Novena to St. John Paul II Begins…Today!

Today, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the last public apparition of Our Lady of Fatima (and the Miracle of the Sun), we are also celebrating Day 9 of our Novena to Our Lady of Fatima, as well as the last “official” day of our annual #MediaNuns Mission Appeal. (You can celebrate Our Lady of Fatima together this weekend as a family by watching one of the well-done films on Our Lady of Fatima–check out my list of recommendations here.) 

As you might know, we have been praying the Angelus together on Facebook Live at noon every day, as well as praying the Rosary together at 8 PM on Facebook Live. The number of people joining us in prayer has been inspiring! (Our biggest night so far was Monday, with over 16,000 views!) We’re hoping tonight will be the biggest night of all–it’s a wonderful way to thank Our Lady of Fatima for proving again what a wonderful Mother she is–not just to Jesus, but to the entire Church.

 

 

It is striking to me that the Novena to St. John Paul II begins today (9 days before his feast on October 22). For me, St. John Paul is the Pope whose devotion to Our Lady is so pronounced. His multiple (sometimes mysterious) connections with Our Lady of Fatima are everywhere, once we start looking. Father Raymond de Souza shares the highlights in his insightful and concise article here.

I have been praying often to St. John Paul II, and I probably made a novena to him before his canonization, but this year is the first time I am consciously making a novena to a canonized saint whose hand I have touched, and whose life touched mine in numerous ways. So I decided that I would write my own novena prayer, highlighting experiences that we have shared and the ways that he touched my life. I am sharing part of my personal prayer below, in the hopes that it might inspire someone else. (I have to confess that I have taken out a few of the more personal details.)

Saint Pope John Paul, thank you for the many ways that you said “yes,” to God, overcoming any fear, and giving the world both the encouragement and the witness of your words, “Do not be afraid! Open your hearts to Christ!”

You gave so many gifts to the Church: the call to the New Evangelization, your witness of prayer and union with Christ, the beautiful articulation of God’s plan for every human person in the Theology of the Body, your appreciation for beauty and the arts, your many beautiful and profound writings, your devotion to the Truth, your understanding of what it means to be a communicator for Christ and witnessing how to do it, your closeness and preferential option for youth, your surrender to God’s will in your illness.

Now from heaven, you continue to accompany the Church you led so wonderfully here on earth. You know that your homily during your Mass on the Boston Common, and your encouragement, led me to embrace my vocation. You were always a special friend of young people, encouraging them to boldly follow Christ. When I finally met you, I could see the love of God the Father for  me shining through your eyes. I told you then that I loved you, and I continue to love and trust in you as my spiritual father and guide.

Now, I trustingly turn to you once again for inspiration, guidance, and for your intercession. In your powerful prayer to Jesus our Way, Truth, and Life, intercede for the Church to courageously continue setting out “into the deep” for the New Evangelization in these challenging times where the dignity of each person, the freedom of religion, the  value of every human life, the nurturing of the family, the care of all creation, justice for those who are oppressed, and concern for the common good, are all under threat. 

In a special way, I also ask you to beg God for my personal intentions:
(mention them here)

I trust in your prayers, St. John Paul. Continue to accompany me! You inspired me to “Follow Christ” unreservedly; I am one of “your” vocations; I count on you as “my” Pope and my spiritual father! Thank you.

If you, too, are part of the John Paul II generation (or, as one of my sisters puts it, “a John Paul II groupie”), you may want to begin a novena to him in preparation for his feast on October 22nd. You can write your own prayer, as I did. You can add it to other prayers. Some of my other favorite options include:

http://totus2us.com/podcasts/novenas/novena-to-st-john-paul-ii/  (Marian focus)

and

http://www.philipkosloski.com/novena/ (with a little-known fact about St. John Paul for each day, too!)

Here, you can find the “official prayer” from the Vatican offered at St. John Paul’s canonization here (thanks to Catholic News Service for the unofficial English translation.

This novena prayer is also beautiful and is posted on the site for the Saint John Paul II National Shrine (in Washington, D.C.), which I hope to visit someday!

