Early Praise for Come My Beloved!

Early reviews for my upcoming book, “Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship,” have been overwhelmingly positive and glowing! Thanks so much to Lisa Mladinich, Lisa Hendey, Dawn Marie Roeder and Amanda Marleau!

“Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship” is a Song of Songs, a book of praise, a treasure-house of faith and romance par excellence! I dare you to try and put it down once you open its grace-filled, enchanting pages. For me, reading this book was a lot like falling in love! The presence of God in the lives of the contributors came through so powerfully to me that as I read the stories, I found myself stopping from time to time to pray and give glory to God. This truly beautiful collection of Catholic courtship stories is a must-read for anyone discerning a vocation, especially the call to marriage; and for those courting, engaged, already married, or widowed. What a great gift to Holy Mother Church, and a powerful witness that God does make marriages in heaven.”
Lisa Mladinich
Author, “Be an Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children”
Founder, http://www.AmazingCatechists.com

“In Come My Beloved, editors Ellen Gable Hrkach and Kathy Cassanto have shared a precious resource for couples looking to celebrate the beauty of Catholic courtship and the vocation to married life. The twelve couples featured offer us diverse, inspirational and encouraging insights into many different paths toward and expressions of marriage. Reading their testimonials feels like sitting down with trusted friends who share from their heart, including insights into struggles and challenges, but also the faith and unity in mission that lies at the core of their successful relationships and marriages. Whether you’re courting, engaged to be married, newlyweds, or celebrating your jubilee years together, this terrific resource offers something for anyone looking to grow closer to God and to one another in a loving relationship.”
Lisa M. Hendey,
Founder and Editor of http://www.CatholicMom.com
Author, The Handbook for Catholic Moms

“Fabulous book that I can’t wait to recommend to all my single and married friends. You truly created a gift for this generation!”
Dawn Marie Roeder
Author, “It Doesn’t End Here”

“Thank you so much for this wonderful gift! I loved the balance of the stories between young and old. It reminds me that there is no right way or right time to fall in love. It was wonderful to bask in the uniqueness of these stories and these people. I enjoyed the narrative style that allows for faults to be seen and it reinforces that faith is a journey and not a destination. Even though all these couples are Catholic, they are not perfect and their journeys have not always been easy. It accurately portrays couples’ paths to be united in God’s love. The book gives me hope for myself and the rest of the world that striving to find a Godly spouse is not in vain. This book is so important because it shows that couples’ still have the power to fight for purity, pursue holiness together and be united in God’s love. Pure love exists and it is possible.”

Amanda Marleau,
Marital and Family Therapist

Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship will be available for purchase from the book’s website website and from Amazon.com in June.

Reflections for Good Friday

One of the things our family does to commemorate this solemn day is to attend the Good Friday service at our parish.

We also plan to pray the Divine Mercy Novena which begins today and continues until Easter Saturday.

Since 2006, another tradition we have had as a family is to watch The Passion of the Christ. Mel Gibson’s direction is extraordinary. The movie’s realism is difficult to watch, especially the scourging, which is gruesome and prolonged. However, I don’t usually watch that particular scene because of the sheer brutality of it.

Jim Caviezel’s portrayal of Jesus is incredibly believable. I always enjoy the flashback scenes of Jesus with His mother. The scene in which He embraces His cross is one that made me gasp the first time I saw it.

Jesus suffered a brutal death for mankind. The knowledge that He suffered and died (and would have done so for me alone) gives me the strength and courage I need to strive for holiness.

Every human being living on this earth will die someday. By His death and resurrection, Jesus won for us the gift of eternal life in heaven. Embracing this gift means living a life of sacrifice, selflessness and virtue.

This day is meaningful to me for another reason. Thirty-three years ago, my father died an unexpected death. Sudden death can shock any family. I was only 18, but my dad’s death made me think deeply about the meaning of life and about the “other side.” For the first time in my young life, my faith gave me tremendous consolation.

My prayer is that all Christians will take time today to reflect on the great gift God gave us, the gift of His Son, and the sacrifice He won for us, eternal life in heaven.

Copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Each Day is a Gift

“Joy is very quiet. It is like a light that shines in the darkness. It is connected with hope and with love. It is full of wonderment…When the bed is still very warm and I am half awake, joy comes to me every morning with the incredible thought that here God has granted me another day to love Him and to serve Him.” Catherine Doherty, Dearly Beloved I

On this Spy Wednesday, as we are reflecting on the Gospel reading (Mt 26:14-25) which recounts the events leading up to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, we ought to be reminded that each day is a gift to love and serve God, a God who gave His only Son, so we may live for all eternity in heaven.

