When the opportunity came for me to read BEAUTIFUL MERCY, billed on the front cover as “the perfect companion to the Year of Mercy,” I was anything buWhen the opportunity came for me to read BEAUTIFUL MERCY, billed on the front cover as “the perfect companion to the Year of Mercy,” I was anything but excited.
My reading time has been cut in half because of other obligations, and I have a stack of books I really want to read.
What I’m saying is that I did a lot of sucking it up to pick this book up.
And God used it as a big ole two-by-four to hit me across the head.
This book might be some of the best writing and reading I’ve done on the subject of mercy. Ever.
Kelly writes, in the prelude,
“It’s simple, but imagine how the world would be different if everyone practiced just one work of mercy each day. How would the world be different if these works of mercy defined the way we live our lives? There is genius in Catholicism, but sadly it is little known and practiced.
“Sometimes the best way to think about life is to reflect upon death. When I think about my life and how I have offended God, all the opportunities I have had to love that I have turned my back on, how little I have done with the gifts he has given me, I hope he is merciful. When I reflect on my faults and failings, my mistakes and sins, my pride and arrogance, I hope he is merciful.
“I believe he is.”
What follows is a set of 14 chapters, one for each of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The collection of authors in this book is phenomenal: I’m sure Kelly didn’t actually call Pope Francis, but I can’t help but love that Pope Francis’ words are the introduction to the book:
“As we can see in Sacred Scripture, mercy is a key word that indicates God’s action towards us. He does not limit himself to merely affirming his love, but makes it visible and tangible. Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction. By its very nature, it indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes, and behaviors that are shown in daily living. The mercy of God is his loving concern for each one of us. He feels responsible; that is, he desires our wellbeing and he wants to see us happy, full of joy, and peaceful. This is the path which the merciful love of Christians must also travel.”
Most of the chapters feature two essays, and they are practical suggestions. They are also, though, a challenge. They are reflective considerations of what the works of mercy, in both the corporal and spiritual aspects, mean for each of us as both individuals and as parts of the larger Body of Christ.
For example, consider Lisa Hendey’s reflection on giving drink to the thirsty: she took readers with her to Tanzania, painting a picture of the young girls carrying huge water jugs on their heads. She then zoomed back to her own California home, where a drought had made her more aware of water. Yet, she mentions, it’s more than just about water, isn’t it?
“But let us also remember that the “thirsty” often have needs that will be met more often by words and deeds than by water. I don’t have to travel halfway around the world to find folks who thirst. They are all around me, waiting for me to bear relief to them just as Neema bore that bucket of water.
“The thirsty are the working poor of my own community who labor in farm fields to put food on their tables. My elderly neighbor thirsts for someone to sit with her and to simply listen. A friend who single-parents a child with special needs thirsts for compassion, understanding, and welcome. And often, my own family thirsts for my care and attention when I let my daily busyness stand in the way of lovingly fulfilling my vocation as wife and mother.”
I was equally struck by Sarah Swafford’s reflection on instructing the ignorant. She explains that “ignorant” doesn’t mean “stupid,” but rather, “unlearned,” “unknown,” or even “unaware.” She makes a distinction that this isn’t about pushing our faith on other people, but instead trusting the Holy Spirit to guide us.
“In light of trying to dig deeper into this work of mercy, instruct the ignorant, I think it would be beneficial to distinguish between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is very important; we should have the facts and information we need to communicate the brilliant truths of our Catholic faith. But someone may have all the factual knowledge in the world⏤he or she may even be a “walking Catechism”—yet unless we approach this work of mercy with an eye to imparting wisdom, we may very well miss the mark.
“It is wisdom and faith that take knowledge and seamlessly weave it through the threads of time, history, culture, and personal experience in order to help answer life’s biggest questions: “Who am I?” “What am I living for?” and “Whom am I living for?” Wisdom and faith are the anchors of human life, giving us meaning and purpose even amid the attacks of relativism, utilitarianism, and the culture of death. Wisdom and faith show us that life has a plot, a goal, and living out this journey leads to happiness, peace, and joy—both in this life and in the next.”
This book is full of advice, true, but it’s also full of fire: I found myself considering that maybe my Year of Mercy wouldn’t be a total waste after all. Maybe even in the midst of how crazy my life is, I can make a few small changes that will have a big impact eternally.
In BEAUTIFUL MERCY, I found hope, and I also found an understanding of mercy I haven’t gained anywhere else. Mercy has always seemed to be a nice idea, a good theory, and completely foreign.
God has it, sure.
But…what does it mean? How do I share it? Why do I need it?
This collection was a gift to me, straight from heaven. It seared itself into my mind, and I can’t help but feel closer to God as a result of reading it.
I also can’t help but be better motivated to move forward through my Christian journey.
As Dr. Scott Hahn wrote in the conclusion:
“The crisis of the Church is not reducible to the lack of good catechists, liturgies, theologians, and so forth. It’s a crisis of saints. But it’s a crisis our Father can be trusted to handle, especially if we allow him to keep his promises to us.”
Let us be saints, indeed, and use what’s left of this Year of Mercy to run closer to that goal!...more
Lord of the World: A Novel, by Robert Hugh Benson, is a classic I had never heard of, but which boasts "I advise you to read it" - Pope Francis on theLord of the World: A Novel, by Robert Hugh Benson, is a classic I had never heard of, but which boasts "I advise you to read it" - Pope Francis on the front cover.
Ave Maria Press released a new edition in 2016 of this 1907 novel. Confession: I skipped the (probably very interesting and educational) introduction by Fr. Mark Bosco, S.J., and just dove into the book. I had no clue what it was about, aside from the back cover's assertion that it's "one of the first dystopian novels of the twentieth century."
I'm a reluctant fan of dystopian literature: I even catch myself sort of understanding why it's so popular. I want to hope, even as I almost despair at the mess the world seems to be in.
Reading Lord of the World struck me with a familiarity that I wasn't expecting. It gave me a feeling of "Oh! This has been wrong for a LONG TIME!"
The plot follows a few characters: a priest, an on-the-rise politician and his wife, and a cast of supporting folks who feel all too much like today's politicians and citizenry.
The hope in this novel comes at the end in an unlikely way. I was expecting a fight, and I guess there was one at the end, but it was far from what I expected.
What is faith and what is the longing for spirituality? How is it manifested? Where do you find it? Interestingly, the answers aren't necessarily in the text or solved by the plot, but the seeds of thought are planted.
There's a chilling reality in this book: the way people both answer temptation and flock to false peace. I walked away feeling much the same as I did after reading 1984: humanity hasn't really changed. Maybe it won't. But hope remains, even when we face ourselves....more
One of the things I most appreciate about my Catholic faith is that it brings together so many different aspects of life.
There’s the fact that I findOne of the things I most appreciate about my Catholic faith is that it brings together so many different aspects of life.
There’s the fact that I find God in every aspect of my life. There’s the experience of smelling and hearing and tasting at Mass. There’s the tie-ins, all around me, to Divine Providence.
I just love that Ginny Kubitz Moyer, an award-winning author and mom from the California’s Bay Area, is able to recognize this and tease it out into a book that’s a delight to read.
“God speaks to me not in mystical, abstract ways but through the stuff of daily life. And like any expert communicator, God speaks to me using the language I know best—the language of the five senses.”
Her book, TASTE AND SEE: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses (Loyola Press), is divided into sections based on the five senses. Each of those sections has chapters exploring the senses in concrete ways.
“Faith is about living life, in all its messy splendor, and doing so with the awareness that God is present throughout it all. It’s about recognizing that God speaks to us through our senses and that we can live a richer, more joyful faith if we train ourselves to listen.”
Moyer readily admits the difficulty of this advice, and that’s why the end of each chapter includes prayer steps loosely styled after the Examen, the daily prayer St. Ignatius taught and that has been an essential in Jesuit spirituality for centuries.
TASTE AND SEE is an experience to read. I couldn’t help but nod along as I read Moyer’s reflections on common incidents, things that are so ordinary as to not merit comment most of the time.
For example, a chapter in the section on smell considers Moyer’s deadheading the lavender in her garden. “Deadheading lavender isn’t work to me; it’s aromatherapy,” Moyer writes, and continues:
“As with most scents, lavender is an impossible fragrance to describe in words. When I free-associate, though, I have no lack of things to say: Clean. Summer. Fields in Provence. English garden. Fresh linen. Bed and breakfast. A lady’s soap dish. It’s a purifying scent, one that seems capable of dominating any other smell around it, in a good way. It can overcome murk, sweat, and sour laundry. It can change the mood of a room—or a piece of clothing, or a media-saturated mom—like nothing else.
“As I bent over and snipped each stalk, rubbing the blooms between my fingers and feeling a slight (and not unpleasant) residue on my skin, I felt myself growing more and more peaceful. My mind, which had been glutted with photos and graphics and status updates, was being refreshed. It wasn’t the click-of-a-key refreshment but a deep refreshment, as if I were opening the windows of my very self to let in clean, sweet air.
“As a blogger, I’m the last person to criticize the Internet. But I’ve found that it’s remarkably easy to get seduced into giving it more time than it deserves. Brief two-dimensional glimpses into the faraway lives of other people can sometimes feel more compelling than the concrete life right in front of me, in my very own house and yard. I don’t think that’s entirely a problem; curiosity about what lies beyond our immediate lives is always a trait worth encouraging. That said, there are times when I find myself spinning my wheels online, not really being edified by what I’m seeing and yet oddly reluctant to leave. It’s as if I keep waiting for some update, some little hit, to do what the Internet can’t do—to do what only real life can.
“Snip. Snip. With the sun on my head, I worked my way around the fragrant lavender, cutting away the thin fibrous stalks, absorbed and happy. The Internet is a feast for the eyes, yes, but I’m more than just a pair of eyes. Sometimes I need a gentle reminder that real life has three dimensions, and real life has a smell.”
The Examen-inspired prayer prompts that follow were no less resonating to me than what Moyer said about lavender (a plant I also cultivate and love!). She offers great reflections, forcing you to stop and maybe narrow your eyes a bit in consideration.
And then she challenges you to stop all the way and pray about it. The prayer, using the Examen method, comes out more naturally and as the beginning of a conversation, if only you’ll pause and listen.
For example, in the “Look Ahead” portion of the section following the reflection above, Moyer encourages:
“Find a time when, typically, you would be looking at a screen, and use it to spend some time in nature. Don’t just look at what is around you; take a deep breath and smell God’s creation. Even if you can’t leave home, sit in front of an open window and breathe in the smell of the outdoors.”
God made us creatures of senses. We aren’t just minds or souls: we are a glorious combination of both. TASTE AND SEE is a lovely way to remind yourself of this.
Don’t read it quickly. Savor it. Participate with it. Allow God to touch you through it....more
The Perfect Blindside is a young adult novel featuring a touch of romance, a lot of adventure, and no shortage of angst.
Jake's an Olympic gold medalisThe Perfect Blindside is a young adult novel featuring a touch of romance, a lot of adventure, and no shortage of angst.
Jake's an Olympic gold medalist who's moved to Nowhereville. He's none too happy about it, and can't help but be interested in Sophie, who seems to be the only girl in school who's not overcome with his brand of awesome. The two of them clash and find themselves unlikely allies, but not without hurt feelings, he-said-she-thought drama, and at least one secret tunnel.
The book's written with an alternating point-of-view style, which allows Jake and Sophie to share their stories. It also gives you the feeling of knowing more...and less...than you might want to.
Sometimes, reading teen fiction gives me an insight into the young people in my life. The things I worry about and think about are more than a little different now than they were when I was a teen.
It's good to have a reminder of that, and also to see that even "good" kids can be jerks. These characters are real, with their faults and their strengths, not so different from the teens and preteens in my life.
The plot holds up, and even if you figure it out, you'll enjoy the trip to the end.
The themes cover fame and stereotyping as well as drugs and corruption. There is, perhaps, room to have a discussion about misuse of authority, and not just from the obvious authorities in our lives.
Iota: A Novel, by T.M. Doran (2014, Ignatius Press) is a slim book that made me think out of all proportion to the number of words.
Doran has once agaiIota: A Novel, by T.M. Doran (2014, Ignatius Press) is a slim book that made me think out of all proportion to the number of words.
Doran has once again taken over my mind (his previous novels include Toward the Gleam and Terrapin) and planted seeds that I'll be recollecting for months, at minimum.
Set as a flashback to 1945, Iota is told from the viewpoint of Jan Skala. Unexpectedly, Skala is arrested by the Russians occupying Czechloslavakia after the defeat of the Nazis.
Therein lies what may be an examination of conscience. I thought at first this was a book about the horrors of war (and it is), about the abuse we inflict on others (surely also true), and about discrepancy between the truth as it seems to us and the truth as it is objectively (again, it is).
Upon finishing the book, though, I found myself struck by the message of mercy, which is demonstrated and shown.
After months of imprisonment, abuse, and torture at the hands of his captors, Skala experiences a slow, gradual change of view. Suddenly, something he doesn't expect happens, something that shocks him and that he can't explain.
He also can't turn away from it.
In that moment, when he chooses, he finds mercy...and yet, the book's not over. There's another surprise waiting, and another perusal of truth as it seems and as it might be.
(Yes, I'm being vague about plot points. I don't want to ruin the surprise for you as a reader!)
This is the kind of current writing that I would like to see high schoolers reading and discussing. For that matter, this is the kind of book I'd like to see adults reading and discussing.
In my young teen years, I read Cold War novels by the dozen. I was horrified and intrigued by the adventure and torture. This book reminded me of those books, with the difference that this has a deeper meaning and not just a "win" at the end.
Confession: lately, unless I pick a book up from one of the major publishers or a large bookstore, I don't necessarily have high hopes for it...especiConfession: lately, unless I pick a book up from one of the major publishers or a large bookstore, I don't necessarily have high hopes for it...especially if it's fiction.
Call me jaded. Call me too well read of starter novels. Call me hungry for more good stuff.
It's all true.
And that's what makes Dying for Revenge a refreshing read for me on a number of levels. It didn't come from a big bookseller or a big publisher, but it has all the qualities to make it a win of a read.
It's fast-paced, well-written and edited, and a thrill to read. I did put it down, but only because I dropped it as I dozed in my chair or bed trying to get one. more. chapter. in.
The characters are believable, and the setting is beautiful. No cardboard cutouts here: these are people you could meet on the street (well, if you were in Telluride) and who, by the time the book's over, you could have a conversation (and maybe dinner) with.
Go ahead, try to figure it out. I think I broke part of my brain (and I don't have much to spare!) trying to figure things out. This is a mystery in more than one way: who's killing all these people? And will the main character give in and soften up about this or that? (Trying to be careful...don't want to spoil things for you!)
All in all, this was a fun and worthwhile read. I highly recommend it, whether you grab it for the beach or tuck it in your bag for later this year. :)...more
On an intellectual level, I understand that sin is bad. I get that I’m mired in it and that I should work to get out.
But what about the sins that arenOn an intellectual level, I understand that sin is bad. I get that I’m mired in it and that I should work to get out.
But what about the sins that aren’t a big deal?
How many of us don’t bother with Confession because, hey, we haven’t killed anyone? (My hand’s in the air.)
This book, though, isn’t about Confession. It’s about the things we should be working on that lead us to Confession.
The topics range from the procrastination and gossip to self-neglect and passive aggression. I found myself not only nodding, but thinking long after I was done reading.
Though I don’t intend to procrastinate, Scalia challenged me with how often I do shove things off to another day, another hour, another minute.
"I think procrastination is a manifestation of fear that betrays our lack of trust. We believe God has plans for us but still put off doing what it takes to allow the plan to unfold, because we cannot perfectly control the outcome, or control how others will respond to our efforts, or even how we will respond to our own success or failure."
Procrastination, in light of this, becomes more than just having too much on my to-do list.
"When we procrastinate, we make excuses about why so many other things need to be done before we can do the thing we’re called to do — the thing we are probably made to do. … It is just so much easier to go do something (or nothing) else, rather than face our fear with Mary’s perfect trust and say, “Behold, I am the hand-servant of the Lord,” and then get cracking."
Guilty as charged.
I was also challenged by Scalia’s exploration of clinging to a narrative. She explains it in a way that hits pretty close to home.
In fact, this whole book hit me right on target…no “close to home” about it!
At the end of each chapter’s examination of the little-sin-that’s-really-not, Scalia has compiled a section with excerpts from the Catechism and quotes from saints regarding it.
And then, lest you feel like “Well, that’s it, I’m a hopeless case of X and Z,” she spends at least as much time sharing how to break the habit that the sin has become in our lives.
Best of all, each chapter ends with a prayer that’s down-to-earth and something you might actually use (or carry around with you all day, or tape to the cupboard, or carve into your hand…).
This book speaks to my life, as it is and as I struggle within it. It’s a book that looks deep inside and puts all the dust bunnies out in the light.
You can’t help but take a deeper look at yourself and want to change. In fact, thanks to this book, you’ll have the tools and insight to make those changes....more
I was introduced to Robert Ovies writing a few years ago with the release of his first novel, The Rising. His writing captivated me: he probed and expI was introduced to Robert Ovies writing a few years ago with the release of his first novel, The Rising. His writing captivated me: he probed and explored something that was so far-fetched that you'd roll your eyes if I summarized it here, and yet...it was real. It was possible.
When I saw that he had a new novel out this spring, I leapt at the chance to read it. No shock: it was a different book, but had the same exploration of questions that form the core of our Christianity, the same seeking feeling.
Barely a Crime sucks you in with characters you start to love, right before you realize that OH MY WORD NO YOU DIDN’T. (Yes, in all caps: it’s that kind of book.) They're people who are deep and wide, just as frustrating and unpredictable as real-life people.
As I was storming through the book, I spent half my time trying to figure things out, feeling like there was no chance I would, and the other half shaking my head as I put it down to make dinner, do laundry, work...you know, all the things that keep you from the pleasant task of reading. :)
I couldn't help but ask myself: what kind of author THINKS of these things?
But, you know, I spent a great deal of my younger years imbibing Stephen King and the like. I shouldn't be shocked. This isn't horror...or, it's not horror like that.
I interviewed Ovies after the release of his last novel, and he told me that he started it with a question. As I was reading Barely a Crime, I found myself trying to figure out what question he was exploring.
And I think I figured it out: what if … Oh wait, I don’t want to spoil it. Because…well. The question he tries to answer and explore is one that you wouldn’t believe if I told you.
It's a book worth reading and sharing, whether you're on the beach or in your armchair (or standing by the kitchen sink just trying to get one...more...paragraph...in...)....more