Thursday, 18 October 2018

Stay Connected - Book Review

The daily struggles of life are many and we all bear crosses that sometimes seem to crush us and  don't always seem to give us any glimpse of the Resurrection, yet one can't have a taste of that same Resurrection unless we go through the cross.

I grew up knowing that in order to develop a deeper relationship with Christ, in order to get to know the Father and to discover who I was, I had to grow closer and closer to the Scriptures. The Bible was not a collection of books retelling stories and events of the past but that among those pages not only would I find my own past but my present and my future as well. That Word was alive and active and  brought life and straightforward answers (most of the time).

The other day for instance it was one of the many days of discomfort and difficulty I have been experiencing during this pregnancy... I was upset and I was complaining to God, telling him how I wished that I had that ideal mother living next door who would alleviate all my sorrows and would take over for just one day so that I could rest, and moaning that I wanted the ideal father would just turn up and provide for what I needed without me asking because he just knew what I was going through ... 
As I started my Lectio Divina with my mothers group, God was quick to console me and in various passages of the Bible He presented me with Mary as my mother and He clearly showed himself as THE Father I needed! NO! I refused to listened ... I KNEW THAT...but  I WANTED PRACTICAL HELP... nevertheless I carried on... The more I went from one parallel passage to another, the more He clarified who He was and what I really needed....  I found peace, even if for just that day, went home refreshed, the daily battle began and I was reminded of the importance of being closer to the Scripture when the times are bad as well as when they are good, because the Word is vital to my life as a Christian.

I know I was very lucky to be brought up to lean on the Sacraments as well as the Word and for this I thank my parents, the catechists who formed me and Christ himself, yet sometimes the busyness of life blinds you so much that you start to think that you have no time to spend some quiet moments with the Word of God.

This is where 'Stay Connected' comes in. A book that doesn't ask too much of you but that will give you a taste of the treasures that Scripture contain.

The 'Stay Connected' journal for Catholic women by Allison Gingras is a perfect friend to help you discover the joy we Catholic can find through the Word of God.

Allison shares her own Faith journey as she guides the reader towards a closer contact with Christ and with the inner self constantly struggling and yet wanting desperately to connect with God.

Each chapter starts with an 'opening prayer', offers plenty of points to reflect on, helps you to relate and reflect on around half a dozen scripture passages and by asking some practical questions offers the opportunity to develop that sought after deeper relationship with the only One who can give us life. The chapters end with discussion or sharing points and a closing prayer that summarises the themes, the feeling and the experience of that particular chapter. 

If you are not familiar with Lectio Divina this journal is a great starting point and a good tool to lead you through uncharted waters. If, however, you are used to doing regular Lectio Divina this book could work perfectly for a study group as it presents a very clear structure to follow as well as practical questions that will lead the group to interesting and thought provoking discussion points.

As St Jerome said: 'Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ' if up until now you thought getting to know the Bible was something that only belonged to other Christian denominations perhaps it's time you get with the programme and start discovering and enjoying that life-giving gift we Catholics have been given ;-).

Allison Gingras, Author 

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Pull Up A Pew #9 ~ Meet Kimberly Hahn

The 16th of March arrived very quickly and it was time for us at last to enjoy a lecture given by Dr Scott Hahn in person on the occasion of the inauguration of the Holy Rosary Shrine in Belsize Park, London. Here in England, we don't often have the privilege to listen live to the great Apologists of our time and have to make do with YouTube videos and podcasts so as you can imagine the excitement was high. I knew I would not be able to talk to him but I was determined to deliver a parcel with a letter on behalf of my Catholic Mothers addressed to Kimberley, his beloved wife.
I had nothing to lose...I had to try and see if I could arrange an interview with her for my group of mothers. After having managed to reach Fr Mike, thinking he would NEVER agree to be interviewed, my attitude of 'I have nothing to lose ...I can but try!' has become even stronger and more fearless!
( I hope to interview Bishop Barron too sooner or later... I have already spoken to him face to face at the Adoremus conference and am on the case... Will God surprises us once again?... I will keep you posted.)
So I prayed and asked my friends, the Saints and JPII in particular to help me somehow deliver the little Catholic Mothers tote bag I had carefully packed for Mrs Hahn.

