Regnum Christi

Holly Gustafson

Favorite saint in the fall autumn

Who is Your Favorite Fall Saint?

If you love the saints, October is the month for you – it’s filled with the feast days of some of the Church’s most endearing and compelling saints. There’s a “big” saint for almost every day of the month, from the very first day (the Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux falls on October 1st) to the very last, when we usher in the Feast of All Saints with All Hallows’ Eve. October saints include other heavy hitters, such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Damien of Molokai, St. Teresa of Avila, Pope St. John Paul II, two apostles and a Gospel-writer (Simon, Jude, and Luke), the Guardian Angels, and our Blessed Mother herself (Our Lady of the Rosary falls on October 7th).

 

Out of all these well-known and courageous saints (and angels), it’s hard to pick a favorite, but if pressed to choose, I’d have to go with St. Faustina Kowalska. Many years ago, a friend gave me a copy of Faustina’s diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, but, for some reason, I could barely get past the first page. Years later, when I picked the book up for the second time, I could hardly put it down. Every morning I nearly ran to my little prayer corner at the end of the living room couch, eager to hear what words of wisdom Faustina would have for me that day. Divine Mercy in My Soul became my manual, and Faustina became like a spiritual guide or, better yet, a big sister, accompanying me through the trials of my daily life. 

 

And although I finished reading her diary long ago, Faustina’s words are a constant comfort to me in all the new challenges that I face. I often return to the notes I jotted – and the articles I wrote – to remind myself of the advice Faustina has given me, through her diary, over the years. Here are some of the biggest lessons she has taught me:

 

Have gratitude… for everything.

It’s easy to be thankful for all the lovely things in our lives, but St. Faustina took the virtue of gratitude one step further – she thanked God continually for “the little daily crosses” she experienced, particularly those she encountered in communal life. Her “Gratitude List,” found in her diary Divine Mercy in My Soul, doesn’t list the pleasant blessings I would tend to add to my own list (a sunny day, the kids getting along, an evening walk with my husband, that the vegetarian tacos I made for lunch on Friday were actually pretty tasty), but instead lists – and outrageously gives thanks for – all the little sufferings she endures. But this is the lesson that St. Faustina teaches us in her example of gratitude – that all is gift, worthy of thanks. Not just the sunny days, or the peaceful family times, or the sweet moments with our spouses, but the dark days, and the conflict, and misunderstandings, too. All the joys and all the “hardships of communal life” are gifts, if we let them be, to draw us closer to God.

 

St. Faustina knows this, and so in the giving thanks of her daily crosses, she doesn’t wish any of them away – she only wishes to love God better through it all. “Thank you for the cup of suffering from which I shall daily drink,” she says at the end of her list. “Do not diminish its bitterness, O Lord, but strengthen my lips that while drinking of this bitterness, they may know how to smile for love of You, my Master.”

read St. Faustina’s gratitude list here

 

Even though I am an “abyss of misery,” I am infinitely loved by God.

St. Faustina never places herself on a pedestal, although, as Jesus’ personal secretary of Mercy, you’d think she’d have every right to. Instead, her diary is full of humble self-talk: she calls herself “a poor creature,” “a tiny violet” crushed underfoot, an absolute “abyss of misery and baseness.” She recognizes, consistently and continually, the enormous gulf that exists between the Creator and the creature, between her God, and her poor, abysmal, miserable self.

 

And yet, as she believes, Love fills the gap.

 

“You are God, and I – I am Your creature,” says Faustina in one of her recorded conversations with Jesus. “You, the Immortal King and I, a beggar and misery itself! But now all is clear to me: Your grace and Your love, O Lord, will fill the gulf between You, Jesus, and me.”

 

That gulf between Creator and creature has never felt wider these days. I am daily doing my best, and simultaneously failing every single day. And yet, as Faustina reminds me over and over, Love fills the gap. “Love compensates for the chasms,” she promises, “Love will fill the gulf.”

 

Read more about how St. Faustina helped me through the early days of the pandemic

 

Ask love; it advises best.

St. Faustina suggests that the first way to perform an act of mercy is through “the merciful word, by forgiving and comforting.” In the heat of an argument, it’s sometimes hard to hold my tongue, and even when I do manage to refrain from saying something that hurts, it’s even harder to know how to say something that heals. St. Faustina’s advice to me when I don’t know how to act or what to say is this: “Always ask Love. It advises best.” In the middle of an argument, I try to stop and ask yourself: “Is this Love speaking?” This quick check of the intention behind my words sometimes helps me rephrase what I’m about to say, or, in some cases, keep silent. 

