“Littlest Suffering Souls” by Austin Ruse

 The little wren outside is pecking seeds off the wooden deck- so small and seemingly insignificant.

What could this poor little creature teach me?  

How often we ignore the littlest among us.  How often we ignore the simple of heart, those who go about their purpose in life, while the rest of the complicated world whirls around them.

Especially when it comes to suffering human beings, we’re slow to take notice of those who can’t keep up with the pace.

The book, Littlest Suffering Souls, by Austin Ruse, reminds readers of the great graces available to those who are faced with the care and responsibility of little ones, and additionally, the humility it takes to learn from life’s sicknesses and pain.

And there may be no greater pain that watching a child suffer.  

Our Mother Mary knew that ache.

Ruse shares the blessed heroism of three modern day children and their families. And he shows us that each family is unique in the crosses they bear, but that all are called to embrace them with love.

And then, miracles happen!

Devotion, faith, openness, and littleness of heart

bring exaltation, blessings and unexpected joys.

Ruses’ book is about three small children who suffered greatly from physical illnesses.  Struck with Downs Syndrome, leukemia, spinal bifida, and all their complications, the short lives of Brendan, Margaret, and Audrey were a marathon of enduring pain. The untimely deaths of these little ones, though, continue to bring about great conversions.

Their example teaches us how redemptive suffering which is offered up and united to Christ’s, can be a powerful force.  Readers are led to consider how accepting one’s own crosses in life while keeping hope in expectant trust, can lead to peace and even joy.

Referencing great writers and saints in the Church, Ruse helps us understand this sometimes unpopular Catholic view.  Suffering united to Christ’s changes the world.  Brendan, Margaret and Audrey received wisdom beyond their young years, and suffered incredulously, with joy. Their parents’ stories, and those of their friends, are proof that these littlest suffering souls had a great mission.

All Catholic children, these three little ones became catechists and evangelizers to the family and friends they encountered.  How close they were to Jesus in the Eucharist- many of them requesting an early reception of this sacrament.  Priests who ministered to them and their families, were drawn to their saintly sides and remain forever changed in their own self sacrificial lives.

When the powerful, influential, and the worldly recognized the true Presence of Christ in Brendan, Margaret, and Audrey, they were changed. Renewed by watching them, even popes like St John Paul II, found renewal to serve the Lord and His Church in new ways.

Readers will find themselves privileged to have been given a glimpse of these saintly children, just as one catches a glimpse of a poor simple wren on a spring morning.

 As Ruse tells their stories, the heart and mind are given a new vision.  Our Lord tells us the same in His Word,

Yet we do speak a wisdom to those who are mature, but not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory,and which none of the rulers of this age knew;

for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

But as it is written:  “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart,what God has prepared for those who love him

(1 Cor 2: 6-9)

Brendan, Margaret, and Audrey, pray for us!


Couriers of Grace: My Daughter, the Sacraments and a Surprising Walk of Faith by Nancy Jo Sullivan

Tangible, real signs of God’s love-

these are the children that God gives as gifts to the family.

Tangible, real signs of God’s love as well –

these are the seven sacraments of the Catholic Faith.

Any parent will tell you, as Nancy Jo Sullivan does, that children are our pathways to sanctity.  And inevitably, the ones who present us the most challenges, are the very ones who purify us the most— if we allow God make Himself known through them.

Similarly, for the body as well as the soul, Our Creator has instituted the seven sacraments and has found a way for us to receive His powerful presence in our lives.  At these special times, He intervenes with His grace.

And Nancy Jo Sullivan shows us how the two –

children and sacrament- are together, a great walk of faith.

In Couriers of Grace, My Daughter, the Sacraments, and a Surprising Walk of Faith, Sullivan weaves the beautiful story of her life as a mother, in and out of all seven sacraments.  Sullivan’s firstborn Sarah, is perhaps her greatest professor of love.  Unexpectedly born with Downs Syndrome, Sarah’s innocence and purity of heart, open up new pathways to hearing God speak, even if it means painful struggle and trial.

A lover of fairy tales and the glories of a Kingdom,  little Sarah, the Princess is baptized and saved.  Her mother recalls a near drowning experience of her own as a child, and is given a certain closure in her understanding of dying and rising to new life.

Little Sarah’s stuttering encouragement to “f-f-forgive” bring her mom back to confession, after spending years away. And even when families are broken, (Sullivan experiences a painful break up of her marriage) she sees how they still come together, to celebrate Mass week by week.  It is Sarah’s twirls down the communion aisle,  to receive her Bridegroom Prince that teaches Sullivan and her readers that we are indeed called to be bride!

As sacraments are received through the beauty of ordained priesthood, Sullivan embraces and also struggles with those whom God has chosen for this vocation.  In men who truly are the face of Christ to her in spiritual direction and who treat Sarah with incredible dignity as a person, she is able to reconcile conflicting feelings. Though the Church and even the priesthood itself is not immune from the diseases of sin, Christ is in our midst to heal us!   A lay worker in the Church’s vineyard herself, Sullivan comes to understand her call to “everyday priesthood” – to be priest, prophet and king, living the truth of Christ in her family and in her work.

And even through the painful loss of little Sarah, whose body was created to be here on earth just for a time, Sullivan is given an increase in grace, as God makes Himself known through the tears.  Sullivan witnesses Sarah’s fear of death dissipate as she becomes  certain that she is going to leave earth to see “her Prince”.    She blesses her mother’s forehead-  almost as an “anointing of the sick” for them both, and falls asleep peacefully….only weeks later to rest in peace for all time.

Tangible real signs of God’s love- our children and our Church in her sacraments.  Sullivan shares the beauty of her walk of faith, which comes from them both… and the lessons that emerged as she contemplated their depth.

This book is a gift to any parent raising children, especially in faithfulness to our promises to pass on the Catholic faith to their hearts.

So often we think they will be the only recipients

as we strive to make sure they are covered in the graces the sacraments offer.

But as so often happens in our relationship with God, He surprises us with His generosity and love.

We find we’re the ones who grow in knowledge of His power.

 We’re the ones who are doubly blessed!

Faith Under Fire by Matthew Archbold

a1msna2zn4l Messages of hope are gifts from the Lord.  And when told in the form of a real life story, the impact is even greater.

Archbold writes as if he is sitting in  your living room, telling the kind of story that draws  people overhearing them, in from the other rooms.

This book is full of powerful stories of courage….stories that leave you with hope.  Reading through them gives the opportunity to see how these apply in one’s own life.  How have I been challenged to stay faithful?  How can I be a witness to Christ?

Most of us will not likely be asked to give to the extreme that most of these people have.  Our tasks are more ordinary, our encounters more subtle.  But more and more we are being confronted.  The line is being drawn in the sand.  Do I really believe what I say I do?  Does that really affect my speech and deeds?

From stories of war to stories of career challenges, the drama comes down to one thing- faith.

Looking for inspiration?  Looking to draw strength from others in the conviction of faith?

Pick up Faith Under Fire, and be moved to pick up your daily cross, and follow Jesus to the hope and joy of the Resurrection!

“The Church is Our Mother” by Gina Loehr

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In about a week I’ll begin facilitating my third ENDOW class. ENDOW stands for Educating On The Nature and Dignity of Women. Women of all ages gather in small groups to study the writings of the Church. They read, discuss, share, and bring what they learn out into their world. This year we are studying St John Paul II’s document On the Dignity and Vocation of Women.

Timing is everything. Also just this week I began reading Gina Loehr’s book called “The Church is My Mother”, only to find the following in her introduction:

“‘The Church is woman, she is mother, and this is beautiful. You must consider and go deeper into this’.

When Pope Francis spoke these words to me and my companions…I felt a personal tug on my heart. We were commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women), a document that profoundly touched my life….

I had sworn off motherhood, not surprisingly, at the same time that I had sworn off Mother Church. But Mulieris Dignitatem helped me to return to the embrace of my mother, the Church, and personally to embrace my vocation to marriage and motherhood as well.”

It seems that this St John Paul II’s document was a springboard for Loehr’s conversion, and helped her gain deeper understanding of the great gift of holy motherhood-her own and that of the Catholic Church.

Reciprocally, Loehr’s book seems to have come to me as a gift . As I prepare to dive into the “dignity and vocation of women”, I’ve been reading through the chapters of Loehr’s book, as she describes seven ways the Church inspires us to love and how she shows that love in much the same way a mom would to the children she has borne. Moms are given the great privilege to help create, and then to care, teach, accept, sacrifice, heal and celebrate these precious lives.

Loehr reminds us that the title of Mother for Church is not new. Saints and the early Church Fathers used it often in describing her role in our lives. In a real and tangible way, the Church too gives us life, cares for and teaches us, accepts all and offers sacrifice ( the ultimate one in Christ’ death!), offers healing and celebrates our personhood.

Knowing how much encouragement is needed for moms, young and old, Loehr weaves in personal stories as a way to lift her readers up and offer a feminine heart who’s “been there”. And a study guide for each chapter makes the book perfect for small group sharing and discussion. For moms who yearn to integrate their faith into their vocation, the book can be a great way be inspired.

I’ve been…lifted up and inspired….and I feel more ready than ever to open up Momma Church’s pages in Mulieris Dignitatem – and read about her love and her gratitude for all women.