450 women of faith something to “Behold” at conference
By: By Jennifer Willems
WASHINGTON — The sounds of babies cooing and burbling, and women laughing and occasionally sniffling and wiping away tears mixed with words of wisdom, words of prayer and words of song to fill the Caterpillar Performing Arts Theatre at Five Points here for “Behold! A Catholic Conference on the Dignity and Vocation of Women.”
Organizers estimated that the March 5 event drew 450 women — 350 more than last year’s inaugural conference — for talks by Jennifer Fulwiler and the Sisters of Life from New York City, musical performances by Marie Miller and lunch. The day also afforded opportunities to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, to spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and to come together for Mass.
Hosted by St. Mary’s Parish in Metamora, the conference was planned by a committee of more than 50 women and relied on the help of about 70 volunteers to make everything run efficiently. Among the feminine touches was a chocolate break between talks in the afternoon.
“I cannot tell you the amount of love that has gone into this day,” said Rose Marie Rudolph, executive director of the conference. “We wanted to make all of you here feel very cherished, very loved — like you are something to behold . . . and loved by God.”
THE GIFT OF FAITH
Keynote speaker Jennifer Fulwiler, a noted writer and a regular guest on EWTN Radio’s SonRise Morning show, shared the story of her journey to the Catholic Church in “How Motherhood Led Me to God after a Life of Atheism.”
“I was a militant atheist all my life. I researched my way into Catholicism,” she said. “Mine is the story of someone being brought out of ignorance, out of darkness.”
She said her experience proves “there is nobody who is beyond (God’s) reach.”
Raised to accept an atheistic/materialistic worldview, Fulwiler said she always thought, “If I can’t prove it, I don’t believe it.”
That started to change when she got married to her husband, Joe, and had their first child, a son. When she looked into his eyes she felt something that made her question everything.
“I couldn’t prove that I loved him — I couldn’t prove that Joe or my parents loved me,” Fulwiler said. “It’s true that in the atheistic/materialistic worldview you don’t get the luxury of talking about romance and love because you can’t prove it.”
That led to her first experience of prayer — “God, if you’re out there, I’m open to it” — but didn’t get any results, or so she thought. What she didn’t realize then is that the Catechism of the Catholic Church says prayer is initiated by God and our own first step is always a response.
After reading “The Case for Christ” Fulwiler said she had to admit she was interested and started to think “What if? What if God exists?”
She picked up the Bible next, but in searching for meaning behind the stories she found many different explanations. Her next question was “Who has the authority to tell me what this means?”
One of the people she was blogging with, a Catholic, asked her to consider that maybe Jesus founded just one church and endowed it with his authority.
“Reluctantly I looked into Catholicism,” Fulwiler said. “Joe and I were shocked at how we had bought into the stereotypes.”
Her first witness to her new faith came when she discovered she had a blood-clotting disorder during her second pregnancy and was told she couldn’t have any more children. Her doctors suggested artificial contraception.
“There’s one question and one question only when we evaluate church teaching — is the church guided by God or not?” she said. Fulwiler declined the doctors’ advice.
“I realized I had found the source of that love I felt when I first held my baby,” she said. The Fulwilers were received into the Catholic Church in 2007.
Her joy doesn’t ensure that her life will be easy, Fulwiler said, but she told her listeners there’s reason for hope.
“There is not one person so lost they are beyond the touch of God’s grace,” she said.
THE GIFTS OF WOMEN
Talking about “The Feminine Genius,” Sister Maria Ann Michela of the Sisters of Life, said our culture tells us that we are only acceptable “when we are A, B, C, and when we have the freedom to do whatever we want.”
“Many of us have been wounded by our various relationships,” she said. “We must accept the truth — we are daughters of God.
“God loves you because you are you,” she said. “He didn’t make you to be like anyone else. No one like you has ever existed.”
Like their bodies, women have been conditioned to receive love so they can give it away, Sister Maria Ann Michela told her listeners, adding “we must refuse to support that which mocks true love.”
She noted that one of the gifts of femininity is sensitivity. The Blessed Mother demonstrated this gift at the wedding feast of Cana when she looked around, saw there was a need, and sought help.
“The gift of our sensitivity as women is to recognize what is lacking,” she said. “Without this gift, the world would become cold and inhuman.”
Later in the day, Sister Bethany Madonna of the Sisters of Life, would ask the women to trust Jesus when he says, “Behold, I make all things new.”
“We women are so hard on ourselves,” she said, noting that “Paul could have lamented his whole life for persecuting the church.”
But he accepted God’s love and mercy and so must we, she said.
Sister Bethany Madonna suggested that they start by letting Jesus into “the dark corners of our lives” and let him help to clean out the cluttered room of their hearts where they hide the things they don’t want people to see.
“Sorting through that is going to bring a freedom you can’t imagine,” she said.