'Behold' conference draws 600 women for 'spiritual spa day'
EAST PEORIA -- Words like “spa” and “spiritual” usually aren’t used in the same sentence -- unless you’re talking about “Behold: A Catholic Conference on the Dignity and Vocation of Women.”
“We try to offer them a beautiful day where they can not only learn about their faith and come closer to God, but provide literally a spiritual spa day,” said Rose Marie Rudolph, executive director of “Behold.” The third annual gathering drew nearly 600 women to the Embassy Suites Conference Center last Saturday.
“This is a place where they can go to adoration, they can go to confession, but also they can have a wonderful lunch and meet new Catholic women,” she told The Catholic Post.
“There’s a good balance in the day between theology and something that’s a little lighter,” said associate director Bonnie Engstrom. “There’s something for everyone -- it doesn’t matter where you are in your faith. You can glean something.”
In addition to the eucharistic adoration and sacrament of reconciliation -- 17 priests spent all or part of the day at the conference -- there was a Mass concelebrated by Msgr. James Kruse, vicar general of the Diocese of Peoria, and Father Don Roszkowski, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Metamora. “Behold” originated with the parish’s First Ten group, which continues to host the conference with sponsorship from OSF Healthcare.
“From the Heart of God” was the theme for this year’s event, which included keynote talks by Sister Mary Elizabeth Wusinich of the Sisters of Life, author and blogger Kate Wicker, and Ginny Baldridge, a professional image consultant based in St. Louis. Returning by popular demand was recording artist Marie Miller.
A new component brought 13 Catholic bloggers from around the country to central Illinois for a summit to discuss future collaborations and to meet some of the people who follow them online. (For a full listing, along with links to their sites, click here
“WOMEN NEED TO BE AFFIRMED”
While it sounds like a lot to try and accomplish in one day, it was designed to be a break from the busy-ness of everyday life, according to conference organizers.
“Women need to be affirmed, to have someone encourage them and tell them they’re beautiful and that they’re daughters of God. We forget,” said Rudolph, a member St. Mary’s in Metamora.
“Women serve each other or serve other people naturally all the time. We’re serving and serving and it’s wonderful to have a religious Sister like Sister Mary Elizabeth remind us of our vocations as daughters of God and provide that encouragement,” she explained.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a stay-at-home mom or a working woman, we’re all really busy,” said Engstrom, a member of St. Luke’s in Eureka. “To have all of these opportunities for silence, to confess your sins, to go to Mass and just focus on worshipping our Lord -- speaking for myself, that’s really phenomenal.”
That work doesn’t go unnoticed, Msgr. Kruse told the women in his remarks at Mass. He assured them that Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, knew of the many ways they serve their families and the church and appreciated all they do.
“What a great event this is,” he said. “What a tremendous blessing to our diocese. I can’t help but think it’s only going to grow. Maybe next year it will be twice as big!”
In his homily, Father Roszkowski reminded the women how much God loves them and asked them to allow God to shower them with that love.
“Allow the Lord today to heal your heart. Allow the Lord today to transform your heart,” he said. “Allow the Lord today to fill you with joy. Allow the Lord today to show you in a very special way how you are cherished . . . to see how much dignity in the eyes of God you have.”
“CHOSEN BY GOD”
Calling to mind the words of Blessed John Paul II, Sister Mary Elizabeth spoke of the “feminine genius.”
“I can describe that in one word today: Behold! You are in the midst of the feminine genius,” she said. “It’s like walking into a big hug, right?”
Part of this is approaching reality in a way that doesn’t seek to possess or control, but to be open, to be moved by gratitude. This includes a receptivity to and awareness of others.
“It’s an interior habit of looking for the good in another person,” Sister Mary Elizabeth said, “the good and the true and the beautiful in another.”
Finding time and making room in our hearts for others engenders hope, joy, peace and love, she said. At the same time Sister Mary Elizabeth warned them to be careful of what they expose their hearts to on TV, in movies and online.
“Technology is a good thing, but we need to be wise and intentional in our use of technology, to use it well,” she said. “Ask yourself: has the use of technology impaired my ability to be present to others? Am I able to listen to others in an undistracted way?”
She asked them consider if they have sufficient time for inward reflection.
“Can you go a day without checking email?” Sister Mary Elizabeth said, evoking soft laughter. “You may want to start with a morning or an hour.”
This is important because God desires to meet the ones he has created, to have a friendship with them, she told the women.
“Each of us has been chosen by God,” Sister Mary Elizabeth said. “Pope Benedict XVI assures us that we are not some casual product of evolution. Each of us is a thought of God . . . each of us is necessary. We have certainty that no one is unwanted, no one is an accident. Each one of us has been loved into existence.”
BEAUTY IS NOT A SIZE
Kate Wicker admitted that it took her some time to accept that love and her innate beauty as a child of God. She talked about being teased for not being thin and the eating disorders that caused her to punish her body and guard her “real heart.”
It wasn’t until she sought healing on a spiritual level that she began to understand what real beauty is all about.
“Women are meant to attract other people with our hearts,” said Wicker, author of “Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body” and senior writer and health columnist for Faith&Family magazine.
While Jesus’ garden does have some great souls who are destined to be roses or lilies, many of us will be daisies and wildflowers, she said. “Perfection exists in being what God wills for you.”
Society has perverted beauty so that many women believe they have nothing to offer the world,” Wicker told them. Beauty is not a size, however, but an essence that is “written on our hearts.”
She said that to reclaim their beauty they must be forgiving people -- “you can’t bring beauty into the world with a hardened heart” -- filled with gratitude for everything, even in their failings and setbacks.
“And we must recognize that our bodies do matter,” Wicker said. “If we are to repay God for his gift, we have to respect our bodies. We need to make God at home in our bodies.”
In a keynote address that included tips on how to put together a wardrobe from 10 pieces of clothing and accessories, image consultant Ginny Baldridge also emphasized that women need to take care of themselves: “How can you be a saint and not take care of yourself?”
“Go out there and be a compelling woman,” she said. “You want to attract people into your lifestyle -- and Christ.”