Wintertime is the perfect time for beginning the Lenten season. Cold blustery winds remind us of the harsh tactics of the Devil. Barrenness across the land represents an outward appearance of humanity’s destiny without Christ in our lives.
Lent is a time for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Time to draw closer to the Mystery of the Cross. One great way to help draw yourself closer into conversation with God is through meditation on the daily events in your life. How do God work in the ordinary? The book Finding God in the Mess: Meditations for Mindful Living is a great simple book to prepare your heart and mind for God. Co-authored by Jim Deeds and Brendan McManus S.J., this published by Loyola Press focuses on St. Ignatius of Loyola’s spirituality.
The book is divided into four themes: process of life, pain, struggle, and growth. Each section begins with a quote by St. Ignatius. Meditations are concise which are great for daily reading and reflection questions follow each reading.
Scattered throughout the book are meditations that implement lectio divina (divine reading)—a traditional Catholic way of reading scripture to draw closer to God. Passages of the Bible are referenced or quoted and the reader is asked to ponder the characters, actions, and scenes.
No matter your mindset this book will be an invaluable resource this Lent. According to Deeds and McManus, “Wounds are important sources of our stories” (p. 70). Lent is a time to prepare for the Death and Resurrection of Christ. Sin separates us from God and others. But this is hope. We can always repent. Ask for forgiveness.
Finding God in the Messprovides short meditations based on Ignatian spirituality. Reflection questions coupled with beautiful pictures help to draw the reader deeper into the mediation. I suggest getting this little book for yourself or as a Confirmation gift
As a cradle Catholic and possessing a Master’s in Catholic theology, I am in a sort of unique spot reviewing this title I’m Catholic. Now What? by Shaun McAfee. I don’t have the formal experience of being a convert. I never left the Catholic Church. Nor returned to it. I always remained with Her. In the past, I sometimes took my faith for granted.
My initial concerns about this review did not center on the book itself, but my background. How exactly will I write a qualified review when I am not officially part of the audience for this work?
That was my sentiment before reading. After reading this book I must say this. Buy this book now! Order this for your Church (especially if you work in the parish office). Get it in bulk.
Even though I knew most of the content already, this book helped me fall deeper in love with Catholicism. I wish this book was already when my wife converted. She would have definitely enjoyed it back in 2009.
Without further ado, here are my thoughts on I’m Catholic. Now What?
Bridge from RCIA into Post-Baptismal Life
In the introduction, McAfee tells the reader, “That’s what this book is you’re holding is all about: helping you perfect your soul by living out the fullness of the Christian life. When you’re reading this book, expel the temptation to do the minimum. Be an all-out Catholic!” (p. 15.) I think this message is lost when it comes to bringing new members into the Church. We need not be afraid to welcome them and urge them to FULLY embrace and engage with Catholicism.
The author breaks his book into the following sections: Getting Started; The Sacraments; Mary, the Church, & the Saints; Prayer; Catholic Life; Customs, Rules, & Basic Etiquette, Being a Modern Catholic, Knowing & Defending Your Faith; and Evangelization.
This book serves as a connection from the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults to life afterwards. The honeymoon time after baptism and acceptance into the Church is brief.
The safest way to travel over a tumultuous body of water or dangerous terrain is to go on a bridge. McAfee’s book helps new Christians travel with both confidence and delight.
He answers the basic and most logical questions that come up for new converts such as: how do I learn more about the Faith (he provides a concise but detailed explanation of the Catechism and other key resources), precepts of the Church, how to grow in holiness, and the importance of the sacramental life.
Both Depth and Simplicity of Catholicism
Along with providing a road map and bridge for converts to travel, McAfee demonstrates both a depth and simplicity of Catholicism in his book. His short chapters help keep the pace moving. The author does a great job with giving you enough information without watering down the faith or overwhelming the reader.
McAfee sprinkles in personal stories about his journey as a convert and new experiences as a Catholic: attending an ordination Mass or going on a pilgrimage to a holy site. These mini-anecdotes add depth, but also add to the relevance and importance of Catholicism as a long-life journey. It’s not merely a ritual here or there.
Catholic Church teaching is not always easy to tackle or wrap our heads around. I mean there is a supreme treasure trove of over 2 ,000 years to draw from! But at its core the Church has a teaching role and does not change the teaching of Jesus. We simply gain a deeper understanding of the Deposit of Faith over the course of time.
The author’s approach to tackling the “hot-buttoned” issues is not really tackling them. McAfee writes with unity and love in mind. He only states the facts about the Church’s teaching. No judgment. McAfee wants the reader to approach Catholicism with an open heart and mind.
