A Song for the Season

LMJ performing Past Three A Clock (and my husband assures me this is the correct, old English way to write this song title!) LMJ will be performing on Wednesday, December 19th at the Christian Education Center in Arnprior (free will offering) and on Friday, December 21st at the Neat Cafe in Burnstown.

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Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe #prolife

Today is the beautiful Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In 1531, Our Lady appeared in Mexico to a poor Indian, Juan Diego, at a time when human sacrifice was commonplace.

The following is an excerpt from a website with interesting background information and many images to download: www.sancta.org

“After complying to the Bishop’s request for a sign, She also left for us an image of herself imprinted miraculously on the native’s tilma, a poor quality cactus-cloth, which should have deteriorated in 20 years but shows no sign of decay 478 years later and still defies all scientific explanations of its origin.”

Saint John Paul II named Our Lady of Guadalupe the patron saint of the unborn.

To read more about Our Lady of Guadalupe:

http://www.sancta.org/intro.html

There are many ways to celebrate this feast. We usually celebrate by having fajitas and/or tacos. Although our kids are now adults, we used to celebrate by allowing them (youngest to oldest) to break open a pinata.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!

An Open Book – December 2018 #openbook

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I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. Here’s what I’ve been reading for the past month!

 

Heavenly Hosts

Heavenly Hosts: Eucharistic Miracles for Kids by Kathryn Swegart

Amazon Synopsis: Your children likely know all about the Eucharist, that central ritual beloved by Catholics worldwide. But do they know that God’s presence in the Eucharist is miraculous?

Heavenly Hosts presents documented Eucharistic miracles in story form to bring middle-grade readers to a better understanding of the Real Presence. One story details a fourth-century priest in the Sahara Desert who loses his faith until the Christ Child appears in the Host; this miraculous sighting causes the priest to return to God. In another tale, Antonio, a ninth-century altar boy, stands firm in a test of faith and is rewarded for his fidelity. And in one memorable story in Italy, a thirteenth-century debate over the true nature of the Eucharist is settled when a donkey falls to its knees before a monstrance containing the consecrated Host.

My review: I have been working with the author on the second edition of this lovely book.  Compelling stories about Eucharistic miracles, along with beautiful illustrations makes this a perfect Communion or Confirmation gift. Highly recommend.

RWOutcast front cover

Roland West Outcast (A West Brothers Story) by Theresa Linden

Amazon Synopsis: He’s searching for the truth but is he ready to proclaim it?

For shy Roland West, speech class is synonymous with humiliation. The last thing he wants is more attention from the gossips and troublemakers of River Run High School. But when an outcast’s house is viciously vandalized, Roland needs to find the perpetrators–before they strike again. Yet nothing is as straightforward as it seems. Suspected by the police and ridiculed for his beliefs, Roland draws closer to the sinister truth. When the perpetrators threaten a good friend, can Roland overcome his fear of speaking out and expose them?

My review: I thoroughly enjoyed this installment of the West Brothers Series. Linden creates characters that are real, believable and three-dimensional.  And the story is so compelling, I just wanted to keep reading and was disappointed when it ended.  Highly recommend (and not just for young adults!)

love and responsibility

Love and Responsibility by St. John Paul II

Amazon Synopsis: Drawing from his own pastoral experience as a priest and bishop before he became Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla has produced a remarkably eloquent and resourceful defense of Catholic tradition in the sphere of family life and sexual morality. He writes in the conviction that science–biology, psychology, sociology–can provide valuable information on particular aspects of relations between the sexes, but that a full understanding can be obtained only by study of the human person as a whole. Central to his argument is the contrast between the personalistic and the utilitarian views of marriage and of sexual relations. The former views marriage as an interpersonal relationship, in which the well-being and self-realization of each partner are of overriding importance to the other. It is only within this framework that the full purpose of marriage can be realized. The alternative, utilitarian view, according to which a sexual partner is an object for use, holds no possibility of fulfillment and happiness. Wojtyla argues that divorce, artificial methods of birth control, adultery (pre-marital sex), and sexual perversions are all in various ways incompatible with the personalistic view of the sexual self-realization of the human person. Perhaps the most striking feature of the book is that Wojtyla appeals throughout to ordinary, human experience, logically examined. He draws support for his views on the proper gratification of sexual needs, on birth control, and on other matters, from the findings of physiologists and psychologists. His conclusions coincide with the traditional teachings of the Church, which invoke scriptural authority. His approach ensures that non-Christians also can consider his arguments on their own merits.

My review: I’ve read this book so many times, it’s starting to look ragged!  This is one of my favorite JP II books. It’s hard for me to believe that when I was a young mother, I delayed reading this book for many years because A) I had small children and B) I thought it would be too academic for me.  However, once I did read it, I couldn’t stop.  JP II was a brilliant man and explain clearly why marriage is the proper place for sexual relations and why birth control is contrary to basic vows of a marriage. I can’t recommend this book highly enough!

Donkey Bells

Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas by Catherine Doherty

Synopsis: Catherine Doherty is well known for reviving many holy Christian traditions. In Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas, Catherine’s three-in-one book on this most ‘expectant’ of holiday seasons, you’ll receive wonderful gifts:

Meaningful and heartwarming stories, the telling of which will surely become a family Christmas tradition. Including: The Little Christmas Angel O’Ryan, How Pride Became Humble, The Christmas Gift, Christmas in Harlem, The Bruised Reed, and others.

Customs which you can adopt into your own Christmas celebration, such as: The Advent Wreath, The ‘O’ Antiphons, Baking Christmas Foods and Decorating, and The Blessing of The Christmas Tree. Traditions surrounding important Advent and Christmas feast days are presented, including: St. Nicholas, The Immaculate Conception, Feast of the Holy Family, New Year’s Eve, Epiphany, and more.

Earthy and inspiring meditations to prepare the entire family for Christ’s coming, including:A Candle in Our Hearts, Little Things, The Gurgle of a Baby, Where Love Is God Is, Looking into the Child’s Eyes, Advent: A Modern Bethlehem, A Short Season—A Long Journey, and many more.

My review: This is my favorite Advent and Christmas book. This is another book I’ve read numerous times. I enjoy reading this on a comfy chair by a warm fire with a cup of hot chocolate or tea.  So many beautiful stories and traditions. Highly recommend!

Boston Marathon

A Catholic’s Road to the Boston Marathon by Teresa Hurst

Amazon Synopsis: This book is not about running. While it’s set around training and marathons, ultimately it’s not about that. Instead, this book is about crosses. It’s about overcoming the ordinary fear and suffering that plagues each human soul in this race through life. It focuses on the tremendous value of the cross – with reflections on the Passion of Christ and how we can each relate in our own way. This book reiterates the fact that running is hugely spiritual. As in life, it is setting a goal and pushing yourself to reach it despite pain, fear, or the normal setbacks involved with the spiritual battles we are all called to fight.

My review: This is on my to-read list!  It’s written by a dear friend of mine!

Donkey Bells by Catherine Doherty

Donkey Bells
One of my favorite Advent books and one that I read every year at this time is a book by Catherine Doherty called “Donkey Bells,” published by Madonna House Publications. I love to read this inspiring book curled up in a comfortable chair by the wood stove, a hot chocolate or apple cider beside me, Advent and Christmas music playing quietly in the background. This lovely book is filled with heartwarming stories, customs and traditions (such as the Advent wreath, baking, the blessing of the Christmas tree) and moving reflections for the season. It is a beautiful way for children, teens and adults to prepare their hearts for Christmas.

I love this story from Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas by Catherine Doherty
(Available as a paperback and e-book)

Donkey Bells (by Catherine Doherty)

It came to me, during these days of Advent, that I should share with you a custom which is not necessarily liturgical but which adds to the enjoyment of this lovely season. It has deep spiritual connotations; at least it did for our family, and for many others I knew when I was a young child.

When I was a little girl, my mother used to tell me that if I was good during this holy season of Advent, and offered my little acts of charity and obedience throughout Advent to the little Christ Child for a gift on his birthday, then sometime during Advent, at first very faintly and then quite clearly, I would hear bells. As she put it, the first church bells.

These were the bells around the neck of the little donkey that carried Our Lady. For mother explained that Our Lady carried Our Lord. She was the temple of the Holy Spirit, the first ‘church’ as it were, since Christ reposed in her. And the donkey, carrying Our Lady and sounding his bells as he walked, wore the first church bells.

Around the second week of Advent, mother wore a little bracelet that had tinkling bells. As she moved her hand I could hear them tinkle, and I got excited because I associated them with the donkey’s bells.

As young as I was, my imagination would build up a lot of little stories about the trip of Our Lady from Nazareth to Bethlehem — stories which I would share with my mother, and which would spur me on to further good deeds and little sacrifices.

During the third week of Advent, mother’s bracelet miraculously got many more bells on it. The sound grew louder and louder as Christmas approached. It was wonderful.

My brother and I used to listen. Mother’s bells were first around her wrist and then around her knee too. Then more bells, as it got closer to Christmas. We were really excited about them.

I introduced this little custom in Madonna House. During Advent, I wear a kind of bracelet that can be heard as I walk or move, in whatever room of the house I may be. The members of our family tell me that it spurs them on, even as it did me when I was a child, to meditate more profoundly on the mystery of Advent.

Here at Madonna House, we have begun in these last few years to make a collection of miniature donkeys — of wood, glass, ceramics, rope — you name it. And we have an album of Christmas cards (which we save from the many we receive) that depict the donkey in the manger scene.

The presence of the donkey and the ox in Scripture is symbolic of the prophets who foretold the Incarnation. And also of the fact that “the ox and ass know their Master’s voice, but Israel doesn’t know the voice of God” (Isaiah 1:3). So, you see, there is some spiritual foundation for my love for the donkey which brings such great joy to my heart.

I’m sure that, as a child, Christ rode on a donkey many times. And also as a man, of course. In Scripture we know of only two times: one was when the donkey carried Our Lady, who in turn carried God, from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The other was when the donkey carried Christ into Jerusalem as the people laid palm branches before Him, proclaiming him king.

Let us think for a moment: What kind of animal is a donkey? It is a beast of burden, the animal of the poor. Once again, the immense theme of poverty is illustrated in an animal. God chose the humblest, the smallest in status, because among the animals the donkey is considered very low. So God is teaching us a lesson here — a lesson of humility, of poverty, and of simplicity.

Have you ever seen a newborn donkey? Well, every donkey has a black cross on its gray fur, a marking which is especially noticeable just after it is born from its mother’s womb. It gets less clear as the donkey matures, but still is visible. I share this fact with you to teach you to open your heart to the bells of the donkey that carried Our Lady and also God.

The breath of the donkey and the ox made the stable warm. So we meditate on several things at once: the poverty and humility of the donkey God chose, and which should be our poverty and humility; and the breath of our love, which should warm God in our neighbor constantly.

Let us remember that the donkey also had no room at the inn. Neither woman, nor man, nor donkey had a place at the inn. So they went to live in a poor stable that wasn’t too well prepared for animals, let alone as a decent habitation for human beings.

Now, another meditation comes to us. Think of the millions of people who are left homeless on our streets. Tragic is this situation. We, as apostles, must be very careful that we do not exclude anyone from the inn of our heart.

I pray that our heart, our soul, our ears will hear very clearly ‘the bells of the donkey,’ not only in Advent but throughout the year. For whoever who is pure of heart and childlike shall hear the bells of the donkey ring in their life.

(Creative Commons Licence Pass It On by Madonna House Publications is free to re-publish under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada License.)

If you have a favorite Christmas or Advent story, please feel free to share!

Advent, Faith, Trust and NFP

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The Annunciation by Murillo, 1655–1660, Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg (Wikimedia Commons)

My latest at Catholic Mom.

Advent will soon be upon us. It is a beautiful time of preparing and waiting.

It dawned on me a few years ago when I was flying back home from New Jersey that it takes tremendous amount of trust to get on a plane. We rely on the pilots to fly the plane with precision, expect that the builders created a solid, well-performing plane, and trust that the mechanics have serviced the plane properly.  After all, which one of us wants to be 20,000 feet in the air when a mechanical problem happens or when a pilot encounters a situation he’s not trained to handle?

Of course, the same can be said for any situation.  We depend on and have faith in our doctors, food companies, school bus drivers and others.  On a daily basis, we are called to rely on humans who have the potential of making mistakes.

Consider how most couples “trust” with regard to their fertility.  They take pills, get injections, apply chemical patches, insert devices, consent to operations.  Instead of working with their fertility, they try to eliminate it. Instead of embracing their fertility, they fight it. They “trust” that by using contraceptives, they will be able to “control” their fertility.

Newsflash: none of these chemicals, devices or operations are 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.  Only complete abstinence is 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.  And yet millions of couples put their “faith” in the contraceptive methods on a daily basis.  If the methods “fail,” and a child is conceived, many will resort to abortion.

