Aaron Loesel had never really been one to ask God for a specific sign.
But one Sunday in early September, from a pew in St. Joseph Church in Cottleville, he did.
“We were at Mass, and they make the announcement for like a month: Come to RCIA,” he said. Aaron, a lifelong Lutheran, had been considering joining the Catholic Church, but he didn’t know if he was quite ready to make the leap. “I was like, ‘OK, God, if you really want me to do this — I know you don’t always do signs, but a sign would be pretty cool right now.’”
After receiving a blessing in the Communion line, one of his children asked, “Hey Dad, why didn’t you get (the Eucharist)?’” Aaron said. His children had never asked before, and it went straight to Aaron’s heart. He took that as his sign; two days later, he started attending RCIA sessions.
When he told his wife, Marie, that he wanted to join the Church, she revealed how she had been praying for just that. Marie, a lifelong Catholic, had just finished the St. Monica novena, a 9-day series of prayers asking for the intercession of the mother of St. Augustine, who prayed unceasingly for her husband and son. “That was my sole intention: Bring Aaron into the Church,” Marie said. “I just took that to Jesus.”
Whatever God wants
The seeds of Aaron’s decision had been planted throughout the previous years of his marriage, raising children and the Loesels’ small business, Abundance of Grace Prints
Abundance of Grace Prints was born in 2018, just six months after their oldest daughter. Marie invited Aaron to join her for her weekly Holy Hour at St. Michael the Archangel in Shrewsbury. “We both felt like the Lord put on our hearts that I should open some sort of shop,” Marie said. “And I just kind of laughed, because I was like, how am I going to do that?”
Aaron remembers that as being the first time he went to eucharistic adoration. The Lord told him the same plans, he said. “I remember walking out and telling her, ‘I feel like God is poking at me, telling me that you should take a chance on this.’”
Marie trusted. She decided to start with prayer cards, drawing on her love of the saints to create six cards, finessing the designs on her iPad in the margins of naptime. The couple found a local printer, and together, hand-cut each of the cards. They launched the online shop on Thanksgiving weekend that year.
“I just wanted to introduce people to the saints, and prayer,” Marie said. “Because that’s where the Lord meets us, is prayer.”
As a non-Catholic, Aaron “didn’t really understand the praying with the saints, the intercession,” he said. “I was more being a supportive husband, knowing that this was something really important to Marie, and it would help her grow in her faith. I could see God kind of pushing her and encouraging her to do this.”
In the years since, the shop has expanded to include more than 50 prayer cards, vinyl stickers, art prints, a Mass bag for children and home goods like note pads, window clings and aprons. Last year,
Marie designed a liturgical wall calendar with accompanying liturgical living cards to introduce feast days, scriptures and saints for each month. “Love begins at home,” a quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta, is scripted at the top of the calendar.
“It’s all things that I want to help other families build up their domestic Church,” Marie explained. “…Our family is my inspiration for everything. And just seeing that there’s so much beauty in the liturgical living of the Church, and it’s such a gift that we have.”
Some of the prayers are originals. Marie wrote “Litany for Motherhood” and “Litany for Postpartum” at times when she needed those prayers for herself; she then shared those prayer cards with the Moms and Munchkins group at St. Joseph Parish. She and Aaron wrote “Litany for Marriage” together and donated a batch to the parish’s Date Night Ministry. Priests at St. Joseph have started keeping a stock of different prayer cards in the confessionals to give out to penitents.
Marie chose two patron saints for the shop: First, St. Zelie, the mother of St. Therese of Lisieux. “I love asking for her intercession. And she said she wanted to have a lot of children and raise them for heaven, so that’s kind of my little mantra for the shop and for other mamas: You’re raising saints,” she said. The Loesels themselves now have four children ages 4 and under.
St. Gianna is the other patron, inspiring one of her stickers: “Whatever God wants.” From the Holy Hour where the Lord put the idea on her heart to now, Marie has tried to keep that as the motto as she dreams up new products. “It’s all the Lord. A lot of it comes from prayer, or worship songs we’ve listened to. Or we’re reading about the lives of the saints, and think, wow, that quote was so powerful, I need that on my water bottle, so I can come back to it; on my bathroom mirror, so I can be reminded of that over and over again.”
United Church, united family
In the evenings, Aaron works alongside Marie in their basement office, talking through ideas and putting together shipments. Her devotion to Mary and the saints, spilling out through the many prayer cards, made him want to learn to love them, too. That’s just one of the ways he’s felt the Holy Spirit nudging him toward the Church over the years.
