Living the Gift of Womanhood column

Living the Gift of Womanhood: Power of Prayer

by Ann Gonsalves

While pregnant, I began praying for my children. That continued daily and once they were in school, I heard about a group of moms who got together and prayed for their children and their school. I wanted to join, but couldn’t as I had a full time job, which required me to be at work when the moms were praying. Once I was able to quit, I joined the group.

What I have witnessed gives me the boldness to state that the single most important task a mom can do is pray for her child.

Making sure they have proper rest and diet, encouraging their academic achievement and carpooling to sporting or music events, taking them to the doctor when they are sick, are all part of being a good mother, of course. But, as I have watched other children grow, I have noticed that those children with praying parents, seem to flourish and grow to full expectation. As it says in James 5:16, “The fervent prayer of a righteous (faithful) person is very powerful.”

Both of my sons attended public schools, where praying was banned over 30 years ago. This is a shame, as that was the only exposure to prayer that some children received. I heard about and attended “Prayer Around the Flagpole” events at several schools with other parents and their children. This gave me an idea to meet other parents who wanted to pray at the school, before school terms started. We would walk the halls, parking lots, sporting venues and I would sprinkle Holy Water in the bathrooms (weird stuff happens in school bathrooms). What a sense of peace and calm, knowing that the school was covered in prayer.

I contacted the football coach and asked if we could pray in the locker rooms. One young man, who played football with my youngest son had suffered injuries every football season since middle school. This included broken fingers, collarbone, ankle and arm. Every season they were in the emergency room getting him treated for injuries. I stood before his locker, before his senior year and gave him to the Divine Protector, Our Lord Jesus Christ. I prayed over every limb in his body and sprinkled his locker with Holy Water. He was the starting middle linebacker for the second year in a row, but praise God, that season he did not sustain injury. This confidence in God’s grace inspired us to continue our prayer over the football team, attaching Bible passages to their lockers such as, “I can do all things through God who strengthens me,” (Phil 4:13) and “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith,” (2 Tim 4:7). It wasn’t always a winning season, but injuries were minimal and team spirit was good. The boys knew they were covered in prayer and that God spoke to them, providing words of encouragement through Scripture.

I made it a part of my prayer tradition each week to let my sons know they, their friends and their school had been prayed for by this group of moms. I told them how each child is named, and his or her needs are handed into God’s care. I shared with them how much we rely on God to help us be parents worthy of so special a gift as our children and how we seek his guidance in how to raise our children to grow into the men and women our Father has created them to be. Sure, they gave me strange looks at first, but over time it just became a normal part of our conversations. They see their dad and me praying for them and it has become a natural part of our family life. I pray one day they give the gift of praying parents to their children.

My children are young adults now and I shall continue to pray for them until my last day on earth. I encourage all mothers to talk to their friends and pray together, because where two or more are gathered, Jesus is present (Mt 18:20). Be bold.

In his 1995 Letter to Women, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote, “Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God’s own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child’s first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.”

AnnAnn Gonsalves is a volunteer with the Pilgrim Center of Hope. Living the Gift of Womanhood is a regular column that you can read first by subscribing to Today’s Catholic newspaper. The column is by the Pilgrim Center of Hope, Catholic evangelization apostolate, and founder of the annual Catholic Women’s Conference.

Living the Gift of Womanhood – Comparing ourselves

by Nan Balfour

Women, and I am including myself, have a bad habit of comparing ourselves. We look at another woman and immediately size her up for good or ill and then judge how we rate in comparison on a scale of our own measurement.

Why do we do this?

I suppose if I was well learned in psychology, I could offer a reason that would make sense, but as a Christian I would still have to confess it, because it is wrong. It is wrong because it is a sin of judgement against another and a judgement against ourselves. As a priest friend of mine said, “Compare and despair.”

It is easy to see why judging others is wrong, but it is harder to convince ourselves it is wrong to judge ourselves. As we listen to others’ accomplishments, often all we hear in our heads is that her success means we have somehow failed.

For the good of our families and for the good our culture, I am calling on all women to cut it out!

