Big News! ...And a Book Review

Dear Friends,   Happy Summer!  Yes, I've been a bit quiet lately, and there's a reason for that.  I've been studying again----this time for PhD in Pastoral Counseling!  

I am beyond thrilled to announce that I'll be hanging my shingle as a counselor at My Father's House Counseling in August, and that I will soon be working beside my husband, Mark Gelis, in the Christian Counseling Ministry.   I am waiting for my license as a Certified Temperament Counselor to arrive from the National Christian Counseling Association as I write this, and I will receive my Doctoral Degree and accompanying license as a Pastoral Counselor by the end of the year.

I will continue to blog regularly here, at Aleteia, and at CatholicMom.com.  I have also begun writing for Catholic Digest in both their print and online journals, so look for new articles there.

Life is busy, and I would greatly appreciate your prayers as I begin this new endeavor.  Mark and I have prayerfully discerned this move together, and I look forward to finally working with him to bring healing and restoration to hurting souls.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for a great summer read, please do check out Heather King's "Holy Desperation" (or any and all of her eleven books for that matter!)  

Many blessings and graces to you and yours as we conclude the summer weeks.

Judy

 

Heather King knows all about praying as if her life depended on it, because her life literally did. After spending twenty solid years in what she calls “a twilight-zone alcoholic haze,” King’s knees finally hit the ground in desperation after a moment of “clarity” during which she realized she had to give up the drink or die.

I was strung out and half-drunk, and I had a cigarette in my hand. I was thirty-four and it was the first time in my life I had ever sincerely prayed.

That desperate prayer over thirty years ago got King sober, and the prayers she’s prayed ever since have converted her, healed her and awakened her to God and to life—a story she tells in her eleventh book, Holy Desperation: Praying As If Your Life Depends On It.

King’s jagged journey eventually led her into the Catholic Church, where she now spends her days as a “contemplative laywoman” and a writer—with the passion that’s consumed her ever since she “woke up” from a “semicomatose haze of loneliness, depression, self-pity, neurotically self-centered fear, and paralysis.”

King doesn’t hold back, whether it comes to sharing her struggles or her love of the Catholic Church:

One thing I love about the Catholic Church is that it attracts nutcases. Otherwise, how could there be a place for me?

 I love it all: Mass, the angels and saints, holy days, incense, candles, bloody statues, relics, pilgrimages. I especially love that miracles—and the “simple,” “deluded” people who claim to have experienced them—tend to drive nonbelievers mad.

Aside from the radical honesty and profound wisdom with which Holy Desperation is filled, this book is a must read for the sheer joy of savoring King’s prose, which offer a thoroughly relevant, fresh presentation of the Gospel that is both humorous and theologically astute. King writes:

I used to think I was open-minded because I’d invite the cabdriver upstairs. No, no, that’s not open-mindedness. That’s promiscuity. That’s looseness.

 The open-mindedness, honesty, and willingness required in our quest for God seem to involve an imagination that’s willing to catch fire: a capacity to be moved, to be touched, to have a sense of humor about ourselves, a taste for the wild-card surprise; and a profound awareness of our vulnerability, brokenness, and need.

Beyond King’s clarity and honesty, Holy Desperation is a deep tome on prayer, conversion and inner transformation. So much so that I’d say it’s the most challenging, daring articulation of the Gospel I have read in a long time. In fact, I found myself stopping to pray and reflect on practically every page as I was prompted to take a personal inventory of my own willingness to let God love me, transform me, and use me as his instrument to love and serve others. King’s book drove me not just to prayer but to change, which she proposes should be a major fruit of a relationship with Christ and a life of prayer. As King puts it:

We’ll come to agree with the Church’s teachings, including those on the family, abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, capitalism, usury, war, and violence of all kinds. We won’t arbitrarily pluck out one or two isolated issues that happen to be easy for us to follow and ignore the many teachings we’d rather not look at too closely because they might require the very kind of radical change we so vociferously demand of others.

 With utter orthodoxy and blistering accuracy—and without being the least bit preachy—King names and critiques many of the idols we must confront and stare down in ourselves and in the culture if we are to become more Christ-like. Her point is that prayer is meant to equip us to do just that: by giving us hearts that more readily seek God, eyes that more easily see God, hands that more willingly share God and the humility to openly admit that we’ll never really “get” God.  As the contemplative writer observes, "Prayer doesn’t make us more excellent. If we’re lucky, prayer makes us more human."

 Amen, Heather King. And thanks for not only a great read, but for a beautiful, timely and sorely needed enunciation of the central truths of our faith.

This article was previously published at Aleteia.

From Slave To Friend of God: My Son's Story

I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.   John 15:14-15

No one knew better than Christ that the pain against which we so desperately try to numb ourselves, and all the world’s evil, seem to stem from our terrible fear that we are basically unlovable.     Heather King, Holy Desperation: Praying As If your Life Depends On it, 66

Few people I know have experienced the bondage of slavery like my beloved twenty-six year old son, Christian—who has struggled with a life-wrecking addiction for over ten years; an addiction mercilessly driven by a core belief that he is not loved.

But lately, something has changed. Something akin to a miracle has occurred.

Instead of using words like shame, rejection, fear and punishment, Christian is suddenly speaking the language of love. Specifically, he’s speaking about having encountered God’s personal, gentle, merciful love for him—an encounter that has changed, well—everything.

“My life has always been about failing, about suffering, about punishment,” Christian shared with me in a conversation two days ago. “But when I finally came to God in stillness, in quiet, with an open heart and mind, I heard him whisper in my heart—I love you.” As I listened in grateful awe, he continued: “Since I’ve allowed a little bit of that love to seep into the deepest places of my heart—into the darkest things I’ve ever known and done—I’ve seen that has always God loved me, that he only wanted to embrace me, and that he has always been there with me.”

This is precisely how we transform from slaves to friends of God.

 My son has a “new way of thinking,” as he referred to it, and it has everything to do with coming to believe that he is deeply loved by a merciful God, and that he’s called to live out of that reality.   This new way of understanding has convinced him that many people aren’t interested in God because they have the wrong idea about who God is, thinking of him as a punitive, exacting taskmaster instead of “as a gentle Father whose love and mercy hold the world together.”

Believe me, I know words can be cheap. But when you hear those words coming from the depth of a son’s heart—a son who’s been afflicted for so many years—you know something has radically changed. And you genuinely rejoice.

“Punishment is not who God is!” Christian stated emphatically. “He is love and what he wants is our hearts. People need to know that we are loved by a Father who wants to heal us, set us free, and bless us. And we can’t know that until we personally know who God is.”

Christian went on to say that he now recognizes that recovery—freedom from slavery to drugs—is not about shaming himself out of screwing up or beating himself over the head for falling. “Recovery is about healing the broken heart,” he concluded with conviction. “It’s about opening up, trusting, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to God and to others. What matters is that we are loved, and when we live our lives based on that fact, we become free.”

Indeed, I hear the sweet freedom of a friend of Christ in my son’s voice, a young man who has discovered at last that Christ’s “friends” are “those whom he loves.” I see the liberty of a child of God who has finally heard the voice of the Father whispering: You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.

Such is the cry of freedom of the children of God, freedom won only through love.

This article was previously published at Aleteia.

How Consecrating My Life to Mary Radically Changed My Life

  Dear Friends,

Today is the feast of St. Louis de Montfort, who died on this day nearly 200 years ago. St. Louis was French priest who tirelessly promoted both devotion to and consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In honor of this feast day, and in preparation for the 100th anniversary of the Blessed Mother’s apparition at Fatima on May 13, I would like to share with you an excerpt from my book, Mary’s Way, about the impact consecrating myself to Mary made on my life. I would also like to ask you to prayerfully consider consecrating your life to Mary—it is nothing short of life changing! Two wonderful resources for the consecration are “Preparation for Total Consecration According to St. Louis Marie de Montfort” and a newer version of the consecration, “33 Days to Morning Glory,” which I am reading now to renew my own consecration on May 13. It is excellent and very enlightening!

