How To Become a Pop Culture Mystic: Interview with Author Sr. Nancy Usselmann, FSP

Yesterday I had the privilege of having a conversation with Sister Nancy Usselmann, FSP, Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, about her new book, A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics. I hope you enjoy it!

A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics is available at our online Pauline store, from the Pauline Book & Media Center nearest you, or on amazon.com.

Be a Pop Culture Mystic!

This week, I have the opportunity to interview Daughter of Saint Paul Sister Nancy Usselmann, author of the new book, A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural MysticsSister Nancy is director for the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles, but she is here in Boston for a few weeks to prepare for our annual Christmas concerts, so I am taking advantage of her presence!

In her book, Sr. Nancy encourages us to engage with pop culture by becoming mystics: that is, to use our media experiences to recognize the beauty of God and the needs of humanity expressed by the artists of today’s culture. Much of A Sacred Look offers us a theological foundation for doing just that, and the rest of the book is a wonderful, insightful analysis of some of the most prevalent trends and popular phenomena in pop culture, ranging from TV shows such as Netflix’s controversial 13 Reasons Why, to rap music, sci-fi films, and Oscar-winning films such as The Revenant. You can read her initial interview about becoming cultural mystics here.

My plan is to post the interview up here next week. If you would like us to discuss a particular aspect of pop culture (perhaps a favorite or controversial film, song, or TV show), please feel free to send me a message here, on Facebook or Twitter, or in the  comments below, before Thursday noon (August 22nd), and I’ll see if we can get to it.

If you are in the Boston area, you may want to join Sister Nancy for her author talk/book signing on this Saturday, August 25:

 

Our Call to Holiness: A Call to Creativity

 

Some days, I need help slipping out of the rushed, deadline-driven pace so that I can write not from a place of freneticism but from a place deep within. To do this, I’m picking up Letter to Artists by Pope St. John Paul and prayerfully reading and journaling through it, using a personal guide that I wrote a number of years ago. (For a quick preview of the beauty and depth of the Letter, check out Salt + Light TV’s reflection on Letter to Artists video above.) As I do this, I’m honing in on central insights and crafting reflection questions that I hope will be helpful to anyone interested in growing in their creativity. (And I’m taking the results of the recent poll into account–thank you if you took a few minutes to answer the questions about your creative life!)

Every human person is creative, by our very nature. When the Book of Genesis tells us that we are made in the image and likeness of God, the God that Genesis is portraying is the Creator. Pope St. John Paul puts it this way: each of us is at our most creative when shaping the masterpiece of our life. Living out our call to holiness is a creative pursuit!

In our times as perhaps no other, where we face challenges on so many fronts (in our increasingly secularized society, in the human family as a whole, and in our Church), I believe that today, God calls each of us to be especially creative in how we live our call to holiness. The New Evangelization calls for a New Holiness, which requires a new creativity in how Christ Jesus is the Center of our lives, and how our thoughts, choices, and hearts revolve around him! Pope Francis offers some wonderful insights into how we can respond to today’s challenges to our call to holiness:

“Every saint is a message which the Holy Spirit takes from the riches of Jesus Christ and gives to his people…. This is a powerful summons to all of us. You too need to see the entirety of your life as a mission. Try to do so by listening to God in prayer and recognizing the signs that he gives you. Always ask the Spirit what Jesus expects from you at every moment of your life and in every decision you must make, so as to discern its place in the mission you have received. Allow the Spirit to forge in you the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today’s world.

“May you come to realize what that word is, the message of Jesus that God wants to speak to the world by your life. Let yourself be transformed. Let yourself be renewed by the Spirit, so that this can happen, lest you fail in your precious mission. The Lord will bring it to fulfillment despite your mistakes and missteps, provided that you do not abandon the path of love but remain ever open to his supernatural grace, which purifies and enlightens.”  – Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultatet, #s23, 24


I’ll conclude this post with a simple prayer for us this week:

“Come, Holy Spirit, set free in us the light and power of the Word!”

-prayer from Live Christ! Give Christ! Prayers for the New Evangelization 

Writing Resolutions: Be Gentler!

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I believe that writing, like the spiritual life, has seasons. And perhaps the time away from writing—which I have both regretted and worried over—has been a good thing. (God makes all things work for the good!) After all, God is the One in charge of the seasons of my life, and God has taught me so much in the intervening years! It would be such a blessing to bring those lessons into my writing—both how I write and what I write. So I’ll share here some very personal writing resolutions, as I begin writing again.

I would like…

  • to be kinder and gentler to myself as a writer: letting go of perfectionism when I’m writing rough drafts, letting go of worrying about others’ judgments, and focusing more on listening to God’s voice, to God’s invitations to express what I feel called to say, to be true to myself. (Author and writing coach K. M. Weiland, who produces one of my very favorite writing podcasts, recently released a wonderful episode/blogpost on how judgment and creativity don’t fit together.)
  • to write in a way so that communication is always more “circular”—so that readers can “talk” to me before, after, and while I write for them. I would love for our conversations to become part of each book, even before it is finished! I started trying this years ago, but now I will have the opportunity to pick up that project and complete it!
  • to forge a new relationship with writing: letting go of any guilt when important commitments prevent me from writing, but also not being afraid or apologetic to set writing as a priority. For almost five years, I set writing aside for other (important) matters. Now, I am able to make it one priority among many. I don’t want to feel guilty either for writing (which I used to) or for not writing (which I have also been carrying).
  • to simply enjoy the gift that writing is—to me, and I hope through me, to others. Mother Paula, the sister who brought our congregation here in North America in 1932, used to talk about the new titles we published as being “babies.” And I really feel that way about the books that I write. Every book is an intense labor of love, but each book truly comes to life only when it enters into the lives of its readers…and makes a difference in those lives. I believe that the Lord has a plan for each book, each article, and from now on, I intend to simply follow where the Lord leads.

I’ll start back here blogging very simply, sharing favorite authors, blogposts, and articles about writing, spirituality, artistic practice and the spiritual life. The first resource I’d like to mention is from Sister Nancy Michael Usselmann, FSP, who just published her first book, A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics—Theology of Popular Culture, in which she encourages us to become pop culture mystics. I’ll review it soon, and perhaps interview her here. If you have any questions for her, send them in and I’ll ask her!

Do you have a topic that you’d like me to write about on Windows to the Soul? Please post something in the comments below, send me an email, or respond on Facebook. (I am gradually organizing the various social media platforms that I am on so that I can respond in a timely (!) fashion to Facebook and others, and I look forward to many fruitful conversations!)

Above all, know that I keep you—every reader—in my prayers, carrying you in my heart to Jesus in the tabernacle during my daily Hour of Adoration. God bless you!

For Catholic Creatives

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It has been over a year since I have been able to give any significant focus at all to writing—either for my blogs or a new book. And it has been about four years since I have been able to dedicate consistent time to writing longer projects, beyond the short pieces I write for Pauline Digital.

Last month and again today, I have been able to take a full day to really focus on getting back into writing. It has been exciting, overwhelming, and unnerving. I used to try to write daily—even if only for a short time—and now, I’m getting back to something I haven’t really done for years. In some ways, it is like I never stopped. In other ways, I feel rusty. Despite a bit of unease, I am really looking forward to writing more. I had a taste of the sheer delight of writing when working on my recent blogpost highlighting The Ten Best Animated Family Features.

Although I have a book midway, I’ve decided to dive in with a small project that I have mentioned here many times, both for myself and because I believe it is needed today more urgently than ever: a reflection guide for Pope St. John Paul II’s inspiring Letter to Artists. Much of our culture’s art now comes from a nonChristian worldview. And while great art can always offer us insight, depth, and meaning, I believe that great art rooted in faith and in the Scriptures has a special power to inspire individuals and transform culture in a way that brings humanity closer to God.

If you consider yourself a creative—whether professional or amateur: in literature (writer, novelist, poet, journalist), in the performing arts (actor, dramatist, costume or scenic design), in music (composer, performer, musician, conductor), in visual arts (graphic designer, illustrator, drawing, painting, photography, sculpting), etc.—would you take the brief survey here?

Thank you! (You can also always post in the comments below, or email me. )

Saintly Patrons: Create your own litany to the saints!

This week, I will begin my annual retreat, and though I don’t plan to post here during my retreat, I will be praying for you and your intentions.

Several years ago, a wonderful retreat director suggested that I entrust each day of my retreat to a special patron, which I have done ever since making that retreat. Recently, one of our chaplains encouraged us to create our own Litany of the Saints, in which we pray to the saints with whom we have a special relationship, asking for their intercession in our daily lives. My daily Litany of Saints continues to grow…it includes apostles, contemplatives, mystics, martyrs, writers…. May of the saints I pray to were writers, or artists, or promoters of beauty and truth. For each retreat, I usually pick a “fun” thing to do: something that I can do that won’t break up my recollection, but gives me something concrete to work on or play with when I get restless. I think that this year, I will put together a personal e-prayerbook, which will include a full-length personal Litany.

If you have been to an Easter Vigil with a Baptism, or a religious profession, you have heard the Church’s litany to the saints, sung or recited. For each occasion, the litany of the saints is adapted to include the new names of the baptized or those professing vows. But what a wonderful  idea for each of us to create our own litany to the saints—perhaps with a more personal response than “pray for us”, unique for each saint!

Litanies to the saints can be wonderfully adapted for all sorts of intentions. For example, our Founder Blessed James Alberione gave us a beautiful “Litany for the Formation of Promoters of Social Communications,” which one of our sisters updated. Our Church is blessed with so many wonderful models, heroes, and intercessors that we could create litanies invoking the saints for all kinds of special intentions: for families, to create a more equitable world, to promote the dignity of human life, to save and heal the environment, etc.

* * *

I won’t be posting for the next two weeks, but if you would like me to remember your specific intentions in my prayers during retreat, please post them below or send them to me in a private email-by July 11, 2018! I would be honored to pray for you.

If you are interested, here are the saints Blessed James Alberione included in his “Litany for the Formation of Promoters of Social Communication.” I will update the litany and post a downloadable version for communicators, writers, and artists soon!

Mother of Christ and our Mother,      pray for us

Mother of divine grace,                       pray for us

Mother of good counsel,                     pray for us

Queen of the Apostles,                       pray for us

Seat of Wisdom,                                 pray for us

Saintly Moses,                                    pray for us

Saintly David,                                     pray for us

Saintly Isaiah                                      pray for us

All holy Prophets                                pray for us

St. Mark,                                             pray for us

St Matthew,                                         pray for us

St. Luke,                                              pray for us

St. John,                                              pray for us

St. Paul,                                               pray for us

St. Peter,                                             pray for us

St. James,                                            pray for us

St. Thaddeus,                                      pray for us

All holy Apostles and Evangelists,     pray for us

All holy apostolic Fathers,                 pray for us

St. Athanasius,                                    pray for us

St. Basil,                                              pray for us

St. Jerome,                                          pray for us

St Ambrose,                                        pray for us

St. Augustine,                                     pray for us

St. John Chrysostom,                          pray for us

St. Gregory the Great,                         pray for us

All holy Fathers,                                 pray for us

St. Bernard,                                         pray for us

St. Albert,                                            pray for us

St. Thomas,                                         pray for us

St. John of the Cross,                          pray for us

St. Francis de Sales,                            pray for us

St. Alphonsus                                     pray for us

All holy Doctors,                                pray for us

St Teresa,                                            pray for us

St. Catherine,                                       pray for us

All holy men and women

            saints of God,                          intercede for us.

“To Seek God’s Face: Theological Approaches to Film”

Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP, is a sister of my community whose name you might recognize, either from the many times I have referred to her on this blog, or simply from  her wonderful and insightful film reviews. She just graduated from the Graduate Theological Foundation and received their 2018 Mother Teresa Prize in Spirituality and Community Service.

She is a pioneer in the area of Media Literacy Education, founding our Pauline Center for Media Studies, and also in her work of integrating media consumption with Catholic values—especially social justice in the teaching of the Catholic Church. Here is a short version of her acceptance of the award and her explanation of her doctoral project: