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Kay Winchester

Kay Winchester

Kay Winchester lives and works in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York. Website URL:

Book Review: 'The 15-Minute Prayer Solution'

"The 15-Minute Prayer Solution: How One Percent of Your Day Can Transform Your Life.” By Gary Jansen. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2015. 195 pages. Paperback:  $12.95; Kindle: $9.62; Nook: $10.99.
 
St. Philip Neri, who died in 1595, was known for two important things – his holiness and his humor. In contrast to what St. Teresa of Avila quipped about “sour-faced saints,” Philip Neri often won hearts and converts with his both pleasing personality and a good joke. So it was this particular saint that I thought of when I read Gary Jansen’s book, “The 15-Minute Prayer Solution: How One Percent of Your Day Can Transform Your Life,” because he too, has the gift of combining solid spirituality with great good humor.
 
He is also a gifted storyteller, and one of the most honest stories he relates is his own. It begins in his childhood when, as he says, “There was God talk all around me – at home, at school, at church and even in dreams. … Everyone else seemed to know God. He was well liked. … Still, for whatever reason, I just didn’t feel a connection to God, who was supposedly so important in our lives.” Interestingly, it was an encounter with a white rabbit in the woods when he was 12 (yes, God does work in mysterious ways) that got him seriously involved in prayer and ultimately changed his life.
 
What he discovered is that even 15 minutes a day of true prayer – not, he says, “the half-hearted, going through the motions” type of prayer or the “jabbering, making-deals-with-the-Almighty kind of praying” but “serious, formal prayer,” led him to finally “glimpse the eyes of God. … What I realize now was that I had been suffering from a form of spiritual anorexia,” he explains. “Even though I had grown up with religion all around me— and it was just about everywhere I went— I hadn’t let it enter into me.”
 
Hoping that his book will be like “a good pair of walking shoes” on the journey toward authentic prayer, Jansen begins by explaining what a spiritual exercise is:  “any practice that draws you closer to an experience of union with the divine.” Such practices can take the form of prayer, meditation or contemplation, but all of them share one surprising characteristic not normally associated with our relationship with God. “In many ways spiritual exercises are like courting a beloved,” Jansen says.  “You have this desire, this yearning for another, and you suffer this gravitational pull to do something…doing a spiritual exercise is like going on a date with God.”
 
In subsequent chapters he discusses souls and how they need to be nurtured, what he discovered about the real meaning of faith and mustard seeds, and why so many well-meaning Christians have ended up being lukewarm instead of alive with the Spirit (something, by the way, that Pope Francis has spoken about repeatedly.)  He explains the difference between prayer, mediation and contemplation and that the object of it all is to move us into a place of being perpetually present to God.
 
The balance of the book might be termed the “how to” part – how to enter into prayer, meditation and contemplation and what to expect and not expect from each.  He speaks about using one’s imagination, especially when reading Scripture, so that “conversion, a movement toward God, happens when the words become flesh to us.”  He guides the reader through such traditional practices as Lectio Divina and the Examen as well as praying with the parables, the Jesus Prayer and Centering Prayer.
 
But as rich as the entire book is, it is the Coda at the end that I found to be the best and most moving part of all and the most profound explanation of what God always intended prayer to be.
 
Short but powerful, this book is highly recommended.
 
Gary Jansen is senior editor of religion and spirituality at the Crown Publishing Group at Penguin Random House. Author of “The Rosary: A Journey to the Beloved,” his work has been featured in the Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches and USA Today.  He has also appeared on A& E, the Travel Channel, CNN.com and NPR. Jansen, who lives in New York with his wife and two sons, is currently working on a new book, “A Supernatural History of the World.”
 
 
  • Published in Reviews

“Jesus: The Story You Thought You Knew”

“Jesus: The Story You Thought You Knew.” By Deacon Keith Strohm. Indiana:  Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2017. 176 pages. Paperback: $10.17; Kindle: $9.68; Nook; $10.99.
 
It was in chapter six of Deacon Keith Strohm’s latest book, “Jesus: The Story You Thought You Knew,” that I encountered a discussion about why many Catholics find even the word “evangelization” to be so intimidating. After stating that everything having to do with God is profoundly personal, Deacon Strohm notes that “[a] ‘personal relationship with God’ might be an unfamiliar or uncomfortable concept to a lot of Catholics. Many of us have experienced some of our Christian brothers and sisters asking us if ‘we have accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.’ This notion can feel foreign to our own experience as Catholics.”
 
Yet, it is the very personal nature of God’s relationship with us that is the subject of this book; not only is this relationship available to Catholics, he insists, it is at the core of our faith. Deacon Strohm, whose ministry centers on this liberating understanding of discipleship, takes the reader through the story of salvation, beginning with our first parents in the Garden of Eden, continuing through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, then culminating with our call to be His followers in our daily lives here on Earth.
 
One of the challenges to this idea that some Catholics need to wrestle with, Deacon Strohm contends, is an “institutional relationship with Christ rather than an intentional or personal one. … Many people participate in the external practices of their faith…without forming any explicit personal connection with Jesus.” That is not to say that such practices should be ignored or discarded; indeed, as Deacon Strohm asserts, such things are “instrumental in building and shaping a deep intimacy with God.” What he encourages readers to do is take that relationship one step further:  “The Great Story of Jesus is a clarion call, a declaration of love made over all God’s people, and an invitation to enter into the depths of that love.”
 
That is why Deacon Strohm approaches all of this, not as a study in theology, but as a love story between God and us. Over and over he shows how God goes out of His way to bring us to Himself, not because we are good, but because He is. There is no one who can “fall through the cracks” with God, and Deacon Strohm states that explicitly when he says in Chapter Two, “You matter. You. Yes, you. And the proof is that God himself became man for you.”
 
Oftentimes we can become oblivious to this because the story is so familiar to us.  Deacon Strohm therefore, makes a point of introducing us to Jesus, not only as the second person of the  Blessed Trinity, but as a person like ourselves, “in all things but sin,” with whom we can form an intimate friendship. He urges us to enter into the story of Scripture in a very personal way so that the words engage us on a gut level. 
 
For me, for instance, the most powerful chapter in the book is Chapter Four, entitled “Jesus Embraces the Cross;” although I have participated in the reading of the Passion for as long as I can remember – not to mention the many times I have read it outside the season of Lent – the full meaning of what happened on those days we call Triduum opened up in a way I had never considered before. I will never think of the Garden of Gethsemane the same way again.
 
Deacon Strohm’s book is written with both the individual reader and small groups in mind. At the end of each chapter he has written a section for further reflection, followed by several questions suitable for one reader or a group to consider. For any person or parish looking to be empowered as “evangelizers,” Deacon Strohm’s book is a good place to begin.
 
Author bio
 
Deacon Keith Strohm is a well-known international speaker and teacher on the subject of evangelization. A deacon for the Archdiocese of Chicago, he is the former director of the Office for the New Evangelization there and currently the executive director of Ablaze Ministries (ablazeministries.com). He is a long-time collaborator with the Catherine of Siena Institute in Colorado, dedicated to making formation resources available to parishes and the laity.
 
 
 
  • Published in Reviews

Saint Lawrence

Most people know St. Lawrence’s name, if for no other reason than so many things around us are named for him. This saint, however, made a profound impression in the early Church, and his courage inspires us to this day.
 
We know very little of Lawrence’s early life; by the time he was mentioned in Church history, he was already one of the seven deacons of Rome under Pope Sixtus II. To be so publicly identified with the Church took great courage because this was the period of great persecution ordered by Emperor Valerian. In August of 258, it was decreed that all Christian clergy, from highest to lowest, were to be hunted down and put to death. Consequently, the pontificate of Sixtus was extremely brief, lasting only from 257 until 258, for not only the pope, but all seven deacons would suffer martyrdom.
 
Of all of them, Lawrence was killed last. According to tradition, when Pope Sixtus and six other deacons were arrested and put in prison to await execution, the pontiff assured Lawrence that he would not be left behind, but would join the others “in four days’ time.” It was a mark of his holiness and bravery that Lawrence saw this as an opportunity, not to flee, but to take care of his final responsibilities.
 
