Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Book Review: “A Willing Heart”

Friday, April 8th, 2011

A Willing Heart: How to Serve When You Think You Can’t
by Marci Alborghetti
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2011

What does it mean to practice Christian service? Do we really love Jesus if we ignore His frequent exhortation to service? How do we open ourselves to the God-given grace that makes service possible? These are the questions Marci Alborghetti sets out to answer in “A Willing Heart: How to Serve When You Think You Can’t.”

Jesus instructs us to “love our enemies.” How can we possibly love someone we don’t even like? Alborghetti states that “we must think of love as an act of will, an action we take and not a feeling that overwhelms us – a verb and not a noun. . . The best way to actually love is through service.” Alborghetti goes on to explore the many forms that service can take and ways to make it a natural part of life.

Service can (and should) be a family activity. Children who see their parents engaging in service will soon incorporate it into their own lives. Prayer is an important form of service in itself. An easy way to begin incorporating service into one’s life is to choose one person in need to pray for each day. Prayer also “strengthens and prepares us for active service.”

We need to allow God to choose who we serve. While we may have inclinations about where we would like to serve, “we must follow where God leads us when it comes to service, even when we are uncertain about the results or have no expectation.” God will both stretch our comfort zones as well as teach us valuable lessons. “No one is off-limits. We are not allowed to reject anyone.”

Alborghetti also discusses how to cope when we are tired and worn out by service. She acknowledges the need to rest from time to time, but emphasizes that God will provide the grace we need to persevere.

“A Willing Heart” is full of inspiration and practical advice. It will help readers progress in their ability and willingness to serve.

Book Review: Pathway to Our Hearts

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Pathway to Our Hearts: A Simple Approach to Lectio Divina With the Sermon on the Mount
by Archbishop Thomas Collins
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2011

Archbishop Thomas Collins states “Lectio divina is a prayerful encounter with the word of God. By the ‘word of God,’ I do not mean simply the text of the Bible; I also mean Christ our Lord.” “Pathway to our Hearts: A Simple Approach to Lectio Divina with the Sermon on the Mount” grew out of Collins’ experience of lectio divina sessions he held at the Cathedral in Edmonton, Canada. He emphasizes that lectio divina is not the study of Scripture, although such study can be good preparation for it. Rather, lectio divina is an “intimate encounter with the Lord God through the medium of his inspired word in the context of prayer.”

Each chapter in “Pathway to our Hearts” is designed as a full lectio divina session, focusing on a section of the Sermon on the Mount. Archbishop Collins begins each session with the simple prayer “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” and then an initial reading of the Scripture passage. He then goes on to offer his reflections on the individual verses. These reflections are truly powerful and insightful. Archbishop Collins invites reader to contemplate the deep meaning of these passages which have become heard so often they are sometimes glossed over.

The Sermon on the Mount offers a blueprint for Christian living. It is the heart and soul of Jesus’ teaching. The Archbishop delves into what it means to be pure of heart and to root out the evil desires that live within each of us. He offers a discussion of The Lord’s Prayer and what it means to truly pray. He talks about the role of anxiety and judgment in our lives and what we should do about them. He encourages us to ask for God’s help every day, to remember that “God is God and I am not . . . we acknowledge our reliance on God and on his power to save us.” Lastly, we must always choose life. It is the narrow road; it is hard; but it is the choice Christians must make every day.

The value of “Pathway to our Hearts” far exceeds its stated purpose. It is much more than a primer on lectio divina – it is an instruction manual for the Christian life.

Book Review: Partners in Holiness

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Partners in Holiness: Guardian Angels in the Lives of the Saints
by Melaine Ryther

I have always found stories of Guardian Angels fascinating. For this reason, I was very excited to have the opportunity to review “Partners in Holiness,” a new ebook by Melaine Ryther that focuses on the role of Guardian Angels in the lives of the saints.

“According to St. Thomas Aquinas, an angel takes watch over a person’s body and soul at the very moment of birth. All of us, whether we are saints or sinners, believers or skeptics,have guardian angels who: protect us from physical and spiritual harm; pray for us constantly before the throne of God; inspire us with good thoughts; incline us toward virtue; drive away evil; strengthen and console us in our sufferings; and eagerly await our prayers so that they may help us even more. The angels want us to become saints. And everything they do for us is a means to that very end.”

Ryther shares the stories of how Guardian Angels manifested themselves to some of the saints. Pope St. Gregory the Great saw his angel as a poor merchant whom God had sent to test his charity. St. Isidore’s angel did farmwork. St. Margaret’s angel provided comfort and taught her. St. Lydwine, who was confined to bed, had an angel
who took her on trips both to places in this world and the next. St. John Bosco’s angel appeared as a grey dog who provided protection whenever he needed it. Tales of St. Rose, St. Frances of Rome, St. Gemma Galgani, and St. Padre Pio are also included. These stories are fascinating and serve as great evidence of the powerful role Guardian Angels can play in our lives.

At the end of the book, Ryther provides a very helpful section with ideas on how to pray and interact with our Guardian Angels every day of the week.

“Partners in Holiness” was written to not only educate readers about the power of Guardian Angels but also to encourage us to call on them daily. All we need to do is ask for their help. All we need to do is ask. “Call on them and honor them frequently,” St. Francis de Sales says of the angels, “and ask their help in your affairs, temporal as well as spiritual.” They are our partners in holiness, every day of our lives.

Book Review: “Fragments of Your Ancient Name”

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Fragments of Your Ancient Name: 365 Glimpses of the Divine for Daily Meditation
by Joyce Rupp
Notre Dame: Sorin Books, 2011

Litanies, or the repeating of various names of Jesus or Mary, as a form of prayer has a long tradition in the Catholic Church. In “Fragments of Your Ancient Name,” Joyce Rupp explores 365 names for God – one for each day of the year. We can never fully name God – He is a reality beyond our understanding. “The names that humans provide to portray this sacred essence contain only a hint of the one who stirs within the heart and life of each created being. . . [yet] each glimpse allows us a step further on the bridge uniting us with this eternal goodness.”

Rupp reaches both within and outside of her own Judeo-Christian background for the source of these names. As she states, “I learned not to be afraid that the names used by other religions might take away from my own relationship with God. . .If we can open our minds and hearts, we may well find that the varied attributes of divinity expand our vision of who ‘God’ is and draw us deeper into relationship with the Holy One.” Therefore, within these pages one will find familiar names such as “Father” and “Abba” and “Blessed Trinity” along with unfamiliar titles such as “Shakti” and “The Clement.” There are also many less traditional names for God. For example, “Mother of the Weary,” “Deep Well,” and “Tear-Wiper” are all included.

Each day features a name for God, the source of that name, a reflection, and a task for the day relating to the given aspect of God. This book need not be used in chronological order, however. One could simply open the book and find a page that speaks to the reader at that moment. No doubt some will become favorites and be referred to again and again.

“Fragments of Your Ancient Name” will challenge readers to expand how they think about, and name, God. It is a wonderful source of inspiration.

Book Review: “The Power of the Sacraments”

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

The Power of the Sacraments
by Sr. Briege McKenna, O.S.C.
Cincinnati, OH: Servant Books, 2010

The first thing one notices about “The Power of the Sacraments” by Sr. Briege McKenna is its size. This is a small book – a mere 64 pages. Does it actually have something new and valuable to say about the sacraments? Absolutely.

Sr. McKenna emphasizes how the sacraments bring us “supernatural life, the life of grace.” She discusses each of the seven sacraments – their purpose and how they can work in our lives. All of this one can read in other books, however.

It was only after reading through several of the chapters that I began to understand the meaning of the title: “The Power of the Sacraments.” “Power” is the word to be emphasized. For each sacrament, Sr. McKenna shares the story of a miracle related to it. These are truly amazing, heart-wrenching stories that illustrate just what Jesus can accomplish when His sacraments pour out their grace.

“The Power of the Sacraments” is a reminder of the great gift we have been given in the sacraments. We should all open ourselves to their power in our lives.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Power of the Sacraments. They are also a great source for serenity prayer and baptism gifts.

