Catholic women gather at first diocesan conference

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Cunningham_formal_robes On Saturday, Oct. 16, approximately 950 women gathered for the first annual Women’s Conference at the OnCenter.  Below is the homily which I prepared for that occasion.

What a wonderful sight it is to see so many of you here!  Let me begin by reading the words of Jesus in the Gospel today: “I tell you, everyone who acknowledges Me before others, the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God.” (Lk.12:8)  Today more than 900 disciples of the Lord hear those words as you acknowledge Jesus before the world.  In time, you too will experience the approval of the Lord “before the angels of God.”

The theme of your gathering, “Through the Heart,” is summed up succinctly in the Epistle to the Ephesians: “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to His call, what are the riches of glory in His inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power for us who believe …” (Eph. 1:18-19)

Who of us can forget those wonderful scenes of just a month ago when Pope Benedict XVI was in Birmingham for the beatification of John Henry Cardinal Newman? Many of you may be familiar with Cardinal Newman’s writings or have heard reference to them. His motto, which I have always found particularly moving, was: “Cor ad cor loquitor” …  “heart speaks to heart.”  As you participate in your meetings today I hope that in the comfort of this gathering you will let your hearts speak to each other, but more importantly, that your hearts will speak to God and listen for the sound of His words that come to you from His divine heart.

Cardinal Newman reminded us that God created each of us for some definite service. It is a service for which He created no one else. It is our task to discover that purpose and to fulfill it as completely as possible. He reminded us also that we are like links in a chain, a bond of connection, a bridge. In that role we are called to build bridges, to bring people together and to hand on the faith to each succeeding generation.

As Catholic women, married or single, young or old, you are called to bring Christ into the world. Your model is the Blessed Mother. Certainly, you do not bring Christ to the world in the same way as she did, but there are similarities. Your faith, your “yes” to the Word of God spoken to your heart, allows Christ to take birth spiritually in you. You then become the means or, in the words of Newman, “the heart” that speaks to the heart of all those you encounter, your family and friends, neighbors and co-workers, indeed all with whom you come into contact. In this way you pass on the faith from generation to generation. You are heralds of the Gospel, contributing to the Church’s mission of evangelization.

And doesn’t all this speak of the role of motherhood, nurturing life, guiding and strengthening life? Who of us did not receive our first inkling of God and learn our first prayer from our mothers? Who of us did not seek out our mother when the world exposed us to rough lessons and disappointments? From her words and example we were brought closer to God and discovered the deeper meaning of life. Today, here in the diocese of Syracuse, you bring that same message to family and friends. It is a feminine touch that brings all of us closer to God.

Many of you who are here this morning will remember the heroic figure of Cardinal Mindzenty of Hungary. He was arrested and convicted of treason by the communist authorities in the late 1940s.  He was sentenced to prison. He enjoyed a few days of freedom in 1956 during the uprising and sought refuge in the American Embassy when the Soviets crushed the rebellion. He lived there for several years as a virtual prisoner. Later, due to Vatican negotiations, he was permitted to leave but was never again able to return to his native land. I remember as a young priest when he visited Buffalo. I was literally speechless in his presence. Knowing how he had suffered for his faith, he was and continues to be, a personal hero.
The late Cardinal Mindzenty often spoke of the role of a mother. Allow me to quote him. I think his words are meaningful not only for those of you who have given birth physically to children but to all of you called by your Baptism to carry Christ within your own being and to give Him to the world. “The most important person on earth is a mother.  She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any Cathedral — a dwelling place for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body …  . The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new Saints to heaven. Only a human mother can.  Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature; God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation … what on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?”

Today at this Eucharist, we thank God for the gift of motherhood, physical and spiritual. We thank God for the gift of life. You give meaning to the theme for this respect life month by reaffirming that the measure of love is to love without measure. The heart is the symbol of love. May your hearts be receptive to hear and proclaim the message the divine heart speaks to you. Through faith may the eyes of your heart be enlightened, so that you know the hope that belongs to God’s purpose for you, the riches His inheritance holds for you and the surpassing greatness of His power at work in you.

You and all whom you love are being remembered in this Mass. As I offer the bread and wine I will also be offering up all of your intentions, your joys and your sorrows, your concerns and your anxieties, your hopes and your aspirations.  This is the great act of Thanksgiving.  The Lord knows what is in your heart.  We turn them over to Him with praise and thanksgiving.

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