Text copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach
Photo copyright 2011 Josh Hrkach

True Love and Marital Abstinence

In my latest column at Catholic Mom, I share one of my favorite quotes from Love and Responsibility:

“Marital continence is so much more difficult than continence outside marriage because the spouses grow accustomed to intercourse, as befits the state which they have both consciously chosen. Once they begin to have sexual intercourse as a habit, and a constant inclination is created, a mutual need for intercourse comes into being. This need is a normal manifestation of love, and not only in the sensual-sexual sense but in the personal sense too. In matrimony the man and woman belong to each other in a special way, they are ‘one flesh’ (Genesis 2:24).” Love and Responsibility, p. 237

Lent, the season of self-denial, is the ideal time to consider the challenges of marital abstinence (or continence). Pope John Paul II gently puts abstinence into perspective and, in his gentle and loving words, explains why it can be so difficult.

The book Love and Responsibility was written in 1960 (and based on a series of lectures) when Pope John Paul II was Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. It is a beautiful explanation of authentic marital love. Parts of this book served as the basis for his brilliant talks on the Theology of the Body when he became Pope.

I discovered this wonderful book years ago when I was a young mother with little time for reading. Several times, I had started to read it, but found the intellectual language challenging.

Years later, however, when I finally read the entire book, I was enthralled. This is one of the most beautiful books ever written on love, sex and the responsibility each one of us has with the gift of sexuality. The particular quote above helped me to understand why my husband and I have often found periodic abstinence (or continence) so difficult.

Pope John Paul II was indeed a wise and holy man. A celibate priest, he had more insight into marriage than most married couples.

Copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Fiction Friday – Passport by Christopher Blunt

Today’s Fiction Friday excerpt is from an outstanding and award-winning contemporary Catholic novel called “Passport.” Read my review here. The author is offering to give away a free copy of his novel to one of my readers. Leave a comment below to be entered to win a free book!

I should have lifted the car higher before I went to work on it. The rusted exhaust bolt was proving impossible to loosen without more leverage, and I wondered why I’d assumed this would be so easy. Should I give it one more shot of lubricant? Or give up and lift the ancient Mercedes higher?

The howling bark Flash gave as he charged across the garage floor, feet slipping on the concrete, snapped me off this rambling train of thought. I twisted my head toward the open door, but I couldn’t see much: just a small pair of tennis shoes, at the bottom of two jeans-clad legs, with Dalmatian paws running circles around them. I tried to slide out on the creeper, but I couldn’t get a grip on anything to push against. Rocking my back didn’t help. I was stuck.

Sneakers and dog paws approached the back of the car, and then I could see even less. The knees bent, and a face appeared under the bumper. Silky black hair hung down to her shoulders, and she brushed some of it away from her glasses as she peered into shadows. I managed to rotate the shop light in her direction, and she shaded her eyes with one of the tiniest hands I’d seen on an adult. I instantly recognized this was her left hand. A quick scan revealed no jewelry. Over the last seven years of “Wife Quest,” that scan had been honed to a reflex.

“Hi,” she smiled nervously, holding Flash off her face. “I am looking for Stan,” except she pronounced it “Stahn.” “Is Stahn here?”

“That would be me,” I replied. “Stan Eigenbauer. Except there’s a problem. I’m stuck under here.”

“Can I help?” she asked.

“Yeah. Problem is, I can’t get enough leverage to push myself out. Can you just grab one of my feet and start pulling?”

I heard a laugh, then felt two little hands encircle my ankle. It took just a bit of a tug before I’d moved enough to grab the car’s axle. From there, it was easy to push the rest of the way out and sit up.

“Thanks,” I said. “Sorry about that.”

I climbed to my feet and brushed off my overalls. The top of her head came to about the middle of my chest.
“What can I do for you?” I asked.

She didn’t answer immediately. She seemed fascinated by the vintage Volvos and Mercedes in various stages of restoration, the rows of wrenches hanging in size order on the wall above my work bench, and the myriad other specialty tools and implements. She turned and gave a blank look, as if she couldn’t remember why she’d come. “Oh!” she exclaimed at last, “Angie said perhaps it is possible for you to repair my car. But I do not see any cars here that look like mine. My car is running really bad.”

Her English was nearly perfect, just heavily accented. The way she ran the words together, she sounded almost frantic.

“How do you know Angie?” I asked.

“I attended a class she was teaching at a church, a few years ago.”

Good Catholic girl. Attractive. Angie sent her over to me. This could be interesting.

