Hallmark Gold Crown stores have been a recurring theme in my life. When I was a senior in high school, I took a part-time job in the Hallmark store in the mall. I worked there until I left for college in the fall, and it was my first experience of working in retail. I enjoyed the customers and got along well with my co-workers, but it was the actual products in the store that most captivated my imagination.
Years later, I again went back to work at another Hallmark store part-time. I thought I would be there just a few months, helping during the Christmas season. I ended up staying for almost nine years. Once again, it was the people and the products that inspired me to stay.
Working at these two gift shops gave me a first-hand glimpse into the creative process. Although both stores were under the Hallmark umbrella, we carried creations from many other companies as well. As I unpacked and set up the displays for all these products, I couldn’t help but notice the artistry and collaboration involved in every item, whether it was a wall hanging, a card or a Christmas ornament. In each of these examples, someone had an original idea, an idea that communicated and said something. This idea was sketched out roughly in words or drawings, before undergoing a long process, moving through different hands and steps before it finally achieved its completed state and arrived in the store, ready to speak to the customers.
Somewhere along the way during these years of working retail, I began to connect this process of artistic creation on a small level to the great process of creation God undertakes with each of us, as He forms and molds us in the different experiences and circumstances of our lives, helping us become the idea He had in mind at our creation.
As Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece. (Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists)
Crafting our lives as a whole is a daunting task. Usually, I’m happy if I can try to make something out of each day, to do my best to respond in the present moment, going small and specific instead of big and expansive.
In fact, it was through noticing the small and specific items in the Hallmark stores, especially the annual collection of Hallmark Christmas ornaments, that inspired me to start contemplating them more deeply and writing about them. As Catholics, we know that almost anything, properly used, can be turned to the service of God. Why not Christmas ornaments as well?
This year, Hallmark came out with a 3D perpetual Advent count-down calendar. The calendar has a space above it to place an ornament for display. This gave me the idea of creating an Advent calendar of Christmas ornaments, of looking at some of these creations in the light of Advent, leading us into the Incarnation.
This is a new idea, not one that I have completed already. Will I be successful in writing for 25 days this Advent? Who knows! But I’ll give it a try and see what happens. Now, just to be clear, I am not advocating that anyone rush out to buy more Christmas ornaments, Hallmark or otherwise. Instead, my hope is that by training ourselves to look at the items around us with a discerning eye, especially those items produced through using God-given artistic talents, we can use that same habit of discernment to see where God is working in our lives. If you’d like to follow along, you can start by reading my reflection for Advent Day 1: Jack Skellington in the Arms of an Angel.
This Advent let’s take a closer look at the items around us. Let’s try to view them through the eyes of an artist, the eyes of a creator. Hopefully, this will help us to see the child in the manger a little more clearly, the one who came to give us the ability to be co-creators of the Kingdom of God.
With all that’s going on in the world these days, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Frequently, we may even feel not only overwhelmed, but also powerless and unheard; powerless to affect real change and just one small voice among so many louder, more strident and better-funded voices.
But being small and unheard has never stopped Catholic women! In fact, over 100 years ago a group of strong, determined Catholic women came together to form an alliance, to support each other in responding to the needs of their local communities, to grow in faith, and to promote the teachings of the Catholic Church. That alliance is still in existence today. It’s called the National Council of Catholic Women, or the NCCW.
Founded in 1920 at the invitation of the U.S. bishops, the NCCW was formed for three reasons. First, this organization would give a unified voice to all Catholic women in the United States, especially around issues of national importance as well as contemporary issues within the church. Secondly, a large, unified, national group would ensure that other national organizations would be more likely to recognize our Catholic values and principles. Finally, uniting the many individual women’s groups and organizations throughout the country would maximize and strengthen the impact of all the good works already being done, in parishes and counties throughout the U.S.
As the Council grew and evolved over the years, programs and affiliations were developed. Today, the council is especially recognized for its Domestic Violence program, as well as the Leadership Development Training program, which equips women in growing into the leaders that are needed today. NCCW members also participate in the “Walking with Moms” project to support mothers and their children in unexpected pregnancies, as well as the “Friends with Pens” Prison Pen Pal project, just to name a few. Additional service projects are chosen each year by each individual council, so that we can help in our own communities as well.
On the international stage, the NCCW is a member of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO), giving us an opportunity to listen to the voices of Catholic women all over the world, especially through WUCWO initiatives like the World Women’s Observatory, representing women who “have no voice” and “are not seen.” I myself was able to attend a national conference of the NCCW a few years ago, and it was a rare treat to be able to listen to the WUCWO representatives from around the world, as they gave their reports and shared both the progress and obstacles in their countries.
Besides being members in WUCWO, the NCCW also partners with other international Catholic organizations to support their work. Projects like Catholic Relief Services’ “Water for Life” and Cross Catholic’s “Box of Joy” projects have long been supported by NCCW members.
The goal of the NCCW is the same today as it was at its founding over 100 years ago, to enrich and evangelize the lives of its members through Christian works and to extend the love of Christ to our brothers and sisters, by responding “with Gospel values to the needs of the Church and society in the modern world.” The council does this through the three commissions of Spirituality, Service and Leadership.
One thing I enjoy most about attending our meetings is the chance to meet women who may be in a different generation than I am. Since we are in different stages of life, whether older or younger, our schedules and activities don’t usually mesh. Our meetings give us the chance to get to know each other and form a parish-wide network of support and solidarity. Additionally, it’s wonderful to even branch out beyond your own parish and meet other engaged women in your city or diocese, who are passionate about the same things you are.
As we all ramp up again, post Covid (more-or-less), there’s never been a better time to join your local chapter of the NCCW. Membership is open to all Catholic women, and members can enroll as young as eighth grade. Memberships are available through an affiliation, such as a women’s group who is, or would like to be, associated with the National Council, or through individual memberships, for women who want to participate but don’t have an affiliated women’s group locally. However, that’s the perfect time to start one! Find out if there’s a chapter of the NCCW at your parish or diocese and join the thousands of women across the U.S. in being the unified voice of Catholic women.
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