Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Heart of Saint John Berchmans Comes to the Cathedral

Unique Relic Comes to Shreveport in Honor of Saint’s 150th Anniversary of Miracle in Louisiana
by Jessica Rinaudo

On December 8, the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans will host a unique and exciting historical and spiritual event when a rare Catholic relic – the literal heart of Saint John Berchmans – makes its way from Belgium to Shreveport. This special event coincides with the 150th anniversary of the apparition and miracle of St. John Berchmans that occurred in Louisiana.

The presence of this relic in our diocese is uniquely special because this is the first time the heart has ever traveled outside of its homeland, modern day Belgium. Accompanied by the pastor of the church where Saint John Berchmans was baptized, the heart will make its way to the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans in Shreveport, the only cathedral in the world named for this saint.

Once it arrives, it will stay at the Cathedral from December 8 – 18, except for one day, December 14, when it will travel to Grand Coteau, Louisiana, the site of the apparition and miracle. During the heart’s stay at the Cathedral, there are scheduled times for veneration and for Mass, as well as a series of events and talks related to the saint and relics that are free and open to the public.

Who was Saint John Berchmans?

John Berchmans was born in 1599 in Diest, which is modern day Belgium.  In 1615, at age 16, John enrolled in a newly opened Jesuit college. There he felt called to join the Society of Jesus despite his father’s wishes to the contrary. In 1616, he entered the Jesuit novitiate.

John was known for his kindness and endearing personality and he wished to become an army chaplain after being ordained and in hopes of being martyred on the battlefield.  He was known for valuing little, ordinary things and for his special devotion to Mary. All those who knew him, and even those who only glimpsed him, called him “the Angel” for his purity and ability to chase away sadness.

After making his first vows in Antwerp, he was sent to Rome to study philosophy. He penned the Chaplet of the Immaculate Conception, which is still prayed today.

In 1621, he succumbed to “Roman fever,” and on August 13, 1621, at the age of 22, he died.

Many stories of miracles have arisen since his death, but the one that led to his canonization took place in Grand Coteau, Louisiana.  At the convent of the Sacred Heart, novice Mary Wilson had fallen gravely ill. She and a group of sisters prayed a novena for healing through the intercession of the recently beatified Blessed John Berchmans. On the ninth and final day of the novena, he appeared to her in her sickness and she was immediately and completely healed.

The Heart of Saint John Berchmans

Relics are an integral part of our rich faith tradition. “The veneration of relics is a communion with the heroes of our Christian faith, asking for their powerful intercession,” said Fr. Peter Mangum, Rector of the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans. “Many people have reported outstanding blessings and conversions through this ministry, and many have reported healings.”

“The earliest of churches were built over cemeteries because that’s where the body was,” he continued. “These are the people without whom the faith would not be passed down to the next generation. Even to this day, a little tiny relic is placed into each altar where we place the Body and Blood of Christ. We no longer build churches over cemeteries, so in a sense we bring the cemetery, or we bring part of the relic to the church,” he added.

“Relics are important,” Fr. Mangum continued, “and the relics we normally see are just little fragments of clothing, a habit or something of the saint, even a part of the body. And for us in the United States, we may see a fragment of the bone, almost the size of a splinter. In other areas of the world, especially if a saint is from there, you’ll see perhaps an entire bone intact.”

Why his heart was saved after his death is a subject of curiosity for some, but something that is easily explained. Before Berchmans died, he was already well known for his spirituality and sanctity. Fr. Mangum likened him to modern day Mother Teresa. People knew they were seeing a living, walking saint. People would go to Mass to see him serve.

At the time of John’s death, there was a postmortem examination and his heart was noted to be in good condition.

“He died in the city of Rome in 1621. They couldn’t take his body and cross the Alps, and go all the way back to his home in now modern day northern Belgium,” said Fr. Mangum.  “One of the Flemish Jesuit priests was returning to his homeland and that’s when the decision was made to take his heart. And as he went home – a two and a half months’ journey – the priest stayed at Jesuit houses along the way and the other Jesuits venerated Berchmans’ heart, on bended knee.”

Since that time the heart, under attentive and proper care, has remained relatively incorrupt and now resides in a beautiful reliquary that has remained in Belgium.

The Saint’s Heart in Shreveport
This extraordinary event is garnering a lot of excitement and anticipation. The Cathedral has been contacted by Jesuit groups across the south, and has already scheduled groups to see the planned exhibit on Saint John Berchmans, which will be displayed in the parish hall, as well as have the opportunity to venerate the heart.

The exhibit will include documents from the original canonization process. They haven’t been opened since the late 1800’s, but will be brought to the Diocese of Shreveport by the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ chief archivist, Emilie Leumas.

There will also be extra parish Masses in the evenings and on Saturday morning in addition to their regularly scheduled ones, during which the heart will be present and parishioners and pilgrims alike will have the opportunity to come forward, as individuals or as a family, to venerate the heart and honor the saint, praising the holiness of God.

Of particular note, Edwin Cardinal O’Brien, an American who lives at the Vatican, will be on hand for a public talk and Mass. Fr. Carlos Martins, of Treasures of the Church, will bring relics of many other saints and will speak of the importance of relics. Comic strip artist Andrew Thomas, who has drawn the life story of St. John Berchmans, will offer a public talk and will also speak with the nearly 700 students of Loyola and St. John Berchmans Cathedral School.

“Thomas will evangelize the youth by means of art,” said Fr. Mangum. “They’re looking at this scene, they’re hearing about his life.  He’s going to teach and encourage the people to follow the example and the virtues of this young saint.”

St. John Berchmans was once a well-known and beloved saint – one of only 21 that Pope Leo XIII canonized during his long papacy. But with time and the canonization of more saints, the knowledge of John and his sanctity has faded. Fr. Mangum hopes that bringing this relic to the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans will shine light on him once again.

“My hope is that people will come to know, yet again, about him … appreciate him, his life, his times and have a greater personal devotion and want to follow his example of obedience, chastity, his love of Mary and the Blessed Sacrament, doing all things, even the smallest of things, very, very well. If you’re asked to do something, then do it and put your whole heart into it,” said Fr. Mangum.

The schedule of events, including Masses, speakers and veneration times, is available at Individuals are welcome to all events, but groups should call the Cathedral’s office at 318-221-5296 before coming.


Calendar of Events:

The heart will be present at all scheduled parish Masses, as
well as additional evening and weekend Masses. For a full
schedule of Masses, Chaplets of the Immaculate Conception, veneration times and speaking events, visit

Thursday, December 8
Immaculate Conception

  • Heart Arrives
  • Parish Masses with Heart present at 12:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. (with Bishop Duca).

Sunday, December 11
Gaudete Sunday

  • Dr. Cheryl White, “Theology of Relics,” 9:15 a.m. & 6:30 p.m.
  • Procession with Heart after 11:00 a.m. Mass
  • Traditional Latin Mass, 5:30 p.m.

Wednesday, December 14
150th Anniversary of Apparition and Miracle

  • Heart in Grand Coteau, LA

Thursday, December 15

  • Heart Returns to Shreveport
  • Mass with Bishop Duca, 5:00 p.m.
  • Andrew Thomas, “New Evangelization Using Comics to Spread the Gospel Messages to Our Youth,” 6:30 p.m.

Friday, December 16

  • Fr. Carlos Martins, “Exposition of Sacred Relics,” 6:00 p.m.

Saturday, December 17

  • Fr. Carlos Martins, “Exposition of Sacred Relics,” 9:00 a.m.
  • Emilie Leumas, “Presentation and Exhibition of Archival Material from SJB Canonization Proceedings,” 10:00 a.m.
  • Fr. Peter Mangum, “The Heart of St. John Berchmans,” 11:00 a.m.

Sunday, December 18
Fourth Sunday of Advent

  • Heart’s Last Day at Cathedral Mass, 8:00 a.m.
  • Mass with Edwin Cardinal O’Brien, 11:00 a.m.
  • Final Veneration until 2:30 p.m.

Kids’ Connection: Saint John Berchmans

Click to download and print the December Kids’ Connection on Saint John Berchmans!

The Diaconate: A Life of Service

by Deacon Mike Whitehead

The call to the Permanent Diaconate is centered on one thing –– a ministry of service. Deacons serve the community in many ways, including word, sacrament, charity and pastoral governance. Here are the personal reflections of three of the 32 deacons now serving our diocese.

Deacon Tom Deal:  The Power to Comfort
Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish, Monroe

After I was ordained, it did not take long before I was called to serve at a funeral. The funeral home called and informed me the family of a 33-year-old man killed in a car accident had requested I do a wake service on Friday, as well as a funeral outside of Mass and graveside rite on Saturday.

