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Movie review: 'A Question of Faith'

As with so many of its forerunners in the religious message movie genre, the sober drama "A Question of Faith" (Pure Flix) seems better suited to preach to the choir than to attract the indifferent or the merely curious.
 
Still, those committed to scriptural values will appreciate the film's showcasing of a strong marriage as well as its emphasis on forgiveness and interracial harmony.
 
Experienced minister David Newman (Richard T. Jones) is about to take over the leadership of the flourishing church he has previously served as an assistant pastor when a tragedy involving his young son Eric (Caleb T. Thomas) shakes his fundamental beliefs. Though spiritually disoriented by the mishap, David benefits from the steady support and guidance of his wise wife, Theresa (Kim Fields).
 
As David gradually discovers, his family's misfortune has linked their fate to those of several strangers, including restaurant owner Kate Hernandez (Jaci Velasquez), Kate's daughter Maria (Karen Valero) and cashed-strapped contractor John Danielson (C. Thomas Howell).
 
With his business facing bankruptcy and his daughter, Michelle (Amber Thompson), enduring a potentially fatal medical crisis, John is even more alienated from God than David is. But he too has a steady rudder in his patient spouse, Mary (Renee O'Connor).
 
Director Kevan Otto leavens the sometimes tearful proceedings with upbeat Gospel music. And, though the plot of his movie, as written by Ty Manns, is farfetched in some of its details, viewers to whom it appeals will likely skim over such gaps. In exploring the value of faith-motivated reconciliation, moreover, the script sets the right tone and offers a good example to its wide appropriate audience.
 
The film contains mature themes. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
 

Book review: 'Little Lessons from the Saints'

Little Lessons from the Saints: 52 Simple and Surprising Ways to See the Saint in You.” By Bob Burnham. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2017. 216 pages. Paperback: $9.95; Kindle: $7.96; Nook: $8.49.
 
Over the years I have seen, read and studied many books on the saints. What piqued my interest about this one, however, was the subtitle: “52 Simple and Surprising Ways to See the Saint in You.” It’s a subtle thing, really, having to do with verb tense.  I wasn’t being invited to “become” a saint at some future time (if I just worked hard enough). Rather, I was being asked to recognize my own saintliness, here and now, in the present moment.
 
“We are called to imitate the saints because we are called to be saints,” author Bob Burnham explains. “But here’s the secret: we are already saints, albeit imperfect ones, for Christ lives in us, and we live in Christ. The saints teach us how to see that truth more clearly.”  What this book does, therefore, is invite us to become more fully who we already are.
 
The number “52” in the title is not arbitrary either; it is designed to match the number of weeks in a calendar year. Although Burnham assures us that the book can be used “any way you want,” he also provides a blueprint for how to get the most out of the stories and meditations it contains. In essence, each week the reader spends time with one saint, meditating on his or her life and how their charism is present in our own lives. For those new to meditation, the author gives some useful advice on how to proceed, step by step, and what to expect along the way. 
 
“Experience has shown me that meditation is never free from distractions,” he says.  “It is rarely a peaceful repose or an escape from reality. Rather, meditation is an exacting discipline.”
 
Perhaps because Burnham is himself a catechist, he then includes a brief section entitled “Little Lessons for Teachers,” outlining how the book can be used with students in the classroom, whether that is in a Catholic school or a CCD setting.  He notes that the saints are presented in a specific order by theme – surrender, freedom, pilgrimage, hospitality and loving knowledge -- echoing the specific lesson we can draw from each of them as our own spiritual journey unfolds.
 
The lessons, as promised, are “little” in as much as they are short, occupying only two or three pages at the most, thus making them perfect for those who may not have unlimited time to sit with a book of meditations. That does not mean, however, that they lack substance. He often relates to even the most familiar saints in a way that startles the reader into thinking something new about them. When talking about the martyr St. Charles Lwanga, for instance, he notes that for most of us, it’s the everyday martyrdoms that we need to embrace. “It’s not…persevering in faith in the face of persecution, even if it means death... as if the only way you can show your love for and dedication to Christ is if you are being persecuted…The lesson I have learned from the lives of martyrs is simpler: I should not complain.”
 
Saints, Burnham concludes, “are not superheroes with magic powers. They are not idealized versions of what people should be. They were real people who chose to take the gospel seriously.”  Whenever we do the same, we are following in their footsteps.  “Any time I show love and compassion, I am a saint,” he says. “Whenever I show patience and understanding, I am a saint. … My goal is not to be canonized someday— my goal is to live the Gospel today. If I do that, I can look in the mirror and see a saint every day!”
 
Author bio:
By his own admission, Bob Burnham is “not a scholar or a theologian, nor am I ordained. I am just a guy named ‘Bob’ who takes seriously the counsel of the Blessed Virgin Mary when she said to the servers at the wedding in Cana, ‘Do whatever He tells you’ (Jn 2:5).” A Secular Franciscan and a spiritual director, he works as a freelance editor and writes about the spirituality of commuting on his blog, mtransit.org. He lives with his wife, Cathy, in Bartlett, Ill.
 

Movie review: 'Home Again'

Genteel decorum prevails in the romantic comedy "Home Again" (Open Road). At least, it does so everywhere beyond the confines of its protagonist's bedroom. The result is a morally mixed film in which kindly characters follow the misguided marital and sexual dictates of contemporary society.
 
Although the movie opens with the aforementioned main character, Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon), in tears, her situation turns out to be more tumultuous than tragic.
 
Recently separated from her British-born, New York-based husband, Austen (Michael Sheen), Alice has returned to her hometown of Los Angeles, her two young daughters, Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield), in tow. There they've settled into the lavish house in which Alice grew up and which she inherited from her father, John (David Netto), a famous director of 1970s arthouse movies.
 
While out on a liquor-fueled spree celebrating her 40th birthday, Alice crosses paths with a trio of promising but broke filmmakers: brothers Harry (Pico Alexander) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) and their pal George (Jon Rudnitsky). Alice and Harry fall for each other at first sight, but he loses his cookies before they have the chance to get physical.
 
The morning after the night before, the lads -- homeless after being turned out of the cheap motel room they were occupying -- stick around, charming Alice's mom, Lilian (Candice Bergen), with their enthusiasm for her series of starring turns in her late husband's pictures. At Lilian's behest, and after some hesitation, Alice agrees to let her new friends take up residence, rent-free, in her guesthouse.
 
Naturally, the polite and considerate youths bond with Isabel and Rosie and, inevitably, Alice and Harry pick up where nausea had forced them to leave off. But back east, Austen, who has all along wanted to reconcile with Alice, is none too pleased to learn of this novel domestic arrangement -- even though he is still in the dark about its sexual aspect.
 
There's a gentle spirit to writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer's feature debut. In fact, the daytime interaction between Alice and her three tenants sometimes recalls that between Snow White and her seven dwarfs.
 
But the script presents marital breakup as a form of liberation. And, though it coyly avoids having the romantic leads sleep together within hours of meeting each other by sending Harry off to worship the porcelain idol, Meyers-Shyer obviously takes the duo's subsequent fling as a given.
 
Additionally, the girls' accidental exposure to the relationship -- babysitting Lilian unexpectedly shows up with them, just as Alice and Harry are emerging in the morning -- is milked for laughs.
 
Unsound but not obnoxious, "Home Again" (Open Road) will easily be parsed by grownups, for good and ill. The entertainment value of the positive residue, however, is slight at best.
 
The film contains a benign view of divorce and cohabitation, momentary semi-graphic and brief nongraphic sexual activity, comic brawling, a few uses of profanity and at least one rough and about a half-dozen crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
 

Book review: 'James Martin: Essential Writings'

By Mitch Finley 

"James Martin: Essential Writings," selected and with an introduction by James T. Keane. Orbis Books (Maryknoll, New York, 2017). 245 pp., $22.
 
No matter how many of the bestselling books authored by Jesuit Father James Martin you have read, a great deal of what's in this book -- a volume in the publisher's "Modern Spiritual Masters Series" -- is likely to be unfamiliar. While it includes some brief excerpts from his most popular books ("The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything," "Jesus: A Pilgrimage," "A Jesuit Off-Broadway" and "Between Heaven and Mirth"), most of what you'll find here comes from articles by Father Martin that appeared in various periodicals including America (more than 200 to date), the Tablet, Huffington Post and Portland, the University of Portland's alumni magazine.
 
James T. Keane does the author's many fans a service, then, by presenting them with material they might otherwise never know about.
 
