Beautiful Tradition

Every year, on Epiphany Sunday, we bless our home with the saying “Christus Mansionem Benedicat: May Christ Bless this House,” and write with chalk on each of the lintels to outside doors.  The letters CMB are an abbreviation of the Latin saying above, and they’re also the first letter of each of the names of the three wise men: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. To find out more about this beautiful tradition, click here.

Epiphany

Advertisements

Donkey Bells (Advent and Christmas) 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!

Favorite Advent Books For the Entire Family

It’s often difficult focusing on Advent during the weeks leading up to Christmas when everyone in the secular world seems to be celebrating Christmas even before Advent begins. Here is a list of wonderful Advent books that help us to prepare during this beautiful time leading up to Christmas.


Sarah Reinhard’s book, Welcome Baby Jesus: Advent and Christmas Reflections for Families, is a beautifully-designed book and an ideal gift for those families who wish to embrace the true meaning of Christmas and to grow closer to Christ. I highly recommend this wonderful book to everyone!

I also enjoyed Joy to the World by Kathleen Basi. Great book for the entire family!

My all-time favorite Advent and Christmas book is called “Donkey Bells” by Catherine Doherty, foundress of Madonna House. This gem of a book is filled with stories, traditions, meditations and customs.

Another favorite of mine that I listed in this month’s Open Book is Advent and Christmas With Fulton Sheen.

Beginning with the first day of Advent and continuing through the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, these selections from the immortal pen of Fulton J. Sheen encourage readers to explore the essence and promise of the season. Those looking to grow in their prayer life and become more attuned to the joy of Advent and Christmas will find a wonderful guide in this spiritual companion.

This is another book I read every Advent/Christmas. Beautiful meditations and quotes from Fulton Sheen.

An Advent book that my daughter-in-law introduced me to is Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen: Daily Scripture and Prayers together with Nouwen’s Own Words

It’s similar to the Fulton Sheen book above, but with Scripture and Prayers from Henri Nouwen.

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 tacos. Although our kids are now adults, in past years, we celebrated by allowing them (youngest to oldest) to break open a pinata.

Happy Feast Day!

Mystery of the Magi: The Quest to Identify the Three Wise Men – Book Review

Christmas pageants have been taking place in similar fashion for the past 50 or so years. Children dress up as Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the Three Wise Men. In fact, the three Wise Men “from the East” are part of most Christmas pageants and readings of the Christmas story. But are the Magi fictional characters based on legends, or did they really exist?

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, author of Mystery of the Magi: The Quest to Identify the Three Wise Men, asserts that they really did exist. But he goes several steps further and identifies them as historical figures. Of course, modern biblical scholars tend to dismiss the story of the Three Wise Men as legend. Since Matthew’s gospel offers sparse details, imaginative Christians began embellishing the story early on, giving us the “three kings guided by a magical star who join the adoring shepherds in every Christmas crèche.”

Because of the legends, many scholars don’t take the story of the Wise Men seriously. In fascinating detective work, Fr. Longenecker contends that the Three Wise Men were actual historical figures and that the visit to the Child Jesus really happened. Using evidence from scriptural studies, history, archeology and astronomy, he also discovers where they came from, the reasons for their visit and what may have happened to them after their visit.

The evidence shows that the mysterious Magi from the East were in all likelihood “astrologers and counselors from the court of the Nabatean king at Petra, where the Hebrew messianic prophecies were well known.” And that “the ‘star’ that inspired their journey was a particular planetary alignment ― confirmed by computer models ― that in the astrological lore of the time portended the birth of a Jewish king.”

Like any good detective and using a variety of resources and documents as well as Scripture passages, Fr. Longenecker distinguishes historical facts from legends and gives us the most detailed description of who these men were. The author recognizes that not everyone will be as enthusiastic as he is about the true identities of the Magi, but those are interested in history and historical figures will find this a fascinating read.

The magi may not have been the oriental kings in turbans, but they were real, and by showing that the wise men were historical figures, Mystery of the Magi demands a new level of respect for the historical claims of the gospel.

Why does it matter whether there were Wise Men? Why does it even matter where they came from? Because, Longenecker says, “the story of history matters.” It matters because “history matters and history matters because truth matters.” It matters because the events of “the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the most history-shattering events of all time. If the gospel is historical then it is true, and if it is true, then we must confront the reality of Jesus Christ. And if we encounter Jesus Christ as a historical figure, then we must also deal with the question of who he is and what he accomplished.”

If we dismiss the story of the Wise Men as legends, then we must also dismiss the other Gospel stories. The tale of the Wise Men is not fiction. The author contends these men were historical figures, taking part in historical events.

At the end of the book, the author takes the reader through a summary of his findings (not unlike the summation done at trials)  and he uses Matthew’s Gospel and other scriptural readings and intersperses the historical facts as we know them (rather than the legends).

This isn’t a light read, but it is a fascinating and detailed account of the Wise Men who brought gifts to the newborn King. I highly recommend to all scriptural scholars and anyone who enjoys a good historical mystery.  I was given a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Copyright 2017 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Julia’s Gifts Virtual Book Tour Links

 

Virtual Book Tour Stops/Links  (Updated)

November 1  (Open Book)   Plot Line and Sinker

November 2   Mary Lou Rosien, Dynamic Women of Faith

November 3   Therese Heckenkamp and Catholic-Fiction.com

November 4  Karen Kelly Boyce

November 5   Karen Kelly Boyce    Christopher Blunt

November 6 Carolyn Astfalk, My Scribbler’s Heart Blog

November 7  Jean Heimann, Catholic Fire

November 8  A.K. Frailey  and   Sarah Reinhard

November 9  Trisha Niermeyer Potter, Prints of Grace    Allison Gingras, Reconciled to You

November 10  Barb Szyszkiewicz, Franciscan Mom

November 11  Plot Line and Sinker  Remembrance Day/ Veterans Day post

November 12  Spiritual Woman   Patrice Fagnant MacArthur

November 13  Mike Seagriff 

November 15  Virginia Pillars and  Theresa Linden

November 16  Lisa Mladinich, Amazing Catechists   and Alexandrina Brant

November 17  Barb Szyszkiewicz    Catholic Mom

November 18 Cathy Gilmore

November 19 Erin McCole Cupp

November 20 Virginia Lieto

November 21 Elena Maria Vidal  Tea at Trianon

November 22  Catholic Media Review and  Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold Miller The Divine Gift of Motherhood

November 23  Leslie Lynch, author

 

A Wonderful Find!

I recently connected with a second cousin on Ancestry and discovered that he had uploaded a photograph from Christmas of 1903 which included our great-grandmother, far left (Mary Regina Smith Hamilton 1866-1909) and our great-grandfather, far right (Thomas Scott Hamilton 1865-1945) and their children (one son is missing and one toddler daughter had passed away a few years earlier).  Both lived in Philadelphia their entire lives.

I have been researching my family tree for over 35 years and this was the first time I had ever seen a photo of either of my Hamilton great-grandparents. So I was so thrilled to find this!  And very happy to be able to put faces to names I had known almost my entire life.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.  My great-grandmother looks less-than-excited (she was probably tired!) My great-grandfather looks a bit creepy and perhaps mad.  My grandmother told me about how strict he was, but I’ve also heard stories about what a kind and good man he was.  The house (if indeed it was theirs) looks more upper class than I had previously believed.  The toys were certainly those of at least an upper middle-class family.  My great-grandfather was a clothing cutter so I don’t imagine they were rich. Looking at the house and beautifully-decorated tree, it appears as though they were quite comfortable.

This is such a beautiful snapshot in time.  My great-grandparents would go on to have three more children (including one set of twins — my grandmother, Margaret Hamilton Gable, was one of those twins).  Just six years after this photo was taken, my great-grandmother dropped dead suddenly when her twins were only 18 months old, leaving her husband and oldest daughter (Kate, the smiling one on the right) to raise the children.

This photo illustrates such a different time in history than we are living, a simpler time.  Yes, mothers and fathers still die suddenly and widowers and widows are still left to raise children. But many Catholic families are limiting the number of children they have.  I can’t begin to judge any other couple, but I know in our own case, we remained open, despite the doctors’ orders that we stop having children.

We can learn so much from our ancestors. Back then, contraception wasn’t even a thought in most Catholic couples’ minds and really wasn’t readily available anyway.  Most welcomed children as they came.  I’m thankful to my Hamilton great-grandparents for welcoming children as they did, even when it was so obviously difficult and challenging.  My grandmother, Margaret Hamilton Gable, was one of twins in Mary Hamilton’s last pregnancy. If they had stopped having children, if they had discovered contraception, I wouldn’t be here today.

My grandmother (Margaret) went on to elope with my grandfather (Fritz) and eventually they had four children (my father was the second oldest).

This was indeed a wonderful find!

 

Hamilton Family 1903, with thanks to Rich Boyle