Big Fat Catholic Book Review!

And RIGHT before Lent! See how nice I am?

Catholic Book Review button

These are all books I purchased at the Catholic Women’s Conference last weekend. I haven’t read all of them yet, but for the ones I have read, book reviews are there!

Therese, Faustina and Bernadette: Three Saints Who Challenged My Faith, Gave Me Hope, and Taught Me How To Love, by Elizabeth Ficocelli. There are several books by Ficocelli in this list (all following this one), for the big reason that I used to go to the same parish and often watched her kids in the nursery or at church functions. 🙂 She’s a really lovely woman with a great family, and she’s also a rather prolific writer. This is her newest book. I haven’t read it yet, but the conference’s emphasis on St. Faustina and Divine Mercy made it a “must pick up” for me.

The Child’s Guide to the Seven Sacraments and The Child’s Guide to the RosaryI bought these books for my first grade CCD class, since these are things we definitely talk about during the year. They are beautifully illustrated and the text is first rate.

The Fruits of Medjugorje: Stories of True and Lasting Conversion: This book is made up of individual stories, the chapters broken down by themes. Ficocelli compiled the stories and wrote a foreword. If you’re interested in Medjugorje, this is a good book for you.

Mass Start: Toeing the Line for Faith, Family and Fitness with U.S. Olympian Rebecca Dussault, by Bill Howard. This book just came out, and there’s not an Amazon link for it, so this link takes you to her personal website. Mass Start is what happens at the beginning of a race ( everyone crowding at the starting line), but Dussault also calls her new website Mass start, because the Mass is really the start of our faith, right? Everything builds from that. The book is a biography of Dussault, who spoke at the conference, and is well-written and includes a great color photo inset. Dussault has a compelling story and infectious enthusiasm, and you will too after reading the book.

God’s Bucket List: Heaven’s Surefire Ways to Happiness in This Life and Beyond, by Teresa TomeoTomeo’s first book Extreme Makeover, is a must-read for all Catholic women. This is her second book following that one. I enjoy Tomeo’s conversational writing style, but I think I should note that this is pretty basic stuff she’s talking about–being still to be able to listen to God, prayer, reading the Bible. It’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s that I wanted more from the book, sort of something a bit more abstract.

The other books I purchased, but haven’t read yet, are Seven Secrets of Confession by Vinny Flynn; Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom by Father Thomas Dubay (who also wrote the excellent Prayer Primer and Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer), and St. Faustina’s Diary, which I’m currently reading.



Today’s Bible Reading.

I’ve been doing a “Bible passage a day” on faithlife, and this was today’s selection. 

Jer 29:10–14

10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
Yeah, I needed that today!

Seven Quick Takes Friday No. 40



Shamless promotion: Last post in the Lent series went up today. If you missed the earlier ones, you can read the entire series here. Lent starts on Wednesday, so get thy plan in gear!


So, as we know from the post that went up today (yes, I’m making you all read it, bwahahah!), my Lent has basically been decided for me, with GI tests, rehab, and med changes, but I have some plans of my own. I can’t entirely abandon facebook, because people will want medical updates, so I’ll still be there, but it’ll be limited. I’m going to switch my lectio divina from the OT to the NT, starting with the Gospel of Matthew. Of course being dedicated to my office and going to Daily Mass as often as possible are givens. With all the waiting for my tests, I’ll be able to get a good chunk of reading done. And I’ve also given up book buying, so I’ll be reading only the books I have–in “real” or “e” form–already on March 5.


Anyone else using Verbum software? Any tips or tricks? I love how many books are in the library (I have foundations). Just reading Bl. John Paul II’s encyclicals will keep me busy for a good long while, and I’m also using their Lenten devotional plan.

While we’re on the topic (sort of), here are some of my favorite Lenten resources: Magnificat’s Lenten companion; Death on a Friday Afternoon  by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus; B XVI’s Way of the Cross Meditations.  For additional Lenten reflection this year, you can also read the Pope’s Message for Lent 2014.


