Ishtar’s Odyssey: What to Do with Your Family This Advent

Ishtar hung his head again, and Salamar patted him on the shoulder. “And consider this,” he said softly. “This journey will bring many adventures and many new things to learn, and you and I will get to share them together.”

“I don’t like adventures. I like knowing exactly what’s going to happen.”

“Yes, I know, and that may be the best reason to have a few adventures. You’ll meet many new people and make new friends. If we are fortunate, you will even meet my old friend Nathan from my youth. He once did fifty cartwheels in a row!” (Ishtar’s Odyssey, p. 41)

Ishtar's OdysseyIshtar’s Odyssey is the newest in a series of Advent (and one Lenten) devotionals by Arnold Ytreeide.

We’ve been reading these books aloud as a family for years so I was excited to receive a copy in the mail in exchange for an honest review.

A friend suggested the first, Jotham’s Journey, in 2010 and we’ve been hooked ever since.

Now our sons are middle schoolers and they’re still excited about diving into Ishtar’s Odyssey this Advent.

The story

Ishtar is the son of Salamar, one of the three wise men who follow the Star to find Jesus as a babe. Like Jotham, Ishtar is 10. Unlike Jotham, Ishtar is a prince, a privileged member of Persian society. He dreams of becoming King of Persia and adored by his subjects.

His world revolves around his studies, but his interest lies in comfort and passion for good food. In a word, he’s a spoiled brat. Salamar dearly loves Ishtar, but good father that he is, he also sees Ishtar’s weaknesses.

When Ishtar discovers a brand new star in the sky, prompting praise and accolades from the Persian Sheik Konarak, Salamar decides this is where the rubber (or camel hoof) meets the road. His little boy needs to grow up. Ishtar must come with the caravan to follow the star.

Ishtar, unaccustomed to even being outside much, is reluctant to say the least. He wants to stay at the castle, even if that means separation from his father. Sadly, his comfort at the castle without his father, far outweighs being uncomfortable on the caravan with him.

Salamar insists, and their adventures begin.

The storytelling

Like all of Ytreeide’s devotionals, there is historical fiction which mingles mystery and suspense with theology and good old-fashioned fun and foolery.

I love Ytreeide’s masterful use of characters. We’ve actually met Ishtar before…in Jotham’s Journey. Then it was a brief encounter in the course of Jotham’s story. In fact, all the characters from all the books are interwoven in each other’s stories.

Ishtar and his father do meet up with Nathan… and Jotham, and Tabitha, and Bartholomew, and even the despicable villain, Decha of Megiddo. These were all characters from previous books. Now we get Ishtar’s story, which we’re eager to know because he’s an old friend.

The lessons

Ishtar does grow up on his journey. His first lesson comes the hard way before the journey even begins. But, this painful experience opens him to other powerful lessons along the way.

Ishtar learns to put others before himself and honor the beauty in others. He’s loyal to Jotham, kind to Bartholomew, and impressed from afar with Tabitha’s bravery.

He’s brave when threatened by Decha and humbled before the simple faith and goodness of Simeon. He’s amazed by Nathan and repulsed by Herod.

Every year, we enjoy how Ytreeide’s historical fiction draws our family toward the Christmas celebration. Through an engaging and entertaining story, we reflect on the events leading to Jesus’ birth and get fresh insights.

There’s no better way to appreciate Christmas than a meaningful Advent journey. This Advent, take your family on that journey with Ishtar’s Odyssey.

What are you doing with your family for Advent this year? 

How to Lead Your Kids Back to the Church


“How do I get my kids to come back to the Church…”

That’s the question I got again and again when I became a parish DRE.

News traveled fast that I came back to the Catholic Faith after abandoning it for 20 years. Older folks would ask me what changed my mind and what they could do to bring their adult kids back into the Catholic fold.

I would tell them what worked for me and make some suggestions, mostly prayer…but I never had a very good answer.

