What I’ve Been Reading

It’s been quite some time since I posted a good old-fashioned book review. Our public library shut down back in March and is only just beginning to reopen, so a shortage of new reading material has been a bit of a problem. I mean, I know it’s insignificant compared to the hardships that so many others are facing right now, but I can’t deny that it’s annoying. Especially since we’re spending a lot of time cooped up inside at the moment. All I can say is, thank goodness for free ebooks, fast Amazon shipping, and our amazing local indie bookstore. I think I would have gone crazy without them.

Who Does He Say You Are?

This was one of my Lenten reads and it did not disappoint. I highly, highly recommend this one for every woman (teen and up) who desires to enrich her faith life. This book contains so many beautiful insights and will give you so much food for prayer. It’s challenging in the very best way, and as comforting as a hug from your best friend. I can see myself coming back to it again and again when I just want a good Scriptural reflection to direct my prayer.

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An Argument for Murder Mysteries

I have a confession to make: I love murder mysteries. Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are among my favorite authors. And not only do I enjoy reading their works, but I find the TV and movie adaptations delightful. You might call me a murder mystery junkie.

Now, it wouldn’t be unfair at all to assume that murder mysteries, with their grisly plot lines and often unsettling glimpses of humanity’s fallen nature, would be anathema to the Christian sensibility. Why on earth would anyone want to read a book or watch a movie about people killing other people? Don’t murder mysteries desensitize people to the gravity of sin and death?

Despite all these perfectly valid objections, I believe that murder mysteries are not only morally acceptable, but are actually one of the best literary (and TV/movie) genres available today. This is because, in our culture, where the line between good and evil is getting progressively more blurry–especially in modern books, shows, and films–murder mysteries are in general very clear about right and wrong.

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Seeking Objective Truth

I wrote this piece for school, and decided it would be a good one to share here. Please keep in mind that this was written with limited time and the ideas haven’t been fully fleshed out. I think it’s a really important and compelling issue to explore further.

The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable–what then?

George Orwell, 1984

In this passage from Orwell’s 1984, the protagonist wrestles with the discrepancies between his own personal experience of truth—things he sees with his own eyes, hears with his own ears, and knows within his heart—and the “truth” as determined by the Party. This raises an interesting and important question: what is truth? The dictionary defines the word as “the body of real things, events, and facts,” or “a judgement, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true.” Opinion, on the other hand, is defined as “a view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter,” or “belief stronger than impression and less strong than positive knowledge.” In the modern worldview there is quite often significant confusion between truth and opinion. Truth is objective; opinion is subjective.

When we lose sight of this fact, everything descends into chaos. People believe that there is more than one “truth,” or try to force others to accept their personal opinions as truth. Our chronic unwillingness to offend only serves to exacerbate the problem, resulting in intellectual paralysis. Being respectful of the views of others is always important, but insisting that there is more than one “truth” and that everyone is right only leads to confusion. As a culture, we have lost sight of the idea of objective truth.

The solution to the problem is deceptively simple: critical thinking. How do we distinguish between objective truth and personal opinion? By using our minds to actively seek the truth. If we want to really know what is true and what is not, we must be truth-seekers. This requires not only an inquiring mind and a firm grasp of basic logic but also a healthy sense of self-esteem. We are told again and again that we should trust the experts, the scholars, and the scientists. While their insight can be very valuable as we search for the truth, overemphasizing its importance leads us to believe that we—lowly, stupid mortals as we are—cannot come to the truth on our own. This is the greatest obstacle we face on the quest for objective truth, and a great injustice to our abilities.

Monday Miscellany: Unexpected Graces

HE IS RISEN!!! ALLELUIA!!!!! Easter is 50 DAYS LONG and I’m so happy to have a reason to celebrate. As we experience the joy of His Resurrection all over again, I’ve been reflecting on how many unexpected blessings have come out of this pandemic. Catholics everywhere are experiencing a renewed love and appreciation for the Sacraments. We’ve all been given a much-needed break from the busy-ness of our everyday lives. The Christian community as a whole has drawn closer together. Divisions have melted away, and people of all races, faiths, and political viewpoints are standing together in solidarity and lifting each other up instead of tearing one another down. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this happened during the liturgical seasons of Lent and Easter. Things may be hard right now, but God is bringing new life to so many barren places.

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How the Story Ends

File:Cristo crucificado.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Christ Crucified by Diego Velázquez

I’ve been meditating on the Passion of Christ this week and thinking a lot about the endings of stories. There are so many different kinds, and they evoke so many varied emotions. Endings can be happy, sad, satisfying, confusing, or they can leave you wanting more. As a certified bookworm, I’ve breathed many a sigh of regret as I turned the last page in a book, wishing I could rewrite the ending, or that there was a sequel, or that the story just wasn’t over yet.

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Monday Miscellany: Holy Week Edition!

Holy Week is here at last and my heart is rejoicing! It has been a long, long Lent, and I am so ready to enter into the mysteries of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. Holy Week always reminds me that the story of our salvation is truly the world’s greatest love story. God’s love for us will overcome all things, no matter how dark or scary they seem. He has conquered sin and death, and if that’s not worth celebrating, I don’t know what is!

