Thursday, May 23, 2024

Annual Convention of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women Calls Participants to ‘Be Still and Listen’

Amidst the busyness of life and all the responsibilities that come with being wives, mothers, friends, caretakers, coworkers and volunteers, more than 100 women set time apart on Saturday, April 6 to attend the annual convention of the Harrisburg Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. With the theme “Be Still and Listen,” the event offered opportunities for Holy Mass, interactive workshops and a keynote presentation on forming contemplative hearts.

Now in its 98th year, the convention is a celebration of the good works of the Council of Catholic Women at the parish, deanery and Diocesan levels. It’s also an opportunity for members to enjoy spiritual renewal, networking and welcoming new ladies into its fold.

Held at the Diocesan Conference Center, the convention was Bishop Timothy Senior’s first opportunity to officially gather with the members of the Council of Catholic Women, who represent parishes throughout the entire Diocese.

“You are such a great blessing to our Diocese,” he told the women during his homily in a morning Mass he concelebrated with Father Ted Keating, spiritual moderator of the HDCCW.

“As I’ve traveled our Diocese these past ten months, there has been a certain pattern of consistent support of the Council of Catholic Women in so many of our parishes, playing a very important role, often behind the scenes. What a great gift that is to live your faith so vibrantly and help to strengthen community. So much of our work and support builds up your community and your parish, and enables others to strengthen their faith. Thank you for what you do,” Bishop Senior said.

Reflecting on the day’s Gospel reading (Mark 6:9-15) in which Jesus instructs the apostles to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature,” Bishop Senior said the Gospel spread rapidly from “the recognition that [the apostles] were companions of Jesus, for their charity, for their commitment to service, for their countercultural principles. That’s what it means to be recognized as companions of Jesus. They were going against the grain of the ancient world in so many ways, and that’s what we’re called to do.”

“That is what is most persuasive, I believe, in the work of evangelization – the witness of a good, faithful Christian,” Bishop Senior said. “It’s the priorities, the vision, the life of service that is enfleshed in a faithful Christian. What we say and how we teach is necessary; catechesis is necessary, and it’s important to speak the truth always with charity. But it is the witness of a faithful Christian that I think is most persuasive in spreading the Gospel.”

Contemplative Hearts

A homeschooling mother of five who is a parish youth minister in Rockville, Md., coordinator of an annual Catholic summer program and frequent speaker and blogger might not seem like the best person to talk about quiet contemplation, but keynote speaker Annie McHugh illustrated to conference attendees that if she can accomplish contemplation with the help of God’s grace, so can they.

“A contemplative heart in the midst of an active life is possible. God doesn’t want us to feel anxious and overwhelmed all the time,” said McHugh, a native of St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Waynesboro who serves at St. Raphael Parish in Rockville and contributes to the Holy Ruckus blog.

In her presentation, “Fostering a Contemplative Heart in an Active Life,” McHugh spoke of the possibilities that lie within the challenges of finding quiet time with God in the midst of demanding and hectic lives that seem to leave little time for peace and rest.

“When we hear the word ‘contemplative,’ we might first think about a contemplative nun who is in her cloister and her whole world has been set aside for deep union with God. You might think, ‘That is a far cry from my life as a lay woman who is working, trying to foster relationships, balancing the life of being a mother, a wife, a professional, a volunteer.’ We might think that contemplation is so far removed from our reality, but that’s not the case,” McHugh said.

“The Lord desires for all of us a deep union with Him that comes from contemplation, and He wouldn’t call us to the life He calls us to without also allowing us to have a heart that is at peace,” she said.

Busy lives with seemingly no end to a list of responsibilities and tasks can make our hearts feel hurried and anxious, McHugh said, but it’s not what God wants for us.

“Our Heavenly Father wants us to have hearts that rest in peace with Him. Even in the midst of our active lives, He is calling all of us to foster contemplative, peaceful, joyful hearts,” she said.

Sharing stories of her own experiences as a mother, wife and youth minister, and leaning into themes presented in Nancy Shuman’s book, “The Cloistered Heart,” McHugh relayed practical tips for fostering contemplation.

