A Breakfast for Champions

April 10, 2003
A Breakfast for Champions
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Commission on Women gathers for lecture by Catholic psychologist Dr. Gladys Sweeney

Around 250 women gathered at the Wyndham Hotel in Syracuse on March 29 to hear Dr. Gladys Sweeney talk about love — love of self and love of God. The occasion was the first in the “Women for the Third Millennium” series sponsored by the the Bishop’s Commission on Women in the Church and Society. And, if those attending expected to be surrounded by older women, they were surprised. The women gathered were typically in the 30 to 50 year old range — women in the midst of careers, families and relationships.

The breakfast began with a blessing and reflection by Bishop James Moynihan. He noted early in his reflection that “as far as I am concerned, it is women who run this church.” Bishop Moynihan spoke about his mother and what a role model she was for him throughout his life. Bishop Moynihan’s mother held the role of businesswoman in the 1930s and 40s, he said. She went to business college, became secretary in a lumber firm, and persevered through the depression to go on to become president of that company. “She also managed to be a terrific wife, mother and daughter. She went to daily Mass and took care of the children and my father by making him think he had all the big ideas,” Bishop Moynihan remembered of his mother.

A source of inspiration, the bishop’s mother said to him in a letter upon his ordination, “If you put your hand in the hand of the Blessed Virgin Mary and your other hand in the hand of her Son, you will always be properly guided.” The bishop spoke about the role of women in Scripture reminding everyone how Mary said “yes” to God, how Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Catherine of Sienna, Elizabeth Ann Seton and more women did the same. He spoke about the need of the Commission on Women and the important role it plays within the church. There are many issues that affect the quality of life for the family and women which need to addressed on the government level, he explained. The bishop also said the women’s commission in the Archdiocese of Chicago had grown to be one of the most influential groups within that diocese. He said he hopes for the same outcome for the Syracuse Diocese.

This first event in the series was a lecture titled, “Woman and the Vocation of Love: A Psychological Perspective.” Sweeney is a psychologist with 20 years of clinical experience in child and adolescent development. She held a faculty appointment at the John Hopkins School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and a part-time appointment in the Department of Pediatrics. Sweeney is currently dean of the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. Established in 1999, the Institute offers degree programs for master’s of science and Doctor of Psychology in clinical psychology. It is also dedicated to the recovery of the Christian intellectual tradition and the development of a Catholic psychiatry consistent with Catholic teaching.

Sweeney opened her talk by pointing out that secular society equates love with sexuality. “This is a distorted notion of love which identifies love with sex and what psychologists call ‘self love’ — self esteem. This shapes the way we raise our children,” Sweeney said. She explained that women are experiencing a crisis in self-esteem because self-love is being connected to “feel good, get sexy, buy this car, buy this perfume,” through societal messages. Real self love, she said, comes through knowing and recognizing God’s love for each person. “Real true self love, self acceptance depends on how I am and how I act. This is where the Christian world and the secular world part company,” Sweeney said. If women base who they are on their success as a career person or as a sexual object, who they are has no real foundation.

“That means your self esteem is subject to change or loss,” Sweeney explained. “Christ tells us about who we are. My self esteem rests on the constant unchanging reality that we are children of God, made in His image and loved into existence. …We possess dignity as a person because we were created in God’s image. We are inherently possessors of dignity and value — this does not depend on the outside.”

Sweeney spoke about women’s sexuality saying that women are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect, and that gender deeply affects how women act. “If we treat our body as an object to be used or allow others to treat our bodies as objects, we reject femininity or fertility and alienate ourselves from Christ. He demands that we act in integrity. If we act with dignity, our self-esteem will be higher because we are being true to our nature,” Sweeney said. She said sexual union represents one person giving herself or himself to the other person. In marriage, she explained, a woman is loved for who she is, not the sexual person she represents. “She is made up of body, mind and soul. It is wrong to treat her as an instrument,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney spoke about her own spiritual life and offered advice on developing spirituality. She spoke about obedience as well. “Obedience is good, but think about it always in terms of what He did for you,” Sweeney said. “Not doing the right thing just for the sake of doing the right thing — that can bog you down.”

She recommended reading Scripture even when one feels like there are no results. “Don’t do it only for consolation, then it becomes ‘What can You do for me?’ Be very simple. Pray and read Scripture because you feel it will increase your belief,” Sweeney advised. Sweeney talked about the importance of modeling love and self esteem for children. “The best sex education a child can get is through seeing parents respect each other,” she said. The Commission on Women in the Church and in Society is seeking new members. The role of the commission is to serve as a resource to the bishop to further the mission of the Catholic Church on issues relevant to the dignity and vocation of women. Catholic men and women from parishes across the Syracuse Diocese are welcome to apply. The application deadline is May 5. Call Joanne Garey, membership committee chair, for more information, (607) 797-4333.

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