Book Review: Forming Intentional Disciples

Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Disciples by Sherry A. Weddell  – Our Sunday Visitor, 2012

There’s been a recurring conversation in my combox discussions over the past year, and I goes like this:

Jennifer: blah blah blah something about catechesis, evangelization, salvation of human souls, etc.

Smart Person: You need to read Forming Intentional Disciples.

So I stalked the review-book list at The Catholic Company, and quick pounced as soon as the title appeared.  Grabbed it!

Part 1: The Church Has a Problem

It’s easy to shrug off the call for evangelization and discipleship by saying, “Oh, we already do that.”  We have a men’s club.  We have religious ed.  Everybody’s happy, all are welcome, Jesus shows up for every Mass – but sure, I’ve heard other parishes are in trouble.  Mine’s fine.

Maybe so.  But Weddell opens the book with extensive and detailed evidence that no, things are not fine.  She defines the scope of the problem both statistically – how many Catholics in the pews don’t even believe in a personal God? – and qualitatively.  Here are the few of the seven “It is NORMAL” statements her parish’s Nameless Lay Group, a group of laymen gathered together to help each other grow in the faith, had to write out for themselves by way of reassurance:

. . .

#2. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be excited Christian activists.

#3. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be knowledgeable about their faith, the Scriptures, the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church, and the history of the Church.

. . .

#6. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to have the fellowship of other committed lay Catholics available to them, to encourage, nurture, and discern as they attempt to follow Jesus.

#7. It is NORMAL for the local parish to function consciously as a house of formation for lay Catholics, which enables and empowers lay Catholics to do #1-6 above.

[Emphasis in the original]

Is this true around your parish?  It should be. Many Catholics don’t even believe in this as an ideal, and Weddell gives some poignant stories of how that pervasive mentality — of viewing holiness as a sort of sideline hobby for the ultra-pious — results in ridiculous contradictions.

She also works through all the objections to intentional discipleship, and demonstrates that yes, it is essential that we practice, at the parish level, the conscientious spiritual mentoring of all parishioners.  This can’t be something we relegate to lay associations and solo study.  This can’t be something we assume we don’t need to implement.  We can’t tell ourselves that because no one has asked for this, all must be well.

Part 2: There Are Things You Can Do To Solve This Problem.

The second half of the book opens by explaining the five steps towards conversion — recognizing that no one can be a disciple of Jesus without first coming to faith in Him.  The five steps Weddell outlines, and these should make sense to anyone who’s been involved in evangelization, are:

  1. Trust.  You have to overcome your suspicions about the faith, and at have some kind of trustworthy connection with the Church.  You won’t join what you can’t trust.
  2. Curiosity.  This is a general interest in the faith — a willingness to learn something about it, the way one might casually go look up facts on Wikipedia about some random topic, without making a decision to do any more than go satisfy an intellectual whim.
  3. Openess.  This is the transition from, “Oh I’m willing to learn a thing or two,” to, “It is possible that the Catholic faith is correct.  I’m willing to accept this faith if it turns out to be true.”
  4. Seeking.  The individual moves from an intellectual acceptance of the possibility, to an inner drive to know God personally.  Seeking versus openness is the difference between, “Oh, sure, evolution might be true,” to “I must know whether it is true, and I will look into the matter until I come to a conclusion.”
  5. Conversion.  This is when one becomes a disciple — the search is over, and now there’s a life of faith to be lived.

Weddell points out that seeking and conversion can be considered together as one continuous process.  How do these stages fit into discipleship?  In the detailed exploration of each of these stages, the book explores pitfalls and opportunities for the parish, and how these experiences can and should be lived out in the life of the Church.

In a final section, the book explores the “What next?”  What do we do with new disciples?  What structures does the parish need to have in place in order to disciple its members?  A significant emphasis is placed on helping new believers — who may be longtime Catholics, or not — to discern their spiritual gifts, and then to find a place in the parish to use those gifts.

Here, as throughout the text, Weddell reminds us we aren’t dealing merely with good management practices or effective processes, but with the active participation of the Holy Spirit in the life of each person.  It is easy to get distracted by methods, and forget that the supernatural — a personal God choosing to act in our lives — is at the heart of Christian discipleship.

Who should read the book?

Gosh, everyone, I guess.   It’s written for parish leadership, and is suitable for anyone who wants to take an active part in Christian life.  It would be foolish to think that somehow the nuts and bolts of evangelization and discipleship are only for church staff, or heads of ministries.  Certainly I don’t think you can claim to have an adult faith if you neither know nor care about these matters — though if you doubt Catholics need concern themselves with this “evangelical” stuff, the book is particularly for you. For some few who’ve been raised to spiritual maturity in the right time and place, you may already have a mastery of the topic; but for most of us Catholics, we’re weak at this and can use all the help we can get.

The reading level is educated-adult — if you can read this blog, and make sense of the usual topics here, you’re good to go.  The tone is conversational, and the writing is enjoyable and full of interesting anecdotes that impart useful information.  If I have a single complaint, it’s that I wish the book were bigger and longer, and treated the how-to’s of discipleship with more exhaustive detail.

Summary: Excellent book, long-needed.  I recommend it widely, but my copy is staying in my hands.

Disclosure boilerplate: This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company.  The Catholic Company is the best resource for gifts for every Sacrament celebration, such as First Communion gifts and Baptism gifts, as well as a great selection of limited-time Year of Faith gifts and resources.  Not boilerplate: As everyone knows, my reviews are honest.  And yes, I do make a point of picking good books for my review selections, because I have no patience for bad ones.

Mid-Month Updates

No Children Left In Ditch.

We made it to Naples and back with exactly the same number and kind of children with which we set out.  Thank you St. John Bosco, whom I did ask for assistance from time to time.  St. Augustine, by the way, is completely awesome.

UPDATED to clarify: Both the saint and the city in Florida are awesome.  Where they each rank within the category of People, Places, and Things Called “St. Augustine” I leave to the reader’s discretion.

Bookstore Management Tip:  Consider not charging admission to your retail venue.

At Castillo de San Marcos, you have to buy admission before you get into the fort, where the bookstore is located.  (This did not stop me from buying books, but not everyone feels the same way about books as I do.  Also, we were going to see the fort anyway.)

In contrast, the Pirate Museum has its gift shop built into its entryway.  Which is handy for parents who do not want to pay admission to the museum, but feel pretty lucky to get off with just looking at the Pirate Merchandise and buying one small pirate book for the trip home.

On the other hand, if early-modern marauders attempt a raid on the seashell-identification books at San Marcos, there are three lines of defense to keep them at bay.

Digital Devices = Road Trip Fever

What with recorded books, DVD’s, and iPods, twenty hours in the car was really quite peaceful.  Causing me to come up with the ridiculous, husband-exasperating plan of going to the national March for Life next week.  Friends with ulterior motives are aiding and abetting.  So I think we’ll go.

And look at this:  Pro-Life Feminist Hot Chocolate. It’s a super-bonus . . . and I get a glimpse of the reportedly lovely and delightful Helen Alvaré, and the kids get hot chocolate?  See, if that doesn’t convince you of the worthiness of the pro-life cause, I don’t know what does.

A Missal.

I’m beside myself with excitement, because MTF slipped a shiny new super-gorgeous Daily Roman Missal in with the other review book I was expecting (Introduction to Catholicism).  You’ll recall I had to glue the old one’s cover back together.  But I’ve been virtuously resisting shelling out for a new edition, even though every time I hear the elegant, poetic lines of the new Mass translation, I’m dying to get my own copy.

The new book is about twenty-time awesomer than I had guessed, because the new edition is beefed up with a pile of handy tables and indexes and bits of mini-catechism. So soon very soon I’ll have a post up at AC reviewing the new Missal, and explaining why exactly my old one needed to be glued back together, because I always, always, shove it into my bag on the way to religious ed, because if you have that one book, you can teach the Catholic faith to anybody at all, ever, no matter what weird scheduling surprises come your way when you arrive at class.


I did not make a single pun on the word Missal in those previous paragraphs.  We’ll just mark that down on in the big white space where my virtues are tallied.  I am the picture of self-restraint.  The St. Therese of resisting bad puns.  Or something.


The irony is not lost on me. I wrote this great column on winter snow-n-ice appropriate science activities for, then promptly spent a week lounging on the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.  And swimming.  Outdoors.

This photo taken a different, icier year. And yes, the power was out. For a week. I did not like it. I prefer the beach.

So here’s my experiment: I’m going to write a column for NE (due this week, runs next week), and I think the topic is “Things You Can Do To Evangelize When You Think You Can’t Evangelize”.  Will this cause me to suddenly have many opportunities to evangelize?

You Might Be An Accountant If . . .

You’re goofing off browsing the Mid-Atlantic Congress catechetical conference page (which you are not planning to attend), and you notice all these financial management sessions:

Are you not dying to attend?  I am.  Seriously.  Has anyone sat in on any presentations from these speakers (John Eriksen, Peter Denio, or Dennis Corcoran), and have an opinion on how good the workshops will be?  For all Darwin doubts the use of an MBA, I begin to think that pastoral associates are the one class of people who might could benefit from such a course of study.  Some reputable seminary ought to make a joint MA/MBA program.

Oh That Homeschooling Book

I printed out the whole giant nasty sprawling draft, stuck it in a binder, and it’s waiting for me attack it with my tin of magic markers. So I’m making progress. Slowly.


Castello San Marcos:By National Park Service ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Busy not blogging. And blogging.

What I’ve been up to so far this Advent:

1. Acquired a cold just strong enough to plant me in front of the PC and get some writing done for a change.  I’d complain, except it’s really not that bad. For me.  My family wishes I’d start making dinner again.  I think.

2. Posted my book review of the Didache series of textbooks up at  These are awesome books, and the new parish editions bring serious theology to high school and adult faith formation.  Long-needed.  Don’t cry to me you don’t have priests, but refuse to teach theology.  How exactly is a boy supposed to fall in love with a something he’s never met?

3. Guessed at my login information for the Happy Catholic Bookshelf enough times that I finally broke in.  And put up my review of Walking Dickens LondonVerdict: I still don’t like Dickens all that much, but the guide book is awesome.  Of course I had to put a reference to Rerum Novarum in the review.  Only logical.

4. I cleaned out my inbox.  If I still owe you an e-mail about something, you’d better tell me.  Because I’m under the mistaken impression I’m all caught up.

5. Planted the potatoes that were sprouting in the cardboard box in the living room.  Ditto for some garlic in the bottom of the fridge.

6.  I’ve written about 5,000 words on the homeschooling manuscript. Also pre-wrote my January homeschooling column, because once you get school on the brain, and a cup of coffee, these things just pop out.

7.  I got all vice-presidential over at the Catholic Writers Guild.  Being VP is almost exactly like being the blog manager, except that instead of plaguing the officers all month long with bad ideas and unhelpful suggestions, you also get to do it during the monthly officer’s conference call.  I think someone nominated me because the existing officers were already practiced at telling me, “No!  Quiet! Sit!  No Biscuit!” so it makes their job easier.  So mostly as VP I amuse people with my ridiculous ideas, and about 1 time in 10, I think one up that someone makes me go do.  And then I regret it, and don’t think up any more ideas for at least 10 minutes.

Also, I goofed off on the internet more than I had planned.   It happens.  I was sick.

Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy – Book Tour & Giveaways

Welcome to Sarah R.’s stop at my place on her book tour!

Click to Enter the Nook Giveaway

We’ll start with some info from the publisher and from Sarah:

To celebrate the launch of her new book, A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism, Sarah Reinhard invites all of us to spend her blog book tour praying the rosary together. Today, she shares this reflection on the Nativity:

The cave in Bethlehem probably isn’t what Mary had in mind for her Son’s birth. Straw as bedding and oxen as companions, with shepherds and townsfolk dropping in to wish her well?

Maybe it wasn’t so shocking to her, after being told she would be the Mother of God, that it didn’t go at all how anyone would picture it. Even so, I’m sure it wasn’t that comfortable even by standards of the day. She gave birth with animals all around, in the chill of winter, in a town far away from home.

So often, things don’t go the way I plan. I struggle with my knee-jerk reaction to the wrenches in life, to the natural temper tantrum I want to give in and throw. It’s hard to see God at work in the up-close of a situation turned differently than I think it should be.