“There are two things all of us can do, no matter our state in life,” she said, underscoring the practices of fostering silence and then bringing the silence back into the noise of life; and being attentive to the present moment.

“We live in a world that is anything by silent; it is so pervasively noisy…. But, do we actually seek out silence in our lives? We’re kind of afraid of silence, because in it we come face to face with that part of who you really are,” McHugh remarked.

“Jesus is calling us to silence. He is calling us to meet Him in that silent place in our hearts. When we seek silence in a world that is noisy, we can bring that silence within the cloister of our hearts back into that noisy world,” she said.

“Being attentive to the present moment is also key to fostering a contemplative heart,” she said. “Our lives are not checklists that we have to get through. Entering into the moments that God offers us and being attentive to them allows us to actually see where He is present to us in our lives. If we’re just rushing through, we can’t see His presence. Instead, slow down and attend to His presence moment by moment…. Let God combine that Martha and Mary in us, because that’s what makes the everyday tasks a prayer offered to Christ.”

“Relentlessly seek silence in a world that is pervasively noisy. Fully engage in the life God is calling you to, moment by moment. Silence and attentiveness are crucial to the formation of a cloistered contemplative heart,’ McHugh said. “Remember, it’s all about love for the sake of Love Himself. The goal of a cloistered heart is union with Christ; the externals are all in His hands.”

A series of afternoon break-out sessions followed McHugh’s presentation, including a panel presentation on the works and efforts of the Silence of Mary Home, which supports the poor, homeless and others in crisis in the Harrisburg area with food, clothing and shelter; pro-life workshops by the PA Pro-Life Federation on engaging the younger generation and living out the Gospel of Life; and a hands-on rock painting session for the HDCCW’s “Kindness Rocks” project.

A Joyful Noise

A coffee-shop-style sing-a-long provided a grand finale for the convention, and animated the day’s participants with a spirited conclusion that had them smiling and reminiscing about popular Catholic hymns.

Led by Father Neil Sullivan, pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in Camp Hill, and fellow musicians and parishioners John and Joreen Kelly, the closing presentation “Gonna Sing, My Lord!” highlighted more than 20 hymns that have inspired the faithful in the 60 years since the Second Vatican Council.

“The Second Vatican Council wasn’t just a matter of changing the way the priest faced at Mass, or allowing nuns show their hair. It was about reminding the people of God that they have a role in Salvation History, and that each and every one of us have a responsibility to grow in holiness and to help share the Good News, to build God’s Kingdom,” Father Sullivan said.

“The liturgy is connected to life; worship has something to do in changing the world. We’re celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the first big document that came out from the Council. A hallmark from that constitution was “full, conscious and active participation” in the liturgy, and an important way of doing that is through music, because it engages our whole body, our whole soul, our whole mind in proclaiming God’s greatness,” he said.

Interspersing Church history and teaching with hymns such as “Zaccheus,” “All That We Have,” “The King of Glory,” “Day By Day” and “All You Works of God,” the presentation inspired full participation from convention attendees, who enjoyed coffee, tea and pastries as they sang along to some of their favorite pieces.

The Diocesan Council of Catholic Women was founded in 1924. Members at the Diocesan, district and parish levels of Council work to support the spiritual life of members and the physical needs of the Church locally and globally, with programs for spiritual growth and support for vocations, pregnancy centers, women, migrant workers, and children in third world countries.

New officers were installed for the Diocesan council at the conclusion of the Mass during the convention: President Judy Andidora, Vice President Alycia Laureti, Secretary Audra Shaub and Treasurer Linda Melencheck.

The convention highlighted many of the works of the Council of Catholic Women, including donations of items for infants and toddlers in support of pregnancy centers, support of a scholarship fund for graduating high school senior girls, a prayer shawl ministry and a migrant ministry.

Membership in the Council of Catholic Women is open to all Catholic women in parishes throughout the Diocese. Learn more about the programs and activities of the Harrisburg Diocesan Council of Catholic Women – including its upcoming retreat in June, a weekly recitation of the Rosary, spiritual adoption program and annual baby shower – at its new website,

(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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