This year, with so many people staying home, Holy Week is bound to look a bit different. But that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate! There are so many amazing (and free) resources being made available so that we can still experience the rich traditions of the Church at home, by ourselves or with our families. Today I want to share some of these resources in the hopes that they will help you have a prayerful, grace-filled, and blessed Holy Week.

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Responding to the Coronavirus with Grace

The panic around COVID-19 has increased dramatically over the last few weeks as it suddenly got a lot closer to home. I think most people never expected the coronavirus to be more than a news story, never expected it to have much of an effect on their personal lives. It’s safe to say that at this point, nearly everyone in the world has been affected, either directly or indirectly, by the pandemic.

Last Friday, March 13, we were notified that our diocese had canceled all public Masses until further notice. I was absolutely stunned. I was prepared for the closing of schools but not for this. The following Sunday, we watched a live-streamed Mass. While I’m very grateful for the modern technology that allowed us to watch the Mass that day, I missed being present in church, missed worshiping in community, and most of all, I desperately missed receiving the Eucharist.

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Which Jane Austen Hero is the Ideal Man?

Photo by Elaine Howlin on Unsplash

There are so many things to love about Jane Austen: razor-sharp wit, penetrating satire, and intricate storylines among them, but perhaps what really keeps readers coming back again and again are Austen’s complex, endearing, and realistic characters. Many a devoted Janeite has self-identified with the independent Lizzy Bennet, the practical Elinor Dashwood, the self-assured Emma Woodhouse, the imaginative Catherine Morland, or the humble Fanny Price.

Just as we tend to gravitate toward one of Austen’s heroines, we also tend to have a favorite leading man. In this post, I will be attempting to make an unbiased evaluation of three of Austen’s heroes: Mr. Darcy, Mr. Tilney, and Mr. Knightley. I’m pretty sure that’s impossible though, so if you disagree with my conclusions, or I’ve left your personal favorite off my list, feel free to make your case (civilly, of course!) in the comments. Without further ado, let’s get into it!

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From My Commonplace: The Voice of Love

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Return of the Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt van Rijn

I’m reading Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son this Lent (following along with the Abiding Together Podcast’s book study) and it is SO BEAUTIFUL. The book describes Nouwen’s deeply spiritual encounter with Rembrandt’s depiction of the homecoming scene from the parable. This experience taught him not only to see God in a new way, but also served as a window into his own soul. I really appreciate Nouwen’s insights into the workings of the human heart and his willingness to be incredibly vulnerable and honest about the struggles and sufferings he experienced on his own spiritual journey. Because in the end, we’re all really prodigal sons and daughters trying to find our way back to our true home.

A voice, weak as it seemed, whispered that no human being would ever be able to give me the love I craved, that no friendship, no intimate relationship, no community would ever be able to satisfy the deepest needs of my wayward heart. That soft but persistent voice spoke to me about my vocation, my early commitments, the many gifts I had received in my father’s house. That voice called me “son.”

Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

Reflections on Suffering

I wrote this piece for school, and since it’s Lent I thought it would be the perfect time to share it here. Suffering is an oft-avoided topic, but I think we do ourselves a disservice when we skirt around the issue. I would love to hear your take on the value of suffering in the comments!

Shall I despise you that your colorless tears
Made rainbows in your lashes, and you forgot to weep?
Would we were half so wise, that eke a grief out
By sitting in the dark until we fall asleep.

I only fear lest, being by nature sunny,
By and by you will weep no more at all,
And fall asleep in the light, having lost with the tears
The color in the lashes that comes as tears fall.

I would not have you darken your lids with weeping
Beautiful eyes, but I would have you weep enough
To wet the fingers of the hand held over the eye-lids
And stain a little the white frock's delicate stuff.

For there came to mind, as I watched you winking the tears down,
Laughing faces, blown from the west and the east,
Faces lovely and proud that I have prized and cherished,
Nor were the loveliest among them those that had wept the least.

                                                               "To a Young Girl," by Edna St. Vincent Millay

It’s rather a radical idea in our culture that suffering can be good, that it can transform us for the better. Most people are willing to use any means necessary to escape fear, pain, and sorrow—even accepting the shackles of addiction in order to avoid emotional vulnerability, whether with themselves or with others. The culture tells us that anything which causes us even the slightest emotional discomfort should be cut out of our lives, that it’s “toxic” and is keeping us from being the best version of ourselves.

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Monday Miscellany: What I’m Reading

For this week’s Monday Miscellany, I thought it would be fun to share what I’ve been reading recently, and what I’m planning on reading in the near future. School (and life in general) have been super busy these past few months, so pleasure reading has kind of been pushed to the back burner, but a looming library due date forced me to get back on track. I finished my first book of the year (woot woot!!) and just picked up a few new ones from the library, plus a few Lenten reads (because I’m nothing if not ambitious when it comes to reading). But I know you’re really just interested in the books, and not my overly-optimistic reading list, so here you go!

