Thursday, March 28, 2013

"The Church: Unlocking the Secrets to the Places Catholics Call Home" by Cardinal Donald Wuerl & Mike Aquilina

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


and the book:

Image (March 5, 2013)

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

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:


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.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:


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



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


L OV E IS T H E BU I L DE R



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 Thoughts:

Even though I grew up in the Catholic church, I had no idea how much symbolism and meaning was represented inside the tiny church we attended. Some were blatantly obvious, however, after reading "The Church" I discovered how much I had missed.

This truly fascinating book covers so many interesting things, from why certain items are used in the mass, why the church was designed the way it was, why stained glass figures are unrealistic - all the way to types of furniture used and how it is different than regular furniture. So many things are covered in this captivating book that it makes it a must read for anyone that is interested in the history or representations of the church as well as for those that are just curious.

I really enjoyed "The Church" and recommend it to all. The only thing that would make this a better book would have been to have some, if not all the photos, (there are many!) in color; however, the black and white photos are still stunning and beautifully done.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"Catholics Come Home" by Tom Peterson

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.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

 TOM PETERSON has built his career as an award-winning, national corporate advertising executive for the last 30 years. He is the founder of VirtueMedia.org and CatholicsComeHome.org. 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.


SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:


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


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


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.

YOU CAN BECOME A HERO OF THE FA IT H

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.”

WHY ME? WHY NOW?

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.

WE CAN ’T SHARE WHAT WE DON ’T HAVE

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?

CATHOLIC S COME HOME . . . LOTS OF THEM!

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.

A NEW SPRINGTIME OF HOPE

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.

HOW THIS BOOK WILL HELP

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!


DETOURING OFF THE BRIDGE

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!


ADV EN T U R ES W IT H GOD!

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 PregnancyLine.org, 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.


FULFILLING YOUR HEART’S DEEPEST DESIRE

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

My Thoughts:

I was raised Catholic and had left the church early in my adult life. I heard the Catholic church had changed and evolved over the years. "Catholics Come Home" is targeted towards wayward Catholics and since I'm the targeted audience, I thought I'd give it a chance and see if things had really changed.

What I discovered was a book that was written like a sales pitch. I found it distasteful and just a vie for upping the membership for a desperate institution. If it was to sell me on coming back to the Catholic church, it sorely failed. In fact, if anything it succeeded in solidifying all the reasons why I left in the first place. If I did have any doubts, I no longer have them.

On a positive note, "Catholics Come Home" does shed light on the beliefs of the Catholic religion. If you are curious about Catholicism, this book will give a glimpse of what is important to the church and its followers.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Hero's Throne by Ross Lawhead

A Hero's Throne
Book #2 of The Ancient Earth Trilogy
Author: Ross Lawhead
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
ISBN: 9781595549105
Paperback: 336 Pages

About the Book:
Knights of Ennor—the time has come to awake. Rise up to fulfill your secret oath and sacred duty.

Deep beneath the streets of England lies another realm . . . one few in our modern world know exists. Daniel and Freya, however, know it all too well. Eight years ago, these friends first journeyed through portals into the hidden land of Niðergeard—discovering a city filled with stones, secrets, and sleeping knights that serve to protect the world they call home.

But Niðergeard has fallen to dark forces, overrun by its enemies. Gates are being opened between the worlds that should have been kept closed. The battle lines for the war at the end of time have been drawn, and opposing forces are starting to gather.

Having served for centuries as the first and last outpost at the borders to other worlds, Niðergeard must be reclaimed and the mystery of its fall discovered. Daniel and Freya, along with an ancient knight and a Scottish police officer, must return to the legendary city, rally the surviving citizens, and awaken the sleeping knights—knights who are being killed, one by one, as they sleep.

But time is running out faster than they know.
My Thoughts:

First I must greatly urge one to read the first book as this is NOT a stand-alone. I read the first book in the Ancient Earthy Trilogy ("The Realms Thereunder") last year, and still felt quite lost in the beginning and am sure I didn't enjoy the book as much as I could have because I had forgotten some key elements to the story.

