Regnum Christi

Holly Gustafson

Hope for Control Freaks: Two Biblical Images to Help You Surrender in Prayer

Hope for Control Freaks: Two Biblical Images to Help You Surrender in Prayer

There are a lot of words I might use to describe my approach to prayer over the years. Sometimes I’ve been faithful and persevering. Sometimes I’ve been unfocused and fickle.

I’ve been sometimes devoted, often demanding, occasionally attentive, and frequently distracted. But in general, if I had to choose one word to describe my past attitude towards prayer, I would say it was purposeful.


Purposeful prayer does not initially sound like a bad thing. Purposeful prayer sounds persistent and decisive; it’s prayer that knows what it wants and strives to attain it. And this was precisely the problem. I was approaching God in prayer with both the problem and the solution, and reading the Gospel already knowing the message I wanted (and thought I needed) to hear. It was as though my prayer was simply me saying “Here’s the situation, God, and here’s how I think You should handle it”. Or “Don’t worry, God, I’ve got this. You just sit there and listen.”


The trick is: how do I approach prayer with less self-driven purpose, setting aside all my presumptions about what I think I need and what I think God wants to say to me, and instead come to prayer with an attitude of surrender? 


Because I’m a visual person, images often give me inspiration, provide something on which to center my thoughts, and help me to focus. Here are two images that I call to mind in order to help me surrender in prayer. If you’re someone who likes to be in control of everything, including your relationship with God, they might help you take first steps to letting go:


The Lifted Lamb


“For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand. O that today you would hearken to His voice, harden not your hearts!” Psalm 95:7


One of my favourite images of surrender to God is the lost lamb. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us the parable of the shepherd who, having lost one of his sheep, will leave the ninety-nine to go after the one that is lost, until he finds it. “And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” 


The little lost sheep does nothing in this parable. He does not actively seek his shepherd; he is merely found. And when he is found, he does not even actively follow the shepherd on his own; he merely allows himself to be lifted up onto the shoulders of the shepherd, to be carried. The sheep does nothing but consent to be lifted up.


I realized that I was approaching prayer as the one doing all the seeking, all the leading, and, most importantly, all the talking. The first change I made in my prayer life was to be quiet. The image of the lost lamb – sought, found, and lifted up – helped me to approach prayer with an attitude of silence instead of speaking, of trusting God enough to know that I don’t have to scramble to make myself, my concerns, and my intentions known. In silence, I consent to stop leading, and instead allow myself to be found and lifted up by God.


The Melted Wax 


“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm.” Song of Songs 8:6

As I was reading The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila provided me with another image with which to open my prayer: the melted seal. Teresa uses this metaphor to describe the ideal state of the soul in regard to God’s will: we are to be like wax when a seal is impressed upon it. The wax does not impress itself with the seal, she explains, but is merely soft. And the wax doesn’t even soften itself; “it merely remains quiet and consenting.” 


Imagining myself as wax, willing to be softened of my hardened habits, and prepared to be impressed with His seal is another helpful tool in learning to surrender myself in prayer, and ultimately to God’s will. “All You want is our will,” says St. Teresa, “and ask that Thy wax may offer no impediment.”


Instead of approaching prayer with a set of problems (and possible solutions from which God may choose!), I tried simply to soften myself to His will, and set aside my need to control both my life, and my prayer. While I’d love to come away from prayer each day feeling like all my problems will get solved if I follow a precise God-given, Spirit-inspired action plan, I’ve finally realized that that’s not the point. Prayer isn’t about gaining control of my day, my life, and my soul. It’s about surrendering that control to a God Who will do a much better job of it all anyways.

Hope for Control Freaks: Two Biblical Images to Help You Surrender in Prayer Read More »

Lenten Resolutions to Improve Your Relationship With Food

Lenten Resolutions to Improve Your Relationship With Food

“It’s complicated.”


That’s how I’d describe my relationship with food. And let’s face it: living in this body- and beauty-focused world can be tough on the old self-image. On any given day, you can probably find me wishing I were thinner or fitter, or wondering if I should be hopping on the newest fad diet. And it’s easy for me to only see food as “good” or “bad,” as something to control (or else be controlled by), instead of what it is truly meant to be: nourishment.


If you’re like me, and longing to re-establish a healthy and uncomplicated relationship with food, here are some things I’ll be trying this Lent. Choose one resolution from each category, and approach Lent as the season of healing that it is meant to be.



…from mindless eating


Eat intentionally, by not doing anything else (like working, watching TV, or scrolling through your phone) while you eat. Don’t eat standing up; always set the table or place when you eat, even when you’re eating alone. Eat when you’re hungry, and not when you’re not, paying attention to your body’s cues that you’ve had enough.


…from needing to see “results


“Our progress has nothing to do with the body, which is the thing that matters least,” says St. Teresa of Avila. Focus on fidelity to your Lenten resolution, and not the physical fruits it might produce, by ditching the scale, and even tucking your full-length mirror away in the closet.


…from food that won’t give you the added benefit of weight loss


If you like the idea of traditional fasting from food, but fear you will focus more on the physical benefits of fasting than on the spiritual, fast from food items that won’t cause you to lost weight (like artificial sweeteners, salt and pepper, or ice in your drinks).



…grace at every meal (and snack!)


Get in the custom of praying before every meal, even if it’s just a midday coffee or a small evening snack. Build the habit of gratitude for every bite.


…the Word of God daily


“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Remember that your daily prayer is the greatest nourishment you will receive each day, and make extra time and effort to contemplate the Gospels this Lent.


…for virtue 


Instead of focusing on being thin, or even fit and healthy, which in itself does not necessarily make us more available to God’s love and mercy, concentrate on the virtues. Pray for detachment from the bad habits you might be clinging to, self-mastery over your passions, fortitude in the face of temptation, and temperance in all things.



…time, food, or money to the hungry


 Spend time this Lent around people who might not have the privilege of overeating, eating according to a specific diet, or being picky about what they eat by volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating to a food bank.


…a meal to someone in need


Once a week, deliver a meal to a person or a family in need, like an elderly neighbour who lives alone, or a family with a brand new baby.


…your time 


Make a point to meet someone for coffee, invite a family for brunch or supper, or have friends over for drinks once a week, acknowledging that food is meant to nurture relationships as much as it’s meant to nourish our bodies.

Lenten Resolutions to Improve Your Relationship With Food Read More »

Lenten Resolutions for Your Mental Health

Lenten Resolutions for Your Mental Health

Several years ago I went through a long bout of anxiety (you can read about it here). While I’m feeling much better now, I know that my anxiety is something that needs to be continuously managed, and my mental health must be continuously maintained. During that period when Lent came around, I focused on resolutions that will nurtured both my spiritual and mental health, and drew me closer to God, the only true source of peace. Here’s what I did:


1. Consistent prayer


St. John Chrysostom called prayer “a place of refuge for every worry” and “a foundation for cheerfulness.” Most years, I make a plan for a daily prayer routine to follow during Lent. In this case, it included a novena or simple prayer to St. Dymphna, patron saint of mental health.


2. Walking outside every day, rain or shine (or snow)


Walking – especially outside – is great for your mental health, but it can also be a sacrifice, especially on the Canadian prairies; the season of Lent is usually a cold one here, and leaving my cozy couch is an act of mortification in itself! But I know it’s good for my mental and physical health to get outside, and good for my soul to offer up something I don’t always feel like doing.


3. Reading peace


Father Jacques Philippe’s Searching for and Maintaining Peace is a lovely little tome full of great advice, like “nourish your own heart and return it to peace by gazing with love on Jesus,” and “Abandon yourself anyway!” I’ve never read Hallie Lord’s book On the Other Side of Fear: How I Found Peace, but it sounds like it might be a good fit too.


