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