Morning Homilies by Pope Francis

Pope's HomiliesImagine being invited to join Pope Francis at his home in St. Martha’s guest house at the Vatican. In the morning you would have the opportunity to be inspired by his homily, grounding your day in a foundation of faith. With Morning Homilies, Orbis Books gives readers a glimpse of the vision of Pope Francis, shared over the course of the first five months of his papacy. The homilies originally appeared in L’Osservatore Romano and are translated from Italian into English by Dinah Livingstone. These brief readings open a window to receive the teachings of Pope Francis, and provide an excellent resource for meditation and reflection.

Pope Francis has inspired many, both inside and outside the Catholic tradition, with his visible commitment to living the message of the Gospel. He does not merely preach, but sets a public example in alignment with his words. Within these pages readers will encounter themes that Pope Francis has raised on many occasions: the call for the church to serve the marginalized; the need for being a people of hospitality and forgiveness; the importance of humility and courage. The words of Pope Francis often deliver a necessary challenge, as he calls the church away from hypocrisy and idolatry and toward the teachings of Jesus.

A second volume, Morning Homilies II, includes the homilies presented from September 2013 to January 2014. With this additional publication readers can continue to benefit from the Pope’s intimate morning lessons, following along from home throughout the liturgical year.

Readers will be glad to have these volumes on hand, to turn to the Pope’s inspiring words whenever uplift or encouragement is needed.

Disclaimer: A review copy of Morning Homilies was provided by the publisher. No fee was received.

The Syrian people have been living in crisis for several years, and their situation continues to worsen. In recent weeks the overwhelming challenges facing refugees and internally displaced persons have been in the news with greater regularity, due in part to sorrowful stories of deaths while en route to seek sanctuary in Europe. Many countries that should be hosting people in need are, instead, tightening their borders.

We are meant to carry each other, to show compassion, to reach out with love to those in need. If you are looking for a way to contribute financial resources, I highly recommend reading about the work of Mercy Corps.

Many ordinary citizens are reaching out and trying to offer assistance, urging their governments to adopt humane and welcoming policies. This morning I read of the first refugees arriving not far from my home in southeastern Pennsylvania. In my area, Church World Service is one of the agencies coordinating welcome for Syrian families.

While watching this news unfold, I have been revisiting a beautiful book I reviewed on this blog, The Other Face of God: When the stranger calls us home. I am re-posting the review here in its entirety.

In The Other Face of God, Mary Jo Leddy shares stories of her life at Romero House, a home for people who are, for now, refugees seeking a new home. Her stories describe the lives of individuals with whom she has lived, and out of her experiences a theology of neighborliness and justice emerges. How does the stranger “calls us home”? In Leddy’s words, “Living in the shelter of each other, we begin to live in the neighborhood of God.” This is a powerful book, full of passion and deep faith. As I read, the prophet Micah’s words rang in my heart: “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Through living in Romero House in Toronto for more than twenty years, Leddy has built relationships not only with those living in her house, but in the neighborhood. In building relationships with Romero House residents, Leddy has experienced the critical importance of respecting individual people, not treating people as a “cause” or an “issue.” Strangers can become neighbors when we learn to truly see one another. The distance between “us” and “them” disappears when people work alongside one another to plant a garden, to plan a party, to care for the needy in their midst.

Borders and boundaries between people do not need to be viewed as barriers. Rather, they can be meeting places. When we meet in a spirit of compassion, that meeting place can be full of the Holy Spirit. In Leddy’s view, a Christian should not try “to see Christ in the poor,” but to recognize that the spirit of Christ lives along the border—between you and I, between one and another, wherever compassion meets suffering.

Her narrative addresses the harsh and discouraging realities that people who are living without a country must face. The bureaucratic hurdles for those seeking residency and employment are many, and indifferent to individuality. I appreciated that Leddy drew upon Hannah Arendt‘s analysis of bureaucratic systems, and I think she did so in a way that would be very clear for readers without background in political philosophy. As a counter to the indifference of systems, people of faith are called to love our “enemies.” Leddy provides an insightful analysis of the ways that governments can turn “strangers” into “enemies” to further their political agendas.

