Summary of Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas Stories, Traditions and Meditations by Catherine Doherty

Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas Stories, Traditions and 
Meditations with Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Compiled and edited by 
Mary Bazzett, Madonna House Publications, Combermere, Ontario, 2008.

Book 1 – Meditations

“Advent is a short season, yet it covers a long distance. It is the road of a soul from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It seems such a short distance as we are accustomed to thinking of distances. Yet it is a road into infinity, into eternity. It has a beginning, but no end. In truth, Advent in the road of the spiritual life which all of us must start if we do not want to miss the way… But let us understand that this ‘Bethlehem’ we seek is within our own souls, our own hearts, our own minds. Advent is a time of standing still, and yet making a pilgrimage. It is an inner pilgrimage, a pilgrimage in which we don’t use our feet… So, then. Let us enter, you and I, into the pilgrimage that doesn’t take us from home. For ours is a journey of the spirit, which is a thousand times harder than a journey of the feet. Let us ‘arise and go’” (5-6).

Advent is a time of expectation. True, Christ has already come upon earth. He has been crucified, and has risen. He is with us now, in His Church. And yet, somehow, as the season for commemorating His birth approaches, something stirs in us, something deep and profound, as if we are expecting a great miracle. As the Christmas season approaches, everyone feels a certain ‘something’ that cannot be put into words. There are no words that fit. We begin to realize that we are expecting ‘something’ – or ‘Someone’ – and we become a little bit more aware of our insides, of a ‘burning’ in our heart…

“We will find that it is like a candle within us. It is not a big candle. We must keep this flame alight, so that it burns through the layers of whatever we have put on top of it, and allow the expectation that is within us to come forth. This is so important because, if we can burn away each layer that we have put on through the years, then we will be filled with joy. We will become full of gladness, knowing that a great gift is about to be given to us. How much have we put into our heart, each one of us?” (8-9).


“When you come down to hard brass tacks, Advent is meant to be a time of faith… Ask yourself now, do you have faith? Real faith? Really??… Take a mirror and hold it up in front of your face. Is the person looking back at you really a Christian? That’s something very easy to find out. How? In the old days, the pagans used to say: “Look at those Christians. How they love one another!” So, test yourself by asking some questions. Do you love people? Old people? Ugly people? Crippled people? Do you? Would you give your life for any one of them?… Do you act towards your neighbour as if he or she were Christ? Christ said, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to Me” (Mt 25:40). Is that your motto in life?” (10).


“Let every day be the day of beginning again, of loving Christ a little more, of hungering for Him a little more, of turning our face to Him. To accomplish this, all we need do is to look at the person next to us. We must never forget that we shall be judged on love alone. And that there is only one way to love God and ‘prove it’ to Him: by loving our ‘neighbour’, the person next to us at any given moment. I repeat, turning our face and heart to Christ simply means turning to the one who is next to us at this particular moment in our life. If we do that, dearly beloved, we shall be saints” (12).


Catherine Doherty tells the story of donkey bells growing up. Her mother would wear a little bracelet that had tinkling bells during Advent and would wear more each week as Christmas approached. The bells symbolized the donkey, who had the “first church bells”, as he carried Our Lady, who was the “first church”, to Bethlehem.


Advent is a time of repentance… “repentance is the incarnation of the Gospel in our life… Repentance means change. In a sense, it becomes a ‘bulldozer’ that we apply to our mind and soul to level the ridges, flatten down the mountains, fill in the potholes and ravines, so as to make a path for the Lord to cross the desert of our heart (cf. Isaiah 40)” (18).

The alms of loving words… “like all other alms, our words must be given to others lovingly, gently, thoughtfully, in union with Christ… Let us lovingly show Christ to our brothers and sisters in the thousand ways of love’s ingenuity, but especially in the alms of loving words!” (21-22).

“When we are thus poor and realize our total poverty, then we can go to Bethlehem and meet the Child who became poor for us” (23).

“Are we going to go to the cave like shepherds, who were also poor? Or are we going once more to ‘render lip service’ to a Christ of our own making, whose cave we have embellished with clean straw? (His probably stunk as old straw stinks in stables). Which is it going to be?” (24).


“If you are a baptized Christian, you owe it to that Child who was born to save us all in that total poverty, to embrace ‘total’ poverty. And this ‘total’ poverty must be embraced from inside… even if you can’t give away your money, you can give yourself. (Now, that’s very difficult!)… It’s very difficult for me to explain what this giving of oneself means. It is a sort of ‘listening of a human heart’ to the heart of others, to the needs of others, wherever they may be. It is a human heart that ‘understands’ what has to be done for others, whoever they are, wherever they may be. It is a beautiful thing, but it is so rare” (26-7).

“For you, entering the mystery of God’s surrender to human flesh means that you must enter into a profound surrender to your neighbour, in a sort of blind totality that never questions but is always ready and available” (27).

“Advent is a good time to think that if I really become a child so that I can sit by the crib and play with God easily, if I really accept myself as God created me, if I allow this fantastic situation to become a reality for me, and if I look at the Child and see myself and lose the wrong image of myself, then evil cannot touch me. In a word, if I have the faith, love and hope that the Child brings as He lays in the manger, then I am immune. Let us pray this Advent for an increase in faith, hope and love” (37).

“One Christmas, I wrote on my cards, “Give me the heart of a child, and the awesome courage to live it out.” For an adult, it takes courage to have the trust of a child. You have be awfully mature to be the kind of child that God wants you to be” (38).


“Christ desires to be born in the manger of our hearts. Are the doors of our hearts wide open to receive the shepherds, the Magi, the stray visitors – in a word, humanity? Are they open to receive every person as Christ would receive each one of us? Are they open to receive those around us in our daily life? Or do we think it enough to make a manger of our hearts so that we might hold Christ unto ourselves exclusively? If so, that was not what He was born for, and He might bypass the manger of our hearts… Every morning, after Communion, I go to pray to the Infant of Prague. I say: “Give me the heart of a child. Give me the awesome courage to live what it demands.” That’s what Christmas means to me” (42-43).

“Make warm the caves of your souls so that the Holy Anointed One may be born in them – or read the writing of destruction on the eternal walls” (45).

“What kind of birthplace are you providing for the Christ Child?” (45)


  1. Love your book summaries. Thanks for doing this.

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