As a deacon, one of his primary duties was the distribution of alms to the poor and needy. As such, he was also in charge of much of the material wealth of the Church. Knowing that his time was short, and having been ordered by the emperor to turn over all the treasure the Church possessed, Lawrence took immediate action. What little money he had he gave to Rome’s most destitute; he also went a step further and sold the sacred vessels of the Church, giving that money to the poor as well.
 
At the time appointed by the prefect of Rome, St. Lawrence appeared before him and, as ordered, brought with him the “treasures” of the Church. Surrounding him were a great number of the blind, lame and maimed from the poorest parts of city; in the group were also orphans, widows and lepers, all of whom had been aided by the deacon and the Church. To the prefect’s horror, St. Lawrence presented all of them to him, declaring quite simply, “These are the treasures of the Church.”
 
The prefect was so enraged at Lawrence’s audacity that he ordered him killed at once, but in a manner most painful and gruesome. He prepared a gridiron with hot coals beneath; on this, Lawrence was placed in order that he might slowly roast to death. Even to the end, Lawrence maintained not only his courage but, miraculously, his humor. It is said that after suffering for some time he quipped to his executioners, “Turn me over. I’m done on this side.”
 
It is because of this that St. Lawrence is patron, not only of the poor, but of cooks as well. His feast day is August 10.
 
Sources for this article include:
americancatholic.org
catholiconline.com
Kirsch, Johann Peter. "St. Lawrence." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 
Schreck, Alan. “Catholic Church History from A to Z”. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 2002.
“Saint Lawrence of Rome.” CatholicSaints.Info. 24 November 2016.
 
 
 
 

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene, who is the patron saint of penitents, could also be called the patron saint of mistaken identity. Western tradition has long held that she was a prostitute or an adulteress, but her actual story, according to modern Catholic scripture scholars, is probably less lurid than popular belief. In fact, other than the Virgin Mary herself, Mary Magdalene is one of the most honored female saints of the New Testament.
 
She appears definitively in the Gospel of Luke 8:2 as one of the Galilean women who, along with the apostles, is listed as a follower of Jesus. Here she is identified as one “from whom seven demons have gone out.” Whether this indicated that she was in the throes of extreme demonic possession or severe illness, the fact remains that her healing inspired her to become an ardent disciple of the Savior, and one of those who “provided for [the apostles] out of their resources” (Luke 8:3).
 
Confusion enters in when another unnamed woman appears in the same Gospel. Immediately before the Magdalene is identified as a follower of Jesus in chapter eight, there is a story in chapter seven in which a sinful woman – believed to have been a prostitute – enters the house of Simon, where Jesus is a guest, in order to wash His feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. The juxtaposition of these two stories has created the perception that the two women were one and the same, and that Mary Magdalene was not merely a sinner, but a particularly immoral woman. Modern scripture scholars have concluded that there is really no basis to conflate the two, even though Western tradition has been putting them together for more than two millennia.
 
Actually, it is what happened afterward that led to Mary Magdalene being called the “Apostle to the Apostles.” Near the end of all four Gospels, when Jesus is crucified, it is very clear that, with the exception of John, none of His male companions were present at Golgotha; the only ones who stayed with Him throughout His ordeal were the women who had always accompanied Him. Although the names of the other women change from evangelist to evangelist, Mary Magdalene’s is mentioned specifically and consistently.
 
Even more telling is the fact that, in each Gospel, it is Mary Magdalene who is the first witness of the resurrection. Of all those who could have been given that privilege, it was granted to her; because of the male-dominated culture of the time, scripture scholars note that no Gospel writer would have placed her in such an honored position unless the story was incontrovertibly true.
 
Little is known of Mary Magdalene after the resurrection; tradition has her journeying to Ephesus to live out her life in the company of the Virgin Mary. Whatever happened, it was her witness to and extravagant love for Jesus for which we honor her now. 
 
Mary Magdalene’s feast day is July 22.
 
Sources for this article include:
americancatholic.org
catholiconline.com
Catholic Study Bible, The Pope, Hugh. "St. Mary Magdalen." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.
 
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