Style— Welcoming to Converts
Along with providing a bridge and simple road map for new converts to the Catholic Church, McAfee does a great job to welcome converts. It felt like he was in my home or at the door of the Church when I read this book.
I think the author’s conversion experience gave him this ability. The best Catholics in my opinion have been converts. Saint Paul. Saint Augustine. Scott Hahn. My wife Jennifer. Reading this book makes be comfortable put Shaun McAfee in that conversation (at least in the same category of Hahn and my wife!).
While I enjoyed the entire book, Chapter 63— What’s the priest wearing? McAfee’s clear and informative writing style. He defines provides a brief description of all the important priestly vestments worn in the Liturgy. This is simply one example of the clarity he provides.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 20th, 2017.
Mark Twain once wrote, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” While I do not fully understand the meaning of the great American author’s words, I find myself drawn to the concept that reality is odd, weird, peculiar, and problematic.
Seeming senseless suffering occurs daily throughout the globe: wars, famine, and violation of human rights. I do not want this post to turn into a philosophical treatise on the problem of evil. Please refer to the writings of St. Augustine or The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis for a clear and authoritative outline of the issue.
To be clear, although I experienced a push from reality toward despair when things get overwhelmed, it is interesting that fiction pulls me away from this strangeness and helps center myself.
Over the past year, I have delved into the DC Comics Universe- the realm of Superman, Batman, The Flash, and Green Lantern. I am most recently reading a voluminous story arc from the New 52 series on Superman.
Here are three ways that reading fiction will help provide stability in your life when reality is too strange.
Larger than Life, Yet Relatable Characters
Stories portray transformation and inner conflicts within characters. Superhero comics contain traditional character developments. They also add layers to the story through its main actors possessing enhanced powers. Instead of alienating the reader, I find I am drawn into a comic book through the device of the dual identity of a superhero—their superhero title and their secret identity.
I will use Barry Allen/The Flash as an example because I loving running. The main power of this character revolves around speed and endurance.
Most versions have Barry’s desire to help others stemming from the death of his mother at a young age. Later endowed with super-speed and Speed-Force powers from a lightning in a laboratory, Barry soon dons the mantle of The Flash!
Despite his ability to nearly travel at the speed of light, Barry oftentimes has to slow down to solve both personal and professional problems. By reading these comics this superhero appeals to me because I sometimes tend to be impatient and act rashly at times.
Alleviation through Art
I am a visual learner. Illustrations bring me closer to the events of the comic book story. When I am reviewing books to check out from the library, one of the things I look for in a good comic is appealing artwork.
The Blackest Night Green Lantern story-line contained popping colors and heroes decked in hues highlighting their unique power rings. I felt like I dove into a verbal kaleidoscope in that crossover event. I cannot quite put my finger on it but something about the artwork of the New 52 DC Series soothes my anxiety. Without alleviation through art, I would return an unread story back to the library as opposed to diving further into the comic book universe.
In a galaxy far, far away…there is no place like home
Along with the character development of DC’s superheroes [and even non-powered support characters] and the beautiful art, I have come to greatly enjoy the move to solar system based settings. Although strangeness abounds in the various planetary systems and alternative timelines, I get a sense of excitement and wonder instead of fear from my mind travels to exotic scenes!
The freshness is anchored by the stability of the characters in the DC universe. Despite reading a revisionist version of Superman, Batman, or other heroes, a certain familiarity and tradition still remains front and center.
Traveling on these journeys provide small interludes of rest from the weariness of reality. For instance, the phones were going of the hook at my job today. I encountered strange and perplexing questions I never dealt with before. During my break time, I become an observer of Superman’s battle against his archenemy—Brainiac. I returned to the real world energized to complete my day’s remaining work.
Is Truth Stranger than Fiction?
Pontius Pilate asked Jesus Christ a question that in an old as time but still fresh and relevant today, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Truth, reality, actuality is a perplexing thing to grasp. Humanity is not called to fully understand the mysteries of the universe yet creation is laden with hints at what the purpose of the real world is all about.
Fiction can help you find purpose in this life. Through fiction you gain a renewed and broader perspective when returning to the “real world”. I will leave you to ponder the wisdom of J.R.R. Tolkien legendary creator of Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Referring to fantasy as a natural human activity he states,
I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?
November 1st—the Celebration of the Feast of All Saints—among my favorite feasts in the Church’s liturgical calendar. Only the Feast of the Holy Trinity and the Most Precious Body and Blood eclipses All Saints Day in significance for me personally.