Easier said than done, I know. I have personally chosen to take up this cause following a beautiful experience I had with our Lord following Communion. It was a daily morning Mass, and often it is just a dozen or so of us there dressed for what will follow; wearing jeans, scrubs, or like me, in workout clothes sans makeup. This particular day was a school Mass, and so many more attended. On the way up to receive Communion, I recognized a mother of several young children I know. I said to myself, ‘She always looks so well put together. How does she do it with so many children under foot?’ I return to my pew and because I have learned that it is during these few moments following Communion, when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we are the physically closest to God, I silence my thoughts allowing Him access. It is in this moment I hear in my heart, “Do not compare yourself.” I took particular notice because, firstly, it is God speaking to me, but secondly, because I can honestly say I was not judging, but simply commenting. It was not a consolation He was offering. It was a command.

Few women would disagree that we are our own worst enemies. We cut each other down, we gossip about each other and we judge each other and ourselves mercilessly. Our culture encourages this behavior, constantly placing before our eyes celebrities photo-shopped to perfection, and then, when it determines we must hate them because we will never be that perfect, we sacrifice them to the gods of the scandal so we can once again feel superior. Every reality show exists to compare. ‘I wish I was like her, or ‘I am so glad I am not like her!’

I call on my sisters to take a stand and say, ‘No more!’

Blessedly, our Catholic faith shows us how. We know we are all parts of the one body of Christ. St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12 this very thing. We are not to be the same. We are not to compete or compare, rather we are to complement. We are to value what the other brings and praise God for what He has gifted us to bring. Pope Saint John Paul II writes in Mulieris Dignitatem (no. 7), “Woman can find herself only by giving love to others.” A woman who chooses to be a gift for others also finds she has no more need to compare. She is at peace in who she is created to be.

To discover this reality yourself, I invite you to go to ‘the’ ideal woman, Mary, the Mother of God, and our Blessed Mother. Ask her to lead you to her son. There, at his feet, ask him, “Grant me the grace and wisdom to know my true dignity as a daughter of God.” Sit quietly in his presence, often. He will tell you and guide you in all things. It is not a quick fix. It takes time with him as his plan is eternal, but I promise you, the journey is beyond compare!

NanBalfourNan Balfour is the events coordinator at the Pilgrim Center of Hope. Living the Gift of Womanhood is a regular column that you can read first by subscribing to Today’s Catholic newspaper. The column is by the Pilgrim Center of Hope, Catholic evangelization apostolate, and founder of the annual Catholic Women’s Conference.

Living the Gift of Womanhood – Being a woman of hope

by Mary Jane Fox

As we begin this new year, so many thoughts run through my mind such as what do I want to do to improve my life? How am I going to keep a positive attitude? And will this be a year filled with good things?

I read a quote by St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as the Little Flower, “Jesus, help me to simplify my life by learning what you want me to be — and becoming that person.” That’s the answer! We can search various places, means, or persons to give us answers. However, the ultimate true answer that will bring us true peace is going to the One who came to us as a child, the Word made flesh — Jesus.

Let’s admit it — God knows us more than we living the gift of womanhood know ourselves, he created us! For me, this is a consolation and this gives me hope!

Msgr. Paul Glenn (Tour of the Summa) writes: “Hope is the theological virtue by which we aspire with confidence to grace and heaven, trusting God, and being resolved to use his help. Hope looks directly to our eternal happiness… we pin our hope in God, not man.”

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, at the last year’s Catholic Women’s Conference, during his homily, gave us all a challenge — to be prophets of hope.

He gave an example of someone who did give hope to many, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. In her love for Jesus, for others, she served with immense joy that spread to those she served, the poorest of the poor in India and wherever she went. How is it that “I” am called to be a prophet of hope?

Think about it, the example of Mother Teresa’s life gives hope. She loved God and wanted to obey his two greatest commandments: “To love God first above all and love your neighbor as yourself.” In doing so, her love for God deepened through prayer and trust in him.

Sure, Mother Teresa did a lot, she gave her entire life to God, she founded a religious community, opened houses for those who were dying and suffering without anyone to care for them. She would often express the importance of seeing Christ in the person in front of you.

She definitely is considered a prophet of hope — so many died with dignity and in peace through her care and the care of her religious sisters, the Missionaries of Charity.

Our hope is to build on the immense peace and joy we receive through an encounter with Jesus; telling others about the omnipotent love of God for them and of his mercy, no matter what our past or current situation.

Through our baptism, through that beautiful initiation into the family of God, with the authority given by Christ, we can become a messenger of hope in the world filled with confusion, questions and suffering.

A smile, a listening ear, a visit are among the numerous simple ways to be a messenger of hope today. In doing so, we are given hope as well — because we have our focus on trusting God and helping others.

