Learn more about my latest book – All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters. Available now!

Archives for August 2013

On writerlyness and fortune cookies… or the good fortune of writing.

On writerlyness and fortune cookies… or the good fortune of writing.

“…it’s not the published book that makes you a writer. You’re a writer because of the things you notice in the world, and the joy you feel stringing the right words together so they sound like music.”

Susan Henderson

About twenty years ago, when my children were small, I got a fortune cookie once with my take-out order with an interesting message. “You are a lover of words. Someday you will write a book,” it said. It was a funny thing to ponder at the time. I never thought of really writing a book — but I was indeed a lover of words.

I knew what it was like to write for living. I was a women who gave up her radio and advertising work — where I wrote six days a week — to write a different story as a stay-at-home mother. I never regretted it.

Being a parent is one of the only jobs in the world where you have the privilege of writing something on another person’s heart. If you are fortunate, you live long enough to hear the melody you wrote sung back to you. There I was, back in the day, sharing that love of words, and love of The Word, by reading stories aloud to my children, and teaching them to read and write their own little compositions!

I don’t take much stock in fortune cookies, or any other way of discerning one’s future, outside of prayer and hard work. Looking back, it seems maybe the fortune cookie got it right. Some twenty-five years later, I am still a lover of words, and eventually, I did write a book!

More to the point, I have written the equivalent of many books if you add up all the songs, poetry, commercials, research papers, columns, articles, freelance projects, podcast scripts and blog posts I’ve written over time. Writing has been somewhat of a constant, despite interesting detours. Being new to book publishing does not mean that I’m new to the writing craft. It’s just that the word-stringing is more symphonic. There is a whole team that adds their notes to the page.

Over the last fifteen years, I have held other jobs that were less written-word-laden. Some of them were part-time pursuits that fit in well with my need to raise my family. Even though they were not writerly jobs, they allowed me to be creative in other ways, outside of the page. Some of those positions, in recent years, were with the church — and most of those people who have known me, those I have ministered to and with, had little idea about my love affair with words, other than my passion for Scrabble. Many are surprised when they hear I wrote a book. They did not know I was a writer, they say. As if the book makes the writer.

As grateful as I am for the book, this quasi-empty-nester has been embracing that shift from part-time to full time work, and much of that involves a pen or a keyboard. I’m figuring out that writing is still a constant, and still figuring into the midlife script that God seems to be writing.

I was just sharing with a friend that when I finished my Masters in theology I expected to teach, or do faith formation at a parish somewhere nearby, preferably with a short commute. But God had other plans. Now that “parish” looks a lot like the Catholic blogosphere and periodicals, and the opportunity to pray and speak and teach in parishes and dioceses well outside my comfort zone of the little country lane where I raised my kids.

Another friend, a writer with a gift I have long admired, shared that one of her early loves was music. And though her path deviated from pursuing music as a career, I told her I hear music whenever I read her best stuff. Her word-craft is a magnificent voice.

What I keep learning about the writing life, or whatever your field, is that it is important to pay attention to what makes your heart sing. Be it actual music to your ears, or a kind of music that comes silently from your heart when you are doing the thing that you love, the thing you are meant to do. It’s like you can hear God softly singing along.

I’m a writer today because of what Susan Henderson writes above. I notice things and I want to share them, usually by first writing things down. Making the words sing on the page, well, that’s just all part of the fun.

God, not the fortune cookie, got it right with me all along… from taking my love of words as a child, writing little plays for school, or performing in them… or penning song lyrics as a musician and sometimes singer… to my  radio work and copywriting in the commercial marketplace… to filling childhoods with bibles and books…to being the scribe behind church newsletters…  to my word-weavings in Catholic spheres that take me beyond my parish out to new places.

The good fortune of writing is not related to any material success, but to the music you hear in your work… especially if you hear God quietly harmonizing.

The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior,

Who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love,

Who will sing joyfully because of you…

– Zephaniah 3 :17


Another music post… “Mater Eucharistiae” from the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist

Telling the world about the love of God via their ministry and their subsequent television appearances, the Sisters have a wonderful new recording.

Oh yes!