 

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Gems from the Catholic Writers Conference Online 2017

cwglogoThe Catholic Writers Guild’s Online Conference—just held this past weekend—is a fantastic conference for Catholic writers who are just starting to write, writers who are seeking to publish or are publishing their work for the first time, and for established authors who want the companionship of a like-minded writing community that offers spiritual support (as well as writing support), or for those writers who simply want to explore or deepen the connection between their writing and their life of faith.

This year, my schedule allowed me to participate in only five of the workshops—and I missed three that I really wanted to attend—but I have to confess that I really enjoyed connecting with other writers.

Just a few takeaways:

  • Colleen C. Mitchell’s amazing workshop on integrating our writing with our everyday life, especially her personal witness of how she keeps writing during challenging times. Her witness inspires me.
  • How Terri Ong’s presentation connected St. Therese of Lisieux’s “Little Way”  with the writing life. If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that, for me, St. Therese articulates Saint Paul’s spirituality in a contemporary, accessible way. More and more, I see how essential the humility and obedience to the Holy Spirit are to the believer’s ability to respond to their call to write. The Founder of my community, Blessed James Alberione, encouraged us to pray these words often—and now I start every writing session with them: “By myself I can do nothing, but with God I can do all things. For the love of God, I want to do all things. To God, honor and glory; to me, the eternal reward.”
  • Although I have read dozens of writing books, published 7 books, and been studying writing craft for over 15 years, I can always learn something new. I learned a new way to improve the manuscript that I hand in to my editor and some ways to fix problems in developing a scene. But the best part? Connecting with other writers who consider writing a call from God, and a way to serve God’s People. Plus, I was delighted to be able to volunteer to moderate some of the workshops, and so contribute a little back to this lovely writing community.
  • Finally, I was reminded how important writing is to me. For a number of reasons, I have had to put writing on hold—at least, the “deep writing” that I feel called to do. These reasons included transition, a different schedule, new responsibilities, and my preoccupation with several difficult circumstances. The precious gem I received from this conference is a deeper insight into how much “deep writing” energizes me and assists me in doing other important apostolates that I carry out. No matter how busy I am, I cannot completely put it aside any more. I’m eager to find ways to write deeply again—even if it is just 20 minutes a day. 

A profound thank you to the Catholic Writers Guild, and all of those who worked so hard to bless dedicated, hard-working Catholic writers the training, tips, and encouragement we need to continue writing.

Upcoming Retreat in Los Angeles!

Thank you for your patience with me as I return from my trip to Illinois and catch up with a few urgent projects. For the beginning of the New Year, I will be in Los Angeles for meetings with our sisters, and I am taking that opportunity to offer a retreat day at our Pauline Book & Media Center in Culver City, CA, on Saturday, January 7th. Retreat will be followed by Mass at our chapel at 4 PM.

A day of retreat is a wonderful way to “start the New Year right,” to rejoice in the gift of God’s love and to allow his love to transform us so that we can once again align our will with God’s will. If you live in the Los Angeles area, I hope you can join us!

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“Put Jesus First” – #Advent2016 Preparation

star-437519_1280To be honest, I have been so busy preparing for an upcoming evangelization trip that the reality that Thanksgiving is next week and the first Sunday of Advent is the following Sunday has been entirely off my radar! But actually, I am getting ready for a very special Advent, as I prepare for the Advent retreats and missions that I will be leading and participating in during the second and third weeks of Advent in Illinois at several parishes. These two weeks will be a spiritually nourishing change from my ordinary routine, and gives a special evangelization focus to my Advent!

(If you are in Illinois, near Chicago or in the Peoria diocese, you can check out where I’ll be when here.  I’d love to meet you!)

Our sisters at Pauline Books & Media are offering some awesome free resources to help us to make Advent 2016 a true spiritual season. Our theme this year is Put Jesus First! You can find these helpful tools on the web for you and your family!

An entire issue of our Discover Hope newsletter with 5 tips to help your family prepare for Christmas.

An Advent Word of the Day daily inspirational email prepared by our very own Sr. Anne Flanagan, so that we can fully enter into the Advent spirit.

A “Put Jesus First” Advent Planning Guide (sign up here).

A free, inspirational monthly calendar for children that begins with the first Sunday of Advent!

 

Other free Advent resources:

XT-3’s 2016 Advent Calendar (available online and as an app)

The University of Creighton’s Online Ministries Praying Advent offers wonderful resources for adults–from audio Advent Retreats, to praying with your imagination, to video reflections… This is a site that I visit every so often to download the latest resources!

CatholicIcing.com has some easy, “no preparation required” ideas for family activities for Advent!

IgnatianSpirituality.com has more resources that help us to deepen our spiritual growth in Advent, especially linking the arts to Advent (one of my favorite Advent resources).

Here’s the link to some wonderful ideas for spiritually-nourishing Christmas gifts that our sisters offer for teens and children!

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Recharging

What do you do when you feel like you have nothing left to give?

stranded-918933_1280That’s how I’ve felt through the week after the Clay Pots Retreat. It had been an amazing six weeks where I’ve given classes, retreat conferences, and assisted with our live webathon novena, but by the middle of the week, I couldn’t even think any more. I knew my introverted tank was past empty and I was running on fumes. It’s not comfortable when I feel like I have nothing left, that I’m “poured out,” and emotionally exhausted. In my prayer, even reading the Bible feels like it’s too hard. Fear that I will never be refilled takes over because I don’t even have the energy to deal with my worries.

And perhaps that’s the hardest part of all. When I’m that exhausted, I don’t just stop paying attention interiorly, but I feel stranded in the middle of nowhere, alone and abandoned; maybe even wrecked. Pretty soon, I’m overwhelmed by negativity and I simply want to cry because the emptiness haunts me.

That’s the short version of how I felt by Friday.

But I’d been in this place before, and I had the grace to see it coming earlier in the week. I seized an opportunity to get away for about a day and a half, and I took myself completely offline. In my prayer—when I just wanted to weep for sheer emptiness—I remembered how Jesus sanctified exhaustion. His solution for exhaustion was seeking out his Father…and so I spent several hours in quiet prayer. Most of the prayer time I simply accepted my emptiness, prayed for the people I’ve been interacting with for the past six weeks, and told Jesus I was open to whatever he wanted. 

That simple acceptance of my feelings and my discomfort, in Jesus’ presence—as difficult as it was—changed everything. Suddenly I was no longer stranded alone. Jesus was with me. Simply giving Jesus my poor, empty self and knowing that that was enough for him, made it become enough for me.

It was a very gentle weekend: I prayed quietly a lot, journaled a good bit, spent time outside (beautiful New England fall weather), took some long walks, watched a sci-fi film with a friend, and slept. And by Monday morning, I felt so blessed by the gifts of my ordinary life. But I continue to be aware that, for the next week or two, I need to continue being gentle, undemanding with myself, and creating extra space for quiet and listening. This will allow the “spiritual recharging” that began weekend to continue.

What do you do when you are spiritually and/or emotionally exhausted? I would love to hear your tips and strategies for “refueling” your spiritual life and your creativity!

Christ as Our Way of Communicating

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This week, we Paulines are praying the Novena to Jesus Divine Master. (The Pauline Feastday this year is Sunday, October 30th.) It is a beautiful, Scripturally-based novena in which we contemplate Jesus as Master, Teacher and Guide. Jesus is our way in everything, including how we communicate. Blessed James Alberione shared a beautiful reflection on how we are called to learn to communicate as Jesus did:

How did Christ communicate?

[Jesus] spoke in a simple and clear way even when he was teaching lofty doctrine. He adapted his teaching to the needs of every audience. The Gospel notes that he knew 
what was in every person (cf. Jn 2:25). He adapted himself to fishermen and shepherds, to those from Galilee and those from Judea, to the Pharisees, to his disciples, 
and to his opponents. How different is his conversation with the Samaritan woman from that with Nicodemus, who came by night! How different his teaching to the crowds from that given to the close circle of apostles! Yet it was always a question of the message of salvation.

He wanted his disciples to work in the same way.

The apostle [communicator], in fact, is not some great thinker who proposes his or her own conclusions, or has to defend his or her own teachings….. 
The apostle is a witness of what he or she has seen and heard from the Divine Master and from the Church in which [Christ] continues to live, teach, and guide.

What an immense privilege: to follow the Divine Master and cooperate with Jesus Christ in proclaiming his message of light, grace, and salvation.
-Blessed James Alberione