By Jill Ragar Esfeld
LENEXA — For years, it laid buried in the basement — a treasure of imagery and symbolism started, but never finished.
Until Cookie Moffitt, a professional artist and member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, began purging her house last summer.
When Cookie unrolled the long banner she had stored away and almost forgotten, she was struck by the word at the top — a gold-leafed “Fiat.” (The Latin word fiat means “let it be done” or, loosely translated, “yes.”)
She remembered beginning the artwork during the millennium celebration of the year 2000.
“I always intended to finish it, because that image was in the back of my mind,” she said. “But it got put on the back burner.”
When Cookie saw the banner again, she realized that during the time it had been in storage, she had learned to live everything the artwork symbolized.
She knew then she had to finish the painting in honor of the Apostles of the Interior Life (AVI), a public association of the faithful here in the archdiocese, whose guidance had led her to a full understanding of her own fiat.
“I wanted to complete it for the Sisters,” said Cookie. “Their lives exemplify what the painting represents.”
Gift of gratitude
Cookie’s husband Gordon wasn’t surprised by Cookie’s resolve.
“The more she was around the Sisters and saw what they were all about,” he said, “[the more] she just felt like they should have the banner. Fiat is part of their charism — they say ‘yes.’”
On Dec. 12, Ruth Kuefler made her profession of vows as an AVI at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center in Lawrence.
At the same time, in honor of their 25th anniversary, all the AVI Sisters and priests renewed their vows.
Cookie chose this occasion to surprise the Sisters with a presentation of her banner.
“Sister Loredana said she was in shock,” said Gordon after the banner was revealed at a reception following the profession of vows.
Indeed, all the AVI members were moved by Cookie’s act of kindness.
“I was very touched and surprised,” said Sister Ruth. “I had no idea she was giving us this gift.
“I had never seen her artwork before, so I was very struck by her generosity in sharing her talents in that way — and the image itself expressing that surrender of the fiat.”
The image of Christ and the Holy Spirit above a compliant Mary came directly from Cookie’s imagination.
“Cookie is a unique artist in that she never copies or traces,” said Gordon. “Everything she does is freehand, and it all comes from her mind and her heart.”
The art of saying ‘yes’
Sister Ruth and Cookie share a creative approach to their walk with God.
Sister Ruth is a gifted musician, excelling in violin, who writes songs to express her faith.
“Just in the past two or three years, since I’ve been in formation in Rome,” she said, “I’ve started picking up songwriting.
“I feel like it is one of the ways that God has given me to be able to speak with him and also to express inspirations that he may give me in prayer.”
Cookie believes her own art flows from divine inspiration.
“Just as that reflects in the banner,” she said, “I think it reflects in our lives — when we say ‘yes’ to God, things go easy.”
Cookie has painted detailed murals in homes and businesses throughout the area. She’s known for her faux finishes and intricate marble simulations, including architectural relief on the Country Club Plaza Kansas City, Missouri.
She’s been featured in national magazines, but is best known to local Catholics for creating the icon above the sanctuary in her home parish.
Though she has had great success as an artist, Cookie is the first to admit she isn’t always confident she’s worthy of that call.
“Because I’m so flawed,” she said. “I guess the biggest thing that I can say to people about anything they’re going to do in life is don’t underestimate what God can do with a flawed individual.
“When you surrender to God and say yes, it’s a miracle how things fall into place. And that’s our own little personal fiat anytime we act.”
Sister Ruth agreed.
“I said a big ‘yes’ the other day when I took my vows,” she said. “But for me, it’s even bigger than that: It’s saying ‘yes’ to God’s love and his grace, which he offers every day.”
Hearing the call
Through the banner, Cookie hoped to express the charism of the AVIs as it relates their desire to help with the interior formation of all who seek to say “yes” to God’s love.
The Moffitts were first introduced to the Apostles when Gordon heard Sister Loredana speak at a session offered by the School of Faith.
“They reflect joy so much that you’re impressed,” he said. “And you want some of what they have.
“You want to be happy like them.”
The couple deepened their relationship with the Apostles when they accompanied them on a pilgrimage to Italy and attended their Collaborators of Your Joy group each month.
“When Cookie met the Sisters and started to hang around them,” said Gordon, “she also experienced that genuine love that they project.”
“They’re so charismatic,” Cookie said. “It’s hard not to feel their joy.”
Gordon was part of the first group to complete the AVI’s Catholic Spiritual Mentorship Program.
“I felt called to that,” he said. “It is a lay ministry of actually showing people how to have a relationship with Jesus every day through meditative, mental prayer.
“When people learn to depend on that, they become more joyful.”
Cookie came to rely on Gordon’s strength and mentorship of faith when she started her own journey of trust in God’s will.
Shortly after the Moffitts got to know the Apostles, Cookie was diagnosed with a very rare disease — granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA), a form of systemic vasculitis.
“I wouldn’t wish the diagnosis on anyone,” she said.
The inflammation resulting from the disease restricts blood flow to various organs, often affecting the kidneys, lungs and upper respiratory tract.
“Without treatment,” said Cookie, “it’s fatal. So you have to be diligent because a flare-up can kill you.”
Cookie has endured several surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy. She continues to take daily medication to fight the disease. And, occasionally, she is hospitalized for infusions.
“I did have a flare-up recently,” she said. “But I hope I’m going to go into remission and, just like a lot of diseases, if you hang in there and do what you’ve got to do, maybe there will be a cure.”
Watching a loved one suffer is never easy, but Gordon finds strength in the interior spiritual life he has developed through his relationship with the AVIs.
“They taught me how slowly, through my prayer life, to build a relationship with Jesus every day,” he said. “And when something comes up, I just go straight to him for the strength.
“Because I don’t have it.”
With the help of Gordon, the Sisters and her own spiritual mentor, Cookie also has learned to rely on God for her strength every day.
“I don’t believe in accidents,” said Cookie of her disease. “I believe things happen for a reason.
“And I believe the people we run into, like the Sisters, are there for a reason. Sometimes we’re the messenger, and sometimes we’re receiving the message.”
The AVIs have been good messengers for Cookie.
“Every one of them when they approach her will always ask her how she’s feeling,” said Gordon. “And sometimes, she’ll want to tell them because she might be going through a difficult time.
“And if she needs prayers, they will pray. They’re prayer warriors.”
Over time, Cookie has become a prayer warrior, too.
“I journal every day now,” she said. “I begin my day with meditative prayer and continue it throughout the day.
“The biggest prayer I have that gives me peace is I don’t think I’m walking alone — I walk in the constant knowledge that God is sharing every step.”
Cookie’s prayer is the secret to the joy of the Apostles.
“I’ve seen this in my own life and discernment journey,” said Sister Ruth. “Just opening my heart every day, really believing in God’s love for me and saying ‘yes’ with trust to whatever he may have in store [is the secret].
“[It’s] listening to his voice of love instead of listening to whatever fears might arise.”
In Cookie’s journey also, God’s love has drowned out the voice of fear.
“Here’s the deal,” she said. “We’re all living on God’s borrowed time and we choose how we’re going to react to everything in life.
“If we can be humble and grateful and have a servant’s heart, that’s all we’re called to do. Sometimes, we become so intellectual and scientific we don’t want to think it’s that simple.
“But it is.”