Keane gathers this book's 40-some articles into four categories titled: Motions of the Soul: Spirituality and Prayer; God in All Things: The Divine in Daily Life; The Care of Souls: Solidarity with the Suffering and the Wounded; and More by Deeds than by Words: Models of Holiness. Article titles many readers will find particularly appealing are "Reflections on Chronic Illness and Pain, Among Other Things," "Holy Dirt" (about sacramentals), "Six Stupid Things I Never Want to Do Again," "Don't Be a Jerk," "Lourdes Diary," "Why Stay in a Church So Clearly Flawed" and "The Saint of the Sock Drawer" (about St. Jude).
 
In his introduction, a short biographical essay about Father Martin, editor Keane make a solid case for his comparison of Father Martin to the great 20th-century Trappist monk, author, social critic and poet Thomas Merton. Father Martin most likely dismisses any such comparison. Still, Keane writes: "James Martin, SJ, the Jesuit priest who is perhaps American Catholicism's most prominent public figure, was a lukewarm, non-practicing Catholic on the fast track to executive riches at General Electric."
 
While this is certainly true, one may be justified in observing that there are, undoubtedly, many regular Catholics with similar backgrounds who returned to being Catholic or joined the Church and did not go on to become priests or nuns, but went on to live their faith in admirable, even heroic ways without becoming well known in the pattern of Fathers Merton and Martin. One may hope for a book, one day, that presents the inspiring stories of just such ordinary Catholics.
All the same, "James Martin: Essential Writings" is a solid, inspiring and informative book. Read up!
- - -
Finley is the author of more than 30 books on Catholic themes, including "What Faith is Not" (Sheed & Ward) and a new revised and updated edition of "The Rosary Handbook: A Guide for Newcomers, Old-Timers, and Those In Between" (Word Among Us Press).
 

Book review: 'The Discerning Parent: An Ignatian Guide to Raising Your Teen'

“The Discerning Parent: An Ignatian Guide to Raising Your Teen.”  By Tim and Sue Muldoon. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2017. 193 pages. Paperback: $13.55; Kindle: $12.87; Nook: $10.99.
 
From both my experience and the experience of other parents like me, it seems there are two times when we actively seek out books on how best to do our job of raising children. The first might be called the pre-emptive consult, when we know a life change is coming and we want to be prepared to meet it. The second is when we are in the midst of a crisis and desperately need some help and support in order to weather it constructively and well.
 
Tim and Sue Muldoon’s latest book, “The Discerning Parent: An Ignatian Guide to Raising Your Teen,” falls into both categories. Not only does it help prepare parents for the exhilarating but sometimes frightening ride called nurturing teenaged children, but also it serves as a reassuring touchstone when things might not be going as well as everyone had hoped.
 
Although the book is filled with sage advice gleaned from both the authors’ personal and professional experience, it is not a “how-to” book in the sense that there are check-off lists of techniques and activities that will “do the trick” in the face of difficulties. Rather, it leads parents on a faith journey that is as much about their own spiritual growth as it is their children’s.
 
For those not as familiar with the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Muldoon’s begin with a definition of discernment.  “Discernment,” they explain, “is a refinement of the practice of listening to God’s music in a world full of noise. We love that image: it suggests that what each of us is doing in discernment is using a tuning fork to ensure that the tune we play is in harmony with the music of God.” That’s because the goal, ultimately, is to not only for parents to find their own rhythm with God, but to help their children do so as well.
 
Because of the nature of the discernment process, it is suggested that the book be reflected on in small “doses,” no more than one or two concepts at a time. This reflection will then naturally lead to thoughtful action or, as the authors put it, “show(ing) your teen what your faith is; don’t just talk about it.” Action will then come back to still more reflection and discussion, which results in further action -- and so the process will continue and grow.
 
The book addresses six areas in the lives of both teens and their parents: the discernment process itself, developing a deep prayer life, establishing a strong and healthy sense of self, growing in responsible freedom, understanding the gifts of the body as means of divine grace and meeting life’s challenges in the company of God.  Each chapter includes quotes from Ignatian Spirituality as well as prayer and questions for reflection.
 
Perhaps one of the most comforting thing parents will take away from this book is the reassurance that “God calls us as we are. We need not be perfect people to be great parents.”  Even if, after all our efforts, our children wander from the faith or seem to move in a very different direction from what we had hoped, we need to remember that it is God who works alongside them in ways we may not yet know.  “God is free to act in our teens’ lives, and our teens are ultimately free to say yes or no to the various ways God is working to invite them,” the Muldoon’s remind us.  “Our role is to be faithful to our vocation as parents: to pray for our children, to educate them, to lead them toward good choices. Perhaps the way they are responding to God is still hidden to us and will reach fruition after we have died. Part of our faith, our discernment, means allowing that relationship to unfold.”
 
