Esther Sykora of St. Bridget’s Parish, River Falls, far left, receives congratulations as the 2021 Pax Christi Award recipient for the Diocese of Superior’s Councils of Catholic Women. She was accompanied by fellow finalists: Evelyn Clarkson of Holy Rosary, Medford; Lenore Krajewski of St. Mary, Bruce; Cathy Peissig of Sacred Heart, Stetsonville; and Nini Milbrath of St. Patrick, Hudson. One finalist, Sally Christiansen of Our Lady of the Lakes, Balsam Lake, was unable to attend. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)
Catholic Herald Staff
Diocesan Council of Catholic Women President Jane Schiszik had hoped for 50 women for the Superior Diocesan Council of Catholic Women’s 2021 Convention. When 77 registrations were received, she was overjoyed, especially since a good number were first-timers.
The 71st Annual Convention took place on Aug. 5 at Holy Rosary Parish in Medford. Attending were Bishop James P. Powers, SDCCW spiritual director Fr. Jim Brinkman, National CCW president and Wisconsin native Jean Kelly and province director Paula Freimuth.
While the convention maintained its characteristic family reunion atmosphere, COVID-19 precautions – basket raffles rather than a silent auction, boxed lunch rather than buffet style meal, etc. – had little effect on the overall dynamics.
Keynote speaker Rose Folsom traveled from Madison, where she has family, but she lives in the Washington, D.C. area. The theme she spoke on was “How to Harvest the Garden of Your Soul.” Folsom encouraged both participation and personal reflection.
Folsom focused on three things that can cultivate the soul like a garden and bring forth a harvest of holiness. Before expounding on the first element, the speaker asked, “Why do we want this?”
Answering, she said, “The good yield are habits of doing the right thing. These strengthen the soul and align living according to God’s design in creation.”
Those habits are virtues, and Folsom defined those as “bite-size pieces” that are various aspects of love.
“The virtues help us live out the grace we receive in the sacraments,” she said, “And help the gifts of the Holy Spirit be most active in us.”
She then shared some personal background, with “several decades to discover what life was like without the Christian virtues” before her conversion to Catholicism at age 37.
“Jesus was the bland guy in the brown bathrobe in my Sunday school classes,” Folsom summarized and added that it was a book given to her by a Catholic friend that set her on a different path.
The book was St. Therese’s “Story of a Soul,” and she said anyone who is familiar with the young Carmelite “knows that she does not mess around.”
Through St. Therese and further in-depth study of the virtues – from the Greeks through Christ to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas – Folsom discovered the virtues are effective and efficient tools for living a happy and confident life.
“I could see they were my ticket to growing in holiness,” she said.
“We have to cultivate the garden of our soul because of what happened in that other garden,” Folsom said, making the point that original sin caused resistance to grace, dried out the soul’s soil and left it in need of cultivation for the seeds of belief to grow into a fruitful plant.
The three things she presented as essential for growth were rain, food or nourishment and sunshine.
The virtue correlating to rain was gratitude that softens the dry soil and increases awareness of dependence on God and openness to receive God’s gifts and graces, even those that arrive wrapped as difficulties and challenges.
Before leaving the women with some moments to reflect on things they are grateful for, Folsom shared statistics about the health benefits of gratitude. One tip she has found valuable is that gratitude is most effective when you’re not just thankful for what you should be thankful for – rather, when you actually feel grateful. It is not merely an intellectual exercise but one that incorporates the mind and spirit.
“Once the soil is moist, the second thing the seed needs is food. Again, the same with our souls … so what is the heavenly food that feeds our souls?” Folsom asked, moving to her second point. “We need a virtue that helps us absorb the nourishment.”
She stated that virtue is prayer and asked for the audience’s help to define it. Various were given and Folsom acknowledged there are many right answers.
Folsom admitted that Bishop Powers’ answer, “Wasting time with God,” made her head explode, but it was in line with St. Augustine’s own definition that is was an exercise of desire.
The third point followed – “Jesus, who comes to us disguised as a piece of bread.”
“That is the germination of grace in our souls,” Folsom said and quoted Scripture, noting God’s desire for us is to be divinized. She also related how challenging it can be in the circumstances of daily life and the distractions that keep us from fully receiving God’s Eucharistic gift at Mass.
She figures ancient sun-worshippers, “Were not that far off – they worshipped a brilliant white disc in the sky that put out more light than they could take in … We Catholics, we kneel at the monstrance and worship a brilliant white disc that gives off more spiritual light than we can even take in, and who is the author of life.
“Jesus Eucharistic is our sunshine,” Folsom affirmed, and “adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is a school of holiness where we get a private tutor.”
Folsom connected this sunshine with the virtue of patience, the heart of love. As a definition of patience, Folsom said, “Patience is enduring something unpleasant in a constructive way.” She clarified that negative feelings necessarily go away, but that the chosen behavior is constructive.
The women were invited to think of unpleasant circumstances in which they could come up with constructive behaviors to practice patience.
As a conclusion, Folsom shared a resource she developed, a 60-minute course called “Path to Patience,” available through her website, VirtueConnection.com.
The Mass was concelebrated by Bishop Powers, Fr. Jim Brinkman, Holy Rosary Pastor Fr. Patrick McConnell and recently arrived Fr. Jayanna Kanna.
In his homily, Bishop Powers called attention to the day’s liturgical feast of the dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. The bishop spoke of the geographical and historical significance of the Gospel’s setting – Caesarea Philippi was a very pagan place, site of a huge cave with an altar to the Greek god Pan and the supposed bottomless pool; one Greek worship rite was to throw your firstborn into the pool as a sacrifice.
This was the place where Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am,” emphasizing the “you” over anyone else.
As the Gospel continues, Jesus speaks of the coming sufferings – much to Peter’s shuffling its necessity, his subsequent rebuke by Christ and then, in the same place again, Peter confirmed as the rock on which Jesus would build his church.
“The key is trust and patience,” Bishop Powers said, “acknowledging that God is God and that I’m not.”
He continued, “How easy is it for us to really trust in God? To trust that through sorrow, through death comes life?”
The bishop added, “We have the luxury of 2,000 years of faith and history.” He then reflected, “If we’re honest, how much stronger is our trust than Peter’s?”
He referenced the difficulties of this past year and the questioning thoughts about what God was doing or allowing, and the difficulty of surrendering feelings of despair and pressing into gratitude and patience.
He drew a parallel with Mary’s “fiat” – it’s “not a one-time thing.”
“We often hold up the saints and think they had privileged lives,” the bishop acknowledged, and then listed the major hurdles Mary’s faith had to take – from Egypt to the temple to the foot of the cross.
He ended with convicted reflections on the value and power of faith in Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist.
“We are called to believe,” the bishop said, “Despite the evil of the world throws at us, in spite of how far away God seems. Our God has promised us that the gates of the netherworld will never prevail …. Let us open our hearts to any of the gifts of grace he showers on us.”
Pax Christi finalists recognized
After Communion, Pax Christi committee chair Katie Zenner introduced each finalist for the organization’s annual award. They were award recipient Esther Sykora, St. Bridget’s Parish, River Falls; and finalists Evelyn Clarkson, Holy Rosary, Medford; Lenore Krajewski, St. Mary, Bruce; Cathy Peissig, Sacred Heart, Stetsonville; and Nini Milbrath, St. Patrick, Hudson.
One finalist, Sally Christiansen, Our Lady of the Lakes, Balsam Lake, was unable to attend.
Fr. Jim Brinkman offered his arm to each woman as they approached the altar, and Bishop Powers presented them with gift bags.
After lunch, Bishop Powers spoke, giving sincere thanks for the women’s prayers and efforts that have sustained him. He didn’t mince words about the challenges facing the whole church as well as the local church.
“We didn’t get where we are overnight,” he stated. “We’re not gonna get back overnight either.”
He added that amid the countless challenges of the pandemic, many opportunities were also opened, as well as the opportunity to believe truly and deeply in the power of prayer and surrender before God’s will as Lord of history.
Following his message, there were updates from NCCW President Jean Kelly and province director Paula Freimuth.