Now in paperback and Kindle – My Life with St. Joan and St. Thérèse

SJST

You can read my series, “My Life with St. Joan and St. Thérèse” here, or, it is now available in both paperback and Kindle.

Thank you, God bless, and enjoy!

StM

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Chapter 8 – In the castle of St. Joan and St. Thérèse’s King

SJST

Eighth in the series, “My Life with St. Joan and St. Thérèse.”

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2008, St. Louis Missouri and Chicago Illinois

Though I was no French King after my healing on Joan of Arc’s day of victory, July 17, 2006, I certainly felt like one at the moment. The newer Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis the King in St. Louis, Missouri is magnificently majestic both from the exterior and interior. It is every bit fit for a saintly French King, the only French King in all of The Eldest Daughter of the Church’s noble history, by the way, to ever reach the altar of sainthood. The new Cathedral was built just over one hundred years ago. The old Cathedral, however, the one down by the Mississippi River, is also quite nice and interesting, just much smaller.

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I was there that Mary’s rose might flourish.

Sitting in Our Lady’s chapel just to the left of the main altar, I rested in peace. I proceeded to read through St. Louis de Montfort’s prayer of total consecration, the same one I prayed on July 16, 2006. Through this prayer I renewed my total consecration to Mary. That I did so in the Cathedral of St. Louis after my healing through the intercession of St. Joan of Arc was significant. It was here, in the “castle of St. Joan and St. Thérèse’s king,” so to speak, that a radically new life would pour forth in me. This radical new life all started with my consecration renewal that day to Mary, whose own womb had been the “Castle of the true King.”

Work had taken me to St. Louis from the Chicago area the previous year, 2007. My workplace was walking distance from the great Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Every day at lunch, I would walk to Mass. Now, the following year, and in the previous month, our workplace had moved to a location that was now driving distance. Even though, my year walking to Mass was so special, and Our Lady’s chapel was so special, I wanted to renew my consecration there and nowhere else.

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I believe in my heart that Our Lady brought me through my work to St. Louis just so I could make my consecration renewal to her there, in that special Cathedral. Somehow there was a mystical relationship between St. Joan of Arc and me, and the “castle of a great French King” was a fitting place to nurture that relationship. It began, as did this little writing, with me standing before her statue at Mont Saint-Michel off the coast of France all the way back in 1977 after my High School graduation. It developed through my relationship with St. Thérèse and her own love for St. Joan. It was all very spiritual, very regal, and very French. It was also very Marian.

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“To Jesus through Mary in the friendship and sisterly care of St. Joan and St. Thérèse!” I would later write, just as I had when I referred to their combined spirituality as “the most beautiful color in the Heavens!” It was all about developing the most intimate relationship possible with Jesus Christ through His most beloved Holy Mother and these two beloved saints.

I say that I believe that Our Lady brought me to St. Louis just for this reason. Here is another reason I believe this. Just three days after I made my consecration renewal, I was notified that I was no longer needed in St. Louis. We never sold our home in Gurnee during this time, so we moved back to it.

While back in Chicago, I began visiting the newly consecrated Icon of Our lady of the Sign, Ark of Mercy at the Church of St. Stanislaus Kostka. The Icon is one of a kind, a gorgeous hand carved Eucharistic monstrance in the form of Mary with a crown of twelve stars on her head. Absolutely fabulous. I made regular visits to the Blessed Sacrament there.

Our Lady of the Sign, Ark of Mercy at the church of St. Stanislaus in Chicago

One afternoon as I sat praying before the Eucharist there, I felt Our Lady speaking to me in my heart. I had a contemplative vision of her walking beside me a peaceful meadow. She said to me,

“If you have something you feel you need to say, you should probably think about saying it.”

After a few minutes of thought, I responded in my heart to her,

“Yes, I believe I do have something I would like to say now.”

I went home that afternoon and began to write. As I wrote over weeks that turned to months and months that turned to years, Mary’s rose of grace did, indeed, flourish.

Reading one of St. Thérèse’s poems about St. Joan of Arc about this time touched me deeply, more deeply than ever before, and my devotion to St. Joan flowered even more. It continues to flower today. I am inseparable from St. Joan and St. Thérèse, and, through them, inseparable from Our Holy Mother, Mary. Through all of them, I am inseparable from Jesus Christ as long as I do not fall back into my repugnant sins of separation. I pray fervently for the grace of final perseverance, that this inseparability will carry forward into eternity.

“To Jesus through Mary in the friendship and sisterly care of St. Joan and St. Thérèse!” for, they are together, truly, “the most beautiful color in the Heavens!”

Thank you Mary, most Holy Mother of God for your rose of grace.

StM

Read chapter 7.

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Chapter 7 – A miracle for me on St. Joan’s great day of July 17

SJST

Seventh in the series, “My Life with St. Joan and St. Thérèse.”

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2006, The Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania

“You must be the one from Illinois we were expecting!”

The middle-aged woman behind the desk in the seminary vestibule, just through the door from the couch where I slept for an hour and a half, was cheerful and obviously better rested than I was. The table, which I had not noticed at 5:30am while walking past in a daze, now seemed to be alive with activity and, notably, a person who looked like she could help me. This was the registration desk. Registration was now open. It was 7:00am on July 17, 2006.

