A Movie and a Very Special Novena for Holy Week 2018!

Years ago, I dreamed about someone making a powerful film about Saint Paul, my favorite saint. Years later, I dreamed about writing a feature film script about my patron saint. So I was prepared for disappointment when I had the opportunity to screen an early version of the movie releasing in theaters this weekend: Paul Apostle of Christ. One of the film’s producers was a bit hesitant when I told him this before the screening. (After all, if you were making a film about someone, wouldn’t you want his daughters to approve?)

I have to say the movie was not what I expected. And not what I would have written. 

But I wasn’t disappointed, not a bit!  

One reason I’m posting about it here is not just because I love Saint Paul (you can see my other reasons for you going to see the film here), but because:

  • Saint Paul writes about the Holy Spirit and discernment in his letters often
  • In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke writes about St. Paul being attentive to the guidance of the Spirit, especially during his missionary journeys
  • In Saint Paul’s first genuine encounter with Christ, he becomes so receptive to Christ that he immediately asks, “What shall I do, Lord?” He receives his mission at the same moment that he discovers who Jesus Christ really is.
  • Saint Paul could be called “the Apostle of Love,” for the many beautiful passages he wrote about God’s love for us, and God’s love within us. (See his famous passages in Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 13.) Love lies at the heart of any discernment
  • and… I have many more reasons, but I’ll stop here!

We sisters like the film so much that we have been hosting pre-screenings at theaters around the country. Then, a good friend suggested that we ask Sony for film clips to create a beautiful online Cinema Novena that audiences around the world can pray through Holy Week, as a follow-up to the film, as another way to get to know the heart of Saint Paul (and thus to come to know the heart of Christ). 

Join us for this beautiful 9 days of prayer, each with:

  • a clip from the film, Paul Apostle of Christ
  • a passage from the Letters of “The Apostle” (as all the Fathers of the Church call Saint Paul)
  • a reflection by one of our sisters on the passage and the film
  • a prayer
  • a closing quote from the Letters of Saint Paul, read by actor James Faulkner, who portrays Saint Paul in the film

1. Click here to find the showing of PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST nearest you.

2. Sign up today for the Cinema Novena: PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST, and for nine days you will receive a daily email with the theme and a link to the film clip, Scripture passage, reflection, and prayer.

3. As you pray with the #MediaNuns , share the Cinema Novena with someone you love, and make your and their Holy Week a time to ponder how the love of Christ for us can transform our lives.

The world is in such desperate need of the way of love that Christ showed us and that Paul faithfully lived. Join your intentions with ours, and especially pray that the beauty of this film–in the power of  the love of Christ, the humility of the apostle Paul, the brotherhood and profound friendship between Luke and Paul–will transform hearts and minds so that we can become, with St. Paul, Christ’s love in the world.

Wishing you a blessed Holy Week. 


New Discernment @ the Movies Guide: Moana!

The lovely family animated film Moana is very entertaining, but it immediately struck the sisters in my community with its theme of discernment.

It was a no-brainer to put together another Discernment @ the Movies guide, but this time I had the joy of working with Sr. Christina Wegendt, FSP, with whom I often discuss the deeper themes of popular movies. I have put the text of the guide below; later this week I will put it up as a PDF.



Set in ancient Polynesian islands and mythology, Moana is the story of the teenaged daughter of a chieftain who has forbidden his people to sail beyond the reef into the wide ocean. Yet from her childhood, Moana feels a deep connection to the ocean, encouraged by her grandmother’s stories.

Moana struggles between the demands of her parents and her own inner longings. When she discovers that the islands are dying, she believes that the cause is found in her grandmother’s stories: the demigod Maui stole and then lost the heart of the goddess Te Fiti, who created the islands. To save her people and her world, Moana “goes out into the deep” to find Maui and convince him to return Te Fiti’s heart.

Before you watch the film, read the following Scripture passage:

Luke 5: 2-11

[Jesus] saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.*

Discernment Key to Watching the Film

As you watch the film, pay attention to: the themes of identity and listening, and how they shape Moana’s understanding of her call

After Watching the Film

You may wish to bring the following questions to prayer, reflection, or discussion in a group:

  1. What is your favorite moment of the film? How did it touch you and why? 
  2. In discerning how she was called to lead her people, Moana listened to many voices: those of her parents, her grandmother as a wise spiritual elder, the community, and the ocean. Late in the film, she is discovers that one of the most important voices to listen to is “the voice inside.”How does God speak to you? How can you nurture a deeper listening to more easily hear God in your life?
  3. In stepping out in faith to follow their calls, both Moana and Saint Peter wrestle with doubts. What doubts do you wrestle with in seeking to follow God’s call for you?  How does Jesus’ call to “put out into the deep” resonate in your heart? 
  4. The film is filled with beautiful imagery of creation, and the ocean is an important character.  In the Bible, the image of water can represent the life of God in us—the Holy Spirit at work in us. What does the film’s imagery of the ocean evoke in you? 
  5. Stepping out in faith caused both Moana and Saint Peter to come to more truly “know who they are.” Do you see ways the Lord has helped you grow in self-knowledge through moments of acting with faith in him? 
  6. Once they took a leap of faith and grew in self-knowledge, both Moana and Peter discover their mission. Jesus wants to take you on this same journey to discover your own unique mission in the kingdom of God! He said to Peter: Do not be afraid. What might the Lord be saying in your heart as you seek to follow him more closely?

