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A Word: Catholic Women’s Conferences; Catholic Men’s Conferences

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Finally, dioceses/archdioceses across the nation are stepping up and answering the call to evangelize by putting money and effort into establishing conferences for women and for men.

We each have unique needs. Women aren’t men. Men aren’t women. We need each other, but we also need a day set aside to minister to us – a day that affirms our gender and dignity as a woman made in the image of God, as a man made in the image of God.

And that is unique. It is not the same. I am so far and completely and hilariously different from my husband. I am not my father. Not my son. Not like any man.

I am a woman. The evangelizing of my soul looks different from the evangelizing of my husband’s soul.

In part, we need a break from our duties at home and work to gather with other women, with other men to be nurtured and filled.

And yet…

I noticed something Saturday that is essential. When the teams gather in the quiet of a diocesan room and plan our conferences, there is one aspect that is often forgotten.

It was not forgotten at the women’s conference here in St. Louis last Saturday.

In between the two female speakers, for a space of time following the female MC’s introduction, gracing the stage beside the Blessed Mother, to stand before the thousand-plus Catholic women, was Monsignor Eugene Morris.

He was the highlight of the day.

His mother watched from one balcony window. She looked down upon her son. He honored her, praised her, and then talked of Our Lady and Confession and Our Faith.

We laughed. We felt his mother’s gaze. We saw the love. We entered for a few minutes into their connection.

And I thought about the importance of seeing a man in the midst of this women’s conference. A son. A brother. A priest.

He belongs to us as women in a unique way. We need him. He needed us.

It is true that we needed a day away from our homes, a day just for us. But that day was made better – the best – because one man had been permitted to break up the day with all the female voices with a call to remember who we are as “woman.” A reminder that only a man, only a priest can deliver.

It’s like our children when they hear our voice all day long, and then daddy comes home.

He can say the same thing we have said, repeatedly. Now, they hear it. Now, they respond.

It made me think.

What if men’s and women’s conferences began adding one segment where a priest (for the women) or a woman religious (for the men) or a grandfather (for the women) or a grandmother (for the men) had a space of time to speak.

I’m going to sound like goldilocks…

not too young

not too attractive

not too distracting in that way.

But a voice with a cadence and timbre we would otherwise miss.

Telling us the same things in another way.

As the conference ended, we quieted our spirits and made a space for the Lord to come to us in the Mass.

The deacons and priests and Archbishop processed.

The Knights of Columbus raised their swords.

The women felt something. The renewal was coming full-circle. These are our men, our sons, our brothers, our fathers and priests. They are here because of us. We are here because of them. We are uniquely made. Knit together male or female in our mother’s wombs for distinct roles, then knit together in the fabric of the Church for distinct roles. We need a day filled with voices of women. But nothing can take away our need to hear a man’s voice calling us to the Confessional. A man’s sword raised as the Archbishop enters. A young man enters with eyes on the cross he carries as his alb flows and the belt swings at his side.

Gather in your little rooms. Eat your finger sandwiches. Jot your notes down for next year’s conference. Assign the action-items. Send the emails to the prospective speaker.

But in a deliberate and lovely way, preserve a space for us to see and hear from the one not like us.

They are flesh from our flesh. Flesh of our flesh. And male and female He created us.

The perfect women’s conference comes full-circle.

We are created in the image of God.

I came back home and saw my husband. My grandsons.

Thought of my priest.

Saw my deacon with new eyes Sunday morning.

Wondered if my husband had a calling to be a deacon (probably not). Or my son. Or my sons-in-law.

I wondered if my grandsons had a vocation to the priesthood. I imagined them as altar servers.

I felt my feminine genius acutely. And it made me see all of us more clearly.

I imagined talking to a Catholic men’s conference. Oh, there are many things I would say. But mostly, it would be this:

She needs you to be the man God created you to be. She.

Your wife.

Your daughter.

Your sister.

Your mother.

They need you to be firmly planted in Christ Jesus.

