Tag Archives: faith

2017’s Best Catholic Reads

Here are the 11 best Catholic titles as honored by the Association of Catholic Publishers. Some are wonderful summer reads (The Lion of Munster, One Ordinary Sunday or Remembering God’s Mercy). Others are terrific gifts especially for First Communion or Confirmation (hint, hint — Dear Pope Francis, the Book of the Year, too!) And the remaining ones belong in your hands, on your desk, or on your shelf (once read, of course!)

Here are the best of the best Catholic books with comments from the judges.

Biography: The Lion of Munster: The Bishop Who Roared Against the Nazis by Fr. Daniel Utrecht (Saint Benedict Press) “Well-researched biography of contemporary figure.”

Children: Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World by Pope Francis (Loyola Press) “The questions are both thought-provoking and interesting, and Pope Francis illustrates his respect and care for children in his answers.” “Very fabulous in overall packaging, writing. Clearly an extraordinary book.”

General Interest: One Ordinary Sunday by Paula Huston (Ave Maria Press) “A well-researched and winsomely presented explanation of what happens during Mass. Huston interweaves her personal struggles with the various parts of the Mass one summer Sunday in ordinary time. Written with the zeal of a convert (which Huston is), it’s an important book given the lack of theological education among so many lay Catholics, and it’s a pleasure to read.”

Inspirational: Remembering God’s Mercy by Dawn Eden (Ave Maria Press) “This book is rich in food for thought. The author draws on the teachings and lives of St. Ignatius and his son Pope Francis and adds her personal stories and references to an array of noted people. Not only will people suffering from PTSD find this book helpful, but anyone seeking to grow spiritually.”

Prayer and Spirituality: Faith: Practices, Models and Sources of the Spirit by Walter Kasper (Paulist Press) “The text is highly readable with excellent homiletic type points with the capacity to touch the heart as well as expand thought.  Its view of essential aspects of faith and stages of life, as well as insight into prayer and models of faith, are well gathered.  There is much on which to chew and to bring to prayer and to discussion with others.  Incisive, inviting, rooted in real life, focused on Christ – this, with Kasper’s previous work on mercy, deserves a place on the shelf for consult and ongoing reflection.”

Resources for Liturgy: Three Great Days by Jeremy Helmes (Liturgical Press) “Jeremy’s book helps parish liturgists make practical plans for celebrating the Paschal Triduum well. . .  The book contains 5 Appendices that will be very helpful for all who prepare the liturgies of the three days!”

Resources for Ministry: When We Visit Jesus in Prison by Chaplain Dale S. Recinella (ACTA Publications) “I found this book captivating all the way through.  He offers much statistical information and clearly provides helpful guidelines for working in prisons. His experience comes through, and he makes a strong case for the Christian teaching that we meet Christ in the people who populate our prisons. This is a helpful and thoughtful book about a form of ministry that can get overlooked. Pope Francis didn’t overlook this population by visiting with prisoners when he came to Philadelphia last year. This book does justice to what the pope wants all Christians to be concerned about.”

Resources for Ministry-Programs: Doors of Mercy: Exploring God’s Covenant with You by Fr. Jeffrey Kirby, STD (Saint Benedict Press) “Excellent content in both book and video.”

Scripture: Bringing the Gospel of John to Life by George Martin (Our Sunday Visitor) “I gave this book the most excellent rating because of its thorough scholarship of the biblical text (including the Greek), but also how highly readable it is. The pauses for reflection are at most appropriate times. I love reading and meditating with this book.”

Spanish: Querido Papa Francisco: El Papa responde a las cartas de niños de todo el mundo by Pope Francis (Loyola Press) “Querido Papa Francisco is a wonderful window into Pope Francis’ thought and teaching, through simple but deep insights in response to children’s inquiries from around the world. A great idea beautifully executed by the publisher!”

Theology: The Strength of Her Witness by Elizabeth A. Johnson (Orbis Books) “Johnson’s book is a really good collection of essays that is both diverse globally and features some of the major scholarly figures. Most are brief, but thoughtful, and generally presume some moderately advanced knowledge of theological discourse (e.g., biblical Greek, feminist categories and terminology).”

 

Who Will Reap the Harvest?

harvestChange, change, change, change, change.

It’s a key driver in this year’s elections. And the one challenge put before most of us as leaders at some point in time.

As much as we want to be the one out front, leading the way from what was to what will be, the reality is, in most cases, we only sow seeds.

