Be Re-Amazed this Christmas

joy to the world coverBook Review of Scott Hahn’s Joy to the World

Joy. It drowned me as I cradled my 8-day-old son in my arms and stared at the manger ornament that hung on our Christmas tree. For a moment in time, I had a glimpse of the joy that Blessed Mother must have felt when she held her own firstborn son, the Son of God, on that very first Christmas two millennia ago. In that still moment, I realized that I could sit here on Christmas, experiencing the joy that comes from not only being a new mother, but from being such a prized and beloved daughter of God, because God became man, entering time to show me that I was worth dying for, to show me that this joy that I felt so palpably now could last into eternity, thanks to His sacrifice and grace.

For many years prior, I had fallen into the commercialism funk that plagues so many of us during the Advent and Christmas seasons. It became too easy to focus on the giant list of presents to purchase, the cookies to bake, and the parties to attend, and somehow, in the midst of all these supposedly happy activities, there was no joy. Happiness didn’t last far beyond the opening of the gifts under the tree or even after the beautiful Christmas liturgy. But last Christmas, in front of the manger on the Christmas tree, I rediscovered that joy for the first time in years. I was re-amazed at the wonder of Christmas.

As I approached Advent this year with no life-changing event (like the birth of another child) on the horizon, I realized how important it was to me that I still feel that same rich and lasting joy. Christ’s birth should constantly amaze us, and then re-amaze us, every year. So among the many religious activities my husband and I have going on in our home this year to help our family prepare to welcome Christ at Christmas with renewed joy, we are ecstatic that Dr. Scott Hahn’s new book, Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does) published by Image Books, will help us in our efforts to make this Advent a truly meaningful period of preparation to welcome Christ at Christmas and then celebrate the joy that only begins on Christmas morning.

Dr. Hahn’s book lives up to what it promises. It continues to inspire in me amazement at how the birth of Christ changes everything and is the secret to lasting Christmas joy, rather than fleeting Christmassy happiness. He shows the reader that when you take time to look more deeply into the mysterious Christmas story with its unusual cast of characters and its unconventional heroic family at the center of the action, you give your own family the opportunity to celebrate a Christmas that lasts beyond Christmas day. When I interviewed Dr. Hahn about the book, he mentioned how the Christmas story is “complex…dark, but with sudden bursts of glory.” When was the last time you thought of the Christmas story like that? It’s time to be reengaged in the narrative. This story will help your joy to build during Advent, leading to an explosion on Christmas that lasts until the Epiphany…long after the commercial stores have taken down their trees and tinsel.

As the spiritual leaders of our family, my husband and I recognize how important it is to instill in our family religious traditions, especially meaningful Christmas traditions. Dr. Hahn’s book presents a powerful reminder that “the family is the key to Christmas.” He demonstrates how “the truth of Christmas begins with a family” and is “passed on by way of families” and then offers a powerful, stirring narrative that awakens in the heart a desire to pass on the most beautiful story ever told to your own family, creating a tradition that will far surpass any other Advent and Christmas activity in your home.

As with Dr. Hahn’s other titles, this book is relatable, understandable, and filled with biblical teaching that is as easy to follow as it is captivating and thought-provoking. In his final chapter, he reminds us that Christmas is what sets us as Christians apart. When you demonstrate the joy and love that Christmas inspires in you to your own family and to others you encounter, you will become a powerful witness to the Gospel and the utter amazement that comes with celebrating the birth of Christ. But first, you must be re-amazed.

The Feasts: Book Review and GIVEAWAY!

ThefeastsbookI recently had the pleasure of interviewing Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington about his newly released book, co-authored with Mike Aquilina, The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics (Image Books, September 2014). You can read my interview at the National Catholic Register: God’s People Know How to Celebrate.

I enjoyed The Feasts like I enjoyed the other books in the series, The Mass and The Church. Cardinal Wuerl and Mike Aquilina do a masterful job of explicating some of the deepest traditions and mysteries of our Catholic life, so we can engage them with deeper understanding, awe, and, frankly, with more excitement. The Church knows how to celebrate…and each of us, as individual Catholics and Catholic families, could do a better job at celebrating these feasts with the Church, too! Being Catholic is pretty awesome in this way; if we actually live our lives with the Church calendar, we have a lot of excuses to party.

Call me weird, but while the chapters on Christmas and Easter are captivating and climactic, I particularly loved reading about the “Feasts of Churches.” It gives me chills when I think about, see, or read of new churches being dedicated to God, knowing that for decades or centuries to come, people will go there to worship God, empty their hearts to Him, offer what little they have, and then receive all that He wants to give them, through His sacraments.

