Over the past two years, we’ve spent a lot of time dealing with challenges in the life of our local Church. We’ve made good progress, thanks to the hard work of a great many people. But fixing problems isn’t an end in itself. That’s just a beginning. The point of our work is to clear away obstacles to the joy of knowing Jesus Christ and to a life rooted in the Gospel. We had a taste of that joy last weekend, November 9, with the wonderful success of the Magnificat Day gathering – a combination of beautiful worship, common prayer and great presentations. Events like Magnificat Day feed the soul and renew the hope at the heart of Catholic life.
We need a lot more of the same energy. And happily, more is on the way. On Saturday, December 7, the archdiocese will host a uniquely important Catholic women’s conference, “The Feminine Genius: Every Woman’s Gift.” This will be a milestone in the life of our Church and a great way to begin preparing for the World Meeting of Families in 2015. I hope women around the archdiocese will visit the conference’s website, review the scheduled content and make every effort to take part personally in the friendship, presentations and discussions of the day.
Women leaders are found in every walk of life: education, medicine, religious life, journalism, politics, business, law. But even more deeply, women as wives and mothers shape the future by forming their children — and often their husbands – in the virtues of Christian faith, mercy, patience, understanding and unselfish love. Children need a loving father. Boys and girls alike need the example of good Christian men. But most of the best men I know gotthat way by living up to the expectations of the women they love. Every great priest has a special place in his life for his mother. Every good husband is the work of two women of character: his mother and his wife.
To put it another way: Women set the standard. Men might add to the standard or ignore it; but women define with the witness of their lives what words like compassion, justice, fidelity and human decency actually mean. Women, both lay and consecrated, create new life by nourishing others. Women are the irreplaceable heart and soul of every family. So if we want to renew our Church and wider community, the best way to start is by offering women a way to strengthen each other in the faith, and to rediscover the meaning of their God-given feminine identity and gifts.
Over the past few months, Meghan Cokeley, the director of our Office for the New Evangelization, has done heroic work to bring this conference together. The roster of wonderful keynote speakers includes Jeanette De Melo and Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V.; Sister Virginia Joy, S.V., and Damon Owens on a dynamic youth track; along with a range of excellent breakout sessions led by experienced presenters like Danielle Bean, Sarah Christmyer, Kate Sweeney and others – with Kate Sweeney providing critical organizational support to the event.
I’m very grateful to the Knights of Columbus, Ascension Press and Our Sunday Visitor for helping to make this conference possible. I’m especially grateful to the staff and leadership of ENDOW (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women), whose work I greatly admire and who supported this gathering every step of the way. A national and now international ministry founded on Blessed John Paul II’s vision of a new Christian feminism, ENDOW is a marvelous example of the great good that can be accomplished by committed Catholic women and men.
Bernard Lewis, the great scholar of Middle Eastern affairs, once wrote that a key strength of Christianity over Islam in the formation of the modern world has been its historic respect for the dignity of women. Women matter,profoundly, in the New Testament and throughout Christian experience. Yes, they’ve often been mistreated and undervalued even in Christian societies. But from the beginning, Mary has played a powerful role in Christian thought, and the list of Christian saints includes a vast number of women, great both in service and in intellect.
On December 7, I hope the women of Greater Philadelphia will come together to encourage each other and join in the renewal of the believing community we all share. “The Feminine Genius: Every Woman’s Gift” is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.
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On the NET: