Book Review

Book Review: Perfectly Yourself by Matthew Kelly

A while back a friend of mine gave me Matthew Kelly’s latest book Perfectly Yourself, so I read it over Lent.  It was exactly what I needed.

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Let me begin by quoting a funny, but insightful passage from the book:

I have seven brothers, and as you can imagine, as children we could be quite a handful from time to time.  When we went altogether too far, my mother would send us all to the laundry room.  That meant we were going to get a spanking, usually with a wooden spoon.  We couldn’t all fit into the laundry room , so some of us would sit around outside.  Nobody wanted to be first, because everybody knew she would be tired by the time she got to the end, but sometimes she started with those inside the laundry room and sometimes with those outside.
Having sent us to the laundry room, my mother would then go and make herself a cup of coffee and sit at the kitchen table and drink it slowly before coming to spank us.  I asked her several years later why she used to do this, and she told me that she used to get so angry at times and that she never wanted to beat us out of anger, but she needed to spank us out of love.

This passage really struck me.  How many times do I discipline my children out of anger and frustration?  (Click HERE for my post on Yelling.)  All the time.  Sigh.  I’m always confessing it and always vowing to improve, but am I really working on this?  Nope.  Kelly convinced me that I need an action plan.

Thumbing Noses

Now I know that in some circles Kelly is scoffed at.  I’ve personally come across it, and I’m not really sure why.  Perhaps for some he’s not “Catholic” enough in his approach to writing and speaking?  For it is true; he appeals to all kinds of people – Christians and nonChristians alike.  I guess I would argue that it’s not his mission to explain or defend Catholic doctrine and theology, but rather, his mission is to inspire everyone to live better lives, which is appealing to all people, at all times.

And I need to hear his message from time to time.  And I need his practical advice, which this book gives.  If you find yourself in a similar position, I strongly recommend reading Perfectly Yourself.  This is not a book to thumb your nose at.  Rather, put your nose in it, and read it.

By the way this book isn’t all about discipling your children either.  It’s set up as nine chapters or lessons that help you take a good, hard look at your habits and lifestyle.  Kelly encourages you to do the next right thing.  He wants you to grow in virtue.  He tells you to simplify your life and quit with all the worrying.  And all along there are practical suggestions and interesting stories.  It’s truly inspiring.

Like Matthew Kelly?

My brother, Rodney,  is a avid Matthew Kelly fan.  In fact he’s an ambassador for Kelly’s Dynamic Catholic program.  (Click HERE for the Dynamic Catholic website.)  Rodney insists that it was Kelly’s website, daily videos, and books that saved him from the cesspools of our culture.

I asked him what he thought of Kelly’s work.  He said, “Nobody teaches you anything any more.  You go to Mass, which is of course a good thing, but it’s meaningless unless you know what’s going on.  And I was sick and tired of not knowing anything.  Then I came across Kelly’s books and website, and they are the best thing ever.  And he’s not boring.  It’s all engaging.”  And Rodney went on and on and on…  This all coming from a young man with a rocky past – a marriage, two children, a divorce, and an annulment – all by the age of 27.

My point is that Kelly’s writing appeals to all walks of life.

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I also recommend all three of these Kelly books, especially The Seven Levels of Intimacy.  My husband and I read that one together.  It was excellent.  It inspired us to have regular Date Nights.

 

Book Review

Cranford: One Big Yawn

Some of you may be wondering what I’ve been reading lately?

The answer is Cranford.

I’ve been trying to read this book for years.  I’ve started and stopped three times.  So, as part of my Lenten penance, I’ve finally decided to bite the bullet and just do it.

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Cranford was originally published as a series for a periodical in 1853.  I wonder if small doses wouldn’t be a better way to read this thing?

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Now I really enjoy reading Elizabeth Gaskell.  I’ve read three of her other books, and they’re excellent.  I couldn’t put them down.  A friend of mine introduced me to her a few years ago because she knew of my obsession with Jane Austen.  (I like Austen so much that I’m almost always rereading one of her six novels.)  And apparently most people know that if you like Austen, you’ll also like Gaskell.

But that statement needs clarification.  Let me rephrase it as follows:  If you like Austen, you’ll like Gaskell’s North and South and Wives and Daughters, but not Cranford.  You might also enjoy Gaskell’s biography, The Life of Charlotte Bronte, but again, not Cranford.

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Need a good book?  Read these instead of Cranford.

Cranford is just one big yawn.  The whole book details the lives of a few of old spinsters sitting around in nineteenth-century parlors, knitting and mending caps and shawls, and gossiping.  Only a most devoted lover of Gaskell could ever find this interesting.

However, it may be that the deficiency lies with me, instead of Gaskell.  Likely I don’t appreciate the niceties of nineteenth-century etiquette and culture as much as I should.  Or, if only I had a better understanding of this time period, perhaps I could enter more fully into the book?

I’m not sure.  There were a few passages that I did find moving and interesting.  I’m thinking of the sad story of Miss Matty passing up marriage to Mr. Holbrook and a part wherein Mrs. Brown details her desperate flight from India to save her only remaining child.  And of course the faithfulness and generosity of Miss Matty’s friends to help her when she loses all her money is endearing, but overall, I cannot recommend this book.

I am sorry for the poor book review.

For those of you, however, who enjoy watching some of these books played out on television, I can recommend the 2007 version of Cranford, starring Judi Dench.  I remember watching it a few years ago and being entertained by it, but I warn you, it doesn’t follow the book very closely.

Book Review, Call Me Catholic

Peter Kwasniewski: An Amateurish Book Review

My husband is a bit of a nerd when it comes to reading things about the old Mass.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  The Traditional Latin Mass, the Extraordinary Form, the Usus Antiquior, the Tridentine Mass, the Mass of Pius V…it’s got so many names, I can’t keep it straight.

He’s always yakking about people I don’t know too, like Dr. Peter Kwasniewski.  Except that no one can pronounce this guy’s last name, so Peter is affectionately referred to as “Peter K” in our household, which is confusing to others, because then most people think we mean Peter Kreeft.

As an aside, I actually had the nerve to ask Dr. Kwasniewski how to pronounce his last name, and he graciously, phonically spelled it out for me as follows: “Kwash-nee-ev-ski.”

 

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Dr. Kwasniewski: Professor, Author, Choirmaster, & Composer.  He’s also a founding faculty member of Wyoming Catholic College.  (Click HERE for their website.)  He and his wife also homeschool their children.

In any case, since I can’t help but to eventually be interested in things that my husband chatters on about, I decided to read Kwasniewski’s book, Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness.  After all, I had come across this man many times, as he writes for the New Liturgical Movement, a blog that I enjoy perusing, even if I don’t understand half of what I read.  (New Liturgical Movement is linked on my sidebar, if you’re curious.)

Well, let me tell you, I just finished reading this book, and it’s a gem.  A breath of fresh air.  Chock-full of stuff I never thought about before.  For example, have you ever thought of having a Marian receptivity to the Mass?  I haven’t, and there’s a whole chapter on this, and it’s excellent.

So, if you’d like a challenge and are interested in things that our culture considers backwards and foolish, I recommend this book.  It’s really worth it.  And furthermore, to give you a sample of just what’s in this book, I’ll mention a few things that I learned below.

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Beautiful cover, even better read.  Click HERE for it on Amazon.

What did I Learn From Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness?

So, the name thing.  What to call this old Mass, that is foreign to most of us and has twenty different names?  This is downright confusing to us amateurs, just trying to figure things out.  Well, Kwasniewski advises us not to get caught up in terminology wars.  He states, “The official documents of the Church use multiple names…each name conveys something important that the other names do not convey.”

In my words, maybe all these names for the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) are like all the names we have for the Holy Spirit: Paraclete, Advocate, Counselor, Holy Ghost.  They are all important and serve to reveal something about the third Person of the Trinity.  We use different names for different occasions.  It must be the same for the TLM too, and I’m relieved that I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

The second thing I learned from reading Kwasniewski’s book is that I’m really not as backwards and foolish as I thought for preferring the TLM over the New Mass.  Kwasniewski states, “Pope Benedict XVI established equal canonical rights for the two “forms” of the Roman Rite.”  It’s perfectly legitimate to have a preference.

When I read that, I was reminded of Pope Benedict’s somewhat well known quotation about the TLM, which Kwasniewski explains in his book, and states as follows:

“What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.  It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.”  Pope Benedict XVI.

In other words, it’s a good thing to want to know what it was like for the vast majority of people in the history of the Church the pray the Mass.  Just how did St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, and my favorite, St. Therese the Little Flower, experience the Mass?  It was the TLM that formed these great saints after all.

But in the end, however, it has not easy for me to learn about the TLM, as I’m fairly new to it and this stuff takes time–indeed a lifetime–to learn about, especially if one lives in area where the TLM is not readily available.  I was comforted, in fact, when Kwasniewski compares it all to the call of Abram out of Ur to Canaan.  “It prompts the development of new faculties of seeing and hearing; it requires an exodus from our surroundings of pop culture and intellectual fashion; it calls us to a strange land, like Abram being summoned from Ur to Canaan.”

Yes, I can understand that.  It’s unsettling to walk into a strange land–the strange land of the Traditional Latin Mass.  But for me, anyway, it’s been worth it.  And Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness has been a great blessing and a help.

Want More?

Would you like to experience this Mass of Ages?  Come and see.

In the Bismarck area, Fr. Nick Schneider offers the TLM once a month at Christ the King Catholic Church in Mandan at 11:30am.  The next one will be Sunday, February 25th.

There is also a Facebook page for the Latin Mass community.  Click HERE for that.

And in the meantime, pick up Dr. Kwasniewski’s book, Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness.

Book Review

Loosing the Lion: An Unscholarly Book Review

A week or so ago I received my copy of Dr. Leroy Huizenga’s Loosing the Lion.  I immediately* flipped to Chapter One and read the opening line, “Our age is numb.” Yes, and I’d probably add “and dumb.” Huizenga then went on to say that we need to shock our age into reality through the means of beauty. To which I thought, yes again, like the great Flannery O’Connor with her shocking short stories.

I had to put the book down, though, because I had six children clamoring for my attention at the time. My sons, however, noticed the cover and if critiques from 6 and 9 year-olds matter, they liked it—no sissified rainbows there, just fierce-looking lions.

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Praise from 6 and 9-year-olds.  Check out that awesome book cover.

It was only later upon picking it up again that I noticed Huizenga closes Chapter one with a Flannery O’Connor quotation. Man I’m good.

But I’m not very smart, being a recovering member of our numb age, so it was with great trepidation that I continued reading this scholarly work. After all, I’m a stay-at-mother, what do I know?

Incidentally, this is why I read the book. I don’t know much about Mark. Yes, I’ve read all four Gospels in their entirety, but really, I could stand a little more Biblical Education. And I like a challenge.

Part 1: Preaching the Gospel of Mark

This book is divided into two parts, and I was pleasantly pleased with Huizenga’s opening chapters discussing beauty. We all know our culture is desperately in need of a restoration of all things beautiful, especially in the liturgy, which he mentions.

His point I most appreciated, however, was that we ought to just read Mark as a whole—not chopped up into bits. It’s a short Gospel after all about one rollicking ride of a battle between good and evil. So just pick the Bible up and read it.

As an aside, Huizenga also makes a great case for classical education, whether or not he realizes it, with his emphasis on great story telling and rhetorical preaching and beauty and all the rest.
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Dr. Leroy Huizenga.  Professor, Speaker, and Author.  He and his wife also homeschool their 3 children.

Part 2: The Gospel of Mark in the Lectionary

In any case, after the opening chapters, Huizenga then digs into the Lectionary for the Year of Mark, which happens to be this year in our liturgical readings.   And it was a challenge for me to read this section of the book, for he mentions all kinds of foreign terms. You know, like chiastic structures, ABA sandwiches, and synecdoches.   (What any of these are I don’t know. It’s beyond my stay-at-home pay grade.)

