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Kay Winchester

Kay Winchester

Kay Winchester lives and works in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York. Website URL:

The color of calm

If you gave, received as a gift, or purchased an adult coloring book for yourself in the last two years, you are not alone.  The current trend (some people call it a “craze”) for coloring books specifically geared toward adults has been growing steadily since they were first introduced commercially in the United States in 2012.  

In 2014, overall sales reached about 1 million copies; by the end of 2015, that number had skyrocketed to more than 12 million, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.  As of the end of October, nine of the top 100 books sold on Amazon were adult coloring books. 
Many people who swear by their coloring books cite their “de-stressing” factor as the reason for their popularity, and there seems to be some objective evidence for that. Although coloring requires focus, it doesn’t necessarily require great artistic skill; the mere process of choosing colors and filling in spaces accounts for its calming effect. 
The subject matter of the books can also be very satisfying, as there seems to be a book to match every interest; they run the gamut from abstract designs to nature themes, from history to classic cars and from animals to Victorian fashions. Happily, there are also many religiously themed coloring books available, with more than a few geared specifically to a Catholic audience.  (To find an extensive list of these books, simply go to Amazon and type “Catholic adult coloring books” into the search line.)
For Sister of Mercy Lorraine Ambrosini who takes an art class at Mount St. Mary Convent in Burlington, art has always been an avenue to peace and relaxation. “Art is a tool to create something new. And God is the Master of Creation,” she said. “So, yes, art can be a religious experience.”
She said that people in her class appreciate “God’s creation in nature” as they paint scenes that depict the natural beauty that surrounds them. “For me, while painting a landscape, it’s easy to be in awe of the beauty in nature as created by God.”
While coloring can be a great way to nurture appreciation for God’s creation or relax at the end of a busy day, there are other positive effects. People with dementia or other cognitive impairment seem to garner its benefits.
“Actually, it was the participants in our program who taught us about the value of coloring books,” said Diane Olechna, manager of adult day programs with the Visiting Nurses Association of Chittenden and Grand Isle counties. She and Kellie Parks, communications manager of the VNA, recently spoke to Vermont Catholic about why this particular activity is part of their program. 
About a year ago, some of their clients began bringing in their books, and they thought it was a good idea so began using them. There has been a good response to them from all their sites.
Olechna agreed that coloring seems to have a tranquil effect on the participants in their program. “Emotionally, it is a benefit because it is calming,” she said.  “One of our clients, for instance, who sometimes has a hard time settling in, loves to color.”  As it turns out, that activity has been the perfect vehicle to get her into a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind.
Staff members say coloring gives their clients a sense of meaning and accomplishment in their day. Many times, the feeling of having done something of some consequence is severely diminished in people with cognitive issues, but choosing colors and completing a picture can give clients a great sense of personal satisfaction.
There is also the positive affirmation from others for their work. “Our clients will praise one another’s coloring,” Olechna said. “They will comment that someone has done a nice picture or chosen nice colors.” There is even a wall at the VNA program site on which some 40 pictures are displayed, all colored by participants in the Adult Day Program.
The benefits of coloring were echoed by Pat Sager, who currently serves as the organist and music director at Holy Mother and Child Parish in Lake Luzerne/Corinth, N.Y.  She and her husband, Jim, have been married for 34 years; both were Catholic school teachers in the Diocese of Albany, which is where they met. He has been suffering from frontotemporal dementia, a fairly rare form of the disease, for the past three or four years.
“He was the first one who noticed that something was not right,” Sager recently told Vermont Catholic.  “He said to his brother at one point that there was something wrong with his brain.” Once she “knew where things were going,” Sager began to engage him with puzzles, games and activities that were picture oriented. “He was always artistic,” she said, “so coloring books were a natural choice.” Because he loves nature, his preference has been for pictures that have that kind of theme.
“At first he was able to pick out pictures on his own,” she continued, “and I would often sit and color with him.” At that point, he was also able to look in the back of the book, matching suggested colors to the ones he chose to work with. As the disease progressed, though, he began to need more help, even to get started on a picture, at least at home. “At his day program, where everyone is involved, it’s a different matter,” Sager noted. “There he is more on task.” 
She also sees coloring as a way for cognitively challenged people to continue to be involved with life and with others; lately, she has been searching for Christmas- themed books for him to work with. “I feel that he did so well with his pictures that I wanted to take a Christmas one and turn it into a card,” she said. “Even if a person’s brain isn’t working in every area, there is still a way for them to communicate. And if I label the picture as ‘Artwork done by Jim,’ then he still has input into the season, and it gives him something meaningful to do.”
Olechna and Parks also note that coloring facilitates communication across cultural lines as well. They have a non-English speaking client from Nepal. He loves to color, and he completes some of the most beautiful work. His art transcends language, they agreed.
  • Published in Diocesan

“Little Sins Mean a Lot: Kicking Our Bad Habits Before They Kick Us"

Little Sins Mean a Lot: Kicking Our Bad Habits Before They Kick Us.”  By Elizabeth Scalia. Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor, 2016. 160 pages. Paperback: $14.95.  Kindle: $8.65. Nook:  $10.49
Elizabeth Scalia’s new book, “Little Sins Mean a Lot: Kicking Our Bad Habits Before They Kick Us,” continues a theme she began in her previous work, “Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life.” As she did there, Scalia demonstrates a wonderful knack of helping us look at the everydayness of our lives in order to see, perhaps for the first time, what is really there.
One of the things that makes her voice so authentic in all her books -- and this one is certainly no exception -- is that her approach is intensely personal. She never preaches to her readers; rather she confesses to them, admitting her own shortcomings and then using these as lessons that we can all learn from. Most of us, for instance, can examine our consciences in light of the Ten Commandments and come out relatively unscathed. But gossip? Procrastination? Griping? Now, perhaps, we are on shakier ground, but it is precisely this sort of shake-up that can wake us out of our torpor, resulting in real change and, not coincidentally, more happiness in our lives.
So, what are these little sins?  Scalia outlines 13 of them – “twelve would have been more biblical,” she quips, “but I couldn’t stop myself” – that we recognize right off the bat: procrastination, excessive self-interest, self-neglect, indulging ourselves too much, gossip, judgment and suspicion, gloominess and griping, spite or passive aggression, out-grown attachments, laziness, cheating, sins of omission and excessive self-blame. Not surprisingly, all of these boil down to essentially one word – self – which is often the biggest obstacle between us and a truly whole and holy relationship with God.  (I am reminded of the prayer for good humor from the English martyr, St. Thomas More: “Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumblings, sighs and laments, nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called ‘I.’” Pope Francis reportedly prays this every day.)
In addition to her own thoughts, experiences and observations, Scalia includes at the end of each chapter a section of short excerpts entitled “What does Catholicism say…?” in which she draws from the Catechism, Scripture and the writings of the saints and other holy people, nuggets of wisdom which summarize and further illustrate her point.  This is followed by suggestions on how to break away from the “little sin” and concludes with a prayer and an invitation to speak to God in our own words about what we have just read and reflected on.
Throughout the book, Scalia is urging us to move beyond being merely “a good person” because “if we are going to try to become truly good persons,” she says, “we need to identify and then detach from the faults and sins that we so readily give in to…” in order to become holy people. This demands of us a rigorous honesty that is not for the faint of heart. But no matter how painful it may seem at the outset –- Scalia herself admits to procrastinating on this book because she knew it would reveal her own bad habits and sins –- it is in the end, the only thing worth doing.  “God never sells us short,” she concludes. “He never takes the cheap and easy route, either, because cheap and easy usually means a crummy gift, and we are promised an extravagance of riches, if only we are faithful and paying attention.”
Author bio
A Benedictine Oblate, Elizabeth Scalia (no relation, by the way, to the late Supreme Court justice) was formerly the managing editor of the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com, where she blogs under the title “the Anchoress.” A regular columnist at First Things and a featured columnist at The Catholic Answer magazine, she was also a featured speaker in Rome in 2011, when the Vatican hosted a meeting with some 150 Catholic bloggers from around the world.
In 2015, she was named editor-in-chief of the US/English publication of Aleteia, an international online publication dedicated to the New Evangelization.
She has also been a contributor to The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian (UK), National Review Online, Notre Dame’s Church Life: A Journal for the New Evangelization and Cultures and Faith, the Journal of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
In addition to “Little Sins Mean a Lot,” Scalia is the award-winning author of “Strange Gods” and “Caring for the Dying with the Help of your Catholic Faith.”
She and her husband live in Montauk, N.Y., and have three children.
  • Published in Reviews

St. Dominic of Silos

In 11th-Century Spain, if the king demanded something, he generally got it.  Not so in the case of one Benedictine monk, however. 
Saint Dominic of Silos stood his ground and, although he lost one monastery, he gained another,  greater one instead.
Born in about the year 1000 to a peasant family in Navarre, Spain, Dominic spent his early years as a shepherd, cultivating a love of solitude and prayer. In adulthood, he entered the Benedictine order, was ordained a priest and became abbot of the monastery at San Millan de la Cogolla.  When a dispute over monastery lands arose, the king of Navarre ordered the Benedictines to leave; when Dominic refused, he and two of his monks were forcibly removed and exiled.
They sought refuge in Castile; there they became part of the monastery of San Sebastian at Silos, which was in desperate need of reform. Under Dominic’s leadership, the house was reinvigorated both physically and spiritually and became one of the most famous monasteries in Spain.  It was reputed to be a place of healing, due primarily to the holiness associated with Dominic.
Dominic died in 1073 of natural causes.  His feast day is Dec. 20.
Sources for these articles include:
“Saint Dominic of Silos." CatholicSaints.Info. 14 June 2016.

St. Nicholas of Myra

One of the most popular secular figures associated with Christmas, Santa Claus, actually began as a very Christian saint – St. Nicholas.  Although we have few facts about this Fourth-Century bishop, the many stories which grew up about him, coupled with the widespread devotion people have expressed toward him in many times and cultures, give us a glimpse into the holiness of the man.  And the picture it paints is very appealing.
Nicholas was born into a wealthy family during the latter part of the Third Century on what is now the southern coast of Turkey; his parents, devout Christians, died in an epidemic when Nicholas was still a very young man. As a result, he suddenly found himself in possession of a fairly substantial fortune. However, rather than keep his money, he obeyed Jesus’ command to “sell all you have and give it to the poor” and distributed his earthly wealth among the poorest and neediest around him.
Nicholas was ordained a priest and was subsequently made bishop of Myra, a city in Lycia, which was a province of Asia Minor. Sources tell us that he was imprisoned during the Christian persecution, which took place under the Roman Emperor Diocletian but lived to see the legalization of the faith under Constantine. Likely present at the Council of Nicaea in 325, Nicholas died in the city of Myra on Dec. 6, 343.
Nicholas was known during his lifetime for his expansive generosity.  One of the most popular stories about him concerned a man who was too poor to provide dowries for his three daughters; at the time, a lack of dowry meant that a woman could not marry, and so it was likely that these girls would end up being sold, either into slavery or prostitution. When Nicholas heard of the situation, he is said to have gone to the house on three separate occasions, each time tossing a bag of gold through the window, thereby providing each daughter with the needed dowry.  According to legend, the gold landed in the stockings of the young women, which they had washed and hung over the fireplace to dry – thus beginning the tradition of hanging stockings at Christmas that persists to this day.
Miracles also were attributed to Nicholas after his death. One of the oldest stories tells of a young boy who was kidnapped from Myra by pirates who raided the city during the celebration of the saint’s feast day. A year later, as the child’s grieving mother prayed for his safe return, Nicholas is said to have appeared to the boy where he was being held as a slave, sweeping him up and returning him to his parents.
Another story has Nicholas restoring to life three children who were murdered by a wicked innkeeper.  Still another, which reportedly took place during the saint’s lifetime, says that while on a voyage to the Holy Land, the ship on which he was traveling was caught in a terrible storm. The terrified sailors were sure that the ship would be lost and that they would drown, but Nicholas calmly prayed for their safety. Within minutes, the waves were stilled and the storm abated, sparing everyone on board.
While many of these tales are unsubstantiated, their persistence over the centuries nevertheless point to a man who was both generous and holy, a model for those who would also live a compassionate life. There are many who claim him as their patron, among them children, sailors, brides and the country of Greece. 
His feast day, which falls near the beginning of Advent, is Dec. 6.
Sources for this article include:
Ott, Michael. "St. Nicholas of Myra." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.
“Saint Nicholas of Myra." CatholicSaints.Info. 11 June 2016.
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