library book sale. Hardcover. In perfect condition! What a delicious find! I love her writing--so specific. She paints a picture with words. I'm savoring it slowly. I think every children's writer should read this book because of how deeply she delves into the mind of a child. I recognize so many of the intense emotions of childhood--the joy of being alive, the belief you can fly if you run fast enough, the fear of the moving shadows in the dark.  

Another book that I'm thoroughly enjoying is Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. It's so gratifying to read that I'm not the only procrastinator. Haha. In fact, I'm convinced that writers are the best at it. I have several full-length memoirs but these little snippets of hundreds of writers, artists, composers is a gem. It's well-researched with many quotable quotes. Here's a random entry about William James: "I know a person who will poke the fire, set chairs straight, pick dust specks from the floor, arrange his table, snatch up a newspaper, take down any book which catches his eye, trim his nails, waste the morning anyhow, in short, and all without premeditation--simply because the only thing he ought to attend to is the preparation of a noonday lesson in formal logic which he detests." This he told his class. I daresay he was speaking about himself! 

And that's all folks. I hope the rest of Lent is fruitful for all of us as we draw nearer to Jesus. Easter is almost here. Local friends, I'll be at the Mt. Pleasant Town Center Sat. March 31 at 11 o'clock for story-time, egg-hunt, and book-signing. Please come!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

First Spring Break

What joy to have Max visit with his friends from Ave Maria University. We had a wonderful whirlwind of a weekend together, full of good food, conversation, and games. I've not met a more joyful group of young people. They were a great blessing to us.