Prayerful Follow-up

Pray with one of the Church’s traditional, eloquent hymns to the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised would be with us and guide us.

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator, come
from thy bright heav’nly throne;
come, take possession of our souls,
and make them all thine own…

Concluding Prayer:

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and enkindle in us the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolations, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

New Discernment@theMovies Guide: Entertaining Angels

EntertainingAngelsCoverThe next couple of movies that I will be posting a “Discernment@theMovies Guide” are among my favorite movies! The 1996 biopic, Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story,  is a wonderful portrayal of the life of an amazing woman who might be canonized some day. You might remember that Pope Francis spoke about her to the U.S. Congress on his recent visit:

“In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.”


Dorothy Day in 1934

Paulist priest Father Ellwood “Bud” Kieser produced two of my favorite biopics as part of his mission of evangelization: Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story,  and Romero. Both are wonderful movies and biographies that are not only enjoyable and moving to watch, but also portray the profound spirituality of the protagonists. Both films are also very helpful to watch from the perspective of discernment. This week, I’ve posted up the Discerning@theMovies Guide for Entertaining Angels. This movie stands the test of time because of the genuine way it shows Dorothy wrestling with God and her idea of God, her vocation, and her mission. Those of us attentive to the spiritual art of discernment will appreciate the gradual way that Dorothy found her mission, and then how God confirms her mission for her in moments of crisis.

To get the most out of the film, you might want to read a short biography ahead of time. You can find much more information about Dorothy Day at the Dorothy Day Guild website. Note that Cardinal Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York recently announced that Dorothy’s cause for canonization is taking its next step forward with a “canonical inquiry” into her writings and the testimony of witnesses.

You can find the Entertaining_Angels_Discernment@MoviesGuide here.

National Catholic Sisters Week & Cinema Novena: The Young Messiah

Last week, I was away working on finishing the first draft of my book. Now that I’m back, I’m busy catching up with the stuff that piled up while I was away.

1500x500-cinema-novenaOne of the things that I’ve been helping with is getting the word out about the new film opening on Friday (March 11), The Young Messiah (you can find my review here), and also inviting people to make the online Cinema Novena: The Young Messiah, either as a novena to St. Joseph (if you start on March 11th and finish on March 19th, the feast of St. Joseph), or as a novena to the Holy Family which you can make anytime. The novena uses clips from the film, a Scripture reading, a reflection question, and a prayer. You can sign up here!

Since this is National Catholic Sisters Week,  through the week I’ll try to post and tweet interesting resources for those discerning religious life as I find them. My favorite so far is Sr. Clare Hunter’s Top Ten Reasons “I could never become a nun”,  a wonderful article that briefly addresses some of the reasons I’ve heard most often.

If you’re looking for a Lenten Discernment Retreat, it’s not too late to sign up for our Holy Week Retreat at the Daughters of Saint Paul in Boston, MA.


Discernment: A Call within a Call

silhouette-691522_1280Many women saints—like Jane Frances de Chantal, Elizabeth of Hungary,  Rita of Cascia, and today’s saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton—were wives and mothers who, after the death of their husbands, entered religious life. They did so after a period of grieving, discernment, and taking care of their children.  Their midlife discernment of God’s call to enter religious life was dramatic.

Whether or not we face such dramatic change in our life circumstances, we may still receive a new call from God that transforms our lives into something new: “a call within a call.”

“A Call within a Call”

Born the youngest child of her parents, she lost her father when she was eight years old. By the time she was twelve, she felt the call to become a missionary. When she turned 18, she left behind her beloved family and traveled to a foreign country to join a missionary community of teaching sisters. A year later she was sent as a missionary to another country, professed her vows, became a teacher and eventually principal of the school where she taught. Loved by her students, she experienced great joy as a religious sister and was respected by her community for her profound spirit of prayer, generosity, and compassion.

