Advent, Christmas, and Your Child’s Vocation

It’s time for the Advent Wars to flare up again here at the Fitz castle.  I think I’ve found my solution, and it’s related to my latest at the Register and a new book out by Suzan & Eric Sammons.

Let’s start over at NCR: 11 Ways to Prepare Your Boy to Be a Great Priest.  I’m pretty sure that post is now officially the most popular thing I’ve ever written.*  To clarify and provide related links, at the blorg I put together a compendium: Evangelization and Discipleship for the Boys & Girls Who Live At Your House. With that as a preface, here’s how my solution to the Advent Wars fits into my approach to fostering vocations in my kids.

There are 12 Days of Christmas, and They Don’t Start Until December 25th

The annual battle concerns when to put up the Christmas tree and how to decorate it.  The mother resides in the Advent Austerity camp.  The more closely we imitate the lodgings of St. John the Baptist the better, right?  The children, led by the Eldest Daughter, would be perfectly happy to have Rudolph on the Roof beginning November 1.  In years past children have literally sneaked the fake Christmas tree out of the attic while I was sleeping and set it up in the living room in total silence.  This might be the one thing they manage to accomplish without any bickering whatsoever, so I count my blessings and offer it up.

But this year things will be different.

This year, Suzan Sammons put into my hands a review copy of her new book The Jesse Tree: An Advent Devotion.  I like it.  There’s a chart that shows you how to get all your ornaments up during Advent, no matter how weird of a liturgical year we’re having.  The sample ornaments in the book are crazy simple.  The daily suggested reflection and prayer hits the spot without overwhelming.  It’s like this book was written by a couple Christian parents with a pile of kids.   I recommend this book.

The Jesse Tree

Also you longtime readers know me: I’m not doing no Jesse Tree.  Sheesh.  Who are we kidding?

But you know who can do a Jesse Tree?  My crafty Christmas-crazy kids, that’s who.  So the new deal is this:

  • IF children want to do the Jesse Tree . . .
  • AND the teenagers who now have drivers licenses agree to do all the craft supply shopping . . .
  • AND the teenager who tends to hog craft projects solemnly promises to let her little sisters have a fair share of the ornament-making work . . .
  • AND the 11-year-old who best succeeds at daily routines and pestering us all into responsible family behavior and who happens to be a great Junior Lector agrees to host the Jesse Tree prayer time each evening . . .

THEN parents will fund the ornament budget and let children put the tree up before Advent begins, FOR ADVENT ORNAMENTS ONLY.

That’s my solution.

How does this fit in with my vocations post at the Register?  I’m so glad you asked.

Kids need to own their faith.

There are a bazillion ways to be Catholic, and kids need to figure out for themselves which devotions and prayers and disciplines are made for the type of people that they are.  If God fills you with a passion for Pinterest projects, you should run with it.  My eldest daughter has long been certain she has a vocation to marriage, and I don’t disagree.  The homemaking side of holy day observances is part of such a vocation.  So why shouldn’t she practice it?

If I do everything for my kids, they’ll never learn how to do things themselves. That’s true of laundry, cooking, homework — and it’s true of their faith.  You have to give kids chances to practice being Catholic, all on their own.  Now that two of my kids can drive?  I totally let the kids go to whatever Sunday Mass they want, regardless of when the parents are attending.

It is really important that kids know down to their bones that the faith is something they do, not something they only do with their parents.  They have to practice showing up at church alone so that it feels normal and natural for them to wake up on a Sunday and get in the car and drive to Mass someplace.   I don’t mean you’re a bad parent if your whole family gets in the car and goes to Mass together every week.  I mean that we parents need to look for ways — and this Jesse Tree thing is an example — that happen to be good ways, given your own family life, for your kids to practice taking charge of their faith.

You’re still the parent.  They aren’t totally spun off on their own yet.  But if you see some good opportunity for a kid in your family to do a thing he or she naturally wants to do and that provides that chance to take the lead on the faith, let the kid have at it.

Related Links, Starting with Crafts:

  1. My friend Sandra pointed me towards Ginger Snap Crafts, where you can find instructions for wood slice ornaments and for snowflake ornaments among many others.  You could switch out the snowflakes for Jesse Tree symbols. The wood grain nativity set was what originally caught her eye – don’t use treated lumber if you want your preschooler to be able to build Bethlelem with it.
  2. You do know about Catholic Icing, right?