4. Focusing on others


“Joy, with peace, is the sister of charity,” said Padre Pio. “Serve the Lord with laughter.” If I want to feel more joy and peace, I need only love and serve more. I came up with a concrete plan on how to serve others, particularly my family, with selflessness, cheerfulness and charity. “The soul of the one who serves always swims with joy,” said St. John of the Cross, and that promise of joy sounds like just what the doctor ordered.


If these resolutions aren’t fitting the bill, you might try:


Lenten Resolutions to Improve Your Relationship with Food


Lenten Resolutions for Your Marriage


Lenten Resolutions for Your Mental Health Read More »

Lenten Resolutions When You Have Relationships in Need of Healing

Lenten Resolutions When You Have Relationships in Need of Healing

I consider myself a pretty likeable person, but it’s only because my vanity makes it so reasonably unpleasant to be disliked. Over the years, I’ve had to work on my disordered desire to choose peace and people-pleasing over walking courageously through the conflict. I’d much rather concede than fight if it means that the relationships in my life will be easy, serene, and tension-free.


I’ve pretty much succeeded at my goal of being likeable, even if at times it has meant being unhealthily agreeable… until recently. Despite all my best efforts, I am, indeed, disliked. And for a peace-craving, people-pleaser like me, that is extremely uncomfortable. 


Christ, of course, had it much worse than me – he was hated literally to death. My feeling mildly uncomfortable because someone is less than enamored with me doesn’t seem to qualify as walking in the footsteps of Christ, experiencing His rejection, and uniting with His suffering, but I know by the way He has accompanied me through this discomfort that His love and mercy are meant for this space in my life. There is healing waiting for me here.


Wounded relationships take as many forms as there are reasons to be hurt; whatever yours might be (a suffering marriage, a conflict-riddled relationship, or strained family ties), there is healing to be had. The healing might not look like you or I want it to (a perfect resolution, peace, and everyone happy in the end), but I know that Christ wants to heal me here, in a way according to His perfect, peace-filled will. And I’m going to be spending this Lent offering up the brokenness, and the wounds that it has created, for healing, however that may look.


Here are some resolutions to unite a broken or hurting relationship to Christ throughout your Lenten journey this year:


Pray the Litany of Humility


I have a love-hate relationship with the Litany of Humility. It’s such a beautiful prayer, but oh so painful to pray sometimes. “From the desire of being loved, preferred and approved, free me, Jesus. From the fear of being despised, ridiculed, and suspected, free me, Jesus.” Praying this prayer reveals to me just how strong my desire to be loved and my fear of being rejected truly is, and yet, at the same time, it offers me freedom from both.


Pray for the ones who have hurt you.


Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:44 to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Make a concrete plan (a daily rosary, for example) to pray for the good of those with whom you have a complicated or wounded relationship.


Unite your sufferings with Jesus.


Reflect specifically on Christ’s experiences of rejection: the betrayal by Judas, the loneliness of the Cross, the denial of Peter. Read the Passion, pray the stations, or recite the rosary seeking unity with Christ in the experiences and mysteries that reflect His being hated, rejected, and abandoned. He wishes to pour out healing there.


Reach out, if it’s possible.


Over the past year, I’ve come to the uncomfortable conclusion that not all relationships are within my power to fix, despite the emotional acrobatics I’ve put myself through trying. Some wounds require boundaries and distance that only prayer can cross. But if it’s within your power to do something towards healing, do it this Lent. Make the phone call, arrange the meeting, give the long-overdue embrace; ask Christ how He wants you to participate in the healing of the brokenness in your own life.


