Becoming a Vessel of Mercy

Personal story, and then the invitation I am going to continuously extend for the next two weeks, and then some.

I am one of those people who has a love/hate relationship with “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace,” the hymn that US Catholic parishes are contractually obligated to sing at least three times a year if they want to keep their pet-blessing license.

(That’s a joke. Also, my cat needs his blessing renewed.)

Not a joke: Sometimes the song annoys me, sometimes the song inspires me, but being a peacemaker is not something that falls naturally within my wheelhouse. Longtime readers and meat-life friends can attest, the thing I am very, very good at is identifying problems and complaining about them.

So, end of November, I was at Mass on a Sunday evening. No person living inside my soul could testify that I arrived at that Mass disposed to attentiveness and holiness. During the introductory rites, however, the priest announced the Mass intention. It was for the repose of the soul of a priest I had met perhaps twice in my life, but whom I “knew” very well because he had been a brief but tremendous influence on one of my children as chaplain at that child’s school.

Friends, during that Mass, I felt that this holy (and extremely outspoken) priest was praying the Mass with me — coaching me through it, getting my head back in the game. And after communion, I felt to called to answer a single, private question from the Lord: Would I be willing to be His vessel of mercy?

It’s not a trick question, and it’s no stunning revelation for me alone. All of us are asked that question. When you receive Holy Communion, you are receiving into your body Mercy itself. You can let it work through you or you can fight it, but the plain fact is that your calling is to be a physical temple of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is a Spirit of Mercy.

I’ve been blogging since 2006. When I began, St. Blogs was the land of opiniated Catholic hotheads like myself who cheerfully banded together for debate and online camaraderie. Over the past five-and-some years, though, the online tone has changed. Public Catholics, both media professionals and amateur social-media conversationalists, have grown increasingly bitter towards one another.

I think that this week’s shocking events at the Capitol show just how much we have imbibed the spirit of the age.

That is not our Christian calling.

We are called to speak plainly and clearly, even on difficult topics, but we aren’t called to take pride in just how nasty we can be.

If you no longer want to be part of the our national psychotic break, consider becoming part of the “Good Discourse” movement. How you can do that:

(1) Consider joining us for the “Good Discourse” online retreat in two weeks, as well as inviting others you know to do so.

(2) Host the conversation at your own place. Please feel free to post links to your blog posts, podcasts, or personally-hosted discussion group over at this blog’s discussion group, so that others can find you.

(3) Keep the discussion going! I’m delighted to report that several of my colleagues at The Catholic Conspiracy have volunteered to host a post-conference private support group for Catholics who wish to change their online debate-behavior. I am hoping that many other such partners in this work of mercy quietly step forward to do the same.

The growing violence in our nation needs to stop. In whatever way you feel called, please become one of the people who answers “Yes” when the Lord asks you to become His vessel of Mercy.


File:Suzdal asv2019-01 img25 Rizopolozhensky Monastery.jpg
Photo of Rizopolozhensky Monastery, courtesy of Wikimedia, Free Art License. This image is far more charming and cheerful than the state my soul, but as Images of the Day go, hard to resist.

Saying Goodbye to the Person You Don’t Want to Be

It’s resolution season, but I want to talk about something deeper and more difficult. Resolutions are good. Less sugar, more sunlight, regular bedtime . . . some of these small changes can bring out a happier, more energetic, more you person, one you hadn’t fully understood was hiding inside. If you’ve resolved to start flossing, your dentist thanks you. Run with it.

But what if the thing you are struggling to let go of is tied to your very identity?

New Year’s resolutions don’t involve identity changes, I hope. If you have said to yourself, “I am a person who binges on junk food, and my very self would be annihilated if I were to limit that behavior to Sundays and solemnities, for that bag of Reese’s cups (the large ones loaded with peanut butter, like the Good Lord intended, not those pathetic minis) are who I am, and I should cease to be the person God created me to be if I didn’t help myself to the snack bowl every hour on the hour . . .” If you have said that to yourself, then I guess you have a situation on your hands, don’t you?

But usually resolutions are more about polishing and refining, bringing into the limelight the person you have already determined is the better you.

What if the change you are struggling with involves an aspect of yourself that feels essential to who you are? What if you examine your life, and discover your besetting sin, the thing that makes you most miserable, the thing you sometimes confess but usually rationalize, what if you discover that you love that sin because you view it as part of your very self?

To let go of that sin would be to lose your life, you fear.

That’s harder.

It takes precision surgery to be able to say, “I could still be meticulous and conscientious without being a slave to obsessive anxiety.” Or “I could still be passionate and spontaneous without following my every whim with no regard for what gets lost in the frenzy.” Or “I could still be a firm, authoritative, responsible parent without losing my temper when my children misbehave.”

