Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Review: The Gate

"I found The Gate by Nancy Carabio Belanger to exhibit an authentic portrayal of what Jesus Christ intended His Church to be: a hospital for sinners, a sure refuge of reconciliation, a beacon of hope, life and love. It will touch the heart of anyone who is seeking to find meaning in life, at any age, amidst all of the noise we all contend with every day. It challenges readers to examine themselves in light of the virtues which we were all created to embrace, which give us happiness, fulfillment and satisfaction. Read  how the loving hand of God moves and works quietly in our hearts and lives through others to gain our attention in hopes that we acknowledge His tender mercy and perfect plan for our lives. Certainly a book which all Christians, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, should read."

— Paul A. Ray, Catholic speaker and author of A New Voice For A Broken Soul

Sunday, February 23, 2014

We Have Nothing To Fear

Wow! I can't believe the amount of positive responses I received about my last post. It really made me realize how frustrated so many people my age are about the lack of proper catechesis we received back in the day when we were busy listening to Duran Duran and wearing leg warmers. In fact, just the other day in public I overheard a complete stranger about my age who was lamenting the very same thing and I had to smile. Coincidence? I don't think so! Not that it's something to smile at, really, but because it was further validation that what I was saying and feeling was true. I guess misery loves company...?!

No, not really, but it does cement the fact that this is a widespread problem, wider than I even realized, and we are all feeling its effects.

But there is hope! I spent the past couple of weekends at Catholic men's conferences and my spirits were uplifted to see how many men are so charged up about the Faith, and are hungry for the true teachings of Catholicism. In Lansing, MI I was privileged to meet young priests and seminarians who exuded such joy about their vocations, as well as men in various stages of life who came out of that conference on fire for Catholicism, ready to bring what they had learned into their day-to-day lives.

This past weekend, in Fort Wayne, IN, I talked with fathers, young and old, who were so excited to see modern-day Catholic fiction available for their children, and I can't blame them, because I am a parent, too. They thanked me for being there, and told me to "keep it up." There are some days that it just ain't easy keeping it up, but my faith keeps me going, and my desire from the Holy Spirit to evangelize gives me strength, especially as I recall those "interesting" days of craft-project, silly-song catechesis of the 1970s and 1980s.

As I stared out at almost 1,300 men yesterday gathered for the Sunday vigil Holy Mass, I felt happy that these guys had taken many hours out of their precious weekend free time to come to this conference to learn how to be better Catholic men. They were young and old, married and single, priests, and students. Some wore hearing aids and some wore hoodies. Some, like the Franciscan priests in their brown habits, went barefoot, a living example of their life of penance and service to Christ, sitting cross-legged as they prayed in the curtained-off Adoration chapel. Some priests wore long black cassocks, clutching purple stoles as they headed to the large confessional area.

"Thank you for being here all day, Father," one man said to a priest who was leaving toward the end of the day so he could be back for his parish 5:00 Mass.

"I had a funeral this morning, but I was glad to be here," the tired priest responded. He knew how important it was for him to be available for these men, some who may have not had the Sacrament of Reconciliation in decades, some who were in tears of joy as they received Our Lord's forgiveness, compassion, and mercy.

Some of the attendees wore shirts with Our Lady of Guadalupe printed on them, other young men had on their high-school letter jackets, while other men wore cashmere sweaters and Dockers. One of the conference speakers donned a black sport coat, another wore camouflage pants and a military t-shirt. All walks of life, all ages, all there for one reason: to learn and teach how to live out their Catholic Faith proudly and generously. Similar things are happening at Catholic women's conferences across the country as well, and it always amazes me to witness the the joy and hope these people receive there.

In his homily, the bishop mentioned that we should not be discouraged by our secular society and all of the evil things within it.  It's easy to want to wring our hands in despair. But after having witnessed over the last two weeks these couple thousand men just on fire for God and Catholicism, like Blessed John Paul 2 told us, we have nothing to fear!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Just A Thought For Today...

Catholicism and CCD in the 1970s and 1980s: It was a lot of ugly, green felt banners with cutouts of wheat and fish, feel-good songs centered around ourselves instead of God, and "Jesus loves you." Sin was never mentioned. So no one ever knew if they were sinning or not. Eucharistic Adoration? A novena? Sacramentals? Genuflecting? Going to Confession? Nope. So for years I've been catechizing myself and wondering how I lived for so long not knowing anything. So many of my friends have the same complaint. I would have been saved a lot of grief dealing with everyday stuff if I had really learned about the Faith and had a friend in Heaven like St. Therese to love and to help me through. So I guess that's my motivation for writing these books, so these young kids can learn the TRUTH about our faith and how BEAUTIFUL and BLESSED it is. I'm thankful my parents were able to teach me what the CCD instructors would not. So I don't apologize for writing authentic Catholic books. I say: Bring on the holy water, the Adoration, the sacramentals, the Sacraments! Bring on the saints, bring on the Eucharist! Bring it all on!

May crownings? Eucharistic processions? Beautiful statues of Blessed Mother? A Monstrance? Anyone?? 

Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy Feast Day of St. John Bosco!

Happy Feast Day of St. John Bosco, patron saint of youth who plays such a big role in The Gate and is a friend in Heaven to me and so many. 

On December 24, 1887, in Don Bosco's final days, he said, "There is only one thing I ask of the Lord: that I may save my poor soul. I urge you to encourage the Salesians to work with zeal and dedication. Work, work! Always and unceasingly strive to save souls." St. John Bosco, ora pro nobis.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Little Catholic Sunshine's so cold out here in Michigan that venturing outside is a feat. Boots, my longest, warmest parka, hat, gloves, scarf. Just to go get the mail at the end of our driveway! Imagine my irritation when I finally get there and find out the mail hasn't come yet! Trudge back up the icy driveway (very carefully) to take it all off, one by one, in the laundry room, which is quickly becoming a mud room! Now I know where the name originated.

It can be pretty difficult to stay focused on the positives and count our blessings in these extreme, dangerous temperatures when we're all cooped up inside and dreaming of Florida (which I hear is pretty cold right about now) and spring. But thankful we must be. For warm clothes, central heat, and an oven with a piping-hot lasagna in it. A fat and soft kitty I can shove my cold feet under and he doesn't mind or hop off the couch. Cozy family movie nights while wrapped in warm blankets with popcorn. A coffee pot that delivers my morning java. And I am thankful to God for all of these blessings, believe me. One story in the local newspaper about a family who has no heat and is using a space heater to keep her and her children warm makes you shut your complaining mouth pretty quickly.

But then there are moments...You forget that you are one of millions going through the same thing. You slip and slide all over the road and you scowl at your filthy car, covered in dirty snow and salt. (Yes, I'm thankful for road salt)! My boots seem to be leaking. School is constantly cancelled, pipes are freezing. Our windows are drafty, and you can't even have your eyeballs exposed in these dangerous negative wind chills. This winter seems so looooooooong. IS IT OVER YET?

A whitening snow squall happened to pass through the Target parking lot yesterday morning as I was inside looking at hand lotion for my very dry skin and looking for someplace to escape the winter doldrums.

"Mom, look outside!" I heard a young lady say to her mother in awe. My head jerked up to see Old Man Winter blast its fury. I shook my head, sighed, and put a small bottle into my red cart. Just another day in Michigan.

A cashier named Barb scanned my lotion, shampoo and oatmeal.

"I heard it's pretty bad out there," she said.  I nodded.

"I think people are going to go crazy with this weather," she joked. "They're going to go running around in the streets saying, 'I can't take this anymore!'"

I laughed at the absurdity, then remembered the latest local newspaper headline that read Enough Already! Michiganders' sentiments exactly. Maybe Barb wasn't joking after all! We've all had ENOUGH!

It was then that I noticed she was wearing a beautiful gold medal. I leaned in for a closer look.

"Blessed Mother?" I asked her.

Her face lit up in surprise. "Yes!"

I pulled out my own chain I wear around my neck and showed her my Miraculous Medal and St. Therese medal. We smiled at each other, a little Catholic connection at the Target checkout. You don't get too many of those. It's not that there aren't enough Catholics out there beyond our parish doors. There's something like a billion Catholics worldwide. It's just that not too many people like to visibly wear it on their sleeves (or around their necks), I guess.  Barb told me she has a special devotion to St. Therese, another thing we have in common.

"Blessed Mother will never fail you," she said with a look of love on her face.

"That's for certain," I said as I put my wallet back into my purse. We chatted a bit more and I felt my mood lift.

"God bless you," Barb said, as she handed me my receipt.

I smiled back at her and said, "God bless you."

I perked up as I walked outside to the parking lot. The squall had passed as quickly as it had come. The Holy Spirit had sent me a warm moment with a complete stranger.  Barb had filled my soul with a little Catholic sunshine.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Blessed Zelie Martin: An Inspiration To All Of Us

A friend told me a true story:
Her mother was in her car, stopped at an intersection near the freeway in Detroit. Standing on the corner was a man holding a sign. It said, “I’m hungry.”
In the next lane over, a well-dressed woman in a nice car waited for the light to turn green. She noticed the man holding the sign, rolled down her car window, and yelled nastily to him, “WHY DON’T YOU GET A JOB?”
The man said nothing in response. My friend’s mother was horrified.
When I heard this story, my first response was revulsion at such an act. If this woman could only see herself from the outside: a well-to-do woman with beautiful jewelry and a fancy car, YELLING at this homeless man.
Sheesh, isn’t he down on his luck enough, without having to hear the nasty wrath of this woman, who doesn’t even know him? Who yells at anyone without truly knowing his or her story, the circumstances of a stranger on the street? Can we really think we know someone just by looking at him or her? And is it necessary to hatefully yell your opinion to someone you’ve never met, risking hurting their feelings?
My second reaction was this: How have I been uncharitable, perhaps not in the same way as the lady above, but in my own selfish way?
It’s something to think about. We may pat ourselves on the backs, saying we’d never yell at a stranger like the rude lady in the car, but that doesn’t make some of our own selfish actions any more noble.
I’ve been reading a book about simplifying our lives and doing good for others by donating items we don’t need. Sounds simple enough, but what really got me thinking was when the author challenged me to think about how much is enough, and giving until it hurts.
Really, how much of our possessions IS enough? Sure, most of us donate clothes and food to the needy throughout the year. We put items in the bag that we’ve outgrown, that have gone out of style, that no longer fit us. That’s not really all that painless, though, is it?
For my part, I’ve been holding onto too many winter coats than I would ever need. Some women like shoes, some like purses. My downfall happens to be coats. But there are women out there who are cold, a cold I have never known, who could use some of the coats in my closet. Giving when it hurts is a true sacrifice, is true charity. After reading this book, it seems uncharitable now to hang onto them when others are in need.
Whatever we have, whatever we think we own, is not really even ours anyway. It all belongs to God. In His mercy, He has given us what we have and we should be grateful, never taking it for granted, never being so cocky as to think it will always be there, will always be ours. Every day is a gift, and everything we own is a gift, not to be taken lightly. And when we prepare to meet Him after we leave this earth, we can’t carry a tote bag or a leather trunk with our material goods along with us. We are all human, we are all God’s children; yes, even if we haven’t bathed and don’t have homes.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the mother of my special friend in Heaven, the Little Flower. Her mother was Zelie Martin. Beatified along with her husband Louis in 2008, she was a loving example on earth of Christ’s love for humanity: an unselfish woman who practiced charity toward her neighbor, love for the Church, a life of hard work, and lived her short life with a spirit of faith and sacrifice.
She wasn’t tremendously wealthy, but the money she did earn from her successful lace-making business in Alencon was never taken for granted, and never shamefully wasted. Instead, Zelie helped out her poor neighbors all of the time, sending them money and homemade stew.
She also taught her daughters (our dear St. Therese among them) charity for the suffering poor and also to show them respect.
The following paragraphs are taken from the book The Mother of the Little Flower, which is written by Therese’s older sister Celine, and is now published by TAN books:
One day while traveling, she reproved another lady in the railway carriage who showed displeasure at the arrival of a poor woman with her two babies. When they reached Alencon, Mother helped the woman with her children and parcels to get her home. Father, who had been waiting at the station, also helped; and it was midnight before they reached their own home.
For Leonie’s First Communion, Mother selected a poor girl in her class, had her dressed in white also for her First Communion, and invited her to the place of honour at the festive dinner for the occasion.
I marvel at the difference between the woman in the car and Zelie Martin. One chose to spew hatred; the other chose to treat people with dignity and respect.
It was never an inconvenience for Zelie to think of others’ needs before her own, even when it was late and she was tired from traveling. Zelie never asked questions of the people, asking if they had jobs, were lazy, etc. She never yelled at them or put them down, trying to decide for herself if they were truly worthy of a hot meal.
She put everything in God’s hands, and did her part without complaint. She was Christlike, sacrificing and giving even when it was not convenient or especially enjoyable. I know there must have been a few times when she was tired or ill and did not feel like giving. She did it anyway.
Blessed Zelie Martin is an inspiration to us all. She is integrity, character, goodness, and love. Ask for her intercession in your life during this new year, as well as in the life of the woman in the car, so that our hearts may soften and we all may learn what it is to be truly charitable in 2014.
For my part, I think I’ll go through my hall closet and look for some coats to give away. Is there anything in your closet that you could give away, even when it hurts?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

+++A Blessed Christmas To You And Yours! +++

Thank you for all of your support and friendship throughout the year, dear readers! I look forward to sharing it with you in 2014! May you all rejoice in the birth of God's Son!

Love and prayers,
Nancy Carabio Belanger

Friday, December 6, 2013

Catholic Fiction For Kids: So Few Choices!

So many choices! How to choose?

Yesterday we received a package in our mailbox. A very yummy package! The outside of it was labeled "perishable." I wracked my brains: I hadn't ordered anything perishable lately. When we opened it up we were pleasantly surprised to see that it was an early Christmas present from my husband's colleague to our family: a box of assorted chocolates. I grinned. It is the type of thing you never buy for yourself, on your own. Why this is, I don't really know. To receive a box of assorted chocolates is always a special treat.

Of course, I dove right in.  But so many choices! How to choose? Luckily, the box has a handy map printed on the inside cover. Because they all look so similar and you never know what's inside each chocolate, it's quite helpful to have a very specific map to what delightful treats are inside. It actually makes me smile to see an actual map there. I studied all of the types of chocolates on the map: almond cluster, caramel, chocolate butter cream, strawberry cream, peanut butter crunch (those are all gone, by the way). Oh yes, and maple cream. Gone, too.  I love anything maple...must be my close proximity to Canada. It's so great to have an array of lovely things, isn't it? So great to pick and choose from the map of chocolates. So wonderful to be able have choices.

Excuse me while a I pop a cashew cluster in my mouth before continuing on to tell you what really bothers me about being Catholic, and a Catholic mom and writer especially. See, in the children's book world, our children don't have many choices. In fact, hardly any Catholic fiction books at all from which to choose. Go ahead and try it: Go to any Catholic bookstore (or any secular bookstore, for that matter!) and see what you find on the shelves for anyone over the age of seven. That's Catholic. Oh, and make sure it's fiction.

I'll chew on a coconut cream while you do this.

Find anything? Not much there, is there?

But you're moms and dads. You know this already. You've tried in vain to find suitable books for your children, books that are not only wholesome (because those aren't THAT hard to find, especially if you go back a few decades), but are Catholic. And not only Catholic, but passionately Catholic. Not watered-down Catholic, but really and truly Catholic. And written for modern children.

The Protestant publishers know what they are doing, fellow parents. Walk into any of the Christian bookstores you see at the mall and you'll find large sections, with many genres on the shelves for youths, all with Christian themes. Entire series of books! Modern books for modern readers with modern Christian stories.

What do we have on our Catholic shelves? A board book for toddlers to take to Mass. A coloring book about saints. Some teen apologetics books with Q and As. Teen Bibles. Nonfiction stories about saints' lives.  Don't get me wrong; these are all GREAT kinds of books.  We NEED these types of books. We should all have these books for our kids! My husband and I have bought many of them for our kids.  But there's a whole gap in there from about age seven through age thirteen where there is pathetically little. And fiction? Forget it. Pre-teens have, sadly, little to read in terms of Catholic books. Why have we forgotten them? Why have we abandoned them? In the meantime, our Protestant brothers and sisters have so many books from which to choose for their children.

Why are there 737 middle-school-aged titles (it's true, I checked) on a leading Christian bookstore website? Mysteries, thrillers, novels, all sorts of great stories for this age group. I was simply astounded to see the variety and the vast number of books for them. So many choices. How do these parents choose? It's no wonder our children and their parents are buying books from these stores. And yes, I do applaud reading Christian books, but think of what our Catholic children are missing out on! The Communion of Saints, the Sacraments, the Eucharist, the Blessed Mother. And so much more. Think of the richness truly Catholic Christian books could bring to our children. Not to mention that the books found elsewhere that aren't Catholic—as interesting and funny and riveting and Christ-centered as they may be— may have some elements that are not consistent with the tenets of our Faith. This could be very dangerous, in fact, if the young reader is not completely knowledgeable about what we as Catholics believe, and what we don't. A child I know receives a Protestant children's magazine that mentioned God's merciful forgiveness for us when we sin, but of course no mention was made of the beautiful sacrament of Confession. And why would it? It's not a Catholic publication.

I'm frustrated. You as parents are perhaps frustrated. As a writer for this age group, I'm frustrated. So many parents who write to me or meet me at book signings are frustrated. They all say the same thing: "We need more Catholic books for this age group!"  In a world where 38 percent of former Catholics left the Faith before they turned 18 (Georgetown University study), we should all be concerned. Because in that huge gap of years, our children are simply not being fed. This is an alarming statistic. Call it a lack of catechesis, call it hormones, call it what you like, but the bottom line is that seeds grow strongly if the roots are deep. We need to sow those seeds with good reading. We cannot love what we do not know.

Catholic publishers need to take heed. Sometimes I feel like I'm talking to a brick wall getting some Catholics to agree with me, but I persist. The Holy Spirit gives me inspiration and courage to write modern Catholic novels for this age group, who have so little from which to choose. Catholic publishers like Bezalel Books are also going against the grain in an effort to provide truly Catholic books for this forgotten age group.

Having choices, having options is good. I sure wish children's Catholic literature was as wide and as varied as my box of chocolates: so much to choose from, so many different types of candy. I pray that children's Catholic literature can hit the ground running, so that one day we parents will be able to say: "So many choices! How to choose?"

