A year’s worth of gratitude

As the New Year begins, I am pausing to give thanks to God, and I also want to thank you everyone who has prayed for me this past year.

In January 2012 I had the overwhelming joy of teaching on an academic level for the first time, when I was invited by the rector of the Pontifical College Josephinum to address the seminarians there about “Celibacy and Communion in John Paul II’s Catechesis on Human Love.” I wrote afterwards on my personal blog, The Dawn Patrol,

I don’t know where to begin describing what it meant for me to give those talks and witness the response, because the entire experience was filled with signal graces. There was the applause, which was wonderful—both my second and third talks received standing ovations. There was also the gratitude that the seminarians expressed personally. For example, after every one of my talks, a different seminarian thanked me for discussing “sacramental theology.” To me, having been immersed in a Thomistic study environment for the past three and a half years, it’s all simply “theology,” minus the qualifiers. It was a joy to discover that, just by passing on what I had been taking in at school, I could help seminarians gain insight into the meaning of the sacraments they would soon be celebrating.

The next several months were taken up with finishing out my second year of post-M.A. studies in theology (working towards a pontifical licentiate so that I might then study for a sacred theology doctorate), and also taking the last of my philosophy requirements. I ended the spring semester with a B in the philosophy class—but, for the first time in my life, straight A’s in all four of my theology classes. That too was a great vocational reassurance for me, helping me realize that if I trusted in the Lord, He would make my dreams come to pass.

Especially wonderful was to be able to keep pace academically even as I began to speak and give interviews about my second book, My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints as it came out in April.

I was worried about how I was going to speak to audiences about the book’s topic, which is a Catholic spirituality of healing for adults who have suffered childhood sexual abuse. Indeed, apart from my first talk upon the book’s publication, a packed hometown gig at the Catholic Information Center (see video here) where I had the encouragement of many friends and family in the audience, my initial talks felt “purgative,” as I told NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez. I didn’t yet know how to make audiences feel at ease when hearing about such a rarely discussed topic.

I felt like I turned the corner when I spoke in Cincinnati in early July. The sponsors had kindly acceded to my request to stay at a retreat house where I could be near the Blessed Sacrament, and while there I had time to contemplate how to restructure my talk. Remembering Barbara Nicolosi Harrington’s long-ago advice to cut out the expository stuff and focus on story, I found a way to say what I wanted to say about My Peace I Give You by focusing on key events in my conversion and healing. (Click here to download one such talk, given August 15 to the St. Thomas More Society of Orange County, Calif.) What a joy it was to finally be able to share the Good News of Christian suffering with audiences without worrying I was causing them suffering! People did start to cry at my talks, but afterwards they would come up and thank me, telling me how glad they were to know they were not alone. What a blessing!

Everywhere I went on tour during the summer, people were wonderfully generous, welcoming me into their homes and shepherding me around, giving me not only food and accommodations, but also kind companionship. In town after town, the sponsor or volunteer caring for me would offer to take me to an Adoration chapel, and would gladly go out of his or her way to help me find a confessor or a daily Mass. I felt like a true missionary, being privileged to see the Mystical Body in action from a much wider perspective than I would normally have. What struck me the most was how Eucharistic my sponsors and volunteers were. They were each unique in personality, yet they were fundamentally like members of the same family, sharing the same great Love, wanting to see the Eucharistic face of their Beloved.

Finally it was time to return home and to school, to another terrifically challenging and at the same time terrifically rewarding semester. My five courses in the fall included Intermediate Greek and a Latin reading course on St. Thomas Aquinas’s Commentary on the the Gospel of John. I was grieved that the sheer weight of coursework prevented me from being able to memorize the various declensions, conjugations, etc., as I would have liked. But I muddled my way through, improving my performance over time, and loved every minute of it.

Being able to make it through advanced Greek and Latin studies had special meaning for me, because for so long, as I write in My Peace I Give You, I lived in fear of exercising my memory. There is really no way to describe the effects of post-traumatic stress to one who has not experienced it. It can be paralyzing, making one reluctant to engage in strenuous mental activity for fear that making certain kinds of neural connections might cause flashbacks to crop up. The simultaneous Greek and Latin courses forced me to confront my fears.  When I did, I discovered capabilities I never knew I had. It was like the Lord had given me back years that the locust had eaten.

To describe all the blessings of the year, many of which were of a more personal nature (including joys brought by family, friends, schoolmates, and professors) would be an impossible task. But I would be remiss if I did not mention two other very special public moments: being interviewed by Patrick Madrid on “Catholic Answers Live”  and attaining the long-held dream of sharing my conversion story with Marcus Grodi on EWTN’s “The Journey Home.”

These many joys would not be possible without the prayers of friends, family, and readers. Thank you! Know that I pray every morning, and at every Mass, for all who support my apostolate. So you are very much covered!

Here is an intention for 2013: Please pray that I may be able to bring the message of My Peace I Give You to prisoners, and especially to those at the New Hampshire men’s prison, where I have heard my book is bringing comfort to Catholic inmates. That, along with a diocesan vocation in which I may live more fully the mystery of spiritual motherhood through obedience and continence for the kingdom, is my heart’s desire.

* * *

Although I have a small amount of income from writing and the occasional non-volunteer talk, as well as student loans, my studies and apostolate are mostly financed by donations. It has been a great help when readers have assisted in purchasing the books I need for school. If you would like to donate a book, here is my Amazon Wish List of the ones I will need for the spring semester. (Unfortunately the Amazon list does not allow for sending used books, but I would gladly accept them. If you need my shipping address, send me a message.)

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