I looked, and probably smelled, like a dog.

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“Yes! I drove all night to get here, about 13 hours. Got here around 5:30 this morning. I didn’t know what to do, so I just slept on the couch.”

“Wow,” she exclaimed, “The Lord will really bless you for the sacrifice you made.”

Thankfully, the kind woman wasted no time in showing me my room and the necessary facilities. We started with the chapel around the corner and then to the cafeteria. From there we ascended a staircase to the dormitory area. She emphasized where the showers were located, I might add. Finally, she instructed me on how to get to the conference room where the week’s first full meeting would begin at 9:00am. With that she smiled, waved, and disappeared down the staircase.

After settling in my room, I walked out into the narrow hallway. It appeared that I was at the end of the hall. A door faced me, next to my room. I opened it. To my great and delightful surprise, outside was a small balcony with a chair. The balcony overlooked the beautiful chapel sanctuary. It was a fabulous and unique view. I was standing above and even with the altar and tabernacle below. Literally, I could come out of my room at any time of day or night, sit on the balcony chair, and adore the Eucharist (once the priest offered the first Mass and gave us the Sacred Host for the tabernacle). A very tall and lovely statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary stood directly ahead of me against the far wall. I was amazed. Things were looking up. I stepped back into the hallway and closed the door, my “secret door” to the chapel balcony. Off to that much needed shower.

That evening, after a day of stimulating spiritual reflections, silent meals, and awkward smiles to people to whom you were not supposed to speak, the priest giving the retreat, Fr. Bill, was having confessions. After waiting in line for about half an hour, I had my opportunity. I sat in front of Fr. Bill and poured my heart out. After my act of contrition, he absolved me from my sins and blessed me. I went directly over to the silent, serene chapel. After walking to the front toward the altar, I genuflected and crossed myself before the Eucharistic tabernacle which now held the real and substantial Body and Blood of Jesus Christ after the day’s Mass, and then walked over to that beautiful, tall statue representing the Virgin Mary.

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When I did, something happened. I am not sure what it was, but something happened. In my heart I felt these words the moment I looked up:

“I have always been with you. You have always had the Holy Spirit. I am the channel of the Holy Spirit for you.”

At that moment, the Beast was destroyed. The Beast was dead. The Beast, the one that no doctor, no spiritualist, no psychoanalyst, no pill had ever been able to kill, was dead. I was, in the truest and most profound manner, a free man. The chains of Hell dropped from me that evening.

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The next day while in the second morning conference, Fr. Bill read scripture to us. Four words resonated in my newly emancipated mind:

“Seek first the Kingdom…”

Those four words consumed me the balance of my week at the retreat. They continue to consume to this day. Seek first the Kingdom. I had my marching orders from the Blessed Virgin Mary. I had been healed through the power of the Holy Spirit and the infinite merits of Jesus Christ’s incarnation, life, passion, death, and resurrection, but not so that I might run back out into the spiritual pigsty of the world’s kingdom, but so that I might find life in Christ’s Kingdom. Seek first the Kingdom of God.

So began my journey to Seek first that Kingdom. Seeking first the Kingdom would be the process by which the Virgin Mary, with St. Joan and St. Thérèse, would tend the garden of my soul with its newly broken, plowed, and pulverized fertile soil, fertile soil twenty painful years in the making. Seeking first the Kingdom would be the process whereby the rose of grace Our Lady had given me in Guymon in exchange for my roses to her would burst forth and reach upward to the warmth and life giving radiance of the Son.

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It would be sometime later, several years as a matter of fact, before the full significance of the date, July 17, would hit me. I knew that there was something remarkable about the fact that my drive to freedom occurred on July 16, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, exactly twenty years after my consecration to Mary. Thérèse and Mary are both united to my heart through the Carmelite spirit. One day, however, the notion came over me to reflect on July 17. I could not be sure what it was. The inspiration came over me to pick up Hilaire Belloc’s book, Joan of Arc, from my office bookshelf. When I opened it, I read:

“The Sunday, the seventeenth day of July in the year of Our Lord fourteen hundred and twenty –nine, the Dauphin Charles rode in with company for the crowning… with strong and many tears (Joan) said: ‘High-born King, now is the will of God accomplished. For He it was who ordained that I should free Orleans and bring you here to this city of Rheims for your sacring…’ ” (Belloc, p. 61)

Joan’s great day of victory was July 17. On that day the otherwise impossibly defeated Dauphin of France, against all odds, and after a lifetime of defeat, was crowned King of France through the powerful assistance of Joan of Arc.

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I was no Dauphin and certainly no King of France. But I was given victory, against all odds, and after a lifetime of defeat, on that same day. I have cherished the inspiration that led me to this insight. I cherish it as a beautiful message from the Holy Spirit through Mary that St. Joan of Arc was intimately involved in my healing on July 17, 2006. From that day forward, St. Joan and I have been inseprable.