My only message here is: It’s okay to free yourself from the part of “you” that is destroying your relationships and making you miserable. It’s okay to say goodbye, as many times as it takes, to that aspect of yourself that isn’t about your God-given calling, but in fact is overshadowing and dragging that calling down.

It’s a process. You didn’t get into this jumbled-up identity overnight. Even when you firmly resolve, “I am going to hold onto my talents and passions and spiritual gifts, but I am no longer going to let the vice I’ve been sheltering keep hogging up this space in my soul,” even then, the vice is so strongly planted that it will take years of persistent weeding (or a miraculous healing) to root it out.

So my new year’s wish for you is that, if you have been mistakenly embracing one of your faults as if it were integral to your self, that you’d muster the courage to bid it good riddance. Show it to the door. And when it comes back again and again, insisting it belongs in your heart and you can’t survive without it, kindly tell it you’ve had enough and it needs to move on.


In light of that pep-talk:

(a) If you are a Catholic writer, media personality, or social media conversationalist of any type, amateur or pro, and

(b) if the fault you’ve been confusing for your very identity as a communicator and evangelist is the “charism of being a jerk”, but,

(c) you don’t want to be bitter and angry and obnoxious anymore, then,

(d) please consider joining me and a number of others for a small, free, online retreat-conference being hosted later this month.

It won’t fix you overnight. You’ll probably discover that some of the people in attendance, people like you who don’t want to be nasty online Catholics anymore, but also have no intention of abandoning their passion for communicating the truth and engaging in rousing, high-spirited discussions on controversial topics . . . you’ll probably discover some of your fellow retreatants are people you passionately despise.

And that’s rough, because we’ll be providing opportunities to overcome your bitterness and reconcile with those wrong-headed dunderpuffs who had the nerve to show face at your life-changing retreat.

If you’re feeling brave, please join us.

File:Wilsons Promontory National Park (AU), Big Drift -- 2019 -- 1683.jpg
Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Wilsons Promontory National Park (AU), Big Drift — 2019 — 1683” / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Person You Were Made to Be

SuperHusband got me an early Christmas present, and it’s created a vocational challenge for me.

The gift was a Kindle Paperwhite. I did not anticipate wanting one of these, because I love paper books and dislike reading on machines. But my shelf-builder-in-chief asked if I’d be interested, and after polling my internet friends for advice about e-book readers and doing some math on our ability to physically store the quantities of books we can anticipate coming into my life over the years ahead (because I’m like that) we decided to give it a try.


So this machine is not like other digital devices.

A Kindle Paperwhite, I have learned, is good for exactly one thing: Reading books full of words.

It is excellent for that application, which is perfect for me, because I like to read books full of words.

It is no good for picture books, so I will still have some future shelving needs, thanks.

It doesn’t make phone calls, text the kids, tweet hot takes, or surf the internet — all of which make it easier to focus on reading books. Even its relationship with the Kindle Store is tortured at best.

But if what you want to to is send yourself e-books, and then read them efficiently and comfortably any place you go, this little machine is magic. If you are the kind of person who needs — needs — to pack a backpack of books to bring along when you go places, just in case, this machine is a game-changer.

But it completely fails at any other job except being the one thing that it is.

And that, friends, is what I have been thinking about over the past month.

What am I made for?

Another thing SuperHusband and I did this autumn was host a campfire study of Rerum Novarum.

It was a small group (surprise), but it was so, so, so much fun. For me. SuperHusband kinda got into it? But also he got worn out. A couple months of reading and discussing, a paragraph at a time, a 19th century encyclical on applied economic policy . . . it was a little more than he bargained for. It turns out we are not exactly identical to each other in our taste for Sunday evening R&R.

So I could be irritated at him, or I could value who he is a person — someone different from me, which is a godsend when it’s time to make bookshelves, because my carpentry skills leave much to be desired.

Likewise, there’s me to learn how to value. I’m in a transition phase of life. The baby is a freshman in high school, so I’m starting to consider what ought to be next on the horizon, and also I’m constantly evaluating what these final years of kids-at-home should involve for me. In an interesting twist, my kids (ages 14-20) and I are in parallel phases, all of us wondering: What do we with ourselves next?

And we all have to answer some important questions. One of them is: What kind of person was I made to be?

Myself as Buried Treasure

The Kindle was pretty easy to figure out. For one thing, it’s just a machine. It doesn’t grow and breath and change over time. It doesn’t have to discern whether this limitation or that failure is something it needs to rectify, or whether it’s just a part of its programming. Its creators do all that fine-tuning, no cooperation or discernment from the machine required.

Also, the Kindle is marketed. We know it’s meant to be an e-book reader because it says so in the sales hype.

