Book Reviews

Best of All Gifts: A Novel
Sheila M. Cronin

People who read the author’s book The Gift Counselor will be glad to find out in this second book what happens to Jonquil Bloom, a young widow pursuing a degree at UCLA.  No need, however, to have read the first book, because Best of All Gifts is fine standing alone.

Jonquil is a gift counselor at a department store, and therefore the book contains sound advice about giving the proper gift. As her life unfolds, she also learns about the best gift. Her relationship with the handsome Claude develops, although threatened by a crush she has on her advisor. She discovers that the father who “deserted” her on her eighth birthday is still alive. When her son, Billy, is hospitalized, she comes face to face with her main flaw. And she struggles with herself in coping with a devious coworker. Throughout, her story weaves the two themes of different kinds of love and forgiveness.

A generous attention to detail grounds the novel in reality. The characters, including the dog Blackie, are real and likable. No doubt, many readers will be able to identify with Jonquil as she copes with various challenges.

Anyone who likes warm, gentle, family tales with satisfying endings will value this book.

$15.97,  336 pp.  e-book available

BOOK REVIEW  Mending the Heart: A Catholic Annulment Companion 

Lisa Duffy

This is a valuable book for anyone who is divorced and considering an annulment—especially those who fear or question the process.

Because the author has endured the horrible, heartbreaking experience of an unexpected divorce, she can identify with other divorced people. In addition, she has spent almost twenty years helping people recover from divorce and move on.  As a result, she has put together a practical and thorough explanation of the annulment process, including Pope Francis’s recent changes.  More than that, in a gentle, compassionate way, she offers advice for recovering from the pain of divorce.

Duffy clearly explains the Catholic view of marriage and divorce, in particular, what constitutes a valid marriage.  When a marriage has been judged invalid, the two parties are free to remarry without being deprived of the sacraments.  The author also dispels misunderstandings about the annulment process, such as the error of thinking that an annulment makes children illegitimate.

The chapters are built on verses from Eccesiastes 3:1–8 (“There is a season and a time for every matter under heaven,” and so forth). Examples drawn from people’s experiences demonstrate and clarify the author’s messages. Each chapter concludes with a list of its main points followed by questions that guide the divorced reader to analyze his or her own situation.

One significant suggestion Duffy offers is to take time going through the process of recovery. A warning she gives and explains is not to form a new relationship while the annulment process is ongoing.

After reading and studying this book, divorced people can come to view an annulment as a blessing that helps them understand themselves better and boosts them into the next phase of their life’s journey. I strongly recommend this book not only for divorced people, for those who would like to know where the Church stands on marriage and divorce.

The 112-page book is published by Our Sunday Visitor and sells for $13.95.

Do you know a divorced Catholic who might benefit from reading this book?

BOOK REVIEW:  Forgiving Mother: A Marian Novena of Healing and Peace

Marge Steinhage Fenelon

Recently non-native speakers were asked in a poll to name the most beautiful English word. Most of them responded, "mother." Not everyone, however, enjoys a good relati

onship with his or her mother. Some mothers are uncaring and even abusive, sometimes because of bad experiences with their own parents. Being deprived of a mother's love leads to a host of problems, such as suffering, guilt, anger, and a lack of self-worth. Realizing that a number of people are estranged from their mothers, Fenelon wrote this book to offer help. She speaks from personal experience, frankly recounting times her mentally ill and abusive mother treated her cruelly. This makes for uncomfortable reading. However, Fenelon explains that she reveals these "family secrets" to show her readers that she knows what they are going through.

The paramount advice the author offers is to look to our Blessed Mother and take comfort in her tender love and help. (My own book Heart to Heart with Mary cultivates this practice and would make a good resource for those in need of a mother's love.) Fenelon traces the development of her relationship with Mary, dwelling on her involvement with the Schoenstatt Movement, its founder, and consecration to Mary. She presents St. Germaine as an example of grace at work. In the course of the book, she offers practical advice and shares her wisdom. The reader finds answers to questions such as how do you deal with painful memories? How do you forgive?

Before Fenelon's mother dies, they are reconciled and Fenelon is healed. The book concludes with a novena based on the wisdom offered in each of its nine chapters. Each day of the novena begins with an introduction followed by a Gospel passage for meditation. Commentary on the passage and how it is linked with subject of the book is next. Then several questions for pondering are suggested. These questions may be the basis for prayer with Jesus or answered in writing in a journal. The day concludes with a prayer to Jesus or Mary and a rosary prayed for a particular grace or intention.

In its gentle, personal way, this book can be a boon to anyone who bears painful wounds from an unhealthy relationship with a mother or stepmother.

BOOK REVIEW   The Peace of Christmas: Quiet Reflections from Pope Francis

By Diane M. Houdek  Franciscan Media  144 pages, $12.95

The flurry of activity during Advent can be overwhelming. There are gifts to buy and wrap, cards to send, special meals to prepare, cookies to bake, homes to decorate, and a tree to put up. The meaning of the season can easily be lost. The Peace of Christmas is the perfect antidote to stress and busy-ness. This book of daily reflections helps the reader to focus on God’s greatest gift: the coming of his Son into the world as a human being.

