Today’s (very long) entry is especially for my sister-friends Mrs. N. U., OP and Miss C. R., OP who were unable to attend the Conference. It is also dedicated to them because I think that much of what I learned is valuable for young wives, which N. is and C. is about to become.
On Saturday, February 23, I attended the Columbus Catholic Women’s Conference. The theme of this year’s conference was “My Heart: The Holy Spirit’s Home – Celebrating the Year of Faith.” The emcee was Sarah Reinhard, local Catholic mom, author, and social media maven. The day began with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Frederick Campbell. The featured speakers were Fr. Leo Patalinghug of the Grace Before Meals movement, Suzanne Fowler of The Light Weigh, and four of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist: Sr. Mary Michael, OP, Sr. Catherine Marie, OP, Sr. Joseph Maria, OP, and Sr. Mary Jacinta, OP (who happen to teach at my parish school). The Confession talk was given by Fr. Stash Dailey, diocesan priest (and my former associate pastor).
Bishop Campbell’s homily was much more eloquent than I am about to tell, but I will try to give the more important points that I noted in my program. First, I noted that he pointed out that Christians (married women especially) are called to sacrificial love. And sacrifice, as he explained, means “to make holy.” My impression of this is the ends of the sacrament of marriage: the mutual enrichment of the spouses and the procreation of children. What I mean to say is that in giving of myself for my husband, I help him to become more holy. I am sure that the procreation and rearing of children will be a sacrificial and refining journey. Bishop Campbell also held up Our Lady as a model of sacrificial love, rejoicing in all circumstances, and praying hard at all times, even for our enemies.
Fr. Leo Patalinghug is a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He has founded an apostolate called Grace Before Meals, which aims to strengthen families and communities around the dinner table. He had so many good points in his talk, as well as being an exciting and animated speaker. Father Leo said he wants families to have a religious experience around the dinner table together. By religious, he means the root of the word religious, religare, meaning to bind together. He compared the main ceremony of the family, the domestic church, to the Mass – at each, we talk about God, we pray, and we eat. He had some profound thoughts and I feel that I won’t do him justice since I couldn’t record his exact words, but here are a few:
- Your belly button is proof that from the very moment of your conception, God promised to feed you.
- Fast food was intended to give us more time to spend with our families.
- God doesn’t use a microwave, he uses a crock pot.
- Conversation can lead to conversion.
- God is the greatest foodie: he created food before he even created humans.
- The family dining table is where children become disciples.
Fr. Stash Dailey talked about Confession. The way this conference works usually, is that there are three featured speakers, plus a local priest who talks about Confession, just before the confessionals open up. The most encouraging part of Fr. Dailey’s talk for me was a story of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. She was a 17th century French Visitation nun. Our Lord appeared to her and showed her his Sacred Heart. Sr. Margaret Mary was questioning the authenticity of these apparitions, so she asked her spiritual director (Saint) Fr. Claude de la Colombiere, what she should do. He encouraged her to ask Jesus “What was Fr. de la Colombiere’s favorite sin in his youth?” Despite her reluctance to know, she asked, and Jesus told her “I don’t remember. He confessed it.” She was dejected thinking that if anyone would know the priest’s secret, Our Lord would know. But when she told her director, he explained to her that the apparitions must be authentic. Jesus does not remember our sins when we confess them. Furthermore, Fr. Dailey clarified, a grace is communicated to us to help us forget that sin and put it behind us. He also said that if you don’t know what to confess, look at yourself from your husband’s perspective… and from Christ’s perspective. Pray before you confess to see your life as Jesus sees your life and to love yourself as he loves you.
