On how I became Catholic and devoted to Sts. Joan, Thérèse, and the French Monarchy
I could not have been raised in a more distant land, culture, or political belief system from that which is stated in the topic of this essay. Even my religious beliefs of youth, though still Christian, were quite different from what they are now. I hope to outline in this essay, for any who might be interested, just how it has come about that I would be Catholic, be strongly attached to Sts. Joan of Arc and Thérèse of Lisieux, and be a Monarchist. I do not intend to do anything but give an explanation of the “how” it came about. No attempt is made here to justify or defend my positions. This is, in the most simplistic terms, a testimonial, rather than an apologetic.
I was raised in the small (though delightful to me), somewhat isolated community of Guymon, Oklahoma on the high plains in the far western regions of that great state and was dutifully taught, both directly and by cultural osmosis, the ideals of Protestant religion and Republican politics. (For purposes of this essay, the term “Republican” refers to the governmental, institutional form rather than to the political party of the same name).
In my small part of that likewise small universe, Protestantism was the unquestioned form of proper Christian religion, and the Republic was the unquestioned form of proper government. Protestantism represented “freedom” (and, of course, eternal salvation) from the dogmatic, enslaving, institutional, monarchical Catholic Church which itself had something to do with some enigmatic, frightful era called the Dark Ages, and the Republic represented “freedom” from the dictatorial, monarchical European political systems associated with that same Dark Age Church. As a young man growing up in the rugged (though beautiful in its own way) Oklahoma Panhandle, attending High School, hanging out at the bowling alley, “dragging main” (i.e., driving up and down the main street), playing basketball, throwing rocks into the local lake on lazy summer days, and otherwise just being carefree, nothing could have made more sense. Of course, all of that was right. It just sounded so right. Never mind all that, though, let’s skip one more rock and go shoot some baskets.
I did well both academically and socially through high school and after graduation in 1977 was off to study Economics at Princeton University on the east coast. There I added an important leg to my “stool” that represented my principles by which I would “step up” in the world, that leg being the principle of Capitalism. Now, the earthly trinity of Republicanism, Capitalism, and Protestantism were confirmed in my mind and soul. Republicans were politically “free,” Capitalists were virtuously “rich,” and Protestants were easily “saved” (through their “freedom” from the Catholic Church, that Dark Ages thing.) It was all quite tidy: live free, die rich, and go to heaven. Of course, all of that was right. It just sounded so right. Never mind all that, though, let’s go have another beer.
After college graduation in 1981, I began my professional career working for the United States Steel Corporation, otherwise known as US Steel. It was only a few years after that that my father talked me into moving back to Guymon to help him with the family agricultural tool manufacturing business. Once back home in January of 1984, at the age 24, something earth shattering happened. I became reacquainted with the woman, who was to be, and remains to this day, my wife. We dated for only a short while, a few months, before I nervously dropped the “big” question.
Josey in one way was outside of the comfortable little world model I had built in my mind. She was Catholic. She was, I might emphasize, firmly Catholic. My first experience with anything resembling Catholic dogma and monarchy occurred on the night I proposed. She said that she would marry me; though, she made it clear that she was Catholic, would always be Catholic, all of our children would have to be Catholic, and I would have to attend the Catholic Church with her and the family. However, other than that, I could be whatever religion I wanted! Her statements were not positioned as discussion points nor was she asking for my opinion on the matter. It was the way things were going to be. Queen Isabelle of Spain could not have been more decisive or clear.
For my part, all I really heard that mattered was that she would marry me. She was (and still is) very beautiful, and she said that she would marry me. As that last phrase rang through my mind, one of the legs on my stool swiftly cracked, and I found myself planted in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) class at the local Catholic Church the next month. It mattered not to me, this religion business, so long as she would marry me when it was over. A man has to have his priorities in right order (especially when he is marrying so far out of his league that he may not have another opportunity like this one)!
A couple of classes later, on October 1, 1984, the Feast day of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (though I had no clue who she was or what the day represented), I experienced a profound conversion to the Church. I did not decide to join her that day, but I became unshakably convinced of her authenticity and of her claims. About one second after that moment of enlightenment, I realized that the Eucharist is truly and substantially the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It all happened in about two seconds. Without me knowing even who she was, St. Thérèse of Lisieux brought about my conversion through the blessing and heart of Immaculate Mary, and I became (though I did not yet know it) Thérèse’s brother in spiritual blood through the fire of the Holy Spirit who arcs through time and space to work these miracles. No one can shake this conviction from me, unless the grace of God is removed from me.