Yes, we can begin this new year as a woman of hope, a prophet of hope! Take Mother Teresa’s words to help you: “We are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful.”

Often, our concern about being successful can become a stumbling block that will prevent us from being a prophet of hope.

Remember, Jesus is with you always! Mark your calendar to attend the 2016 Catholic Women’s Conference Sept. 9-10.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope was founded in 1993 to be a source of hope for others, and to help people encounter Christ through experiences such as conferences, pilgrimages and media.

Mary Jane Fox is co-director of the Pilgrim Center of Hope.  Living the Gift of Womanhood is a regular column that you can read first by subscribing to Today’s Catholic newspaper. The column is by the Pilgrim Center of Hope, Catholic evangelization apostolate, and founder of the annual Catholic Women’s Conference.

Living the Gift of Womanhood – 10 ways to spend time with God

by Amy Montesdeoca

Last month, I shared a bit about my journey to understand the Will of God in my life. Now, I would like to suggest 10 things one can do to spend time with God.

Spending time with God will lead to a better understanding of his will. You may not be able to do all 10, but consider starting off with one or two.

1. Pray — Ask God to reveal his purpose for you and for the strength to carry it out. If you are a beginner when it comes to prayer, start with five minutes a day. Pray before you start your work or chores and before you make a big decision.

2. Join a Bible study group — Scripture contains so much wisdom and its lessons can be applied to everyday life. Studying the Bible on your own is wonderful! But, there are also many blessings in sharing that experience with others. Through the women’s Bible study I participate in, I have gained many different perspectives on Scripture and on life that I would never have thought of otherwise. I have also gained many beautiful friends.

3. Go to Eucharistic adoration weekly — We are very blessed to have several churches in the Archdiocese of San Antonio that have 24/7 Perpetual Adoration chapels. Start with 15 minutes and work your way up to an hour a week. It has helped me to make it a habit to go at the same time and day of the week. Adoration will help you find peace to make it through your daily struggles and assist you in discernment.

4. Go to confession at least once a month — As Catholics, we are required to go to confession at least once a year. But, if you commit to going once a month, you will see what a difference it makes. Sin clouds your judgment and makes it difficult for you to see God working in your life. When your soul is free from sin, you will be better prepared to resist temptation. You will be able to discern what God wants you to do.

5. Get a spiritual director — Spiritual direction has been such a gift to me! I believe everyone can benefit. A spiritual director, who can be a priest, brother, sister or faithful Catholic layperson, offers support and guidance through your spiritual life. I recommend meeting with this person once a month.

6. Go on pilgrimage — From experience, I can tell you there is a special peace and joy you will receive if you are blessed to go on pilgrimage. My pilgrimage experiences have led to an increase in peace and given me the desire to live a more Christ-centered life. The Pilgrim Center of Hope offers beautiful pilgrimages that are sure to change your life.

7. Add a daily Mass to your week — A daily Mass, which is generally about 30 minutes long, can give you that extra push to make it through your week. Let God speak to you through the readings and in the homily. Receive his grace in the Holy Eucharist.

8. Volunteer — When we donate our time and talent to others, it puts life in perspective and helps us to appreciate our blessings. It also helps us to grow in humility by focusing on others rather than ourselves. It might even lead you to become more aware of your vocation.

9. Surround yourself with others who desire to grow in faith — Keeping God at the center of your life can be a challenge in today’s world. Surround yourself with people who can support you on your journey. The Archdiocese of San Antonio hosts great events like Theology on Tap and Worship on the River. Many of the Catholic churches have young adult groups. Organizations like San Antonio Life Runners and Young Catholic Professionals (YCP) San Antonio can also help you connect with other Catholic young adults.

10. Attend the Catholic Women’s Conference — “You don’t have to be perfect to begin anew in Christ.” All women, no matter where they are in their faith journey, are invited to this two-day conference that is often called a “Spa for the Soul.” Come listen to awesome speakers and experience healing, meditation, prayer, and fellowship with other sisters-in-Christ. The 15th annual conference will be held Sept. 9-10, 2016.

Surrendering to the will of God is something we all have to work at every day. I hope these suggestions will help. That doesn’t mean you won’t ever face trials or experience sadness but, with God’s help, you will find you have the peace and strength to endure it.