My hopes were low as we arrived at the church a bit later than I had planned ... but as the doors opened and we were asked for our tickets, I realised one of the organisers was an old friend of my husband's... so I asked him kindly to deliver the bag... all my hope was in that bag and with him.
A few weeks passed and to my surprise (God never stops to surprise me when it comes to this) I was put in touch with the wonderful Kimberley Hahn whose kindness and patience towards me and my crazy little projects was infinite considering I was just a mother running a tiny group in the virtual Catholic world... and she a well known author and speaker. Yet again I was touched by the humility and spirit of service of these 'famous' Catholics, 'wasting' some of her valuable time for the littlest of their brothers and sisters.

Many members of the Catholic Mothers Facebook group submitted questions for the interview and I put some of them along with my own to Kimberley Hahn!

1.    There are many Catholic Mothers out there who are waiting and praying for their spouse to join them in this journey of Faith to be able to walk this path together as one.  What was your husband’s approach towards you in those 4 years as he waited for you to join him?

Briefly, he prayed a lot, shared when he could, begged God for insight, and challenged me. It was the most difficult time in our marriage. If faith matters to you – and it mattered SO much to us both – our differences were exceedingly painful. It was a time of a loss of dreams without seeing how we would ever be united truly again.

I’d recommend people read “Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism” which goes chapter by chapter through the same time frame from Scott’s perspective and then through mine.


2.    How many children did you have at the time and how did they react to the transition and what did you do when only one of you was in the Church?

When Scott became Catholic, we had two little boys, ages 3 and 1 ½. I became pregnant soon after with our daughter, Hannah. When I became Catholic, they were the only children we had, ages 7, 6 1/2, and 3. I don’t know how much they picked up on the intensity of our struggles, but we presented as united a front as we could. Scott let me know the week after he became Catholic that he had committed to raising the children Catholic, but that he wouldn’t press that immediately. By the time our oldest was 5, he no longer wanted us to attend a Protestant service though I was free to go when I wanted. By the time our eldest was 6, Scott signed him up for classes for First Confession and First Communion. Again, it was my decision to remain Protestant or not, but I faced being the only Protestant in my Catholic family.

There are many more details about this journey in “Rome Sweet Home.”

3.    What did you do to try to incorporate the Faith into your daily lives and to incorporate the Liturgical calendar too - Easter, Lent, Advent, Saints' days etc? (Patricia)

I talked with Catholic moms, gathered ideas from books, and tried traditions to see what would work well given our children’s ages, whether or not I was pregnant, and what Scott could assist us with. There are so many beautiful traditions – you can’t do them all. You want to do what can be meaningful without feeling like someone’s going to judge you for doing it differently than your neighbour. In my book “Graced and Gifted” I give more concrete ideas for liturgical celebrations.

4.    How do you deal with and keep teens faithful when they pull away for independence? (Maureen)

Our youngest of 6, David, is now 19, so we’re almost through the teen years. I think they are a great age – full of deep thoughts about life, love, Godk, the world… Dads are key – they coral them for daily Mass and after-dinner Rosary. The dads help demonstrate that religion is not a “kid” thing. We emphasize how essential it is for them to reach for heroic virtue, to know their faith well so they can defend it, and to give Christ everything! Too often, teens are short-sold on faith, begging them to come with us to Mass rather than telling them what time we’re going. This is true for daily Mass while they are under our roof. We just decide to go and take them. If someone says, “Do we have to go to daily Mass?” I counter with, “We don’t have to, we GET to!” Often they chime in with me with a small smile and a shrug. Afterwards, they have been grateful they went. It’s a limited time offer, while they live under our roof. Don’t miss the opportunity to help them form habits which will help them in later life.

My husband always had a rule: If you need to go to Confession, just ask, and I’ll find you a priest to hear your confession, no questions asked. That was a great rule. And Scott followed through.

5.    How does one "know" for certain that the number of children you have is it?

You know for certain when you hit menopause and can’t have any more. I’ve never heard of anyone saying in later life they wish they had had one less child – but I’ve heard countless people lamenting they were not open to one more.

