Held together by the grace of God, coffee, and crazy glue
Barb Szyszkiewicz is a wife, mom, Secular Franciscan and freelance writer and serves as Editor for CatholicMom.com. Mom to three young adults, she enjoys writing, cooking, and reading. Barb is a music minister at her parish. She is also an avid Notre Dame football and basketball fan. Barb blogs at FranciscanMom.com and shares her family’s favorite recipes with nutrition information for diabetics at www.Cook and Count.wordpress.com.
Ellen Gable’s newest novel, based on her own father’s experience of sexual abuse at the hands of a predator priest and her own experience of the consequences in his life, is difficult to witness. But we owe it to victims of clergy sexual abuse to listen to their stories. Listening, understanding, and awareness of warning signs are steps toward preventing such occurrences in the future.
Ellen is to be commended for her courage and honesty in bringing this story to light. Where Angels Pass is not an easy read – but it’s an important one.
In all the years I’ve been invited by authors to read their books, I don’t think I’ve ever had an offer come with a disclaimer: “maybe you won’t want to read this.” Due to the sensitive nature of this book, I understand why such a disclaimer is necessary, however. Ellen didn’t gloss over the details of the predator priest’s grooming of his young victims, nor the acts of abuse, nor the emotional fallout afterward that drove her father into mental illness, addiction, and dangerous behaviors. That disclaimer was more of a trigger warning, really.
Where Angels Pass shows another side of the clergy sexual abuse scandal that has come to light in the past two decades: the effect of abuse as felt by the families of the victims, extending into the next generation. What happened to Hank in high school affected his marriage, friendships, work … and his children, in tragic ways.
This story is clearly told not from a place of anger or revenge-seeking, but out of the author’s love for her father and for the Church. By sharing her family’s story, Ellen has taken steps not only toward her own healing from the trauma she faced, but toward helping others understand what life was like for one victim – before, during, and after the abuse.
Ellen explains why she wrote this book:
It’s my hope that the reader will be able to learn that just because a person has suffered clerical abuse (in this case, my father) does not mean his life had any less value than any other person. Did he make mistakes because of his woundedness? Of course, he did, because we’re all born with original sin and with free will.
And despite all these things that happened to him, he was really an incredible father and, I believe, made the world a better place (again, despite his nervous breakdown and alcoholism).
Most importantly, I hope the reader can understand that the Catholic Church is not an evil institution, and we should not leave the Church because of the sins of some of her members. One thing I didn’t realize until recently was how widespread the clerical abuse problem has been for many years. And while it saddened me that my father was abused, it breaks my heart that so many others suffered like my father.
Teenager Evie Gallagher is stunned when her 45-year-old father dies tragically and suddenly. Too many unanswered questions accompany Evie’s challenging journey to adulthood. When she finally discovers the reason her father led such a troubled life, shock turns to anger. She is determined to find justice for her father.
Nervous about the first day of his freshman year, 14-year-old Hank Gallagher steps inside Holy Archangels High School for the first time in September of 1954. Although the majestic Holy Archangels statues inside the school’s grand lobby present an air of protection, it is not long before Hank passes right under them and into the hands of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Confused and cornered by threats, Hank attempts to abandon his secret to the past, but a horrible wound on his heart eventually leads to a catastrophic breakdown.
Based loosely on actual events, chapters alternate between Evie and Hank to reveal a life haunted by betrayal and a revelation of true justice and hope.
More Stops on the Virtual Book Tour for Where Angels Pass:
The saints and Mary cannot answer our prayers; only God can do that. But they can, and we believe they do, hear our prayers and pray for us, acting as intercessors on our behalf with God.
Our holy helpers, the saints, are the “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in the Letter to the Hebrews who surround us, helping us “persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (12:1-2).
By uniting our prayers with those of Mary and the saints and learning more about their lives and their example, we can draw closer to God.
If you’ve ever found it a bit puzzling to listen to Advent readings at Mass and hear so much about the Four Last Things (death, judgment, hell, and heaven), Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP’s latest devotional is for you. Memento Mori: An Advent Companion on the Last Things is based on the daily Mass readings for Advent (the Gospel is included, and you can find the rest on the USCCB website or look up in your Bible as you go along; references are provided). Each day’s entry contains a meditation on the daily readings, inspiration from a saint, and questions for journaling and prayer. Space for journaling is not provided each day, so you’ll need a separate journal or notebook for that.
A few years ago, Sr. Theresa Aletheia began a devotional practice that used to be fairly commonplace, but is much less so in the 21st century: she put a skull on her desk. Every day, she tweeted a spiritual observation about the Last Things — observations that resulted from this practice, using the hashtag #mementomori. This turned out to be so popular on social media that Pauline Books & Media published several devotionals and journals by Sr. Theresa Aletheia. Her author bio reads, in part, “Meditating on her death daily has changed her life and led to greater union with God.”