I was introduced to, and began praying, the Rosary regularly. Through that praying, I decided, in December of that year, 1984, that I would join the Catholic Church. I did so that next Easter of 1985, and shortly thereafter, I was given two books, “True Devotion to Mary” by St. Louis de Montfort and “The Glories of Mary” by St. Alphonsus. I also came across and read, “The Story of Soul” by St. Thérèse, not realizing that I was then being introduced to my sister in Christ. I understood very little of what Thérèse was saying; I only knew that I liked it. What she was saying was beautiful. I just did not know what it really was that she was saying. Yet, all said, that was that, and I was happily a Catholic and had replaced that metaphorical broken stool leg with a new one. However, it was like replacing a leg on a real piece of furniture. The new leg did not really match the others. To be complete, I needed to replace the other two legs, but I had no idea at the time.
The immediate outcome of my newfound joy in the huge mansion of the Catholic Church was, of all things, suffering and worldly failure. This remarkable feature was not what I had expected, given that I still held the leg labeled, “rich” (capitalism), under my metaphoric stool of life’s principles by which to live. The family business failed under my leadership. This was the first major failure I had experienced in life, and it would take me most of my adult life to recover from it. I would run from this failure for the next 16 years. Yet, strikingly, this obtuse relationship between the spirit and the world was to happen repeatedly. Three times, I have had notable, life giving experiences with the Virgin Mary, and each time I have lost my employment within a short period of time afterwards. One might site this amusingly as an example that devotion to our holy Mother is hard on the pocketbook! Indeed, in earthly terms, this might be true. However, over the years, I have learned that the true message is, “seek first the Kingdom of God” and do not trust in your own ingenuity and power. Our Lady has purposely, and repeatedly, left me at key moments in my life with no other option than that of abandoning myself to her. That is a good thing, not a bad thing.
My new bride and I packed up our belongings to move to New Haven, Connecticut where I had decided to attend the Yale School of Organization and Management in an attempt to recover my sense of self worth and to resurrect my career. In purely earthly terms, it worked. After graduation, I was hired by the elite executive consulting group of Booz Allen and Hamilton out of their New York City office. That would begin the very long run away from my failure in Guymon to an imaginary vision of success, wealth, and power, which in turn would prove to me, and to others back home, that I was not a failure. Despite the early stages of Thérèse’s spiritual guidance in my life, I had not yet abandoned the other two legs of my famous “stool” by which I would “ascend” to greatness in the world. I would be Catholic, worldly, rich, and powerful. That combination proved to be the foul tasting formula by which I would become lukewarm in my faith and by which Our Lord had said that He would vomit us out of His most holy mouth. He did vomit me out of His mouth, as is only just, for I had become an abomination. His complete rejection of my lukewarm fence-riding and of my attempts to keep one foot in His Kingdom and one in the devil’s proved to be a most miraculous and loving chastisement, for, another most profound moment of conversion awaited me.
During all of those years of running, hiding, and trying to prove my worth to the world after my devastating failure in Guymon, my faith in Jesus Christ in His Eucharist, in His Church, in His most glorious Mother, and in my love for St. Thérèse, never waned. I was not on the path of goodness, but goodness had planted herself in my heart. That seed was the Kingdom of God. Though I was unfaithful, He was faithful. I was wretched, but I nevertheless recognized goodness.
To this latter point, in the early years after my conversion, my love for my newly discovered saintly sister, who had been a Carmelite nun in Lisieux, France, led Josey and I to seek out the Secular Order of the Discalced Carmelites in Oklahoma City. We joined a group at St. Joseph’s Monastery in Piedmont. While we would ultimately not make our final vows (mostly due to my insistence on being rich and powerful in the world, which super-ceded all other principles), those moments of study and prayer with the Sisters there would have a lasting impact on me. I still pray the Divine Office to this day. In addition to all of this, our local priest gave us a certified relic of St. Thérèse’s which we still possess to this day (though for the past few years, this relic was in the hands of a friend who recently passed away from breast cancer).
St. Thérèse of Lisieux was given the grace by our most worthy Mother in heaven to intercede on my behalf for all of those years. Despite my egregious misbehavior and misguided priorities, the faith always remained whole in me. Our Lord’s gift to me through the Immaculate Heart of Mary was this daughter of God to throw herself in front of me and to protect me during my ill-fated, self-driven sojourn into darkness. No one can shake this conviction from me, unless the grace of God is removed from me. Though all goodness and merits derive from our most Holy Lord Jesus Christ, Who is God and the only Savior of the human race, I owe my life to Our Lady and, in closest proximity of grace, to St. Thérèse.
I also owe my life to one other magnificent saint. I mentioned above a powerful chastisement and moment of conversion. After 16 years of self-generated nonsense, whereby my dear sister Thérèse covered me like a blanket, for I was unwilling to live out my baptismal promises that were clearly re-ignited in me on the Feast of St. Thérèse, the Lord allowed that I should fall flat and nearly die. I was broken spiritually, mentally, emotionally, socially, and almost physically. This punishment was a most just and loving act by Our Savior, for I was truly living a most disgraceful existence, having been absorbed into the “world.” There is no compromise with the world. If you have one foot in the world, you will soon be all in the world (that is, hell on earth).