When my now-husband and I were dating, we started the tradition of praying a 54-day Rosary Novena every year, ending on the Feast of the Dedication of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome. (If you haven’t prayed a 54-day Rosary Novena, I highly recommend it. I equate it to running a prayer marathon.) I’ve always been fascinated with that beautiful basilica, and with the ancient story associated with it. As Cardinal Wuerl and Aquilina explain, “According to ancient tradition, a wealthy Christian couple in fourth-century Rome wished to build a church in honor of the Blessed Virgin. In prayer, they were led to know that the snow would fall – in the hottest month of the year – and would mark off the perimeter of the church they were to build. The snow fell indeed, and it mapped out a church that is monumental.” For this reason, August 5th, the optional memorial of the Dedication of St. Mary Major, is also called the Feast of Our Lady of Snows. Every year for the past four years (and hopefully for many years to come), my family brings flowers to the statue of Our Lady at our parish on August 5th, thanking her for the “snowfall” of graces and blessings we have received through our marathon-novena, through her maternal intercession.

There are so many ways this book will enhance your experience of the Church’s feasts, helping you or your family to celebrate them with new purpose and meaning. Because I’d love you to have this title on your own bookshelf, I’m giving away a FREE COPY of Cardinal Wuerl and Mike Aquilina’s The Feasts to one happy winner, courtesy of Image Books. Please enter below and share the giveaway with friends!

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Making Catholic Identity a Priority in Catholic Education

School chairsWhat a novel idea. Educators and schools making Catholic institutions unmistakably Catholic in their identity. When I visited Bishop Gorman Catholic High School in Las Vegas last year to speak to their faculty on evangelizing youth in Catholic school, it was refreshing to connect with a principal and administration with their goals properly prioritized. It inspired me to continue to speak and write on the topic, because I am passionate about seeing more of our Catholic schools follow suit. My husband and I have become increasingly interested in homeschooling over the years (the actual decision is still in the future, with our son being only eight months old), due in part to Catholic schools losing their Catholic identity and our desire for our children to have Catholicism imbue all of their educational pursuits. I could go on about this ad nauseam, but here is a recent article of mine in the National Catholic Register on Prioritizing Catholic Identity in Education: What Schools are Doing Right.

Look at Me

I sat there in the quiet chapel, feeling exceptionally grateful for my seven-month-old son’s spontaneous nap, which gave me the chance to savor a few minutes with Jesus in adoration. Still, prayerful moments like these before the Lord in the Eucharist seemed so fleeting lately that I was almost too giddy to buckle down and pray. I nestled into the folding chair at the back of the chapel, resting against its minimal padding to help support the weight of the sleeping baby in my arms. I closed my eyes and started to pray.

I wasn’t keeping track of how many minutes had gone by when I heard a clear, soft voice speaking in my heart: “Look at me.”

Instantly, I became acutely aware of the fact that in all the time I had been sitting with Jesus in the chapel, I hadn’t once stopped to gaze at Him in the Monstrance before me on the altar. I looked up. My soul flooded with an inexpressible feeling—like a perfect combination of love, peace, recognition, understanding, and hope—something like that. All it took was a look, “that look” which is described so beautifully in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

…”I look at him and he looks at me”: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men… (2715).

After that moment, I couldn’t help but think of how easy it is to forget to look at Jesus. Sometimes we get so busy, whether with our work or the care of our family or even our prayer (all good things!), that we forget to take time to just fix our gaze on Jesus, even if for a moment.

Imagine passing a family member in the hallway of your home and failing to give them even a passing glance. Wouldn’t that be strange? But isn’t that what we do to the images of Jesus in our home? We get used to that picture of Jesus hanging in that special spot on the wall or the crucifix suspended in that particular corner of the room, and we frequently pass it by without a look. When we look at something or someone, it causes us to think about that thing or person. Of course, Jesus is not present in those holy objects like He is in the Monstrance or the Tabernacle, but aren’t those items in our homes to remind us of Him, to remind us to look at Him, to think of Him?

I think Jesus longs for us to take brief (and not-so-brief, more contemplative) moments of our day to stop and gaze on Him, whether that be in His True Presence in the Eucharist, or in pictures and statues and crosses in our homes, or in an image we hold of Him when we close our eyes. And I don’t think He longs for this for purely His own loving sake. When “I look at Him and He looks at me,” I am changed, instantly. “His gaze purifies [my] heart” and I am reminded, for one special, lasting moment, that I am deeply, indescribably loved.

Originally posted at IntegratedCatholicLife.org.