Each entry opens with a good-sized quotation from an address or homily of Pope Francis that is related to an Advent or Christmas theme. Coincidentally, Pope Francis is named for St. Francis of Assisi, who began the custom of displaying a Nativity scene. The Holy Father dwells often on the simplicity and poverty of the child of Bethlehem and the great love God has for us and our response.

The author then elaborates on the simple yet profound thoughts of the Holy Father in a section entitled “A Christmas Reality.” Weaving her personal memories and experiences with information about the Christmas story, she offers much food for thought. Her observations are down to earth and reflect the world as we know it. She refers to the violence and poverty in countries, and she acknowledges that there are dysfunctional families. In fact, one entry is “When Our Families Don’t Seem So Holy.”

The entries conclude with a section called “Your Christmas Gift Today.” In it the reader is presented with a practical suggestion for action that flows from the theme of the entry. In the entry on gift-giving, for example, the author advises resisting the temptation to use Santa as a threat against misbehavior but instead encourage children to imitate his generosity. Another suggestion is crossing off an item on your to-do list in order to spend an hour with God.

The entries lead from Thanksgiving through Christmas and end with Epiphany. The daily reflections can be read in sequence, but Houdek advises browsing through it when you have (or need!) a few minutes of quiet. Either way you make use of this book, you will find it a calming influence that sets your sights on the real meaning of Christmas. You will enjoy a respite of heavenly peace.

BOOK REVIEW  The Franciscan Saints

Robert Ellsberg

Everyone is familiar with the Franciscans St. Francis, St. Clare, and St. Anthony. This biographical book is a fascinating introduction to them and many other members of the Franciscan family. Included in the collection are some of the original Frranciscans, such as Brother Juniper; the founders of various branches of Franciscans, such as Mother Luana White, who founded the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement; as well as Third Order Franciscans.

The reader may be surprised to learn that St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Angela Merici, and St. Pope John XXIII were all Third Order members. The book encompasses many saints, blesseds, venerables, and servants of God, such as Sister Thea Bowman. Even the poet Dante Alighieri, who possibly was a member of Third Order, and the Franciscan Father Mychal Judge have pages devoted to their lives. A total of 107 holy people have found their way into Ellsberg’s book. Living the Gospel values and witnessing to Christ in their particular age and culture and dealing with difficulties and sorrows as we do, they serve as an inspiration.

The book, which required loads of research, is well written and engaging. For example, the opening sentence for the entry for a Franciscan Sister who died in 1943 reads, “Restituta Kafka took her religious name form a third-century martyr beheaded under the Roman Emperor Aurelian, little guessing that the age of martyrdom had not passed.” Each entry concludes with a quotation from or about the person presented. It was hard to tear myself away from reading this book.

BOOK REVIEW: Eight Whopping Lies and Other Stories of Bruised Grace

Brian Doyle   Franciscan Media $18.99

Eight Whopping Lies is a collection of thirty-eight scintillating essays by one of my favorite writers. His topics ran the gamut from infants’ push-up pants to the idiocy of war. One essay’s focus is the nail Martin Luther pounded into the beautiful church door!

Doyle’s unique observations about God and his creatures are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and sometimes so poignant that a tissue is required. He recounts personal experiences as a son, brother, dad and husband. He also describes encounters with others, such as the patient worker at the post office, who is God. All are told with the delicious words and metaphors and in the rambling sentences that never seem to need a period, which are this creative writer’s trademark.

The essays are told in the first person. They invite the reader to see the holy in the everyday and in other people . . . and to appreciate it. A splash of humor in the telling make the essays a delight to read. One can picture Doyle typing away with a twinkle in his eye.

The book begins with a remembrance from Doyle’s father, for, sadly, this gifted author died recently when he was too young. This fact makes some of his comments in the essays all the more touching. I recommend Eight Whopping Lies to anyone looking for a thought provoking yet thoroughly enjoyable read.

BOOK REVIEW: 101 Places to Pray Before You Die: A Roamin' Catholic's Guide by Thomas J. Craughwell

Franciscan Media, $18.99

In more ways than one, 101 Places to Pray Before You Die by Thomas J. Craughwell is a unique, fascinating read. A virtual tour of the United States, it is a handbook of sacred sites for every state: churches, shrines, missions, abbeys, retreat centers, museums, and hallowed grounds. The sites range from famous buildings like St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to obscure ones like the Convent of St. Birgitta, which at one time was supported by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

There are surprising entries, like the East Room of the White House where John Kennedy was laid out, the farm in Georgia where Flannery O’Connor lived, and the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art in Florida, where four Ruben paintings in honor of the Blessed Sacrament hang.

All of the places are described in detail: their architecture, furnishings, statues, stained glass windows, paintings, grounds, and treasures, such as the skeletons of two Roman martyrs St. Martin of Tours Church houses and the rare medieval manuscripts found in the library of Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon.

A fair bit of American history is gleaned from the pages of this book. Readers will discover historical tidbits: the first shrine to Our Lady in the United States (Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine, Florida); the Great Elm monument in Boston in memory of Ann Glover, hanged for being a Catholic when Philadelphia was the only state where Catholicism was allowed; St. Augustine Seminary in St. Louis, Mississippi, the first to train African Americans for the priesthood; and Our Lady’s appearance to Adele Brise in Wisconsin, the only apparition in the United States to be declared authentic.