From Advents Past:

5 Ways to Give Your Family a Peaceful Advent

Well Hello, Advent.  We Meet Again.

5 Reasons Slacker Catholics Do Advent Best – #2 Will Shock You

5 Ways We Keep Christ in Christmas at Our House

I don’t know why all the lists come in fives.

Two New Holiday Movies & a Grammar Lesson:

Dickens, Scrooge, and the Road to Redemption: A Review of “The Man Who Invented Christmas” – Reviewed by Tony Rossi

“The Star”: Hijinks and Holiness Make a Fun Christmas Story for the Family.  The handful of Catholic writers I’ve talked to who’ve seen the preview have loved it — and some of them are quite prickly about Hollywood getting hold of Bible stories.  So scout around for reviews if you’re not certain.

How to Make Your Last Name Plural This Holiday Season Because you love America and Tiny Tim and don’t want a reindeer to have to die each time you abuse an apostrophe.

Who is that Eric Sammons Guy?

It turns out he writes good books.

And did you notice how beautifully edited those two books were? I did.  It was Suzan Sammons we have to thank for that, in case you’re ever looking for a good copy-editor.

And finish to the round up . . .

The Top Three Things I’m Most Glad I Added to My Holiday Season

These have stood the test of time.  They are my go-to holiday things.  Now you look around and find your holiday things.  Happy Advent Wars!

 

File:XRF 12days.jpg

Image by Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

*Correction: As of mid-morning, How to Avoid Becoming a Bitter Catholic still had the lead in total shares.  Look at them both and vote with your sharing buttons!

Review: Why I Am Catholic by Brandon Vogt

Brandon Vogt’s Why I Am Catholic (And You Should Be Too) is a reader-friendly resource for ordinary pewsitters taking their first look at the “Why be Catholic??” question.  After sharing his own memoir, Brandon runs through the common objections to and proofs of the Catholic faith.  This book fills a gap in the literature.  Many apologetics books tackle one or a few topics in depth.  This resource is for the average layperson who is brand new to the question of explaining and defending the faith.

Who would like this book?

I recommend it for two groups of people.  The first is parishes who have completed a study such as Return, and now would like to act on the need to know about our faith so we can explain it.  By doing this quick intro to apologetics, readers can get an overview of the different types of evidence for the faith that we have.  Think of it as the tasting menu.  Readers can then go on to choose to study one or more subjects in greater depth.

The second group is ordinary Catholics who are looking for a way to work through their challenges and difficulties with the faith.  It can be hard for someone to articulate why they are struggling if they don’t have the language that they need.  In the hands of a skilled facilitator, this book would make a great launching pad for honest discussions on the road towards deeper belief.

The Thinking-Man’s Faith Isn’t Only For Academics

I think Return is the one must-read book for Catholics who care about their parishes and their families.  It lays out the 101 on evangelization in plain language that any Catholic can understand and apply.  Why I Am Catholic is a natural follow-up.  So much work has been done over the past thirty years in laying the groundwork of the New Evangelization.  These books are the fruit of that work.  They are tools any parish can use to mobilize regular people for the work of the Gospel.

 

Cover art courtesy of https://whycatholicbook.com/get-book.

What Genre is Genesis?

So we’re at ladies’ Bible study the other morning, and the topic of literary genres in the Bible comes up.  Not everything is a scientific treatise (this blog post is not, for example), and we aren’t obliged to read Genesis as if it were one.

Which got me thinking: What genre is Genesis?

It’s not exactly poetry, though it has plenty of poetry in it.

I’ve seen arguments for calling it “myth,” but those arguments always involve long explanations of why the word “myth” doesn’t mean what everyone thinks it means.  I’m not sure that’s what is anyway, even after all the explanations.

A romance, maybe?

It is one, but it isn’t just that.

The defining feature of Genesis, it seems to me after two hours of new discoveries in just chapters 1-3 — and I was pretty sure I’d already gotten the bulk of the discoveries out of Genesis on the previous seven zillion readings — the defining feature is that you just keep learning more, and more, and more about God and His relationship with man.

Which leads me to my new name for the genre: Theological Concentrate.