Author bio:
 
Tim Muldoon is a theologian and the author and editor of several books on Ignatian spirituality, marriage, and family. A professor for many years, Muldoon has taught at Mount Aloysius College and Boston College and speaks frequently at colleges, universities, schools, parishes, dioceses and retreat centers.
 
Sue Muldoon is a therapist and religious educator who has worked in clinical, collegiate and parish settings. Her work has focused on young adults and children.  They are the parents of three children.
 
 
 

Movie review: 'All Saints'

Sincere but less than slick, the low-key, fact-based drama "All Saints" (Sony) celebrates Christian faith and family life. Believers, accordingly, will likely be inclined to overlook its artistic shortcomings.
 
Director Steve Gomer and screenwriter Steve Armour recount the story of the titular Episcopal parish in Smyrna, Tenn. With its dwindling congregation down to a mere dozen, the church appears to have no future. So its new pastor, Michael Spurlock (John Corbett), arrives with orders from his superior, Bishop Thompson (Gregory Alan Williams), to shut it down and sell off its property.
 
A former salesman taking up his first assignment in ministry, Michael is not disposed to question his instructions, at least at first. But the revitalizing influence of an influx of devoutly Anglican refugees from Southeast Asia -- Nelson Lee plays their leader, Ye Win -- begins to change his outlook.
 
The newcomers are Karen people, the victims of long-standing and bloody persecution by the government of their homeland, Myanmar. Partly in order to aid them, but also with an eye to rescuing All Saints, Michael launches a scheme to transform the fields around the church into a profitable farm.
 
His plan draws the support of his dedicated wife, Aimee (Cara Buono), but the steady opposition of Forrest (Barry Corbin), an ornery veteran parishioner. Other challenges come in the form of a lack of equipment and a potential drought.
 
Through the changing fortunes that follow, Michael demonstrates determination, perseverance and solidarity with the immigrants who now make up the bulk of his flock. Gomer clearly aims to inspire his audience, and "All Saints" -- despite its necessary discussion of the ill-treatment to which the Karen have been subjected -- is generally wholesome and suitable for most age groups.
 
Considered on a purely aesthetic level, however, the picture suffers from a sluggish pace and often awkward tone. Good intentions help to make up for, but cannot entirely mask, these defects. Still, patient patrons will find positive values awaiting them under the sometimes-imperfect surface.
 
The film contains mature themes, including references to atrocities and rape, and a marital bedroom scene.
 
The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
 

Movie review: 'Leap!'

Ballet enthusiasts of all ages should jump at the chance to see the charming animated film "Leap!" (Weinstein).
 
Set in 1880s France, and originally entitled "Ballerina," this French-Canadian movie, produced by L'Atelier Animation and directed with brio by Eric Summer and Eric Warin, is a visual wonder.
 
Streetscapes of Paris are rendered in colorful detail, while precise ballet poses and movements are depicted in a fluid, almost photo-realistic manner. Nor does the inclusion of a couple of mild bathroom jokes seriously detract from a winning tale about friendship, perseverance and helping others in need.
 
The plot centers on two orphans, Felicie (voice of Elle Fanning) and Victor (voice of Nat Wolff). Inspired by a music box left in her crib by the birth mother she never knew, Felicie longs to be a dancer. Victor, on the other hand, wants to be a famous inventor.
 
The buddies plan their getaway from the orphanage. "We arrived at the same time and we'll escape at the same time," says Felicie.
 
Standing in their way are the authorities at their (presumably Catholic) orphanage: the predictably stern Mother Superior (voice of Kate McKinnon) and a gruesome caretaker, Monsieur Luteau (voice of Mel Brooks).
 
But destiny will not be denied and -- with Victor masquerading as a nun -- the merry duo absconds. They make their way to the City of Light where Victor lands a job in the workshop of Gustave Eiffel, who is busy constructing his namesake tower.
 
Meanwhile, Felicie heads to Paris' famed opera house and its ballet school. She meets Odette (voice of Carly Rae Jepsen), a cleaning woman with a secret: She was once a prima ballerina until sidelined by injury.
 
Odette takes pity on the orphan and agrees to train her so she can impress Merante (voice of Terrence Scammell), the demanding instructor of wannabe ballerinas. To succeed, Felicie must outwit Odette's mean boss, Regine Le Haut (also voiced by McKinnon), and Regine's bratty daughter, Camille (voice of Maddie Ziegler).
 
Dozens and dozens of plies and pirouettes later, Felicie faces Camille in the ultimate dance-off for a coveted starring role in "The Nutcracker." Through it all, Felicie is sustained by the voice of her birth mother (McKinnon again) saying in her head: "Don't give up on your dreams. If you never leap you'll never know what it is to fly."
 
The film contains brief scatological humor and a less than flattering representation of women religious. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
 
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Movie review: 'Logan Lucky'

Director Steven Soderbergh reinvents his "Ocean's Eleven" trilogy with a backwoods twist in "Logan Lucky" (Bleecker Street), a zany heist caper.
 
Instead of suave leading men like George Clooney and Brad Pitt, who rob casinos with sophistication and flair, Rebecca Blunt's screenplay presents a band of mismatched misfits from West Virginia who turn to crime in the hope of a better life beyond the trailer park.
 
The resulting romp is an amusing bit of fluff, a tasty confection that, like cotton candy and other late summer treats, does not linger long in the memory. It's safest for grownups, but possibly acceptable for mature teens as well.
 
Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) has just lost his job as a coal miner. He adores his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie), who lives with his mean ex-wife, Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes). With Bobbie Jo planning to relocate out of state, Jimmy is in desperate need of cash to move closer to his daughter.
 
He concocts a scheme to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway in neighboring North Carolina during a NASCAR race. The racetrack sits atop a series of tunnels which Jimmy helped to excavate, and where he observed the elaborate system of pneumatic tubes that funnels cash from the betting windows and concessions above to the vault below.
 
A bit too eagerly, Jimmy's siblings hop on board: his one-armed bartender brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), who makes a mean martini, and his sassy sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), a beautician.
 
All that's needed is a demolition expert to blow a hole in the vault. Enter the aptly named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, straying very far indeed from his James Bond persona). There's one catch: This lunatic is in prison.
 
No worries: Jimmy and Clyde arrange to spring Joe for the heist and have him back in his cell before the guards miss him.
 
"Logan Lucky" rolls merrily along, introducing more oddball characters than you can wave a racing flag at, including Joe Bang's dimwit born-again brothers, Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson), and a smarmy race-team owner with the brilliant name of Max Chilblain (Seth MacFarlane).
 
As the climax nears, expect a few curve balls -- as well as curvaceous FBI agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank). She arrives to investigate the so-called "Hillbilly Heist," which also goes by the code name "Ocean's 7-11" (wink, wink).
 
The film contains drug references and occasional profane and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
 
 

Movie review: 'Annabelle: Creation'

Most of the mayhem wreaked by the figurine-haunting demon at the center of the horror prequel "Annabelle: Creation" (Warner Bros.) is restrained. Yet, as the film progresses, director David F. Sandberg and his collaborators allow their imagery to become briefly but disturbingly graphic.
 
Accordingly, only those grown moviegoers willing to brave flashes of intense gore should say hello to this particular dolly.
 
This also is not a good fit for those insistent on strict logic or those who expect the characters on screen to behave rationally. As for Catholic viewers, they will likely be both annoyed and distracted by the wildly inaccurate, albeit incidental, portrayal of their faith incorporated into the proceedings.
 
In 1950s California, a group of female orphans shepherded by kindly nun Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) have somehow -- by circumstances not specified in returning screenwriter Gary Dauberman's script -- been displaced from their former dwelling. They've been offered refuge, of a sort, at the rambling, spooky home of dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his invalid wife, Esther (Miranda Otto).
 
The Mullins are still overcome by grief following the death of their young daughter, Bee (Samara Lee), in a tragic car accident a dozen years before. So their hospitality is extended in an effort to brighten the tone of their funereal household. The outcome, of course, is quite the opposite.
 
No sooner has polio-afflicted Janice (Talitha Bateman) been warned by her brooding host to steer clear of Bee's perpetually locked bedroom than she somehow finds herself inside that very chamber, mucking about and stirring up trouble.
Discovering a hidden key to the closet in which the toy of the title has until now been confined, Janice unleashes her, much in the manner of Pandora opening her ill-fated box. Cue a reign of terror for nosy Janice, her BFF, Linda (Lulu Wilson), and the rest.
 
Darwin has clearly had no place in these girls' education. No matter how hair-raising the terrors to which Annabelle and her guiding fiend subject them, they always move toward danger, never away from it. Even allowing for youthful curiosity, this stubborn refusal to learn from experience becomes a tiresome trait.
Even more taxing, however, is a scene in which Sister Charlotte hears Janice's confession of her disastrous trespass, not in the context of a confidential conversation but in what is clearly meant to be a formal sacramental encounter.
 
Thus Janice kicks things off by requesting, "Bless me, Sister, for I have sinned," and Sister Charlotte wraps things up by imposing a penance, though no absolution intervenes.
 
The fact that only bishops and priests can administer the sacrament of reconciliation is hardly a bit of inside-baseball religious arcana. And the mistake is all the more glaring in a movie that clearly wants to position itself, in some vague way at least, as faith-friendly. Equally out of place in that proposed context is the counter-scriptural concept that infernal beings can somehow "steal" human souls.
 
There are some old-fashioned shivers awaiting the restricted audience for which this follow-up to the 2014 original -- itself a spinoff of "The Conjuring" franchise -- can be labeled appropriate. But lapses in reason, believability and even the most rudimentary knowledge of Catholicism may inspire more frowns than frissons.
 
The film contains a distorted presentation of Catholic faith practices, mostly stylized but briefly very bloody violence, numerous gruesome images and at last one mild oath. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R – restricted, under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
 
 

Book review: 'Things My Father Taught Me about Love'

By Lois Rogers
 
In her small book, “Things My Father Taught Me about Love,” author, editor and educator Mary Regina Morrell offers a bouquet of insights on faith, spirituality and family life gleaned from her own garden.
 
Brushed with humor, tenderness and a sense of reverence for the way small and meaningful moments can illuminate life, Morrell’s 54-page book opens the door to her world and bids readers come inside and experience the spiritual gifts of her loving father.
 
Over the years, she has shared these lessons with readers of her award-winning, syndicated column, “Things My Father Taught Me,” which weaves together insights drawn from life as daughter, wife, mother of six and friend to many.
 
In what she calls “just a snippet of our lives, a whirlwind of blessing and loss, joy and heartbreak, grief, frustration and accomplishment,” Morrell gifts us with endearing glimpses into her own life and a reflection of our own.
 
She begins with a simple litany of these gifts which run the gamut from doing good and loving well to laughing often as we embrace the mystery of God.
 
Traveling with her in the all-too-brief pages, we see the possibilities that emerge as “life unfolds while we are not looking.”
 
The landscape Morrell creates winds through the garden nurtured by her father which, in turn, inspired her boundless ability to marvel at God’s creation.
 
It surfaces in a pond full of koi where, leaning over to view the aquatic parade, her own reflection in the water brings to mind the myth of Narcissus – the Greek youth in love with his own image. She notes presciently how this ancient and sometimes fatal character flaw seems sadly to be “flourishing in this day and age.”
 
It’s a vision that ranges from pathos – Morrell writes movingly of the deaths of her parents – to the joy experienced when the ordinary suddenly becomes  extraordinary; the immeasurable gratitude of a friend, for instance, when one of her six sons bestows upon him a huge container of cannoli cream rescued from the shore bakery where he worked as it closed for the winter.
Morrell’s fluid and approachable style is, in itself, a gift to readers. She’s able to weave a considerable body of knowledge into a book filled with basics that everyone can savor.
 
In demand as a speaker and catechetical consultant, she begins each entry with a quote, drawing mostly from Scripture, the saints or Catholic apologists including G.K. Chesterton and Thomas Hardy.
 
Opportunities to pause and enter into prayer and reflection with excerpts from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, provide welcome respite in these troubled times.
 
Rabbi Irwin Kula, author of “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred the Messiness of Life,” captured the essence of this book in his endorsement: “If you want to find God, know love and truly understand these are the same, read this beautiful book. But be prepared to have your heart opened up, to laugh and to cry, to take many deep breaths of awe and wonder and to shout out to the Heavens and to the people in your life, ‘Thank You! Hallelujah!’ What a perfect dose of grace this book is for people of all backgrounds.”
 
“Things My Father Taught Me,” with cover designed by Clara Baumann, is available on Amazon as an e-book.
 
Lois M. Rogers is a long-time journalist and creator of “Keeping the Feast,” an award winning blog on food, faith and family.
 
Mary Morrell is a life-long writer who has served as associate director of religious education in the Diocese of Metuchen; assistant editor and catechetical consultant for RENEW International; managing editor of The Monitor, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton, and is author of Angels in High Top Sneakers, Loyola Press. She may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 

 
 
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