Thou Shalt Love

Can We Change the World?

We too often believe that our Catholic faith changing the world is something that cannot happen today. We look at the apostles baptizing people by the thousands after Jesus’ Ascension and think that such a large conversion isn’t possible anymore. Or we look at the early Christian martyrs, like those portrayed in Quo Vadis, who helped convert the Roman Empire, and think that those days are over.

We do have more recent examples of the Catholic faith conquering evil, repressive regimes. My family just finished watching Thou Shalt Love on EWTN (for free) which is the story of Cardinal Stephen Wsyzynski of Poland. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union conducted an assault on the Catholic Church in Poland trying to break it. The idea was that breaking the Church would break the people and usher in Communism throughout the country. Cardinal Wsyzynski, and later Pope John Paul II, lead the country in a non-violent show of faith that the soviets couldn’t break despite the arrests, the beatings, and the propaganda.

Watching Thou Shalt Love reminded me of the David vs. Goliath matchup which was the Polish people vs. the Soviet Union. The USSR had all the political, educational, and military power in Poland. And yet, they were defeated by processions, Masses, and prayers. People showed up by the thousands to honor Mary and her son, Jesus Christ. And, it was the hand of God who protected the people so that those who came to celebrate their faith didn’t end up arrested, shot, or sent to labor camps on a wide scale. It shows that when people put their faith in God as the Polish people did, we can bring down hallow political movements regardless of their worldly power.

Communism’s True Colors

It’s also important for people to see what is truly behind the face of socialism. It disguises itself behind ideas of equity, fairness, and reasonableness. It almost sounds Christian — let’s all share what we have in one big pool. But one of its core tenants is the destruction of organized religion. This is because Communism cannot compete with ideas that do not confess the state as the ultimate authority. Communism tries to establish the government as the makers of truth or morality and hence needs to destroy peoples’ faith in a higher truth not established by political apparatchiks, but by God.

The Rosary and Christian Witness

The history of Poland reminds me of the Third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary. The fruit of this mystery is Christian witness and conversion. The Polish people showed us the power of publicly witnessing our faith. It had the power to not only protect their country but ultimately help bring down the USSR (watch Nine Days that Changed the World to see the connections). Like the apostles and early Christian church, they showed the power of God if you just put your faith in Him.

We have a similar challenge today as Poland had during the latter half of the 20th century. In fact, our challenge is much more insidious. When your country is taken over by an outside force, many people find the motivation to fight back. But what if the threat comes from within? I’m going to say that’s what’s happening today. We still have attacks on the Catholic Church, particularly over issues like abortion, family, marriage, and gender ideology. But we don’t have priests being arrested and churches closed.

Soft Attacks Hit Hard

Today’s political powers learned that you shouldn’t display a show of force because that will mobilize the opposition. Instead of churches being closed, we had a global pandemic and live-streamed Masses leading to tepid attendance. Instead of arresting priests, we now just don’t have many men choosing that vocation. There are countless avenues of entertainment to keep people distracted. And acts of violence against Christians are covered up or treated as a rare, outlying situation. These soft attacks are doing more harm to the Catholic Church because people don’t even realize they are under attack.

These soft attacks make Rosary prayer all the more important. We need to pray that we remain strong Christian witnesses to our faith. I think part of that witness and conversion is making people realize that we are a Church under attack. Because when people feel comfortable, we aren’t strong Christian witnesses. It’s when there is hardship that we tend to fight back. And while I don’t wish misery on anyone, it’s an effective means of trusting in God and calling on Him to help us both societally and personally.

Where Are You Going?

As Christians, particularly Catholics, we tend to fall for the recency bias; thinking that current circumstances are greater than similar situations in the past. This is only natural since these events directly affect us while events in the past affected someone else. Naturally, we’ll place greater emphasis on the events we live through. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the past.

I recently read Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz. The book was first published in 1895 and helped earn Henryk a Nobel Prize in literature in 1905. It’s not every day that I read a Nobel Prize-worthy book. Quo Vadis is historical fiction that takes place in the ancient Roman empire under the reign of Nero. It takes you through the journey of a Roman soldier’s encounter with this strange new sect, Christianity, and their peculiar leaders — St. Peter and St. Paul. It concludes with Nero’s burning of Rome and execution of the Christians.

Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero by Henryk Sienkiewicz – Free Ebook (gutenberg.org)

I see many parallels between how the Romans viewed Christians with how modern-day society does. Both wildly misunderstand Christianity. The Romans believed all sorts of false rumors about Christians such as believing they were poisoning the water supply, killing babies in ritual sacrifices, and starting the great fire (it was actually Nero’s doing). When Nero finally martyred them by feeding them to lions, crucifying them, or burning them alive, the Roman people couldn’t believe how calm and at peace the Christians were when facing their deaths. When the Romans actually saw Christians exercising their faith, it shattered their misconceptions. The Christians’ conviction in Jesus Christ and his Gospel is what changed opinions and eventually the empire.

As the abortion debate continues today, we see many misconceptions and lies told about Catholics. The popular line is that we’re all about suppressing women’s rights, we hate anyone living non-Catholic lives, and we want to dictate what people do in the privacy of their homes. The solution to addressing these misconceptions is the same as what Henryk Sienkiewicz wrote about in Quo Vadis — showing the world our faith in Jesus Christ.

I think part of the reason why there are misconceptions about the pro-life position and Catholicism, in general, is that we’re hiding. In Quo Vadis, the Romans’ hearts and minds didn’t change when the Christians remained hidden. When Nero arrested the Christians and publicly executed them, people witnessed the power of the Christian faith. They didn’t choose when or how they would show their faith. But when the time came, they asked themselves “Quo Vadis?” or “where are you going?” They chose to go wherever God led them.

How about us? Are we going where God leads us? With the recent Supreme Court decisions (and not just the overturning of Roe vs. Wade), the world is calling us out. Like Nero, they may think they are leading us to our demise by insulting us, destroying property, and passing laws that undermine pro-life values. We’ve been asking for this for 50 years and now it’s our time to respond as Christians. We win when the world sees the beauty and happiness that comes from publicly following God.

Where do we start? How about returning to Mass? Now is the time to return if you’ve been away from the Mass for a long time or are still watching it remotely. Unlike the working world where many jobs can be done from home, you can’t live the Catholic faith entirely at home. We need the Mass. We need the sacraments. We need to make efforts to live our faith. And we need to act publicly. How can we expect to change the hearts and minds of those who stand against us if we haven’t let God change our hearts and minds first?

Bible in a Year

After a year of effort, I finished reading the entire Bible. I had purchased Bible in a Year in late January. For those not familiar with this particular Bible, it’s laid out as follows. The book is dived into 365 sections. Each section contains two excerpts from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. The first Old Testament reading follows the overarching, chronological narrative starting with Genesis. The other Old Testament reading is non-narrative like Psalms, Proverbs, Sirach, etc. The New Testament flows in chronological order. Each day ends with a small explanation and meditation. Let’s jump into my thoughts on this year-long experiment.

What I didn’t like

  1. The Old Testament is repetitive! Maybe this is the software engineer in me, but I like concise language that gets to the point. The Old Testament prophets seem to go on for multiple chapters about how good or how bad the Israelites had been. I get it; they turned away from God and were punished but God still chose the Jews as His people.
  2. Too many details! Reading about the exact layout and dimensions of the temple and Arc of the Covenant or how various rituals were to be performed caused my eyes to glaze over. It made me wish that the Bible had an appendix that included all those details.
  3. Little context. This has more to do with my understanding of the Bible, but I wish this particular series had more of an overview of each book or an overarching summary of the Old and New Testaments. It was often hard to place exactly what was happening into a historical or narrative context.
  4. The commentary comes at the end. This ties into my previous point. I found that reading the commentary first helped me understand the text slightly better. I got a small primer on what to look for in the text.
  5. Psalms! I just don’t understand them. To me, they’re poetry. Nice poetry, but poetry all the same. I have a hard time using Psalms for prayer and meditation. There’s nothing wrong with them, they just aren’t my thing. I mostly skimmed these.

