A Marian Christmas Film Countdown

MaryNativityWe wouldn’t have Christmas without the Annunciation. As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux says, the entire world held its breath waiting for Mary’s answer when the angel Gabriel asked her to be the Mother of God. Because of Mary’s “yes,” the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity took on human nature, became a baby, grew up, and then offered his life for our salvation. All because of Mary’s “yes!”

Mary has been my companion this Advent in a special way; I’ve been meditating on all the ways she said “yes” to God throughout her life. We tend to think of her “yes” as a one-time response to an angel, when she very clearly received a message from God. But what about all the other times she said “yes”? What must it have been like to say “yes” to giving birth to Jesus while on the road, not even in an ordinary home?

So the five movies I picked this year for my segment of the Salt + Light Radio Hour — Christmas special!– all remind me in some way of Mary’s “yes”—of all the ways that Mary said “yes” throughout her life, because each time she said “yes,” her assent had consequences. What was she really saying “yes” to? (The Salt + Light Radio Hour will also be onscreen this year!)

5. Mary said Yes! to family, to a life of self-giving in and to her family.

Frozen_CoverA film that reflects this beautifully is Frozen (2013). Elsa is a very special older sister who makes several bad choices and ends up in serious trouble. Yet her sister Anna, who remembers who her sister really is and can see through all the ice to her sister’s heart, repeatedly gives up the easy way to help her sister for sheer love of her. Anna repeatedly chooses to love Elsa, at great cost to herself, over and over again, until the end of the film. (Of course the great music and snowman also make this a great Christmas film!)

4. Mary said “Yes” to becoming a mother in a very unexpected way.

TheBlindSidecoverThe Blind Side (2009) is a powerfully moving film about a woman who takes in a homeless teen—someone whom the rest of the world sees either as a threat or as a throwaway. If all of this happened today, would Mary’s family have seen Jesus simply as an unwanted pregnancy?

3. Mary said “yes” to the hardships that would accompany becoming a mother before she was married to Joseph.

Where_the_Heart_Is_filmWhere the Heart Is (2000) is not a family film, but it always makes me think of the Blessed Mother because, even though the young protagonist conceives her child in a way that wasn’t miraculous, she is abandoned by her boyfriend and left to fend for herself. If it hadn’t been for St. Joseph, this depiction of a penniless, pregnant young woman who lives out of a Walmart store until she gives birth to her child could have been Mary—all alone, with no resources. And yet, this young mother and child give so much back to the community in which they make their home. 

2. Mary said “yes” to her God-given mission in great humility,

even though it is the greatest mission a human being could possibly have: to bring and reveal the Messiah to the world. There are so many movies that depict this…from the recent The Lego Movie to superhero movies, to the countless “underdog” films, but none so well as J.R.R.Tolkien’s hobbits.

The Middle Earth movies—starting with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and concluding in December with the release of the third hobbit movie—is all about humble hobbits who who unwittingly save the day with their humility, ordinariness, clearsightedness, and perseverance. I’m particularly thinking of Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring at the Council of Elrond, when the elven Lord Elrond makes it clear at the meeting that the Ring must be taken to Mordor to be destroyed for the good of Middle Earth. Everyone starts fighting about it, but no one volunteers…until young hobbit Frodo, the littlest, weakest character at the council, realizes that this must be his mission and he volunteers to take the Ring to Mordor, though he adds, “I do not know the way.”

Since the third hobbit movie, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, releases this week and has my favorite humble hobbit moment of the book, I’d encourage that as a great Advent/Christmas film as well, although I haven’t seen it yet (but will shortly).

1. Mary said “yes” to God’s call. I’m still waiting for a truly great film on Mary, but you may wish to choose one of the two Marian Biblical films that have come out in the past few years which reverently depict the life of the Blessed Mother. Both depict the humanity of the Blessed Mother and emphasize the oppression that Mary and the Holy Family must have experienced as poor Jews under the rule of the Roman Empire.

A. The recently released Mary of Nazareth beautifully depicts the life of Mary, with the recurring theme of the film is Mary’s “yes.” I’d identify Mary’s “Here I am, the handmaid of the Lord” as the key to the entire film’s “take” on Mary. While it’s obviously a lower-budget production (I found it to be like a series of holy cards or tableaux of scenes from the life of Mary), its 200 minutes offers plenty of inspiration for meditation, covering the early life of Mary up to Jesus’ Resurrection, including traditions about the early life of Mary.

B. The Natvity Story (2006) is the only recent feature film I know of that centers entirely around the nine months prior to Jesus’ birth, ending  after the flight into Egypt. Many beautiful moments in the film give easy access to meditating on the joyful mysteries of the Rosary. The focus of the film is a grounded view of Mary that doesn’t put her on a pedestal but reveals the great faith that she must have had. My favorite part of the film is the growing relationship between Mary and Joseph. Indeed, this is my favorite cinematic depiction of Saint Joseph—not to be missed if you’ve never seen it. Because of several scenes of violence (especially the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, which would be hard for younger children to watch), this is an excellent Christmas film for the family except for young children.

Praying in Christmas

Join us in making the last 9 days of Advent extra-special by praying the O Antiphons with us, starting tomorrow. Here is a beautiful introduction:


The O Antiphons are Magnificat antiphons used at Vespers of the last seven days of Advent. We hear them also in the Alleluia verses of the Masses in the final days of the Advent season. Join us in this ancient way of intensifying our preparation for Christmas at: visit.pauline.org/ifollowlight. 

(You can also subscribe and receive an email each day linking to the newest O Antiphon.)

Unlikely Advent Film: Mom’s Night Out!

Advent is an invitation to awaken, to appreciate the beauty of life. Amid the chaos of November and December, we can probably all appreciate a little better the kind of chaos lived by a mom with three young children. Moms’ Night Out, one of the strong Christian films of 2014, is a comedy that offers some tidbits about appreciating the beauty of our lives, as well as insights into the beauty of the vocation to motherhood.

Check out my review of Moms’ Night Out with Salt + Light Radio this week here. 

Moms’ Night Out is about a very overworked, overstressed, exhausted mother of three little ones who finally arranges to have a night out with two other stressed-out moms—including her pastor’s wife. But everything goes wrong—from the restaurant reservations falling through, to a car chase trying to recover a supposedly stolen minivan, to a missing child. Moms’ Night Out is an over-the-top comedy starring Sarah Drew, Sean Astin, and Patricia Heaton. With solid acting and writing, Moms’ Night Out is not your typical “preachy” Christian film. It’s more the unspoken assumptions in the film that make it so refreshingly wholesome, Christian, and family-friendly.

Artistically, Moms; Night Out has some flaws. The crazy comedy moments went too far for my personal taste, becoming so ridiculous that I couldn’t believe them after a certain point. What’s comedy and what’s going too far for credibility? It’s a fine line that’s also very personal, but when no one in the film is using their common sense any more (including the police!), it started to feel too contrived. While comedy in a film like this would include exaggerating the irrational aspect of motherly love, the extreme lack of rationality displayed by all four moms undercuts its otherwise successful exploration of the beauty of motherhood. Other limitations of the film include using stereotypes and a somewhat predictable plot.

On the positive side, Moms’ Night Out is full of laugh out loud moments, solid acting, a strong and loving onscreen marriage, and a couple of truly touching scenes. Overall, Moms’ Night Out is a fun exploration of motherhood that reinforces family and Gospel values. In choosing to tell the story from the POV of a young stressed-out mother of three young children, the filmmakers address some of the real fears that young women worry about when they consider getting married and having children.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have moments when we become overwhelmed with the greatness of the mission that God has given us here on earth. In the film, the protagonist Allyson, who is troubled by her inadequacy as a mom and the lack of fulfillment that she feels in the midst of the stress of raising little ones, discovers (or re-discovers) the beauty in the fragility of her life and her call. This is a truth important for all of us to reflect on, and particularly appropriate for our Advent journey.

Moms’ Night Out is a zany comedy that will not just make you laugh, but will resonate with anyone who has ever encountered a family with young children, beautifully showing the sacredness of marriage and of motherhood within the chaos of every day life.

Blogging a book: Week One!

IMG_20140124_115240645Last summer, I let slip the news that I’d received acceptance of my proposal to write a new book…by blogging it! And I blogged a bit about the early stages, inviting advice from readers who have blogged books. Up until last week, I’ve been trying to pull together a solid table of contents, reconfigure my schedule to fit in writing a book, and research how to make a blog more interactive. (I love my Windows to the Soul blog here, but readers and I tend to communicate through email, not through comments.) I also spent a week researching social media, signing up for various services and testing them out. (If you see weird things up on my facebook, twitter, Google+ or Instagram account, please have patience as I learn how to use these fascinating tools. And feel free to let me know if something is weird, annoying, or not helpful!)

As planned, on Tuesday of last week, my blog Co-Author Your Life with God: A Spiritual, Practical, and Personal Approach to Discernment went live! The purpose of the blog is to explore discernment for the regular Catholic who wants to pay more attention to living God’s will in our daily lives. (Notice that the first person I’m writing the book for is myself!) I timed it to go up for the beginning of Advent and the Year of Consecrated Life, which is part of the reason I’m blogging it–so it can reach young people discerning their vocation now. Written through a story-telling lens, the blog will invite us to look at our lives as stories we co-author with God, with all the twists and turns, all the helps and obstacles, of the typical quest-story.

My inspiration for the blog comes from several places: the inspiration I received from the young women who came to the many Discernment Mini-Courses I offered while I was a vocation director, my own desire to focus daily on discerning the will of God, the repeated requests from one of the sisters that I write a book about discernment, my screenwriting experiences, St. John Paul II’s Letter to Artists, and–most importantly–an invitation from God. (In a future post on Co-Author Your Life with God, I’ll share how God invited me to write this book!)

“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.” – Letter to Artists by St. John Paul 

Then, something amazing happened. Lifetime’s reality TV show, The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns, premiered the same day my blog went live. Because the series deals specifically with discerning religious life, I thought it would be fun to tweet and post about it. A number of people following the show saw my tweets and checked out my blog post about the show–and the blog readership jumped from 200 to 1200 in just one day. I’d been praying that all the time I’ve put into blogging the book (rather than simply writing it and publishing it in 2016) would help it to reach people. What an amazing way God has of answering our prayers!

I plan to post on Co-Author Your Life with God three times a week, and I’ll stick with my weekly morning post here on Windows to the Soul, but probably change it to Tuesday. If you have a chance, please check out my new blog-to-book, and post your feedback either there or here in the comments!

Seven More Advent Resources

What are you doing for Advent?

As Advent begins, I just wanted to highlight a couple of more Advent resources that I think could help us live this beautiful season with more light:

DiscernItScreen1) If you are discerning your vocation, then this Advent is extra special for you! Make a Discernment Novena with a wonderful new app that our sisters have just released:

Deepen your vocational discernment with  Discern It!,  a new, free app from the Daughters of Saint Paul to help those discerning their vocations.

This wonderful little app is a novena that provides the perfect atmosphere for deepening your vocational discernment, to understand how God is calling you to love. With  Discern It!  you will have the opportunity to:

◊ Do something daily to help you discover God’s plan for your life.

◊ Learn how to be more open to the gifts God wants to give you.

◊ Find out ways to move past the hurdles in discernment.

◊ Grow in your intimacy with God.

You can find out more about the app here, which also includes the links to download it for both iPhone and Android. The App is available free for the Year of Consecrated Life.

2. Father Barron is offering free Advent reflections. You can still sign up here.

3. Loyola offers an Arts & Faith commentary for each Sunday of Advent:  The Sunday Scripture reading is paired with a painting or other art, and commentary provided.

4. For religious, the Pope’s Apostolic Letter for the Year of Consecrated Life offers much to reflect on and pray with!

5. Sr. Theresa Aletheia’s post, Five Ideas to Kickstart Your Advent has five helpful hints for anyone.

6. For families, here’s another interesting and helpful post, Ten Ways to Have a Holier Advent.

7. For movie loves and Tolkien fans, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, releasing December 17th, could offer some insight on our Advent journey. The book has my favorite Humble Hobbit Moment–and I’m betting the movie will do a great job with it.

And finally, if you are looking for Advent “starters” and Christmas gifts, our Pauline website is offering special discounts for Cyber Monday (including for my new book, Soul of Christ: Meditations on a Timeless Prayer). Check it out!

Salt + Light Radio Interview on “Soul of Christ”


Soul-of-Christ2Deacon Pedro Guevara-Mann interviewed me about my new book Soul of Christ: Meditations on a Timeless Prayer. Check out the interview at Salt + Light Radio at noon today ET (Saturday, Nov. 29th). How exciting it is to share the great joy that we have in Jesus’ Eucharistic love!

The program with my interview will also air on:

-The Catholic Channel (Sirius XM 129) this Saturday at 3 and 10pm ET (7pm PT) and on Sunday at 2pm ET (11am PT).
-The Spirit Catholic Radio Network (Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa: Spirit 102.7FM; Spirit 88.3FM, Spirit 91.5FM and Spirit 90.1FM) on Saturday at 10am and 9pm CT
-Holy Family Radio at WJTA 88.9FM, in northeastern Ohio on Saturday at 1pm
-The Lamb Catholic Radio (South Dakota KSJP 88.9FM and KSTJ 91.3FM) Saturday and Sunday at 9pm
-The Baraga Radio Network (northern Michigan: WIDG 940AM, WICK 90.9FM, WICK 92.1FM, WTCY 88.3FM, WGZR 88.9FM, WGJU 81.3FM) on Monday at noon.

(And you can listen to previous editions of the SLHour–an excellent show for Catholics!–at www.saltandlighttv.org/radio.)

In the meantime, someone just pointed me to a series of blogposts on www.catholicsistas.com dedicated to the Soul of Christ prayer! I’m looking forward to reading them all.

Living Advent As “Yes”

My theme for this Advent is inspired by the Windows to the Soul segment that I’m doing with Salt + Light Radio about movies for Christmas. The theme of the movies I pick out for Advent/Christmas viewing is films that offer insight into Mary’s “Yes” to the Lord.

When you’re extra busy with traveling, promoting a new book (Chicago, I can’t wait!) while writing another book, and in the midst of all the extra activities that Thanksgiving and Christmas entail, it can feel threatening to discern whether to say “yes.” Indeed, my temptation is not to take the time to listen to God. When I give in to this temptation, I either say “yes” all the time (I’m feeling good about my life), or “no” all the time (I’m feeling overwhelmed!). But whenever something comes up, it is really an opportunity for prayer, for discernment, for listening to God’s invitation, and then saying “yes” to however God is inviting me.

Even when I say “no” to what is in front of me in the moment, it should be because I’m saying “yes” to God’s invitation at that moment. But how do we discern that? How do we listen to God’s invitations, especially when we feel not just busy but frantic?

HearttoHeart Dig MagcoverIn his homily of May 16, 2014, Pope Francis talked about the three doors we need to open to get to know Jesus, which he called the most important work of our lives. Those three doors are: Prayer, the Eucharist, and the Word of God. Our new digital magazine released in time for Advent, A Heart to Heart with Pope Francis, briefly looks at all three doors. Each “door” helps us to learn how to listen to God’s invitations in our lives and to respond with a resounding “yes!” They are wonderful “doors” to open to Jesus this Advent. (The pictured books are some wonderful resources for these doors for any season, but especially for this Advent.)


1. Prayer. Every annual retreat, I resolve to make sure that prayer has first priority in my life. And every year, I eventually let it start to slide into a place of lesser priority. I still make the time to pray, but I’m too distracted by everything to enter deeply into prayer. Or I let taking the time for prayer slide until the end of the day, when I’m too tired to pray well. Now, it’s not a bad thing to “squeeze” prayer into your day, and sometimes fitting it in at the end of our day is the best we can do. But for me as a religious, prayer should usually be my top priority for the day. If I am truly committed to my relationship with God, most of my prayer time should be at a time when I’m not so exhausted that I simply fall asleep. Maybe I need to focus a little less on doing, and a little more on praying? (Prayer and You can be found here,  and the beautiful new edition of Queen of Apostles Prayer Book can be found here.)

Soul-of-Christ22. Eucharistic adoration. The above point especially applies to times of making my Hour of Adoration. My daily Holy Hour is such a precious time with the Lord; and every few months, I look at the patterns of my prayer and try to figure out how I can pay more attention to our quiet Eucharistic Lord. How can I listen better to Jesus in the Eucharist? How can I remember that, instead of being a time for Jesus to listen to me prattle on about my complaints, the Hour of Adoration is a time when I can simply let Jesus love me? (Soul of Christ: Meditations on a Timeless Prayer would be good for Advent or Lent, drawing us closer to Jesus.)



MeetingJesusChristDiscernit3. Spending time with God’s Word. Simply taking time to pray with the Bible itself is the best. If we feel dry or simply want some help in applying the words of Jesus to our lives, there are some wonderful resources for praying with Scripture. The Gospel according to Saint Luke is wonderful to pray with during Advent, as it has the full story of John the Baptist, the Annunciation, and all of the Christmas “figures”: the magi, the shepherds, etc. Our new Discern It! App offers a wonderful novena that helps those discerning their vocation to focus on listening more attentively to God’s Word in their lives. You can find Meeting Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Word here.)


And if Christmas music is your thing, then join us for one of our concerts (or check out one of our Christmas albums)! You can find out more about the concerts here.