Grace in the Wilderness: Reflections on God’s Sustaining Word along Life’s Journey, by Brother Francis de Sales Wagner, O.S.B.


Brother Francis de Sales offers his readers a source of joy, leading them into the desert where they feast on the reality of God.

The Liturgical New Year will soon dawn, a time for new beginnings, not only with reflections on the saints of the day, but the profound messages of the scriptural cycles found in the weekend liturgies. Grace in the Wilderness guides the reader with daily meditations organized by common theme, using the table of contents and in relationship to the three liturgical cycles, using a Liturgical Year Index.

These meditations, the “fruits of (Brother Francis’) prayer, study and reflection (were) primarily gathered from posts on (his) personal blog (first,, and, later, from 2009 to 2013.”

He encourages other blog writers with these words: “Each meditation was written as an individual piece at a certain point in time. It so happens (after I finally heeded blog readers who urged me to collect the posts into a book), that when they were gathered, adapted and organized thematically, together the reflections seemed to coalesce around the theme outlined” in the table of contents.

Brother Francis de Sales’ reflections remind us that the God extends grace to aid us through our journey across the wilderness of life. God nourishes through the conversation of prayer and the feast of frequent participation in the Eucharist. God guides us to conversion from a world-oriented heart to a heart exploded with love for our Creator. The author reminds us that everything about us calls us to recognize the presence, actually the hand of God. The world celebrates the “Holidays,” forgetting their significance in a blitz of commercialism. Instead, those called to ride the rhythm of the liturgical year celebrate the deeper meaning of giving thanks, waiting through Advent for the coming of the Messiah and the celebration of Epiphany. We celebrate Easter best after a sincere Lent, meeting the Messiah on the road to Emmaus, not the warrior king but the suffering servant now raised from the dead.

We are called to the wilderness to empty ourselves of the world, but are reminded (by Saint Paul”: “Do not worry about anything,” he urges, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Treat yourself to a gift for all seasons, liturgical and otherwise by including a meditation from Grace in the Wilderness: Reflections on God’s Sustaining Word along Life’s Journey in your daily spiritual exercises.

Wagner, Br. Francis de Sales. Grace in the Wilderness: Reflections on God’s Sustaining Word along Life’s Journey. St. Meinrad, IN: Abbey Press. 2013

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Figure: Rhythm in Glass, Alcohol Ink on Yupo by Nancy Ann Mulcare, © 2013

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon: No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (14), by Alexander McCall Smith

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, #14)

For those who have never read any of the previous episodes of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, this is a wonderful place to start, I would think, because episode 14 reviews so much of the past. Otherwise, the faithful followers of Precious Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi will enjoy another visit with the Ladies, along with a cup of red bush tea, especially while sitting with Mme Ramotswe and Mme Makutsi in the cool shade of an acacia tree, during the interminable dry season where the vegetation, wildlife and humanity all cry out for relief and hope for the rains. Mme Ramotswe notes that the corrugated tin roof of Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni’s Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors is so hot “it could fry eggs.” She thought that in fact “the eggs would burn.”

Readers will visit again with friends and acquaintances such as mechanics Charlie and Fanwell, recall stories of Sir Seretse Khama and Obed Ramotswe, enjoy Mme Potokwane and her fruit cake, update the achievements of Rra Phuti Radiphuti, refer to the inspirational Clovis Andersen (who receives a distinct honor in this episode), and look in on the children, Motholeli and Puso. The author re-introduces such villains as Note Mokoti, Violet Sephotho and Phuti’s aunt, the senior female member of his family who, in the name of tradition, presses her will on her nephew and his bride.

Conflicts, especially between traditions and modernization play in the background whether it’s Mme Makutsi status as assistant or associate detective, the evolving roles of men and women, the worsening traffic in Gaborone or the use of the postal services to deliver “muti” (bad-luck charms or curses). There is no need to fear traditional monsters under your bed when you have real, live cobras, mambas and puff-adders in the neighborhood or perhaps under your roof. Is that bad luck or good?

There is detective work to accomplish, but unlike the plots of other authors, the reader will neither see reckless car chases nor hear gun shots. There may be marital infidelity among the clients, but certainly none involving the Ladies. As the title of episode 14 suggests, Mme Ramotswe accepts a complementary facial massage as the first client of The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon leading her and Mme Makutsi all over Gaborone in search of a malicious culprit. Another case begins when a giraffe-like lawyer of dubious reputation asks the Ladies to investigate an inheritance. Again travel, research, keen observation, no small amount of luck, a blending of outlooks and much soul searching leads the Ladies to a satisfactory outcome.

Episode 14 incorporates a very small change in the cast of characters, but with potentially major consequences for future episodes. As usual, the content and tranquil Mme Ramotswe leaves us to reflect on the beauty of Botswana and Africa: the motherland of all humanity. She dreams of Mochudi, her home village where she might someday retire to peace and quiet, her cattle around her, with the land beneath her and the pure, dry, fragrant air about her, listening to the music of cattle bells. We await episode 15.

Smith, Alexander McCall. The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon: No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (14). New York: Pantheon Books, 2013.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Classroom Management for Catechists, by Jennifer Fitz

Classroom Management for Catechists, Liguori Publications

Jennifer Fitz has incorporated the fruits of her experience, energy, research and organizational skills within a compact, accessible and effective guide. It enables and encourages teachers and students to look forward with joy to each religious education experience. Fitz reminds catechists: 1) “This is the most important subject your students will ever study.” 2) “You can learn to teach and teach well…with God’s help and some hard work, you can touch the hearts and souls of students longing to know Jesus.”