 

Read more about how St. Faustina helps me to live mercy when I’m mad at my husband

 

Don’t be afraid of the cross.

I’ve always had an aversion to suffering. I took the coziest seat. I avoided discomfort (like being cold, or feeling awkward, or experiencing someone else’s tension) at all cost. And I was absurdly optimistic, refusing to believe that anything but the most positive, most comfortable, and easiest solution could possibly be true. I preferred the Joyful Mysteries to the Sorrowful, the Resurrected Christ to the Crucified. I wanted the Easter without the Lent, and the salvation without the sorrow.

 

In my morning meetings with Faustina, my comfort-loving, sorrow-eschewing heart was transformed. “Gaze upon the silent Heart of Jesus, stretched upon the Cross,” she told me, and I lifted my reluctant eyes to the Crucified Christ. “Snuggle closely to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus,” she’d say, and in my imagination I’d hesitantly climb up on the cross and press my cheek against my Lord’s. “Let suffering become a delight,” she said, and I started, little by little, to learn to love it, or at least to not hate it quite so much.

 

Faustina’s diary – and her message of Mercy – that I’d originally returned unread, ended up being the grace and transformation as originally promised. What makes a soul suddenly receptive to a message it has previously heard, ignored, snubbed, or even ridiculed? St. Faustina would say that it is God’s relentless mercy that never tires, and always yearns, to close the gap between us.

 

If you love Faustina as much as I do, here are a few more articles that include her that I’ve written over the years (in fact, it may be time for me to give another saint a chance!).

 

Changing My Attitude Towards Change

A Prayer from the Patron Saint of Silence 

3 Places to Find Solitude: Lessons from a Devout Life 

Seeking God in Solitude 

Being Present in the Waiting Room 

Who is Your Favorite Fall Saint? Read More »

Pray in a New Way This Summer

Once upon a time, I was working exclusively from home, and all of my five children were in school full-time. The days were mine and mine alone, the hours stretching endlessly (or at least until 3:30) before me, and it was my prerogative how I scheduled my time, as long as I got everything on my to-do list done. During these blissful few months, I developed a lovely prayer routine: morning offering when I woke up, morning prayers and a Gospel reflection when the kids had left for school, and the house was blessedly quiet, a rosary while I folded laundry or cleaned the kitchen or did something else mildly unpleasant that I could offer up along with my decades.

 

This magical moment in my life didn’t last long. Just as I’d grown used to spending the day in an empty house and having my time all to myself, Covid hit, and I was unexpectedly sharing my space and my day with six other people, all trying to work and study and survive the distressing first months of the pandemic. Suddenly, I had to fight to maintain the prayer routine I’d so easily cultivated when I was all alone.

 

At first, I was discouraged that my perfect prayer practice had been so jarringly interrupted, but slowly I learned that my prayer practice didn’t actually have to look perfect and, more importantly, that my circumstances didn’t have to be perfect in order to pray.

 

This is a lesson I wish I had known earlier in my life, particularly during the summer months. When I was the full-time caregiver of my children, we all thrived on routine, myself included – our days were structured around meals and snack times, bus pick-ups for the kids in school, naps for the ones who were still at home, and prayer usually fit in quite neatly in this well-ordered life. But then July would roll around, and we were all suddenly rudderless, sleeping in (and then not napping), eating late (or early), and with no school schedule to keep us on track. Every summer, I would chastise myself for falling out ofmy perfectly ordered prayer routine and would find myself, in the chaos of the day, not praying at all.

 

But just as the liturgical seasons can interrupt – in a good way – our routine and reintroduce us to a new way to experience God and Church, the summer months, I realize now, can be a time to pray in a new way. Instead of wallowing in the frustration and guilt I used to feel because I struggled to incorporate my regular prayer practice into the irregular schedule of summer, I’m learning to embrace this less structured time as a way to shake up my routine and experience prayer in novel ways.

 

Here are some new prayer ideas to explore this summer.

Pray in a New Way This Summer Read More »

Can We Skip To The Good Part?

I am very intentionally not on TikTok (I really don’t need another app to tempt me to waste more time on my phone, and my daughters would say I’m too old for it anyways!) but I’ve seen enough reels to have a pretty good idea of what’s on there. One reel that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately features before and after shots while the lyrics “Can we skip to the good part?” play in the background: a couple is arriving at the airport in their winter jackets, then they are suddenly on a beach in Mexico; a woman is showing off her 40-week-pregnant belly, then is magically holding her newborn baby in her arms. You get the idea.

That little refrain has been running through my head a lot these days, mostly as I parent these children of mine. My second daughter just turned 20, and my youngest will be 13 in just a couple of weeks, which means I will now exclusively be the parent of teenagers and adults. No more little kid problems, like teething and tantrums and refusing to eat anything but Goldfish crackers for lunch – as the kids have grown, so have their problems, and those problems’ consequences.

As I watch these big kids figure out their own adult lives, I am having to watch them, too, make decisions that I’d rather they not make, some small and inconsequential, and some not so small, and actually quite serious. And so many times I find myself in these situations not able to do much more than pray, hope, and (because I am so very imperfect) worry. My rosary is recited on a continuous loop these days, offered up for my children, in the hope that the foundation of faith I set when they were still little will hold them while they flail and falter a bit (and sometimes a lot) through their early adult life.

Because I have faith, or at least try to, I have to believe that God is still beside them, even when it feels like they may be trying distance themselves from Him. That He is still there, still faithful to His promises, and has heard and has answered my prayers. That my children will not be abandoned, even as they appear to abandon their faith….

Ah, this is when I wish we could skip to the good part. I wish I could skip to the part where I see that it all works out in the end – like the couple basking in the Mexican sun, or the mama holding her newborn safely in her arms, I wish I could see that, in the end, the child is saved. I wish I could skip the part where I have to watch them thrash about in this new adult life, and instead see, right now, that everything is going to be ok.

But, of course, real life doesn’t work like a TikTok reel. We don’t get to skip to the Resurrection without first journeying through the Passion; we don’t skip over Good Friday to go straight to Easter Sunday. And I don’t get to see all my prayers for my adult children answered without first going through this valley that sends me to my knees, praying tearfully for the lives and souls of my kids.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” said St. Julian of Norwich, echoing the hope of all the saints, who trusted in the goodness of God, trusted that the good part would eventually come. Since I can’t skip ahead, I take a deep breath, pick up my rosary, and try not to worry, hoping, believing, knowing, that God is faithful, and that everything is going to be ok.

Can We Skip To The Good Part? Read More »

Lenten Resolutions to Make the Most of Your Day

Recently, when I told a friend that I was going to give up wasting time for Lent, she responded, “But how do you even have any time to waste?!” And she’s right, I really don’t. As anyone who works in a parish knows, Lent is not a time for slacking – we’re all running around trying to figure out the best way to fill the big baptism tub for the Easter Vigil, or how we’ll keep the pre-programmed alarm from going off in the middle all-night adoration, on top of our regular Lenten tasks. On top of that, I teach two classes at the local university, so any free time I’ve got, in the first week of Lent at least, will be spent marking midterms. And of course, family life includes rides that need to be given, soccer matches that need to be watched, and a poor husband who needs to be assured that I know he exists every once in a while!

It’s a busy life stage for me, with every hour of my day packed with activity, at work and at home, and while there doesn’t appear to be a minute to spare in my schedule, why do I feel so often like the little time I do have, I’m wasting?

The answer is, I think, that it’s not so much that I’m wasting time, but that I’m simply not using the time I have in a meaningful and intentional way. For me, then, using my time well does not mean filling my days with more things, or never resting, but being purposeful in all the things that do fill my day – work, rest, and play. Instead of feeling like I’m running from one thing to the next, I’d like to feel like I’m more present in every moment. And when I’m “resting,” I’d like to spend less time scrolling through Facebook reels and more time doing things that are actually restful.

Here are two ideas I’m tossing around to add to my Lenten journey this year:

  1. Make – and adhere to – a daily routine.

My years in grad school, and in particular, the second year, was probably the most productive year of my life. I excelled at my course work, held a TA position with regular classes and office hours, and made good headway on my thesis, along with working out at the campus gym for an hour every morning, attending daily Mass, and managing to read at least two novels a week in my spare time! This was, of course, several decades ago, and I’ve never managed to reproduce the level of efficiency I had in my life back then (when, in my defense, I was living alone, and not sharing a home and a life with six other people).

But the one thing I did during that year, that I’ve never been able to do well since, is stick to a routine. In my little daytimer, the time was marked in 15 minute increments, and each of those increments of my day was accounted for: workout, gym, class, study, visit, read, sleep.