So listen to these male speakers. And go from this place changed. And ready.

Day Nine Novena from Israel

Day Eight Novena from Israel

Day Seven Novena from Israel

Day Six Novena from Israel

I am sick.

The sore throat’s become a cold. I’m stuffy-headed. My ear feels all wrong.

I can’t blow my nose, but it feels like I should.

Two days ago, I worried about climbing a rock wall.

Yesterday, I worried about finding the bus station and getting the car rental returned and getting my body and all my luggage back to Jerusalem.

And finding the hotel again.

I worried. Even though Sunday’s homily was about not worrying.

The flowers of the field, and such.

Today’s worry? What will I do if I get sick?

There really is enough “evil” for each day, as Sunday’s readings said.

And each day there is enough to offer up.

There is something appropriate about feeling physically yucky as one gets ready for praying the Stations of the Cross.

Okay, then.

Thank you, Lord, that I am here, and for all of Your blessings.

I will praie you still.

Day Five – Novena from Israel

Finding the Lord is usually not difficult. Get in your car. Walk a few blocks.

There He is.

Even on pilgrimage, the priest is usually on the trip. He prays the Mass. Jesus shows up.

But when you are in an unfamiliar place, spiritually or geographically, when the Holy Spirit seems lost to you or you to the Lord. When you don’t know the way around and even the directions another offers seems murky and indecipherable, then the trusting is something you commit to and not something you possess.

It is a yes you give to God.

Even when He seems hidden.

Today, I decided to find St. Peter’s church in Tiberias.

I left early and decided to walk. According to my phone, it should be four minutes from the hotel.

The streets are confusing. Even when you know the Lord is right around the bend.

You doubt yourself.

You want someone to just point the way, lead you, take you by the hand.

But they don’t speak your language.

Spiritually or really.

They don’t know where to tell you where to go even if they did speak your language.

This is not a place they have ever sought for themselves.

It’s just you, darling, and fortitude and grace.

And there it is. A little sign on a humble exterior wall with a gate around the outside. It doesn’t look like you belong there. It’s too private-looking. Like it belongs to another.

But you see the Jerusalem Cross in the grill of the gate, like a figure in a hidden-pictures children’s book.

This is your “hello” in a world of “I don’t know you.”

This is your hiding place in a foreign land.

This is your station. Where the buses and trains all go to your ultimate destination.

If you will it and say yes.

If you persevere.

If you submit and seek to be part of E family waiting inside.

You go inside, as I did.

Someone asks if you came for Mass. And your heart simultaneously leaps for joy and relaxes because you are home.

You ask if it is ok.

And a lovely religious sister smiles and says, “Yes, of course.”

Day Four – Novena from Israel

Today, I climbed Mount Arbel. I was told be an expert hiker who lives in Israel Thad one could just take the home on the sloping side of the mountain and make it easily enough to the top.

Even one in marginal shape can do this if she takes her time.

Good, I thought. That describes me.

But I read the map wrong. The path makes a loop. The marginal hiker should turn back half way and go back to the car the way she came.

I went on to complete the path. The way became difficult. I kept going. It became rugged and challenging. I kept going.

Two and a half hours into this hike, I can easily to the last climb, straight up.

No way.

You have to be kidding me.

I either have to climb a wall of rock, a cliff with metal groups for toes and hands, or I have to go back and retrace hours of rugged ground to find the easier path.

I watched. Others were doing it. Just keep your eyes focuses on the six inches in front of you. Just think about the hand grip and foothold that you need to move to next.

At one point, my feet were in the wrong place. I had my left where my right should be and my hand would have to reach too far up for easy hoisting of my body and my right foot would have to cross in front of my left without making my left toe slip off its toehold. That right foot would have to step higher than is reasonable to reorient my body to the wall of stone.

I wanted to quit.

The time for quitting was over. Going back was not an option.

My muscles were shaking. My mouth tasted fear.

