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.

In-Depth Look at Fake News and Journalism for Peace-Pope Francis’ World Communications Day Message

This year’s Message for World Communications Day is so timely that I wanted to highlight/summarize a couple important points from the Message—especially for people who haven’t read it. Three paragraphs impressed me so much that I made a line-by-line meditation on it—and I will share my notes from that with you below.

The theme for 2018 is “The truth will set you free”: Fake news and journalism for peace. In this powerful meditation for all of us living in the digital age (especially for all Christian communicators–which is all of us), Pope Francis highlights the importance of truth: in our lives, in our relationships, in our communication, in our service. The Message first gives a description of fake news, what makes fake news thrive, and how fake news exploits the human person, leading to:

  • the spread of disinformation
  • the spread of hate and arrogance,
  • demonizing others
  • fomenting conflict.

In describing how we can respond to fake news, Pope Francis approaches it from what we Pauline Sisters call a “Media Mindful” perspective:

“Preventing and identifying the way disinformation works also calls for a profound and careful process of discernment. We need to unmask what could be called the ‘snake-tactics’ used by those who disguise themselves in order to strike at any time and place.”

Pope Francis goes on to recount how the “Father of Lies” perpetrated humanity’s first instance of fake news in Genesis 3:

  • pretense of friendship
  • speaking partial truths that distorts the truth and falsifies reality (incomplete, out of context)
  • speaking with the appearance of truth only

Pope Francis concludes, “Trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences. Even a seemingly slight distortion of the truth can have dangerous effects.”

How fake news so easily goes viral brings to my mind a story about St. Philip Neri, who is popularly remembered for his humor and humility, but who was renowned during his lifetime as a wise confessor. The story goes that to a woman who confessed the sin of gossip, St. Philip gave her the penance of walking through the town plucking the feathers of a chicken, and then to return to him. When she returned, the saint told her to now go back and gather up all the feathers. Dismayed, she protested that it was impossible. St. Philip pointed out that it is impossible to take back the harm that our gossip does.

Fake news can take lying and gossiping to a global level. Fake news may be driven by greed and a thirst for power, simple negligence, but it ultimately victimizes individuals by robbing us of our interior freedom. One solution is for everyone to practice a deeper awareness when it comes to our communication and especially our media usage. This is what we try to encourage in schools, parishes, and families, by sharing the practice of Media Mindfulness, which Pope Francis refers to (without using the label):

“Education for truth means teaching people how to discern, evaluate and understand our deepest desires and inclinations, lest we lose sight of what is good and yield to every temptation.”

My favorite two paragraphs of the message I will quote in full, with a few of my personal reflections.

(You can download the four-page line by line reflection here.) 

Pope Francis wraps up with an invitation:

– to all people to listen and engage in sincere dialogue

– to journalists to take up the weighty responsibility of a commitment to truth: to be protectors of the news.

“Informing others means forming others; it means being in touch with people’s lives. That is why ensuring the accuracy of sources and protecting communication are real means of promoting goodness, generating trust, and opening the way to communion and peace.”

Pope Francis concludes with a powerful prayer to Christ, our Truth, that I will be praying daily through this year dedicated to Truth:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.
Help us to remove the venom from our judgements.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
where there is shouting, let us practise listening;
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.
Amen.

Do You Have a “Word” for 2018?

2018 has been filled with the unexpected so far—from new projects to my catching the flu. Because of this, I took a couple hours to brainstorm for a way to re-balance my writing life (and a couple other aspects of my life that I have ignored or not given enough time to). I was delighted to figure out a way to slow down and get back to a regular writing schedule.

One creative way of starting off a new year is to pick a word as a theme for the year. Every new year, I see more people picking their “word” for the year–have you? It’s better yet to notice a word that has “picked you,” especially when the word is from the Scriptures. I have never done this for a whole year, but during every monthly retreat, I try to pick a verse or phrase from the Bible that will inspire me for the whole month.

This year, however, a word “picked me,” as I was praying with the Gospel of John and I thought that I would share it with you. The word is: “Behold.”

According to an online site hosting the RSV translation, “behold” is used in the Bible over 1000 times (1134), and in the NABRE, “behold” is in that translation 104 times. Behold is a wonderful word for the spiritual life and for art, because it encourages us to really look, to see below the surface, to notice those telling details that allow us to appreciate more fully the sacred in our life. (And isn’t that what art is all about—helping us to see?)

The Gospel of John takes its use of the word a step further, encouraging us to go even deeper. The author of John uses “Behold” specifically to invite us to perceive the upside-down-ness of God at work in the world: this Gospel uses “behold” only when speaking of something that upsets human expectations.

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1) is the context in which the word first “picked” me. And what is more of a paradox than this image of the Lamb of God? The Son of God who is perfect, pure, sinless, innocent, almighty, infinitely good and beautiful, being called a lamb in reference to being offered in sacrifice? We know that many of the Israelites assumed that the Messiah would be a powerful earthly leader but the calls him “the Lamb of God.”

In John 17, Jesus uses this term to speak about his glory, which will be his offering of himself on Calvary in order to save humanity.

In John 19, Pilate tells the crowd to behold their “King,” as a way to mock Jesus—but unknowingly he speaks the truth about the King of all humanity, the King of love who will give his life for us. Also in John 19, Jesus gives Mary and John new identities: Mary becomes the mother of John, and John becomes Mary’s son. We know that here, too, we need to look deeper. Jesus is doing more than entrusting his widowed mother to the care of a young man. He is asking Mary to become the Mother of the Church, and he sees in John the beginning of the Church.

In giving me this word, I feel Jesus inviting me to be more attentive to him in my daily life, to let go of my own agenda and assumptions that are blocking my vision or preventing me from hearing his gentle invitations to do his will.

Long walks has always been a cherished form of exercise for me. At one point, I decided to take up jogging: I could fit more exercise into less time; it was even better for my health than walking, etc. I never became very good at it, but stuck with it for a couple of years. Then one day I went for a long walk. And I realized how much I missed walking. When I jogged, I went too fast to notice everything around me—the flowers, the birds, the color of the sky, etc.—all those things that I enjoyed so much when I walked.

This year, I plan to walk—not jog—through each day. I want to pay attention to the things both great and small in my life that I often ignore or forget about. For me, first of all this means that I need to pay attention to what is going on inside of me—my thoughts and feelings—and then, the people and circumstances around me. For some insight, I am reading a lovely small new book by Frederich Buechner entitled, The Remarkable Ordinary.

My desire to live more contemplatively has been unexpectedly reinforced by  one of our sisters—who is also a dear friend—who spent these first days of 2018 in the hospital and is now in hospice. The smallest details become so significant in these precious days with her—making sure she is comfortable, offering her both the closeness of accompaniment but also the spiritual “space” to prepare herself for heaven. This sister is teaching me how to “behold” God’s presence and blessing in a deeper way, both throughout her life and the years that I have known her, and in these cherished days of her journey to her heavenly homeland.

If you’d like, please share your “word for 2018” in the comments below, or on Facebook!

Top Communication Tips from the Saints!

Top Communication Tips from the Saints!

Have you ever had something hard to say to someone, and had trouble figuring out how to say it?

There are saints for that! Yes, we can find inspiration for what and how we communicate well beyond Dale Carnegie (although he has some great communication tips too). Below are some tips from a few saints, future saints, and great Catholics!

Seven Tips for Communicating Well from St. Ignatius

Rebecca Ruiz, in this succinct, well-written article, inspired the idea for my blogpost! I hope to read more of Saint Ignatius for myself, but my favorite tip of the seven that Rebecca picks out is #2: Create environments of “greater love than fear.” This tip doesn’t just work for conversation, but it resonates with my experience of working with actors. When I pick the right person for the role, and then create a safe atmosphere in which the actor can take risks and be vulnerable in his or her performance, then I invariably get a performance that is authentic.

In a classic blogpost, How To Give a Talk like Fulton Sheen, one of my favorite communicators, Brandon Vogt, shares the tips that Venerable Fulton Sheen casually offered in conversation.  Several of his tips are similar to the tips of St. Ignatius.

Saint Francis de Sales is patron of writers and journalists for many reasons. But here is a new reason for me! In his Treatise on the Love of God (Book II, Chapter IV), which I am just getting around to reading, St. Francis speaks of both Creation and the Incarnation as God communicating himself in love to us! This is foundational in communication theology, and I never expected to find it in Francis de Sales from the 18th century. Here is a short quote:

God knew from all eternity that he could make an innumerable multitude of creatures with divers perfections and qualities, to whom he might communicate himself, and considering that amongst all the different communications there was none so excellent as that of uniting himself to some created nature, in such sort that the creature might be engrafted and implanted in the divinity, and become one single person with it, his infinite goodness, which of itself and by itself tends towards communication, resolved and determined to communicate himself in this manner. So that, as eternally there is an essential communication in God by which the Father communicates all his infinite and indivisible divinity to the Son in producing him and the Father and the Son together producing the Holy Ghost communicate to him also their own singular divinity; – so this sovereign sweetness was so perfectly communicated externally to a creature, that the created nature and the divinity, retaining each of them its own properties, were notwithstanding so united together that they were but one same person.

For years I have wanted to study St. John Paul II’s applied theology of communication. Someone else has begun this work, surprisingly using Ecclesia de America as the example of John Paul’s communication. Dr. Christine Mugridge and Sr. Marie Gannon, FMA, published a curriculum text, John Paul II: Development of a Theology of Communication, which I look forward to reading. This article introduces the text, but a shorter, more accessible introduction is here:

 

My very favorite works on communication (in addition to ALL of the papal Messages for World Communications Days 1967-ongoing), are the classic texts of SVD Father Franz-Josef Eilers, which I wrote about back in a 2011 blogpost. If you are interested in pastoral communication, evangelization, the spirituality and/or theology of communication, all of his books are awesome.

And finally, of course, Pope Francis has some very practical, down-to-earth advice on communication, which I have been able to find most easily in his talks on the themes of evangelization, communication, and family life.

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!