It’s not hard to write down a daily routine, but it can be a real sacrifice to stick to it. To exercise  or do laundry when I feel like staying in bed, to pray when I feel like I need to get straight to work on a particularly busy day, to read or sleep when I am tempted to scroll mindlessly through my phone. Adhering to a routine means, quite often, at least for me, detaching from my preferences, what I feel like doing, and obeying the duty of my state of life.

  1. Reduce screen time

Other than consistently keeping to a daily routine, there was one other thing that made that year so much more productive than any other, including my first year of grad school: I didn’t watch TV (or consume any media, for that matter). In my first year, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment, where I had a little TV that I turned on whenever I was home, just to fill the silence. I got into the habit of watching TV all evening, and falling asleep to Seinfeld every night.

In my second year of grad school, I had moved closer to school, renting a single bedroom out of the basement of a house just a block off campus. There was a TV in the shared living room, but as an introvert, I preferred to come home and spend time alone in my own room after a full day of peopling. Instead of watching TV, I read, going through two or three books in a week.

And this was, of course, long before cell phones, which hold infinite hours of docuseries (my favourite) to consume, and to distract me from those other things I could, and ought to, be doing. If I truly wanted to replicate the level of productivity I had during that one magical year of my life, there would need to be a serious reduction in the time – the hours – I spend on my phone each day.

And it’s not that I am seeking higher production rates out of myself – that’s not really the point of it all. I think that what I’m after, in trying to reproduce some of the habits and attitudes I had in that year, is not the productivity, but the peace. In following a routine, and in not having access to media that distracted me from it, I went through my day with a sense of order, that everything, every activity, was in its place. When I went out with friends, or read, or napped, I knew that the other things I had to do were done, or would get done, because they had a designated space in my day. There was peace in knowing that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Eccl. 3:1). And that daily peace is what I’m really after.

If this isn’t what you’re looking for this Lent, you might try one of these other Lenten themes I’ve written about in previous years, like:

Lenten Resolutions When You Have Relationships in Need of Healing

Lenten Resolutions for Your Mental Health

Lenten Resolutions to Improve Your Relationship with Food

Lenten Resolutions for Your Marriage

Lenten Resolutions to Make the Most of Your Day Read More »

advent purple robes

Advent Prep Reading List: Part 1

It’s getting busy around here at the church where I work. There’s a buzz in the air as a new liturgical year approaches; we’re preparing to put away the green cloths and robes for a while, and pull out the purple for Advent.

At home, however, I haven’t had much time to think about Advent coming up. Besides my job as sacrament prep coordinator at the church, where I’ve been busy preparing 90 kids and their families to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation in just a couple of weeks, I also teach at one of our local universities, and outrageously agreed to not only teach two new classes, but also to somehow teach them both within a six-week time frame at the end of the semester. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind just keeping up.

And my house is bearing witness to the overwhelming busyness of my life right now. The kitchen is in a perpetual state of chaos and the laundry chute is so full that there’s not even room for a single sock to be jammed inside (that’s two full stories of laundry waiting to be washed). With an extremely efficient husband and four children old enough to be of help, you’d think we’d be able to manage, but only the former is pulling his weight. The house remains a mess.

And I hate going into Christmas with a messy house. I’ve got no desire to set up a tree amidst the clutter in the living room (and I’d have to clear a path in the mud room in order to access the Christmas decorations first, anyways), and the thought of bringing new gifts into the house to add to the stuff that’s already not put away makes me cringe. Something must be done.

Advent is a good time to bring order to the chaos, and this year, the chaos is my house. These four weeks before Christmas are a space-making time, making space for Christ in our lives (and our home!) just as our Blessed Mother made space in her self for God to dwell within her. In the utter busyness of the semester, I hope to find time to pause, to breathe, to make some room for more time for Christ, and more room in my schedule and in my house to relax and be present with my family.

If making more ordered space in your life this Advent looks a bit like mine (cleaning up the mess), here are three books I’ve read, am reading, or plan to read about bringing about order in the home:

How to Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing, by KC Davis.

This is definitely a secular book, but lots of the themes speak to me as a busy Catholic who has recently dealt with mental health issues that have made taking care of myself and my space challenging. Davis’ approach to keeping house is one of mercy, recognizing, first of all, the innate dignity of every human, even the messy ones. “Humans are born with the birthright of worthiness, but you know what? They are also messy, fallible, imperfect creatures who cannot and will not every get everything right all the time. And this messy, fallible imperfection never detracts from our inherent worthiness.” The author also basically paraphrases Mark 2:27 when she promotes the importance of taking Sunday off: “You deserve a beautiful Sunday,” Davis says, “This is the life-changing result of internalizing that you do not exist to serve your space, your space exists to serve you.”

The Little Way of Living with Less: Learning to Let Go with the Little Flower, by Laraine Bennett.

This is a lovely book by Laraine Bennett, co-author of The Temperament God Gave You series. Each chapter is dedicated to a different “Rose”: in the first chapter, Bennett tells the story of selling everything their family owned and moving across the Atlantic to Germany, where they suddenly had to learn to live with less space, and less stuff, and how, in doing so, also learned to cultivate the “Rose of Detachment.” Each chapter is seen through the lens of St. Thérèse of Lisieux’ Little Way, beginning with a relevant quote from the saint (“The world’s thy ship and not thy home.”) and ending with reflection questions to help you cultivate each “Rose.” For example, the Rose of Humility invites us to ask how we might incorporate into our homes the humility of St. Thérèse; do we focus a bit too much on making things “perfect” before we invite people over, or could we focus more on creating a place where, as Thérèse says, “peace, poverty, and joy reign supreme”?

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown

This is the book sitting on my bedside table right now, silently judging me for watching Netflix at the end of the night instead of reading. But it promises to offer advice on how to prioritise the right things, especially when we feel like we’re doing all the things (hello, it’s me), and declutter and organize our lives by reclaiming control of our time. But of course, I haven’t had time to read it yet….

 

 

Advent Prep Reading List: Part 1 Read More »

Hello from the Other Side

I’ve always been very open about my mental health journey – I have experienced mental health issues throughout my entire adult life, and that has manifested as mild to severe depression, panic disorder, and anxiety. Some of these chapters in my life I recognized – and was officially diagnosed – as I was going through them, and some I recognized later, now that I am a little more savvy and understand the signs and symptoms of mental illness in my own life. But I’ve never been ashamed to admit that I had or have depression, that I experience panic or anxiety; never in my life have I ever felt that this was something I had to hide. I’m a pretty open person – for me the stress of trying to hide my faults is far worse than any perceived humiliation I might experience from letting people know exactly who I am. I’d much rather have everyone know what a mess I am than try to pretend that I’m perfect.

Because of my relative openness to talk about mental health, I was recently asked to speak at a Women’s Mental Health event at my parish, to share the story – or at least a small part of it – of my journey through depression and anxiety. The one thing that I never felt during that difficult time was alone, because I had this crew around me, supporting me, providing for me, praying for me, so in essence, my talk was really more of a love letter to the people in my life who walked that journey with me, and what that looked like. Here is a short excerpt of that love letter:

“When, many years ago, I told my family and friends that I had been diagnosed with Prolonged Postpartum Depression:

– my friend, Lilia, drove over with a bouquet of flowers
– my dad came over just to give me hug
– my husband left me a note beside the bed (which I still have) that simply said “You are so brave”
– my friend, Laura, came over, gathered all the dirty laundry from the floor of my children’s rooms (several of whom were potty training with varying degrees of success), took the laundry to her house, washed it, then returned the laundry, sorted and folded at my back door.

You have no idea how much these small and large acts of kindness touched me, and told me that I was not alone, but that I was in fact, a part of a team that was walking this journey with me.

One thing that is very difficult for me when I am experiencing moderate to severe depression is prayer. I can’t form the words in my head to pray, and sometimes I lack the hope to even do so. But I know that that, too, is ok. When I told my friend, Joan, that I simply couldn’t pray, she said, “that’s ok, I’ll pray for you,” but what she meant wasn’t just that she would remember me and my intentions in her own prayers, but that she would pray my prayers for me. She would be my voice when I didn’t have one, she would be my faith when I had none, she would be my hope when I felt there was no hope. 

And I had dozens of other people praying for me, because I asked for it, begged for it, and I know those prayers travelled with me on my journey.

But I have also become acutely aware of the prayer of the Church throughout this all. When I went to my priest for confession, and told him that I was in despair and couldn’t pray, he didn’t chastise me, or even tell me to persevere – instead, he told me that now was the time to let the Church pray for me. So I asked the saints, any of them, all of them, whoever was listening, to pray for me because I couldn’t do it myself. When I didn’t even have the mental energy to pray the rosary, I listened to it being prayed online, knowing that those prayers were being said for me. I fell asleep listening to Masses being said online (I don’t know if it’s liturgically acceptable to fall asleep to the Mass, but I received so much comfort from the Mass being said – somehow, miraculously, mysteriously – for me). I knew my Church – all these Catholics, on earth and in heaven, that I did not know, and who did not know me – was walking with me.

And finally, my journey has been filled with people who have simply shared space with me when I was not at my best, when I had nothing at all to offer.

We have a little cottage at the Beach – it used to belong to my grandparents so it’s 100 years old; it’s had raccoons living in the ceiling and porcupines in the crawl space; it has no shower, and we only recently got a hot water tap. So suffice it to say, it’s not a luxury beach house, but it’s a place where my husband and I love to hang out with our family and our friends.

But last summer, I was in the worst of my depression: I wasn’t sleeping (or I was always sleeping), I wasn’t eating, and I wasn’t finding joy in anything. But we had friends who wanted to come to see we and to stay with we. We know they weren’t coming for the cottage, and they weren’t even coming for the company, but they came to just be with us. “I’m sorry I’m not at my best,” I’d say and they’d say “That’s ok, we don’t care.” And it just made me feel so incredibly loved, not for what I can do or offer, not for how fun or entertaining I can be, but just because I am, they loved me and spent time with me because I am.

And so I guess this is the lesson that I have learnt through my journey so far, that sometimes when it feels like you can’t help someone or heal them, or fix the situation for them, that’s ok. Because for me, what mattered most, what healed most, were the people who just walked beside me. Who said “I know, this is awful, but I’m here anyways.”

And that’s really the story of our faith. It’s the story of Veronica, wiping the face of Jesus, it’s the story of Mary, at the foot of the cross – “I’m here.” It doesn’t feel like a lot, and it might not feel like you’re doing anything, but I can promise you, standing here now on the other side, that it’s the thing that matters the most.

So this is just my journey through mental illness, which is unique and mine and looks different than yours and everyone else’s. What I do know is that everyone here, and everyone we encounter, is walking a hard journey, and my own experience with mental illness has made me more aware that we’re out there, walking, crawling and hands and knees, or dragging ourselves commando style, or laying in the middle of the road because they just can’t right now, or walking with really, really heavy burdens.

There might be times along the journey that you are not able to pray. That’s ok, because you have a Church praying for you.

There might be times along the journey when you have no hope. That’s ok, because I, standing here before you on the other side, will have hope for you, because I am standing on the other side.

There might be times along the journey when you have no faith. That’s ok, because God is there regardless, and I know that He is present, walking with you.

And there might be times along the journey when you feel alone. You’re not. You are being accompanied by a God who is walking with you, and you are surrounded by people who will walk with you. I’m one of them, so that’s at least one person who is praying for you, who has enough hope and faith for both of us, and who is willing to walk this journey with you.”

Hello from the Other Side Read More »

My Worst Lent Ever dust and ashes from Lent

My Worst Lent Ever

Oof, another failed Lent.

This past Lent was a complete disaster. I flip-flopped over what I was going to “give up” for Lent during the days leading up to and including Ash Wednesday, and then, once I’d finally decided, I changed my mind part-way through, chose a new sacrifice, then returned to the original one a couple weeks later. And at the end of the 40 days, I’m not really sure I can honestly say I did any of the sacrifices I zig-zagged between very well at all. When Palm Sunday rolled around, I panicked – “Oh no, it’s Holy Week already?! But I still haven’t figured out what I’m doing for Lent!”), I think I’d kind of given up on the whole thing. Because this Lent was a real struggle, and between complicated family issues, taking on more work than I realistically had hours in the day, and a bout of COVID that took me out and set me back for much longer than I had time for, I felt like I made it through Lent (and just barely) with absolutely nothing to show for it, completely empty-handed, dragging myself to the Easter “finish line” on my hands and knees.


Better luck next year, I guess.

So if I’m judging this past Lent on what I’ve been known to judge my Lents on – how well I completed my Lenten promises, how regularly I said my prayers, how strong my willpower was, how good I was – then this past Lent was officially my worst one ever, and I was a complete failure.


