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happy St. Patrick’s day

©Quilligraphy

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh! Saint Patrick’s Day blessings on you. Growing up in an Irish American household in a city full of Irish Catholics, Saint Patrick’s Day always was a big deal. My grandparents, who were from County Kerry (southwest Ireland), lived in the apartment upstairs, and my grandmother and mother would prepare a big family meal. We would put on records of Irish music and gather together.

I have many happy memories of listening to my Grampy tell stories, humorous tales as well as more serious chronicles of history and legend. Grampy could draw a map of Ireland, freehand, that included every bay, river, and inlet. He could trace out the journeys of the great heroes, Saints Patrick and Brigid among them. Those stories, songs, and meals shaped me. Today I am thinking of my grandparents, the joyful times we shared as well as the hardships they endured.

Go n-eírí an bóthar leat.
May the road rise with you.

by Mary Jacque Benner, RSM. © 1997-2012 Mount Saint Agnes Theological Center for Women, Inc.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent in the Christian calendar. Those who observe Lent engage in practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, with the intention of turning one’s heart away from selfishness and toward God.

As we turn toward God, mindful of God’s mercy and forgiveness, we recall the requirement to love our neighbor, and to show mercy and compassion to one another. Lent offers an opportunity to reaffirm one’s commitment to practicing works of mercy. Further, if I want more time for serving others, this means I need to spend less time on self-indulgence. In this way, the works of mercy can be liberating.

One book I plan to savor this Lent is City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles. While I await my copy, I shall re-read her book Jesus Freak, in which she does an exemplary job of showing what it means to live out the call to show love to one another with tangible acts of care. It is a very inspiring book, and I highly recommend it.

Lent can be a special time for self-examination, and for rededication to God. Some denominations hold special communal gatherings for prayer, service, and thanksgiving. Other churches carve out periods for quiet reflection, opening doors for individuals seeking space for prayer. However you choose to observe this season, may God draw you closer.

Unshakeable Belief: Advent 2013

Advent, the season of expectant waiting when Christians prepare to observe the birth of Jesus, begins on December 1. To support contemplation and reflection during this special season, Pax Christi USA has created a rich pamphlet, Unshakeable Belief, based on the daily lectionary readings, available in an electronic format.

The programs and resources of Pax Christi USA lift up the message of love, reconciliation, and healing that is woven throughout the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. A spirituality of nonviolence requires one to take time in prayer and reflection, so that actions for peacemaking come from a solid ground of faith in God’s vision for justice and peace. The writers who contribute to this pamphlet offer reflection questions that can help one move from busyness into contemplation, and from contemplation into action.

Sr. Patricia Chappell, executive director of Pax Christi USA, opens the pamphlet with an invitation. She writes, “Take time apart to honor, praise, and thank God throughout this Advent season, building a deeper sense of peace and calm, an unshakeable belief that peace, not violence, is God’s plan for all creation. Then, moving outward from prayer and the study of these Advent reflections, what action will challenge you in Advent 2013?”

Readers are invited to turn away from greed and commercialism, from fear and ignorance, and to turn hearts toward God’s love coming into the world, God’s love already present among us. Contributing writers include Darleen Pryds, professor at the Franciscan School of Theology in California; Msgr. Ray East, pastor of St. Teresa of Avila parish, Washington, DC; Kimberly Mazyck of Pax Christi USA and Catholic Relief Services; and Alex Mikulich, of the Jesuit Social Research Institute in New Orleans. These writers are not afraid to ask challenging questions, to nudge hearts in the direction of confident faith in God’s love for us all.

I highly recommend this encouraging and inspiring pamphlet as a companion during this holy season.

Disclaimer: An electronic copy of this pamphlet was provided for review purposes. No fee was received.

happy Chanukah

In My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of strength, refuge, and belonging, author Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., shares a beautiful description of Chanukah from her grandfather, Rabbi Meyer Ziskind. I found this to be a beautiful, powerful message, and a heartfelt description of the holiday’s significance. I share it in hopes that these words will bless you:

“The story of Hannukah says that God’s light burns in the darkness even without oil, and it is so,” said my grandfather. “That is one of the miracles of the light. But there is more. There is a place in everyone that can carry the light. God has made us this way. When God says ‘LET THERE BE LIGHT,’ he is speaking to us personally, Neshume-le. He is telling us what is possible, how we might choose to live. But one candle does not do much in the darkness. God has not only given us the chance to carry the light, he has made it possible for us to kindle and strengthen the light in one another, passing the light along. This is the way that God’s light will shine forever in this world.”