I drove to victory on the day of Carmel. I was healed the following day, Joan of Arc’s great day. St. Joan and St. Thérèse were now going to lead me along the path of the Dogmatic Creed, the goal of such a journey being the center of the Immaculate Heart of Mary where Christ reigns in all His glory. To stay with the metaphor of this storyline, the goal is the full flowering of Mary’s rose of grace, the rose of the most beautiful color in the Heavens, the rose of the combined spirituality of St. Joan of Arc and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

This is the rose she desires for me to carry with her to Jesus. That rose of the “most beautiful color in the Heavens” finally broke upward out of the new fertile soil of my soul through the intercession of St. Joan of Arc and St. Thérèse of Lisieux with the Heavenly maternal assistance of the Virgin Mary.

That rose must now continue to reach upward.

To be continued…

StM

Chapter 8 (TBD)

Read chapter 6.

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Chapter 6 – Our Lady tills the soil with St. Joan and St. Thérèse

SJST

Sixth in the series, “My Life with St. Joan and St. Thérèse.”

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2006, Gurnee IL traveling to the Pocono Mountains

Thirteen hours. It would take roughly thirteen hours from my home in Gurnee, IL to reach the retreat site in the Poconos. The date was July 16, 2006, exactly twenty years after my consecration to the Virgin Mary in Guymon. The weekly roses I used to hide from Mrs. Birdsill and set at the feet of Our Lady’s statue in the chapel of St. Peter’s were a distant memory. I was in my car, a 2003 Toyota Camry that had served me well for several years, calmly cruising across interstate 80 east bound toward Pennsylvania. It was the first sense of calm I had felt in years. More specifically, it was a calm sense of determination, a feeling that I finally was taking action that might free me from the hell I was in, and had been in, for the past twenty years.

I said the prayer.

It was getting dark. A half hour ago, I navigated the route splits in the interstate outside Cleveland, a feat that kept me true to my destination. Needing to go through Ohio and then Pennsylvania, I was roughly five hours away, maybe six. The Poconos are in eastern Pennsylvania, and it was going to be a very long drive and a very long night through a very long state. It was going to be an overnighter. I had no time to stop for a hotel. The retreat began that very evening, Sunday. I had departed from our driveway, waving good-bye to Josey, around three or four in the afternoon. The retreat participants would be up and in the first session early Monday morning. No time for a hotel. Plus, I did not have the least desire to put a pause on my journey, other than to make necessary pit stops and get more coffee. I had the momentum. Just keep going until you get there. I enjoyed long rides through the night, anyway. Long rides across states reminded me of our days driving through “Big Country” in the Texas Panhandle when Josey and I were newlyweds.

Josey just finished this very retreat in the Chicago area the previous week. It was a six day silent retreat given by a Catholic, Vincentian priest from India. No talking was allowed outside of morning Mass and the conferences which were given twice in the morning and once in the afternoon. Between and after conferences, participants ate together in silence. They would go to the chapel to pray in silence before the Blessed Sacrament. In the evenings, one might hear hushed whispers in hallways and rooms as everyone prepared to sleep but were still too excited not to say something to someone else.

When I first heard about all this from Josey during a phone call in mid-week of her retreat, I smiled to myself. No way would I ever go on a retreat like that! Toward the end of the call, though, my amusement turned to horror. Josey wanted me to attend the same retreat the following week in the Poconos. She spoke with the priest. He wanted me to go as well. What to do? How would I get out this?

That Saturday I went with Emery, now ten years old, to attend the closing Mass and bring her home. I kept making up in my head every excuse possible to avoid going the following week. I could not get off work (lie). People just don’t suddenly decide to take off to another part of the country like that (lie). We couldn’t afford it (lie). This was going to be rough.

I decided to bring it to Our Lord.

“Lord, if you want to me attend, give me a sign. Not just any sign. It needs to be big, something that will not leave any doubt. Do not expect me to interpret subtle messages. I need to know what you want.”

During the Mass, the priest went forward for his homily. No more than thirty seconds into it, he raised up a crucifix. The moment he raised the crucifix, my heart was confirmed in my desire to go to his retreat. My immediate thought was, “I must go to this retreat.” The Lord heard, and answered, my prayer. No subtleties involved. The Lord touched my heart, and I was prepared to go. Now, just over twenty-fours later, I was halfway between Cleveland and the Pennsylvania border.

Sipping on my coffee as I drove, coffee that hopefully would keep me awake and alert through the wee hours of the morning, I sensed something else, something not quite as calm as this lonely interstate leading me toward a serenely darkening horizon. I sensed desperation. One might even call it terror. How many times had I tried “solutions” to my hellish condition over the years? How many times had I tried spiritual as well as medical solutions, all to no avail? Would this be one more failure? If so, would I finally be ready to jump off the cliff, so to speak, to dissolve into despair? The challenge I faced in my own being was impossible to solve, humanly speaking. I had tried everything. Everything. I was even hospitalized several times over the past twenty years. Nothing. Nothing could be done to help me.

Now, here I was, cruise control set on seventy-five miles per hour, alone, a hopeful wife back home, and heading into darkness with the intent of reaching an old, abandoned seminary not far outside of Philadelphia so I could sit silently for a week with people I have never met.

Hoping. Just like Josey.

I said the prayer again.

