man-reading-in-library-featured-w740x493During the last week of January, when the grey had permanently settled in the sky and all I could see out my windows was a world painted the colors of a penitentiary, I received a late Christmas package: a box of review copy books.

When I tore into the brown UPS package, my heart leapt with joy because although it was dreary and cold outside, there is nothing like a delicious stack of new books to cure mid-winter blues (or in this case, greys).

Since it’s Lent and because I’ve plowed through a few of the titles since I received them, I thought I might suggest a book (or three) that might be of interest to Integrated Catholic Life readers.

The Thorny Grace of It: And Other Essay For Imperfect Catholics — Brian Doyle

There are some people who are Catholic who also write books. Then, there are writers who are adept at penning beautiful prose, possess a great command of language and terrific story telling skills who are also Catholics.

Brian Doyle is most definitely in the latter group.

Doyle is a writer, and an excellent one at that, but he also is very much a man devoted to his faith.  When you combine both his skill and his Catholic worldview, you get this volume of some forty essays, which I can’t say enough about.  I would be lying if I told you I didn’t weep from various images he used, like this one:

“The third person to bless my rosary was a small girl in sage country. She is six years old. Whatever it is that we call the creative force that made us all and can be seen most unadorned in children beams out of this kid with the force of a thousand suns. She put my rosary on top of her head and held it there with her right hand as she put her left hand on my face and said I hope these beads will always have holy in them for when Mister Brian needs it, which is a very good blessing it seems to me.”

If his reflections are not inducing tears, they will most likely be making you laugh.  I read his entire piece entitled The Thorny Grace Of It out loud to my husband and we were giggled over statements like this:

“The kids are surly and rude and vulgar and selfish and their feet smell so awful your eyes burn if you are trapped in a confined space with their empty sneakers or their unshod feet or both of those horrors at once, which happens.  Your spouse can be testy and snappish and unfair and inconsistent and obsessed with finances and so liable to mood swings you have more than once considered erecting a barometer in the kitchen.”

See?  That’s some funny stuff…and sometimes true, too.

Aside from the laughter and tears, though, one of the things I liked the most about this book is it is not a theological treatise.  It’s not Augustine’s Confessions or Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, which are equally beautiful and necessary in their own right.  Doyle’s essays, however, are real stories about real people with real struggles and real faith and I need stories like these.  I need to remember what it is I love about being Catholic.  I need to have a beautiful resource to share with my friends to assuage them in their struggles and doubt and to let them know they aren’t alone in their bumbling faith journey.  I need that reminder, too.

The Thorny Grace Of It is the type of book I will keep on my shelf so that I can read snippets from it to my friends over coffee.  It’s the type of book I will slip to my Protestant friend considering Catholicism and it’s the type of book I will keep close to my heart.

This book has already become one of my favorites and I highly recommend it.

Whole Hearted Living:  Five-Minute Reflections For Modern Mom — Jennifer Grant

A friend of mine noted recently that a few years ago, when she pulled up to wait for her children in carpool line, she would have assumed that the sea of bent heads in the cars behind her were the result of parents reading or even praying while they waited for their children to get out of school.

But now?

She knows all those bent heads probably means those parents are hanging on their electronic devices instead of reading a book or engaging in some other productive activity.

Isn’t it sad we feel the need to occupy every moment of our time with some technological delight?

My friend’s observation hasn’t left me and almost every time I pull up to school to collect my children, I think of her words.  I’ve been reflecting on ways to combat the temptation to pull out my phone and check my email or read an online article or scroll through social media and this new book by Jennifer Grant is the a perfect alternative.  I plan to keep it in my car and refer to it as a replacement to my always-handy companion, my iPhone.  It helps that Grant’s handy daily meditational is the perfect mid-day pick me up.

I have a confession, though.  I usually don’t like daily reflection books because they only whet my palette. Just when I’m about to sink my teeth into the meat of the reflection, the reflection is over!

Then, I’m disappointed.

