Read This! 12 Catholic Books on the Spiritual Life You Should Read in 2016

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1622822285/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1622822285&linkCode=as2&tag=liveca-20&linkId=OHRV37HXG7AUBLES

Here are the books I think you should read in 2016. They are indispensable classics for me and they all sit next to me in my prayer corner or next to my bed. These are ones that have really helped me in my spiritual life. Each is amazing in its own way. Some are easy to read, some are ones you want to take the whole year to read carefully.

1) These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body by Emily Stimpson. When I first saw this book I thought, “Oh no, the difficult Theology of the Body.” Boy, was I wrong. This is super easy to read and brings this great topic to every part of your life. Just reading what the culture thought of man, before the Enlightenment, was breathtaking. It turns out that sex is only a really small part of John Paul II’s teaching on the body. It is a wonderful way to guide your whole life into beauty and holiness. You can tell the author is an expert on the topic and has synthesized years of study on this topic into a really easy to understand and implement teaching. I’m planning on reading it again this year.  I also really enjoy Emily’s website The Catholic Table and recommend you pay a visit. I’m a BIG fan of her Polenta recipe.

2) Worshipping a Hidden God by Archbishop Luis Martinez. I had this book on the shelf for years before I actually read it. I can’t believe I waited so long. Abp. Martinez was a Mexican bishop, poet and mystic and this book completely changed my view of God. It is geared to helping you through problems with prayer and your spiritual life and understanding the nature of God. I cried through several chapters. It was a breakthrough for me and I hope it will help you too.

3) Fatima for Today: An Urgent Marian Message of Hope by Fr. Andrew Apostoli, C.F.R. This book has everything you ever wanted to know about the Marian apparitions at Fatima and what happened afterward. During this time of chaos, confusion, and darkness, the Blessed Mother’s message is more imperative than ever in saving the world from evil. If you have ever wanted to know how or why to do the Five First Saturday devotions, or why the Rosary is so important, this is for you.

4) Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina by Tim Gray. This is an excellent explanation of how to pray using the Scriptures. Easy to read and understand.

5) The Navarre Bible: Gospels & Acts by the University of Navarre. This has been my mainstay Bible commentary for years. I use it constantly. I have several volumes of the Navarre Bible but, of course, this is the one I use the most. Other volumes I love are The Pentateuch (The first 5 books of the Old Testament) & the Letters of St. Paul. I highly recommend all the volumes. They have extensive commentary on all the text using lots of writings of Pope St. John Paul II, St. Josemaria Escriva and lots of other saints and Church writings.

6) Seeking Spiritual Direction: How to Grow the Divine Life Within by Fr. Thomas Dubay. Gives advice on finding a spiritual director. What I find the most profitable in this book is the advice in the back third of the book on problems and questions in the spiritual life. I’m definitely going to read this again this year. A related type book is Dan Burke’s Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey To God. I read this when it first came out a few years ago, but I, unfortunately, don’t own a copy. It is excellent though, and helps guide you in spiritual direction and how to determine your main faults so you can overcome them.

Dan Burke also has several other resources that I can recommend. He has edited two other books that I do own and think you will profit from them: Finding God Through Meditation by St. Peter of Alcantara – St. Teresa of Avila’s spiritual director, which I am reading now; and selected letters of St. Teresa of Avila on prayer, 30 Days With St. Teresa of Avila, which I really enjoyed. He has the bestwebsite on prayer and the spiritual life online (and I don’t say that lightly,) Catholic Spiritual Direction is just excellent. I remember a time when everything online about Catholic prayer was wrong, or vacuous, or tainted with techniques from other religions that were the opposite of what Catholic spirituality taught. You still can find that stuff online, but this website was a revolution, and happily it is filled with excellent advice and direction, and others have followed the lead with the true teachings of Christian prayer. What we now have is a blossoming of the spiritual life. 

Also, check out the related Relevant Radio’s Divine Intimacy Radio show and podcast, among other helps. Another radio show, from Radio Maria is Carmelite Conversations. It is absolutely my favorite podcast and I cannot tout it highly enough for discussions on Catholic spirituality, books, and Carmelite saints. I have learned so much!

7) 33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat In Preparation for Marian Consecration by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC. A very approachable and understandable preparation for consecration to Jesus through the Blessed Mother. It uses teaching from Mother Teresa, Pope St. John Paul II, St. Louis de Montfort, and St. Maximilian Kolbe. Everyone I know who has read it has been very impressed. 

8) Trusting God With St. Therese by Connie Rossini. A lovely book on how St. Thérèse of Lisieux allowed God to guide her through difficult times in her life and how you can trust God in hard times too. 

Other books I can recommend but am not finished with yet:

Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI. I have the first of the three volumes.
 
The Hidden Power of Kindness: A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare to Transform the World, One Deed at a Timeby Lawrence G. Lovasik 
 
An Introduction to the Devout Lifeby St. Francis de Sales, excellent for beginners. 
 