If you’re blessed enough not to need these resolutions, you might be interested in:


Lenten Resolutions for Your Mental Health 


Lenten Resolutions to Improve Your Relationship With Food


Lenten Resolutions for Your Marriage

Lenten Resolutions When You Have Relationships in Need of Healing Read More »

Virtue of the Month – March “Now. Here. This.”: The Virtue of Presence

Virtue of the Month – March “Now. Here. This.”: The Virtue of Presence

As a parent, I’ve developed some unique talents. I can disassemble and pack up a snare drum practice pad in the time between when my son remembers that it’s band lesson day and when the bus arrives at our door (about 18 seconds). I can coordinate a weekend soccer schedule of three children playing on six different teams (and I’ve only shown up to a game with the wrong child once!). I can get a week’s worth of groceries for a family of seven during a single modern dance class. And I can tune a fiddle in a noisy ballet studio hallway. It’s a busy, busy life stage (that period when everyone’s in a thousand activities, but no one can drive themselves), but I’ve become pretty good at making every minute count.


Being a busy parent has made me very efficient at going and doing and getting things done, but over time, it’s made me pretty lousy at just being present.


I’ve been noticing that in all the different areas of my life, I struggle to be fully present in the moment; instead, I’m constantly demanding of myself what more or what else I should be doing. When it comes to my family and its busy schedule, I’ve got the virtues of Orderliness, Purposefulness, and Good Use of Time mastered, but the virtue that I really need to work on is the Virtue of Presence.



“Presence is about being one’s self for someone else; it is refusing the temptation to withdraw mentally and emotionally, but it is also an occasion for putting our own body’s weight and shape alongside the neighbour, the friend, the lover.” – James McClendon


If you, like me, struggle to pause once in a while in the chaos of a busy family life, here are some ways to practice the Virtue of Presence with your family, your neighbour, and with God.


The Hour(s) of Presence


We’ve got a pretty strict rule of not allowing phones at the dinner table. One day, my youngest daughter and I made a trip to the dollar store where she chose a basket that would house our phones during our meals, and since then she’s been unyieldingly firm in enforcing the law. However, lately I’ve been challenging myself to extend this half hour of Presence that we impose during mealtime. Could I set aside my phone and my projects when the children tumble into the house, home from school, hungry and tired and sometimes even wanting to talk? And what about after supper, when we’re all tempted to go our separate ways, withdrawing into our rooms or our screens? The habit of being truly present to each other during dinnertime is a great start towards the virtue of Presence, and the best part is, it makes me long for more.


Presence in the Blank Spaces


I don’t know exactly when it happened, but I’ve become one of those people who can’t stand to be doing nothing. Even when I’m in the grocery store express line, I’ll use the thirty or so seconds between the time I put my items on the conveyor belt and the time it’s my turn to pay to quickly check my texts and emails. I carry a book with me whenever I pick up the kids from soccer, just in case I might have to face the agony of having nothing to do for three minutes before practice is over. I often catch myself walking while scrolling through my phone; I read while I blow-dry my hair. Every single minute is filled right up.


And yet I am fully aware that if I fill up every minute, there’s no space for anything – or anybody – else; after all, it’s in the empty spaces between the seemingly more important transactions when meaningful encounters truly occur. In the empty spaces, I notice the tired mother in the check out line, who looks like she needs an encouraging smile. In the empty spaces, I chat with a new parent in front of the school, and find out that he is recently widowed. In the empty spaces, I make myself available for an encounter with my neighbour, and make myself open to the Ministry of Presence. 


As tempting as it is to fill the empty seconds and minutes with something – anything! – to do, I know that God needs me so save some space for an encounter with my neighbour. Perhaps it is Taylor Swift who said it best: “I’ve got a blank space, baby, and I’ll write your name.”


“Now. Here. This.”


This habit that I’ve developed as a parent, of staying and keeping efficiently busy, hasn’t had a positive impact on my prayer life. If there was ever a time when I excelled at sitting tranquilly and patiently in contemplation, those days are long behind me. Now when I sit to pray, I have to fight the urge to check my calendar, make up a to-do list, or simply let my active mind wander. The famous three words of Thomas Merton are especially appropriate and helpful in moments of distraction in prayer. “Now. Here. This.” I repeat these words, to myself and to God, to draw me back into this present moment, this present place, this present gift.


Monthly Virtue Resolution: 


Practise the Virtue of Presence in one area of your life this month. Whether it’s your interactions with your family, friends or colleagues, with strangers in the checkout line, or with God in prayer, try to give each encounter your undivided, undistracted attention.


Monthly Motto: “Now. Here. This.”

Virtue of the Month – March “Now. Here. This.”: The Virtue of Presence Read More »

Halt Your Mind in the Truth: How to Pray in a Time of Worry

Halt Your Mind in the Truth: How to Pray in a Time of Worry

“Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” – St. Pio of Pietrelcina


Easy for you to say, Padre Pio. Me, I’ve been doing a lot of all three lately, and if I’m being honest with myself, there have been many moments when the amount of worry has exceeded both the prayer and the hope. It’s sometimes hard to pray with hope in worrying times.


Padre Pio, the twentieth-century stigmatic priest who lived through two world wars, and a global pandemic (the Spanish Flu) must have understood this. And yet he has the faith to say “Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”


Unfortunately, sometimes it feels like my prayer is just me verbalizing my anxiety these days, or worse, I find myself not even being able to focus on prayer over the distraction of worry. Not good, says Padre Pio.


“The reason you cannot meditate,” he says, “is mainly because you begin to meditate with anxiety, in search of something to gladden your spirit.” He’s right – I bring my anxiety to my prayer with the expectation of being consoled and relieved, which is fine, but according to Padre Pio, “this is not enough to find what you seek.”


According to Padre Pio, we must go one step further: “The only remedy I know of is to abandon anxiety.”


Once again, this is easier said than done, but Padre Pio gives us some solid advice: “Halt your mind in the truth about which you are meditating.”


For me, “halting my mind” means that I try to take a moment to stop the swirling worry and sit in the truth that God is, ultimately, Hope. I read the Gospel, and I enter in, as best I can, abandoning anxiety, and clinging to the truth that Christ is Emmanuel – God with us – then, today, and always. I halt my mind, take a breath, and try to remember Padre Pio’s words to pray, hope, and let go of worry, at least for a while.

Halt Your Mind in the Truth: How to Pray in a Time of Worry Read More »

Lenten Resolutions for Parents of Teenage and Adult Children

Lenten Resolutions for Parents of Teenage and Adult Children

When my husband and I moved into our home nearly 15 years ago, the house fit us just right. We had four children all under the age of nine, with a baby on the way, but our new home’s five bedrooms seemed to offer more than enough space. And it did… for a while. Now, that “baby” is 14, and the others are all adults, or nearly so, between the ages of 17 and 22. The oldest, who had moved away for a year, has since returned home, bringing with him a cat, and our house, which used to fit us perfectly, now feels like something we’ve maybe long outgrown.


And our old roles as parents feel a bit the same way – we’ve outgrown the stage of diapers and dependence, being the constant regulators and supervisors of everyone’s days, and we’re still trying to figure out how we fit into this new role of parents of adults, who are, for the most part, in charge of their own schedules, of getting themselves to their own activities, and, to some extent, of solving their own problems. Adapting to this new stage of parenthood hasn’t always been easy, and Lent seems like the perfect time to put some focus into prayer and sacrifice for these big “kids” in our home and in our lives.


Here are some resolutions you might try if you’ve got big kids to pray and sacrifice for:


1. Learn your child’s love language, and act on it in a specific way.


If you’re unsure what your child’s love language is, The Five Love Languages of Teenagers by Gary Chapman would be a great place to start. If your older children still live with you, like mine do, you might choose a daily resolution related to their love languages (like setting aside time at the end of the day to chat with a child whose love language is quality time or words of affirmation). If not, make a specific plan to connect with them through their love language throughout Lent.


2. Pray for them regularly.


After some very complicated problems arose with some of our adult children, and knowing that they are other parents dealing with similar complications, my husband and I started an Evening of Adoration for Parents of Teenage and Adult Children, and now every month, we gather together in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament for our kids. Choose a prayer devotion that you will offer specifically for your child (weekly adoration, a daily rosary, or a daily prayer to a teenage or young adult saint) throughout the 40 days of Lent.


3. Offer your Lenten sacrifice for them.


Regardless of what you decide to “give up” this Lent, whether it’s chocolate or junk food or social media, don’t let that sacrifice go without offering it up for your child.


4. Unite yourself to Mary.


Whatever you decide to do (or give up) for your teenage and adult children this Lent, know that you are not alone. “Here is your mother,” said Jesus from the cross (John 19:27), and she is your adult children’s mother, too, a ready support to you as a parent, and a constant interceder of all your (and their) intentions.


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 to Make the Most of Your Day

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 for Parents of Teenage and Adult Children Read More »

“But first let me…”: The January Virtue of Prayer First

“But first let me…”: The January Virtue of Prayer First

“In order to succeed in prayer, it should be done when we first awaken, when our whole being is calm and recollected. We need to make our meditation before anything else.” – Bl. Peter Julian Eymard


January is a month for resetting priorities. If you’re like me, you’ve eaten too much over the holidays, and might be thinking it’s time to cut back on the big meals and baked treats. If your schedule was like mine, your fitness routine, whose regularity was already suffering during the busyness of December, was altogether hijacked by a hectic Christmas schedule, and perhaps you’ve resolved to get back to a more consistent exercise regime. If your house is like mine, it’s been overwhelmed with Christmas décor, occupied by guests, and besieged by an excess of new toys and clothes and gifts, and is in urgent need of a tidy and reorganization. And if your morning prayer life is like mine, it may even have gathered momentum over Advent, but now – after the busyness of a season of late parties, sleeping in, and overnight guests – needs to be picked up, dusted off and resumed with the freshness that comes with a brand new year.


And so, I resolve to rise early before the rest of house awakens, before the needs of the family and the tasks on my to-do list propel me forward throughout my day. I’ll make my coffee, take my seat, open my Bible, and begin.


But first, let me check my e-mail.


And while I’m at it (postponing my prayer just a little bit longer), I might also check the weather for the day. I see it will be cold, and consult my calendar to see how much taxiing of children I’ll have to do that night, or whether I might be able to get away with a cozy evening inside. While I’m thus distracted, I might check my Facebook, read an article, respond to a text until, interruptions and amusements exhausted, I am finally ready to pray.

My initial intonation – “But first let me…” must sound lamentably familiar to Jesus, as he patiently waits to spend time with me in prayer. St. Luke tells us about two similar would-be disciples who, invited by Jesus to follow Him, postponed their “yes”, replying, just like me: “But first let me…” (Lk 9: 59-61). Jesus carried on to Jerusalem, presumably without them.


The month of January, with its new beginnings and fresh start, begs for us to embrace and commit to the virtue of Prayer First.


St. John Vianney was a strong advocate of the virtue of prayer before all else. “We must take great care never to do anything before having said our morning prayers,” he says, warning us, rather persuasively, that “the devil once declared that if he could have the first moment of the day, he was sure of all the rest.” “Never forget,” he continues, “that it is at the beginning of each day that God has the necessary grace for the day ready for us. He knows exactly what opportunities we shall have to sin, and will give us everything we need if we ask him then. That is why the devil does all he can to prevent us from saying our morning prayers or to say them badly.”

Say no more, John Vianney. Now is the perfect time to commit, not just to a life of prayer, but to a life where prayer comes first.


Monthly Virtue Resolution: Give God the very first moment of your day.


Monthly Motto: “But first, let me pray.”

“But first let me…”: The January Virtue of Prayer First Read More »

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Alex Kucera


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!