Related: Julie Davis at the always-excellent Happy Catholic blog has some good notes on Genesis today re: Joseph, Potiphar’s wife, and avoiding temptation.

The book we’re studying is Courgageous Women: A Study on the Heroines of Biblical History by Stacy Mitch.  So far so good. Doesn’t play around in going right to the thorny topics in Genesis 1-3.   Cover art courtesy of Amazon.com.

Back-to-School Means Back-to-Apologetics

Last night’s report from the corner public high school: “My history teacher explained to the class that the difference between Catholics and Protestants was that Catholics idolize Mary.”

Ah.  Well, there’s academic precision for you.

After learning that this particular teacher was a Lutheran, I produced my go-to book for children who have to deal with Lutherans who can’t be nice to the BVM:

Beginning Apologetics 6

Begining Apologetics 6: How to Explain and Defend Mary from San Juan Catholic Seminars has a page devoted to key quotes from Martin Luther concerning the Blessed Mother.

If you let your kids out in public, they need to know Catholic apologetics.   Parents, don’t count on your local parish to provide this education to your children.  Maybe your parish offers excellent religious education or maybe they don’t, but it’s your job to oversee your children’s formation.

A good Catholic upbringing doesn’t erase free will.  All the best formation in the world is no guarantee your children will remain Catholic into adulthood.  But if you don’t even give them the tools they need to attempt a defense of their faith, you’re kinda asking for it.

Evangelization and the Case for Catholic Fiction

Convergence of two happy things: The Catholic Writers Conference is coming around again, and I’m putting together an index of my writing on discipleship and evangelization.  In trolling my posts at New Evangelizers, I came across this one that is apropos of the conference season.  And yes, if you’re a Catholic who likes to write (fiction or otherwise), you should give the Catholic Writers Guild a good looking over.  More on that soon.

Evangelization and the Case for Catholic Fiction

Why bother with Catholic fiction?  As I write this, I’ve just returned from the Catholic Writers Guild’s annual live conference (our online conference is held in early spring), and once again I’ve met dozens of great Catholic authors eager to reach a Catholic audience.

I’ve also had a few discouraging conversations with publishers.  “We’re really only able to sell retellings of saints stories. We’d like to do other fiction, but we can’t.”  “We love that children’s fiction series, but we can’t break even on it, so we had to cancel further installments.”   “We want to do fiction, but . . .”

It’s a hard market. Over the past 50 years, Catholics in the pew have taken the notion that anything true, good, and beautiful is indeed “Catholic”, and run with it . . . right out of the Catholic market, and into the secular bookshelves.

And there’s something to that.  After all, we Catholics don’t need to decorate every story we read with a crucifix and a Hail Mary in order to be edified.  Reviewers like Julie Davis at Happy Catholic mine the treasures to be found in all kinds of strange corners.  The Catholic faith truly is universal, and so it’s no surprise that all good literature evangelizes, regardless of the label that goes with it.

Still, there’s a place for explicitly Catholic stories of every genre.  Why?

Catholic identity

Our faith is not just a cultural identity, but yes, we’re human, so it does matter to us that we aren’t the only Catholics out there.  My daughter is a big fan of the Anna Mei series from Pauline Books & Media.  These stories are your basic middle school coming-of-age stuff, and the Catholic faith is part of the fabric, but not the crux of the plot.  Still, I love that my daughter can see a Catholic character turn out for Mass on Sundays, or say grace with her family.  We all need to know we aren’t the only ones doing this religion thing.

Solid answers to hard questions

John McNichol is a house favorite at our place, since we have that middle school boy sci-fi / alien-attack demographic sewn up tight.  McNichol gets criticized for putting  religious conversations in his dialog.

Well, guess what?  That’s what teens really talk about.  McNichol is a veteran middle school teacher and father of 10 bazillion teens, so he knows that, and he puts real questions teens ponder into the mouths of his teen characters.

But here’s the rub: unless it’s Catholic fiction, those questions aren’t going to get a Catholic answer.

Catholicism is not generic

You know what irritates me on Facebook?  Vague “spiritual” feel-good platitudes being spouted by people who should know better.

Oh, I know, I need to lighten up a little.  And I’m the first in line to be ecumenical when ecumenical is possible.  But sooner or later we need for Catholics to claim their faith as the one and only.

