When the Bad Guys Win

Today’s First Reading is really satisfying, isn’t it? Imagine King Antiochus, secure in the power of his army, head full of dreams of silver and gold. He is so certain of victory that when things don’t go his way, he is dismayed. In today’s slang, we might say he is “shook.” He is so overcome that he takes to his bed and prepares to die. On his deathbed he recognizes the price he has paid for his greed.

Wouldn’t it be nice if things always worked out that way—the virtuous victorious, the evildoers overthrown? That is not the norm in our fallen world, though.

Read the rest of my reflection for Inspire Daily at the link below:

When the Bad Guys Win

What I Read in October

I made up for last month’s failure to meet my five-book-a-month goal by reading eight books this week, thanks to multiple book clubs.

Think Like a Rocket Scientist by Ozan Varol

This is a perfectly fine book, which I read for one of my Georgetown book clubs. It just didn’t really grab me and I kind of had to slog through it. I’ve decided to opt out of the Georgetown choices that I am not really excited about going forward.

The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

It was my third time participating in Booktober this month, and this was the first book I read. It had some problems, but this tale of two women living almost a century apart, both of whose lives were affected by a mystery of books gone missing from the New York Public Library, was a fun don’t-want-to-put-it-down kind of read.

The Sirens of Mars by Sarah Steward Johnson

This was the other Georgetown book club selection that I had trouble finishing. Again, it’s not the author’s fault that the subject matter just did not grab me. One neat thing is that there was a certain amount of overlap between this and the Rocket Scientist book.

Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald

This was the second Booktober selection, about people working at the BBC during World War II. It was a weird read because I could see that it was well-written but I just did not care about it at all.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

I do not even know what to say about this book. Bizarre is the best adjective to describe it. I have read O’Connor’s short stories so I know how strange she can be but I wish that I had read this in college so I could have had a really good discussion about it.

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanual Acho

This would make a great starting point if you have not read any books on being anti-racist yet. It’s based on the author’s video series of the same name in which he answers questions posed by white viewers, on all kinds of topics from hip hop to Affirmative Action. It’s very non-threatening and accessible if there is someone whose consciousness you’d like to raise. 🙂

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

I slogged through this 600-page tome for my RL book club, having been assured that it was the scariest book ever, and I regret to inform you that I was more irritated than scared. I get that it’s supposed to be clever and experimental and modern but I wish someone would explain its appeal and how it has achieved cult status.  To sum up as briefly as possible, it’s a (fictional) scholarly book about a fictional movie written by a reclusive old man discovered and edited for publication after his death by a troubled, drug-addled young man and it has about a million footnotes and what I will call a creative layout.

A Most Excellent Mystery by Ellis Peters

What can I say? Delightful, as always, and I was pleased to figure out the mystery more quickly than usual.

As usual, I am sharing this month’s reads at An Open Book. Check it out!

What I Read in September

Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that I have turned into a person who 1) needs to set a reading goal and 2) finds a five-book-a-month goal challenging at times.

I was the kid who always had her nose in a book–brushing my teeth, walking down the hall, eating my breakfast, riding in the car . . . I was reading all the time. You know how kids are with their phones these days? That was me, only with books.

I read around a book a day most of my life until college.  And even up until about ten years ago I was already reading something. I blame the internet. I still read a lot, only not books.

ANYWAY, that’s why I set this goal. And I did not make it in September! In fact, I only read THREE books!

I know why–it was the first full month of school. And my 2:00-3:30 reading time often was absorbed by helping William with online college. That’s one reason. The other is that two of the books I was reading for my online Georgetown book clubs just were not that compelling, making my reading of them more of a chore.

Here’s what I DID read.

Rewilding Motherhood by Shannon K. Evans

Shannon is a blogger and writer whose work I’ve been following for a long time. I loved her first book, Embracing Weakness, and so I was excited not only to read this one but to participate as a member of the launch team, which got me an advance copy and was so much fun.

Beautifully written and full of the wisdom of an amazing array of theologians and thinkers—all of them women—this is a book that challenges you to think and then to think some more. Shannon helps you do that with suggestions for “Going Deeper” at the end of each chapter. My favorite was her invitation to go back into my childhood to remember all the ways I enjoyed spending time back then, looking for clues to what I should be doing now: “The activities that absorbed us as children can speak to the unique and particular way our souls were formed.”

Writers and Lovers by Lily King

This was the one Georgetown book I did enjoy, although I don’t know if I’d read it again. It’s about an aspiring writer who is still reeling over her mother’s death and is working as a waitress and drowning in student loans.  The part that stressed me out was her having two boyfriends at once–and then I disagreed with which one she picked! If you have read it, let me know if you agree with me!

It Happened One Autumn by Lisa Kleypas

This was my fun read, second in The Wallflowers series of historical romances. I was a big fan of this genre as a teen, then I got bored. But these are different, with quirky heroines who take their destinies into their own hands, albeit within the rigid confines of the patriarchal society in which they live. I want to read the next one but my daughter says we have to wait until Winter, when it is set.

Of course, I was reading other books last month which I did not finish . . . which means I have already finished three in October, so I’ll have a lot to tell you about next month! In the meantime, I’m linking up with An Open Book–just click here for more great reads.

Let Your Light Shine

Today’s Gospel Acclamation exhorts us to let our light shine, and in the Gospel Jesus reminds us not to place that light under a bushel. At the end of their exile, the Israelites could not hide the light of their faith and their appreciation of the good things God had done for them.

Surely God has done great things for all of us, but how good are we at shining?

Read the rest at the link below! You can also find it in the MyParish app if you have it, or sign up for daily reflections at Diocesan.com.

Let Your Light Shine!

What I Read in August

I met my goal in August and have some great reads to share.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

I read this for the Fountain of Carrots book club. It’s absolutely delightful. I already am wanting to re-read it so I can unpack new layers of meaning. I loved it so much that I was unable to stick to the book club schedule and finished way ahead. Also, it’s short! A sampling: “The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.

Rainbow Valley by L.M Montgomery

This is the book I’ve read the fewest times of all the Anne books. This may be only the third time, and I found myself liking it better but still wishing it focused more on Anne’s family and less on the Meredith children, even though enjoyed reading about them.

Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy by Mary Pezzulo

Mary is one of my favorite bloggers–I share her writing on my page all the time. This is an amazing and personal explanation of the Works of Mercy, with practical and empathetic takes on how you can practice them: “I  have learned so much about what it’s like to be poor, sick, and lonely that I have something to tell other people, so that we as Christians can help one another. God didn’t want me abused, but he has used my journey to help me tell other people about what it’s like so it’s not so hard and isolating for them. I couldn’t have done that before.”

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

This was our in-person book club choice for August and I enjoyed it very much. I found myself wanting to know about the backstory and hoping for more in this universe. I will say the tone is a little strange. It reads like YA fantasy but the protagonist is middle-aged. Also some bits are over the top–like the hilarious pronouncements of the six-year-old Antichrist, but that adds to the fun. At bottom, it’s a sweet, affirming book–though it has its own controversy.

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

This was the month I finished the Anne books and now I will have to decide what my next comfort read will be. This book is often tragic, moving, and hard to read, but it’s also a lovely coming of age story and a great history lesson of what it was like on the Canadian home front during World War I.

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois

I’d been working my way through this slim yet dense volume for several months. Always lyrical, often informative, especially about the time just after the Civil War, this was a new perspective for someone whose only previous knowledge of those days comes from Gone with the Wind. DuBois often quotes lyrics of the songs of his people, about which he writes:

Through all the sorrow of the Sorrow Songs there breathes a hope–a faith in the ultimate justice of things. The minor cadences of despair change often to triumph and calm confidence. Sometimes it is faith in life, sometimes a faith in death, sometimes assurance of boundless justice in some fair world beyond. But whichever it is, the meaning is always clear: that sometime, somewhere, men will judge men by their souls and not by their skins. Is such a hope justified? Do the Sorrow Songs ring true?

As usual, I’m linking up at An Open Book. Check out more great reads there!

 

What I Read in July

Well, this was the first month I failed to meet my five book reading goal. I read parts of several other books that will show up in my August post, but  only completed four. It is getting harder and harder to preserve my dedicated reading time, and with school starting back up in August I am going to have to re-think my schedule.

I started The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings years ago and did not finish it, so I started over. This is a very accessible look at Tolkien’s philosophy, and there is a lot on C.S. Lewis too!

I should have read Divine Mercy for Moms last year, when Faustina was my Saint of the Year (which is why I bought the book in the first place!) but better late than never!  This book is a nice intro to Saint Faustina’s story and spirituality, and comes with practical advice, a study guide for individuals and small groups,and daily reflections and prayers.

Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems before They Happen is the last of the second quarter of Georgetown book club reads. It was a fascinating look at problem-solving. I liked its emphasis on analysis and concrete steps rather than just worrying about the future and succumbing to paralyzing anxiety. I feel myself thinking new thoughts after reading it.

Finally, The Pilgrim of Hate is the next installment of the Brother Cadfael books, which continue to delight me.  I drop everything else to read these when my daughter brings me the latest from the library. I am halfway through the series now!

As ever, I am linking up with An Open Book. You can find more great reads by clicking here. And please comment below with your own latest reads!

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!