Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of Catholic bloggers who gather weekly to share our best posts with each other. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, discuss and link to your posts for the week--whether they deal with theology, Catholic living or cute Catholic kids. I'm mostly a book blogger so my posts are generally book reviews, some Catholic, some not. Make sure that post links back here. Once you publish it, come back here and leave a link below.

We also have a yahoogroup; signing up for it will get you one weekly reminder to post.  Click here to sign up.

Between pre-scheduled posts and those I wrote this week, I've been on a blogging roll.

After reading yet another article about the student loan "crisis" I decided to give some advice to those considering college.  After reading yet another facebook post about how horrible Obamacare is and another one advocating yet more government in healthcare I asked some questions I'd really like answered.   Many folks who read a lot of blogs do so through Google Reader.  Google announced recently that Google Reader will be shut down so like many others, I've been searching for alternatives.  Here is what I've found so far.  I'd love to get discussions going on any of those posts, so please chime in!

First Wildcard toured two Catholic books this week, so I participated.  The Church:  Unlocking the Secrets to the Places Catholics Call Home is about the "stuff" in churches--why it is there and what it mean.  Catholics Come Home  is about us normal people and what we can do to evangelize.

I reviewed two sweet romances:  Starting Now and Currant Creek Valley.

Finally, I reviewed a DVD, Les Miserables.  

Christ is Risen, Alleluia.  May you and yours enjoy the blessings of Easter today and always.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Things I'd Like to Know About Healthcare

"Everybody" knows that healthcare is too expensive.  "Everybody" knows we spend far more than other countries, and get worse results.  "Everybody" knows we have to do something.  "We" all know Obamacare is going to kill us. "They" all think Obama is the savior who is going to give us all great healthcare.  Me, I have a bunch of questions I have yet to see addressed on either side, probably because the answers don't help anyone defend his/her political opinion.
  • If you compare dollars spent on typical illnesses in the US, in Canada (universal single-payer system), in Great Britain (universal government-run system complimented with pay for service/insurance for those who can afford it) and in Germany (mandatory, often subsidized insurance based in workplace) what are the differences?  In other words, I'm not looking for percent of GDP overall, I want to know how much it costs to have a baby, get your gallbladder removed or treat stage one breast cancer of a particular variety.  I want to know how much well-baby care costs, how much a knee replacement costs or how much cataract surgery costs.  How much are birth control pills?  Pap smears?  And by cost, I'd like to know both the cost and the amount the typical patient pays out of pocket.  Take some typical patients and follow them through the system.  What happens?  Who decides?  Who pays?  What does it cost?
  • I  want to know what you get for your money in each of those cases.  If you are having a baby, how many ob visits, how many ultrasounds, how long do you spend in the hospital (and in the US, if there is a difference for the insured and the uninsured, I'd like to know that too).  If I get a positive mammogram, what happens here (assuming I'm insured, and assuming I'm not) and when does it happen?  What about there?  What are the survival rates?  What if I have back pain?  What treatment options are available, and how do I go about getting them?
  • I want to know who gets my money (or the patients' money in other countries).  How much do doctors make?  Nurses?  Nurses' Aids?  Hospital administrators? Drug companies?  Insurance companies?  Insurance company employees?  Government employees?
We've all heard that there are lies, damn lies and statistics.  We've all heard how much the US spends on  healthcare and we all groan when we hear how much our premiums are going up next year.  President Obama said his plan would get costs under control yet most insurers are predicting large premium increases next year because of more sick uninsured folks joining the pool while the well ones choose not to.   How are our costs different from other countries?  I've heard that two things we spend a tremendous amount of money on are caring for victims of gunshot and car accidents.  No  healthcare reform is going to "cure" that unless we start refusing to treat them.  Obesity and smoking cause millions of dollars in healthcare expenses yearly, disproportionately among the poor.  Is it fair to ask the overweight and the smokers to pay more for healthcare?  
I personally think we need to define the problem before we can solve it, and right now I don't think it is defined.  Is our problem that Pap smears cost so much that women can't afford to get them without a government subsidy?  If so,why do they cost so much?  Who is making the money?  Do they cost what they do only because they have a steady source of customers willing to pay that amount--in other words, if demand for Paps went down, would the price follow, or would they even go up in price because of economies of scale?  Is our problem that too many women who don't really need Pap smears are getting them , or getting them too often?  Or, are Pap smears something that given their current price, if they weren't covered by insurance, that the average American woman would consider money well spent to have one as often as she currently does?  I said Pap smears just because they are a regular part of healthcare for many women; you can substitute any other medication or procedure and ask the same questions.  

How much of our total healthcare bill is for relatively normal items, and how much for extraordinary things?  In other words, if you spend $1,000 per term healthy baby for hospital care after birth, and $100,000 for care of one premie, (those numbers are just made up, but you get the idea) and the cohort you are studying has 99 normal babies and 1 premie, the total cost for hospital care for newborns is $199,000, or an average of almost $2000 each.  However, no baby cost close to $2,000.  Is our problem that normal doctor visits cost too much, or than treating cancer costs too much, or both?  If so, how do we bring the cost down?

Movie Review: Les Miserables

About the Movie:
Hugh Jackman, Academy Award winner Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway star in this critically-acclaimed adaptation of the epic musical phenomenon. Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misrables tells the story of ex-prisoner Jean Valjean (Jackman), hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Crowe), after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine's (Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever.

My Comments:
A couple of weeks ago I got an email asking if I would be interested in reviewing Les Miserables.  Now, I'm a reader, not a movie watcher but I did know that there was a recent Broadway show Les Miserables, and was aware that it had been made into an acclaimed film.  Frankly, I didn't think that was the film I would be receiving; I figured it would be a cheap knock-off--some small studio's take on the classic book.  Still, the price was right (yep, free review copy) so I said  "sure".  When my teen daughter saw the above DVD, she asked "Why do they need you to review that; it's awesome!"  

The email was from an organization called Allied Faith and Family and here is what they had to say about Les Miserables:
LES MISÉRABLES provides a real-life look at the paths we choose in life, the decisions we make, and how the steep, narrow, uphill path points toward ultimate fulfillment. It shows how our human choices often conflict with God’s plan for our lives but how when we surrender to divine providence we can be confident that things will work out in the end. The story is so emotionally engaging and packed with Christian meaning, in fact, that at times you will not believe your eyes.
Both Valjean, through a major conversion initiated by a model priest, and Javert, another faithful Christian who prays to do God’s will, commit their lives to doing God’s will as they see it. But one operates with love while the other cares only about the letter of the law. One represents Peter and the other Judas Iscariot in that both betray Christ but one chooses repentance while the other chooses despair. And all of this operatic drama is performed against the most stirring soundtrack ever recorded live on a film set.
I asked Josh from Allied Faith and Family if he was looking for a review of the movie as family entertainment, and he said that was exactly what he was looking for.  Well, that's what he is going to get.

If your family has young kids, this film is not family entertainment.  As noted above, I'm not a big moviegoer so I'm not sure what types of movies usually get PG-13 ratings but this one was totally inappropriate for my almost nine year old.  First of all, she had trouble following the story at all.  I had to explain everything from  why the prisoners were pulling a ship into dry dock, what it meant when Valjean threw his papers away, why Fantine got her hair cut or teeth pulled, and why people looked so dirty.  Second of all I was trying to explain what the men were doing to the prostitute and why her clothes were almost falling off of her.  (I said some men enjoy hurting women).  Thirdly, there was a lot of death, including the death of  a boy about her age and of a woman dying in the arms of her love.  There was blood running in the streets.  There was a sex scene--you really couldn't see anything, but to those in the know it was clear what they were doing--and I'm not using that scene as an gateway to the birds and the bees talk with her.  There were a couple of scenes  where I covered her eyes and finally she left the room in tears after a death scene and I put her to bed.  

On the other hand, for appropriate age groups (definitely after the birds and the bees talk, and able to handle death up close) it was a wonderful film. It was almost completely sung and I loved the music.  The scenes of Paris and the crowds of poor were wonderfully done.  You could almost get a feel for the massiveness of the work but the massiveness of crowds beginning with the prisoners at the beginning of the film and ending with wedding at the end.  The story of course is classic.  

After we watched the movie I asked my teen daughter, who is currently taking AP Literature and is, therefore, used to analyzing literature for symbols and themes and that sort of thing, which Biblical characters Valjean and Javert stood for.  She asked if Valjean was a Christ figure.  When I told her Peter and Judas, she said that yes, she could see it, but she never would have come up with it on her own.  That was my thought as well.  

So, the verdict?  As an adult movie:  Grade A. As a family movie, for families with kids younger than teens:  F.  

Thanks Josh for the opportunity to review this movie.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book Review: Starting Now

About the Book:
For years Libby Morgan dreamed only of making partner in her competitive, high-pressure law firm. She sacrificed everything for her career—her friends, her marriage, her chance at creating a family. When her boss calls Libby into his office, she assumes it will finally be good news, but nothing can prepare her for the shocking reality: She’s been let go and must rebuild her entire life . . . starting now. 

With no job prospects in sight, Libby reaches out to old friends and spends her afternoons at A Good Yarn, the local knitting store. There she forms a close bond with Lydia, the sweet-natured shop owner; Lydia’s spirited teenage daughter, Casey; and Casey’s best friend, Ava, a shy yet troubled girl who will shape Libby’s future in surprising and profound ways. 

As A Good Yarn becomes a second home—and the women a new kind of family—Libby relishes the different person she’s become. She even finds time for romance with a charming and handsome doctor who seems to be her perfect match. But just as everything is coming together, Libby must make a choice that could forever change the life she holds so dear.

My Comments:
This is a Debbie Macomber novel and so you know that it will be sweet and clean.  Libby ends up sleeping with her guy, but all they do is sleep.  The ending is happy, though I think a little on the unrealistic side.  The book is general market romance, not Christian fiction but it mentions religion a little.  Once, Libby goes to the  hospital chapel, but instead of talking to God, she talks to her mother.  Later, she goes to some church down the street on Sunday.  Another character remembers his Catholic mother teaching him his memorized prayers, but it is noted that he hasn't said them lately.  

Starting Now is one of the Yarn Shop books and mentions a few of the main characters from the other books but it doesn't try to catch up readers with all the characters.   Those new to the series should not be lost trying to figure out who is who and how they fit together.  It just doesn't matter for this book, which pretty much has a self-contained plot without threads weaving back to other books.  

In short, if you like Macomber's books or are looking for an enjoyable light read with plenty of happily ever after, give this one a try.  Grade:  B.

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via Edelweiss.  

First Wildcard: The Church: Unlocking the Secrets to the Places Catholics Call Home

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card authors are:

Cardinal Donald Wuerl


and the book:

Image (March 5, 2013)

***Special thanks to Rick Roberson for sending me a review copy.***


DONALD CARDINAL WUERL is the Archbishop of Washington, DC, and the bestselling author of The Catholic Way. He is known nationally for his catechetical and teaching ministry and for his efforts on behalf of Catholic education.

MIKE AQUILINA is the author of over 20 books, including The Mass of the Early Christians and Fire of God's Love:120 Reflections on the Eucharist. He appears regularly on EWTN with Scott Hahn.

Visit the Mike's website.


From the bestselling authors of The Mass, an insightful and practical guide that explores the architectural and spiritual components of the Catholic Church.

Your local church is not only a physical place, but a spiritual home. In this thought-provoking book, Wuerl and Aquilina illuminate the importance of the Church in its many guises and examine the theological ideas behind the physical structure of churches, cathedrals, and basilicas. How is a church designed? What is the function of the altar? What does the nave represent? What is the significance of the choir loft? With eloquent prose and elegant black-and-white photography, these questions and many more will lead to answers that illuminate the history and practicality of Catholic life. CATHOLIC DREAM TEAM: In a pairing that brings together the best of the pastoral and the secular, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, DC, is teaming up once again with beloved author Mike Aquilina to bring us a unique vision of one the most important aspects of the Catholic faith.

Product Details:
List Price: $21.99
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Image (March 5, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0770435513
ISBN-13: 978-0770435516



Catholics love their churches.  We build them with love. We make them lovable.

If you visit a remote village in Latin America, the people will be pleased to show you their church—the church that they or their ancestors have raised to the glory of God. Step inside and you’ll find a sanctuary adorned with precious items: skillfully wrought woodwork, stonework, and metalwork, and paintings and statues in the local style. If you linger for Mass, you’ll see a chalice and plate of gold or silver, enhanced perhaps by gems.

The inside of the church may be lavish and rich, while the homes outside are simple and unadorned. And that contrast sometimes shocks people who are visiting from more prosperous lands. It has become a cliché of anti-Catholic prejudice to say that such precious objects would serve a better purpose if they were sold to raise money for food.

The people in the village know better. They know that the money earned from such a sale would feed them for no more than a few days, while the loss would leave them impoverished forever. Without their church—their church—they would be spiritually and culturally destitute. For they’ve built and furnished their church with love, as Catholics everywhere do and always have done.

Such love finds expression in the smallest details of construction and decoration, and in a seemingly infinite variety of styles. You’ll see it in Ethiopia’s ancient churches—carved out of a single massive block of black stone, the size of a small mountain. You’ll see it in Cappadocia’s cave churches—occupied during a time when Christianity was illegal and the faith was forced under- ground (literally). You’ll see it in the play of dark and light in the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages. You’ll find it in the most ordinary suburban churches in the United States.

These churches, in all their diversity, are built according to a common plan, furnished with similar items, and decorated with remarkably standard symbols, scenes, and images. The elements bespeak a love shared by Catholics from all over the world, regardless of language, culture, wealth, or historical period.

Catholics build their churches with love; and our love has a language all its own. Like romance, Christian devotion follows certain customs and conventions—a tradition poetic and courtly—hallowed by millennia of experience.

This book is about that silent language of love. In these pages we’ll examine the structure of a church and its furnishings. We’ll consider the historical and biblical roots of each element in a church, providing basic definitions, and we’ll explain each element’s meaning in the Christian tradition. Why, for example, do churches have spires and bells? Where did we get the custom of using holy water? How does an altar differ from an ordinary table? What are votive candles for?

Every part of a church is rich in meaning and mystery, theology and history. Every furnishing or ornament reveals some important detail of the story of our salvation. Through two millennia, Christians have preserved and developed a tradition of building and decoration. The tradition is supple enough that it could be adapted by local cultures as the Gospel spread to new lands, yet solid enough to protect and preserve the essential heritage received from the Apostles and revealed by God.

If you were making a movie and you wanted your audience to identify an interior immediately as a Catholic church, what would you do? You’d show sunlight streaming through stained glass. You’d angle your camera heavenward, looking upward past monumental statues of the saints. You’d pan across a bank of red votive candles with flickering flames, and then focus on an array of seemingly surreal images: a human heart surrounded by thorns; an eye; a disembodied hand raised in blessing; a painting of a woman standing on a crescent moon; a carving of a dove descending; a lion, an eagle, and an ox, all crowned by similar halos; and a throng of angels.

In the popular imagination, these elements add up to a Catholic identity. But what exactly does each of them mean?

And how do all the elements work together? What’s the sense of the symbols? What are we trying to say through the medium of human body parts and exotic animals? Late in the fourth century Saint Augustine, who would go on to become a builder of churches, wrote: “I know that a truth which the mind understands in just one way can be materially expressed by many different means, and I also know that there are many different ways in which the mind can understand an idea that is outwardly expressed in one way.”

The African saint gives us an important insight for “reading” our churches: One image can convey many layers of meaning, and the same idea can be expressed in manifold ways.

Everything we see in a Catholic church is there for a single purpose: to tell a love story. It is a story as old as the world, and it involves the whole of creation, the vast expanse of history, and every human being who ever lived. It involves Almighty God, and it involves you.

Art and architecture are means of communication. Our churches speak of something remote, beyond the reach of human sciences—what Dante called “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.” But our churches speak also to something deep inside us—in our souls and in our senses—because, as Dante added, the same Love that moves the cosmos also moves “my desire and my will.”

To understand our churches is to begin to understand a love at once unmistakably divine and profoundly human, faraway and yet intimate. When we begin to understand that love, it begins to light up our view of our churches and their symbols.

The love story appears in compressed, poetic form in the Gospel according to Saint John.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the dark- ness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . .

The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father. . . .

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ( John 1:1– 5, 9–14; 3:16)

John begins his Gospel by describing a God of awe- some power, remote in space and transcending time: a Spirit, a Word. This is the God whom even the pagan philosophers knew: the Prime Mover, the One. Yet, precisely where the pagan philosophers stalled, John’s drama proceeds to a remarkable climax: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

From beyond the distant heavens, existing before the beginning of time, God himself broke into history, took on flesh, and made his dwelling—literally, “pitched his tent”—among his people. Yes, God is eternally the Word, but a word is elusive, and not everyone may grasp it.

God, who reigns in heaven, and who transcends all creation and all time, assumed the life of an ordinary la- borer, who could be seen and heard and touched. God transformed all creation by his healing touch. He took up residence among his people.

The early Christians said that when Jesus descended into the river Jordan he sanctified—made holy—all the waters of the earth, commissioning them for the task of baptism. In his mother’s womb he sanctified motherhood. At a family table, God handled ordinary food and made it to signify an otherwise unimaginable heavenly banquet. He wandered in the desert and traveled in boats and visited towns and cities. In doing all this, he blessed creation and hallowed it as a sign of his own eternal life.

Every Catholic church is built to tell this story, the story of how “God so loved the world.” Every church is built to dispense the life-giving water and magnify the light that shines in the darkness. Every church serves the heavenly banquet at its family table: the altar. Every church is built as a memorial of God’s sojourn among his people—and of his people’s rejection of him. Front and center we keep the crucifix.

Our churches tell a love story, and they bring us salvation, and so we love them all the more. So much of Catholic identity is built into the houses we build for worship. Everything about our churches, inside and out, is a unique material token of the most profound spiritual love. Jesus has spiritualized the world, but he has done it by putting flesh on pure Spirit. That reality is reflected on the walls of every Catholic church.

Saint John of Damascus, writing in  eighth-century Syria, pondered the things in his church and was moved, he said, to “worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and willed to make his dwelling in matter, and who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring the matter that works my salvation. . . . Through matter, filled with divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me.”

Theologians   call   this   the   “sacramental   principle.” Other authors, speaking colloquially, refer to it simply as “the Catholic Thing.” That’s how closely a Catholic’s spiritual identity is tied to these material realities.

The sacramental principle tells us that, since the Word became flesh, God has begun to heal and restore his creation. Spiritual light can now shine through the material world. Because of the touch of Jesus Christ, matter can now convey God’s grace. On one level, bread and wine; on another, oil, candles, fabrics and paint, bricks, blocks, and filigree—all these can mediate God’s presence in the world.

Jesus’s disciples, still today, can sense the dramatic effects of the Incarnation. With the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins we can look upon a world “charged with the grandeur of God”—and we can reflect that grandeur through the material objects and symbols present in our churches.

Reflecting God’s grandeur is something we are drawn to do. It fulfills a need we have as Christians who have been redeemed. We want to praise and thank the Lord who has saved us. But it also fulfills a basic need we have as human beings; for the God who redeemed us is the God who created us, and he designed us to love beauty, to find delight in it, and to make beautiful things that tell us of the greater beauty of divine glory.

Christians need churches. It is said that for centuries the Benedictine order forbade the founding of a new monastery until the group of founders included a monk who could make bricks—and another who was trained in turning those bricks into church walls, raised according to the ancient models. From generation to generation they passed on the tradition of beauty, love, and wisdom that they had received, a tradition that libraries could not contain, yet one that we’ll try to survey with you in the chapters that follow.

My Comments:

When I used to teach third grade religious education in my parish, one of my favorite chapters taught about the "stuff" in the church.  We'd take a tour of the church and learn about the names and uses of all those things the kids hopefully saw on a regular basis.  This book is like my tour, only for grown-ups.  In a very readable and interesting manner, Wuerl and Aquilina take us through the church pointing out the names and history of all sorts of different things,both the familiar (like the altar) and those I barley realized existed (the ambry, which is the cabinet that holds the holy oils). I learned that there is a reason beyond aesthetics that my parish's baptismal font has eight sides, and that there is a cheap(er) way to make stained glass, and an expensive one.  If you've ever wondered why churches have certain things in them, this is the book for you.  If you aren't Catholic and plan to tour historical Catholic churches on your next trip to Europe, this book could help you realize what you are looking at and why it is there.  Grade:  B+

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

First Wildcard: Catholics Come Home

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Image (February 19, 2013)

***Special thanks to Rick Roberson for sending me a review copy.***


 TOM PETERSON has built his career as an award-winning, national corporate advertising executive for the last 30 years. He is the founder of and He lecturers frequently and has given presentations to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Australian Media Conference and Australian Bishops Plenary Meeting, and at various Pontifical Councils at the Vatican. Tom and his apostolates have been featured in over two hundred media venues worldwide, including multiple appearances on Fox News and EWTN.

Visit the author's website.


The founder and president of Catholics Come Home(r) offers inspiration for Catholics from all walks of life, whether lapsed or practicing, to deepen their faith and draw them closer to Jesus and his church.

In the first three years since its inception, Catholics Come Home(r), a nonprofit multimedia organization dedicated to promoting Catholic evangelization, has created and aired inspiring film messages (or invitations) to millions of people around the world. Now, author Tom Peterson, who spearheads the organization, explains the "how and why" of the Catholic faith--drawing from Scripture, his own struggles, and those of other converts to illuminate the importance of the Catholic faith. His book, accessible for readers from 10-100, offers easy ways you can deepen your faith and in turn spread faith to others.

Product Details:
List Price: $19.99
Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: Image (February 19, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0385347170
ISBN-13: 978-0385347174


God’s Extraordinary Plan for You

Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mold them accordingly.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola

God has something extraordinary planned for your life.

Let me say that again slowly because it’s really important.

God has something extraordinary planned for your life!

In our fast-paced, highly technological world, this statement might sound a bit lofty, but the lives of mil- lions of souls who have come before us attest to this simple truth:

God has a wonderful plan in store for you.

God wants you to be happy. He wants you to experience His unfailing compassion. He wants you to feel the warmth of mercy and to share His love with others. God wants you to know that you exist for a reason. Discovering God’s plan for your life is rather easy, yet, to be honest, somewhat difficult, too. It starts with saying yes to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to guide you. Living a God-affirming life is ultimately a decision that each of us needs to make. Sometimes it can be a tough decision. Does saying yes to God mean saying no to the secular world? To an extent it does, but let me tell you, the exchange rate is in your favor when you trade in your old life for a new life in Christ! The chaos, noise, and distractions of secular society lure millions of souls away from God. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are heroic role models who exist or have existed in the din of all this craziness, yet have still lived deeply spiritual lives. In fact, their heroic mission in life was to make the lives of those around them more, well, humane.

Let’s look at Mother Teresa as one such heroic example. Mother thrived spiritually even in the squalor and uncertainty of a country where thousands died from malnutrition and hardship every day! She took what some would call the throwaways of life, people few thought of as human, and helped them to regain their human dignity. With trustful surrender to God’s Divine providence, Mother Teresa left the security of the Loreto Sisters convent in India with five rupees and wearing a sari to accept a life of poverty, living among the poorest Indians. She took up her mission in the slums of Calcutta not knowing where she would make a home or how she would survive. She put total trust in God that since He gave her the mission, He would take care of her. Interestingly, as recent books have indicated, even Mother Teresa struggled with her faith. But you know what? She knew her purpose in life and trusted the Holy Spirit to lead the way. This isn’t to say she didn’t have moments when she may have struggled or doubted, yet she consistently maintained a clear vision of what she had to do:  love and serve God and others. Each of us, not just Mother Teresa, is also called to love and serve. It is God’s will for His children.


Mother Teresa, granted, is an extreme example of sacrificial love and service in a vocational calling. You prob- ably know more people unlike her than you do people like her. You probably know people who are indifferent to the spiritual life, who have generally forgotten God and devoted themselves entirely to the pursuit of what they believe to be success and happiness. This is why I wrote this book—to share with you and the people around you proven ways to enter into a deeper relation- ship with God and His Church, and to help bring your relatives and neighbors home to our universal Catholic family as well.

The fundamental core mission of this book is to help you become a lay witness of the New Evangelization. What does this mean? Being a lay witness of the New Evangelization is about breaking out of your nine-to-five routine in order to live a more heroic Catholic life, a destiny designed not just for priests and nuns, nor intended just for deacons and monks, but for you and me, the ordinary folks in the pews. We must be witnesses who attest to the wonders of being in a covenant relationship with the resurrected Christ, and who live as active members of His family, the Holy Catholic Church. By learning and sharing your Catholic faith, you too can experience the greatest adventure of your life as you give yourself more completely, more passionately, to the will of God and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It all boils down to doing one thing: surrendering yourself to Divine Providence, trusting that God will provide you with everything you need.

In order to begin on this path, first learn your faith; after all, you cannot give what you do not have. The Most Reverend David L. Ricken, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, said, “In order to evangelize, a person must first be evangelized. This is really at the heart of the New Evangelization.”

There is more: You must be receptive to being filled with Christ’s mercy, grace, and love. Once you are immersed in the love of Christ, you can better share His love with others.

The time for us to act is now, since the world keeps moving faster, and more and more of our loved ones are being drawn away from the Catholic faith. Many drift away from God altogether. Atheism and agnosticism are growing at alarming rates. The Church and the world are in dire need of true Christian witnesses, authentic and dedicated heroes of the faith, modern- day saints who will help lead more souls to heaven. You have been called to be one of these hero-saints!

Leon Bloy, a French novelist and fervent convert to Catholicism, once wrote, “There is only one tragedy in the end . . . not to have been a saint.” Our Lord’s greatest desire for you is to become a saint, to be holy. In 2 Timothy 1:9 Saint Paul says, “[God] saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago.”


Columbia magazine, a monthly publication published by my brother Knights of the Knights of Columbus, reported that Pope Benedict XVI said: “The greatest crisis facing our world is the absence of God. We all need God.” Our mission, as the body of Christ, is to spread the good news of Jesus to the world.

The need for Christian love in our society is real, and it is serious. Our world is starving for the spiritual. At baptism, the Holy Spirit placed in each of us a type of homing device, a kind of GPS—a God Positioning System—to help us find our way back to God, home to His Church. But many people have unplugged their GPS from its power source, by abandoning the Mass and the sacraments. Only one of every four Catholics currently practices their faith regularly and attends weekly Mass. Consequently, many have lost their way and don’t know the route back. We need to help these wandering Catholics and others to find their way home.

Since 1965, weekly Mass attendance has plum- meted from 71 percent at its peak to a meager 17 percent in 2008.  This pandemic hits home for every faithful practicing Catholic, since we all have very close family members and friends who have drifted away from the sacraments, the Catholic Church, and even from God Himself. We miss these loved ones, we pray for them, and we are deeply concerned for their salvation, as we should be.

While roughly 24 percent of Americans are baptized Catholics, statistics from the Pew Research Center show that only one out of four baptized Catholics practices their faith regularly by going to Sunday Mass. A large percentage never go to Mass, and some may go infrequently, perhaps at Christmas or Easter. So when you study these sobering statistics, you realize that only 6 percent of Americans are practicing Catholics. Ac- cording to Georgetown University’s Center for the Study of Global Christianity, the statistics for Europe are even worse, with churches virtually empty in many countries.

Barna Group research shows that there has been a 92 percent increase in the number of unchurched Americans since 1991. Indifference is escalating, and more people justify being lukewarm in their faith, since so many other people are doing much worse things. Another epidemic is moral relativism, whose adherents point out that people disagree on what is moral, and therefore there is no objective right or wrong, and since no one is right or wrong, they advocate that we should tolerate others’ behavior even if we don’t agree with it. Another growing philosophy is secular human- ism, whose proponents believe that human beings are capable of being ethical and moral without religion or a god. Secularism is growing across the world, where souls are falling for the distractions and materialism of this world and giving them priority over God and His teachings. Last but not least, we see agnosticism and atheism growing exponentially.


Before we can be fruitful in leading people home to Jesus and His Church, we need to grow closer to God ourselves. This is where my spiritual journey and personal story come into play. For most of my life I was a perfunctory Catholic. Sure, I went to Sunday Mass, prayed, and fasted and abstained on the days pre- scribed by the Church. But for me, these were routines for the most part. What was truly important to me were my family, my career, my friends, my goals. Don’t get me wrong, family, work, friends, and goals are all important, and we displease God if we neglect them. Yet Jesus instructs us that the greatest commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). But that is not how I loved God. He existed on the periphery of my life; I barely thought of Him unless I needed some- thing. Those days are over, and part of this book tells the story of how God brought me back into full communion with the Church and transformed my life. My hope is that my story may help you discover God’s plan for your life and, God willing, open an exciting new door for you, one that brings you and those around you deeper into the faith.

Since I accepted God’s invitation to receive His love and mercy, my life was been blessed with a deep purpose and happiness I had never felt before. While my heart experienced a profound  conversion, essentially my soul was undergoing a “reversion” home to my Catholic roots, the sacramental graces I received at my baptism, my first confession, my first holy communion, and my confirmation.  The sacramental graces never left me, but the flame of my spiritual pilot light needed to be fanned by the breath of the Holy Spirit. Maybe yours does, too?


Not long after my awakening of faith, the epiphany that led to my reversion, I discovered that God was also calling me to help others on their journey home. With God’s grace, I established an international media evangelization apostolate called Catholics Come Home. Little did I know that in just three years over 125 million viewers would see our new and inspiring television commercials and visit our bilingual websites. And after seeing these evangelization ads we call evangomercials more than 350,000 people would come home to Jesus and His Church!

Why has Catholics Come Home been so effective and attracted so much international attention? Catholics Come Home works because it provides a simple invitation to people, meets them where they are, and gives them an easy way to begin their journey home to Jesus and His Church. I believe that deep down, most people really want to be better people and do more good in the world. Many people want to grow closer to God, to trust in him, but they just don’t know where to begin. We’ve witnessed that many of these regular folks begin their journey back to Jesus and the Church after seeing an inviting television message during their favorite program. When they’ve been asked, “Why did you come home?” the vast majority answer, “Because you invited me!” This is how Catholics Come Home is answering the call of the New Evangelization. Each of us is called by God to spread His good news and bring souls home, as well. After all, this is our prime mission as members of the Church, and our duty as baptized Christians.

As an added outreach to their local Catholics Come Home campaigns, some lay Catholics have formed door-to-door prayer teams. When they’ve gone around their neighborhoods, they’ve said, for example, “I’m from St. Anne’s Catholic parish, and a number of us will be praying at church in front of the Blessed Sacrament for the needs of families in our neighborhood. How can we pray for you and your family?” We’ve heard stories of people who have been brought to tears because someone offered to pray for a spouse who lost a job, a parent with cancer, or a child with a drug addiction. Door-to-door evangelization has been a successful outreach. When Catholics are proud of their faith, understand their faith, and have a close relationship with Christ, our Church blossoms and attracts souls.


Whether we share our beautiful Catholic faith by broadcasting television evangomercials inviting souls home, or we discuss our faith with relatives, neighbors, friends, or coworkers in person, the Holy Spirit often chooses to work through faithful followers, if we are willing. Are you willing?

When we embrace God and He embraces us back, we become filled with a passion to share the good news of Jesus with the world. After all, that is the core mission of the body of Christ. It’s why the Church exists. Through our Christian baptism, you and I are com- missioned to evangelize, to proclaim Jesus to the world, and to help others discover the fullness of faith, and for Catholics that means everything that the Catholic Church has to offer.

If the thought of sharing your faith with others makes you anxious, bear with me. You do not have to quit your job or sell your home, give up your family, enter a seminary, or spend the remainder of your mortal life tucked away in a convent. While that may be the courageous path prepared for some saints, it’s typically not the route God has designed for most regular people like you and me who need to live in the world but are re- minded so beautifully in the Gospels that we are not to be of the world. The path to being an apostle of Christ today begins with igniting a spark of passion for your faith, then adding a bit of heroism to your life. It’s about climbing out of the hole of lukewarm mediocrity to live a more vibrant, committed, and passionate faith. It’s about finding true purpose and meaning for your life. Remember what Pope Benedict XVI wrote in 2010 in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini: “We cannot keep to ourselves the words of eternal life given to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ: they are meant for everyone, for every man and woman. . . . It is our responsibility to pass on what, by God’s grace, we ourselves have received.”

The surest route to being a more heroic Catholic today is by living God’s will, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide you, using your God-given talents and interests to their fullest potential, and serving those who are struggling with faith. Ultimately these acts of heroism lead to sainthood. Again, don’t be put off by a word that may have intimidating connotations.  In fact, all baptized Christians are called to be saints. Granted, few of us will ever be formally canonized by the Church, but re- member that every soul in heaven is a saint. How is that so? By the simple fact that when we go to heaven we are joined to God forever. And that is our goal—eternal salvation with all the blessed in the kingdom of heaven. Becoming a saint starts with being rooted firmly in the truths of the faith, attending Mass, frequent reception of Jesus in the Eucharist, obeying the Ten Commandments and the teachings of the Church, studying Sacred Scripture, and availing yourself of the sacrament of Reconciliation when you sin and fall short.


Today there are so many people who are lost and bro- ken. Helping these souls find their way back home is not only a duty; it is an act of mercy. It means doing what you can do to bring a soul back into a state of grace. This will not require preaching on street corners or confronting notorious sinners (again, unless God is calling you to this type of work). Instead, I’m hoping this book will help demonstrate  how the right word or the right action at the right time can be decisive in helping your relatives, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and even strangers find their way home. This book also suggests ways to circumvent roadblocks and overcome challenges that lie ahead of you in your apostolic mission to get to heaven and help bring as many people with you as possible. And finally, in reading through this book you will pick up some valuable tools to help you grow in happiness and fortitude, to help you cross the finish line with your eyes firmly fixed on heaven every step of the way.

If this still sounds a bit overly ambitious to you, I understand how you feel. I felt that way, too, at first. But over time, I’ve come to believe for myself that with God all things are indeed possible!


Imagine that you are viewing a massive and beautiful bridge spanning a cavernous river gorge. On one side of the bridge is a busy city filled with millions of inhabit- ants, tall buildings, and various noisy commercial and passenger vehicles. On the opposite side of the bridge is a lush, peaceful tropical paradise filled with fruit trees, flowers, waterfalls, streams, and quaint cottages, but relatively few people.

At some point you realize that while numerous cars are heading toward the bridge from the city, relatively few cars are actually completing their trip over to the other side. Most of the cars are actually getting off at the very last exit before the bridge. In fact, for every twenty-four cars that approach the bridge between the city and the tropical paradise, only six make their way across.

Why not just take the bridge to paradise? Well, this, believe it or not, happens every day. What do I mean? Let me explain.

The Catholic Church serves as our wonderful bridge, a solid support structure, designed by Jesus Himself, to carry us and our families across the deep and tumultuous currents of the world, guiding our journey home to heaven. Yet sadly only a small percentage of travelers are actually staying on this bridge and crossing safely to the other side. Also very few observers are volunteering to help wave the caution flags, in an effort to help direct families safely to their ultimate destination.

It seems as if nearly all of us have friends, close relatives, neighbors, and coworkers who have veered off the Catholic bridge to try other routes. In fact, some have abandoned their faith journey altogether and are heading back to the apparent glitter of the big city. Still others just run out of gas, stalling before crossing over the spiritual bridge, and ending their progress at some point along the way.

Today many families in our world are driving along aimlessly. So many people are searching for God, looking for a retreat from the chaos, but they just don’t know how to escape the urban din. Few souls truly understand that nothing other than God will satisfy their search for happiness.

But this is exactly why we must help, now! In fact, Jesus is calling all of His followers, to assist Him by inviting the multitudes to a better way that will eventually lead more people safely home. You and I are being called to help in this critical rescue mission for souls. And when we serve Jesus in helping these weary travelers with some needed direction, we will discover true purpose and experience real happiness in our own lives too!


At this point I’d like to briefly tell you a little bit about my life’s journey, which has had its own unique path. To be honest, there was nothing all that extraordinary about my beginnings. My 1960s Midwestern Catholic middle-class upbringing was normal. In fact, it was just plain ordinary, with a stay-at-home mom and a dad who had a stable career working for the U.S. Postal Service. It was not until high school that the talents and interests that would shape my vocation started to become evident. In retrospect, I can see that God blessed me with academic abilities, public speaking skills, a logical business mind, creativity, and ambition. These gifts would prove fruitful in college, in my first marketing and advertising jobs out of college, and eventually for our Catholics Come Home apostolate.

Early in my career I met my wife, Tricia, and we married. In the years that followed our family was blessed with three incredible and beautiful daughters. At this point in my life I was just a lukewarm Catholic. My faith was not a high priority, particularly as my career began to advance. The pursuit of wealth, honor, power, and achievement took all of my waking hours, and I gave these things precedence over God. I had a sizable income, a big house, nice cars. Although these comforts were fun for a time, the novelty always faded and I began to covet the next new toy that would bring me some excitement for another month or two.

Looking back, I realize that I nearly sold my soul, forfeiting my peace and investing every waking moment to acquire and maintain all the trappings the world tells us are important. My days became exhausting; slowly I was being enslaved by the desire for a bigger home, a nicer car, and even more personal success. My spiritual pilot light, ignited at baptism and fueled by the sacraments and a solid Catholic education, had nearly been extinguished. The sad fact was that I had no idea what was going on. It was all a slow fade into a strange, almost surreal fuzziness. Have you ever felt this way? If you have, stop for a moment and ask your- self now what secular things or material pursuits may be holding you back from realizing real happiness and a closer spiritual walk with Jesus? At some point we need to realize that these signs of success easily become false idols that replace God in our hearts. And the idols aren’t free; they come at a very hefty cost.

A few of my friends from church saw that my priorities were grossly out of order, so they invited me on a men’s retreat. I had been uplifted by retreats as a teenager, but because of distractions in recent years I hadn’t made attending a retreat a priority. I was kind of ambivalent about my friends’ proposition. My mind was racing with responsibilities at the time, but finally I decided that at least getting away would be an opportunity to decompress a bit. Maybe I could get some rest.

But something amazing happened on this retreat. Before we continue, let’s look at this word retreat for a moment. Certainly it means going away to pray and commune with God, but militaristically it also means “to flee,” and, probably, without knowing it at the time, I needed to flee from the superficiality and chaos of my life. In a moment of pure grace, I reconnected with God. How, you might wonder?  Simply put, I finally shut up and let God talk to me in the quiet of my heart, and what He told me changed my life forever. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, my family began downsizing and simplifying our lives. When I started making room for Jesus in my heart and investing my time in other people, my true calling became evident: to use the talents with which God had blessed me for the good of the Church and the New Evangelization.

Within a few months after my reversion experience on that retreat, by the grace of God, two new media apostolates were born: VirtueMedia, dedicated to promoting the pro-life cause and Catholics Come Home, dedicated to advancing the New Evangelization called for first by Pope John Paul II and more recently by Pope Benedict XVI.  To some, the glamour and fast-paced world of television production may sound exciting and impressive, but, honestly, both apostolates had humble beginnings. VirtueMedia began in our spare bedroom as a part-time effort financed for the first few years by my day job. We started by creating two pro-life ads: one to help pregnant women who were abortion-vulnerable, the second to offer hope and healing to women who have had an abortion. Honestly, I knew relatively little about un- planned pregnancies and even less about post-abortion healing. But it seemed God was calling me to use my advertising background to help promote the sanctity of life to society, and to encourage women facing unplanned pregnancies to choose motherhood or adoption for their unborn babies. So I learned what I could, and I learned fast.

VirtueMedia aired its first commercials on local Phoenix area television stations. We had no idea what the response would be—or even if we would get a response. About eight months after the first ad ran, I held a newborn baby, Baby Jerry, in my arms. Our commercials offer a toll-free number 866-88-Woman and a link to our informational website, both of which connect pregnant women with a choice of local pregnancy centers in their area. These commercials provided the information and resources necessary to convince Baby Jerry’s mother not to have an abortion. Next came Baby Ashlynn, and then many others, thanks be to God.

Over time, as VirtueMedia’s pro-life ads began airing regionally, nationally, and internationally, the lives of many more babies were saved. To our astonishment, when the ads aired nationally on MTV and BET, within one month approximately 22,000 pregnant women responded, asking for help. While we were thrilled by the incredible response to the ads, we were overwhelmed by the realization that so many pregnant women had been considering ending the lives of their babies. It was a reminder to us of the terrible toll of abortion on demand in this country; over 54 mil- lion babies have been aborted since 1973. But all those phone calls from all of those pregnant women were also evidence of God’s mercy at work in the world.

Over the years I’ve had the privilege of meeting and developing close friendships with prominent leaders of the pro-life movement. These men and women are the heroes of our day. One in particular, the Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted, bishop of Phoenix, taught me that “ it’s hard to form people in virtue, if they are not first formed in faith.” Bishop Olmsted’s wise observation inspired the growth of Catholics Come Home, founded in 1997. Nearly a decade prior, Pope John Paul II published Christifideles Laici, a post-synodal apostolic exhortation in which he urged the lay faithful to participate fully in their vocation to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the world, especially through the modern media. Catholics Come Home was our answer to the Holy Father’s call. We did not begin with a formal marketing plan, but we were filled with enthusiasm about bringing our Catholic faith to the widest possible audience. Our ads spotlight the history, beauty, spirituality, and accomplishments of our Catholic Church. The evangelization commercials, which we call evangomercials, encourage viewers to seek a personal relationship with Jesus, remind them of His Divine Mercy, and teach them that Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it! Our goal was to draw non-Catholics and inactive Catholics home to the Church.

Once again, we saw the Lord guiding us. Led by the Holy Spirit, within the first few years after Catholics Come Home ran its first messages, over 350,000 souls returned to the Catholic faith, based on reports from partner dioceses. The ads aired from Seattle to Boston, from St. Louis to New Orleans, from Corpus Christi to Sacramento. Within three years, nearly thirty-three archdioceses and dioceses had run these “come home” invitations. In the wake of the ads, many dioceses reported notable increases in Mass attendance, averaging about 10 percent in most dioceses, rising as high as nearly 18 percent in others. When parishes asked returnees, “Why did you come home?” the vast majority answered, “Because you invited me.” How incredible God is! Our contribution was modest, yet God multi- plied it as once He multiplied a handful of loaves and fishes to feed thousands.

Then, on December 16, 2011, for the first time in the history of the Catholic Church in America, or of any religion for that matter, Catholics Come Home television commercials began airing on prime-time television on major networks including CBS, NBC, Univision, CNN, USA, TBS, and others. Based on Nielsen ratings, over 125 million people were being invited home, seeing the evangomercials ten times each during the campaign. The evidence of God’s mercy is overwhelming. Without God we can do nothing, but with God all good things are possible! Regular people like us just need to show up with our God-given talents—our “loaves and fishes”—and join our Lord’s team in this vital mission to rescue souls.

You are uniquely blessed with your own set of talents, gifts, charisms, ideas, and inspirations of the Spirit. You are called to serve God in your workplace or school, in your neighborhood, and among your family. If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to discern your vocation, to discover how God is calling you to participate in your own personal adventure of the New Evangelization to help Catholics come home.


God desires to fulfill the deepest longings of your heart and make your dreams come true. He is always willing and able to help you, no matter what your strengths or shortcomings, how old or young you are, whatever your income or career, regardless of where you live. Our Father truly has a wonderful, action-packed plan and purpose for your life. He will meet you where you are, at the moment you sincerely open your heart to invite Him in. Saint Teresa of Avila tells us, “Since He does not force our will, He takes what we give Him; but He doesn’t give Himself completely until we give ourselves completely.”

So read on and enjoy some incredible stories of God’s love and mercy, and discover a world hidden from the proud and powerful. Along the way you’ll encounter some wisdom that can help you in your daily struggles. Simplify your life, refocus your attention on Jesus, celebrate new beginnings, and RSVP to the greatest family reunion of all time. Together you and I will learn how to serve God and our neighbors more generously. When we do so, our Lord will use us to help heal our wounded culture, advance the New Evangelization, and guide lost, unhappy souls back to the safety of home.

If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful, and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed.

Pope Ben edict X V I

Click here for my review.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Currant Creek Valley: My Review

About the Book:
Alexandra McKnight prefers a life of long workdays and short-term relationships, and she's found it in Hope's Crossing. A sous chef at the local ski resort, she's just been offered her dream job at an exclusive new restaurant being built in town. But when it comes to designing the kitchen, Alex finds herself getting up close and personal with construction foreman Sam Delgado.... 

At first glance, Sam seems perfect for Alex. He's big, tough, gorgeous-and only in town for a few weeks. But when Sam suddenly moves into a house down the road, Alex suspects that the devoted single father of a six-year-old boy wants more from her than she's willing to give. Now it's up to Sam to help Alex see that, no matter what happened in her past, together they can build something more meaningful in Hope's Crossing.

My Comments:
Like RaeAnne Thayne's other Hope's Crossing books, this is a sweet clean romance.  As noted above, Alex has something in her past that keeps her from love today.  Sam is almost too good to be true, but does show flashes of humanity.  Favorite characters from other books make appearances, but not to the extent that this book would be hard to follow without reading the others first.  In short, I recommend Currant Creek Valley as a pleasant afternoon read.

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.  Grade:  B.

Other RaeAnne Thayne Books I've Reviewed:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Google Reader is Going Away: Now What

Like many other folks I'm looking for an alternative.  I've tried three so far:

 Feedly offers lots of ways to share what you read and is easy to navigate with the "J" key, just like Google Reader.  For some reason I'm just not thrilled with it and I can't explain why.

 I've pretty well settled on The Old Reader as my new reader.  Like the name implies, it is a lot like Google Reader used to be before it's last revamp.  The sharing buttons aren't quite as clear, but I'm not big of sending stuff to everyone anyway.

 Bloglovin is harder to navigate in my opinion than the others.  What I like is that it sends me a daily email showing snippets of all the new posts so I can read them that way if I choose.  
Follow my blog with Bloglovin

It's Monday, What Are You Reading

It's been a while since I've done the Monday meme thing but I decided it was time to come out and play again with Shelia and the gang.  My reads this week:

My Reviews:

This week I've come across several articles online about the problem of student loan debt.  As the parent of a soon to be college freshman, I wrote a post about How to Pay for College Without Massive Debt.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

How to Pay for College Without Massive Debt

Every day it seems I am seeing yet another article about poor young adults who are drowning in student loan debt. That debt, they complain, is keeping them from achieving the American Dream. It keeps them living with Mom and Dad, it keeps them from taking jobs they want, it keeps them from having kids. As the mother of a soon-to be college freshman I'd like to offer the following advice to her and to her classmates, so they don't end up like those poor misguided souls about whom all those articles are written.

Rule Number One:  If you can't afford it,  don't buy it.  That's a rule that not only applies to college but to most things in life.  Just because other people have it doesn't mean you have to have it too.  Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't go to college; simply that if you can't afford your choice of schools without loans, then it may be time to pick a different school.

Rule Number Two:  Life isn't fair. Get over it.  I know that your friend is going to school xyz and her dad is paying all the bills.  I understand that you'd love to go to xyz too but your parents can't afford to pay for it.  Yes, you could get a loan, but when you finished school, you would be in debt and the whole idea is not to be, right?

Rule Number Three:  Aim low.  I know, you've always been told to reach for the stars.  You are top student with great extra-curricular and leadership activities.   You've volunteered throughout high school and had a job during the summer.  Your ACT score is over 30.  You have what it takes to get into a great school, the kind that charge upwards of $30,000/year for tuition.  You also have what it takes to get into any number of universities in your state, universities that  would consider you a real catch rather than just the average student on their campus.  Many of those schools have honors programs where you would be surrounded by other bright motivated students.  Many of those schools have generous scholarship programs to motivate students who would not otherwise consider the school to attend. In Louisiana our major state school is LSU.  From talking to other parents it sounds like few freshman receive academic scholarships other than the TOPS award from the state.  However, LSU is the school "everyone" wants to attend.  The smaller schools in the state all offer a few thousand a year in scholarships to superior students, money that is on top of the state award that  pays tuition.  It also appears to me that less "name" private schools use their scholarship aid packages to compete for students who could choose "better" schools.  So, even if you think you stand a chance of being admitted to Harvard, apply to a range of types of schools, including smaller state schools.  

Rule Number Four:  Go ahead and dream, but make sure the dream doesn't turn out to be a nightmare.  Many private schools will tell you to go ahead and apply; that money shouldn't determine whether you apply.  They promise financial aid is available to meet need.  What they don't mention up front is that the aid is often in the form of loans.  So, go ahead and apply, see what is offered, but don't let your heart become set on a school until you see if you really can afford it.  

Rule Number Five:  Consider your goals when choosing a school.  If you want to be an elementary school teacher, paying big money for a degree that can be obtained at any state university doesn't make cents (misspelling intentional).  If you aspire toward a financial career on Wall Street, attending the "right" school can be a real asset (even if you don't  know anything more about finance than the state university graduate).  While an engineering degree will allow you to comfortably make student loan payments to cover the cost of a dream school, a social work degree  probably won't.  It is also possible that the specialized private art college has a better track record of obtaining lucrative employment for its graduates than the less expensive school does.  That proprietary school that will train you to be a legal assistant in only two years for $30,000 per year probably isn't a good idea, considering the average wage of legal assistants.  Ask the schools for placement/salary data on recent graduates and if you know people in the industry/location in which you want to work, ask them whether your planned school is a good idea.  

Rule Number Six:  Remember you are going to have to get a job when school is done, and plan your studies accordingly.  It seems to me that those screaming the loudest about student loan payments are liberal arts majors from expensive schools.  I'm really thrilled they got to spend four  years studying gender constructs in film or some other such foolishness,  but why should I hire them?  What can they do for me?  I have no problem with you majoring in history,but make sure you have some business courses or education courses to go with it.  I realize you haven't started college yet, and that lots of folks change career paths along the way, but by the time you are picking classes your junior year you should keep in mind the question "What can I offer an employer?" Also, keep in mind all your life goals when selecting a major.  If you don't want to move more than 100 miles from Mom and Dad, don't pick a major that focuses on an industry based across the country.  

Rule Number Seven:  There is more than one way to skin a cat.  Yes, I know, you want the four  year residential experience on the idyllic campus with the great professors, top athletic program and extra-curricular activities to add breadth and depth to your experience.  But back to Rule Number One and Rule Number Two. You can get a college degree, one that will prepare you for just about any employment, by starting at your local community college while living with your parents and holding down a part-time job.  You can then transfer to the four year college of choice.  You can join the military and use their college aid program (once this sequestration nonsense has been worked out).  You can work while attending college.  I'll be the first to say I'm glad that I did not have use this approach.  I'll be the first to say I'm glad my daughter will not have to do this. However, as I said in Rule Number Two, life isn't fair.  With few exceptions, people who have large student loans have those loans because they bought an education they couldn't afford when there were less expensive alternatives.

So, is a college education worth the cost?  Statistically, the answer is yes.  Statistically, overall, people with college degrees make more money than those without them.  Individually, the answer is often yes--yes, the college degree prepares you for a better job, the college experience introduces you to people and ideas that make you a better person and enrich your life long after those four  years are done.  However, an expensive degree in a subject that does not have a clear path to a high-paying job is not a good financial investment and  if you are going to borrow money for college, it needs to be considered, to some extent, a financial investment.

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