But he is at work. Jesus being born in the most humble of circumstances made him accessible to all of us. It also makes Mary someone we can all turn to for comfort: if anyone knows what it’s like to go with the flow, it’s Mary.

As we pray this decade of the rosary, let’s hold all those brave women who have said yes to difficult and challenging motherhood in our intentions in a special way. Don’t forget, too, that we are praying for an increase in all respect life intentions as part of our rosary together this month. (If you’re not familiar with how to pray the rosary, you can find great resources at Rosary Army.)

Our Father . . . 

10 – Hail Mary . . .

Glory Be . . . 

O My Jesus . . . 

You can find a complete listing of the tour stops over at Snoring Scholar. Be sure to enter to win a Nook (and any number of other goodies) each day of the tour over at Ave Maria Press.


And a few quick comments from me:

  • This is an excellent book.   (Yes, I wrote five paragraphs of it.  But all the paragraphs are good, not just mine.)
  • When you’re pregnant, you naturally turn towards spiritual things.  This is the book that meets that need for Catholic moms.
  • It’s absolutely devoid of the drivel-n-feel-good nonsense of other pregnancy books.  Tackles the hard topics with maturity and clear thinking.
  • From here on out, it’s my go-to book any time I know a mom who could use it.

And for those of you local to the Diocese of Charleston, SC, we’re up to four copies for the giveaway from the Office of Family Life this coming Sunday, October 14th, at the Blessing of the Unborn Mass in Columbia, SC. See you there!

(For internet friends, check out the other stops on the book tour, there will be giveaways all over the place.)


Book Review: Anna Mei, Blessing in Disguise

I knew I had to pick Anna Mei, Blessing in Disguise for my latest Catholic Company review title, because otherwise my daughter would disown me.  I’d picked up the first Anna Mei title last winter, shopping at the Pauline Media table between breaks at a catechist training session.  My 10-year-old enjoyed the book, and I’d meant to read it, but never gotten around to it.  I’ve now fixed that problem, and of course created a new one: I need to buy Escape Artist to round out our collection.

About the series: Anna Mei, the title character, is the adopted Chinese daughter, and only child, of the Anderson family.  In the first book, Cartoon Girl, the family has just moved from Boston to a small town in Michigan. It’s Anna Mei’s first time being the new kid; she has to figure out how to make new friends and fit in, as well as come to terms with questions about her identity that had never been a problem before.  In Blessing in Disguise, Anna Mei is in 7th grade, and plagued by the visiting Chinese ex-pats her parents think should be her new best friends, but with whom Anna Mei feels she has nothing in common.

Who’s it for:  Older elementary and middle school girls. (Though I enjoyed reading them — I think they’re good mom books, too.)  The action is largely emotional — loads of inner turmoil, self-examination, and the occasional eye roll or shouting match; zero crime scenes, zombies, or ninjas.  It’s about the quintessential junior-high girl topics, identity and relationships.  Reading level is similar to the American Girl History Mystery Series.

Catholic Reality Index: High.  The setting is a good-but-normal public school.  The Andersons are practicing Catholics; they say grace before meals, they go to Mass on Sunday, and two or three times during the book we catch Anna Mei saying a quick prayer of desperation. But the action is set in everyday, universally-experienced life. Problems aren’t solved by rosary marathons or visions of saints, but through normal problem-solving techniques like talking-it-out, or working-really-hard.  For Catholic kids, the faith aspect will be an affirmation of their religious identity, but for non-Catholic readers, it’s just a normal story about a kid who happens to be Catholic.  Basic model, average-American 21st century suburban Catholic, no rad-trad crazes, no apologetics ax to grind, just normal everyday Catholics.

Parent Approval Index:  High.  Anna Mei’s a good kid.  When she does something wrong, her conscience bugs her.  She knows she shouldn’t lie, and usually doesn’t; when she does, she immediately regrets it. The Anderson parents are good-but-normal parents.  Not the enemy, not the idiot, not the clueless bumbler who has no idea what’s going on in the child’s life.  We see them consciously trying to make good parenting decisions; when Anna Mei’s at odds with her parents, it bothers her.

