Thursday, February 28, 2013

Visit me at my new "place":

I'm in the slow process of converting from this blogspot to my own website,  But I've decided that while things are still quite "rustic" over there, and I'm learning my way, it makes more sense to invite you to visit me over at the new site.  I did a few posts on both platforms, but posting on the new site exclusively makes the most sense.

So come visit me at And be sure to say hello! Today I'm sharing about what we are doing to celebrate Benedict XVI as well as the conclave.

This weekend my March column and other content that appears in print edition of The Catholic Post will post there, and gradually you'll see a great shiny new and improved site.  As always, I welcome reader comments and ideas.

P.S. Sorry for the broken link to the new site!  I believe it is working now.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Worth a Listen: TobyMac's "Speak Life"

(Sharing great songs that are inspiring, uplifting and/or are otherwise "worth a listen").  Explanation (of a kind) here.

I asked my teenage daughter to help me come up with some videos to share here for "Worth a Listen."  Fortunately, we both like the same kind of music.  I love this song so much, and while I normally don't like lyric videos, this one is beyond great.  It's also the official lyric video from Toby Mac, so that helps.

Probably my favorite lines from this song:  

Lift your head a little higher
Spread the love like fire 
Hope will fall like rain
When you speak life 
With the words you say

Raise your thoughts a little higher
Use your words to inspire
Joy will fall like rain
When you speak life with the things you say

Okay, I just want to put all the lyrics here.  Go listen to the whole song, and smile.  Then speak life.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"Authentic Friendship in an Age of Social Media" Coverage by Yours Truly

As I shared yesterday, I've written a couple of articles for The Catholic Post's last print issue.

One that didn't make it to The Post website was a story about the terrific First Saturday gathering  covered for The Post the First Saturday gathering, "Authentic Friendship in an Age of Social Media" last month.

What a fun, lovely evening--I for one am so grateful to people like Marie from "Help Them to Heaven" and the First Saturday team, a group of great women, for organizing the event.  I very much enjoyed the real life time with friends, getting to meet some people I didn't (including one that I taught when I was briefly a high school teacher!), and just having an all-around enjoyable time.

I'm going to share some photos, as well as a version of the print story.  As I mentioned yesterday, most of the photos I took with my husband's very nice camera all came out looking like cell phone snaps, and I do promise to learn how to use it better before I use it again.  So be forewarned, but I think the smiles and the fun make up for it.

First, some photos:

Here's Bonnie Engstrom of A Knotted Life and Lisa Schmidt of The Practicing Catholic (one of the evening's speakers).  As you can see from the sidebar, I truly consider Lisa an honorary member of the Peoria diocese (along with Sister Helena Burns, the other speaker.  Lisa is just lovely in person.

Here is Lisa with Dianna Kennedy of The Kennedy Adventures.  She is one of a group of bloggers from other states who were hoping to make it to the Authentic Friendship talk.  It was kind of like Behold Conference "lite," since there won't be a Behold until 2014.  (Never fear--plans are already underway for the 2104 Behold Conference, and I'm delighted to be part of it).  Unfortunately, the weather was icy Friday night into Saturday morning, so the rest were unable to travel.

Again, Dianna is beautiful and so incredibly much fun to be with.  I'm not sure if it's her southern accent, her spunky one-liners, or her high energy, but she was like a jolt of java to be around.

Dianna had asked before her trip if any of us local ladies were runners and wanted to run with her.  She's training for a half-marathon, and so I and another local woman (who is also training for a half), made a plan to run Saturday morning on Grandview Drive.  The icy weather forced us to cancel, but I am definitely taking a rain/ice check on that one, since she would be a great running buddy.  The miles would fly by running with this gal.

Here are Bonnie and Marie.

I brought my teen daughter to the evening, and both of us were very excited to see Sister Helena Burns again.  I said, "Let me get a photo!" and my teen, in typical teen fashion, said, "Mom!"  So Sister Helena recommended they pose like this:

Because Moms who take photos are so embarrassing.

That's better!  As you can see, teen is still exasperated by her mom.

Here is the dinner before the First Saturday gathering. 

Dianna Kennedy and Lisa Schmidt

And Lisa Schmidt again with Marie.  Lisa is very photogenic!

There were also various other photos, including several funny ones of Lisa Schmidt and Sister Helena that inspired laughs on Facebook, but I will let Lisa Schmidt incriminate herself with those.  

Finally, here is my article about the evening:

Online relationships offer the opportunity for “deep friendships” and evangelization, two new media experts told a group of Catholic women.

“Authentic Friendship in an Age of Social Media” was the topic of the February 2 program at St. Philomena Church in Peoria.  The talk was sponsored by the “First Saturday” program, a monthly gathering open to women of all parishes, ages and vocations.  According to Marie Meints, a member of the seven-women team from various Peoria-area parishes, First Saturday focus on fellowship and discussion for women seeking to grow in holiness in everyday life.

More than 60 women gathered for the February 2 talk, from around the central Illinois area and beyond.  About half that number gathered for a pre-talk dinner.

Sister Helena Burns, a Daughter of St. Paul, who is based in Chicago, IL, but travels the country speaking about media literacy, “Theology of the Body,” and online topics, spoke on how the Internet is an vital place for Catholics to be and to find friends.

“I was surprised by the deep friendships you can have in 140 characters,” said Sister Helena, referring to the length of Twitter status updates.

Sister Helena explained how Father James Alberione, founder of the Daughters of St. Paul, told his followers to “use the fastest and latest means” to spread the Gospel message.  In the 21st century, blogs, social media such as Facebook, and other online platforms, is the “fastest” means to reach people and foster friendships.

That doesn’t mean doing things perfectly all the time.

“You’ve got to make some mistakes online,” Sister Helena said, and shared times that she had been too hasty, or too trusting, in her online interactions with others.  Making mistakes is part of the learning process.

Sister Helena argued that while in-person communication is preferred because we are “incarnational,” those we interact with online have “real souls and real bodies.”  She quoted from Benedict XVI’s message for the World Communications Day: “The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young.”

Blessed John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” provides a template not just for married love, but every relationship, including and perhaps especially those online, according to Sister Helena.

“We want to be known at our deepest level, and know others at deeper level,” she said. And intimacy with God promotes deeper relationships with others: “The “realer” God becomes to us, the “realer” other people become to us.”

Lisa Schmidt, from Des Moines, Iowa, who blogs at “The Practicing Catholic,” (, also spoke at the “Authentic Friendship” program.

Schmidt, who lives with her husband and two small children in Des Moines, Iowa, shared how “spiritual friendships” helped her conquer the loneliness that she felt when she left her career in city management in Iowa to stay home with her then infant daughter.

“And I don’t think I’m alone here, pun intended, in experiencing (this loneliness),” Schmidt said.  She revealed how the online world of Catholic “mommy blogs” helped her find like-minded friends and forge friendships based on “who God is calling you to be.”

Schmidt shared that “ambient intimacy,” the term used to describe the connectedness of the digital age, allows people “to keep in touch with a level of intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.”

“Little by little, our spiritual friendships have the power to become apostolic,” said Schmidt. “A spiritual friend will lead you toward Christ, you then help your friends to be reconciled or converted and to grow in the life of the Church, those friends then go forth and do more of the same. Collectively, we evangelize and sanctify the culture in which we live. Could spiritual friendships be the key to the transformation of our culture?”

At the same time online life can be good for the soul, knowing when to “unplug” and connect in real life is critical.  Sister Helena argued that there are three “sacred places and sacred times” we don’t need “screens,” whether televisions, computers or mobile devices: at church, in the bedroom, and the dinner table.

Sister Helena explained a new tradition to promote real-life intimacy called a “phone stack” used by some young people while eating out.  At the beginning of a meal, all leave their phones stacked in the middle of the table.  The first person to reach for his or her phone pays for the meal.

Scripture offers the secret of what’s so great about friendship, both online and in real life experience, Lisa Schmidt argued, quoting from Sirach 6:16.  “A faithful friend is an elixir of life.”

“What’s an elixir?  It’s a life-saving medicine,” said Schmidt.  “Wow, a spiritual friend is like a life-saving medicine?  What a beautiful gift!”

Friday, February 22, 2013

Recent News; "Authentic Friendship," Abby Johnson and Lent

Well, I've been pretty light in posting on the blog this month.  Real life has been especially busy, and I find that the beginning of Lent is a low-energy time for me.  Maybe it's because I'm without the staff of life--chocolate?  That's my excuse, anyway.

In any case, I have been busy writing, though, as well as doing some behind-the-scenes work on the blog.  In the last edition of The Catholic Post, I had two news articles.

I told a few friends that I was amazed at how long it took me to write these articles, when I used to write multiple articles in a day, no problem.  Of course, back then, I didn't have a husband, children or a household to keep running.   Part of it too was that I was in the habit of doing so, and could easily crank out a lot of words easily.  Writing news stories takes a lot longer these days for me.  But I did enjoy the challenge.

Let me share first The Catholic Post link to my article on Abby Johnson's appearance at St. Jude in Dunlap.  I saw many familiar faces there, and it was great to catch up, as well as get the chance to interview Abby before her talk and get the scoop on her new book (of course I asked) called The Walls are Talking.

Here are a few of my photos from the event:
Here is Abby giving her talk.

Here is a photo I submitted to The Post, but that didn't make it in, of Abby signing a book for Anne Whitmore, a member of St. Jude parish and a friend of mine.  Anne and Abby were both good sports about "acting natural" for the paper.

Here is a sadly too dark--even after editing--photo of Bonnie Engstrom with Abby.

And here's another too dark one, and blurry, photo of Bonnie and Abby.

And here's yet another (dark) photo of the beautiful Marcia, and her beautiful daughter.

Clearly, I need to get a major tutorial from my husband on how to use his camera.  He let me borrow it that evening.  Whenever he takes photos with it, they look like from a professional photographer.    When I use it, all that I get is ....bad cell phone snaps.

Did you go to the Abby Johnson talk?  What did you think about it?

Soon, I will post about my other story for The Catholic Post this month.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Worth a Listen: Britt Nicole's "Headphones"

(Sharing great songs that are inspiring, uplifting and/or are otherwise "worth a listen").  Explanation (of a kind) here.

Yes, I am a hopeless Britt Nicole fan.  This is another great song and video from her.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Delivering Unity Campaign--Are you a Locavore?

You know that trend to be a "locavore" when it comes to food, sourcing your food as locally as possible?

How about your Catholic news?

From the page describing the Delivering Unity campaign:

Those who contribute to the campaign automatically receive 26 biweekly print issues of The Catholic Post mailed to their home. Bishop Jenky encourages all who are able to give beyond the traditional $25 subscription investment – even if only $5 or $10 more – to consider doing so as a practical way to evangelize inactive Catholics or to provide Catholic reading for households struggling in this economy.

The editor of The Catholic Post Tom Dermody (referred to often as "my editor" here) is multitalented, as he narrated and appears in this video, "Ignite Your Faith," and he also wrote the background music for it.

I really enjoyed watching this video, and it inspired me to make our family's annual Lenten donation to this campaign.  The online form couldn't be any easier to fill out.

 I hope it will do the same for you if you are connected in any way to the Peoria diocese.

Do you receive the print edition of The Catholic Post?  Consider giving a gift to the campaign to ensure that you always receive a copy, and offer others within the diocese the opportunity to receive the newspaper.

Monday, February 11, 2013


My husband Joseph and I have just been in shock this morning about the news of Pope Benedict XVI resigning.

My first tweet this morning was retweeted a few times, so I'm sharing it here:
How interesting, too, that this news breaks on the World Day of the Sick and Our Lady of Lourdes.

From the Holy Father's letter announcing his resignation:

"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering."

My husband, with his interest and knowledge of all things Catholic, starting sharing about the last pope to resign.  New Advent has the Catholic Encyclopedia about the last pope to resign, Celestine V.  It's not unprecedented, but it is really surprising.

We've had an interesting discussion here.  On the one hand, as Joseph mentioned, Pope Paul VI spoke about how it was important for people to see the Holy Father die in office.

Consider how Pope John Paul II's decline and death showed a generation the beauty and nobility of that.  On the other hand, Pope Benedict XVI resigning shows that stepping down is also a viable option, and strength and holiness can be shown through that.

This may not seem like the best way to say this, but there are many ways to grow old.   Blessed Pope John Paul II showed us one very public way, and perhaps Benedict XVI is showing us another, quieter way, more suited to his quiet personality.

Here's a brief article from Vatican Radio (and update, here is Rocco Palma's first, thorough analysis) detailing some of the specifics: Benedict XVI will not participate in the conclave to elect the new pope (and he is also too old to vote in any case).   He will move to Castel Gandolfo after his resignation becomes effective, and he will live in private apartments at the Vatican.   Joseph and I both thought he might have moved back to Germany to live out his final days there.  We just watched Cardinal Dolan interviewed on the Today Show, and he appears just as surprised as everyone.

