Father Michael Gaitley is quickly becoming known for promoting the Divine Mercy through every means possible. A priest of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, he is director of the Association of Marian Helpers, which assists others in growing spiritually and raises funds for seminarians.
But Father Gaitley, 35, has not always possessed such dedication to the Divine Mercy. Growing up in southern California, he dreamed of becoming a professional beach volleyball player. He even saw his spiritual life at the time through the eyes of this athletic dream, directing his prayers toward the hope of becoming taller.
While Father Gaitley did grow physically, he also grew spiritually, letting go of his volleyball dream to pursue the priesthood. Nonetheless, he still enjoys hitting a volleyball, tossing a Frisbee using a skateboard. He recently explained his “zany devotion” — and his latest Divine Mercy announcement — to Register correspondent Trent Beattie.
Did you grow up in a devout family, and did you appreciate the Divine Mercy early on?
Devout family? Not really. Until I was about 7, we were kind of a southern California hippie family. I remember us always having a lot of people at the house for parties. The party atmosphere was fun, but something was definitely missing.
When I was about 7, my mom got back into her Catholic faith and dragged us kids with her. We started going to Mass, and I received my first holy Communion. Because my mom had to work on Sundays, I would ride my bike to Mass. Unfortunately, I didn’t go because of a love for the Eucharist. I did it because I wanted to be a pro beach volleyball player.
In other words, in order to be “pro beach,” I figured I needed to be at least 6 feet 1 inch tall, and, in my early teens, I wasn’t even close to that. So, my idea of Divine Mercy at the time was simply going to Mass and begging for this mercy: “Lord, please give me the extra inches I need so I can be pro beach!”
Your mother is quoted as saying that you’re devout but also zany. In what way might you be zany?
Here’s an example: Sometimes I enjoy peppering conversations with lines from the movie Napoleon Dynamite, which I think is “sweet.” Many people dismiss it as just a dumb movie for teens. I disagree. I think it’s brilliant, and I’ve developed a whole talk based on the movie, because I’ve had to defend it so many times from people who say, “Oh, that stupid movie.”
Anyway, part of the essence of the movie is that things don’t always fit our expectations. This is true, especially in the spiritual life.
God often surprises us, and we find him in places where we least expect him. So, I guess the way I’m zany (and devout?) is that I like to find God in those unexpected places — like in Napoleon Dynamite — while on my skateboard, at the beach chasing a Frisbee or volleyball, or even when talking to modern-day “hippies.”
As I’m saying this, while I’ve got movies on my mind, I think I just figured out one of the reasons Chariots of Fire is one of my all-time favorite movies: The main character, runner Eric Liddell, experienced God in the chapel, yes, but also when he would run. He explained to his uptight sister, Jenny (who was against his choice to run competitively), that it was God who made him a fast runner. “And,” Eric explained, “when I run, I feel his pleasure.”
I love that. So, I guess I’d say: God made me a bit zany, and when I’m zany, I feel his pleasure.
Why did you choose to attend Franciscan University over UCLA?
It’s all St. Thérèse’s fault. I’d heard you could ask “the Little Flower,” as she’s often called, for different colored roses to help you make an important decision. Kind of as a joke, I said, “All right, St. Thérèse: If God wants me to go to UCLA, send me red roses. If he wants me to go to Steubenville, send me yellow roses. And if I don’t get any roses, I’m going to UCLA.” I admit it. I stacked the deck in favor of UCLA, especially because I figured yellow roses are much less common than red roses.
Anyway, to make a long story short, I got a slew of yellow roses, and, yep, that’s the main reason why I passed up sunny California, beach volleyball and surfing and headed to the Rust Belt for college. It was the best decision that someone else ever made for me.
You have an interesting story regarding a college girlfriend, which is the opposite of what happened with St. Therese’s parents. Instead of initially aspiring to priesthood and religious life, you both pondered marriage, but then ended up a priest and a nun. How did that happen?