Healing After Miscarriage

Healing After Miscarriage There are some tragedies in life that just can’t be explained. When my editor pitched this miscarriage story idea to me, I was unsure about how I could appropriately tackle such a challenging topic, and one that I had never experienced myself. The couples I interviewed for this piece confirmed for me that the Holy Spirit wanted their stories told. I was so moved and inspired by their testimonies and the grieving and healing processes they went through, with the help of their Catholic faith. Read more from my latest National Catholic Register feature here: Healing After Miscarriage: Couples Find Hope in Faith After Losing a Child.

The Quiet Voice That Calls You

The Quiet Voice That Calls YouI remember years ago having to write an essay for an English class on the topic, “Why I Write.” I wish I could find the essay and see what I had to say about my reasons for writing back in high school. Although the decade-old assignment is likely tucked in a clutter of papers on a dusty closet shelf somewhere, the topic has always stuck with me, creeping to the forefront of my mind from time to time as if to urge me to perpetually re-answer that pressing question.

Undeniably, the answer has changed as I have gotten olde, and as both my reasons for writing and my writing itself has matured (as they will hopefully continue to do).

For the past few years, I have waded deeper into waters of the Catholic blogosphere. Writing there has brought an array of rewards and challenges. Among the challenges, I have discovered these pesky little voices inside my head that like to offer their unsolicited input, which goes something like this:

Why do you even bother?

You’ll never write as well as Catholic author “Sally.” Everybody always loves what she has to say…and, to boot, she’s funny, and you’re not funny. Everybody loves funny…

You’ll never be as insightful or intelligent as Catholic writer “Dave.” The depth of content in his writing could run laps around yours. Everybody thinks he’s a writing genius…

You’ll never reach as many people as Catholic blogger “Sam.” Have you seen his number of fans and followers? Everybody who’s anybody knows about “Sam” and his writings…

Why do you even bother?

But somewhere in the midst of all these nasty little voices is a quiet, clear voice speaking softly in my heart. It is for this voice that I write. It says:

“You may never write as well or as humorously as Sally. You may never be as intelligent as Dave. You may never reach as many people as Sam. But if you write well enough to bring one person just a little bit closer to Jesus, if you convey enough wisdom to help one soul get closer to sanctity, if you reach just one person for the sake of sharing something about the love and truth, peace and happiness that animate the lives of those who live for God, than that is worth all of the time, effort, and insecurities of every written word.”

Do you have any pesky little voices that try to deter you from what God wants you to do or that cloud your reasons for doing what you are gifted at? Ignore them. God wants to use you to touch at least one person, and to listen to that clear, small voice that beckons you to do His will, even when you feel inadequate or undeserving. After all, His power is made perfect in our weakness, in our unpopularity, and in our littleness. Always listen to—and answer—the quiet voice that calls you.

Book Review: Angels and Saints by Scott Hahn

Hahn_9780307590794_jkt_r1.inddI had never driven in a whiteout before, and after that night, I swore to do whatever I could to avoid driving through one ever again.

It was May in Denver and I, having moved there from Atlanta, was still not used to the fact that there are states where snow falls in the mountains year-round. My then-professor Dr. Ted Sri and I needed to leave the conference that we were attending early, so we decided to caravan down the mountain. Off we drove, Dr. Sri leading the way and I following, having no idea of the nightmare that was in store for us.

The excursion down a seemingly never-ending mountain, in what turned out to be a total whiteout, was every imaginable negative adjective you can think of and…prayerful. I could hardly see the faint red taillights in front of me (my only chance at avoiding doom just one mountain-edge to the right) through the thick packs of snow that had fallen on my windshield, remaining unmoved by wipers and only getting thicker. I couldn’t cry; tears would only fog my vision more. The only thing—aside from inching forward—that I could do was pray, and so I did. I prayed to my guardian angel, and to this day, I believe it was our angels that guided our cars down the mountain that night.

That’s what angels do. They guide and protect. They are there for you when it seems like you’re all alone.

I have my mother to thank for my devotion to the angels, dating back to my childhood years when she would pray the guardian angel prayer with my sisters and I every night, asking our angels to watch over us as we slept. My mother would tell my sisters and I, when we were off to take a tough test or going on a band trip, “I’m sending you my angel,” reassuring us that the tests and adventures and trials of life were more bearable and more complete with angels at our sides. She still frequently sends us her angel.

In his beautifully-written new book, Angels and Saints: A Biblical Guide to Friendship with God’s Holy Ones, Dr. Scott Hahn writes about making the angels “our partners in a holy conspiracy as we try to draw friends and neighbors and coworkers into a deeper life of faith.” I love that—a holy conspiracy! We need more holy conspiracies in our world today!

