Selene of Alexandria by Faith L. Justice

My latest review over at Catholic

There’s nothing I’d rather do than to sit under a tree on a beautiful day and read a novel which transports me back in time. So I eagerly anticipated reading Selene of Alexandria by Faith Justice.

Admittedly, this was a hard book to get into. The author is a competent writer, but I initially had a difficult time bonding with the characters. As the story progressed, however, it became easier to relate to and bond with the characters.

Selene of Alexandria is a well-written, exquisitely-researched historical novel. It takes place in 412 AD and is the coming-of-age story of Selene, a teenager from a wealthy Christian family who yearns to be a physician. An early feminist, she has little interest in marriage.

Her family is not pleased, but eventually her father allows her to study with Hypatia, the renowned mathematician and philosopher of Alexandria. Because she is very intelligent and because she uses alternate means of healing, she gains many enemies and is eventually drawn into the rivalry between two candidates for Christian Patriarch: Cyril and Orestes, the Prefect.

Her childhood friend, Antonius, loves her, but she only has brotherly affection for him. She finds herself attracted to the Prefect, Orestes, although he is many years older. Other characters include Selene’s brothers, her father, Rebecca, a Jewish servant and many others. The climax of the story had me turning the pages very quickly.

A few criticisms…the cover was rather bland for a novel of this caliber. Also, I found some of the dialogue not consistent with the time period. And a warning: there is a sexually explicit scene in this book as well as a few near rape scenes which might be disturbing to younger readers. For these reasons, I would recommend this book to older teens and adults.

Selene of Alexandria is a well-written and well-researched novel. I recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction.

It is available on

Copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach

St. Anthony and The Lost Wedding Ring

St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things, has always been a favorite intercessor of mine. Over the past 30 years, his powerful intercession has helped us to find almost every thing we have ever lost. So when my husband, James, realized that his wedding band was missing, I was not worried. Instead, I immediately began praying to St. Anthony, with trust in him that the ring would, at some point, be found.

Strangely enough, James never takes off his wedding ring, except perhaps a few times a year when he helps me with baking. So both of us were perplexed as to how it could have been lost in the first place.

I trusted that with St. Anthony’s assistance, this precious symbol of our marriage would eventually be found…and that happened two days later when one of our sons saw something sparkling on our bedrock driveway (at night, no less…) We surmise that his ring slipped off one cold night while he was getting in or out of the car.

Even our kids have learned to call on St. Anthony when something is lost (see cartoon).

Thank you, St. Anthony!

For more information on St. Anthony, check out this website:

Cartoon and Text copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Remembering Mom…

Today is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 77.

Like most of us, she wasn’t perfect, but in many respects, she was a great example. When she became pregnant at age 47, her doctor insisted that she have an abortion. She refused and several months later, gave birth to my youngest sister. I am grateful for the many years I had with Mom, but I miss her very much.

In her memory, I’d like to share the eulogy I gave at her funeral reception four years ago:

Eulogy for Betti Power – August 14, 2007

Wife, mother, sister, grandmother, mother-in-law, stepmother, sister-in-law, aunt, cousin, friend. She was Betti (with an i).

To us, she was simply “Mom.”

She was witty, loving, generous, giving, unselfish.

She enjoyed her grandchildren (at right, with my son, Adam, 15 years ago), transcribing (and was the fastest typist I know). She loved surprising people, visiting Canada, talking on the phone, doing crossword puzzles, reading. Her favorite music was West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar, Abba and Fleetwood Mac.

Upon meeting Mom, most people immediately felt comfortable with her and she would often strike up conversations with people she didn’t know.

She cherished having a new baby when she was 47 and all that came with it: being a lunch mother, taking Laurie to dance lessons and Catholic school.

Mom was a proud graduate of Hallahan High School (class of ’51).

She loved Christmas shopping and would begin in July and be finished before November.

She enjoyed watching television and her favorite shows were the Sopranos, Law and Order, Price is Right, ER, Magnum PI and All in the Family. One of her favorite movies was “Titanic” and she would watch the DVD every few months.

She used some unique sayings: “God willing and the Creek don’t rise.” When asked if she could speak French, she would reply, “Sure, I can. Chevrolet, bouquet, Bon Ami.” When one of her kids was misbehaving, she would say, “I’m gonna drop kick you across Center Avenue.” Whenever I stood next to her, she would always say, “El, are you standing in a hole?” If we referred to her as “she” and not “Mom,” she would say, “Who’s she, the cat’s mother?” Whenever anyone asked how she was doing, she would reply, “Well, I’m still on this side of the grass, so I guess I’m doing fine.”

Mom described herself as an “independent,” but hasn’t voted for a Republican candidate since Eisenhower.

Whenever someone in the hospital or at home would ask if they could get her anything, she would almost always reply, “Tom Selleck.”

When asked what the most memorable days of her life were, she replied, “My wedding days and the days I gave birth to my five children.”

Mom was a fighter, not necessarily aggressive, but she’s had to survive some pretty challenging experiences: her first husband’s (my father’s) emotional breakdown; kidney failure when she was 33 which led to the removal of one of her kidneys and caused her to drop to 80 lbs (at five foot six, made her a walking skeleton); becoming a widow at 44; and, most recently, having to deal with COPD and emphysema over the last ten or so years. When she first became critically ill in 2004 and lapsed into unconsciousness, the doctors told us there was no hope for her, to take her off of life support. Instead, she eventually woke up. She finally came home after eight months of hospitalization to the new normal: oxygen machine, nebulizer treatments, myriad pills and medications. Although it was an uphill battle, she has always had a strong will to live.

Finally, in April, the doctors told Mom that there wasn’t much more they could do for her and that she would be sent home on hospice care. Upon arriving home, she asked my brother, “I’m coming home to die, right?”

Whenever any of us helped to take care of her, she always thanked us profusely, whether it was for emptying her commode chair, making her breakfast or dinner or a snack of a soft pretzel or an ice cream cone. She often apologized for being a burden. I told her that it was a joy to help take care of her, to give back to her just a small portion of what she had given to me, and I know my stepfather and my siblings all feel the same.

Mom, we miss you. Requiescat in pace.

Photos and Text copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Feast of the Annunication

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, commemorating the incarnation of the Blessed Savior in Mary’s womb.

EWTN has a great post on the Annunciation. It features pro-life reflections, children’s activities and other ways to celebrate this beautiful feast day.

“The biblical account of the Annunciation is in the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, which describes the news given to Mary that she was to become the mother of the Incarnation of God, records the “angelic salutation” of Gabriel to Mary, ‘Hail, thou who art highly favored. The Lord is with thee.” This is the origin of the repeated “Hail Mary” prayer of the Rosary); and Mary’s response to God’s will, “Let it be done to me according to thy word.” Her exultant hymn, the Magnificat, found in Luke 1:46-55, has been part of the Church’s liturgy of the hours, at Vespers (evening prayer), and has been repeated nightly in churches, convents and monasteries for many centuries.”

To read the entire post, click on the following link:

Fiction Fridays

Beginning next Friday, April 1st, 2011, and continuing every Friday, I will be featuring excerpts and short stories from contemporary Catholic novelists and classic authors. I will also be posting excerpts from my new novel, as well as a few short stories I’ve been working on.

If you are a writer and are interested in participating, please leave a comment below or send your short story or excerpt to (Stories are subject to editing by me.)

Photo copyright 2011 James Hrkach

NFP: The Sacredness of Sex

Today’s post was written by Dana Doyle, who blogs at Catholic Working Mom. Thanks so much, Dana, for sharing your journey to NFP!

My husband and I have not always practiced Natural Family Planning. When we were married in 1989, we attended marriage preparation classes sponsored by our archdiocese. NFP was never mentioned. At a couple’s retreat, prior to our August wedding, there was an NFP pamphlet on one of the tables in the group meeting room; however, attention was never drawn to this resource. I remember sneaking into the room while it was unoccupied to take a brochure, feeling embarrassed by the topic.

Being a young Catholic, I thought that birth control was one of those issues in the Church where one was free to make his/her own decision. As I have become educated about my faith, I learned that this view on contraception as being a “personal choice” could not be farther from the truth. When one of my students recently asked, “How many of the Church teachings do I have to believe to still be considered Catholic?” “All of them,” I answered. I believe this to be true.

Well-meaning people made sure that my fiancé and myself had “precautions” packed in our luggage for the wedding night. It was billed as the “responsible” thing to do.

Years later, laying on a table in the operating room, having just given birth to my second child, my obstetrician asked me if I wanted my tubes tied. When I didn’t answer, he said, “This is your last chance. Speak now.” He was asking me if I wanted to be “fixed!” I thought to myself, “Nothing is broken.” It kind of put a damper on an otherwise perfect moment. I had respected my doctor as a skilled physician with a wonderful, supportive bedside manner. He was also a well-known member of one of the communities’ Catholic churches. This confused me greatly.