Be alert. The pavement on the interstate ahead disappeared as night fell. You could trace the path ahead only by watching the red tail lights of the cars and trucks ahead of you along with the increasingly bright headlights of the vehicles coming toward you. I went around a slow vehicle (probably driving the speed limit), turned on my right flasher after a safe distance to indicate that I was coming back into the right lane, looked over my shoulder to make sure no one was in my “blind spot;” though, that would be impossible as no other cars were even remotely close to us at the time, and started thinking again.

How hard the past twenty years had been. How good my wife had been to me. How incredible to have a wonderful son, born March 5, 1996 in Stamford, Connecticut. How many heartaches. How many joys. But still. The Beast. The Beast ruled my life, and the Beast ruined everything. I wanted to kill the Beast, but every effort to do so for twenty years had failed. On the contrary, the Beast was killing me. Or, was I the Beast? Was I the Beast, and I simply was killing myself? Did it even matter? Kill it. Or, kill me. Just make it stop.

I said the prayer again.

I clicked on the right flasher again. I was not passing a car. This time I was exiting to find food and fuel. I was in Pennsylvania now, around 2:00 am, steadfast in my determination to reach my destination: need to stay awake and, just as importantly, need more fuel.

Back on the turnpike.

The world seems like a different place in the early morning hours. It was now about 3:30 am. I did not have far to go, I reflected, sipping on my last cup of coffee for the night.

I said the prayer again.

What was it that brought me to this point? How did I end up in such physical and mental pain over the years? Why did Josey and Emery have to suffer because of my suffering? What was wrong with me? Nobody knew. I had seen priests, psychologists, psychiatrists, you name it. I spent thirty days in a hospital. The years trudged on, each new one seemingly more painful than the last.

I was a very highly paid executive. Don’t forget the stock options. The family business in Guymon had not fared well. In fact, it went bankrupt. Josey and I left Guymon for New Haven, Connecticut where I received my Master’s degree from Yale. From there my career led us to New York, back to Connecticut where Emery was born, then to Texas, and finally up to the Chicago area. With me pursuing the high life of big pay, international travel, and prestigious cocktail party talk, we gradually let Carmel slip out of our hands. We never did make our final promise after our exciting start at the Carmel in Piedmont, Oklahoma. Even further, my devotional life had almost completely disappeared. There were even Sundays when I would not lead the family to Mass, simply because I was too anxious, too depressed, or otherwise incapable of the modicum of self-awareness it would take to sit through Mass.

I was miserable. Though the Lord was always faithful in my life, I had been unfaithful. I had pursued false gods. I was now in exile. I was in hell.

I wanted out. I wanted out of hell.

I said the prayer again.

During these years of devastating spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical decline, I had celestial companions who were always at my side namely, Mary, Thérèse, and Joan. Their presence was always felt, even in my darkest hours. One day while on a business trip, I was on my bed in a hotel room literally writhing in some sort of manic pain, both physical and mental. I murmured, “I offer all my sufferings for offenses committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary!” Later, I wondered where that came from, why I did that. How I did that. They were always near, interceding for me, helping me, and…

…cultivating.

Our Lady needed new, fertile soil in order for the spiritual rose of grace she had given me in Guymon to take full bloom. Remember that dry, arid soil, such as would represent my soul, must be broken up. Turned over. Beaten down with plowshares. The result is a new field, ready for planting, growing, and harvesting.

In Mary’s care with St. Thérèse and St. Joan, my life for twenty years had been one of becoming something new, of being beaten down and turned over. And it was painful. However, the more bountiful the crop, the more work, painful work, must be accomplished in the field. Mary, Thérèse, and Joan were preparing me for a crop more bountiful, in my eyes anyway, than anything I could have imagined on my own. That meant significant pain. I felt every cut, dig, and pull. I was hurting.

I said the prayer again.

“Holy Mother, please give me the Holy Spirit! You must give me the Holy Spirit!”

This was the prayer I said over and over as I traveled across the country. The field had been prepared. The seed had been planted. My prayer was a timely call for something, anything, to burst forth and grow, relieving me of my agony.

I hit the brake rounding the exit at the end of the turnpike. After driving though the Ipass lane, where a big green light lit up indicating, to my pleasant surprise, that my Illinois electronic toll mechanism worked in eastern Pennsylvania, I was off on a state road. Thirty minutes later, I turned left onto a narrow county road. About two miles down that road, I saw it: an old stone building on a very spacious piece of property. I pulled into the long driveway and parked among roughly a dozen or fifteen other cars. I was exhausted, having driven all night.

The front door was open, but, as expected, no one was around. I had no idea where to go. There were four different hallways. I did not want to wake anyone up. I really did not even know where anyone was to wake up. I saw a couch by one of the walls and plopped down. I made it. This was the old abandoned seminary I was seeking, the abandoned seminary that was hosting the six day silent retreat.

It was 5:30 am on July 17, 2006. The day, the “one day” twenty years in the making had arrived.

I leaned on my side and fell fast asleep.

To be continued…

StM

Chapter 7 (TBD)

Read chapter 5.

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Chapter 5 – St. Thérèse, St. Joan of Arc, and Mary’s Rose

SJST

Fifth in the series, “My Life with St. Joan and St. Thérèse.”

