Pax Christi Award winner Carol Gilson is congratulated by Bishop James P. Powers after being surprised by the announcement. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)
Catholic Herald Staff
The 73rd annual Superior Diocesan Council of Catholic Women’s Convention was opened by President Bridgette Adler invoking the relationships that had brought women to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Rice Lake.
“We have been brought here by relationship,” she said, “with our councils, our council sisters and God.”
Under the theme “Preparing for the Journey Home,” the convention covered two days with the first, Monday, June 19, including a board meeting and social. The highlights for Tuesday, June 20, were keynote speaker Marge Fenelon, Mass with Bishop James P. Powers and the announcement of the Pax Christi Award winner.
In her president’s message, Adler expanded on the days’ theme: “Before anyone undertakes a journey, he or she must anticipate and fortify for the tasks ahead. As we set out on our journey to God’s kingdom, the true goal of our life, we can strengthen ourselves through fellowship … celebrating holy Mass together and being inspired by our wonderful speakers. “We can reflect with wonder that ‘no eye has seen nor ear has heard what God has prepared for those who love him.’”
In Marge Fenelon’s keynote, “Spirituality of Womanhood: Living our Catholic Faith in a Unique Feminine Way,” she focused on Marian scenes from the Bible and the profound qualities the Blessed Virgin exemplified.
Fenelon is a journalist, author, life coach, retreat leader, internationally known speaker and Catholic media personality. She has many articles published and her books focus on Marian devotion and Catholic spirituality. She is a frequent guest on Catholic radio programs and hosts a podcast, “Simply Holy.”
To begin her presentation, Fenelon distinguished religion from spirituality, saying that religion encompasses the overarching common beliefs and practices while spirituality is the more specific way a person lives it, including the charism and attributes in following a certain saint, founder or characteristic like femininity.
Offering Mary as the “best example” and “epitome of the spirituality of womanhood,” Fenelon looked at six events in Mary’s life.
First, the annunciation and visitation. The speaker read the Scripture passage and helped the women enter into the scene, commenting on some of the historical context of Mary’s being pregnant while yet only betrothed to Joseph. Stating just how life-threatening the revelation of Mary’s pregnancy could have been, Fenelon invited attendees to imagine her heartache and the impact of her “yes” to the Angel.
“She can’t explain to Joseph what’s going on; she can’t defend herself. She understands the confusion of hard choices,” she said. In her traumatic life situation, she utters the Magnificat – what God has done for her, to her and through her.
Noting Mary’s profound quality of trust, Fenelon said, “We need to remember to utter our own Magnificat … it may be hard, but it’s a way to open our hearts to God’s action further.”
Moving second to the nativity and the reflection on Mary as a young mother without knowing what to expect, especially as no one had ever given birth to God, Fenelon noted how pretty it can all sound. With the reality – including slobbering animals, rags and a feed trough, the new mother must have felt helpless and inadequate.
“This had to weigh on her heart,” Fenelon said and drew a parallel, “What times have you felt inadequate? Financially, unexpected circumstances or other needs you can’t feel, limitations?”
Seeing Mary do “the best she could with what she had and letting God do the rest,” Fenelon proposed Mary’s profound quality of endurance.
Third, the flight to Egypt. Fenelon described this as being akin to an action-packed spy movie. This “fleeing woman following God’s mysterious will, having to protect” her son from hit men while moving to a foreign country on a donkey, facing so many unknowns.
Mary has, Fenelon said, “no other way than complete reliance on God’s grace and providence. Mary is a woman of profound strength.”
She then asked her listeners to ask, “What is your foreign territory? A new job or family situation, health circumstance – in these situations we need to imitate and pray for Mary’s ability to live this strength.”
In the wedding at Cana, Fenelon presented Mary as an attentive woman who saw the couple’s embarrassment and hoped Jesus could take care of their needs. This quality of certain hope allows Jesus to handle the situation as he sees fit.
She asked the question, “What are the ways and times we have run out of ‘wine’? Losses and difficulties, ways we have been snubbed by others, mental health challenges … Mary might have felt these confused feelings herself.” Then shared her “favorite and most frequent prayer. Mary, I have no wine.”
The fifth moment Fenelon reflected on was the crucifixion, which presents Mary as grieving mother and child. Describing the setting, she zeroed in on the mocking and spitting directed at Jesus, the placement of the crown of thorns and cross to be carried. All the while, Mary is watching and can do nothing to ease her son’s terrible suffering. Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausted herself, Mary “must have had mixed emotions,” the speaker offered.
“As a mother, she wants to protect her son, but as being the perfect Child of God, she wanted with all her heart that God’s will be done… nowhere in Scripture do we hear her say any word against God’s will.”
This moment reveals Mary’s quality of profound faith, knowing that God had a reason and that he could bring good from it. She said that standing at the feet of our own crosses, we can try to imitate Mary. Lastly, at Pentecost, Mary is seen as disciple. Fenelon said how Mary had heard Jesus’ message before anyone else. Then during the world’s first novena, those nine days in the Upper Room, her openness to the Holy Spirit held all her Son’s followers together.
She who had formed Christ in her womb was also there for the forming the church. While they were all still under threat and grieving the loss of Jesus’ physical presence, “imagine the pride and joy that Mary must have felt seeing the courage of her son’s friends and companions going out and continuing his work,” Fenelon said.
“She was filled with joy and pride, seeing the work of the Holy Spirit in these men’s lives. Here, Mary is a woman of joy, trusting in God to know that he will do something as glorious as Pentecost,” Fenelon added, reflecting how important it is to be attentive God’s action in our lives and remind ourselves often.
“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” Bishop Powers repeated from the Gospel reading to begin his homily. “How are we doing?”
Reflecting on the Beatitudes, Bishop said, “They sound great until we get into what they are … In the chapters that follow, Jesus is putting flesh on the beatitudes. What it means to be a child of God. What it means to be human.”
He continued speaking about the Scripture’s accounting of humanity being made in God’s image and likeness. “God, true love, created us in the same way and for the same purpose,” and added, “When we think we’re going to do it by ourselves … we’re going to fail miserably.”
Until we surrender ourselves to the love of God, Bishop Powers went on, there’s never going to be true happiness or sense of fulfillment. He noted the importance of God’s grace throughout the process, as in Mary’s life.
The bishop added, “Jesus is trying to help us see the power of prayer – that opens our hearts to God’s love and the change his love can bring about … Only be opening our arms, in picking up that cross of ours daily and following the Lord that any of this makes sense.”
He then connected the Mass and Eucharistic Revival with God’s continued presence among us, the space made available for the gift of self-offering, and the fruits that can result for our own good and that of the whole world.
“Let us pray for an openness,” Bishop Powers concluded, “To God’s grace and voice – alive in our world, alive in our hearts… That whisper that reassures us of his love and peace in the midst of all the yelling and screaming … “Let us allow him to touch our hearts and our minds. And may we respond, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ With God’s help, we can and we will transform that face of the world.”
Pax Christi Award
Carol Gilson was the East Deanery’s finalist and 2023 Pax Christi Award winner. A faithful member of Holy Family Parish in Woodruff for more than 50 years, Gilson was accompanied at the convention by two adult children.
The other finalists were Gail Damm, Barbara Lynch, Julia Ruff and Theresa Bockey. Interview articles will be published in future issues of the Catholic Herald.
During a question-and-answer period after lunch, Bishop Powers addressed topics mostly surrounding vocations. His conclusion was how important support from family is for a potential vocation to become an ordained priest. “One of the main reasons men give for not looking at the priesthood,” he said, “is a lack of support from their families and local community.”
Moderator for the SDCCW, Fr. Jim Brinkman shared a succinct overview of the philosophies and ways of understanding knowledge and experience that have led to the current situation of confusion and upheaval in society. When metaphysics – discussions on the nature of things known through reason – took a back seat to philosophies that have led to individualism, materialism and hedonism (focus on pleasure-seeking), society basically became anti-Catholic, he asserted.
“What is the least I have to do in life” to get what serves my own interested and pleasure, is at the center of what many people of all ages are seeking. However, he said that the lifestyle can “only bring temporary relief because the big questions of life linger. The search goes on to try and find temporary solutions to the question of happiness. You experience hunger but don’t what you’re hungry for.”
Adding his own comment to the bishop’s regarding vocations, Fr. Brinkman noted the importance of healthy family life. “Vocations are hard to come by in fragmented and dysfunctional families. Look at the families of the three new priests,” he said, affirming how dedicated they were to living the faith and integrating it into daily life.
Fr. Brinkman closed by acknowledging, “Following Jesus is a life of discipline and discipleship, in the four major aspects of the human person –- physical healing, emotional, intellectual, spiritual life.
“Jesus said, ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.’ Given these modern philosophies, evangelization is about each of us doing our part.” This allows, he said, for Jesus to do what he did with the first 12 he chose.
“The world needs to be reconverted, and that’s our job. Please, please,” he asked, pointing to one of their closest points of influence, “Reach out to the parish next to you … re-engage with their CCW or women’s group because women are the backbone of the parish.”
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