Spiritual Combat: How to Win Your Spiritual Battles and Attain Peaceby Lorenzo Scupoli. St. Francis de Sales carried this in his pocket for years.

Catholic Book Lady’s Mother’s Day Gift Ideas

Mother’s Day is coming soon. I’m sure you’ve heard. I decided to try to think ahead this year. In lieu of being lazy and just ordering flowers, I’ve done some research on some great gifts that our Catholic moms will like. My alter ego on Facebook is Catholic Book Lady so we will start with books, because they are my favorite. Some are new and some not, but these are the ones I like right now, by some of my favorite authors.

http://bit.ly/WalkSoftlyTTomeo

Teresa Tomeo: I’m a big fan of Catholic podcasts and Catholic radio. Teresa is the host of Ave Maria Radio‘s Catholic Connection, among other gigs. I’ve read most of Teresa’s other very popular books, but I like this one the best: Walk Softly and Carry a Great Bag: On-the-Go Devotions. It has short devotions and fits in my purse or glove compartment. The devotions use a lot of humor, but are thought provoking and prayerful. It is good choice for any Christian woman, even one who is just getting started in the faith, and it is tailor-made for Mother’s Day.

http://www.emmausroad.org/30-Days-with-Teresa-of-Avila-P12215.aspx#sthash.XFcWDzvw.JXjP07bi.dpbs

  
Dan Burke: Before Dan Burke started his website Catholic Spiritual Direction there was little online about Catholic prayer that was truly authentic and not tinged by influences from other spiritualities. Now, several years later, his website is a mature, extensive resource for learning about genuine Catholic prayer and the spiritual life. A few years ago, he published a classic called Navigating the Interior Life. This has now grown into a series of books to help deepen your prayer life.

I own two new books in this series: Finding God Through Meditation by St. Peter of Alcantara who was a spiritual director St. Teresa of Avila; and a book of letters by St. Teresa herself, called 30 Days With Teresa of Avila that include reflections written by Dan and Dr. Anthony Lilles. I have been reading a little every day of Teresa’s letters and what impresses me is just how easy they are to read and how her personality shows through. The reflections are easy to understand and very helpful. I think any mom who is interested in prayer and the spiritual life would find this a nice gift. St. Peter’s book, however, is for someone who is very advanced in prayer and is ready to move onto greater holiness.

http://www.emilystimpson.com/these-beautiful-bones-an-everyday-theology-of-the-body.html

Emily Stimpson: I can’t tell you how huge a fan I am of Emily Stimpson because of this book These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body. Now, you might be thinking “No, my mom/wife/grandma doesn’t need a book about the Theology of the Body because it is all about sex and just too big and complex.” Well, my friend, you are wrong. Saint Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body does have a large component about marriage and sex, and it can be complicated; but the body, marriage and family is more than about sex. It is about beauty and grace and holiness, even amidst the complexities and messiness of life. The Theology of the Body touches every part of life, and Emily Stimpson has unraveled it, digested it, made it understandable, and then written an absolutely beautiful book with the aim of bringing real love, simplicity, and grace to all parts of your life and your family. This book has literally changed my view of life and the world. It makes me yearn for beauty, and reach for grace. You need to buy two, because you need to read it yourself. She has a lovely website, The Catholic Table, that I highly recommend.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/159471472X/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=159471472X&linkCode=as2&tag=catholicmomcom&linkId=G3CVQHK2TCRL5PUO

 
Lisa Hendey: The Grace of Yes: Eight Virtues for Generous Living. Now, I have to admit I have not read this book, but I hear it is wonderful, and it goes along with Emily Stimpson’s book about grace and generosity. As the creator of CatholicMom.comI think it is a safe bet that your mom will love this.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1586178822/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1586178822&linkCode=as2&tag=buttafly-20

 
Jennifer Fulwiler: Jennifer writes one of the most popular blogs in the Catholic online universe, Conversion Diary. As a big fan, I waited a long time for Jennifer’s book, Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidently Found It, to be released. She went from a born-and-raised atheist living the high life but not completely happy, to a Catholic homeschooling mom of six kids with a wildly popular blog about her and her husband’s faith journey. I devoured it. Fast paced and vastly interesting, their journey is nonetheless profound and incredibly inspiring. Don’t hesitate to get this book. Psst: don’t tell her that I just discovered I have been spelling her name wrong for years. Sigh.

http://www.amazon.com/Big-Hearted-Inspiring-Everyday-Families/dp/1594171904/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

 
Patti Maguire Armstrong: I got to be roomies with Patti at a Catholic convention and she is incredibly fun, a fantastic writer, and one of the best people I know. Patti is constantly writing articles on the Catholic faith and culture, and she has several books, including as co-author of the popular Amazing Grace series. This book however is the one that I like the best, and would be great for Mother’s Day: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families. This book explains what happens to families when they allow their hearts to be generous – their struggles, but also their triumphs and joys.

http://www.donnacooperoboyle.com/blog/books-cds-dvds/

 
Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle: I doubt there could be a list of Catholic books for Mother’s Day that doesn’t include at least one book by this lovely lady. Donna-Marie is an incredibly prolific writer. A friend of Mother Teresa’s, she imbues everything she writes with a beautiful, gentle spirit. Surprisingly, I’m not going to recommend any specific book. The last one I read was The Miraculous Medal, but she has many books on bringing in a prayerful aspect to the family and motherhood, books on prayer, ones for expectant mothers, a Bible study, books on Mother Teresa, and other saints and even angels. There just isn’t just one I could recommend, but the best thing is that she is sure to have written a book that would interest your mom.
  