It wasn’t until I entered my thirties that I began searching for truth myself. It was then that I stumbled upon a cassette tape called, “Contraception, Why Not?” by Janet Smith. This professor clearly explained the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of marriage, as well as God’s plan for marriage and sex. She explained the two-fold purpose of intercourse between a husband and wife – how the unitive and procreative aspects must both be present in order for intercourse to be that sacred renewal of the sacrament of marriage that it is intended to be. I was stunned. I had never thought of sex as being sacred! I asked my husband if he would mind trying NFP with me. He agreed, and we’ve never looked back.

The wonderful thing about becoming aware of your body’s signs of fertility, as a woman, is that it cannot only help you to avoid pregnancy, but it can help you to become pregnant, too. Many people think that if they use NFP that they will have lots and lots of children – that does not have to be true. Due to health issues and financial limitations my husband and I prayerfully decided to avoid pregnancy for several years after our second child was born. With NFP, though, we say to God that He has the final word about the matter. We do not lock Him out of the bedroom. God can be trusted in ALL things. He loves us completely, and knows what is best for us. Can He be trusted with our fertility? Absolutely! He created it!

If you haven’t exactly embraced the Church’s teaching on contraception in the past, please think about trusting God with your fertility this Lent. NFP has some terrific side effects. It builds a deep respect and trust between married partners. A couple practicing NFP will naturally develop the cardinal virtue of temperance. If, after prayerful discernment, they choose to avoid pregnancy for the time being, they must exercise self-control on the days when the woman is fertile. It may seem that it would be a long, frustrating stretch. In reality, however, it usually amounts to about eight to ten days each cycle for the average couple. This period of abstinence requires placing the other person’s well being above your own. This is what true love is all about! It is my prayer that you will give NFP prayerful consideration. This “Yes,” to God and to His gift of life will surely bring abundant graces and blessings to your marriage!

Photo and text copyright 2011 Dana Doyle

Catholic Writers Conference Online

This week the much-anticipated Catholic Writers Conference Online is being held. Yesterday, I attended chat sessions on Blogging (Sarah Reinhard), Romance (Tanya Stowe) and Self-Publishing (Susan Stewart). Today, I will be giving two chat presentations on “Amazon Kindle” and “Self-Publishing,” as well as attending other sessions.

The Catholic Writers’ Conference Online is an annual event where writers of all levels and interests can learn from experienced authors. Topics cover everything from idea generation to publishing; plot to marketing. The conference regularly has over 300 attendees and around 50 presentations–and it’s free!

The conference is held via chats and forums at the Catholic Writers Conference website. Sponsored by the Catholic Writer’s Guild, the online conference is open to writers of all levels who registered before March 1st.

“Each year, we have about 300 writers and around 50 presenters participate,” said organizer, Karina Fabian. “In addition to presentations and workshops covering everything from idea generation to marketing your published work, we have crit groups and pitch sessions with Catholic and secular publishers. ”

Although the conference is offered free of charge, donations are accepted; proceeds will go toward future conferences. Non-Catholics may attend, as long as they respect Catholic beliefs and the conference’s Catholic focus.

NFP: The Antidote

My new column on Catholic Mom is entitled “NFP: The Antidote:”

The contraceptive mentality is a prevailing attitude in our current society which says “I want control over my body and my fertility,” and “Sex is only for fun, not babies.”

This particular issue caused our first heated argument when James and I were engaged many years ago. (See previous column NFP: No Holding Back)

Canadian singer and composer, Mark Mallett, writes, “Contraception is like a condom over the heart.” Use of contraception is a mortal sin (refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2368-2370) and separates a couple spiritually and physically during their most intimate embrace.

We are all called to love as Christ loves. Conjugal love is meant to image the free, total, faithful and fruitful love of Christ. Contraception violates not just one, but all four aspects of marital love.

Many people say, “I don’t believe that contraception is wrong, so it’s fine for me to use it.” However, Christopher West writes in his book Theology of the Body for Beginners (p. 105): “Even if a couple is innocent in this regard (culpability), contraception will still have its damaging effect on their relationship. For example, if I drink a cup of poison, but don’t know it’s poison, I…am not culpable for my own death. But it will still kill me. Whether I think it’s poison or not has no bearing whatsoever on whether it is poison or not.”

To read the rest:

Copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach