Sneak peek inside “Dear Pope Francis”

There is a new book coming out next month that I’m really excited to see.

It’s Dear Pope Francis.


In this book, you will find the letters and artwork of thirty kids around the world, who wrote to Pope Francis to ask their most pressing questions about life and faith.  The book also includes the pope’s personal responses to each letter.

I love everything about this concept: kids asking questions, faith, handwritten letters, children’s artwork, and the Pope.  (I’m a bit of a Francis fan.)  And I can’t wait to see and hold the book myself when it comes out.

But until then, I’m honored to offer a little preview. Thanks to my good friends at Loyola Press, I’ve been able to get a sneak peek at a few of the letters and responses.  Even better, I get to share them with you!

Here’s one from a boy from Singapore:


And here’s what the Pope said in response:


Here’s another terrific question:


I’m embarrassed to say it, but in forty-three years of life, I’ve never thought to ask that.  Leave it to a kid to ask the really good questions!  And leave it to the pope to write a really good response:


It looks like a fabulous book.  I’m thrilled to get this preview and I can’t wait to read the whole thing.  I have a feeling I’m going to learn a few things from these questions and answers. (And what a great gift for a First Communion!).

You can find out more about Dear Pope Francis here (there’s even a book trailer).  And who knows?  Maybe there will be a sequel, built around letters from adults.  I’ll start getting my list of questions ready….

Why Moms Love Downton Abbey


From my latest article at

It’s here: the final season of Downton Abbey. I’m going to miss it when it’s gone. This show has brightened my Januaries since its premiere five years ago, letting me slip away from my suburban Silicon Valley existence and immerse myself in a world of tea trays and titled gents.

I’m not alone in my love for this series. It has a broad base of support, appealing to viewers of all kinds. But I happen to think that moms have a particular affinity for the saga of Lord and Lady Grantham, their family, and their servants. I think it appeals to the mom-demographic for a few very specific reasons.

1) We moms harbor fantasies of living like Lady Grantham. I don’t know about you, but I dream of a world where I have breakfast in bed every day, not just on Mother’s Day. I fantasize about being able to ring a bell and have other people bring me anything I need (or, more to the point, anything I want), be it a cup of tea or a freshly-ironed dress. And don’t even get me started about living in a beautiful house that I don’t have to clean myself. Downton Abbey lets us vicariously indulge in a pampered life, one that looks mighty appealing to the modern mom.

2) The show reflects our much-less-glamorous reality. As much as Downton Abbey feeds our fantasies about doing nothing more pressing than deciding what to wear for dinner, it also reflects what our lives really do look like. We moms can relate to the servants who zip around below stairs and behind the scenes, keeping the house running smoothly. We understand the frazzled feelings of Mrs. Patmore as she frantically bangs lids onto pots and tries to get dinner done on time. We all know that feeling of having to drop what we’re doing and help someone else. We don’t answer to the ding of a bell calling us to the drawing room, but we know how it feels to be summoned by the newborn who needs to be fed or the child who desperately needs help with a math problem. Putting others’ wishes above our own? We get that, we moms. We know how it feels to live a life of service.

And when Downton Abbey shows the servants in a rare moment of relaxation, sitting down and reading the paper or enjoying a glass of something in Mrs. Hughes’ office, I almost want to weep with happiness for them. They’ve earned it. We have too, moms, and let’s not feel guilty about occasionally putting our feet up or escaping to a café or the mall for a little time alone. (Even the servants get one afternoon off a week; isn’t it only normal for us to want the same?)

You can read the rest at!

What I owe Alan Rickman


When my radio alarm woke me this morning with the news that actor Alan Rickman had died, I found my thoughts turning to his most memorable role.  It wasn’t the maniacal villain in Die Hard, or the inky-haired Severus Snape, though those are surely the first images that came to mind for many.  I immediately thought of Colonel Brandon in the film Sense and Sensibility.

It’s one of my favorite films.   Emma Thompson, who wrote the screenplay, did so beautifully, turning Austen’s first novel into a movie that (in my blasphemous opinion) is even more engaging than the novel itself.  And when I saw it the first year after I graduated from college, I liked it so much I saw it three times in the theatre (and countless times on VHS – boy, that really dates me, doesn’t it?).

It wasn’t the first time I’d seen Rickman in action.  I’d seen Die Hard, and I’d enjoyed him immensely in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, where he stole every scene he was in (it was one of the first movies I could cite where the villain was way more appealing than the hero).  And I knew that he’d starred in the stage production of the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses; his role in the movie version was played by John Malkovich, who wasn’t bad, but nothing to what I imagine Rickman could have done in that part.

But in Sense and Sensibility, he played a role that opened my twenty-something eyes to a truth about dating that every woman has to learn: Don’t overlook the quiet guys who fly below the radar.  Still waters run deep.  (I should add here that if you haven’t seen S&S, don’t read any further, as I’ll be indulging freely in spoilers.)

In the movie, his character Colonel Brandon loves Marianne (Kate Winslet) instantly.  Remember the first time he sees her, playing the piano and singing?  It’s such a beautifully-filmed scene, catnip for a romantic like me.


But Marianne – like many young women, honestly – doesn’t give him the time of day.  She wants the dashing  hero who sweeps her off her feet.  She finds it, quite literally, in Willoughby, the guy who carries her home when she sprains her ankle and woos her with poetry and knows exactly what to say at all times.  He drives a fast carriage; he’s thrilling and a little dangerous.  She’s nuts about him.  But the romance ends in heartbreak, passionate tears, and an awful social snub at a ball that shows the guy’s true colors once and for all.  (There’s also that bit about him seducing another woman and leaving her alone and pregnant.  He’s just a bad boy all the way.)

But Colonel Brandon is the opposite: he is steady, devoted, ethical.  He cleans up Willoughby’s messes, stands by the woman he jilts (women, I guess), and is at all times courteous and kind.  There’s a great scene where one of the busybodies tries to throw Marianne and Brandon together by suggesting that they play a piano duet.  Marianne immediately says rudely that she doesn’t know any duets, a pointed response mean to show her lack of interest in Brandon.  Rickman’s face falls; he’s felt the snub.  All the same, a second later he pulls out a chair for Marianne as she sits at the table.  A gentleman to the end.

And Rickman’s performance – which is amazingly subtle – makes this good-guy-ness extraordinarily compelling.  (By contrast, when I later read the novel,  I found the character of Brandon very stodgy and dull – a testament to what an actor can do to bring a character to life.)  Even at the age of twenty-two, I felt that Rickman’s Brandon was infinitely more appealing than Willoughby, and far more engaging than Hugh Grant’s genial and adorably tentative Edward.  In the character of Brandon,  Rickman made decency extremely attractive.  With his inimitable voice and his perfectly-modulated expressions, he showed the virtue of a dependable man who does not up-play himself, who can weather disappointments without losing his innate decency, who is willing to ride all night to help the woman he loves, even if she hasn’t yet given him any shred of hope that she returns his interest.  He showed us that those traits – not, God forbid, a smooth-talking insouciance — is what’s really sexy in a man.

Marianne takes a while to figure it out, but by the end, she does.  And maybe what makes the finale of that movie so extra-wonderful, even among Austen movie finales, is that we’re just as thrilled that the guy ends up happy as we are that the heroine ends up happy.  We care about him just as much as we do about her.

So while I, like everyone else on Facebook, mourn the passing of a truly great actor, I’m grateful in a way that goes beyond my appreciation of his talent.  I can’t say this about too many actors, but I think that perhaps he gets some of the credit for the current happiness of my personal life, for helping to sharpen my antennae about what really matters in a man.   As Colonel Brandon, he showed countless young women that the guys who fly below the radar are worth another look. And thanks to the eternal magic of film, he’ll keep on doing so for generations to come.

What happens when you pray in an empty room (and I do mean empty)

top photo

January is a good month to think about creating.  With the turn of the year, there’s a new blank slate of possibility in front of each of us. What will we create in 2016?

I thought of this yesterday morning, as I sipped my cup of coffee and did some morning prayer.  The first reading I came to was Genesis 1:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.

Not the first time I’ve read these words, but something in them spoke to me in a new way.  I love this story of how there was nothing, and out of nothing came something, prompted into existence by the will of the Divine.

It helped, maybe, that I was reading these words while sitting on the floor of a brand-new room in the back of our house, a room that did not exist a few months ago.


To contextualize this, I should explain that our house is a teeny postwar one. It has closets so miniscule that it makes you wonder whether people in the forties walked around mostly naked.  The fact that it had only one bathroom wasn’t a problem for the first few years we lived here; at first it was just Scott and me sharing it, which was doable.  Then we had a baby, but as babies take a while to get to the point where they need a toilet, it wasn’t too big an issue.

Then we had another baby, and then both babies grew up and began needing private bathroom time, and for the past few years having one bathroom has been a challenge, particularly in the morning when I am rushing to get out the door and Scott is rushing to get the boys to school and thence to work.  (And when company is staying over, we practically have to put in one of those red Please Take a Number dispensers you find in delis.)

So last October, we started work on a long-cherished dream: to add a second bathroom.  We also reconfigured our bedroom and added in a little more closet space.  And now, it’s almost completely done: a compact but lovely second bathroom and a bedroom where the paint is new and the floors unscuffed and where, driven by a desire to sit in its light-filled loveliness, I sat to pray yesterday morning.

Before last fall, I’d never seen home construction up close before.  It was a fascinating process.  In order to expand into the backyard we lost a gorgeous Japanese maple whose passing I mourned, as well as a spidery mildewy old shed whose passing I celebrated.  Every day I loved coming home from work and seeing what had been done: ditch, foundations, walls, roof, electrical wiring, plumbing, etc.    You realize how important it is to have a good contractor (luckily, we did) as there are so many little things that need to come together.

And as I sat there in the empty room that will never again be this clean and read the first few lines of Genesis, I thought again about creation.  Isn’t there something amazing about creating something that never before existed?  To go from a mere idea to finished product – to know that you brought something into being that literally was not there before – that’s a heady feeling.  I can’t take credit for our addition; that belongs to the contractors and the architect. But to be able to witness the process, to be a part of it, is exciting because it affirms that creative impulse and lets me share in the satisfaction of making something from nothing.

That’s one thing that has always appealed to me about writing, too.  To know that there is something in my mind that does not exist outside of my brain, and then to get that to the point where it becomes a blog post or an article, or something even more tangible like a book (2016 being a big year for me in that regard!) – well, that’s a deeply satisfying feeling.  That must be how artists feel about creating a sketch, or how a composer feels about composing music, or how a seamstress feels about creating a dress, or how a programmer feels about writing code.   There are so many different ways to bring something new into being, and even if we can’t relate to the activity itself, we can all understand that satisfaction that comes from a job well done.

As I sat in the empty room, I thought about how that impulse to create comes from a holy place.  Our Scripture begins with creation, with something from nothing.  Our God shows us that it is good.  And in January, it’s a good feeling to look at the eleven months ahead of us and start to plan – or at least,  begin to discern — how we’ll put our own unique creative impulses to use.

Were we led all that way for Birth or Death?

Adoration of the Magi by Velazquez

Adoration of the Magi by Velazquez

A rerun of a post from — wow — 2011.  I guess I’ve been blogging for a while, haven’t I?

January 6th is the feast of the Epiphany, when we remember the three Magi who journeyed to find Jesus.    This marks the last of the twelve days of Christmas, though frankly, Christmas has felt like a  distant memory to me ever since I started back to school earlier this week.  Setting the alarm and getting up at dark o’clock is a real holiday buzzkill.

But enough complaining.  Since it’s the Epiphany, I’m going to get all spiritual here and talk about one of my favorite poems, “Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Eliot.  I’ve read lots of his writings over the years, notably his very long poem “The Waste Land,” which we studied for a few weeks (it’s that kind of poem) in  a college seminar class.   Eliot is not someone I read often, though a lot of his imagery makes me swoon with delight.  But “Journey of the Magi” — well, that’s one I read and re-read every holiday season.

It’s narrated by one of the Magi, reflecting on his trip to find the infant Jesus.  It wasn’t an easy trip; there was lots of sacrifice, and discomfort, and “times we regretted/The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,/And the silken girls bringing sherbet.”  And then, finally, he and his fellow travelers find the place where Jesus lives, and they see him, and he describes it as being “satisfactory.”

But then … in the last stanza, there’s a question, which goes right to the heart of the poem: “Were we led all that way for Birth or Death?”  And when you read the poem, you see so clearly how this journey has changed the narrator.  Things that were once comfortable are not so comfortable anymore.  His old life doesn’t feel quite right.  After the sacrifice and hardship of the journey, a journey which has  changed him without him even realizing it, he no longer feels at home in the life he used to lead.

That’s pretty much the Gospel message right there, isn’t it?  If we let ourselves be changed by the Incarnation and by the presence of  Jesus, it’s bound to feel a little uncomfortable.  The Gospel message challenges us to color outside the boundaries of our lives, to journey further into love and sacrifice than we’d go on our own.   Maybe this means letting go of grudges that we would love to nurse forever.  Maybe it means giving time or talent to serve people who can’t help themselves.  Maybe it means giving those of a different political or theological stripe the benefit of the doubt instead of shunting them into the category of Other. Overall, it means having a generosity of spirit, which is something that I often fail at doing.

But I try; I really do.   And though I haven’t encountered Christ in his infant form, as the Magi did, I encounter him every week at Mass.  I meet him over and over in the people who cross my paths — at work, at home, in the mall, everywhere.   And in every encounter, I’m challenged to let the old, petty me die so that a new, more generous me can be born.  This is a lifelong process, honestly.  It is a lesson that I learn and re-learn and re-re-learn.  And this poem is one of the ways — an especially beautiful one, at this time of year — that I am reminded to keep on trying.

(Note to poetry geeks: on this website you can listen to a recording of Eliot reading his own poem.)