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1987, Guymon Oklahoma

“Someone has been leaving a rose each week at the foot of Our Lady’s statue in the chapel.” Mrs. Birdsill smiled and looked warily at me. “We’re not sure who it is.”

I stood in the hallway of the rectory, just beyond her desk, staring hesitantly into her eyes with a question-mark on my face. Mrs. Birdsill was the administrative assistant for the parish. She looked out for Fr. Burger and whichever associate priest was in town, that now being Fr. Joe Haley. Her family was well known and well respected in the community. They had a number of children in various grades at the local public school. One, a daughter, graduated in my class at Guymon High. Like everyone else in the community, I always liked the entire family and certainly enjoyed Mrs. Birdsill. She was cheerful, friendly, and a good representative for the parish.

“Really? That’s interesting!” I feigned ignorance.

“Yes, someone really loves Our Lady.”

“Yes, that’s great!”

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Uneasy, I was trying to make an excuse to leave. I had been in the rectory to see Fr. Burger who was giving me spiritual direction and helping me better understand the Faith. I had an appointment to see him once each week. I really enjoyed my time with Fr. Burger, and he would both encourage and correct me in a very gentle manner. I was on my way out when I stopped to chat with Mrs. Birdsill. Smiling, waving, and making up an excuse, I was out the door.

The following week, I left work around noon for lunch. Most of the time, I would drive out of the parking lot, turn right on 6th street, and pass by the warehouse on the right with the “hard-facing” department on the left. We were in the agricultural tillage tool manufacturing business. These tools were famous around the country for having “hard-faced,” chromium carbide edges that would make them last much longer than regular tools as farmers drug them through their fields attached to big John Deere or Case Harvester implements. Hard-facing was a type of welding operation, and the hard-facers were a very skilled, well respected, and highly valued employee group at the company. I would drive by them at noon most days and on to the end of the property where I would turn north on East street, which sounds funny, I know. Crossing 12th street, the “big” four lane avenue near the factory, I would keep moving north for a mile or so before turning right on 19th, then left on Chisolm Drive. Three doors down and I was home for lunch. The entire trip would take less than ten minutes.

However, this day was not “most of the time.” This was the one day each week when I would do something special instead of eating lunch. I did not drive by the warehouse on the right and the hard-facing department on the left. Instead, I turned left just ahead of the hard-facers onto Maple, a small side street, and then right on 5th street, another “big” four lane thoroughfare in the opposite direction from 12th and from my home. 5th street would take me over the railroad tracks that ran through town and into the heart of Guymon’s downtown retail district. I sat at a red light before finally turning right onto Main Street.

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Main Street provided the lifeblood of our community, at least I always thought of it that way. Main Street not only had some of the most memorable, locally owned and operated retail stores, but it was the main artery for high school kids to drive up and down after school and in the evenings. We called it “dragging main,” and everyone with a car or who knew someone with a car did it. In the evenings as high schoolers, we would drive or park in lots along the side of Main, waving to each other and otherwise showing off or flirting as the case may be. Dragging Main simply was built into the DNA of Guymon High School graduates, at least those who graduated back in our day.

(What happened to our hang out, the Arrowhead Drive In!)

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However, I was not turning to “drag main.” I was on a mission. Parking along the side of the street, I walked over to the local flower store. A few minutes later I walked out with one beautiful red rose, the stem of which was in a long glass vase filled with fresh water. I jumped back into my car and held the vase firmly in my left hand as I pulled back out onto Main steering with my right.

The parking lot at the church mostly was empty when I arrived. There was no noon Mass at St. Peter’s at that time. The main sanctuary was locked; however, the side chapel was left open for Eucharistic adoration. The chapel had a small altar for morning Mass celebrations and a glass wall that looked out into the large, locked sanctuary where we could see the tabernacle on the far side with the little red candle lit, indicating that the Real Presence was there. Also in the chapel was a beautiful portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas. Just as you walked in and to your right was a beautiful statue of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, the one to which Mrs. Birdsill had referred.

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Walking from the parking lot and down the sidewalk toward the chapel door, I attempted to hide my rose, at least as much as possible. If Mrs. Birdsill were looking out the window next to the rectory door, she might see me with this rose in hand. Hopefully not. Hopefully, she was busy or otherwise distracted. I walked into the chapel. It was empty. Good.

Walking over to the statue of the Immaculate Conception I set the red rose at Our Lady’s feet. I said a prayer and told her that I loved her.

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Walking out after adoring the Eucharist for 20 or so minutes, I wondered. I wondered if Mrs. Birdsill was watching. Do you think she knew?

Later that evening I sat in my reading chair with St. Thérèse’s book. On the stand by our doorway sat her statue and her relic we received from Fr. Haley.

“Like St. Agnes and St. Cecilia, I want to offer my neck to the executioner’s sword, and like Joan of Arc, murmur the name of Jesus at the burning stake.” (Day, 1997, p. 198) Thérèse was writing of her immense desire to sacrifice all, even her life, for her love of Jesus. She wanted to imitate the love and sacrifice of the saints.