“She’s really nice, isn’t she? Haven’t seen her in a couple of weeks. She must be busy trying to finish up with school.” I grabbed a rag and wiped my hands as she followed me toward the service bay door. “Your car’s out here?”

She pointed to one of the sorriest excuses for a Honda Civic I’d ever seen. A layer of grime covered everything, the passenger door was bashed in, and one of the taillights had red tape holding it together. As I pulled the hood release, she exclaimed, “Oh! So that is how it opens!”

The motor wheezed like it was begging to be put out of its misery. “How long you had this thing?” I asked.

“I am not certain. Perhaps three years?”

“What’ve you had done to it since you got it?” I asked, more loudly, struggling to be heard over the engine.

“I took it to one of those oil change places once, but a long time ago.”

I reached above my head, grabbed the hood, and glanced over at her. She was little, and so cute in her helplessness. “Tell you what,” I said at last, hero impulse surging through me, “let me bring all the basic maintenance up to date. I’ll change the oil, flush the radiator, change the filters, and give you new spark plugs.”

She nodded like she understood, but it was unconvincing.

“Let’s see how it runs then. If there are still problems, we can look at them. But maybe that’ll take care of it.”

“What will that cost?” she asked, brow furrowed with concern.

“At any other place, probably several hundred dollars. They’d rip you off, and still say your car needed more work.”
Her eyes got really big.

“But I’ll just charge you for the parts. I like seeing Angie’s friends happy. That’s enough for my time.” I wanted to add, “For a good-looking girl like you.”

“How do you do that, and stay in business?” she asked.

“I’m not really in business. The old cars here are mine. I have a friend who hauls them from California. I make them run perfect, and sell them in Chicago, where no one can find cars like these.”

“So why do you work on my car?”

“I work on a few people’s cars, on the side, under the table, when they’re sent by friends. It’s not illegal or anything, because it’s basically at cost.”

“In Vietnam,” she laughed, “everything is done under the table and on the side.”

“Yeah,” I chuckled, “big government’ll do that to you. You need a ride home?”

She looked surprised, as if she hadn’t thought that far ahead. “I was going to try to find a bus. But if you do not mind, sure.”

I called Flash, and he jumped into the back seat of my 1968 300 SEL. The girl looked surprised as I opened the passenger door for her, but she climbed in and smiled again. Her feet barely reached the floor. “Not sure I have ever ridden in a Mercedes,” she said, looking around at the car’s cavernous body.

I maneuvered the car down the alley, jogged over to Clark Street, and cruised north past a block or two of shabby storefronts. “Take Lawrence over to Broadway and go north,” she instructed.

As the high stone walls of St. Boniface Cemetery came into view at Clark and Lawrence, I said a quick silent prayer for my parents, as I always tried to remember to do—and then had to turn my attention to navigating the early evening congestion on Lawrence.

“You know,” I said, once we settled in at a traffic light, “I never got your name. I’m going to need that, and your phone number, so I can let you know when your car’s ready.” I couldn’t remember a better excuse to get a woman’s phone number.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “I am Trinh. Trinh Le. I will write my work number and home number for you.”

I gazed out the window, at kids laughing and racing their scooters on the sidewalk, as she fumbled in her purse. We turned north onto Broadway, and were headed straight toward the Southeast Asian district. “You mentioned Vietnam. You Vietnamese?”

“Correct,” she said, finding a pen and paper.

It was warm for early April, and I slid the sunroof open. Flash whimpered, so I flipped the lever and lowered his window. He perched his front paws on the door and stuck his muzzle out.

Once Trinh handed me the paper, I continued my investigation. “Lived in Chicago long?”

“Ever since I came to America. Ever since . . . eighteen years now. I was thirteen when I came here.”

She looked young for 31, and there wasn’t anything in particular about her slight frame that was obviously beautiful, but she was cute. The accent, and the way she spoke English without using contractions, were especially so. Her attractiveness came from everything taken as a whole. The more I looked at and listened to her, the more attractive she seemed.

“How long have you worked on Mercedes?” she asked.

“About as long as I can remember. My dad was a professional mechanic, and had me working on stuff basically as soon as I could walk.”

“Oh, turn right here,” she said.

We pulled onto Argyle, the heart of “New Chinatown,” and now almost everyone out enjoying the sunny afternoon appeared to be of Southeast Asian descent. All the shops seemed to have signs in English and Vietnamese or Thai, and the dinnertime smells wafting from the restaurants were making me hungry. I made a mental note to pick up some carry-out on the way home.

