Is Jesus in New Jersey?
I have been asking myself this very question since I moved here 19 years ago. I am sure we can all agree, New Jersey gets a bad rap. I am not quite sure why that is- maybe it’s the traffic, maybe it’s the high taxes, maybe it’s the industrial-looking (and smelling) grossness that you find in the areas near Newark. Whatever it is, New Jersey has always been a target of jokes by comedians, a tv fixation of stereotypes with shows like the Sopranos and Jersey Shore, and even the opportunity for most shows on Broadway to make some dig! Is it even possible to find Jesus in New Jersey?
If this is what you have always thought, please allow me to introduce you to the real New Jersey! As you get outside of the city areas of NYC, Newark, and Philadelphia, you begin to understand why NJ is also called the Garden State. Mountains, valleys, ocean shorelines, farmlands, and quaint old towns- you see it all! It is pretty impressive when you think about how it only takes about 2-3 hours to drive from the top to the bottom of the state.
New Jersey is also home to 4 very active Regnum Christi Ladies’ teams determined to share a love of Christ with the rest of the state! Rural Hunterdon County with its mountains and farmlands boasts 2 of these vibrant teams, New Jersey shore and beautiful ocean views is home to one of our most steadfast teams, and charming Chatham rounds us out with its very dedicated and active group that makes up our 4th team.
Focus on 1 thing and do it well
This has become the unspoken motto within our NJ ladies’ section over the last few years after wrestling with integrating such a widespread area that is also faced with many diocesan obstacles and limitations. Many years ago, we found a suitable location that checks all of the boxes. Located in scenic Stirling, NJ, the Shrine of St. Joseph is no exception to the beauty found in New Jersey! Here is the site for our Monthly Morning and Evening Mini-Retreats for Busy Women. These regular retreats have become a staple where, not only do we get our own spiritual food, but we also bring people outside of Regnum Christi closer to Jesus.
My eyes about popped out of my head shortly before our Lenten retreat when I looked over our rsvp list. I immediately contacted our retreat coordinator, “Um..I am not sure if you were watching the list- are we even going to fit into our retreat room? Should I cap the attendees?” “No!” came the reply. “We will make it work!” While it did require some last-minute rearranging of tables and chairs to accommodate our largest attendance yet to our morning mini-retreat, fit we did! Our group has certainly grown over the years as roughly 50 women came from all over the state, braving the howling March winds that had yet to change into the “lamb” part of the month in order to join us to be with Christ!
The Highlight for me at this retreat was our Virtue Conference. The book Broken Gods by Dr. Greg K. Popcak Ph.D. has been the primary resource for some of the most engaging talks we have heard during this past retreat season. Father Eric discusses the 7 longings of the human heart and the 7 deadly sins we employ in order to satisfy them, and then finally shows us the virtues that will actually achieve this.
Justice was the “Longing of the Human Heart” most recently discussed. At first, I skeptically considered whether I would get any sort of message. I wished he would discuss something with a little more punch. I mean, everyone wants justice, but how is this affecting my life on a day-to-day basis? As the talk continued, boy, did it strike all the nerves! On a different retreat, Father Eric challenged us to pray for enlightenment to see our sins more deeply and I obediently did just that. What was revealed was not pretty and the talk today was just another in a long line of messages from God pointing me to a deeper exam of resentments that I was not even aware of!
Anger & Wrath
The sin that we fall into while seeking justice is anger and wrath. I know what you are thinking, “But any anger I have is righteous anger! Even Jesus had righteous anger. How is being angry when justified a sin?” But here is the thing, Jesus had no sin and even though he may have had righteous anger, he would have still responded in the perfect way. As I dig, I realize that my resentments actually take away my peace and joy and thereby cause me to act toward others and respond in very unloving ways. So…what is the virtue that promises to help us with our anger and resentment? You are not going to like it.
Patience is a virtue that, like New Jersey, gets a bad rap. It is popular to say, “don’t ever pray for patience!” Everyone knows why- it is because you will end up facing all manner of things requiring patience to endure. However, I would argue that we should indeed pray for the virtue of patience. Believe it or not, I spent a year of my Program of Life doing just that. My trick was to switch my thinking. Anytime I would start getting annoyed or irritated or angry, I would trigger my mind to remember patience. This is when, not without at least a little sarcasm, I would tell God, “Thank you so much for giving me this amazing opportunity to practice working on this virtue of patience!” I could almost feel his grin and pat on my back as he granted me a little extra grace to get through the thing requiring it of me. I bet you are wondering if it worked. Let’s just say, I got better, but I was definitely glad when I switched my virtue focus. And not so glad, now, to realize I must once again employ this tried-and-true virtue against the current resentments and annoyances infecting my life!
The rest of our retreat was a natural outflow of this powerful talk. We were led into a meditation, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, of an instance where Saul was hunting down David in order to kill him, and David who had every reason to be angry and yet resisted the temptation to kill him first. 1 Sam:24. This was followed by Confession, Benediction, and Mass.
Say what you will about New Jersey, but considering my experiences with the ladies I have met through Regnum Christi- my answer to the original question posed: Yes, Jesus is most definitely in New Jersey. I am hoping you will all come to see for yourself next fall when we host our next annual Regnum Christi day in November and enjoy our wonderful Shrine and experience the real New Jersey!
Written by Margaret Gartlgruber, a NY Tri-State Regnum Christi member