Lenten Lit

+JMJ+

My sister wrote a beautiful piece yesterday about learning to embrace a different “style” of Lent with little ones. You should read it, but the gist is: when you have a lot of external demands (as you do with motherhood), Lent shouldn’t be about beating yourself up for all of the things you wish you could do, but can’t. Instead, learn to offer up the daily things as means of sanctification and carefully choose which Lenten activities you can reasonably do. She mentions reading “Come, Be My Light” by Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, which I think is a marvelous idea.

I am always striving to read something theological/spiritual anyway, but during Lent I try to grab something that directs me specifically to Holy Week. I thought I’d leave a little list here of suggested Lenten reading and I hope you’ll leave me some suggestions in the comments!

“The Living Wood” by Louis de Wohl
De Wohl shows up quite frequently on my reading list– I don’t know how he managed to elude me until my mid-twenties. This particular tale of his recounts the story of Helena and her son, the Emperor Constantine. “The Living Wood” refers to the tradition that St. Helena was the finder of the True Cross, but the story is about so much more than that. How do we face adversity in life? Where is Christ when we need him? How can even our most selfish intentions be brought to serve the Almighty? A quick, engrossing read, 370 pages.

“The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son” by Jon D. Levenson
This text by one of the foremost Hebrew Bible Scholars in the world explores the Jewish contributions to the Christian narrative of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. Levenson is a devout Jew, with a special gift and penchant for Jewish/Christian relations. His text is thick, rich, challenging and ripe with passages for contemplation. Recommended for those with a strong Biblical studies background, 232 pages.

“The Everlasting Man” by GK Chesterton
How does Christ stand completely apart from every other religious figure, even when He appears to be so similar to many of them? What is the relationship of historical man and this God-man we call Jesus Christ? Chesterton’s gift for rhetoric and a happy turn of phrase are on prominent display in this text. But don’t be fooled by his fast-paced style– this text needs digestion, so be prepared to read and re-read passages as you ruminate, 276 pages.

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by CS Lewis
You are never too old to revisit such an enchanting, heart-softening allegory. If you’d like a text that leads you to contemplation of the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection, there is none better than a text which asks you to do this through the innocence of childhood. Revisit Aslan and the stone table before Good Friday. Which character do you most identify with this time? 224 pages

“The Way of a Pilgrim”
I wrote not that long ago of viewing Lent as a pilgrimage: This Russian Orthodox classic is perfect for this time of year because of its call for and instruction in deep, interior prayer. Though written as a travelogue, the Way actually takes the reader on pilgrimage with its anonymous author, through the devotion of constant meditation on the Jesus Prayer (‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’). Join this monk as he seeks to “pray without ceasing”– can we follow in his footsteps? 208 pages

“Salvifici Doloris” Apostolic Letter, Pope St. John Paul II
‘Theodicy’ is the big word we theological-types use to describe the universal intellectual struggle we humans have in trying to understand good and evil. This text faces the specific problem of “suffering” in the Divine Plan: how can God allow people to suffer evil? Why did God choose to suffer for our deliverance? How do I find meaning in my own suffering and what must I do in the face of my neighbor’s suffering? A must-read for every Christian, but especially poignant as we approach Holy Week. Free on the Vatican archives, or 64 pages in print.

“Little Talks With God” the Dialogues of Catherine of Siena
I’ve written about this text before and my preference for the new translation over the old. If you’d like a totally different genre, then this is it. My sister Dominican (and a third order at that!) and Doctor of the Church, Catherine, dictated these dialogues while in an ecstatic state, conversing with God about penance, obedience, sin and retribution and all sorts of other things besides. If you’d like a text which weaves together mystical experience, the Bible and the teachings of the Church, this one is for you. I also notice with much chagrin that this is the only text I have here by a woman. I must remedy that in subsequent lists, 188 pages.

You may notice that all of the purchasing links direct you to Better World Books. Of course you can purchase them through Amazon, but this business is near and dear to my heart, as it was founded by fellow Domers. Through collecting donations of used books and selling them online, Better World Books is able to fund literacy initiatives all around the world. Finally– a charity that allows me to give the gift of reading to others AND myself! Happy reading and blessed Lenten journey.

What are your suggestions for Lenten Literature?

Please let me know so I can add them to my personal queue!

 

 

 

 

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PSA: When a New Translation Helps

+JMJ+

I wrote a while back about my adventures reading St. Catherine of Siena’s “Dialogue” and how reading Louis de Wohl’s book about her (“Lay Siege to Heaven”) actually helped me slog through it. But I’ll admit that on the whole, I wasn’t left with a very nice taste in my mouth.

First of all, the “Dialogue” is kind of a weird and uncomfortable format for me.  According to reports, she dictated the majority of it while in a prayerful trance– so when you talk about what “she” says in the Dialogues, you end up saying very awkward things like:

“What Catherine says… or, rather… what Catherine says that God says to her? How should I say this?”

“God says in the Dialogue… well, I mean… this is what He says to Catherine and it’s technically private revelation so you aren’t’ bound to accept this as what God directly says… I mean…Goodness this is hard.”

I didn’t ‘hate’ the text, but it didn’t really resonate with me, either. It just felt… flat. And that’s not really what I wanted when picking up a spiritual text.

Then, my formation director (she’s so great!) suggested I take a look at a different translation of the work, entitled “Little Talks With God” by Paraclete Press.

Paraclete Press

What a difference! Gone was the “macerations of the flesh” talk and the flowery, mystical prose that I’ve come to associate with overly-saccharine 19th-century French popular piety (*cough* Therese *cough*). This translation rang less with impenetrable mysticism and more with rational, though lofty, metaphor– which admittedly is much more palatable for me.

The best part, though, was that I realized halfway through that my previous reading of St. Catherine had been hindered by the fact that I generally read modern translations of the Bible (NRSV preferred, or NAB). I was shocked to realize that “Little Talks” was ripe with Biblical parallels– mostly from the Pauline Epistles– that were totally lost on me in the old translation.

I cannot speak to the scholarly accuracy of this modern translation, so if you are looking to study Catherine formally, I can’t say one way or another whether it wold help. -BUT- Reading through this version was, for me, a far more positive and enriching experience and I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a more “accessible” personal reading of St. Catherine.

St. Catherine of Siena and Me

+JMJ+

FINISHED!

I’m sure you were all waiting with baited breath to see when I would *finnnnnnalllly* finish the “Dialogue” by Catherine of Siena and…

…oh. You weren’t? Okay. Well, that’s fine, too.

I started reading this book way back in January, at the recommendation of my formation director.

You can get the full text here

At first I was really excited. I think the thought process was: “Catherine is a Dominican. I love Dominicans. She’s a Doctor of the Church. I like Doctors of the Church. This is a dialogue. I’ve read Plato’s dialogues and liked most of them…ergo, this should be great!”

It was not like Plato’s dialogues. 
It was like slogging through mud.
At times, it didn’t even “feel” like it was written by* a Dominican. 
Obviously, I am not a holy enough person to read this book. 
Much to my chagrin, I found the text to be incredibly similar in voice and style to The Story of a Soul, the great spiritual work by Therese of Lisieux.    

I had tried reading “Story of a Soul” last year (coincidentally, at the very same time both of my sisters had also picked it up), but again, it was like slogging through really dense, poorly organized, saccharine mud. I actually had to force myself to read it as a discipline, thinking that at least the seeds would be planted and maybe they’d bear fruit later.
Again: I am clearly not holy enough to read these books. 
What the astute blog-follower may notice, however, is that I have also just finished reading “Lay Siege to Heaven,” an historical novel about St. Catherine of Siena by the incredibly talented Louis de Wohl.  
I could  should write an entire post about the great craftsmanship of Mr. de Wohl, but I haven’t the time here.  Suffice it to say that the book was excellent– so excellent in fact that after finishing it, I found it much easier to pick up the “Dialogue” and I even somewhat enjoyed it.  
Why am I writing all this? 
Because I realized something: I may not be spiritually ready to read Catherine or Therese in their own words and really get much out of it. Their personalities are obviously too different from mine. St. Thomas Aquinas may be a dense read– but by golly he’s organized and logical and I loved his stuff the first time I read it. Coming to know who these women are, though, to think about their lives, their historical situations, their families and their friends is a very good way to begin accessing a little bit of their particular expression of “holiness” without being blinded by it. Coming to love St. Catherine through de Wohl, I found myself capable of imagining a person speaking to me through those dense, mud-like pages.  If I was going to find her unintelligible anyway, I might as well picture her as an unintelligible sister. Or a friend. Or a mother.
It made me realize the great value of literature like de Wohl’s– to excite imagination in the way we read and understand the saints so that we can gradually come to imagine the strangest of all phenomena: holiness. God. Christ. The Sacraments. Faith…
This is no new idea– Chesterton, Tolkien, de Saint-Exupery and every hagiographer of any Irish saint EVER knows this. I have been writing some children’s books based on this idea**– but this was the first time I felt the tangible results of what has up until now been just a theory in my heart.  
So thank you, Louis de Wohl. Thank you for introducing me to the great personalities behind some of our greatest saints so that I could hear their words more clearly. I pray that you are already in their ranks. I hope that you’ve had many great conversations with them about your books. 
What are your favorite books about/by saints? Have you ever had trouble learning to love a particular saint? Who resonates with you?
*Okay, so technically, the “Dialogue” was dictated by Catherine while she was in ecstasy, so she didn’t write it. Nor were the words necessarily hers because the claim is that God spoke through her during His part of the Dialogue. But I hope you get what I mean. 
** I’ve already submitted one to publishers– PLEASE pray for me as I continue to pursue this!!

Feast of St. Catherine

+JMJ+

Happy Feast of St. Catherine of Siena, Patroness of Third Order Dominicans and Doctor of the Church!