But still his style of writing is engaging, and I did appreciate his analysis.  He wrote of many things that I had never thought of before.  For example, I have never read the stories of Jairus’s daughter and the hemorrhaging woman together, as a “sandwich,” not to be picked apart in Mark 5:21-43.

In this story, Jesus is on his way to Jairus’s house to heal his fatally ill daughter, only to be interrupted by a hemorrhaging woman reaching out to touch him, only to be interrupted again by one of Jairus’s servants announcing his little girl’s death.  (I understand this pattern is called an “ABA sandwich.”  Look at how much I learned!)

In both cases, ritual impurity is involved–one being a dead corpse, the other experiencing embarrassing bleeding.  One is a 12-year-old upon her “death,” and the other has had 12 years of bleeding misery.  Therefore, the good Jew that He is, one might think Jesus would stay away from such uncleanliness.  But of course he doesn’t.  Rather, he heals both women and calls them “daughter,” which is not insignificant.

But what’s my point?  Part 2 of Huizenga’s book is loaded with great information about Mark that only serves to help one enter more deeply into Scriptures.

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This is St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.  I took this picture a bazillion years ago, when studying art.  I can’t think of Mark without thinking of this iconic Basilica and campanile.  You should look it up for fun.

Conclusion

The most important thing about Huizenga’s book, however, is that it inspired me to read Mark again–in its entirety–and to ponder Jesus Christ, true God and true man, a little more deeply.

Any book, painting, sculpture, or whatever that points one towards the Truth is worthwhile.  So my advice is to pick up both books–Loosing the Lion and Mark–and read on!

 Want More?

Dr. Huizenga will be featured on Jennifer Fulwiler’s Sirius XM radio station on Wednesday, January 24th, at 1:20pm.  You should all tune in.  Click HERE for Fulwiler’s website.  Some of you may remember that I mentioned Fulwiler in a previous post?  She’s hysterical.  Click HERE for that post and look under Point 1.

For more information on Dr. Huizenga, click HERE for his website.

And for those of you interested in my series “A Day in the Life of a Crazy Fool,” I’ll be posting Part 3 very soon.

*Immediately.  Mark is particularly noted for his use of this word.  It was his favorite; he used it 41 times.
Book Review, Homeschooling, Motherhood & Parenting

Mere Motherhood: A Book Review

Are you exhausted?  Overwhelmed?  Feeling inadequate?  Did you yell* at your children today?

Have you ever heard of Cindy Rollins?  She recently wrote a book, and I think it’s the best thing that’s been written on homeschooling and motherhood in a good, long while.  I don’t remember the last time I couldn’t put a book down.  It took me about 24 hours to read.

And yes, I know I’m interrupting my series “A Day in the Life of a Crazy Fool.”  Don’t worry, I’ll continue with Part 3 later this week.

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Cindy Rollins.  Queen of Morning Time.

Her book is called Mere Motherhood.

Top Ten Reasons Why This Book is Worth Reading:

  1. Even though Cindy did not enjoy being pregnant, and feared labor and delivery, she had nine children – 8 boys and 1 girl, plus a few miscarriages.  (Birth stories are never boring to read about.  Click HERE for my mother’s account of me.)
  2. No, Cindy is not a Catholic, but she greatly esteems Stratford Caldecott.  (This man was a genius.  You should read him too.)  And she quotes Mary Eberstadt and Josef Pieper and G.K. Chesterton.
  3. She loves the Bible.
  4. She thinks everyone ought to thank God for Catholic hospitals and their pro-life stance.
  5. Her boys blew stuff up.  And started fires.  And wrecked 7 cars.
  6. She thinks Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem The Charge of the Light Brigade is one of the best poems ever written, which it is.
  7. She admits that she’s made mistakes, like trying to live on a old decrepit farm, infested with rodents.
  8. All kinds of animals make an appearance in her memoir – rats, snakes, bats, mice, hawks…these things are also never boring to read about.
  9. She once wore jumpers, until her daughter pointed out that they’re not very fashionable.
  10. She takes on tough issues like puberty and spending too much time on electronic devices.  (Mea culpa.)
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If you need a good book, I highly recommend this one.

If you’d like more on Cindy Rollins, I’d recommend listening to her podcasts done with Pam Barnhill.  There are three of them: Episodes 1, 27, and 43.  They’re all great and can be found by clicking HERE or on Pam Barnhill’s website, which I’ve linked on my sidebar.  Once you’re there, click on Podcasts, then on Morning Basket.  Rollins also does podcasts for the Circe Institute, if you’re interested.

*If you yelled at your children, don’t worry, you’re not alone.  Click HERE for a post on that.
Book Review, Call Me Catholic

My Conversion Story

Have I always been a Catholic?

Yes, and definitely No.  You see, I was baptized a Catholic, and thankfully received all the Sacraments, but alas, during my late teens and early twenties, I fell into a Pit of Sin.  And yet, I still identified myself as a “Catholic.”

That, however, is another story, for another time.

Today, I’d like to direct you to Patti Maguire Armstrong’s blog.  She is a Catholic journalist and author of a number of books.  In her book, Amazing Grace for Families, which was published a few years ago, she wrote about my reentry into the Church.

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This book is a collection of short stories of faith and inspiration.  It’s a great read.

At that time, I was about 22 years-old and traveling in Greece.  On our third day in Athens, I was hit by a taxi cab and unable to leave my hotel room for a few days.  It was then that I stumbled upon Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, among other things.

With the grace of God, my eyes were opened, and I chucked the birth control into the garbage can, literally.  My then fiancé, however, was not, and I mean not happy.  I had a difficult decision to make–stay with him and cease to be Catholic or give him up and finally start living.

I gave him up and chose to live.  I chose Jesus and His Church.  And it was the best decision I ever made.

If you’d like a shortened version of what happened that fateful day, click on her blog at pattimaguirearmstrong.com, and read away!  For the longer version, you’ll have to buy her book, which I recommend.  For an even more detailed version, you’ll just have to wait, as I’m still working on that one.

Patti also has other books that might be of some interest to you.  I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read of hers.

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Here are a few others I’ve read and enjoyed.  These books are all contain short stories about faith and life.

 

 

 

Book Review

Michael O’Brien: Catholic Author Extraordinaire

Need a good read?

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Seriously awesome book.

My Book Club is reading one of Michael O’Brien’s novels for January – Strangers and Sojourners.   It’s excellent, and you should read it too.

Just check out this dialogue below, which happens between a woman named Turid and her husband, Camille.  Turid is helping her friend, Anne, give birth, while Camille tramps  in and drags off Anne’s husband, to spare him the whole birthing experience.

“Birthin’s fer wimmen!”  called back Camille.
“Birthin’s not fer cowards, that’s fer damsure!”  she yelled at the back of their heads.

All I can say is, that’s insightful.  But why should you read it?

  1. Because it’s a love story.  Anne Ashton, an Englishwoman, is teaching in the Bush in Canada and stumbles upon Steve Delaney, an Irishman lying fatally ill in his cabin.  She must care for him, or he’ll die.  And he hates the English.
  2. This book is about pain and suffering, which we can all relate to.  And it’s beautiful because beauty comes from pain and suffering.  We need only to look at a crucifix to realize this.
  3. And we can all relate to Turid L. O’Raison too.  (She’s the speaker of that above quotation.)  Well she might be a hard, crude woman, but she’s capable of making the most profound statements.  And she’s funny, and she gets it.  Giving birth is certainly not for cowards, as most of us know.
  4. This novel is mostly set in twentieth-century Canada, where it’s even colder and darker than here.  Man, do I feel sorry for those Northerners.  Just reading about them makes winter here seem like a Tropical Paradise.
  5. And finally, you should read it because it’s edifying.  Every time I read one of O’Brien’s novels, I am more human.
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In the end, consider reading all of O’Brien’s novels.  That should keep you busy for awhile.

Therefore, my suggestion is to get this book, pour yourself a big glass of wine, and if your house is anything like mine, lock yourself in the bathroom, so that you may read away undisturbed by the children.  You won’t regret it.