Thursday, February 11, 2016

Book Review: The Abbey by Fr. James Martin

The Abbey: A Story of Discovery
by James Martin, SJ
New York: HarperOne, 2015

Father James Martin, SJ, best-selling author of My Life with the Saints, Between Heaven and Mirth, and Jesus: A Pilgrimage tries his hand at fiction in The Abbey: A Story of Discovery. Mark is a former architect who now works as a handyman at the Abbey of Saints Peter and Paul. He wonders how his life got off-track and his self-worth hinges on whether a woman accepts his advances. Anne is Mark’s landlord. She is middle-aged, divorced, and struggles every day with the death of her teenage son three years before. Father Paul is the Abbot at Saints Peter and Paul. Mark’s boss, he will be become both his and Anne’s confidant and spiritual director, without them even realizing that is what he is offering. 

The Abbey is a quality work of Catholic fiction. It deals with the real-life difficulties people sometimes have with faith. As a priest himself, Fr. Martin can offer an honest look at what it means to be a priest and wrestle with one’s vows. He also has both offered and experienced spiritual direction and knows the heartaches and questions that individuals bring to that process. 

While the characters, especially Anne, develop and grow in their relationship with God during the course of the book, there is no radical change. As is often the case in the spiritual life, small steps are taken slowly. One can only hope the characters will eventually make their way home into full communion with the Catholic Church. There is also some rough language in the book, including taking the Lord’s name in vain, which may be in keeping with the characters’ personalities but could have easily been avoided with no detriment to the story. 

Overall, however, The Abbey has the potential to do much good. As a work of Catholic fiction published by a big name with a well-known publisher, it has the possibility of reaching and evangelizing those who might not usually pick up a work of Catholic fiction. For those who are firm in their faith, it provides some enjoyable reading that touches the heart and offers insights into the workings of an abbey and those who dwell there. 

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Book Review: Kandoo Kangaroo Hops Into Homeschool

Kandoo Kangaroo Hops Into Homeschool
by Susan Ratner; Illustrated by Bryan Miller
Master Books, 2000

Kandoo Kangaroo Hops into Homeschool by Susan Ratner is a cute picture book designed for a child just beginning homeschooling. Kandoo is full of questions and her mother is happy to help her to find the answers. Her mother tells her, "God wants us to know all about the interesting people, animals and things he created. This world of His is a fascinating place and I've been noticing that the time has come for you to start learning more about it."When her daughter is scared, she reminds her of Phillipians 4:13, that with God's strength, we can do everything.

The pair engage in some fun learning and gather with new friends at a homeschool picnic. At night, she tells her father all about it.

This is a great book for a child wondering why all her friends are going to school and she isn't. It introduces the ideas that learning can take place anywhere and that God's world has a great deal to teach us and that homeschoolers have communities of their own.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Book Review: Rediscover Jesus

Rediscover Jesus

by Matthew Kelly
Beacon Publishing, 2015

As Catholics, we often think that we know Jesus. After all, most of us have been hearing the stories of his life since we were small children. They are part of who we are, and that is good. But sometimes, we can feel too familiar with the stories and we start to tune them out because we have heard them over and over again. What new thing could we possibly learn? 

Yet, knowing about a person doesn’t mean that we actually know them. Matthew Kelly of invites us to actually know Jesus in his latest book, “Rediscover Jesus: An Invitation.” He invites us to have a dynamic relationship with Jesus – one that would change our lives in more ways than we could ever imagine. “The more we discover who Jesus truly is, the more we will place him at the center of our lives. . . . The more we place Jesus at the center of our lives, the more life begins to make sense. 

Kelly challenges us to consider our answers to two important Jesus questions: Who do you say that Jesus is? and Who does Jesus say that you are? He also examines the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . .You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) This commandment seems straightforward and simple, but it “may also be one of the hardest aspects of the Christian faith to live. . . until we learn to love ourselves as God wants us to, our ability to love others will be limited and deformed.” This type of self-love is not full of pride and self-interest. Rather, it is one that is rooted in humility.

Living as Jesus calls us to means living a radical generosity, practicing forgiveness, and loving others with an agape love. We also need to pray in order to have a meaningful relationship with God. Kelly explores all of these aspects of Christian life, as well as the importance of self-denial, an idea that is not popular in the world today. “Each time you deny yourself is a spiritual exercise, a spiritual push-up that strengthens the soul. This allows the soul to increasingly respond to grace and choose what is good, true, noble, and just in every situation.”  Kelly encourages us to work to close the gap between “the person we are and the person he created us to be.”

“Rediscover Jesus” is intended for all Christians. There is no discussion of the Mass or any of the sacraments. The book is weaker for it. Nevertheless, Kelly has a great deal of thought-provoking material in these pages. It serves as either a good introduction to the person and call of Jesus or as an important wake-up call for those of us who have been just going through the motions. No matter where we fall on the spiritual spectrum, we all have room for improvement.

In addition, Dynamic Catholic is offering a “Best Lent Ever” program for this upcoming Lent which will feature daily two-minute videos focusing on the topics covered in “Rediscover Jesus.” Find out more at

Friday, January 29, 2016

Three New Lenten Resources from Ave Maria Press

Bringing Lent Home with Pope Francis is designed to “provide and encourage a daily occurrence of family prayer and communication as you move through this holy season together. By following the suggestions regarding how your family can apply Pope Francis’s wisdom to your lives, you will participate more fully with the rhythm of the Church regarding Lenten prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”

This book, which can be used every year during Lent, offers a mini prayer service for each day which includes a quote from Pope Francis, a reflection for parents to read on their own, a family prayer, a story from Pope Francis’s life, an idea for something to give up for that day and a way to practice almsgiving. 

Cooper O’Boyle has created a valuable resource. The ideas for fasting and almsgiving are especially creative and will add great spiritual meaning to these practices. While designed for family use, it is probably most suited for use with children ages eight and up.

Sacred Reading for Lent 2016
by Apostleship of Prayer (Douglas Leonard, Executive Director)

Excerpted from Sacred Reading: The 2016 Guide to Daily Prayer, Sacred Reading for Lent 2016 is designed to help readers practice the ancient tradition of Lectio Divina (sacred reading) during the holy season of Lent. “What better way to deepen one’s friendship with Jesus Christ, the Word of God, than by prayerfully encountering him in the daily Gospel?” 

Each day offers a short prayer, the Gospel reading for that day, a short reflection, a time to listen to Jesus speaking to your heart and an invitation to ask God to show you how to live that day. Ideally, one should have at least ten quiet minutes a day to best utilize this book.

Stations of the Cross with the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus
by Apostleship of Prayer (William Prospero, S.J.)

Fr. William Prospero lived from 1965 – 2014. He was born on the feast of St. John Vianney, patron saint of priests, and died on our Blessed Mother’s birthday. As his spiritual director shares in the Foreward, Fr. Prospero, who died of kidney cancer, had a “profound love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Eucharist, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. . . Fr. Will lived these reflections. He walked the Way of the Cross with Jesus, surrendering himself to the incomprehensible and perfect will of the Father.”

These reflections are designed for private, rather than group, use. Fr. Prospero’s writing is beautiful and invites those reading into a deep relationship with Christ as he suffered and as He continues to meet us in the Eucharistic. Each station features a short Scripture passage, a reflection, and prayer. This book would be perfect for a time of Eucharistic adoration, however it can also be used for a meaningful prayer at home during Lent or at any time of the year.