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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Denise Funke in Rome
The North American representative talks about her position in the new government for the Regnum Christi consecrated women

Denise Funke with Cardinal De Paolis
Denise Funke talking with Cardinal Velasio De Paolis

Denise Funke, the North American representative among the five general councilors for the new government of the Regnum Christi consecrated women, granted a more extensive interview for the North American Regnum Christi audience.

1. Did you think this was a possibility when you came to Rome?

Absolutely not!  It never even crossed my mind that I would be elected to participate in the assembly.  I was cozy in Dallas with my community there, working in the Highlands school community and serving the consecrated women of North America on the territorial council.  I was not expecting anything to change…

2. What in your background will help you in this new position?

To be honest, I think what will most help me is the work that God has been working in my soul over the past couple of years.  He has taught me a lot of very important lessons – humility, living in an attitude of listening to the Holy Spirit, learning to listen to others, how to live in the truth while living the love Jesus asked us to… 

Aside from that, I have served my consecrated companions previously in other positions and I think these years of trial, renewal and purification have given me and all of us a better understanding of what the service of authority and obedience is within the Church in consecrated life.

3. What are you most apprehensive about?

I don’t really feel apprehensive.  I do have sadness for those I will leave behind in Dallas and around North America.  And while I know from experience that these friendships last beyond space and time, its not the same as seeing someone on a daily or monthly basis.  I will miss my work at school.  I really love what I do with the kids, families and all that work at the school.  Being farther away from my family is also a big sacrifice.

I feel the weight of the responsibility and mission I have been tasked with.  I do not take it lightly at all.  The consecrated women, along with the rest of our charismatic family of Regnum Christi have been through a lot over these past years where we discovered the truth about our founder’s life and then began to delve into the process of understanding how that affected our rule of life and our formation.  There are many challenges that face us in the upcoming years and it will require a lot of love, courage, understanding and patience as well as hard work.  When I look at myself I know that this is much bigger than I am and so I place my faith in Him and will strive to seek always to be where He is.  I also take comfort in knowing we have many people with years of experience in consecrated life in the Church that are more than willing to continue to advise and counsel us.  Thankfully none of us think we know everything or that we can do this on our own so I have no doubt we will be taking them up on their offer to help.

I may not be “apprehensive” but I can tell you my worst fear is that any well intentioned word or action of mine will be erroneous and fall short and instead of helping someone will hurt them, not to mention the fact that I have to accept that I am human and struggle with my own sinfulness like everyone.  While I may want and strive to be loving to God and others always, my ego is always there and I can and do fall, fail and sin.

4. You have been known to watch ice hockey - how will you handle not being able to see much of it in Rome?

When living in Ireland for 8 years I never saw a single game.  At the time I managed. It will make it a lot easier knowing that the Flames have not made the playoffs for years!  If they were Stanley Cup bound then I would be suffering more as I enter this hiatus from hockey! I think I will be doing some traveling to North America so hopefully I will be able to catch some games once in a while! 

5. How familiar are you with Rome?

I have never lived in Rome, but while I was stationed in Ireland I would spend every Christmas there with our boarding students.  I also had to travel there a couple of times a year for meetings and events.  So, it is not completely new to me.  Being in the heart of the Church, being able to see so much history, see and hear the Holy Father in person and meet so many Catholics from all over the world is a wonderful experience of the universality of our faith and it greatly broadens your horizons.

However I do not speak Italian and so will need to start lessons. Also, our official language is Spanish and while I was fluent, having been in the US for almost 9 years, I am a little rusty.  Besides the language, I am not at all looking forward to driving in Rome.  It seems a bit crazy to me.  Being Canadian we have a lot more space and tend to follow the rules of the road! We drive a lot slower too.

6. Do you know the other members of the leadership team?  (Any secrets you want to divulge?)

Yes, thankfully I do.  While I have met Gloria a couple of times I never have lived and worked with her.  Paula I know well from the year that we lived and worked together in Mexico in 1996.  She was such a big sister to me and marked my consecrated life.  Mari Carmen and I never lived together but since she was principal of our boarding school in Switzerland while I was principal in Ireland we did work together.  I was young and felt the weight of what I was doing and she was a great support to me and would always be willing
Denise Funke
Denise Funke
to help me talk things through when I had tough decisions to make.  Viviana and Cristina I just met now at the assembly but its funny, the three of us clicked immediately.  One of the first work commissions that was set up during the assembly included the 3 of us (long before the day of the elections) and we gelled together really well.  I am eager to get to know them and work with them.  Jim, I don’t know that I know any secrets and if I did, not so sure I would divulge them to you!

7. What will you miss most about Texas?

The people!  Definitely the people. Southerners have a warmth and openness about them.  And the weather of course.  I love the heat and bright blue sunny skies.  I will miss that.

8. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the leadership team for the next year?  Next five years?

At the end of the assembly all the participants gave their input to what they saw as priorities for the upcoming 6 years.  These women were from different communities in different countries and I can see that we will need to spend time in each territory to respond to the particular needs and assist them. Our women and the people they serve are what we are dedicated to serve.  The challenge with this will be that we also at the same time need to prepare our Ratio institutionis, along with some other guiding documents while also working with the other branches of the Movement on the way we are going to work together. I think the variety of tasks will be a challenge as well as the quantity of work.  We will need to be careful to not fall into the frenzied pace we used to think we could work at.  It is important that we also live our consecrated life fully – participating in the responsibilities and activities of our community, giving ourselves the time needed to cultivate our spiritual lives, making time for continued studying in order to serve better, and just being humble and recognizing our human limitations that require that we live a balanced schedule.

9. How will you stay connected to the "real world" from Rome?

There are two ways to do that – bring those at the ground level into the work that we are doing and go out to the ground level where it is all at and be a part of that, see it first hand and listen.  I imagine we will do both.  Soliciting input from everyone on what we are doing and involving people on work commissions while also trying to travel as much as possible. 

10. Where do you see the Movement in the renewal process?

That’s a big question.  How much time do you have?  I can look back to 5 years ago and see how far we have come.  I look ahead and see we have a long way to go.  And then I try to settle into the present and respond to what the next step before us is.  I can imagine that for people on the outside they can’t imagine how we could live a life within the Movement and not have suspected what was wrong not only with our founder but also where we were wrong.  I will not go into that because I believe the letter we wrote from the assembly which recognizes these points is now available on the web site in English.  I hope that letter makes its way to the far corners of the earth to so many people who have been in contact with us over the years and had noticed some things that were not right and who may have suffered at our hands.

After we found out the truth about our founder I waited to hear from the authorities in the Church.  Before going further I think I need to address that…  The very first part of the renewal process forced each of us to ask, “can I trust the Church?”. Over the past decades the world has been made more aware of the sin and errors within the hierarchy of the Church.  That leads some people to not be able to follow and trust what those in the Church say.  I can understand that.  We see that throughout Church history.  The biography of Luther is one that always makes me reflect deeply on what that man, a priest faced.  He saw first-hand, up close, that other priests, bishops and even Popes were acting and behaving in ways obviously contrary to the Gospel and even to natural law.  In the middle of that, what is one man to do?  What an awful place to find yourself.  And each of us in our own way has to grapple with that same question.  The people in the Church are just that – people.  Human beings that have within them grace and sin, good and evil, good intentions and selfish ones.  We are a mixed bag.  And our sin hurts others.  We are not islands that live unattached from others.  So my point is… when our Movement was in turmoil and we discovered lies and objective wrongs each was faced with the question, “Can I trust the Church?”.  The media has helped to make us all aware of the wrongs within the Church committed by those who guide us.

I had to go back to the Lord and ask, “So, you wanted to found a Church?”.  Jesus clearly established a Church to be His witness throughout the ages and for 2000 years the gates of hell and the weakness and sinfulness of those who make up the Church have not been able to diminish the fact that we can find Jesus in the Sacraments, we can receive grace in them and forgiveness. In the tradition and doctrine we can come to know God.  But it is up to each individual to enter into relationship with God and know Him personally and then live coherently with that. And every man fails at that.

So, that was the first step and some could not believe that renewal could happen.  So while the authority of the Church said that there was a charism given by God within Regnum Christi and that there was legitimate good the Church wanted to work to assure it continued while at the same time recognizing that there was legitimate wrong and error that needed to be purified.
The consecrated women have spent about 2 years looking at our life and vocation, learning from Church documents about consecrated life and then sifting through what is from God and what needs to be purified. Again here I will refer you to the letter we wrote in the assembly to get a picture of all that needed purification.   This past month 42 women met to work on and approve the final version of our new Statutes that we will have ad experimentem over the next 6 years.  As Cardinal de Paolis and Father Montan have insisted to us, we know that these statutes are not perfect.  They are not divine and are the work of the hands of women.  However, God enters into the history of mankind and He is with us and will walk with us as we desire to live for Him and serve Him.  The statutes will guide us but it is in the daily living in truth before God where the true renewal will be seen.

So, where are we, the consecrated women, at in the renewal?  We have prayed, studied and looked deeply at our life and vocation. We have discussed and reflected.  We have made proposals and changes have been made.  We are living from this new perspective and putting into practice the changes.  But honestly Jim, the renewal is inside the mind, heart and soul of each of us.  That is where the real renewal is and the Statutes are just a reflection of where we are all at.   The people that have known and worked with me in Dallas for the past 7 years will tell you they see renewal.  They experience it every day working side by side with us.  That would be an interesting interview, don’t you think Jim?  Talk to them about seeing the renewal as a first row spectator.

So the renewal is well on its way, but it is in no way over.  As we live out what we have seen in these past years and continue to pray, reflect and discuss we will continue to renew, continue to align ourselves with what we see and feel the Lord is calling us to.  It requires us to be humble, listen and be willing to be surprised with what He may ask of us or where He may lead.



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