In this book we again meet up with Daniel and Freya as they continue on their adventure to awaken the Knights of Ennor. Full of excitement, violence and thrills, I was finding myself being kept up way past my bedtime to find out what was going to happen next! Lawhead has a gift for weaving a fantastic and suspensful story and makes sure you won't want to put it down!

This second book introduces new characters as well as builds upon some old ones. It builds upon "The Realms Thereunder" and sets up for a promising conclusion to the trilogy. I am so looking forward to reading the last book, but am pretty sure I'm going to want to reread the first two books before diving into the last.

This series comes HIGHLY recommended!
**Please note that there is quite a bit of violence and fighting.


I received this book through the Booksneeze program. I was not required to write a positive review, but instead, one that gives my honest opinion.

Ring of Secrets by Roseanna M. White - FIRST

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:

Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2013)

***Special thanks to Ginger Chen for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Roseanna M. White grew up in the mountains of West Virginia, the beauty of which inspired her to begin writing as soon as she learned to pair subjects with verbs. She spent her middle and high school days penning novels in class, and her love of books took her to a school renowned for them. After graduating from St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, she and her husband moved back to the Maryland side of the same mountains they equate with home.

Roseanna is the author of two biblical novels, A Stray Drop of Blood and Jewel of Persia, both from WhiteFire Publishing (www.WhiteFire-Publishing.com), and Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland, a historical romance, with Summerside Press. She is the senior reviewer at the Christian Review of Books, which she and her husband founded, the senior editor at WhiteFire Publishing, and a member of ACFW, HisWriters, HEWN Marketing, and Colonial Christian Fiction Writers.


Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Winter Reeves is an aristocrat…and a Patriot. Bennet Lane is a Yale professor on temporary assignment in New York…to find General Washington’s spy among the elite.


This exciting romantic spy novel from Roseanna M. White combines fascinating cloak-and-dagger secrets with a tale of love and intrigue during the Revolutionary War.

Winter Reeves is an aristocratic Patriot forced to hide her heart amid the Loyalists of the City of New York. She has learned to keep her ears open so she can pass information on British movements to Robbie Townsend, her childhood friend, and his spy ring. If she's caught, if she's hung for espionage...well, she won't be. Robbie has taught her the tools of the trade: the wonders of invisible ink, drop locations and, most importantly, a good cover.

Bennet Lane returns to New York from his Yale professorship with one goal: to find General Washington's spy hidden among the ranks of the elite. Searching for a wife was supposed to be nothing more than a convenient cover story for his mission, but when he meets Winter, with her too-intelligent eyes in her too-blank face, he finds a mystery that can't be ignored.

Both believers...and both committed to a separate cause. Will their faith in God lead them to a shared destiny or lives lived apart?





Product Details:
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736950990
ISBN-13: 978-0736950992:


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


City of New York

November 1779

Let innocence be your mask.

Winter Reeves swished her ivory lace fan and gave Colonel Fairchild the same practiced smile she always did. She squelched the response that wanted to escape, forbade her eyes from so much as flashing. Perhaps her gaze wandered, but he would only think her bored.

He thought her very easily bored.

“A stroke of luck, do you not agree, my dear?”

Despite the racing of her heart at the pearl of information he had just let slip, she made her nod a half-second later than it ought to have been. As if she were inattentive, paying no heed to his endless prattle. Why, after all, would she care about such a boring matter as paper? In his eyes—in the eyes of everyone here—she was naught but the pretty, brainless granddaughter of the Hamptons.

Let your beauty hide your heart.

Winter’s gaze snagged on Robbie’s, though she looked past him quickly. A successful business owner and newspaperman for the Royal Gazette, Robert Townsend was deemed acceptable company on a day-to-day basis, but Grandmother had higher hopes for her. At social occasions, she was not permitted to speak to him.