We humans, in contrast, are like mystery-gadgets. Imagine going to Best Buy and pulling down an unmarked box with some kind of computer in it, and you take it home, open the box, look it over, and try to figure out how best to use the thing.

No manual. No labels. You can see its size. You can see whether it has, or doesn’t, various input devices. You can experiment until you figure out how to power it up, and how to keep it charged. (Does it even have a battery, or does it need to always be plugged in?)

Then you have to guess: Does it make phone calls? Does it create spreadsheets? Play music? Would it do those things if we found the right software? If we connected to the right source? If we added a peripheral to assist it?

And if doesn’t do the thing, does it need to be re-charged, does it need to be repaired, or is it just not made for that?

That’s what being human is like. You are custodian of some combination of God-given abilities, talents, and spiritual gifts . . . but what are they? Given your time and place, your friends and family, your collection of external resources . . . what makes you go? What do you excel at, and how should you use that excellence?

What can you do well enough? What can you not do at all?

How do you need to be cared for? What will damage you? What will make you thrive? What will either damage you or make you thrive, depending on proportions and timing?

Being a Magic Book

I call my new machine The Magic Book. As in, “Has anyone seen my magic book?” or “Don’t worry if you’re running late, I’ve got my magic book along, I don’t mind waiting.” A compact, lightweight, waterproof book-that-holds-all-books is magic to me.

Because of the kind of person I am, I can easily reload the magic anytime it runs low by visiting the Free Magic supplier. It’s nice.

But, other than early 20th-century detective novels, the thing I am thinking about lately is this: I am also magic.

I’m made to do amazing things. Some of them I know about. (Example: ability to cause good dinner out of disparate leftovers.) A lot of it I am still trying to understand, because who you are and what you are made for is different at mid-life than it was at twenty.

Indeed, the whole question of What kind of magic am I? is one that is always there for us, because unlike the machine, we are constantly growing and changing, and our tactical purpose — What should I be doing with myself right now? — is constantly shifting.

So you can be like, “I don’t know what to do with myself!” or you can be like, “Hey, look, there’s magic in here! Give me a little time to figure out how it works.”

And that’s where I’ve been lately. Thanks for sticking around.

File:Pingüinos de El Cabo (Spheniscus demersus), Playa de Boulders, Simon's Town, Sudáfrica, 2018-07-23, DD PAN 40-42.jpg

This is today’s Wikimedia Image of the Day. It’s a panoramic view of penguins on the beach in South Africa, and if penguins aren’t a perfect example of the need for respecting one’s limits and abilities in the discernment process, I don’t know what is. On-theme: Longtime readers will be no more surprised than I was to learn the photo credit is Diego Delso,, License CC-BY-SA. Heh.

All Souls Day: When We Get to the Point of Christianity

November 2nd, All Souls Day, is easily passed over. Catholics get busy (guilty as charged), Protestants get spooked, and at best the wider culture has a quirky, tattoo-shop fascination with Día de los Muertos on account of the decorations. As feast days go, it sits in a humble slot.

And yet, I would argue, it is in its way the greatest day of the year. If Christmas and Easter and Pentecost are the how of salvation, All Souls is the why. From today’s readings:

“For this is the will of my Father,
that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him
may have eternal life,
and I shall raise him on the last day.”

Read the entire Mass readings here, listen here.

Why is death so overwhelming? Because our deepest longing as human beings is for eternal happiness.

Every religion, every strand of agnosticism or atheism, seeks desperately to make peace with the reality of death. It’s a peace that can only be made if we believe that the time after death is good enough, pleasant enough, to be endured and enjoyed. Some religions do this via elaborate funerary rites that negotiate a more fortunate passage into the underworld. Atheism’s offer is that at least after you are annihilated, you won’t suffer any more. It might be eternal nothing, but at least it’s a painless nothing.

But deep inside, we know we are made for more.

Today is the day 100% centered on that more. On the reality of eternal life. Not a deep sleep, but a deep awakening. An eternity more alive, more joyful, more real than anything we have ever known.

That reality is what animates the rest of the Church calendar. Christmas is just gluttony and bad budgeting, unless Christ is coming to save us. Good Friday is needless torment, unless Christ is working to save us. Easter is perhaps the world’s most impressive showmanship, but no more than that, unless Christ is victorious in the work of saving us.

The glory of God is His divine love. That love is why His creation, His miracles, His death and resurrection, all His works are good. If those actions were not the embodiment of love, God would be at best sterile, and more likely a horror.

Love is for someone or something. That’s what love is. It is the act of willing the good of another.

Today is the feast of God’s ultimate purpose in loving us. Amen.

God the Father personified as a late medieval king, the Holy Spirit as a dove, and Christ Crucified, surround by angels, circa 1510.
Artwork: The Throne of Grace, via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Halloween as the Festival of Fear

I have a kid who loves haunted houses. She went with a group of her classmates to the local very-scary haunted event this year, and one of her friends sheepishly exited just a few minutes in. I was sympathetic. I’d happily pay the price of admission for the privilege of not enduring half an hour in the corridors of horror.

And yet, witness the part where I drove my child to and from the event, I have no qualms whatsoever about the spooky parts of Halloween, and that is today’s topic.

Fear is Your Friend

Years ago No Fear was the marketing slogan slapped on the back windshields of pick-up trucks, and lately Faith Not Fear has been showing up on church signs. Both are symptoms of hubris and foolishness; our Lord’s dread at His pending crucifixion seems to be the definitive statement that it is normal and healthy to fear horrible things.

Fear can be disordered, as with any emotion. If you are afraid of harmless things, that’s something to work on. If you are not afraid of harmful things, that, too, is something to be addressed. A healthy, functional fear-system alerts you to potential threats, awakening your senses and urging you to proceed with caution.

Thus, the more vulnerable you are, the more likely you are to be spooked by some circumstance that turns out to be entirely harmless. That, too, is healthy: The more vulnerable you are, the more cautious you need to be, because you have fewer back-up strategies in the face of danger.

When we find ourselves in a scary situation, the healthy response is to take steps to make ourselves more safe. In bad weather, we slow down on the interstate. Late at night, we verify the identity of the person knocking at the door before we open. Before heading off into the woods, we tell someone where we’ll be going and when to expect us back.

Sometimes we let our friends talk us into taking a poor risk. The resulting uneasiness we feel is our common sense rightly rebuking our (hopefully temporary) stupidity.

Because we are not omniscient, sometimes we will experience fear when we are in no danger at all. Still, the rational response to a sense that something dangerous could be afoot is to carry out a plan to mitigate that danger. After the fact, sometimes people will think it’s foolish or silly to take have taken precautions in a situation where our fears turned out to unfounded; well, if you knew were in no danger, then yes, you were being silly — but did you know that? Probably not. That’s why your fear system was shouting at you to be careful.

So. Back to Halloween.

Saintliness Doesn’t Mean Fearlessness

On All Saints Day, November 1, we honor and give thanks for the many, many people who lived heroic lives for Jesus Christ. All of them dealt with fear of genuine dangers, and all of them showed fortitude in the face of those dangers.

Some faced the horrors of torture and martyrdom. Some faced the misery of loneliness and rejection when they were mocked for following God’s call in their life. Some lived quiet lives of faith, setting aside the natural doubts that plague us all in order to live and die in confidence of the Lord’s loving mercy and promise of eternal life for all who love Him.

Saints are people who were brave. Bravery isn’t fearlessness; bravery is doing what you need to do despite your real and valid fears.

So it is fitting that on All Saints Eve we playfully and joyfully face our fears.

Playing at Bravery Builds Bravery

When my daughter and her friends went through the haunted maze on a dark night in the middle of the countryside, they were never in any danger. The sets were scary, but they were fake. The actors were intimidating, but it said right on the waiver that at no point would an actor harm you in any way. Scary music is just noise. The whole thing was nothing but a game of pretend.

Still: It’s a valuable game of pretend. Sooner or later, every one of those kids has to face terrifying situations. Sometimes it will be physical danger; sometimes it will be the pain of an awful relationship; sometimes it will be the daunting prospects of acquiring a profession and making a living. The experience of having been scared witless in a safe setting builds up the ability to cope with other fears.

Haunted houses aren’t for everyone though — certainly they aren’t for me. No thanks. What are other Halloween activities that prepare us for a heroic life?

Children dress up as the people they admire — astronauts or disney princesses — and for an evening they put on the virtues of their heroes. Adults make fun of political figures, news events — all those monsters we can’t control.

Creepy decorations and devilish costumes, rightly used, teach us that we need not quake at the mere sight of something that gives us pause. We can overcome our natural revulsion and carry on.

Trick-or-Treating is the act, meanwhile, of finding out that your community has your back — that you have a network of people who wish you well and want good things for you in your life. In the face of real-life dangers, other people are the go-to resource.

You Can Do Halloween Wrong

Evil is real, and the humans are capable of it. If your Halloween is spent glorifying sin, you’re doing it wrong. People who take advantage of the annual festivities to harm others are the anti-Halloween. That people abuse the holiday, however, does not negate its right use.

It’s the eve of All Saints, and the feast — even among non-Christians — is rightly ordered towards a joyful exulting in our ability as humans to face down darkness.

File:Osteolaemus tetraspis - Karlsruhe Zoo 01.jpg
Photo: Dwarf Crocodile, Osteolaemus tetraspis, via Wikimedia, CC 3.0. If you don’t think crocodiles are creepy, something is wrong with you.

Book Review: 101 Ways to Evangelize by Susan Windley-Daoust

Susan Windley-Daoust is a theology professor, spiritual director, and now Director of Missionary Discipleship for the Diocese of Winona-Rochester. She graciously sent me a review copy of her new book 101 Ways to Evangelize: Ideas for Helping Fearless, Fearful, and Flummoxed Catholics Share the Good News of Jesus Christ, and having read it, I can give it unqualified “buy” recommend.*

Since my evangelization book covers similar ground, what I’d like to do with this review is explain how the two books fit together and who would benefit from each. (If you’re curious, SWD’s review of my book is here.)

Book cover image: Jesus Christ as a puzzle, mostly put together but with a few pieces still to go.
Cover art: 101 Ways to Evangelize by Susan Windley-Daoust

Overview of 101 Ways to Evangelize

Susan Windley-Daoust’s book is a compact, quick read, forty pages cover-to-cover. In it she provides a brief five-page introduction to the importance of evangelization and what evangelization is, and then launches into a well-organized series of sections that, combined, list 101 specific evangelizing activity ideas.

If you are familiar with the stages evangelization and discipleship laid out in Sherry Weddell’s seminal work Forming Intentional Disciples, the 101 suggestions are outreach ideas geared primarily towards people in the Curiosity, Openness, and Seeking stages of coming to Christ.

Image: The five thresholds: Trust, Curiosity, Openness, Seeking, Intentional Discipleship.  Ideas in the book relate primarily to Curiosity, Openness, and Seeking.
Screenshot of Amazon preview showing where the ideas for the book fit into the five thresholds of evangelization and discipleship.

The first three suggestions of the 101 ideas are preparatory work for any evangelizing activity; the remainder are outreach or ministry ideas that can be done by parish groups, by street evangelization apostolates, or by individuals.

Each suggestion is very specific, such as “praying with college students before exams” or “free clinics, or referrals for free healthcare.” The suggestions cover a wide range of types of missionary activity covering all the physical and spiritual works of mercy. Most of the 101 suggestions get a paragraph of explanation, but where needed, there’s longer discussion including caveats and alternative formats.

Who’s the perfect audience for 101 Ways to Evangelize?

This mini-book is ideal for parish groups or individuals who are sold on the idea of evangelization, raring to go, and are looking for inspiration during the brainstorming process. For a ministry leader, this is a book that you can hand to the members of your group, perhaps ask them to focus on a few particularly relevant sections, and quickly build enthusiasm and a consensus on where to get started.

To assist with this, the companion site Creative Evangelization offers a variety of support resources. At Gracewatch, you can purchase the book in bulk in various formats, including a PDF with license to print.

101 Ways to Evangelize vs. The How-to Book of Evangelization

Inexplicable though it seems to me, I am wiling to entertain possibility that some readers of this blog don’t actually want to collect every single book on evangelization that they can. So here’s the run down of how the two books compare.

The How-to is a massive, bird’s-eye view of the entire process of evangelization and discipleship, from trust-building through sending out new disciples as evangelizers themselves. In contrast, 101 Ways provides a snapshot of the why and how of evangelization, and then focuses on generating ideas for specific evangelizing activities.

101 Ways has loads of ideas for street evangelization and parish outreach events. The How-to does include some sample activities, but is more focused on explaining the principles and strategy behind how parish evangelizing works in different contexts. I would definitely pick up 101 Ways if you are specifically looking for outreach ideas, because that’s 99% of what the book is, and Susan Windley-Daoust has not played in coming up with suggestions.

The How-to is big. 300 pages big. It’s a better choice for people who either want to learn about the topics outside the scope of 101 Ways, or who want to dig deeper into why different types of evangelizing activities work the way that they do. For many people in your parish, 101 Ways will be a better fit: It’s short, quick, and action-oriented.

If you’re in parish leadership charged with some aspect of making big-picture decisions about parish strategy, you want The How-to, because it will help you understand how different aspects of evangelization and discipleship fit together. It will help you make strategic decisions, and it will help you communicate with parishioners by giving you the words you need to explain how xyz ministry fits into the big picture.

But when it is time to mobilize the troops, 101 Ways will be a much better book for parishioners who aren’t big readers and who just want to get moving on outreach-oriented activities and events.

101 Ways is smaller and cheaper than The How-to. Oh, come on, we all know that matters!

For your personal needs, it’s just a question of what type of book you want and what kind of content you’d like to read. For a parish purchase, I’d say that The How-to is the one you give to your ministry heads, that you stock a copy or two in the parish library for people to borrow as-desired, and that you might purchase a dozen copies to be re-used with study groups over the years. In contrast, 101 Ways is the one you purchase in bulk for everyone in the parish, stick in the literature rack, or leave in the hymnal holders in the pews for people to peruse and perhaps prayerfully consider for inspiration.