Hokiness Index: None.  With adoptive-child-turmoil as one of the themes, there was a real risk of handling the situation in a superficial, contrived, or melodramatic way.  You know all the stupid things bystanders say to adoptive parents.  None of that.  This is a well-adjusted, happy family, and Anna Mei’s problems fit into normal tweenage questions about friendship and family.  Very nicely done.

Verdict:  These are great books.  If you’re looking for clean, enjoyable fiction for your girls, these are fun, readable, and possibly even helpful as discussion-starters. Blessing in Disguise also has an extensive set of discussion questions at the end of the book, for use in book clubs or for school.


10-year-old reviewer says:

This book is a really great book.  It’s well-written.  And it’s just an awesome book.  I like how they’re set in modern times, but they’re not weirdly written and strange and boring.

On who would like the book:

I’d say people who like to read books about problems and finding out if there’s something behind the problem that they just didn’t expect, and the problem gets worked out at the end.  And everything turns out well.


As always, thanks to The Catholic Company for their spoiling-Catholic-bloggers program, in which people like me (and perhaps you, too) get free books in exchange for goofing off on the internet telling the world what we honestly think.  They remind me to tell you they are also a great online store for all your Catholic gift needs, such as baby baptism and christening gifts. You can also find a wide selection of Catholic Bible Studies for both parish groups and individuals, as well as a variety of other Catholic Bible study resources.

Book Review: Benedict of Bavaria

I picked Benedict of Bavaria for my latest Catholic Company review book because I had a feeling I should.  I didn’t want to.  I’ve developed this gut-reaction to all things Pope-Book, thinking that surely it will be a major effort, I’d rather be reading an American Girls mystery . . . you know the fear.  But I reasoned that a little work would be good for me, so I took the plunge.

I love being wrong.

This was a fun and interesting read, and not difficult at all.   Very enjoyable way to learn more about the Holy Father.

What it is:  The book tells the story of Pope Benedict’s life from his birth in Germany through about 2007.  The focus is on his German heritage — the villages he lived in, life during World War II and conflict within the Church over how to respond to the Nazi regime, and his career as a theologian and cleric in postwar-Germany.   His family life, including the role of his sister Maria in supporting him throughout his life, is a steady theme.

In all it’s a fascinating look at the personal life, career, and heritage of the man who now leads the Church.  An appendix detailing “A Day in the Life of the Holy Father” is particularly interesting in light of the Vatican-Leaks scandal this summer.

Included are excerpts from and analysis of his writings over the years, showing his development as a scholar, and providing inspiration and encouragement to the reader.  The author writes from a Catholic, faithful-to-the-Church point of view, but without glossing over or excusing problems in the Church.

Reading Level: I’d recommend this for adults who have some basic background knowledge of the Catholic faith, and of recent history. The writing is clear and easy to follow for those who read on a true high-school or early-college reading level, but you do need to be the kind of reader who knows words like “Jesuit” “postmodernism” “celebrant” “ora et labora”  and so forth.    A map of Germany is handy to have on hand as well — Google Earth would work fine — because there are so many German place-names mentioned.

Excellent choice for someone who knows the faith, but doesn’t know much about the life of the Holy Father. Also recommended for young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood — great glimpse into the kinds of different challenges our clergy face, from seminary on up through the ranks of the hierarchy.

Summary: Very nicely done.  This one’s a keeper.  Deserves to be better known and more widely read.



I’m grateful once again to The Catholic Company for letting me participate in their reviewer program, in which bloggers like myself get great books for free, in exchange for an honest review — though they seem to mostly stock good stuff, so that makes my job a whole lot easier.

They remind me to remind you that The Catholic Company is also a great online store for all your Catholic gift needs, such as baby baptism and christening gifts. You can also find a wide selection of Catholic Bible Studies for both parish groups and individuals, as well as a variety of other Catholic Bible study resources.

Theology of the Body Conference, Simpsonville, SC July 6th & 7th

Why is Church teaching worth standing up for?  I’d be remiss if  I didn’t tell you about the Theology of the Body Conference in upstate SC this summer – July 6th & 7th.  I won’t make it out this year — I’ll be home attending a wedding, yay! — but I was able to go to Family Honor’s TOTB conference in 2002, and it was top notch.  Speakers this year include Janet Smith & Ray Guarendi . . . you can’t go far wrong with talent like that.  Check it out.