From the Sisters of Mary website:

Mater Eucharistiae is the first ever recording from The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

The fifteen peaceful and serene songs of this debut release will include original compositions written by the Sisters that reflect their Dominican spirituality, along with a selection of modern and ancient hymns and chants in English and in Latin.

Singing both a capella and with the accompaniment of organ, trumpet, and chimes, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist have created a collection that is reflective of the music in their daily community life.

The Sisters may be recognized due to their multiple appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and the extensive publicity they have received in the US and Canada through outlets such as The New York Times, The Detroit Free Press, The Washington Post, CNN, Fox News and beyond. The Dominican Sisters of Mary placed in the finals of the recent season of The American Bible Challenge, hosted by Jeff Foxworthy on The Game Show Network. The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, founded 16 years ago and with 110 sisters currently in the Community, also have teaching missions in schools all over the US. They chant the Divine Office throughout the day and their favorite hymns throughout the year, while also composing music of their own. They follow in the thirteenth-century footsteps of St. Dominic, while very much engaging the modern world. Their Motherhouse is in Ann Arbor, MI, and they are in the process of raising funds to construct a new priory in Texas.

For more information, please explore our website: www.sistersofmary.org or visit www.demontfortmusic.com

My Column at Patheos has me working my way through Lumen Fidei (Francis’ first encyclical)

My Column at Patheos has me working my way through Lumen Fidei (Francis’ first encyclical)

As the Year of Faith continues, I thought it wise to study and reflect on Francis’ first encyclical specially geared to teach on faith. This encyclical letter was much anticipated and begun by Benedict XVI, and was subsequently completed and released under Francis. It was released at the end of June, just in time for my summer vacation. But I’m back! And happy to share a few quotes from it —  the “greatest hits” imho — that I find there.

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 7.06.24 PM

Today, at my column at Patheos, I begin a series reflecting on each of the parts of this wise and easy-to-digest catechesis on faith. As you might expect, the document is filled with scripture. I give you a snippet below of a particular verse that moved me…

One verse from Scripture cited in Lumen Fidei struck me with unusual power, to see it with new eyes.

On the eve of his passion, Jesus assured Peter: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail (Lk 22: 32).”

What a momentous statement.

So often Christians think about the action of our prayers being made to God. Yet in this instance, the Lord and the Light of the World, offers an intentional and personal prayer for an arrogant and blundering fisherman in Peter. The gospels have numerous instances of Jesus at prayer. But in this short verse we get a vision of God who prays for us! Jesus has each of us in mind before we utter a word or thought of the heart.

In this clear intercession – I have prayed for you – Jesus pins hope on Peter’s faith, but it is not fainthearted. Jesus backs it with his power and light. Jesus entrusts this faith, by turn, on the followers to come after Peter, as they too will be transformed by the light of faith.

I now imagine this word of God applying to me. I see Jesus praying for my faith, the virtue infused at my baptism. To assist me in not failing, Jesus has given me brothers and sisters in the church, along with the graces of the sacraments, to insure it. This, indeed, is the faith born of encounter with Jesus: it brightens one’s path, and opens “vast horizons” that lead “beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion.” It is a faith that “enriches life in all its dimensions (LF, par 6.)”

Read the whole article at my column, “A Word in Season”, on Patheos.

To subscribe to my column at Patheos via RSS or to get the whole series delivered to your email inbox, go here.


Photos: Top cover photo: me and a cardboard cut-out of Francis at Catholic Marketing Network, near the Ignatius Press booth.

Mid text: Screen shot from news.va

San Antonio Catholic Women’s Conference is Sept 20-21 – register now!

You can get all the details here.

I’m happy to be on the speaker’s team!

It’s $65 now, and $75 at the door. Don’t wait!


This makes me think… about the wisdom and goodness of complimentarily between men and women

History might well remember John Paul as the pope of human love. His most profound contribution to the development of Catholic doctrine, the theology of the body, is an extensive meditation on the beauty of enfleshed loving communion, rooted in the male/female difference. As wonderful as the theology of the body is, it must be confessed that the collection of audience talks devoted directly to the topic is a doorstop of a book. We know from teaching it how important it is to dive into it in a classroom setting. Thankfully, in “Mulieris dignitatem,” Pope John Paul has provided a masterful precis of the theology of the body, presented through the lens of Mary.

