Dear Pope Francis

Francis-CoverThe experience of a good book is wonderful. Once you begin, it is hard to put it down. I recently had this experience from an unexpected source: a book for children. I suppose I should have known better, given that it was a book where Pope Francis answered letters from children around the world. But Dear Pope Francis, released March 1st by Loyola Press, is a book for not just for children but for all children of God, even older ones like me.

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What does a Saint Wear on Her First Communion?


dressWhile browsing through our Communion veils, gloves and accessories, I began to wonder, what does a saint wear on her First Communion? Would her dress be simple? Or would she be dressed to the nines for such a special day? And then I stumbled across this photo of St. Therese’s First Communion dress. So here’s the answer, at least for one saint! And I have to say, I love the pink sash and matching purse.

But, what I love even more is that St. Therese of Lisieux makes holiness so real for us; she makes the communion of saints seem so much closer. After all, she went through the same things that our families go through: she had First Communion classes to attend, a special outfit to find and a big party to celebrate it all. But St. Therese also did something else to make her First Communion special; when she received Jesus in Communion, she began to love Him intensely… and by doing that she started on the path to sanctity.

St ThereseIn her own words, St Therese describes her First Communion…

“How lovely it was, that first kiss of Jesus in my heart — it was truly a kiss of love. I knew that I was loved and said, “I love You, and I give myself to You forever.”


“At last the most wonderful day of my life arrived, and I can remember every tiny detail of those heavenly hours: my joyous waking up at dawn, the tender, reverent kisses of the mistresses and older girls, the room where we dressed — filled with the white “snowflakes” in which one after another we were clothed — and above all, our entry into chapel and the singing of the morning hymn: “O Altar of God, Where the Angels are Hovering…”


Young St. Therese:

Lenten Moments of Mercy

Ideas for the Struggling Super Disciple

super-descipleReady or not here comes Lent. Have you sorted out your plans for prayer, sacrifice and fasting yet? Like a new years resolution in March it can be difficult to hold onto our plans without help. We want to be the super disciple, able to leap long devotions in a single bound, but more often than not, find the minutia and interruptions of life eating away at our resolve and distracting us from our focus. What can be done?

Keep it simple – make meaningful not complicated plans. This is not a contest, an endurance match or an episode of Survivor.

Make it authentic – choose prayers, devotions, and sacrifices that are true to you, not what would look good to others.

Have backup – Make sure you have supportive resources for your plans, be it a devotional, a menu plan, or a plan B that kicks in when life derails your perfect plan A.

Keep in mind this is a holy year of Mercy. If things go sideways as they often do, have mercy on yourself, get back up, and try again. Recriminations or quitting do not bring forth the fruits that come from completing a journey; even if there were detours along the way.

in the garden of Gethsemane, The disciples of Jesus could not manage a hour without distraction and sleep. I have a suggestion of how you can go twice the distance and deliver two hours of focused reflection. Make it bite sized.

In this case do the two hours 3 minutes at a time. Loyola Press has a great, free, daily reflection for the 40 days of lent that will take three minutes a day. The reflections are based on a mass reading from the day and lead you to take daily small steps as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Curious? You can check out this article on about what the author of the series Dr. James Campbell had in mind for participants. Then take a small step and sign-up for the Lenten Moments of Mercy over at Loyola Press.

If you are looking for additional Lenten Devotional items you can find those at our store. Wishing you a fruitful journey through Lent, one step at a time. See you at Easter!



Do You Know Where Your Candles Are?

first-advent-candleOrdinary time ends this weekend and Advent begins in one week. That means that this weekend my wife and I should try and find the Advent wreath, make sure we have candles that are not burned to nubbins. We need to prepare to prepare. It is time for us to listen, learn and wait.

As a dad I have a fault where I think I will best teach my children by words. I’m good at talking. I have opinions. Some are very strong. I share them often. Even if no-one wants to hear them. Somehow I act as though words are what will make me a good father an saying the right thing will keep my children on a good path and protect them from hurt and harm. It is tempting to believe that all I need to do is say the right things, but that’s not really true. Words without actions are impotent.50555

I  can forget my children are always watching me. Not  like a bunch of creepy stalkers, but as avid learners trying to find their way in the world. My sons hear my words, watch how I handle my frustration and see what I value by where I spend my time. My daughters do the same in addition to learning about relationships by how I interact with my wife and respond to the guys in their lives. What I do is many times more potent than what I say. And when what I do does not match what I say, guess which they believe.

So Advent is coming. A time where we are to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus at his incarnation. Time to find the Advent wreath and proper candles. Time for us to set at the center of the family table a reminder that there is a need for light in the world. A world that experiences darkness not just due to the angle of the earth to the sun but the angle of us to the Son. My actions, in ways as simple as making sure the Advent wreath is ready can say volumes.

Time to be quiet and go find the candles, and let my actions speak.


Discover the Beauty of a Hand Carved Nativity

From the Middle Ages to World Class Artistry Today

The Dolomites

The Val Gardena region is nestled among the Dolomites with peaks reaching 3000 meters.

The spectacular scenery and beautiful vistas of the Val Gardena valley in the Italian Alps of northern Italy are inspiring. The woodcarving that comes from this region is breathtaking. Located in the Dolomites (a United Nations world heritage site) in the South Tyrolean valley, the area is surrounded by high mountains and features mountain pastures and dense alpine woods.

Hand carved religious statues

Skilled craftsmen create detailed hand carved works in the Val Gardena region of northern Italy

Abundant wood and long winter months came together in the 17th century to nurture a tradition of woodcarving. Mountain families carving in their homes during the winter months were able to supplement their income. Initially bowls, toys, and dolls were the primary subject matter. Carvers with greater talent turned to figurative works, mostly statues of a religious subject. Among the most popular subjects was the Nativity and numerous Nativity Scenes come from this region every year.

Skilled artisans with years of experience hand carve each unique piece.

Skilled artisans with years of experience hand carve each unique piece.

Rooted in old world tradition the Val Gardena region is recognized as a premier woodcarving area. Home to some of the most recognized artisan family lines, the region has nurtured its artistic heritage by the establishment of an art school and building a reputation for world-class artistic wood carving.

We are especially proud of our connection with PEMA woodcarving, having formed a relationship with a founding family member over a decade ago. The Pema line of handcarved products, especially nativities, brings old world artistry and craftsmanship into the modern age.

The PEMA nativities we provide to the North American market are rooted in the example of the work of Johan Mahlknecht (1793-1876). Johan was the state appointed artist who encouraged carvers to explore and create new models and pieces. These museum quality works are available to you today.

Cut wood for pema nativities

Select alpine wood is carefully dried over several years.

Beginning with specialty selected alpine wood which is cut and air-dried over several years, today’s carvings are sure to please those who treasure old world design, craftsmanship and unique hand carved works. Starting with an idea, which has been developed over years of experience and is rooted in history and tradition, a skilled carver sculpts their own ideas and personal touch into each figure.

Our nativities originate in Ortisei – St. Ulrich, the “largest” village in the Val Gardena region with a population of 5,750. Each piece is hand carved and lovingly painted with care by a highly trained painter. Their efforts bring each piece to life with details that add liveliness and expression to the final product.

Pema's E. Kostner Nativity

PEMA Woodcarving’s E Kostner design Nativity set has an extensive number of detail and expressive pieces.

The craftsmanship of the PEMA Woodcarving studios can be part of your Christmas as you build a heirloom quality Nativity scene.



The Patron Saint of Television Never Watched One.

St Clare of Assisi

St Clare of Assisi — Phot o credit

The Corpus Christi Monastery of the Poor Clare Colettine Nuns is a few miles from our house. Within the cloister walls of this monastery the sisters live a life of prayer, worship, work and sacrifice. Their foundress St. Clare of Assisi, a 13th century Franciscan, never would have seen a television much less owned one. Why then was she named the patron saint of television by Pope Pius XII?

The period between 1948 and 1959 is referred to by some as the “Golden Age of Television.” In his 1958 Apostolic Letter proclaiming St. Clare Patron of Television Pope Pius XII says:

“…And the Church, which never showed progress contrary to civilization and technology, encourage this new assistance to the culture and daily life, and the same is used readily for teaching the truth and the extension of religion.… It is reported that in fact Assisi, one Christmas night, Claire, bedridden in her convent by the disease, heard the fervent chants that accompanied the sacred ceremonies and saw the nursery of the Divine Child, as if it was present in person at the Franciscan church. In the splendor of the glory of his innocence and clarity it sheds on our darkness so deep, so that Claire protects this technique and gives the translucent device to shine the truth and virtue necessary pillars of society.”
[a rough Google translate from the original French]

In the 2013 closing comments of his address to the Vatican Television Center Pope Francis reiterated the influence of this medium and invoked St. Clare’s patronage:

“Let us pray to the Lord that he make us capable of reaching the hearts of men and women, overcoming the barriers of diffidence, and we ask Our Lady to keep watch over our steps as “pilgrims of communication”. I ask you to pray for me, I need it! I invoke the intercession of St Clare, Patroness of television, and I accompany you with my Blessing.”

Now that’s something to consider when channel surfing.

The Miracle in Wisconsin: How the Rosary Saved Them from the Peshtigo Fire

Since October is the Month of the Rosary, it’s good not only to make an extra effort to pray the Rosary in October, but also to remember why we pray it.  Reflecting on why I pray the Rosary myself, an old story that my grandpa told me came to mind: the true story of how a group of children and Sisters were saved through perseverance and through the power of the Rosary.

Fire Whirlwind

Fire Whirlwind – Photo credit:

The same night the Great Chicago Fire struck in 1871, the terrible Peshtigo Fire raged in northern Wisconsin. The Chicago Fire was tragic, but the Peshtigo Fire was devastating.  The fire ravaged almost 2,000 square miles, an area the size of Delaware.