But if I’m judging Lent through the eyes of Divine Mercy, it was my best Lent yet. If Lenten “success” is based on how physically, emotionally, and spiritually weak I can feel, all the while knowing, as St. Paul tells me, that God’s grace is sufficient for me, and that His power is made perfect in that weakness I was experiencing, the I definitely “succeeded.” If the criterion for a successful Lenten prayer life is how well I ticked the boxes of my prayer commitments, then it was a total disaster, but if it’s that I recognized what a disaster I truly am, and continually turned to Him in helplessness and surrender and grasped for the cross, then I guess the prayer box got checked. If Lent is about how strong and good I can be for forty days, then I was absolutely abysmal, but if it’s about seeing what an “abyss of misery” I am (as St. Faustina would say), and knowing, too, that my nothingness and misery (as great as they often feel) are drowned in the whole ocean of Christ’s mercy, then here I am.


“You were counting too much on yourself and too little on Me,” said Jesus to St. Faustina, and He could just as easily be speaking to me, about all those past Lents I “accomplished,” relying strictly on my own willpower and perfectionism, patting myself on the back at the end of it all. But it’s ok. “Let this not sadden you too much,” consoles Jesus, “You are dealing with the God of mercy. I am Mercy itself; offer Me your misery and this very helplessness of yours, and in this way, you will delight in My Heart.”


And so I arrive – miserably, helplessly, abysmally – at the finish line of Easter, not simply empty-handed, with nothing to offer, but with open hands, ready to receive the mercy I so desperately need.

 

My Worst Lent Ever Read More »

Living Intentionally in a Time of Uncertainty

It was way back in early March that my husband and I sat and watched what would end up being our son’s last soccer game of his prematurely ended indoor season. Back then, we talked quietly with the other soccer parents, wondering if our upcoming tournament in two weeks would be cancelled. It was, and so was everything else.

Now, nearly two month later, our community, like many others, has started to talk about what’s next.

Our province’s plan for what the future will look like, as expected, includes more “To Be Determined” than actual dates. In other words, we’ll be doing some things, but we’re not sure what, or when. This means that we register kids in fall activities that might not happen, we make loose plans for events that may never actualize, and we plan for an upcoming summer and school year without really having a clear idea of what they’ll even look like.

Being unable to make any solid plans for the future makes it really hard to feel like I’m living intentionally. Instead of having a firm monthly, weekly, or even daily plan in place, it feels as though I’m living day by day, not knowing if tomorrow I’ll be able to get a plumber in to fix the leaky shower (I was), or if next Thursday I’ll be taking the girls to the orthodontist appointment we made two months ago (turns out I won’t). And living day to day, not knowing what tomorrow will bring, makes me feel a little bit like a leaf in the wind, blown about by the whims of my will and my moods (and the moods of the family members I’m quarantined with), and not rooted at all to anything firm.

One thing that I know helps me to live more intentionally, and feel grounded by purpose, is something I’ve also been neglecting these days: making a daily resolution. And since I’m already overwhelmed by working from home in a full house, guiding reluctant children in online learning, and managing the emotional needs of a family of seven 24/7, I know my resolution can’t feel like just one more impossible thing I have to get done in an already impossible day.

Here are three steps to making a resolution so that it’s a habit that nurtures and grounds, instead one that simply overwhelms.

1. Read the Gospel daily

A resolution can come from anywhere, or be inspired by anything, but as Christians, we should ground ourselves daily in the Gospel. “Consider the immensity of my love,” said Jesus to St. Matilda of Hackeborn, “If you want to know it well, nowhere will you find it more clearly expressed than in the Gospel.”

2. Make a Simple Resolution

When trying to come up with a resolution, my advice is this: err on the side of simplicity. The goal is not to invent the most creative or challenging or charity-driven resolution possible, but, in fact, to carry it out. St. Francis de Sales calls the resolution that comes from prayer “the great fruit of meditation,” but he also cautions us against making resolutions we can’t – or won’t – keep. “Virtues meditated upon, and not practiced, often puff up the spirit, and make us imagine that we really are what we resolve to be,” says St. Francis. “We must, therefore, by all means, seek every occasion, little or great, of putting them in execution.” In other words, pick a resolution you know you can do.

3. Do It Immediately

Our Blessed Mother provides the perfect example of a resolution put promptly into action: immediately upon learning that she would conceive of the Holy Spirit, she sets out “in haste” to the house of her cousin, Elizabeth. Having encountered the Gospel, Mary resolves to act, and carries out her resolution in haste, without delay. Coming up with a resolution that can be done relatively soon means that you don’t have nearly as much time to forget to do it, too.