Amy Amy Montesdeoca is a young, single professional and a member of the Catholic Women’s Conference steering committee. Living the Gift of Womanhood is a regular column that you can read first by subscribing to Today’s Catholic newspaper. The column is by the Pilgrim Center of Hope, Catholic evangelization apostolate, and founder of the annual Catholic Women’s Conference.

Living the Gift of Womanhood – What is keeping you from surrendering to the will of God?

by Amy Montesdeoca

Have you ever prayed for something really hard and not get it? At one particular time in my life, I was experiencing a lot of anxiety and sadness because there was something that I really wanted and God was not allowing me to have it.

This happens to all of us from time to time, and though our culture tells us the opposite, the truth is we cannot always have what we want.

Raised in the Catholic faith, I know this truth, but in this particular case I couldn’t move on from it. I was having trouble accepting that what I wanted wasn’t in God’s plan for me. I reminded myself of my many blessings: I am young, have great friends, a good professional job to support my single lifestyle and a faith on fire.

However, I couldn’t take my focus off this one thing I couldn’t have. I looked to prayer, the Mass, adoration and confession for comfort knowing God wants us to turn to him in difficult times. But looking back, I realize that I was missing something very important; I had not surrendered my will to God’s will. And because I did not surrender, I stayed in that troubled state for a very long time.

The Bible says, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Mat 21:22) Does that mean that you will always get everything you pray for? No! God loves us way too much to give us everything we want!

God is our Father and any good and loving father knows that children don’t always understand what is best for them. He sees the big picture. He knows what will happen if we get what we want and He knows what good will come from it when we don’t.

Even if we may think our intentions are good, getting that job, that house or that relationship we really want could be something that will hurt us or those we love in the long run.

I have definitely whined to God, “What would have been so bad about me getting what I wanted?!”

Sometimes the answer becomes clear to me later and I realize, “Ah, that’s why!” And I thank God that I didn’t get what I wanted because what He gave me instead was so much more awesome.

Other times, I am still left wondering why it had to be that way. But, we are not meant to know the answers to everything in this life. I’m still working on accepting that and I know this will be a life-long struggle.

Thankfully, I have also discovered that the more I surrender to God’s will, my trust in the Lord continues to grow and I spend less time wondering why and instead just smile and say, “Your will be done, Lord.”

Why do we insist on doing things our own way? We know that we are not smarter than God, yet we often think that our plan is better than his. And every time we do things our own way, we are telling God, “I don’t need you.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraph 27, “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.”

It goes on to say, “He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.”

In other words, we DO need God and as long we insist on living our lives according to our own will, we will always be left wanting more.

My question for you today is, “What is keeping YOU from surrendering to the Will of God?” The answer to that question requires prayer and reflection. For some, it may be pride or mistrust; perhaps it is selfishness or fear of not being in control of your own life. Whatever your reasons are, it’s time to break free from those things that are holding you back and give God control. It can be quite exhausting to do things on your own without God’s help. But Jesus tells us, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mat 11:28) You will find great freedom in submitting to his will as opposed to feeling like you have to have all the answers. It won’t be easy; but with the grace of God, you can do it!

How do you do it, you ask? You cannot expect to know God’s will for you without spending time with him.

AmyAmy Montesdeoca is a young, single professional and a member of the Catholic Women’s Conference steering committee. Living the Gift of Womanhood is a regular column that you can read first by subscribing to Today’s Catholic newspaper.  The column is by the Pilgrim Center of Hope, Catholic evangelization apostolate, and founder of the annual Catholic Women’s Conference.

Living the Gift of Womanhood – Finding the Time to Pray

by Rose Marie Ponce

Like most women my plate is typically pretty full with my job, family obligations, extra-curricular activities and just chilling time — whether it’s Facebook, iPhone game time, TV time or just crashing on the couch after a long day. At some point during the busyness of my day I hear a little voice that more often than not says, “Have you spent time with Me today?” That
little voice is my conscience telling me GOD is talking to me. That is my reminder that perhaps that particular day I have neglected to give God more than just my morning prayers on my drive to work.

It was a few years ago that I was exposed to the idea that TIME is a GIFT, just like everything that we have is a gift from God. Time is a GIFT which everyone receives equally; everyone has 24 hours in the day. What I choose to do with my 24 hours of time is up to me, but certainly God should be there and those that matter most to me. At times it is truly a balancing act. Time
is very precious and my use or abuse of it clearly indicates where my heart is.

