01 December 2007

Happy to be part of the "Rise!"

Hello everyone! My name is Laura Giannuzzi and as Nolan already said, I am one of the new contributors to the "Rise of the TOB" blog. Nolan and I have known each other for a few months now through our work in youth and campus ministry in the Diocese of Rockville Centre. When we first met, I knew he was interested in the Theology of the Body and could tell he was rock solid in his faith. Since then, we have both been working in ministry but have also begun teaching for a new abstinence program called "Long Island Teen Freedom." Last week, I gave a presentation at the Life Center of Long Island on the TOB and later I got an exciting call from Nolan asking me to be a part of his blog. I had been thinking about doing something like this for a while (thanks to encouragement from Dawn Eden, Elizabeth Andrew, and Leticia Velasquez ) but I just didn't feel like I had the time to start one or keep one up. So when Nolan invited me to be part of the "Rise" team, it was what I call a "God wink" (more on that another day) and I eagerly said yes!

You can read my profile for more information about me (and of course more about me will come to our audience through future posts) but as an introductory post, I thought it would be good to start with how I even got into the TOB, as that's the main subject matter of the blog. I was introduced to the TOB almost two years ago. I was living in Pensacola, Florida at the time and was in my second year of ACE, a unique post-grad service teaching program (see ace.nd.edu). At a spring auction at Pensacola Catholic High School, I ran into Bob Blake, a family member of a neighbor of mine and moderator of the TOB study group at St. Anne's Church in Gulf Breeze. He had invited me to St. Anne's earlier that year for their Life Teen mass but at the time, I was very involved in my own parish, and frankly I didn't even know what Life Teen was. So this time, he invited me to his Theology of the Body study group. I had never heard of the TOB at this point, but he explained a little and I was intrigued. I am now eternally thankful for Bob Blake and for his invitation. This invite came at a very important time in my own faith life and in my personal life. There are no accidents!

I met with the group for the first time, discovered I was the only one not married and the only one under age 40, and liked what I heard. They informed me what books they were using and I went right home and ordered the two of them online - "Men and Women are from Eden" by Mary Healy and "Theology of the Body for Beginners" by Christopher West. I eagerly thumbed through both books, looking for the information on the issue on contraception. See, the issue of contraception is what got me interested in the TOB from the beginning. I had been involved with a variety of pro-life activities in my life and through those experiences, I had gotten more interested in the issue of contraception. No Church or biblical scholar, I started to get very intrigued why the Catholic Church taught what it did and why other Christian denominations had no official teaching on artificial contraception and if they had, why they had abandoned it over the years. As stated earlier, my introduction to the TOB came at a time in my life when I was somewhat doubting the Church. I had had some very strong evangelical Christian influences in my life and I was impressed by how on fire for Jesus they were and how they lived their lives and I was intrigued both by how involved they all were in their churches and how they could defend what they believed much better than I seemed to be able to. I still believed there was truth in the Catholic Church, but I was unsure on so many levels and if I was going to believe in this thing called the "Church" and was going to call myself "Catholic," then I needed some better background in my faith and some solid defense for what the Church taught. When it comes down to it, I was really in search of Truth, with a capital "T"...and the Lord answered my prayers with the TOB. This is why I often say, the TOB saved my life!

I have to say I was disappointed when I saw artificial contraception and natural family planning discussed at the end of both books. I liked what I read about the topic, but I was still looking for more and was certainly looking for better ways to defend the Church and her teachings. In the beginning of my study with the group, I admit, I was a little frustrated...all I wanted to do was discuss contraception with these couples and find out why or why not it was okay. But I participated patiently and the Holy Spirit began to work on my heart and open my eyes to the beauty of not only the TOB, but of the Church, again with a capital "C." I stayed in Florida and participated in the study group through December of 2006. In that time, my faith and love for Jesus was really growing. In December, I was introduced to Dawn Eden and her book, "The Thrill of the Chaste" through a random (nothing is random in life - "God wink") Google e-mail alert. I soon discovered what "chastity" really meant and boy, did this go perfectly in line with what I was learning from the TOB and what I was going through at the time. I went through a rather difficult experience during advent, which brought me back to New York a little earlier than I had planned. But one of the benefits of being back in NY was the amount of all things Catholic going on. From Young Adult groups, to Faith on Tap, to Catholic Underground, to inspiring lectures, I was overwhelmed with how much was going on. I dove right in though and kept drinking of all things good that I could. During this difficult time in my life, I was continually strengthened by my faith and the support of family and friends and I began to go deeper into Catholicism and apologetics in general (the defense of the Church). I was buying books left and right and couldn't even keep up with myself. I started going to the NYC TOB group when ever I could make it and was able to attend the Sisters of Life TOB retreat lead by Father Luke Sweeney, Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of New York in February. Although much of the material was a review for me, I was excited to be in the company of others who were interested in the teaching and I began to really see the TOB as a means for evangelization. I soon heard that Christopher West was coming to LI for a weekend conference/retreat on the TOB in April. I was so excited and marked off the date on my calendar right away!

This was such an amazing experience for me - to meet Christopher West and hear him explain the TOB was such a blessing. I think I spent $300 that weekend buying TOB materials without any clear direction of what I was to do with it. I was so on fire from that weekend that I quickly signed up for the week long "Head and Heart Immersion" course/retreat with Christopher West in August. This was a real leap of faith since I didn't even have a job for the next year yet! Sometime shortly after though, I took a full-time job with the Diocese of Rockville Centre in Campus Ministry and a part-time job with The Life Center of Long Island as an instructor in their new abstinence program, "Long Island Teen Freedom." Things were starting to look better for me overall and I knew both of my new jobs would allow me to bring the TOB to more people.
The August retreat/course with Christopher West was like nothing I had ever experienced before. It was a full graduate Theology course in a week as well as an in depth spiritual retreat experience. Now, this was going deeper into the TOB than I had ever gone before. It was amazing! I came back thirsty for more and with a desire to bring the TOB to everyone! Because of my new work in campus ministry, I could no longer attend the Wednesday night NYC TOB study group. I knew there was no TOB study group for the Diocese of Rockville Centre (DRVC from here on out) and I had a feeling that I was going to have to be the one to start it. And so I did! Under the spiritual direction of Father Brian Barr, Director of Campus Ministry and Vocation Director for the DRVC (who also went on the Head and Heart course back in January with Nolan), we kicked off our group on Wednesday October 24th at Hofstra University, where I work as a campus minister. With little publication, eight people showed up. With some more publication and thanks to Todd Lemieux's talk the next week at Faith on Tap, entitled "Man, Woman, What's the Difference?," the next time we met, Wednesday November 7th, we were fourteen people strong. I had to order more books and get a bigger room! I figured this was a good problem to have. We met again last Wednesday night, November 30th, and again, we were fifteen strong, with some new and old faces. I hope some of those people come to read this blog and people who read the blog will be inspired to come to our study group and/or start their own where ever they may be. You don't have to be an expert to do so...you can do it!!!

To close, Father Loya, a Byzantine priest well versed in the Theology of the Body, has been known to say (and said on our week long TOB retreat) that he thinks all of the world's problems can be solved through the TOB. The deeper I go into this material and the more I live through life, the more I believe this. If we can understand what it means to be male and female, and thus what it means to be human, and can more clearly understand the beauty of what Scripture is telling us about history and humanity, then we can indeed answer life's burning questions, especially the hot button ones! I pray you too will fall in love with the Theology of the Body as I have. And I pray your journey for Truth will lead you to a better understanding of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Scripture, Tradition, and the great Church He began on earth for all of us. Thank you to John Paul the Great for bringing the TOB to a world that desperately needs this message! God bless you all as we begin the Advent season on this beautiful yet chilly weekend!!!

1 comment:

Leticia said...

Laura, I'm already one of your fans, and I look forward to more great posts like this one.
You and Nolan are part of what Pope John Paul II called, "the new Springtime of Evangelization".