Going to Franciscan was the best decision someone else ever made for me, and giving up Blanche, my girlfriend, was the best decision I ever made. Why? Because I got a religious and priestly vocation out of it, I’m able to help lots of people and I even got the girl back, so to speak, though in a way I didn’t expect.
Here’s what happened: One day, one of the most beautiful, holy, wonderful girls at the entire college comes up to me and tells me she can’t eat or concentrate in her classes because she’s fallen in love with me. I immediately think to myself, Jackpot! Then I say, “Okay, well, let’s take it slow.”
So we go on a few walks together (the university’s version of dating), and during that time, the Lord is making it very clear to me that he wants me to be a priest. (Believe me, he had to make it very clear.) So, I tell Blanche it will “never, never, never work out between us because Jesus wants me to be a priest.” She sends me a note the next day saying, “Dear Mike, I keep you in my prayers every day, and if God wants you to become a priest, I will be the happiest woman in the world. I know God has wonderful plans for you (wonderful doesn’t mean easy).” And that was that. I didn’t talk with Blanche much after getting her note.
After Blanche graduated, she went back to France, and I didn’t hear from her. Then, one day, out of the blue, she called me from her home in Paris. She told me that she would be entering the convent the following week and that she would be giving her life in prayer for me to be a holy priest. She said she’d be praying for all priests, but especially for me. I told her I would work hard (and I do).
Blanche prays for me a ton. In fact, the founder of her community once called me on the phone while I was in the seminary and said, “Brother Michael, I have holy envy of you.” I asked why, and the reply was, “I’ve never seen a nun pray for someone as much as I see Sister Bernadette pray for you.” I know it’s Sister Bernadette’s prayers and the prayers of many other “spiritual mothers” that are a big, big source of any fruitfulness of my work.
Why did you choose to be a part of the Marians, as opposed to another order or a diocese?
I discerned that God was calling me to religious life, so that ruled out becoming a diocesan priest. I chose the Marians for two main reasons: Divine Mercy and Mary. The Marians have done more than any other religious congregation to spread the message of Divine Mercy, and they are also fully devoted to Mary and to the Church.
Furthermore, it was easy to choose the Marians when I saw that the community is full of new, zealous and holy vocations. In fact, I look at the new guys — we have 27 men in formation — and I think to myself, How did I get here? They are really, really good guys.
Father Donald Calloway, our vocation director, is doing an awesome job getting the word out about the community. By the way, if any of the readers know of a young man discerning a vocation and looking for a community that’s fully devoted to the Church, Mary and Divine Mercy, have him give us a call at (877) 261-8806.
What are the main things you do as director of the Association of Marian Helpers?
As the director of the association, I have the honorary title “Father Joseph,” and I’m basically in charge of helping our association members grow spiritually and raising funds for our seminarians, among other things. (With all the new seminarians, this is becoming a very big job.)
When I started in January of last year, I didn’t want to just send letters to people asking them to support us. I also wanted to give them something. So, I started an evangelization initiative for the parishes called Hearts Afire: Parish-Based Programs for the New Evangelization.
The program’s official release date is Divine Mercy Sunday. On that day, I’ll announce the program during the live EWTN broadcast from Stockbridge [at the Divine Mercy Shrine in Massachusetts].
Basically, it’s a small-group program of retreats and studies that lead people through a process of consecration to Jesus through Mary, introduction to Divine Mercy and catechesis in our faith. Each retreat includes the following materials: a retreat book (for example, 33 Days to Morning Glory and Consoling the Heart of Jesus), a retreat companion (to write in), and a series of talks on DVD.
If anyone is interested in learning more, we’ve put together a website that explains everything, AllHeartsAfire.org, and I invite people to tune in for our live Divine Mercy Sunday broadcast on EWTN that starts at noon (EST).
In Consoling the Heart of Jesus, you make the bold claim that your retreat “in a book” can give the reader the same spiritual benefit as a 30-day Ignatian retreat. How does this work, and can lack of silence in the reader’s home negate some of that grace?
You’re right. It is a bold claim. I took my cue in making it from Venerable Father Pio Bruno Lanteri, who was a holy Italian priest famous for promoting the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 19th century. The story goes that he would basically tell people, “Look, if you don’t have time to make the whole 30-day Ignatian retreat, then give me just eight days, and you will have everything you need to become a saint, a great saint — and quickly.” Father Lanteri had such confidence in his retreats because of what I call his two “secret weapons,” namely, Divine Mercy and Mary. In other words, during his retreats, Lanteri would emphasize Divine Mercy and Mary, and he believed that this emphasis lent even greater spiritual “oomph” to his eight-day retreats, making them just as effective as the longer versions.
Now, my logic in writing Consoling the Heart of Jesus, which is ideally to be made during a weekend, is that since Father Lanteri’s death some 180 years ago, his secret weapons have become even more powerful.
In the last 180 years, there have been even more insights into the treasures of Marian devotion and Divine Mercy. I’m thinking, for instance, of the teachings of “Marian giants” such as St. Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed John Paul II. Then, on the Mercy front, I’m thinking of “Mercy giants” such as St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, and, again, Blessed John Paul. With the insights of such spiritual superstars behind us, I believe that Lanteri’s bold claim can be made with even more boldness: Not in 30 days, not in eight days, but in just one weekend, you can have everything you need to become a saint, a great saint — and quickly.
The Consoling the Heart of Jesus retreat is very flexible. People can make it in silence during a prayerful weekend at a retreat house or in their own homes. Or they can read it whenever they can carve out shorter times of silence in between such things as changing diapers, mowing lawns or working at the office.
Keep in mind that Ignatian spirituality is about becoming a “contemplative in action” and that St. Ignatius intended that his retreats be made either at a retreat house during a long period of silence or in the midst of the hustle and bustle of one’s daily life according to what’s called the “19th Annotation” version of the retreat. Many attest that the latter version of the retreat is even more effective, because it helps a person learn to become a “contemplative in action” more quickly.
How many printings have there been, and how many copies have sold so far?
Consoling the Heart of Jesus came out just over two years ago, and we’re about to begin our seventh printing. We’ve sold more than 40,000 copies of the book and issued or sold more than 30,000 of the Prayer Companion, an accessory to the book. Obviously, this is a big — and much needed — financial boost to our booming seminarian program.
As for the second full book, 33 Days to Morning Glory, the demand has been huge. We’ve already sold nearly 15,000 copies in just over three months. Based on the demand and unique offers I’ve received to help with the distribution, the second print run order, which I’ve just sent in, is for 90,000 books. That’s the second-largest print run we’ve ever done at Marian Press. (The largest was for 100,000 copies of the Diary of St. Faustina.)
33 Days to Morning Glory is an alternative to the customary preparation to Marian consecration. Have you found people to be appreciative of this new format?
The response has been overwhelming. I’ve gotten tons of emails and letters from people who had tried to do the traditional version but couldn’t persevere because of all the lengthy prayers, or from people who did the traditional version but never renewed it because of the daily commitment. They are so grateful to have this easier to use and updated version. Also, many people are telling me that they’re finding the new version even more effective because it brings them to a deeper understanding of what the consecration actually means.
I’m excited about this because, according to St. Louis de Montfort, Marian consecration is the “quickest, easiest, surest and most perfect” way to become a saint, and I’m overjoyed to make it more accessible to everyone.
What is the one thing you would tell someone about the message of Divine Mercy who may have never heard of it before?
If I only could say one thing to someone who never heard of the message of Divine Mercy, it would be this: “Learn about it! I promise you that it will change your life.” One easy way that people can learn about it is to download our free “Divine Mercy” app for Apple and Android mobile devices. It contains tons of info about the Divine Mercy message and devotion. I also recommend our website, TheDivineMercy.org, which features information and articles about Divine Mercy. This year, we’re really excited to offer a whole new section there on how to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, which we hope will be a great resource for pastors and their assistants as they prepare for celebrating the feast.
This article was originally published at the National Catholic Register and is reprinted with permission from the author.