Last summer I celebrated 20 years of total consecration to Christ living poor, chaste and obedient dedicated to Him and available to serve wherever He sent me. The occasion left me with a desire to share with family and friends what is in my heart at this point in my life.
However, while at first I thought to aim to get this done for thanksgiving (appropriate celebration for a letter like this) I soon realized I would not get it done. So I aimed at a Christmas letter… and finally I am going to call this my New Year’s letter! By next week I will be closer to 21 years of consecrated life in Regnum Christi than 20. As much as I would have liked to just give up on this good resolution I had to do this because there just never seems to be time, my heart just would not let me. It would be unjust and a show of ingratitude to not share how good God is and give Him glory.
Twenty-one years ago this Holy Week God invited me to a life of belonging to Him and collaborating with Him in His work to bring His message and love to all people. Looking back I can see He made me for this and He prepared me for the discovery of my vocation, even though it came as a TOTAL and unexpected shock to me that Good Friday. It was at the time an unwelcomed and not so happily received proposal.
So the first gift I am grateful for is my family. Without the upbringing I had I never would have been in a position to even perceive what God was doing in my life and what He was proposing. Without the upbringing I had I never would have had the strength and conviction to say yes. I was scared at what I thought my life would be like and I was angry at being asked to give up my own plans and being near to those I loved. Thankfully, my parents taught me to love and trust God. They passed on the inestimable gift of FAITH. Their love and the love of my siblings was and continues to be a source of strength and deep happiness for me. So much of who I am is because of all of them. I have never “gotten over” living far away from them and each time I think about that I am amazed at what is possible with God. Not only has He given me the strength to follow Him, though it meant leaving my family, He has made me deeply happy. I hope that I can help the families I work with to build a strong family life around committed marriages as a giving back for the great gift I had.
I am also grateful for the friends I had and the people I met and worked with through my pursuit of an education degree and my work in the pro life and chastity movements. Another great gift from God. I was able to learn from some great people what integrity of life looks like, hard work, responsibility, vision and planning. Skills that I now use daily. There I saw first-hand many who loved Our Lord – they knew Him and had a relationship with Him that I wanted. They were people of deep held convictions that marked the way they lived their lives and how they treated other people. I was blessed to know and be pastored by some dedicated and holy priests. I hope I can be for the young people I serve what so many were for me when I was young.
It may seem strange but the first years of my vocation I was really sad and lonely on the inside even though somehow I was content. I guess I just knew that this is where God wanted me and that gave me peace even though I missed my family and friends terribly and I felt totally inadequate and incapable of living this life. I did not think I was good at meeting people and reaching out, I did not think I would ever be able to learn another language, and I was pretty sure that with my character and my limited understanding of prayer that I would never be holy. So… what kept me going? I never even thought giving up was an option. I knew this was my vocation, He wanted it and I committed to it. Somehow that gave me peace and a contentment that went beyond “feeling” happy. That I am sure was a grace and I am also sure that what my parents taught me about marriage sustained me. Marriage was forever. You commit to a lifetime with someone through the good and the bad. You don’t just give up and walk away when you don’t “feel” happy.
I am grateful to some priests and consecrated women who during those first years of my vocation were pillars for me and patient teachers and strong brothers and sisters for me. Without them, as much as I was totally committed to persevere in the vocation He called me to – I don’t think I would have made it. My weakness would have overcome me. They were gifts from Jesus, Simon of Cyrene for me to help me along the path. I hope that I in turn have been able to be that for others along the way.
I am grateful for the years I lived in Ireland – working as principal of the boarding school and then as principal of the elementary school we started. Those were years of baptism by fire, of being chiseled and forged … the hard way. The hard way not because Jesus is hard, for He tells us He is gentle and humble of heart. Hard probably because Denise learns best the hard way (though she has gotten smarter over the years and tries to cooperate with Him to learn the easy way!) and hard because, well, life can be hard. If life was not hard then maybe it would not have been necessary that God become man to save us and open heaven to us. He could have saved us another way, but He wanted to share our humanity and all the joys and sufferings that come with it – childhood, family, hard work, betrayal, fear for the future, friendship, pain, sickness… So life was hard sometimes, but I grew up and matured both in the work I do and in my relationship with my Spouse. I learned to really pray and encounter Him, to hear Him guiding me throughout the day. I experienced what He promised me when I left everything. When leaving everything I thought I would live a life of sacrifice (which it is too…) and I would never have the love of a spouse that I had longed for and the chance to be a mother and nurture children. He promised me that He wanted to be the One that I gave my heart to and that I loved as a Spouse and that He would give me children that He wanted me to mother and help to grow and mature. Being the principal of a boarding school of girls 6th through 8th grade was a wonderful experience. I LOVED it and still keep in contact with many of those girls, now young women having children of their own. I am deeply motivated and driven to love Jesus as a loyal spouse, dedicated to making Him happy and working shoulder to shoulder with Him – as I would have to the man I dreamed of marrying. I am drawn to help others, giving my time, my talent, my support and anything I can – as a mother would – holding nothing back and not thinking of herself.
