Archive for the ‘my books and articles’ Category

New work in print

November 7, 2009

Just a note to point out that my article “Who is the Cure of Ars?” (on St. John Vianney) appears in the new issue (November/December 2009) of The Catholic Answer.  TCA is one of my favorite magazines.  Besides its excellent content, I’m always very impressed with the beautiful, eye-catching, and reader-friendly layout. 

Also, though I’m mentioning it a little late, my article on the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the modern liturgical movement, “The Birth of a Movement,” appeared in the September 20 issue of Our Sunday Visitor.

And actually, that’s it for my published work for a while.  I’ve almost always had something coming up in the pipeline for the past ten years or so.  I’ m always working on an assignment, or waiting for something I’ve turned in to be published.  But everything I’ve done is now published and I’m not working on any new assignments.  That’s because we recently moved and I started a new job, all of which has occupied all of my free time, so that I’ve little space for freelance work.  (You’ll notice blogging has been mostly light since summer, too.)  Hopefully I’ll get back on track soon, not because anyone would necessarily miss seeing my occasional byline (most folks, including me, usually overlook bylines), but just because I enjoy the work so much.

UPDATE: Come to think of it, there’s a little piece that I was asked to do by The Writer, on using anniversaries as hooks for articles, which is still waiting to be published.  It was scheduled for fall publication, but got mvoed due to a scheduling snafu on their end.  I think they said we’re looking at January now.


Sundry Things

July 14, 2009

kateriI’ve been spending much time over the past week poring over Caritas in Veritate, and some related material, thinking, reading, reflecting, researching, praying, writing.  My arrangement with Pauline Books and Media gives me four weeks to turn in a manuscript for Your Guide to Caritas in Veritate: Charity in Truth (so that they’re able to publish it in as timely a manner as possible).  So my head has been in that encyclical, and my butt’s been in my desk chair.  If I’m not here as much over the next few weeks, that’s why.  Also, at the same time, we’re moving.  Oy-vay, what timing.

Mark Shea noticed a comment I posted over at his place (one of my favorite spots to stop in for a daily look) and included it in a post of its own yesterday.  Nice to get a nod like that.

In the meantime, I’m also glad that Mark drew my attention today to a Ross Douthat column called “The Audacity of the Pope” that went up at the New York Times site two days ago.  It’s better than just about all of the stuff I’ve seen on CiV in the Catholic media (yeah, in the NYT!).   A clip:

But Catholics are obliged to take seriously the underlying provocation of the papal message — namely, that our present political alignments are not the only ones imaginable, and that truth may not be served by perfect ideological conformity.

So should all people of good will. For liberals and conservatives alike, “Caritas in Veritate” is an invitation to think anew about their alliances and litmus tests.

Please do check out the whole thing.

Today is the feast of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, important for all Americans, but especially cool here in central New York, where the National Shrine of Kateri Tekakwitha is located.  We visited four years ago.  It was about 110 degrees and our whole crew was hot and irritable.  Memorable.  Still, happy day, all.

Pier Giorgio’s Feast

July 4, 2009

My article “A Feast on the Fourth of July” appeared last year at Catholic Exchange.  It not only summarizes this great young man’s life, but also suggests the three essential element’s of his spirituality.

There’s a novena to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati in Saints for Our Times.

Out of Print but In the Closet

July 1, 2009

eucharist_-_the_church_s_treasureJust a few weeks ago, I got an email from someone asking for a a bunch of copies of one of the first encyclical study guides I did with Pauline Books.  Back in 2004, I did companions to John Paul II’s encyclical on the Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, and his apostolic letter on the Rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae.  Both guides are now out of print.  But the inquirer was interested in using one of them for some group study this summer and wondered if I had copies.  I had to tell her that I only had a few copies of both.  Then I called around and found a few more unsold copies, but even that was not enough.

Now this weekend, there I was cleaning out a closet and found a box full of them that I hadn’t realized were there!  I had plenty all along.  Talk about feeling stupid.  Oy-vay.

Anyway, if anyone is interested in copies of my Eucharist: The Church’s Treasure or At the School of Mary, they’re available.  They’re $6.95 each, plus $1.50 for shipping.  I also have saintscopies of the newest encyclical study guide, Your Guide to Spe Salvi: Saved in Hope (6.95), as well as Saints for Our Times: New Novenas and Prayers ($12.95).  You can have a set of all 4 for $35.00, shipping included.  (I’ve added buttons for all of this to the bookstore page on my website.)

