The featured speakers at this year’s Diocesan Women’s Conference presented a unifying message that women need to hear, especially when they’re feeling less-than, broken, or ashamed:
Jesus loves you like crazy, and He wants you to bring all of your mess to him.
Feeling inadequate, weak, unqualified, anxious or overwhelmed because of the stresses and demands of the world? Go to Jesus in the Eucharist, seek his mercy, strength and grace.
“Jesus wants to be our King. He wants to be King of our minds, our hearts, our bodies, our attitudes and all of our actions. He loves us deeply; He doesn’t hold anything back. He wants us to surrender our total self to Him. He wants it all, nothing less,” said keynote presenter Barbara McGuigan.
“Jesus says, ‘I give you all of myself and I want all of you,’” echoed capstone speaker Meg Hunter-Kilmer. “Jesus wants all of your mess because he doesn’t come as friend, he comes as Bridegroom.”
The annual event, themed “The Eucharist: Jesus in Our Midst,” brought more than 150 women to the Diocesan Conference Center in Harrisburg on Saturday, October 15, and drew dozens more to the virtual conference via a livestream.
The Heart of Jesus
“The Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ is the food for our body, blood, soul and humanity,” said keynoter Barbara McGuigan, a Catholic speaker, former radio host and founder of Voice for Virtue.
She opened her presentation, “The Eucharist and the Heart of Jesus” with a solemn recounting of the Passion of Christ, replete with the dreadful images of the sacrifice He willingly made for our salvation.
“He loves us so much that he was willing to undergo the Passion and the Crucifixion,” McGuigan told a silenced crowd.
“Why did Jesus suffer and die? For every time you have lied, for every time I have lied. For every time you have been impure in mind, heart or body and every time I have been impure in mind, heart or body. For every time you have been disobedient, for every time I have been disobedient. And the list goes on and on,” she said.
“The pagan world says you’re ok and I’m ok, but we know better. I am not ok, and neither are you. We are all capable of the basest acts without the power of grace,” she said.
Turning to the revelation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary, McGuigan recounted Christ’s appearances to the French nun and mystic, who spoke of a heart at once adorable and on fire with love for us.
“The Sacred Heart of Jesus is burning with love for you and me,” McGuigan said. “If we choose heaven, we will all see the pulsating heart of Jesus burning in his chest.”
McGuigan also spoke about several specific Eucharistic miracles that have occurred within the past three decades, particularly instances where the consecrated host transformed into bloody tissue or heart tissue.
Some people wondered whether these transformations could possibly be real, McGuigan said.
“Why wouldn’t we believe a consecrated host could bleed? If, indeed, each Eucharist is the real Body, the real Blood, the real Soul and Divinity of Jesus, how could we neatly separate the flesh from the blood?” she remarked.
“The same Sacred Heart that was pierced by the lance and the same Sacred Heart that appeared to St. Margaret Mary is the same Sacred Heart who is love, who loves us with an inestimable love, and who loves us not only with Divine love, but with human feeling, with human emotion, human sensibility and human sensitivity,” McGuigan said.
In that Sacred Heart, we find love, mercy and healing.
“Where are the wounds and where is the pain in your heart? Has Christ entered that wound to embrace you?” she asked. “Allow God to find you. You are his daughters. What is your biggest sin? Confess it. Confession is a direct encounter with Jesus Christ through his priests…. No sin is out of the realm of God’s forgiveness. No person is out of the realm of God’s forgiveness.”
“We must help other people to live the experience of God’s message of mercy and unconditional love. I believe that Jesus is calling us to break into the darkest places of this world to bring the Light to many women and men today – so loved by God, but living in total darkness. If we don’t have the courage to break down the gates of hell…the devil wins,” she remarked.
“People need mercy now more than ever,” McGuigan said. “The Eucharist is the nuclear powerhouse of the sacramental vision that we’re called to.”
True and Living Presence
The Catholic Church in the United States is underway with a three-year National Eucharistic Revival that aims to bring back to life our understanding and love of the Eucharistic Lord.
According to a recently study by the Pew Research Center, only 31% of Catholics believe in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
In his presentation at the conference, Bishop Gainer spoke about the Mystery of the Eucharist as a Holy and Living Sacrifice that is re-presented in the present moment at every Mass.
“Over the course of the centuries, many of the Lord’s commands have been disobeyed, taken lightly, disregarded: ‘Love your enemy,’ ‘Turn the other cheek.’ However, there is one commandment through the centuries that has been consistently and faithfully obeyed: ‘Do this in memory of me,’” the bishop said.
“It’s clear that, despite our human failures, our sins, all of the distractions that have plagued the Church through the ages, Christians have realized that the life of our souls depends upon the Holy Eucharist. Just as our physical life depends on food, so we do what Jesus told us to in remembrance of Him,” he said.
The word “remembrance” takes on a very different meaning when considered in the liturgical and spiritual sense. It is not just a memorial or commemoration, but rather a re-presentation, the bishop said.
“In order to being to grasp fully the Mystery of the Eucharist, it is imperative to understand the real meaning of this word, ‘remembrance,’” which is translated from the Greek word anamnesis, the bishop explained.
“When you and I speak of a memorial or a remembrance or a commemoration, it suggests the person or the event that we’re remembering or commemorating is past and absent. Anamnesis is the opposite. It is an act in which and by which the person or the event commemorated is actually made present, brought into the realm of the here and the now…. What is remembered is re-presented in the present moment,” he said.
Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, the empty tomb and the Mystery of the Resurrection are ever-present in the Eucharist, the bishop said. “To understand this is absolutely essential if we are to begin to appreciate the Mystery of the Eucharist.”
Saintly Examples for Women
There are a plethora of saints to whom women can turn when looking for examples of motherhood – whether physical or spiritual. Katherine Phenicie, Director of Spiritual Life at Delone Catholic High School in McSherrystown, delved into the lives of four such saints in her presentation, “Everyday Sanctity: Exploring the Example of Saints who were Mothers in Every Sense of the Word.”
Her examples: St. Monica, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, St. Zita and Venerable Mother Maria Liusita. The first two were mothers in the physical sense; the latter two mothers in the spiritual sense.
St. Monica is an example of persistence in prayer, as she prayed incessantly for the conversion of her son, Augustine. “There is a lesson in her example that, through our own prayer, perseverance and dedication, nobody should feel far from the love of Christ through our example,” Phenicie said.
St. Gianna Beretta Molla, who rejected abortion in order to give birth to a daughter, is an example of heroic sacrifice. Riddled with fibroids, St. Gianna gave birth via C-section and died a week later from an infection. “As women, we are called to pour out ourselves and make sacrifices for the people in our lives everyday, and Gianna gives us a beautiful example of how we can do this,” Phenicie remarked.
An example of the integration of prayer and work, even in our mundane tasks, can be found in St. Zita. She worked for a wealthy family for most of her life and, even when mistreated by them, bore everything with joy and prayer. “She is a beautiful example of how we can dedicate all of our work to the Lord but not be so preoccupied with it that we neglect prayer,” Phenicie said.
Venerable Mother Maria Liusita offers an example of complete trust in God. She and her husband were unable to have children, and they opened a hospital to serve the poor. After her husband died, she opened a school and entered religious life, eventually establishing the Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart. “Her life seems a series of failures: she couldn’t have children, her husband died, she had to flee her country from the Cristero War. At the times when it seemed like her life was unraveling, the Lord was unveiling his purpose for her life,” Phenicie said.
She closed her presentation with poignant words from Pope St. John Paul II, addressing women in a 1995 letter on the eve of the Fourth World Conference on Women: “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.”
True Love in Brokenness
Breaking open her well-worn Bible, capstone speaker Meg Hunter-Kilmer examined several poignant moments Jesus shared with women that perfectly illustrate his love for us.
A speaker, blogger and self-proclaimed “hobo for Christ,” Hunter-Kilmer spoke on “How Jesus’ Encounters with Women in the Gospels Can Transform Our Experience of the Eucharist.”
She unpacked several stories – including the anointing of the sinful woman, the woman caught in adultery, and the hemorrhaging woman – that show their being drawn to Jesus because of their brokenness.
“Every woman we see in the Gospels encountering Jesus for the first time is rooted in suffering, in grief, in loneliness, in rejection, in loss. We see Jesus coming to these women who want Him because they need Him. He speaks to their hearts because they recognize that they cannot survive without Him,” Hunter-Kilmer said.
“That is a witness to us, because we women have to have everything in place,” she said. “We have to be dressed right, and educated right, and have good families…. We need to check every one of the boxes. We add one thing after another after another to the list of attributes we have to have in order to be adequate…. We still have to be running our homes and taking care of children, but now we also have to make a lot of money and have a really good education, and be on Pinterest and be a good Catholic mom. Everything just gets harder.”
“But Jesus looks at us and says, ‘Oh honey, that’s not what this is about. Look at the women that I went after in the Gospels;… woman after woman after woman who had been rejected and despised, and felt like there was no place for them in the Kingdom of God.’”
Hunter-Kilmer pointed out that when Jesus encounters people in their brokenness, He is able to heal them, to change their lives.
Our worth is not based on how we look, how much work we accomplish, or our social status. Rather, Jesus loves us for exactly who we are, Hunter-Kilmer said.
“It’s so easy for us to become convinced that we are loved because of those things, and that if we don’t do those things, Jesus is going to be disappointed in us, disgusted by us, repelled by us. Friends, that is not the Gospel,” she said.
“He is so crazy in love with you, not in spite of your flaws and brokenness, but – through His mercy – because of them,” Hunter-Kilmer remarked. “Your struggle is not an obstacle to the love of God. It’s an avenue to the love of God. Your grief, your addiction, your mental illness, your loneliness, your confusion, your rejection – these are the ways that God comes into our lives. He comes to us abundantly in the Eucharist, where he offers himself to us completely,” Hunter-Kilmer remarked.
“While you are at Mass, I want you to give the Lord all of the mess that you have been letting come between you and Him…and say, ‘Jesus, I refuse to believe that this is an obstacle to your love. I choose to believe that this is an invitation to your love,’” she said. “And when you go to Communion, I want you to walk up as a bride, bringing all that you are. Know that he looks at you and sees that mess, but all He really sees is that you are radiant. You are stunning. You are everything He ever wanted. You’re worth dying for.”
The Women’s Conference was hosted by the Diocesan Secretariat for Catholic Life and Evangelization. With a balance of Mass, presentations, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Confession, lunch and vendors, the day offered a spiritual boost to women, regardless of their state in life.
Friends and members of St. Theresa Parish in New Cumberland, Christy Gabler and Shana Blayney told The Witness they look forward to the conference every year for the spiritual nourishment it provides.
“I have come to this conference every year since I’ve heard about it, and I love it,” Blayney said. “I look forward to it every year. When I hear about it in the spring, I mark it on my calendar so I can’t have anything take precedence over it. I have a couple of kids and a husband so things are busy, but I really prioritize this day because I consider it a retreat and spiritually growing for me.”
“The presenters were wonderful,” Gabler said. “My main take away from the speeches is how the Eucharist is still alive, living and present. It’s not something we remember; it’s something that we are living in that moment and is with us always.”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness