Emily M. DeArdo



Ash Wednesday Yarn Along!

books, knitting, Lent, yarn alongEmily DeArdo2 Comments

It’s Yarn Along Time!!!! :)

And it’s Ash Wednesday, so happy Lent to you! And yes, I do mean “happy” Lent. I really like Lent, probably because: 1) I’m a spring baby, and 2) I was born on Good Friday. So, I like Lent. And I also need discipline every once in awhile (who doesn’t), and the spiritual rigor of it, the peeling away of the non-essential, is a good thing.

Anyway, to the yarn!


OK, so the details:

This is the Feile shawl, which I am loving. I love how the stripes change—do you see how they had a sort of neat pattern going on, and then switch to solid stripes? Love that. Eventually, the contrast color, the blue, will become the dominant color as I work toward the end of the shawl, with the white being the contrast. This is a really easy shawl, but the fun is in the slight pattern changes. The thing that’s going to be a pain is all the end weaving in! But oh well.

I’m using Frabjous Fibers yarn, the Mad Hatter base (sport weight). The white speckled is Victorian China, and the blue is called “Muchness” (seriously, isn’t that great?). I’m using Knitpicks sunstruck needles, size 4, on one of their interchangeable cables.

The book is a great one for Lent, I think: Catherine Doherty’s The People of the Towel and Water. It’s about doing every day activities as prayer—really being present in the moment, and allowing everything you do to be prayer, working for God, even when you’re sweeping or cleaning or writing (or knitting!). Catherine founded Madonna House, and I’ve been reading some of her writing lately. I recommend it!

For Lent: Hosanna

Take Up and Read, Lent, prayerEmily DeArdo1 Comment

Hosanna is the new Take Up & Read offering for Lent, and she is so lovely!

I know I say that about all our books, but guys, she really is.


Hosanna covers the Gospel of Matthew
It runs from Ash Wednesday (ahem, next week!) to Easter Monday, so it’s the entire season of Lent!
Extra deep dives on the Beatitudes (photo below), and special Scripture for the triduum!

A variety of contributors, as always, and gorgeous art by Kristin Foss.
Plenty of space for journaling!

Available on Amazon




Here are the deep dive into the Beatitudes pages!


Daily Scripture written out, with plenty of room for lectio divina on the next page.


On Saturday, we give you a selah day , meaning time to relax and go back and do pages you may have missed, or just check in with yourself, your spiritual life, and how the week went for you.

All of these books are a true labor of love—we love writing them and making them for you, but we really love sharing God’s Word with you! Come join us this Lent!

Got $20? You can feed a child for an entire YEAR!

Catholicism, essays, LentEmily DeArdoComment

I am a BIG fan of Mary’s Meals, and you should be, too! Let me tell you why.

(Also, SUPER cute video at the bottom!)

One of the Mary’s Meals t-shirts I picked up at the Columbus Catholic Women’s Conference last weekend.

One of the Mary’s Meals t-shirts I picked up at the Columbus Catholic Women’s Conference last weekend.

As we approach Lent, people start to think about Lenten penances, and the pillars of Lent: Almsgiving, Fasting, and Prayer. We should think about these things all year, of course, but especially during Lent, when we prepare for Christ’s Death and we imitate His 40 days in the desert.

It’s sobering to think about people who do not have enough to eat, who are truly starving. Not just “food insecure”, but really, truly, starving. People who will not eat on a daily basis. According to World Vision, one in eight people in the developing world do not have enough to eat.

Mary’s Meals has a simple idea: One nutritious meal every day for a child in a place of education.

Children who are hungry can’t learn. That seems obvious, right? You can’t think if you’re starving.

64 MILLION children around the world who are hungry can’t attend school—they have to beg for their food instead.

Mary’s Meals wants to stop that—they want to help children LEARN and be fed.

So, in 18 country around the world, they set up food serving stations at schools, run by local volunteers, who feed the children a nutritious meal every school day. In some places, it’s an actual school. In others, like in India, it’s “non-formal education centers”, like railway platforms, where kids learn and eat. In Madagascar, they actually feed children in prison, because in the prisons, the food service isn’t consistent. The kids learn and get fed.

Feeding one child for an entire school year costs $19.50.

That’s it! $20 feeds a child who otherwise wouldn’t eat. And when they eat, they are better equipped to learn, and as they learn, they can get out of poverty, get a job, and help themselves and their families break the cycle of crushing poverty.

Currently, Mary’s Meals is feeding more than one million children around the world! Which is amazing, but there is still more work to be done.

Magnus McFarlane-Barrow, the founder and CEO of Mary’s Meals, spoke at the conference last weekend, and he is passionate about feeing these children, about making a difference, and it’s so simple to do. This isn’t a hard thing. They will do anything to get these kids food; in Haiti, they deliver food to the foot of a mountain and carry the food up to the school settlement! Even though Mary’s Meals is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God, and Magnus is Catholic, the schools serves everyone, not just religious schools.

This Lent, I think it’s a great idea to support Mary’s Meals however you can. Maybe you eat a simple meal and save the money you would’ve spent on going out—do that once a week, and at the end, give the money to Mary’s Meals. Maybe you can hold a bake sale or a fundraiser at your school. There are lots of ways to help!

Donate right here. Think about it. $20—a movie ticket and a soda, or an entree at a nice restaurant—that can feed a kid for an entire year. That makes a huge difference in a child’s life.

To find out more, watch Child 31, the documentary about Mary’s Meals:

And the follow-up, Generation Hope:

And if you like the actor Gerard Butler, like I do (he was in The Phantom of the Opera!), then you’ll love this video of him directing kids in Haiti at a Mary’s Meals school!

Seven Quick Takes!

7 Quick Takes, Catholicism, Take Up and Read, writing, LentEmily DeArdo2 Comments
seven quick takes.jpg

Linking up with Kelly!


Lent is coming soon! (It’s in a little over a month, if you can believe it.) Take Up & Read has a beautiful new book for Lent, focusing on the Gospel of Matthew, called Hosanna.

hosanna cover.jpg

We have new writers, some new design and prayer pages, and all sorts of other goodies that you can read about here.

Making it EVEN BETTER is that right now the book is ON SALE! That’s right—price drop! We don’t know how long this will last, so go grab your copy!

I love the gospel of Matthew, so I was thrilled to contribute an essay to this book. I’m sure you’ll love it!


Did January feel like it lasted FOREVER to anyone else? Whew. I’m glad that month is over. February always feels like it moves pretty quickly, but it’s also the last full month before my move, so it feels like time moves even faster.


I’m still Kon Mari-ing the house. I’ve done clothes, books, papers, and I’m in “komono” (AKA EVERYTHING ELSE), but even that is moving well so I should have that done in the next week or so. Yay!!!!


A brief bit of policy wonkery (if you’re new here, I worked for the state government for ten years, so in a past life I lived, ate, and breathed policy wonkery). This really isn’t about policy, per se, as it is about common sense:

If you are contacting a representative about a policy proposal that you support or do not support, please remember to be respectful, to be brief, and to contact your representative. Please don’t call a representative that doesn’t represent you (as in, you live in Ohio, but you’re calling a senator from Colorado or Hawaii). This irritates the staffers and does not make them happy. They want to know what their constituents think. Not what everyone in the country thinks.

And if you call your elected representative for any reason, please be nice to the person on the phone. It is not that person’s fault that you are having issues with whatever you’re having issues with. If you are mean, that does not make them want to help you! Do not make the person answering the phone cry with streams of curse words! STOP IT!


Do you re-read books? Please tell me you do. To me, half the fun is in re-reading. I read so quickly that if I didn’t re-read, I’d be really bored. Re-reading is good!


My friend Richelle asked me if I’d read all of Dickens’ novels. I haven’t'; I’ve read 10 of his 15 novels (A Christmas Carol is considered a novella, and I have read that as well). The last five I have to read are Nicholas Nickleby, Barnaby Rudge, Martin Chuzzlewit, Our Mutual Friend, and his unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

If you’re looking to start reading Dickens (he’s not my favorite, but he is an important writer), I’d suggest starting with A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist (because just about everyone knows the basic story), and A Tale of Two Cities, which is one of my favorites. These are all pretty short, too, which is a plus, given that some of his novels are the size of bricks.


I’m also watching Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix. The series is good, but he book is even better (same title), because it EXPLAINS THINGS, like why you should boil potatoes in salt water before you roast them! I had always wondered about this and now I know. (It’s because you get the salt in to the potatoes—if you just roast them, then you toss salt on top of them and that doesn’t really penetrate said potato).

Yarn Along No. 72 and My Lenten Plan

yarn along, Lent, knitting, Take Up and Read, books, Barton Cottage CraftsEmily DeArdoComment

So, um, Happy Ash Wednesday? :-D

I do like Lent. We'll talk about that more in a second. First: Yarn!


This is a completed Barton Cottage Crafts commission--it's my signature basketweave scarf in the weathervane colorway. The colors are much richer in person. In the line this is my "Jane Bennet" color--I think it suits Jane quite well. :) 

I'm currently working on a shawl for another customer, in a deep yellow color. When I have more of it to show, I'll post a picture. At the moment, it's a very small triangle!

My shawl is coming along gorgeously! I'm finally into the blue stripes! 




What are you reading right now? 

My Lenten Rule

AKA, what I'm doing for Lent. 

1) Giving up book buying (except at the Catholic Women's Conference this weekend--and actually, my book buying has dropped off a lot this year since I'm focusing on my financial goals. So go me!)

2) Attending weekday Mass at least once a week

3) Confession every other week

4) Doing Nancy Ray's Contentment Challenge again. You can read ore about it on Nancy's blog here and here . Here are the first month guidelines!  I think Lent is a perfect time to kick this off. 

And of course, Above All. You can still join us! Order the book, pop into the blog, or join us on facebook, twitter, and instagram



How about you? How do you "do" Lent? 

Lenten Suggestions

books, Catholicism, Catholic 101, LentEmily DeArdoComment

Can you believe Lent starts next week? On Valentine's Day, no less? "Yes, hon, we'll celebrate Valentine's Day! But, you know, with macaroni and cheese and...no chocolate." 