Although the timing wasn’t the best for me, I couldn’t say no when they told me the young man had been one of my daughter’s classmates at Jesus the Good Shepherd. When I hung up the phone, I began to pray.

I was overwhelmed by three things –– the power of the Holy Spirit to comfort us; the beauty of our funeral rites; and just how families like this, at times like these, need and rely on their faith and their church.

I can’t tell you what I said in my welcome remarks or in my reflection that day at the wake service, or the next day at the funeral, but the family said it was perfect. Here is the point – it wasn’t me, it was the Holy Spirit.

Deacon Bill Kleinpeter: I Claim You for Christ
St. Joseph Parish, Mansfield & St. Ann Church, Stonewall

I had the privilege to officiate at four baptisms this year. The first was at the Sunday Mass, the second and third were two 6-year-old girls and the fourth was at St. Edmund’s in Lafayette. They were all special to me, but the first and fourth were two of my newest granddaughters, born this year.
After ordination, I began really paying attention to the words that are spoken at Mass and in the sacraments. At Baptism, after the parents and godparents proclaim their willingness of accepting the responsibility of raising the child in his or her faith, the priest or deacon says these awesome words, “My dear children, the Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In its name I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of his cross.”

I have discovered during the last few years as a deacon that the words in our liturgy have profound beauty and meaning. I challenge each of us to really pay attention at Mass and the sacraments and I will guarantee that you will increase your understanding and appreciation of the Church’s liturgy.

Deacon Jack Lynch: A Crooked Path Made Straight
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Shreveport

In April of this year, I officiated at the wedding of one of my stepdaughters in Texas. Getting her to the altar that spring day was accompanied by a few challenges.

Going to the Engaged Encounter was not a problem, and Sarah’s future husband, Brian, who was raised in a non-denominational church, agreed to be married in the Catholic Church. The next step for them was to go through the Marriage Preparation classes, which they also completed. However, this is where bumps in the road began to occur. The priest who took them through the marriage prep was transferred and also went on sabbatical and could not be reached.

Another priest from another parish had to be contacted in order to complete the paperwork and submit it to the archdiocesan offices in Austin.  A couple of days before the wedding, a package from Austin finally arrived with the necessary documentation. During this time, it was also discovered that Brian did not have a baptismal certificate. So, two weeks before the wedding, Brian attended a church where he was baptized.

The wedding was held at Sacred Heart Church, a historic Czech country church. It was a beautiful ceremony with the groomsmen in their tux tops and blue jeans and the bridesmaids with their lavender chiffon dresses and cowgirl boots.

The Diocese of Shreveport is launching a new formation for Permanent Deacons beginning in September of 2017. For more information on this new formation, please contact Deacon Clary Nash, director, at 318-868-4441, or go to

Give Christmas Blessings Through Catholic Charities of North Louisiana

This Christmas season, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana invites you to honor your family members, friends and coworkers with a Christmas Blessing donation. For a donation of $15 or more per person, we will send a personalized card to people on your Christmas list acknowledging your gift. All proceeds received from the Christmas Blessing campaign will go towards the many programs that serve the thousands of clients every year.
To purchase your Christmas Blessing cards, please send a minimum gift of $15 per card to CCNLA, 331 E. 71st Street, Shreveport, LA 71106 (ATTN: Christmas Blessings).  You can email your list of names to  Online donations can be made through our website at  Each name on your list will receive a personalized card with your name in a hand-addressed envelope.  For more information, please contact Catholic Charities at 318-865-0200, ext. 101.

Msgr. Graef’s Chalice and Paten Find Home in Uganda

by Bonny Van

Every Sunday, when Fr. Gregory Owor lifts his chalice during the Eucharistic prayer at a village church in Uganda, he is not only blessing the Blood of Christ, he is saying a special prayer for a former Louisiana priest.  That’s because the chalice he is raising once belonged to that priest, Msgr. Franz Graef, whose gift is allowing the African priest to share eternal life with thousands of others.

Graef died in June while visiting family in Heidelberg, Germany.  He was 85-years-old.  “Years ago, Franz said he wanted his chalice to go to someone or a church who couldn’t afford one,” said long-time friend Christie Weeks.  “He had a great concern for people who were disadvantaged.  It was another part of his ministry.”

