STURGEON BAY — If the new evangelization had a face, it might look a lot like Judy Laessig.
Judy was a “cradle Catholic” who went to Catholic grade school, married a Catholic, went to Mass every Sunday, raised her two children in the faith, and who she now says “wasn’t a very good Catholic at all.” She read no Catholic literature, certainly didn’t read the Bible, and had no personal prayer life.
“I didn’t get anything out of it,” she said. “I didn’t understand my religion at all and I didn’t take it seriously. I went to church when I was young because that’s what my family did, but I didn’t listen.”
The seed of her own new evangelization was planted a mere three years ago. Judy and her husband, Dick, who vacationed in Door County their whole lives, moved to the Sturgeon Bay area permanently from Milwaukee when they retired. That first Christmas as members of Corpus Christi Parish, the parish gave out Matthew Kelly’s book “Rediscover Catholicism” to everyone who attended the Christmas Masses.
“(In that book) I read that that most people leave the Catholic Church because of what they don’t know, rather than what they know, and that turned me around right there,” she said.
The statement jolted her because by then three of her four siblings had left the church, and neither of her two children was practicing their faith. So, as she began her new life of retirement in her new parish and her new home, she set two goals for herself. The first was to learn what it meant to be Catholic. The second was to learn to play the piano.
“But I put the Catholic part first,” she said, with the broad smile of someone who believes she’s made a wise choice.
The seed had been planted with the Kelly book, but didn’t take firm root until a year or two ago when she saw a notice in the church bulletin about weekly Bible study classes being offered through the Tri-Parish Adult Faith Formation Committee, headed by Penny Biwer. They focus on the readings for each upcoming Sunday Mass.
“I look forward to them and I hate to miss them,” she said. Sometimes she has to, as when she travels to Milwaukee to help care for her aging mother, but if she can work around the Bible classes, she does.
The Bible study classes made her listen more closely to the readings during Mass and she began to realize how much of the Mass, even the hymns that are sung, are from the Bible.
“Everything we do at the Mass is biblical,” she said. “When people would say, Catholics don’t read the Bible — everything we do (at Mass) is biblical. The songs, the readings, the homily — it’s so tied together.
“There was a time when I didn’t even realize that the first reading is from the Old Testament and the second from the New Testament,” she said, sounding slightly amazed that she could have missed that.
One of the women from the Bible study class introduced her to journaling, so Judy now takes notes during Bible study, journals her own thoughts and ideas, and then listens carefully to the homily to see what else she can glean. She thoroughly prepares to hear what God has to say to her.
Another parishioner introduced her to the short form of the Liturgy of the Hours found in the monthly magazine, “Give Us This Day,” published by Liturgical Press. She uses that in her morning prayer time. She doesn’t just find time for prayer, she makes time.
“I’ve learned to be more structured,” she said. “If I don’t schedule my prayer time, it doesn’t happen, and then that messes up my whole day.”
Part of her daily prayer includes the peace prayer of St. Francis whom she knew little about before she started this faith journey.
“It has inspired me to look at people differently and have respect for them and not put myself first. It gives me some inner peace,” she said. “I think that’s why I really like the guy.”
Judy’s choice of the Ten Commandments as her favorite words to live by might be surprising.
“But I’m on this spiritual journey,” she explained, “and they answer my most important question, which is, what does God expect of me? The 10 Commandments answer that, and are what I follow. Well, I try to follow them, but I’m discovering they have much more meaning beneath the surface.”
Besides her morning prayer, her life now includes the rosary, one daily Mass each week and the chaplet of Divine Mercy.
Reading and studying, which feeds and forms her prayer life, continues to be important to Judy. She read Bishop Robert Morneau’s book, “Living Prayer,” as part of the adult faith formation’s book discussion this past summer, and on Sept. 21 will begin the study of the sacraments, using the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” also a project of the adult faith formation group.
Friends, family, even neighbors, have sometimes challenged her deepening involvement with God and the church, but Judy simply tells them she’s happy with what she’s doing, and her heart is at peace.
“I feel my heart is more open,” she said. “I don’t know what the next step will be, but I’m open to whatever it is.”
In the process, she’ll toss out her own pebbles of evangelization into the world’s sometimes roiling waters.