May this special season of light bring joy to you and your loved ones.

a Maryknoll liturgical year

Reading scripture with Maryknoll is an invitation to engage in the gospel call to peace and justice-making throughout the year. Readers hungry for an inspiring and practical peacemaking message will be glad for the efforts of editors Judy Coode and Kathy McNeely, who have produced an excellent resource, A Maryknoll Liturgical Year: Reflections on the readings for year A.

The Maryknoll Society consists of Catholic sisters, brothers, and lay missioners who feel called to live alongside the poor whom they serve. Through their work and their lifestyle, Maryknoll missioners seek to live out the call of Jesus to serve those in need. This collection of stories and reflections, each three to five pages in length, will be an inspiring guide to opening the scriptures. Each writer extends an invitation to delve into the week’s text (cited briefly at the beginning of the selection) and to make connections to the needs of the world.

One writer, based in Nicaragua, describes the celebration of the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. In the midst of poverty, Mary’s story brings great joy. The author asks, how do we respond to God’s call with whole-hearted surrender as Mary responded? Can we envision the joy as well as the struggles of our fellow humans, accompanying one another, at least in spirit?

In this book, we read the stories of community health workers in Brazil alongside the healing narratives of Jesus; stories of Abraham seeking a homeland, alongside the struggling pastoralists of Kenya; the parables of Jesus heard in a farming community of Peru. Amidst this diversity, our shared humanity shines clear, and the need to listen to one another becomes compelling.

For me, the entire book reads as a prayer for a heart open to God’s guidance, and for strength to follow teachings of love, even when—perhaps especially when—those teachings veer from the mainstream. May we see with our hearts that we all are made by the same one creator, that there is no god but God, that any idols that stand as walls between us must be removed.

The new church year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, December 1. I encourage you to obtain a copy of this book to bless your new year with inspiration.

Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. No fee was received.

I am hungry for books that raise up the stories of women in the Bible, and was thrilled to discover Women of the Bible from Paraclete Press. The richly-illustrated volume from Margaret McAllister and Alida Massari is ideal for sharing with the young people in my life.

In this lovely book, we have a glimpse of the world through the eyes of Rachel, Miriam, Mary of Magdala, Lydia of Philippi, and six other remarkable women. Rather than a passing mention embedded in a tale of men, granted a mere few lines of text, their voices speak to us directly from these pages, helping the reader to imagine the faith of these important ancestors. The stories are filled with hope, tenderness, yearning, and a confident faith in God.

I especially enjoyed the story of Mary of Nazareth, in which she describes scenes of motherhood and of the life of her son, Jesus. Outside of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), there are few words ascribed to Mary in the Bible; yet she has such a significant place as a model of faithfulness. Through Margaret McAllister’s telling, young readers will be able to imagine Mary in her special role as a strong and loving mother.

Throughout the book, the colors are rich and vibrant, from Lydia’s purples and Mary’s blues, to golden fields and bright blue rivers. Alida Massari gives beautifully expressive faces to the people in these tales, and their landscapes are livened with playful patterns. The animals are enchanting, and any young artist will find inspiration in these pages.

This book would make a special addition to a child’s home library, as well as a welcome gift for a teacher or special friend.

Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. Review is freely given.

My basmati bat mitzvah

I enjoyed My Basmati Bat Mitzvah very much, and certainly will recommend it to young readers as well as teachers. Author Paula J. Freedman does a beautiful job of sharing cultural traditions smoothly within the narrative, weaving them into the story as a natural and important part of her characters’ lives. Unlike other books I have read that address religious diversity, there is nothing preachy to this book.

The main character, Tara, has strong and loving relationships with friends and family, and these are made very believable. Throughout the story, Tara is an engaging and likeable character. As she prepares for her bat mitzvah, a rite of passage for Jewish youth, she wonders how this step will affect her identity. Her father is of European decent and her mother is from India, a convert to Judaism; Tara is used to integrating both cultures. Meanwhile, Tara also copes with the confusion that often arises in junior high friendships. A warm-hearted girl, Tara strives to resolve her challenges while also being a loyal friend and a faithful daughter.

At the end of the book there is a brief and helpful glossary of the Yiddish and Hindi terms used in the text. All the terms are readily understandable with context clues, but this addition eliminates any guesswork.

I found myself wondering if there will be more stories about Tara in the future. So many children of mixed racial/ethnic/religious backgrounds will be able to relate to her experiences.

I feel very lucky that, thanks to Goodreads First Reads I was able to read this excellent book. With Hanukkah at the end of November, I am thinking about young people I know who would enjoy receiving this book as a gift.

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