OK, woman cannot live by book alone, so let’s get onto other gifts moms like:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/beadedtreasuresetc?ref=l2-shopheader-name

 
Jewelry, Rosaries and other cool stuff:
You can get cool jewelry everywhere, but meaningful jewelry is another story. I’m always surprised at how many Catholic ladies online I know that have small businesses and so many of them are on Etsy, Facebook, etc. Their wares are beautiful, and if you buy from them you are supporting a craftswoman directly. Check out these:

SpirituallyHip.com(Full of Grace Divine Designs) – Amazing jewelry. Gorgeous and very stylish. I just love everything there and would own it all if I could! The lovely necklace at the top of this post is this from here.
Charming Country Creations Some very cool country signs
Tag You’re “It” Beautiful and affordable, personalized hand stamped jewelry. I really like these.
Graceful Rosaries Just so amazing.
Perseverance Road Catholic Jewelry
Beaded Treasures Jewelry & Rosaries (the rosary above is from here)
and there are lots more, check out the Catholic Etsy Artist Guild Members too.

http://www.paintedfaith.net/

Art:
Nellie Edwards, painter of some of the most iconic modern Catholic art. I have a few of her prints. They are beautiful, meaningful, and affordable. And she is just the most fabulous person – well deserving of your business.

http://www.leafletonline.com/VIRGIN-OF-KAZAN-ICON/productinfo/26048/

And speaking of icons, which are considered by the Orthodox Christians to be windows to Heaven… there are many places to purchase icons, which is fortunate since they are so beautiful and stunningly crafted.

Leaflet Missal has many in all price ranges and is an excellent company.

Monastery Icons has beautiful icon jewelry, and a lot of more contemporary icons as well.

https://music.benedictinesofmary.org/

 
Music:
The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. They are what the angels must sound like. Listening to these amazing nuns makes me immediately relax and settle in for prayer, or imbues my working day with sense of the sacred around me. Their voices are stunning.

Not to be outdone by those Benedictines, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist have their own album, Mater Eucharistiae. You might remember these traditional nuns from the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and the “American Bible Challenge.”

Mom might also like the sublime singing of the British vocal ensemble Voces8. They are wonderful.

Want something a little more contemporary? The beautiful music of Audrey Assadcan’t be beat.

Well, there you have it. If you have any other great ideas for gifts, please let us know in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say!

P.S. Don’t forget to visit me on Facebook at Catholic Book Lady and, of course, at LiveCatholic

Does Pope Francis Supposedly Saying Animals Go To Heaven Want You To Come Back To The Church?

Our sick old kitty not long before he died.

I was reading a comment on a Facebook post that was in response to the false story that Pope Francis said Animals Go to Heaven. A woman commented:

I am sad that this is not true. As a fallen Catholic…it made me consider going back to the church as this Pope seemed more human and compassionate. That is something that has been lacking. Pope Francis is progressive enough to make me feel that the church can change to a place I want to be. Why not let this story stand as it was? Do you not get that Francis is calling to us to be better people? And by that, perhaps, call us back to church?

Here is my slightly edited response that I thought might be helpful to you if you are considering coming back to the Church because you think Pope Francis is “human” and “compassionate.” It is true he is “human” and “compassionate” but more is going on than you think.

The Church’s teaching has not and will not change. It is only the secular press that changes the spin on it. Such as calling the most gentle and humble man that Benedict XVI is “God’s Rottweiler.” Or deliberately taking very compassionate teachings of God and turning them into something completely different because they don’t serve the secular agenda. They take snippets of quotes but not all the quote because it will not fit their story. They twist good things to evil and make evil things good. Why pray tell is suddenly this non-story breaking world news? Because it fits a secular agenda and brings ratings. Pushing that animals are equal with people. They are wonderful creatures of God, but they are not people. A wonderful priest once told me that if your dog makes you happy than you will probably find your dog waiting for you in heaven, but it won’t be because the dog has a person type soul.

Pope Francis is truly kind and compassionate and “human” – but so was John Paul II and Benedict XVI and many of the popes before them. Pope Francis is not teaching anything different, and is not being “progressive.” He is just being shown what he is. He has a different “style” of doing things but isn’t teaching anything different. 

As soon as the press thinks that portraying him that way no longer serves their purpose than they will start portraying him as “rigid” “strict” “conservative” “caving into conservatives” or whatever headline they can think of to minimize him.

All the popes have been calling people to be better people. Try reading the John Paul’s Letter to Women  or to his Letter to Families. Go to Catholic Answers or Catholics Come Home or any number of good places to get true answers about what the faith teaches. Listen to Ave Maria Radio, or EWTN TV or Radio, Relevant Radio or any of the other Catholic radio networks that you can listen to online or an app or IHeartRadio. There are so many places that you can be fortified in your faith. We welcome you back. Find a priest you like, go to confession and take it one day at a time. Learn to pray. If there is a teaching you don’t understand take the time to get educated as to why the church teaches what it does – not what some someone else says it teaches. God loves you, the Church (whose job it is to help you get to heaven) loves you and I love you. Please consider coming back. The love is waiting for you, you only have to reach for it.

And some Bonus Answers – Do Animals Go to Heaven? Fr. Z tells us all about it,  
Catholic Answers Forum Discussing Pets in Heaven.

25 Great Catholic Father’s Day Gift Ideas

Father’s Day is coming soon and you want gift ideas for the Catholic father(s) in your life. I thought I would help. Let’s cut to the chase and jump right in. Here are some gift ideas that might please you both.
First up is books. I moonlight as Catholic Book Lady, so I’m immersed in books. I decided to poll some trusted, faithful Catholic men as to what books they think are good for men. I’ve got some new books, some popular, and some classic for your perusal.
New Books:
No matter what you get for your man, you should also first include Journey to Heaven by Randy Hain, co-founder of Integrated Catholic Life, one of my favorite Catholic websites. I know Randy, and he is the epitome of the great, faithful, Catholic dad. I’ve been reading it myself, and I really like it. He takes the wisdom of many wise, real contemporary Catholic men (not some lofty theologian, or a 500 year old dead monk) and distills it into an easy-to-understand, quick-to-read format. My favorite parts are “Integrating Faith and Work,” “What is Really Important,” and how to be a Catholic Rebel. We women love a rebel, right?
How can you go wrong with any book by Scott Hahn? Angels & Saints is his new one. Can you guess what’s it about? I’ll wait….Yep, angels and saints. Don’t like that topic, Dr. Hahn has tons of other books, including the now classic Rome Sweet Home, he and his wife’s conversion story.
Now some Ever-Popular Books that came highly recommended from my men’s poll:
  • The Catholic Briefcase:  Tools for Integrating Faith and Work by Randy Hain. This one won 2012’s About.com Reader’s Choice Award. 
  • Navigating the Interior Life by Dan Burke, Executive Director of the National Catholic Register and founder of SpiritualDirection.com. I saved this one for last in this list because I think every Catholic, especially every Catholic man, should own a copy. It is an excellent book on how to figure out your main faults so you can begin to work on rooting them out, and how to find spiritual direction so you can progress in your path to God. I know Dan Burke personally and he is the real deal. Get his book for your guy because you won’t be disappointed.

Now for some Classic Books:
  • Confessions by St. Augustine of Hippo, the very first conversion story, Augustine was a brilliant man with a concubine and illegitimate child who suffered from pride, ambition, pain and regret to become a convert, a bishop, a doctor of the Church, and one of the greatest saints that ever lived.
  • The Sinner’s Guide by Venerable Louis de Grenada, the 16th century classic on resisting temptation and overcoming sin.
  • Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. Amazing logical arguments for the Christian faith.
  • In Conversation with God by Fr. Francis Fernandez, absolutely excellent set of books with meditations for every day according to the Mass readings. You can buy each book individually to try it out.
  • Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales, for beginners in the spiritual life.
If you want more ideas for books, here is Scott Hahn’s list of recommended books for men. And some great new novels from Ignatius Press.

Now, maybe your guy isn’t into books (gasp!) so here are a few alternatives so we cover all our bases.
If the father in your life is not just Catholic, but extra-Catholic (you know, he bought you a new veil to wear to the Latin Mass, maybe prays the Divine Office every day, perhaps keeps a pebble in his shoe on Friday or Wednesday, etc.) He might like Fr. John Zulsdorf’s (Fr. Z!) über-Catholic gifts from his store: such as the “To Be Deep in History is to Cease to be Protestant” mug or stein – sure to be a hit at the office! It is apparently a favorite of Fr. George Rutler.
Or maybe Dad loves coffee or tea. Don’t hesitate to buy Mystic Monk Coffee and help the Carmelite Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel build their monastery in Wyoming to last the ages. This is quality stuff Dad will love. Lots of flavors. Check out the Monk Shots.
Perhaps the kids want to make Dad a gift. Here is something I love to do. Make him a knotted rosary. Easy to do, easy to keep in the pocket, and silent in use. Something I certainly value. Check out Greg & Jennifer Willet’s apostolate the Rosary Army for details.
Finally, I asked my 11 year old son what he thought a dad would want on Father’s Day. Here is his list: grill cleaner, power tools, iPad, a camera, utility belt, pet snake. “Pet snake?” “Yes, all fathers like snakes.” 
So there you have it, 25 great ideas for the father in your life. Don’t forget the snake!

P.S.  There are more than 25 ideas now because I keep remembering more great stuff. If you have an idea please comment and let me know. I may add it to the list.

Update: My former neighbor, a protestant missionary, and wonderful friend Glenda, who is one of the best Christian women I know, had a suggestion for the list. She says “I have an alternative idea to C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. We just listened to C. S. Lewis at War done by Focus on the Family Radio Theatre. It is the story behind Mere Christianity plus the audio book. Jeff really enjoyed this. It definitely appealed to his logical engineering mind! We listen on long car trips… the audio book is a great alternative for those who rarely sit down to read a book, and the dramatization of this one holds your attention.

Hymns As Poetry

For quite some time I have been using the iBreviary app for my iPad and iPhone to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. While I do miss having my leather bound book in my hand, some of the things I like about it over using the standard book Christian Prayer is that I don’t have to flip around to find where I’m supposed to be, or think about whether it is a feast day. I also don’t have to fiddle with trying to figure out a hymn.

Now I’m pretty musically deficient because I have, unfortunately, very little musical education. I very rarely see the name of the tune when praying and think, “Oh, I know that one.” So I wind up reading the hymn as poetry. But wow, what poetry. Several times recently I have read the hymn and have been so impressed by how these hymns, several hundred years old, encapsulate the faith and give Christian encouragement.

I have no idea how they decide which hymn to use for the day. I also have no idea if these are a proscribed hymns to use for the day or if the iBreviary people choose them, but they are fantastic.  Here is a sample from yesterday’s daytime prayer:

HYMN

Take up your cross, the Savior said,
If you would my disciple be;
Deny yourself, the world forsake,
And humbly follow after me.

Take up your cross, let not its weight
Fill your weak spirit with alarm;
His strength shall bear your spirit up,
Shall brace your heart and nerve your arm.

Take up your cross then in his strength,
And ev’ry danger calmly brave,
To guide you to a better home,
And vict’ry over death and grave.

Take up your cross and follow Christ,
Nor think till death to lay it down;
For only he who bears the cross
May hope to wear the glorious crown.

To you, great Lord, the One in three,
All praise for evermore ascend;
O grant us here below to see
The heav’nly life that knows no end.

Tune: Breslau or Winchester New L.M.
Music: (Breslau) As Hymnodus Sacer, 1625, or (Winchester New) Musikalisches Handbuch, Hamburg, 1690
Text: Charles William Everest, 1814-1877, adapted by Anthony G. Petti

Or from yesterday’s evening prayer:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the cross of Christ my God,
The vain delights that charm me most:
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See from his head, his hands, his feet
What grief and love flow mingling down;
Did e’er such Love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were all the realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Tune: Rockingham L.M.
Music: Adapted by Edward Miller, 1731-1807, from A. William’s A Second Supplement to Psalmody in Miniature, Oxford 1780
Text: Isaac Watts, 1674-1748, slightly adapted

And these are just from one day.  What a rich heritage of music we have!  I could complain about the pablum we get at Mass today, but I will refrain. I think what I will start doing is looking these up online and on YouTube to see if I can listen to them. It would be great to hear these wonderful pieces performed by a real serious choir.  Of course, I love them as poetry too.

Picture: The Convent Choir – Jehan Georges Vibert, 1865

Contemplative Prayer – I Want to Do That!

“Contemplative prayer…I want to learn how to do that…..do any of you do contemplative prayer…what helps you focus? My mind seems to just wander off on this tangent or that and I can never seem to stay on track with my prayer.”

A woman asked this in a Facebook group I belong to. I started to answer and realized it should really be a blog post. So here you go.
OK, first there are a couple of definitions of “Contemplative Prayer.” There is the Ignatian Method. In that method you pick, for instance, a scene in the bible, like the Crucifixion and picture yourself as one of the characters in the scene. See what they see, what would you feel or do, etc. then let it lead to speaking with the Lord. It could only be a few minutes, that’s ok. It is an active type of prayer. The best known of these is the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Go to the Ignatian Contemplation webpage for more info.
The other type of Contemplation is “Infused Contemplation” and it is a gift from God to someone who has already an active prayer life in meditation. It is NOT something you achieve, it is a gift. You are basking in the Lord and only lasts a very short time. Do not allow people to tell you so called “Centering Prayer” is contemplation, or is ok. It is not. The problem, and I have researched this quite a bit, is there are many websites online that promote a faulty understanding of contemplation. If a website says to “empty your mind” or uses the term “mantra” or “recite a prayer word” that is not authentic Christian prayer. It has invaded parishes and retreats, and online, but the Vatican says this Eastern type of prayer is not kosher, as it were.  You are trying to build a relationship with God, not empty your mind. St. Teresa of Avila, a Doctor of the Church, and a master of Contemplative Prayer thought this ridiculous.
So, the lesson here is to start praying and don’t let distractions get in the way. If you are distracted just let it fade away and continue praying. A picture of a scene from the bible or other good Christian book may help you focus. The rosary is an aid to prayer too.
Now, here are some resources to help you. First, read this, St. Teresa of Avila: Why You Can’t Seem to Progress in the Spiritual Life. This is exactly what you need to read.
Next, become acquainted with a man who should become your favorite, Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M. Fr. Dubay died in 2010. He was a retreat master for religious and laity for decades. He taught authentic prayer in an imminently practical and down-to-earth way. His books are treasures. Start with his Prayer Primer: Igniting a Fire Within. It is easy to understand and follow.
Then, buy Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel-On Prayer. This book is a classic and you should own it and read it in small doses. Reading books by St. Teresa of Avila will be good too, but read this to get ready for that. If they seem a bit over the head for you, then slow down. You will be ready at some point.
Now, a Spiritual Director is very helpful. It is hard to find one. You can ask a very trusted priest, but it takes time to find a director that works for you. Next best is reading Fr. Dubay’s Seeking Spiritual Direction: How to Grow the Divine Life Within. Now, I found this book to be droll for the first half, because he explains what a spiritual director should be etc. and you wind up wondering where you might find such a rare, amazing person. The second half though is amazing because he uses this section to counsel you in your prayer life, like a spiritual director would. It is a treasure trove of questions you never even thought of and it is very helpful. It explains the steps one progresses in prayer, the downfalls and confusions; it is great.
Fr. Dubay did several series on EWTN (The Global Catholic Network) and one of them was about Contemplative Prayer. You can download the audio to your computer and listen to it on your iPod or listen at your computer. Go to EWTN, at the top choose Faith, then Libraries, then Audio Library. Where it says Series Search type in “Dubay.” What will pop up is his six different TV series. Choose the one that says “Contemplation.” Listen to them carefully. I like to listen to them in the car so I’m not distracted or interrupted. Read his other books too.
For something newer, you might be interested in two resources online and a great book. First, take a visit to the lovely Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart in Los Angeles website. Read their blog and about their spirituality. I feel calm and peaceful just going there.
Also, make it a habit to visit the RC Spiritual Direction Website. Sign up for their newsletter and read their stuff. It was founded by Dan Burke, a convert from Judaism and the Executive Director of the National Catholic Register. I know him personally and he is excellent. He wrote the wonderful book you should read, Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. It talks about spiritual direction, but also about making a “Plan of Life,” to further you along in prayer and your life with God. This book is a classic and was sorely needed. I’m so glad he wrote it.
Consider also reading St. Francis de Sales’ classic book Introduction to the Devout Life.  You might want to learn about Lectio Divina too, which is an ancient simple prayer method of using the Scriptures. Read Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina by Tim Gray. It’s very good and an easy read.
So, there you have it, just what you need to get started. Don’t be overwhelmed, just start talking to God and let Him lead. And keep asking questions!
Update: Also check out this blog that came out today about the 3 Conversions of the Purgative Way.
 
 
 

4 Websites to Deepen Your Spiritual Life

John William Waterhouse

In my numerous travels online I have found some really great websites that are excellent in helping to further your spiritual life. I could not keep them to myself.

  1. Ascending Mount Carmel. This is a great site by writer and assistant editor of MonkRock, Jason Liske. He comes from the perspective of Eastern Christianity and I love all his profiles of different saints, many I have not heard of, or have forgotten about. His writings about the spiritual life is top notch.
  2. The Cloistered Heart. This is a gorgeous site. I could stare at the art for ages. The posts are simple and short, but deeply meaningful. It is geared toward finding Christ in the monastery of your heart. Author Nancy Shulman does an excellent job of displaying the quiet and solitude that brings us closer to the Lord. I look forward to her email with her latest post every day.
  3. The Catholic Young Woman.  Here is another beautiful site. Geared toward young women obviously, I find it so interesting to read. It shows quite well that there are young, intelligent women who seek Christ deeply and are in the world. Not all the young women in our society are looking for hook-ups or screaming for the right to kill their babies. Here are serious (yet fun) women who are taking to heart Christ’s call to love others and respect themselves. They are searching for the best way to fulfill God’s plan in their lives and explore how to live the virtues. I wish I had known some of them when I was in college and starting out. One seems so alone when you are trying to live for Christ, or at the very least not live by the standards of the times. It is a great site to pass along to the young ladies in your life.
  4. The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles have a lovely site that showcases their mission and a great blog answering people’s questions. It could be a great help to you in your walk with Christ. I always want to stay and linger a little longer.

Update: Here is a bonus. I knew there was another one!  Check out Contemplative Homeschool. Yes, it IS about homeschooling, but also about so much more. Connie Rossini writes from a Carmelite perspective about your spiritual life and how to foster the spiritual life of your children. It’s fantastic.