The descriptions of the sites often entail a short biography of notable Catholics, such as St. Damien, St. Kateri, Fr. Emil Kapaun, Venerable Henriette Delille, Michigan’s valiant priests Fr. Gabriel Richard and Venerable Fredric Baraga, Anton Dvořák, and Danny Thomas.

Anecdotes hold the reader’s attention. For example, after John Adams visited Old Saint Mary’s Church in Philadelphia, he wrote his wife Abigail: “Here is everything that can lay hold of eye, ear and imagination. . . . I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell.”

The book also introduces several Catholic devotions, such as the Virgin of the Poor, Our Lady of La Vang, and the Holy Child of Atocha.

A practical travel guide, the book begins each entry with the site’s address, phone number, and website address and concludes with practical information, such as the times and seasons the site is open and even the price of retreats; the sacraments and devotions found there, and whether guided tours are available.

The reader will probably first look up the entries for his or her own state and then either dip into this book at random or read it straight through. No doubt, the book will awaken a desire to visit many, if not all, of the sites described.

Mother Mary: Inspiring Words from Pope Francis, edited by Alicia von Stamwitz, Franciscan Media, $22.99

Anyone who loves Mary and anyone who loves Pope Francis will love this book. It is a collection of this Pope’s reflections about the Blessed Virgin gleaned from his writings, homilies, speeches, and even tweets. His love and admiration for Mary is obvious. The reflections are neatly filed according to six topics: Handmaid of the Lord, Model of Faith, Mother of Mercy, Our Refuge and Our Hope, Star of the New Evangelization, and Queen of Peace. They may, however, be read by dipping into the book at random. Each reflection is labeled with the date and the occasion the Pope gave it.

The selections focus on Mary’s yes to God and yes to her brothers and sisters, Mary as a model for us, and Mary’s tender love and protection of us. Many of the concepts are easily applicable to everyday life, and some of them are quite relevant to today’s world, in particular, the reflections on peace.

In the Holy Father’s inimitable way, he poses unique titles for Mary. In discussing the Annunciation, he refers to her as “this little girl” and “mother and daughter of Jesus.” Later, he calls her our mamma. Other times he names her an icon of faith, the mirror of the Trinity, the virgin of readiness, and the mother of help.

The little book ends with a bonus: nine original prayers to Mary composed by Pope Francis. To me the most powerful prayer is the first one, “Mother of Silence.” In it we pray, “Save us from the idolatry of the present time, to which those who forget are condemned. . . . Help us to burn away the sadness, impatience, and rigidity of those who do not know what it means to belong. “

Reading this book deepens one’s understanding and appreciation of our Blessed Mother and her God-appointed role in salvation. It also encourages and inspires the reader to imitate her. More important, it fosters a love of this extraordinary woman who is God’s mother and ours.

BOOK REVIEW Little Sins Mean a Lot: Kicking Our Bad Habits Before They Kick Us

Elizabeth Scalia   Our Sunday Visitor, $14.95

Every morality course should make this book required reading. Scalia focuses on the faults that make us less than we would want to be and that might evolve into serious sins, like the capital sins. Some of the topics are procrastination, griping, self-neglect, excessive self-interest, suspicion, and gossip. The reader will cringe to realize that, yes, that’s me. But Scalia admits it first. In fact, she refers to herself as “the walking embodiment of all of these bad habits and sins.” Each chapter, sometimes with painful honesty, is shored up by personal examples of faults either in her or those who are in her life.

Each chapter opens with a quotation from diverse sources ranging from Homer Simpson to St. Benedict. After a discussion of the bad habit, it is further enhanced by a list of related quotations culled from the Church documents, popes, and saints. For those who can claim the little sin as their own, Scalia offers several practical recommendations for combating it. A few times she suggests praying to our Guardian Angel (another invisible friend who is always with us).  The chapter concludes with a prayer.

You would expect that, considering the subject, this would be a heavy, boring book. Far from it. The author’s light tone, wit, and funny bone all come into play. Although this book could be used to make an examination of conscience, it is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time.

BOOK REVIEW: Our Lady of Fatima: 100 Years of Stories, Prayers, and Devotions

Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle    Servant Books, $15.99

This May, Pope Francis is expected to canonize Francesco and Jacinta Marto, two of the three children who witnessed Mary’s appearances at Fatima. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first apparition on May 13, 1917. The book Our Lady of Fatima could not be more timely.

The author presents a carefully detailed exposition of the apparitions, beginning with the Angel of Peace’s visits in 1916 that prepared the three visionaries for Mary and concluding with Mary’s final visit, when the miracle of the dancing sun occurred, witnessed by thousands of people. This is followed by accounts of the lives of the three cousins, Francesco, Jacinta, and Lucia after the Fatima apparitions. The siblings Francesco and Jacinta died as children, but Lucia lived to become a Carmelite nun and died in the year 2000.

People who are familiar with the Fatima story, perhaps from viewing the movie about it, will learn new facts. For example, I didn’t know that Mary continued to speak to the children individually after the famous apparitions. Also, I was surprised to learn the extent of the sacrifices the three children undertook as a result of their special mission and the suffering it entailed. They truly did lead the heroic lives of virtue required for canonization.

Found in the book are explanations of the “three” secrets of Fatima and Mary’s requests, in particular, consecrating the world to her Immaculate Heart and the devotion of the Five First Saturdays. Included are various Popes’ reactions to Our Lady’s requests. Of course, the story of St. Pope John Paul II’s survival after being shot with four bullets on May 13 is recounted. The Pope attributed this miracle to Our Lady of Fatima and had one extracted bullet inserted in Mary’s crown on her statue in Portugal.

Woven through the book are numerous quotations from Popes and personnel of EWTN, where the author is a host. Each chapter ends with thoughts for reflection, suggestions for application, and a prayer. In an Appendix is a collection of prayers and devotions related to Fatima.

The book is marred by needless repetition and a few errors: beautified for beatified, lightening for lightning, and some incorrect punctuation. These can be overlooked in light of the book’s content; for the outstanding messages of Fatima are pray for world peace, especially the rosary, and perform sacrifices for sinners. This advice is sorely needed today. Reading this book promises to kindle a renewed zeal for living a holier life.

BOOK REVIEW Blessed Are the Stressed: Secrets to a Happy Heart from a Crabby Mystic

Mary Lea Hill, FSP Pauline Books & Media, $14.95

Sister Mary Lea admits to being crabby, and therefore seems an unlikely guide to understanding happiness. Still, she has produced a book that translates those nebulous beatitudes of Christ into something anyone can practice in order to be happy. Her tone is delightful, as though she is right beside you sharing her knowledge and laughing. In her own words, her book is “not a scholarly treatment of the beatitudes; rather it is a friendly stroll through them.”

In two-page chapters, Sister covers various and diverse aspects of each beatitude, like a bee flitting from flower to flower. As a bonus, she concludes the book by delving into the lessons Jesus delivered after the beatitudes according to Matthew’s Gospel. Throughout the eighty chapters, she introduces and illustrates points by drawing on childhood experiences with her family and her life in the convent. She sprinkles her text with worthwhile quotations and allusions to poems and fairy tales.

While being entertained by the author’s quirky sense of humor, the reader will imbibe ideas for living a happy and holy life. Each chapter concludes with suggestions and questions for personal reflection.

BOOK REVIEW  My Heart Is Ready: Psalm-Poems for Prayer & Proclamation

David Haas, ClearFaith Publishing, 2016, $20.00

David Haas is the composer of a great many of the hymns we love to sing. Appropriately, he is now the author of a collection of prayers that has grown out of his love of the psalms. These ancient prayers express the gamut of human emotions and have the underlying theme of trust in God. Haas has taken all of these 150 psalms and after much reflection has rewritten them in whole or in part and has sometimes interpolated them to include his own thoughts.  His paraphrases are not rooted in theology but spring from his heart. They are simple and intended to be used to cultivate the reader's reflection and stir up love for God. The prayers lend themselves to both personal and communal prayer.

In the back of the book are several helpful indexes. One is a detailed list of topics and situations when the prayers can be prayed. This is followed by a correlation of the psalms and liturgical seasons, feasts, and sacraments. Then there is a calendar of saints and other people and the respective psalm that is fitting to pray on their day.

People who like The Message Bible will like this new presentation of the psalms.

BOOK REVIEW:  Blessed Among Us 

Robert Ellsberg Liturgical Press, 766 pp. $29.95

If you subscribe to the daily devotional Give Us This Day, you are familiar with Ellsberg's feature "Blessed Among Us," in which he presents saints and other holy people. The book Blessed Among Us is a collection of these short biographies: two for each day of the year. The book is fascinating because it not only gives an account of familiar saints, but lesser known ones, including Blesseds and Venerables. Moreover, acknowledged Saints and candidates for sainthood are paired with people like Fyodor Dostoevsky, Florence Nightingale, Galileo, and Mahalia Jackson. Each one-page entry concludes with a quotation from the person or someone speaking about them, or from Scripture.

They saints are arranged according to the Church calendar. The contents in the beginning of the book lists the people by date, and an index in the back lists them in alphabetical order. The book is handsome: a hardback book that has icons of some of the people on its dust jacket and end sheets. A ribbon is attached to keep our place as we go through the year with the people as our companions. But you may be like me and not wait a year to finish this book. I agree with one reviewer who called it "a literary treat."

BOOK REVIEW   “Go Teach!” And Jesus Showed Us How

Regina Alfonso, SND 154 pp. $11.95

Jesus was a master teacher who held crowds of thousands spellbound. Two thousand years later we still benefit from his teachings. In her book “Go Teach!” And Jesus Showed Us How, Sister Regina looks to Jesus for methods and tips for teachers today. She studies him as he teaches large and small groups as well as individuals. She watches him adapt to different learning styles, utilize concrete things, and engage and correct students. Then she applies the wisdom she gleaned from Jesus to today’s classrooms.

Any teacher, but in particular religion teachers and catechists, will discover in this book ways to hone their teaching skills. Because the book is Gospel-based, at the same time teachers will also be meeting Jesus in his Word and getting to know him better.