Saturday, November 30, 2013

My Advent Heart: With Love From Me To You, Jesus

I have a confession to make.
How very Catholic of me! LOL
But what I am about to say may shock you.  Then again, for those who know me, maybe it won’t.
I’m not crafty.
There, I’ve said it.
Oh, the desire is there. I’ve got the sequins, the special scissors, the scrapbooking supplies, the card stock. I’ve got a drawer full of sparkly ribbon, pinking shears, buttons, oodles of thread, miles and miles of yarn, rulers, fake fall foliage, silk roses, and little plastic thingies.
But I can’t do it. I’m all thumbs.
“But you’re so creative,” a friend said. “I don’t get it.”
Ah yes, in the written word, perhaps. I’ll craft a story for you any old time and have a good time doing it.  But put me at a craft table with a glue gun and I get itchy. Give me a keyboard any day of the week.
“It doesn’t relax you?”
No. Outside of a fresh box of Crayolas and a coloring book, there is absolutely no relaxation for me in crafting. Why?
Because I stink at crafting.
It took me a long time to realize that it’s okay not be crafty. I’m a mom. A conservative mom. A churchy mom. It seems so un-American to not like crafting.  I like crafting stores, however, and I really can’t figure out why that is. Maybe it’s a glimpse into what I could be…if I had the talent.
Which I clearly don’t.
The above attempt at an Advent wreath clearly shows that I can’t even stay within the confines of a circle when applying Christmas-themed picks with a hot glue gun.
“Mom, is it a circle?” asked my son. “Because it sort of looks like a heart, you know?”
I peeled the dried glue from my fingers and inspected my creation. An Advent heart. Yes, that is exactly what I had made.
“Well,” I said, unplugging the glue gun, “a heart is a perfect shape for an advent candle wreath. What did Baby Jesus bring to the world?”
“Love,” answered my son dutifully and with a little smile. He knew what I was up to.
“Well then, a heart symbolizes love, does it not? So we have an Advent heart. It’s a new Belanger tradition.”
It makes sense, though, doesn’t it? I placed it on the kitchen table and we put the candles in.  ”This is how it’s gonna be,” I said, exasperated. “Your mom is just not crafty.”
I admitted this very thing to my child.  What kind of a mother am I? Through the years, I had made the homemade Play Dough on the stove, bought the little craft kits at Michael’s, created amateurish First Holy Communion scrapbooks for the boys, made a disaster of the kitchen making royal icing for cookies last Christmas (I recently found a drop of dried icing on the wall from when the squeeze bottle exploded.  My boys and I exploded in laughter when that happened. Needless to say, it was pizza for dinner that night. Mom needed a break.)
So don’t I get an A for effort here?
But I don’t learn; I just keep trying. And that’s my downfall. So I tried my hand at sewing.
I know. But hear me out.
I wasn’t aiming to be a master seamstress or anything, I just wanted to learn something more than replacing buttons (which, by the way, I do rather well if I do say so myself!). What better way than to take a little easy-going class for beginners at the local sewing machine repair shop?  I signed up as eager as could be. I bought the notions the instructor suggested. I went to the fabric store and picked out a lovely wine-colored piece of fabric. Sewing was going to be my new thing! Our first project was going to be a vest.
A vest! Yes, I needed a nice vest. A tailor-made vest! Except I was no tailor. No matter;  I could pair it with jeans and a turtleneck. Add cute buttons. It would be darling!
Well, it didn’t quite turn out that way. The instructor tried to be patient and helpful, but God did not make me a seamstress by any stretch of the imagination. The teacher, finally spent from trying to be so kind with me, took the unfinished vest from me and said quietly, “Here, let me just finish this for you, Nancy.”
Whatever happened to teaching a man to fish?  Well, why waste the time, really. I was hopeless.
But I forgot all of that when I found a pair of my son’s school pants that were way too long and needed hemming. My husband suggested I take them to a tailor. But I would have none of it. I was certainly capable of hemming pants. I had my son try them on, measured them, and cut the fabric according to the specifications.  I dragged out my little sewing box and the navy blue thread.  It was time for some hemming, baby! I sewed as I watched “The Journey Home” on EWTN.  It was a delightful time. I sipped tea, watched the banter between Marcus Grodi and his guest.  I was hemming. I was crafting. I was doing a great job.
I was quite proud of the pants. The stitches, well, they were a little crooked. But who would be able to tell, all the way down there? Nobody looks at your ankles.  What I forgot to do was have him try on the finished product, though. Well, it was late and I still had to pack lunches.
So this morning when my poor son came downstairs with floods on four inches too short, I wanted to cry. They will make a  good pair of shorts, though.
Lord, why did You make me this way? I wailed.  I can’t do anything right! Why can’t I do a simple thing like hem a pair of pants or glue flowers onto a circle? Why can’t I make pretty sugar cookies at Christmastime, create a beautiful scrapbook of the kids,  or make a cake that isn’t lopsided? Why did You make me this way?!

I made you the way I always wanted you to be. You are exactly as I planned you from all eternity and I love you. No, you will never be a Martha Stewart. I already have one of those. Now go finish the book I planted on your heart. Bring me young souls who will embrace the Faith into adulthood. Go and be you.

Thank You, Lord, for the many gifts you have given me, especially the gift of the written word. I promise to use it to honor You, to glorify You, to bring children to You, to the best of my ability. I thank You for making me who I am. This Advent heart is for You, because I love You, too.
Can I just say one more thing, though? I sew a mean button. Strong and sturdy, one that will stay put and work hard for you.
It’s the little things.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Book Signing at Celtic Cove Catholic Bookstore

What a special book signing this past Saturday at Celtic Cove Catholic Bookstore in Lake Orion, MI! I was blessed to spend time signing books alongside acclaimed Catholic author Cheryl Dickow of Bezalel Books. It is such a lovely store, filled with imported Irish gifts, statues, rosaries, jewelry, and of course, so many interesting Catholic books. I wanted to take one of everything home with me, but I did manage to get a little Christmas shopping done before the signing in their well-stocked children's section. Such a gem in quaint, downtown Lake Orion. One of my favorite things? Meeting young readers like the sweet girl below! When you come in to say "hi" and meet me, you really make my day!

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