Through her life and her writing, Leddy offers a powerful call for the works of mercy to be given “a place of privilege” in religious communities. Like the merciful Samaritan in Luke 10, we must help the stranger in need. We must be willing to truly see the face of a stranger, rather than a “problem,” and to allow compassion to emerge. We must remember that the parable ends with the command of Jesus that we “go and do likewise.”

Amidst the diversity of religious beliefs and places of origin, “perhaps there is only one distinction that matters: those who are learning to love their neighbors and those who remain indifferent to them.”

Mary Jo Leddy’s The Other Face of God: When the stranger calls us home was published by Orbis Books in 2011.

Disclaimer: This review is freely given. No fee was received.

Just Mercy

Lawyer Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, does a stellar job sharing stories of people whose lives have been horribly disrupted by failures of the U.S. legal system. Despite the heartbreak within the pages of Just Mercy, Mr. Stevenson presents a story of hope and determination.

By sharing the stories of his clients, Mr. Stevenson connects readers with the humanity of those affected by incarceration. Beyond headlines that feed on our natural fear of violence and longing for safety, the lives of individuals and communities are being disrupted irreparably by a system of criminalization that heavily punishes those who are poor and from marginalized communities.

After reading the story of Walter McMillian, wrongly convicted and sentenced to die, readers who support the penalty might change their minds. In Just Mercy, Mr. Stevenson shares the details of Mr. McMillian’s case, as well as stories of other innocent prisoners who have been exonerated. Along the way a solid case is made for abolishing the death penalty, and for necessary reforms in the meanwhile.

The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation in the world. The statistics woven throughout the narrative of Just Mercy paint an astonishingly stark picture. For example, children who are subjected to abuse and neglect in their homes, and who later end up in court for nonviolent offenses, often receive harsh sentences and little opportunity for the care that could lead to healing. There are laws to protect offenders with intellectual disabilities, but theses laws cannot help if defense attorneys do not highlight their relevance to a particular client’s situation. Prosecutors and judges who want to appear “tough on crime” must still honor legal protections for the accused, or they risk punishing innocent people.

For anyone with an interest in social justice, and a longing to resolve inequalities created by poverty and racism in the U.S., Just Mercy makes an inspiring read. After finishing Just Mercy, learn more about the work of the Equal Justice Initiative on their website, where links are available to resources on the death penalty, imprisonment of children, and mass incarceration.

Disclaimer: This review is freely given, based on a copy of Just Mercy borrowed from the local public library. No fee was received.

the weight is over

532945_10207362262240698_5530050580359190562_nThe health of our bodies is deeply intertwined with the health of our communities. In the U.S., we know the level of unhealthy living has reached crisis level, yet the problem can feel insurmountable. Restoring health to our communities requires not only institutional support, but also spiritual strength and a solid dose of inspiration. The latest work from author Stanley Porter, a Boston-based musician, minister, and inspirational speaker, will be a blessing to communities in need. Written with personal trainer Nikquisa Nunn, The Weight is Over: My Journey toward Faith, Fitness, and Freedom addresses the deep emotional and spiritual challenges that stand as obstacles to wellness.

As Porter says in a video for this book, “I’m hoping that we can hold hands through this book and help each other be all that we were created to be.” There is power in sharing our stories of overcoming challenges and emerging stronger. The testimonies of Nunn and Porter bring encouragement and hope.

With the aim of bringing their lessons into communities, where people can immediately receive inspiration and turn toward wellness, Nunn and Porter are raising funds for outreach. You can directly support their efforts, and receive a pre-release copy of The Weight is Over.

An official book release celebration in Boston is scheduled for July 25, 1-3:00, at Frugal Bookstore in the Roxbury Mall.

For another opportunity to read Porter’s inspirational words, I recommend Every Song Has a Story, which I reviewed here.

Disclaimer: This review is freely given, and no fee was received. I know Stanley Porter from my youth, when we attended high school together.

The latest release from Joan Chittister, OSB, is Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the contradictions of life. In this book Sister Joan gives an experienced, philosophical voice to the hurdles facing spiritual seekers, and helps “to take the sense of aloneness out of life.”

A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Pennsylvania, Sister Joan is a prolific writer and a vocal advocate of peace and social justice. She has written extensively on the topic of equality for women and the role of women in religious life. Sister Joan, with sharp intellect and deep faith in human goodness, questions all assumptions. She seems to learn from every encounter with life, and with teachers of wisdom from all traditions. In her writings, she confidently asserts our common humanity and shared conditions of pain and grace. In Between the Dark and the Daylight, readers benefit from her honesty and boldness, as when, for example, Sister Joan writes about the ways we protect our hearts with a smile, until night comes and we have to face our inner turmoil. Her voice encourages readers to listen inward and grow, for “without that, we are not yet fully alive.”

In an interview with Maureen Fiedler of Interfaith Voices, Sister Joan spoke about her intentions in writing this book. She said, “We have to focus on the attitudes we bring to every challenge in life. We have to ask whether or not we have examined each of them thoroughly or only with prejudice….By admitting our fears and prejudices to ourselves we make room for other ways of thinking. Then we no longer get up in the morning geared for battle.”

In one moving chapter, Sister Joan writes about loss and the ways in which loss can open the way for new life. “Loss frees us to begin again, to be seen differently, to tap into something inside of ourselves that even we were never really sure was there.” Examining one’s perspective on loss can be liberating, as a fresh view gives wounds permission to heal.

Sister Joan lifts up a Benedictine teaching, that we are “to come to see the beauty and glory of God everywhere,” and shares plentiful ways in which to do this. I recommend Between the Dark and the Daylight, and all of Sister Joan’s writings, as companions for the journey.

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by Blogging for Books for this review. No fee was received.


Nadia Bolz-Weber writes of a faith that caught her completely off guard, a faith grounded in her lived experience. With her direct and refreshing voice, Pastor Nadia testifies that when you are a sober alcoholic, and you have felt your life saved by forces completely beyond your abilities to explain, resurrection begins to make sense. It becomes the most real thing in the world. Pastor Nadia’s memoir, Pastrix: The cranky, beautiful faith of a sinner and saint is honest, powerful, and brought tears to my eyes.

She writes about the church of her youth; encountering the profound limitations of churches; journeying through reckless behavior and toward sobriety; entering, with surprise, into seminary; founding a church where God’s mercy has a chance to shine through.

I have been reading the sermons and columns of Pastor Nadia for a while now, and I find her theology consistently inspiring. She preaches about Jesus transcending cultural boundaries, Jesus inviting everyone to the table, Jesus expecting all of us to forgive, Jesus calling for us to love everyone—especially when it is hard. If I lived in Denver, I feel certain I would make a home at Pastor Nadia’s church, House for All Sinners and Saints.

With eagerness I await Pastor Nadia’s forthcoming book, Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the wrong people, to be released September 2015.

Meanwhile, I shall try to remember this: “The kingdom of heaven, which Jesus talked about all the time, is, as he said, here. At hand. It’s now. Wherever you are. In ways you’d never expect.”

Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy of the book borrowed from my local public library. No fee was received.

“Listening to God’s echo in our lives, approaching Scripture as if God were speaking to us, is the beginning of midrash.”
For a fresh and vibrant experience of reading Scripture, open Sandy Eisenberg Sasso‘s highly readable Midrash: Reading the Bible with question marks. In this book Rabbi Sasso provides a straightforward discussion of the Jewish tradition of midrash —interpretation of Scripture— and how this practice can nourish one’s spiritual life.

Rabbinical tradition teaches that the revelation of scripture is the beginning of a conversation, a process of seeking and listening for meaning. As Rabbi Sasso writes, “By dwelling in the text, by interpreting it and making it come alive, the people came to encounter the divine and continue a conversation begun long ago at Sinai.”

To guide readers through the process of reading and creating midrash,Rabbi Sasso shares ten examples from the tradition, each followed by a personal story. Readers experience the ongoing conversation with Scripture, and the importance of our contemporary stories. A particularly helpful section reflects on midrashim on the theme “God was in this place and I did not know it,” where Rabbi Sasso engages with Scripture related to finding glimpses of the holy in ordinary places.

Why should we read and practice midrash? “Midrash lets us glimpse the light of the old souls who saw the glow of the holy in the words of Scripture. It invites us to find that light within our own souls and bring it to illumine the sacred narratives.” We come to see the value of our own stories, and the many ways that Scripture can speak into our lives, as it did for our ancestors.

A lovely, rich, and inspiring read, Midrash: Reading the Bible with question marks would benefit Christian and Jewish readers, as well as secular individuals interested in the many ways to understand the Bible.

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


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 94 other followers