“It is the duty of every man to uphold the dignity of every woman.”
This quote is from John Paul II, in the document Mulieris dignitatem.
What a beautiful phrase! Sounds soooo lovely… and so hard to find! Today, I’m blessed to dwell in my femininity through Christ who upholds me through the presence of many catholic brothers and friends.
As a Catholic lay missionary in the daily life, I believe these words without a doubt today. However, once upon a time, I was not dwelling at all in my feminine genius and in my beauty as a daughter of God. Just like many children of the ‘90s (and today), I was taught what I call the pop-tart culture , referring to the popular teachings on “identity, sexuality, gender theory and the spirit of the age.” Even though there was still catechism in my school, the secular reform was already very present, ready to ensure that we had a choice to receive or not the catholic faith and teachings.
I was given a beautiful gift from God. I just had (and still have) a sense of His presence. At a very early age, I could sense Him. Unfortunately, there weren’t any adults with the level of spiritual maturity I needed to guide me toward the ways of virtue and holiness. I was surrounded by family members, friends, neighbors, who were mostly catholic but unable to explain the faith or bring the essence of the teachings of the Church to life. So, with time, I disconnected from the Church and from God. I would still go to mass, but I wasn’t always present or faithful in my heart.
With time, I drifted away. Like many, I became two. The girl inside and the “Cover Girl”. I would dress with big baggy pants and walk with an attitude like I owned the world. Today, I can see now that all my actions were serving me to protect my true nature and specifically, deep wounds. Big wounds, too painful for the little girl I was to face alone, and too shameful to be exposed in the world. I was seeing my world fall apart through many family conflicts and divisions, a traumatic experience of sexual abuse, multiple moves from schools and homes… I had to “own up” and be strong enough to survive. However, in the midst of all of this brokenness, the gift of that profound sense of God and the knowledge that “life was more than all this pain” would emerge from deep within me. My teenage years were about “surviving”: “Get to 18 years old Chantal Laure, and we’ll see after… I’ll be free or… so they say.” (In Canada, 18 is the age of adulthood).
Thank God, all that would change. As I reached my early adult life, I sought for answers and help, but as you know, magazines and secular clinics tend to confirm “what we feel” without addressing the root of the pain. So, it appeared to me that all was fine, that I did not have any problems, and that it was all in my head. So I grew up like a fighter, fighting my way through life, and a good soldier learning to fit in with the world. Although, I felt alone.
And then… There was God.
After 3 years of working in daycares, I saw that something was missing. People at work were depressed, careless or seemed as if they were walking without a reason for living. I could feel in my soul that “this was NOT real life.” There must be something else! At this point I felt either like a failure or a conqueror, at work and in relationships. I felt a sense of nothingness, like everything would just reach a dead end… It made me scream inside for more: I want to know who I am! Why I exist! I know I’m worth more than this! THIS is not the truth! There must be another way! Something else! I am made for more!
That cry of the heart would lead me to leave everything behind and go on a journey of faith. What was this? I did not know. All I knew was that I had to leave home and my current social life and do something else.
The Lord led me to experience the International World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto. That encounter would be prophetic for me. Hearing John Paul II speak about the Truth and the importance of choosing it would give me the keys to dare to walk the talk with Christ. A few years later, I would discover the teachings of Theology of the Body which would be a good foundation to help me rise again and discover my true beauty as a daughter of Christ.
At first, I was diving into these readings on my own. I was reading the definitions in French from a brick of a book on the topic as I was listening to an audiobook by Christopher West in English. My head was translating between the cold French serious teachings and a more “updated cool English version”. It was hard and painful! Eventually, I found a friend who was able to share the essence of the teachings, and it helped me to unpack the beauty of the TOB teaching. As I read about Adam and Eve and the original sin, the invitation of God toward Humanity, the gift of love of Christ for His Church, the nuptial meaning of the body, the desire for heaven, the importance of authentic love and sexuality, identity and differences between a man and a woman… I started seeing for the first time the real deal about Catholic Faith! I saw the greatness of the Good News and decided I was starting a process of healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation!
This journey brought me to work with religious communities and in dioceses. I continued to journey with the TOB teachings for a few years and then, in 2009, I said out loud to the Lord: “Well, this is great knowledge, Lord, but… How do you heal from your wounds? How can you accompany people in journeying toward healing, reconciliation, and living a new life?”
The Lord would answer my prayer through a beautiful and prophetic journey in Pennsylvania with Dr. Bob Schuchts, a renowned psychotherapist and founder of the John Paul II Healing Center in Florida. It was a great moment, filled with prayer and worship, mass everyday, prayer before and after each session of teachings, and encounters with priests and religious sisters… My eyes and ears could not believe it. “Who were these people? What was this world? THIS is SOOOOO BEAUTIFUL…” This would change everything in my life as a Catholic woman.
It is during this week of formation and this healing retreat that I would experience a unique and beautiful encounter. One day, after one of the sessions, as the crowd of students left the room to go their respective way, I found myself wandering alone in the hallway and instead of going with the crowd, I just turned around to go back into the classroom. Until this day, I still don’t know why I did that. I just needed to do it.
The room was dark and quiet. It was peaceful. I walked to the front and placed myself where Dr. Bob usually stood, and I visualized myself, as if I was going to speak. I was imagining myself being the teacher. I was admiring Dr. Bob and his initiative to bring a group of 60 people to experience healing and restoration through the TOB teachings when a man came in. Did he come by the same door as I did? I did not see him enter the room… Soon enough, he was near me, by my side. What in the world was happening to me? His posture and his grace were… solemn and my brain could not understand his attitude. All I knew was that I was here, he was there, and I was the center of the attention at this very moment. As I stood there, he gently took my right hand and, kissing it, he said: “My sister,” I was blown away… Stunned, frozen, mute, unable to move or react. What a solemn salutation! For me? What does that mean?
He gently said: “I’m sorry, I did not mean to startle you. I heard myself say: “It’s ok.” shyly and lacking words.
I knew this man. I had listened to his videos and CDs. Right next to me, was standing Christopher West. He was also on this week’s journey. We remained in silence. A deep holy silence. I knew the Lord was in action. Something was happening “for me” in this very moment. I continued to stare at the room, and he placed himself right next to me, this time following my gaze. He said: “Oh! I love this painting too! Do you know what it represents?”
I looked passed the classroom and saw. I said: “Yes. It is when the Archangel Gabriel came to Our Lady” smiling. “I like it too.” He responded: “Yes, that’s right, the Annunciation!” We stayed there, contemplating the painting quietly. After a while, I felt so small in my shoes, but I manage to thank him for welcoming my friends and I earlier in the week and underlining our presence to the group. He responded that the honor was his to receive us. We shared a little, and he then excused himself so he could go accomplish his task. Thanking me again for this moment, he went on leaving the room.
I took the time to contemplate the painting of the Annunciation. This painting had already captured my attention. I would notice it in different religious communities back home. However, this moment in Pennsylvania made it come “alive” in MY journey. I would be drawn into the scene of the Annunciation in a new way, a more incarnate way.
With time, I would be fascinated by how the artist represented the two personas, their posture, their features. There is a sense of profound mystery, and their bodies are speaking more than their facial expressions. The Archangel Gabriel is humbly gazing at Mary, as if speaking to her soul. Mary’s gaze seems to be looking ahead, past him, receiving the message with grace and humility, as if experiencing the encounter from deep within.
The colors beige and pink are soothing and reminding me personally of the quietness surrounding my encounter in the classroom. The color blue on the Virgin is very vivid, bringing the attention to Mary, the one receiving all the attention from God and His messenger.
The details of the wings are also very interesting, making me think of another angel with similar wings in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe! I like that the artist, Fra Angelico, had a perception of such colorful wings in his time, considering that he lived before the apparition.
God gave me a beautiful gift that day: a sense of purity and innocence that I had not felt for a very long time. I was in awe over this beautiful moment. And just to confirm to me that it was truly His love in action in my life, the Lord would give me another gift. After a few weeks, back in my hometown, I went to a parish for a time of worship. I saw a man with whom I really enjoyed my time at World Youth Day! He did not really give me much attention then, but we connected from time to time during the pilgrimage and experienced great moments of animation and worship together. He was a man of few words and very fond of Christ. That day, he saw me and, just like that, stopped what he was doing and gazed at me. I came to him and said “Hi! Nice to see you! How are you?” He stayed very serious and gently took my hand and kissed it. That was IT! I knew, for sure at that moment, that it was Christ, then and now, that kissed my hand!
The Lord had given me an invitation. A call to love and to let myself be loved by Him through two Christlike brothers. With time, I would receive the restoration of my dignity as a daughter, woman, and sister of Christ. With the help of Our Lady, I would deepen my relationship with Christ and discover the beauty of receptivity, of virtues, and I would learn how to dwell in my body.
We struggle today as human beings to embrace our nature and see each other as beautiful creatures worthy of true love. We have to strive to remember that we are made in the image and likeness of God and thus we are fearfully and wonderfully made. If you are struggling with your self-image or struggling with your identity, I recommend diving into the teachings of the Theology of the Body of John Paul II and combining this with sacred art, sacred scripture, and if possible, joining a sharing group. There are so many things online today as well (unlike when I was discovering it), and catholic resources are now being created by young people more and more in a way that brings the richness of the Church’s teachings to life.
God wants to marry us! The Lord awaits His Bride. We are called to say yes, like Our Lady! Let’s remember that she was very young when she experienced the Annunciation. Mary, was “much perplexed by [the words of the Archangel Gabriel] and pondered what sort of greetings this might be” (Luke 1, 26:29). Then, with trust, she said YES to God. She can be our reference in learning to be receptive to Christ’s gift and to be restored in His Beauty. For truly, what better gift to receive than the gift of Christ Himself? And through Him, discovering our true essence as child of God called to dwell in His Love?
A personal reflection on sacred art by Chantal Laure Fanéus
Chantal Laure Fanéus is Screening Agent in Childhood Care and Special Education, an Artist and a Lay Missionary. She holds a certificate in Pastoral Theology from the Dominican Pastoral Institute in Montreal and a certificate from Montreal University in Early Childhood and Family care – Early Intervention. Working with children with special needs and enhancing families to support their kids has been a great blessing in her life. She had the opportunity to participate in several trainings on Theology of the Body in Pennsylvania and contributed in bringing forth projects to bring this teaching to young people, families and couples in her diocese for several years. In 2016, she had the privilege to be among the pilgrims of Christopher West & The Cor Project in Mexico, at the heart of a formation on Theology of Mary’s Body and The New Evangelization. Discovering the heart of Aztec history and diving in the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe will mark in a special way Chantal’s vocation and mission. All these experiences and the deepening of her relationship with Christ as given her an exceptional ability to support, advise and guide people in their mission. Lately, she’s been emerging as an artist. She’s using all these gifts and talents to inspire her community as she discovers the greatness and the joy of expressing and sharing messages of hope and emotions through her acrylic art!
Kate is a Sacred Art Painter, Inspirational Speaker, and Faith-filled Movement artist on a mission to spread God's love through beauty! Her inspiration comes from prayerful encounters with the Lord, and the rich traditions of our Catholic faith. When she's not creating something faith inspired, Kate is often traveling all over the world with her hubby soaking in the wonders of God's creation, or spending time with family and friends to live every moment to the fullest. To see her work, visit her portfolio below and share in this mission of spreading truth and goodness.
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