    Join the Pope in Prayer & Make Church History!

    For the first time in the Catholic Church’s 2000 year history the pope has asked all parishes and their members around the world to join him in Eucharistic Adoration at the same day and time. As part of the Year of Faith, this Sunday, June 2, 2013 at 5pm Rome time (11am Eastern Time) – the Solemnity of Corpus Christi – all Catholics are called to join Pope Francis in prayer for one hour before the Blessed Sacrament. The cathedrals of the world will be synchronized in prayer with the Pope. Your parish may have organized a specific event for it, but may have had to move it to another time because of Mass schedules. Check your diocesan website.

    I am excited as our Archbishop has planned a Eucharist procession, then a Mass to celebrate Corpus Christi and then the hour of Adoration at 11am. What an extremely powerful prayer to Christ. And what a wonderful Pope we have been blessed with. It was so impressive that directly after his election as Pope, Francis spent a great deal of time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament before coming out to be presented to the crowds outside St. Peter’s Square. He really values this form of prayer and so should we.

    For more information, and for all the Pope’s requested intentions, please read:
    Pope To Lead Millions in Global Hour of Adoration
    Vatican Organizes Worldwide Simultaneous Eucharistic Adoration 
    Pope Francis to Lead Global Holy Hour
    Adoration With Pope Energizing Catholics Worldwide

    Update: A friend of mine (Thanks, Kim!) reminded me that for those who cannot attend Adoration at their parish or cathedral, you can, if you really have to, participate online with an online Adoration chapel like these:

    Savior.Org Webcam
    Chapel Webcam, St. Martin of Tours Church, Louisville, KY (just lovely!)

    Update 2: Some parishes also post their Adoration times at: MassTimes.org

    Also: Video – What is the Point of Eucharistic Adoration?

    Led Through the Dark Valley – A Cancer Journey With Jesus

    My online friend of many years, Susan Baker Swehla, has had an astounding life in Christ. An amazing woman with a deep faith in God, she has been accompanied throughout her life with His grace and help. From her birth in Japan to a Japanese mother and U.S. Marine father, to coming America, the death of her mother when she was eight years old, chronic illness, and her later conversion, her faith in the Lord has been great and is an amazing witness to what Christ can do in your life if you let Him. She has allowed me to reproduce the story of her cancer journey here and I’m honored. Susan’s faith is an inspiration to me and I hope to you as well.
    In September of 2011 I was diagnosed with Stage Four Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Yes, breast cancer. It was also found in some lymph nodes underneath my armpit. When I found out, I wasn’t shocked or mad. I didn’t cry or yell. My words to God were, “Really? I already have one disease to deal with,” rheumatoid arthritis.
    I did the breast check in the shower every once in awhile, but seriously I did not see this one coming. My paternal grandparents lived until their 90’s, but it was my mother’s side that I did not know anything about. My mom died of aggressive lupus, but I did not know what my maternal grandparents died of. And they were both deceased by the time I was born. So the journey began in this unknown territory.
    I received all kinds of advice from well-meaning people. Go to the Cancer Center of America in Chicago, or the Burzynski Institute. Don’t get chemo, radiation or have surgery, eat organic food, and the list goes on. I yelled in my head, “Stop!” I didn’t want to spend hours doing research, I just wanted to go forward and get done with it. So I prayed, “Abba, you are God and the Lord of all. You are going to have to be bigger than all of this. I need to be able to use the doctors at Mercy Hospital. I trust that you gave them their gift of wanting to help heal people. I want to be able to go to Fareway where my all three of my sons worked, buy groceries come home, and cook supper and be with my family here in Des Moines. Amen.”
    Mark 5:34 – And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
    I had a port put in my chest wall for the IV. I had an MRI and Pet Scans. The results showed a tumor in my breast as well as a large mass in my ovaries. The aggressive chemo treatment began. It knocked me on my butt and made me stay home for several months. I starting losing my hair, so I had my oldest son shave the rest of it off, and I was okay with it when I looked in the mirror.
    I took a sabbatical from my bible studies and book clubs. I had been very active, and now I didn’t feel well and wanted to stay home. In December, I came down with shingles, a very painful illness and to this day I still have neuropathy because it was treated too late. I take medication to keep it at bay.
    Many wonderful people were praying for me. I felt covered in prayer. My sisters-in-Christ came to the rescue and brought meals over. The nights were long, and I prayed and prayed, however, I felt a darkness surrounding me. Where was God? “Are you there? I can’t hear you, feel you or see you. Have you abandoned me?”
    I continued to trust and not give in to my emotions. At the end of March in 2012 I had my last chemo treatment and was now getting ready to move towards my surgery date. I met with the gynecological oncologist. He was so kind and very knowledgeable. He took the time to explain everything. He said that we were hoping that it was ovarian cancer and not breast cancer that had metastasized. I said, “Why can’t it just be a cyst?” He looked at me and said as gently as he could, “I know what I see, and I am good at what I do. I’m sorry Susan.”
    I decided to have a double mastectomy and a full hysterectomy, and to have both surgeries at the same time. I would be in surgery for six hours with both doctors. I opted not to get the reconstructive surgery. My womanhood was in my children and family, my breasts and uterus were no longer needed for my physical body.
    On Holy Saturday, ten days before my surgery, I went to my St. Monica’s Mothers Prayer Group. I went to the home of Rosemarie where she also had the traveling image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that day. We prayed for our children for a half hour, and then Rosemarie told us to take our time to pray to Our Lady. I needed to get home, so I went up to Our Lady and placed one hand on her breasts, and the other on her uterus, and began to pray. The other ladies came up from behind and laid hands on me. We prayed for about five minutes and then took our leave.
    I later found out after my surgery that Rosemarie had opened her eyes and looked at the image of Our Lady and saw a tear coming down from it. She wiped it and it was an oily substance as has been reported with other weeping statues. She told me that it was for me, but I told her she was the one that saw it, so it was a gift for her to see, and perhaps for me; that our Lady has such compassion and love for her children.
    The night before the surgery my sisters-in-Christ had a prayer service for me. I know they were a strong and mighty army of prayer warriors. The day of my surgery I began to get a little anxious and said to myself, “What have I gotten myself into having two surgeries in one day. I will be laid up in bed for weeks.” The surgery went well, so well in fact that the gynecological oncologist came skipping into the waiting area where my family was and happily proclaimed that there was no cancer in my ovaries. It was a cyst.
    I believe that God heard my prayers, and Our Lady’s intercession, and changed the cancer into a cyst. My surgery was on a Tuesday. I got up and started walking and moving the best I could. My sons walked down the hall of the hospital with me and I got stronger. I was released on Friday, and never spent one day in bed. My recovery was speedy and complete. My husband said I was having way too much fun when I was supposed to be in bed on medical leave. All those prayers were answered. God is so faithful and merciful. Praise His Holy Name!

    Psalm 91 – You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shade of the Almighty, Say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust. He will rescue you from the fowler’s snare, from the destroying plague, He will shelter you with his pinions, and under his wings you may take refuge; his faithfulness is a protecting shield. You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, Nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon. Though a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, near you it shall not come. You need simply watch; the punishment of the wicked you will see. Because you have the LORD for your refuge and have made the Most High your stronghold, No evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent. For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You can tread upon the asp and the viper, trample the lion and the dragon. Because he clings to me I will deliver him; because he knows my name I will set him on high. He will call upon me and I will answer; I will be with him in distress; I will deliver him and give him honor. With length of days I will satisfy him, and fill him with my saving power.
    Conclusion
    Life’s journey continues on with all its joy, challenges and trials. God has given me a rich life, not materially but with treasures that are priceless; my husband of 31 years and my children with three daughters, three sons, three son-in-laws and six grandchildren, and God willing many more in the future.
    I go to a weekly bible study, two Catholic book clubs, adoration, and any classes that will further my spirituality. When I go to adoration I’ve told my kids, I am going Son bathing! Basking in the light of His love. I try to go to daily Mass a few times a week. I pray for moral courage and the Spirit of Truth in my life and purity of mind, body and soul.

    There have been many God-incidences in my life. I no longer believe in coincidence. I can look back now and know God has always been there throughout my life, leading me to Him. I thank Him for his unconditional love, His mercy and the peace He alone gives me. I think of Him all the time. I would love to tell you that I pray the Rosary and read scripture every day, but in my human weakness I fail.

    Every day is a new opportunity to start over fresh and try again in my faith walk. And remember, I am a spiritual being more so than a human being, for He has made us for Himself to live with Him for all eternity. I look back and see my mother with her Buddhist prayer beads, I have my rosary beads. She had her Buddhist shrine at home. I have a Catholic family shrine dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I pray for my Japanese ancestors and I pray for my birth mother’s intercession. I know I have a family here on earth and I have a huge family in heaven, with Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the Communion of Saints.
    We are blessed with a wonderful faith. Rich in scripture, oral tradition, the Saints, the papacy, the sacraments – especially the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith – and all the smells and bells. It is my strong desire to be faithful to the Holy Father and the Magisterium.
    1 Peter 2:9 – But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
    Abba Father loves us from all eternity. He deeply desires a personal relationship with us. We are the adopted sons and daughters of Him who is King. Therefore, that makes us princes and princesses. And what girl doesn’t want to be a princess? Our family album, the Bible, promises the story does have a wonderful ending, and we will feast forever at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, and we will live happily ever after with the King.
    Rev 19:9 – Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.”
    Susan only has four weeks left of preventative chemo treatment and she says. “I pray that the cancer never comes back. Though I know it is His will done and not my own. I go forward joyfully, living, loving and liberated. This journey had many rough roads, but God always brings good from it. Along the way I have met many wonderful people and experiences. I am blessed.”