Catholic fiction lays down the gauntlet: our faith is not one choice among many.  It’s not just a “flavor” or a “style” of religion.  A sincere faith means we’re going to have an awful lot of explicitly Catholic stories to tell, because our faith offers something you can’t find anywhere else.

Are you with me on this?  If so, here’s what I propose we do next:

1. Talk about it.  

There are lots of folks in the pews for whom this idea is absolutely radical.  It’s just not on their brain.  At all.  So mention it.  Drop a line in conversation like, “I love being able to find good Catholic novels for my kids.”  Or, “It’s so refreshing to read something that isn’t trashy for a change.”

2. Start buying Catholic fiction.

If you have a local Catholic bookstore, ask them to stock it. Print out the book info for the title that interests you, and ask them to order it.  If you have a parish library, donate good Catholic fiction to their collection.

3. When you read a good Catholic book, leave a review . . .

. . . at Goodreads, Amazon, and the publisher’s website. Then mention it to your friends – online and in real life.

People want to be able to practice their faith.  Reading good Catholic fiction is a way that many people can be encouraged,  inspired, and yes, even catechized at times, in a way that comes so naturally to story-loving humans.

***

Read any good books lately?

What titles would you recommend for the Catholic reader looking for a good story to curl up with on a lazy Sunday afternoon?

(Psst!  FYI for new readers – the blog discussion forum is here.)

 

Catholic Writers Conference Live! Logo.

 

Book Review: Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life by Julie Davis

Julie Davis sent me a preview copy of her new book, Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life, and I am very thankful to have read it. I’m mildly abashed to find myself in it, but I’ll take it.

What is this book?

When people talk about “having a relationship with Jesus” other people are left a tad lost.  A friend had a relative who’d just turned to God for the first time in the midst of a serious end-of-life crisis, but now what?  How do you help someone who’s ignored God for a lifetime to even know how to pray?  I recommended this book.

Starting with “Beginning to Pray” as the zero point, Julie walks the reader from I’ve-got-nothing all the way into the depths of the Christian life.  Each page has a quote from Julie’s epic quote journal, and then her reflection on what we weak-kneed penitents might do with that idea.  You can see sample pages on Amazon to get the idea.

Who would like this book?

Because it is such a true and grounded and approachable way to learn, or re-learn, to relate to God, I’d consider it a go-to for most new Christians.

As someone who knows and practices a whole pile of Catholicism, but often poorly, I found it helpful to start from the beginning and pray through the book a bit at a time.

I suppose the answer is: Are you ready to hit the reset button on your practice of the faith? Here it is.

Is it true Julie lets just about anybody into her quote journal?

Yeah, I think so.  She seems to follow the Adam’s Ale “Finding the Truth Wherever it May be Found” rule.

In contrast to her first book of quotes from films and other pop-culture sources, which I recommend for different reasons, this one is a collection of quotes from spiritual writers.  The contributors include some ordinary people like me, some super-big names from all the centuries, and a fair bit of God Himself.   It’s just whatever she’s read and found helpful, so there will be runs of this or that author.

The book doesn’t attempt to be a representative tour of the Greatest Hits of All Time; rather, it’s a tour of the human soul, and the quotes are ones that shine a light on this or that experience common to most ordinary Jesus-seeking Christians.

I’m quite certain, giving my presence there, that to be quoted is not an endorsement of every single thing a given author ever wrote (God excepted), it just means she found that particular quote helpful in some way.

Two Final Fun Things:

#1: Fellow Conspirator Will Duquette’s review of Seeking Jesus in Everday Life is here.

#2: My favorite quote from the book, from Fr. James Libone and stuck in my head since the moment I read it:

“Everyone wants the key to finding God.  But there is no lock!”

Cover art courtesy of Niggle Publishing.

Lent Day 8: Can’t Go Wrong Saint Books

PSA because the question came up today: If you want a good readable saint book, you won’t go wrong with Pauline Media’s “Encounter the Saints” series.  They are written for about 5th – 6th grade, but I thoroughly enjoy them and find them edifying for myself.  It takes about an hour for an adult left alone to read one book in silence. There’s usually a glossary at the back for any Catholic vocabulary words that you might not know.

I am unclear on why I only own about a dozen of these.  Need to rectify that.