One angel who helps lead such sacred conspiracies is St. Michael the Archangel, mighty among the angels and our patron amidst the spiritual warfare in our lives. In his chapter on St. Michael and the Angels, Hahn recalls that through most of the twentieth century it was common to invoke St. Michael’s intercession at the end of every Mass through a prayer reportedly composed by Pope Leo XIII. In my own family, it is also customary to pray to St. Michael at the close of every day, which has unquestionably helped us through many spiritual battles each day and at night, since many in my family suffer with nightmares and night terrors.

It’s a shame that so many people fail to befriend the angels because they may seem so different from us, when really, these personal beings are powerful guiders of history and of our own lives, helping lead us closer toward union with their boss—God. Hahn reminds readers, “By God’s design, the angels are active in our life, from the time we are conceived to the moment of our earthly end. Our moments go better if we work with the angels, as the Scriptures show!”

I love Dr. Hahn’s new book, Angels and Saints,  because I desire to fill my life with a series of these better, holier moments. This book is sure to ignite the same passion in you. With meditations from the lives of the saints and thought-provoking wisdom from saints themselves to “ponder in your heart” at the end of each chapter, this is the kind of book that is meant not only to be read, but also to be prayed and lived. It’s the saints and angels who animate and inspire us to live extraordinarily, rather than ordinarily—to live with our eyes fixed on our heavenly goal, so we too can be numbered among the saints and rejoice with the angels in God’s eternal family someday.

“To be in God’s family: that is the deepest meaning of sainthood…” –Dr. Scott Hahn, Angels and Saints

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On the Rise in Stay-at-Home Motherhood

mom and daughterI don’t know why, but I was surprised to find in researching for my latest article in the National Catholic Register that stay-at-home mothers are quite a minority in our culture. Minority or not, I am thankful to God and to my husband for the opportunity to number myself among them. I’m now in my sixth month of professional stay-at-home motherhood and I can undoubtedly see the benefits it brings to my family…including and especially me! Here’s a link to the feature story, “Choosing Full-Time Motherhood.” The stories of other mothers (working mothers included) and the sacrifices they make for their children never cease to amaze and inspire me. As the Jewish proverb goes, “God could not be everywhere, so He made mothers.” Thank you, Jesus, for giving me this supreme and challenging mission to bring a little (and hopefully, as I grow in virtue, a lot of) godliness to my family every single day.

Book Review: Why Be Catholic, by Patrick Madrid

why be catholic coverIt’s the book Catholic readers and fans of author Patrick Madrid have been waiting for. His newest book, Why Be Catholic: Ten Answers to a Very Important Question, is finally a hard cover reality, being released June 3rd by Image Books.

I love being an avid consumer of Catholic literature, amassing a collection of religious reading material in my home, and I covet opportunities to serve as a resource guru for many of my Catholic friends when they are looking for recommendations. Because of my work with Catholics Come Home, I am equally passionate about having an arsenal of top picks for those considering returning to the Catholic Church or converting to Catholicism. Patrick Madrid’s new title is a long-awaited one on my currently-unwritten “most highly recommended” list, and one that I plan to advocate heavily to friends, friends of friends, and the many email-inquirers I engage with on a daily basis. Here’s why…

For those unfamiliar with his numerous works, Patrick Madrid is particularly gifted when it comes to clarity and charity in sharing truth, and this book is a masterful example of it. A cradle Catholic in a writing atmosphere that often seems dominated by energetic converts to Catholicism, Madrid explores the tenets of the Catholic Faith that he has always held dear, which he now confesses with precision and passion, after years of careful scrutiny of Church teachings and decades of practice engaging in apologetics. Why Be Catholicreminds me of why Patrick Madrid is one of our family’s favorite apologists: in about 200 information-packed pages, he champions the Catholic Faith in a way that is sure to make Catholics proud to be Catholic and non-Catholics question why they’re not Catholic.

In the first few words of the book, Madrid reminds the reader that the Catholic Church, like Noah’s ark, was built for endurance. In a modern culture and media climate that love to shoot flaming darts at the Church for Her unchanging and very logical teachings, Madrid writes to answer the question that “demands an answer now, more than ever”: why be Catholic?

He explores the gems that make Catholicism utterly unique—its history, sacraments, papacy and saints, as well as its love of the Blessed Mother and its teaching about good works, all while remaining blatantly honest about “the good, the bad, and the ugly” that the Catholic Church has to offer a world in need of Jesus Christ and the Church He founded.

There is something incredibly poetic about any writing—even the most informational—that speaks of the truths of Catholicism, because, in all of our hearts, whether we realize it or not, we crave the fullness of truth and happiness that we can only find in Christ’s Catholic Church. God Himself put that longing in us, and we all owe it to ourselves to be able to clearly articulate to others why we are Catholic, and why others should be, too. This book is written to help you do that.

In short, I hope this new book finds a respected place on your bookshelf, as it will on mine.

You can pre-order here.