Given & Grateful

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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.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

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].

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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.

Getting our retreat on.

A couple weeks ago, Kevin and I (sort of last minute) decided we’d like to go on a retreat put on by the yHope community outside Boston. It’s a young adult group (mainly early 20’s to early 30’s) that we’ve attended before and really love. It’s a lot of authentic people with great hearts. We hadn’t been in since before we were married since we don’t have a car and now live a little farther away. But this retreat seemed like a great opportunity to reconnect.

I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous at first because I’m still figuring out where we fit as a married couple. It might seem silly, but being in that in between spot of we’ve entered into our Vocation but don’t yet have children can be a little confusing as far as what we do for community (maybe it’s just me). And a lot of talks on this retreat were geared towards discerning your Vocation. But alas, we went and are so grateful we did. We were the only married couple, but I don’t think that deterred from our experience at all. In fact, it was quite enjoyable to be on retreat with my husband.

The theme was “remind me who I am,” and I don’t even know if it was any of the talks that made it sink into my heart, but rather just being there. I haven’t been on a retreat in over a year and a half, and taking this weekend made me realize how much we need that time away, focused solely on God.

I think something that helped the theme hit home for me was the fact that the retreat center was one that I’ve been to many times before, at very different stages in my faith journey. It’s a Pauline retreat center just outside Boston, and I’ve been there four different times with four different communities over the past six years:

In February 2009, our spring undergrad BU retreat was held here. It was a time that I was just really coming into my faith as a sophomore in college. New friends, a new lifestyle, and most importantly, the beginning of a deep relationship with God. In November 2011, the grad group at BU held a retreat here, so a lot of familiar faces. I had only graduated college six months before and was still adjusting to life in the real world. In February 2013, I attended the Pure in Heart retreat on JPII’s Theology of the Body. Pure in Heart is a young adult community in Boston that I was heavily involved with my first couple of years out of school (and also where Kevin and I met). During that time, Kevin and I were dating looking towards engagement. Now we’re in November 2014, and I’m in such a different life state, as I’ve been each time before. I’m now married and, though still fairly young as people point out, my life is focused on vastly different things.

With John & Kev - they've been with me on all four retreats at St. Thecla's since the BU days!
With John & Kev – they’ve been with me on all four retreats at St. Thecla’s since the BU days!

As I said, the theme was “remind me who I am,” and by coming back to this familiar place in which I’ve had so many powerful experiences, I really felt reminded. Yes, my life is not as it has been: I’m battling different struggles, I’m receiving new graces, and I’ve matured in greater ways. But God is still God. He is unchangeable. And going back to the one who is reminded me of who I am, now and always: a beloved daughter of God. Regardless of what is going on in my life at the moment, that fact remains.

I guess the takeaway for me was bringing me back to the basics. My life has come a long way in the past 6 years; I would argue and say it’s much more complicated, but that doesn’t change where all the answers lay. Scripture, sacraments, prayer. All centered around my relationship with Jesus.