That’s why I’m super excited about RETURN, a new project from my friend Brandon Vogt. RETURN is a collection of resources to help parents draw their children back to the Church.

RETURN includes:

  • 16 video lessons with 220 minutes of content.
  • A paperback book/companion guide.
  • 10 video interviews with Catholic leaders like Dr. Scott Hahn, Jennifer Fulwiler, Fr. Michael Schmitz–experts at helping people come back to the Church.
  • “Seed Gifts”: 12 of the most effective DVDs, books, and CDs to give your fallen-away child.
  • And access to a private, online community where you can get ideas and share with others in the same situations.

Addressing the need

What I like about RETURN is that it’s addressing a need that hasn’t received much attention.

Most people, including me, work on prevention–how to keep your kids Catholic. But for tons of people, it’s too late for that. Their kids are already gone!

What do they do? Before RETURN, I didn’t have an answer. Now I do.

“There are many resources devoted to helping people, in general, come back to the Church,” says Vogt. “They contain broad tips which can be applied to friends, co-workers, or even people you interact with online.”

“However, as we all know, the parent/child relationship is so distinct from other relationships. There are things a parent can say or do that will have a much bigger impact on their child than on a friend or coworker, and on the other hand, there are things parents shouldnot say or do to their child, simply because of their relationship,” he said.

“I thought it was time that parents and grandparents had a resource specifically designed for them, one that took into account the delicate, unique bond they have with their child.”


Just be patient, they’ll come back

Vogt’s program tackles the myths about fallen away Catholics head on…especially the passive approach.

“Probably the biggest one [myth] I hear from parents, priests, and Church leaders is, ‘Oh, they’ll come back to the Church eventually once they get married or have kids. Let’s just be patient.’ That may have been true in decades past—though even that is controversial—but studies have affirmed, again and again, that it’s no longer true today,” Vogt related.

“Overall, the ‘wait-and-see strategy’ is just a losing game, he said. “Let me pose a thought experiment: what would the CEO of a Fortune 500 company say if he learned that 75% of his customers just stopped buying the company’s products? Would he say, ‘Oh, no big deal. Let’s just sit and wait for them to come back. They’ll probably come back one day, right?'”

“No! He’d do everything in his power to track down the former customers, reconnect with them, answer their objections, and re-propose his products in new ways.”

“We parents, priests, and Church leaders should have the same reaction. In light of the millions of young people who have left the Church, we can’t respond by saying, ‘Let’s just wait for them to come back.’ We need to say, ‘Let’s do everything possible to help them return!'”

I couldn’t agree more.

Practical tips


I asked Brandon if he could share some practical tips from the program.

“After talking with hundreds of parents and young people, I’ve noticed several patterns—some good, some bad—that we can learn from,” he said.


“Two things to always keep in mind,” Vogt explained. “Ask questions and stay positive. Questions are largely neutral, or at least seem that way, and don’t sound ‘preachy.’ When you ask a question, you aren’t actually stating your own view. Many times, you’re helping your child see that his beliefs are not as firmly supported as he might think.”

Some of Vogt’s favorite questions include:

  • “What pushed or pulled you away from the Church?”
  • “What’s the one thing that would cause you to come back to the Church?”
  • “What do you think is the best reason to be Catholic and why doesn’t it compel you?”

“You also need to stay positive. Don’t focus on all the negative things your child is doing; he’ll just tune you out. A better approach is to affirm the positive. If your child doesn’t attend Mass because he thinks it’s boring and irrelevant, affirm his desire not to be a hypocrite—that’s a good thing. Once you’ve affirmed something positive, he’ll be much more open to hearing what you have to say.”


“The biggest mistake I see parents make is trying to force their fallen-away child to Mass. In their mind, f they do that, they’ve succeeded,” Vogt said.

“Now, this stems from good intentions. Most parents know Jesus is present at Mass in a special way, so they want to do everything possible to get their children to show up. The problem is that if someone comes to Mass unwilling and unprepared, it will likely have no effect on him,” he explained.

“You must plant other seeds first so that he’ll actually desire to attend Mass. The Mass should be the last piece of the puzzle.”

“The second thing not to do is criticize his lifestyle—at least at first. Beginning with moral commandments is often a non-starter for young people,” Vogt continued.

“This doesn’t mean you should just watch silently and passively as your child makes bad decisions. Instead, it means your first approach should be marked by gentleness and patience, not criticism.”

How to get it

Visit to take a look at the full program.

However, you have to act today! The offer expires tonight. After tonight you won’t get the special price and bonuses.

Check out this program and send the link to a friend who’s children have left the Church. I’m sure you know someone who could benefit from these resources.

I’m positive these resources will give you a game plan for combating this vital problem.

Learn How to Read More Books This Year

I love books.

So much potential contained in such a small package.

You can learn virtually anything. Or be transported to another galaxy, another time, another life.

I buy a lot of books. I don’t read a lot of books.

I mean to. I want to. It just always seems like there’s too many other things to do. All that knowledge right at my fingertips…and yet so far away.

For years I’ve been jealous of my friend Brandon Vogt. Somehow he was always able to read a ton of books. I could never figure out how. I knew he was busy. He worked full time, was married with kids, and blogged (most of the time more than me), yet every year he talked about reading 70, sometimes over 100 books a year!

I always wondered how he did it. Now I know…and you can too.

Brandon has come out with a new course that details his secrets on how to read a monstrous ton of books in a shorter amount of time and remember more of what you read. It’s called Read More Books Now.

Read More Books Now is an online course with 10 videos and over 100+ minutes of tips, tricks, and hacks that teach you creative ways of carving more reading time out of your busy day.

And you can do it all without speed reading, which is good for me because I’m terrible at it.

The cost is only $37, but here’s the deal–that’s only until this Thursday , February 26 at 11:59pm EST. After that, the price goes up.

If you buy the course NOW, Brandon’s got some deals for you. You’ll get:

  • eBooks – You get the associated eBook in PDF, Kindle, and ePub formats
  • Audiobook – The entire course in MP3 format
  • Reading Tracker Spreadsheet – A custom, elegant spreadsheet to track your most important reading stats
  • Professionally-Designed Bookmarks – These summarize all the key principles from the video course so you always have them at your fingertips

But the low price ($37) and bonuses go away after Thursday, February 26 at 11:59pm EST.

So, if you wish you had more time to read and want to finish more books this year (and I really do) then check out this course.

To learn more go to the Read More Books Now video course page–>


Really, Brandon does know what he’s talking about. He reads a ton of books every year and has some very creative ideas about how to get it done. I read some of these tips in a short article he wrote and I’ve always been intrigued to learn more. I previewed this course and it really is cool.

Now, in all honesty I have to tell you that the link above is an affiliate link. If you click on that link and buy the course, I’ll get some cash. But I really wouldn’t write to you about this course if I didn’t believe it was good stuff. Brandon’s the real deal, I like his course, and I really wanted you to know about it. So don’t be afraid to check it out.

Sorry, I Got Caught Up


So…what have you guys been up to?

I’ve been a little busy!

This is the obligatory post bloggers always write when they’ve been away from the blog for a while.

You’ve seen them. They contain an apology for being absent and an explanation of what could possibly have been so important that a simple post could not be produced two months.

Well, I am really sorry, and I do have a good excuse.


I’m now the Director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute (BHI). It’s a school of faith formation run by the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, MO. Yep! I moved to Kansas City! And I’m the director!

The institute does adult faith formation classes leading to catechetical certification. There’s five staff instructors, and several adjunct instructors, that do 4-5 week courses at remote sites (mostly parishes) around the diocese. This year we’re focusing on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We’ll teach the whole Catechism in 6 courses this year.

This whole thing has been a whirlwind. Here’s the story.

About two years ago, a friend from Franciscan turned me onto a job opening at BHI. I met the department head and the director at the St. John Bosco Conference at Franciscan. They watched me teach and asked me to apply, which I did right away. However, funding for that position got cut.

Then toward the end of last May, they asked me to apply again…but this time it was for the director’s position. The interview process took only a month. I accepted the position at the end of June and a month later, July 28th, I started. Believe me, that was a quick turnaround! I had a month to button up my DRE job so I could turn it over, and get a move organized. On top of that, one week of that was spent at the Bosco Conference.

Needless to say, I didn’t have much extra time, or brain power, to devote to blogging.

I have to say my wife was incredible. She is the moving planner extraordinaire. She’s the one that got everything together and made it happen so quickly. If it wasn’t for her, I’d still be in Champaign waiting to move.

So here I am. Living in Kansas City, drinking through a fire hose at the Bishop Helmsing Institute, and loving every minute of it. I’m mostly learning the ropes but I’m already thinking of what I can improve. What can I say? I can’t help it. Don’t tell my boss.

On the blogging side, I think I’m finally settled enough to get back to it. I have a ton of stuff to write about. Things I learned at the Bosco Conference from Andre Regnier and Sherry Weddell, as well as many other thoughts about evangelization.

It’s been a wild ride. Every once and a while I pull a little disappearing act when life catches up to me, but I really appreciate your reading and support of my writing. Thanks for sticking with me.

Link: 100 Blogs by New Media Catholic Priests


How many priests do you know well enough to ask advice? 5? 10? 100???

One of the awesome things about the internet is access.

Access to information, talent, resources, and people.

Once upon a time, if you wanted to interact with a priest, you were limited by your geographical region. Had a question burning in your brain? Want to bend their ear a bit? If they weren’t knowledgeable or didn’t have time for you, it was hard luck.

The internet is changing all that.

I ran across this post, 100 Totally Awesome Blogs by Catholic Priests, compiled by Joseph Adkins of the Catholic Dating Sites blog. He got together links to 100 blogs written by Catholic priests. I really did not know there were 100 blogging priests out there.

I don’t know how good all these blogs are…but don’t you think it’s cool that there’s 100 priests who blog?

I can’t vouch for all the sites, but I have run across many of these priests on social media. Here’s some I know. The text below is reproduced from the post (although, I do add a few comments of my own here and there indicated by italics):
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I’m Making Changes, Inside and Out

I guess you’ve noticed there’s a new coat of paint on the site now.

There’s a also few changes under the hood, and some upcoming changes in my content approach.

First, under the hood–this weekend I switched from Standard Theme to the Genesis Framework and the Metro child theme.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. The latest upgrade of Standard wasn’t working like it used to, and the promised child themes never materialized.

I know most of you don’t care about this technical stuff, so here’s what’s in it for you. All the best design practices are built in so it should be easier to read. And everything works great, right out of the box. For instance, anywhere you see orange…that’s a clickable. It goes somewhere. I had that working on my other theme but then it started breaking in some places.

And, it’s WIDE. I love the wide format. One of the things I hate on blogs is really small type. You can barely read it. This new theme fills up the screen. Why restrict your text to a tiny, narrow window with text you can barely read? Now I’ve got a super-wide 1152 pixels to display content.

This theme is also completely mobile responsive…meaning the site resizes for phones, tablets, small and large screens. Standard said it was mobile responsive but it never looked right. So, if you’re reading this on a smartphone or tablet, I hope you’re enjoying it. I think it looks awesome.

On the content side–I’m not using the tagline Evangelizing Catechesis. I’m still going to write a ton about evangelizing catechesis. But I’m expanding to more than classroom catechesis. I analyzed the numbers for last year, and I’ve realized my non-catechetical posts are some of the most popular. Particularly the posts on faith, spirituality, and Catholic parenting. My gig at has me excited about helping Catholic parents hand on the Faith to their kids. There may be much more on the horizon for me in this area with other projects too.