What I’m reading right now, incidentally: City of God, St. Faustina’s Diary, An Echo In the Bone, Pickwick, and Therese, Faustina and Bernadette. A real emphasis was placed on the Divine Mercy devotions and chaplet at the Women’s Retreat last weekend, so I’ve been inspired to delve back into it.


The conference! Holy cow, I didn’t tell you about it. So I will now. 🙂

2,600 Catholic women from all over the diocese (and beyond!) were crammed into our building at the state fairgrounds. I got there around 7:15 and hit up a book vendor (Of course, come on, it’s me) before heading into the main conference area to find a seat. The rosary began at 7:30 and Mass began a little after 8:00. The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter was that day, so the readings and homily reflected that. Our bishop gives excellent homilies, so it’s always a treat to hear one (soundbite: When Jesus walked toward the apostles on the stormy water, after the Resurrection, and came into the boat, “he told them to calm down!”)


After Mass, we had breakfast. Our first speaker was Sr. Miriam James, SOLT, who gave a talk that had just about everyone in the audience in tears (showing Anne Hathaway singing “I Dreamed A Dream” didn’t stop them, for sure).  She talked about the “holy longing, holy desire” that we have for God, and our desire to be seen and noticed by the one who loves us. Part of desire is stretching, wanting to desire God Himself, who wants to fill us with Himself. A woman’s body and spirit reveal God to the world and emphasis receptivity, openness, and grace. The beauty of body and soul speaks to the longing for eternal beauty that everyone desires. A woman’s attentiveness to the person, recognizing the inidivudla, intuitiveness, nurturing spirit and being the guardian  and bearer of life make the world more humane–more fully human. Sister spoke about the toxicity of culture, and that outré mission to authenticity is to love and be loved. Christ wants to touch us and heal us, if we let him.

A priest spoke about Divine Mercy and the Sacrament of Confession, leading to so many ladies lining up for confessions. Forty priests were on hand to hear them! I got lunch and did some more book shopping, because we have abundant confession at my parish, so I didn’t want to deny someone who may not have it a chance to go.


After lunch, Kimberly Hahn took the stage. She spoke about the Proverbs 31 woman, and how we can work those qualities into our lives by being Godly, a woman of excellent, a woman who feast the Lord. To fear the Lord means to have reverence and awe for the God of the Universe who is our Father (I loved this definition.) This fear leads us to a faithful and faith-filled relationship with Him. God lavishes His love on us–we are His beloved daughters! We must hope in His steadfast love, because He made us, and bought us back–we are His twice. Kimberly encouraged us to let Jesus reside in our hearts, and to pursue purity and holiness, and know that God delights in each one of us.

The last speaker of the day was 2006 Olympian Rebecca Dussault , who talked about health and holiness–a great topic. (Her new book is excellent as well!) She talked about how FIT is an acronym for Finding Interior Transformation–I really liked that! Discipline in our prayer life leads to discipline win other areas. “It’s not that we win,” she said. “It’s that we take part.” (also liked that, although I do love to win.)

At 3:00, we said the Divine Mercy chaplet, and a period of adoration was offered, but, to me, was marred by overenthusiastic singers who wanted us to “participate” instead of praying in silence before the Monstrance. So I left around 3:30.

Overall, it was a great conference and I saw so many women I knew, and met some new ones! And I have so many great resources–CDs of the talks, books, and other things–to use for Lent. I feel so well prepared. 🙂

Lenten Practices 7: My plan for Lent

There’s a story I read somewhere about St. Teresa of Avila. One year for Lent, she had an amazing plan–penances, mortification, all these things she was going to do.

She ended up getting sick for all of Lent, and her sisters had to wait on her, as she was confined to her bed.

One day in prayer, she said to Jesus, “Why is this happening? I had so many plans for this Lent and now I can’t do any of them!”