All that being said, “How then do I find time for God and how much time need I give Him?” The 10% concept of tithing may be applied to our time for God. Proverbs 3:9-10 tells us “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with first fruits of all your produce, then will your barns be filled with grain, with new wine your vats will overflow.” The wealth referenced in this Scripture passage can be the equivalent of your time. That being said we then can give to God 10 percent of our 24 hours, which is slightly less than two-and-a-half hours.

When I first heard about giving God two-and-a-half hours of my day I thought, “How on earth will I ever get there?” Surprisingly, you may already be doing more than you think. Being a person who likes to make lists on paper, I decided to write all I felt qualified as time spent with God. I discovered that on some days I was doing less than others, but I was able to average in a week pretty close to the 16.8 hours that equaled the weekly 10 percent. Do I fail? Absolutely, I fail, but God gives me another day with more time to make it better.

Some examples of ways to spend time with God and how to accomplish it:

  • Morning Prayers 20 minutes on commute to work
  • Daily Readings and Meditation
  • 30 minutes lunch break or evening at home
  • Rosary 20 minutes on commute home from work
  • Praying the Angelus 8 minutes at noon
  • The Divine Mercy Chaplet 15 minutes at 3 p.m.
  • Weekday Mass 30 minutes once or twice a week before work
  • Bedtime Prayer 15 minutes with spouse
  • Adoration 1 hour weekly
  • Bible Study 4 hours weekly (Prep & class time)

There are times when the daily readings may be done while getting a pedicure or waiting to be called in for a doctor’s appointment or while waiting for children at the school parking lot. There are many opportunities; it just takes a little bit of planning and when it becomes a part of the daily routine you simply, “just do it.”

Another great opportunity to spend time with God and with other women is at the upcoming Catholic Women’s Conference August 28-29 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. The conference brings great speakers, to whom we can relate, a healing service, the Holy Mass, Adoration, the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, bonding with other women and foremost the opportunity to spend time with Jesus.

As a cradle Catholic who attended Catholic school from nursery school to high school there was a period of time in my life when I felt I knew all there was to know about my faith, so attending any type of training, seminar or conference was out of the question. Thankfully, I encountered some God-filled women from whom I learned that as a giver to my family and my church I need to refresh my soul and fill my reservoir; otherwise I may be just an empty channel. As St. Bernard said, “If you are wise, you will be reservoirs and not channels.” We cannot give that which we do not have; so let us fill our reservoirs so that we may be life-giving nourishment for others.

Rose Marie PonceRose Marie Ponce is a wife, mother, grandmother, full-time professional and a member of the Catholic Women’s Conference steering committee. Living the Gift of Womanhood is a regular column that you can read first by subscribing to Today’s Catholic newspaper.  The column is by the Pilgrim Center of Hope, Catholic evangelization apostolate, and founder of the annual Catholic Women’s Conference.

The Heart of a Woman: Part 2

 

by Julie Reyna

In last month’s Living the Gift of Womanhood column, we discovered that the heart of a woman, her feminine genius, is at the heart of the Catholic Church. Now that we know what our gift is, we must learn how God asks us to use it. For this, we look to Our Lady, as she is the foremost example of feminine genius.

We can begin by asking: Where was Mary’s heart? Pope St. John Paul II’s “Letter to Women” directs us to Scripture which reads that Mary called herself the ‘handmaid of the Lord’ (Luke 1:38). Through obedience to the Word of God she accepted her vocation as wife and mother. Putting herself at God’s service also meant putting herself at the service of others: a service of love. Through this service, Mary was able to experience a mysterious, but authentic ‘reign.’ For her, ‘to reign’ is to serve! Her service is ‘to reign!’

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Oh no! Not another article about how women should cook, clean and slave all day, with no thanks for all their countless sacrifices!” Before you put the paper down, bear with me!

Years ago, as an overwhelmed young mother, I yelled at my kids, “I am NOT your servant!” Instantly, my guardian angel, who has a great sense of humor, placed a familiar song in my head. I cringed as I heard, “We are made for service, to care for each other…” Yikes! I am made for service! My heart is made for service! The two year old inside me threw a fit!

But it’s true! As a child of God, I am made to know, love and serve him and my neighbor. Men and women are both called to this duty. However, as a woman, my role is not the same. We are equal to men, but beautifully different! The gift of our femininity, the very thing that modern society uses to confuse and hinder us in the world, is at the very heart of it all!

Pope St. John Paul II said: “Women reveal their womanhood by placing themselves at the service of others in their everyday lives. For in giving themselves, women fulfill their deepest vocation. Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts.