Great leaders know this. They know that most of what they try to accomplish will only be evident years after they leave their position. Politicians take advantage of this sometimes, highlighting the changes that happen during their years in office when, in fact, their predecessor’s decisions were often the ones that forged the current path.

The truth is, the harvest is for others to reap.

Ministry with teens is one of the best examples of this. As I look back at my years of teaching in an all-girls’ Catholic high school and subsequently as a volunteer in my parish’s youth ministry program, we adults knew that we had four years–and in some cases, fewer–to sow the seeds of faith, hope, and love (ah, yes, the theological virtues!) in the hopes that there would be a harvest.

As each graduating class of seniors departed, there was an internal tug-of-war–what more can we do to keep them connected versus just letting them go free in the hope that the seeds would take root and they would find a “home” in their faith and the Church.

Social media has been the greatest friend to this “sower.” With it, I have been able to follow the lives of our “kids” (many of whom now have their own kids). And I’ve been able to share in their joys and sorrows, and watch how the seeds we planted have fared.

Some fell on rocky ground. Some fell among weeds. But some fell on good soil, took root, and have grown and flourished.

So, in a society that seems to grow more impatient and a culture that demands immediate gratification, what are we to do? Remember and practice the theological virtues so that we may teach them in both our words and deeds.

As Jesus shows us, faith is not something that we go from not having to having. It develops over time through prayer and action. While we are conditioned in our culture to connect hope with wanting things, hope is an attitude that looks to the future, but walks with others in the present (think the familiar poem, “Footsteps.”) And love comes through the care we take in the sowing and feeding so that there may be a harvest.

Being a sower is what we are called to. When you have the opportunity to harvest, thank God for those who came before you and tended the fertile ground and planted that seed. And ask God for support to those who will come after you to tend what you have planted.

 

 

Turn On the Light

lightThe first two words I heard were “darkness” and “death.”

The various media commentators used these words, reflecting on Mr. Trump’s acceptance speech on Thursday. “Darkness” and “death.”

Our public and political discourse seems to have given voice to a deep-seated anger and frustration that has expressed itself in unkind, even violent (physical and verbal) behaviors.

We have seen “easy” words (“We’re angry”) become “easy” actions (shootings, brawls).

And in direct contrast to that, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” and “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

Light and life. Words we cherish and enshrine in a Constitution and Catechism. Actions that we honor with National Medals and canonizations.

Regardless of how dark and angry our environment, businesses, parishes, or Church may become, we are called to be light — always — in the world. To stand up for what is good and right, to model Christ’s response to the darkness and death that he encountered in his world. To offer faith instead of faithlessness, healing instead of pain, a path forward instead of a pit downward.

One of the stories and pictures that has stayed in my mind lately has been that of the protesters who were joined by police — joined, not opposed by.

Faith instead of faithlessness. Healing instead of pain. Forward instead of downward.

Light instead of dark.

Ties That Bind

DallasOne of the advantages of working from home is that when major news events happen, I have the freedom to be present when they are live.

The interfaith memorial service for the 5 men who died in Dallas last Thursday was one of those such occasions.

President Obama’s reflection repeated the phrase, “We know this . . . ”

As a leader, he reminded us all that we only know the experience of others when we have empathy, when we can stand in the feet of another. It is that ability that binds us to each other and ultimately allows us to hope — to hope with our God who assures us He will be with us in all of the highs and lows of our lives.

Being Witnesses to Civility

Two somewhat bizarre observations spoke to me about the type of leaders and witnesses we are called to be.

Observation #1: CivilityThe numerous green, magnetic bumper stickers saying, “Choose Civility” on the cars scattered throughout my home county.

Observation #2: The traveler alert from the Bahamas, warning its citizens about the dangers of traveling to the United States.

So, here’s the line that connects the two for me. We in the U.S. are seen by many in other parts of the world as a nation of compassion, peace, and civility. A place where people can openly voice their disagreements and not be thrown into jail or killed. A place where we can practice freely four different faiths on the four different street corners of a city intersection anywhere in the country. A place of welcome and respect for our diversity.

But more than anything, we are–or have been–a model for civil behavior. And I fear that that is changing.

Rather than “using our words” (as some teach their children), we use our fists (or guns, in some cases.) Rather than channeling our anger into non-violent protests as Dr. King called us to over 50 years ago, we choose violence.

Maybe that is why when the families of the Amish children who were gunned down in their one-room Pennsylvania school in 2006 forgave the shooter, it seemed to be extraordinary. When it shouldn’t have.

In a civil society, we as leaders must practice one of the most difficult behaviors we know–that of forgiveness. It’s hard to miss how many times Jesus forgives people throughout his ministry. It’s central to who He is and who He calls us to be.

In fact, it is the only Way.

 

To What Values Are We Witnesses?

crossI woke today to the news about the shooting in Dallas, TX, of police officers and the peaceful protest that took place there last evening.

There were two competing narratives seeking to outdo the other.

The first was all about the shooting. The Dallas chief of police shared details of the conversation that the negotiator had had with the shooter, noting that the shooter wanted to kill white men, especially police officers. Anger, vengeance, helplessness — all of these clearly brewing in this man’s mind.

Where else have we heard and seen these emotions and the values that underlie them recently? I’ve heard a lot about anger and vengeance, and have seen the helplessness that some feel in our communities across the country. It’s hard to miss. And it’s equally hard to miss how our leaders are addressing it.

The second narrative caught my ear — and it won’t get the kind of airplay that the first one will, especially today.

One of the news networks interviewed the leader of the peaceful protest. He talked about how deeply they valued the peacefulness of their protest, and how closely they had worked with the Dallas police to ensure that this was the case.

The protest leader talked about the initial moments of the shooting when the group heard the rapid “click click click” of bullets. He realized that he was holding a 10 foot cross in his hands, and yelled at the people around him to follow the cross to safety.

What does it mean to follow the Cross of Christ? To what values are we to be witnesses? The protest leader answered the question easily — and repeated Jesus’ own words, “Love your neighbor.”

So, what values to do we want to see in our leaders, and what values do we want to embody in ourselves as leaders?

Freedom

FlagOn this special weekend where we celebrate the freedom that our ancestors fought for, it seems appropriate to remember the freedom that came many centuries before that.

The New Testament speaks simply and frankly about freedom — freedom from sin and death because of the sacrifice of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Let’s not only remember what we have been freed from this weekend, but also what we have been freed for.

The king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’

Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’  (Matthew 25:34-40)

Happy Fourth of July!

The Spiritual Economics of Loss Aversion

In economics and decision theory, loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Most studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.

In his homily this past Sunday, our former pastor used the economic theory of loss aversion to more deeply examine Jesus’ insights into what it will mean for him to be the “Christ” and what each of his followers must do–leave everything behind and take up their own cross.

Christianity flies in the face of this innate human tendency to take few risks and avoid loss at all costs. Well, at least most costs.

But that is what Jesus asks of us. And we see the response to his invitation modeled in both ways, as a “yes” in his disciples at the start of his ministry and as a “no” in the young man who is unable to part with his riches.

One of my members, GIA Publications, has a song from Marty Haugen, called “Look and See the Face of Christ.” If you haven’t heard it before, give it a listen.

What hits me like a brick wall in this song is that as much I may try to avoid any part of the invitation to follow Jesus, I can’t. It’s always staring me in the face in the face of someone else.

Why avoid it? The promise of Jesus is everlasting life spent in the presence of the God who is love. I think I get glimpses of that occasionally when I reluctantly let go of something in my life that may cause me initial pain.

Where are the glimpses of that glory in your life–when the pain of loss is overcome by the joy of God’s love?

What Makes People Say and Do the Things They Say and Do

downloadThe recent violence in Orlando has sparked many reactions, comments, and reflections on the incident–and many have wondered what makes those most vocal say and do what they have said and done.

As so often happens, the speakers and doers at the center of this past Sunday’s readings jolt us out of the commonness of everyday life to say and do the unexpected. Nathan, a prophet, cuts down the mighty King David with his words of the sin that David has committed. Paul professes his nothingness without his faith in the Son of God and grace from God. And a “sinful woman” (yes, that is the NAB’s translation) takes all that is precious to her to the house of a Pharisee, a man who would berate her and leave her in the dirt for nothing, in order to wash and kiss the feet of Jesus. Then, of course, Jesus does the most unthinkable–he forgives her.

The theme for the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Congress is “Blessed as Living Witnesses.” I thought it all somewhat ironic–waking to the news of this act of terror, listening to these readings at Mass, then reading and hearing the reactions from the media, politicians, commentators, and religious leaders.

What kind of “living witness” are we called to be? What kind of “living witness” do we want to be–and do we expect of others? Do we aspire to be like Nathan, Paul, and the sinful woman? What unexpected words and actions would it take to follow that path?