He said, “That was your plan for Lent. This is my plan for your Lent.”

Right now, St. Teresa and I are kindred spirits.

I started this series before I had my regular doctor’s appointment on Monday. Before that, I had planned to give up book buying, as well as Facebook, for Lent, and really focus on my writing, my prayer life, and things of that nature. Then I had my doctor’s appointment, and my Lent became crammed with GI tests, Pulmonary Rehab dates, and possibly surgery (but we won’t know about that until after the GI tests). So my Lent, so to speak, has been determined for me.

I am used to this stuff. I am. I know how a doctor’s appointment can make the world go titled and suddenly everything you had so neatly written in the planner goes out the office window.  I should be used to this by now. But I’m not. I wonder if you ever get used to it?

I have some time before all this starts. The GI testing takes place on March 17–St. Patrick’s day, so the patronal feast day of my parish–and pulmonary rehab starts the say day. Pulmonary rehab is basically exercise with physical therapists, to increase stamina and lung function and show you what sort of program works for you. Generally the sessions included cardio, weights, and stretching/flexibility exercises. There’s also some other components, like Occupational Therapy (if you need it), there’s a psychologist who works with the team, and a dietician. So between me and all these people, we should come up with some sort of plan to get my ridiculous slackerly body into shape.

I’ve always been an “indoor” girl. My brother runs marathons, my sister played tennis for Capital, but I….read. And sing and act and write and shop and travel. I don’t run for fun. Working out, to me, is not pleasurable. It doesn’t given me a runner’s high. I don’t lose weight. I don’t generally like it. But now I sort of have to like it. Or at least tolerate it.

So….that’s my Lent.

Lenten Practices 6: The Liturgy of the Hours

The Liturgy of the Hours (AKA the Breviary, AKA the Divine Office) is, after the Mass, the most important thing for priests and vowed religious to pray. Cloistered orders usually pray all seven offices. Active orders pray, at a minimum, morning, evening, and night prayer. It is a way of sanctifying all the hours of the day, to pray  without ceasing.

And lay people do it too!

I wrote about this a few posts ago:

If you like structure in your prayer life, try saying the Liturgy of the Hours. A great site for this is, where the prayers for the different hours are listed, and all you have to do is pray them! I have the four-volume set of the office, which I prefer, but I also love this website because it’s great on days when I’ve forgotten my breviary at home. (hey, it happens) The office is the daily prayer of the church, which priests are required to say. Monks and nuns chant these prayers as well, around the clock. Sisters and lay people don’t have to say as many “offices” of the Liturgy of the Hours. Usually I try to pray lauds (Morning Prayer), the Office of Reading, Vespers (Evening Prayer) , and Compline (Night Prayer). Morning and Evening prayer are called the “hinges” of the hours, since they sanctify both ends of the day–beginning and end.

But now it’s time to really talk about it. 🙂 Get excited.

As a Lay Dominican, I’m required to say morning and evening prayer, the “hinge” offices as I call them, above. This isn’t binding under pain of sin–if I can’t, or forget, it’s OK. I usually don’t forget, but with my medical issues, there are times when I may have to miss an office, because I’m indisposed in some way/shape/form. That’s OK.

The offices (except for compline, which is the shortest office) are made up of: an opening hymn, three psalms or canticles (the canticles can be from the Old or New Testament), a short reading, a responsory, another canticle (morning prayer has the Canticle of Zacheriah, from Luke; evening prayer is Mary’s Magnificat), petitions, the Our Father, and a closing prayer. The breviary has this all written out for you, so you just follow along when you’re praying it.

Now, it can get complicated. There are feasts and memorials that have separate things. For example, when it’s the Octave of Christmas, we say the Christmas office for eight days. For Feasts, there are usually special readings and psalms that are said. There are lots of “commons”: common of virgins, common of martyrs, common of apostles, common of pastors, etc. It sounds complicated, but once you get used it it, it’s not–and if you’re following at a site like  Divine Office, it’s all laid out for you anyway. For the most part, though, when you’re just starting, you can focus on the regular psalter.