Also, I am excited to let you know that Mary’s Way: The Power of Entrusting Your Child to God will be offered by Ave Maria Press at a 25% discount for Mother’s Day. You can order the book at this link using the code MOM2017.

Blessings and grace to you and yours this Easter season.

Judy

From Mary’s Way: The Power of Entrusting Your Child to God, p. 92-95

Mary, the Woman for All Women

The second nut to crack—the heart problem I had concerning Mary—was harder, as it involved serious questions about my identity as a woman and about my own ongoing conversion. Would I be willing to be changed that I might embrace Mary as the model of my own femininity? Was I prepared to lay down the notions of womanhood in which I had been formed, making space for something new, such as accepting the idea that Mary’s way—and not the way of radical feminism—is the life-giving way for women? And would I let Mary lead me by the hand as I sought to love Jesus and as I tried to help my children find Christ in a post-Christian culture that has lost him almost completely? It was in the midst of pondering these questions not long after my return to the Catholic Church that some- one mentioned to me St. Louis Marie de Montfort’s “Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary.”

Anyone who has made the thirty-three-day consecration to Mary’s Immaculate Heart can tell you how powerful and life changing it is, just as the women in our parish Rosary group told me one providential day. Peggy, who had recently made the consecration herself, was sharing with the group what a profound impact it had on her relationship with the Lord and how much personal healing she had received by making it. Always looking for ways to grow deeper in faith, I went to the Catholic bookstore and bought a copy of St. Louis Marie de Montfort’s little gem of a book Preparation for Total Consecration.

While I must admit that I was somewhat taken aback by de Montfort’s seventeenth-century language of making oneself a “slave” of Mary, as well as by the thought of giving myself entirely to her, I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to complete the consecration. Jesus tells us to judge a tree by its fruit (Mt 7:18), and shortly after consecrating myself to Mary amazing fruit began to appear in my life.

The first thing I experienced was long-sought-after forgiveness for the men who had hurt me in life, especially the person who had abused me. Though I had prayed for several years to forgive in obedience to Jesus’ words, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you” (Mt 6:14), I still felt nothing but intense anger toward the perpetrator. And while I know that forgiveness is an act of the will—not a feeling—I desired to be free of angry, negative emotions and their impact on my life and family. I clearly remember the day the feelings came that matched the decision I had made to forgive, and they in no uncertain terms came on the heels of my consecration to Mary.

I was alone in our master bedroom when I was spontaneously overcome with such a powerful sense of mercy and forgiveness for my abuser that it caused me to drop to my knees weeping in prayer. It was as though a river of pent-up hurt was released from my heart all at once, matched by a river of tears. Not long after that day, I started to become aware of the unfavorable, combative thoughts I entertained about men as they were occurring in my mind. I began to renounce them as they took shape interiorly, extracting myself spiritually and emotionally from the “man-hating” feminism that had formed me. I can emphatically say that all this lent itself to what happened next—letting go of my defenses against the authority of the Church, including and especially the men who run it. This ushered in what I like to call my “third conversion,” that is, accepting the teaching of the Catholic faith in its entirety, including its magisterium or teaching of office. (My first adult conversion was when I gave my life to Christ in an evangelical church at the age of twenty-three. The second was when I returned to the Catholic Church five years later.)

In the long run, accepting the Church’s authority led me to experience liberating healing in so many areas of life, especially in my relationship with God the Father. My consecration to Our Lady caused the dominoes to begin to fall in my heart and mind, softening me and making me more pliable in the hands of God. And isn’t this the very essence of Marian spirituality? We, like Mary, utter an unceasing “may it be done to me” to the Lord, letting God have his way in us?

I can’t say that it happened all at once, but the change in me was nothing short of miraculous. And instead of costing me my voice, my power, and my independence, as I had feared, giving myself to Mary caused me to become more completely yoked to Christ, who gave me an authentic voice, true power, and real freedom.

So why do we need Mary? We need Mary because her love and example humanizes us, tenderizes us, and makes us more welcoming of Christ. She teaches us in flesh and blood what it means to be a Christ-bearer—one who receives the Word, believes the Word, conceives the Word, and gives birth to him in a broken, sinful world. Further- more, she shows us how to persevere in suffering, and her intercession helps us to stand steady before it, especially before suffering that involves our children. For Mary, of all women, understands intimately how a mother is cut to the heart when she sees her offspring hurting.

Consecrating my family and myself to Mary was both a life changer and a game changer for all of us, the fruit of which is still unfolding in our lives. After all, Our Lady’s greatest joy is to point us to Jesus and say, “Do whatever he tells you.”

How The Church’s Understanding of Suffering Makes Today “Good”

While some people balk at the Catholic Church’s teaching on suffering, it was precisely that theology—and its sweet relief to my soul—that pulled me back into the Church from evangelical Protestantism nearly thirty years ago. The Catholic notions of expecting suffering in life, turning toward the Cross and embracing it, and “offering it up” for redemptive purposes not only helped make sense of my own suffering, but changed my perspective on suffering entirely.

You see, somehow the message I received in evangelicalism felt like a hammer that nailed me repeatedly to the crosses of my life by implying the suffering was somehow my fault. Having spoken to a number of former Protestants about this issue, I know that my experience was not unique. Being told that reading our “Believers Identity In Christ,” memorizing Bible verses, or having more faith in Christ’s promises would cure our suffering only exacerbated it. I was extremely grateful to finally lay hold of the Catholic teaching on suffering, and I believe it must be unapologetically offered to a hurting world today.

Since it’s Good Friday, it’s a good day to consider a few of the Church’s salient points on suffering:

1. We will suffer!

Suffering is an unavoidable part of life, given the fact that we live in a fallen world where sin and death have been overcome by Christ’s death and resurrection, but have not yet been eradicated. Jesus said: In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.   (John 16:33)

We live in a culture that peddles the lie that we are entitled to pain-free, pleasure-filled lives, and that suffering can and should be avoided at any cost. We are constantly encouraged to seek heaven on earth by quelling our hunger and quenching our thirst with the enjoyments of this world. But with life being what it is, we will all learn one way or another that “there is a heaven, and this ain’t it.” Living as though this is true benefits us in a number of important ways, including helping us avoid the inevitable addictions that occur when we compulsively try avoid suffering by making the pursuit of pleasure an end unto itself.

2.  Suffering and death have eternal meaning.

Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, suffering and death have been given an entirely new and eternal meaning. Instead of dreaded curses to be shunned, the God-man transformed suffering and death into a portal of love and life, making suffering an opportunity to grow in love and death the hallowed entrance to eternal life.  In other words, suffering embraced with love makes us grow up and learn to live and die for others, an all-important lesson we must learn if we are to follow Christ.   Death, when welcomed with faith and hope, loses the sting of defeat and becomes instead the ultimate human victory. These critical truths need restating in a culture that endlessly seeks to avoid pain, aging and death.

3. “Offering it up” makes suffering redemptive.

While some Catholics roll their eyes as they remember being told to “offer it up,” there is profound truth to this quip. When we make an intentional decision to unite our suffering to the suffering of Christ and offer it as a prayer for others and ourselves, the prayer takes on supernatural potency and makes our afflictions a cause of rejoicing. Why? Because suffering, united to the infinite merits of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, enables us to fill up in our flesh “what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, the church” (Colossians 1:24). What could possibly be “lacking” in the suffering of Christ? Nothing. Except its application to your soul and to mine—an application that occurs in time with our free cooperation. When we embrace suffering with love and offer it up, we expand our capacity for love by inviting God’s love to expand in us. This gives suffering powerful, redeeming value.

It’s Good Friday. A perfect day to remember that when the Cross presents itself in our lives, we can choose to turn and embrace it—even if it hurts—and let it bleed its transforming power right into our lives. I’d say that’s good news, indeed.

This article was previously published at Aleteia.