How Green Was My Valley

I just finished this one, and thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it. There’s something magical about diving into a historical work and being transported to a different time and place, to experience life vicariously through the protagonist. This one is a coming of age story that vividly illustrates the effects of the Industrial Revolution on a small Welsh mining town. Llewellyn’s simple prose, written in dialect, not only accurately depicts the way in which the characters would have spoken but also evokes the lyricism of the Welsh language. It was a beautiful book and one I can see myself rereading.

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40 Days in the Desert: How to Have a Spiritually Fruitful & Transformative Lent

The Lenten season is fast approaching! And yes, Lent is a time of penitence and fasting, but it can also be a time of spiritual growth and renewal. When we let go of the worldly things we’ve been holding onto a little too tightly, we allow space for God to enter in and transform us. Lent is a wonderful opportunity to grow in patience, perseverance, and holiness, and a much-needed reminder that a little suffering can be good for us. Below are some suggestions for ways to make your Lent more fruitful.

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“Classical Simplicity”: Why the Great Books Are for Everyone

Nothing is so intimidating to the modern reader as the classics. Why read Aristotle, Brontë, Descartes, and Lavoisier when plenty of more trendy, exciting books have been published within the last ten years? The Great Books are intimidating, lengthy, and give your brain a workout. All of this is true, but leaving them off your reading list means missing out on a conversation with the greatest philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, and inventors the world has ever known. In his introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, Lewis not only makes a strong argument for reading the Great Books, but also offers encouragement for reluctant readers. This collection of great literary works has shaped the society we live in and changed the way we view the world, and they deserve a place on the desk of every student, the nightstand of every adult, and the bookshelf of every bibliophile.

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Monday Miscellany: Links to Brighten Your Week

Happy Monday, everyone! I know starting a new week can be hard, so whether you’re back to work or school today, I wish you all the best! I thought I would share some things I’ve been enjoying in the hopes of making your Monday a little better.

Tips for Choosing a College

Emily Wilson is a major role model for me. She is just THE BEST. And this video is practical, encouraging, and full of good advice. Finding a college that’s right for you can be nerve-racking, and Emily’s tips will help you think more intentionally about what you’re looking for in a school. If you’re starting to think about where you want to go to college (or if you’re avoiding thinking about it), you should definitely watch this!

Speaking of Emily Wilson…

Her book, Go Bravely, which she wrote for teen girls/young women, has been on my TBR list for a while now. I got some Barnes & Noble gift cards for Christmas (books are the best gift, am I right?), and I think Emily’s book and also this one recommended by Meg are going to make the cut.

CathLit2020: A Catholic Reading Challenge

This reading challenge was created by Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas. While I’ve never officially participated in the challenge, she has some great suggestions for Catholic literature (some of my favorites are on her list!) and I love that she included some more unusual categories like “Poetry by a Catholic” and “A Book About Beauty.” You can find Haley’s blog post with the full list of categories and suggested books here.

Sisters of Life

I was blessed enough to attend a retreat given by the Sisters last weekend and it was amazing. I’ve been fans of theirs for a while, and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to meet them in person. Their mission to uphold the dignity of ALL life is so, so needed right now. You can learn more about the Sisters and their unique mission here. The Litany of Trust, written by Sr. Faustina Maria Pia, SV, is one of my very favorite prayers.

3 Things on the Feast of St. Francis de Sales

Let us do three things, my dearest daughter, and we will have peace: let us have the very pure intention of will to do all things for the honor and glory of God; let us do the little that we can toward that end, according to the advice of our spiritual director; and let us leave it to God to take care of all the rest.

St. Francis de Sales

Intention. God can perform amazing works through us when we offer him our sincere desire and intention to do His will. Just this simple act of wanting to please God can help us to discern what steps we should take to achieve that goal, and furthermore, we can trust that He will give us the graces we need to accomplish it. In this instance, it really is the thought that counts. Our Heavenly Father knows that we will need His help in order to carry out His will, but He desires that, like obedient children, we be willing to say “yes” to His plan.

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From My Commonplace: Our Lady of Prompt Succor

Happy Feast of Our Lady of Prompt Succor! Devotion to this Marian title was first begun by Mother Saint Michel, an Ursuline nun who fled France for New Orleans during the French Revolution. Consequently, Our Lady of Prompt Succor is the Patroness of Louisiana and the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Today I’m feeling particularly thankful for the Blessed Mother’s constant intercession, and thought I would share this lovely quote from JPII.

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My Favorite Books of 2019!

It’s been quite the year on the reading front. I read twenty-four books in total, which means I met my goal of two books a month. (Yay!) Some of the books I read this year were fantastic, some were just good, and some were less than stellar. Instead of listing them all, which would make for a VERY long blog post, I decided to feature the standouts. Listed below, in no particular order, are my top six books of the year.

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How This Blog Got Its Name

Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

Matthew 6:28-30

Every spring, the rolling hills that surround my hometown are painted with color as the wildflowers begin to bloom. First the yellow of mustard, then the purples and blues of vetch and lupine, the bright pink of clarkia, the orange of poppies. I’ve always been fascinated by wildflowers. Each one is unique, one of a kind. The incredible variety makes me marvel at God’s craftsmanship—He not only created the mighty mountains and vast ocean but carefully designed every detail of these tiny flowers.

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