And I pulled up as hard as I could while carefully slipping my right leg between my left leg and the wall of rock.

I pushed up with my wobbly leg muscles and prayed.

The prayer of the terrified.

Suddenly, my body was rightly oriented and I realized I had survived that.

Another difficult moment presented itself momentarily, but it passed as well.

Life and death, this journey to God, is all of these things.

I wonder about my ability to keep going when the path is straight up a spiritual rock wall.

But I will pray. I will not give ground. I will not turn back

With grace, I will follow in the handholds and footholds of those who have gone before us.

Day Three Novena in Israel

I have a mountain to climb tomorrow.

It rises above the Sea of Galilee in one pleasing swoop. Like the horn of a saddle. I´m not sure how I will manage to climb any distance at all.

I have only seen it from the waters of the Sea of Galilee, taken pictures of it which I had blown up and printed on canvas for my office.

It is the backdrop not only for the Sea, but also for Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene. I have been there before, but my eyes were on the church. What a church it is, with its pillars dedicated to women of the New Covenant and an altar shaped like a boat with a magnificent window behind it that frames the Sea perfectly.

The priest celebrates the Mass, prays the Liturgy of the Eucharist from here, and looks like Jesus in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

Like I said, I have been to Magdala. On my last visit, though, I didn´t turn around and look at the backdrop of the mountain. I had tunnel vision.

Today, I took the time to really take in the place, and the surroundings.

And there it was, so close that Magadala makes up the footbed of the mountain.

Tomorrow, I will get up, put on my hiking boots which have been with me on every pilgrimage I have made. I will set my cap for Mount Arbel, literally. Pony tail hanging out the back of the baseball cap.

I will put on sunglasses, and begin the climb.

Then I will wish that I had exercised more consistently in the months before this retreat to the holy sites in Israel.

I doubt I will get as far up Mount Arbel as the cows I saw grazing tthe gently  sloping side of the mountain.

But I will try. My friend will encourage me to keep going. She is young. What does she know of bodies that resist the will?

And yet, it is good that she will propel me upward. We all need that, well, almost daily.

She will walk slightly ahead of me, but never appear to be waiting on me. She will bring the snacks and remind me to drink plenty of water.

Sometimes, I will want to reach out and grab her hand. She has become so dear to me. And tomorrow night she leaves to return to Jerusalem. I will be on my own to face other mountains.

This retreat will take on a new dimension. New vistas. New spiritual muscles enlisted. New reasons to learn how to propel myself forward when there is nobody else to do it.

Mount Arbel.

Solitude.

They have something in common, here in The Galilee.

Or at home or at work or when raising a family or when dying in a nursing home.

Tomorrow, I will face a mountain that I will climb. And I will look down upon the Sea of Galilee and remember Our Lord did everything first. Every challenge, he overcame.

And in the final hour, he had only Mary Magdalene, John, and His Mother to walk with Him up that mountain.

He offered it all up for us. I will offer tomorrow up to Him.

Day Three Novena in Israel

It is rare that one learns something new after the age of forty. We like things easy, same, nothing that tasks the mind too much. Goodness, some of us stop living by the time we are middle aged.

In 2014, I had never been to Israel.

Today, on my fourth visit to the Holy Land, I rented a car from the center of Jerusalem and drove it to Tiberias.

You don´t do something like that every day. I looked out the window, as I drove through the hills of Judea and northward on to the Galilee, and I felt alive.

Blissfully alive.

I was traveling through Jesus´stomping grounds, but I was doing it with no particular agenda in mind. I didn´t need to feel empowered. That´s not it at all.

I wanted Him to feel empowered. To show me that the things that might scare you really shouldn´t. And if you let yourself fall into them like they were a featherbed, they just might turn out to be as easy as falling into a featherbed.

The things I had done  day after day for most of my adult life, like turning the car key in the ignition, and watching where I was backing up, and changing lanes and stopping for an ice cream at a roadside stand, these things were the rote framework for something new and surreal and deeply spiritual.

Outside my window, the palm trees, and camels, and Bedouin, and Judean hillside and the Sea of Galilee reminded me that I was traveling a new, but ancient path.

And there had been nothing to be afraid of.

The car was just a car.

The roads similar, though the center lane is white and not yellow.

The signs are written in three languages so nobody feels left out.

And the names of places like Jericho and Nazareth and Tiberias reminded me that this was not Kansas anymore – let alone hometown in rural Missouri.

This morning I touched the Western Wall and prayed.

Tonight I felt a gentle p=breeze pick up on the Sea of Galilee and the sprinkles begin as night fee, and I thought of Our Lord who walks on water.

“Walk to me, Peter.”

I know how to walk.

“Drive here with me, Denise.”

I know how to drive.

But…

“No. Don’t worry about anything. I’ve got you.”

And Jesus reaches out His Hand.

Jesus, I trust in You. I trust you with all of me, even as I face being on my own, or middle age, or old age. I. Trust. You.

And I’m counting on seeing some spectacular views.

Day Two Novena from Israel

I only had a limited idea of how the day would go. Amtrak to Chicago. Bus or taxi to O’Hare. Flight to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. Disembark and find new gate. Flight from Istanbul to Tel Aviv.

That’s when the really interesting journey would begin.

I would go through passport control on my own. No guide or leader to help me through. No name dropping or title to make it go smoothly.

The Holy Land on my own was a new path. A new way of trusting. I would get there. But I wasn’t quite sure the varied paths the journey would take.

The passport control gentleman asked me why I was there.

To see a friend. It was true. Margalit and I go back to the days I worked for Israel Ministry of Tourism.. He looked at something on his screen brim behind the bulletproof glass and then handed me back my passport.

That was it.

I walked through customs, found my checked bag, and exited through the inner chambers of the airport to embrace Israel.

There she was. My friend.

I blurted out a “Yay!” And ran to her.

I blinked back tears. I missed her. There was that, all of that. But I also needed her.

She would help me along, from Tel Aviv night noise to the holy city of Jerusalem.

She would get me there without it costing me everything I had to my name.

She found the bus, then a train, then a bus – or was it two more buses?

 

And I saw the hotel rising up from the street.

 

I panicked a moment when I couldn’t find my passport. “Check your pouch,” she said.

I thought she meant my pockets, my gazillion pockets. “I did already.”

Then I remembered my body pouch, a money bag strapped to my tummy. “Oh, here it is.”

She laughed. That is what I said, your pouch.”

Could I do this on my own. Yes. Next time. But the first time we do anything, we need some help.

Like the first time we travel to Israel totally alone.

But there is help. Just when I need it, there is help.

Today, I trust you, Lord. You have given me the Saints, the Readings, Your Grace.

You have given me friends.

A husband. Children and grandchildren.

You have given me Yourself.

Jesus, I trust you.

Margalit pulled back the drapery in the hotel room, and we stepped onto the balcony.

It was night. I couldn’t make out anything along the skyline.

“There,” she said. “See that?”

I looked.

“That is the Western Wall.”

I had seen it many times before, but still I wouldn’t not have been able to pick it out without her guiding finger.

I read the readings. Sipped tea. Relished the thought that I was here. I am here.

I climbed into bed, so exhausted.

But before I fell asleep, I remembered what was outside the sliding glass door.

With my mind’s eye, I peered across the balcony and to the left.

I let everything else fall form my view, that view in my mind.

No city, no buildings, no noice.

The Western Wall.

The Temple Mount.

I talked to Jesus. There it is. The place you knew, oriented to the south, waiting for me, waiting for morning.

Waiting for prayers that I am taking, like a helper to others.

Plane, train, bus, taxi, and my husband’s truck.

My two legs.

And then, I will go to the Wall.

Where we will say together, in Spirit:

Jesus, we trust in you for the answer to these petitions and all those we hide in the silence of our hearts.