She didn’t have to speak to him. A mere glance showed her his waistcoat tonight bore seven silver buttons. Seven—that meant he had slid a note into the bottom, middle drawer of the chest in the drawing room.

Feigning a yawn partially hidden behind her fan, Winter blinked. Slowly.

Colonel Fairchild interrupted his monologue with drawn brows. “Forgive me, my dear. You must be in need of refreshment by now. Allow me to fetch you a cup of spiced tea.”

“That would be lovely, thank you.” Winter injected her tone with relief and made her smile sheepish. “I shall just slip out for a moment while you get it, Colonel.”

Fairchild bowed, though he kept his head erect. No doubt to stop his new powdered wig, more heavily curled than his old one, from slipping.

Winter dipped a short curtsy and headed for the ballroom’s exit, her palms damp.

“Winnie!”

She forced pleasure into her face as she turned toward her grandmother. “Yes, ma’am? Can I get you anything?”

Grandmother narrowed her ice blue eyes. “Where are you going? The ball has barely started, and there is someone I want you to meet.”

Winter lowered her gaze. “I will only be a moment, Grandmother. I must attend to a personal need.”

The matron lifted her chin. No one would doubt Phillippa Hampton was the queen of this particular event. Her hair was an extravagant tower of whitened curls, ribbons, and gems. Her gown was a creation so exquisite, King George himself would have envied the craftsmanship.

Her glare could shrivel a thriving oak tree. “Return posthaste. Mr. Lane is awaiting an introduction.”

Let your enemies count you a friend.

She pasted on an obedient, docile smile. “I will be quick.”

“I should think so, knowing who awaits your return.” The snap of Grandmother’s fan of Spanish lace all but forced Winter’s eyes to the right.

As if Mr. Lane were different from any other guest here. As if he were anything but another haughty, arrogant Loyalist. As if he were...

She drew in a sharp breath when her gaze collided with the stranger’s. He stood beside her grandfather, his eyes locked on her. ’Twas nothing unusual, given the gilding her grandmother poured upon her. But the way he looked at her, the eyes that did the looking...

He was only passably handsome, if one examined his nose, his mouth, his jaw. Strong features, and sandy hair he hadn’t bothered to powder or cover in a wig. Pleasant, not exceptional. But those eyes—they seemed to pierce right through her facade, down to the heart she’d been forbidden to have.

Penetrating. Stirring. Tugging.

No. She couldn’t afford to let a man turn her head, and she certainly couldn’t let one see her heart. No matter that a single gaze from him made her yearn for someone who might understand her.

God of my end, help me to focus upon Your will for me. Winter tore her gaze free and curtsied to her grandmother. “I shall be glad to meet him in a moment, ma’am.”

Perhaps some other enterprising young lady would have laid claim to him by the time she returned. Eyes like that were far too dangerous.

Grandmother kept her a moment more. “You have heard of the recent fortune of the Manhattan Lanes, I presume.”

If one could call it fortune when one’s uncle’s son died and one’s father returned to England to learn to manage the family estates. Which Grandmother certainly did, being ever loyal to the Crown—no matter how hard the heel of His Majesty’s army crushed the city.

Winter nodded.

Her grandmother pursed her lips. “Go, child. But hurry back before Mrs. Parks snatches him and forces him to dance with Theodosia.”

To God’s ear. Somehow she suspected Mr. Lane’s gaze wouldn’t unnerve Dosia at all. Her friend had no secrets to be discovered.

Winter made her escape from the ballroom. Guests filled the hallway too, and they would be in and out of all the main rooms in her grandparents’ first floor. She followed a bewigged couple into the drawing room and traced a path along the chamber’s edge until she came to the polished maple of the high chest of drawers.

The bottom, center drawer was open a bit. Not so much as to be noticeable to anyone not looking, but enough that Winter could catch her sleeve on the knob as she walked by and make a show of looking irritated before freeing it.