There is far too much to be said about this amazing woman, but here are a few bullet points:

  • 25 March, 1347- 29 April, 1380. She died at the mystical age of 33.
  • Second youngest of 24 or 25 children (all by the *same* father AND mother)
  • Catherine vowed to give her life to God at the age of 6, when she received a special vision of Christ
  • She was THIRD ORDER Dominican, not a nun. She belonged to a group of widow-sisters called the Mantellate, who almost did not allow her to join because she was not a widow.
  • Her letters and political involvement helped bring Pope Gregory XI from Avignon back to Rome.
  • During her life, Catherine worked many miracles, including the healing of those with plague and the conversion of many sinners.
  • She had “secret” stigmata; she received the wounds of Christ during prayer and asked that these wounds remain hidden from sight.  She bore these wounds for the rest of her life, but they only became visible to others upon her death
  • Her “Dialogue” was not written by her hand, but was dictated to her friends and confessor while she was in a mystical trance. 
+St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us!+

Choosing a Third Order Dominican Name

+JMJ+

Naming children is really fun. But it’s also super difficult.
This post is not about how we named our daughters (maybe more on that later), but rather about choosing a name for oneself, which seems to me an even more difficult task.

When I received the Sacrament of Confirmation, I chose St. Joan of Arc as my patroness.  My middle name is a variant of Joan, so it seemed fitting. Also, I was so pathetically unaware of the great multitude of saints, that choosing someone I had heard of and knew at least a basic biographical sketch of seemed a smart move.

Piffard

Since that day, I have constantly been puzzled by my decision.  I believe that God led me to choose her and that she watches over me in a very special way, but sometimes I wonder why/how.  I wait to see what she and God have in store for me. 🙂

Now, I have before me another great opportunity: choosing a religious name.

I don’t know how it works with other groups, but the Lay Dominicans allow a novice to select a religious name.  Though our group doesn’t commonly use “Sister X” or “Brother X” during meetings, I have seen a few newsletter writings or other references that suggest some Dominicans actively use religious names for any business pertaining to the order. Neat, right?

However, I’m a little stuck. I find myself slightly paralyzed by the thought of such a great gift.  Taking someone’s name means asking for their patronage and prayers in a very meaningful, deep way.  It means choosing someone whose life you intend to emulate to a certain degree. It means committing to a name– and even though I do have to submit names for approval by my superiors, it is my desire that eventually I will be fully received into the order and so I feel that I must operate as if this decision is final.

So guess what? You all get to hear about it, because I’ve been praying and I keep getting confusing answers. Maybe I just need to get the thoughts out; or perhaps one of you will be moved by the Holy Spirit to say something seemingly random that helps me! So here goes:

I thought I had decided on Cecilia.

This is a very fitting name for me for multiple reasons. First, I am a singer and a musician. So are a lot of my friends. I don’t think I could even count the number of kids named “Cecilia” from our group of college friends. I also love Cecilia, though, because my first encounter with real, flesh and blood Dominicans were the Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville. I don’t need to go on and on about how great they are, because if you are reading this, the chances are that you already know. The short end of a long love story with them is that I had health issues at the time I made formal inquiries about joining, so I was turned away. Curious that since marrying my husband, many of these issues have gone away…
Finally, I love the idea of Cecilia because Bl. Cecilia Cesarini was the first woman to receive the Dominican habit and she received it from the hands of Dominic himself.  She was a dear friend of his and bequeathed to us a series of recollections about him and the impact he had on her life. Her closeness to Dominic is something I desire, for I feel that I have much to learn about him and the charism he let loose on the world through his Order of Preachers. 
Competing with Cecilia, though, is a woman whose state of life is closer to my own. Though she is rightly associated with the Carmelite Order, Bl. Zelie Martin has grabbed my attention over the past couple of years and she has been a constant prayer companion of mine for various reasons.  
Image Source

First of all, “Sister Zelie” just sounds soooooo cool. It’s a total hipster name, no? Not to mention, she had a lot of daughters and all of them were blessed with religious vocations. Plus, it seems like she’s kind of nagging me…in a loving, motherly sort of way.

Finally, I’ve been wondering about Rose. My grandmother passed away recently and with her funeral came the unexpected revelations that I knew so very little about her amazing life, but also that I had absorbed some valuable lessons by her example that I never thought much about before.  The connection? Her middle name was Rose. My great-grandmother (her mother) was also named Rose, and many of my cousins share the family name.  Recently, my younger girl has latched on to a beautiful image of Rose of Lima in her saints book– a saint who happened to be a Third Order Dominican. 

Medoro

How can I not think of “Rose” when dear little E keeps running around the house with her book yelling, “Ros-a-lima pay uh us!!!”

Of course there is also Catherine, which links two great saints with Dominican ties: Catherine of Alexandria (patroness of scholars and visitor to saint Dominic in a mystical vision) and Catherine of Siena (a Third Order Dominican and Doctor of the Church). 
Catherine of Alexandria, Lotto
Catherine of Siena
Catherine of Alexandria (I am tempted to say “coincidentally,” but I know better than that) was also one of the counsellors to.. Saint Joan of Arc. Hmmmmmmmm.
Plus, there’s always Thomas Aquinas. If I were to take his name I think it’d be in conjunction with a female name; e.g. Rose Thomas, Zelie Thomas, Cecilia Zelie Thomas Rose… you know. 
So what do you think? But even more fun: 
If you were to choose a religious name, what would you pick???
How would you choose?