Therese 4 refinedThrough this outburst of love, Thérèse allowed me to see something in her soul, something that eventually would consume me in my own desires and reflect my own immense love for Jesus and Mary. This was my first glimpse, even though a very small one, of a different kind of rose. That rose, bright and beautiful, though I only could see it faintly due to the grey state of my soul and my general spiritual dullness, was a unique color. It was what I would many years later call, “the most beautiful color in the heavens.” It was the color of the combined spirituality of St. Joan of Arc and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. “St. Joan and St. Thérèse, together they are the most beautiful color in the Heavens!”- I would one day write, comparing them to a field of flowers in Jesus’ Heavenly garden. At that moment, however, not enough light could penetrate my soul for me truly to sense the magnificence of this rose. One day in the future this colorful rose would electrify me, and be the efficient agent of change in my life resulting from my total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary I gave her on July 16th, 1986.

That afternoon, I had, in thanksgiving for my total consecration, given one more beautiful red rose to Our Lady, and she, through St. Thérèse, returned a rose to me. Our Lady’s rose was not a perishable one like mine. Hers was a rose of grace. Her rose was the dynamic, saintly duo of St. Joan of Arc and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Our Holy Mother and my “little mother,” St. Thérèse, brought into slight focus my trip to France after high school, the trip that led me to St. Joan of Arc for the first time. It was all coming together and, over time, would keep coming together in splendor. The seed of this rose would grow through cultivation and burst upward toward the sunlight one day.

One day.

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That day, though, was far in the future. In order for a rose to bloom, it must be planted in fertile soil. The soil of my soul was dry, waterless, and impure. Nothing could grow there. I had placed my rose to Our Lady in a vase with fresh water where it could survive. Our Lady needed to place her rose to me, the rose that she wanted me to carry with her to Jesus, the rose of the “most beautiful color in the Heavens,” in a fresh, fertile environment as well. There was work to do.

Our Lady needed to lead me to fertile ground for her rose. In turn, I needed to abandon the old plot, to die to it, leave it for good, and be grounded in the new. That journey to new, fertile lands would take twenty years. We were just beginning.

To be continued…

StM

Chapter 6 (TBD)

Read chapter 4.

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Chapter 4: How St. Thérèse helped me enter into consecration to Mary

SJST

Fourth in the series, “My Life with St. Joan and St. Thérèse.”

Le Royaume 3 for FB with site

1985-86, Guymon Oklahoma

There is not much between Amarillo and Guymon. At least there was not in the years immediately following our marriage. No offense is intended to those who live in Goodwell, Texhoma, Stratford, or Dumas. We passed through all of these small towns on the way. Guymon certainly was not much bigger or more noteworthy. However, even collectively, they all made for very little contact with civilization during the two hour and fifteen minute drive.

The surrounding landscape was what one might expect in the Texas Panhandle, barren ranch land and field after field of farmland. The terrain was not always flat, but it was always broad. The sky was virtually a complete dome from one horizon to the next. We were driving through “Big Country.”

It was Saturday. Josey and I, married less than a year now, were traveling to our favorite Catholic bookstore. Guymon, despite the growing size of St. Peter’s parish and the new church, still had no “Catholic” bookstore. We had to drive over two hours to Amarillo to find one. Nevertheless, it was fun. It was relaxing. It was a time to talk, grab a coke at one of the oases of commercial activity (typically in Dumas TX – roughly the halfway point), and just kick back. Driving endlessly through Big Country is therapy for the soul that folks in very populated areas do not have the opportunity to experience on a regular basis. We loved it.

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The bookstore in Amarillo was off the beaten track. It was not in a mall or commercially busy area. The “store” was actually an out of the way converted house. The moment you walked through the front door, you found yourself standing in the middle of statues, rosary cases, and holy cards – just like you would in any good Catholic bookstore. We pulled up in the parking lot. It was a beautiful day. Strolling in, we amused ourselves looking over the wide variety of items.

It did not take me long to head toward the rear of the store where the books were located. I was in love with my new faith, my new Church, the Eucharist of Our Lord, and, of course, with our Holy Mother. The Glories of Mary and True Devotion to Mary had ignited a fire in my heart for Our Lady, a fire that continues today, and a fire that I pray will eventually flare upward to the Heavens when my time for eternity arrives.

I found a curious little book. Later, I would discover that it was more “little” than I had imagined. It was actually about a “little way.” Still, it was little in physical stature as compared to those around it. On the front was a painting of a young nun holding roses. Why I was drawn to a small book that looked like it was for Catholic women, I only can explain through grace. It was not the type of book I would usually be entertaining. I already had my hands on a copy of St. Augustine’s City of God. That was the type of manly intellectual reading I wanted. What should I make of this rather girlish looking book? I only know that I was drawn to it. I wanted to read that book. So, I bought it.

That rather girlish looking book I purchased was the most important literature, outside of sacred scripture, that I would ever read after The Glories of Mary and True Devotion to Mary. The book was The Story of a Soul – the Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

the-story-of-a-soul-st-therese-of-lisieux-mp3-audio-book-561x800A week later, I was sitting at home in my favorite reading chair with St. Thérèse’s book resting opened on my chest as I leaned back to think. I was contemplating Thérèse’s words, the story of her life, and her challenges as a young woman in 19th century France entering the Carmelites, a contemplative order under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Thérèse’s words were remarkable. They were imbued with a rich spirituality that I had never experienced in my life. The book was amazing and made me feel very joyful when reading it.