She folded the slip of paper she’d recovered into her fan, shut the drawer with a scowl, and then headed out of the room, inspecting her sleeve as if the lace had torn.

No one stopped her as she darted up the stairs and headed for her bedchamber. That didn’t keep a relieved breath from seeping out as she threw the bolt on the door.

Winter strode to the banked fire and stirred it enough to light a taper. She set the candle upon a table and pulled the slip of paper out. The message written upon it made her smile.

My dearest lady, flame of my heart,

How you make my day burn bright!

With the smallest turn of your reddest lips,

You are all that is beauty and light...

Winter snorted a laugh and checked the right top corner of the page. An “H” marked it. The real message, then, would appear with the application of heat.

Hands steady, Winter held the page close, then closer to the flame. Closer still until the smell of scorching paper filled her nostrils, until a faint sizzle reached her ears. Until the invisible ink filling the space between the lines of terrible poetry turned a golden brown.

Eleven o’clock tonight. The tulip tree behind the stable.

Eleven. She pulled the paper away from the flame and squinted to read the darkened face of the mantel clock. One hour more. Time enough to appease Grandmother, to bat her lashes and act the part of witless society lady for Mr. Lane. Then she could slip outside. She hoped Robbie would be there to meet her, and she could tell him what Fairchild had said. Though there remained the possibility that he had simply left another message for her.

This one could bring her trouble enough. If her grandparents saw it, they would place her under lock and key to keep her from eloping as Mother had.

Or worse, if Grandfather had meant the threat that still made her shiver. And she had no reason to doubt his sincerity, given the hatred he had never tried to hide from her.

Time nipped at the back of her throat, each tick of the clock telling her to hurry downstairs. But first she tossed the page into the fire. As the flames licked over the wisp of paper and then smoldered into glowing ash, Winter held her spot, watching the last ember die out. In her mind’s eye, she saw another letter, another fire.

Why had she burned it? Why? The last word she had from her father, the last thing her mother had given her before she passed away.

A cloud must have raced over the moon, for deeper shadows cloaked her room. Winter spun for the door. Best to lock away the memories of Oyster Bay, of life before the war. Best to remember who she was now. Best to push down the longing to go back, even for one day, to the life she once knew.

That life was gone. She had come to terms with that.

Better a life among enemies than a noose around her neck.

§

Bennet Lane buried his terror in a glass of cordial and silently recited some Latin to calm his nerves. How had he ended up once more in a ballroom lit with crystal chandeliers, surrounded by batting lashes and swishing fans?

George jabbed him with an elbow—not exactly subtly—and smirked. “You look like I felt when expected to recite the opening of Hippolytus.”

“Give me Euripides above this any day.” Ben forced a smile and stiff bow when a set of well-dressed young women glided by, simpering looks partially hidden by their fans.

His friend’s chuckle held no sympathy. “You garner admiring gazes from them all.”

“Because they all know my father just became the heir to considerable property. But the moment I try to talk to any of them... Women are baffling, George. Baffling. They complain if you treat them as pets but grow bored if you treat them as equals.”

Placing his empty glass on the tray of a passing servant, George snorted. “Your idea of an ‘equal’ is a fellow from Yale. They are lost and bored with your constant references to Latin and Greek, but that does not mean they have no brains at all. Well, most of them.”

Ben grunted a laugh and sent his gaze over the gathering. Young ladies abounded, all in imported silk and lace. Some had beauty to their faces that couldn’t be hidden by the mountain of curls atop their heads; others relied on the fuss to bolster what nature had withheld.

“I have spent too many years in Connecticut, with its boycotts and homespun. All this luxury is confounding.” He took another sip of his drink and let his gaze linger upon a young lady with pink powdered hair. She was pretty, but when they had been introduced, it had taken only a stuttered sentence from him for her eyes to glaze over. Perhaps she would be amenable to a suit, but he’d rather find a woman to court with whom he could have a full conversation every now and again.

George narrowed his gaze upon Ben’s hair, tied back but otherwise unadorned. “You had better get accustomed to fashion again quickly, old boy. Gentlemen of Hampton’s ilk expect you to dress appropriately when you come to their houses. Even I know that, and I would never have been invited if not for your request.”

“Hmm.” He hated powdered wigs—itchy and hot. But he would do what he must. Ben scanned the room again, looking for the angel in pale blue and gold he had seen leaving a quarter-hour earlier. Hampton’s granddaughter, and hence the highest-bred young lady here. With her on his arm, he could secure invitations to all the elite’s functions. His family’s heritage gave him the proper pedigree for them, but he had been too long away from New York to know from where the invitations would come.

Access was crucial. Somewhere in this ballroom, or another as exclusive, a spy might lurk. Someone undermining the British cause, feeding information to the rebel army that they could only have learned from high-ranking associations. Either an elite themselves, or one of the bottom-feeders who catered to them.

He would find that someone, eventually. He must. And he was prepared to do whatever was necessary to achieve it.

Even if that “whatever” meant attaching himself to one of these terrifying, lace-bedecked creatures.

His expression must have shifted to betray his panic. George laughed. “If they befuddle you so, why are you determined to make a match?”

Ben shook himself and grinned. “It is like chemistry, George. You know well that combining certain elements might explode in your face, but you cannot resist pouring them together on the chance they will create something spectacular.”

“’Tis talk like that which sends them running.” George clapped a hand to Ben’s shoulder and nodded toward the corner. “Now, look at that one—Miss Parks. She bears a striking resemblance to our old friend Charlie Mason, does she not?”

“Parks.” Ben frowned. “Are they not cousins to the Masons?”

“Probably. Hence the resemblance, I suppose. Irrelevant. My point is, you could always carry on a conversation with Charlie, who lacked your excellent education, without confusing him. Do the same with Dosia. Talk of the weather, of the latest news, of anything not straight from your laboratory at Yale. Pretend she is Charlie.”

Ben folded his arms over his chest and nodded decisively. “Charlie in a dress.” An excellent plan.

“Right,” George said on another snort of laughter. “Or, if you can wrest her from Colonel Fairchild, you might set your sights on Miss Reeves. She hasn’t a spare thought in her head anyway, so she is well used to giving an absent nod of assent. Well, from what I have seen. I’ve never been introduced, mind you.”

Bennet’s gaze followed George’s gesture toward the doorway, filled by the vision of beauty herself. Hampton’s granddaughter—Miss Reeves, apparently.

Empty headed? That dug a furrow into his brow. When he had caught her gaze a bit ago, she had struck him as many things, but thoughtless was not one of them. Hers were not eyes that covered an idle mind.

Were they? He was not the type to be so blinded by beauty as to attribute to a lovely face nonexistent qualities, was he?

Well, time would tell. Hampton was even now striding toward Bennet, undoubtedly to make the promised introduction since his ward had returned. Which Georger apparently took as his cue to leave with a mumble about another drink.

Miss Reeves held her place in the doorway for a moment more, looking out at the ballroom as if taking stock of everyone there. A princess surveying her kingdom? Perhaps. Certainly she put all the other young women to shame, from the details of her gown to the powdered tower of hair, to her face, exquisite in its detail.

His pulse hammered. She was too beautiful for him. His tongue would twist into knots if he dared to open his mouth in her company. She would dismiss him in a moment, as every other girl did. He’d do better to find a more approachable lady to court, one common enough that she wouldn’t actually distract him from his true motive for returning to New York.

Miss Reeves turned her head to her left and then moved toward Mrs. Hampton. Her every step was a dance, each gesture the epitome of grace.

Ben would be lucky to secure a minuet with her, much less any other sign of favor. And because he was not so superficial as to think a pretty face was all one needed, he certainly wouldn’t mourn the loss of what would never be.