He argues for the wisdom and the goodness of sexual difference, in an age in which the fashionable opinion is androgyny (the refusal to recognize the male/female difference as having intrinsic meaning). But doesn’t androgyny undermine the first condition for a robust and authentic feminism: the recognition that being female has intrinsic dignity and worth?

And so Pope John Paul helps us think things through from the beginning. And there are two fundamental coordinates. First, if we want to see the truth about female dignity, we have to recognize the dignity of every person as such: every single member of the human species images God. But because God is Trinity, we do so as male and female (Gen 1:26-28), as a “unity of the two” in one spirit of love. Without difference, there cannot be union. And this leads to the second basic coordinate: the difference between male and female cannot be understood apart from the primacy of love: to love is what being alive is all about.

Marriage is the nexus of these two coordinates, as St. Paul discusses in Ephesians 5:21-33. Here’s the punch line when it comes to sexual difference: “The Bridegroom is the one who loves. The Bride is loved: it is she who receives love, in order to love in return” (Mulieris, no. 29). Every man is to be a spiritual bridegroom (and father), and every woman is to be a spiritual bride (and mother). Without woman, love could not enter human history. Woman is the necessary and equal (but uniquely gifted) partner of man in the development of civilization. And without the marital love of man and woman, there would be no new life. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit wish to pour undying and invincible love into flesh and to bring that flesh into eternal life. (The consummation of that wish is what the last two mysteries of the Rosary are all about, what we celebrate in these days: the Assumption and Coronation of Our Lady)

At the center of human history, at the heart of humanity, is Mary, who lives out self-giving love with profound perfection. But this central position of hers is possible only because she is first the beneficiary of God’s generosity.

-Drs. David and Angela Franks, PhD Theology, “A Woman’s Heart Receives the Future” 

“I Shall Not Want” – my current fav from Audrey Assad’s new recording = Songprayer

You can take the girl outta radio, but you cannot take the radio outta the girl… or something like that. Though I have long left being a radio deejay to be a fond memory from my younger life, I will forever remain a music lover and promoter of what I find beautiful.

I’m a believer in the transformative power of the arts, especially music. My tastes are a bit more eclectic that my friends, but this one piece, above, and lyrics below, is a thing of beauty. It is like a modern psalmist’s addition to Psalm 23’s verse: “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Or better yet, a meditative and contemplative lectio divina on those four words.

I proudly backed this album project on Kickstarter when this gifted woman wanted to produce an indie record. I’m all for that. Let’s let the artists create their art, not the record companies. Get this album at iTunes, or your favorite music outlet.


“I Shall Not Want”

From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me O God

From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God

And I shall not want, I shall not want
when I taste Your goodness I shall not want
when I taste Your goodness I shall not want

From the fear of serving others
From the fear of death or trial
From the fear of humility
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God

Written by Audrey Assad & Bryan Brown
© 2013 Audrey Assad Inc (BMI)

Lyrics and more here.

Among Women 165: A Theology of Women and New Feminism beneath a Guiding Star

Among Women 165: A Theology of Women and New Feminism beneath a Guiding Star

Screen Shot 2013-08-24 at 6.21.47 PM

This week Among Women looks at the recent news of Pope Francis’ comments about a” theology of women in the church.” I share my reactions, and my recent writing on the subject. I’m also grateful to introduce Leah Jacobson in our “Among Women” segment. Her faith and vision helped to found The Guiding Star Project.

In the “Blessed Are They” segment, I read from St Therese’s Story of a Soul where she describes herself as the “the little flower” and how we find our identity within God’s “garden”.

Among Women also takes the 33 Day Challenge to Pray the Rosary, sponsored by Real Men Pray the Rosary!

Listen to the podcast at the Among Women website or on iTunes. 


The Power of the Vow, a blog post at “My Year of Faith”

The Power of the Vow, a blog post at “My Year of Faith”

A few years ago, at the urging of a kindly editor, I began writing a book I want to call The Power of the Vow. Don’t get exited. This is not my next project. I see it more as a work in progress for now, and thus far, the thing hasn’t materialized as a full book yet, but I own the domains anyway.

