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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Also...Dress Down Day

Celebrating Catholic Schools Week. If you're a Catholic School kid or parent, please share!  To view all the Gracieland strips check out

Tuesday Table Talk

What is special about Catholic Schools Week?

What is your favorite part of the week?

How does your school help you understand your faith?

How does it teach you to serve others?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Everyone Is So Untrue

Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast on Isaac and Rebekah and their "issue" Check back tomorrow for a brand-new Greetings From Gracieland celebrating Catholic Schools Week.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ask Ellen: Catholic Social Teaching #3

Theme 3: Rights and Responsibilities

Last week we discussed how we are all interconnected through society and through our families.  We learned that it is our responsibility to care for the poor among us.

This social teaching flows directly from the first two we discussed.  The Church teaches that every person not only has the right to life but also has the right to human decency.  What does this mean?  I would ask students to give examples of things humans need to live well.  Food, clothing, shelter, education, medical treatment etc.

The Church in this social teaching tells us that it is our right to have these things.  Yet, it is also our responsibility to make sure everyone else does as well.  I would explain that  being responsible means we will be asked to answer for it.  The Church tells us that God expects us to help  everyone have what they need to live.  Not only does He expect it, he makes it our job.  We will answer for how well we did this.

This would be an excellent teachable moment for you as a family or class to brainstorm ways you can help people acquire the basics for human decency.  I encourage you to have the students spring into action

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Must Read...

Recently I was asked to preview the book, “Icky and Cece and the Mysterious Mr. Thuan” by Donna Piscitelli.  I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity.  The book captured my attention as a former middle school teacher and as a parent of a middle school student.

Piscitelli takes the often heady and remote Catholic Social teachings to a level that middle school students can understand.  But more than that, she engages them in a interesting story that is not unlike their own.  She captures what makes middle school students unique in their desire to be accepted into a peer group while at the same time learning who they are within themselves.

Students will love the story and be struck by the lesson it provides.  I highly recommend you read it and share it with your middle school student.  It will provide wonderful discussions around your dinner table.  I’m passing it on to my daughter today.  It would be a great addition to any Catholic middle school curriculum. 

I am anxious to read what Donna writes next.

Here is the Amazon link to the book: 

For more information on Donna Piscitelli, visit:

Who Is Laughing Now?

Last week we met Abraham.  He caused us to pause and examine our own faith or lack thereof.    We can learn a great deal of Abraham’s example, but what about that of his wife, Sarai?

Biblical Scholar Alert- Often times in making a covenant with people God changes the call He has on their lives.  To reflect that, often times, God changes the person’s name.  We saw this when Abram became Abraham after entering into covenant with God.  This is why Catholics often take Confirmation names, to symbolize our change of stature within in the Church.

Abraham’s wife, Sarai has her name changed to Sarah, meaning “princess.”  This was to be a sign of her mission, to be the royal mother of all the descendants of Abraham.  You know, the ones he was to count the stars, only it was daytime. (see last week)

Read Genesis 18: 1-5

Sarah is eavesdropping on her husband, Abraham and these strange visitors.  She is old, very old.  Biologically way past being able to have kids.  When she hears that she will have a son, she laughs.

That is Sarah’s issue, her sense of humor.

How do the guests respond to her laughter?  They don’t chastise her.  They simply remind her that nothing is impossible for God.

A lot is revealed in this passage about God’s reaction to humor and laughter.  Far too many “super religious” people avoid humor at all costs.    Yet, in my experience with God, I can tell you that He has an incredible sense of humor.  For example, if someone told me a year and a half ago what I would be doing now, I would have laughed even harder than my girlfriend, Sarah.

So, what is humor?

Humor shows emotion.  Where have we gotten the idea that emotions should be hidden?  Sarah simply couldn’t hide her emotion.

Humor shows amusement and pleasure.  It inspires joy.  Who wouldn’t want to do that?
Learn to discover, express and appreciate what is funny!

When was the last time you really laughed?

Who do you laugh the most with?

Have you ever laughed with God?

Do you squash or inspire joy in those around you?

How can you express joy today?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Call Me

Click on the Gracieland icon at the bottom right of the page to see this week's webstrip, "Call Me."  To see all the other strips visit:

Tuesday Table Talk

Why was Anthony upset about snow days?

Do Gracie and Anthony really control the weather with what they wear?

Which priest would you call if you had a problem?

What is the problem with Anthony’s plan?

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Laugh Is On You

Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast on Sarah and her biblical sense of humor. Be sure to check back tomorrow for a brand new Greetings From Gracieland webstrip.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ask Ellen: Catholic Social Teaching: Theme 2: The Call To Family, Community and Participation

Last week we learned that the Church teaches that each life is sacred.  We addressed the many issues that should define the pro-life movement.  I challenged you to encourage your children to be consistent in the stand to protect all life, at all stages in all parts of the world.

