This past week, June 7-12th, I had the absolute privilege of attending the GIVEN Forum hosted by the CMSWR (Council of Mother Superiors of Women Religious). The application required each woman to develop an action plan based on a need she saw in her parish, diocese, or community. We will all be held accountable for these action plans that are expected to be implemented by spring 2017. Once accepted, each woman received a full scholarship generously provided by sponsors and a grant given to religious sisters for the year of consecrate life.
It was essentially a group of 80+ religious sisters from various orders coming together to build up 300 young lay women (ages 20-30) of the Church through encouragement, formation, spiritual nourishment, and practical advice. I’ll be the first to admit, I was a little skeptical about the entire thing, but all of my doubts were cast aside upon arrival.
WHAT WE EXPERIENCED
There was something so unique about this conference, it’s attendees, and the women pouring out to us. It probably has much to do with all of the cloistered orders in the US praying for us (talk about a storm of grace). At first, I thought it was just me, but it wasn’t long until it was out in the open: every personal encounter at GIVEN was an encounter of the holy Spirit. Simple “hello’s” lead to life stories (mainly because nobody knows how to answer the question “where are you from?” simply – understandably so!), and instant connections were made.
I truly felt God’s presence in every interaction, every talk, every meal – even my roommate and I believe that our pairing up was of divine Providence. I had come to GIVEN with a lot on my heart: many unknowns and an uncertainty of how to move forward. And while this was a conference, not necessarily a retreat, I think we all received the best of both worlds and experienced what we needed. And finally, I was most pleasantly grateful for the ways in which the sisters mothered us throughout everything.
WHAT WE RECEIVED
It was evident that the religious sisters took this event very seriously; much prayer and careful planning went into it. Every speaker was handpicked and had a specific message to deliver, while revealing his/her (mostly her) own vulnerability. It very much felt as if each individual was speaking directly to our heart of hearts while masterfully contributing her piece to a beautiful puzzle.
All of the speakers were true powerhouse women (with a couple men for more practical talks) who clearly live out their authentic femininity through service to Jesus and His Church. I could go on and on about all of them (each one was truly a necessary part of the entire conference), but some of my favorites included: Sr. Mary Gabriel, SV, Helen Alvaré, Sister Amelia Hueller, O.P., Audrey Assad (witness & concert), Dr. Carolyn Woo, Hallie Lord, Gloria Pervis, Dr. Mary Healy, Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, Ph. D., and Dr. Elvira Parravicini.
While it was a packed schedule and I think most people went home in a state of exhaustion, we all knew we had received something great. We had been given something wonderful. And it was the perfect blend of spiritual, practical, and emotional to propel us forward in our missions as Catholic women.
Now, it’s going to take me weeks, maybe even months, to unpack the graces and lessons from GIVEN. But here are ten of my favorite quick points impressed upon us by the speakers:
- We, as women, cannot “have it all” and that is not only okay, but it is good. Our differences matter and point to something much greater than ourselves. Our world resists the idea of two sexes and that there is a possibility for diversity to co-exist among complete equality [Helen Alvaré].
- We all have a desire to be noticed because we are meant to be noticed. And as much as we desire this – think of how much Jesus craves our attention. Therefore, we must also take notice of the Church and Her needs, as only we women can [Sr. Mary Gabriel].
- We must develop the capacity for God to work through us [Dr. Carolyn Woo].
- We can plan a lot of things, but we can never predict how God will move mountains [Hallie Lord].
- The best decisions are non-decisions – they are accompanied by joy [Luanne Zurlo].
- If God calls you to something, He will give you the time, energy, and desire [Hallie Lord].
- The evil one is desperately afraid of women who know who they are and are filled with the holy Spirit. Walk in victory [Dr. Mary Healy].
- God did not create us to be at the foot of the cross all the time – it is a state. We are called to be joyful; we are meant for the resurrection [Dr. Amal Marogy].
- We cannot right every wrong. We are not always called to fight evil, but we are called to always do good. And an abundance of our good can drown out the evil [Dr. Amal Marogy].
- The most important thing we can do to have an objectively successful career, and a spiritually fruitful one, is to be an authentic woman [Luanne Zurlo].
Finally, as we go forward with all of this wisdom and grace, ready to respond to God’s call for our particular life, I’ll end with words from Gloria Purvis:
You are chosen – are you willing?
Now, what are you willing to risk?
You are able.