Allison Gingras Ink Slingers Novenas Prayer

The Value of Novenas [and Remembering to Actually Pray Them]

The Value of a Gift 

Prayer is a powerful gift. Perhaps you have not thought of prayer in terms of a gift. The interesting thing about gifts is that in order for them to be useful, each needs to be:

  1. Received,
  2. Opened, and
  3. Used.

Leave one of those elements out, and the gift ceases to fulfill its purpose. It can not reach its full potential or intended benefit if all three criteria are not met.

If we are presented with a new book, cookware, or game, and put it in a drawer never to be touched again, the benefit intended from the article would never be realized. Additionally, we would clearly appear quite ungrateful. 

Take Great Aunt Louise’s itchy, multi-color, QVC sweater which seemed to be a questionable choice back in 1980; what purpose could this possibly have? Back then, even if it just meant wearing it when you visited, adorned out of love and respect for the care she took in choosing it for you, the sweater revealed your love and respect for her. Fast-forward 30 years, the striped-sweater becomes a sweet memory and the only gift you still recall receiving from her.

If it is important to be attentive to sweet Aunt Louise and her generous gifts, even if I am unsure of its value in my life, how much more should our response be to every good gift God offers, such as faith, grace, and of course, prayer? 

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. ~James 1:17

For some of us, the struggle to pray comes from not knowing what to say. For others, the problem is to remember to pray. Whatever the request you need to bring to prayer, there is a novena (typically a nine-day prayer) to help you out. A novena is not only good for petitioning, but this form of prayer is also equally adequate for thanking, adoring, or contrition, which helps take care of the concern about what to say when we come to pray. I have included some strategies to help you to remember to recite these prayers each day.

Novenas to Put in Your Repertoire for Times of Need

Is your need immediate, can’t wait nine days to finish a prayer? How about Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s “Flying” or “Emergency” Novena? This novena consists of 9 Memorare prayers said, on the spot, in a row. Mother Teresa would always at a tenth in Thanksgiving knowing our Blessed Mother never fails to help her children, even if it was not as we expected, she knew Mary heard and brought her petition to Jesus. 

Maybe you have a little more time to bring this petition or prayer to the Lord, but maybe you’re not exactly able to wait nine days. How about a nine-hour novena? Two of my favorite nine-hour novenas are the Infant of Prague prayer and the Efficacious Sacred Heart Novena. Padre Pio said the latter each day for all the intentions entrusted to him. Recite the novena prayers once an hour (it doesn’t have to be on the top of the hour each time, just within that hour) for nine consecutive hours. I can attest to the power of these beautiful prayers. To help me remember to pray, I usually set the timer on my watch, phone, or Echo device.  

Perhaps, you have a little bit more time, but yet nine days seems like a long time to have a response to your prayers. I discovered the 5-day Novena to St Therese of Lisieux, which also includes a caveat to recite the novena prayers before 11 am each day. 

As you may know, St. Therese is known for sending a sign to the petitioner that their prayer has been heard and presented to the Lord. A word of caution, the rose sign does not necessarily mean God’s answer will be according to your plan but instead comes as an assurance she has presented them to the Lord) in the form of a rose. I have to share that I am kind of a stinker when it comes to praying to St. Therese. Skeptical by nature, I don’t just ask to receive any rose. I ask for a purple rose, a reformed ‘brat’ herself, she seems to get my struggle, and nearly always plays along. 

To help me remember each day of my novena, I turn to my email and calendar. I set reminders, including pop up notifications and emails. 

The Our Lady Undoer of Knots, prayer and novena, made more widely known by Pope Francis, can be said with or without a Rosary. Since the Rosary comes with 15 promises and graces galore, I do try to complete this version. The Rosary, for me, is an act of waging war against all the obstacles that fight to keep me from the peace Jesus has for me as I await his answer or the resolution of my situation or circumstance.

Regardless of which novena you choose or the timeline in which you pray, you can be assured, the Lord loves that you are using this invaluable gift. 

Allison Gingras Ink Slingers Novenas Parenting Prayer Saints Vocations

A Modern Day Miracle

A Modern Day Miracle

In October, my daughter, Faith, received an entirely unexpected Scoliosis diagnosis.  