Doesn’t that make you feel special? Don’t tell me the Catholic Church doesn’t love women! Our feminine hearts are foundational to it!

“But wait a minute,” you say! “I’ve got all my heart can handle with my life, work, family and friends! Now you’re telling me my heart is meant to change the world?”

Again, the Catholic Church emboldens us in its closing message of the Second Vatican Council: “The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling.”

Our hearts hold the key, ladies! So look to Mary’s heart to find yours. She reigns with great humility and influence, modeling the true dignity of femininity. How beautiful!

“But Mary was a saint,” you say. “She had a saint for a husband and a savior for a son! She had it easy! I can’t do what she did!”

Oh, really? Consider this:

First, Mary said yes, with her whole heart, without knowing what to expect. Have you ever done that? Most women, regardless of their station in life, can relate to this.

Second, Mary petitions her Son to help those in need. Have you ever called on Jesus to help others? I’m sure all of us have offered and asked for prayers for others.

Third, Mary endured great suffering and tremendous loss. Have you ever experienced that? Most of us have. Some, like her, have even endured the loss of a child.

Mary understands. She reigned with her feminine heart, the same kind of heart that beats in every woman. Throughout her life, Mary served, humbled herself, fled when necessary, and stayed when others ran away.

She was a woman just like you! Like hers, your feminine heart is a precious gift to the world! God made it, the Catholic Church honors and protects it, and we as women must reign with it. So spread the news and share your gift!

Want to learn more? Come to the 2015 Catholic Women’s Conference, Aug. 28-29. It’s a fabulous event, attended by 2,000-plus women from all over Texas and the United States, with the goal of teaching women about their feminine genius. Go to cwcsanantonio.com for details. Register now and I’ll see you in August!

Julie ReynaJulie Reyna is a Catholic Women’s Conference committee member and event emcee.  Living the Gift of Womanhood is a regular column that you can read first by subscribing to Today’s Catholic newspaper.  The column is by the Pilgrim Center of Hope, Catholic evangelization apostolate, and founder of the annual Catholic Women’s Conference in San Antonio.

The Heart of a Woman: Part 1

by Julie Reyna

My name is Julie and I am a recovering “cafeteria Catholic.”  That is to say that I am a cradle Catholic who was poorly catechized in the seventies and was completely oblivious to my faith as a child and young adult.  For years I picked and chose what I believed the Catholic Church taught and based my decisions on a very ignorant and ill-formed faith.

About 16 years ago, only by the grace of God, I began to recognize my ignorance and rejection of my faith.  On my road to recovery, God placed pivotal people and opportunities for suffering and self-discovery.  He was gentle with me, as I am slow to change and stubborn.

Today, by God’s mercy, my heart is on fire for all things Catholic!  Now I am a “practicing Catholic,” which means exactly that: I am practicing my Catholic faith.  Sometimes I do it well.  Many times I fail miserably.  Either way, I’ll be a practicing Catholic until the day I die!  Hopefully, all that practice will get me closer to heaven.

Upon rediscovering my faith, I was intrigued to learn what the Catholic Church teaches about women.  I never believed popular culture’s claim that women are oppressed and discounted in the Church, but I also had no clue what it really taught about us either.  The truth I found was so much better than the lies!  Throughout its history, popes, saints and doctors of our Church have written extensively on the beauty and dignity of women.  Learning this set my heart ablaze!  The heart of a woman is the key!

So where is your heart, ladies?   Who or what holds your heart?  Is your heart heavy or lost, broken or battered, found and fulfilled?  Whatever your answer, remember this:  your heart is held with great love and care in the Church Church!  That’s right!  The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church loves women!  You are at the very heart of the church!

In Pope Saint John Paul II’s “Letter to Women“, which I highly recommend you find and read online, we are told that many women do not know that the Catholic Church gives women thanks for their feminine “genius,” for all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which women have shown in history, for all the victories the Church owes to women’s faith, hope and charity.  It gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness and thanks each and every woman: mothers (both single and married), sisters, wives; consecrated women, women caregivers, women professionals, for all women who assume, together with men, a common responsibility for the destiny of humanity.

The Catholic Church teaches that femininity is sacred and beautiful.  Emily Stimpson, Catholic speaker and author, reminds us that our feminine hearts have the power to change, move, create, influence, encourage, love, and empower.  To be a woman is not a burden, fault or flaw, but a strength and gift.  As women, we need to remind ourselves and each other that our feminine hearts have a tremendous capacity to love!

Pope Saint John Paul II further reminds us that women are uniquely fashioned, built, shaped and gifted to bring love to the world: “Jesus treated women with openness, respect, acceptance and tenderness.  By doing so, he honored the dignity which women have always possessed according to God’s plan.”

You see, God made us to be in the world, but not of the world.  In fact, we are for the world, because we are called as women to sanctify it, to make it holy.

But “I’m not holy,” you say!  “How can my heavy heart, weighed down by a million tasks and responsibilities, be holy?”

Your path to holiness is found by following Jesus and the teachings of his holy Catholic Church: the very Church that celebrates your feminine heart.  You CAN be holy!  God doesn’t set the bar high and leave you wondering how to reach it!  God gives you all the grace you need.  Simply open your heart to His will.

Still, maybe you’re thinking, “Sounds nice, but it’s easier said than done!”

True, but remember: Jesus never said it would be easy.  In fact, he assured us that it would be very hard.  Yet Scripture tells us DO NOT BE AFRAID 365 times.  That’s once for every day of the year!  Take courage that with God all things are possible!

Now, some of you may have already known of your feminine genius before reading this.  After all, you are a woman!  If so, that’s awesome!  You’re way ahead of the curve.  Most women don’t know they have this gift.  However, you may be surprised to find out just how God asks you to use this gift in his Church.

Join me here, next month, to learn how the heart of a woman is at the heart of the Catholic Church.

Julie ReynaJulie Reyna is a Catholic Women’s Conference committee member and event emcee.  Living the Gift of Womanhood is a regular column that you can read first by subscribing to Today’s Catholic newspaper.  The column is by the Pilgrim Center of Hope, Catholic evangelization apostolate, and founder of the annual Catholic Women’s Conference in San Antonio.

Top Photo: Ben Earwicker, Garrison Photography, Boise, ID

Radical Solidarity: A radical solution for women

by Nan Balfour

After meeting with Gertrude Mongella, Secretary General of the Fourth Conference of Women, Pope Saint John Paul II was inspired on behalf of the Catholic Church to write to every woman. His “Letter to Women” was sent in 1995 on the eve of this United Nations event.

He began by thanking women. He thanked women who are mothers, who are wives, who are daughters, who work, who are consecrated and he ended by thanking every woman. He writes, “Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.”

The letter goes on to speak of the vocation of womanhood and uplifts the role of women in all areas of life: in the home, in the workplace, in education, in politics. He writes, “Women will increasingly play a part in the solution of serious problems of the future […] A greater presence of women in society will prove most valuable, for it will help to manifest the contradictions present when society is organized solely according to the criteria of efficiency and productivity, and it will force systems to be redesigned in a way which favors the processes of humanization which mark the ‘civilization of love’.”

Pope Saint John Paul II esteems the role of the woman in the home as wife and mother, “You have sheltered human beings within yourselves. This experience makes you become God’s own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child’s first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey to life. […] You irrevocably join your future to that of your husbands, in a relationship of mutual giving, at the service of love and life.”

In a culture that puts many demands on women, this letter is a beautiful affirmation of the value in being a woman. It is recognition of all the contributions women make, and acknowledges the need for women in all areas of society.

Did you know a letter to women was sent on behalf of the Catholic Church?

Most women do not, and instead find themselves burdened by the message of our culture. Our culture pits women against each other. Those who stay at home often feel dismissed and of no value. They feel accused of being pampered and lazy. Women who work outside the home feel judged as selfish and neglectful of family. Add to this the unachievable images the culture holds up of the perfect body, the perfect home, etc., and it is no wonder women feel as if they must always compare and judge just to determine if they measure up.

Pope Saint John Paul II gave an antidote to this cultural paradigm. He called it Radical Solidarity. He promoted it under a variety of contexts, and the best way to describe it is: to go to the extreme to include and be one with others.

What does Radical Solidarity mean for women? It means neither comparing ourselves nor judging others. It is the understanding we all fall short of the grace of God and we are all on this journey together. It means we don’t gossip, we refuse to join cliques, we welcome all to our various groups and we actively encourage others to do the same.

Is this possible? Yes, I witness it all the time.

As coordinator of the annual Catholic Women’s Conference, I work with women of many roles. On just the planning committee, I have worked with homeschooling moms, full-time working moms, retired women, young career women, single moms, married women, empty nest women, business owners… all types of women. Some of my favorite times are getting together with these women as we laugh together, cry together, work together, support each other and encourage each other. We see each other, not for what we do, but for who we are, repentant sinners and loved daughters of God.

How is this possible?

You start with consistent prayer. To discover how much you are loved, you must encounter the One who loves you. You do this by sitting with Jesus at the well of your daily life (and annually at the well at the Catholic Women’s Conference!), talking with him so he can tell you the truth of you: how you are exactly who he created you to be and that you don’t have to be perfect to begin anew with him.

Need help living Radical Solidarity?

Contact us at the Pilgrim Center of Hope. Encouraging ways to encounter Christ is what we are all about.

Note: Due to an editorial error, this column was mistakenly attributed to Angela Sealana in the April 17, 2015 issue of Today’s Catholic newspaper.

Women Uniquely Reveal Almighty God

by Angela Sealana

After I spoke at a local Catholic luncheon, a woman stood up and announced, “I would like to vote Angela as the first female priest.” The room erupted in laughter.

After the noise died down, she asked, “When will we ever have women priests?”

Years ago, as a somewhat-arrogant college freshman studying theology, I sat frowning as a proponent of women’s ordination presented her case. Afterward, I concluded that she was simply ‘a whiny dissenter’.

Today, having worked ‘on-the-ground’ for several years in Catholic women’s ministries, I look back at that presenter with compassion. I recall the pain in her voice as she described remote communities unable to receive Eucharist, due to the priest shortage. She longed to see those souls receive the sacraments. Her concern was genuinely maternal.

The conversation surrounding women’s ordination is extremely complex. I can only allude to it. Beneath it, however, remains a larger question: What place does a woman have in the Catholic Church?

I treasure this fundamental Scripture verse, ripe with meaning: “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).

Our dear Holy Father has echoed this verse’s implications quite publicly and frequently. During his recent visit to the Philippines, he lamented the lack of girls for a planned youth Q&A session:

“Women have much to tell us in today’s society. Sometimes we are too machistas and we don’t allow enough space to women. But women can see things from a different angle to us, with a different eye. Women are able to pose questions we men are unable to understand. […] So when the next pope comes to Manila, please let there be more girls.”

We’ve heard many people belabor the fact that men are able to assume roles in the Church that women cannot. In the above quote, however, Pope Francis points to women’s role in the Church: to be God’s image in ways that men cannot.

The Pontifical Council for Culture, in fact, held a Plenary Assembly last month on “Feminine Cultures: Equality and Difference.” I encourage you to read the relevant documents on www.cultura.va.

In them, the Council notes that women, while entering more fully into a society that is markedly masculine, have historically sacrificed their unique feminine qualities to varying degrees. The Council finds this an unacceptable outcome, and challenges us to uphold ‘the feminine genius’: “It is with respect to this originality of women that the true development of the feminine position will develop.”

In God’s wisdom, the Virgin Mary was the first disciple. The Risen Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene first. Surely, our good God willed them to these vocations not in spite of their womanhood, but—in part—because of it. After all; he’s the one who made them women!

Throughout the history of Christianity, we see women: Catherine of Siena restoring the papacy to Rome; countless women worldwide creating schools for the poor and outcast; Bernadette Soubirous, Catherine Labouré, and other women or girls of nearly all the approved modern Marian apparitions. Let’s not forget the mothers and grandmothers who, as Pope Francis noted late January, “are the ones who in primis transmit the faith.”

When that woman stood up and ‘voted me first female priest’, I was taken aback, but also happy that she voiced her question.

My answer to her was multifaceted. The bottom line for me, however, is that fundamental mystery of Creation: “in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

What is the role of women in the Church? To uniquely reveal Almighty God. Men and women, while equal in dignity, were never meant to be the same.

Do we have some work ahead of us to ensure that this truth is manifested in the Church’s daily life? Undoubtedly; while divinely instituted, the Church is also human. We’ve allowed the world’s “battle of the sexes” to osmose into our Catholic family.

Let’s meditate on where God is calling us: not to hegemony or homogony, but to celebrate and embrace all the unique gifts that distinguish women from men, and vice versa.

This appeared in the March 2015 edition of Living the Gift of Womanhood, a regular column of the Pilgrim Center of Hope, a Catholic evangelization apostolate in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, and founder of the annual Catholic Women’s Conference of San Antonio.