I am grateful for difficult circumstances that tested me and forged me, making me question everything yet digging deeper and deeper to find certainties and solid rock on which to build my life. I cried and I complained to Him to take away the pain or the problems, but He answered my prayer with the grace to continue on, in what sometimes seemed like darkness, until I could find for myself the light. When we struggle to come to something, we process and assimilate it better, and those struggles marked me and helped me tremendously. I wish I could have known then what I know now, it would have made it easier to bear, but that is not how maturing works… But I have been pleased to realize that now as new trials come up in my life I don’t fight so hard against them because experience tells me that “this too shall pass” and I will be much better for it when I get to the other side of it. And Jesus promised that “All things work together for good for those who love God” (Rm 8:28) He never ceases to amaze me when I see how He really can bring good out of ANYTHING if people look for Him and seek to love Him. (as opposed to seeking and loving ourselves)
Life in Dallas these last 8 years has been very good. Also full of ups and downs but I have loved working at The Highlands School where there are so many wonderful people. I have a wonderful team of consecrated from whom I learn so much and receive so much. I have been able to grow and learn a lot in the service I give at the school. And… just when I thought life was settled and I was stable and no more major learning curves were in store, we found out that the founder of our movement, Regnum Christi, who was a priest, lived a double life. He caused a lot of pain and suffering. This sent all of us into turmoil, confusion, pain and somehow also into a rebirth. I never really experienced any real trauma or tragedy in my life. Hard times, sure, but nothing like this. So again it meant digging deep within myself to wrap my hands, head and heart around what I really believed. Situations like that really make you question what you do believe and who you are and how you want to react and in what direction you want to move forward. Unfortunately for me, some of my consecrated sisters in that time moved in a different direction following where they saw God leading them. This felt like I had to separate once again from so many people I loved. I had to follow where God was leading me, and I had to let them do the same. I miss them but can see how God does indeed continue to make all things work for good. We all still are serving the Church and loving Our Lord.
All the scandal, crisis and fallout definitely played into where I am now and God used it very effectively to work deeply in my soul. I am happy and I am grateful. I am more in love with Him and the life He has made for me than ever before. I experience a deep peace that I never had reached or sustained before. I am so, so grateful and humbled. Though I do have a certain “sadness of soul” that I never had before. I do not know how to describe it, I guess just a little sore on my heart that because it is connected to people it will never go away. I remember a mother telling me “The love of a mother allows for wounds that never heal. A mother lives and loves life, enjoys and rejoices but carries sorrows that while they do not make her live in a state of sadness, they are there, invisible to others, no one knows, but she feels them”. Maybe that’s what I feel.
During the time when we were all trying to come to grips with everything, I prayed over and over again, “Jesus I want to help, not to hinder, I want to be part of the solution, not the problem. Show me what I can do and I will do it, with your grace”. So part of the renewal of Regnum Christi that the Church has helped us with has brought about that each vocation within Regnum Christi has its own government. So now the consecrated women have their own General Director and Territorial Directors. The woman who serves now as territorial director for north America has 4 women who serve as her “council” (common in religious orders and congregations or even a Bishop has a council to help him govern with their advice and input). There was a consultative vote done with all of us consecrated women working in this territory for the councilors. Based on that I was one of the women named by the Cardinal to serve as councilor for 3 years. While it is a little overwhelming and the responsibility weighs heavy, I am happy to be able to serve and help my consecrated sisters. This too has been a gift though it is a hard gift… I am sure when I am on the other side of it I will understand better the gift it was. Please pray for me to be very close to Our Lord, to follow His guidance, to be loving, prudent, and wise.
Last but really first, I am so grateful to Jesus for His friendship, His companionship, His guidance, His love, His presence, His training… for being everything for me. I thank Him for the wonderful life He has made for me, a life that I was scared of and sure would never make me as happy as the life I had back home. I thank Him for being the husband I always longed and hoped for. I thank Him for never giving up on me. I thank Him for the tender, intimate, gentle and constant love He showers on me. I thank Him for never being afraid to ask me for more, to give more and stretch myself further in love. I thank Him for what he is doing in Regnum Christi especially with my consecrated sisters and legionary brothers and some special lay people I work with. I thank Him for allowing me to be a part of it all and benefit from it. I hope and pray that my life and my heart can be a consolation and solace for Him who is often blamed, ignored or rejected.
I thank each of you for the part you have had in my life. No one has been indifferent and each has marked my life.