There was, though, just one issue. I had no idea what she was talking about. What she said was beautiful. I just did not understand what it was that she was saying. Understanding Thérèse was about to become a lifelong journey for me, one that I am still today far away from completing. I know I will never complete that journey unless I am blessed to enter Paradise.

Despite the fact that I was too spiritually dull to understand this young nun, I knew that I wanted what she had. I knew that I loved this little nun. I was devoted to her immediately with a devotion that would only blossom over the years. Eventually I would come to see her as “my little mother,” the title I use when praying to her today. Mary is our true spiritual mother as decreed by Christ to St. John while dying on the Cross. Thérèse, however, became my “little mother” and “big sister.” It was Thérèse’s spiritual DNA that I received on her Feast Day, October 1, 1984.

Therese with hour glassThérèse already was a permanent fixture in my spiritual life. As the months went by, I continued to peruse her book. We bought a statue of St. Thérèse for our home.

One day Josey was in the living room. I was standing in the connecting dining room that was next to the kitchen serving bar while looking out the window into the backyard. I had been reading more and more about the Carmelites because of Thérèse.

“You know,” I said matter-of-factly, “we could become Carmelites. There is something called a Third Order that allows those who live in the world an opportunity to share in the spiritual riches of the order. We could become Carmelites like St. Thérèse!”

Josey was ever happy to agree. After a few days of research, we found a Discalced Carmel with an active Third Order in Piedmont OK just outside of Oklahoma City. We made arrangements with the Third Order to visit. It was a five hour journey to Oklahoma City, but we found it. The Carmelite sisters welcomed us warmly. We continued to go each month to the Carmelites for formation, usually driving the entire five hour trip to Piedmont and five hour return trip, all in the same day! That is how excited we were to be associated with Our Lady’s and St. Thérèse’s Carmelites. After one year, we made our temporary, three year promise to the Order.

Our_Lady_of_Mt_CarmelOne of the requirements when making the temporary promise was that we pick a “religious” name just as the First Order religious do. I picked as my own, “St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face,” Thérèse’s own religious name. Truly I was devoted to this young saint. (Sadly, for reasons I will reveal later, we did not make our final promise three years later to the Carmelites. That story is to come.)

While all of this was going on, and we were driving back and forth to Oklahoma City each month, the priests at St. Peter’s came to understand that I was now very devoted to St. Thérèse. They encouraged me in my Marian and Thérèsian devotions. They were interested in our endeavor to become Third Order Carmelites. We now had a new associate pastor at the parish. Fr. Burger was still the main pastor, but Fr. Duane Mallon had moved on. Fr. Joseph Haley was his replacement. Fr. Haley was middle-aged with an average build. He was somewhat short with dark black hair.

One day Fr. Haley saw me as I approached the chapel at church to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. He stopped me on the sidewalk. He handed me something. It was a small, golden object with a glass front. Inside and protected by the glass was a very, very tiny object.

“This is a relic of St. Thérèse. There is a tiny fragment of her Carmelite habit and one of her hairs glued inside. I received it years ago and am giving it to you.”

20140908_203129(1)You can imagine how I felt. Of course, we still have that relic today. Over the years, St. Thérèse has been with us in many ways, including sitting on our devotional tables and bookshelves! What a blessing.

Not long after receiving St. Thérèse’s relic, I did the Saint Louis de Montfort thirty-three day preparation for consecration to the Blessed Virgin. On July 16, 1986, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, I made my full consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I had no idea what was about to happen. The rest of my life would be grounded in living out this Marian devotion, and I now had a “big sister,” a “little mother” in Christ to guide me.

I had no idea what was coming…

To be continued….

StM

Chapter 5 (TBD)

Read chapter 3.

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Chapter 3: How my initial devotion to Mary led to total consecration after the Feast Day of St. Thérèse

SJST

Third in the series, “My Life with St. Joan and St. Thérèse.”

Le Royaume 3 for FB with site

1984-85, Guymon Oklahoma

Josey reached out to hand me something. She had a big smile on her face as she did so. It looked like a piece of jewelry, perhaps a necklace of some sort. She held a silver chain with black beads and a crucifix hanging from it. I did not know what it was but suspected that it was not jewelry given our venue at the moment.

We were in the “old” St. Peter’s church, the one that was “off on a side street.” The move to the new church was practically complete, but services and special events still were taking place in the old church. I was in the middle of our RCIA class schedule, classes that met every Monday night at the parish hall in the new Church on Quinn Street. Despite the very moving spiritual experiences coming out of my conversion on the Feast Day of St. Thérèse in October, I had yet to formerly and publicly declare that I was joining the Catholic Church. My heart was converted. So was my head. But the actual will to make the final decision lagged. However, I certainly enjoyed attending these church events with my bride-to-be. For sure, I was feeling more comfortable.