The book’s text is set in sense lines rather than block paragraphs, inviting the reader to read slowly, to reflect on the messages, and to absorb them.

Anyone, teacher or not, would profit from reading this book.

“Go Teach” was originally published by Alba House in 1986, as How Jesus Taught: Methods and Techniques of the Master. People who were disappointed when that book went out of print can now rejoice at its resurrection as a new and improved version.

BOOK REVIEW:  Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Daily Meditations

Heidi Hess Saxton  Servant Books (Franciscan Media) $12.99

Using the daily readings as a springboard, Saxon has created a set of meditations that I found fascinating. A short quotation from one of the Scripture readings of the day is given. Then based on that main idea, a reflection unfolds that weaves together various strands:

  • Short quotations from Mother Teresa, such as “Be faithful in little things, for in them lies our strength” and longer ones from her writing such as the litany of who God is for her.
  • Quotations from people about Mother Teresa.
  • Quotations from others, even the eight levels of giving from the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides.
  • Accounts of events from the lives of Mother Teresa and her Sisters. Some of these stories were familiar to me, but it was good to refresh them.
  • Personal narratives of the author that lent interest to the subject.
  • Inspiring observations that have power to touch hearts and change lives.

After each reflection several questions help the readers ponder how the key message of the day has been borne out in their lives and how they could apply it in the future. These are followed by a prayer to God, but each one ends with the invocation “St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!

I think that St. Teresa, who cared for the unborn, the marginalized, and the disadvantaged, would be pleased that the Gospel values she preached through her life are being passed on through this book today, when we need to hear them more than ever. As she exhorted, may we each try to make our lives something beautiful for God—like she did

BOOK REVIEW: The Hope of Lent: Daily Reflections from Pope Francis

Diane M. Houdek

Franciscan Media $14.99

This companion book for the weeks of Lent is an opportunity to delve into and mull over some of the wisdom of Pope Francis. Each day begins with a lengthy passage from one of his talks that is linked to the readings of the day’s Mass. We hear Pope Francis deliver some aspect of the Gospel in his simple, unique way. This is followed by “Taking the Word to Heart,” a down-to-earth, practical reflection on what Pope Francis said. It offers food for thought like Lent is “not about what we do, it’s about what God does.”

Next there is “Bringing the Word to Life,” an application of the passage to our live that day. For example, because Pope Francis focuses on gossip as a trickle that might grow to a tidal wave, the suggested practice is be aware of opportunities to say no to gossip for a few days and keep track of them by a paper tally, a counting app, or moving an item from one pocket to another.

The section concludes with “Pope Francis Prays.” This is either a short prayer of pope or a topic he suggests we pray about, for example, “Let us ask for the grace that our hearts not harden . . . .”

Anyone admirer of Pope Francis who wishes to have a collection of his words will treasure this book. An added advantage is that it enables us to walk with him on our Lenten journey.

BOOK REVIEW:  On the Other Side of Fear: How I Found Peace

by Hallie Lord

If you are human, at certain times in your life, you experience panic. Hallie Lord has had more than her fair share of challenges—like having her utilities turned off and giving birth to her seventh child alone in the bathroom. In her autobiographical book, as Haillie recounts these scary events, she traces her journey from being fearful and worried to casting out fear by love. You might expect this to be a sad book, but no, it is a delightful read.

Haillie honestly bares her thoughts and feelings as she tells how she rises to one challenge after another. Gradually she recoups her ability to live up to her grandfather’s motto to perform “Feats of Bravery.” Her style is simple and sparked with humor. Even her acknowledgments are entertaining! Quotations and anecdotes from others like Saint Pope John Paul II bolster her main message that we can trust God in all the ups and downs of life. When we do, remarkable things occur. We need not fear.

Besides being a mother, wife, and author, Lord is a Sirius XM raadio host and the co-founder of the Edel Gathering for women.

BOOK REVIEW:  Saint Junipero Serra's Camino: A Pilgrimage Guide to the California Missions

by Stephen Binz

This is a fascinating book about the twenty-one California missions, the result of the faith and passion of the recently canonized St. Junipero Serra. He saw these jewels along the west coast as a holy ladder. Today, traveling an old route connecting the missions constitutes a national pilgrimage. Each mission originally was a community of Indians guided by Franciscans and protected by Spanish soldiers.

The first six chapters of the book are introductory. They cover the meaning of the pilgrimage, the life of St. Junipero, his inspiration from St. Francis's concept of missionary discipleship, the spirituality of the native peoples, an honest appraisal of the history of the missions, and a collection of quotations from and about the saint.

The bulk of the book is chapter seven, which presents for each mission the story of its founding, information about the Indians who were served by it, a biography of its patron saint, a detailed description of the buildings, its history, the museum connected to it, and other nearby sites. The thorough explanations are obviously the product of diligent research as well as the author's personal familiarity with each mission.

More than a history book, this book is intended to be used for a pilgrimage undertaken by the reader, either by making the journey physically in California or spiritually by "visiting" a mission each day. For this purpose, each section about a mission is followed by a prayer about a page long that includes a Scripture reading.

An appendix offers a map of the missions, a list of their founding, a prayer to be prayed by those making the pilgrimage, a glossary, and a list of references for further reading.

The book is well-written, clear and complete. It provides much insight into the early days of our country, the spread of Christianity, and our relations with the Native Americans. My only wish was that the photos of each mission were larger.

Reading this book, I learned a great deal, for example, what an enormous "city" each mission was. And for another thing, did you know that Bob Hope and his wife were buried at the San Fernando Mission? It also kindled in me a desire to make this pilgrimage along Saint Junipero Serra's Camino, which, no doubt, was the author's purpose in writing it.

BOOK REVIEW: How God Hauled Me Kicking and Screaming into the Catholic Church

Kevin Lowry, Our Sunday Visitor, 158 pp. $15.95

Lowry’s book has two parts. The first part is the story of his unlikely conversion to the Catholic faith, thanks to God’s grace. The son of a Presbyterian minister, the author became a student at a Catholic university. There he spent semesters drinking beer and skipping classes to the point that he was asked to leave. After working three years, he returned to the university and eventually got an MBA. Drawn to the Catholic Church, he began speaking to people about it and praying the rosary. He joined an RCIA program, and his wife accompanied him. When he was twenty-five, they both were baptized into the Church.

The second part of the book contains discussions of seven stumbling blocks to becoming Catholic, including Mary, the Eucharist, and the Church’s imperfections. These are clear and convincing and, in my opinion, the most valuable section of the book. Directors of RCIA programs, RCIA candidates, people returning to the Church, and non-Catholics who would like to understand what Catholics believe will find this book helpful. Others will find it interesting.

BOOK REVIEW: Cooking My Way to Heaven: My Convent Life & Notre Dame Recipes

Mary Ann Quinn $20.00    Available on or from her

If Catholic Sisters, particularly the Sisters of Notre Dame, played a role in your life, you will especially enjoy this book. Perhaps you wondered what life behind convent walls was like. Mary Ann Quinn offers insights as she recounts her experiences as Sister Sean Maureen, a cook Sister in the Notre Dame Community.

Along with colorful stories of her escapades in various convents, she explains convent terms and customs. The wit and humor in these pages are like the icing on the cake.

After Quinn’s memoir, she serves up a collection of recipes. Most of them are straight from the kitchens of the Notre Dames, a community with German roots.

Cooking My Way to Heaven makes a delicious read for cooks and non-cooks alike.

(I wrote this review for the back cover of the book, which I edited and designed.)

BOOK REVIEW: Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World

Pope Francis   Loyola Press, $18.95

This is an utterly delightful book. Jesuits ministering in twenty-six countries asked children to write a letter with a question to Pope Francis and draw a picture to accompany it. When these letters were presented to the Pope, Antonio Spadaro, S.J. transcribed his answers.

The format of Dear Pope Francis is attractive. Each left hand page has a sidebar showing a photo of the child; his or her name, age, and country; and a typed version of the question asked. The rest of the page is a copy of the child’s original letter and drawing. On the facing page is the Holy Father’s typed answer. Sometimes as he answers a question, he refers to the drawing.

The children’s questions are fundamental: “Can our deceased relatives see us?” personal: “When you were a child, did you like dancing?” or poignant: “Do you know why some parents argue with each other?” The Pope’s answers are thoughtful and charming, simple and yet profound. It is as though he is dealing with the child face-to-face.

The book concludes with the story of Fr. Spadaro’s meeting with Pope Francis to gather his responses to the children’s letter.

The hardcover book would appeal to both children and adults.

BOOK REVIEW:  Reading in Bed: Brief headlong essays about books & writers & reading & readers51xdqz6nqwl-_ac_us160_

Brian Doyle, Corby Books

This book is a must for all book lovers and a delight for anyone to read. Brian Doyle, a prolific author of books for adults and children as well as an editor, presents a potpourri of topics related to books. Besides discussing reading in bed (and surreptitiously reading the book your bed partner is reading), he also covers observing books on other people's bookshelves, books people have in cars, the physical properties of books, writing rejection letters as an editor, and the refrigerator as a large, humming book. He refers to his writing appropriately as "nutty, inky adventures." His whimsical style is characterized by sentences that run on and on but are understandable, striking vocabulary, and thoughts that take you by surprise.

As you read, you can hear Doyle speaking to you personally with a grin on his face. The book is highly entertaining while being informative. For me, the most valuable feature are the books and authors Doyle mentions that will serve as a guide for me in my next trip to the library.

Sadly, Doyle had surgery for a brain tumor the day before Thanksgiving. He and his family are in great need of prayers. A friend has put up a fundraising site for them.

BOOK REVIEW: Praying with Scripture: The Bible: You’ve Got Mail!

Mary Kathleen Glavich, SND, 145 pp., $12.00

The Bible is Sacred Scripture for Christians who regard God as its author. It is a gift by which God reveals himself to us and communicates with us. Sadly, for too many people, it is a hidden treasure. If they own a Bible, it may lie gathering dust instead of becoming dog-eared. Praying with Scripture introduces the reader to the Bible as God’s letter meant to be taken personally—a love letter. For the uninitiated, the book briefly explains the history and composition of the Bible and how to find your way around in it. But the large majority of chapters are devoted to how to use the Bible for prayer. Topics found in the book include ways to read the Bible, methods for meditating on Scripture passages, how to personalize passages, various ways to pray psalms, lectio divina, and lacing the Rosary and Way of the Cross with Scripture. A new chapter not found in the original version of this book is “Teaching Children to Pray with Scripture.”