This week students will see that each person is also interconnected to others.  We are a society.  We have laws, an economy, politics, a way we work, etc.  These things shape how humans live and whether or not they flourish.  I would ask children in what ways they have seen this to be true?

Families are part of society.  Families are the key to the progression of a society.  The Church tells us that if we want society to flourish, it must begin within the family.  I would ask the students to examine their role within their own families.  Do they do their part to strengthen it and make it grow?  I would encourage them to pray for all families, especially ones they know who might being having difficulties.

The Church goes on to tell us that we have rights and responsibilities as members of society and within our families.  We should be active participants in both.  We should always seek to serve the common good and well being of others, especially the poor and vulnerable.  I would ask students what things they could be doing to help others, especially the poor?

The important thing for students (and us) to understand is that we have been granted many privileges.  But with these privileges come responsibilities.  Caring for the poor and marginalized is not an option, it is a responsibility.

You Gotta Have Faith

We have dealt with our doubt and learned from Eve.  We have looked at where our lives are out of bounds thanks to our friend, Noah.  This week we fast forward from Noah to Abraham.  But I don’t want you to miss the significance of the Tower of Babel.

Biblical Scholar Alert- As the people were building the tower to reach the heavens, God confused their language and they were no longer able to communicate with each other.  That is where we get the term, “babbling.”  See how cool you will be at your next cocktail party when you bring that up!

Anyway, the line goes from Noah through his son Shem and eventually to Abraham.  Genesis 12-23 tells Abraham’s story.  Let’s focus on Genesis 15.  Remember that when God makes a covenant it creates a family.  Go ahead and read Genesis 15 now.

God tells Abraham to number the starts.  God tells Abe that his descendants will be the same number as the stars he counts.  You are probably pretty familiar with this story.  Abraham believed God.  So what?  Look carefully at verse 17, “the sun set”, meaning it was day when God told Abe to number the stars.  How does that change your perspective?

It brings us to Abe’s issue, faith.  The dictionary tells us that faith is your firm belief in something with no proof.  Abraham believed even though he could see no stars.  Faith is to have complete trust.  Faith believes without question.  Let’s remember that Abraham got up and left everything he knew just three chapters before this. (Genesis 12).  If you fast forward to Genesis 22, you will see Abraham’s faith being tested as God asks him to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  Check back on Friday for a song that captures this moment beautifully.  When you think of Abraham, you should see the picture of faith.

In a way, Abraham is the opposite of Eve.  Faith v. Doubt.  I think we have less faith than we think we do.

Are you more like Eve, filled with doubt or Abraham, filled with faith?

What do you really believe in?

Who/What do you trust yourself completely to?  God?  Your spouse?  Your parent?  Yourself?

What scares you about having faith?

Who do you want to imitate Eve or Abe?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Butterfly's Wing In Gracieland

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the home screen to see this week's Greetings from Gracieland.  We continue with part three of our four part story.  To see all the other strips go to:

Tuesday Table Talk

Ask Your Child:

Who is Anthony worried about?  Why?

What kinds of jobs do you think are dangerous?

Why does Gracie think Anthony doesn’t understand how to relax?

What do you do to relax?

Monday, January 16, 2012

This week's podcast: Abraham and faith, as our look at Biblical Characters and their "issues" continues! Just click on the Gracenotes link above to listen

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ask Ellen: Catholic Church's Social Teachings for Middle School Students: Theme One

Theme 1: Life and Dignity of the Human Person

Middle school students are at an age where they can really begin to understand this.  It is a wonderful time to present the correct social teaching and the logic behind it.

The Catholic Church teaches respect for ALL human life.  There are many controversial issues surrounding this teaching such as abortion, euthanasia, stem cells, the death penalty, war and terrorism to name a few.  Children might be somewhat familiar with these terms but we need to be sure that they have the correct reasoning behind the teaching.

Simply put all of the above issues interfere with the value of life on some level.  One of the things that many adults fail to understand is that is truly difficult to find someone who is totally pro-life.  Most people are inconsistent.  Some people are adamantly anti-abortion, yet they vote for people who support the death penalty.  Some people are horrified by euthanasia, yet they support war.  Most people in America have no problem accepting these inconsistencies.  But to truly follow the Church’s teachings, you have to admit that this is contradictory.  We either have to modify our worldview or admit that we aren’t who we say we are.

Children (and adults) might try to argue that the world has gotten too complex for such a simplistic worldview.  Advances in medicine and the current global landscape are challenging.  Yet the Church’s teaching is really very simple: respect ALL human life: in the womb, in the nursing home and in Iraq.  It really is that simple.

I would encourage children to be consistent in carrying out this teaching.  I would encourage them not to get so swept up in one aspect that they overlook the others.  It is a super large teaching with many hot button issues, but at the core it is just common sense.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Noah And The Grape

We need to cover a lot of Biblical territory in a very short time.  Occasionally we will have to hit the fast forward button.  This week we need to jump from Adam and Eve to Noah.  But there are some important characters we skip in the process.  Like Cain and Abel.  You might remember that Cain killed Abel because he was jealous that God preferred Abel’s offering.  Why?  Because Abel offered the best of what he had.  So that leaves us with a problem?  How does the story continue if Abel’s dead and Cain is removed from God’s blessing?

Biblical Scholar Alert- The line to Christ continues through Adam and Eve’s “less famous” son Seth.  And Seth leads us to Noah.

We will focus on Noah this week.  We will be hanging out in Genesis 6-9.  I’m sure you know the story of the Flood.  We all did the coloring sheets as kids.  You know all about the Ark and 2 by 2.

Anyway skipping through the familiar stuff, it is important to note that God made a covenant with Noah.  A covenant is a promise God makes with His people.  The party or parties enter into covenant with God and secure it with their very lives.  Think marriage here.  God promises Noah that He will never flood the earth again and offers the rainbow as a sign of this promise.

How does Noah react to this marvelous deal with God?  He gets drunk!  You think I’m making it up, don’t you?  Well before you get all judge-y on me, put yourself in his shoes.  Forty days on rough seas, fearing for you life, with dozens of stinky animals and their waste AND his family.  Come on, we all just spent the holidays with our families.  And most of us weren’t trapped on a floating farm.  Noah gets off the boat and gets loaded.  Honestly, it is hard to blame him.

You still think I am making it up?  Fine, read Genesis 9:20-24.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  Not a pretty picture, is it?  Leaving aside the father’s nakedness stuff, (email me if you want that story) Noah’s issue was temperance.  He had too much of a good thing.

The dictionary tells us that temperance keeps us within limits.  It is not extreme or excessive.  This can be in appetite, desire, alcohol, drugs, anger etc.  We are called to avoid extravagance.  We need to be controlled, disciplined, levelheaded and reasonable.

Please don’t miss that God didn’t take his rainbow and leave Noah in his shame.  He didn’t abandon Noah.  He doesn’t quit on us either.  If you find yourself out of control in one of these areas or some other, don’t feel that you’ve outsinned God.  He longs to help you come back to temperance.  Allow Him to start this week.

Where are you out of bounds?

What do you do too much of?

What can you do to show restraint?

When is too much a problem?

In what ways are you level-headed?

What can you learn from Noah?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

She Drives Me Crazy

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right to see today's new webstrip.  Snow Day Part 2: Gracieland's first continuing story...uhh... continues! So be sure to check back each week to see our first ever four part continuous webstrip.  To view all the Gracieland strips to date, check out

Tuesday Table Talk

Ask your child:

What does Gracie believe about snow days?

What is Anthony’s problem?

Do you think Gracie is serious or just trying to make fun of Anthony?

Why is Anthony in his underwear?

What would you do if you were Anthony?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Noah And The Grape

Click on the Gracenotes link above to hear this week's podcast. We will be focusing on Noah and his "issue" all week here at A Gift of Grace. Won't you join us?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ask Ellen: Could you explain the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church in a way Middle School students can understand? Kim, PA

I received this very intriguing question from a principal of a Catholic school.   Yikes!

The more I thought about the request, the more I knew I needed to answer her.  I needed to answer her so I would begin to understand it.  Over the next eight Ask Ellen questions, I will attempt to explain these Social Teachings of the Catholic Church is very simplified terms.

I begin today by explaining what it means to be social.  Merriam- Webster tells us that it means “of or relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society.”

What does that mean?  It means that we are all part of something way larger than ourselves.  We are members of a family, a city, a state, a country, a race, a religion etc. 

How we behave as members of all of these larger groups is important.  The Catholic Church knows that.  The Church asks us to behave as responsible members and to respect all other people of all the other groups.   In short, these teachings tell us how we should act and relate to the world.

Over the next seven weeks we will look at these teachings.  They include: respect for life, participation, responsibilities, caring for the weak, the value of work, loving our neighbors and caring for the earth.

These themes will help us understand what role we are to play in society.  These may be the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church but certainly there is something all of us can learn about our place in society.  I encourage you to think about these issues and how you address them in your own life and how you teach your children about them.  Hopefully, by the time we finish learning about them we will all be better citizens.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

On The Eve Of Doubt

Happy New Year!  This year will be exciting here at A Gift of Grace.  Each week we will meet a Biblical character.  By the end of this year, you will have met many of the key people leading up to Christ and a few who came after Him.  What makes this approach unique is that we will spend time each week examining each person’s “issues.”  Admittedly, some of these “issues” are not desirable yet I am willing to bet that you have struggled with most of them from time to time.  I want to encourage you to spend some time each week reading our friend’s story. Allow their life story to shape yours.  We can learn from their mistakes.  We can imitate what they did well.  In the process we will learn the story of our Biblical family tree.

Let’s begin “In The Beginning.”  Meet my friend, Eve.  I call her my friend because I get her.  Eve had a pretty sweet setup.  She was in Paradise after all.  But like many of us, she wanted more.  In my opinion, Eve’s key “issue” is doubt.  Read Genesis Chapter Three very closely.  Do you notice anything in the Serpent’s words?  How about, “Did God really say?”  He played on her doubt.  If she was anything like me, she probably immediately began to question herself.  Maybe I misheard Him?  He couldn’t have meant ever?  Eve began to lack confidence.

Doubt leads to anxiety and fear.  Eve shows us this perfectly.  After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve get worried.  They are afraid because they know they are naked.  And they know that God knows.

Think about doubt in your own life.  Don’t allow doubt to play on your own insecurities by asking things like, “Am I really good enough?”  Eve would want you to learn from her mistakes. 
The opposite of doubt is belief and confidence.  If Eve had banked on the fact that God said what He meant, she wouldn’t have been cast out of Eden.  Don’t allow doubt to evict you from life.  Learn to trust in yourself and in God.

When we succumb to the feeling of doubt, we allow anxiety and fear to creep in.  This week look for areas of doubt in your life. 

Reflect on the following:

Do I feel unworthy?  Do I fear that I am not smart enough, good enough, thin enough, etc?  Let’s not lose sight of the Serpent’s use of food to trap the woman.

Do I allow doubt to rule over me?  Does it prevent me from doing things?  Is there always something I wanted to try that I doubted I could do?

Does my doubt make me feel naked and fearful of God like Adam and Eve?

What one thing can I do this week to overcome my doubts?

Bible Scholar Alert.  Occasionally as we survey our friends’ issues I will alert you to some cool Biblical knowledge.  You know that kind of stuff you can really impress people with at cocktail parties.  One of these happens today in Genesis 3:15.  This verse is known as the “protoevangelium,” or the first announcement of the Good News.  A Savior is promised in this verse.  What happens between this Garden and Calvary is the story.  It is the story we will learn this year.

Homework.  Each week will have homework.  You should read the section that we are discussing.  I recommend reading Genesis 1-3 this week.  Also ponder the Reflection Questions.  Really examine the role doubt plays in your life.  Let’s be honest, we all struggle with it in some form or another.  Buy a new notebook and journal about each theme.  By the end of the year, you will be surprised at how many “issues” you have dealt with.  If you are feeling brave, comment here on the site or on Facebook with your thoughts.  I promise someone can and will benefit from your insight.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Should We Talk About The Weather?

Click on the Gracieland icon on the bottom right of the home screen to see today's new strip. Happy New Year in Gracieland! Over the next four weeks Greetings From Gracieland will tell a continuing story. So be sure to check back each week for the next four weeks to see our first ever four part continuous webstrip.  To view all the Gracieland strips to date, check out

We would like to encourage you to share "Greetings From Gracieland" with your children.  Below are discussion starters you can use at dinner tonight to get your kids talking.

Greetings From Gracieland:  Tuesday Table Talk

What do you think of Gracie’s pajama plan?  Is it science?

Do weathermen understand science?

What do you know about the weather?  What do you like about science?

What do you think is going to happen in next week’s strip?

Monday, January 2, 2012

On The Eve Of Doubt

Happy New Year!  Welcome to what I hope will be an exciting year at A Gift Of Grace.  Each week we will study a Biblical character.  Not only will we learn their story but we will also examine a key issue in their life.  Remarkably universal, these same issues are central to our own modern lives.  We will uncover the good and the not so good in these ancestors of faith and in ourselves.

I encourage you to take this journey with us.  Find a Bible that is easy to understand.  Grab a notebook and a pen.  Join us each weekday at  I hope that we become a community willing to share our thoughts and experiences with each other either right here on the site or on Facebook.  Let's get started today.

Please click on the Gracenotes link above to hear today's podcast.  We meet our first friend today, Eve.  Check back tomorrow for a brand new Gracieland.  The rest of the week we will focus on Eve and her struggle with doubt.  Hopefully, we will come to recognize the role doubt plays in our own lives.