What I liked

  1. Broader context. When you hear readings at Sunday Mass, they don’t make too much sense because they are read out of context. Reading the Bible daily helps establish a narrative. It’s a rich, complex narrative that you really don’t hear if you only listen to 52 snippets on Sunday.
  2. It’s epic! We just saw the 20th anniversary of the initial Lord of the Rings movie. So epic stories are on my mind. And we tend to forget just how epic the Biblical saga is. Leaders, heroes, villains, triumphs, downfalls, redemption, wars, love — it’s all there.
  3. There’s an app. Only recently, I discovered the Amen app which contains the Bible in a Year as audio recordings. Not only that, but they have daily readings, the rosary, and more as audio with pleasant background music. In fact, it has meditations for anxiety relief and falling asleep. It has become one of my favorite religous apps in the short period of time I’ve used it.
  4. There are others. While I read a physical book, there is also a podcast series with Fr. Mike Schmitz. It’s a different series separate from the Bible in a Year series so you can’t mix and match. The few episodes I listened to were nice as Fr. Mike Schmitz does provide more explanation and context around each reading.

What’s next?

Catechism in a Year! There’s no official book by that name, but I’m going to apply the same principle as the Bible and divide reading the CCC over the course of a year. My copy has 756 pages. That’s about 2.1 pages per day which is completely doable. If I can read the Bible in a year, I can certainly read the Catechism too.

This year, I encourage you to take something large like the Bible or Catechism and get through it by breaking it down into small, digestible chunks. I get it, we’re all busy with work, family, and hobbies. It’s just a matter of choice. Is reading the Bible important enough to you to make time for it? It was for me. Are you in?

The Importance of Chastisements

Many parents know that young kids aren’t always the most responsible or polite. We need to constantly remind them about things like showing proper manners, remembering to do their homework, and keeping their rooms clean. Sometimes we reward them with a treat when they remember to do something right and other times, if the lapse in judgment is severe enough, we punish them. The goal of the rewards and punishments is to instill in them a sense of how to live happily and peacefully.

Medjugorje’s Ten Secrets

God treats us much like how parents treat their children. Often, to get our attention and to show us the right way to live, God provides us signs in both miracles (rewards) and chastisements (punishments). But they have the same goal — to make us aware of our sinful ways and motivate us to convert. And in conversion, we ultimately find peace and happiness in God’s grace. In his book, Medjugorje’s Ten Secrets, author Dan Lynch talks about chastisements and how to prepare for them.

Even if you don’t believe in the authenticity of Mary’s appearances at Medjugorje, this book is still a good read. In fact, the Medjugorje aspects of the book are quite small and don’t provide any new information. This is because the visionaries are steadfast in not talking about the secrets they received from Mary.

The book could have been easily been titled something like “Chastisements Explained” or “101 Reasons to Convert Right Now.” Most of the book is spent explaining why God chastises us and what Mary’s messages in the past teach us about chastisements. It provides many resources on how to live a spiritually healthy lifestyle such as explaining the importance of:

  • Prayer
  • Conversion
  • Fasting
  • Penance
  • Receiving the Eucharist

The Importance of Chastisements

While it’s scary to think that there are some dark days ahead, the purpose of this book isn’t to scare and discourage you. There is a message of hope that no matter how bad things get in this life, the faithful will be comforted in Heaven for all eternity. But hopefully, there will be more souls enjoying Heaven because chastisements will bring forth conversion.

Chastisements and miracles are two sides of the same coin — they both get our attention and cause us to realize the awesome power and love of God. God is no dummy. He sees how easily people turn away from him to lives of sin and immorality when humanity gets a bit too comfortable. Sometimes, He needs to wake us up to the fact that there is more than what this world provides. God needs to get our attention, sometimes with miracles and sometimes with tragedy. But in the end, they bring more people into deeper communion with Him.

Abortion is just one of the many reasons why God needs to wake us up through chastisements

The Rosary Connection

The main idea behind the Medjugorje secrets and chastisements is to bring about conversion. Focus on your personal conversion when you meditate on the Third Luminous Mystery. After all, the word “conversion” is right there in the title — The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Call to Conversion. We all have some sort of converting to do because none of us are perfect. We all have obstacles to overcome that prevent us from living 100% for God. When you pray, ask God to help you identify your weaknesses and give you the will to change them.

One of the messages in Dan Lynch’s book is that we shouldn’t worry about the details of the 10 secrets from Medjugorje. We should already be living a life of prayer, fasting, and conversion. Worrying about the chastisements is like worrying over the end of the world. We shouldn’t wait for supernatural events to motivate us to convert because our personal end (aka death) may come before they take place. We need to act without our Mother Mary nagging or chastising humanity in a big way. If you wait too long because you’re waiting for a big sign, you may miss the opportunity to convert. The “big sign” might be you standing before God and it will be too late to convert.

Removing Distractions for Better Rosary Prayer

There are so many distractions in our world that it is becoming increasingly harder to carve out time for earnest prayer. Although I know the benefits of prayer, I often find ways to avoid it. It’s like knowing that exercise, sleep, and a healthy diet will lead to a good life but we don’t always want to put in the effort. So we instead pick up some fast food and binge watch something on Netflix.

Probably the single largest distraction and source of mental junk food is the smartphone. It has all sorts of apps trying to get our attention all day long. I get notified by Duolingo that I haven’t done my Polish language training for the day. My sudoku app reminds me that there is a new puzzle. My journaling app tells me it’s been a while since I’ve written something. It’s so easy to cram my day with all these little apps that it doesn’t leave room for prayer.

I recently finished reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. It is a great read for anyone needing to declutter their day from all the mindless distractions offered through our phones. Some of the better chapters talk about the value of solitude or finding ways to have higher quality interactions with family and friends. Even if you’re already pretty good about your phone usage, give this book a read as I’m sure you’ll learn even more ways to keep your phone usage in check.

Why do I bring up Digital Minimalism on my RosaryMeds site? I think many of us find our phones chewing into our prayer life. Because God isn’t pinging us on our phones telling us He hasn’t heard from us, we forget to pray. Or, prayer just becomes another todo item alongside our daily Elevate lesson. But prayer needs to be more than just something to cram into our day. Prayer needs to be the foundation for our day. Our relationship with God and having His grace is what will sustain us, not how many people liked our post on Facebook.

After finishing Digital Minimalism, I’m trying to be much more deliberate in what I do. I put my phone away when I’m eating with my family. I also put it away when I’m playing with my kids. I’m working on my phone not being filler to my day. Because once you pick it up to check an app or website quickly, you often find yourself wasting minutes or hours mindlessly clicking links and watching movies. I don’t want to be a slave to my phone.

If I do have a few minutes of downtime, I’m going to do what people did not too long ago — just be alone with my thoughts. It’s okay to not always be doing something. Our brains need that break from being constantly connected. I find that when I’m alone with my thoughts, prayer often follows. That turns low-quality swiping into high-quality communication with our #1 fan, God.

In short, whatever you do throughout the day, do it deliberately. Don’t sort of be present at the breakfast table, but fully present. Don’t sort of talk to people, but actually have a conversation. And don’t rush through prayers, but say them with focus. That is why I wake up at 6 am now, don’t touch my phone, and launch straight into Rosary prayer. Whatever messages and emails that came through the night can wait 30 minutes. If I want a good day, then I have to start it correctly.

What about you? Do you want your day to go well? If so, how are you starting it? Is it checking in with God through the Rosary or checking your Twitter feeds?

Holiness Is Possible

There’s a saying in the creative world that the artist is his own worst critic. Many people, when seeing the results of their efforts, focus on the flaws. A painter only sees a shade of color that is slightly off. An actor remembers that one line that didn’t quite deliver the emotional impact he wanted. A musician dwells on that missed note that no one else noticed. A software developer, see a working computer program, instead dwells on a few lines of code that feel hacked together. We all have our faults that gnaw away at us leading us to doubt our abilities.

What about our spirituality? How accurately do we see our ability to live in holiness? Do we think we have the ability to live holy lives? Or do we only see the challenges and limitations and think holiness isn’t possible? This is the exact question Matthew Kelly asks in his book, The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity. Don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler since he clearly states it in the first chapter. The biggest lie in Christianity is that holiness isn’t something we can achieve. And that lie has had a negative cascading effect on the world.

Buy it now on Amazon

Buying into the lie that we cannot be holy has prevented many of us from even trying. We look at the lives of the saints and think, “I can’t be like that.” And so we skip Mass, skip prayers, and go along with the secular crowd. Why choose a challenge that can only end in failure? And that’s the type of thinking Satan wants us to fall in to. If we give up on holiness we become susceptible to his influence.

Now, of course, the book (which is an easy read by the way) goes into detail on exposing the lie that we cannot achieve holiness. Holiness is possible. Matthew Kelly explains that we need to practice what he calls holy moments — small instances when we act holy. We can start small with one or two holy moments per day — saying prayers, making a sacrifice, doing something nice, etc. We can then expand the number of holy moments. And guess what happens when you chain together enough holy moments? You have a holy day! Then a holy week, holy month, and guess what? You now have a holy life! And what happens when multiple people live in holiness? A holy world!

Holy Moments in the Rosary

When I think of holy moments when I pray the Rosary, I think of Veronica in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery — Jesus carrying His cross. Veronica is the woman who wiped the face of Jesus during His passion. I consider it a pure holy moment. It was something small and mostly ineffective in relieving Jesus’ suffering. But she showed courage standing out from the crowd and possibly incurring the wrath of both the Roman soldiers and Jewish authorities to help someone in need the best she could. We may scoff and criticize the futility of Veronica’s actions. But who knows how many people she converted in that single action. Perhaps her example eased the fear others in the crowd may have been feeling at the time. And maybe many of those people went on to become one of the many of disciples that formed the early Church.

Matthew Kelly wants us to understand that there is no act of holiness too small. They all can have an impact, especially when combined. And there is no challenge too great that we can’t overcome if we leave ourselves open to God’s influence. When you pray the Rosary and meditate on the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery, remember that we can all act like Veronica and stick out from the crowd. But first, we have to want to stick out from the crowd. It’s not easy to break out of our routines but that is exactly what God calls us to do. And that is why we pray the Rosary — asking Mary for her help to follow God’s plan. When we have as powerful of an intercessor as Mary, holiness is not only possible, it’s inevitable.

Saint Dominic: Model of Humility

I recently completed reading Saint Dominic and the Rosary by Catherine Beebe.  Saint Dominic’s life was a saintly one in every sense of the word.  He practiced the saintly virtues of humility and patience throughout his life.  We should also practice these virtues during Advent as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth and reflect on the life of the greatest saint, our Mother Mary, who is the paradigm of patience and humility.

Catherine Beebe’s book walks through Saint Dominic’s life from his early childhood through his holy death.  Keep in mind that this isn’t an academic or rigorously historical book.  It contains conversations and events that I’m sure came from second and third hand sources or were created in an attempt to better explain aspects of Saint Dominic’s personality.  But that in no way takes away from the motivational and inspiring power of this book.  Personally, I want to learn about Saint Dominic’s virtues, not a dry day-by-day historical account of his life.

According to the book, Saint Dominic strived for sainthood his entire life.  He always oriented himself towards bringing people closer to God.  When he was a young priest traveling through Spain, he was never too tired or busy to preach to the Albigensian heretics and try to convert them.  He lived humbly, never indulging in earthly delights.  In fact, he never ate more food than what he needed to stay healthy.  Even the order he founded put their faith in God to provide for them as they relied entirely on people’s donations of food, clothing, and other provisions.

It is this total giving of self that is the main theme throughout
Catherine Beebe’s book.  And I think this is also why our Mother Mary choose Saint Dominic to bring Her Rosary into the world.  She too, was a total servant of God; putting aside Her wants and expectations to completely accept God’s plan for Her.   That is what God wants out of a saint — a complete and willing submission to His Will.  When I say “submission” I’m not talking about it in that dominating sense of the word.  I mean that we willingly put our lives into God’s hands with faith that He will lead us to true happiness.

You have to be humble to be a servant to God.  Humility is the virtue which defeats pride.  And pride is the sin of centering your entire life around your wants and desires.  You can’t put yourself into God’s hands while centering your life around what you want at the same time.  You have to choose.  Likewise, saintly behavior requires patience.  It’s a lifelong journey of trusting in God when times are either good or bad.  You can’t say you’re devoted to God and then bail on Him at the first sign of hardship.  Is it easy?  Of course not.  But where do you think the phrases patience is a virtue and patience of a saint come from?  Being a saint isn’t easy but it’s the life God calls all of us to live.

The Rosary Connection

Look at Mary in the First Joyful Mystery.  She showed great humility placing Her life in God’s hands in the Annunciation.  Now move on to the Fifth Joyful Mystery.  Mary and Joseph searched for Jesus for several days “in sorrow.”  Imagine the patience Mary had to show and not give up hope of finding her lost son.  We can learn from Mary that even when times are difficult, we need to show patience for God to show us the way.  It is in that quiet patience that God will show us the way out of hardship.

PSA: archive.org

Lastly, I want to point our a really useful Rosary resource — www.archive.org.  I found that book about Saint Dominic on archive.org and, like a library, I was able to check it out as an ebook.  If you do a search for “rosary” on the site, you will find all sorts of books, newsletters, pamphlets, etc.  Many of those are out of print and you cannot find anywhere else (which is the whole point of why we have archive.org).  If you’re looking for some new Rosary material, give archive.org a look (and support it with a donation if you find anything of value).

Champions of the Rosary

Did you know that the second part of the Hail Mary wasn’t introduced until the 14th century?  Did you know that one of the most popular Rosary shrines was created by a former satanist who converted?  Did you know that an image of Mary handing the Rosary to Saint Dominic miraculously appeared in a cave in Colombia in 1754?  Did you know that in 1964, 2 million people gathered to pray the Rosary in Brazil?

How do I know all these little facts?  Simple.  I just finished reading Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon by Donald H. Calloway, MIC.  I discovered it after stumbling across an excerpt of it on Catholic Exchange.  I’m always on the lookout for books about the Rosary as they fuel my passion for both praying it and writing about it.  Bottom line, there is something of value in this book for everyone whether you’re a devoted follower of the Rosary or a skeptic.

Buy the book now on Amazon

The books itself is divided into three parts.  The first and largest part is the history of the Rosary.  Each chapter takes you through a century and highlights the places, people, and events that shaped the Rosary.  It can be a rather dense history lesson at times but stick with it because there are many gems to be found.

The second part takes you through the “Champions of the Rosary.”  Each chapter highlights someone’s biography, Marian connection, Rosary connection, and quotations about the Rosary.  While not as dense as the first part, again there are great pearls of wisdom and stories of dedication.  Just thumbing through a few of the quotations in Rosary Gems sections can provide a little motivation for praying the Rosary if you find yourself tired or not in the mood.

The last part of the book explores the technical details of praying the Rosary.  And while useful, the descriptions and meditations are rather shallow.  This is not a book of meditation ideas.  There are other books that provide much better Rosary meditation ideas (like these!).

I was captivated by the history and evolution of the Rosary explained in this book.  I cannot believe just how passionately people have prayed and endorsed this prayer.  The Rosary is so valuable that people have laid down their lives for it rather than give it up.  The miracles associated with it are amazing — battles won, regions transformed, and people converted.  It makes any of my excuses for not finding 20 minutes in a day to pray it seem so petty and selfish.  If you’re looking for motivation to pray the Rosary, whether it be getting started or just a boost of energy, please read this book.

While I’ve been praying the Rosary regularly for years, I do have a new appreciation for it thanks to this book.  I’m now trying to pray it more reverently — quietly, slowly, and kneeling when I can.  I’m really trying to appreciate just how special the Rosary is.  For example, the other day I was almost gitty over the idea of how proud and happy my Mother Mary must have felt that I was praying Her Rosary.  Knowing that our prayers are important to Her is something I’ve always known intellectually, but only recently have felt it on a deeper level.

I always knew that praying the Rosary is good for you.  But I was more like a child eating his vegetables because someone told me I should.  But Champions of the Rosary explains why the Rosary is such an important prayer and why everyone must make a habit of praying it.  It will help you internalize and understand its power.  Give it a read.  Hopefully, it will transform the way you approach the Rosary as it did for me.

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Book Review: Be a Man

Are you a person who:

  1. reads the Bible?  Are you spending time reading Scripture every day?  Are you living with the mindset, “No Bible, no breakfast; no Bible, no bed?”
  2. surrenders to the Holy Spirit?  Do you make a commitment to say a daily prayer of submission to the Holy Spirit?
  3. takes responsibility for your life and your past and not blame others?

Those are three of thirty tasks that Father Larry Richards asks of his readers in his book, Be a Man: Becoming the Man God Created you to be.  In this book, he explores how one grows strong in faith by imitating the manly example of Jesus Christ.  Through stories of his ministry and personal experiences, Fr. Larry breaks down the popular misconception that being deeply spiritual and close to God is something weak or passive.  His book reflects an attitude of a drill instructor or fitness coach telling people to “man up” and actively embrace their faith.