Seriously, think about your whole life – how long will you live? How long will you be married? Of those years, how many times will you conceive? And how many of those children will you get to bear to delivery and raise? Again, it’s a limited time offer. I would really encourage you to get a copy of “Life-Giving Love: Embracing God’s Beautiful Design for Marriage” which I wrote years ago. The first half of the book explains the Church’s teaching and how beautiful it is. The second half deals with many difficult situations and how we can respond well to miscarriage, stillbirth, infertility, secondary infertility, and sterilizations, as well as quick answers to the 58 most common objections to being open to one more child.

How do you know you're done, or you've accomplished God’s will for family size? (Glynis)

God’s will is tricky to understand – he knows and we don’t. We pray, we seek counsel, we talk with our spouse to understand each other’s hearts, and then we act in good faith, only using Natural Family Planning if we believe we are not led to be open to another child at this time. Contraception for the purpose of not conceiving is always serious sin. No exceptions. That’s NOT God’s will. Ever.

6.    How did you find your homeschooling journey? What would you do differently? (Annalisa)

I first heard about homeschooling from a radio broadcast called Focus on the Family. I looked up that author and began reading about it when my youngest was 1. I went to a conference to learn more and to see what materials were available. It was amazing!

I homeschooled all 6 of our children, most of them all the way through high school, for 26 years. It has been one of the greatest joys of my life. I highly recommend it.

7.    If a parent does not have the option to homeschool or send their children to Catholic school, what are some things that parents can do? (Leanne)

You’ll need to really pay attention to what your children are being taught. Discuss it with them. Find out if Planned Parenthood (or some such organisation) is coming to your child’s classes to give them information and require your child not be present. They go to classes as young as kindergarten! They are the largest abortion provider networks in the US and as such, use their classroom presentations to work toward their future clientele for contraception and ultimately abortion.

8.    “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of sons is their fathers.” (Proverbs 17:6) What role do Christian grandparents have in their grandchildren’s life?

Grandparents have a wonderful role to play – to delight in your offspring as parents and be their major support; to delight in their offspring and enjoy them without feeling the burden of disciplining them; to pray for them every day.

I have a journal for each of my grandchildren that I write in periodically. I didn’t have the time to do that for my children, but that’s something I can do for my grandchildren. I’m so grateful to be able to write about meaningful bible verses, challenge them in their faith, comment on funny things they’ve said or done, speak words of love and encouragement to them, and share how God is teaching me. I plan on giving them their journals sometime after they turn 18.

9.     How do you support your husband as head of the family when you are a leader yourself?

Your husband is the head of the home; you are the heart of the home. Which is more important? Neither. You are both greatly needed. Yet in the dance of marriage, someone needs to lead, and the Lord has designated that role for the husband. In fact, the example is Christ and the Church – do they co-lead, or does the Lord lead the Church? This is not something that squelches a wife, because the husband’s leadership is to demonstrate the kind of service Christ demonstrated for the Church as he laid down his life for her – for us.

Both husband and wife are to submit to Christ and then work out the details of life together in a supportive role with a servant spirit.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Surprised by a Beautiful Dream!

The picture of a book with a burnt chicken on the cover was all over my blogging circles... people were talking about it, reading it and writing about it... I didn't pay too much attention, I was not really interested, I didn't register the name of the author nor the title of the publication.

Again as I was sipping a nice glass of sherry, enjoying some tapas, flamenco tunes playing in the background and some good company, my friend mentioned a certain author and her latest book by the title of  'One Beautiful Dream'... She sounded like an ideal candidate for the next Catholic Mothers Conference as we shared the same view of life... and although I hadn't read her book yet, I trusted my friend's judgement and enquired about having her to come to talk at our next conference.

All excited, I sent her the email and all depressed I read the answer a few days later... once again 'My beautiful dream' of getting American speakers to come to our conference was crushed by the exorbitant fees... which over there are normal but over here are inaccessible 1. because of our Catholic reality being very very small... and 2. because of  Catholic Mothers being only a young apostolate has no money to invest... yet.

The day after the email I received a phone call from my mother in law all excited about this article she had read about this book of certain Jenifer Fulwiler that she thought I would very much enjoy and that could be read in my Thursday's mothers group.

At that point although I was still annoyed about not being able to afford the American speaker... and before having to deal with another invitation to read that book ... I opened my laptop, ordered it and at the same time gave it as summer reading to my mothers group as suggested by my mother in law.

After the first few chapters I was even more annoyed about having been pushed into reading it...  I kept on asking to myself why this book was having so much success. It was yet another blogger writing  a longer post on paper... and the more I read the more I really thought I knew how this would end ... rags to riches, the American dream in 200 pages. 'Well, I am not American' ... 'NO! you can't have it all'... I told my husband 'I am going to be brutally honest when I review this book, and if at the end I don't like it.. I am afraid my review will be very different from the ones I have read so far'... and frankly I was kind of bored of having to read about another couple who couldn't be bothered to learn NFP properly...

I stuck with it because I guess I didn't really believe it would get any better, I wouldn't be moved from my prejudgments and I was looking forward to writing a really catty review...

But... It didn't quite go as I had planned it... I started to enjoy the book and I was not ready for it. The book was funny and genuine. I could relate so much with all the afternoons interrupted by unexpected visitors she describes in the books, afternoon upon afternoon planned and carefully organised for writing or painting... I was glad to know it wasn't God's personal vendetta with me or His ruse to make me exceptionally patient and hospitable. So many times in the last few months I wished I had that 'BLOW UP THE WORLD NOW' button, she mentions in the book... because the money was too short and house too small.

The book brought me back to when straight after the birth of our second child, I received a phone call from a relative to commiserate me rather than to congratulate me for his birth. She told me how the time of her children's early childhood were the 'dark ages' of her life... a time when she held her breath, put her life on hold, hardly ever went out, didn't travel... till the children were older enough and she could finally get her life back...Though that phone call happened 16 years ago I still remember the conversation vividly. Maybe that had worked for her but that couldn't have possibly worked for me who had another 20 plus childbearing years ahead. I was only 21 with the plan, God willing, to have a big family... For me and Pierpaolo,  it was very clear we didn't want to hold our breath until this 'better future' arrived but that what we really wanted was to live our life happily NOW,  breathing it in deeply with open lungs and living it to the full with all its sacrifices but enjoying our vocation as spouses and parents. The 'Wholeness of Vision' the author talks about in the book,  was what gave us strength in the difficult moments ... looking beyond the immediate... embracing the difficulties and always looking at the Risen Christ.

After almost 20 years of marriage as the money situation appears to be particularly tricky and the house incredibly small... that Vision was cloudy, I wanted that button and was ready to hold my breath till God would finally showed His mighty Providence with an envelope full of  money through  the letter box and a phone call of someone offering us a bigger house (with a laundry room and a study) at a ridiculously low price. I could see the immediate suffering but had lost the vision. I had even started dreaming about moving, giving up the wonderful network of family and friends and the incredible community we had build in 20 years...

'This book is going to upset me so much!!! In this book the author is going through some of the same issues I am', I said to Pierpaolo, 'And what is going to be more annoying it's that she is really going to have it all... the money and the big house... the career ... probably too know American style.'

The more I read the more her situation became difficult and problems seemed to arise unnecessarily. God was truly testing her faith through unexpected pregnancies and her poor health and both husband and wife found strength from one another and together from God.
 The conversations between Jennifer, the author, and Joe, her husband were the exact same conversations Pierpaolo and I had had many times on similar issues. Joe's positive attitude towards life and his love for his family was heartwarming... the clear list of priorities and his choice to willingly and happily, not take the path of a successful career for the sake of the family... It really felt as if it was my husband speaking! Joe became my hero, he was clearly Jennifer's rock  in the same way as my husband had to rescue me from myself many times throughout our life together. My heart softened, my attitude towards the book changed.

The book wasn't about the American dream as I had pictured it in my mind, it wasn't about success, money or fame, the book was a book about family, about spousal love, about discovering the joy of parenting, about the gift of parents and grandparents, about relationships, about the importance of community, about reordering priorities, about unexpected friendships, about trust and openness to God's will.

As I turned the last page of the book... my house was still as small as ever, the money as short as before but the desire to have a change of heart that would allow me to truly say this IS my life... and enjoy it NOW not WHEN and IF we have a bigger house or we are in better financial position... But NOW... was all I was left with as my family's harmonious symphony played in the background.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Humans, Dogs and the Beauty of Creation.

Today is the feast of St Anthony of Padua, a follower of St Francis, renowned lover of nature and animals and himself the protagonist of a number of famous miracles where animals were involved such as preaching to the fish when the humans wouldn’t listen and correcting a heretic about the Real Presence through the reverence shown by a mule to the Blessed Sacrament. Ettore, our resident animal lover and aspiring vet decided to write a post on the two things he loves most: animals and faith!

Ever since I was a small child animals have fascinated me, so as I have grown it’s been great to augment my natural fascination with what the Church teaches about our relationship with animals.

Respect for the integrity of creation
2415 The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity.195 Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.196
2416 Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory.197 Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.
2417 God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image.198 Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.
2418 It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.
Animals have always played a special part in my life and I have loved them for as long as I can remember, because of this I have also had a special devotion to St Francis of Assisi patron saint of animals, and the way that he saw animals and nature is an important example that we should all follow. St Francis of Assisi was as we should all strive to be, deeply in love with God, and as a man who smells the sweet scent of his spouse’s perfume is reminded of his love for her, so St Francis found a similar effect in contemplating God’s glorious creation. He loved nature because it reminded him of God, we too should look at nature and contemplate the benevolence of God. Nature speaks of God because of its beauty and because of God’s divine providence. Contemplation of God’s creation fills you with awe and wonder, things such as a chameleon changing colour or the beauty of a bird of paradise, an apt name for birds that are so beautiful that they speak of God.

We share the same planet and as stewards of the earth had creation entrusted to us, and because of this we must always treat animals and nature with dignity, but never over and above human beings. God’s caring and providential hand has been seen through nature, and animals have even been instruments of his help for humanity. Early man would have remained nomadic and could not have settled if it were not for the domestication of the wolf, which led to us be able to herd cattle instead of moving with an uncontrollable herd. Or the superior hunting ability of dogs has kept man’s belly full from as far back as 10,000 years ago. Man flourished off the back of the superior senses of the dog and its herding ability, allowing us to domesticate cows, pigs and sheep, not to mention guarding man while he slept from the dangerous beast.
Now the dog has remained a faithful servant, a companion to the lonely, a protector of the weak and a helper to those who work. We can also learn from the dog’s loving nature. Abba Xanthias, a Desert Father said - “a dog is better than I am, for he has love and he does not judge.” words to live by.
Having said this we must not forget the fallen state of nature, the fact that it is self destructive, for one species to survive it must destroy the other, this may not have always been the plan but because of the fall, this is how things worked out, nonetheless by direction of the Church we can make the best of a bad situation.

The healthy love for animals is a good and necessary thing, however fallen humanity in its disordered exaggeration of all things, like the overflow passions has also done the same with the natural love and care we feel towards animals. The care, love and energy that should be for children has often been directed towards animals, now it’s not unusual for a young couple to get a dog first and then maybe think about a child, whereas the dog ought to be for the children as an addition and enrichment for the family not the family itself. The phenomenon of ‘doggy parents’ is distorting and confusing the care we feel towards animals and the natural desire to have children. As a consequence of this unhealthy love towards animals, animals suffer and more importantly children too. Why? In my understanding of dog ’psychology’ dogs do not do well when treated as if they are humans and don’t have a natural dog role in the family, they act out and behave badly, they get confused because they are a dog and we treat them as if they were humans.
The Church is, as always right, if we stick with the natural law and the catechism even our dog will behave better, who’d have thought that the church would be one of the first animal psychologists!

There is a healthy and an unhealthy love of animals: and the nearest definition of the difference is that the unhealthy love of animals is serious. I am quite prepared to love a rhinoceros, with reasonable precautions: he is, doubtless, a delightful father to the young rhinoceroses. But I will not promise not to laugh at a rhinoceros. . . . I will not worship an animal. That is, I will not take an animal quite seriously: and I know why. Wherever there is Animal Worship there is Human Sacrifice. That is, both symbolically and literally, a real truth of historical experience.”
— G. K. Chesterton
This is exactly what we see in our world today, animals are worshipped and unborn children are murdered simultaneously, this fact was seen when the Cecil the lion ‘controversy’ hit the headlines. At the same time another story came out that Planned Parenthood was selling baby body parts. Which do you think received the greater coverage and which of the two did more people weep for? Cecil the lion swamped the planned parenthood stories and not a tear was shed in the media for the countless children murdered and whose body parts were sold. We must return to a culture of life that loves all life but in the way God wants, this will most fulfill both animals and more importantly humans.
‘Let all creation help you to praise God. Give yourself the rest you need. When you are walking alone, listen to the sermon preached to you by the flowers, the trees, the shrubs, the sky, the sun and the whole world. Notice how they preach to you a sermon full of love, of praise of God, and how they invite you to proclaim the greatness of the one who has given them being.’

St Paul of the Cross

Friday, 13 April 2018

Pull Up a Pew #9 Jenny Ryan ~ The Ryan Table

The importance of the dinner table is underestimated in today's culture. Our life is so full of activity and to do lists that time for meals gets squeezed and dinner can become a quick affair that doesn't necessarily take place around a table and mostly happens on the go. 

A couple of times during lent while the family were eating we took turns reading aloud the Gospel of Mark. It struck us as we read that Jesus went from one meal to another and that some of the greatest things he taught to his followers happened around a dining table! To this you can imagine the children exclaimed... "You see! We always knew Jesus was Italian"...

We always joke that the ideal pass time for an Italian is talking about food while seated at table for a meal and even online I can never resist a beautiful photo of some home-cooked food in a family setting so when I stumbled across @the_ryan_table while checking my Instagram, I was hooked. Jenny was always cooking something new and the pictures reflected a happy household full of children, good food and love and care for the family. I had the pleasure to chat with her several times and decided I wanted to get to know her better.

Here on the blog with us today is Jenny Ryan: 

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your Catholic background.
Like one of my favorite religious authors, Caryll Houselander, I like to call myself a rocking horse Catholic. I remember very well when my father came back to the faith and my mom converted. I was six years old and a very holy priest guided my parents to the Catholic Church. When they entered the church and turned their civil wedding into a Catholic sacrament I was so proud to be their flower girl. I never could understand why my poor mother hated it when I proudly told strangers that I was at my parents wedding! We started attending Mass every Sunday and I fell in love with everything about the church. I was at a great age to be enchanted with the many beauties of our faith. I went on to get my degree in theology and worked for a time as a campus minister. My faith certainly was challenged with the gift of motherhood. I would say it was through my vocation as wife and mother that my faith truly started to mature. God's love and mercy is very much found in struggle, and there is plenty of that to be found when trying to live one's vocation!

2. When did you discover your passion for cooking? Was is something you matured with age or was it always there and accompanied you growing up?
I am so glad that you asked. It came first out of necessity, and even boredom. I struggled with leaving work and becoming a full-time mom. I wanted a hobby but I couldn't think how to find the time to do a hobby and I am not a crafty/hobby kind of person. I happened to watch the movie, Julie and Julia. It's a true story about a young woman who decided to cook her way through Julia Child's cookbook and blog about it. It was an inspiration to me and I started a blog about being a mom the next day. However, It wasn't until we discovered that one  of my newborn twins had a milk allergy that I truly started to cook. I suddenly had to eradicate every drop of milk, cooked or raw, from my diet. I felt as though I was starving for a few weeks, nursing twins, caring for my two and three year old, and trying to sort through what I could and couldn't eat. Even the smallest amount of milk would cause my poor baby to scream. As I read label after label I realized that even the bread we ate had milk. I started struggling through the process of learning to make my own bread, then soup, and my love of cooking took off from there.

3. Why is it so important to make the table the focus of family life?
The table is the schoolroom of life and relationships. It is where we learn to make connections, to ask questions, and to listen with interest. It is around the table that we learn manners and to eat what we are served (and what a valuable life lesson that is!). Besides the wonderful skills family meals teach, it is the one place where, if done intentionally, we stop what we are doing to focus on each other, connect, and love without distraction. Traditions and memories are formed around food. I like to joke that one of my life goals is to be a better cook than any of my children's future in-laws so that they come to us for the holidays. But in all seriousness, good food and good times keep your family coming back for more good food and good times.

                                                            Follow Jenny on IG @the_ryan_table

4. Can you tell us your greatest success and greatest cooking disaster?
I would say my greatest success was very recent. We are a big fan of St. Joseph in our house and I heard that the tradition is to cook Italian food for the solemnity celebrated on March 19th. I got together with one of my friends and we spent the day making homemade tortellini. Not only was it fun, but it was not as difficult as I thought it would be! We made a four course meal (if you count ice cream as a course) out of it. The kids were thrilled and excited for our “fancy dinner.” I was very proud of the taste of everything, and overall it was a great food memory and now a new family tradition.

