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There’s nothing I like better than to curl up on a comfy chair (or the end of a dock) with a good book. I’ve been an avid reader since I was seven years old. I remember the first time my father took me to the library to get a library card. “You mean I can take any book I want?”
“Sure,” he said, “you can take up to four, but we’re just borrowing them. You have to bring them back in three weeks.”
I remember the joy I felt upon returning home to spend hours reading those four books.
By the time I was a teen, before my re-version, I devoured trashy, explicit romance novels (all available at the public library) like they were candy.
The 50 Shades books are quite popular and the movie is coming out just in time for Valentine’s Day. Women and men of all ages are devouring these books that promote illicit lifestyles, domination and abuse of women. It’s sad, really, but not surprising given our current culture of death and “anything goes” secular society.
Like anyone, I love a good story, but I especially enjoy a compelling romance or suspense novel. As I grew in my faith, I no longer wanted to read fiction with explicit sex scenes or novels that promoted abuse of women. So I began seeking out Christian fiction. However, I yearned to read good, compelling fiction with Catholic themes.
In response to this desire, I started writing my first novel, Emily’s Hope, in 2001. Not only did I want to write a compelling story, I also wanted to include information on the Theology of the Body and Natural Family Planning. If I was going to write a novel, I wanted to write one that had the potential of evangelizing. Admittedly, this book’s target audience is small (NFP teachers love it), so I decided to widen my audience, improve my writing and include the Catholic/Theology of the Body themes in a less overt way.
Since then, I’ve written four more books and each one has been on various Amazon bestseller lists. My newest novel, A Subtle Grace, just hit #1 in Christian Historical Fiction, Christian Historical Romance and Christian Romance. And my publishing company now publishes other authors’ novels.
St. John Paul II said we can “overcome evil with good.” Here is a list of contemporary Catholic novels with Theology of the Body themes that can uplift, inspire and serve as an antidote to ALL the secular, trashy novels that promote illicit lifestyles. These novels encourage virtue rather than vice, respect rather than domination and love rather than lust.
Emily’s Hope (Ellen Gable, 2005, FQP)
Passport (Christopher Blunt, 2008, Pelican Crossing Press)
Midnight Dancers (Regina Doman, 2008, Chesterton Press)
In Name Only (Ellen Gable, 2009, FQP)
Stealing Jenny (Ellen Gable, 2011, FQP)
Finding Grace (Laura Pearl, 2012, Bezalel Books)
Angela’s Song (AnnMarie Creedon, 2012, FQP)
Rapunzel Let Down (Regina Doman, 2013, Chesterton Press)
Vingede (Friar Tobe #2) (Krisi Keley, 2013, S & H Publishing)
Don’t You Forget About Me (Erin McCole Cupp, 2013, FQP)
A Subtle Grace (Ellen Gable, 2014, FQP)
The Lion’s Heart (Dena Hunt, 2014, FQP)
A World Such as Heaven Intended (Amanda Lauer, 2014, FQP)
Working Mother (Erin McCole Cupp, 2014, FQ Publishing)
Do you have a favorite Catholic novel that is uplifting and edifying? Please feel free to comment below.
Copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach
Image: Tim Baklinski (Two Trees Photography)
According to the Catholic encyclopedia, mercy is “a virtue influencing one’s will to have compassion for, and, if possible, to alleviate another’s misfortune.” The spiritual works of mercy are one way Catholics can show charity and compassion to others. Since my husband and I teach Natural Family Planning, we have always tried to practice the spiritual works of mercy through our NFP ministry. Many Catholics do not understand the Church’s teachings on sexuality. Mother Teresa once said, “If you judge someone, you have no time to love them,” Sharing the truth with charity and without judgment is extremely important.
Admonish the Sinner and Instruct the Ignorant
I often find myself in conversations about these intimate topics with acquaintances and relatives. For example, while I was attending a First Penance meeting with one of my sons, the instructor handed out a “Examination of Conscience” pamphlet. On page three, under “Thou Shall Not Kill,” sterilization was listed correctly as a mortal sin. The woman next to me gasped and whispered, “I thought the Church changed her teaching on this. I had my tubes tied and didn’t know it was wrong.” I then gently said, “The Church has never changed this teaching. Birth control and sterilization have always been considered mortal sins.” The woman glanced away, then turned back to me, tears in her eyes. I patted her shoulder, then said, “You know, if you didn’t realize it was wrong, then it’s not a mortal sin.” I pointed out the section in the “Examination of Conscience” pamphlet which stated that all three of these conditions need to be in place for mortal sin: it must be 1) serious matter, 2) the person must know it is serious and then 3) freely commit it. I strongly encouraged her to seek spiritual direction from a faithful priest. When she left the meeting, she thanked me.
Counsel the Doubtful and Comfort the Sorrowful
A few years ago, when we were speaking at the local marriage prep course on “Sexual Honesty Within Marriage,” we talked about the importance of keeping the marital embrace free, total, faithful and “fruitful.” During the last part of the talk, we explained that contraception removes the fruitful aspect from the marital act. All of a sudden, a young woman rushed out of the meeting room, in tears. James and I continued our talk while one of the other host couples followed her, but we were concerned. After the talk, I immediately went to speak to the woman. I learned that she was the mother of a 13-year-old daughter from a teenage relationship. The young woman shared that she was currently in remission from terminal cancer. Because of the aggressive treatment, her doctors told that she would not have any more children. She told me that it upset her to hear the suggestion that her marriage might not be “fruitful” since she and her fiancé would never have children. (Of course, we didn’t say that in our talk, but this is how she interpreted it). She admitted that she had mistakenly thought she had already dealt with the fact that she and her future husband would not be having children together. But our talk seemed to bring her sadness and regret to the surface. She then sobbed and I embraced her as she released emotions that had obviously been pent up for a while. When she stopped crying, I explained that fruitfulness was much more than giving birth to children. We discussed adoption. We talked about the fruitfulness of being a good example as well as other ways she and her husband could be ‘fruitful” in their marriage. After the course finished that evening, she came up to me, hugged me and thanked me for being so “kind.”
Bear Wrongs Patiently, Forgive all Injuries
Bearing wrongs patiently has never been something I have done well. And the following example shows that not everyone I “admonish” or “instruct” has been open to the information.
Ten years ago, a woman called for NFP counseling. She and her husband had taken an NFP class years earlier. Her husband, she said, had made an appointment for a vasectomy and he had indicated the decision was not up for debate. After using NFP for many years, he no longer had any patience for the abstinence it entailed. The wife sounded like she was crying. “What can I do to stop him?” she asked. I spoke with her, then sent her information on the moral, spiritual and physical implications of sterilization. I encouraged her to seek spiritual direction from a faithful priest I knew in the area. Four different times we spoke on the phone, her tone frantic and desperate. Finally, she stopped calling. I continued to pray for this couple. Some months later, she called to inform me that her husband had indeed gone through with the vasectomy and they were now ‘very happy.’ She wanted me to know that, although she knew I didn’t agree with ‘their’ decision, she had come to accept it and that it had been the ‘right’ thing for them.
Admittedly, I have no idea what happened in between her frantic calls and the vasectomy. I suspect she never called the faithful priest I recommended. However, I calmly responded, “But sterilization is against the fifth commandment as well as the sixth, it separates a couple…it causes an increase in prostate cancer, it – ” She cut me off by angrily telling me that she only called to inform me, not to hear what the Church teaches, that she already knew that. Her husband then got on the phone and yelled at me, his tone sharp, accusing me of trying to “sabotage” his marriage. I listened, heart pounding, as he screamed at me over the phone. It took a lot of self-control not to hang up nor respond to his verbal abuse. I prayed and waited until he stopped yelling, although by that point, I was nearly in tears and my hands were trembling. Then I said, my voice breaking, “I will pray for you and I wish you both well…goodbye.” My hands shaking, I hung up the phone and cried. I forgave them long ago for their verbal abuse, and I have prayed for them from time to time, but I’ve always wondered how they are doing.
Pray for the Living and the Dead
Prayer is so powerful, more powerful than any of us can ever imagine. Even if you’re not comfortable speaking up, you can always pray for anyone at anytime. Praying for others is an important part of the spiritual works of mercy. I pray daily that more couples can discover the joy of following the Church’s teachings on sexuality by learning NFP: to be chaste before marriage, to be generous and open to life within marriage. I pray for all the student couples to whom we have taught NFP over the years. I pray for the engaged couples who have listened to our testimony and talks at marriage prep courses. I offer up many prayers for relatives and friends who have chosen to lead alternate lifestyles, and those deceased ancestors and relatives who were not faithful to the Catholic Church’s beautiful teachings of sexuality.
Practicing the spiritual works of mercy through the Theology of the Body is an ideal way to show charity and compassion to others. It’s not always easy to do. However, I know that, for me, it is the right thing to do, even if the person or persons are not open to the message. The truth is, we never know when a seed of truth will be planted and someone will experience a change of heart.
Copyright 2014 Ellen Gable Hrkach
Photo credit: James Hrkach (2013)
As the new school year approaches, I’ve been thinking about the guidelines for the teachers and assistants in the small apostolate I help run. A topic I didn’t broach last year but will this time around: Clothes.
I’m not a fashion person. No one looks to me for wardrobe advice, except maybe if they’re required to do a character sketch of frumpy middle-aged absent-minded housewives. But even I know that what we wear when we teach matters. If someone like me gives serious thought to clothing before I teach, that means it must be important.
Why Do Clothes Matter?
It is absolutely true that outward appearances can be deceptive, and that the most important parts of catechesis happen on our insides, in our hearts, minds, and souls. But humans are both body and soul, physical beings, and we use our bodies to express ourselves, relate to others, and accomplish our work. Our clothing matters for very practical reasons, because we need to be able to move around and do our jobs. It also matters in that what we wear teaches our students something about us. It tells our students what we value, and what kind of message we have for them.
First Things: Clothing Suited to the Job at Hand
Sometimes I joke that the cover art on my book is aspirational: Catechists have fantasies about being able to paint with preschoolers while keeping the white shirt impeccably clean. (Tip: Put on an apron.) In order to teach confidently, we need shoes and clothing that allow us to do our work. Comfortable shoes if you are on your feet a lot; clothing that lets you reach, bend, lift, walk, run, play; fabrics that can hold up to the rigors of teaching. If you know you’re going to have to get on your knees and scrub glitter glue off the floor after class, don’t wear delicates.
Professional Clothing Says You are Serious about Your Class
“Professional” is a broad category. My first job in college was at a whitewater outfitter. A well-chosen t-shirt and hiking shorts, paired with the right brand sport sandals, communicated credibility. “She really does this stuff. She knows what she’s talking about.” That was professional attire for that job. When I worked in a state government office several years later, business attire meant something completely different — I raided the local thrift store for good business-dress skirts and blouses.
There are catechists who rock the jeans-and-t-shirt look, and the message they send is one of confidence, enthusiasm, and competence. “I can fix your truck and your theology, too.” Some of us, though, just end up looking like we forgot to do the laundry. There are catechists who swear by coat-and-tie, and erring on the side of slightly overdressed is prudent in classes with older students and adults for whom the number one question is, “Is this instructor credible?” I would hazard the majority of us fall somewhere in between, on the vast spectrum that is “business casual”.
Two questions to ask are:
1. Does this outfit make me feel serious about my work? What I’m wearing should make me feel confident that I can get the job done. I should feel smart, competent, and ready to teach.
2. Does this outfit communicate the right message? “Pretty” “Elegant” “Handsome” “Youthful” “Mature” “Sporty” “Modern” or “Stylish” are all fair game. If my clothing evokes words like “Sassy” “Sexy” “Flirty” “Edgy” or “Slacker,” I need to change.
There’s nothing at all wrong with dressing fashionably, so long as the fashion is consistent with our Christian values and with our role as classroom teachers. Our clothing should express our unique personalities; we need to make sure, however, that we’re expressing those parts of our personality that make us good Christian leaders.
Modest Clothing Teaches Children Boundaries
Modesty is the whole range of attitudes and actions that we use to communicate our respect for ourselves and for others. How we dress is not the only aspect of modesty, but it is an important element. In the religious education classroom, dressing modestly also plays a significant role in teaching children about appropriate physical boundaries.
In sum: If we want children to understand and internalize the line between public and private body parts, we need to consistently demonstrate that distinction in our clothing.
Your parish or diocese may have a dress code, and in that case you’ll follow it, of course. For the rest of us, a simple rule is this:
Don’t put on display for your students any body part or undergarment that a priest should never be allowed to touch.
Your students are trying to figure out the line between appropriate and inappropriate touch. A mother breastfeeds her baby, that’s appropriate. The nursery staff change the baby’s diaper, the doctor has to do a physical exam, the gymnast wears form-fitting clothing so that the judges can see precise body movements. All of these are appropriate.
The classroom, the office, the sacristy: These are times and places when there is no appropriate reason for an adult (or fellow student) to be touching or looking at a school-age child’s private body parts.
If that sounds like blunt work, well yes, it is. Children don’t have a finely tuned sense of adult intentions, and predators take advantage of that ignorance. Dressing modestly on a consistent basis literally creates a boundary line, a do-not-cross line, that gives the child a sense of confidence about right and wrong actions.
Does it work? I know for a fact that when combined with all the other things that parents and teachers do to teach children personal safety and create a safe environment, yes, it does indeed work.
Bring Joy to Your Classroom
It is not necessary to spend a lot of money on new clothes for the new school year. Figuring out what to wear this year shouldn’t be a cause of agony and dread. Christianity is not a fashion show. Neat, clean, ready to do the job — that’s the essential. Dig through the closet and put together something that makes you feel confident, professional, and excited about the first day of class.
Photo: teachers in Parramatta Diocese in Australia
Adriana Cohen at the Boston Herald surveys all the heartbreak in the world, and proposes that marriage licenses be issued for ten years, renewable. This is my reply. Prayers for a blessed Valentine’s Day, Adriana.
This past weekend my husband and I lay in bed together, the lights dim, the room quiet, his head against my side. And he was crying. We were in the emergency room observation ward. He’d stopped in to check on me in between getting groceries, cleaning the house, and taking care of the kids. Like most men, when there’s a task in front of him, he’s good at setting aside his emotions and doing what needs to be done. But like any decent man, he also loves his wife dearly.
He’d die for me, I’m sure of it.
Are we extraordinary? No. We’re not. We’re a man and a woman who really liked each other, and so we got married.
If we’d gotten married under your ten-year-plan, I’m sure we’d have been married ten years and called it quits. We went through some difficult times at about the four-year mark, and if we hadn’t both been committed to lifelong marriage, we would have given it up then. I recall year twelve wasn’t so easy either. Frankly year seventeen or so is when we finally worked through a few of those problems that would have been the end of our marriage if only we’d believed in ending marriages.
The very fact that we knew we had to stay together is the reason our marriage is so beautiful and intimate. It’s the reason our children have happy parents who love one another, and do their best to create a joyful, peaceful home.
This is what marriage is. It’s not a hobby that you take up for a bit and then leave off when it gets old. It’s not a business partnership, or even an ordinary friendship. And even though we did a bunch of dumb stuff when we were young, the very fact that we both knew marriage ought to be lifelong meant that we worked pretty hard at choosing a spouse we’d want to be with lifelong.
Can you know the future? No, you can’t. Can you be utterly deceived by a sociopath in courtly disguise? Yes, you can. Bad things, terrible things, can happen when you live dangerously. Marriage is not about living cautiously. It’s about discerning carefully, and then throwing yourself in whole heartedly.
You hold hands and jump over the ledge together, and there’s no going back. It’s not a vacation, it’s a lifelong quest.
I’m sorry that you are so afraid of marriage. I’m sorry that someone’s given you the idea that all you can have is a very nice boyfriend. I’m sorry you don’t think it’s possible that a man could love you so much that he’d give anything – anything – to have just one more day with you.
But you really are that lovable.
Don’t sell yourself short.
For those of you who haven’t heard, my daughter is getting married!!! We are crazy about the man she is engaged to (how can you not love a man who started out their relationship by pledging to my husband that he would protect our daughter and her chastity at all costs… yup, that happened). Their first decision, after deciding to get married, was to schedule their Pre-Cana classes (coincidently, my husband and I are on the Pre-Cana teaching team). They are eager to start their marriage out on the best spiritual ground they can. My daughter has already begun Natural Family Planning classes, so that she will be fully prepared for all aspects of their married life.
I can’t help but contrast their experience to so many of the couples my husband and I teach at Pre-Cana. One couple planned every aspect of their wedding day, but forgot to sign up for Pre-Cana (we accommodated them by having a special session the week before they got married).
The other thing we witness, are the couples who have the beautiful and blessed wedding Mass, only to skip Mass on the first Sunday they are married, which is a mortal sin according to the teachings of the Church.
If they contracept on their wedding night, they have already broken the wedding vow of being open to life (often part of the spoken vows the priest reiterates in the ceremony). In order for a marriage to be a true Sacrament, the Church teaches it must be Faithful, Fruitful (open to life), Permanent, and Freely undertaken! How sad to diminish that Sacrament on the first night of married life.
Do they even realize that they have begun their married life with two serious sins on their souls, blemishing their marriage?
If we are to truly support our young couples, we must instruct them well in the teachings of the Church. Their marriages will be strengthened by understanding what a Sacramental marriage should be and how to accomplish it, thereby attaining the grace needed for a happy and fulfilling life together. Married life is a gift and a vocation, and should be entered into with all the information and faith formation that we accept for other Sacraments.
I look forward to celebrating this Sacrament with my daughter, her future husband, and his family. I pray they will be blessed abundantly.