I do not recall the specific activity that drew us there that afternoon. However, I do remember that there was a multitude of gift items for sale in the back of the sanctuary, all spread out on a variety of folding tables. They were selling Catholic books, pictures, and these jewelry looking things similar to the one Josey handed to me.

“Lovely. What is it?” I had a pleasantly perplexed look on my face.

“It’s a rosary. You need one of these,” was the reply.

A what?

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She proceeded to explain the rosary to me. I did not really understand it all the first time around; however, I did know this. I knew that it was designed to help us pray that beautiful Hail Mary prayer that had swept me off my feet a couple of months earlier in the RCIA class. I knew it was a devotion to Mary and through her to Our Lord. To pray the rosary was to pray that heart-warming Hail Mary over and over along with the Our Father and a few other short prayers.

I loved it. I began praying it on a daily basis, sometimes even several times a day. My heart was attached to Mary, and this prayer, using these beads, seemed like the perfect path to draw closer to her. From the moment Josey handed me my first rosary, it became, and remains today, my most cherished devotion after the Mass, the Sacraments, and Eucharistic Adoration.

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Sitting on my couch at home after lunch one afternoon in December, I was praying that rosary. Often I would drive the short distance from work at the family business to our home for lunch. Guymon was a small town with around six thousand residents at the time. Commuting was no issue.

As I prayed the rosary that afternoon, it hit me. I decided that I must join the Catholic Church. The formal decision was made. That was followed by my public declaration which led to me being scheduled for entry into the Church the following Easter of 1985.

I did enter the Church that Easter. Josey and I were married the following Saturday. By the next day, we were off to Hawaii. The man who boarded that plane for paradise with his new bride was truly a different man than the one a week earlier. I was not only married. I was Catholic.

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The following months were filled with much activity and anticipation. Work obviously occupied a significant amount of my time, but, in addition, we were buying a new home. Just like the new church of St. Peter’s and the new rectory, our home was going to be brand new. We were excited. Between picking our colors, cabinets, and carpet, we had to deal with securing financing. Everything was a blur. By the middle of that summer, the summer of 1985, we were in our new home. In a little less than one year after I had proposed to Josey and she had accepted with her, “Yes, however…” response, I was married, Catholic, and a new home owner. Things were moving quickly.

One sunny, hot Sunday afternoon that summer, while Josey and I were enjoying some leisure time around our new home, we heard the doorbell ring. It was Delilah. Delilah was Josey’s cousin who lived in town and attended St. Peter’s as well. Josey had a fairly large number of cousins, aunts, and uncles in Guymon. It was because of her family in Guymon that she had come to town in the first place. It was because of her family there that she returned from El Paso to visit that previous summer which gave me the opportunity to ask her out on a date to start this whole ball rolling. Delilah was one of those cousins. She was only about a year or two older than we were.

Delilah walked into our living room and, with a broad smile, handed me two books. The first was The Glories of Mary by St. Alphonsus de Liguori. The second was True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort. Delilah knew that I had developed a great love for Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, during my conversion. She did not stay long. She simply said that she thought I would enjoy those books. How true and prophetic was that statement! After a few pleasantries, she left.

Glories of Mary

It did not take me long to get into those books. The first one I read was The Glories of Mary. I was astonished at how well developed the theology of Mary was in Catholic tradition. I was also delighted. St. Alphonsus’ praises for Mary seemed to leap from the pages like streams of holy fire to ignite the flames of devotion for Mary in my heart.

True Devotion

After completing that book, I dove into True Devotion to Mary by de Montfort. As with my experience on the Feast day of St. Thérèse the previous October, I had no way of knowing at the time what was about to happen to me. I was about to enter into a lifelong journey, a journey that continues to this day and is reflected in the very writings you are reading here. True Devotion to Mary was to become the cornerstone of my spiritual life. For True Devotion to Mary, as the saint explains, is the safest, surest, and easiest way to Jesus Christ who is the true cornerstone of the Church. To devote oneself to Mary is to devote oneself to Jesus in the most sublime and intimate manner. I was about discover a devotion that is one of the richest treasures in all of Church tradition.

I poured over de Montfort’s book. I was dumbfounded at his thesis. Reflecting on his words, I realized that I must do this. I must do this thing about which he spoke. He was speaking of total, complete, and perfect consecration to the Mother of God. I realized that the love I had developed for Mary over the past year was just the tip of the iceberg. Mary was asking me for a much deeper relationship. Mary was asking me to completely consecrate myself to her in order that I might find the fullness of Jesus Christ her Son Who is our only salvation.

The Mother of God was asking for my life. I made the decision to give it to her.

Little did I know that in order to help me actually fulfill this consecration, Mary was preparing to formerly introduce me to my spiritual sister, the one through whose behind-the-scenes, anonymous intercession my conversion was wrought the previous October. I was about to learn who St. Thérèse of Lisieux was in order to develop a relationship with her. Through my relationship with St. Thérèse, I would be reunited with St. Joan of Arc. Together, they would guide me for the rest of my life along the trail that leads to the center of Mary’s Immaculate Heart where Jesus Christ reigns in all His glory.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

To be continued….

StM

Read chapter 4.

Read chapter 2.

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