It’s Women’s History Month and I’ve always been struck by a little message Pope Paul VI communicated at the end of the Second Vatican Council — well, especially since Pope Benedict XVI re-communicated it by handing it to me shortly before he stepped aside as pontiff. It said, in part:
the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is under-going so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling.
It ends with:
Women, you do know how to make truth sweet, tender and accessible, make it your task to bring the spirit of this council into institutions, schools, homes and daily life. Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world.
Besides a dramatic counter-narrative to the conventional wisdom about what the Church things about women, it is also a wee bit of a plea for help. Pope Francis has talked about the Church as mother and it needs women to lead her children back to Confession, rebuilding and renewing life in the Church. So many women in so many ways are heralds of mercy, serving and leading and praying, in the Church and beyond.
The world had their eyes on a priest of Arlington, Fr. Paul Scalia, a few weeks ago during the Mass for his father, Justice Antonin Scalia. Just a little later this month — a week from this coming weekend — the Diocese of Arlington, Va., will hold a women’s conference. It’s an opportunity for a close encounter with what we saw that day: prayers for God’s mercy showered on a beloved father, husband, friend, and public servant.
Kathleen Beckman, one of the featured speakers on March 12, is author of two pretty important books. One is God’s Healing Mercy, which is a bit of a how-to guide to mercy, to awaken or refresh the Christian life in you. Another is Praying for Priests, which is so essential to the life of the Church — and getting people back to the sacraments, praying the Mass with their lives. (I talked with her about the mercy book here and here and the priests book here.)
If you’re a woman in the D.C. metro area or vicinity wondering what all this mercy talk is all about, why it’s so critical now, or just want a Saturday timeout to refocus priorities, this might be a great gift for you and friends. (Details here.)
Thérèse Bermpohl is director of the Office for Family Life in Arlington, which is running the conference, and explains a bit about the day.
Q: What’s the point of an annual women’s conference?
A: To offer women of faith the opportunity to connect with one another, to be inspired by great speakers and to share together in the Eucharistic feast.
Q: How is it different than the men’s a week before?
A: For the first time ever, both conferences will be focusing on the same theme, “the Extravagant Mercy of God the Father.” Of course, we chose this theme because of this Extraordinary Jubilee year of Mercy proclaimed by our Holy Father. The men’s conference will feature Damen Owens, executive director of the Theology of the Body Institute, Fr. David Pignato, Harvard Law school graduate and Professor of Theology at St. John’s seminary in Boston and Dr. Michael Horne, director of clinical services for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Arlington. The women will hear from Kathleen Beckman, author of God’s Healing Mercy and Sr. Clare Hunter, Respect Life Director for the Diocese of Arlington.
Q: Why separate the two?
A: Men and women have unique gifts and we want to celebrate our differences, honing in on what makes each special.
A: Everything. I was struck by a line from Fr. Paul Scalia’s homily at the funeral Mass for his father, Justice Antonin Scalia. Quoting his father, he used a phrase “God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner.” It is explicable, utterly unmerited, purely gratuitous, and open to everyone!
Q: Why is this a “Family Life” office thing?
A: The Family Life office has been cosponsoring the women’s conference with the Arlington Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (ADCCW) since 2012. Family Life’s involvement makes perfect sense because in building up the spirituality of our mothers, sisters, and daughters, we are strengthening the family, the corner stone of society.
Q: What’s the point of this office?
A:Our office has a breadth of programs including but not limited to marriage preparation, young adult ministry, outreach to the post abortive and pregnant women in need of support.
Q: What are you proudest of?
A: We have so many significant initiatives. Our Project Rachel outreach to the post abortive is a model Diocesan program. I am certain that you’re familiar with Theology on Tap, the “bar talks” that continue to draw hundreds of young adults. We offer 19 conferences for engaged couples each year. We also have added some great “new media” initiatives. Last February, Bishop Loverde led a 7-day online retreat for busy couples which was well received and we hope to do more of these types of retreats in the future. Our latest endeavor, 2minutes2virtue is a weekly video challenge hosted by Arlington Diocesan priests that helps Catholics on the go to get the most out of the Sunday readings. This month’s leader is Fr. Paul Scalia. Anyone can sign up to receive these weekly emails in their inbox by visiting our website.
Q: How do you choose the speakers you do?
A: The president of the ADCCW and I comb through the conference evaluations from the previous years and then take the names to prayer. We choose speakers who have an orthodox theology and can hopefully inspire with themes pertinent to the day. We have been blessed with some powerful speakers: Helen Alvaré, Gloria Purvis, Peter Kreeft, Kerri Caviezel, Fr. Paul Scalia and many more.
Q: Is this a Lenten necessity?
A:Lent is a special time for Catholics…a time for reflecting more deeply on our relationship with the Lord, contemplating all that he has done for us and how we can best love Him and our neighbor. We choose speakers who can help the women to do just this.
Q: What are you most looking forward to about it?
A: I cannot wait to hear Kathleen Beckmann. She is a prolific speaker, retreat leader, and author. She started the Foundation of Prayer for Priests and, as you know, recently penned a book on the Father’s Mercy. I share her desire to remind the faithful of the importance of praying for priests especially in this current climate of hostility toward the church. We will be giving each woman attending the conference a prayer card with the name of a priest from the Diocesan of Arlington, asking each to pray for that priest as long as they live. I’m also a big fan of my colleague, Sr. Clare Hunter. She is a fantastic speaker, solid in her theology and hysterically funny.
Q: Could life be better for attending it?
A: I hope so! Great speakers, opportunity for Confession, interaction with Catholic women of faith, and Jesus Christ at Mass…How can we go away unchanged with that line-up?
In her book, Beckman writes that “The rays of divine mercy draw us up into the life of the Trinity. Engulfed in the dynamism of Trinitarian life, we become healed and sanctified.”
Surely that’s worth a Saturday, if you happen to be near and able to carve out the time. The book is available for any day. As are Mass and Confession. Lent is more than half-way in. What are we waiting for? The world needs us overflowing with Divine Mercy. Clearly.
More information about the day is here.