Her doctor found what is known as an S plus one curvature in her spine. Faith’s back curved looked like a slithering snake, 50 degrees, then 48 degrees, and ending with another 28-degree curve.  Faith was facing a very real (and scary) possibility of spine surgery.

Within a month of the diagnoses, Faith began wearing a Boston Brace. Weaning Faith into wearing the brace for the prescribed 18-hours a day was painful (for both her and us). My daughter (along with us at times) shed a few tears as each day the time in her brace increased to adjusted to daily life in a brace. Our hearts ached as our sweet, complacent child endured hours of discomfort and pain, yet was still unable to reach the level of comfort promised when she began the brace journey.

Despite the most valiant efforts, we were unable to get her time in brace beyond 8 to 12 hours. Desperate to reach the brace on level necessary for it to truly help her, we did what any Catholic parent might, we searched for a heavenly helper. A saint who could become her spiritual advocate and intercede in her hour of great need.

My husband did a thorough Google search and found Saint Gemma Galgani. St. Gemma, like Faithy, was an orphan.  Additionally (and quite remarkably) they both also shared a hearing loss and the spine curvature. Faithy was born profoundly deaf, while Gemma lost her hearing due to illness. The same disease that caused Gemma’s spin to curve and lead to her also sporting a back brace!   Wow! Seriously, this is one of the things about the Catholic Faith I love the most – seemingly always being able to find someone to add to our “Saint Posse” who can not only intercede for us but also empathize with our circumstances because they too experienced them.

Kevin and I began a novena to St. Gemma in hopes that Faith’s weaning-in process would go much smoother.  The first answer came just a few days into the novena. Faith’s school Physical Therapist called to tell me she’d worked at the very Orthopedic office that not only fitted Faith with her Boston Brace but is actually the office where the brace originated. She would be able to help Faith with her brace needs at school (a huge concern weighing on our hearts) adding she was so familiar with the braces she could, “put them on her sleep.”  I had to hold back tears as the flush of relief washed over me. Thank you, St. Gemma!!!

The next heavenly assist came when we returned to the Orthopedic for advice on how to help her reach the magic 18-hour number needed for the brace to be of maximum assistance. Faith saw a new technician, who made dramatic changes to her brace, and within a week, Faith was at 18-plus hours. She was able to finally sleep in it, as well as wear it all day at school. A huge relief as the brace, the doctor continually exhorts, only works if it is on her body!

And work it did!  The third miraculous intercession, and most dramatic came in February.  Just as scoliosis is considered idiopathic (with no known cause) – the remarkable reduction of her two major curves, after only two months, to 30 degrees, was also without explanation!  

The Boston Brace is meant to hold the curve, to keep it from progressing.  Although there are a few reported cases of improvement, this is not the norm. Surgery, for now, is off the table  As the school Physical Therapist said, “So happy Faith beat the odds.” We, of course, were quick to credit the incredible power of prayer, accompanied with the medical intervention, brought about what we consider to be a modern-day miracle.

A Modern Day Miracle

Feast Days Ink Slingers Natalie Novenas Prayer Saints

In Honor of St. Joseph: Our Guide, Our Intercessor, Our Friend

I picked up the phone and heard my sister’s ecstatic voice on the line. “WE HAVE SOMEONE INTERESTED IN THE HOUSE!”  My heart sang and I smiled. I could hardly believe my ears! This was good news, and a very big thank you was owed to St. Joseph.

Going back to the beginning….

My sister Shell and I have been best friends since I was born. She waited patiently for me for 6.5 years and squealed with delight when she found out she had a sister! We loved each other dearly and spent every moment together. Our days were spent playing Barbies, making fairy houses, and nearly killing ourselves a couple times (much to our Mother’s grief!) Those were the golden years!

Years flew by and soon we were both grown. Shell married back in 2007, just before I turned 18.

I then met my now husband Stephen shortly after I turned 18 and had a whirlwind courtship and we got married in the summer of 2009. I moved to Phoenix. It was devastating to move so far away from my family, especially my sister. We had no idea if we’d ever move back, but we knew it was very unlikely.

