Monday, August 8, 2011

Meet a Reader: Birgitta Sujdak Mackiewicz

This month I wanted to feature a "Reader" who had something to do with medical ethics, since my review this month discusses the need for loving, well-educated professionals in this area.  The person I know best in this area happens to be my husband, a Catholic moral theologian & ethicist; however, the prospect of nepotism accusations prevent me from featuring him.  I'm half-joking, but it is too bad, as he is a great reader, and would be an interesting subject.  In the meantime, I notice frequent mentions of books in the Facebook updates of my friend Birgitta, and thought she would be willing, despite being in the middle of completing her doctoral dissertation. Thanks, Birgitta, for taking the time to answer so thoughtfully the "Meet a Reader" questions!   My library request list is much longer after reading some of your current favorites. 

How You Know Me:

I am the Director of Ethics at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center & Children's Hospital of Illinois and volunteer at various community agencies. My husband Darin, and our son John, and I are members of St. Philomena's parish. I am an Oblate of the Community of Saint John.

Why I Love Reading:

I have been an avid reader since the beginning. I can remember bringing home stacks and stacks of books from the library and bringing home the order form for the school book fair with nearly every book checked. I would be caught reading books inside of my text books at school or at home in my room when I was supposed to be doing homework. I used to stay up until the wee small hours of the morning reading books with a flashlight.

A few weeks ago around 11 p.m. we found our three-year-old son out of bed in his recliner reading a book -- the apple doesn't fall far from the tree! I've found my self collecting and re-acquiring books that I want my son to experience as he grows up, especially the classics such as Winnie the Pooh, Paddington Bear, the Beatrix Potter stories, and The Chronicles of Narnia. There's a secret stash for him and I wait for the right moments to cuddle up on the couch together and introduce him to my old friends!

Reading is a way to explore new ideas and places without leaving the comforts of home, but a well-written book truly can transport you into another world. Reading also allows you to explore at your own pace, to carefully and even prayerfully reflect on a word, passage or idea. There are some books that present a true dilemma when you are enjoying them so much that you can't put them down, but you like the subject or characters so much you don't want them to end. Books like those I find myself savoring slowly. Books are also great conversation starters. I'm always curious when traveling to see what others are reading in different parts of the world.  I've been known to leave a book I've finished in an airport for someone else to discover.

My Favorite Book: 

Like many Catholic Post readers, I have various favorites depending on the genre, but here are a few particular books and authors that stand out to me that may be of interest to readers of the Post.

Maurice and Therese: The Story of a Love. This is a collection of letters between St. Therese of Liseux and Maurice, a young priest, that are presented intertwined with a narrative by Bishop Patrick Ahern to give the context of the letters. The book really made St. Therese come alive to me in a way that other writings by her hadn't. If you have found St. Therese to be a bit out of reach this book will bring her into your heart.

As for authors one perhaps not well known to Americans is the late Cardinal Basil Hume who was Archbishop of Westminster, England for over two decades until he died in 1999. As one who entered religious life as a Benedictine Monk and later became a cardinal his writings on spirituality and the human journey are simultaneously humble, profound, and accessible. Many of his books are less than 100 pages, but they are packed and draw you in to contemplation of Christ in a way that not many contemporary authors do. Of Hume's writing my particular favorites are The Mystery of Love and To Be A Pilgrim.

George Weigel is another favorite author of mine who has written numerous books including those about the late Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI, but his book Letters to a Young Catholic (which is for Catholics of all ages!) is a walk through what it means to be Catholic via stories, visits to sacred places, by engaging our various senses and in doing so brings Catholicism alive in a way that a historical or doctrinal account does not.   For example, he explores the death of St. Peter via his letter which considers the "Grittiness of Catholicism."  The letter style allows the book to be read and shared in shorter parts.

What I'm Reading Now:

I've recently acquired an e-reader after losing a book I was reading.  Now I can pull up whatever I'm in the mood for without actually hunting for the book! It doesn't replace the joy of holding a book in hand but is more practical for me right now. 

I find myself reading a number of books at a time. I've just finished The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time by Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson. Yes, this is a book about people traveling around the USA looking for typos on signs. If you're an avid reader, a former Lit major, a teacher, or someone who wonders what's happened to the proper use of the English language chances are you'll enjoy this book. Interestingly, the book started as a blog -- a sign of how technology is changing what we read!

We've just returned from Paris where we climbed up to the top of Notre Dame and were wandering about amongst the gargoyles and in the dimly lit bell tower and I realized I'd never read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, so I've just started that. I was also recently inspired to read another classic I've somehow missed, Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, after watching a documentary about the train. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is also in progress. This fascinating book is about a woman who died young of cancer.  Her cells which were taken for medical research without her knowledge and consent (as was the custom at the time), her family, and the medical advances and knowledge gained from those cells and the impact this seemingly small action has had on generations of her family and on medicine.

As for spiritual reading I'm slowly working my way through Light Of The World, Peter Seewald's interview of Pope Benedict XVI. I find that I have to dose myself on it to give it the time it needs and to grasp all the Holy Father is trying to impart. Finally, I'm reading Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life by Kathleen Norris (who also wrote The Cloister Walk) which explores the spiritual sloth, apathy and indifference that is experienced by many at some point along their spiritual journey. I am fascinated by this concept which I have not often explored in contemporary spiritual literature, but I think plagues us all to greater or lesser degrees as we are faced with the demands of everyday life.

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