What I Read in June

I did not read as much in June, but I did meet my goal.  Here’s the breakdown:

Call Down the Hawk is the first of a trilogy that follows the Raven Boys series, which I loved. My adult daughter loves young adult fantasy and I am grateful for the ones she recommends to me.  This was a re-read in preparation for the second book coming out.

I’ve been reading Only Love Today for awhile, bit by bit during my evening prayer time. It’s perfect as a once-a-day read, and it contains valuable and affirming lessons written in an engaging and accessible way.

Mister Impossible is the aforementioned sequel, which I got my hands on at the beginning of vacation, once my daughter had finished with it. There’s not much I can say about this series without giving things away so I’ll just say I had  hard time putting it down.

I read The Vanishing Half for one of my Georgetown book clubs. It’s the story of Black twin sisters who are separated when one disappears to pass for white, and all the repercussions that follow into the next generation. I found the ending mildly disappointing but I was absorbed by the story.

Another Georgetown selection, The Pull of the Stars is set during the 1918 pandemic but the author did not plan its publication to coincide with our current pandemic. It was a case of truth being stranger than fiction that she had this book about to come out before she ever heard of Covid-19. Needless to say, the coincidence adds weight to what is already a well-written and riveting story about three days is a ward for pregnant flu patients in a hospital in Ireland. It was graphic and painful but I could not stop reading.

Secrets of a Summer Night is my guilty summer read. It’s obviously a romance novel, and first in a series about a group of wallflowers who set out to help each other find husbands before they are hopeless old maids. I discovered this author when I ran across one of her books at Goodwill. I was mildly intrigued by the blurb on the back of the book and my daughter and I enjoyed the book so much that we ended up reading the whole series.  If you ever enjoyed romance novels but grew tired of them, give these a try. There’s a freshness to them that makes the genre fun again.

And that’s it!

As ever, I’m linking up at An Open Book. Click below for more great reads.

When Charity and Love Prevail

Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1822).

I have a clear memory of myself as a little girl, pondering God and his ways. How could it be that He was everywhere? Or that He always was? And how could He possibly expect me to love everybody, even people I did not even know, or people I did not like?

Later I learned the difference between theological and human virtues, and as I grew (and especially after I became a mother) my heart expanded and filled with the love of neighbor the Catechism speaks of.

When most of us read “charity” our minds turn specifically to charitable giving, perhaps the writing of checks, or dropping off old clothes at a donation site, or even tax write-offs. This month we commemorate the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua. Although best known as the saint we pray to when we need to find a lost item, Saint Anthony is also the patron of the poor. This patronage arises from the story of a woman who gave the poor the weight of her drowned child in grain after Saint Anthony interceded on her behalf to restore the child to life. When we follow her example and give to those in need, our actions should be animated by the virtue of charity, for “Charity upholds and purifies our human ability to love, and raises it to the supernatural perfection of divine love (Catechism 1827).

Ten years ago, I experienced both kinds of charity when a tragedy befell our family. My husband and I and our youngest children were out of town attending a funeral when the phone call came, telling us that our house was on fire. We arrived home two days later to find a smoky, sodden ruin. We lost almost everything we owned.

Instantly homeless and bereft, we were also almost instantly lifted up by the prayers, love, and generosity of the various communities of which we were a part. Hundreds of people, most of whom we did not know personally, came to our aid. Friends welcomed our older children into their homes, my son’s football team provided us with evening meals for months, and clothes for the kids poured in from folks far and near. On the day we moved into a new home three weeks after the fire, it took a 24-foot truck to collect all the donations that fully furnished our house.

This was more than perfunctory charity: it was the love of neighbor that Jesus calls us to. Because of this love, what might have been purely tragic was transformed into something that was also beautiful.

Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest (Catechism 1829).

This reflection originally appeared as a Witness Testimony in the June 2021 Lily Box from Seeds for Sainthood.

 

 

Religious Freedom: More Than Freedom to Worship

The popular understanding of religious freedom is the ability to attend the worship service of your choice on a regular basis. But is that a full definition?

In Dignitatis Humanae, The Second Vatican Council declared “that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. . . that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth.” (emphasis mine)

It should be clear, then, that religious freedom is about more than freedom of worship.  Yes, in America we are blessed to be able to gather to pray with fellow believers without fear—something we would do well to remember is denied to many people in the world. But true faith demands more from us. We must also be free to exercise this faith in the public square. Our faith is supposed to animate everything we do.

As the USCCB wrote in a statement a few years ago, “Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith? Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and social services that religious Americans make every day, both here at home and overseas.

credit: http://www.religionlink.com/tip_060717.php

I have blogged on this before. Even though as any reader knows I am a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act, I was NOT a fan of the contraceptive mandate and I wrote about that here. I have also written about our duty to welcome the stranger and how some of the former administration’s policies threatened that.

Vatican documents acknowledge the right of the state to regulate the exercise of religion in the interests of the public good. A recent example of how fraught that can be is the limits on gatherings that were imposed during the height of the pandemic as public health measures—something I fully supported. I think the danger to the Church from limits on believers’ ability to act in the public square is by far the greater concern. Non-believers who ask us to confine our beliefs to our houses of worship do not really understand what faith demands of us.

Catholics must also be wary of limitations being placed on adherents to other faiths, even ones whose practices may seem alien to us.  We must defend their freedom if we wish our own to remain protected.

This post was inspired by Montse Alvarado’s Talk in the OSV Talks series, a series of topics from prominent Catholic leaders to spark discussion, explore new or re-explore old approaches, and inspire creative thinking, all from the heart of the Church. Ms. Alvarado is VP and Executive Director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, “a non-profit, public-interest legal and educational institute with a mission to protect the free expression of all faiths.”

What I Read in May

Y’all, I read TEN books this month!

I kicked it off with Anne’s House of Dreams. You know, I never realized before how wildly varying in style the Anne books are. In contrast to the primarily epistolary structure of Anne of Windy Poplars and the episodic structure of Anne of the Island, this one has much more of a narrative structure, which I enjoyed.

I bought White Fragility last year when everyone else was buying it. I’ve since realized that there’s something problematic about getting my racism education from another white woman, but I still found valuable insights here.

I did not find Boundaries to be as good as I was expecting. It was very elementary and I don’t personally  need Biblical reassurances that it is okay to set boundaries. Still, it confirmed some of the things I have already been working hard on for awhile.

I have been reading The Silmarillion via the Tea with Tolkien book club. Although I did not have time to participate in the discussions, I found the weekly podcast episodes summarizing each chapter to be super helpful. This was my second read of this book, which sat largely untouched on my shelf most of my life because it was so challenging, and I think I really have a handle on it now. It is so beautiful.

I read Anne of Ingleside this month too, which brings to a close my reading of the Anne books from my childhood (the two short story volumes were not included in this boxed set.). Two books remain to read, mostly about Anne’s children, but they were out of print when I was a little girl and I did not read them until I was an adult. This volume is again more episodic. I “get it” more now because Anne’s midlife musings are way more relevant to me these days!

I ordered The Psychic Hold of Slavery a couple of years ago after attending a discussion led by the authors at one of my Georgetown reunions. It was a challenging, academic read–a collection of essays examining the issue of why Black people cannot just “move on” from slavery, through lenses of poetry, novels, television, art, and movies.

I took to heart a lot of what I read in Health at Every Size, which debunks the notion that you have to be thin to be healthy, and promotes body acceptance and rejection of the modern diet culture. As someone with a life-long struggle in these areas, I found this message welcome.

I almost did not get to read a a Brother Cadfael book this month, but
Emily brought me one right before John and I went to visit our middle son, Teddy, in Boulder, and I read Dead Man’s Ransom in the hotel.  I continue to relish this series and I am relieved there are still so many left to read.

Amazon Prime offers subscribers one free e-book each month. I always take advantage but not being a big fan of e-reading I save these books for airplane rides.  I read The Darkest Flower on the way to Boulder. Besides being a fun legal thriller this one also offered some food for thought regarding legal ethics and the legal profession that felt relevant (my husband is a lawyer and I’m his assistant).

And finally, I read The Next Wife on the flight home. While I was entertained by the story throughout, I really don’t like books in which everyone is horrible. I want to be able to root for someone!

Thanks for following my reading adventures. I am as usual linking up with An 
Open Book. By clicking below you can find other great reads!

 

When You Became You: A Scientifically Accurate Celebration of Human Beings

I have an article published in the Spring issue of Celebrate Life Magazine.

