Tuesday September 17, 2019
2:35 am
Bishop Hying

Women’s conference brings hope, as hundreds come together in fiery spirit of faith, love and mercy

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on April 29, 2018

 

      Last weekend, the first-ever Catholic Women’s Conference occurred in our diocese. Almost 700 women packed Queen of All Saints in Michigan City for a day filled with the Eucharist, reconciliation, inspiring speakers, prayer and the spiritual fellowship of simply being with fellow disciples of Jesus Christ.  

      The enthusiasm, energy, joy and faith of those gathered were energetically contagious! I want to thank everyone who helped in any way to make this powerful experience a living reality.

      In my presentation that day, I reflected on the gift of women in the Church. Imagine our parishes, schools, hospitals and religious education programs without women. They do the majority of the volunteering, serving, teaching and praying. Without their gifts of leadership, compassion, wisdom and faith, the Church would be hard-pressed to even continue.  

      As I looked at the beautiful servants of the Lord before me last Saturday, I rejoiced that the Holy Spirit has stirred so many hearts to fall deeper in love with the Lord and give their lives to the practice of the Gospel.

      Because religion is all about relationship, generally speaking, women seem more naturally religious than men. Perhaps, this intuitive spiritual sense lies in women’s innate ability to form relationships, to nurture loving connections with others, to instinctively offer compassion and mercy. Due in part to their biological and holy maternal capacity, women simply engage and bond with others more naturally than men.  

      Many widows are able to move through their grief and build a new life after the death of their husband because they have a network of friends. Such a helpful dynamic is less prevalent in the lives of men, because they tend to have fewer friendships. Thankfully, more men are beginning to realize their deep need for friendship and relationship with other men, especially in their spirituality.

      With the exception of St. John, only women stayed at the foot of the Cross. Every logical instinct of self-preservation would have told them to flee this place of violence, hatred and death. Love kept them rooted to the spot, as the curses, taunting, torture and excruciating death of Jesus swirled about them on that terrible Friday afternoon. 

      As is so often the case, women became witnesses to the primacy of compassion, mercy and love in the face of evil. Women were the ones hastening towards the tomb on Easter morning to anoint the body of the Lord. Hence, Mary Magdalene becomes the first witness of the resurrection, evangelizing the apostles in the surprise, shock, confusion and joy of that pivotal day.

      While the following Christian traits I reflect on are not necessarily feminine ones - since Jesus himself exemplified them so well - many women model them in a powerful and transformative way. Compassion is the ability to literally suffer with another. While sympathy offers condolence and support for a time and from a safe emotional distance, compassion climbs down into the dark hole of suffering and despair that we all sometimes find ourselves in.  

      Think of Job’s friends who simply sit with him in silence for seven days, sharing deeply in his pain.  Think of Mary holding the dead body of her son after the deposition from the Cross. When a loving friend courageously enters into our grief and wounds, not with pat answers or text-book responses, but with an open heart that listens and seeks to understand in a profound stance of compassion, we find peace and healing. We are called to pass on such a gift to the broken hearts that we encounter along our path to the Kingdom.

      In his ministry, Jesus made himself abundantly available, being present to the needs of others and responding in the immediacy of the moment. He did not have a predetermined schedule which prevented him from multiplying food, healing paralyzed limbs, forgiving sins, preaching parables and raising the dead, as people encountered the Lord.  

      When we make ourselves available to others in love and concern, God will powerfully use us to be instruments of compassion, transformation, hope and healing to others. In a particularly impressive way, women and men religious have observed and felt the social needs of the community around them and responded with generous service, establishing institutions and programs of education, health care, social service and advocacy for the marginalized and neglected. Availability can challenge us because the realization of poverty, injustice and misery in the world will change and stretch us in ways that we may find uncomfortable and even disturbing.

      We readily acknowledge that many times, women’s intelligence, leadership, skills and gifts have not always been readily appreciated and received, both in the Church and our wider society.  

      How many women have experienced harassment, violence, abuse, discrimination and diminishment, usually from men? We need to encourage and welcome, providing both formation and education, so that more women can assume positions of leadership in the Church and exercise their baptismal call and gifts, precisely in their feminine identity.  

      Last Saturday’s conference gave me hope, gratitude, joy and energy as hundreds of women throughout our diocese came together in a fiery spirit of faith, love and mercy.  For all of the strong, wise and loving women in our lives, we give thanks and praise! 

 

       + Donald J. Hying

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