At the end of each chapter are questions for personal reflection that may also be used for group sharing in book club or retreat settings. These questions are followed by a number of suggestions for Bible-based prayer related to the subject of the chapter.

In Praying with Scripture Sister Kathleen shares simply and clearly the knowledge she’s acquired from years of teaching and writing about God’s Word as well as from using it for prayer herself. People who are looking to nurture their personal relationship with God (and helping others to do so) are bound to profit from reading this book.

BOOK REVIEW: Caring for Creation: Inspiring Words from Pope Francis  (Edited by Alicia von Stamwitz, published by Franciscan Media, 181 pp., $22.99.)

Today’s paper reported that 300 animals are being eaten into extinction, air pollution is a contributing factor in the death of about 600,00 children per year, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has spiked even as far away as Antarctica. The number of men, women, and children killed in Mideast wars and as they flee their countries is staggering. In the face of this senseless destruction, Pope Francis has made the care for creation a top priority. Repeatedly he has reminded humankind about our responsibility for the gift of creation in homilies, speeches and most extensively and powerfully in his encyclical “Laudato Si” (Praise Be to You).

“Caring for Creation” is a compilation of the highlights of the Holy Father’s messages exhorting us to curb our self-centeredness and greed for the sake of the poor and future generations. In the carefully chosen selections, Pope Francis exhorts us to care for and share our beautiful planet and its resources.

That fact that the book contains many important passages from “Laudato Si” is a boon for those who find reading the entire document quite daunting. Interspersed with these passages are quotations from homilies and speeches concerning what the pope does not shrink from calling our “environmental crisis.” An interesting feature of the book are the pope’s tweets like the following: “When the world slumbers in comfort and selfishness, our Christian mission is to help it rouse from sleep” and “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”

Like a prophet, Pope Francis opens our eyes to truth and calls us to conversion. He urges us to change our culture of consumption and waste and our thirst for possessions and profit. He points out that we are to provide the rights of land, lodging and labor for all. He makes us realize that as we destroy the environment we are also destroying the human race. Reading this book spurs one on to join the revolution to restore our planet home and protect all its inhabitants.

BOOK REVIEW: Henri Nouwen: His Life and Spirit

Kevin Burns

Franciscan Media  139 pp., $19.99

Anyone familiar with Henri Nouwen and his books will delight in this biography, which reveals the very human man hidden behind the famous persona he showed in public. Nouwen, a towering figure in the realm of spirituality and the author of popular books, forty of which are still in print, entertained with enthusiasm and energy the thousands who came to hear him speak. At the same time he suffered from periods of depression brought on by an awkward relationship with his father, struggles with his homosexuality, and his intense desire to be loved and accepted for himself. He was the quintessential "wounded healer."

Burns tells the story of Henri with simplicity, honesty, and compassion, revealing little known facts, such as Henri being laughed at by classmates because he was cross-eyed. He relies heavily on quotations from Henri and also those gleaned from numerous interviews with people who knew him, in particular his brother Laurent. Prior to writing this book, Burns produced the award-winning documentary "Genius Born of Anguish: The Life and Legacy of Henri Nouwen" for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Obviously he knows his subject well. A bonus is the book's Afterward in which Burns presents nine ways that his life and Henri's are alike.

Burns traces Nouwen's journey from his birth in the Netherlands to his death from a heart attack in France. Along the way he introduces us to Henri's heroes (Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt) and many friends as this eccentric priest teaches at Harvard, lives with a L'Arche community in Canada, and follows a circus. The result is a fascinating book about a unique life. I think Henri would be pleased with it. Reading this book makes me want to reread Nouwen's books. I would have a new perspective now.

BOOK REVIEW: God I51hsahyyulls Not Fair and Other Reasons for Gratitude

Daniel P. Horan, OFM, Franciscan Media, 133 pp., $15.99

The title of this book, “God Is Not Fair,” is the title of one of its forty-eight chapters or essays. These usually run only two pages and comprise a smorgasbord of reflections on relevant topics. They include clericalism, racism, the death penalty, care for creation, equality in the Church, and mercy. Horan states in his introduction that his reflections are founded on "a belief that we must consider our faith at the intersection of theology, Scripture and culture" and be willing to "to see with new eyes, think with open minds, and care with loving hearts."

Horan divides his reflections into three parts. In the first part he discusses the Church in the modern world. The second part is composed of his thoughts on selected Gospel passages and resembles a collection of homilies. In the third part he focuses on everyone’s vocation—the call to discipleship.

The essays challenge us to examine our lives in the light of Gospel teaching. Repeatedly Horan exhorts us to walk in the footprints of Jesus. An appealing feature of the book is that it is laced with references to Pope Francis, St. Francis, and the Franciscan way of life.

The themes and thoughts in this book are rooted in Horan’s experiences of writing articles for America magazine, Give Us This Day, and in honor of the Year of Consecrated Life. Although comparatively young, age thirty-two, Horan has a wealth of wisdom to share.

BOOK REVIEW:  The Heartbeat of Faith: 59 Poems, Fingerplays, and Prayers Mary Kathleen Glavich, SND

ACTA Publications, $12.95

Children love poetry. Its rhyme, rhythm, and repetition delight them. Perhaps the steady rhythm of poetry reminds them of their mother’s heartbeat. This is all well and good because by hearing and reciting poems, children develop a sense of language and increase their vocabulary. Poetry is also an excellent way to introduce little ones to the faith.

The Heartbeat of Faith offers moms, dads, grandmothers, grandfathers, and teachers of preschool and primary age children an assortment of original poems. Some poems are about the children themselves—their eyes and noses, feelings, families, and growing up. They come to see that God made them who they are. One poem teaches “good words” to say, and another poem encourages them to share things. Because little children are learning about God’s world, other poems are creation centered and deal with things like chicks, birds, and raindrops.

Most important are the poems that nurture children’s relationships with Jesus, Mary, and their Guardian Angel. Some poems introduce the children to the Bible and a few of its key stories that are child-friendly. Other poems are about Church feasts we celebrate. Poems in the form of prayers are also included, such as a child’s version of Psalm 139. A poem already a favorite among teachers explains how to act in church, God’s house.

During a good number of the poems, the children add gestures or actions, making the poem even more appealing and memorable. In one poem, for example, the children use their fingers to represent a caterpillar that changes into a butterfly.

A bonus of the book is the “We Talk” feature that follows each poem. It suggests talking points and questions for interacting with the children and together delving more deeply into the poem’s topic.

Simple blackline drawings enhance the pages.

    The Heartbeat of Faith aids faith formation, develops language, and fosters a love of reading. It also creates a bond between the reader and listener. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a precious memory of sitting on the lap of a parent or grandparent and listening to a story . . . or a poem. Chances are, you can still recite nursery rhymes you learned as a child. The poems of faith in this new collection will certainly leave an indelible mark on children’s minds and hearts. And maybe yours too.

The Heartbeat of Faith by Mary Kathleen Glavich, SND, 100 pages, is available from ACTA Publications and from the author for $12.95.

Some Good Faith Builders

Sacred Scripture and The Catechism of the Catholic Church, of course.

To encourage faith in teens, especially those preparing for Confirmation see new, exciting products at

To enrich your faith, subscribe to the following organizations and receive daily e-mails:

  • This news agency covers items related the Holy Father and Church events.
  • This organization sends reflections on the Gospel of the day culled from Church writing and the writings of the saints.
  • This service provides short daily reflections as “daily renewal for busy Catholics.”
  • This Franciscan website e-mails information about the saint of the day.

Helpful websites are the following:



About Sister Kathleen Glavich, SND

Jesus ordered us to make disciples of all nations and teach them. Mary Kathleen, a Sister of Notre Dame from Chardon, Ohio, responds to this call through writing, speaking, giving retreats, and teaching. Her motto, adopted from Eddie Doherty’s gravesite, is “All my words for the Word.”

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About Catholic Faith Corner

A warm welcome to Catholic Faith Corner! May its reflections help you know and live the Catholic faith, inspire you, and give you hope.

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Newest Book

In "Heart to Heart with Mary: A Yearly Devotional" Our Blessed Mother speaks to us every day of the year and a suggestion is provided for a response. It is similar to the popular book "Jesus Calling" and can be found on Amazon or purchased from me.

Featured Book

Totally Catholic! A Catechism for Kids and Their Parents and Teachers

Do you wish you had a simple, child-friendly summary of what Catholics believe? This book took first place in the Association of Catholic Publishers awards 2014 in the category of Children's Books. It can be purchased from Pauline Books and Media or from me. ($14.95)

A Heavenly Book

Do you believe in angels? Most people do. The Catholic Companion to Angels offers heavenly facts about these majestic creatures, confirming that you can turn to them for help. Uniquely, The Angels comes with three covers (statue, stained-glass, or painting). Choose the one you like best. Available from ACTA Publications and me. ($10.00)

My First Novel!

The Fisherman's Wife is the story of St. Peter's spouse, the long-suffering but delightful woman who puts up with Peter and his obsession with the itinerant preacher named Jesus. Through her we meet Peter, Jesus, and other biblical characters. In Capernaum she witnesses Jesus' healings and hears his words.The book is based on the Gospels, legends, and what is known about first-century Jewish women. The rest is sheer imagination.

Order directly from me FOR AN AUTOGRAPHED COPY at

A Bit of Humor

A Slow Student
During indoor recess, the third and fourth graders were playing school. Taking part in the game, the teacher, Sister Janet, sat at a child's desk. Adam, who was playing the teacher, came up to her and asked, "And just how many years have you been kept back?" (from "Why Is Jesus in the Microwave?")

Of Interest

About the Sisters of Notre Dame, Chardon, Ohio

The Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio, belong to an international congregation of more than two thousand apostolic women religious. We are one in mind and one in heart for the transformation of the world in Christ.

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