Shell and I talked frequently and dreamt that someday we would live closer and our children would grow up as best friends. If only it could happen!

My husband and I bought a house and settled and called Arizona our home. Four years passed and we welcomed 3 handsome sons into our family.

Shell called me one day and told me that the house they were trying to sell had been sitting on the market for over a year with NO bites. They were under two mortgages and were desperate to get their other house sold.

My sister and I decided that very day that we would begin praying the St. Joseph novena asking for his intercession. We figured that if it was God’s will, he would let something happen so that we could live closer to each other and see our children grow up together. It was a crazy prayer, a very impossible intention at that point, but we had great faith! Shell was also praying that they would sell their house.

On the last day of our 30 day novena, my sister called me with the news. Someone had just contacted her and wanted to rent to own the house they had been trying to sell!

We began a second novena….

I still remember the day clearly. My husband Stephen broke the news to me suddenly.

One evening he blurted “I got a job offer in Washington!!!!”

I sat there stunned, my head whirling. At first I didn’t know whether to believe it was true.

“Wait….Are you serious?”

He absolutely was!

I called my sister in a flurry with the news and she, like me, could hardly believe it. We both laughed and cried with joy. Could this REALLY be happening?

With the second 30 day St. Joseph novena complete, we began a third, begging his intercession for our house to sell.

Sell it did…Almost immediately after we put it up for sale. Everything fell into place so perfectly and without a hitch.

The day our house closed and we had $20,000 profit from it transferred into our bank account was also the day my husband got a confirmation that the job was absolute in Washington and we were moving!

Moving day came mid-January 2014. We packed up our vehicle, said our goodbyes and hit the road. It was the beginning of a new adventure and a trip that proved dangerous and very scary!

We prayed hard, and finally made it to our new rental home and settled in.

My sister and I were only FIVE minutes away from each other! We laughed in glee that such a miraculous thing happened to us! We could drink coffee, spend the day together and watch our children play. We do not for a day take our situation for granted!

After a year in our rental house, we knew that we were ready to buy a house in the area.

The housing market was poor. I checked the listings daily and felt more and more disheartened.

One day, a house popped up onto the market as a new listing. The house was beautiful, well taken care of and had 5 bedrooms, a generator attached directly to the house, its own well and it sat on nearly 5 acres. It was too good to be true!

I called my realtor immediately and told him I wanted to see the house IMMEDIATELY!

We made an appointment the next day and went to see the house. Our realtor opened the door and when we walked into the house I knew, immediately that this was our house. It was even more beautiful in person then in the pictures.

We made an offer on the house THAT day and offered over asking price!

This was right before Christmas and we prayed for a Christmas miracle! We continued praying the St. Joseph novena daily since we first began about 1.5 years ago and now we begged for his intercession once again.

We waited anxiously as the day approached that the owners would be viewing the offers. Apparently we were not the only ones who made a quick offer on the house, there were several sitting on the desk and the house had only been on the market 4 days!

Finally, after what seemed like forever, I got the anticipated call from our realtor.

Our realtor said “I have good news and bad news…” The bad news is that several of the offers were much better than yours…” My heart sunk. “However, the good news is that the sellers accepted YOUR offer out of all of them!!!!”

I stood there shocked, in completely disbelief.

We finally signed several months later. We had a VA loan and it proved to be extremely difficult. We almost lost the deal several times, but miracle after miracle happened and things kept falling into place slowly, no matter how hopeless it felt at times!

I was pregnant at this time, about 4 months along.

We were finally able to rest easy as we settled into our beautiful new home and awaited the arrival of our 4th child.

June rolled around quickly as we enjoyed our days in our new house and soon I was in labor.

I prayed asking for St. Joseph’s intercession and protection again as I was home alone when labor began and quickly progressed.

My husband and midwife got to our house just in time to witness the gentle birth of our 4th son.

We named him Joseph Andrew, after our patron saint and dear friend St. Joseph.

St. Joseph has protected us diligently and 4 years after we began the St. Joseph novena, we continue praying it DAILY.

If you have an impossible situation in your life, pray the St. Joseph novena. I promise you he will be there. In honor of his feast day, I share my testimony of this 30 day St. Joseph novena!

St. Joseph, Pray for us!


Ink Slingers Marriage Mary Misty Novenas Prayer Resources Rosary Spiritual Growth

From Loathing to Loving the Rosary

rosary1One of the things I love about Advent and Christmas is the extra emphasis on the Blessed Mother. As a motherless Catholic, it’s been easy to embrace Mary as my own mother and I always love hearing the Scriptures about her this time of year. 

For most of my years as a Catholic, however, I struggled with one of the most traditional Marian devotions–the rosary. A year or so after my baptism, I picked up a pamphlet explaining how to do it, bought myself a lovely rosary at the parish bookshop, and settled down to embrace the devotion that countless saints and the most ardent Catholics in my life insisted was a “must” for anyone wanting to grow in holiness.

Except I hated praying the rosary. I found the whole thing pedantic and boring. My mind would inevitably wander…I could either focus on saying the prayers or meditate on the mysteries, but not both. And I could never get more than a few minutes into a rosary without being interrupted. (I even started getting up an hour before the kids, only to have them inexplicably wake up 10 minutes after I started praying. Can we say spiritual attack?)

So I put it aside for a while, trying again six months later. Yet I just couldn’t “get” the rosary the way I could novenas or litanies. I’d try every year or so, with the same effect. By the time I had been a Catholic for a full decade, I had a genuine, personal love for the Blessed Virgin, but the embrace of her most favored devotion still seemed to elude me. Apparently, the rosary was for those “other” Catholics, but not for me.

Then my 20-year marriage went through its worst trial ever as my husband began to experience severe depression as part of his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He told me he felt emotionally numb; when pressed, he admitted he saw me as nothing more than a really good friend. These are not the words a wife ever wants to hear and I was devastated.

Fortunately, my husband is a humble man and he agreed to get treatment for his conditions. rosaryjpTreatment for PTSD and depression isn’t a quick fix, however, and we both struggled for months in a most profound emotional and spiritual darkness. And there’s nothing like desperation to drive you to any and every devotion that might help.

Years earlier, a devout Catholic woman had told me she’d prayed the 54-day rosary novena for her Baptist husband to convert to the faith. She didn’t tell him she was praying for him; she just prayed and devoted each day’s rosary to his conversion. On Day 53, her husband called from work and casually informed her he’d decided to become Catholic. Today, both husband and wife are Third Order Dominicans and devoted godparents to our fourth child. 

Remembering that story, I decided I had nothing to lose. So for 54 days in a row–I didn’t miss a single day–I slogged through the holy rosary and offered it for my husband’s healing. At first, I hit the same old stumbling blocks as before: boredom, mental distraction, interruptions. But I was desperate enough to persevere this time. By the time I finished the first half of the rosary, I’d prayed it every day for a month and the devotion had been transformed for me. I actually looked forward to praying the rosary each day. I was better able to meditate on the mysteries while praying the Hail Marys, too. If I couldn’t sleep or found myself anxious, I’d start praying the rosary almost reflexively. I began to have beautiful insights about the events of Jesus’ life that I hadn’t had before. 

I finished the entire 54-day novena. Three days later, my husband told me he’d been washing his truck when a strong sense of just how important I was to him flooded his soul. As more time passed, that feeling only grew for him, as he recovered from the depression and began to feel emotionally reconnected to me and our children. His PTSD symptoms also began to abate. For a full year, he hadn’t been able to sleep at night; some nights, he got no more than two hours’ sleep as the severe anxiety kept him wired and awake. A month after I finished the rosary, he was falling asleep on his own and sleeping all night. His recovery was nothing short of miraculous and I credit the Blessed Mother, of course. By God’s grace, our marriage emerged stronger for the trial. 

The crisis in my marriage brought me to my knees and led me to a devotion I was sure wasn’t for me. Now, praying the rosary is simply an act of love that I do for a variety of causes; right now, I’m praying for another family that needs a miracle as much as we did. 

Whether you’re interested in overcoming your own difficulties with the rosary, are interested in praying the 54-day miraculous novena, or just want to make the rosary a regular devotion, I offer two aids: 

  1. A list of tips for praying the rosary that can be found HERE , and
  2. A chart to help you keep up with the 54-day rosary novena HERE.

I welcome any of you who are regular prayers of the rosary to share your tips in the comments section. What works for you, sisters and brothers?



Advent Allison Novenas Parenting Saints

Resolve to Run~to Christ

“Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ!”

That was our joyful processional prayer the first week of Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year, and the start of our time of preparation for the festivities of Christ’s nativity Mass (Christmas, of course!). Our family has some special Advent traditions. Some of them have worked perfectly and others have been ridiculous, but we try. Here are some workable Howell favorites.

The rubbermaids get dragged out of the cellar. These things are packed with items only seen during Advent and Christmas season, which officially ends on the feast of the baptism of the Lord, January 11. They are unpacked and exclaimed over as beloved books, movies, and ornaments emerge. I transform as much of the house as possible, replacing regular living room books, blankets, and pictures with Christmas ones and wrapping our framed artwork with paper and ribbons to look like presents.

The children pick each other’s names out of a hat and purchase a present just for that one. With seven kids, it’s less overwhelming to choose just one. The younger ones do extra jobs for extra money and I take each child out on an Advent date, complete with a fancy hot chocolate from a coffee shop. A little one always spills the beans and “tells,” though. Like I said, we try.

I crush hundreds of peppermint candies and keep a bag of the pretty pink stuff on the counter to be added to drinks, desserts, and whatever else they think of (one even sprinkles it on his breakfast oatmeal). We roll dipped pretzels in it for gift trays and almost every treat I make gets dusted with some.

We pray the Saint Andrew Novena. It is traditionally recited fifteen times a day from the feast of the good saint, November 30, to Christmas Eve. Although a novena is a prayer or devotion repeated for nine days like the nine days of waiting for the Holy Spirit on Pentecost or the nine months of waiting for Jesus in the womb of Mary, it is also associated with any repeated, prayful anticipation. So we pray the waiting words together, a third for our morning prayers, a third in the evening by the glowing tree, and a third on our own. The contemplative cadence is calming and grounding this time of year. “Hail and blessed is the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary….”

We light candles on an Advent wreath during dinner, three purple ones for preparation and a pink one for rejoicing; and add to our usual grace, “Adeste fideles; venite adoremus!” (“O come, all ye faithful, let us adore Him!”) This year, we have some budding musicians learning to play this on the piano and recorder. We hope for a mini-concert on Christmas Eve, before another of our favorite traditions that night, a watching of Dickens’ Christmas Carol (we like the one with George C. Scott).

One afternoon is spent at the table with art supplies, from glitter to glue to tissue paper, creating cards for the East Coast relatives. We have mugs of warm drinks (sprinkled with crushed peppermints, of course) and carols blaring. I have to constantly remind the older children that it’s a great compliment when the little ones copy their ideas. Also, “Be nice, because it’s almost Christmas.”

We memorize two Scriptures, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. This year we’ll learn Isaiah 9:6 – “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given. And the government shall be upon his shoulders and his name shall be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace.” Our New Testament verse is John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the father full of grace and truth.” Over the years, we’ve already covered them, but it’s good to come full circle.

We take a morning to spend some time in church when it is empty. No service, no music, just silence and beauty. Surprisingly, the younger ones remain relaxed and charmed by the lovely open space. We also make sure to receive the sacrament of reconciliation before Christmas, too.

The Catholic Church’s liturgical notes for Advent read, “Advent has a twofold character, for it is a time of preparation for the solemnity of Christmas in which the first coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered; and likewise a time when by remembrance of this, minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ’s second coming at the end of time. For these two reasons, Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight.” Our Masses are ordered thus by way of Scripture readings, homilies, prayers, and devotions, and we try to make our home, regarded as a domestic church, so ordered as well.

This Advent, we resolve to run forth to meet Christ!