Close to complete break-down, even physical death, the moment had arrived. Our Lady and St. Thérèse, by the gracious charity of Jesus Christ and for His purposes, as all things were created through Him and for Him, interceded for me that I might be put right. On July 17, 2006, my world was so profoundly altered that I have since become a new creation; I have become the base element for that form which I am in the mind of God. I am not the fulfillment of that person, but I was radically changed in my core being to begin moving toward that final end principle. I began the journey of being who I truly am. The chains of hell fell from me that day. The seed that had been planted in my soul on the Feast Day of St. Thérèse in 1984 through the fire of the Holy Spirit fell and died. New life began to grow.
It happened while I was attending a week long retreat in the Pocono Mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania. On the first evening, I went to confession and then stepped before a statue of the most holy Virgin Mary in the beautiful sanctuary of the abandoned seminary where the retreat was being held. I was healed in that instant. I was healed through the loving cooperation of St. Thérèse’s spiritual sister, St. Joan of Arc. How I came to understand this is too lengthy to reproduce here but is the subject matter of my second book, “Seek First the Kingdom – The March of Hope,” and it may be re-visited in my essay, “On my devotion to St. Joan and St. Thérèse.”
The astonishing fact is that Our Lady had granted that I be restored to the path of my destiny in the mind of God by the magnificent co-patronesses of France. Our Lady allowed that I would know that she was the channel of the Holy Spirit (her being, of course, the spouse of the Holy Spirit) in my life and that St. Joan and St. Thérèse were my consecrated sisters in Christ, who, by the grace given in the Holy Spirit which derives from the infinite merits of Jesus Christ our Lord, were given to me as those destined to lead me on my journey to the Kingdom. This was the will of Jesus Christ in the divine order. Sts. Joan and Thérèse are truly worthy of my honor, and it would be a most egregious offense to Our Lady and to Our Lord for me not to submit myself accordingly. No one can shake this conviction from me, unless the grace of God is removed from me. That I am unworthy of such a gift is beyond dispute. That this is a free gift through the merits of Jesus Christ is also beyond dispute. That, if I am by grace allowed into heaven I will be the lowest and the last in the Kingdom, is a distinct possibility. By justice, I should be thrown in hell, and Our Lord would be, in fact, most just to do so.
Over the years, the other two legs of my aforementioned stool began to crack as well. Under the influence of St. Joan of Arc, I began to write. It was she who gave me the courage to march forward in such a bold fashion. No one can shake this conviction from me, unless the grace of God is removed from me. This daughter of God has had a most profound influence on me. I can say with certainty that through St. Joan, I became more medieval in my mindset with regard to politics, culture, and religion. Initially I thought that this might be simply due to her historical context. I was to learn otherwise. This mindset transcended time and space. It had not so much to do with “medieval” versus “modern” as it did, the “Kingdom of God” versus the “Kingdom of Satan.” St. Joan was not instructing me on how things were back in her time. She was instructing me on how to view things in my own time.
I began to read the writings of G.K. Chesterton, the famous Catholic convert from the early 20th century. I also began to read the writings of a good friend of his, Hilaire Belloc. Between the two of them, I was hearing for the first time an entirely new paradigm with regard to understanding history, culture, and politics. Mr. Belloc gave me a new look at the history of that “Dark Ages” Church. I came to understand that it was that Catholic Church that had saved the West after the fall of the pagan Roman Empire. That Church was the only pan-European institution that could have held together a dying empire as it did go into that Dark Age (resulting from the decay of the old empire, not from some imagined enslavement by a new one under the Church). More astonishingly, I discovered that it was that same Catholic Church that had then gone on to build Western civilization on the ashes of the old. The university system, the revival of the Greek classics and Greek philosophy, the development of high art, architecture, music, and a chivalric social order where even wars that were fought had rules of decency were the result. No one ever told me that before.
Mr. Chesterton, for his part, introduced me to the profound conclusion that democracy and dictatorial socialism were merely opposite sides of the same coin, not opposite sides of the conservative-liberal divide. True conservatism was the Monarchy with its foundation in the law of God rather than the law, or “will,” of the people (whose nature is whimsical rather than lasting). Liberalism was the revolution against God’s lasting order through either the dictatorship of the state or the dictatorship of the “people.” Choose your poison. Chesterton also introduced me to the astonishing conclusion that capitalism and socialism were merely opposite sides of the same coin, not opposite sides of the conservative-liberal divide. True conservatism was the more medieval concept of distributism, whereby economic growth was a subordinate principle to keeping the means of production and distribution local to the villages. Multi-nationals were out. The locally owned drug store on the corner of Main Street was in. Social and cultural cohesion were higher principles than “lowest cost” production and “comparative advantage” between nations. No one had ever before presented these ideas to me.
At a certain point in time, as I became more convinced of these claims, I realized that the other two legs of my stool had been snapped. In fact, all three legs of that stool, Protestantism, Republicanism, and Capitalism, had disappeared. In their place stood Catholicism, Monarchy, and Distributism (local means of production and distribution and the emphasis on private ownership and community over an economic expediency that leads to wealth accumulating in the hands of the few). I had been given an entirely new stool, or more properly, an entirely new worldview. Religiously, spiritually, socially, economically, politically, and even physically, I had become something new. Most importantly, I was less concerned, really, with being new. I was more concerned with loving that which made me new and with loving those who were my royal caretakers. To honor Joan and Thérèse is pure joy more than it is rightful duty. I think this is a foretaste of the Kingdom in heaven, that is, in finding joy through obedience to the divine order.
It all began with that precious moment when St. Thérèse of Lisieux, through the Heart of Mary, kneeled before the throne of God on my behalf. It flowered into new life when St. Joan of Arc joined her through the Heart of Mary at that throne. The co-patronesses of France love me, and I love them. They have saved my life. That is the Divine Will as best as I can interpret it through my ever faulty and sinfully inclined spiritual eyes. I am, as an important and obvious caveat, not unique. There are a multitude of people for whom Joan and Thérèse are interceding by the divine grace of God and which is dispensed through the hands and heart of the Holy Virgin. I am the least. You, dear reader, might be among the greatest. If you are, remember me, and do not abandon me.
The Kingdom of France
Could there be any doubt, then, as to why I have such great affection for the Kingdom of France? Here, I do not mean for the dreadful Republic, which finds “freedom” in license, but for the Kingdom of France as represented through her Monarchy over the centuries. I have written poems about my relationship in spirit with “Mystical France.” How could I not love the blessed land of my two saintly sisters who watch over me? To be part of a family or community, you tend to love the same things and to feel repugnance for the same things. You become one in heart, mind, and soul. You tend to think alike. I remember writing my first book, “Journey to Christendom,” whereby I commented that I was “French in spirit if not by birth.” I wrote this well before any of these other revelations were brought to light. It was a somewhat prophetic statement.
I could also repeat here the numerous signs I have been given throughout life that point to my destiny as a spiritual son to the mystical Kingdom of France, over which the regal Thérèse and Joan watch. I could tell you once again about how I first encountered St. Joan while visiting the island fortress of Mont-St Michel as a teenager and many more stories. However, rather than re-write it, let me simply quote a paragraph from my book “Testament for Love – The Pilgrim Dance”:
“In summary, I did have that encounter with Joan of Arc as a teen-ager, while visiting the French countryside of my ancestors where she and Thérèse both lived and died. I was converted to the Church many years later on the Feast Day of St. Thérèse. The first and most powerful spiritual influence on me after conversion was from another French saint of the same region, St. Louis de Montfort. Years later, as I was dying from a terrible illness of body and soul, St. Joan interceded in my life again to demonstrate her own sisterly concern, Mary’s maternal care, and the power of the Cross of Christ. This led to a life restructured through consecration to Mary at the Cathedral of St. Louis the King, and the discovery later that I had been consecrated to St. Joan as well, as my mission in life, the moment she intervened to bring me the healing grace of God. You might agree that this is all very French, indeed, very French for a fellow from the high plains of Oklahoma.”
So, yes, I love the Kingdom of France, as I know it through the eyes and spirits of my saintly sisters. More so, however, I love the Kingdom of God for which the ancient kingdom of France is an archetype. I love the divine aristocracy and Monarchy that is the divine order of God. I love Jesus Christ the King, Holy Mary the glorious Queen, and the honorable, regal saints, especially St. Joan and St. Thérèse.
I quote with delight a prophetic announcement to the 19th century bearer of the stigmata, Marie-Julie Jahenny, by Our Lady, Queen of Heaven and earth, speaking to Jesus, her Son:
“My beloved Son, I have adopted France as my daughter, I have always protected it. It was the lily of my heart.” Amen, sweet Mother! Let us hold the fleur-de-lis close to our hearts knowing that this pleases you!
“To Jesus through Mary in the friendship and sisterly care of Sts. Joan and Thérèse.” Amen so be it.
Finally, I will repeat here, the confirmation phrase used at Joan’s posthumous trial of rehabilitation as her witnesses, one by one, affirmed the saint’s holiness and goodness:
“And so it was and that is the truth.”
This serves as a testimony. What I am saying is true.
No one can shake this conviction from me, unless the grace of God is removed from me. I pray that that will never happen and that I will obtain the grace of final perseverance.