Invitations from Jesus

By Dick Daniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

 By Dick Daniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0] , via Wikimedia Commons

This year’s annual retreat was a powerful experience of God at work in my life. I truly experienced the gentle, patient hand of the Divine Master guiding me in his way of humility, gentleness, and meekness of heart. And it was a joy to be able to pray for all of you during my retreat in a more concentrated way. God often “speaks” to me through  nature, and this retreat was no exception. I was amazed when I discovered a heron’s nest with a baby heron. In praying with the passage of Matthew 6 about how tenderly God cares for us—our God who takes care of field flowers and sparrows—my meditations were enlivened by my frequent sightings of chipping sparrows, who are a delight to watch, especially when they hop!

The Holy Spirit is still helping me to “unpack” my retreat experience, but the retreat is already influencing my day to day life and I hope it will also influence how I use the media.

If you’ve been reading previous blogposts, you know that I’ve been praying a lot about how Jesus is inviting me to use social media, especially in light of my various responsibilities. I want to do so much with social media, but time is a big factor. At the moment, I’m on a variety of social media, but I don’t always use them well. After this retreat, I think I’ve finally received some clarity about what I need to do:

1) I’ll be choosing to focus my social media use, limiting myself to interact regularly online in just a couple of ways (and letting go of other social media tools), so that

2) Hopefully, I can interact more directly, frequently, and consistently in the channels that I choose to use.

I’m starting to get queries from people about how to use social media well without letting it fragment their lives. This is going to be an area that I want to start blogging regularly about. If you have any question or insights, I’d love to have you join in the discussion. How have you discerned your use of social media?

Novena for Peace!

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In response to the violence in the United States in the past week, the Knights of Columbus are inviting everyone to join in praying a Novena for Peace from July 14-22, using the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis. Let us pray the novena, and invite others to join us!

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: 
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Upcoming Los Angeles Media Events

For those in California, especially in the Los Angeles area, the Pauline Center for Media Studies has a couple of excellent upcoming events.

Advanced Certificate in Media Literacy Course for 2016. For more information, and to register, visit: www.media.pauline.org/certificate

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The National Film Retreat: Cinema and the 7 Qualities of Mercy. For the retreat flyer, click here (or on the image)

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This retreat has some marvelous films–if you can go, I highly recommend it!

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On Monday (July 11), I will begin my eight-day annual retreat, so I will not be blogging for two weeks. However, you will be “with me” on my retreat in a special way–in my prayers!  If you send me your intentions,  I will pray for them specifically and individually during the retreat.

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No one has expressed interest in a free copy copy of my book, See Yourself Through God’s Eyes, available in Polish.

If you live in the USA, know someone who reads Polish who might be interested in my book, please contact me, and I’ll send you the book when I return from retreat.  Here’s more about the book:

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For when we struggle with doubts about
our self-worth…

God’s love can transform our relationships with ourselves and others, helping us to grow
in healthy self-esteem!

God’s love for me has become the bedrock
of my identity, my spiritual life,
and a healthier self-esteem.

– Sr. Marie Paul Curley, author

SYTGE4stepmeditationMeditate on God’s Love
in 4 Easy Steps

  1. A story or example from ordinary life that challenges our sense of ourselves.
  2. A passage from the Scriptures in which God speaks heart to heart with us and sheds light on the situation, assumptions, or feelings that the previous story might raise in us. Reading and pondering this short line is the key to making the meditation.
  3. A reflection that allows the Scripture passage to challenge or speak directly to the false assumptions under which we tend to interpret our daily experience, so that we can grow in our trust in God’s love for us.
  4. A short prayer we can repeat often during the day to help us reconnect to God’s love and fidelity.

Guest Post: Stories that invite us to be cultural mystics

Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP, is a Daughter of Saint Paul whose primary work is media literacy education for parents and teachers within the context of culture, education and faith formation. She love movies and reviews them at St. Anthony Messenger Magazine, the National Catholic Reporter,  Reel Spirituality and at her blog, Sr. Rose Goes to the Movies. When I read this article on her blog, I asked her if I could re-post it here, because it’s a wonderful example of how we can allow the stories in today’s entertainment culture draw us into contemplation.

Stories that invite us to be cultural mystics

by Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP

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After more than six decades of life, I am still startled by the profound empathy for humanity often revealed in stories told through sight and sound. Cinema, and increasingly episodic stories on television and the Internet, bring the human face of my brother or sister up close and personal so that I experience the joy and pain of all human living and make a difference in the world.

The fact is cinema has a sacramental quality, outward signs of inner realities, that Sr. Nancy Usselmann,* a colleague of mine, says invites us to be cultural mystics. We find transcendence and grace through the encounter with these stories when they are authentic; our senses are engaged through the gift and work of the artist, our imagination set afire when we are transported to another time and place to walk in the footprints of others, and finally, our spirits enriched especially when the resolution, if there is one, is true.

Because I am interested in reform of the criminal justice system in the United States, I started watching a fictional television series on the Sundance network, entitled Rectify. It is the story of a man, Daniel, who was wrongly convicted of killing his girlfriend when he was only 17 years old. He is released after almost twenty years on death row when DNA testing exonerates him. During the second season, while I was doing something as the television played in the background, I heard, in a flashback scene of a conversation between Daniel and the prison chaplain, “Beauty will change the world.”

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The quote from Dostoyevsky startled me and I spun around to watch, saying to myself, “Who says that on television?” When I watched the series again from the very beginning, this time with attention, I noticed how much I had missed because I had watched it through one lens only. Rectify is so much more than the tale of a man wrongly convicted by an over-zealous prosecutor and criminal justice system. The series is permeated with uninformed Old Testament justice meted out by the powerful over the powerless; it is a family drama of love, sin, and human suffering; it is a spiritual journey of hope and redemption as Daniel makes his way back into society that has left him behind. It is an intensely human story that seems to play out under the gaze of God who waits to see if His creatures will do the right thing and bestows grace to nudge them along in unsuspecting yet ordinary ways. The divine-human dynamic in Rectify is television at its courageous, creative best.

It is the epileptic and naïve Prince Myskin in Dostoyevsky’s 1869 novel The Idiot who utters the phrase “Beauty will change the world.” The prince is a Christ-figure who sees beauty where others do not, and whose words illumine the reality around him. As Pope John Paul II said in his 1999 Letter to Artists, people need to wonder at beauty if they are to solve the problems of today.

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Disney’s 2015 film Tomorrowland seems to bear this out. The premise of the film, directed by Brad Bird who co-wrote it with Damon Lindelof, is that we watch apocalyptic films year after year that are filled with disaster for the Earth and humanity, and nothing happens. We leave the cinema and go about our lives without connecting the story with reality. What if, instead of ignoring the prophetic nature of these films, and instead of entrusting the future of the Earth to politicians and corporations, artists, scientists, and dreamers could work together to make changes and prevent human destruction of the Earth? Critics did not appreciate Tomorrowland, seeing it as a commercial for Disneyland. Yet, if a viewer can step back and appreciate the possibilities for artists to change the world for the better, the film becomes cultural prophecy revealing values that transcend the very consumerism of the system that produced it.

“To see God in all things” is the heart of Ignatian spirituality. To have eyes to see with and ears to hear with is the sacramental action the artist carries who can reveal inner, profound, eternal realities through stories molded in sight and sound, even without trying. A story that is truly human is truly of the Gospel. Sister Nancy Usselmann writes, “To truly see this reality, the infinite beauty of the Creator in creaturely beauty, one must make that journey inward, perceived, as Augustine says, through our spiritual senses.” The artist who paints stories in light, through sight and sound, who reveals God in the human face, who leaves us free to contemplate his or her vision through our imagination searching and hungry for truth, beauty and goodness — mediates the Divine for us. And it is good.

by Sr. Rose Pacatte

* A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics a Theology of Popular Culture, by Sister Nancy Usselmann, 2015, thesis for Master of Arts in Theology degree.

This article was published originally in English, Spanish and French in SIGNIS Media, No. 1/2016, Brussels: “The Art of Storytelling.” Click here to download the entire issue on the topic.

Apostle of Love

Photo by Sr. Mary Emmanuel Alves, FSP

Photo by Sr. Mary Emmanuel Alves, FSP

Although June is traditionally observed as the month of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and we as Daughters of Saint Paul have a special devotion to the Sacred Heart, Blessed James Alberione encouraged us to also consider June the month of Saint Paul, since the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul is celebrated tomorrow (June 29), and then the Feast of St. Paul for the Pauline Family is celebrated on June 30.

This year, I’ve been thinking a lot about how certain themes keep running through my writing—even when I don’t intend them to be there. The main theme that keeps showing up—even unintentionally—is God’s love for us. Partly this is because I continually realize anew how much I need to grow in trust in God’s love for me, which means that I often focus on God’s love for me in my prayer and meditations. But also, I’ve been realizing that many people in our society allow unprocessed feelings to guide their decisions—sometimes even unknowingly—which often leads to poor decisions and unhappiness. Sometimes people are in so much pain from broken relationships that they need healing on all levels—including healing of their feelings. For me, the remedy to healing our feelings is twofold: 1) knowing God’s love for us and 2) falling in love with God.

As a society, we have a familiar catch-phrase: “do whatever feels good.” But allowing our feelings to always rule us leads us down a self-centered and earthly-based path that can actually become a prison of unhappiness. We are made for so much more than bodily pleasures, which don’t last.

Denying that we have certain feelings—especially the ones we consider negative or uncomfortable—gives them the power to influence us in ways that we are not aware of. Once again we become trapped by our feelings, but this time we don’t even know we are imprisoned.

The Pauline spirituality, which can be summed up in Saint Paul’s famous phrase, “Christ lives in me,” means that all the aspects of our person—mind, will, heart, body, strength—are to be completely dedicated to Christ to the point that we are in Christ, that our entire person is sanctified by Christ. That includes our feelings.

Our Founder Blessed James Alberione encouraged us: “Prayer should also involve our feelings.” In another place, he says:

“Charity is the virtue that leads to the greatest holiness. In fact, it unites the whole person to God: mind, will, feelings. It transforms the soul in God; establishes an intimate friendship with him; multiplies the person’s zeal and energy: “for love is as strong as death” (Sg. 8:6)… The same struggle takes place in every Christian:  it is a struggle between Jesus Christ and our whole human nature, which battle each other, competing for the person’s heart. Jesus Christ wants the whole person: mind, will, and feelings.”

And I realize that, as much as I’ve tried to bring my feelings to Christ to be sanctified, I still need more healing in this! This month especially, I’ve been praying to Saint Paul as the Apostle of love. (Saint Paul can be called the apostle of love for so many reasons, but if you have any doubts, read 1 Corinthians 13. Also, St. John Chrysostom said about Saint Paul: “The heart of Paul is the heart of Christ.” Wouldn’t it be awesome if that could be said about us? About every follower of Christ?)

I became a Daughter of Saint Paul so that my whole life could be about love. Now, I would describe this desire this way: I want my whole life to be a hymn of love to Christ—a hymn made up of tiny individual notes, tiny acts of love. Every moment, I have an opportunity to choose to act out of love; at this moment, that includes every letter I type and every breath I take. So I’ve been praying to Saint Paul to help me to truly be an apostle of Christ’s love, as he is.

In this image of Saint Paul commissioned by Blessed James Alberione, Saint Paul has a hand over his heart, to symbolize the great fire of love in his heart that impelled him to spread the Good News of God’s saving love for us—Christ crucified and risen—throughout the then known world. Saint Paul, Apostle of Love, pray for us!

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Your Moview Watchlist for the #YearofMercy

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Join us in praying our Novena to Saint Paul, which we are praying in reparation for the misuse of the media.

Great Films to Watch for the Year of Mercy

This weekend on my Windows to the Soul segment on the Salt + Light Radio Hour, I talk about three great films with the theme of mercy. Below is a summary of the show and where you can find the complete list of films.

Image Journal is a wonderful magazine and online site that looks at the intersection between art and religion. Every year, their Arts & Faith Community publishes a list of great films according to a certain theme. This year, they focused on the theme of mercy: The Arts & Faith Top 25 Films on Mercy.

I’ve seen about half of these films which range from 1921-2014, and I’ve been planning to see several more, but a couple of the films on the list are new to me. I now have a wonderful selection of films to see throughout the rest of the Year of Mercy.

The top three films are genuine classics from the black and white era, and two of them are in French with English subtitles, but don’t let that prevent you from seeing these wonderful films. I would especially recommend these films to those who are interested in looking more deeply at the theme of mercy for discussion or prayer, and film lovers. Because of the depth of the films, they may not work for children.

MonsieurVincentCoverMonsieur Vincent is a wonderfully-crafted film that was given a special Academy Award. (I recently gave it honorable mention in my list of best saint movies of all time.) Made in 1947 and directed by Maurice Cloche, the film is a bio-pic of the saint of mercy, Saint Vincent de Paul. The film doesn’t cover his whole life, but wisely chooses to focus on St. Vincent de Paul as he was beginning his care for people living in destitution, including those suffering from the feared plague and prisoners. St. Vincent de Paul changed society with his great works of mercy in a time where mercy was so greatly lacking. Actor Pierre Fresnay gives a powerful performance of a man who is so taken up with the needs of others that he is fascinating, admirable, and a bit hard to understand because he seems to have no concern for himself.

As we watch the film, we could use Saint Vincent’s interactions with the wealthy, the fearful, and the indifferent as an examination of conscience, because the people who resist Vincent’s efforts or refuse to help represent the same reasons why we refuse to be merciful. Amazingly, this film lacks the sentimentality that usually ruins saint movies. Vincent is a shining and compelling figure, as he literally seems to become the love of Christ for the underprivileged.

gallery-oxbowincident-3-gallery-imageThe Ox-Bow Incident is a 1943 American Western, directed by William Wellman and starring Henry Fonda and Dana Andrews. It has been described as a Western film noir, but I found it reminded me more of a gentler version of a Flannery O’Connor novel. The basic storyline is about two cowboys who are passing through a small Western town when the news comes that a well-respected farmer has been murdered and his cattle stolen. The townspeople form a posse to catch—and lynch—the guilty party. The two cowboys join in, partly to divert suspicion from themselves as suspects. The film explores the themes of guilt, justice, innocence, the legal system, conscience, our common humanity.

This film contains many points parallel points to Pope Francis’ recent video message about the death penalty, where he says:

“It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice. Nor is it consonant with any just purpose of punishment. It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty.” 

In many ways, The Ox-Bow Incident is about the refusal to give mercy; but there are many small moments where mercy is offered. This film is so well-crafted, it deserved an Oscar. (An interesting note: it was nominated for an Oscar for best picture but lost to Casablanca, which is one of my favorite films of all time.)

Film_222w_DiaryCountyPriest_originalThe third movie is the award-winning 1951 Diary of a Country Priest, based on the Georges Bernanos novel with the same name. The screenplay was adapted by the film’s legendary director, Robert Bresson, and is incredibly faithful to the novel. The film stars Claude Laydu in a wonderful performance and is in French with English subtitles. As the title indicates, this is an in-depth look into the daily life of a young, sensitive priest on his first assignment as pastor who, though distressed by the coldness of his parishioners, is willing to make many sacrifices to help them spiritually. The young priest is consistently misunderstood and criticized by all around him, except us privileged viewers who are given access to his daily diary. Laydu’s acting is amazing as a young, idealistic, and holy priest undergoing the dark night of the soul, but all of the characters are well-portrayed. I wish that the character of the priest smiled more in the film. Without giving away any spoilers,  this film is about the little moments of life, the daily choices for grace.

Don’t watch this movie when you’re in a hurry. Understated, subtle, with deeply layered dialogue, the pacing of the film helps us to slow down so we can enter more deeply into the mindset of the parishioners and especially of this young and holy priest whose sole goal is to bring people closer to peace and happiness in Christ. In a couple places, the film could be studied for the priest’s pastoral approach: when to speak, when to be silent, always to speak the truth, to invite others towards Christ rather than threaten, but to be honest about the consequences of bad choices, and above all, to accompany every pastoral effort with prayer.

This is a powerful film portraying the beauty of the constancy of little, sacrificial acts of mercy in daily life. My favorite line of the film is the last line of dialogue of the young priest: “All is grace.”

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There are some other fine movies to watch this summer that include the theme of mercy:

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Risen—the story of a soldier’s journey to faith, released to DVD recently.

The Young Messiah, which was just released to DVD, is the fictional story of Jesus’ childhood the year that the Holy Family returns from Egypt.

Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism is a documentary currently broadcasting on PBS (see list of broadcasts here),  will be broadcasting on Salt + Light TV as well, and is already available for purchase online. This documentary is a beautiful tracing of God’s mercy at work in the world through St. John Paul, and behind the Iron Curtain.

Potpourri of Resources on Communication Spirituality

When I’m working on more than two or three articles at a time (not a series), sometimes the writing well within seems to dry up. Each short article becomes progressively harder to write until I find myself on article 4 or 5 staring at a blank screen with no idea what to say. I know that I’m more comfortable writing long-form (books, screenplays, or even a series of articles about the same topic), but one advantage of writing shorter pieces is that I need to fill the well more often. Which means lately, I’ve been finding some interesting and helpful resources that I believe you will enjoy as well!

SrNancyHere is a list of her next articles:

A Sacred Look: Science-Fiction Seeks Redemption

  • A strong theme that frequently comes up in Pope Francis–and which I believe he encourages us to use in the New Evangelization–is “encounter.” I’ve written a little bit about what this means, but recently stumbled across this article in the Houston Catholic Worker that explains what “encounter” and “encuentro” mean to someone from a Latino culture. I found it very helpful to put into words what I was intuiting from reading the Pope’s frequent references to this term.
  • Our sisters in Italy have been publishing short articles on the media and now they’ve put them together on their website in English under the heading: Window on Communication. It’s an excellent series of articles on various topics connecting media and spirituality, written by a wide variety of writers.