This might make resolution-making sound simple, but I know it isn’t always easy. If you have trouble coming up with practical, doable Gospel resolutions, follow the

Regnum Christi Daily Meditations; each one is concluded with a simple resolution that will help you live the day’s Gospel message in a simple and intentional way.

Living Intentionally in a Time of Uncertainty Read More »

Is Perfectionism a Sin?

Being a perfectionist has its advantages, some of which might even be considered virtues. We perfectionists are patient enough to tend to a task until we’ve got things just right, diligent in our duty to, as Christ, “do all things well,” and persevering until everything is perfect. Surely this tendency to strive for perfection must be a godly one, since it is Jesus Himself who calls us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfectionism must be okay, because Jesus said so. Right?

The need for everything (and everyone, especially ourselves) to be perfect is, in fact, a slippery slope into sin, suggests St. Francis de Sales, and he provides two sins in particular to be on the lookout for if perfectionism is your natural inclination.

The Sin of Anger

“It is the sin of anger when we are overly critical, and berate ourselves for our mistakes,” warns St. Francis. We perfectionists are frightened by failure, and can be exceptionally cruel to ourselves when we witness or even suspect it in ourselves. We might not mentally rebuke ourselves as dramatically as St. Francis’ examples of critical self-talk (“Die with shame, you blind, impudent traitor!”), but we can be overly harsh in our self-criticism nonetheless.

The Sin of Pride

“It is the sin of pride that we let our own imperfections bother us so much,” continues St. Francis, and both anger and this excessive frustration towards ourselves flow “from no other source than self-love, which is troubled and disquieted to see itself imperfect.” It is prideful self-love that causes us to focus on our failures, which mar the perfect image we seek for ourselves.

Have no fear, though. Fortunately, we perfectionists are not doomed to wallow forever in our anger and pride, and St. Francis de Sales, in his infinite wisdom, provides us with the opposing virtue upon which to hang our hope: meekness towards ourselves.

The Virtue of Meekness

The virtue of meekness allows us to be calm instead of angry, gentle and self-possessed when we’d rather rant and rage. The virtue of meekness towards myself lets me correct myself calmly, instead of harshly. Compassion over passion, and sweetness instead of a storm, is the attitude St. Francis suggests we take when we self-critique: “we must be displeased with our faults, but in a peaceable, settled, and firm manner,” “never fretting at our own imperfections.”

The ever-helpful St. Francis even gives us a sweet and compassionate prayer to replace the negative self-talk towards which we might be tempted in the face of failure and our own imperfection:

Alas, my poor heart,
here we are,
fallen into the pit we had so firmly resolved to avoid!
Well, let us rise again, and quit it forever;
let us call upon the mercy of God,
and hope it will assist us to be more constant in the days to come,
and let us enter again the path of humility.
Let us be encouraged,
and let us from this day be more upon our guard;
God will help us,
we will do better!”

Is Perfectionism a Sin? Read More »

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Alex Kucera

Atlanta

Alex Kucera has lived in Atlanta, GA, for the last 46 years. He is one of 9 children, married to his wife Karmen, and has 3 girls, one grandson, and a granddaughter on the way. Alex joined Regnum Christi in 2007. Out of the gate, he joined the Helping Hands Medical Missions apostolate and is still participating today with the Ghana Friendship Mission.

In 2009, Alex was asked to be the Atlanta RC Renewal Coordinator for the Atlanta Locality to help the RC members with the RC renewal process. Alex became a Group Leader in 2012 for four of the Atlanta Men’s Section Teams and continues today. Running in parallel, in 2013, Alex became a Team Leader and shepherded a large team of good men.

Alex was honored to be the Atlanta Mission Coordinator between 2010 to 2022 (12 years), coordinating 5-8 Holy Week Mission teams across Georgia. He also created and coordinated missions at a parish in Athens, GA, for 9 years. Alex continues to coordinate Holy Week Missions, Advent Missions, and Monthly missions at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Cumming, GA.

From 2016 to 2022, Alex also served as the Men’s Section Assistant in Atlanta. He loved working with the Men’s Section Director, the Legionaries, Consecrated, and Women’s Section leadership teams.

Alex is exceptionally grateful to the Legionaries, Consecrated, and many RC members who he’s journeyed shoulder to shoulder, growing his relationship with Christ and others along the way. He knows that there is only one way, that’s Christ’s Way, with others!