Consider, too, that the Holy Father won't be like a former president.  The media won't get to interview him and ask how "the new guy" is doing. He will be living a completely private life.

Can we join in prayer as we approach Lent? I will be considering how prayer for Benedict XVI, as well as the new pope, will be part of my Lent.

Any special ideas you have to make this a fruitful Lent in prayer for the Holy Father and his successor?

Friday, February 8, 2013

What Are You Reading for Lent?

Lent is next week, and even though I've been allegedly "looking ahead" since right after Christmas, but I feel ill-prepared and not a bit "ready" for Lent, whether in body, or spirit, or in books.

Many books have arrived recently with Lenten themes, and I hope to review some of them, but this will not be happening before Lent, much as I'd like to be able to tell you about them.  They will have to be mid-Lent reading pick-me-ups, so look ahead for that.

Do you have a practice of spiritual reading for Lent?  I usually take out my well-worn copy of St. Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life, and I will do so again.  I always get something new from it.

Last year, I highly recommended God Will Provide: How God’s Bounty Opened to Saints--And 9 Ways It can Open for You, Too by Patricia Treece, pointing out that the book "brims with wisdom and grace."  I really love Paraclete Press books--they are always well-produced and just feel good in your hand, both because the size of the books feel "right" and the paper is very... I don't know, I'm not a book-making expert--but the paper feels heavy and nice.

Here is my Q&A with Patricia  that ran last year.

Also last year, I blogged about the Prayer of St. Ephram. (And my friend Marcia also posted about this ancient prayer last week--well worth a look).   I'll be printing off copies of this prayer to leave in conspicuous places (bathroom mirrors and such) for us to pray at our house.  Do you have a special prayer to say as a family during Lent?

If you might be looking around for Lenten reading, here are past reviews with some ideas:

2012:  This Lent, Let Mercy Lead

2011:  A Good Spiritual Library is a Hospital for the Soul

Finally, on the Lenten theme, one of my most popular posts is "Do Sundays Count During Lent"?  As I wrote there, I'm definitely in the taking-Sundays-off camp, but I'm always interested in hearing what other people and families do.

Do you have a plan for Lent?  Care to share?  I'd love to get some great ideas.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Worth a Listen: Royal Tailor's "Make a Move"

(Sharing great songs that are inspiring, uplifting and/or are otherwise "worth a listen").  Explanation (of a kind) here.

Royal Tailor was one of the bands at Winter Jam, a concert series my teen and I attended (along with some of her friends) last month.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Author Abby Johnson in Peoria this Week

Abby Johnson, author and speaker, will be in the Peoria area this week, and I for one am very excited to hear her speak.  She will be speaking at St. Jude Church in Peoria this Tuesday, February 5, at 7 p.m.  If you're interested in attending, you can contact the parish for more information.

"Prayer, friendship and conversion are at the heart of a new must-read," as I wrote in my 2011 review of Johnson's memoir, UnPlanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader's Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line (you can read the entire review here).

This book is a great read for teens on up, perhaps especially for teens and young adults.  As I wrote in my review, Unplanned raises a lot of questions about how young people can be formed as people of life:

Young people are in a kind of “sensitive period” in their late teens to mid 20s when values and life course are being set.  How do we direct their natural idealism and energy to the culture of life, instead of the opposite?

Johnson’s conversion happened in a moment, but UnPlanned makes clear it was the sustained effort of many people praying, fasting and acts of friendship for and to her that made that moment possible.

I did an online Q&A with Abby that you can read here in case you're getting ready for her talk.

I'm especially looking forward to hearing Abby tell in person how she was "loved from one side to the other."   I'm also intrigued to hear about the new initiative she has begun, "And Then There Were None," to help  abortion industry workers leave the industry.  Abby recently became a LIFE Runner (like me!) so I hope to connect with her there about that.

Will you be there?  Is there an author you would like to hear speak in person?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Meet a Reader: Katie Bogner

I'm so delighted to feature a delightful young woman of my acquaintance--Katie Bogner--as this month's Reader.  I got to know her a little through working on the Behold Conference together the last several years, and I wish I knew her better as she is very funny and spirited in person.  Katie blogs charmingly at Look to Him and Be Radiant

 How you know me:   I am blessed to spend all day as the teacher of the 5th graders at St. Joseph School in Pekin, and I also serve as the DRE at my parish, Immaculate Conception in Lacon.  You may have met me around the Diocese at one of the presentations that I have done for the Office of Catechetics “Let My People Come” Series.

Why I love reading:  I always like to say that people learn best through stories because we were created and immersed in a grand story.  Every book we read moves us outside of ourselves and gives us a glimpse of that story.  Whether it is as a journey into another world, a way to challenge and expand our minds, or as a source of inspiration in our faith, books can be tools to help us learn about who we are and the plans that God has for us.

What I'm reading now:  I just finished A Man for Others: Maximilian Kolbe, Saint of Auschwitz by Patricia Treece.  It was published the year that he was canonized, and while the book is threaded together by the author, the content is filled with firsthand accounts of people who knew him as a child, priest, and victim of Auschwitz. The countless interviews of those that witnessed St. Max’s life give a unique perspective on his incredible story.

A book that I couldn’t put down was The Breath of Dawn by Kristen Heitzmann.  It is a new emotion-packed inspirational thriller that makes a great stand-alone novel, but is actually the third in a series that was last published ten years ago.  Exploring grief, forgiveness, and the meaning of family, this would be a great book to enjoy on a snow day with a good cup of coffee.

My fifth graders and I just read Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare, and we enjoyed discussing the problems young Matt faced and the hard decisions he had to make.  We all really liked this coming-of-age tale.

I also recently finished reading/rereading all of Jane Austen’s novels.  A group of friends and I worked through them over the course of a year, and we had a lot of fun comparing them to our modern culture, which doesn't always seem that different from Austen's world.

Next on my stack is St. Thérèse: A Treasured Love Story, which is a collection of sermons given by Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen about one of his favorite Saints.  I am enjoying his view into her life, as well as his various teachings about prayer, suffering, being a saint, and spiritual warfare.

My favorite book:  My favorite fiction has to be the O’Malley Series by Dee Henderson.  Favorite non-fiction is a little harder to choose; maybe My Life with the Saints by Fr. James Martin or The World’s First Love by Fulton Sheen or A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn.  There are just too many great books to pick one!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Discipleship as Conversion and Journey

What does it mean to be “an intentional disciple”?

What does it mean to be a disciple at all?

Are you one?  How many do you know?

An excellent new book, Forming Intentional Disciples:  The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus by Sherry A. Weddell, explains the term “intentional disciple,” as well as the steps to journey there, for both individuals and parishes.

With such a wide appeal and important content, Forming Intentional Disciples is one of those rare “for just about everyone” books, in my opinion.  Whether you are a pastor, a DRE, a leader in a ministry in your parish or just an average parish member like me, you will find much food for thought and prayer here.

What’s so great about Forming Intentional Disciples?

Weddell is founder (with Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P.) of The Catherine of Siena Institute “to form lay Catholics for their mission in the world.”  This book distills their work to help Catholics become more committed in their faith and communities.

As Weddell writes, “What we are called to do is to truly see and then make disciples of the anointed ones who are wandering in and out of our parishes right now.”

Forming Intentional Disciples outlines now as a time of challenge----with only 30 percent of those raised Catholic who still practice their faith.  But as this book makes abundantly clear, there is also great opportunity for growth in faith life and discipleship among everyday Catholics.

In every chapter, there are great insights, stories and statistics that help readers to understand the problem--and to be part of the solution.  On more than one occasion while reading this book, I got chills, thinking of ways to become more of a disciple myself and encourage those around me to do the same.

As Weddell points out, what’s at stake in fostering discipleship is nothing less than
“*the eternal happiness in God (salvation) of every human being.
*the complete fruition of the Mass and the sacraments,
*the next generation of Catholic leaders, saints and apostles: priestly, religious and secular, (and)
*the fulfillment of the Church’s mission on earth.”

How does Weddell propose we do that?  Here are just a few of the many ideas in Forming Intentional Disciples:

*By a careful understanding of and respect for the five thresholds at which a person’s faith can grow or shrink, and how we can help ourselves and others cross those thresholds.

*By imitating Jesus in that we ask more questions than giving answers, to foster a deeper understanding and integration of faith into each person’s life.

*By recognizing and harnessing the importance and power of intercessory prayer to help others in their journey toward faith, especially at at time of spiritual warfare.

*by creating space and community for committed parish members to to grow spiritually once discipleship is awakened.

This may seem bold, but if you are reading this review, I urge you to read Forming Intentional Disciples.  If you are committed enough Catholic to read The Catholic Post and be inspired by the Holy Spirit  to read this blog post, I believe this book is meant for you to read and ponder.