A Very, Merry and Blessed Christmas to All!

photo credit: Josh Hrkach 2011 (copyright)

photo credit: Josh Hrkach 2011 (copyright)

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:8-11

“Fear not little flock, fear not. Come with me to Bethlehem. Let us celebrate a joyous Christmas. Let us be merry and happy no matter what because Christ is born.” Catherine Doherty

Merry Christmas from our house to yours!

In Name Only Coming Soon to #Audible

INO AB cover

I’ve just approved the Audible edition of

In Name Only so it will soon be available on #Audible!

(Hopefully before the end of the year!)

Synopsis:  Book One, “O’Donovan Family Series.”

1876, Philadelphia. Caroline Martin’s life has finally taken a turn for the better. After years of hard work, she has met a virtuous and wealthy man whose love seems to promise the kind of life realized only within the comforting novels she keeps on her night table. Tragedy, however, will teach Caroline of the complexity with which God Himself authors the lives of those who turn toward him. Gold Medal winner for Religious Fiction in the 2010 IPPY Awards.

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!

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pray For Us!

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. Today through abortion, human sacrifice has become all too common, right up to the moment of delivery.

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.  Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for an end to abortion!

To read more about Our Lady of Guadalupe:

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

There are many ways to celebrate this feast. Our family usually has a Mexican-type dinner like tacos or fajitas. Although our kids are older now, in past years, we have celebrated by allowing them (youngest to oldest) to break open a pinata.

What does your family do to celebrate this beautiful feast day?

An Open Book – December #openbook

I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for “An Open Book.”  Here’s what I’ve been reading over the past month (and will be reading this month).

Molly

Molly McBride and the Christmas Pageant: A Story About the Virtue of Obedience

By Jean Egolf

Amazon Synopsis: The kindergarten class at Holy Trinity School is having a Christmas pageant, complete with stable, angels, barn animals, and baby Jesus. Molly McBride thinks she’s a shoo-in for the role of Mary, while her bestie, priest-wanna-be Dominic, has his heart set on the role of Joseph. But Mrs. Rose, kindergarten teacher extraordinaire, might not have quite the same “vision” for this year’s Nativity that the kids have, leading to an upset that snowballs into a lesson on obedience.

Will Molly’s feisty temperament ruin the whole play? Or will she find the strength, through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, to say, “Thy will be done?”

Christmas Pageant: A Story About the Virtue of Obedience is the fourth book in the Molly McBride series about a little girl who wants to be a nun when she grows up. Catholic kids young and old have fallen in love with the feisty, red-haired five-year-old heroine and her faithful wolf-pet-named-Francis. The tales, along with their charming illustrations, help school teachers, parents, and grandparents pass on our beautiful Faith to children around the world. The Molly McBride series not only delights readers with the funny and familiar antics of childhood, but also makes learning about virtues, Sacraments, and the Bible stories enjoyable. Because the stories feature religious sisters and priests as role models, both girls and boys become acquainted with religious vocations.

My review: I thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful Christmas story about a little girl who wants to be Mary in the Christmas pageant. What follows is a wonderful lesson in selflessness, empathy and obedience. Although it may be geared to younger children, older ones will also enjoy the story and illustrations. Kudos as well to the author for her outstanding illustrations. Highly recommend!

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!

Kathleen Morgan

The Christkindl’s Gift by Kathleen Morgan

Amazon Synopsis: When Anna Hannack’s father-in-law brings home a wounded stranger only days before Christmas, Anna’s not happy. Christian charity moves the Hannack family to help the injured man, but the young widow Anna keeps her distance. The tragedies of life have shattered her trust, and she’s determined not to let another stranger threaten her family. Could it be, though, that this rugged Scotsman is actually the gift Anna’s young children have asked of the Christ Child this Christmas?

My review: I enjoy reading this book each Christmas.  It’s a well-written and clean historical romance.  4/5 stars (there was one anachronism in the book.)

 

Insep

Inseparable: Five Perspectives on Sex, Life and Love in Defense of

Humanae Vitae by various authors

Amazon Synopsis:  With the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae in 2018, Catholic Answers Press is publishing an important new multi-contributor exposition of that prophetic encyclical – Inseparable: Five Perspectives on Sex, Life, and Love in Defense of Humanae Vitae.

Given the richness of Catholic teaching on the transmission of human life and the different ways—due to their temperaments, habits of mind, and life circumstances—that people respond to it, we asked our contributors to reflect on and defend that teaching from five perspectives: each of them compelling, all of them together forming a mosaic of truth.

Biblical foundations of conjugal love
Nature Law and human telos
Personalism and the “language of the body”
Historical lessons from contraceptive culture
The witness of lived experience

Contributors include some of the most knowledgeable and incisive writers on these subjects today:

Joseph Atkinson: associate professor of Sacred Scripture, John Paul II Institute, Washington, D.C.
Paul Gondreau: professor of theology, Providence College
Mark Latkovic: professor of moral and systematic theology, Sacred Heart Major Seminary
Allan Carlson: distinguished visiting professor of history and politics, Hillsdale College; author, Godly Seed: American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control
Shaun and Jessica McAfee: Shaun is the founder of Epic Pew and author of Reform Yourself! Together they contributed to Surprised by Life.

All share a joyful conviction in the truth of Humanae Vitae and a desire to promote and defend it.
Foreword by His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke.

My review: On my to-read list.

 

 

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