Book Review: “A Billion Reasons Why”

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

A Billion Reasons Why
by Kristin Billerback
Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011

Reading “A Billion Reasons Why” by Kristin Billerbeck is like enjoying a sweet piece of milk chocolate. It is a big helping of literary comfort food.

Katie McKenna thought she left her life as a singer and dancer in New Orleans behind her, along with the love of multimillionaire Luc Deforges. She is now a special needs teacher in California whose only singing is done in the Church choir. Dexter is the man in her life – a dull, but reliable man who serves the Lord. She plans to marry him and live a nice, quiet God-centered life raising a family.

It would seem, however, that God has other plans for her. When Luc walks back into her life to escort her back home for his brother’s wedding, her life gets complicated in a hurry. Luc had publicly humiliated her eight years before and she is determined not to let it happen again. She is determined to fight her feelings for him if it is the last thing she does.

This is Christian chick lit perfect for curling up with when you just want to relax and enjoy a light romance.

Book Review: “Pausing to Pray – Lenten Meditations for Busy People”

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Pausing To Pray Lenten Meditations for Busy People
With Excerpts from the Diary of St. Faustina and Meditations by Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception
Compiled and arranged by Sarah M. Chichester
Stockbridge, MA: Marian Press, 2010

Lent is right around the corner. “Pausing to Pray: Lenten Meditations for Busy People” offers short reflections for each day from Ash Wednesday through Divine Mercy Sunday. Each day features an excerpt from St. Faustina’s Diary which focuses on Divine Mercy and then a short meditation from one of the Marian Fathers. The contributing Fathers include such notables as Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, author of “No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy,” Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, Director of the Association of Marian Helpers and author of the “Consoling the Heart of Jesus,” and Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, world-renowned authority on the Divine Mercy Message and the life of St. Faustina.

The reflections are short and thought-provoking and will aid in devotion during the spiritual season of Lent. The booklet can be used year after year. It also features an examination of conscience, St. Faustina’s Way of the Cross, the Novena to Divine Mercy, and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

This is the reflection for the First Saturday of Lent:

Jesus, I accept everything that You wish to send me; I trust in your goodness. (Diary, 190)


Dear Jesus, I am afraid of what I would have to give up if I gave You my unconditional ‘Yes.’ I guess I don’t trust you enough. How did St. Faustina come to a complete surrender to You? She knew You better than I do. Help me to come to know You more deeply, Lord. I don’t want to be afraid of the path that You have picked out for me. Help me to believe that You will be with me every step of the way and that my surrender to You won’t lead to misery, but is the key to my happiness.

Book Review: Exposed

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Exposed: Inexcusable Me…Irreplaceable Him

by Shannon M. Dietz
Pleasant Word, 2010

At World Youth Day 2005 in Kolin, Germany, Shannon Dietz was approached by a stranger with a startling message. “God is using you and wants you to be bold. He wants you to tell your story – all of it. Some people may not believe you, and some will come against you, telling you not to share what you have always kept secret. But he knows they need to hear you and witness what he’s done for you.” A priest in the confessional told her that she has a gift of the Spirit – the ability to discern what is evil and what is of God.

“Exposed” is Shannon’s story of that good and evil in her own life. It is a pain-filled tale. She has experienced far more than any one person should ever have to – including two rapes, emotional abuse, and seeing physical manifestations of evil. She made her share of poor decisions and struggled with her Catholic faith for many years. Through it all, even when she thought He had, God never abandoned her. It wasn’t until she was a mother struggling with the challenges of parenting that she fully turned her life over to God and experienced a life-changing conversion.

God led her to become a youth minister in her local parish and to share her story about God’s presence in our lives. As Shannon states, her story “exposes the truth that, no matter how deeply our wounds may run, we will always be worthy of God’s healing grace.”

It took great courage for Shannon to share her story. It is an important one for young people who are struggling with addiction or abuse and those who question whether God still cares for them in spite of their sin.