The breviary has a four week cycle of psalms and readings, so every four weeks, you’re back to Week 1 in the book. I’ve found that saying the office, far from being boring, is always speaking to me afresh; I’ve read some sections three of four times by now as I’ve gone through the Liturgical Year, and sometimes it’s only on my latest reading of something that I go aha! It’s constantly speaking to me, and I know others who say the office regularly feel the same way.

If you want to start gently, find a website, or use Magnificat, which gives you a sample morning and evening prayer, as well as the Mass readings for every day. I love mine. If you’ve been saying it for awhile and you’d like the big physical books, you have options. There is the four-volume set, and the one volume Christian Prayer. I use the 4 volume set, which is broken down as:

  1. Advent and Christmas
  2. Lent and Easter
  3. Ordinary Time I
  4. Ordinary Time II

Christian Prayer has all these things together, and as such is usually a bigger book. These can be ordered online or found at any good Catholic bookstore. I find the books excellent because I can write in them (yes, I write in my books) and mark them with post-its for the more complicated offices. I also recommend you get the covers to go with them, otherwise your books will fall apart a lot earlier  (at least if you’re like me and bring them everywhere with you).

Lenten Practices 5: Almsgiving


OK, the third pillar of Lent (the other two are prayer and fasting/abstinence): Almsgiving.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear this word I think of Robin Hood in the Disney movie, disguised as a beggar in smoked glasses and croaking, “alms for the poor!”

This is not, really, what I should be thinking. 🙂

Anyway: Almsgiving. Alms is defined as: charity, or something (as money or food) given freely to relieve the poor. Some churches have poor boxes in the back for this purpose (mine does). Other have special collections for the poor throughout the year.

But during Lent, we should definitely be thinking about the poor, and how to relieve their poverty. So some increase in charitable giving is to be considered. There are lots of ways to do this: donate to a food pantry, work in a soup kitchen, pick something from a charity’s gift catalog (like World vision or other such), sponsor a child who lives in a poor nation, participate in Operation Rice Bowl, or donate to your diocese’s ministries for the poor. There are so many ways you can participate in almsgiving.

To be “poor” in the United States often means things like these statistics (from 2010):

  • 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning. In 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
  • 92 percent of poor households have a microwave.
  • Nearly three-fourths have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.
  • Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV.
  • Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and 70 percent have a VCR.
  • Half have a personal computer, and one in seven have two or more computers.
  • More than half of poor families with children have a video game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
  • 43 percent have Internet access.
  • One-third have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.
  • One-fourth have a digital video recorder system, such as a TiVo.

But to be poor in other countries means destitute–you’re living in hovels. You have no food or clean water. Your children are dying from malnourishment, or malaria, because of a lack of basic necessities. When we say dire poverty, this is what we mean. And yes, you can find this in pockets of America, as well. But I think during Lent it’s important to consider those who live in countries where the government cannot help them–there is no safety net. In my first post in this series, I posted a list of 10 countries with the highest population of hungry people. It’s shocking to think that in Burundi, almost sixty-eight percent of the population is hungry. Think about that for a minute. Where I am right now, I am less than 50 feet away from a cafeteria that serves salads, sandwiches, burgers, coffee, cookies, artisan ice cream, and a variety of beverages. There are three vending machines down the hall. There are at least 10 places to eat within walking distance. My office has a water cooler of fresh, clean water for anyone who wants it. According to World Vision, “more than 1,600 children under age 5 die every day from diarrhea caused by unsafe water — that’s more than AIDS and malaria combined. Clean water, basic sanitation, and hygiene education are some of the most effective ways to prevent child disease and death.” 

We might not think we can make a difference with our few dollars that we can donate. But we can. A $20 (that’s a ticket to the movies and snacks, or a dinner out, or–for me–a hardback book, or a DVD/Blu-ray) donation to a clean water fund can save lives.

Like I said above, there are so many worthy places out there to give your money–this Lent, think about it. Think about the incredibly poverty that exists in our world, and do what we can to help alleviate it.

We can’t do everything, but as Mother Teresa said: “if you do something, and I do something, then together, we will do something beautiful for God.”

Lenten Practices 4: The Stations of the Cross


Anyone who’s been in any Catholic church notices them–the Stations of the Cross. Sometimes done in plaster molding, sometimes in steel and wood, sometimes on plaques, sometimes in bas-relief–they are always there, in every church, a gift of St. Francis to the Church.

The Stations of the Cross are always there, but seem to gain popularity during Lent, with many parishes offering communal services to pray the stations. As a child, we “did” the stations of the cross every Friday during Lent with our class at the parochial school I attended, every year.

The Stations recount Jesus’ journey to His crucifixion, from His condemnation by Pilate (the first station) to the burial in the tomb (the fourteenth, and last, station). While the number of stations varied over the years, St. Francis codified the stations, in a sense, and gave us the fourteen stations we see today.  The object of the stations is to travel, spiritually, to Jerusalem, and thus walk with Jesus on Good Friday, often with a spirit of penance and reparation for our sins.

The stations are:

  1. Jesus is Condemned to Death
  2. Jesus Takes Up His Cross
  3. Jesus Falls the First Time
  4. Jesus Meets His Mother
  5. Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry His Cross
  6. Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
  7. Jesus Falls the Second Time
  8. Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus Falls the Third Time
  10. Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments
  11. Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross (sometimes called the Crucifixion)
  12. Jesus Dies on the Cross
  13. Jesus Is Taken Down from the Cross
  14. Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb

Often in communal services, the hymn Stabat Mater (“At the cross her station keeping”) is sung. On Good Friday, the pope recites the Stations of the Cross at the Roman Colosseum, complete with prayers and meditations.  An excellent set for meditation are these, written by (then) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before Bl. John Paul II died in 2005; the pope was too ill to complete his normal Good Friday practices, so the Cardinal took his place, writing his own series of prayers and reflections.

The stations are a superb Lenten practice, since the graces we receive from doing them in a spirit of prayerful recollection and penance are so immense. It is good for us to ponder these things, to realize why Jesus died, to see the supreme mercy of God–the extreme depth of God’s love for us. We all see the signs that say John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” By mediating on the stations of the cross, we can truly see that love–love that was so deep it sustained Jesus through His horrible torture and death.

(As a side note: The 2004 film The Passion of the Christ shows all the stations, in some depth. For older children and adults, I often recommend watching this film, because I haven’t found a better example in media of Jesus’ passion and death, and what it truly was. It’s easy to whitewash what happened to Jesus; even the Gospels don’t give us explicit accounts, probably because their audiences knew all too well the horror of crucifixion. But we need to see it, I think, to really get it, and to see how deep and how great that love was. )

So, check and see if your church has a communal stations service on Fridays during Lent, or just go to your church sometime and walk the stations. If you can’t get to a church, you can also meditate on them at home by using a prayer book or an online guide, like the one I posted above. The important thing is that, at some point during Lent, you really focus on what the season is about, and what happened on Good Friday.)

Lenten Practices 3: Prayer

Lent is a great time to renew/revamp/reassess our prayer lives, and establish one, if you don’t already have one.

Prayer, as I explain to my first graders, is just talking to God. That’s it. It’s not some big mysterious thing that takes a lot of time. It’s just talking to someone who loves you.

I know a lot of Catholics trot out the “well I go to Mass every week.” Yesterday during the Catholic Women’s Conference, one of the speakers (Rebecca Dussault) made a good point. She is a former Olympic cross country skier, and compared prayer to talking with her coach and training. If she only met with her coach one hour a week, she wouldn’t get to know her coach, the coach wouldn’t get to know her, and her training wouldn’t be that great. Thus, how can we possibly expect to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength if we don’t talk to Him more than an hour a week?