The three encyclical companions basically provide a guided tour of each document, providing explanations, illustrations, background material, questions for reflection, prayer prompts, and suggestions for living out the teaching.  I’ve received positive feedback from others who have used  them in group settings.  The Saints book includes basic biographical material, an original novena, and some supplementary prayers for each of the 18 (or so) saints and blesseds it features. (Most of them are so recently beatified/canonized that you will not find novenas to them anywhere else.)

Summertime’s a great time for spiritual growth.  (Plus, if you hop over to my website, you’ll notice one of our kids just graduated from high school … starts college in the fall … you know how that goes… every little bit helps.)

He Signed It

June 29, 2009

Sts-Peter-and-PaulThe Pope announced today (during his brief address following the praying of the Angelus, which followed the tradition pallium Mass for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul) that he has signed Caritas in Veritate.  The encyclical, Pope Benedict’s third, will be released to the public on July 6 or 7 (an Italian paper, Corriere della Serra, reports). 

The long-awaited document will be the latest installment in the Church’s rich tradition of applying moral principles to various social issues.  Collectively, this is known as Catholic Social Teaching

The report in Corriere della Serra includes a peek at few paragraphs of the new encyclical.  A clip from the CNA report, taking off from the CdS report:

According to the Pope, the current crisis has been sparked by “a deficit of ethics in the economic structures.” A reform of the current system, therefore, will require “a common code” based on “the truth from both faith and reason,” capable of providing “the light through which the human intelligence arrives at natural and supernatural truth of charity.”

Vecchi claims that the Pope will recall the “social responsibility of private companies,” but also underscore that “true development is impossible without honest men, without financial operators and politicians who strongly feel in their own consciences the call to [serve] the common good.”

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ll be preparing a study companion to the document, to be published by Pauline Books and Media, along the lines of my Your Guide to Spe Salvi: Saved in Hope.  To make the companion to the new encyclical as timely as possible, we’ve already done the preparatory paperwork on the project (truth be told, it’s been done for over a year — that offers an illustration of how long the publication of this encyclical has been on the horizon!) and I’ve agreed to turn in a completed manuscipt in about a month.  (Thank heavens I’m on summer vacation from work.)

Can’t wait to dive in!

(Thanks to Whispers for pointing out the news.)

On Francis

May 21, 2009

My article marking the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Franciscan order appears in this week’s issue of Our Sunday Visitor.  It was a piece I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing.  Francis is an amazing figure in Church history — far more compelling than the most common images of him that we sometimes see around us (i.e., the guy who talked to birds).   In fact, Mary DeTurris Poust, an author whose work I often enjoy, does a very good job of making that point in a column that appears in the same issue of OSV

So especially if you’re a Francis fan, or even curious to see what all the fuss over him is about, it’s a great issue to check out.

Adventures in Interviewing

April 22, 2009

Today I finished up work on an article I’ve been preparing for Our Sunday Visitor, which marks the 800th anniversary of St. Francis receiving approval from the Pope for the new order he had founded. Quite a wonderful moment to give thanks, if you consider the enormous impact that Francis and his followers have made on Christian spirituality, theology, liturgy, charity, and the pursuit of social justice these past eight centuries!giotto20-20dream_of_innocent_iii1

It was in 1209 that a raggedy-looking Francis, accompanied by some less-than-impressive-looking companions, appeared before Pope Innocent III, asking for papal approval. The Pope might not even have received the filthy man, but for the dream he had recently had – the Lateran Basilica (Christendom’s mother church, and then the headquarters of the Pope) tipping dangerously to one side, about to fall, except for a man holding it up firmly against his shoulder. The Pope recognized Francis as the man from his dream, received him, and did approve of his new community.  (The image here is the great artist Giotto’s rendering of the dream.)

But all that, and more, is in the article, which will be appearing in OSV soon enough. I had an interesting time doing the research for the piece.

For one, I was fortunate enough to come upon Dr. Susan Pitchford, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle. Dr. Pitchford is a Third Order Franciscan and the author of Following Francis: The Franciscan Way for Everyone. Oh, and she’s Anglican.

No, she’s not an Anglican who decided to elbow her way into a Catholic order. The order itself is Anglican. I had to embarrassedly admit that I had no idea there was an Anglican Franciscan order (or, for that matter, any other orders within the Anglican Church).

Anyway, she was fascinating to talk to, offering far more insightful observations about St. Francis and what it means to take him as a teacher and guide to Christian living than I could ever fit into the 1,400 words assigned to me. I haven’t read her book (yet), but if my conversation with her is any indication, it’s worth a look.

On the other hand, there was my encounter with a Franciscan priest whose anonymity I’ll protect. Looking for a good resource, I was perusing the homepage of one of the prominent Franciscan provinces here in the United States. And on their list of contacts, he was identified as the Director of Communications. The guy whose job description includes talking to the press about Franciscan stuff.  Just the type of person I needed.

I dialed his office.

He answered: “Yeah?”

Had I dialed wrong, I wondered. “Um … is this Father [Name]?”

“Oh, yes.” Caught off guard. “That’s me.”

“Oh good.” I introduced myself and said I was preparing an article for OSV on the 800th anniversary of Francis founding the order.

“Okay, hold on juuuuuuust one second.” Pause. “Alright. Let me just close this up.” Pause.  “Favorites. Click that. Close that.” More pause, then more pause.

“Father, if there’s a better time I could call—“

“Oh, no no! What can I do for you?”

I told him again that I was preparing an article on the 800th anniversary of Francis founding the order.

“Oh, sure. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t there. But I can give you the names of a couple of guys who were.”

Wow!  He really is good at communications!  Actually, he obviously thought I was talking about the big meeting in Assisi and Rome last week.

“Um, no, Father—“

“I couldn’t make it.”

“No, Father, I’m talking about the founding of the order. Eight hundred years ago.”

“Oh! I see. Well, all of the information is available on the website.” He gave me the web address.

“Well, actually Father, I’m familiar with the history. I was hoping to get a few helpful insights about the importance and meaning of it all.”  (Quotes!  I needed interesting quotes for the article!  You quote a person, not a website.  And the Director of Communications should “get” that!)

“Oh, okay.”

“Could I ask you a few questions?”


“Great.” I usually start off with an easy one, get them warmed up. “Well, there was that moment when Francis was sitting in the church of San Damiano, and the crucifix spoke to him, ‘Rebuild my church.’ Could you tell me a little bit about the significance of that for Francis?”

“Um.” Big pause. “I’ll tell you what. I’m not really good at giving information off the cuff. Would you mind if you give me some time to think about this, and then I’ll call you back?”

“Oh, sure, Father, absolutely.” He asked for my number, and I gave it. Of the list of questions I actually had in front of me, I chose two other simple ones (obviously I couldn’t read the list out so he could think about them all) and mentioned them.

“Sure. I’ll call you right back. I promise.”

I never heard from him again. The Director of, you know, Communications.

Fortunately, I ended up getting in contact with Fr. Dominic Monti – through Jocelyn Thomas, the very helpful and professional Director of Communications of the Holy Name Province. Fr. Dominic is the author of the recent book Francis and His Brothers: A Popular History of the Franciscan Friars. Despite the fact that Fr. Dominic was out of town and in meetings all day, Ms. Thomas put me in touch with him and he cheerfully spoke to me for twenty minutes while waiting for a train at the end of a long day. He offered some very important information that I hadn’t yet come across.

I truly did enjoy preparing the article. Many thanks to Dr. Pitchford, Ms. Thomas, Fr. Dominic, and that other guy, the Director of, you know, Communications.

In The Catholic Answer

March 25, 2009

You’ll find my article marking the 400th anniversary of St. Francis de Sales’ classic book Introduction to the Devout Life in the March/April issue of The Catholic Answer.  The issue also includes an interesting article by Carl E. Olson about Cardinal John Henry Newman that’s worth a look, as well as an excellent editorial on the virtue of fortitude by Paul Thigpen, editor of TCA.

The cover art

December 3, 2008

April H asked a good question in a comment below:

Thanks so much for the great book giveaway! I was just looking through your blog trying to find out who did the awesome painting on the cover of your book, “Saints for our time,” that’s at the top of blog. I’d like to have a copy of that to hang on my wall ;) Who is the artist? Blessed Mother Teresa and St. Gianna really radiate joy in the painting.

I love it, too, for the same reason she says she likes it. 

The artist is Anna Winek-Leliwa, based in Boston.  You’ll find her website here, with plenty more gorgeous examples of her work (including the original watercolor for my book cover here, by clicking on St. Faustina’s face).  Her site is well worth a visit when you have the time to enjoy it slowly. 

Unfortunately, the site notes that the original of the Saints cover has been sold.  (Though maybe prints are available?  It may be worth contacting her about that.)

The Introduction to “Your Guide to Spe Salvi: Saved in Hope”

November 20, 2008

I suppose it’s unavoidable. When someone mentions hope, I do not think first of the virtue. I think of my daughter. Her name is Hope. I’ll tell you why.

At the time she was born, my wife and I had gone through a series of personal and professional failures and frustrations. We were feeling battered by life. Even our attempts to move beyond the frustrations into other, more promising directions were met with failure. And so when our daughter was born in the midst of this dour time, we didn’t have to think very hard about what to name her. We could use a little hope around the house, we told one another.

Hope is six years old now (that’s her on the left, with her sisters, Abigail, Cecilia, and Gianna), and wonderful. And while no one’s life is ever free of struggle, many things are much better than they were when she was born. We are in a different season of our lives and thankful for it.

What makes the difference?

But what if things had not improved? What if the downward trend had continued? What if the circumstances of our lives had grown still more painful, frustrating, and sad? Frustrated as we were, it’s easy to think of worse things that could have befallen us. Suppose, God forbid, they had.

I’d like to think my marriage would make it through even the most desperate situation. I believe it would. But then, I’ve never been that far down such a dark road, and other people, good people, have thrown away a lot more – even life itself – along that road.

What makes the difference in such circumstances? What is it that carries some folks through the darkness, even the most long and dismal darkness, on to the other side, all the while discerning meaning to life, meaning despite the pain, even meaning in the pain? What provides some people with the unshakable conviction that there is always something more, something better, something worth waiting for and struggling for – and more, the awareness of something and Someone awaiting them – which ultimately provides a sublime joy in the midst of it all? These are some of the questions to which Pope Benedict XVI provides answers in his encyclical letter Spe Salvi, on the virtue of Christian hope.

In presenting hope as the answer to these questions, the Pope is not using the word as it is most commonly used, like when a teen looks out her bedroom window on a snowy night and says, “I hope school is cancelled tomorrow.” That is natural hope.

That kind of hope is not capable of offering what the Pope describes in the brief introductory paragraph of his encyclical: “we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey” (no. 1).

This is a supernatural hope. It’s the hope of the Psalmist who prayed, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me” (Psalm 23: 1, 4).

Benedict by the Numbers

Now some numbers.

Seven. That’s the number of philosophers from outside the Catholic tradition whose thinking Pope Benedict weaves into the text of Spe Salvi, the second encyclical of his pontificate. Few other encyclicals of Church history, if any, explicitly refer to the work of so many non-Catholic thinkers. The Pope is not afraid to draw upon and even point to what is good outside his own tradition.

Zero. That’s the number of times Pope Benedict’s encyclical cites the documents of the Second Vatican Council or the voluminous magisterium of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. Every other encyclical published since the Council ended has has cited its teaching, usually many times. To take this as some kind of “conservative” rejection of the Council or the previous Pope, as some have tried to do, is disingenuous. Others have suggested its an expression of Benedict’s conviction that Vatican II is just one aspect of a long and rich history of Church teaching.  At the very least it suggests that the Pope has confidence in his own teaching of fundamental Christian doctrine and does not feel bound to presenting it in the way some expect.

Four. That’s the number of languages, other than English, that readers will encounter as they work through Spe Salvi. While the Pope addresses not only bishops and theologians with this letter, but all the lay faithful, there is not a hint of talking down to anyone. Instead, he seems to assume that we will be willing to carefully think their way through some pretty challenging explanations and illustrations.

That is what we propose to do.  And as we do, we’ll have the company of saints who have been revered for centuries – Paul, Mary, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, and Francis of Assisi are all here. But Benedict also introduces us to some who are new to the Church’s life and liturgy – Josephine Bakhita and Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, both canonized by John Paul II, deserve to be much more widely known than they are.

Did I mention Augustine?  He is here, too, most emphatically. St. Augustine of Hippo, the great Doctor of the Church from 4th century north Africa, whom the Pope has taken as a spiritual-intellectual godfather since he was a young priest, shows up nine times in this encyclical. Though he is presenting the ancient faith as it has been passed on through the centuries, Benedict has not hesitated to make this letter a very personal expression of the truths it contains.

To sum up, reading Spe Salvi will fascinate, challenge, and reward anyone willing to make the effort to read and think through it. This companion will allow readers to get more out of the letter – not dumbing it down in any way, but fleshing out its topics, providing a bit more background information, and offering a few helpful illustrations. Benedict will be our teacher, and he offers us the kind of teaching that, when it really sinks in, can change a life.

You can count on it.