You can learn more about Shannon and her ministry at

Book Review: “Flight Plan: Your Mission to Become a Man”

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Flight Plan
by Lee Burns & Braxton Brady
PDS Publishing, 2010

Obviously, I have little first-hand knowledge of the challenges that come with growing from a boy to a man, yet I am in charge of raising two boys who will all too soon be facing this transition. It is through those eyes that I eagerly read “Flight Plan: Your Mission to Become a Man.”

Written by Braxton Brady, the chaplain of Presbyterian Day School, and Lee Burns, headmaster of the same school, “Flight Plan” grew out of the curriculum of that school. The book is designed for boys age 12 and up. It offers Bible based instruction and reflection questions on many of the challenges facing teen boys.

What does it mean to be a man? “Every male becomes an adult, but not every adult male becomes, truly, a man. Growing into that man takes careful thought and planning. . . Man’s purpose in life is to glorify God in all he says and does.”

How does one do that? By making good decisions when it comes to friendships, dating, sex, family, and school and keeping one’s eyes and focus on God. Brady and Burns explore what it means to be a true friend, to actually love a girl (there is a wonderful list on what Christian girls wish guys knew!), to make discerning choices regarding music, books, and movies, and to maintain a good relationship with one’s family. They also cover the changes and challenges of puberty. They offer a wealth of good advice.

The only negative was in the handling of self-stimulation. They certainly condemn it, but acknowledge that it is likely to happen, and urge boys not to fear that this will cause God not to love them. While this is all true, in the Catholic tradition, these acts are sins and must be said in confession.

“Flight Plan” maintains that God has great adventures planned for men who follow Him. It encourages boys to trust in God and turn their lives over to them. I plan to have my boys read this book in a couple of years. Honestly, there are some men I know who I wish would read it as well. If all men lived by the principles in this book, the world would be a far better place.

Book Review: “A Life in Letters”

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Thomas Merton: A Life in Letters: The Essential Collection
Edited by William H. Shannon and Christine M. Bochen
Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2010

I came to “A Life in Letters” knowing relatively little about Thomas Merton. I had heard of him, knew he was a monk, and that he died in Asia in the 1960s. That was about the extent of it. I had never read a single word of his writings, although I had heard “Seven Storey Mountain” praised extensively on a number of occasions. For those, like me, who are approaching this book with relatively little background, the inclusion of a brief biography of the man behind the letters would have been appreciated.

My sense is, though, that most of the readers inclined to spend time with this book will already have been introduced to Merton and be familiar with his life and work. Within these pages, they will find a treasure.

Merton wrote over 10,000 letters in his life. Five volumes of his letters were previously published, each volume focusing on one area of Merton’s life and thought. “A Life in Letters” is an effort to present the highlights from that vast collection of letters. The editors, who no doubt had a daunting task, have succeeded well. From these letters come a portrait of a man who, though in craved solitude and lived as a hermit for several years, loved being a writer and enjoyed written discourse with people from all walks of life. He considered writing letters an extension of his vocation and was equally comfortable writing to well-known public figures of his day such as Pope John XXIII, the Kennedys, and Coretta Scott King as he was writing to a young student who was doing a school project on what life was like for a monk.

William H. Shannon and Christine M. Bochen have divided these excerpts from Merton’s letters into nine topical sections: A Life in Letters, Becoming and Being a Monk, Living the Writer’s Life, Speaking the Truth, Seeking God in the Ordinariness of Life, Reading the Signs of the Times, Networking for Peace, Keeping Faith in Times of Change, and Seeking Unity Beyond Difference. Each of these sections contain letters written over many years, allowing the reader to see both the consistency and the growth in Merton’s thought.

One is able to witness his struggles with his vocation, his Church, and the world around him. He was censored by his community and told not to write about peace and war. While he honored that in his published writings, he spoke about peace and war to anyone who would listen in his letters. The issue consumed him. He also devotes much time to discussing the Church at large. He was a convert to the Catholic faith and was greatly impacted by the changes of Vatican II. Toward the end of his life he was very interested in Eastern thought and interreligious dialogue.

He was a man of his time and many of his letters are concerned with current events, yet his thoughts on vocation and solitude and writing transcend any one time period and are just as relevant today.

Any student of Thomas Merton will find “A Life in Letters” to be an invaluable resource.