Msgr. Franz Graef grew up in Heidelberg, Germany, attending Mass with his family at the U.S. army base. “He got to know the priest at the base who was from the Diocese of Alexandria-Shreveport,” says Weeks.  “So, Franz decided he would study to become a priest for the Alexandria Diocese.”

The journey of the gold-plated chalice and paten began in 1957, when Fr. Graef took Holy Orders while studying at the Collegium Canisianum in Innsbruck, Austria.  To commemorate the event, his family commissioned a silversmith from the Heidelberg region to make the set.  It was housed in a velvet-lined carrying case.

After graduation in 1958, with chalice and paten in hand, Graef immigrated to the U.S. and began his ministry.  Over the years, his appointments included pastoring at churches throughout north and central Louisiana; teaching posts at Maryhill Seminary (Pineville), Notre Dame Seminary (New Orleans) and Centenary College (Shreveport); and, director of religious education for the diocese.  In 1989, he was named an Honorary Prelate of the Holy Father with the title of Reverend Monsignor.

Msgr. Franz Graef

While at Notre Dame, Fr. Graef met student Deogratias Ekisa of Uganda. “He was a good teacher.  He wanted us to apply deep theology to people’s daily lives,” recalls Fr. Deo, who now teaches the same courses once taught by Fr. Graef.

It was that friendship that led to the final journey of the chalice and paten.  Christie Weeks, along with her husband Bill, took care of Fr. Graef for more than two decades as friends, neighbors and surrogate family members.  Christie was named executrix of Fr. Graef’s property.

“Franz always thought a great deal of Fr. Deo,” says Christie.  “So, after the Memorial Mass at St. John’s Cathedral, I told him that Fr. Graef wanted him to take the chalice and paten and give it to a church in need.”

In August 2016, Fr. Deo took the precious gift to Uganda and presented it to Fr. Gregory Owor, who was ordained August 6th and serves in Fr. Deo’s home parish in the Archdiocese of Tororo.

Fr. Deo says it’s very “helpful” for a priest in that part of the world to have his own chalice.  “There are so many churches, priests go to a village once every two months,” he says.

Fr. Gregory sent his heartfelt appreciation for the set in an email to Fr. Deo:  “…thanks to your generosity, (I) am now comfortably celebrating Mass for the people of God here in Dabani Parish on (a) daily basis using this chalice and also praying for Msgr. Franz Graef.  I used to ask myself where could I get a chalice to celebrate Mass for the people, but now, although I do not have a full Mass kit, in my bag I proudly pack the chalice and reach out to the people with ease.  Yours in Christ, Fr. Gregory Owor.”

Vocations View: Seminarian Holds Special Devotion to Saint John Berchmans, Patron of Altar Servers

by Kelby Tingle, Seminarian

Seminarian Kelby Tingle and Fr. Peter Mangum, Rector of the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans at the tomb of St. John Berchmans in Rome.

Before entering seminary, I spent four years as an altar server at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans, the patron of altar servers. What I experienced and learned there has been invaluable to my discernment to the priesthood, and I am most grateful. Of these experiences, many involve our Cathedral’s patron, St. John Berchmans. His story is one of love and holiness, obedience and prayer. His desire to so deeply love God was evident to all who got even a glimpse of him. During his life, many people had a deep admiration and respect for the saintly youth who answered God’s call to serve Him as a priest. Even today, he continues to inspire people to strive for holiness and to find a relationship with God. Saint John continues to be, for me, an inspiration and role model.

I remember with fondness our annual week-long altar server leadership camps that taught us more about reverently serving at the altar of God. Time was always devoted to teaching the younger servers about the life of St. John Berchmans because not only is he our Cathedral patron, but he is the patron of altar servers as well! To know how readily and faithfully our patron served at the altar inspired us all to worship God well as we serve at His altar. Indeed, before every Mass at the Cathedral, the altar servers ask St. John Berchmans to intercede for them as they prepare to serve at God’s altar. To this day, I still ask him to intercede for me when I serve at the altar and as I study for the priesthood. I pray that like him, I may have a beautiful relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary, a strong love for the Eucharist and be conscientious concerning the ordinary things of life.
When I think of St. John Berchmans, I think of a young man, close to my age, who selflessly loved God and so longed to do all things for the great glory of God.

During the summer of 2015, while on a pilgrimage to Rome, I prayed at the tomb of St. John Berchmans and visited the room where he lived during his formation. How overwhelming and spiritually rewarding this was for me! In his room, I remember thinking that this is where my role model, who I ask to intercede for me quite often, actually lived. I will cherish the opportunity to pray before his tomb, stand in his room, and to serve in the chapel where he professed his first vows.

In a few days, we will have the most joyful opportunity to welcome to our diocese the heart of St. John Berchmans, the very heart that loved and desired God so fully. How awesome and providential that the heart arrives at the Cathedral on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, whom he so loved! I pray that by seeing and venerating this most holy saint’s heart, our own hearts will be greatly inspired and continue to grow in love for God and His Church.

Interested in a vocation to the priesthood or religious life? Contact Fr. Matthew Long, Director of Vocations, 318-868-4441, or

Second Collections for Infirm Priests & Religious

Announcement Dates: November 27th & December 13th
Collection Dates: December 10th & 11th

Our first opportunity to show mercy in the new liturgical year is to “Please give to those who have given a lifetime.”  That phrase remains the theme for the Retirement Fund for Religious.  Today, many senior religious continue to be vessels of mercy, serving in a wide range of volunteer and prayer ministries. Others are frail and need our assistance. Most older religious ministered for small stipends, leaving a substantial gap in their retirement savings. With the ever-rising cost of healthcare and an increased number of those needing care, many religious communities struggle to provide for aging members.  Please give to those who have given a lifetime.

Your gift to the Retirement Fund for Religious collection provides vital support for medications, nursing care and more.  It also helps religious communities implement long-term retirement strategies that ensure both quality eldercare and continued service to the people of God. One of the lessons we gratefully learned from this past Year of Mercy is that these women and men religious, through their service and witness, modeled the compassionate love of Jesus and showed us that we can also be instruments of peace and mercy.  Thank you for your participation in the Retirement Fund for Religious.

Announcement Dates: December 11th & 18th  
Collection Dates: December 24th & 25th

Our second opportunity to show mercy in this new liturgical year is to donate joyfully to our Diocesan Infirm Priests’ Fund.  The story and needs of our infirm diocesan priests is similar to that of retired women and men religious. They have been steadfast models of the compassionate love of Jesus. Continuing the work of mercy beyond the Jubilee Year is to live out and demonstrate God’s gracious care for our infirmed priests. The Diocesan Infirm Priests’ Fund collection blesses us with the opportunity to show generous mercy in the care of the priests of our diocese who have so lovingly served us.

This year, we honored with Christian burial two of our retired priests, our beloved Father Roger McMullen and our beloved Msgr. Franz Graef.  With great love, wisdom, kindness and mercy they lived out their priestly vocations close to the Lord Jesus and perfumed with the odor of their flocks.  In their senior years, they and their loved ones constantly expressed gratitude for the love, attention and assistance they were given.

Our remaining retirees, Fr. Walter Ebarb, Fr. Richard Lombard, Fr. Joseph Puthuppally, Fr. John Kennedy, Fr. Patrick Scully and Fr. Kenneth Williams are depending on us.  A few of our active priests struggle with medical issues as well.  Whether it is long or short term maladies, or the natural decline which is part of the aging process, the infirmed priests of the Diocese of Shreveport are strengthened by our prayers and assistance. Your participation in our Diocesan Infirm Priests’ Fund collection is that ongoing Spiritual and Corporal Mercy that brings strength and joy to them. Thank you for your participation in the Diocesan Infirm Priests’ Fund Collection.

Navigating the Faith: Relics

Relics – The Catholic Church’s Earthly Reminder of Divine Mercy and Saving Grace
by Fr. Rothell Price, Vicar General

Relic of Blessed Margaret Castello at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Columbus, Ohio

The relic of the heart of Saint John Berchmans will be brought to the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans on December 8. The arrival of the heart presents us with a wonderful opportunity to look more devotedly at the presence of relics in the life of our holy Catholic faith.

We Judeo-Christians have a long history with sacred objects that help us be mindful of the presence of God and rightly offer Him praise and worship. For our Jewish ancestors, the Ark of the Covenant was their most important sacred object constantly linking them with God, their Creator and Liberator. Later, the Temple in Jerusalem became their most sacred object where they connected with God through various forms of sacrifice. The Scrolls of the Torah are the central sacred object today uniting them to God in devotion.

For Catholics and our Protestant brothers and sisters, some form of the cross is our commonly held sacred object. As the Holy Apostle Paul said, “But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ….”  Galatians 6:14.  Catholics have a great devotion to the crucifix, while Protestants have a great devotion to the cross. A crucifix is a cross with the corpus or body of Jesus on it.  A cross does not include the body of Christ. A crucifix may contain Jesus still alive in his final agony, or the lifeless body of Jesus after commending his spirit into the hands of the Father. The fish or ICHTHYS is another symbol of Jesus shared by Catholics and Protestants.

Relics are the body, a portion of the body, or some item intimately connected with a saint that is reverently kept and displayed for the spiritual encouragement of the Christian faithful.  The religious tradition of venerating the relics of saints began with the custom of solemnly burying and caring for their graves. (Catholic Customs & Traditions: A Popular Guide, 113). This veneration was extended to the exhumed clothes, dust taken from their graves, and objects that touched the body of saints. The Church goes to great lengths to verify the authenticity of relics and greatly discourages items of legend as well as superstitious practices associated with them.

The first relics in the Church were the bodies and graves of the martyrs.  The Christian faithful retrieved the bodies of slain Christians from the Circus Maximus, Coliseum and other sites of persecution and execution. They began to build altars over the interred remains of the martyrs, or incorporated the container holding the body in the base of the altar. At a later time a portion of the bone from a martyr was incorporated into the mensa, or top of the altar.  On your next visit to your parish church, reverently go to the altar, lift up the white cloth covering the top of the altar to see if there lies an altar stone.  A relic of the saint of that church may be visible in a small metal case with a glass top, or, you may see a small circular spot where the relic has been placed inside the altar stone. If needed, ask your priest or someone from the office for assistance.

Someone once posed to me a stimulating question: “How are relics different from the remains of a cremated person a family has placed in an urn or divided into lockets?” I can give you several differences.

One, a relic is of a saintly person as so declared by the Church as distinct from the beloved remains of a cherished loved one. Two, the relic of a saint is intended for the spiritual encouragement of all the Christian faithful in their devotion to God, rather than individual encouragement.  Three, a relic serves the purpose of inciting a person to prayer and praise rather than consoling remembrance of a deceased loved one.  Four, venerating the relic of a saint reaffirms our belief in the communion of saints, the saints in heaven, joined to the saints on earth, joined to the saints in purgatory, not just the life of this one beloved individual.  Five, venerating a relic animates a person to imitate a particular saint in their love, service and witness to Jesus Christ.

There are three classes of relics in the Church:

First class relics are the actual and authenticated body or part of a body of a saint.
Second class relics are articles of clothing or some other article used by a saint.
Third class relics are any object(s) touched by a first class relic.

As the heart of St. John Berchmans comes to our Cathedral named to the glory of God in His honor, may this first class relic move us to a greater devotion to Our Lord, a more ardent love for His holy people who are the Church, and greater witness to the Father’s mercy that gives us life.  May God be praised in His saints.

Domestic Church: Celebrating Advent During Advent

by Katie Sciba

It was a couple of years ago that we started putting effort toward celebrating Advent during Advent and waiting for Christmas to deck our halls. Truly waiting for Christmas cultivated my sense of liturgical seasons within the Catholic Church, and on a superficial level I found I wasn’t tired by December 25th as with Christmases of yore.

Did you know that the Christmas Feast lasts until Epiphany and the Christmas season until the Baptism of the Lord? And there are some perks to celebrating Advent during Advent and Christmas during Christmas.

Advent Decor in Church Doesn’t Throw You Off
Usually our home was streamed with whites and reds right after Thanksgiving, but then we’d walk into church each Sunday of Advent and see modest decor with purple and rose candles, a gentle reminder that we were slightly off in our celebrations. There hasn’t been much liturgical discord between our parish and house in recent years, which has really added to our feeling of…

Focusing on Advent during Advent and abstaining from Christmas celebrations until Christmas ups my appreciation. The carols in Mass are more joyful. It’s exciting to see the church and my own house covered in poinsettias and evergreens and the nativity on display; the liturgical readings are richer and the overall sense of joy is almost tangible. It’s easier to be immersed in Christmas spirit and humbled by the the Incarnation.

Major Discounts
Putting up the fake tree on Christmas Eve, we saw it was ruined by exposure to southern elements. We didn’t have a tree Christmas Day, but the rest of our festive decor made up for it and I was able to buy a new tree for a song on the 26th instead of paying well over $100 beforehand.

Ideal for Procrastinators & Perfectionists
Preparations don’t have to send your blood pressure sky high. The heavenly host glorified God proclaiming “peace and good will,” not “anxiety and fatigue.” My holiday food plans consist of breakfast casserole, an egg nog family recipe and crockpot hot chocolate. I now take advantage of the whole season for my to-dos. I send cards after the 25th (they’re still on time!). My menu is spaced over several days instead of crammed into one, because part of the gift in any home or culinary preparation is the peace with which its presented.

While the whole experience of giving due observance to the Advent and Christmas seasons was fantastic, it was a challenge to hold off on what was habitual not only for our family, but for society at large. Knowing that what we were doing was simultaneous with what the Catholic Church as a whole was doing made it fun and a goal worth striving for.

Faithful Food: The Extraordinariness of Christmas Eve

by Kim Long

My siblings and I had a regular childhood for the time. No  sojourns to Wal-Mart, no gifts lavished on us except on Christmases and birthdays. Our days were taken up with school, homework, chores, going to church and playing outside a good portion of the time.

The exception to the ordinary in our family was Christmas Eve, for which my grandmother’s home went through a magnificent transformation.
By December 22, my grandmother’s house was operating at a fever pitch. She was finishing the last touches on the long dresses for my sister and myself, snipping threads and taking last minute measurements. The house was completely transformed into something beyond our regular mundane and lovely world. There was glitter, candles, tapers and bayberry, and Christmas towels hung in the bathroom. Her china, crystal, silver and linen came out. All was polished within an inch of its life.

For months she had been scanning the pages of Ladies Home Journal and Better Homes and Gardens for new recipes that would be just for us to feast upon on Christmas Eve. No ingredient proved too exotic, no produce to costly. She was a planner and her family was frugal for 11 months, but they would feast this night.

The women wore cocktail attire, my father donned a suit and tie and my baby brother’s suit was a miniature of his. My sister and I wore beautiful velvet dresses with black patent leather shoes.

Immediately before the relatives assembled, every candle in the house was lit.  In the kitchen my grandmother poured the eggnog into the chilled bowl and whipped cream floated on the surface in pillowy mounds over which she grated nutmeg. I can still see her hands, one on the box grater and one holding the hard brown nutmeg, and a powder of exotic fragrance drifted over the stark creaminess.

My sister and I were allowed to serve eggnog in tiny demitasse cups from a small punch bowl. As we carefully ladled out the heavy sweet concoction, I felt as though I were presenting a gift to royalty so arrayed were we.

The nativity set was set up on the buffet and I passed it many times during the season. At home we didn’t put baby Jesus in the creche until we got home, but here he was swaddled, dressed for our party, a welcome guest.

She made her family feel like royalty that one night each year. We were special in a way no ordinary day could bear. This was Christmas Eve. We were not spoiled nor petted over much, but on this night we were transfigured; we were sure of ourselves and we thought life would always be warm, exotic and special. Santa Claus always played second chair to this experience. Presents were fun and I liked them, but this evening, this atmosphere, was a pure gift.

I don’t know if I can recreate it, but I am shaped by it and transfigured with each passing year. There are ordinary days aplenty, and the appreciation and joy I feel for them are shaped by a night 40 years ago in a house on a corner lot when heaven came down.

Here I share with you a dish for your Christmas Eve table – a bread whose origins lie in Belgium, the home of St. John Berchmans.

Verviers Bread

• 1 tbsp. active dry yeast
• 1/4 cup lukewarm water
• 1/4 cup granulated sugar
• 1 cup milk
• 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
• 2 eggs slightly beaten
• 4 1/2 cups flour
• 1 cup of small sugar cubes

1) Sprinkle yeast in lukewarm water with 1 tsp. sugar.
2) Scald milk and add rest of granulated sugar.
3) Add stick of butter to melt in the milk.
4) Add salt. Let stand until lukewarm.
5) Blend yeast with milk mixture.
6) Stir in 2 eggs and add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until dough is smooth.
7) Add the sugar cubes to dough and turn on a floured board, adding more flour if dough seems sticky. Knead a couple of minutes to incorporate sugar cubes.
8) Place dough in a large buttered bowl, cover with a towel and let rise for an hour, until doubled in bulk.
9) After dough has doubled, knead a few minutes and divide into two equal pieces.
10) Butter two round 8 inch cake pans and shape the dough into pans. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise again in a warm place for 45 minutes.
11) Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until nicely browned.