An Open Book – April #openbook

I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book.

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

The Way of the Cross by St. Alphonsus Liguori

My review: Probably the most popular book for following the Stations of the Cross. I bought it on Kindle so I could have it with me whenever I attended the Stations of the Cross or said them privately. It’s excellent!

Shirley Jones: A Memoir

Amazon Synopsis: From golden-voiced ingénue to bus-driving mother of a pop band, Shirley Jones sets aside her wholesome, squeaky clean image in a memoir as shockingly candid, deliciously juicy, and delightfully frank as the star herself.

“You are going to meet the real flesh-and-blood Shirley Jones, not just the movie star or Mrs. Partridge,” says the beloved film, television, and stage actress and singer of her long-awaited memoir, an account as shockingly direct, deliciously juicy, and delightfully frank as the performer herself.

Sharing the “candid” (Los Angeles Times) and “revealing” (Associated Press) details of her life in Hollywood’s inner circle and beyond, Shirley Jones blows past the wholesome, squeaky-clean image that first brought fame, and gives us a woman who only gets hotter with time.

My review: As a huge fan of The Partridge Family, this was one of those books that I had wanted to read back in 2013 when it was first published. Then I read the reviews and decided to wait until it was on sale. Well, I finally downloaded it. In some respects, I was interested in reading her inside story. And in other respects, there are things I can’t “unread,” like the time she was coaxed into having an abortion several months after she married Jack Cassidy in 1957. The way she tells it, she was dead set against it. After all, they were married. But to her husband and her agent pressuring her, her career was more important. She talks about the abortion like this: “…as I watched him (the doctor) while he worked, finally removing a mass of blood but no fetus as it was too early for one to have formed inside me.” That sounds very much like she was downplaying it. Even so, I give her credit for her resolution that no matter what happened in the future, she would never have another abortion.

There are other things that I can’t unread that I won’t share, but it saddens me that she felt she had to write a “tell-all” book that sometimes focused on the licentious and at times, it was over the top. The writing is okay, but she jumps from time period to time period too much, and she could’ve used an extra developmental editor. 3/5.

Treasures: Visible and Invisible by Catholic Teen Authors

Amazon Synopsis: Treasures: Visible and Invisible is a collection of short stories by eight CatholicTeenBooks.com authors.

  • A teen boy sets out to save a friend from pagan druids, but maybe he’s the one who needs saving.
  • Between an unearthed treasure and a visit from Heaven, a young monk is in for the surprise of his life!
  • A young girl seeks a mysterious treasure that holds the key to granting a nun’s dying wish.
  • Honora is desperate—then a peculiar clover and a mysterious young man change everything.
  • William’s weekend job is a little gift from heaven, but now his family needs a real miracle.
  • When threatened by mobsters, Grace receives help from a surprising source.
  • Alone and afraid, a young girl finds friendship in a stranger. But could this boy be trouble?
  • Kyle was determined to save the precious relic–but now his whole family is in danger.

My review: This is an enjoyable clean Christian fiction anthology with an Irish theme. Highly recommend!

Stolen Blessing by Jim Sano

Amazon Synopsis: Erick and Addie Comghan have a good life in Boston. When the baby they have longed for is born, the unimaginable happens—Elizabeth goes missing the day after her baptism at St. Francis Parish. Father Tom and Angelo are pulled in to help solve the mystery of her disappearance in a race against time and the complicated dynamics of the relationships involved. Stolen Blessing is the third book in the Father Tom Series and is a story that offers suspense, intrigue, and a journey of love, redemption, and forgiveness.

Newest book from FQP!

A Scarlet Cord by Deborah Raney

Amazon Synopsis: In the four years since her husband’s death, Melanie LaSalle’s life has been consumed with managing the family design firm and caring for her five-year-old daughter, Jerica. The possibility of a new relationship is the last thing on her mind. But when Melanie meets Joel Ellington, a new staff member at her church, she is instantly attracted to his warm spirit.
As their friendship deepens, however, Melanie is troubled by something she can’t quite understand or explain. Joel past seems to be off-limits, even to Melanie. Because of her growing feelings for him, Melanie pushes her doubts away. But when Joel disappears, along with the contents of a church bank account, she can no longer ignore her suspicions.
Now, torn between her feelings for Joel and the evidence mounting against him, Melanie faces a heart-wrenching decision: to forget the man who gave her reason to love again or to trust Joel enough to give him her heart.
Exploring themes of the importance of truth, loyalty, and trust, A Scarlet Cord illustrates that who we truly are depends little on outward appearances and solely on our relationship with God, and on the fact that through faith in Him, we can find places of comfort, healing, and selfless love.
This novel was originally published in 2003 under the same title, and was a Golden Quill Award finalist.

My review: I downloaded this for free many months ago and finally got around to reading it. It’s a great story with well-developed characters and a few twists and turns. A page-turner! Recommend: 4/5.

Lent: The Ideal Time to Begin #Fasting

My latest post at Catholic Mom:

Are you like many people who dread Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, the Church’s compulsory days of fasting? Or do you embrace the self-denial of fasting on those days? When you become accustomed to the regular practice of fasting throughout the year, these “compulsory” days become opportunities for abundant graces and spiritual growth.

Many people mistakenly believe that fasting belongs only in the penitential season of Lent. However, the regular self-denial of fasting is a positive and generous act that we can do all year ’round. And let’s face it, with Covid, riots, widespread abortion and sexual immorality, our world is in turmoil. Our world needs more people to fast.

Remember that Jesus fasted before every major event in His life. As well, His apostles fasted. In Scripture, fasting is mentioned numerous times in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, but the following Scriptural passage indicates how powerful fasting is.

But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it (demon) out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:27-29) 

What exactly IS fasting? According to the Church, fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday entails eating two small meals and one larger meal that is not more than the two smaller meals together. It also means abstaining from meat. Others fast on nutritious whole-grain, high-protein bread and water. The important thing is to eat less and abstain from meat and treats. 

Peter said to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

Eternal life … isn’t that our goal? How do we get there? A virtuous life, one that is sacrificial, one that is obedient to God’s laws, this is the way to eternal life. Lent is an ideal time to embrace the practice of fasting. And not just on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday! Fasting can happen on EVERY Wednesday and Friday throughout the year. The regular self-denial of fasting is definitely one of the most direct ways to get to heaven. Why? Fasting opens our hearts to conversion, gives weight to our prayer intentions. Fasting strengthens us in resisting temptations, promotes peace in our hearts and peace with one another. Fasting teaches us the difference between wanting and needing. Fasting reminds us of the plight of the poor and those who are perpetually hungry. Fasting and prayer can free us from addictive behavior. Fasting invites the Holy Spirit in to heal our hearts, our relationship with God and our relationship with others. Fr. Slavko Barbaric said, “Fasting will lead us to a new freedom of heart and mind.”

20210215 EHrkach

The devil is not greatly afraid of the discipline and other instruments of penance. That which beats him is the curtailment of one’s food, drink and sleep. There is nothing the devil fears more, consequently, nothing is more pleasing to God. (St. John Vianney)

There are so many great reasons to fast and Lent is an ideal time to begin this regular practice of self-denial. The elderly and those who cannot fast from food can fast from TV, social networking, eating out, treats, or coffee.

Lent is a time for change and sacrifice. If you can do penitential acts during Lent, then you can do them all year ’round! Always check with your physician before beginning any fasting routine.


Copyright 2021 Ellen Gable Hrkach
Image: Pixabay (2020)

Coping With Loss

Road to Nowhere Josh Hrkach (1)

“Road to Nowhere” copyright by Josh Hrkach, used with permission

My new article at Catholic Mom speaks of ways to use loss to increase in virtue.

Loss might entail the death of a loved one, the loss of an unborn child, an accident that causes us to lose an ability, the discovery of a child’s handicap. It can be a difficult divorce or an adult child who’s lost his faith. It can be the loss of a beloved pet. It can be a parent with Alzheimer’s who has lost her memory; it can be the loss of a job or even the loss of innocence.

St. Faustina assures us that God “uses EVERYTHING to effect our transformation… that He wastes not one little trial to bring about good.”

I’ve experienced my share of losses over the past five decades.  These are a few guidelines I try to follow when dealing with loss.

  1. Be Prepared for the Unexpected

This point became evident to me with the unexpected death of my father when I was 18.  He was only 49 years old and died suddenly.  My family walked around in shock for weeks.  Because he had died suddenly, I had a lot of regret: If I had only told him one more time that I loved him, if I had only been more attentive the last time he was talking to me.  Life is full of enough trials and losses without focusing on regret.

  1. Trust

When my husband and I were first married, I had hoped that God would bless us with ten children.  So when we became pregnant, we were ecstatic.  Soon, joy turned to sorrow when I miscarried.  Several days later, I was rushed into emergency surgery because there had been another baby in my fallopian tube, and I was bleeding internally. We had conceived twins, but I left the hospital with neither baby in my arms.

St. Padre Pio said that when you pray, pray with an attitude that God will answer your prayer if it’s His will.  My husband and I prayed a thanksgiving to God that He would allow us to conceive another baby and have a successful pregnancy.  We were blessed to have three sons in five years.  When our third son was ten months old, we were pregnant again, this time with another ectopic pregnancy, but this time, I found myself with dangerous complications, in the back of an ambulance, hemorrhaging internally and drifting in and out of consciousness.  Instead of trusting, I panicked. I was in a great deal of pain and I was worried that my three little boys would have to grow up without a mom.

As I panicked, I prayed a Hail Mary with those last words taking on powerful meaning, now and at the hour of our death. Amen. I felt peace, serenity and God’s grace. My anxiety and worry was replaced with peace and joy.

  1. Embrace the Cross

God uses trials to make us better people. CS Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, but shouts in our pain.” God has shouted to me many times.  In this case, after the peace, joy and trust I felt in the ambulance, I woke up in the recovery room, happy to be alive only to be greeted with a different excruciating pain and violent vomiting. Nausea medications did not work. My husband was away, and I felt so alone. “Please God, I can’t do this anymore.”  Within minutes, a good Samaritan nurse came along and sat and held my hand for a short while. Her presence was the consolation I needed.  I was then able to embrace that cross.

  1. See Beyond the Moment

When you’re caught up in the middle of a loss, it’s hard to see beyond that particular moment. Some losses seem too much to bear.  It’s important that we acknowledge the pain but also to try to see beyond that moment. You will never ‘get over’ any loss, but the pain will eventually be easier to manage.  We were eventually blessed with two more sons in our family.

  1. Forgive

Sometimes a loss will be the direct result of someone else’s actions: an accident, a murder, abuse. When Christ taught us to pray, he taught us to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  He didn’t qualify it.  It doesn’t matter what the person has done to us or the heartache they caused; it doesn’t matter whether they want to be forgiven. We must forgive them.  It’s not an easy thing to do. However, forgiving someone is for our benefit.  Holding onto anger and holding onto a grudge hurts you. Pray and fast for the grace to forgive.

  1. You Are Not Alone

As Catholics, we believe in the spiritual presence of The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit and our guardian angel, the saints and angels. Our Lady is also a precious maternal presence in our lives.   In terms of human presence, our parish priest, close and supportive friends, relatives, counselors and those in support groups can be helpful in listening.  Thankfully my husband is a very patient empathetic listener because grieving and dealing with loss is much easier when you don’t feel alone.

  1. Prayer life/Sacramentals

Prayer life and the sacraments are vital to our day-to-day journey as Catholics whether we are experiencing loss or not.  But a strong prayer life is even more essential when grieving or going through difficult moments in life.  Attending Daily Mass, reciting the daily rosary, consecrating ourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, wearing a scapular and/or miraculous medal, using holy water and candles are all instruments of grace.

  1. One Day at a Time/Take Time to Grieve

Taking one day at a time is crucial.  One can become overwhelmed with the sheer immensity of any particular loss.  This isn’t an article on grief specifically, but allow time to grieve.

  1. Take care of your needs

St. Thomas Aquinas once said, “Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine.”   Grieving can be hard work emotionally; some days you have to just remember to breath, let alone make meals, do housework, homeschooling, etc.  If a friend or relative offers to make you a meal or take your younger kids for an afternoon, accept the offer!

Finally, it’s important to reiterate that God is and always will be trustworthy. In the beginning of this article, I shared that I had hoped to have ten children when my husband and I were married.  God in His generosity gave us more than we asked for, he gave us 12: seven babies in heaven and five sons we’ve had the privilege to raise.  When you ask for something, be assured that, if it’s in your best interests, God will provide it. The biggest consolation with the loss of our seven babies through miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy is that I will get to finally hold those babies one day in eternity. My friend’s mother passed away years ago. She had had four miscarriages. When this woman was close to death, she said, “They’re singing to me.”

My friend asked, “Who’s singing, Mom?”

“My babies.”

Having my babies sing me into eternity  is a beautiful, consoling thought.

Copyright 2019 Ellen Gable Hrkach