Seeing a Movie for Valentine’s Day?

LoveisOldFashionedIf you’re planning to see a movie for Valentine’s Day tonight or this weekend, I encourage you to pick one that doesn’t involve the color gray but represents the true color spectrum that God intends for us.

In theaters right now, Old Fashioned is an independent romantic comedy that doesn’t get everything right, but has some intriguing character development and a strong ending. Above all, it explores what true romantic love can look like in the context of today’s society of wounded young adults. For a fuller commentary, visit the Pauline.org Blog.  If you are interested in an eclectic collection of worthwhile romantic films, look no further than the list of  Theology of the Body ‘s popular expert speaker, Sr. Helena Burns, fsp: Show Me Real Love: Romantic Movies Worth Watching.

And if you can, say some extra prayers this weekend: pray in reparation for those who have produced, promoted, or are going to see the gray film that objectifies women and glamorizes abuse; pray for the healing of the minds and hearts of those who watch it, and pray also for those who have or are suffering from an abusive relationship, that they will have the courage and wisdom to seek the help that they need to stay safe.

Brilliant Must-Read for Writers: The Art of Spiritual Writing

ArtofSpirWritingcoverMy current favorite book on writing is The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life by Vinita Hampton Wright. So I was really excited when I saw the cover for her newest book, The Art of Spiritual Writing: How to Craft Prose That Engages and Inspires Your Readers. I decided to give myself the treat of reading her book while I was on my California #SoulofChrist book tour, and I have not been disappointed!

The Art of Spiritual Writing is really a manual for Christian and Catholic writers that focuses on the craft of writing, listening to one’s audience, nurturing one’s self as a writer delving into (and sometimes wrestling with) spirituality, and the vocation to write about spirituality, but all from the unique needs and challenges of someone writing about spirituality who feels called to communicate the Truth. I truly wish this book had been available fifteen years ago when I was writing my first book; it would have been invaluable for me.

The Art of Spiritual Writing is a huge service for beginning writers, or writers whose skill is just blossoming to the point that they can begin to think about publishing, because it addresses the issues of craft, audience, and nurturing the writer that are unique to writing faith-based content. (If you are writing a spiritual memoir, this is essential reading!) This book will help one to avoid the typical pitfalls of beginning writers, especially those who are convinced of the urgency of the New Evangelization.

Unfortunately, many Catholic and Christian writers (as well as artists, filmmakers, musicians), feel that their mission to write supersedes the need for quality in their art. Vinita addresses this brilliantly, persuasively, and succinctly. The Founder of the Pauline Family, Blessed James Alberione, used to tell us Daughters of Saint Paul that the “form” of the media that we create needs to be worthy of the Truth which they contain. But so many writers assume that because they want to convey the truth, they don’t need to put in the immense amount of effort that it takes to hone their craft, making their manuscript publishable. Vinita not only calls out these issues, explaining why it’s so important to address them before submitting your manuscript (and in some cases, before even thinking about publication), she also explains how to address them. The chapter about the difference between writing for one’s self and writing for publication needs to be read by every writer who submits a manuscript or proposal to a Catholic publisher!

But this book is extraordinarily helpful even for those writers well-established in the field of spirituality. Although I skimmed several chapters rather quickly because of my experience in publishing, I found at least half of the book invaluable for writers at any level of experience, including myself. All of her reflections on the following topics really hit home for me personally:

* our mission to authentically communicate the truth

* the need to write with humility (humility being an essential virtue for spiritual writers today),

* the special care needed for someone who writes in the area of spirituality

The Art of Spiritual Writing is completely different from Wright’s The Soul Tells a Story, which really focuses on how to develop and nurture your creative process. While The Art gives some brief helpful tips about nurturing your creativity, it mostly covers different areas. Indeed, if you have these two books in your writer’s library, then you simply need a grammar guide, a couple of books on writing craft, and a book on marketing, and you’d have what you need for a beginner’s writing reference library.

The Art of Spiritual Writing is also a carefully honed, crafted book that exemplifies its message. This is a brilliant book for writers that I highly recommend!

Praying for Ongoing Conversion with Saint Paul

Continuing the Pauline feast days–today is the feast of Saints Titus and Timothy, renowned followers of Saint Paul–I wanted to share the video that Sr. Elizabeth Tebo created for yesterday’s feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Although Sunday’s liturgy “trumped” the Conversion, we members of the Pauline Family in Redwood City celebrated Saint Paul’s Conversion by making an hour of adoration, asking for the grace of living in ongoing conversion! We also prayed for Saint Paul’s intercession to help convert our continent’s “culture of death” into a “culture of life” as we concluded the 9 Days for Life Novena.

 

Soul of Christ Book Tour Events: San Francisco Area!

If you are in the San Francisco area, I invite you to join me for today’s or tomorrow evening’s Soul of Christ events! (If you are in the Los Angeles or San Diego area, scroll down for next week’s events!)

SMPSoulOfChristReduced

For Los Angeles:

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Note that the retreat day on February 8th will include Eucharistic adoration but will be focused on the topic of my earlier book, See Yourself Through God’s Eyes: Allowing God’s Love to Shape Our Self-Esteem. 

And in the San Diego area:

SMP-San-Diego

First Impressions of “Communicating the Family: …Encounter the Gift of Love”

Sunday liturgy “trumps” the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, but I wanted to celebrate it anyway by sharing my first impressions of Pope Francis’s Message for the 49th World Day of Communications, entitled, Communicating the Family: A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love.  Traveling on my book tour in California, I haven’t had an opportunity to do more than one quick read of  But even from a superficial look, I think that this Message is going to be extraordinarily helpful on many levels.

On a deeply personal level: because all of us begin communicating in our families. For me, it brings a feeling of nostalgia for what it was like for me growing up in a large and very loving family…and it also encourages me to look at both the gifts I received in learning how to communicate, and the ways in which I didn’t learn to communicate very well and even now could improve.

On a holistic level: the Message also encourages us to explore all the levels of communication, beginning with the nonverbal and physical–the gestures, physical touch, the sounds (e.g. of our mothers’ heartbeats when we are in the womb), and the bodily expression of our feelings. I love that the “icon” that Pope Francis takes is the Visitation, and that the joy of greeting is perhaps the first, foundational experience of communication.

On an interpersonal/relational level: Pope Francis appropriately focuses on the close interpersonal relationships upon which we base all our familial communication and thus learn the most important aspect of communication: a giving of ourselves in love.

On the level of our relationship with God: Most of us learn how to pray in our families. I know for myself that my trust in God as my all-loving Creator and Father could never be what it is today without my first being lovingly nurtured by my father and mother. (I keep trying to express this to my mother, but words fail me!) St. John Paul’s writings were the first place that I discovered the importance of the parents’ role in shaping a person’s lifelong relationship with God, and Pope Francis re-emphasizes how essential and critical their role is.

The Message also speaks about the challenges that face effective communication, as well as the reality that, because communication is a most human behavior, our communication is never perfect. This passage is very encouraging for us as writers and as human beings and indeed may be my favorite part of the message:

“We should not be fearful of imperfections, weakness or even conflict, but rather learn how to deal with them constructively. The family, where we keep loving one another despite our limits and sins, thus becomes a school of forgiveness. Forgiveness is itself a process of communication.”

Finally, Pope Francis also refers to the use of media that can be used to build up or hinder communication in the family.

This year’s Message for the World Day of Communication is not just a fine addition to the collection of World Communications Day Messages, but is also a wonderful deepening of the role of communication in family life during this year of reflection on the family.

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If you are in California, I’m in the San Francisco area this week! I’d love to meet you during one of these two upcoming author events:

SMPSoulOfChristReduced

 

St. Paul: Walking Beside the World

PaulandPeterToday is the third day of our triduum of preparation for the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Pope Francis’s Message for 2015’s World Day of Communication has already been released, (which I hope to get to on Monday), but I’d like to conclude with a short reflection on last year’s message.

Towards the end of his 2014 Message, Pope Francis continues to apply his call to the Church to “accompany the world” on its journey specifically in the world of communication. “We are called to show that the Church is the home of all,” and “Let us boldly become citizens of the digital world. The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ.”

For me, Pope Francis continues the calls that I heard so clearly from St. John Paul and Pope Emeritus Benedict: to truly and vibrantly engage with our culture! If we as Catholics indiscriminately avoid using the media, or we divorce how we live our faith from our how we use the media, then our media culture is greatly impoverished; even worse, it can become a void where the beauty, goodness, and truth of Christ are absent.

So what does it mean to “accompany” the world? What does it mean to walk at the side of the world?

For Saint Paul, it literally meant walking to new places to communicate Christ, and to sojourn in each place for extended periods of time, to “bring Christ to birth” in the people who received him. When he couldn’t be physically present, he would accompany them through prayer, by sending representatives who could encourage them, and through his active correspondence. It didn’t matter what difficulties Paul ran into: he never “abandoned” those to whom he proclaimed Christ.

A number of years ago, I was privileged to accompany one of our sisters on her journey towards eternity. During the last two years of her life as her illness progressed, I tried to be her “guardian angel,” helping her with the mundane tasks that had become too difficult for her, staying in touch with her family and updating them on her condition, praying with her when prayer became difficult. Accompanying her was a tremendous gift for me, as a human being and but also spiritually, as I witnessed God’s tender love for her and her wholehearted response to him, in the face of death. My problems–which before had loomed large–became inconsequential. Accompanying her enabled me to shift the focus from myself to her in a very natural, unforced way. In the last two months of her life, my primary concern became attending to her needs. Though I felt completely spent after her peaceful death, I discovered that accompanying her had been one of the greatest gifts of my life:

  • I witnessed how God worked in her and through her, and how she allowed that to happen
  • I received the gift of her love for me, even to her  last moments of consciousness
  • In being “stretched” to give of myself more fully in this new, accompanying kind of way, I discovered new things about myself
  • I received anew the gift of my life, rediscovering how precious I am and feeling inspired to fully live that gift

Accompanying the world would, I imagine, entail some of the same shifts for us today: taking the focus off ourselves, attending to others’ urgent needs, re-discovering ourselves as we give of ourselves in love more fully, and receiving the gift that others are for us and for the world.

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There is so much more to reflect on in 2014’s Message, but at least my unpacking and reflecting on it here has helped me to deepen it. I hope that it’s also offered some helpful insights for you as well!