Catholic Herald Staff
“Called to Witness” was the theme for the 69th Annual Convention of the Superior Diocesan Council of Catholic Women held June 18 at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish, Medford.
After an opening prayer by Bishop James P. Powers and a welcome by the mayor of Medford, Mike Wellner, SDCCW President Karen Firnstahl introduced the morning’s keynote speaker.
Judy Hehr’s energy rippled through approximately 100 attendees as she asked everyone to repeat, “I’m called to witness so others can see, the Spirit of God alive in me.”
Hehr is an author, speaker and coach who motivates and inspires. She opened with questions about strength and life circumstances.
“I’d like to level the playing field,” she said. “We have struggles that are similar as women, so similar.”
With a series of props, Hehr listed relatable struggles: painful shoes, shaving, ruined manicures, failed fitness regimens and more. She was trying to show how women feel inferior and superior to others at different times.
“Ladies, life is tough … We are called to witness. We are called to witness to the joy of the Lord, but,” she paused, “some of us aren’t all that joyful … it can be hard to see Jesus in us.”
She addressed them as women who have chosen to educate themselves and to empower and support Catholic women in the areas the CCCW addresses – leadership, service and spirituality. She shared the witness CCW women have been to her, especially during the years when “I didn’t know who I was, or to whom I belonged.”
She asked, “Ladies, why is it that you can see Jesus in one another … but when you look in the mirror, you don’t see Jesus the same way?” Many listeners nodded.
Summarizing her past, she described a “path of destruction … that broke all the commandments” after suffering sexual abuse and the death of her mother, “because I could not deal with the pain of what I had endured.” She left the Church for 20 years.
“We are not inspired by the women who have it all together,” Hehr continued. “We are inspired by women who keep it together when it’s all falling apart.”
She described women who inspire as standing on a foundation of faith, in a constant state of conversion, approaching the sacraments, seeking the grace they need to be the change they want to see.
“I have encountered those women in the Council (of Catholic Women),” she stated. “I don’t think you know the influence and impact that you absolutely have on women, of all ages and all stages of faith.”
Hehr spoke on the profound impact of presence, and how this presence and readiness to witness is evidence of belief. She asked listeners to reflect on how they can survive, but not thrive, without connection. She said agreement is not essential to relationship; relationship doesn’t stop one from speaking or acting in truth, but Jesus never condemned another.
“We were given this gift of being relational, ladies, and if we don’t exercise it, we will never be satisfied and we can never be the witnesses we are called to be.”
Hehr added, “You can never make up in ministry where you are falling short in your family.
“Sometimes we are nicer to a stranger then we are to the people that God has put under out roof … We can’t make up for our witness here, if the people that we live with and love do not see Jesus in us … There is nothing more important than our children saying, ‘My mom left us a legacy of love.’”
Hehr recounted how she couldn’t breathe when she lost her mother at 18, a woman who represented a love she never felt anywhere else. She described her mother as the New Testament and her father, “a good and Godly man,” as the Old Testament. He didn’t mind not being loved, he wanted respect; he was all about right and wrong, black and white. Realities Hehr didn’t deny, but said that he practiced it “at the expense of a relationship with almost all of his children … When we did not follow all my father’s rules and regulations, he turned his back on us. He called it tough love.
“See, what I know about Jesus is that He doesn’t turn his back. He just waits like a perfect gentlemen for as long as it takes for Him to let you love you.”
The speaker then brought out another prop – a dog collar, bedazzled, with pink fur.
She spoke of its purpose – to prevent the licking of wounds. She talked about how important the healing of wounds is for healthy relationships and spoke about forgiveness and realistic expectations.
“Not only relationally are we called to witness,” Hehr said, “but we are called to witness with our best self… If you just became the best version of yourself, you would not have time to be worried about what anyone else was doing.”
Hehr noted most of a person’s thoughts are negative. “Scripture says we are not to be conformed to patterns of this world, but transformed by the renewal of our mind,” she said.
“When we do not take control of our mind, the enemy will – and he will fill it with thoughts of doubt and discouragement until it leads to despair or destruction … The enemy is just as happy if we are just distracted.
“Your mind is a garden, your thoughts are the seeds. And you can grow flowers, or you can grow weeds.”