Passport has a brand new Facebook page and is available on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2009 Christopher Blunt

The Pope’s Three Simple Rules for Living a Holy Life

Excellent advice from Pope Benedict:

Addressing an estimated 12,000 people in St. Peter’s Square April 13, Pope Benedict said there are three simple rules for living a holy life:

“Never let a Sunday go by without an encounter with the risen Christ in the Eucharist; this is not an added burden, it is light for the entire week.”

“Never begin or end a day without at least a brief contact with God” in prayer.

“And along the pathway of our lives, follow the road signs that God has given us in the Ten Commandments, read in the light of Christ; they are nothing other than explanations of what is love in specific situations.”

To read the rest of the article from the National Catholic Register: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/the-popes-3-simple-rules-for-holiness?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+NCRegisterDailyBlog+%2540National+Catholic+Register%2541

Is NFP Effective?

My latest column at Amazing Catechists is entitled: Is NFP Effective?

Although there is less skepticism with regard to NFP’s effectiveness these days, Natural Family Planning still gets a bad rap from many in secular society. I’ve heard more than a few people say, “NFP didn’t work for us.”

When the rules are followed, NFP can be 99 percent effective in avoiding pregnancy.

First, a brief overview of how NFP works: a couple charts the woman’s signs of fertility and determines when she is fertile. If the couple is avoiding pregnancy, they abstain from marital relations in the fertile time and only have relations in the infertile times (the average amount of abstinence is between one and two weeks, depending on the couple).

Here are some of the most common reasons why people think NFP isn’t effective:

1. The couple choose not follow the rules or they take “shortcuts.” I have seen numerous occasions where a couple indicated that they were using NFP to avoid pregnancy, then they became pregnant. Upon questioning them, the couple shared with us that they had relations during the fertile time. “It was only one time.” One time is all is takes for a normal healthy young couple to become pregnant.

2. The couple choose to use barrier methods in the fertile time. Couples who use contraceptive methods (condoms, diaphragm) during the fertile time may experience an unplanned pregnancy at some point if they continue contraceptive use. NFP’s 99 percent effectiveness rate depends on abstinence in the fertile time. If a couple do not abstain, the effectiveness rate will drop to whatever barrier they’re using. As well, contraceptive use is contrary to the teaching of the Church and is considered serious sin.

3. “We can’t abstain.” Abstinence is difficult. We don’t try to skirt the issue. But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. A strong sacramental life is essential to assisting couples having difficulties with abstinence. Humans do not need to be slaves to their passions.

4. “My cycles are irregular.” NFP is not the old rhythm method. Most of the calculations and rules are based on a woman’s present cycle. Therefore, women with irregular cycles can use NFP very effectively. As well, irregular cycles can sometimes be an indicator that something else is going on in the body. Improved nutrition, exercise and simple changes in lifestyle can often produce dramatic results.

No method of birth regulation is 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. NFP is around 99 percent when the rules are followed.

I think our own experience illustrates the effectiveness of NFP. My husband, James, and I were very young when we got married, so during the first four years, we used NFP to avoid pregnancy. At the end of James’ last year of university, we decided to use NFP to seek a pregnancy. We became pregnant (with twins) in the first cycle. Over the next 23 years, we were successful in avoiding pregnancy when we had serious need to do so; and equally successful in becoming pregnant when we have desired it. We were able to use NFP in the postpartum periods and have been able to use it effectively during pre-menopause.

When the rules are followed, NFP is extremely effective in avoiding pregnancy and can work equally well in helping couples to achieve pregnancy. (And is the only method which can work both to avoid and achieve pregnancy.)

We are offering an online NFP class in June (class is limited to five couples). If you’re interested or have any questions about NFP or its effectiveness, please contact me at info@fullquiverpublishing.com

copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Fiction Friday – Forget Me Not by Elizabeth Schmeidler

My thanks to Elizabeth Schmeidler for allowing me to post an excerpt from her historical romance, “Forget Me Not,” which is available via Lulu and on Amazon Kindle:

England, 1882
Chapter 1
Ambria Therese Burke looked out her window and sighed. “Just another boring day, leading to yet another boring night,” she muttered. Ambria had spent more days looking out over her father’s land dreaming than she could count, and her patience had worn thin. Not even the blooming spring flowers that came in every color of the rainbow or the beautiful budding pink and white trees could alter her mood.

She restlessly began drumming her fingers on her window sill and muttered, “When…when is my father ever going to realize that I am a woman? How old will I have to be before he notices that I no longer wear pigtails and ribbons in my hair? For Heaven’s sake, I am nearly eighteen years old. Doesn’t he realize?”

Her mutterings had grown a bit louder as Genny quietly approached. “What are you mumbling about, my little princess?”

