Please Pray for New Life Family Mission!
READ THE STORY OF THE NEW LIFE FAMILY MISSION:
CENTRAL CA L I F O R N I A
SAN FRANCISCO JULY 1 – Junipero Serra
Ten years ago, my wife Vickie and I were introduced to Carmelite Sister Jean Marie Kirby, Mother Superior of the Carmelites of St. Joseph in Buellton, CA, who live a life of evangelical intercessory prayer on 100 acres hidden in the Santa Rita hills near the Santa Inez Valley.
The valley itself is known as one of the world’s best appellations for Pinot Noir. The flavor, intensity and complexity of Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and Chardonnay come from a combination of unique east-west coastal valleys. Cool weather, fog, wind and the soils yield intense wines.
The theme of the vineyard was not lost on me as 30 years ago I received an invitation from Our Lord to “come and work” in His vineyard for my life’s calling. While I know very little about real life vineyards, 30 years of working as a lay minister in the Catholic Church has produced as many lessons as varieties of wines. One of the earliest ministries I was involved with was as a staff member at the Christian Brother’s Retreat House, in St. Helena, California, on the Northern side of the Napa Valley. It quickly became my dream to work permanently at a retreat house, and as I grew into my own vocation of married life, I began to realize the ever increasing need for a place where whole families can come away and ‘unplug’ from the distractions of the world and re-establish their real connections to God.
I realized the need because of my own experience of desolation that can occur when the lifeline of the Sacrament’s and prayer are cut off through the many machinations of the ‘enemy of souls’. Though I have learned much the hard way, I know I need never go back, all because of the Mercy of God.
As Junipero Serra often said “always forward, never back”, we still look back in terms of the debt of love we owe so many people in our lives. We also look back in terms of the real debts, struggles, woundedness, and flaws we ‘drag along’ with us as we seek the freedom of complete dependence on Jesus Christ, immersed in a life of gratitude for the many truly beautiful friends we have met along the way.
As we first approached the monastery, we see what appears to be a retreat center with 1000’s of square feet of space sitting majestically atop one of the Santa Rita hills and surrounded by vineyards. I see a sign that says Mt. Carmel Vineyards. You would have never guessed this sprawling complex was there had someone not led you through the many twists and turns of the private road that brings you there.
It was only when we pulled up to the magnificent structure that I began to see the reality of what Sr. Jean Marie had only described to me verbally. And as with anything, the reality of the fact pales in comparison to any description however detailed.
I was looking at a huge monastery / retreat house which had been abandoned for 20 years.
The pallets of roofing tiles were still bundled and stacked in the perimeter – even on the unfinished roof. But only a few areas of the roof were completed. The rest of the roof was left open to the birds of the fields. And they did enter in, one and all. Wood weakened by wind, rain and the elements warped with time made up what were to be the floors upon which the discalced Carmelites would walk. You can enter easily now , as the doors were never hung, and inside you find various elements of construction waiting as patiently as a bride whose groom was delayed for 20 years.
Four words spoken by Sr. Jean Marie that day struck me more by the love with which they were spoken, than by their rock solid faith: “It will be completed”.
Many milestones have led Vickie and me to this place, and many “non-coincidences” have confirmed our choice to place ourselves into the lay community that surrounds this work of renewal begun by the sisters. My recent fundraising and development experience have prepared me to “leverage” the vision we so quickly caught as we re-connected with the sisters. From the recent work in helping marriages in the area of empathy and communication to our new understanding of the urgent need for PTSD programs in every community, our recent past has all been a preparation. We are thankful that God is continuing to bless us with his financial provision as He has in the past.Our kids are number one, and the people who have helped us get to where we are will be blessed too.
We have decided to pour ourselves out for this mission – the mission for healing in marriages and families. And don’t think for one second that we have chosen to involve ourselves because we have “arrived” or somehow “have it all together”. On the contrary, what we have realized more than anything is that our many imperfections can only be dealt with through the grace of the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ! In fact that grace is the very essence of the “New Life Family Mission”: to invite all couples and families to immerse themselves into the river of mercy that flows out from the Heart of Jesus Christ!
God doesn’t want to shower His torrent of grace on just a few “holy people”on this planet. His love is unending and His heart as a font of Mercy for us all! and I mean ALL! God actually longs to dwell in the heart of the family! It’s like He is actually ‘lonely’ to hang out with us! His generous message of forgiveness and healing is something we have experienced in our own marriage. And since you can’t share what you don’t have, and all we have is His Mercy, that’s all we can share!
Every marriage has its trial by fire, and ours is no exception. But one couple Vickie has known from the time she was a teenager living in Sebastopol, CA has had a literal trial by fire. I can’t tell the whole story now, but suffice it to say that Sue and Rusty Lugli were in a horrible motor home accident in the ‘90s in which the vehicle exploded into flames. Rusty was burned over 60 % of his body, and was in a coma for three months. Sue broke her back, but still managed to kick her way out of the burning motor home. Their daughter Nikki was thrown through the front window along with the dog, and landed on a patch of dry grass that ended up being spared miraculously by the ravaging flames. Sue and Rusty have an incredible story and would admit in an instant that it is the hand of God which has sustained them and continued to remind them that each day is a gift. To meet them is to experience two people who you can easily tell live every day as if it’s their last. They walk joyfully and humbly through the same garbage you and I walk through each day. But there is always a smile in their eyes sparkling, because they have had the gift of immense suffering which puts all of life in it’s correct perspective. You can read about their story in Sue’s book “Just Get Over It!”, or as the first story in the book “Amazing Grace for Married Couples” by Jeff Cavins, Matthew Pinto, and Patti Armstrong.
In 1999 they moved from Sacramento to Buellton, CA – right across the Santa Ynez River from the Carmelites of St. Joseph. They own 2000 plus acres and share opposite sides of the river with Sr. Jean Marie’s 100 acres. That’s right, they are right across the river!
When we met Sr. Jean Marie 10 years ago it seemed to Vickie and me to be a milestone that marked progress along a winding road that had become clear to us to be moving toward a destination determined by our hearts desires. Almost ten years before, we helped the Conikers launch their youth program at the Apostolate for Family Consecration in Bloomingdale Ohio called “Maria, Al, and Dom’s” after three Catholic Youth Saints: Maria Goretti, Aloysius Gonzaga, and Dominic Savio. The ‘Apostolate’s’ EWTN shows were so successful; they had to start their own satellite feed. They Apostloate for Family Consecration bought the former Seminary of Steubenville Ohio and have grown their 1000 acre “Catholic Family Land” into a huge program where every summer 100s of families make their way up the Ohio valley to participate in a one week long “Family Fest” where the mass, confessions, spiritual direction, a little manual labor, and much recreation make for a truly enriching time spent by the family attendees.
This summer we began a “Family Fest” of our own on July 15-17 right there in the Santa Rita Hills near Buellton, where we invited families to pray for healing in their own family, or for someone else, joining us either in person, or spiritually.
On the day of July 16th the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, we w consecrated the work of the New Life Family Mission to Jesus Christ through the intercession of the Virgin Mary. We had music, mass, prayer, conversation stories, and a tour of the future home of the New Life Family Mission. You are reading this because Jesus Christ loves you and is inviting you to a deeper relationship with Him. He has a plan for your family which includes not only healing and joy for you and your family, but the release of all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit through your life for the sake of all families. Because, God longs to dwell in the heart of YOUR family!
Let’s keep in touch O.K.? You are now part of this because you have heard of it. You can never ‘un-know’ about this work, so whether you pray for us specifically every day (as I wish you would) or think about us every once in a while; you are connected!
Our Mission Statement
“To make straight a path for God’s love, healing, and mercy to reach all peoples and all faiths.”
- Development grant
- Offer parish renewal events
- Radio productions
- New building for sisters (chapel)
- Family Camp
If you were to talk with Sr. Jean Marie about the various plans she speaks of one thing will quickly be made clear; she will point out that these are not her plans, they are Mary’s plans. It’s evident that Our Lady has been interceding for many years now for the unfolding of God’s unique plan for the Santa Ynez Valley. There are many ‘confirmations’ we have experienced, some like a giant neon light with multiple arrows, others like a still small voice.All we know is that we are all being called to extraordinary faith-in-action during these times, and that we need to see our call to evangelize as not an optional extra, but as a crucial component of the work of the Body of Christ during these times.
All of us who call ourselves Christian, need to take stock of what that means in our own personal lives, and count the cost of discipleship whether you are young or old. As Benedict XVI said a few years back:
“Those who allow themselves to be led by the Spirit understand that placing oneself at the service of the Gospel is not an optional extra, because they are aware of the urgency of transmitting this Good News to others…I assure you that the Spirit of Jesus today is inviting you young people to be bearers of the good news of Jesus to your contemporaries.” – Pope Benedict XVI, Papal Message for World Youth Day ’08, July 24, 2007
For Sister Jean Marie, living out the call to evangelize has become her life, even though it is through living the life of a cloistered Carmelite. For Christianity to be authentic, the famous phrase “All gave some, some gave all” has to be changed a bit to “All gave all”. I am not talking about the act of martyrdom (although I imagine there will be more martyrs in the coming years) I am talking about the attitude that St. Ignatius captured in his beautiful suscipe prayer:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
We are now in the final battle for marriage and family. Catholic women and men need to step up and do something more than just ‘show up’ to mass every Sunday. Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland said: “Making marriage law indifferent to the absence of either sex creates an institutional and cultural crisis with generational ramifications yet to be seen,” Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of Oakland said on June 28.
The battle rages on in marred couples’ relationships, in teen age separation and isolation, in the cultural powers of the air, and most unnoticed, in the spiritual realm. So what does a family do when the battle is in jeopardy of being lost for good? The answer is the same as when in battle: “RETREAT!” The only way to get your bearings is to retreat: to re-strategize, agree on a plan, take orders from the commander (God), asses wounds, heal, strengthen, and check the communication system for bugs (battles are lost when the communications system is taken out).
Some of the battle wounds are invisible, or on the inside, and unless there is trust, family members won’t open up to receive the healing attention necessary. The wrong solutions are always offered by the enemy: run away to find another family with common wounds who have found a coping mechanism (drugs, alcohol, gangs, parties, the armed service, etc), or in extreme cases, end it all. The stakes have NEVER been higher, and the effect of each individual life can never be over estimated.
We need a place where we can go as families to learn how to protect ourselves, maximize our strengths, minimize our weaknesses, and detect the odorless, tasteless gas the enemy uses. If you have ever come home to realize that your house has been burglarized, you know the feeling of vulnerability and violation. That’s when you KNOW an intruder has been there. What if the intruder comes and goes every day and you have no clue of it’s presence? How would you react?
The media culture is seeping through the cracks in every home now along with it’s pseudo logic, false beauty, and promise of prosperity, protection, and liberation from oppression. Families need to know how to detect the intruder, and teach their children how to protect themselves with the ‘heavy equipment’ of the sacramental life of the church; protect themselves from the enemy that they will face their entire lives. But you need to get away from the ‘home system’ in order to see things in perspective. The New Life Family Mission is all about providing places and times where/when families can ‘unplug’ from the world and ‘plug in’ to heaven.