Suzanne Fowler is a mother of seven and the author of The Light Weigh and Light Weigh One King, which are Catholic small-group/DVD Scripture study programs with a focus on weight loss and giving yourself to God, rather than allowing food to control you. I have a vested interest in Suzanne because I have been a part of three Light Weigh groups at my parish (led by our sisters Mrs. Toni M., OP and Mrs. Rebecca G., OP) and I am currently participating in a Light Weigh One King group. I began with the Light Weigh before I got engaged, in September 2008. I was engaged in October and lost 15 pounds before my May 2009 wedding. Unfortunately, after the wedding, I let go of the principles I learned and gained 20 pounds, but later rededicated myself to Light Weigh eating and lost those 20 pounds, and then 5 more since the beginning of 2013. So, because of what I learned from Suzanne and from Scripture, I now weigh less than I did on my wedding day and I feel like I know much more about myself and about God. Through The Light Weigh I learned what it means to “offer something up”: that I can offer my sacrifices and suffering to God for an intention. This has made all the difference for me.
But enough about me, what did Suzanne talk about at the Conference? She talked about having faith. She said having faith is like when you’re on an airplane and the oxygen masks drop. You have to put your own mask on before you can help other people with their masks. You won’t be able help others if you don’t help yourself. She spoke about how each of us is a precious, unrepeatable original. She talked about how God gives us “head hunger” (as opposed to real bodily hunger) to call us to him. She said that the devil (she calls the devil the darkside) wants us to go to counterfeits, rather than to God. Food is one of those counterfeits. She said that even though service is good, it shouldn’t overtake sacrifice – Jesus didn’t redeem the world by washing his disciples’ feet, he redeemed the world by dying on the Cross. One thing from her talk that really stuck with me was about doing the little things. She talked about a basketball rivalry. The result of the recent game between the two rivals came down to free-throws. The team that lost was well-known for their three-point shooting, but the other team won because they were able to do the little things: the one-point free throws. How much in our lives comes down to doing the little things?
After Suzanne spoke, it was lunch time. I thoroughly enjoyed lunch with some friends. We discovered that some of my girlfriends (who didn’t know each other) had friends in common from growing up Catholic in the same city. I was also excited because there were gluten-free muffins. I know it’s not very Lenten or penitential to eat a chocolate chip muffin, but since I have stopped eating gluten, I rarely have sweets, especially baked goods. I felt like that was a gift God was giving me.
The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist are a quickly growing group of habited sisters based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Sr. Mary Michael is the principal of my parish school (St. Michael in Worthington, OH), and Sr. Catherine Marie, Sr. Joseph Maria, and Sr. Mary Jacinta are teachers there. The sisters spoke on the virtues and the theological virtues specifically. Sr. Catherine Marie gave a quick primer on what virtues are, and the corresponding vices that result from a lack or excess of each virtue. She said that when we truly ask Jesus “What must I do?” He gives us an incredible calling to a virtuous life. The saints, and especially Mary, are our best models for a virtuous life. Sr. Mary Michael spoke on faith. She emphasized the value of silence to listen to God and time to ponder his Word in the Scriptures. Sr. Mary Jacinta spoke on hope. She emphasized humility and magnanimity (greatness of soul/having a big heart). She encouraged reading Bl. Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Women and Mulieris Dignitatem. Sr. Joseph Maria spoke on charity. The thing that struck me the most in her talk was John 19:25: “Standing near the cross was the mother of Jesus.” She talked about how Mary was standing there, loving, praying, and consoling Jesus. She wasn’t fainting or lying on the ground as some have painted her. She talked about how in embracing our crosses, we receive God’s own power to carry them. To tie up the whole talk, Sr. Catherine Marie gave us a quick way to learn to grow in virtue:
- Determine the virtue you need to grow in, and pray for it.
- Live that virtue.
- Don’t stop!
Can you tell she teaches religion to sixth through eighth grade students?
After the sisters spoke, we prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet together in song. What a powerful prayer! Usually when I go to a conference or a retreat and it’s good, I don’t want it to end. I got so much out of this conference but I was happy for the day to end because I was fired up to take what I learned home, share it with others, and live it in my day-to-day life.