I’m still all about evangelization. I want my main focus to be exploring how to transmit the Faith in a way that truly grabs people. A way that really makes people sit up, take notice, and share what they’ve learned. I want to explore that for catechists, teachers, religious educators, as well as, parents and those teaching/evangelizing adults. I also want to explore aspects of faith and how to grow in spirituality and prayer. I don’t have all the answers but I’m always looking for new and better ones. I want to share that thought and research with you.

With this new blog theme, I’ll be able to highlight content in new ways to bring out more of these extra dimensions. Look for that in the future. I also want to create some new tutorials and highlight my older posts in different ways.

Hopefully, I’m responding to where I’ve seen your interests lie. I’m looking at the clicks and adjusting where I see the trends. As always, I’m open to input. If there’s anything you’d like me to write about, let me know. I want this site to help you.

Thanks for sticking with me. I hope you enjoy the content in the coming year…and the new coat of paint.

My Interview with Melinda Knight on Living Bread Radio

life-line-logoA few weeks ago I did an interview on the Life Lines Show with Melinda Knight from Living Bread Radio, a Catholic radio station out of Canton, Ohio.

We talked about some familiar topics from the blog like my conversion story, evangelization, catechesis, the Year of Faith, and the most important thing you’ll never do for it.

All things I talk about way too much…not that I’m going to stop anytime soon.

We also talked about conversions in the RCIA, and how I avoid lengthy apologetics arguments that go nowhere by strategically “stacking the deck” with my curriculum.

You can listen to the interview here. Hope you enjoy it!

Drop me a line in the comments and let me know what you think.

Why the Immaculate Conception is About More Than Mary

tapestry marian doctrines

Interconnected Marian dogmas are like a tapestry

Picture a large, 10 foot wide, Medieval tapestry depicting some hunting trip in the English countryside.

What would happen if you pulled out one thread from the side of this tapestry?

Could you do it without affecting many of the other threads and ruining the whole picture?

The Catholic Faith is like a rich tapestry of intricately interwoven theological threads all connected, tied, and attached to each other.

No where is that more prevalent than in the doctrines concerning Mary.

Many people are tempted to toss aside the Marian dogmas because they seem insignificant. What difference could Mary make in the large scheme of things?

But toss aside the theological truths about Mary (in particular the Immaculate Conception) and you mar the whole picture of Catholic theology. That’s because, surprisingly, the truth about Mary is tied to everything, particularly the destiny and greatness of the human person.
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Frontline Faith: Catholic Media Fostering Military Faith

frontline faith catholic

Army Chaplain, Capt. John Barkemeyer gives communion in Ramadi, Iraq

For Veteran’s Day, I wanted to think about faith and evangelization in the military.

I was in the Navy for 10 years. I flew SH-60B Seahawk helicopters.

Looking back on my military career, I’m shocked at how harsh Navy life was toward developing a spiritual life.

All the more shocking is that I actually did have a spiritual awakening in the Navy.

In this post, we’ll see how The Frontline Faith Project might help other servicemen like me.
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Word on Fire: Aristotle, Priests, and the Art of Preaching

This is an amazing article from Fr. Barron’s Word on Fire site explaining Aristotle’s three pillars of a good speech: ethos, pathos, and logos.

This was fascinating to me because it mirrored exactly what I was talking about last weekend at a conference in the Diocese of Springfield–why telling personal stories gives you a credibility and connection with your audience that is essential for your message to be heard and accepted. This is the aspect of ethos.

ETHOS: This first pillar deals with the credibility and the character of the preacher. Do you believe what the preacher is saying? Is he trustworthy? Is he worth listening to? Does he practice what he preaches? Does he have integrity and virtuous character? In other words, is he holy?

Read these posts to see what I was saying about telling personal stories, 5 questions to ask when crafting your stories, and the reason credibility is crucial for evangelization.