Despite its title, Be a Man is a great guide book for all Catholics, not just men.  Except for a few stories and maybe a few male-specific words of advice, this book will just as easily appeal to women as well as men.  To me, the title seems more like a marketing gimmick to separate itself from all the other “how to live a Catholic lifestyle” books that are available.

Father Larry Richards’ advice is not an easy one.  He is very up front that living a truly Catholic life is difficult.  But he stresses the importance of “manning up” and tackling those challenges because it will ultimately benefit you and the ones you love.  At its core, he lays down arguments on the importance of dedicating your life to God.  Contrary to popular belief, lay people are called to lead a fully spiritual life of prayer, fasting, chastity, charity, and dedication to following God’s will just like any ordained priest.  God does not let us off easy just because we happen to be on the other side of the alter during Mass.

Personally, my largest takeaway from the book is the need to go to church more than once a week on Sunday.  As Fr. Larry says, the Our Father says “give us our daily bread.”  It does not say “weekly bread.”  Even if you cannot attend daily Mass, it is important to try to go into a church, say a few prayers, and tell God that you are starting your day as his disciple.  While I have not been able to go to church every day, I do try to find times to squeeze it in when I can.  I hope, much like rosary prayer, it provides a sense of peace knowing that God is in control and is guiding me regardless of the chaos of our world.

This book has been out for seven years and has a 5-star rating on Amazon.  It is that good and is something you will want to give away to your friends and family after you read it.  Buy a copy and be the one who starts a new chain of lending of this powerful book.

Pope Pius XII: Hitler’s Pope Debunked

Pope Pius XII is often regarded as “Hitler’s pope” because of his silence on the autocracies committed by the Nazis in WWII, particularly the Holocaust. However, the book Church of Spies presents a different side of the story where the Vatican’s silence was not born out of indifference or antisemitism, but one of strategy. In fact, letters and other documents cited in the book reveal that the Catholic Church was working covertly to protect not only Jewish people but anyone who found themselves in the cross-hairs of the Nazis.

To understand Pope Pius’ situation, you have to think like someone living in Hitler’s occupied Europe, not someone looking at the events 60 years after the fact. Imagine living in a world where international law was virtually non-existent and one of the world’s most powerful armies was controlled by a mad man.  Hitler needed very little motivation to destroy any institution that even hinted at challenging him. Would you, as the head of the Catholic Church, deliberately put all Catholics living in Germany and occupied Europe under the scrutiny of the Gestapo by delivering grand speeches denouncing the Nazis? Pius understood that the Church could best help people everywhere through covert action, not blustery speeches.

And so Church of Spies talks about the Church’s role mostly from the point of view of individuals within Germany — priests and lay people alike. It follows the Church’s role in coordinating some of the famous attempts to assassinate Hitler such as Operation Valkyrie. Yes, you heard correctly. The Vatican was aware and helped orchestrate some of the attempts to assassinate Hitler and broker a peaceful transition of power in Germany. The fact that Pope Pius’ involvement in subverting the Nazi regime was not well known and he is known more as a Nazi appeaser goes to show just how well the Vatican spy network was able to keep its cover in a time of intense scrutiny where anyone could be hauled away, tortured, and killed for the slightest hint of plotting against the Nazis.

As much as we love the idea of heroes publicly denouncing and actively fighting the bad guys, Church of Spies shows a Church that needed to be much more nuanced in an atmosphere of utter chaos. Remember, because the Catholic Church had dioceses throughout the world including within Nazi-controlled areas, it was best positioned to act as a spy network during WWII. They could provide intelligence on the Nazis within occupied countries that no other organization could.  The Church and the allies did not want to jeopardize this advantage by needlessly antagonizing Hitler.  This meant utilizing deception and secrecy, not brashness.

I highly suggest Church of Spies, especially if you are interested in WWII history. It will present to you a view of the war from a different, not very well known perspective. The book is well researched using letters, jounal entries, Vatican documents, and other historical documents. It’s not a dry retelling of facts but has a narrative worthy of any Hollywood screenplay. It’s engaging, suspenseful, and informative.  But don’t just take my word for it, check out the numerous awards and 5 star reviews this book has received on Amazon.