“I felt God calling me to explore the Catholic faith more. And not in a way of trying to disprove differences, but more finding out what it’s all about, why Catholics believe what they believe,” he said. “And based on watching Marie’s example, in her prayer life and what she was doing, and friends that we met at St. Joe’s and other Catholic things — I really admired their devotion to their faith. And it made me want to learn more about it.”
Through the RCIA process, he found himself especially drawn to the unity and history of the Church, he said — it was founded by Jesus and has remained true ever since. Marie and Aaron have always wanted God to be the center of their family, and Aaron felt called to bring that unity into his family life, too.
At the Easter Vigil, Aaron will receive the sacraments of first Communion and confirmation. He’s looking forward to receiving the Lord, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. He’s answered the question that his child asked all those months ago.
“I’m most excited for the unity that it will bring in our family, that our kids will grow up seeing me and Marie as this unified head of our family, and hopefully be a great example for them,” he said.
Abundance of Grace Prints
The name of the shop comes from 1 Timothy 1:14, “The grace of the Lord is abundant.” The Loesels pray that the shop helps others to find God’s grace in their everyday lives.
Facebook and Instagram: @abundanceofgraceprints
New, existing Catholics enter more deeply into the mysteries of the faith during mystagogy
Intentional period gives new Catholics space to further explore the faith
BY JENNIFER BRINKER | [email protected] | twitter: @jenniferbrinker
The Easter season is a time of continued learning — not just for new Catholics, but for all of us.
Newly initiated Catholics are invited to continue their formation and education in a period of post-baptismal catechesis, known as mystagogy. This time extends from the Easter Vigil until at least Pentecost. New members of the Church continue to learn more about the Scriptures, the sacraments and Church teachings. They also have the opportunity to reflect on how they will serve Christ and the Church.
Mystagogy comes from the Greek word meaning “to lead through the mysteries,” and it was the way in which the early Church referred to sacramental catechesis, said Father Charles Samson, assistant professor of biblical theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the Greek word mysterion was translated into Latin by two terms: mysterium and sacramentum. … The term sacramentum emphasizes the visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation, which was indicated by the term mysterium. In this sense, Christ himself is the mystery of salvation: ‘For there is no other mystery of God, except Christ’” (CCC 774).
“The supernatural reality that a person receives in the sacraments is massive and life-changing. It takes a little while to unpack all of it,” Father Samson said. That’s why Christmas and Easter are understood as seasons — both have an octave (a period of eight days after a major feast) as well as a 40-day period to unpack everything that we have celebrated on those two holy days.
But the liturgy and the prayers of the Church during the Easter season also afford everyone the opportunity to continue to learn about the mysteries of our Catholic faith, Father Samson added.
In Church history, we find that St. Augustine and St. Ambrose (who baptized St. Augustine) devoted long periods in which they focused their post-Easter homilies on the sacrament of baptism. Those in the early Church who were baptized also would wear a white garment for 40 days as an outward sign of them having received the sacrament.
Today, the readings in the Mass during the Easter season — and especially found in the weekday readings — come from the Gospel of John, part of which detail Jesus’ Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. Also, the Office of Readings during the Easter season are almost exclusively focused on baptism.
“John is focusing on Christology, the study of Christ and who He is,” Father Samson said. The Church examines with its newest members what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit, the nature of God and who we are to be. “The readings especially help new Catholics to take time to hone in on what Jesus says about Himself, and for new Catholics to ask us: Who is Jesus?” he said.
There are a number of practical ways that parishes continue formation of newly initiated Catholics during mystagogy, such as assigning a mentor to regularly check in with them. Another way is through inviting new Catholics to become visibly involved in parish life in roles such as lector or music cantor.
It’s good to offer those opportunities “while the fire is burning and the zeal is there,” Father Samson said. “Having them serve in some way solidifies the graces that they have received, but also enriches the whole Church.”
The following is a look at the number of individuals who have been received into the Church in the Archdiocese of St. Louis in the past 10 years. The numbers include baptisms for children age 7 and older as well as adults.
2013 — 1136
2014 — 1071
2015 — 1017
2016 — 1013
2017 — 964
2018 — 850
2019 — 807
2020 — 589
2021 — 649
2022 — 719
Numbers for 2023 will be available after Easter