By some estimates, the Peshtigo Fire claimed as many lives as the attack on Pearl Harbor, with some 2,500 souls losing their lives.  The fire was so horrific that it’s almost impossible to describe it. Continue reading

Drinking with the Saints & Homebrewed Evangelism

Summer is here. Have a refreshing drink and keep growing in your knowledge of the faith. Between these two books there is something for everyone. Each of them explores knowledge of the faith with wit, and a good measure of practical hospitality.

Drinking-SaintsDrinking with the Saints: The Sinners Guide to a Holy Happy Hour
by Michael Foley.

There are plenty of Catholic Cookbooks but until now there hasn’t been a Catholic Bartenders guide.This Catholic theologian will help you brush up on your mixology, the saints, and the liturgical calendar. You will find:

  • Stories of over 300 saints
  • A guide to beer, wine and spirits
  • Toast making tips and more

Pub crawl your way through the sacred seasons with this entertaining and useful collection of cocktail recipes, distilled spirits, beer, and wine for virtually every occasion on the Catholic liturgical calendar.

One part bartender’s guide, one part spiritual manual, a dash of irreverence, and mixed with love: Drinking with the Saints is a work that both sinner and saint will savor.

HomebrewThe Catholic Drinkie’s Guide to Homebrew Evangelism
by Sarah Vabulas

“A priest, a blogger and a homebrewer walk into a bar…” You’ll like what happens next.

Sarah Vabulas, aka The Catholic Drinkie, beer connoisseur, home-brewer, and active Catholic young adult. She serves up a faith-filled discourse on the eclectic history of alcohol and the Church, from brewing monks to theology on tap.

Then she offers a how-to of home brewing, with plenty of recipes and tips to inspire your own home brews. With Sarah’s skill at storytelling, you’ll soon see something more than froth here: A conversation with The Catholic Drinkie is where brew meets faith.

We hope you will enjoy these two new releases perfect for the summer.


How to Create Prayer Time Out of Thin Air

Newtons’ First Law of Motion as Applied to Prayer

newtons-cradleIt seems to me that a prayer life moves consistent with the initial part of Newton’s First Law of Motion which states that a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts upon it. If you don’t pray today, it is unlikely you will decide to pray tomorrow.

For those who have a sporadic or nonexistent prayer life, one way to remain at rest is to ignore the issue. Pretend that Sunday Mass has you covered for the week. No need to feel guilty. Everything is fine.

Falling Short

Once that stops working for you, a “prayer time” is called for. For many, creating a prayer time in a hectic day means trying to get up earlier to create time for it. When you pick this option you likely are forgetting why you are so tired in the first place. Remember, you have a hectic life. After a week to ten days of valiant effort, your resolve begins to fray around the edges, until it collapses.

I live with both a short attention span <oooh shiney> and a frantic schedule, so typically I try to pretend everything’s fine when I fail to make time for prayer. It does not mean I never pray, but I certainly lack the discipline and structure of a regular time devoted to prayer. It never helps when I meet someone  who is attentive and disciplined and always gets things done, including that regular time for prayer. Their success highlights my failure and it is tempting to decide it is just not in me, so why bother trying.

Standing Up Again

On the good side, I am also stubborn and persistent. As a result I discovered time I already had, that could be re-purposed into prayer time. Here are a few ideas on how the prayerfully challenged can transform the dead time into prayer time.

1. The Rosary and the Remote – If you use a remote control for a TV, DVR or DVD player at any time during the day, put a rosary with it. Anytime you touch the remote to fast forward or mute during commercials, also pick up your rosary and offer a few prayers till your program resumes.stoplight

2. Red Light, Prayer Light – The sanctuary lamp in our church is red. So is every traffic light I come across, especially when I am in a hurry. Let each red light be time for intercession, where you lift up the needs of someone you know. Remember those people who say “will you pray for ….”  and we say “sure”. Well now you have time to do it and a reminder of when to do it. Remember their needs at you next intercession intersection.

3. Checkout that Prayer! – Anytime you find yourself waiting in a checkout line or any line for that matter, use that interruption as a time for prayer. I suggest using these time to pray for those you don’t know. Perhaps you will pray for the cashier, or the stranger ahead of you. Perhaps you can consider what you are buying and pray for the farmer of food production worker factory worker, business owner or truck driver who had some role in bringing the items in your cart to you.

These three techniques for turning dead time into prayer time are a good tool to get the ball rolling. Once that happens, the second part of Newton’s Law applies; ” a body in motion stays in motion unless acted on by an outside force.”




How the Puritans Stole Christmas

grinch-2Everybody loves Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” but let’s be honest… it’s not even that original. After all, the Puritans tried the same thing in England over 300 years ago. Christmas is such a beloved holiday nowadays that it’s impossible to imagine that anyone would actually try to destroy Christmas, and yet, that’s exactly what the Puritans did. Continue reading