Classroom Management for Catechists describes a workable “Rhythm and Routine” that address not only the normal circumstances within the religious education environment but assists the teacher in dealing with the unexpected, using sub-routines that activate when there’s a break in the rhythm. Fitz lists questions that assist the catechist to adapt the author’s approach to local conditions, pushing preparation beyond conventional boundaries, to meet overlooked needs. The title of Chapter 4–Turning the Young and the Restless into the Attentive and Instructed says it all. The author’s guidance makes after-school, weekend or summer programs the highpoint of the students’ week or year and obviates potential classroom problems that bore students and frustrate teachers.

As in any high-performance skill area, preparation determines success. Teachers’ planning requires their familiarity with curriculum content, coordination between teachers, and most importantly, a thorough understanding of the students’ abilities, needs and predisposition to learning. Since classroom time is so limited, Fitz suggests that meeting the student’s need to release pent-up energy include acting-out part of the lesson. For instance, marching around the room could underscore a lesson-specific theme such as the Israelites’ flight from Egypt. She would answer the need for quiet-time with an art project that illustrates the principles of the lesson. She would ask the well prepared students to work more independently while the teacher brings newcomers up to speed.

Effective preparation includes time invested in training students in the elements of discipline. Dividends pay-out in smoother running, more effective and enjoyable experiences for all. For example, “when everything goes nuts” it’s time for a circuit-breaker device such as the “Emergency Our Father.” Not only does the class stop to practice the Lord’s Prayer, but if the students were taught that the “EOF,” warns them the teacher “means business,” they are more likely to quiet down allowing the class to resume in a more orderly fashion.

The ultimate preparation for catechesis is life as a Catholic Christian. Jennifer Fitz says, the catechist should “want to show (the) students what holiness looks like…. Students can sense when you take your faith seriously. This matters. This is worth the sacrifice. A commitment to your faith—despite the difficulties, despite the setbacks, despite the times when life is scary or overwhelming or just plain boring—speaks for itself.” Another sign of Christian holiness is that in every way, the catechist shows love and respect toward the developing spirituality within students and the invaluable contributions of colleagues.

Classroom Management for Catechists is readily available, inexpensive and would make a wonderful gift for your favorite catechist, parish and diocesan Director of Religious Education, student-teacher or yourself.

Fitz, Jennifer. Classroom Management for Catechists. Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications, 2013.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

A Man of Good Zeal: A Novel Based on the Life of Saint Francis de Sales, by John E. Beahn


Saint Francis de Sales, aristocrat, swordsman, lawyer, author, priest, bishop, loving evangelist, Doctor of the Church and inspiration to millions–his life and message remain particularly relevant in today’s world where discord and violence run rampant, often in the name of religion.

Beahn’s novel considers the life of Francis from the point of view of his cousin, Louis. When the cousins studied in Paris, despite the attitude of his father, who waged war against Calvinists, Francis befriended many Calvinists, seeking to persuade them to return to the ancient faith.  Francis realized “that the mind will not accept what the will rejects.”

Francis upset his father’s plans for his worldly success by answering his vocation to the priesthood. After ordination, with permission of their bishop and a supportive proclamation from Duke Charles, Fathers Francis and Louis traveled to the town of Thonon where they sought to first win the hearts of the Calvinist residents by avoiding public preaching which might have disturbed them. In response, many cordially responded to the “papist priests.”

Francis sent each of the Magistrates an Epistle to the Gentlemen of Thonon elegantly outlining the content of his evangelical message, but much time passed without a response. Harsh conditions and lack of progress prompted Louis to return home, but despite his loneliness, and personal danger Francis trusted that change took place on God’s schedule and by His means. Francis believed that for him to desert his reluctant flock would have spiritually damaged the citizens of Thonon.

When his father learned of his circumstances he sent an armed servant to protect Francis. His name might have well been Felix Culpa, because his presence prompted an attack in which Francis captured one of the assailants. Soon all three attackers were arrested. In the controversy that followed one of the Magistrates, Pierre Poncet offered to prosecute the assailants. His concern for Francis changed his heart enough to listen to his arguments, prompting Poncet’s return to the ancient faith. Soon the majority of the town also opened their hearts and minds.

Although the local bishop and even the pope rejoiced, Duke Charles took offense because Francis succeeded by suffering for his flock, whereas the Duke failed in his effort to convert these same Calvinists by means of force. When Francis needed assistance in his ministry, the diocesan clergy wouldn’t come into the area without military back-up. When Jesuits and Franciscans volunteered and effectively ministered to the converting populace, then the former pastors returned accusing Francis and his colleagues of stealing their parishes. In the years to come, the Duke stood in the way of Francis, the young, enthusiastic priest and potential successor to the aging bishop. Despite or maybe because of all of this adversity, Francis continued to grow and set an example to all priests and bishops.

In 2013, Pope Francis I* called for “shepherds who smell of their sheep” and has asked Papal Nuncios to find candidates to serve as bishops who are “close to the people, fathers and brothers.” They should be “gentle, patient and merciful; animated by inner poverty, the freedom of the Lord and also by outward simplicity and austerity of life.” They should “not have the psychology of ‘Princes.” Certainly Saint Frances de Sales exemplified these pastoral characteristics as both a priest and bishop. May he intercede for those blessed with a calling to each level of Holy Orders.

John E. Beahn’s novel based on the life of Saint Francis de Sales provides a readable story, rich in details, that honors this great saint. I recommend it to all who love the Catholic Church and all who desire to draw it closer to their hearts.

Beahn, John E. A Man of Good Zeal: A Novel Based on the Life of Saint Francis de Sales. Charlotte, NC: TAN Books, 2013.

*Vatican Radio, June 21, 2013

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)