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

And the Winner for the Best Nativity Is… St. Francis of Assisi!

Handcarved Pema Nativity Figures

We live in such a creative society, that there is an infinite variety of nativities available now-a-days. You can find everything from intricately hand-carved wooden pieces to glow-in-the-dark sets, musical nativities to nativity finger puppets. Some make great heirlooms and some are great for kids.  But of all natives ever made, I still think the best one is also the first one… the nativity made by St. Francis of Assisi.

In 1223, St. Francis decided that he wanted to have a real, live nativity for the people of Grecio, Italy.  After receiving permission, St. Francis set to work, making a manger with hay, bringing an ox and donkey. Near midnight, the villagers came by candlelight and together they sang hymns of praise and adoration.  St. Francis was “bathed in tears and radiant with joy”¹ as he chanted the gospel for Christmas mass and then preached a sermon on the “Babe of Bethlehem,”² as St. Francis called him.

DonkeyoxWhat was it that had inspired St. Francis of Assisi to create this beautiful nativity scene? St. Francis said that he wanted to see how Jesus “was deprived of all the comforts babies enjoy; how He was bedded in the manger on hay, between an ass and an ox. For once I want to see all this with my own eyes.”³  St. Francis knew that God’s actions reveal His goodness.  So by contemplating God’s actions (especially His birth), St. Francis knew he would better understand God… and the saint also knew that the better he understood God, the more he would love Him.

JesusmanagerSince the time of St. Francis’ nativity scene, the tradition has steadily grown and spread, and it is now considered one of the most beloved Christmas customs. Although we’ve seen more creativity in nativity scenes than St. Francis of Assisi could have ever possibly imagined, the original purpose of the nativity remains. In whatever shape or form the nativity comes, we too, can imitate St. Francis… by choosing a nativity that helps us to know God better, so that we, like St. Francis, may love Him more.


 1.   St. Bonaventure. Life of St. Francis of Assisi. TAN Books. Rockford, IL, 1988, p. 88.
2.  Ibid.
3.–ChristianFeastsandCustoms.pdf  Weiser, Francis. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. Harcourt Brace and Co., Inc. New York, 1952, p. 94-95


Gangnam Style, Ice Buckets, Blood, and the Grace of Yes

#Grace ofYesDay

Two years ago when the musician Psy released the video for Gangnam Style, I avoided watching it, in part because of a genuine lack of interest, and in part because I resist pop culture fads. This past year it was the ice bucket challenge. Yes for a noble cause, but there are many noble causes, and the whole social/viral thing was off putting for me. I try to avoid viruses. And now, into my mailbox pops an invitation to help an author I adore begin a viral marketing campaign for her newest book, the “Grace of Yes.” Hmmm…. a fresh dilemma. What to do for a friend? So, no to dancing, no to ice buckets, but an enthusiastic YES to grace.

graceofyes-blogpostLisa Hendey is a warm and generous California Catholic and her new book, the Grace of Yes, is a candid journey into eight spiritual values essential to a life of faith. I’m not done with the book yet, because I started reading it ‘buffet style’ with little tastes from all over. I began on the chapter “the Grace of No”, then skipped around snacking on different chapters before returning to the beginning to give it a proper read.

What I appreciate in her writing is the accessible, realistic and humble narrative of experiences, reflections, mistakes and successes. For me, they echo what I hear from Pope Francis. Be open to God, be concerned for others and cultivate within yourself a living faith that interacts with and transforms the world where you live. Continue reading

Advent Ideas ~ And a Prayer

Lighting the Advent CandleWhen Advent begins this year on November 30th all of the stores will already be festooned with Christmas decorations and your family calendar may start to look like there will be no time to breathe between Thanksgiving and the 25th of December.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

Every November, after we have given thanks in a family gathering that fills our home (and causes us to gain a few pounds in post-Thanksgiving pie consumption) I take a deep breath and consider Christmas. Continue reading