The Parallel Between Monastic Nuns and Motherhood

Nicole BugnackiUncategorized, Year of the Sister

A Reflection on In This House of Brede by Megan Keyser How delighted I was to see Rumer Godden’s inspiring Catholic novel, In This House of Brede, among the reading selections in this “Year of the Sister.” This was my second reading of the novel, and I was struck, even more profoundly this subsequent time, with the exquisite poignancy of the work, which paints a vivid and awe-inspiring glimpse into the rich beauty of monasticism, while also stripping away the somewhat “unapproachable” veneer of cloistered life, and, subsequently, humanizes a community of rather ordinary women, who are none-the-less embarking on a journey of extraordinary and radical spiritual surrender. To the modern individual, it might seem incredulous to accept that parallels could possibly exist between monastic nuns, who have entered into a life dedicated to prayer, spiritual pursuits, and worldly detachment, and mothers, who are very much entrenched in the material demands of managing a home and attending to corporeal needs of human existence. But the challenges and difficulties inherent to both remain strikingly similar, as they each represent a denial of self for the Love of God. This shared purpose unites us – as sleep-deprived, daunted, and frankly, overwhelmed mothers … Read More

What are the criteria for a Well-Read Mom book?

Nicole BugnackiYear of the Sister

Life is busy!  For many women, mothers in particular, personal reading is often viewed as a luxury that gets sacrificed to the busyness of daily life. So when we do make time to read, we want to be sure that we are participating in something good and beautiful. We desire to actively  engage in an activity that seeks to open our moral imagination and lead us to truth. But what does this mean? And how do we know what books might fall into these categories and how can characters that seem to live lives that are anything but beautiful lead us to deep abiding truth? Well-Read Mom has spent a great deal of time thinking about this topic and we would like to share what we look for in our book selections with you. It is our fervent hope that our criteria will help you select quality literature that you will not only enjoy, but will also help you grow. We hope this article gives you a deeper understanding of how Well-Read Mom selects the books we read together each year.  So, what are the criteria that Well-Read Mom uses to select books for our booklist each year First we … Read More

The Joy in the Heart of the Mother of a Religious Sister

Nicole BugnackiYear of the Sister

by Ana Braga-Henebry When our daughter told us she was going to enter the cloistered religious life, it was one of these life moments we never forget. My husband and I lay in bed that night, holding hands, awake. Afterwards I described the moment as similar to a child announcing an engagement, but it was not quite the same. Along the joy and excitement, there is an added dimension of loss, separation, even death, in a decision for the cloister.   Through time, we grew more used to the idea and began talking about it to family and friends. I teach at a small parochial school alongside wonderful religious sisters, and one of them was so excited by the news. “Your family will receive unimaginable blessings”, she told me, and I clung to her words fiercely.  My husband and I prepared to handle critical responses from family and friends, and were pleasantly surprised by their general absence. The few concerns brought up revolved around her intellectual abilities. A diligent student, Maria was a spelling wiz having gone to the National Bee and receiving academic awards in high school in many areas including writing and Latin. Her college professors were astounded … Read More

Good Books Can Be a Path to Virtue

Nicole BugnackiYear of the Sister

As part of the annual New York Encounter cultural event several years ago, Well-Read Mom arranged a reading of selected letters from C. S. Lewis’s book, The Screwtape Letters. This book is made up of a series of fictional advice letters from a senior demon to his young nephew, who has been assigned to tempt a human “patient.” After this reading, a young man approached me. I thanked him for attending, but he said, “No—thank you. You don’t understand. I needed to hear this. I see myself in the patient. I’ve been away from the church, and I’ve believed these tricks of the Devil. I need to come back to church.”I later learned that he followed through on that decision. The Screwtape Letters helped him to see the choices he was making in his own life. The book awakened his imagination and helped him to change course. C.S. Lewis was an atheist in his youth, but he was a reader with a superbly well-trained mind and imagination. Books were an important part of his conversion to Christianity. When he happened to pick up the book Phantastes, by George MacDonald, on the sales rack in a railway station, it introduced him to … Read More

Good Intentions Are Not Enough

Janel LewandowskiYear of the Sister

How many times have I made my list of resolutions with some gusto on New Year’s day, only to forget what they were by the end of the month?  Good intentions are not enough.  They need to transition into a plan. Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” For years I wanted to read more, and I would say, “Oh, there is a long weekend coming up. I”ll read then, but as every woman knows, that doesn’t necessarily happen. We can’t wait for hours of reading time to come our way. We need to be intentional. Many women hold a deep (perhaps subconscious) belief that self-care is selfish. They conclude that it’s okay to take care of themselves if—and only if—everyone else’s needs are met. This belief is illogical. A woman spiraling in this direction is in danger of being depleted. And a depleted soul has little to give anyone. This type of unbalanced martyrdom ends up actually hurting the people we love because we destroy our own capacity to serve them.   When I was a young mother in a book club for the first time, I realized I was participating in something … Read More

Merry Christmas

Nicole BugnackiYear of the Sister

The beautiful chaos of the Christmas season should be mostly over. Now is the time to sit back and relax in the glow of the tree lights while soaking in the refreshing peace that comes from enjoying a good book. The ground here in Minnesota is covered with a fresh layer of snow and the kids are occupied by their new toys. So, why am I finding it so difficult to enter into the reading?   I don’t think I am alone. Many people are finding it difficult to concentrate when they try to read from a book. This problem has a solution. And that is, to start reading from print more often. The deep-reading “muscle” is like other muscles. The way to strengthen it is to use it.  If you, like many of us, find that it has become more challenging to deeply concentrate on a novel, don’t give up. Concentrating has become more difficult than it used to be; people find it is less natural to sit down with a printed book. Reading online feels much more compelling. English professor Karen Swallow Prior (in Christianity Today – January 2019) claims that:  “Between blog posts, Twitter feeds, listicles, and long-winded … Read More

The Way of Perfection: A reflection by a cloistered Dominican nun

Nicole BugnackiYear of the Sister

We may wince at the prospect of growing in humility—but we so enjoy the company of humble persons. Isn’t this one of the reasons why St. Teresa of Avila is so delightful? She has no pretenses and disarms the reader with her simplicity and candor. She may have been a mystic, a reformer, and declared a doctor of the Church alongside St. Catherine of Siena. But all of that flowed from the reality that she was a woman of humility. Humility: the foundation of the entire spiritual life and St. Teresa’s magistral work, The Way of Perfection. She writes in Chapter 32, “You must practice simplicity and humility, for those are the virtues that achieve everything.” Everything—but most especially, real prayer, real communion with God. So, while her work offers countless insights and practical help on prayer, these will benefit us little if we have not grasped the role of humility. But, before plunging into The Way of Perfection itself, we need to orient ourselves within St. Teresa’s theological universe. To do this, we must start at the very beginning of human history with the account of the fall of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. Although some … Read More

Pssst. I have a little secret. 

Janel LewandowskiUncategorized, Year of the Sister

I have a little secret. I don’t like reading Well-Read Mom’s spiritual reads.  You see, I find reading them incredibly difficult. I desire to have read them (note the past tense), but the amount of discipline it takes to immerse myself in these books is challenging. Often at this time of the year, I find myself reflecting on why this is so difficult for me. Have I failed? My self-analysis reveals things I don’t really like to admit and would be easier to put off thinking about until I repeat this process in Lent. Sigh. My internal process goes something like this. The book list comes out. In my mind, I begin to create a hierarchical list of the books I am looking forward to reading. I see the advent spiritual read: The Way of Perfection. November comes. I am filled with good intentions. I’m starting early.  I snuggle up with my cup of coffee in the coziest chair in the house, and bribe the kids with a movie and think. Here I go!  I can do this. But somewhere around page 22, I begin to give up. This reading is slow. This is hard. Maybe I can’t do this.  … Read More

The Eternal Effect of a Rembrandt – A Reflection by Teri Severson

Janel LewandowskiYear of the Artist

           Does art have a message for the onlooker? Does it have a goal or a possible meaning behind it for the observer? Artist Francis Bacon stated “The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.”  In Henri Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal Son, we learn that Rembrandt’s famous painting by the same name had a profound impact on the author.  It revealed life-changing truths to him as he contemplated and studied it for years, beginning with his first gaze upon it. Those truths brought with it the fruits of peace, inner healing, and total freedom and certainty in the revelation of Christ’s incomprehensible mercy and love for him.  It does make one wonder how a painting done in the seventeenth century, depicting a parable from the first century, could have such an effect on a person in the twentieth century! “A painting is never finished,” says Paul Gardener. “it simply stops in interesting places.”       In the book, Nouwen shows how he first, instinctively, saw himself in the prodigal son. “Over and over again I have left home,” he writes. “I have fled the hands of blessing and ran off in search … Read More