When she was thirty-six, on her way to making her annual retreat, she received another inspiration from God, what she called “a call within a call.” During her retreat and afterwards during her prayer, she became urgently convinced that Jesus was calling her to radiate his love in a new mission to those in the slums. She shared her inspiration with her spiritual director and her superior. Although eager to begin, she waited obediently for two long years for the Church to confirm her inspiration and new mission. Finally, she began her new mission all alone, choosing to wear the native dress of the local women rather than a traditional religious habit. She had to learn by trial and error how to best help the people in the slums, always seeking to discover Jesus in the unwanted, the unloved, and the uncared for.

Perhaps by now you recognize that this missionary sister was Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, soon to be canonized. (The second miracle attributed through her intercession has been recognized as truly miraculous.)

The new film, The Letters, beautifully shows the story of Blessed Mother Teresa’s discernment. It’s not unheard of for a sister to begin a new congregation, but it’s very difficult and almost always very painful. Note that Mother didn’t change her vocation, but discovered that God was calling her in another direction within her calling, even though she was a perpetually professed sister in the Sisters of Our Lady of Loretto.

All of Mother Teresa’s life is inspiring, but this particular aspect of her story can give courage to us who—because of or despite our already-existing commitments—feel God’s invitation to “something more,” or “something new,” especially when we’re not sure how to go forward.

Those with the benefit of some years of life experience have some advantages in discernment that younger people don’t have:

* We know ourselves well, and so we may be able to discern more easily between the voice of self-deception and God’s voice. With greater self-knowledge, it might be easier to discern how God is calling us. With greater experience, we can respond to God’s invitation with insight and perhaps greater resolution. Already knowing what it means to make a commitment, it’s less likely we will be  easily discouraged.

* We already have mentors who know us well and can offer us their advice and wisdom from the years that they have known us

* We have a lived history of our relationship with God, and so we can more easily perceive continuity between how God has called us in the past and how God is calling us now. (For example, Mother Teresa always felt called to be a missionary. Beginning the work of the Missionaries of Charity wasn’t really a change from her fundamental vocation of being a religious missionary, but extended that call further.) This continuity in how God works in our lives is another sign to look for that can help affirm that the call we are receiving is truly from God.

* * *

If you didn’t catch The Letters in U.S. theaters this December, keep an eye out for its release to DVD. I’ll try to post when it comes available again.


New Discernment@the Movies Guide: Inside Out!

InsideOutInside Out is a delightful animated film that stands up to repeated viewings by children and adults. (I got more out of the film the second time I watched it!) The themes of feelings, integration, and getting to know our inner life make this film an interesting way to reflect on feelings and discernment.

I’ve posted up a new Discernment@theMovies Guide to the film here. I hope you have a chance to watch the film and to reflect on it. If you do, please share your comments here!

“Supporting Characters” in Our Discernment

02K  (GSReduced)In any story, we find supporting characters. In our discernment—actually throughout our entire spiritual journey—we also have “supporting characters”—people in our lives who walk with us on our journey, even if just for a time. It’s important to remember that not everyone shares our same goals.

When we write a story, we are need to be reminded that each character has:

          Their own goals, wants, and needs

           Their own arc or story of growth

This means they may or may not share our goals, which will affect the support they are able to give us on our discernment journey. In some cases, someone who is important to us may not be able to offer us any direct support, but their input or their care for us may still help us in our discernment.

From a story perspective, here are some of the key roles that people take on a hero’s journey (which is akin to a discernment journey):

  • Mentor or guide. (Think: John Newton to William Wilberforce in Amazing Grace, or Jor-El—Superman’s father—to Superman in any Superman films. In the TV series Smallville, the very human Jonathan Kent is an awesome mentor to the teenaged Clark Kent, aka Superman-in-the-making.) A mentor with a lot of spiritual experience, who know how to share both human and spiritual wisdom, can be invaluable in our discernment: their guidance, their support of our pursuing a spiritual path, and the gift of their wisdom and insights as applied to our lives.  Ideally, when we realize that we are entering a period of discernment about something “big” in our lives—a career shift, a move, a vocation—we would seek out a spiritual director to accompany us. (I already posted some helpful tips when looking for a spiritual director here.) One of the best things about a mentor is the freedom from pressure and expectations that they offer because they do not have a vested interest in our decision. But others can also hold the role of mentor, offering us guidance and spiritual wisdom, such as our parents, a trusted teacher or counselor, or a wise friend.
  • Friend/Sidekick. (Think: the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.) We all need friends who support us. The ideal friend in our discernment would also be a person of faith, but any close friend who knows us well and wants our happiness can be a tremendous support to our discernment. Good friends can support us in so many ways: they encourage us to take a step forward when we feel intimidated, listen to our confidences without betraying our trust, or even “cover” for us if we go away for a weekend retreat. A true friend will put aside his or her own ego and needs and let our journey and needs take center stage for a while. (A good sidekick does the same, and actively helps us on our journey.)
  • Trickster. (Think: Captain Jack Sparrow in any Pirates of the Caribbean film; the monkey is a great trickster too!) This is someone whose response to us is unexpected, who doesn’t share our goals and doesn’t necessarily want our happiness. A trickster may seem to oppose us or our goals and may actually be an antagonist, but often the trickster simply has an agenda and point of view that’s very different from ours. We can usually learn something about ourselves from the trickster, who is usually different from what he or she appears to be, and can “stir things up” that we may find frustrating or annoying, but ultimately can help us to come to a better understanding of ourselves and our inner resistance, and can sometimes even help us move forward on our journey.
  • Threshold Guardian. (Think: the cave on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke faces Darth Vader, or Shifu in Kung Fu Panda.) Especially for stories that follow the pattern of the hero’s quest (which finds some of its roots in Christianity), the “threshold guardian” is sometimes a person, a test, or an obstacle that tests the protagonist’s resolve, preparing them for the challenges that he or she  will face during the rest of the journey. This “initial resistance” can even be interior.
  • Rival. (Think: Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams in Chariots of Fire, or Woody and Bud Lightyear in Toy Story) If we are in a discernment situation with rivals (such as vying for the same position), our rival(s) can be very helpful in pushing us to do our best, to reach beyond our perceived limits. In a healthy rivalry, our rivals seek the same goals as we do and thus have a unique perspective about our situation. They may occasionally offer a valuable insight or appreciation of our efforts, and may even offer help. (Of course, rivalry is not always a healthy approach to achieving a goal, and is not usually a helpful approach to discernment. It’s always helpful to remember that rivalry is very different from enmity…and especially important to remember that as a follower of Christ.)