I must say, however, that even though Jennifer Grant’s book falls into the category of daily meditational, her reflections pack a powerful punch.  The brief stories and snippets she uses to illustrate her points are poignant and pertain perfectly to the struggling woman’s experience today.  I found myself more than once struck by an image or story or an insight.  Consider this:

“One Ash Wednesday, I heard a homily that shook me.  “Lent is not a self-improvement plan,” the priest said.  “It’s not an opportunity to get rid of our vices, and it is most certainly not a time when you can get closer to God.”

I flinched.  It isn’t?  So what have I been doing all these years?

“God is as close to you as ever,” he continued.  “Close as the nose on your face.”

Grant ends the reflection with her realization that if she is using Lent as a time to grow close to God, it’s because she considers him far away, untouchable.  But the reality is, God is as close to us as the nose on our faces! This small insight stayed with me all day and I used it to reflect on the times I’m tempted to see God as far away.

Here’s the other thing I really liked about this daily meditational:  Jennifer Grant is not someone who is clueless about trying to do motherhood and marriage well.  She’s been in the trenches herself and because she’s had to practice good enough parenting herself, she’s able to encourage moms to go embrace the same survival tactics and standards. She’s also honest about her struggles and many times throughout the book, I found myself saying, “Yeah, me too.”

The book is divided into three categories:  reflect, risk, and rest, with each section’s reflection corresponding in some way to the overarching topic.  If you are a mom who would love to find more time to read or pray or think or even laugh, you should consider this book.

Like I mentioned, I plan to keep mine in the car, so I can read it during carpool line.  I know I’ll be grateful for the afternoon pick me up and I think you will too.

Discovering Your Dream:  How Ingatian Spirituality Can Guide Your Life — Gerald M. Fagin, SJ

I googled the words “Follow Your Dreams” and do you know over 219,000,000 results popped up?

No joke.

Below is just a smattering of article titles available to encourage people to do what it takes to tackle their innate desires:

If You Want To Follow Your Dreams, You’ll Have To Choose Your Focus

15 Reasons To Start Following Your Dreams Today

16 Reasons Why It’s So Important To Follow Your Dreams

If You Want To Follow Your Dreams, Say No To The Alternatives

The sheer number of articles devoted to this topic on the Internet alone suggests people have deep desires they want to follow, but they aren’t quite sure where to start.  Sadly, most of the articles don’t get to the heart of the matter because the author fails to address from where our dreams come.  Worse?  The articles are littered with trite phrases like these:

“Your life is in your hands.”

“If you don’t reach for your dreams, who will?”

“You deserve more and better.”

“Don’t you want to be remembered?”

Enter Father Fagin’s handy little ditty compiled to help people discern the appropriate path they are supposed to take so that they can then actually go and live the dream.  Drawing from the decision making approach developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the book is adapted from a series of lectures Father Fagin gave to college students.  Its small chapters are easy to read, practical, and the perfect guide in aiding people to discern how God’s will and personal dreams go hand in hand.

One of the things I liked most about this book—and the thing the 219,000,000 Internet articles missed—is the reminder that God himself has a dream for each of us.

Think about that for a minute.

God, when He created me—Colleen Duggan—designed me to do something special for Him.

How do I know?

Well, He planted certain desires in my heart, things I feel passionate about like faith, my family, and my art.

God gave those passions to me and they are important.  I can’t and shouldn’t ignore them.  He gave you dreams and passions, also, talents He wants you to use in the world.

“God’s dream for us is a passion within us that will allow for no substitute, and this dream is a restlessness that will only find rest in God,” says Father Fagin.

The problem?  We have to discover, name, and then embrace God’s dream for us.  The secular literature encourages people to do the thing they’ve always wanted to do, to follow your heart for the sake of following your heart so that you can tackle that elusive happiness.

But this book?

This book reassures us God’s dream, once it’s properly discerned, is actually a call to greater freedom and generosity.  His dream for us is the ultimate invitation to fully surrender to God’s love and grace so that we can do His will.  It’s a self-help book that will direct the reader not back to the self but to the right place:  God.

If you have ever wanted to follow your deepest desire, but you feel conflicted because you want to do the right thing?  This book will help you discern the right path.

I hope at least one of these books might serve you in your spiritual journey!

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