 

Saint Teresa of KolkataSaint Catherine Labouré and Our LadySaint Gianna Beretta Molla: The Gift of Life

Saint Damien of Molokai -- Hero of HawaiiSaint Maximilian Kolbe -- Marys KnightSaint Isaac Jogues -- With Burning Heart

Artwork courtesy of Pauline Media.

 

Useful Things: EF Missal Sale

From my friend Jim A., via e-mail:

Hello to all,

It looks as if FSSP is offering a pretty good price on this Missal. This Missal is indispensable in helping us follow the priest and truly assist at the Traditional Latin Mass. It has the English on one side of the page, and the Latin on the other so you can follow along in English if you don’t know Latin yet.

It’s very practical as an aide during the TLM itself. On every page there are simple side illustrations with explanations and margin notes on what the priest is doing. I never assist at a TLM without this Missal; I follow along with the prayers of the priest as he offers them to God, and this is how I join myself to the Sacrifice with the priest.

Even more, this is the true meaning of full & active participation; it is an interior disposition which is facilitated by the prayers of the Mass, which of course are meant to draw you more fully into the Great Mystery which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called: “the source and summit of the entire Christian life” –Redemptionis Sacramentum

The Missal is usually between $6 to 8$ plus shipping. On Amazon it’s almost $10; so these prices @ FSSP are pretty good:

​—​Sale price: $4.95, 5/$19.75, 10/$37.50

http://www.fraternitypublications.com/labomi.html

I hope everyone had a blessed Sexigesima Sunday, as we prepare ourselves for Lent.

I took a look at the site, and shipping is about $5 for the first book, with a steep curve in your favor if you order in quantity.  So if you’re planning an order, get together with your friends and order as a group.
If you have a difficult time keeping your traditionalist associations straight, here’s EWTN’s article on the difference between SSPX and FSSP.  At this writing, FSSP is the one you want, though hopefully SSPX will be back in the fold soon.

Related:

FYI, I’m not much of a traditionalist. The liturgy passes my test if (a) it’s both valid and licit, (b) it isn’t hideous, and (c) it’s unequivocally oriented towards the worship of God.  This is me:

I like traditional Catholic stuff so much that when I hear “Tridentine Rite,” my first thought is, “But it’s so new! Barely tested!” Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the effort to learn Latin, because it’s such an innovation in the life of the Church. As much as 13th century Paris is, aesthetically, about my speed, I can’t help but think St. Thomas Aquinas is a bit of an upstart compared to the Church Fathers. And Gothic manuscript . . . shudder . . . Carolingian for me, thank you.

To be deep in history is to be very, very strange. I’m good with that.

Latin happens to be one of the languages I enjoy.  If we had Greek or Aramaic Masses around town, I’d probably take an interest, but I’m not sniffing them out.  I get to an EF Mass about once a decade or so, and otherwise I live in a pretty happy corner of NovusOrdoville.

Book Of Durrow Begin Mark Gospel.jpg Insular Majuscule
I’m broadminded, so I share with you this lovely sample of Insular Majuscule. A person could do worse.

 

Image originally uploaded by Dsmdgold at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Solution to the Big Parish Problem

Yesterday I wrote about why ever-expanding parishes are a sign of trouble. This does not mean that a big parish is a bad parish; it means that if a diocese is growing in pewsitters but not in religious vocations, it’s growing spiritual fat, not muscle.  The good news is that stored energy, in the form of pewsitters, can be converted into a healthy Body of Christ just as soon as the head makes up its mind to start doing the things it takes to regain spiritual vigor.

A large parish that is pulling this off right now is St. William’s in Round Rock, Texas.  Over at the blog discussion group, Martina Kreitzer writes:

You should come visit St. William in Round Rock, Texas. We are the largest parish in the diocese with no sign of growing slower. Our post confirmation program retention rate is 4x the national average . . . and our parish faith formation programs (pre-k through high school) are thriving in ways that make our “mega church” work. We are also blessed to be a 100 year old parish in which the founding family still attends (and can often be seen in the trenches of service oriented work). We come from humble beginnings, have a multicultural background, and are rich in heritage – Mexican/Anglo/rich/poor, etc.

You should come talk to our priest, Father Dean Wilhelm, our adult faith formation director Noe Rocha and our high school and middle school youth ministers, Chris Bartlett and Gwen Bartlett (they are brother and sister). They are also co-founders of a mentoring ministry called Next Level Ministry, designed to help youth ministers get the most out of their programs.

