Lindsey Weishar: ‘Discovering the gift only you can give’ at the GIVEN Forum

Young women take part in a previous year's GIVEN Forum n this screen grab from the Institute's website. (CNS)

My Vocation is Love / Lindsey Weishar

From June 9-13, I attended the GIVEN Forum 2021 in Washington D.C. GIVEN exists to “[activate] the gifts of young adult women {ages 21-30] for the Catholic Church and the world.”

In applying for this conference, each participant submitted an action plan that will be carried out within a year of attending the Forum. Action plans cover a multitude of activities: creating a podcast to teach people more about beauty, leading a retreat for Catholic professionals, or starting a program to help people pray with art. The Forum is meant to equip women to discover their gifts and to carry out this work.

The retreat took place at the Catholic University of America. The opening Mass was at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and it was amazing to see just how many women were there (130 young women, 30 lay women mentors, and 55 Sisters from 21 different religious orders).

Seeing so many women together in one place reminded me that our Church is incredibly rich. And we need each other to carry out the work God calls us to do.

After Mass, we were each divided into small mentoring groups. We were grouped by the “track” we chose in the application process — entrepreneurial, Catholic professional, secular professional, post-service, care of the human person, or artistic. As I was in the artistic track, I was placed with in a group with four other women in the same track, and both our mentor leaders are artistic themselves (one is a Sister of St. Benedict and an icon writer; the other is a dean at the Catholic University of America and was an opera singer). The mentoring groups provided a touchpoint for conversation about the talks and trainings we received throughout the Forum.

Below are a few pearls I gathered from the Forum:

  • All women are called to be mothers. While some of us will be physical mothers, we are all called to be spiritual mothers.  I was particularly struck by how the Sisters, consecrated virgins, lay women, and GIVEN alumni exhibited this spiritual motherhood. It was simply their presence — conversations at meals, discussions in our mentorship groups, the small ways in which women looked out for and connected with each other — that showed me spiritual motherhood in action. Seeing so many women together in one place reminded me that our Church is incredibly rich. And we need each other to carry out the work God calls us to do.
  • Each person is gifted with charisms. Though we often hear the word charism associated with how a religious order lives out its spirituality, I didn’t realize that each of us has particular charisms, gifts given to us by God that are meant to be used in the service of others. Jona Winkelman, who led a workshop titled “Charisms: Clues to Your Mission” shared with us some of the 24 most common charisms (check out the Siena Institute’s Called and Gifted program for more information), like teaching, hospitality, intercessory prayer, discernment of spirits, craftsmanship, and writing. It was interesting to learn that one might be “good” at doing something, but might not have a charism for it. Charisms, Jona shared, are accompanied by joy, energy,  When we are living in our charisms, we also produce fruit. This fruit touches the lives of others.
  • Women are “richly diverse in our expressions of the feminine genius.” Sister Mary Madeleine Todd, a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia, gave a keynote talk called “Entrusted with the Feminine Genius.” A message I heard multiple times throughout the conference is that by nature of being a woman, we express femininity. There’s no one way to live out the feminine genius: there are as many ways as there are women. Sister Mary Madeleine shared that it can be tempting to fall into stereotypes about what being male and female entails (e.g., men are less emotional; women are more emotional), but masculinity and femininity are actually broader concepts: They are archetypes, which means they are “inescapable because we are part of a cosmos” and this cosmos has an order, a beauty. Men and women, then, are “called to a communion of love” which is expressed most beautifully in the Eucharist. What women particularly bring to the word is invaluable. “When we are living out the feminine genius,” Sister Mary Madeleine said, “the world will be more person-centered.”

I came away from the Forum with an abiding gratitude for the women of the Church. I highly recommend this Forum to any young woman in your life who is looking to share her gifts with the Church. I ask, too, for your prayers, as I work to carry out my action plan — a retreat for artists — within this next year.

Lindsey Weishar

Lindsey Weishar is a poet, freelance writer, and member of St. Matthew Parish in Champaign. An assistant editor at The Young Catholic Woman, she has a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Write to her at lweisharwriting@gmail.com .

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