Hey and if you ever wondered where my header and sidebar photos came from . . . yeah, upstate SC has a few little secrets in those mountains.  Good place.

World Communication Day & Promote Catholicism Day, part 2

Time for part 2 of the  Catholic media fest:

Then, on Thursday, May 24, please share the fruit of that day of prayer and silence with everyone, by posting your answer to the question: “What in Catholic Media has had an impact on me during the past year?” Share it on the New Evangelizers website at:

Half of you may have noticed, my efforts at internet silence were not so successful.  So this will be fruit-of-the-noise as well.

1.  Have I mentioned how much I love the printing press?

I’ve got an old version of one of these guys, not the hardback, and the spine’s peeling away.  I think most of my friends who do book repair are also solidly anti-Catholic, which makes it awkward to ask for advice.

2. SuperHusband swears by the iBreviary. It is indeed super cool.  I mean, yes, wow.  But I still prefer paper.

3. Review Books.  Yesterday in my failure to sit on my hands, I stumbled on RAnn’s list of Top Ten Sources for Review Books.  My current title from The Catholic Company is Benedict of Bavaria.  I picked it because that little voice told me I should, and my brain informed me that it was time I made myself read something substantial for a change, and this looked like it.  Ha!  I love being wrong.

“Substantial” is my code word for “thick” and “slog through long paragraphs written by people who need to get re-acquainted with the period key, and also not use the word ontological quite so much”.  Not so.  Eminentally readable, and super interesting — quite the departure from my usual association of Pope Topics = Too Smart for Me.  I love the printing press.  Love it.

4. Local Catholic Bookstores.  OSV Weekly has this cute little sidebar about “How to Read More.”  It’s like telling someone on a diet How to Eat More.  No, really, I read enough already.  If the meat thing doesn’t work out, Not Reading is my most painful alternate penance.

But the pleasure of the review programs sponsored by the big guys is that a) It supports the bookstores who provide for those who don’t have local bookstores b) sometimes I find a great book my local store doesn’t know about, and then I can pass it on, and c) I still have my book money left to spend with the local guys.

Support your local Catholic bookstore.  If you don’t have one, and your parish has a spare coat closet they can spare, consider starting one.  Nothing beats being able to browse in person, especially for kids.

5. A great book my local bookstore is about to find out about.  One of the tremendous pleasures of Catholic New Media has been getting to know other writers online.  Which is how I ended up with the announcement of this book in my inbox yesterday:

I can’t wait to the see the inside.

Another great moment in New Media e-mails yesterday . . . Julie Davis let me look at a sneak preview of a project she’s working on.  That’s all I can say right now.  But listen: There is a super-awesome, unbelievably gorgeous book in the works.  When the time comes, I will so tell the world it’s gonna be sort of annoying.  If your name is SuperMother-in-Law, I’m getting you one for Christmas.  (Not this Christmas.  You have to wait until it meets the printing press, which is still a ways off.)  With my own money.

6.  And that’s something I love about the Catholic new media: Catholic writers being able to connect with one another and collaborate on projects.  Writers in general can be a little paranoid.  What if someone else writes my book before I do?  In the Catholic world, yes that fear can be there.  But when your mission is  to evangelize, most of all there’s a tremendous sense of relief: Thank goodness someone wrote that book so I don’t have to.

When you’re still in that long aspiring-writer time of life, with 10,000 book ideas swirling in your head and a powerful desire to write them all, you don’t feel that way so much.  But once you actually go to write a whole book and make it see light of day, and you’ve gotten past the about the 4th draft of a completed manuscript, and discover how much work is required to write anything halfway decent . . . yeah, please.  Thank you all seventy-bazillion Catholic writers for being on the job.  You are so desperately needed.

7.  Um, there’s not much money in it.   Just so you know.  But listen, accounting is a great.  Engineering?  Janitorial work?  Lots of ways to support that writing habit.  And it’s all Catholic.


When I was first staying home to raise kids, I’d listen to Focus on the Family, and there was often mention of the incredible loneliness of the stay-at-home mom.  The internet has eased that isolation, especially for those of us introverts who would rather read and write than chit-chat at one of those mingle-y things.