(I'm kidding. We can do it, guys! Just celebrate the day before and do Mardi Gras up big this year.) 

Per usual, I have a few suggestions for how to prepare for Lent this year! 

You can read previous posts I've written. And you can also read about it more extensively in my book, Catholic 101, where I talk a lot about Lent, as well as Holy Week! (Remember, if you're a blog subscriber, you have a code for 15% off! Lost the code? Email me and I'll shoot you a new one.) 

Catholic 101 (1).jpg

Another one of my favorite Lent books is A Time for Renewal: Daily Reflections on the Lenten Season, by Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.  She's such an incredible speaker and writer, so able to cut right to the heart of the matter, that I highly recommend all her books. I pick this up every Lent. 

And finally, there is Above All! 

You all know how much I love this book. The price has been reduced on Amazon, so go get, if you haven't already! Profits are going to Adore Ministries in Houston to help with Hurricane Harvey relief. 


This book is gorgeous, guys. We put so much heart and soul and dedication into it. And if you're giving up Facebook for Lent, we have a gorgeous website that will have the daily readings and questions to ponder, so you can join our community there! 

Also, I'm going to have some Lenten recipes up on the blog to help with those meatless Fridays that are coming. Look for the first one this week!

What are your favorite Lenten resources? 


Lectio di-wha?

essays, Lent, prayer, Take Up and ReadEmily DeArdoComment

It's no secret that I love to read. I've loved it ever since my mom first read to me as a toddler; I was the kid who snuck books under her desk in school, and read while I should've been getting ready for Mass, or when I should've been sleeping. Books are life. 

So you'd think that the practice of lectio divina, "holy reading", would be the easiest type of prayer for me to practice. 

You'd be so, so wrong. 

I am terrible at lectio. 

Before I tell you why I'm terrible at it, I should probably explain what it is. As I noted, it means "holy reading." It's a way of praying using the Scriptures. Essentially, you read (lectio); you meditate on what you read (meditatio); you pray about what you read (oratio), and then you figure out how to put all that into action (actio). It doesn't sound hard, right? 

Except for me it is. 

First, there's the reading. What the heck am I supposed to read? The Mass readings? Go through the Bible chronologically, only to falter when I get to Leviticus and Numbers and lists of names and other rosters? Start with Matthew and work through the New Testament and then maybe try the old? 

And what if I read and nothing comes to me? I read, and read, and read....nope, God, sorry, nothing's hitting me. That's actually my biggest problem with lectio. I read. And I read. And nothing hits me. There's no inspiration. How am I supposed to pray with that? 

In Advent, I had a pretty big breakthrough. The Advent journal, Rooted in Hope, was a real, hard core introduction to lectio, and it helped me immensely.  

First--because there are readings given. There was a featured verse, and a few others. I didn't have to worry about what to read. 

Second--the steps were all broken down, and easy for me to see, to ponder, to do

At first, I had to re-read the passages a few times. I picked a word, an idea, that spoke to me. But some days it was harder than others. That's OK. I just kept doing it. 

Lectio also requires a bit of background--and this is hard, too. In the first step, you're supposed to do some analysis: what is actually happening in the passage? Is Jesus talking to somebody? Who is Paul writing to, and why? Who is speaking in this excerpt from 1 Kings? That's where a good Bible dictionary, or study bible, is so important (resources at the end of this post). Because this is a big key--knowing what's happening in what you're reading. 

Here's an example: The familiar reading from weddings, 1 Corinthians 13. Love is patient. Love is kind. Yada yada. We've all heard that a million times. But if you know that Paul wrote that to the Corinthians because they were fighting among each other, because there was disunity, and arguing, and strife, and confusion--doesn't it take on a whole different tone? I know it did to me. All of a sudden, Paul's letter is real. It speaks to me in the twenty-first century. Aren't we all in strife, all the time? Aren't we fighting amongst each other? Paul wasn't just writing some nice platitudes. He was giving solid advice to people in the midst of bickering and in-fighting. 

So, keeping with this example: You would read 1 Corinthians 13. You'd do the lectio on it--you'd say, oh, OK, Paul is writing to these people, who are fighting amongst themselves. Then, the meditation. How does this apply to me? Who am I fighting with? Can I apply these concepts there? Who needs more love from me? Where am I not being loving? 

Then, oratio, prayer. Talk to God about what you're thinking. Ask Him to help you apply this to your daily life (actio, the application, the action). "God, I know I need to be more patient with XYZ. It's hard for me. But I know that's what you want. I know that living that way will be a true expression of the Christian life I'm trying to lead. So when I want to swear or yell at this person, help me to be kind. Help me to be patient. I won't be perfect--but with Your help, I will try. I will make progress." 

The actio is in the prayer, right there. You are going to be nicer to XYZ--you won't snap at her, you'll keep your patience, whatever. 

You see how that works? To me, the key is the lectio. It's knowing what the text is really saying, what its implications are. 

As you know, I'm a part of the Take Up and Read team, and we've published our Lent study/devotional, Above All. (In the photo at the top) Every day, you'll get lectio passages--and notes. I did the notes, and it wasn't just to help readers, it helped me! I learned so much as I researched these books of the Bible! It's a beautiful companion for your Lent, and I'm so proud of it. It starts on Ash Wednesday (February 14!) and goes all the way to Easter. There are pages for journaling, an examination of conscience, essays, and more. And the profits will go Adore Ministries in Houston to support ongoing hurricane relief efforts! 


If you haven't gotten your copy yet, you can get it here. If you have any questions about it, or about lectio in general, let me know! I'm not an expert, but we can figure it out together. 

Lectio resources: 

Catholic Bible Dictionary

Ignatius Study Bible (NT)

Didache Bible


Catholics do read the Bible! And this is how we do it--with lectio. 


Above All: A beautiful, intentional companion for Lent

books, current projects, Lent, writingEmily DeArdoComment
Photo by Allison McGinley: @alisonbenotafraid on Instagram (all photos in this post are by Allison!) 

Photo by Allison McGinley: @alisonbenotafraid on Instagram (all photos in this post are by Allison!) 

I am so, so happy to present to you the completed Lent book by all of us at Take Up and Read! Above All is our newest edition to our library (you can see all our other books here), and I am SO proud of her!

Let me tell you a little more about her. 


First of all, this is a big book. It is 338 pages of goodness that starts on Ash Wednesday and takes you all the way to Easter.  

Each day has: 

A bible verse (as well as additional verses for further contemplation);

An essay by one of our wonderful writers;

A lectio divina page, with Biblical background and research to help you understand the time period and background of the day's featured verse;

A journaling page, with questions to help you go deeper, 

And a prayer page, with a unique prayer for every day! 

There is lots of white space, too. This isn't jammed together. We want this to be a peaceful, useful book for you! There is beautiful art, as well, and calligraphy, all done by our gifted artists. 

And every week, we focus on Scripture memorization. That's long been a pillar of Take Up and Read. For this book, we're focusing on a beautiful passage from the third chapter of Colossians. 


This book was designed very intentionally. We want you to have the tools to listen well to God, to go deeper into His word, and to be transformed by what you find there. You don't have to fill in every box, and you don't have to use every tool we give you. This is your book. Use it as you see fit!

I hope that you will join us on this beautiful Lenten journey, to put truly the love of God Above All

If you used Elizabeth's Put on Love study last Lent, you will find much that is familiar here. But even then, there are new essays by our wonderful writers, new art, and new tools for you. 

And the final, and really, most wonderful, bit about this? 


All of the profits from Above All will be donated to Adore Ministries in Houston, to provide Hurricane Harvey relief. 


I very much hope that you will join us! You can purchase your book here. There will also be a button on the sidebar, so you can always come here to purchase! 

If you have any questions, please let me know!

How to scramble eggs (Or: Food for Lent)

food, LentEmily DeArdoComment

There was a time in my life when I didn't know how to scramble eggs. It was a sad time. 

To scramble eggs, you need four things: 

* an appropriately sized frying pan

* eggs

* butter 

*a fork 

That's it. You don't need anything fancy, you don't need herbs and spices. You don't even need a knife.  (Well, you need a heat source. Oven. Fire. Hot plate. Whatever.) 

Scrambled eggs are a great go-to meal, especially during Lent, when we're supposed to be fasting and abstaining from meat on Fridays (and Ash Wednesday, which is tomorrow). Scrambled eggs can be deliciously decadent (I've seen recipes that serve them with caviar) or monastically simplistic. I'm going to give you three versions here, all of them Lent appropriate: one basic, one sweet, and one savory. 

You decided what one you want for your abstinence and fasting days. Or really, any day. I love to make scrambled eggs for lunch. They're filling and delicious and super-economical. Perfect for Lent, or any time you want something filling and healthy--and simple. 


Version 1: Monastic Simplicity

  • 2-3 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter (or salted, if you have it. I usually use unsalted.)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Crack the eggs into a small bowl, and add a pinch of pepper and salt. Whisk together with a whisk or a fork until the yolks are beaten up. 

In a small skillet (8-9"), melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter is melted, pour in the eggs. Move the fork in a back and forth pattern through the eggs until the eggs are scrambled to your preference. Slide onto a plate and season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Version 2: Savory

(Based off a Rachael Ray recipe) 

  • 2-3 eggs

  • Tabasco sauce (if you want it)

  • salt

  • pepper

  • herb and garlic cheese, such as Boursin

  • 1 tbsp. butter

Combine eggs, tabasco, salt, pepper, and a few chunks of the Boursin into a mixing bowl. Whisk with a whisk or a fork. Melt the butter in the skillet and proceed as above. 

You could also use grated cheese in this: pepper jack, cheddar, colby, etc. 

Version 3: Sweet

(Based off a Giada de Laurentiis recipe) 

  • 2-3 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. of sugar
  • dried mint flakes--anywhere from 1/4 tsp. to a full tsp. (Or even more, if you love mint)
  • 1 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Mix eggs, sugar, mint flakes, and heavy cream as above. Proceed with preparing the pan and scrambling eggs as above. These are really good when served with strawberries. 


(And if you missed it: Here's my post on fasting and abstaining during Lent.)

An acceptable time: Lent is almost here!

LentEmily DeArdoComment

YEs, friends, it's that time again! 


Today is a Lenten extravaganza: links for you to read and ponder as Lent starts on Wednesday. Tomorrow--Lenten food. But today, reading material. 

I did a Lent series last year, and here are the parts: 


Fasting and Abstinence



Stations of the Cross



And here are some other good Lent links: 

* The Biblical basis for Fasting (and Lent, in general)


*Practical Thoughts for Lent


Do you have Lenten plans? What are they? 



Seven Quick Takes No. 104

7 Quick Takes, food, LentEmily DeArdoComment


Well, Winter has finally shown up here in Ohio. It's going to be three for a low this weekend. Brrrrr. Glad I have lots of warm socks and boots and a heavy coat that's good for clearing off the car. 


I'm learning Italian! I'm using the Duolingo app and I have to say it's really fun, although there's some weird Italian grammar things that do not exist in French or English. For example, the word "dinner" (cena) can mean the noun, dinner, or  "eating dinner." So if you want to say I'm having dinner, It's "Io cena." IT IS WEIRD. In French, it would be Je mange diner. You need a verb! Not in Italian! 

Also, their possessives are sort of tricky. I'm working on it. But learning Italian is something I've been wanting to do for a long time, so I'm glad I'm finally getting on it. 


Lent has begun, but you can still join Restore! It's not too late. 


I'm taking my first Barre3 class next week. I will hopefully survive. ;-) Cristina loves them, and I've taken similar classes before, so I think I'll survive.....It's only an hour! One can do anything for an hour! (Right?)


One of the great things about winter is that I get to experiment with my cooking. When it's summer and gorgeous I don't want to be working with a hot oven. But tonight is perfect for something like Tuscan marinated chicken and couscous with feta and lemon. It's warm and filling and really easy! 


Fasting is something I didn't have to do for the first 23 years of my life. And now that I have to, it's HARD. Man, I was GRUMPTASTIC Wednesday night, and I also inhaled my dinner like there was no tomorrow. 


Outlander season 2 premieres on my birthday! (April 9) Happy birthday to me! I can't wait for Season 2 with my favorite time travelers. 

Lent 2016: My plan

LentEmily DeArdoComment

Happy Ash Wednesday! 

(Can we say happy Ash Wednesday?)

I've never minded walking around with ashes on my forehead, and no one's ever commented on it, except my boss's boss one year. He walked into our office around lunch and looked at the Catholics assembled, thought for a second, and said, "I didn't know you guys were Catholic." 

Ashes. A way of marking us out. :) 

So, we've talked a lot about Lent lately, and here's my plan: 

  • I'm going to try to follow the Nuns of Summit, NJ horarium as best I can. No, I probably won't be getting up before 6 AM. But I said try. :) 
  • No book buying. None. Nada. Zilch. (Except for the Women's Conference. I am making one exception, because it can be hard to find good Catholic books round these parts!)
  • My Lenten reading is A Time for Renewal, by Mother Mary Francis, PCC; Death on a Friday Afternoon, by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, and On the Passion of the Christ by Thomas a Kempis. I'll also be sure to watch Jesus of Nazareth and The Passion a few times. (Both of them are great, if you haven't seen them.) 

Lenten Practices 6: The Liturgy of the Hours

LentEmily DeArdo1 Comment

The Liturgy of the Hours (AKA the Breviary, AKA the Divine Office) is, after the Mass, the most important thing for priests and vowed religious to pray. Cloistered orders usually pray all seven offices. Active orders pray, at a minimum, morning, evening, and night prayer. It is a way of sanctifying all the hours of the day, to pray  without ceasing.

And lay people do it too!


Lenten Practices 6: The Liturgy of the Hours


The Liturgy of the Hours (AKA the Breviary, AKA the Divine Office) is, after the Mass, the most important thing for priests and vowed religious to pray. Cloistered orders usually pray all seven offices. Active orders pray, at a minimum, morning, evening, and night prayer. It is a way of sanctifying all the hours of the day, to pray  without ceasing.

And lay people do it too!

I wrote about this earlier: 

If you like structure in your prayer life, try saying the Liturgy of the Hours. A great site for this is divineoffice.org, where the prayers for the different hours are listed, and all you have to do is pray them! I have the four-volume set of the office, which I prefer, but I also love this website because it’s great on days when I’ve forgotten my breviary at home. (hey, it happens) The office is the daily prayer of the church, which priests are required to say. Monks and nuns chant these prayers as well, around the clock. Sisters and lay people don’t have to say as many “offices” of the Liturgy of the Hours. Usually I try to pray lauds (Morning Prayer), the Office of Reading, Vespers (Evening Prayer) , and Compline (Night Prayer). Morning and Evening prayer are called the “hinges” of the hours, since they sanctify both ends of the day–beginning and end.

But now it’s time to really talk about it. :) Get excited.

As a Lay Dominican, I’m required to say morning and evening prayer, the “hinge” offices as I call them, above. This isn’t binding under pain of sin–if I can’t, or forget, it’s OK. I usually don’t forget, but with my medical issues, there are times when I may have to miss an office, because I’m indisposed in some way/shape/form. That’s OK.

The offices (except for compline, which is the shortest office) are made up of: an opening hymn, three psalms or canticles (the canticles can be from the Old or New Testament), a short reading, a responsory, another canticle (morning prayer has the Canticle of Zachariah, from Luke; evening prayer is Mary’s Magnificat), petitions, the Our Father, and a closing prayer. The breviary has this all written out for you, so you just follow along when you’re praying it.

Now, it can get complicated. There are feasts and memorials that have separate things. For example, when it’s the Octave of Christmas, we say the Christmas office for eight days. For Feasts, there are usually special readings and psalms that are said. There are lots of “commons”: common of virgins, common of martyrs, common of apostles, common of pastors, etc. It sounds complicated, but once you get used it it, it’s not–and if you’re following at a site like  Divine Office, it’s all laid out for you anyway. For the most part, though, when you’re just starting, you can focus on the regular psalter.

The breviary has a four week cycle of psalms and readings, so every four weeks, you’re back to Week 1 in the book. I’ve found that saying the office, far from being boring, is always speaking to me afresh; I’ve read some sections three of four times by now as I’ve gone through the Liturgical Year, and sometimes it’s only on my latest reading of something that I go aha! It’s constantly speaking to me, and I know others who say the office regularly feel the same way.

If you want to start gently, find a website, or use Magnificat, which gives you a sample morning and evening prayer, as well as the Mass readings for every day. I love mine. If you’ve been saying it for awhile and you’d like the big physical books, you have options. There is the four-volume set, and the one volume Christian Prayer. I use the 4 volume set, which is broken down as:

  1. Advent and Christmas
  2. Lent and Easter
  3. Ordinary Time I
  4. Ordinary Time II

Christian Prayer has all these things together, and as such is usually a bigger book. These can be ordered online or found at any good Catholic bookstore. I find the books excellent because I can write in them (yes, I write in my books) and mark them with post-its for the more complicated offices. I also recommend you get the covers to go with them, otherwise your books will fall apart a lot earlier  (at least if you’re like me and bring them everywhere with you).

Lenten Practices 5: Almsgiving

LentEmily DeArdo2 Comments

OK, the third pillar of Lent (the other two are prayer and fasting/abstinence): Almsgiving.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear this word I think of Robin Hood in the Disney movie, disguised as a beggar in smoked glasses and croaking, “alms for the poor!”

This is not, really, what I should be thinking. :)

Anyway: Almsgiving. Alms is defined as: charity, or something (as money or food) given freely to relieve the poor. Some churches have poor boxes in the back for this purpose (mine does). Other have special collections for the poor throughout the year.

But during Lent, we should definitely be thinking about the poor, and how to relieve their poverty. So some increase in charitable giving is to be considered. There are lots of ways to do this: donate to a food pantry, work in a soup kitchen, pick something from a charity’s gift catalog (like World vision or other such), sponsor a child who lives in a poor nation, participate in Operation Rice Bowl, or donate to your diocese’s ministries for the poor. There are so many ways you can participate in almsgiving.

To be “poor” in the United States often means things like these statistics (from 2010):

  • 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning. In 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
  • 92 percent of poor households have a microwave.
  • Nearly three-fourths have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.
  • Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV.
  • Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and 70 percent have a VCR.
  • Half have a personal computer, and one in seven have two or more computers.
  • More than half of poor families with children have a video game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
  • 43 percent have Internet access.
  • One-third have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.
  • One-fourth have a digital video recorder system, such as a TiVo.

But to be poor in other countries means destitute–you’re living in hovels. You have no food or clean water. Your children are dying from malnourishment, or malaria, because of a lack of basic necessities. When we say dire poverty, this is what we mean. And yes, you can find this in pockets of America, as well. But I think during Lent it’s important to consider those who live in countries where the government cannot help them–there is no safety net. 

At the beginning of this series, I posted a list of 10 countries with the highest population of hungry people. It’s shocking to think that in Burundi, almost sixty-eight percent of the population is hungry. Think about that for a minute. Where I am right now, I am less than 50 feet away from a cafeteria that serves salads, sandwiches, burgers, coffee, cookies, artisan ice cream, and a variety of beverages. There are three vending machines down the hall. There are at least 10 places to eat within walking distance. My office has a water cooler of fresh, clean water for anyone who wants it. According to World Vision, “more than 1,600 children under age 5 die every day from diarrhea caused by unsafe water — that’s more than AIDS and malaria combined. Clean water, basic sanitation, and hygiene education are some of the most effective ways to prevent child disease and death.” 

We might not think we can make a difference with our few dollars that we can donate. But we can. A $20 (that’s a ticket to the movies and snacks, or a dinner out, or–for me–a hardback book, or a DVD/Blu-ray) donation to a clean water fund can save lives.

Like I said above, there are so many worthy places out there to give your money–this Lent, think about it. Think about the incredibly poverty that exists in our world, and do what we can to help alleviate it.

We can’t do everything, but as Mother Teresa said: “if you do something, and I do something, then together, we will do something beautiful for God.”

Lenten Practices 4: Stations of the Cross

LentEmily DeArdoComment

Anyone who’s been in any Catholic church notices them–the Stations of the Cross. Sometimes done in plaster molding, sometimes in steel and wood, sometimes on plaques, sometimes in bas-relief–they are always there, in every church, a gift of St. Francis to the Church.

The Stations of the Cross are always there, but seem to gain popularity during Lent, with many parishes offering communal services to pray the stations. As a child, we “did” the stations of the cross every Friday during Lent with our class at the parochial school I attended, every year.

The Stations recount Jesus’ journey to His crucifixion, from His condemnation by Pilate (the first station) to the burial in the tomb (the fourteenth, and last, station). While the number of stations varied over the years, St. Francis codified the stations, in a sense, and gave us the fourteen stations we see today.  The object of the stations is to travel, spiritually, to Jerusalem, and thus walk with Jesus on Good Friday, often with a spirit of penance and reparation for our sins.

The stations are:

  1. Jesus is Condemned to Death
  2. Jesus Takes Up His Cross
  3. Jesus Falls the First Time
  4. Jesus Meets His Mother
  5. Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry His Cross
  6. Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
  7. Jesus Falls the Second Time
  8. Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus Falls the Third Time
  10. Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments
  11. Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross (sometimes called the Crucifixion)
  12. Jesus Dies on the Cross
  13. Jesus Is Taken Down from the Cross
  14. Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb

Often in communal services, the hymn Stabat Mater (“At the cross her station keeping”) is sung. On Good Friday, the pope recites the Stations of the Cross at the Roman Colosseum, complete with prayers and meditations.  An excellent set for meditation are these, written by (then) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before Bl. John Paul II died in 2005; the pope was too ill to complete his normal Good Friday practices, so the Cardinal took his place, writing his own series of prayers and reflections.

The stations are a superb Lenten practice, since the graces we receive from doing them in a spirit of prayerful recollection and penance are so immense. It is good for us to ponder these things, to realize why Jesus died, to see the supreme mercy of God–the extreme depth of God’s love for us. We all see the signs that say John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” By mediating on the stations of the cross, we can truly see that love–love that was so deep it sustained Jesus through His horrible torture and death.

(As a side note: The 2004 film The Passion of the Christ shows all the stations, in some depth. For older children and adults, I often recommend watching this film, because I haven’t found a better example in media of Jesus’ passion and death, and what it truly was. It’s easy to whitewash what happened to Jesus; even the Gospels don’t give us explicit accounts, probably because their audiences knew all too well the horror of crucifixion. But we need to see it, I think, to really get it, and to see how deep and how great that love was. )

So, check and see if your church has a communal stations service on Fridays during Lent, or just go to your church sometime and walk the stations. If you can’t get to a church, you can also meditate on them at home by using a prayer book or an online guide, like the one I posted above. The important thing is that, at some point during Lent, you really focus on what the season is about, and what happened on Good Friday.)

Lenten Practices 3: Prayer

LentEmily DeArdoComment

Lent is a great time to renew/revamp/reassess our prayer lives, and establish one, if you don’t already have one.

Prayer, as I explain to my first graders, is just talking to God. That’s it. It’s not some big mysterious thing that takes a lot of time. It’s just talking to someone who loves you.

I know a lot of Catholics trot out the “well I go to Mass every week.” At the Catholic Women's Conference I went to two years ago, one of the speakers (Rebecca Dussault) made a good point. She is a former Olympic cross country skier, and compared prayer to talking with her coach and training. If she only met with her coach one hour a week, she wouldn’t get to know her coach, the coach wouldn’t get to know her, and her training wouldn’t be that great. Thus, how can we possibly expect to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength if we don’t talk to Him more than an hour a week?

There are so many different prayer traditions we have as Catholics; it is a rich tradition! As a Domincan, I’m partial to the rosary, of course. One set of mysteries takes me about 15 minutes to say. 15 minutes to say the Rosary is 1% of your day.  If you can’t say five decades, say one, one the way to work, or as you clean the kitchen, or take a shower. Starting slowly is better than not starting at all.

There are many good Catholic prayer books available at any Catholic bookstore or Amazon. But you can also use your own words. Tell God what you need; tell Him what you’re thankful for; tell Him about people you love. The four main types of prayer are: intercessory (praying for someone else), praise, thanksgiving, and petition (asking Him to help you). Any combination of these is great.

If you like structure in your prayer life, try saying the Litrugy of the Hours. A great site for this isdivineoffice.org, where the prayers for the different hours are listed, and all you have to do is pray them! I have the four-volume set of the office, which I prefer, but I also love this website because it’s great on days when I’ve forgotten my breviary at home. (hey, it happens) The office is the daily prayer of the church, which priests are required to say. Monks and nuns chant these prayers as well, around the clock. Sisters and lay people don’t have to say as many “offices” of the Liturgy of the Hours. Usually I try to pray lauds (Morning Prayer), the Office of Reading, Vespers (Evening Prayer) , and Compline (Night Prayer). Morning and Evening prayer are called the “hinges” of the hours, since they sanctify both ends of the day–beginning and end. (I’ll be talking more about this in a separate post, since it’s a big part of my life as a Lay Dominican.)

A great book for beginners is  Prayer Primer, by Fr. Thomas Dubay (or even not beginners–people who just want to read and learn more about prayer). This is followed by Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer. (If you want something that boosts your exiting prayer life, the latter book is a great way to start)

During Lent, you may want to pray the Seven Penitential Psalms.  These are psalms that particularly express the idea of penitence and are particularly a propos during Lent.

Prayer is our intimate time of conversation with God. Sometimes you may wish to try contemplative prayer, or a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament. Sometimes I’ve kept a prayer journal where I write down specific intentions, or insights I’ve gained in prayer.

Whatever you’ve been doing, this Lent, try to add more. By giving things up, like facebook (which I’m doing), there is more time for prayer and spiritual reading. Let’s use those pockets of time to talk to God and deepen our relationship with Him.

Lenten Practice 2: Confession

LentEmily DeArdoComment

Ah, confession.


I never really liked it. As a kid, it freaked me out. And as I grew up, I went maybe three times a year.

Now I try to go much more often, once a month being my goal, but it works out to about once every six weeks. Working on it peeps. :)

Anyway–we’re gonna make this really short today. Go to confession at least once before the Triduum. Do a good examination of conscience (Scott Hahn’s book Lord Have Mercy has a great one in the back). Brush up on the Act of Contrition. (My church has them in the confessional, on the wall, but some churches don’t.) If you’ve committed mortal sins, remember they need to be confessed in kind and number (as in, what you did and how many times you did it). Do your penance promptly.

Lenten Practice 1: Fasting and Abstinence

LentEmily DeArdo1 Comment


Fasting is an important Lenten practice–it’s one of the three pillars of Lent (the pillars are fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, all of which we will talk about over the coming week). But how many of us really understand it?

Let’s start at the top:

Fast (v): abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance.

OK. So, as Catholics, we fast from food, in general, on two days: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Here are the directives (emphasis mine):

The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday [Canon 97] to the 59th Birthday [i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday] to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity. Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast is broken by eating between meals and by drinks which could be considered food (milk shakes, but not milk). Alcoholic beverages do not break the fast; however, they seem contrary to the spirit of doing penance.

Those who are excused from fast or abstinence Besides those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment,  manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline.

So–one regular meal, two smaller meals that aren’t bigger than the main meal, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Generally, the idea is that you’re not going to feel full.

The body is not all. We fast for a few reasons:

1) It’s in Scripture:

Matthew 4:1-2: Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry.

Matthew 17:17-20: And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour. Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast him out? Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief. For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain: Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove: and nothing shall be impossible to you. But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.


2) It’s to train us to realize that our bodies are not all. We might want the Coke, or the hamburger, or the Twix bar, but you won’t die without it. What our body wants is not necessarily what it needs. We have to discipline our bodies.

3) It brings to mind those of us who do not have a enough to eat. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly 870 million people–one in eight people–were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012. Almost all the hungry people, 852 million, live in developing countries, representing 15 percent of the population of developing counties. There are 16 million people undernourished in developed countries (FAO 2012). The 10 countries with the highest proportion of hungry people are:

  1. Burundi – 67.3%
  2. Eritrea – 61.3%
  3. Haiti – 49.8%
  4. Zambia – 43.1%
  5. Ethiopia – 37.1%
  6. Swaziland – 35.8%
  7. Democratic Republic of the Congo – 33%
  8. Tanzania – 33%
  9. Zimbabwe – 30.5%
  10. Guatemala – 30.5%

Those are heart-rending statistics. Fasting helps us be grateful for what we have–food abundance–and can help motivate us to relieve the hunger of others (we’ll talk for about this when we talk about almsgiving)


(World Vision photograph)

4) It reminds us to fast from other things–namely, sin. Here are some great writings about this (scroll down). This is also important to remember if you can’t physically fast for a lot of reasons (for years, pre-transplant, I couldn’t fast. People would’ve had my head, I was so undernourished). You can fast from gossip, from TV, from Facebook, from getting manicures. Whatever is a treat to you. You can also do this in addition to corporal fasting.

Abstinence means no meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Lenten Fridays. Some dioceses have moved to reinstate abstinence from meat on all Fridays of the year. We do this as a sacrifice, although Fish Fries are awesome fun and not often a sacrifice! :) And yes, lobster is fish–but that’s sort of going against the idea of simplicity and penance.

Be sure to plan some meatless Friday ideas for yourself and your family. Do you want to attend your parish fish fry? Operation Rice Bowl has some meatless recipes, one for each Lenten Friday, as well as stories and reflections from the country where the recipe originates.

Here , though, is a SUPER IMPORTANT NOTEDon’t forget about the Eucharistic Fast! We are not supposed to eat an hour before Mass, to prepare ourselves for Holy Communion. There’s some “fudging” on what constitutes “an hour”, but I’m gonna go with an hour before Mass starts: so if it’s noon Mass, no eating after 11 AM. Medicines are permitted, of course, and food with those meds, if it’s required. So, if you aren’t doing this, or never were taught this–now you know! Fast before Mass!