This devotional will help you remember that in Advent, we don’t only recall the Incarnation — Christ coming into the world as a baby — but we look ahead to the coming of Christ at the end of the ages. And we anticipate in hope our own entrance into new life with Christ.
Advent would mean nothing if Jesus did not come to save us from death, humanity’s most intimidating enemy and impossible adversary. (3)
The Advent Companion is divided into four sections to correspond with the four weeks of Advent. Each section focuses on one of the Four Last Things. There is also an entry for Christmas Day and an appendix with a daily Memento Mori examination of conscience.
This Advent devotional can be used in any year, so if you find that you’re not able to focus on each day’s entry, you can save it and use it for your prayer time next year. Each day’s entry includes a beautiful full-color illustration, either by contemporary Catholic artists (who are credited in a banner next to the art with their website or social media information) or sacred art in the public domain. The art, in a variety of styles, will have wide appeal. The book’s design was done by Sr. Danielle Victoria Lussier, FSP, who also created the illustration of the skull on the cover.
If you’re not keen on the idea of keeping an actual skull on your desk, the Memento Mori: Remember Your Death and Live for Heaven daily desk calendar is the perfect alternative. Its design is simple and beautiful, with the same skull design as the Advent Companion on each day’s page. The font for the reflections is easy to read, and the presentation is very eye-catching but not at all garish. Some of the daily reflections are written by Sr. Theresa Aletheia; others come from Scripture and the wisdom of the saints.
Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Images copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.
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Advent is a busy time for moms. Advent is a time when we can definitely give in to that temptation to be “anxious and worried about many things” — after all, we’re usually the ones who take care of all those details that make our family’s Advent and Christmas celebrations meaningful and special. That means we’re often taking on too much, and midway through Advent finding ourselves nowhere near that ideal of peaceful, intentional preparation.
It’s good, during Advent, to take a little time for ourselves and use the techniques Claire McGarry shares in Grace in Tension to acknowledge our feelings, make an effort to view the situation through God’s eyes, and take action to scale back, even in small ways, so this holy season doesn’t become an unholy frenzy.
Why I love this book:
For Catholic women who, like me, deeply identify with Martha in her worry and distraction, Claire’s balanced discussion of how busy women can learn to sit at the feet of Jesus is both a challenge and a gift. Learn to find the grace amid your daily cares and burdens.
When we think about the story of Mary and Martha, it’s very easy to fall into the “Martha bad, Mary good” trap. Claire does not do that in Grace in Tension(and that’s why I’m reading the book for a second time).
When Mary chooses to sit at Jesus’ feet while Martha chooses to serve, I think initially Jesus approves. He knows both decisions are made with the sisters’ hearts. Each sister is living out her “better part” by drawing closer to God with her choice. It’s clear that sitting and listening to all that Jesus has to say definitely brings Mary closer to God. After all, Jesus affirms her choice by calling it “the better part.” Yet choosing to serve Jesus as Martha does can bring her closer to God too. There’s a sacrifice that comes from serving and a beauty in putting others’ needs before our own. Both paths lead straight to God. Martha’s problem isn’t that she chooses to serve. It’s that she eventually compares her choice with her sister’s. (67)
It’s not highly likely that I’ll be able to change my natural Martha tendencies. Cooking for my family and our guests is a big part of how I show my love. And over the years, I am happy to report that I have mellowed, so my family doesn’t have to live with Screaming Meemie Party Mom (yes, I’ve been called that and yes, I’m 100% guilty) every time company is expected.
I probably can’t change my tendencies, but as Claire encourages readers of Grace in Tension, I can — and should — derail the anxiety and worry that I often allow to carry me away from the joy of the moment. By taking steps like choosing a new response, drawing healthy boundaries, asking for help (and accepting it without judging), and adjusting expectations, in addition to the 10 other steps Claire outlines in this book, I can find the gifts God has for me in the moments where He has placed me.
Advent is a time to sit at God’s feet. And it’s usually a time when we wrap gifts. This Advent, unwrap God’s gift to you: the grace within your tension and the transformation of your heart and mind.
Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
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I have a new article up at Our Sunday Visitor’s SimplyCatholic.com: Prayer as Liturgy.
A few highlights:
Liturgy, which includes but is not limited to the Holy Mass, is considered “formal” prayer because it follows a certain pattern, or rubric. Liturgical prayer is also “common” prayer, meant to be prayed by the community as a group.
The liturgy of the Church includes the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the celebrations of the sacraments.
Liturgical prayer invites us to engage in praise, blessing and adoration, thanksgiving, petition and intercession as a community.