Whenever you get to know somebody, no matter how, you only get to know part of them.  You never know the whole person. And at first, you only know a very small slice of the person.  The internet is only different in which slice you meet.

I love, LOVE, having a way to meet people from the inside out.  To not be distracted by their clothes or their accent or their weird habits or lack of weird habits.  To cut out the small talk and go straight to the issues . . . it takes so long at Donut Hour to find someone willing and able to hold a substantial conversation.  I love small blogs because you can have real conversation.  Yes, I’m like a moth to flame, leaving comments at Jen Fulwiler’s and Simcha’s and Msgr. Pope’s blogs.  But I always go to Darwin’s personal site, and not The American Catholic, because it’s small enough you can actually exchange ideas, and not just shout to the stadium.

So to you who write only very small blogs, let me say THANK YOU.   The big guys are doing an important work, and I’m grateful for them.  But small blogs fill a spot no one else can fill.  Keep going.


Also I beg you.  If it is at all within your power, please change your blog settings to allow the “subscribe to comments” feature.  Thank you.

Book Review for Saint Gianna Beretta Molla: The Gift of Life

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla: The Gift of Life is my latest review book for the Catholic Company, and they are in luck once again, because it’s a great book!

I knew the gist of St. Gianna’s life, but this was the first detailed biography I’d read, and I think it’s an excellent introduction to the saint.  It’s a compact, readable biography that starts with the marriage of Gianna’s parents in 1908.  Through the lens of family life, we see St. Gianna working to discern her vocation and make the most of the struggles she faces throughout her life, as well as the tremendous joy she found in marriage, motherhood, and her work as a physician.

Reading Level:  Upper elementary and up.  My fourth grader (average reader, Catholic girl — which makes a difference, see below) read it in one afternoon.

Why this is a great book for Moms:  I know that technically it’s a children’s book.  But when you have small children, you really need something that can read in five-minute snatches (with interruptions every other paragraph) and still hope to reach the end of the book before you forget the beginning.  And this a book not only about a mom, but with some encouraging details for normal moms. Just look at these saintly facts:

  • St. Gianna, working mother?  Once her first baby was born, she had not just her own sister as a full-time nanny, but a housekeeper too.   Did you get that?  Not a super-person.
  • She takes her two pre-schoolers to Mass and the baby stays home.  She was a saint.  And she left her baby at home.
  • Her preschool boy lasted all of five minutes at Mass, per her account.

See?  You need to read this.  Saintly living for normal people.

Why this is a great book for pre-teens and teens:  There is a very strong emphasis on vocation.  Even though it was easy enough for my fourth grader to read, it would be perfect for about a twelve- or thirteen-year-old.  Super book-club or youth group discussion choice, if you have a group of teen girls who get together to talk about Catholic stuff.

Sanity via history through biography:  As a teenager, St. Gianna’s parents pulled her out of school for a year so she could rest and regain her health.  They felt the vigor with which St. Gianna was pursuing her studies was wearing her out, and she needed the break.  This is a teen who eventually went on to earn her M.D.   If an American parent did this today, in many cases there would be significant legal and financial penalties for both parent and child.   For this one anecdote alone, I’d recommend this book.   You can’t think clearly about public policy if you are utterly wrapped up in the quirks of your own time and place.


Cautions for the would-be reader:

1. It helps to have a general background in Catholic culture before starting the book.  There is a very helpful glossary at the back of the book, for those of us who never can remember what it is that makes a basilica a basilica.  But for teaching this book to a mixed group of students with varying amounts of Catholic up-bringing, I would plan to go over the vocabulary and cultural notes for the next week’s class session before students did the reading.

2. There is a clear and straightforward explanation of the moral choices St. Gianna faced when she was diagnosed with a tumor during her last pregnancy — another reason this is a great book for adults.  But it would be helpful for students to have a knowledgeable teacher to explain some of the basic moral principles that come into play.   St. Gianna’s death is also a good illustration of ways Catholics can choose to handle end-of-life situations.