To Journal About

Take a moment to think about the people in your life.

  • Do you have support for your life of faith?
  • Who is supporting you on your discernment journey?
  • What kind of support might you still need to seek?


What’s My “Character Arc”? Personal & Spiritual Growth in Discernment

 © Daughters of St. Paul, by Sr. Chelsea Moxley-Davis

© Daughters of St. Paul, by Sr. Chelsea Moxley-Davis

Picking up from Monday’s post about how discovering our desires is part of our “character arc” (or personal growth) as we continue to be the co-protagonists with the Holy Spirit on our discernment journey:

The character arc in the discernment journey—the inner part of our journey towards choosing God’s will in our lives—is twofold:

1) a journey towards understanding ourselves and our deepest desires and needs

2) a progressive freeing of our minds, wills, and hearts from anything that will limit our free choice and availability to God’s call

Our character arc—the personal and spiritual growth that is needed for a wise and authentic discernment—is often what requires the most time on our discernment journey. This is why we need patience, faith, and trust in God for the discernment journey, because it’s a spiritual journey that goes largely unseen, and is hard to explain to others and even harder to understand from the outside.

Coming to know ourselves—as we’ve been exploring—is not easy. It takes prayer, self-reflection, and courage. But coming to freedom, which is so essential—even critical—to our discernment, can be even more challenging. It’s critical because our full and free assent is the only kind of “yes” that God wants. God wants our greatest joy and happiness—but to be truly joyful and happy, we need to be truly free. Growing in freedom—from sinfulness, selfishness, old ways of thinking and acting, past habits of relating to others and accomplishing our goals, old and limited ways of seeing things—letting go of all of these can be extraordinarily challenging!

Becoming truly free is a lifelong journey, and it doesn’t need to be fully accomplished in order to make a good discernment. But lacking in freedom in certain areas can make it very difficult to discern God’s invitations in our lives. When we pray for the light and grace that we need on our discernment journey, we are often mostly praying for the grace of spiritual freedom.

New Discernment@theMovies Guide: Amazing Grace

MV5BMTI5MTkxMDA4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjA4Mjg0MQ@@._V1._SY317_An inspiring and wonderful film to watch in its own right, Amazing Grace (2007, directed by Michael Apted, written by Steven Knight and starring Ioan Gruffud) is also a wonderful portrayal of discernment. Amazing Grace is based on the true story of  the struggle of William Wilberforce to abolish slavery in England, and is an inspiring watch at any time, but particularly so with Lent with its multi-layered theme of overcoming slavery. The guide is now posted up on the Discerning@theMovies Page.  Enjoy!

“Old Fashioned” Movie: Dating as Discernment!

For those discerning their vocation, and those specifically discerning marriage, Old Fashioned, the new film being released this Valentine’s Day weekend, is an interesting choice. The film presents an alternative approach to dating that doesn’t just respect each person as made in the image of God, but is also unambiguous in seeing dating as an essential part of vocational discernment! (Yes, even a first date is an opportunity to discern!)

For my commentary about the film, visit the Pauline blog: The Art of Being “Old Fashioned.”  Enjoy the trailer posted below, and if you feel like a quirky romantic comedy this weekend, support the filmmakers (and hopefully more Christian films) by going to see it in the theater.