Brooke and Christiane worked with a New York Times best-selling illustrator for four months, providing guidance and ideas for the illustrations. According to Brooke: “The illustrations truly capture and enhance the essence of the book’s scientifically accurate celebration of our shared humanity, in terms of human development. The illustrator [who was advised by her American partners to omit her name from the book due to its “controversial” nature] took great care to make the artwork engaging and beautiful while keeping the science at the center of the story.”

These beautiful illustrations are inspired by the Carnegie Stages of Human Embryonic Development and by actual images of preborn human beings at various stages. In addition, the illustrations “incorporated abstract DNA strands, the infinity symbol, the Earth, the solar system, chemical symbols, elements from the periodic table, etc. to reinforce the message that we are introducing children to important science about when a human being . . . begins to exist.” 

You can read the rest here!

What I Read in April

April was a month in which I read parts of a lot of books which I will finish and post about NEXT month. I did meet my five book goal for April though!

Continuing with my re-read of the Anne of Green Gables series, I read Anne of the Island, in which Anne goes to college. On this reading it strikes me how little we actually hear about Anne’s actual studies! Also, the pacing is strange as whole years seem to pass in the blink of an eye. But I will always love this book for the chapter in which Anne finally realizes that she loves Gilbert.

Ellis Peters’s mysteries continue to delight me. This month’s read was The Devil’s Novice. Whenever my daughter brings me one of these books from the library, I immediately put down whatever I’ve been reading and proceed to devour it in a day or two.

This Is All I Got was a gut-wrenching, soul-sucking read, and if you are one of those people who believe a smart, hard-working woman ought to be able to pull herself out of poverty, you need to read this. It was one of my Georgetown book club reads for the month.

The Biggest Bluff was the other Georgetown book and it was a jarring juxtaposition to the prior one. It chronicles the author’s quest to become a top poker player, while also dabbling in psychology.  If you don’t understand poker and don’t really want to, parts of it are tedious, even though the story and some of the insights are interesting.

Finally, even though I am trying to read only one of these a month, I just could not resist cracking open Anne of Windy Poplars. This is probably my least favorite of the series, perhaps because it is almost entirely epistolary, and features too many new characters at the expense of all our old friends.

I am writing this on May 5, and I have already finished two books this month–so I am already looking forward to next month’s post!

As always, I am linking up with An Open Book. Click the picture below to discover more great reads!

 

My Pandemic Year

March 2020. It was the beginning of the pandemic–schools had just been shut down. Everything was strange and I was afraid.

I had been walking at the park down the street from my house since the beginning of the year–I’d stop on my way to pick up the kids from school and do fifteen minutes or so.  Now I started going every morning, working up to an hour every day.  Walking while listening to Catholic speakers or podcasts or praying along with Hallow or Pray As You Go became a lifeline for me.  As long as I could walk I felt stronger and braver.

I took the above picture last March. Since then I have taken many, many pictures of my beloved park, as I have continued to walk almost every morning through all weather and seasons.

In addition to these morning excursions I started walking for an hour every evening with my friend next door. She used to text me frequently asking if I wanted to come  with her but I was always too busy. Now I said yes, and our socially distanced treks were an important source of human contact as well as exercise.

Below are the shoes I wore from March until I got sport sandals in the summer, and then again through the fall and winter until February when I finally bought really good shoes to help with my foot pain.

I set many goals for myself last year, and achieved most of them, with the help of my Shine Goals Planner and the tools I learned in Sterling Jaquith’s Catholic goal setting courses. One of the first goals I set was to increase my steps per day.

That’s how my average step count changed from 2019 to 2020. Even better is the following picture which covers year one of the pandemic:

It’s even cooler when it’s translated into miles:

I set goals for other things in my life too.  I went from drinking no water at all to drinking several glasses daily. I finally eliminated my bedtime snack habit. I started going to bed earlier and ensuring that I got seven hours of sleep every night. I created a regular schedule of morning and evening prayer. In fact, I created a schedule for just about every aspect of my life and I have stuck to it for a year.

As you might expect, my physical, spiritual, and emotional health benefited from all this.  All those pesky numbers–insulin, blood sugar, cholesterol, and the like–saw marked decreases into normal territory. I have dropped about 50 pounds and several sizes. And I feel peaceful and happy most of the time even as life has grown more complicated with two virtual students–one high school, one college–in the house.

Honestly, I have grown very comfortable with my new way of life and am now feeling a little scared about how things may change for me as we emerge from the pandemic.  As an introvert having all this time to myself has been nourishing to me–while my extroverted husband has become drained of all energy!

I have coped with this unprecedented, uncontrollable situation by somewhat rigidly controlling my own life. And I know that is not how a lot of people cope with times like this. If you coped by lying on the sofa eating junk food for a year this post is not meant as a judgment on you! We are all doing the best we can.

What I Read in March

I read a lot in March! I am once again becoming the girl who always has a book in her hand, and I love it!

I was not expecting to read The Turn of the Key, which was a book Emily got for herself at the library.  But as she described the plot, I became intrigued.  It’s a mystery inspired by The Turn of the Screw, which I read in college.  I couldn’t put it down and it kept me guessing right up till the end.

Every Catholic woman (those who hang out online, anyway) is reading Falling Home this month it seems.  It’s a vulnerable, touching, and inspirational memoir. A couple of my favorite quotes: “[G]oodness doesn’t become any less good or valuable because it only lasts for a short time,” and “But she is full of hidden treasures! She must be! Isn’t everyone? . . . [E]veryone has marvels and miracles woven within them.

Here’s another book every Catholic I know seems to be reading this month: Consecration to St. Joseph The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father.  And I’m going to voice a super-unpopular opinion: I did not like this book and I would have stopped reading it very soon if not that 1) It was one of the things I planned to do for Lent and 2) I wanted to be consecrated to St. Joseph.  As it was, I admit I skimmed parts. I hate to go on at great length in a negative way about a book that seems to be bearing great fruit for so many people so I’ll just say that it was repetitive and simplistic, and a lot of the “theology” seemed to be the writer’s opinion, as far as I could tell.

Bookclub time! This month I was participating in the Fountain of Carrots readalong of The Reckless Way of Love. Having read a biography of Dorothy Day not long ago I was eager to learn more of her wisdom, like “The mystery of the poor is this: that they are Jesus, and whatever you do for them you do to Him,” and “Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up.” I highly recommend this short and easy way if you want a quick introduction to the thinking of this holy woman.

I read Me and White Supremacy and completed the associated workbook as part of another online book club led by Leticia Ochoa Adams.  This is part of my ongoing anti-racism work, about which I plan to write more later. Anyway, reading this is hard and it’s work, but it is necessary work.

I continued my nostalgic revisit to the Anne series with the second installment, Anne of Avonlea, which primarily concerns Anne’s time as a teacher of the one-room schoolhouse she herself attended.  Here’s a lovely description of the heroine: “Anne was one of the children of light by birthright. After she had passed through a life with a smile of a word thrown across it like a gleam of sunshine the owner of that life saw it, for the time being at least, as hopeful and lovely and of good report.”

I don’t recall how I first came across Domestic Pleasures, but it was definitely by accident. I’ve never read any other books by the author, which I should probably remedy given how much I enjoy this one. This copy was a Christmas gift to replace the one I lost in the fire. It’s a tale of the intertwined lives and stories of Martha (ex-wife of Raymond); Charlie (Raymond’s divorce lawyer and now trustee of his estate); Jack and Phoebe, the teen kids of Martha and Charlie; Sophie (Charlie’s erstwhile girlfriend) and her unhappily-married sister, Connie; Patsy (Charlie’s ex-wife); and Gillis (Martha’s former lover and father of her toddler son).  At its heart it’s a sweet love story but philosophically it’s a reminder of how our lives are shaped both by random events and our connections.  It’s full of wisdom, for example: “Martha didn’t listen, because of course no one ever listens.

The Sanctuary Sparrow was another delightful visit to the medieval world of Brother Cadfael, former Crusader turned detective monk. These books never disappoint me and I am so glad that there are so many of them.

Did y’all count? That was EIGHT books so I surpassed my goal by three, and I read parts of lots of other things too, as you will eventually hear. Check out more books at the link below.

They Like Me! (Or Maybe Not, and I Still Don’t Care)

Over the past year I noticed a precipitous decline in my “likes” on my Facebook page, which is where I am most active and therefore is how I tend to gauge my “success” at this social media/blogging thing.  This decline coincided with my sharing more “political” posts and perhaps even more specifically regular “Black Lives Matter” content.

Y’all, that isn’t going to stop, and it might even become more pronounced.

Years ago, when I was a charter member of the Diocese of Knoxville’s Respect Life Committee, one of the co-chairs said something that has stuck with me ever after: “Catholicism must be political; it cannot be partisan political.” I am a Catholic, first and foremost, and my page is a Catholic page; therefore, I will continue to advocate for political change in ways that seem to me to go along with Catholic Social Teaching.  On my page you’ll see posts that are anti-abortion or anti-racist side by side with posts that are pro-immigrant or pro-universal healthcare.  You’ll never stop seeing posts about abortion, but sometimes I’ll be posting more about, for example, Black Lives Matter, because that’s what I feel called to draw attention to at that time.

And you’ll see me calling folks to positions that embrace a consistent ethic of life, just like Saint Pope John Paul called for in Evangelium Vitae.  And you will probably see comments from traditional pro-lifers who think that abortion is the only issue worth talking about or who don’t like feeling accused of hypocrisy for the perception that they  care more about unborn children than born ones.

You’ll see me pushing back against the idea that there is a perfect Catholic candidate for any office or that all Catholics must vote for a particular party. And you may see folks attempting to consign me to hell for saying that.

I’m here right now to say I DON’T CARE. I am no longer going to worry about my niche or my stats or my marketability. The few folks who pop into my inbox to tell me that they are grateful for what I write, that it makes them feel less alone, or that they look to me for insight on certain topics, are enough to assure me of what I feel in my bones already: that I am writing and posting about the things God wants me to write and post about.

For whatever reason you followed me, I am glad you are here. And if you like some things I post but not all of them I hope you will stick around. Join the discussion so that we can learn from each other.

What I Read in February

I met my five-books-per-month reading goal for February, plus I read parts of lots of others.  It seems weird to think of reading as something I need to schedule, but thinking of between three and five in the afternoon (when I don’t have anything pressing going on) has helped me meet my goal.  And turning it into a goal means I don’t feel guilty taking the time to do it!

First up: Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer, which I finished up in a matter of days (because it was my daughter’s library book, and is on a perpetual waiting list so she couldn’t renew it).

I know, I know, and don’t laugh at me, y’all.  I read the Twilight Saga years and years ago back when they first came out and Emily was really into them.  The thing about those books is that they are compelling and interesting and it’s not until you read the last one that you feel cheated by the whole thing.  That’s how we felt, anyway.

But Midnight Sun is kind of fun–it’s just a retelling of the first book told from the vampire’s perspective.  Some of this was interesting–for example when it gave us access to scenes that were not in the first book.  Other parts were unbearable tedious.  Still, if you read Twilight and enjoyed it at all, you will probably want to read this.

Fiat Ordo by Elayne Miller of Annunciation Designs was my spiritual read for the month.  This is a great little book for any woman seeking to bring order into her life.  You can read it in a month, one short chapter each day, with space for journaling in response to prompts that will really encourage you to dig in and evaluate how you organize your time.  It includes the following prayer that I should probably say every day: “Lord, fiat ordo. Bring order into my heart and into my life. Give me the strength to cling to order when chaos swirls around me. Give me the humility to remain ordered to you when temptations abound, Give me the patience to sit in ordered silence rather than fill the emptiness with noise. Let there be order.”

 

I read Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate for my in-person book club (we are meeting outdoors, around a fire, socially distanced, and therefore have not met in a couple of months!).  I couldn’t put it down, even though parts of it were painful to read–it’s based on a true story of poor children being stolen from their parents to be adopted out to well-to-do families.

I’m averaging one Brother Cadfael book per month, with Emily thoughtfully putting them on hold at the library for me. The Virgin in the Ice did nothing to make me regret that.  I continue to enjoy the mysteries, the medieval atmosphere, and the spiritual nuggets I always find in this delightful series.

What can I say about L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables? I was probably eight years old when I first encountered this book, presented to me by my grandmother on one of my weekly overnight stays.  I seem to recall her saying she had read it herself as a child.  I read that copy to pieces, and then lost it in a fire.  But I got the boxed set for Christmas and am looking forward to reading them all, in a more thoughtful manner than usual, which already rewarded me with these two descriptions of Anne that never struck me before: “who knew and cared nothing about God’s love, since she had never had it translated to her through the medium of human love,” and “There was no ciphering her out by the rules that worked with other children.

I’m writing this on March 1, and I am already deep into several other books with more on my shelf I can’t wait to dive into.  I look forward to sharing them with you next month!

As always, I’m linking up with An Open Book.  You can check out other great reads below!