There are so many different prayer traditions we have as Catholics; it is a rich tradition! As a Domincan, I’m partial to the rosary, of course. One set of mysteries takes me about 15 minutes to say. 15 minutes to say the Rosary is 1% of your day.  If you can’t say five decades, say one, one the way to work, or as you clean the kitchen, or take a shower. Starting slowly is better than not starting at all.

There are many good Catholic prayer books available at any Catholic bookstore or Amazon. But you can also use your own words. Tell God what you need; tell Him what you’re thankful for; tell Him about people you love. The four main types of prayer are: intercessory (praying for someone else), praise, thanksgiving, and petition (asking Him to help you). Any combination of these is great.

If you like structure in your prayer life, try saying the Litrugy of the Hours. A great site for this is, where the prayers for the different hours are listed, and all you have to do is pray them! I have the four-volume set of the office, which I prefer, but I also love this website because it’s great on days when I’ve forgotten my breviary at home. (hey, it happens) The office is the daily prayer of the church, which priests are required to say. Monks and nuns chant these prayers as well, around the clock. Sisters and lay people don’t have to say as many “offices” of the Liturgy of the Hours. Usually I try to pray lauds (Morning Prayer), the Office of Reading, Vespers (Evening Prayer) , and Compline (Night Prayer). Morning and Evening prayer are called the “hinges” of the hours, since they sanctify both ends of the day–beginning and end. (I’ll be talking more about this in a separate post, since it’s a big part of my life as a Lay Dominican.)

A great book for beginners is  Prayer Primer, by Fr. Thomas Dubay (or even not beginners–people who just want to read and learn more about prayer). This is followed by Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer. (If you want something that boosts your exiting prayer life, the latter book is a great way to start)

During Lent, you may want to pray the Seven Penitential Psalms.  These are psalms that particularly express the idea of penitence and are particularly a propos during Lent.

Prayer is our intimate time of conversation with God. Sometimes you may wish to try contemplative prayer, or a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament. Sometimes I’ve kept a prayer journal where I write down specific intentions, or insights I’ve gained in prayer.

Whatever you’ve been doing, this Lent, try to add more. By giving things up, like facebook (which I’m doing), there is more time for prayer and spiritual reading. Let’s use those pockets of time to talk to God and deepen our relationship with Him.

Lenten Practices 2: Confession

Ah, confession.


I never really liked it. As a kid, it freaked me out. And as I grew up, I went maybe three times a year.

Now I try to go much more often, once a month being my goal, but it works out to about once every six weeks. Working on it peeps. 🙂

Anyway–we’re gonna make this really short today. Go to confession at least once before the Triduum. Do a good examination of conscience (Scott Hahn’s book Lord Have Mercy has a great one in the back). Brush up on the Act of Contrition. (My church has them in the confessional, on the wall, but some churches don’t.) If you’ve committed mortal sins, remember they need to be confessed in kind and number (as in, what you did and how many times you did it). Do your penance promptly.

Old keys, new hats

Excellent photos and tidbits about today’s Feast!


The most famous statue of St. Peter the Apostle is also a little mysterious.  The life-like bronze statue, displayed in St. Peter’s Basilica, is seated upon a marble throne, one hand holding the symbolic keys, the other hand raised in blessing.  The mystery lies in the fact that no one is certain how old the statue really is.  While historical evidence about the statue dates it to the 15th century, according to a long-standing tradition it dates back another thousand years.  It is said that Pope St. Leo the Great commissioned the statue in thanksgiving for the preservation of Rome from Attila the Hun’s attack.

Over the ages, countless streams of pilgrims kissing St. Peter’s foot, a sign of their unity with and obedience to Christ’s Vicar, have worn his foot down to a smooth, thin, sliver of bronze.  Today Pope Francis also honored St. Peter by reverencing the statue…

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