Hehr shared that it was the Sacred Heart and Divine Mercy that brought her back to the Church, helped her get control of her mind and learn who she is and to whom she belongs. Learning to practice her mother’s advice of “offer it up” allowed her to offer up every injustice, every betrayal.
“When I let it go, it didn’t change (what happened) … it changed me,” she shared. She challenged women to recognize their ability to close the gap between self-righteousness and self-rightness, in their families, churches and communities, “by believing, by thinking thoughts of love, life and mercy and not judgment and condemnation.”
Witnessing is evidence, proof of your faith “which has been tried and tested.” She said, some of you are walking around and preaching the Good News in a bad mood, and gave humorous examples from her home parish.
“They will know you by your love. Love. Are you loving? Are you trying to be right? Because you can ‘right’ your kids right out of the Catholic Church.” She clarified she wasn’t “even remotely saying” to condone their actions or conform to the world, “but you can love the sinner and hate (the sin).
“When your emotions are in check, and your thoughts are being conformed to the truth of God, you are skilled at seeing God in all things,” she said.
“When you are at your emotional best, you have the ability to provide empathy,” she said. She described this understanding as a work of the Holy Spirit.
“Fear and faith don’t reside in the same place,” Hehr stated. “You have countless opportunities to bear witness to the love and mercy of God.”
Hehr ended as she began, asking the women to repeat: “I’m called to witness so you can see, the Spirit of God at work in me.”
Bishop Powers addressed participants in the homily and the afternoon keynote.
During the Mass, he spoke of charity and stewardship, of making good on good intentions and of Jesus’ example – turning popular wisdom upside down – of total and unconditional love. Loving someone doesn’t require liking them, but it does require seeing each and every person as a child of God and seeing His presence in them.
The bishop called on the women to “allow God to speak to our hearts, and our hearts to touch our minds.”
He invited to prayer for one’s enemies, but “perhaps not so much for our enemies and for ourselves, because in that time of prayer, we allow our God to change us as well. If we give him the chance, He will take away that bitterness, that pain, that hurt so that we can see that Child of God in the other.”
In his presentation after a buffet lunch, the bishop spoke on the liturgical year and the relationship God seeks with his people through its seasons and feasts, the need to understand and experience “that our God never abandons us, that He is with us.”
He showed how God continually invites, never forcing relationship, but renewing that invitation in each new season and annual feast.
Regretting the lack of faith, or practice of it, in young people, Bishop Powers asked how we can let them know the importance of God’s grace.
“We have to know it, believe it, live it, witness it ourselves,” he confirmed.
He said that it doesn’t take a master’s in theology to evangelize, to witness to our faith.
“It takes belief. Because so much about out God is so unbelievable,” he emphasized.
“A mystery doesn’t mean something for us to solve, when we’re talking about God – enter into that unbelievable, unknowable realm of our God’s love. We need to relish it, to revel in it. Embrace it with every fiber in our being. Because that’s how our God wants us to accept it, that’s how He gives it to us – total, absolute, unconditional.”
Awards and invitations
Reports were shared from the National and Provincial Councils of Catholic Women. Jean Kelly of Milwaukee, who will be installed as president for the NCCW, invited women to the national convention in Atlanta this August. The NCCW’s 100th anniversary is in 2020.
Carol Brennan encouraged woman to allow for the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives and councils.
“Don’t be afraid to say ‘yes.’ Sometimes we need to let go of the control and let God do what He wants with us,” she said. This echoed the call made throughout the convention for women to step into CCW leadership roles.
A highlight of each diocesan convention is the announcing of the winner of the Pax Christi award, the highest honor for a CCW member regionally. Four of the five finalists were present: Marie Martin, St. Peter, Winter; Sara Hunt, Immaculate Conception, Grantsburg; Mary Arts, St. Mary, Bruce; and Margaret Rasmussen, St. Mary, Minong.
The winner, Mary Joan Sutton, St. Bridget, River Falls, was not present.
Officers were installed after the Mass, and the recipients of the SDCCW Mary Jane Morancyk Hennessy Scholarship were recognized. This year, the $500 scholarships were awarded to four women: Emily Shipman, whose home parish is Holy Rosary, Medford; Emily Niggeman, also of Holy Rosary; Abigail Solum, Our Lady of Lourdes, Dobie; and Amy Klimowski, St. Therese of Lisieux, Phillips.
The 2020 SDCCW convention will be at St. Joseph’s, Rice Lake.