Is one book better than the other?

Nope. Two different books for two different needs. You can read the samples at Amazon, but I’d say both of us have a similar style in terms of readability. We’re both coming from the same school of thought in terms of what evangelization is and how it’s done.

If you read 101 Ways to Evangelize and your appetite is whetted and you want to learn more about the huge topic that is evangelization and discipleship, check out my book. In contrast, if you loved my book, you’re all inspired by the conclusion and now you are raring to go, you’ll like 101 Ways to Evangelize for the many, many, many different specific outreach ideas to get you started.

It’s a win-win.


*You might wonder why my reviews on this blog are overwhelmingly positive. Very simple: If it’s not a good book, I don’t waste my time on it. In order to get reviewed here, a book has to (a) be interesting and well-written enough to entice me to read the whole thing, and (b) be of sufficient value to my readers that it’s worth my taking an hour to put together a review. I read, or begin to read, plenty of books that never manage to clear both those hurdles.

Book Review: Thus Sayeth the Lord by Julie Davis

Cover art for Thus Sayeth the Lord: A Fresh Take on the Prophets by Julie Davis, courtesy of Our Sunday Visitor

Longtime readers know that I am a hardcore Julie Davis fan, so I was thrilled to receive a review copy of her latest book, Thus Sayeth the Lord: A Fresh Take on the Prophets. Though it took me far too long to get this review together, I can give it an unqualified buy-recommend.

What it is: An introduction to the Biblical prophets, including both those we think of as “the prophets” (Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.) and personages like Moses, Miriam, Anna, and Simeon who served as prophets though they are not authors of one of the prophetic books. The survey doesn’t cover every single prophet in the Bible, but it does hit enough of the major and minor players to be considered a thorough initial look.

What’s inside: For each prophet, there are suggested Bible readings either authored by the prophet, or telling essential parts of that prophet’s life. Julie explains in conversational terms an overview of the person’s work, including wading into any common misunderstanding or controversies. Finally she concludes the chapter with reflections on how we ordinary readers can relate to or be inspired by the prophet’s life, regardless of where we are in our relationship with God.

What makes this book especially good: Julie writes the book from the perspective of a former atheist, of a faithful-but-normal Catholic, and as someone engaged for decades now in a constant two-way conversation with the wider culture. You can tell that she really understands how people struggle with the faith and what it’s like to be looking at Christianity and scratching your head and wondering if the Catholic faith has anything, at all, to offer somebody like you.

Her depth and breadth of experience shows on every page, and the end result is a book that is exquisitely suited to parish Bible study groups, where participants may vary from curious-non-believers to earnest disciples, all thrown together in one classroom to puzzle out what can be a very daunting topic.

Who’s it for? I recommend this book for:

  • Teenagers and up. This book is ideal for youth groups because there is no expectation of a particular level of faith.
  • Individual or group study. It’ll work very well either way.
  • People who appreciate the informal, conversational tone.
  • Beginner to intermediate level students.

What the book is not: This is not an exhaustive study, nor is it written in a formal, academic style. For me as someone who’s been reading the Bible more or less daily for about two decades, but who is not a Bible scholar by any stretch of the imagination, I found that every chapter included information or perspectives that were new to me, and insights that were inspiring to me as a long-time disciple. Julie has done her research, and she digs into quite a few “everybody knows” truisms and provides solid answers pulled from reputable scholars. –> If you are already that scholar or already reading the scholarly resources yourself, you may be inspired by the personal application portion of each chapter, but I hope you already have mastered the basic knowledge base.

Can an average Jane or Joe lead a study on this book? Absolutely. Julie’s done your homework for you, so your only prep would be to read the chapter and read the recommended Bible passages. She takes care of the fact-finding, and then provides ample fodder for discussion on a more spiritual level, so your main job will be facilitating the conversation among members of your study group, focused primarily on their personal response to the reading.

Final verdict: This is a fantastic offering that fills a void in the Bible-study literature. I highly recommend this book if you are looking for a readable, down-to-earth introduction to the prophets that is a balanced combination of Bible study and reflections for personal inspiration and spiritual growth.

This book has earned a permanent spot in my library and is now in my queue for next time I am tasked with leading a Bible study.

Other Julie Davis books I have reviewed:

You can’t go wrong with any of these.

Obtuse to the Point of Dishonesty

I’ve been listening with interest to ACB’s confirmation hearings not only for the entertaining legal back-and-forth, but because my state senator — up for re-election this fall — is chairing the proceedings.

I did not come into the hearings planning to vote for Graham. However, nothing in what I have heard from him (full disclosure: I’ve listened to perhaps as much as 50% of the last three days’ hearings, but nowhere close to the entirety) has been objectionable. You may or may not care for his politics or his pushing through a nominee so close to an election, especially in light of his previous pledge not to do so (see: “integrity” below), but his behavior in the hearings themselves has been anodyne.

Meanwhile, separately, as part of my internal debate on how to vote in the senate race, I’ve of course had doubts about Jaime Harrison, Graham’s opponent, but primarily due to my usual objection to the Democratic platform: I think that protecting human lives is important, so running on a platform that openly supports the direct killing of innocent persons is a bit of a buzzkill for me. Still, I know many people who are in favor of legalized abortion for understandable (though mistaken) reasons, and so I didn’t automatically assume he lacked integrity based on that policy position alone.

Today, though, he proved that indeed he is not a person who cares about the truth.

I listened, live, to the exchange between Senator Graham and Judge Barrett which Harrison claims is proof that Graham spoke favorably of segregation. No listener fluent in the English language could mistake Graham’s plain meaning. He was in no way saying that he himself thought segregation was good. His point, very clear from the context and the plain meaning of the exchange, was that returning to segregation is so unthinkable that there is no chance the Supreme Court will be asked to revisit Brown vs. Board of Education.

None of this means that Senator Graham is a desirable candidate. But Harrison’s determination to willfully misunderstand the exchange tells us that in fact Harrison is just fine with lying about someone if it suits his purposes.

Not a good feature in a senator, and not a good feature in anybody. Don’t be like this. Insist on supporting your point of view with the truth.

Fox in the snow, yawning with it's tongue curled.

Fox photo via Wikimedia, CC 4.0. Hot tip: Subscribing to @hourlyfox on Twitter was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. I would be sympathetic if that were the only account you followed at all.

A T-Shirt for the Weeks Ahead

Whether you’ve got a favorite shortlisted justice you are rooting for, or just want to remind the world that court appointments shouldn’t require religious tests, you can still get “The Dogma Lives Loudly Within Me” t-shirts. Proceeds fund the maintenance costs of the Catholic Conspiracy’s website.

FYI, I just placed an order, and can attest that a quick search for coupon codes is worth the effort.  Also, when in doubt size up.  Click around a bit if there’s a style you are looking for and can’t quite find, because sometimes the “display all” doesn’t really truly display *all*.  Um, I dunno. Could’ve been me.

Just saying: Don’t give up on your dreams too quickly, when it comes to your perfect t-shirt for telling the world “I’m Catholic and also maybe I like C-SPAN too much.”


The Dogma Lives Loudly Within Me t-shirt

Photo of the perfect shirt if you’re one of *those* Catholics courtesy of CafePress.

Custody of the Eyes, Revisited

Today’s topic is not a newsflash, but there might be someone out there who could benefit from hearing it again, this time with a little common-sense consolation thrown in.


So I’ve been running experiments on myself, and can confirm: Custody of the eyes works wonders.

You may recognize the term from chastity talks. For some of you, your introduction to the term was not during a kind of chastity talk you found very edifying; others may have had the opposite experience.  Anyhow, we aren’t talking about sex today.  Not even one bit.  Deep breath.


If you’re new to the term, “custody of the eyes” means taking steps to avoid leading yourself into temptation.  It refers specifically to choosing not to look at things that tempt you, but the concept expands to all the senses, physical and otherwise.

What kinds of things, other than sex since we are not talking about sex, might be tempting?

  • Eating that one kind of chips in the variety pack that your kids weirdly don’t like, even though they are the best flavor, and doing that eating despite the fact that there is no medical evidence your body would benefit, for any reason whatsoever, from eating another such chip again in your life.
  • Arguing manically with your beloved internet friend who is usually awesome, but happens to be horribly, horribly wrong about something. In your opinion.
  • Buying that perfect wardrobe item that you do not need because your closet is already full of other good-enough shoes and clothes and hats, ahembut it’s a really good deal and it is so cute/practical/snazzy/fantabulous, but seriously: You don’t need it, and that money would do more good applied someplace else.

Perhaps you face other temptations as well.  They could be temptations to do something that is always sinful under all circumstances, or they could be temptations that are sinful only because of how they affect you personally (example: a calmer spirit might be able to discuss that contentious issue without getting worked up into a frenzy), or they could be temptations that aren’t objectively sinful at all (buying that hat, if it’s part of your responsibly-budgeted splurge fund, and also it’s an awesome hat), but which sabotage your other, better goals.

We aren’t, on that last point, talking today about scrupling, where you obsessively worry that some harmless action is gravely sinful.  We’re just saying: For whatever reason you’ve determined that xyz action is not the way you want to live . . . and yet you’re tempted to do it anyway.

Enter one tool to include in your spiritual toolbox: Custody of the eyes.


“Custody of the eyes” means you take steps to change the way you are living in order to not be as tempted as you otherwise might be.  In emergency-mode, it means that if you’re walking past the hat store, look the other way.  My, what fabulous road work the city is doing this morning!

But you don’t want to live in emergency-mode all the time.

This is what it’s like living in the land of temptation, true story:

  • You’ve determined, for good, sound, scientific reasons, that you would be happier and healthier if you did not eat the chips.  Not the lousy chips, and not the fabulous flavor of chips that your children weirdly do not eat, even though the manufacturer has so generously included them in the variety pack that is the best price at your local mass-market merchant.
  • 99% of the time, you are able to practice amazing willpower! You walk by the chips, sitting out on the kitchen shelf where your children can easily access their school lunch supplies, and you don’t even think about grabbing just one tiny bag of chips even this once.
  • Alas, given enough minutes/hours/days/months, you must run the chip-gauntlet 100 times. Your 99% success rate in avoiding temptation is not quite enough.

You don’t need to beat yourself up over this.  It’s a tiny bag of chips.  You aren’t allergic.  They aren’t actually made of poison, despite the inflammatory rhetoric you read on that one healthy-eating website.  It’s fine. But why live this way?  Why constantly add to your already busy day that mental struggle?  You want to eat fewer chips because you are certain you’ll be happier and healthier that way, and yet having to constantly look at the chips and make yourself not eat them isn’t exactly filling you with joy.

You don’t have to choose between those two fates.

You can put the chips in your teenager’s ancient minivan and instruct her to take them to school and give them to her friends — the ones who have the sense to know what the good flavors are, thanks.


Practicing strategic avoidance is life-changing.

When you make small changes to reduce the number of times in a day you have to battle against yourself, you free up so much energy for other efforts.

When you don’t or can’t make those changes — we aren’t in control of the whole world and all that happens around us — you are left working harder to accomplish less.

So let’s talk about a healthy philosophy of can’t.


You are not the supreme ruler.

In your life there are many things you can control.  Maybe you can change your route to not walk past the hat store.  Maybe you can uninstall the social media app that’s always sucking you into the outrage machine.  Maybe you can move the deep freezer with the kids’ ice cream in it out of your new library in the old garage and down the hall to the laundry room you don’t visit nearly so often (sorry kids, I am not your ice cream bank; readers, we’ll discuss my laundry backlog some other time).

But you cannot necessarily always make the change you wish you could.

You might be able to convince your colleagues not to put the snack tray out in the hallway next to your desk, but maybe you can’t.

You might be able to automate some of the social media work you do, but maybe it’s impossible to carry out your career in a communications industry without actually, go figure, communicating with people.

You might be able to drop catalogs into the recycle bin without ever looking at them, but maybe you also have to sometimes purchase necessary items, and you really can’t help that the best vendor also sells hats.

You probably face a mixed bag of struggles.  Whether you’re working through serious addictions or just trying to live a somewhat more tranquil life, there is only so much reorganizing of your life that you can do.

Do the amount of temptation-reducing that you can, of course.  Be creative. Be willing to take drastic measures if you’re struggling with a danger to your spiritual, emotional, or physical health.

After that? Give yourself credit for the battles that are still left.


Living your life in emergency-mode temptation-fighting is exhausting.  If your choice is, for example, paying the bills by going to that job with the perpetual snack tray always sitting out, or serenely sinking into bankruptcy due to unemployment, you have to go do the job.  You have to spend all day passing the snack tray and telling yourself no and walking quickly and trying not think about it.

That stinks.

It’s hard work.

Realistically you are not going to have as much emotional energy for other spiritual activities after you’ve put so much willpower into avoiding the snacks as best you can using the only tool available to you at this time.

Acknowledge it.

Acknowledge that at this time in your life, you are running a spiritual marathon ten hours a day.  By fighting the good fight you are getting stronger — even if one time in a hundred you pass the snack table and cave — but you are getting stronger by working out.  Just like physical exercise, the spiritual and emotional exercise of resisting temptation is tiring.

Your capacity for that work can grow, but it can’t be instantly expanded to infinity.

So if your circumstances are such that you must constantly battle temptations you can find no way to avoid, applaud yourself for the work you are doing.


And of course, final note for those readers who aren’t presently dealing with this kind of practical struggle . . .

If you have been blessed with a low-temptation lifestyle, avail yourselves of the three pillars of the spiritual exercise regimen: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Otherwise your soul will grow flabby for want of spiritual work.

Horses grazing in mountain pasture at Parco Naturale Tre Cime.

I was going to find a good hat picture to illustrate this post, but today’s Wikimedia Image of the Day is too beautiful to skip.  Photo of horses grazing in Parco Naturale Tre Cime by kallerna, CC 4.0.  Click through and scroll down for some related close-ups.