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Monday, October 31, 2011

A Month of Gratitude

Click the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast. And check back tomorrow for a new Gracieland.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ask Ellen- What is the apocrypha? -Cindy, NC

Great question, Cindy. Thanks. The Apocrypha is a name given by some to the seven books that have been removed from Protestant Bibles. Catholics do not call these books the Apocrypha because they are part of our Bible. The books are: Sirach, Tobit, Wisdom, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and Baruch, as well as longer versions of Daniel and Esther

To put it in the simplest terms I can, Luther and many after him rejected these books based on the fact that they were not part of the Hebrew Canon at the time of the Reformation. Most Protestant Bibles do not contain these seven books or have them in section in the back known to them as The Apocrypha.

The Catholic Bible accepts the books for two reasons. Firstly, the Jewish Canon was not fixed in Jesus’ time. Therefore, we cannot be completely sure which books were included. But more importantly, the first Christians, including Paul, used the Septuagint to preach to the Greek-speaking world. This version contained these seven books. Jesus Himself actually quoted Scripture from the Septuagint. When the Catholic Church developed its canon it used the Greek translation of the Septuagint that the Apostles and early Church Fathers used which included these books.

If you’d like to learn more about this, I recommend the following article:

Oh and one more thing that bugs Ask Ellen….If you throw out Maccabees, how do you explain Hanukkah? It seriously perplexes me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When Life Throws A Curve

I plan the AGOG weeks about a month out. I must admit a month ago I hoped that this would be a week dedicated to talking about my favorite team, the Philadelphia Phillies, in the World Series. As many of you know this is not the case. The Phillies were eliminated weeks ago. If you do not follow baseball, this might mean nothing to you. If you do know something about baseball, you probably know that the Phillies had the best record in baseball and were the favorites of many to win it all. But, if you are a Phillies fan, you might have known better than the experts.

As a lifelong Phillies fan, I have grown accustomed to disappointment. For most of my life, the Phils simply stunk. This has not been the case in recent history. Yet, almost all of the time, they fall short. This year was no exception.

Those closest to me were very concerned the days following the Phillies elimination. In past years this has not been pretty. There has been some whining and moping in my house. One friend asked before the last game, “If this doesn’t go your way, how bad is it going to be?” Another texted the morning after the loss, “How long of a mourning period?” So, you get the picture. But this year I refused to allow it. I knew I had to answer to you and I knew there had to be some moral lesson in it for Ask Ellen herself and for you, my gentle reader. But what was it? Obviously, we could discuss the fact that often when we are picked to win it, we fall short. Just look at Moses. He was certainly on top of his game. He led the whining Israelites faithfully for years. He lost his temper, struck the rock and boom…he was out. I see the similarities with the Phillies. They kept winning and winning until they couldn’t. In fact, they couldn’t even score one run to save themselves in the end. That happens. We all have bad days and blow a sure thing.

But I think the bigger lesson for me and maybe for you if you are a Phillies fan or have been through seasons of disappointment of any kind, is what to do with it. Let’s look at those same Israelites that Moses led. They suffered some disappointments. Wandering around in circles for forty years and not reaching the Promised Land sounds like it to me. What was their attitude? They grumbled, complained and whined. They looked down their noses on the things God gave them like manna and quail and shoes that never wore out. In short, their attitudes were in desperate need of adjustment.

Now I am not comparing the Phillies plot to the Israelites. Well, maybe I am. I do so tongue in cheek. But I think it holds a life lesson for any disappointments we experience. I admit it would be great if my biggest disappointment in life was Ryan Howard striking out. But it isn’t and there are far many worse ones to come. Yet, the lesson remains the same. There are no guarantees in life, even when you have the best record. Disappointments and tragedies happen. And we have a choice on how we deal with them. We can bitch and moan or we can dig deep and try to learn something. We can become stronger. We can help others who are going through the same thing. We can do what out mothers told us and “offer it up.” Sounds silly and trite but it is actually quite profound. We can simply say, “God, this didn’t go my way, but thanks anyway.”

I am very aware that is this much easier done over baseball than real life. But I hope you see my point. As for me, here’s what I plan to do about my beloved Phils: I will wander another forty years (God willing), cheering and being disappointed. Hoping every once in awhile for that sweet win. After all, they are sweeter when they are few and far between. And if you are looking for me in March, I will be at Spring Training because I’m not about to give up on my boys. Are you with me?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Gracieland Tuesday: We Will Be #1

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the page to reveal this week's webstrip.

Monday, October 24, 2011

World Series Week

Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast. Check back tomorrow for a new Gracieland webstrip.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ask Ellen: What is your favorite Christian song currently? Hope, ME

This is very difficult for me to answer. I love music and try to surround myself with it. I go through phases where I listen to one song over and over and then other times when I don’t listen to the song for months.

At this moment, I would say my favorite is “How Beautiful” by Twila Paris.

Cut and paste this link to hear the song:

The song came to my attention last year at a presentation at my daughter’s school. A family friend who is a Sister Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary came to school to do a presentation on vocations and in particular her order. She shared a video with this song in the background. The video was of Sisters taking care of fellow nuns who were old and infirm. The song showed how beautiful this was. They were taking care of their own. What made it more powerful for me is that these were the Sisters who educated me. I couldn’t help but think that some of those nuns that required care were Sisters who taught me. It comforted me to know that they were being cared for with such love and compassion.

That is what we are called to as the Body of Christ. We must be willing to pay the price. We need to have humble hearts that give.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Where Is Our Sense Of Belonging?

Fall is my favorite season of the year. I love the colors of the trees, the crisp nights with extra blankets and wearing my fuzzy sweaters again. We can learn a great deal about what Fall can mean by looking at the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. If you participated in our Book Club, you will remember that Jacobs built a booth in his living room and lived in for seven days. He was observing this Feast. The Book of Leviticus commanded the Jewish people to build booths made of palm branches and dwell in them for seven days. It was meant to remind them of God’s protection of them during their forty years wandering in the desert.

You may be thinking, “Great, Ellen, thanks for the ancient Religion lesson, but what does it have to do with me? I think this Feast can teach us three important lessons. The first is to use the cycles of nature to bring us closer to God. Secondly, it can teach us to look forward while we look back . Finally, it can help us renew our sense of belonging. Admit it, that is way deeper than a fuzzy sweater.

This Feast used the cycle of nature to bring people closer to God. At the end of their agricultural year, the Jews would gather the grapes. As a wine lover, this excites me. It is also called the Feast of Ingathering. To ingather is to bring together, to pick. Our culture does not ingather well. We like it on Facebook or tweet it and forget about it. This feast calls for us to intentionally pick what we choose to spend our time on. This week I’d like you to think about who you ingather and why? What changes could you make to let people know that you intentionally choose them?

The feast taught the Jews to look forward while looking back. At the “turn” of the year, or in our case when the leaves “turn” they were called to build tents and pause. The modest tents were to remind them of their humble past. They set aside a week to remember. They took the time to thank God for the harvest He provided. This was a reason for hope. As they examined God’s faithfulness in their lives, they remembered that He would continue to act on their behalf. Sometimes we need to look back to see where we are headed. This week pause and examine the ways God has moved in your life. It is in looking back that we see where we are headed.

This feast was communal. Everyone gathered the grapes. Entire neighborhoods were filled with these tents in yards and gardens and even on roofs. Water was poured down the Temple steps to symbolize the Jewish faith reaching out to the world. They took care of the poor among them, helping to make tents for them. They shared meals, prayer, singing and dancing. This renewed their sense of belonging.

We live in a world in desperate need of belonging. The more we connect digitally, the less we are ingathered. Fall and the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles gives us a reason to pause and reconnect. Choose some or all of the following suggestions and try to put them into practice during the Autumn season. If you do, I promise you will feel more connected to God, to yourself and those you pick.

1-Use nature to bring you closer to God
2-Gather in those you love and are most thankful for
3-Take a humble look at your past and God’s faithfulness in it
4-Define your hopes for what the next seasons will bring
5-Help the needy around you

Any or all of these will renew your sense of belonging as it did for the Israelites many years ago.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesdays In Gracieland

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the page to reveal this week's webstrip, Lost And Found.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fall Week

Welcome to another week at A Gift of Grace. This week we talk about Fall. Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Best Of Weeks" Continues...with a Q and A with the Co-Authers of Gracieland

Today, we post a Q and A explaining the origins of Gracieland with creators Ellen Toole Austin and Jimmy Gownley

Q: What inspired the creation of Gracieland?

Ellen: Jimmy was helping me create the AGOG website and my Mother-in-law suggested that we combine our talents and create something for Catholic kids.

Jimmy: I remember very clearly getting the call from Ellen. My favorite moment was when she suggested we do a "comic type thing." It was hilarious, because she couldn't QUITE bring herself to say "comic strip" or "comic book.

Ellen: Since most of my memories from high school involve Jimmy rambling on about things like Cerebus and Zot, I choked on my own words when I suggested the idea.

Jimmy: Which was mild really considering my first reaction to her suggesting it was to have an aneurysm. But once we both got used to the idea, it started to sound like fun.

Ellen: It is difficult for me to believe that less than a year later, I have a Scott McCloud book on my nightstand.

Q: How did you go about the actual work of developing the idea?

Jimmy: The first step was to create the characters. Obviously, this is the most important part of creating a new property, because people need to love the characters. But it can also be the most fun. One of the weird things about this particular project is that it was accomplished almost completely on Skype or over the phone as we live like five states away from each other.

Ellen: This was a totally new experience for me. This stuff is second nature to Jimmy. What struck me was how easy it was for me to catch up. The characters quickly took on lives of their own.

Jimmy: Actually, that was very surprising. Comics are an odd medium, and collaboration is always tricky. But it was unbelievably smooth, really. My main concern was to make sure that Gracie was not just a Catholic school version of Amelia McBride. I think we accomplished that. Gracie feels very much like her own person to me.

Ellen: Gracie was the focus from the beginning and she is very much her own person. I thought it was neat to see Anthony develop in the background only to emerge in his own way through Gracie's story.

Q: So tell us about these characters. What can we expect from them?

Ellen: Gracie is a free spirited second grader who gets into trouble quite a bit. Yet she has a sweet side and always wants to do the right thing. Plus I love the glimmer in her eye.
oh, and the band-aid

Jimmy: For me, the neat thing about Gracie, and the main difference between her and Amelia is that Gracie isn't quite as... ahead of the curve let's say... as Amelia is. But my favorite character might be her brother Anthony. Most of my characters tend to be boisterous eccentrics, and I love that he's a much more gentle and mild little boy.For me, the neat thing about Gracie, and the main difference between her and Amelia is that Gracie isn't quite as... ahead of the curve let's say... as Amelia is.

Ellen: Anthony is so sweet. As the mother of a son, he stole my heart but mostly because he loves baseball. Since the series will encompass the whole family and some of Anthony and Gracie's friends, I think that most people will find a character they relate to, both kids and adults.

Jimmy: Plus there's a dog, Donut. I resisted doing a "funny animal" for my whole career, but the thing I like drawing best in Gracieland is her dog, Donut. That's the type of thing that can only come out of collaboration... something that pushes you outside of the comfort zone of what you would normally do.

Q: Can you tell us about how a Gracieland strip is created?

Jimmy: Sure. The first thing we did was to just brainstorm a list of Catholic School things. We decided we really want to focus on that aspect a lot in the webstrip. Once we had the list, we whittled it down to the ones we thought would be the most fun to work on, and which would give us a chance to show off all of our characters. Then we would just take a topic and start looking at it through they eyes of these characters. Tossing scenarios and dialog back and forth between Ellen and myself. The whole time we're doing this, I'm doing sketches and taking notes. By the end of that process, we have a fully scripted and roughly sketched comic strip which I then take and do the finished art for.

Ellen: We are also working on a series of Gracieland books but publishing can be a slow process. We wanted to find a way to get the characters out quickly so we thought of the webstrip. People can follow Gracieland on while they wait for the next book to be published.

Question: When will people be able to meet Gracie and her friends, and how often will new strips be published?

Jimmy: There will be a new one every Tueday after that.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"Best Of" Ask Ellen: Why do Catholics Pray to Saints? Katie, ME

This is a confusing and frustrating question for many. Thanks for asking. I need to say right off the top….Catholics don’t pray TO anyone but God. And yes, that includes Mary! Let’s take God out of the equation…..I can’t believe I just said that!...and focus on the others hanging out in heaven.

An important and heady Catholic concept comes into play here…the Communion of Saints. Let me try to break it down. The Church is composed of three groups of people: those in heaven, those waiting to be called up (in Purgatory), and those of us down here still fighting the good fight. The Church teaches that we are all very connected and that this connection doesn’t end in death. That is what anyone who has lost a love one wants to believe so it would be hard to argue, right?

It is because of this connection that those of us still slugging through life look to those who did it right for help. And that is all we are asking them to do. They made it, they are before the Throne and just might hang out with Jesus from time to time. We, as Catholics, ask them to put in a good word for us.

Think of it this way…you know someone who is a great teacher in great school. You want to teach there too. You have a friend who works there and has earned the respect of the principal. Wouldn’t you ask him/her to point in a good word for you?

The great news is, we Catholics, have a saint for any situation you find yourself in. It doesn’t hurt to go ahead!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Best Of...Speak Your Faith

Yesterday we talked about Ariel giving up her voice to become human. God knows the power that our voices have. When they are used properly they can change the world.

We see the power of the voice in today’s Biblical Character Study. Today we meet Zechariah. Take a look at Luke 1:5-24 and 57-80.

Zak was a holy man and was also ancient. While doing his job in the Temple, an angel appears and tells him that his wife (also ancient) was going to have a baby. Not only that, this baby was to prepare the way for the Messiah (John the Baptist)

I have always felt sorry for Zak. He is stunned and simply asks “How can I know this?” This doesn’t go over well He expressed doubt. The angel Gabriel then tells our pal that he will lose his ability to speak until the baby is born. Ouch!

God obviously knows the power of our voices. And he can even take that away if we use it negatively. What do you use your voice for? Does it build up or tear down? Does it praise or complain? Does it speak faith or doubt?

The story concludes with the birth of John and Zechariah’s voice is restored. But he has learned his lesson. The first thing he does is speak blessing to God. He proceeds to prophecy about the Messiah. This is a man who now understood the power of his words.

Yesterday we focused on not allowing others to take our voices or willingly giving them up to please other people. Today we see what can happen if we use our voices negatively. God may not physically take your voice away but people will stop listening. If all you do is grumble, complain and live in fear, people will move on. If you are a positive person who is uplifting to be around, your voice will carry. Learn from Zechariah’s mistake and use your voice to speak your faith.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesdays Are In GRACIELAND

Click on the GRACIELAND icon on the bottom right of the page to see this week's webstrip. This week Mom has some Facebook issues.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Welcome To Another "Best Of" Week

If you missed our podcast on the origins of GRACIELAND please click on the Gracenotes link above to hear it. Check back tomorrow for a brand new Gracie webstrip!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Dude Week: Father Bill Labbe

Dude week continues as we ask Father Bill Labbe...

Father, you have pews full of gadget and sports obsessed dads who don't want to socialize much. How do you address the spiritual side of men?

A church full of sports and gadget obsessed guys would be a Sunday morning surprise. It would be akin to Lazarus coming out of the tomb. There is from my observation seat fewer dudes at Mass then there are woman. And the excuses guys give for missing Mass are sometimes very creative. I once had a man tell me he missed Mass because there was a NASCAR race he had to see. That having been said I do not believe that men are any less spiritual than woman. Like most thing a man lives his spirituality, his relationship with God inside himself, in his inmost thoughts and desires.
So how do we get a guy to share his faith and to show his spiritual side? First affirm his relationship with God. Affirm his desire to be faithful and to be in relationship with God. Then engage him where he is. I’ve often thought of having Bruins and bible nights. In between periods we can discuss the readings for the weekend or talk about a moral issue. Having a beer and wing night at a local watering hole and again incorporating our faith in our conversation does a couple of things. It requires the men to live their faith publicly and may give others the courage to do the same.
Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have stated that technology is great way of doing evangelization. Helping our men to find web sites that speak to the masculine mystique, that speak to a man’s way of thinking can go a long way in helping a man become more comfortable in expressing his faith. The web site comes to mind immediately.
The bottom line is that there are men of great faith in our midst. Encouraging them to share that faith is what is needed. Inviting them to Mass, inviting them to bible studies, inviting them to pray with you in ordinary times and ordinary ways may indeed lead them to express their extraordinary faith. As with all things it may take time as we men move quickly only when there are good seats or good food involved.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dude Week: Technology Animation!Dude week continues! Today we talk Technology with computer expert Jeff Wimer. And if you're gonna talk dude technology, it might as well be done in custom made 3d computer animation! Then "like" Jeff's company page at

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Male Bonding

Our Dude Week continues.  Jimmy in PA is our "expert" today.

Women like to socialize with each other.  In fact, we have parties, invite each other and spend money on stuff like jewelry, baskets and make-up just to have an excuse to be together.  Can you explain male bonding to us?

I'm pretty sure male bonding doesn't exist.

Or put it this way...

I'm CHOOSING TO BELIEVE male bonding doesn't exist.

See, there's no way a guy, or bunch of guys, came up with a term like “male bonding.” There is just no way! I mean, can you picture it?

“Hey Moose, Stubby, Big Joe... I just wanted youse ta know that I had a blast watchin' th' game wit youse. Th' taco dip wuz good, th' beer wuz cold, and NO CHICKS! Yep, this wuz some GREAT 'male bonding!' Now, pass th' swimsuit issue.”

No, you CAN'T picture it.

“Male bonding” was invented by advertising agencies and Hollywood studios who know how to sell junk to women, because women have long been the most desirable demographic for advertisers, but who had no idea how to sell their junk to men. Their solution? Just pretend the men WERE women and use the same tricks. Thus were coined awful terms like: “Male bonding” (blech!) “Man Cave” (Ugh!) and worst of all...


If you have used the term “Bromance” (even ironically) in actual social situations, I wish that Bruce Willis would come to your house, glare at you disapprovingly in that Pulp Fiction kinda way and then leave you knowing, forever and in your heart of hearts, that you disappointed David Addison.

Men don't gather in groups in order to get close to each other (Well, there are fraternaties. But those guys are so lame that we'll just consider them outlying data). They'll form specific groups to do specific things. They'll form a band. Not to get close to each other, but to play bad music loudly. They'll watch a football game together. Not to get close to each other, but to WATCH THE GAME!

Men WILL hang out with each other. “Hanging out” was obviously a male invention. But again, the point is not emotional intimacy (Gah! It pains me just to type the words!). The point is to do as little as possible for as long as possible. If other guys are there, great. If someone leaves, odds are the others will barely notice, and the hanging out will continue unaffected.

Sorry if that was a bit rambling.

I really do have to go now.

My good friend (Ed... Ed... umm... Ed something or other) is coming over.

We're gonna hang out.

I hope he brings taco dip!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tuesday is GRACIELAND Day

Click on the GRACIELAND card on the bottom right of the page to reveal today's webstrip.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Gift of Grace prevents it's first ever... Dude Week!

It has come to our attention that guys are also checking out our site. In honor of this, we welcome you to our first ever Dude Week. We have formed a panel of "experts" to give the male perspective on some of the questions women find most difficult to understand about men. Each day this week, our "experts" will answer your questions. Today our Sports "Expert" Michael from PA offers his perspective.

Michael- What is it about guys and sports? I get wanting to watch a game, but what is up with the fantasy teams, stats, video games and stuff like that?

The short answer: Guys play fantasy sports, obsess over complex stats, play video games and “stuff like that” because we spend most of our lives answering questions like this from wives, girlfriends, bosses, and other annoying people. 

The long answer is that when it comes to sports, guys spend so much time playing, watching, thinking about (mostly on the John) and reading about sports (usually when we are supposed to be working) that we convince ourselves we know more than the next guy, whether the next guy is our best friend (my best friend is a Jets fan, that alone tells me I know more than him) or the coach of our favorite football team (mine is Andy Reid, I do not know more about football than him). 

Nothing lets us display our delusions of grandeur like Fantasy Sports (or playing sports video games). Fantasy Sports or video games allow us to control everything. We can choose our team name, we can choose our players, we can call the plays, we can taunt our friends and we can make adult wagers to “make it interesting”. 

My guess is that women similarly obsess over things just as foreign to guys – shoes, The View, that god awful show with McDreamy and the girl from Old School – for similar reasons. It’s an escape from the routine. 

I’ll take Fantasy Sports, video games, stats and everything else over The View every day of the week and twice on Sundays!