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It’s no secret that the holiday season can be a difficult time for many, for a variety of reasons. On today’s Empowered by the Spirit broadcast, Deacon Steve welcomes two friends to the studio who have a lot of experience to share in this area. Their names are Joe Fitzgerald and Becky Lomaka, and they come to us from O’Connor Mortuary in Laguna Hills, CA.

You are sure to gain some nuggets of wisdom from this timely conversation!




Originally broadcast on 12/19/21


Holidays are special times, often associated with memories and traditions that we share with family and friends. While many events and occasions during 2020 have been upended, the holidays are not canceled! However, our celebrations this year will take on a new look as we continue to practice measures to stay safe and reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19. 


Consider these tips to stay safe and healthy throughout the holidays: 



While we do not yet have a vaccine for the coronavirus, flu vaccines are readily available. Avoid the flu and keep your body as healthy as possible. The only way to actually “boost” your immune system is to get the flu vaccine. Free flu shots are available through the Orange County Health Agency.  



We know that exercise, including walking, helps to keep us physically and mentally healthy. It’s tempting to let physical activity slide during a busy holiday season, however that’s when it’s even more important to include! Try this twist: Take an “Awe” walk. Go somewhere new, by yourself or with others. Pay attention to the details, looking at everything with fresh eyes. Maybe it’s the fall leaves, the ocean waves or a neighbor’s holiday decorations. Look for the “awe” in the world around you. 



Good nutrition helps to keep us healthy, but you may be tired of cooking at home. Coordinate a soup exchange instead of a cookie exchange. Make a big pot of soup, full of vegetables, beans and/or lean meat. Portion into 1-quart containers. Place in an ice chest by your front door and invite neighbors to stop by and take a container, leaving a container of their soup for you. Just add a green salad or fruit and crusty bread for an easy meal! 



Indoor gatherings pose more risk for spread of the virus. Fortunately, the mild weather in Southern California allows us to gather in backyards and parks. How about a Thanksgiving tailgate? When gathering indoors, increase ventilation by opening windows and doors. Be mindful of these guidelines in all locations: wear a mask except when eating, stay at least 6 feet away from people who do not live in your household, wash your hands often, preferably with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds. 



Risk of spreading the virus increases as the number of people and time spent together increases. California health officials recommend no more than three households gather for up to two hours. Celebrate with members of your household, inviting others to join you virtually. Share recipes, tell stories, even cook together via Zoom or Facetime. 



With smaller celebrations, you may decide to prepare only the dishes that are really special to you. Or it may be the year to try something new. Consider a brunch instead of a big dinner. Brunches are conducive to buffets where you can provide each guest with their own serving spoon or mini tongs to reduce handling of utensils. Regardless, don’t wait until the last minute to shop for food. Grocers are as puzzled as the rest of us regarding what people will buy this year and supplies may vary. 



Travel increases the risk of spreading COVID-19. The CDC states that staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. If you do travel, wear a mask in public settings, avoid close contact from anyone not in your household, wipe surfaces such as airline seats and trays with sanitizing wipes and wash your hands often. Do not travel if you are sick or if you have been around someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days. 



Plan a gratitude scavenger hunt. A perfect way to engage family of all ages to focus on the good around us. Make a list of things to be thankful. Take photos and share with family and friends near and far. 



Avoid crowded stores especially just before and after Thanksgiving. Many retailers are offering sales throughout the fall/winter months rather than the traditional Black Friday specials. Take advantage of free shipping! 



 Choose one aspect of your health to focus on; physical, mental or spiritual. Spend 10-15 minutes daily on your goal and mark it on a calendar. Use the Advent season to prepare for the coming of the Christ Child on Christmas. 

Stay safe. Do your part to avoid spreading the coronavirus so that we all can look forward to a happy, healthy new year! 



Making a holiday gift to a nonprofit organization has never been more important. “Orange County has been hit especially hard during COVID due to our tourism industry,” says Kimberly Jetton, MNM, CFRE, executive director of the Orange Catholic Foundation. “Unemployment rates are astronomical, leading to families in crisis with housing, food insecurity, and medical bills. As Catholics, we are called to help our brothers and sisters in Christ whenever possible.” 

Where to donate with so many people in need? “Look to see what local organizations are providing needed goods and services that touch your heart,” says Jetton. Here is a list of nonprofits that work to help people internationally, nationally, and right here in Orange County. 




Catholic Charities of Orange County 


What they do: Provides free groceries three days a week through the Doris Cantlay Food Distribution center; immigration and citizen assistance; nutrition education, a crisis hotline and more.   

What it needs: Food donations and money to support programs 

Accepted donations: One-time or monthly pledges of any amount  

How to donate: PayPal and credit card through website,; call 714-282-3043 



The Orange Catholic Foundation  


What it does: Provides grants to scholarship funds for students and crucial support for parishes and outreach ministries. 

What it needs: Financial donations to support programs 

Types of giving: One-time or monthly pledges of any amount; employer matching; planned giving 

How to donate: Credit card, cash or check via website,; send check to Orange Catholic Foundation, 13280 Chapman Avenue, Suite 430, Garden Grove, CA 92840 



Orangewood Foundation 


What it does: Helps foster children prepare for adulthood by strengthening their emotional and physical health, teaching life and work skills, providing housing referrals, and supporting educational goals. Note: Due to Covid, donated items are accepted in drive-by drop-off only. 

What it needs: One-time or monthly donations; personal hygiene items, groceries, new clothing, household supplies, crafts items and gift cards 

Types of giving: One-time or monthly donations of any amount; employer matching; United Way contributions; planned giving; stocks 

How to donate: Credit card via website,; send check to Orangewood Foundation, 1575 E. 17th Street, Santa Ana CA 92705; call 714-619-2100 





Operation Shoebox 


What it does: Puts together boxes and Christmas stockings full of snacks, personal care items, notes of thanks and other goodies and sends them to American troops around the world. 

What it needs: Individual financial donations, corporate sponsors, donations of individually wrapped cookies, ramen noodles, beef jerky and granola bars 

Types of giving: Donations of any amount 

How to donate: Credit card, PayPal or E-check via website, 



Project Angel Tree 


What it does: Brings “gifts and the gospel” to children of incarcerated mothers and fathers every Christmas through community efforts. 

What it needs: Individual or church parish donations of money and/or Christmas gifts for children 

Types of giving: One-time or monthly donations of any amount 

How to donate: Call 800-206-9764, Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m. (EST); send check to Prison Fellowship, P.O. Box 1550, Marrifield, VA 22116-1550 



Boys & Girls Clubs of America 


What it does: Provides safe places for kids to thrive and programs that focus on academics, health and leadership with trained staff to guide, coach and motivate children. 

What it needs: Financial donations to support programs 

Types of giving: Donations of any amount   

How to donate: Credit card, stocks, employer matching and more via website 





Malala Fund 

What it does: Invests in educators and education advocates for girls in regions where girls are missing out most. 

What it needs: Donations to support programs 

Types of giving: One-time or monthly donations; stocks; bequests; employer matching 

How to donate: Credit card, bank transfer, Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal via website,; checks to The Malala Fund, Lockbox 11114, P.O. Box 70280, Philadelphia PA 19176-0280 


The coronavirus pandemic makes 2020’s holiday season fraught with uncertainty. If you’re also suffering the loss of a loved one, this time of year is downright painful. 

As I prepare to celebrate Halloween, one of our family’s favorite holidays, and begin penciling out our Thanksgiving feast, I feel pangs of grief for the loss of those who won’t join our celebrations. 

Grief can hit hardest at ‘the most wonderful time of the year,’ when we are expected to be ever joyful. For the sandwich generation – those of us caring for children and aging parents at the same time – the extra burdens of parties, preparations, gift-giving, and travel can overwhelm us. If you’re grieving, the holidays seem insurmountable. 

It’s important for Catholic families to turn to God at times of grief and pain. “The beauty of our Catholic faith is that we possess the understanding of the theology and gift of redemptive suffering,” notes writer Jeanie Ewing in a December 2018 story from Today’s Catholic. 

“Even more, we know that death is not the punctuation at the end of our lives. Rather, we carry the hope that resurrection awaits each of us, especially those who are faithful to God and try their best to live virtuous lives.” 

I’ve found it healing to discuss memories of my late father at family gatherings. Reminiscing about the time he stole my son’s plate of holiday fudge seems to bring him to life again. Every time I make fudge I smile at that memory. 

Take the time to be sad, angry, quiet, or talkative about the lost loved one, recommends Elena LaVictoire at “I really think we ‘do’ grief badly in this country,” LaVictoire writes. “It’s almost as if the day after the funeral, life should be back to normal, but for someone who has lost a dear friend or a loved one, that ‘normal’ life is over and it takes time to find out what the new normal is. 

“The same will be true for families after a divorce, or a serious illness, or for family with loved ones not able to be with them for the holidays.” 

Lighting a candle at home or in church and saying a prayer memorializes a loved one. Talking to God about our grief is not only comforting but provides us the opportunity to grow closer to Him in prayer. 

Catholic Health Services offers these useful suggestions for those grieving at the holidays. 


  • Do be gentle with yourself and protect yourself.
  • Don’t do more than you want, and don’t do anything that does not serve your soul and your loss.
  • Do allow time for feelings.
  • Don’t keep feelings bottled up. If you have 500 tears to cry don’t stop at 250.
  • Do allow others to help. We all need help at certain times in our lives.
  • Don’t ask if you can help or should help a friend in grief. Just help. Find ways; invite them to group events or just out for coffee.
  • Do, in grief, pay extra attention to the children. Children are too often the forgotten grievers.


Catholic Hospice care extends to the family of the patient with bereavement and counseling services. Call 800-533-3933 to request information or learn more at 


Is it my imagination, or has the Christmas shopping season (or “holiday shopping season”) extended itself by another few weeks?

What we used to call “Black Friday” sales, beginning the day after Thanksgiving, seem to be creeping back toward early November.

So we are heading toward an amorphous two-month “holiday season” — not much consolation to those who will be working harder than ever during these months, either to sell us presents or to earn enough money to buy them (or both). Some holiday.

And Thanksgiving may increasingly lose its meaning, merely marking the halfway point in the commercial frenzy. It’s an embarrassing holiday for secularists anyway. Who or what can they thank? And ugh, Puritans are involved.

Last year, I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by some grocery store cashiers with “Merry Christmas.” I’m pretty sure this year it will be “Happy Holidays.” And I’m tempted to confuse my greeter by replying “Happy Holy Days!”, which has the advantage of covering both Christmas and Hanukkah.

So I have some practical tips for keeping one’s sanity during this Advent and Christmas.

First, be countercultural by setting your Christmas clock differently. Dec. 1 begins Advent, which means “It’s coming!”

We await the first coming of Jesus in the manger, with an eye toward his second coming in glory. Hold off with Christmas decorations until Advent begins. (This may be hard if you have small children.)

See Christmas day as the beginning (not the end) of festivity and gift-giving. On or near the 12th day of Christmas, hold an Epiphany party (you can tell your secular friends it’s an “after Christmas” party).

People may ask why you’re doing things this way. Then you get to tell them. This is how evangelization begins.

Second, find ways to keep the religious meaning of the season before your eyes.

Pray, in ways and at times you usually don’t. The periodical “Magnificat” has a shortened version of morning and evening prayer for every day. Each day, with your loved ones, pray Mary’s own Magnificat (“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord”), thanking God for choosing her as mother of the Savior and for overturning the schemes of the rich and mighty.

Try some spiritual reading. “Watch for the Light” by Plough Publishing House has a reading by a great Christian writer for each day from Nov. 24 to Jan. 7. Each year, Bishop Robert E. Barron issues a booklet of Advent Gospel reflections. Other resources abound.

Remember that Jesus is not someone you have to squeeze into an otherwise secular holiday. Christmas means anything at all because it marks the beginning of the central event in the history of the universe.

When I’m in danger of forgetting that, I recall the poem “Christmas” by John Betjeman. Written decades ago and set in London, some of the poem seems dated and its references unfamiliar. But the last three stanzas are timeless. May you have a blessed Christmas.

“And is it true? And is it true,

This most tremendous tale of all,

Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,

A Baby in an ox’s stall?

The Maker of the stars and sea

Become a Child on earth for me?

“And is it true? For if it is,

No loving fingers tying strings

Around those tissued fripperies,

The sweet and silly Christmas things,

Bath salts and inexpensive scent

And hideous tie so kindly meant,

“No love that in a family dwells,

No caroling in frosty air,

Nor all the steeple-shaking bells

Can with this single Truth compare–

That God was Man in Palestine

And lives today in Bread and Wine.” 



A  cradle Catholic, Cathy Duffy left the church as an adult and spent 20 years in the Protestant world as a home-school expert, author, and enthusiastic evangelist. 

So, when she decided to return to her Catholic faith, Duffy brought with her the tools and expertise she had developed and determined to use them to evangelize. Since 1998, she has remained active in St. Vincent de Paul parish in Huntington Beach. 

“Everyday Evangelism for Catholics,” Duffy’s new book [published by TAN Books and available for $16.95 at], encourages us to evangelize to friends, family members, and even strangers. 

“If we really understand the message of the gospel – that God loves us so much that he sent his son to die for us – it’s the best news ever,” Duffy says, “and if we love other people, we should want to share it with them.” 

Evangelism doesn’t have to be difficult, even for Catholics who prefer to keep their faith private, she explains.  “Evangelism is a matter of simple conversation. Slow down and take the opportunities that come up so often.” 

Frequently, Duffy prays that she will be seated next to a stranger on an airplane who wants to talk. Active in her parish Alpha program, she says that one of the things emphasized in the course is to pray spontaneously with others. 

“It can be simple, like ‘Dear Jesus, please help this person with this problem.’ I grab their hand and say, ‘Can I pray with you right now?’ I remind God that he knows she is suffering with this, and I ask that he please help her in Jesus’ name.” 


Her book describes how Catholics can begin evangelizing. Among some of the topics she covers: 


  • Why all Catholics should be involved in evangelism – it’s not just for Protestants.
  • How to guide a conversation toward opportunities for evangelism.
  • How to ask the right questions to find out where a person is on their spiritual journey.
  • How to be prepared to respond to the key concerns that are likely to arise in different situations.
  • What a worldview is and why it matters.
  • How to present the Catholic faith to a Protestant who is already familiar with the Bible.
  • How to actively listen so you can learn what people truly think and feel.
  • How and why to pray with others on the spot.


The Christmas holidays are perfect times to evangelize to friends and family gathered for the celebrations, she says. 

“We know that people are struggling with hurts, things that have happened to them,” Duffy acknowledges. “You don’t know why they left the Church or why they are staying away. Until you listen, you don’t know which way to direct the conversation. 

“Holidays are a good time because there is more opportunity to connect and more times you are around each other,” she adds. “People are really thinking and talking about Christmas. The holiday gives us an excuse to bring up our appreciation for all God has done for us.” 

Evangelization begins simply, Duffy notes. “Conversations with people are an underrated tool,” she explains. “You listen and ask questions about what’s going on in people’s lives. Everyone has issue, something troubling them. You can start asking about whether God is part of their lives.  

“It’s all about reaching out and starting the conversation.”  


VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The desire to spend vast amounts on shopping and needless extravagances can prevent Christians from being generous with others, Pope Francis said.

“Consumerism is a great disease today. I am not saying that we all do this, no. But consumerism, spending more than we need, is a lack of austerity in life; this is an enemy of generosity,” the pope said Nov. 26 during Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the day’s Gospel reading from St. Luke in which Jesus noticed wealthy people placing their vast offerings into the treasury while an old widow makes an offering of two small coins.

“I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood,” Jesus said.

The pope said Jesus often spoke about and compared the behaviors of the rich and the poor, for example, in his parable of the poor man Lazarus or his encounter with the rich young man.

Jesus’ assertion that it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven may cause some to “label Christ as a communist, but the Lord — when he said these things — knew that behind wealth there was always an evil spirit: the lord of the world,” he said.

The poor widow in the Gospel reading, he continued, “gave the little she had” because she trusted God and knew that “the Lord is more than everything.”

Pope Francis said Christians today wondering if their small deeds or acts can help relieve social ills such as poverty and hunger are no different than the widow and the two coins she gave as an offering.

“It’s the little things. For example, take a trip to our rooms, let us go to our closets. How many pairs of shoes do you have? One, two, three, four, 15, 20 … everyone can answer. A bit too much. I knew a bishop who owned 40 pairs. But if you have so many shoes, give half,” the pope said. “It is a way of being generous, of giving what we have, of sharing.”

Pope Francis called on Christians to be generous with those in need and to pray to God “so that he can free us from the dangerous evil of consumerism” which is “a psychiatric disease” that can enslave.

“Let us ask for this grace from the Lord,” the pope said, “this generosity which broadens our hearts and leads us to magnanimity.”


Whether it’s watching a holiday film like “Trains, Planes and Automobiles” or “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” or sharing midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, the holidays should be a joyous time. 

For many, however, the crush of the holiday season brings a sense of chaos, out-of-control spending, or even depression. How can Catholic families celebrate reasonably, while emphasizing the season’s meaning? 

In an October 2016 story in The Messenger of Saint Anthony – a magazine published by the Conventual Franciscan friars of the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua – author Victor M. Parachin lists 40 ways to meaningfully celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Among them, Parachin mentions planning ahead rather than automatically doing the same thing year after year. “Gather your family and ask everyone what they really want to do and who’s going to do it,” he writes. “A little planning can go a long way to reducing holiday stress.”  

Making a list of all the things required to make the holidays happen will help budget the family’s time. If the list looks too hefty, Parachin says, pare it down to something more manageable.  

One of the most difficult tasks for parents is to avoid debt, due to the expenses of holiday meals and activities, decorations, gifts and travel. Parachin notes that rather than going into debt, it’s best for parents to keep gift-giving small and simple.  

Another tip he offers is to spend five minutes every day in silence. “Spending a mere five minutes a day in silence before God can bring you closer to the spirit of Christ.” 

Reading a Christmas poem and reflecting on its message can help center your thoughts and feelings about the holiday, he suggests. 

In addition, keeping the spirit of the holidays alive year-round can help add meaning to the celebrations. “Remember that Christmas is not only a date but a state of mind,” writes Parachin. “Live by this wisdom from Mother Teresa of Calcutta: ‘It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you.’” 

Writing in Working Mother magazine, licensed clinical psychotherapist Mia Adler Ozair notes that we all must ask for help when we need it. “Whether it’s cooking or cleaning or mental and emotional support, don’t go it alone,” Ozair notes. “Don’t wait until it’s too late. You deserve to have the support and love you need during this time of year – and all other times as well.” 

Self-care often is ignored during frantic holiday planning, but she believes it’s especially important this time of year. “Take some time for quiet relaxation before going out or hosting a holiday party,” she recommends. “Take a bath, read a book, get a massage. Try to get plenty of sleep (one good way: go to bed a bit earlier than usual) to wake feeling rested and ready for whatever comes your way.” 

Avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption prevents next morning after-affects, including regretful comments to in-laws or ill-advised selfies, she adds. “It’s always fun to have a glass of wine or two, but knowing your limits will prevent embarrassing behavior you may be held accountable for later on.” 

Focusing on gratitude – from Thanksgiving to Christmas – is particularly important to maintain the meaning of the holidays. 

“Each of us goes through so much on this roller coaster of life,” Ozair says. “Take a moment to reflect on the idea that we are lucky to be here on Earth to experience yet another holiday season.”  




Every so often we hear a phrase we hold on to because it resonates with us. We come across a pearl of wisdom that is profound. If we live it, practice it and share it, in some cases it can become a philosophy for life.  

Advent and the busy Christmas season were the beginning of enlightenment for me. My husband and I have two adult sons. A decade or so ago we were in the middle of the busy years. Between school, sports and church we were the typical overscheduled family. Then along came the holidays. Every class, team and club had a Christmas party to calendar. Multiply those commitments by two children. On top of that there the obligatory holiday events my husband and I had to attend as part of our work life. Add to all of this the usual seasonal tasks: trim the tree, bake cookies, shop for gifts, etc., etc., and the season became a blur of activities. 

Then one Sunday, possibly the Sunday before Advent began, I heard words from the pulpit that changed everything. Fr. Dave Gruver, was preaching at Santiago de Compostela in Lake Forest (he’s now at St. Hedwig in Los Alamitos). He was a favorite of our family. His homilies always spoke to us. And on this Sunday, his message hit home. He warned the congregation that, especially at the holidays, we overbook, overplan and overcommit. And in doing so, we miss it. We miss the joy of the Christmas season. His solution was succinct. 

“Do less, better,” Fr. Dave said. 

Even his message was simple. In three words he summed up a philosophy of life I now strive to adhere to. I’ve simplified my personal schedule. I’ve changed my career course in order to be able to follow this philosophy. I work hard to take a minimalist approach to everything from my home to my cooking to my commitments. 

And you know what has resulted? I feel more. I see more. I pray more. It seems I have more. 

Do less, better. Commit to it this Christmas season and see if the joy that results multiplies for you, too.  


During the challenging season of the holidays it is tempting for busy parents to gloss over the very reasons Thanksgiving and Christmas exist. It’s easy to be distracted by television commercials and to forget our relationship with God.

Yet, education experts advise that just a few small changes to our routine can help the entire family develop a thankful spirit – and Advent is the perfect time to do so.

“Sometimes we make too big a project of these big values,” says Katie Dawson, director of the Diocese of Orange Faith Formation program. “It seems like a monumental task but it is rooted in everyday practices and simple things the family can do.”

Quite simply, Dawson explains, everything we have and everything we are is a gift from God. “We don’t deserve our own existence,” she continues. “At the heart of gratitude is the realization that everything we have is a gift. We are created, and we should be grateful that we are blessed to live.”

Parents overlook that pretty easily, she notes, and then are surprised when their children aren’t giving thanks for all the things they should be grateful for. “The first step is for adults to be grateful, and then small rituals of gratitude can be included in family life.”

Cultivating a thankful spirit can begin as simply as beginning a dinnertime conversation during which each family member discusses one ‘high’ and one ‘low’ of their day, Dawson notes, giving children the opportunity to share authentically and pair it with something they can be grateful for.

“Words speak and deeds change us,” she adds. “When we express words of gratitude and we behave gratefully, then our interior reality has the tendency to conform to that. It’s important for adults to take time and make space in their lives to say thank you to family, friends, the barista and coworkers. In fact, the more humble the individual is, the more important it is that we say thank you.”

Emmanuel means “God with us,” Dawson reminds us, “yet, we overlook the fact that for many cultures, God was a distant judge, not a loving or personal deity. The idea that God comes close to us is revolutionary and transforms everything.”

A recent Catholic News Service story notes that gratitude – like all the virtues – must be cultivated. One way to practice gratefulness is to write thank you notes for gifts we receive, including intangible gifts such as visits or thoughtful gestures. Thank you notes, however, are just the beginning:


  1. Say thank you and go out of your way to ensure that a coworker or spouse knows you are grateful for their help.
  2. Count your blessings. Examine your life. Understand how much you have to be thankful for.
  3. Recognize your toxic self-talk and choose positive words to describe yourself. Gratitude and appreciation are impossible when you are in a state of fear and loathing.
  4. Keep a gratitude journal. Recent psychology research conducted at UC Davis has found that gratitude improves your health, raises energy levels, promotes alertness and determination, improves sleep and possible even relieves pain and fatigue.
  5. Give back. One way to thank someone who’s performed an act of kindness for you is to do the same for someone else.


Practicing thankfulness until it becomes a heartfelt habit can improve our lives and enrich our children’s lives as well. Cicero was quoted as saying “gratitude is not the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Aesop’s Fables notes that “gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” English preacher John Henry Jowett summed up the importance of gratefulness by saying “every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.”