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

 

Trinitarian Foundation of Catholic Media Spirituality

Every spare moment I have this week will be dedicated to final preparations for the Clay Pots Retreat for Catholic artists and media professionals. One of the things that I will speak about briefly, but do not have time to explore in-depth is how the foundation for all communication spirituality is found in the Most Holy Trinity. It’s terribly challenging to try to present the Trinitarian aspect of communication spirituality, because you need to delve into the theology of the Most Holy Trinity…and I always feel a bit uneasy treading where St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine found words inadequate…  Really doing justice to the Trinitarian foundation of communication spirituality would be not just a a weekend retreat, but a month-long retreat!

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, is one of the Church’s most balanced and “to the point” communicators that the Church has today. He has a wonderful homily for the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity that explains how, for God, relationships and community come first:

Our God isn’t immovable. God isn’t alone. God is communication between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is the profound mystery that the liturgy for the feast of the Holy Trinity recalls: both the unspeakable reality of God and the manner in which this mystery has been given to us. The Trinity celebrates the peace and unity of the divine persons in whom the circular dance of love – “perichoresis” in Greek – continues. That unity is a dance of life and relationships, encompassing all aspects of human life.

Read the rest of Father Rosica’s beautiful, Scripturally-based homily here, and watch his additional explanation in the video below. Both are beautiful and profound, and can help us to ponder the mystery of our God in  a way that we, as ordinary people, can understand!

 

Stretching as a Writer (in a St. Paul & St. Therese Style)

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One of the beauties and challenges of religious life is living our vow of obedience. That means that sometimes we get assigned to responsibilities that are new, unfamiliar, and sometimes, seemingly not suited to us. Often, it’s because the superior sees something in us that we don’t see. Once we’ve been working in this new area for a while, we may be surprised to discover that we have gifts that we didn’t suspect. At other times, the superior is willing to “take a risk” on us because she knows that the assigned task needs to go forward, and we are the only one (or the seemingly best person) available at the time.

All of this is a long introduction to saying that, during these past two and a half years, I keep finding myself stretched because of my assigned apostolate in Pauline Digital.

Most nonwriters probably think, “Writing is writing.” They may not realize that every form of writing has its own set of challenges and required skills. I’ve been writing across multiple forms since I was a postulant, starting with children’s direct-to-video programs, but until I arrived in Digital, I did not realize that I am basically a “long form” writer. The only short form of writing that I consistently did (and enjoyed) was blogging, but even a blog can be considered long-form writing when taken as a series on one topic.

It’s also very different to write short pieces on assignment that require quick turnaround. I’ve never wanted to write on assignment because I have always been sure that my mind would totally freeze up and I wouldn’t be able to write what was needed. I have suffered from “mindfreeze” ever since I can remember: if I become afraid or scared enough, my brain stops working almost completely, and originality disappears entirely!

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A possible depiction of Black Blacquer, the villain of my 1st story.

When it comes to writing, mindfreeze has been a problem for me at least since first grade when my grandfather fell asleep while I was reading him my very first completed story. (In his defense, it was after supper, he was ill and probably exhausted, my story was absolutely terrible, even for a seven-year-old’s first effort. What would you expect from a story that is less about the hero and more about the villain, who was originally named, “Black Blacquer”? His attempt to listen to my story probably bordered on heroic.)

But I digress.

I believe many writers, if not most, struggle to discover the confidence to write. And somehow, that confidence to write was tested anew when I started to write on assignment—especially with a tight deadline, in a short form that I already know I’m not very good at. It just felt too much like I’m taking a test that will stump me. But if I stop for a reality check and reflect on my actual experience, I realize I’ve experienced mindfreeze in my writing only once in the past two and half years. I asked for help and someone else was able to complete it just after the deadline.

As I’ve grown as a writer and in my relationship with God, I’ve gradually come to realize that mindfreeze—and my chronic insecurity as a writer—is actually a great gift. Starting every writing session with an act of humility and a profound act of trust in God is the best way that I could begin writing anything. It is writing in the spirit of St. Paul and St. Therese  of Lisieux, recognizing that I am an earthen vessel holding a precious treasure, that I have empty hands but that I offer the very emptiness to God so that God can fill me! Ultimately, what I write is not for me nor ultimately about me, but about communicating what God inspires to say in service of others. Every so often, I need to be reminded that it’s absolutely essential that I “reset” my motivations every day. So I’m grateful that recently, I’ve received this reminder so frequently. I see with new eyes that my struggle in the past couple of years with short forms, quick deadlines, and yes, even mindfreeze, has actually been a blessing—for me personally first of all, but ultimately, I hope, for those who listen to and read what I write.