Who are the Saints?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped” (CCC 956).
In other words, the reason we honor the holy men and women in union in Heaven with God is because they draw of closer to unity with God. November 1st is not meant to be a Holy Oscars or a rolling out of a theological red carpet.
The Saints Point Us to God
Saints are witnesses to the faith and reflect the light Holy Trinity. I am reminded St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney when he said, “We are all like little mirrors, in which God contemplates Himself. How can you expect that God should recognize His likeness in an impure soul?” This likening of the human soul as a reflection, a mirror of God’s love can be found even earlier in Church tradition. St. Theophilus of Antioch [circa 2nd century A.D.] declared,
A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light. If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it. In the same way, no one who has sin within him can see God.
Below I formed a list, a sort of personal litany of saints, and applicable holy writings that have helped me grow in holiness and polish my soul to better reflect the love of the Holy Trinity.
Along with the names of canonized saints who personally influenced me, I outlined several Christian writers who lived fairly recently or are currently alive and are not officially canonized. Nevertheless, the books from the suggested reading still helped me grow in my Catholic faith.
***Note: I added the book(s) that I have actually read that have impacted me and deepened my relationship with God through the saint. This is in no way an exhaustive list –it is merely a list of saints whose writings and/or witness influenced me positively***
November Nourishment for the Soul
Mary- The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God by Venerable Fulton Sheen
Athanansius: On the Incarnation; Life of St. Antony
Pope John Paul II: Fides Et Ratio; Redemptoris Misso; Veritatis Splendor
Maria Faustina: Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul
Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life
Louis de Montfort: True Devotion to Mary
Terersa of Avila: Interior Castle
John of the Cross: Dark Night of the Soul
Therese of Lisieux: The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux: The Story of a Soul
Luke: Acts of the Apostle; Gospel According to Luke
Josemaria Escriva: The Way
Pope Pius XII: Humani Generis
James: The Letter of St. James
Pope Pius IX
Pope Leo XIII
Francis of Assisi
Ignatius of Loyala
Ambrose: De Incarnationis Dominicæ Sacramento [on the Incarnation and Sacraments]
Thomas Aquinas: The Summa Theologica
G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy
S. Lewis: Mere Christianity; Screwtape Letters; Space Trilogy
Bishop Robert Barron: Catholicism
Peter Kreeft, P.H.D.: Socrates Meets Jesus: History’s Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ; Prayer for Beginners; Between Heaven and Hell
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings
Now these readings aren’t replacement for the Mass. Hopefully you find this list helpful in your spiritual journey!
British author J.K. Rowling declared, “The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting. The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.” Writers since the beginning of time faced the double-edged sword the joy of creation from words and the fear of writer’s block. Some days it seems that words cannot be typed quick enough as phrases, sentences, and paragraphs already exist in your mind. Other times crafting a mere word or phrase is as painful as getting a tooth pulled at the dentist!
Whether you currently are in a state of inspiration or at a standstill in your writing here are three tips to enhance the ability to write more naturally and effortlessly.
Read, Read, Read— Feed Your Mind: The great American author William Faulkner advocated for the importance of reading, “Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out.” From my own experience, I have learned that the most fruitful periods of writing, and writing that comes naturally without really any strain, occurs during times where I read a lot! Just like the body requires a balanced meal for good nutrition, so too does the mind need a steady stream of information. Along with frequent writing variety is equally important. Making a habit of non-fiction and fiction will only help to expand your ability to write from multiple points of view and in diverse ways. Currently, I am reading Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men comics (to fill my creative side) and Dialogues of Catherine of Siena and Heresies by G.K. Chesterton (to satisfy my more spiritual and intellectual side).
2. Reflection: Another tip to develop more natural and effortless writing is to make time to reflection on the stuff you read. The Greek philosopher Aristotle purported, ““Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Without proper time to examine yourself and the ideas that you read about it gets difficult to organize them into coherent thoughts. Among the best times for reflecting on a post that I want to write about occurs in the car. Using the minutes between drives to work, the grocery store, or other errands I ponder how I want to organize the essential points of an article that I am working on. Even a few minutes of reflection helps me write at a quicker rate and with less resistance!
3. Passion and Purpose: After feeding your mind with plenty of information and reflecting on the material that you want to write about the third tip I use to make my writing more effortless includes a passion and clear objective. Why are you writing? Is it for an increased amount of exposure and social media fame or is your reason deeper?
My own particular desire for creating The Simple Catholic blog was (and still is) to discover the joy in life on my pilgrim journey towards Heaven. As the great Catholic write Flannery O’Connor wrote, “I write to discover what I know.” Through my faith I know that truth that freedom from sin and death exist by way of following the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A secondary goal flowing naturally from my first is to help people discover joy in this life (and hopefully the next as well!). Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with your whole self and that the second greatest commandment— love of neighbor— flows naturally from the first command (Matthew 22:34-40). Putting God first, others second, and myself last not only helps my writing, but also infused joy into all facets of my life. This kind of joy cannot be contained and I do not want to keep this gift all to myself—it need to be shared with others, you my readers, and in turn I hope you share with your friends and family!
Filling my mind with a variety of ideas, taking time to analyze that information, and remembering my original mission for becoming a writing has all contributed to helping me write more naturally, more honestly, and more effortlessly. I hope that these tips help you in your writing endeavors as well. Please feel free to share these tips to your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.
“All for one and one for all”—Alexander Dumas
“No one has ever become poor by giving.”—Anne Frank
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”— Mahatma Gandhi
John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae reminds us, “when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life; in turn, the systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the serious matter of respect for human life and its dignity, produces a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God’s living and saving presence” (no. 21). Admittedly, I have seen the danger of the reduction of humanity which results in a loss of dignity of the individual person. Days when I struggle with patience, I sometimes reduce my children as tasks to be managed and the ultimate goal is getting them to bedtime by the arbitrary deadline I impose on the family.
As a person with OCD, it is a daily battle to combat my compulsive urges for order and stability. Unfortunately, my control-everything mindset does not simply reside in my home-life—it seeps into the workplace as well. I get to be so goal-driven and task-oriented that sometimes I miss the entire purpose of my job [and well, any job for that matter]—to help others! Over the past couple weeks, I sought out acknowledgement from the superiors in my department and I got a little frustrated when I did not constantly receive “corporate praise”.
St. Teresa of Avila once said, “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.” I would do well to heed this advice. I am grateful I came across the saint’s words as I began a fresh week. Focusing on the virtue of humility got my mind thinking. Eventually, my thoughts landed on a book from our living room bookshelf—Max Lucado’s You are Special. A staple in any children’s library, this is a story that I relate to more and more with each passing year. As amazing and wise as John Paul II and Teresa of Avila, are God mysteriously stirred the story of the Wemmicks in my long-term memory bank to remind myself the true meaning of life! Let me explain:
God is a Merciful Judge: The tale begins with the average day for wooden creatures known as Wemmicks. Tirelessly, grey dots and golden stars are being placed on each individual. Dots represent a defect in a Wemmick whereas stars signify a positive attribute. All the Wemmicks were created by the same woodcarver—Eli. Punchinello is a Wemmick who receives only grey dots—and a lot of them! Over the course of the book, he gets to encounter an unblemished Wemmick without the stain of either dots or stars. Punchinello learns that visiting Eli on his hilltop residence grants Wemmicks the knowledge that they do not have to be defined by the type of markings they gave each other, and we even find out that the love of Eli prohibits dots or stars from sticking to the wooden creatures!
An obvious allegory for the Christian life, I am reminded that any good reward [or lack thereof] I receive at work does not increase or decrease my dignity as a human person or as an adopted son of God. God is a merciful judge in that He allows every day to be a new opportunity to love Him and to love my neighbor. The reception of confession is a powerful tool I have utilized in the past couple months to help combat my scrupulosity.
Doors of Hell are Locked from the Inside: A second lesson gained from You Are Special is that it is my own pride and limited world outlook that prohibits me from experiencing a foretaste of Heaven in this life. I am reminded of the famous quip of C.S. Lewis about the Afterlife, “The doors of hell are locked from the inside!” What this means is that the misery and despair of hell—that is existing apart from God—is self-imposed. I certainly experienced a hellish existence over the past three weeks. I sought to gain control over both work and home. I veered off the road of holiness . Max Lucado’s book reminded me that despair may be cured with a visit to my Heavenly Father. I need only to give permission to the Holy Spirit to enter into me.
You are special. I am special. Because of the sin of pride, constant temptations of material goods, and the busyness of daily life we forget the merciful love of God. I will conclude with the Act of Contrition to remind us of God’s mercy and forgiving nature:
O my God, I am sorry for my sins because I have offended you. I know I should love you above all things. Help me to do penance, to do better, and to avoid anything that might lead me to sin. Amen.