Posts Tagged ‘Catholic women’

Part of the Modern Spiritual Masters series, Joan Chittister: Essential Writings is a collection of work from the prolific Benedictine author, scholar, and activist. Whether you are familiar with Sister Joan’s writings or are meeting her for the first time, this is a book that will inspire you.

Sister Joan has a voice that is both practical and philosophical, uplifting and challenging. I have re-read “Why I Stay” no fewer than a dozen times, engaging in dialogue with Sister Joan’s words as I reflect on my own experience of frustration with the church. Like much of Sister Joan’s prophetic writing, this piece is a rousing call to work for justice and equality for women. Other favorite pieces examine elements of Benedictine life, such as hospitality, mercy, and forgiveness.

The collection is edited by Mary Lou Kownacki, who serves with Sister Joan and the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania, and Mary Hembrow Snyder, director of the Center for Mercy and Catholic Studies at Mercyhurst University. With more than sixty short selections, as well as a biographical introduction, Joan Chittister: Essential Writings provides much food for reflection.

On Sunday, March 1, 2015, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Sister Joan on Super Soul Sunday. You can watch the complete interview through Oprah’s website here.

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


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During Lent, I look forward to undertaking a simple contemplative writing retreat, in the comfort of my own home. I will be using 40 Soul-Stretching Conversations: Writing a spiritual journal with Joan Chittister.

This slim book has a brief quote on the left-hand page, and a response from Joan Chittister on the right. Under each passage there are lines for a written response, so that readers can reflect and then engage with the text. Fifteen of the quotes are from the Bible, and the others from a variety of women authors. I was wishing for a brief list of sources, and hope future volumes might include one.

The work of Joan Chittister never fails to inspire me. Activist, author, and peacemaker, she has a prophetic voice and vision, grounded solidly in her life as a Benedictine. You can purchase this book, as well as other publications by Joan Chittister, from Benetvision.

This year Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, will fall on February 18.

Disclaimer: No fee was received for this review. Review is based on my personal copy of the book.

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When I first encountered the title Flunking Sainthood: A year of breaking the sabbath, forgetting to pray, and still loving my neighbor, I thought, “That sounds like me in my stumbling efforts.” I sensed I would find a kindred spirit in author Jana Riess, and I read this memoir hungrily.

I enjoyed this book very much and could identify with the author’s longing to cultivate good habits and to deepen prayer life. I laughed aloud, and nodded my head in solidarity. I, too, have craved closeness with God, and tried many practices suggested by spiritual leaders. The chapter on praying the liturgy of the hours (or divine office) really struck home. I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to read morning psalms and then the compline prayer service at bedtime each day. Rather than feeling frustrated when I forget to do this, I enjoy the prayer time when it happens. After all, the quiet time is a gift to myself, and not an obligation in any way.

The chapter on Benedictine hospitality sent me straight to the library so that I could reread the Rule of Saint Benedict. How I long to be able to live the instruction that “all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me.'” As Jana Riess experienced, it is not easy in our fast-paced culture to slow down and enjoy our unexpected encounters with people.

While I read Flunking Sainthood in two eager sittings, I appreciated that the book could be picked up once a month, taking one chapter at a time and trying a spiritual discipline alongside Jana Riess. For this reason Flunking Sainthood would make an ideal read for the start of the new year, when many of us try to adopt positive habits. Perhaps you long to try lectio divina, centering prayer, or a deeper sabbath observance. With Flunking Sainthood, you can enjoy the companionship of Jana Riess as you experiment and journey.

The honesty and sincerity in the writing of Jana Riess provide encouragement, inspiration, and laughter. I am excited to see that Paraclete Press has published a useful companion volume, Flunking Sainthood Every Day: A daily devotional for the rest of us.

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

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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.

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In Small Mercies: Glimpses of God in everyday life, author Nancy Jo Sullivan shares from the heart about dark times when she struggled to see God at work in her life. Her story includes divorce and the death of a beloved daughter, and the challenges of rebuilding her life after these losses. She writes with an honest voice and a positive attitude.

I found that Small Mercies reveals the many ways that God is at work in and through mothering, bringing grace to mothers through the daily tasks of loving our children. As the mother of a young child, I found myself wanting to share this book with others at my stage of life, for the pages are full of reminders to notice the ordinary, daily blessings as they occur. Sullivan’s children are now adults, and with a perspective of tenderness she glances back to see God lifting her spirit through surprising yet ordinary means. The stories are not all about mothering, but reflect the relationships of a life full of family, friends, and work.

Sullivan writes with the voice of a friend, inviting deep listening while offering encouragement and even laughter. This volume would make a wonderful gift for a friend who is striving to be conscious of God amidst the challenges of family life, or who has come through the darkness of grief. I came away from Small Mercies with a renewed sense of the importance of self-care and a fresh commitment to take quiet time, even in tiny snatches, to feed my spirit.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Loyola Press, for review purposes. No fee was received in exchange for this review.

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