She kept her gaze down as Mrs. Hampton ushered her forward. Seemingly demure, but there was something else in the tension of her neck. Something that spoke of anxiety, perhaps conflict.

Interesting.

Hampton stopped at Ben’s side and nodded at the approaching ladies. “My granddaughter has returned.”

“Excellent, sir.” He should have stayed home tonight. Settled in with a text. Montesquieu, perhaps. Montesquieu would be a fine companion for this blustery November night, far better than this present company—George excluded.

Hampton glared at the women when they arrived. “There you are.”

Miss Reeves curtsied, her gaze on her grandfather now, though his granite face didn’t soften in the slightest. “I trust you are enjoying your birthday celebration, Grandfather?”

“Quite.” He looked as though enjoying wasn’t a word in his vocabulary. “Allow me to introduce Mr. Bennet Lane, of the Manhattan Lanes. Mr. Lane, my granddaughter and ward, Miss Winter Reeves.”

She didn’t look at him, though she turned her face his way. When he held out a hand, she settled her fingers on his so lightly as to barely touch him at all.

Still, awareness coursed through him. She was even lovelier up close than from afar. A narrow bridge of a nose, lips of a perfect rose, brows that bespoke hair the color of his favorite mahogany chair—if one could see beneath the powder coating each lock, anyway.

He bowed over her hand. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Reeves.” Ah, not so much as a stutter. He would do his debate professor proud.

She drew in a breath too short, too sharp. And finally she lifted her eyes to his.

They were green. Deep as an emerald and not just in color. So many thoughts, so many needs seemed to swirl within those jewel-like irises for one fraction of a second—then it was as if a door slammed shut and they were only eyes. Pretty, empty eyes.

The strain was gone from her posture, and the turn of her lips looked half bored. “Likewise, Mr. Lane.”

He let her fingers go but couldn’t convince himself to look away from her perfect countenance. Not so much as a twitch revealed any thought at all, but he knew well he hadn’t imagined it.

Winter Reeves was more than the face she showed this crowded ballroom. Why did she feel she must hide it? And what, exactly, was it that she hid? Puzzling.

One corner of his mouth tugged up. Ben loved nothing so much as a puzzle. “Mr. Hampton, may I have the honor of dancing with your granddaughter when the next set begins?”

Hampton glowered. “She would be delighted.” Another word that seemed foreign to his frowning mouth.

Mrs. Hampton, however, beamed. As for Miss Reeves...if he weren’t mistaken, that look of ennui upon her face was designed specifically to put him off.

Well, they would see about that. Any philosopher, be he political or scientific or abstract, knew that sometimes one must revise one’s stated mission. His may have to become twofold.

Find the Patriot spy in New York.

And unravel the mystery that was Winter Reeves.

My Thoughts:

A fantastic beginning to the "Culper Ring Series", "Ring of Secrets" creates a world of danger and espionage that had me captivated from the first page! Set during the time of the Revolutionary War, Roseanna M. White takes the reader back in time when America wanted her freedom and by introducing us to Winter Reeves, gave a glimpse of how much one would risk to try to follow both God's will and one's own desires.

This excellent piece of historical fiction appears to be well researched and the story well told, giving the reader a real look at life back in the late 1700's and how people coped (or didn't cope) with the upheaval of peace between England and America. By giving a strong Godly character who didn't have an ideal situation, Mrs. White created quite endearing and realistic characters. Winter Reeves is truly lovable and I can't tell you how many emotions she has made me feel. Robbie, Winter's childhood friend also was a character I felt for. Then there's handsome Bennet Lane (why does he make me think of Mr. Darcy?) who is wonderful and caring but has issues and maybe a secret or two of his own. I found myself more than once wanting secrets to be told, but then again, struggling with the thought of are they truly trustworthy and what will happen?

Packed with realism, historical figures and events, danger, deception, romance, faith and humor, this is one book that is difficult to put down. I can't wait to read the next book in the series, "Whispers in the Shadows"!!

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!


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