So what does this all have to do with Advent?

When told that she would be the mother of our Savior, Mary replied, “Be it done to me according to your word.”  That took tremendous trust and faith in God’s plan for her.  She didn’t say, “Hmmm, let me think about that for a few weeks and I’ll get back to you.”  Without her yes, we would not be preparing to celebrate the beautiful feast of Christmas. It must’ve been difficult for her to give birth in a stable, surrounded by the smells and sounds of animals.  And yet Mary believed and trusted that this was God’s plan for her and accepted it without question.

So what is God’s plan for us especially regarding our fertility?  I can tell you what it is not: God’s plan is not for us to destroy the gift of our fertility with devices, behaviors, chemicals or operations.  This reliance that many couples place in contraceptives can sometimes result in an unwanted, permanent loss of fertility and can lead to numerous other consequences as well.  St. Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) talks about one of the most common consequences of contraceptive use: “A man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”(HV 17)

God’s plan is for couples to embrace their fertility and to be generously open to life.  Does that mean that God wants us to have as many children as possible?  No, it doesn’t.  God gave us the gift of reason and he also gave us a built-in natural method of avoiding pregnancy that works with fertility and not against it. God, the Author of life, wants to be part of our decisions regarding our fertility.

Couples who want to trust God with their decisions will trust Him with all of their decisions, including the beautiful gift of fertility.  When couples have serious need to avoid pregnancy, Natural Family Planning is a moral way to do so.  NFP uses no devices and works with God instead of against Him. Wives who use NFP seldom feel used by their husbands. NFP also works well to achieve pregnancy. It’s healthy, effective and safe.  NFP encourages good communication and strengthens marital relationships. And it’s environmentally safe.

Advent is an ideal time to ask ourselves:  do we depend on a chemical company or condom manufacturer…or do we trust God, the Author of Life?

Learning Natural Family Planning nowadays is as simple as turning on your computer. For more information on NFP, check out the following websites:

Couple to Couple League

Billings Ovulation Method

Creighton Method

Copyright 2018 Ellen Gable Hrkach

New Reviews for Charlotte’s Honor

Charlotte's Honour Front Cover sm

Many thanks to all the bloggers that posted about my new book during the past three weeks! For the complete list of the VBT, click here.

Here are three new reviews:

“I am unabashedly an Ellen Gable fan! I love that her stories are authentically Catholic without any preachiness at all. Since the books in the Great War Great Love series are what the author calls “Clean Romances” I can pass her books down to my daughters  and know that they will identify with her characters, while being inspired by the selfless nature and true hearts of her heroines. In a current culture of questionable values, Ellen reminds her readers that goodness, mercy and true love are timeless and attainable virtues.”  Mary Lou Rosien, author, blogger, Dynamic Women of Faith

“Her latest book specifically conjures up for our jaded minds the concept of honor. Honor stands as a contradiction to the utilitarian society which we inhabit, a society in which everything must have a tangible and immediate purpose, without causing the least inconvenience. When human life itself causes inconvenience, it is eliminated. Charlotte’s Honor, on the contrary, depicts a heroine who is willing to risk her life to bring comfort to those who no longer have a visible purpose, namely the dying. Ellen’s “Great War~Great Love” series illustrates on several levels how God is present  even in the darkest times of human history. Amid enormous pain and suffering there is always a chance for mercy and redemption and often human love acts as the channel for God’s plan. Charlotte finds deep and lasting love where she had not thought to find it; it is through her imperfections that she finds that love. God can bring good out of the worst disasters as well as out of our failings. Not only did the novel remind me of those truths but it also brought home once again the price paid by our veterans. War is hell, yes. It brings out the worst in people and in societies. Yet even war can be turned to serve God’s purpose, as a testing ground for honor which many heroes and heroines uphold even in the “bleakest of times.”  E.M. Vidal, Tea at Trianon

“Ellen Gable has delivered another impressive YA novel in “Charlotte’s Honor.” I thoroughly enjoyed this book and read in just a few sittings. “Julia’s Gifts” together with this newest novel in the Great War Great Love Series would make a super gift for any pre-teen or teen girl. I love the gentle but powerful lessons about true love (that it involves sacrifice—always) and found the characters realistic and engaging. I look forward to her next release in the series.” Meggie Daly, author