As I wrote in my October column, Sister Helena Burns is an expert on media literacy and Theology of the Body, a Catholic new media maven, and a great friend to the Peoria diocese, speaking here often and living in nearby Chicago. Turns out she’s also a gifted author, writing the excellent and deceptively simple daily book for young women, He Speaks to You.
Sister Helena, who is often busy at her own blog, Hell Burns, or on Twitter, graciously agreed to do a Q&A with me here. Thanks, Sister, and thank you for your great book.
Q. Sister Helena, tell Catholic Post readers more about you, your religious community, and your work.
The Daughters of St. Paul are an international congregation of women religious dedicated to evangelizing with the media. We try to use as many forms of media as possible, and now with the new media, we’re like kids in a candy store. When I was discerning my vocation, I was very drawn to sharing the Faith and helping people in spiritual pain (like I had been), and I thought: “What better way to bring God directly into someone’s heart and mind than through a book, a song, a magazine, a film?” I also loved that the Daughters had a kind of “mixed life”: contemplatives in action. Even though we’re an active order, we have approximately 3 hours of prayer each day, including an Hour of Eucharistic Adoration, which was very important to me. Our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, www.MediaApostle.com wanted us to “share the fruits of our contemplation in action.”
Q. You write in the introduction: “The sisters and I have long talked about wanting to find a way to share …basic principles of the interior life and how to live them in daily life.” Why do you think this is so important, for young women in particular?
My Sisters and I often meet young women who want to pray more, go deeper with Jesus, but don’t always know how. Often they say: “I pray, but He doesn’t talk back.” We knew that if we could share some of the basics of prayer, of how the spiritual life “works,” we could really help young women not become discouraged, or give up on their interior life. Although each of our relationships with Jesus is unique, still, there are patterns that saints and mystics, spiritual masters and spiritual directors have identified that are universal.
I believe young women in particular need to look to and develop their interior lives because there really is a “war on women” today (but it’s the exact opposite of what the media says it is)!
Ever since the Sexual Revolution and Women’s Liberation Movement, women have been encouraged to think and act like men interiorly and exteriorly. Women are told to squelch their essential feminine nature (body and soul) because it is “weak, irrational and limiting.” Women’s gifts (the feminine genius) are devalued, most of all by women themselves! But women are naturally “receptive,” (body and soul). We are receptive to men and to new life, but first of all to the Infinite, and we teach men and children how to be receptive to God.
Women are supposedly “more religious” than men (the world over), but can we say that of our young women today? I’m afraid many (young and older) women’s “radar” is broken today. We don’t know what it means to be a woman. We don’t know our own identity in Christ, in Mary (the New Creation: the New Adam and the New Eve). But our radar can be fixed! It’s IN us. “He Speaks to You” is my little attempt to help “fix women’s radar.”
Q. How long did it take you to write the book?
Approximately two years, very part time. Which was great because new ideas sprung up all along the way.
Q. How did you come up with the themes for every month?
We tried to cover the essentials of a ground floor for the building of an “interior castle”!
Q. Was it difficult to write any one part of the book? I enjoyed in particular the “speaking” quotes beginning each day from Jesus, and I wondered if it would be difficult to write so many.
I’m probably going to have an “extended stay” in Purgatory for putting words in Jesus’ mouth! A priest got it right, though, when he guessed: “Sister, is this how YOU hear Jesus?” Jesus is always comforting and challenging at the same time when He speaks to me, and I think that might be a universal for how He speaks to everyone.
He also has a sense of humor. I think probably one of our biggest sins is to take the unimportant things too seriously, and the important things not seriously enough. Actually, Jesus’ parts in the book were the easiest to write. I’m REALLY hoping the Holy Spirit had a big hand in that, because I was asking Him to!
Q. Do you have a favorite section of the book?
I think it’s the month of October–dedicated to Our Lady–because the BVM is my BFF. I loved learning about her different titles and apparitions and sharing them in the book.
Q. What do you recommend as one or two good ways for a young woman to make the interior life and prayer a reality in our culture’s busy lifestyles?
Fidelity to daily prayer is essential. Sporadic prayer is like a sporadic relationship. You never really get to know the other person. There is NO other way.
Q. You are busy with so many projects. Anything in particular you’d like to share as particularly noteworthy?
We’re doing a 90-minute documentary on the life of our Founder, Blessed James Alberione. We’ve finished shooting, laying audio and are now completing the visuals. A rough cut is due January 25, 2013. We’re still fundraising for it and have a pledge of a $10,000 matching grant if we can raise that by December 31! The trailer can be watched (in 10 languages so far) at www.MediaApostle.com and donations can be made securely on the website.
GIFTS for donations to the Fr. Alberione Film (from November 1–December 31) are:
$20 donation–Fr. A medal
$50 donation–Fr. A medal and DVD when completed
$500 donation–Fr. A medal, book (biography), and DVD when completed
$1,000 donation–Fr. A medal, book, DVD, and 12″ resin statue.
Q. Is there anything you would like to add or wish I would have asked?
Yes, the question would be: “If you were to write the same book today, would you do anything differently?” (I wrote it about four years ago.)
The answer? Yes. I would make it even more mushy, lovey-dovey with Jesus and stuff it with even MORE Theology of the Body. Women need to go to Jesus FIRST for their love, self-esteem, self-dignity and to feel beautiful. THEN go to your earthling guy. God’s love never changes.