“Please…do not call me your little princess!” Ambria exclaimed. “Doesn’t anyone around here understand that I’ve grown up? I’m not a child anymore, and I’ve grown quite weary of being treated like one!”

Ambria’s mood took Genny by surprise. “Don’t get your temper riled at me, young lady! I meant no harm—it’s only a nickname after all!” she answered defensively.

Ambria felt instant guilt for her sharp tongue as she glanced at the woman who had been with her since the day she was born.Genny was the nickname Ambria had given Genevieve. She had been told that it was one of the very first words she had spoken as a baby—second only to “Papa”. Genny was more like a mother than a nanny to Ambria and she loved her with all her heart.

Wonderful childhood memories of Genny began to surface— Genny, with her curly red hair, chubby dimpled cheeks, and plump arms reaching out to hold Ambria. Genny, with her laughing warm-brown eyes, teaching her childish games, to read, dance, sew, and laugh. The reminiscences made Ambria’s mood even more melancholy, and the dreaminess returned to her eyes as she stared out the window.

Genny was undeterred by Ambria’s silence. “Quit your dreaming, girl, and answer me proper this time. What has got your feathers ruffled today?”

“Oh Genny, I’m sorry. Please forgive me. It’s just that…well…oh Genny… I am so tired of being Papa’s little girl!”

Ambria’s voice was strained and Genny knew her well enough to know that she was on the brink of spilling a bucket full of tears. Determined to waylay those tears, she sharpened the tone of her voice and said, “Now I’ll be hearing none of this self-pity, Ambria! You know how much your papa loves you, and how much he has done to teach and protect ya! Why, without him ya wouldn’t even ‘ave a pillow fer yer head and clothes on yer back! You’ve got a home fit fer a princess and strong faith ta guide and give ya peace…all because yer papa understands what love really is!”

Genny then wagged a finger at Ambria and said, “Now look what you’ve done, girl. You’ve got me fergettin’ me proper speakin’!”

Guilt washed over Ambria as she realized that she had only been thinking of herself. Genny was obviously upset—though she took great pride in the English skills she had learned and had taught to Ambria, her native Irish brogue always surfaced when she was riled or distressed.

Ambria softened her expression to soothe her dear friend, and said softly, “I know he loves me, Genny…and I love him with all my heart. He’s the best father I could ever hope to have…but I long to grow up. I long to experience what other girls my age have been experiencing for years already! I long to meet new friends, go to parties and socials, and…Oh, you wouldn’t understand.”

Ambria’s shoulders gave way to her mood and she slumped forward in sadness. In barely more than a whisper she pleaded, “I just want my freedom.”

Forget Me Not is available via Lulu, as well as on Amazon Kindle.

Elizabeth has kindly agreed to give away a free e-copy of her book to one lucky reader! Leave a comment below for a chance to win this delightful romance novel!

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Schmeidler

The Many Benefits of NFP

My latest article at Catholic Exchange is entitled “The Many Benefits of NFP.”

In this day and age of healthful living, Natural Family Planning provides many benefits which not only ensure healthy living, this remarkable method of birth regulation is also environmentally friendly and promotes authentic marital love. Here are just a few of the many benefits of NFP:

NFP is safe.
There are no harmful side effects for either the husband or wife. It is completely safe, 100 percent natural and it involves no potentially harmful devices or drugs.

NFP is healthy.
There are no pills, invasive procedures, long term drugs. Women who use NFP know more about their bodies and can discover health problems sooner.

NFP is effective.
NFP can be 99 percent effective in avoiding pregnancy when there is serious need to do so. The beauty of NFP is that it can also assist some couples in achieving much-wanted pregnancies without chemicals and operations.

NFP costs very little to use.
This is especially helpful in this economy. Other than the cost of the course, materials and the replacement of thermometers, NFP costs very little to use over a couple’s 20 or 30 years of fertility, compared to purchasing condoms, diaphragms, Pills and other chemicals or operations.

NFP is environmentally friendly.
NFP does no harm to the environment. Charts can be recycled and there are no chemicals or other devices used.

NFP is marriage insurance.
In a study done by the Couple to Couple League, couples who used NFP had a less than two percent risk of divorce compared to the national secular average of 50 percent.

NFP fosters authentic marital love and allows a couple to love as Christ loves: freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully.

NFP is morally acceptable to all faiths.

NFP works with irregular cycles.
NFP is not like the old rhythm method, which depended on regular cycles. NFP’s charting system works with a woman’s present signs of fertility.

For more information on NFP:

Copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach