Five Habits of Effective Parishes

by admin on 13 March, 2014

BP_Habits_iStock_ChristopherFutcherIf you can get beyond all the sorrow, horror, and fury about sex, there’s a space miraculously constant, both still and flowing, that is the heart of the Catholic Church. It goes by the name of parish, and it means ritual, community, spirit, and faith. The best parishes are constantly renewing themselves, while somehow keeping that constancy.

The editors at US Catholic asked me to write about the best practices of Catholic parishes, mundane seeming stuff that’s crucial for success. I talked with parish leaders around the country about communications, faith formation, getting parishioners involved, making a good first impression, and keeping track of what’s working and what’s not working.

From Oregon to Maryland, parishes are still key. Take a look!

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Patrick Leigh Fermor in Bulgaria

by admin on 27 February, 2014

I’ve been intrigued by Bulgaria ever since reading Elizabeth Kostova’s marvelous novel The Historian. These evenings I’m reading The Broken Road, a book I’ve been waiting for for decades. It’s been decades since I read the first two books in Fermor’s trilogy, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, so when I review  The Broken Road for The Historical Novel Review (they also review nonfiction of interest to historical fiction fans), I won’t compare.

Balasha Cantacuzene Balasha Cantacuzene Patrick Leigh Fermor PLF

The book’s introduction lays out how PLF continued his detour from the straight and narrow in order to spend several years living with Romanian Phanariote princess Balasha Cantacuzene (maybe from the time he was 20 until he was 24). He’d already begun that detour, of course, with his long walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, that is, from the west of Netherlands to Istanbul. It was decades later when he wrote the account of the walk, sans the notebooks he took at the time. It was all from memory, an amazing memory but one enriched by the older Fermor’s perspective.

His dashing, romantic life almost predictably then had a chapter in Crete during the war when he fought the Nazis there as part of a undercover group of saboteurs. 

Rila-Monastery-2Back to Bulgaria. Here’s the Rila Monastery, where “Paddy” spent several hangover-inducing partying nights (the purpose of monasteries in this part of the world, he explains) with a young Greek-Bulgarian girl, Nadedja, nearly his twin in age.

One of PLF’s attractions is his obvious love for women. He loves women and women love him. He is marvelously restrained in the details of relationships; I remember just one occasion in one of the earlier books where he pretty obviously bedded a young woman, maybe a gypsy, by a spring riverbank. Or perhaps a field of poppies.

And of course he was great friends with Ian Flemming, Bond’s creator.

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C.S. Lewis: A Life Observed

25 February, 2014

Devin Brown writes that, unless he could find an entirely new angle,  he saw no reason to write yet another biography of the beloved novelist and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. (Such a startlingly concept: apologist. Is it modern? Apologizing for  faith in a secular time, explaining why it makes sense after all… Or is it instead […]

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Summer laugh

23 February, 2014


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Waking from the Dream

22 January, 2014

While the book that David Chappell is best known for, A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow, seems as though it could be taught in philosophy or religion classes as well as history classes, his latest book is a different species. Waking from the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights […]

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Bright mind, quiet mouth

19 January, 2014

Like a magnificent medieval tapestry, Nicola Griffith’s historical novel Hild pulls you into a foreign, familiar world and shows how it was. Griffith has taken the historical figure, St. Hild of Whitby Monastery, and put flesh and desire into her. Hild begins when the future abbess is just 3 years old, the niece of King […]

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St. Peter’s Bones

15 January, 2014

For me, with a passion for history, faith, and mystery, St. Peter’s Bones was almost bound to be a hit. It was especially meaningful since I’ve been to Rome a couple times, and wandered through much of that city’s history, the layers of which are so marvelously visible. Author Craughwell uses the bizarre story of […]

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Diving into The Ocean at the End of the Lane

18 December, 2013

Although I put The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman, on my Goodreads fantasy shelf, it felt so real and so important that I hesitated. The story feels like the kind of myth that form world views. It’s the story of a boy who loves books and kittens, who is welcomed […]

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Slavery Novels: The Residue of History | by Kristen Hannum | Historical Novel Society

13 December, 2013

Slavery Novels: The Residue of History | by Kristen Hannum | Historical Novel Society. The Historical Novel Review did a great job with my article on slavery last month – in which I interviewed a couple marvelous authors plus a great historian about slavery in historical novels, specifically the despicable institution of enslaving Africans and […]

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From theater in Colorado to social justice

22 June, 2012

I’ve got two cover articles this summer—“Big Time Theater in Small Town Colorado,” in Colorado Country Life, and “Social Justice: What’s tarnishing its good name?” in U.S. Catholic. The two magazines are as different as a country store is from a cathedral (both great destinations, but you go for different reasons), and the articles are […]

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