I have had many food disasters. Goodness. I would say the worst was in our first year of marriage. We were living in a little apartment and I decided to try and make steaks for the first time. I did not have a clue what I was doing. It didn't take long for me to fill the apartment with smoke, burn the steaks entirely, and ruin our brand new cookware. We opened the patio doors, fire alarm blazing and smoke billowing out. We as we choked on the smoke flowing through the doors we heard sirens and dreaded seeing fire trucks pull up under our patio. Luckily, the sirens were not for our false alarm. I did eventually, years later, learn how to make a wonderful steak.

5. What is the secret of a happy kitchen?
We must remember  why we cook. Ultimately, like all things we do, it should be done for love. We can get (or is it just me?) stuck on our own idea of how we wanted a dish to turn out or an evening to unfold. As things don't turn out the way we wanted or expected, we can lose our temper, our joy, or our sense of humor. We don’t want to run around frazzled and resentful like poor Martha. Jesus wasn't upset with Martha for making all the food someone had to prepare dinner! His gentle reminder to her had to do with joy and peace! “Martha, Martha, you are worried about many things . . . " Serving with love is to cook alongside Jesus and “choose the better part” Sometimes a happy kitchen means cereal for dinner because that is what you can serve with a smile and sometimes it may mean homemade pasta with an appetizer and desert. "If we have not love we are nothing" but if we cook with love, well then, we we have the luckiest family around.

6. Not every woman feels attracted by the art of cooking and presentation but most of us have to do it as a service to our family and for the survival of the species! How would you encourage reluctant cooks to embrace art of cooking and what advice would you give them?
The first step for me was to let go of any resentment from being the one who "had to do it". Once you accept that someone has to cook, and it turns out that person is you, then you can start challenging yourself and having a little fun.

I recommend taking some special time to cook once a week. Don’t set out to make a great meal every night, I don’t know if anyone caring for a bunch of humans can do that! Once a week is a great place to start and you may have to get creative with this time if you have little ones around. Maybe your spouse can take them out for a bit, maybe a friend can come over and keep you company while your kids play together, you can try preparing dinner during nap early in the day, or maybe your kids are old enough to enjoy cooking with you    think outside the box. Once you have a night picked out for some special cooking time then pick a dish you enjoy eating. Search the internet for a recipe that looks like you could handle, or at least attempt with moderate success. When it comes time to cook, pour a glass of wine, turn on some music, and just try it. I started with bread, trying it at least three times before I got something edible. Once I was confident in that skill it led to my desire to learn more. Find a food you really want to learn how to make, start there and build upon that.
7. Are you a clean or a messy cook?
Goodness. Messy. I am truly working on that. Slowly.
8. What is your favourite single ingredient?
I love onions. I love how versatile they are and how they affect the food. I love caramelizing them, or using them raw and finally minced in a salad. It's amazing how you can change the flavor of onions and how they can change a dish.  

9. What dish has the greatest religious meaning for you?
I can't think of one. I will say that I love all food with ritual or community. I love artichoke because when we eat it we gather around, pull off leaves, and dip in the same bowl   it's very communal. Coffee is also ritualistic and communal in nature. I love to share coffee with others because it means friendship and sharing confidences. I didn't answer your question, so sorry! But these types of foods are more significant to me than others because of the relationship they convey.

10. Can you share a favourite Easter recipe with our Catholic Mothers?

My favorite would be my family’s  no-rise cinnamon rolls. Growing up I made these with my dad for any special occasion and now my kids love making them with me. It’s a simple recipe that can be prepared the night before and then popped in the oven for breakfast. I love even just thinking about eating them with friends and family as part of a celebration.

Jenny met her husband, John, at Belmont Abbey, a Benedictine Catholic college. There she earned a bachelors in Theology Pastoral Ministry. Although born in Canada, Jenny has lived her entire adult life in the United States. Jenny and John have been married for almost 11 years and live in North Carolina with their six children, 9, 8, 6, 6, 3, and one due in August. Jenny enjoys cooking with and for her family, hosting others in their home, and is currently learning how to garden and keep flowers (mostly) alive. You can find Jenny regularly over at