Conclusion: This one isn’t leaving my shelf.  Recommended if you want an enjoyable, readable introduction to St. Gianna’s life, encouragement in your vocation and efforts at holiness, and a real-life example of moral choices in medical ethics and end-of-life issues.


Thanks again to the Catholic Company for their on-going efforts to keep bloggers from ever getting bored.  I received this book in exchange for an honest review, and it’s not my fault I picked a book I happened to like (okay it is — but I didn’t know it would be this good in these ways).  In addition to their work of mercy instructing the ignorant, The Catholic Company would like me to remind you they are also a great source for a baptism gifts or first communion gifts.

Book Review: Doctors of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI

The Doctors of the Church is my latest review book for The Catholic Company, and I’ll tell you up front why it’s taken me so long to get through it: Because it requires peace and quiet.

I don’t mean like holed-up-in-a-monastery-for-three-weeks peace ‘n quiet.  More like, “two to three paragraphs without interruption, and ideally as much as a page or more, all at once, before someone asks you how to spell a word, or where is the milk, or . . .” you know what I mean*.  I say this not to discourage the other housewives out there, but rather to encourage you to not give up just because it’s taking you a little longer than a Hardy Boys mystery, or whatever it is you other people read.

What it is: Pope Benedict did a series of talks at his weekly general audiences on each of the Doctors of the Church, and the text of those talks was put into book form.  (St. Peter Chrytologus is missing — there was no talk as yet at the time the book went to print.  But you get all the others.)  Each person gets his or her own chapter, and certain heavy-hitters have double- or triple-sized chapters if it took two or three sessions to cover the topic.

The focus of the talks is on the development of doctrine.  Sorry, no fun stories about St. Thomas Aquinas’s family’s colorful attempts to dissuade him from his vocation, or St. Therese’s heroic willingness to eat the peas and fake it that she liked them.  You get to be a Doctor of the Church due to your contribution to our understanding of the faith.  So that’s where the book focuses: What did this person contribute to our understanding of Christ and of salvation?  How did this person respond to the needs of his or her time, and re-present the faith in a way that was needed then, and that continues to be valuable today?

–> A brief biography opens each chapter, and there is enough information to give you a clear picture of the life and times of the individual.  There is relatively more biography for lesser-known saints.  If you don’t know the general St. Thomas Aquinas story, you aren’t ready for this book yet; but if you never can keep straight all your St. Cyrils and Gregories, the Holy Father has you covered, no worries.

What are the prerequisites?

Before reading this book, you need to:

  • Know the broad outline of Church history, and of course that means having a decent grasp of world history as well.
  • Be familiar with the who’s who of major saints.
  • Have a clear understanding of Church teaching.
  • Be comfortable with technical language at about the level of The Catechism of the Catholic Church.  This one:

If that’s not you, be patient.  Come back to The Doctors later. Because the focus of the book is specifically on doctrine, and on the development of doctrine, this is a little harder of a book than some of the other collections by the Holy Father.


Who is this book for, and what good is it, anyway?  I recommend this book if you . . .

. . . Want an introduction to the topic of Development of Doctrine.  When read cover to cover, in sequence, this is an excellent first look at how the faith has blossomed over the centuries.


. . . Need a reference book on hand for all your Doctors of the Church needs. Great resource for catechists and others who need to quick know something intelligent about obscure-but-essential saints.  Each chapter stands on its own, and I found this to be very useful in preparing for class.


. . . You want a devotional that is built around reflections on theology and the lives of saints.  (Don’t laugh you Prayer of Jabez people, some of us like this stuff.)  You could either work through it a chapter at a time, or just have it on hand to browse at random when you need a little retreat into that happy place where you get to think about this stuff.

Verdict:  Well of course, it’s excellent.  If you are the target audience, there’s nothing else like it.  Worth the effort to work through it, not because then you’ll get to sit with the cool kids (though you will), but because even if the distractions of your vocation mean you can’t read through it quickly, it’s very meaty and satisfying.  A sure preventative against brain rot, and not so bad for your soul, either.  Great book.


Thanks again to the kind people at the Catholic Company, who would like me to tell you that not only do they do a work of mercy providing good books for bloggers in exchange for nothing other than an honest review,  they are also a great source for a baptism gifts or first communion gifts.

*No family members were injured in the writing of this post.