Thursday 9 February 2023

Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas - Catherine de Hueck Doherty - Seasonal Customs Vol. 1

Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas 
Seasonal Customs Vol. 1
Mary Bazzett (Editor)
ISBN 9780921440383
ISBN 9781897145180
eISBN 9781897145395

This is the second volume I have read from Catherine de Hueck Doherty. It was a new volume I picked up for Advent in 2022 and it carried over until 2023. I spent a few days at Madonna House in the early 1990’s. I am familiar with her name but had yet to read much from her pen. After reading this one I have already added a few of her other books to my wish list, and easily could have added a dozen. The eBook was released in 2012; the fourth printing was in 2008. This volume from Doherty was compiled from her works and talks. The description of this volume is:

“Discover how Christians celebrated Christmas before the days of television, shopping malls, and the Internet...Catherine Doherty is well known for reviving many holy Christian traditions. In Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas, Catherine's three-in-one book on this most expectant of holiday seasons, you'll receive wonderful gifts:

Meaningful and heartwarming stories, the telling of which will surely become a family Christmas tradition. Including: The Little Christmas Angel O'Ryan, How Pride Became Humble, The Christmas Gift, Christmas in Harlem, The Bruised Reed, and others. Customs which you can adopt into your own Christmas celebration, such as: The Advent Wreath, The 'O' Antiphons, Baking Christmas Foods and Decorating, and The Blessing of The Christmas Tree. Traditions surrounding important Advent and Christmas feast days are presented, including: St. Nicholas, The Immaculate Conception, Feast of the Holy Family, New Year's Eve, Epiphany, and more. Earthy and inspiring meditations to prepare the entire family for Christ's coming, including: A Candle in Our Hearts, Little Things, The Gurgle of a Baby, Where Love Is God Is, Looking into the Child's Eyes, Advent: A Modern Bethlehem, A Short Season--A Long Journey, and many more. Volume two of this series is Season of Mercy: Lent and Easter Meditations and Traditions by Catherine Doherty also available.”

And the sections in the book are:

1. Meditations
     The Meaning of Advent
     Advent in Old Russia
     A Short Season—A Long Journey
     Our Lady’s Pregnancy—and Ours
     A Candle in Our Hearts
     Advent—A Time of Faith
     Turning Our Face to Christ
     Bells and Donkeys
     The First Church Bell
     Repentance—Preparing a Way for the Lord
     The Alms of Loving Words
     Poverty and Prayer
     The Reality of Christ’s Poverty
     One Precious Gift
     Giving of Ourselves
     Flowering Advent Hearts
     Little Things
     St. Joseph and Hope
     Where Love Is, God Is
     Christmas and Healing
     Looking Into The Child’s Eyes
     Journeying with Mary to Bethlehem
     Being In Tune with God
     Childlike Hearts—Mangers for Christ
     The Gurgle of a Baby
     A Modern Bethlehem
     Is Your Heart Ready for Christmas?
     Silent Night—Holy Night
     Christmas Eve
     O Night of Holy Splendor!
     The Angels Sing Alleluia
     Being Christ-Centered

2. Customs & Feasts
     The Advent Wreath
     Blessing the Advent Wreath
     December 6 - Feast of St. Nicholas
     December 8 - Feast of the Immaculate Conception
     December 12 - Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
     December 13 - Feast of St. Lucy
     December 17–23 - The ‘O’ Antiphons
     Christmas Decorating
     Baking Christmas Foods
     Singing Christmas Carols
     Blessing of the Christmas Tree
     Christmas Eve
     December 27 - Feast of St. John the Beloved
     December 28 - Feast of the Holy Innocents
     The Feast of the Holy Family
     December 31—New Year’s Eve
     January 1 - Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
     Feast of the Epiphany
     The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

3. Stories
     The Christmas Gift
     Christmas Without Christ
     How Pride Became Humble
     The Bruised Reed
     A Woman, a Child, and Christmas
     First Christmas in Combermere
     The Little Christmas Angel O’Ryan
     Christmas in Harlem
     About the Author

We are informed in the dedication thattwo of the stories are by other authors, they are:

The Christmas Angel O’Ryan by Eddie Doherty
The Bruised Reed by Jude Fischer

The layout of the book made it difficult. Some reflections have specific dates, most do not. Because of this I ended up jumping around a bit. I loved the stories at the end, they are excellent. In the forward it states:

“A wisp of wood smoke curls lazily into the cold, clear sky near the little village of Combermere, Ontario. It is November, or perhaps December, and the members of the Catholic lay community founded by Catherine Doherty are observing Advent and, soon, the Christmas season.

It is a warm, family time for them. The winter chill outside, amid pines and birches on the Madawaska River, contrasts with the toasty warmth of the buildings inside. There is a sense of quiet expectancy. It is a peaceful, hope-filled time of waiting until the holy feast of Christ’s birth is celebrated. A joyous Twelve Days of Christmas follows, giving festive expression to the miracle of the Incarnation.
The hiddenness of Nazareth prevails at Madonna House, as the simple joys of Jesus’ coming are celebrated. Without the glitz and glitter of commercialism, it is easier to find the essence of the holy season. The community members live the Gospel as their foundress taught them, in humble, poor surroundings, depending on donations from benefactors for clothing and other necessities. Yet their hearth and hearts are open in hospitality, hosting dozens of guests for the Christmas holidays.

In the following pages, you will read how Madonna House prepares for and celebrates Christmas, from the words of Catherine to her staff, as well as through seasonal customs and traditions. It is my hope that you will bring some of these traditions into your own home, wherever you may be. In the city or country, with a large family or living alone, there are ideas and meditations here that are shared to enrich your walk with Christ. They are ways to ‘enflesh’ the Gospel, as Catherine would say.

Enfleshing the Gospel was what Catherine de Hueck Doherty’s life was all about. Born in 1896 to a wealthy family in Old Russia, Catherine learned from her mother’s knee to live the Gospel. She learned that to serve the poor was a privileged way to touch Christ, and she never forgot it.”

And that forward ends with:

“As you read now, imagine yourself listening to her words as she speaks to you. Join with the Madonna House staff for a cup of tea, and listen as she talks about Advent and Christmas. Join the staff as they gather to decorate, or prepare for Mass, or celebrate the feast days of the season. Imagine the aromas of spicy gingerbread baking and pungent pine decorations. Bring your loved ones along, and listen as Catherine tells stories of her girlhood home in Russia or of her days working among the poor in Harlem; or listen to Eddie’s incomparable yarn of an Irish angel. Listen as Catherine speaks to you through the pages ahead. Listen closely and you will hear the bell of the donkey. Listen, and learn the rich, varied traditions that are yours for the taking—yours as a believer in the God who came to earth, so humbly and so quietly—the God who, for our sake, became a human baby in a cave in Bethlehem.”

Over the years I have read and reviewed numerous advent books, some once and done other over 15 times and counting. The advent I read this I paired back and only read this and one other volume. A sample reflection is:

The Meaning of Advent

Advent is a strange word. It means ‘coming’. An advent is something that is ‘arriving soon’. When we have something coming, when we expect an event, an advent, we are usually alert inside. We are listening. My family is coming for Christmas and I am in the country, and I am listening for the sound of a car. It is a special car, and I am filled with a special listening. 

Advent is such a beautiful season. It is a time for renewal; it is especially a time for forgiveness because God brings His forgiveness to us in the shape of His Son. The Church year begins with the first Sunday of Advent. And every time it comes around, my heart thrills anew.

For me, the word ‘advent’ has a double connotation. It means the arrival of a new liturgical season, the preparatory time for Christmas, for ‘the coming of Our Lord’ as a Child on earth, for His incarnation in time. But it also means that other advent—the parousia, the second coming of Christ, in glory, at the end of the world. That is an advent which Russian hearts long for and expect. They hope it will happen in their lifetime, but, even if it doesn’t, they rejoice that it will happen in someone else’s lifetime.

These two Advents blend in my soul, mind, and heart. They bring a hunger and a longing that beggars words, for they are the seasons of expectation. Expectation of what? Of whom? To me, of the Tremendous Lover, of the Lord, Christ.

To me, the bells of this season, whenever they ring, either for Mass or for the Angelus, always have the joyous sound of wedding bells. For Advent is ‘the springtime of love’, when the soul awaits her Lover, knowing deep down that He is coming and that He will make her His own!

This knowledge is unshakable. It is based on a faith that is immovable, filled with a knowledge that is found, not in books, but in the prayer of silence, the prayer of love.
To meet this Lover, our Bridegroom, we must be awake for Him. In his letter to the Romans (13:11–14), St. Paul calls us in a loud voice to arise from our sleep! Our salvation is nearer than we believed; the night has passed, and the day is at hand. This call of his means now! Today! Every day of the year, every hour of every day is the hour for us to arise from our sleep.

We have so many ‘sleeps’. We have that strange inner sleep that wants to escape from whatever we have to conduct in the marketplace with the powers of secularism. And we have that other emotional sleep that drags us into bed (literally, if we only could get there) to escape an even bigger fight with the powers of darkness within ourselves. For we know that we have to ‘die to self’ so that we may live in Christ, and this is hard for us to face.

We also have to fight the simple sleep of weariness that any vocation places on the shoulders of its members—weariness of body, weariness of mind, and weariness of soul.

Yes, St. Paul is right: we must arise from our sleep. Let us come out of the night of our emotions—the night of our anger, of our hostility, of all those negativities within us. Let us walk in the daylight of simplicity, of friendship, of forgiveness, of understanding, of tenderness and gentleness to one another.

Advent is a time for this arising. It is such a joyous season, such a loving season! Let us enter into its joy.”

This is an excellent volume and one I know I will return to again. I might read this again next year or allow a skip year. I have decided I will pick up the companion volume Season of Mercy: Lent and Easter Seasonal Customs Vol. 2 to read this upcoming Lent. Many of the pieces in this volume are moving. All are well written. It is a book any Catholic, any Christen would benefit from reading over the Advent and Christmas season. A book I can easily recommend.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan

Books by Catherine de Hueck Doherty:
Apostolic Farming
Beginning Again: Recovering Your Innocence through Confession
Bogoroditza: She Who Gave Birth to God
Dear Father
Dear Seminarian
Dearly Beloved: Letters to the Children of My Spirit (3 Vol.)
Fragments of My Life
God in the Nitty-Gritty Life
Grace in Every Season
In the Footprints of Loneliness
In the Furnace of Doubts
Light in the Darkness
Living the Gospel Without Compromise
Molchanie: The Silence of God
Moments of Grace (perpetual calendar)
My Russian Yesterdays
Not Without Parables: Stories of Yesterday, Today and Eternity
On the Cross of Rejection
Our Lady’s Unknown Mysteries
People of the Towel and Water, The
Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer
Re-Entry Into Faith
Sobornost: Unity of Mind, Heart and Soul
Soul of My Soul: Coming to the Heart of Prayer
Strannik: The Call to the Pilgrimage of the Heart
Uródivoi: Holy Fools

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