But having rounded the bend of three decades of marriage and all the having and holding, for bettering or worse, and dealing with lots of sickness amid our good health… well, sometimes the good times and the bad times interfere with the actual production of good intentions, like writing a book, or giving a talk on the subject, and well, one is left with the option of writing a blog post or two or three articles about the power of the vow.

I’m grateful to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend for the opportunity to do a guest post on the blog, My Year of Faith. Here’s snippet:

This summer, my husband and I watched our daughter and new son-in-love recite their wedding vows before God and His Church. It was a joy to witness their vows, and sealing them with the gift of rings. Meanwhile, the invisible grace of God entered in. With love’s consummation, you begin to fully understand how grace holds your heart captive to the power of the vow. And when you look at your hands, the ring of love teaches you that you are to lay your life down daily in big and small ways.

“Love one another, as I have loved you,” says our Lord… even unto death. Marriage, like the circle of rings, is an ongoing relationship with many experiences repeated and reappearing over time. More than an accessory, the ring is a blessed sacramental, a dutiful and beautiful reminder of our vowed reality… we are not alone… we will share what comes… we will do this with the help of grace.

We are not alone.

The obvious comfort of one another’s warm body in the bed is a sweet reminder of the vow. Our deepest fire is enkindled from the intimacy that flows from a loving, intentional friendship. Even after thirty years together, it is still good to hear the words, “I love you” and “I’m so glad you’re here.” We can be all about the wine and the roses, and the occasional dinner out. Yet, more often than not, the tangible evidence of “we are not alone” is manifest by how we care for one another when no one is looking, especially when the sufferings of life begin to mount.

Recently I took my husband to the doctor’s office for an exam on his chronic back pain. He was perfectly able to drive and tend to this without me. But I wanted to go. It gave me a little excuse to fuss over him. While it’s true that sometimes you take turns being the one who needs care, and one who is caregiving, it’s best not to keep score.

This same husband saw me through childbirths and multiple surgeries for breast cancer and beyond. He has kept me company in more sterile hospital rooms than I can count. His presence grounds me, and keeps my sanity when life seems out of control. Like the time I needed yet another brain MRI and claustrophobia was preventing my acquiescing. He got permission from the medical team to strip down to modest clothing, without belt buckles or shoes, minus his keys, his watch, coins, or other metallic objects, to stand sentry in the noisy exam room with the giant magnet and squeeze my toes — the only part of my body sticking out of the MRI tube — to reassure me that I was not alone in that hour.

In all these instances, Jesus was always with us, but he was calling us to bring his presence in visible, tangible ways to one another.

Read the rest over here. 



And yes, that photo above really is my daughter and son-in-love.  Here’s the whole photo.

Katie and Benjy Photo courtesy of ©Reinaldo Gutierrez Photography www.wix.com/reinaldogallery/professional

Katie and Benjy
Photo courtesy of ©Reinaldo Gutierrez Photography www.wix.com/reinaldogallery/professional

A blog post about the wedding is here, and has been the most popular post all month.


The F.U.N. Quotient… Massachusetts edition

I am not a Massachusetts native, I am a native New Yorker, but after living here almost twenty years, I’m starting to understand these things, and can attest that they are true…

You Know You’re From Massachusetts If …

* You consider a yellow light as a sign to speed up.

* You know how to pronounce Worcester and Gloucester.

* You compare with friends what Boston was like pre-Big-Dig and post-Big-Dig.

* You shudder in October when all the tourists come up to clog the roads for foliage season.

* As a kid, there was more than a foot of snow on the ground, and you STILL had to listen to the radio to see if they’d declare it a snow day to cancel school. (My kids experienced this!)

* You’ve had to shovel your car out from snow up over its tires – and you still took it out on the road that same day.

* An April weather warm-up of 60F or more meant it was time for a tshirt. (Sooo true about my own kids, growing up!)

* You’ve grilled on your back porch when there was snow on the ground. (The Gohns do this all. the. time. And I’m bereft if the snow is too high between the porch door and the grill.)

* You understand why they call it Taxachusetts. (To which I reply, it’s still cheaper than NY!)

* You’ve ever made a run to New Hampshire to get alcohol without sales tax.

(More of this here.)

Then there is this quirkiness. I have no idea if all of these are true. Some are corroborated here. I do know about the Boston Terrier. I have one you know.