On Epiphany Sunday each year, our family has continued a tradition of reciting a blessing and marking the lintel of every doorway in our home (usually with chalk) indicating the year and the initials of the wise men (Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar): 20 C M B 17. (Photo below is from last year!) CMB also stands for Christus Mansionem Benedicat, Latin for “May Christ Bless this House.” To find out more information on this beautiful tradition, click here.
I’m joining with Carolyn Astfalk and Catholic Mom for An Open Book. Here’s what I’ve been reading for the past month:
From the Amazon summary: The cast of characters is strange and exotic: shepherds and magicians, an emperor and a despot, angels, and a baby who is Almighty God. The strangeness calls for an explanation, and this book provides it by examining the characters and the story in light of the biblical and historical context.
Bestselling author Scott Hahn who has written extensively on Scripture and the early Church, brings evidence to light, dispelling some of the mystery of the story. Yet Christmas is made familiar all over again by showing it to be a family story. Christmas, as it appears in the New Testament, is the story of a father, a mother, and a child–their relationships, their interactions, their principles, their individual lives, and their common life. To see the life of this “earthly trinity” is to gaze into heaven.
My review: Excellent book, a kind of “behind-the-scenes” narrative. I was able to buy the Kindle edition for 1.99 when it was on sale a few weeks ago.
From the Amazon summary: Unsinkable is the definitive memoir by film legend and Hollywood icon Debbie Reynolds. Actress, comedienne, singer, and dancer Debbie Reynolds shares the highs and lows of her life as an actress during Hollywood’s Golden Age, anecdotes about her lifelong friendship with Elizabeth Taylor and her experiences as the foremost collector of Hollywood memorabilia, and intimate details of her marriages and family life with her children, Carrie and Todd Fisher.
My review: Like most people, I was shocked at Carrie Fisher’s death last week and then just one day later, equally saddened by her mother’s death. I’ve always liked both Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, but this book gives the reader a better idea of all the heartbreak and financial challenges Debbie has had to face in her life. The Kindle edition was reduced in price a few days after Debbie’s death so I took advantage and downloaded it. For mature audiences only.
From the Amazon summary: It is 1878 and the Caldwells and Wainwrights have been feuding for decades. Still, Sarah Caldwell has misgivings when her father pressures her into distracting a ranch hand while he and her brothers rob the Wainwright place. When it becomes clear that hand is actually Cord Wainwright, Sarah realizes she needs to lay low. But Cord spots her in town and, with the sheriff away, makes a citizen’s arrest, dragging her off to the Wainwright ranch until the sheriff’s return. As the feud boils over, Cord and Sarah make a most inconvenient discovery they are falling in love. Can they betray their families for love? Or will their families betray them? Against the beautiful and wild backdrop of the Rocky Mountains comes this sweeping saga of romance, betrayal, and forgiveness from beloved author Kathleen Morgan.
My review: Just started reading this one, but if it’s like other Kathleen Morgan books, it will be a clean, Christian romance that I will thoroughly enjoy.
Discovery by Karina Fabian, is on sale for only .99 today!
Synopsis: Sisters Ann, Tommie and Rita are part of a classified mission to explore an alien ship that has crash landed on an asteroid three billion miles from earth. Humanity’s first contact with beings from beyond the solar system is bound to unlock the mystery of life in the universe… but the crew have their own secrets; hidden fears, desires, horrible sins – and a mission to kill. Researchers discover something unique about the third arm of the ship: something wonderful, terrifying and…holy. This discovery challenges Rita and Ann to confront their own pasts in order to secure the safety of the mission and the very souls of the crew.
Review: Karina Fabian’s Discovery is a suspenseful space adventure with deep roots that extend to questions about life, death, faith, and purpose. The crew members of the Edwina Taggert have radically different motives for embarking on a mission to explore an alien vessel. With the dexterity of an Isaac Asimov or Larry Niven, Fabian makes the science and speculative science of the story accessible, deftly weaving it into the fabric of the story. What the crew of Discovery finds when they arrive at their destination challenges their beliefs, aspirations, and schemes, and keeps the reader wondering to the last page. T.M. Doran, author of Toward the Gleam, Terrapin, Iota
Excerpt: Augustus laughed and put a friendly arm around James’ shoulder, leading him down to the ship’s offices. He said nothing more until they got to the conference room. He held the door open for James, and when they had stepped through, announced, “Gentlemen, I’d like you to meet Dr. James Smith. He thinks I want him to find Atlantis.”
Two men sat at the table. The younger dressed in jeans and a gray collared shirt with the Luna Technological University logo over the pocket; his mousy brown hair and pale brown eyes combined with a tense, nervous posture reminded James of many worried grad students he had known. The older, a fifty-something man dressed in a similar shirt but with tweed pants, nodded James’ way. His relaxed full-throated chuckle was for Cole’s benefit.
Augustus continued, “James, this is Dr. William Thoren, Dean of Astrophysics at LunaTech, and this is Chris Davidson.” “My protégé,” Thoren added when Augustus paused.
The entrepreneur’s eyes flicked in annoyance. He hated having his dramatic moments spoiled. Nonetheless, he continued on as if the dean had not spoken. “Chris has been working on a rather uninspiring project for his doctorate that has had a surprising result. But wait!”
With that impish grin, he reached into his pockets and pulled out four small devices, which he set at four points of the room. When he pressed the remote in his hand, they heard a brief hum, then a shimmery fog formed a dome over them. No one outside the dome would be able to hear them and would only see vague shapes.
Scientists from the moon? Security fields? Well, if Augustus wants my attention, he’s got it. James took a seat at the table, and cocked a brow at Augustus. “So you’ve found the Lost City of Atlantis in space?”
“Close, my friend. Close. Chris?”
Chris gave a brief glance at his supervisor, and Thoren nodded in a benign, “carry on.” He pulled out a handheld computer, set it on the small table, and pressed some buttons. A holographic map of the solar system from the Sun to the asteroid belt appeared, beautifully detailed and large enough that James had to sit back a bit.
“Sir, are you familiar with the Kuiper Belt?” Chris asked.
James shrugged. What’s going on? “Ky-per Belt? That’s not like the asteroid belt?”
“This is the asteroid belt.” Chris set his finger on the thin line of rocks just past Mars’ orbit. He slowly pulled his finger toward himself. As he did, planets rushed past James’ field of vision: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto. A moment of black space, then the image stopped at a smattering of dots of various sizes.
“This is the Kuiper Belt. K-U-I-P-E-R, even though it’s pronounced ‘Kyper.’ It’s really just the rubble left over from the formation of the solar system. Most of it isn’t even rock, but ice. Comets come from here. We don’t hear much about it because the distances even from the Outer Planets mean it’s not really cost effective to live or work there. And since the commercialization of space, most people don’t even care…”
“Excuse me, Chris, but why am I getting an astronomy lesson?”
The entrepreneur grinned. “Give him a minute.” He jerked his head encouragingly at the grad student, who gave him a shy smile in return.
From the corner of his eye, James saw Thoren glower; then, the expression was smoothed away.
Chris didn’t notice. “Okay, the last time anyone has bothered to explore the Kuiper Belt was with the Seeker Probe of 2215. The American President, Linda Montero-Fadil, pretty much pushed it through on personality and stubbornness, but they called it Fadil’s Folly…” Thoren cleared his throat.
“Anyway!” Chris started, then floundered a moment, his train of thought derailed. He took a breath, touched an area of the map with two fingers and pulled it apart, expanding that area. He did it again and again, then rotated it and circled an object with a dark center. The rest of the map fell away.
“This is 2217RB86. Seeker did a flyby of it and its neighboring objects. That’s what you call, um, objects in the Kuiper Belt. Or Ky-boes. That’s what we call them at the university. So, this Ky-bo caught my attention because it’s got some very unusual readings, especially around this dark dot… I won’t bore you with the details. The point is, Dr. Thoren was able to get us some time on Old COOT — that’s a telescope on L5 Station – and um…” He stopped to glance around, as if making sure the security field was still in place. Then he pressed another button and pulled up a different, sharper image of the Ky-bo.
“We found this.”
“Oh, my.” James leaned forward, his nose only inches from the image. The dark circle had resolved into six crescent arms jutting from a sphere. One arm was partially dug into the rock.
“He didn’t find Atlantis,” Augustus smirked.
No, he didn’t.
Chris Davidson had discovered an alien starship.
Happy New Year! Tomorrow is the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Happy Feast Day!
Here are a few of the most popular posts during 2016!
“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 and a Blessed New Year!
I’d like to share just a few of the 28 original Christmas cards we’ve created over the past 30 years. As I’ve mentioned before, our “Family Life” cartoons began as Christmas cards 27 years ago. To learn more about this, you can read my previous guest post entitled “Life in a Cartoon World.”
Those on our Christmas card list really enjoy and appreciate our cards; the caricatures of the members of our family are drawn by my husband. With some of these, I scanned only one part of the card, since I just wanted to share the caricatures of the family. Merry Christmas!!
1. Let the Spirit In – 1989
2. She Brought Forth Her First Born Son – 1992
3. Glorious Strains – 1996
4. Cookies are Like Baby Jesus – 2002
5. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – 2007
6. Hrkach Boys Assembly Line – 2008
7. Vertical Enhancements – 2009
9. Sleeping In – 2014
10. A Many Splendored Christmas (2015)
11. This year’s Christmas Card!! “Low Key” 2016
All text and images copyright James and Ellen Hrkach 2016
During the holiday season, certain questions might arise within one’s heart, or asked by others. How should a person coping with the death of a loved one this holiday season respond? When thinking about death and the afterlife, I thought I would turn to Susan Tassone, an authority on Purgatory, to help answer some of those tough questions, and hopefully provide comfort and consolation, not only to the bereaved, but to our beloved dead as well, this Christmas season.
Fr. Looney: Those who lost a loved one, especially to suicide want to know if their loved one can go to Heaven. Over the years the negative stigma of suicide has changed in the Church. What can words can you offer for those coping with the tragic death of a loved one?
Susan Tassone: A few words about suicide. Often members of a family will have different feelings about the suicide of a loved one. It is likely when someone you love commits suicide you will experience a wide range of feelings. It is normal to be angry, sad, down, scared, etc.
Feelings are fleeting and change rapidly. One of the most common feelings is that of being ashamed. We blame ourselves for the suicide. You may feel embarrassed by what you feel. There is no right feeling. Remember feelings are temporary. They pass and change over time. Sometimes we may blame ourselves, others, or the person who died. Behind blame often are feelings of hurt or inadequacy. “If only I did this or noticed that.” Many of us look to assign blame. The more we can let go of blame the quicker we will heal.
People commit suicide for many different reasons. We need to focus our empathy on what pain a person must have gone through to decide to take their life. The less we judge and the more we can be empathetic, the more likely we will feel the mercy of God’s healing.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2282-2283) says: “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.” This is a time to remember the ocean of mercy and kindness that is given to us by Our Lord.
Fr. Looney: During the holidays many people attend parties or family gatherings and might be asked about their loved one. What do they say to others?
Susan Tassone: You tell them that “So and So” was in great pain and ended their life. We ask everyone to be compassionate and to offer Masses and prayers so that she/he may be received into the arms of our merciful God. Our role is not to judge. Our role is to pray for healing both for the deceased and their loved ones.
Fr. Looney: How do you address the issue with a child?
Susan Tassone: It is important to shape your message to the level of understanding of the child. If they are younger, it is best to say that he/she died. They loved you very much and felt terrible in leaving you. You can pray for them and that way ask Jesus to comfort them and you. Nothing you or anyone did caused their death. It is sad to lose someone you love. But people feel many things when someone dies. Ask the child what they feel. Ask them to imagine that person is here. What would they like to say? No matter what the child says, do not correct what they feel but acknowledge the pain. Give the child things they can do to help the deceased and themselves. Light candles, prayers that they can say or drawings they can make.
Fr. Looney: What is the best way we can remember our loved ones who have died?
Susan Tassone: The best way to move the soul to heaven is to have Masses offered, particularly Gregorian Masses. Gregorian Masses are a series of thirty Holy Masses celebrated on thirty consecutive days for the repose of the soul of a departed person. Gregorian Masses derive their name from Pope St. Gregory the Great, who was the first to popularize this practice. The Dialogues of St. Gregory tell of the soul of a departed monk who appeared and declared that he had been delivered form purgatory upon the completion of 30 Masses. The Sacred Congregation of Indulgences declared this hallowed tradition of more than 1,300 years “a pious and reasonable belief of the faithful on the authority of the Roman Curia.” The Church does not guarantee that souls are released from Purgatory after 30 Masses, but this practice focuses on the efficacy of the Mass. Contact the Pious Union of St. Joseph to arrange for these Masses. www.pusj.org
Fr. Looney: The stories of the saints are powerful witnesses that can bring us some comfort. Are there any stories that pertain to souls who commit suicide?
Susan Tassone: There is a story of St. John Vianney who told a grieving wife that her husband who committed suicide was saved. This story is described by the Abbe Trochu in his biography of the Cure d’Ars. A certain Abbe Guillaumet met a lady on a train who was in deep mourning and when he said that he was going to Ars she asked, “Monsieur l’Abbe, will you allow me to accompany you to Ars? I may as well go there, as elsewhere…. I am travelling to distract my thoughts.”
When they reached the village, the priest led the lady to a place near the church and suddenly, St. John Vianney appeared. He stopped in front of the lady in black who, following the example of the crowd, had gone down on her knees. He bent over her and whispered into her ear: “He is saved!” The woman was startled and John Vianney repeated: “He is saved!” A gesture of incredulity was the only reply of the stranger. Whereupon the saint, stressing each word, repeated, “I tell you he is saved. He is in Purgatory, and you must pray for him. Between the parapet of the bridge and the water he had time to make an act of contrition. Our Blessed Lady obtained that grace for him. Remember the shrine that you put up in your room during the month of May? Though your husband professed to have no religion, he sometimes joined in your prayers; this merited for him the grace of repentance and pardon at the last moment.
The next day, the lady explained to Abbe Guillaumet that she had been in despair because of the tragic death of her husband: “He was an unbeliever, and my one object in life was to bring him back to God. I did not get the time. He committed suicide by drowning himself. I could only think of him as lost. Oh! Were we never again to meet? Now you hear that the Cure d’Ars told me more than once: ‘He is saved!’ I shall meet him again in heaven. Monsieur L’Abbe, I am cured!”
When all seems hopeless, we must remember there is always hope. Always have faith and pray for your loved ones throughout life. Have Masses offered for them while they are alive to give them the grace for conversion.
Fr. Looney: I’ve heard it said that Christmas is a very special day for the souls in Purgatory? Is this true?
Susan Tassone: According to St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Teresa of Avila, more souls are released on Christmas than any other day of the year.
Fr. Looney: How would you suggest we remember those whom we loved but are no longer with us this Christmas season?
Susan Tassone: These are quotes from my book, Praying with the Saints for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Not only should we have Masses offered for our departed loved ones this time of year, but we should give the gift of Masses and enroll your family and friends, living and deceased, in spiritual membership, a spiritual solidarity of prayer. The Association of the Miraculous Medal in Perryville, Missouri, and the Marian Helpers in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, are two great organizations for these Enrollments.
Visit cemeteries with your children. Sprinkle holy water on the graves. Teach youth to pray the Eternal Rest Prayer. Light blessed candles. The burning candle is a sign of our prayer, a bright silent intercessor. Offer your Mass and indulgence for your deceased loved ones at Christmas Mass. Place a special ornament on your Christmas Tree or wreath in remembrance. Share stories and pictures of deceased family members, remembering them in prayer.
Day by Day for the Holy Souls in Purgatory: 365 Reflections, is another great book that helps to console those who are left behind. EWTN Host of Women of Grace, Johnnette Benkovic, lost her son to a vehicular accident. She highly recommends this book because it helped her through the grieving process. She shared this with me and all her TV viewers on her show: “This book got me through the death of my son.” It would be a great Christmas gift for anyone to begin the New Year on this soul-saving mission.
Fr. Looney: Susan Tassone has a great passion for the Holy Souls in Purgatory and reminds us we should never forget those who have gone before us. This Christmas season as memories of our loved ones flood us, allow them to become an opportunity for prayer. Although they are physically gone from us, they live on in our hearts and memories, and because of our prayers for them, they will never forget us. St. John XXIII affirms this, ““Our dead are among the invisible, not among the absent.” Jesus was born on Christmas day to set us free from all that enslaves us. Allow Jesus to bring peace to your troubled heart and soul this Christmas, and by chance, your prayers might bring peace to a loved one in Purgatory, helping to bring them home to Heaven this Christmas.