Martina is behind the Jesus is Lord program, one of the key elements of St. William’s success, and which you can read about in detail:

Jesus is Lord Series Introduction

Week 1: God’s Love

Week 2: Sin and It’s Consequences

Week 3: Salvation – God’s Solution for Sin

Week 4: Repentance – Recognize and Receive

Confession

Week 5: Holy Spirit – Going from the Seat to the Feet

Prayer Session

Week 6: Jesus is Lord of My Talent

Week 7: Jesus is Lord of My Time

Week 8: Jesus is Lord of My Treasure

Week 9: Jesus is Lord of My Sexuality

Week 10: Intentional Discipleship and Commissioning

Is this program suitable for parishes not quite like St. William’s? Definitely.  It’s being used at Texas A&M’s legendary St. Mary’s Catholic Center, where vocations are flourishing.  You can watch the campus video series here.

What is this “Intentional Discipleship” business?

Back up a second though and notice the title for Week 10 of the Jesus is Lord series.  If you are not familiar with the concept of “Intentional Discipleship” you need to read Sherry Weddell’s excellent books on the topic, Forming Intentional Disciples and Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples.  The first book explains the problem, and the second tells you step-by-step how to solve it.  Book three, Fruitful Discipleship comes out in April 2017.

FID and BPID are both best suited to intermediate-level lay readers. You don’t have to be a genius or on staff at the parish, and both books are eminently readable, but when my own discipleship group read FID, some of the members found the density of the book a little overwhelming.  After you’ve read the book yourself, if you want to communicate and discuss the ideas in Forming Intentional Disciples with a broader audience of parish lay-leaders and future lay-leaders, the free CatholicMom.com study guide for Forming Intentional Disciples provides a snapshot summary of the key ideas and a few discussion questions for each chapter.

For the whole dang parish, Brandon Vogt’s book Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church is an excellent 101 on evangelization and discipleship for the ordinary Catholic.  He offers a video course as well, which I haven’t reviewed but which you may find helpful.

So there you go.  And if all fails, The Catechism of the Catholic has a few pointers as well.

 

Book Notes: Pope in a Box & Marrying Well

I asked for a coloring book and what I got was . . . encyclicals.

The Complete Encyclicals, Bulls, and Apostolic Exhortations

The good news is that if you pick up your kid after school still wearing your pajamas, but you’ve got a volume of apostolic exhortations on the passenger seat of your minivan, that counts for something, right?

What’s in the book: Pope Francis: The Complete Encylclicals, Bulls, and Apostolic Exhortations, Volume 1 contains Lumen Fidei, Evangellii Gaudium, Misericordiae Vultus, Laudato Si’, and Amoris Laetitia.  Other than a brief introduction at the beginning of the collection, what you get is the English-language text and footnotes, right like it came off the Vatican’s website, forever and ever amen.

Why it’s better ran than reading on your digital device:  Because reading on paper is better than reading digital.

Pros & Cons, in no particular order:

  • If you like books, this a book.
  • The text is a nice size, but there isn’t a ton of white space for notes.
  • If you leave this paper-book, rather than your iPhone, sitting by your easy chair, you are far more likely to skip Facebook and mindlessly scroll through an encyclical instead.

Is it better than printing off a copy and putting it in a binder?  Well, there isn’t as much white space for notes.  Also, you might be shy about writing all over such a nicely-published product.  On the other hand, think of how much amusement your heirs will receive as they gather around at your wake and try to decipher your more acerbic comments.  Unlike binders full of printed-out encyclicals, you’ll probably never wonder if you should just recycle the bound version.

Is it healthy to keep this kind of product lying around the home?  It’s much better for you than reading press coverage, that’s for sure.  On the other hand, if gathering all the Holy Father’s magisterial comments into one volume is going to cause you to mutter, “Dammit, Jim, the answer to the Amoris dubia is right there in paragraph 64 of Evangelii Gaudium! don’t say you weren’t warned.

Verdict:  I reluctantly concede that I gained more spiritual benefit from this review item than I would have from acquiring a second coloring book.  Looks like it starts shipping December 26th, so ask the wise men to bring you one for Epiphany.

***

Earlier this fall I received, also from Ave Maria, a review copy of 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person by Jennifer Roback Morse and Besty Kerekes.

101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person

This is a super book.  I kept it lying around at hand, read a page or two at a time, and breezed right through it.

What it is:  A collection of practical advice on dating, discerning marriage, and preparing yourselves for lifelong, life-giving marriage.  Each “tip” is a few paragraphs long, so it’s not overwhelming.  After a couple decades of marriage I can affirm all the advice is spot-on.  The book is charitable but unflinching on the tough topics — this isn’t your girlfriend telling you, “Whatever you choose is fine,” this is your mother letting you know that in fact cohabitation is a bad idea and you’ll have a more successful marriage if you resume living separately until the big day.

Unlike a certain strain of neo-Victorian sentimental claptrap, the book takes no opinion on who should do the cooking or whether feminine genius involves crochet.  The tips do advise you to consider whether you and your intended spouse hold compatible views on money management (but observes that different couples happily manage their money differently — the goal of the book is to guide you into marital happiness, not fiscal prowess).

Who would like this book: People who are looking for sound guidance on how to find the right spouse.  I would give this book to a young person who generally takes your advice and has expressed a desire to think and act carefully where marriage is concerned.  I would not give this book to an adult child with whom I’d just finished arguing bitterly over the current love interest or relationship habits — awkward.  I think the book does have great potential for book clubs both for young persons (high school and up) and for parents who want to be more intentional about guiding their children towards good relationships.

Verdict: I’m glad to have this one on my shelf.  It’ll get lots of use.

***

Related #1: YOU from Ascension Press

you_starter_pack_image

You’ll recall that I’ve been working through this set since mid-August.  I’ve been going slowly because I’m reading every word and paying close attention — there is a ton of material and the stakes are high.  So far, I hold with my initial extremely positive impression.  The parent book (finished) is top notch.  You want to do this study with parents at your parish.  It hits the perfect three-part requirement:

  • It’s short.  Parents don’t have a lot of time to read.
  • It doesn’t assume parents are already on board with the Theology of the Body.
  • It provides a ton of depth and insight for any parent, regardless of where you fall on the spectrum.

I’m halfway through the teacher’s manual (which also contains 100% of the student text) and am very impressed.  FYI: This text is targeted towards the average teenager living in today’s typical teenager’s environment.  If your child is a very sheltered homeschooler who doesn’t do digital devices and thus is enjoying an innocence other kids just don’t get anymore, this series is not for you, until your student is ready to step off into the deep end of Other Kids’ Lives.

But most students at your parish probably go to public school or to a private or parochial school that’s sordid enough to keep up. [Remove head from sand, please.]  YOU is for that kid.  The depth and scope of the material is sufficient that I’d advise starting no sooner than ninth grade. (Ascension’s Theology of the Body for Middle School would be the right product for younger students who are already dating and/or using the internet freely.)

My first choice on format would be for parents to complete the parent book first, and then go through the student series in class with their children afterwards.  There is nothing dumbed-down, at all, about the student material.  It will not be boring or childish for grown-ups.  You can safely assume that many of the parents of your parish youth have questions or doubts about chastity; if you let parents use this program as a Please Don’t Get Pregnant Push Off Sex Until College safety net, you’re cheating your kids and your parents both.  Don’t go there.  Get the parents involved as much as you possibly can.

Final verdict coming after I’ve completely finished the whole works.

Related #2: All the coloring books.  My friend Sarah Reinhard reviews the ever-expanding array of Catholic adult coloring books over at the Register.

Related #3: Jimmy Akin All Year Long.  Julie Davis at Happy Catholic reviews Jimmy Akin’s A Daily Defense: 365 Days (plus one) to Becoming a Better Apologist.   What I want for Christmas is the complete collection of Ronald Knox’s detective stories, but this would be a pretty happy second choice.

Related #4, gifts for you, since it’s the week of Mandatory Joy: Back when Msgr. Knox was just Mr. Knox, he wrote this satirical application of the Historical-Critical Method to the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.  After enough years of priestly ministry, he went on to write “Hard Knocks,” a moral analysis of church bazaars; go here and scroll down to the bottom.  Happy Advent!

Book covers courtesy of Ave Maria Publishing and Ascension Press.