The second annual Women’s Conference

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Cunningham_formal_robes

The second annual Women’s Conference was held at the Oncenter on Saturday, Oct. 29. The event brought together over 1,000 women from our diocese and neighboring dioceses. The homily that I preached on that occasion is printed below.

My Dear Friends,
It is a pleasure for me to be with you today. This second annual women’s conference has once again brought together an impressive number of participants, more than 1,000 women from our diocese and beyond its borders. It is a joy to spend this time with you and to celebrate the Eucharist for you and your loved ones. As our first Scripture reading reminded us this morning “the gifts and call of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29) Once you truly let God into your life, He takes possession of your heart, permeates your being and gives you the ability, through your own heart, to radiate His love to all with whom you come in contact.

Your theme “through the heart” leads me to consider the “heart of the matter,” the compelling reason why I think this conference is such a moment of grace not only for you individually but also for this local church and your individual parishes.

In the pages of Sacred Scripture, we are introduced to many holy women. After the Lord’s Resurrection and right up to the present, it is women who are frequently the heralds of the Good News. Certainly all the baptized are called to proclaim the Gospel, to be engaged actively in evangelization, the vocation of the Church. But listen to the words of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI: “… in the day-to-day life of the Church it is the women who are constantly opening the door to the Lord and accompanying Him to the cross, and so it is they who come to experience the Risen One.” Their experience of the Risen Lord inspired the holy women to proclaim the Good News to the disciples. When Mary Magdalene, Johanna and Mary the Mother of James found the empty tomb and recalled what Jesus had told them about His crucifixion and resurrection, they returned from the tomb and announced the Good News to the eleven and to all the others.” (Cf. Lk 24: 6-10)

At the time of the great Jubilee Year, Blessed Pope John Paul II encouraged us to open wide the doors to Christ. Opening the door to Christ and opening your hearts to the message of the Gospel are essential for those who wish to follow Christ. When I was a child a picture of Christ knocking at a door hung in my bedroom. Perhaps you, too, remember the picture. The door had no handle. It had to be opened from the inside.  I am confident that the lesson of this picture was not clear to me at the time. It does, however, teach an important lesson. Once you open the door and let Christ into your heart you become a disciple, not merely walking after Him, but embracing His way of life which always means accompanying Him to the cross.

You open the door to the Lord and listen to His Words and observe His deeds. What do you see and hear? There is so much. You see Him healing the sick, comforting the sorrowful, teaching children and admonishing hypocrites. You hear Him speak about loving God with your whole heart and your neighbor as yourself. (Cf. Lk 10:27) The enemy and those who hurt you should be loved as well. (Cf. Lk 6:27) You are invited to abide in Him, to remain in His love and bear much fruit. (Cf. Jn 15:5) Like the Master, you must comfort those who mourn, extend mercy to those who offend, promote peace, hunger and thirst for justice and daily take up the cross and follow Him.

These passages speak to us about relationships with God and with our neighbor. Women give life and recognize the importance of relationships that sustain and develop life. You know, also, that sacrifice is a big part of living relationships based on the Gospel.

Some who are here today know the anxiety of a pierced heart. The sorrows and disappointments that you harbor within your hearts are very real. They take a different form than the sorrows Mary knew, but they are, nevertheless, real. We embrace these sorrows at this Mass. We lift up your concerns to the Lord — unemployment, economic difficulties, a strained relationship, a child or loved one who has started down a path that separates him or her from the Church, alcoholism, drug addiction, perhaps a situation that is hidden and buried and you are unable to discuss. May I suggest that you join your sorrows to Mary’s — a mother who knew seven sorrows — and whose pierced heart is able to embrace yours also. There is a wonderful phrase in the Liturgy of the Hours that has always brought me a great deal of consolation at difficult moments: “When your heart is torn with grief, the Lord is near you.”

The heart is often the place where decisions are made; the center from which the person acts. I think it was Pascal, the great philosopher, who said that the heart has reasons of which the intellect is unaware. So often we act because the heart speaks. Remember the disciples on the road to Emmaus? When the stranger disappeared they exclaimed, “Were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke to us …?” The disciples had recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread and recalled that His words touched their hearts, indeed, burned within them. They set out at once to find the apostles and tell them, “The Lord has been raised. It is true.” (Cf. Lk 24: 32-34) When we open the door to Christ, we permit Him to enter our hearts. From there decisions are made. Like the holy women in the Gospel and the disciples on the road to Emmaus, you are called to announce the Good News and lead others to discipleship.

So often it is the women in the family who pass on the faith. I see this regularly at confirmations where the grandmother is often the faith presence in the lives of our young people. It is the woman, even if not physically a mother, who nonetheless hands on the faith. Women give life, nurture, educate, and sustain life, even when it is painful to do so. The woman is the model of openness to receive and therefore the model of the one who is open to the Lord’s initiative to bestow grace.

Today’s Gospel spoke about those who were choosing places of honor at a wedding banquet. The reading concluded, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk 14:11) I immediately thought of our Blessed Mother and the beautiful Magnificat she prayed when she visited Elizabeth. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” (Lk 1: 46) Carrying the Son of God within her, Mary did not exalt herself but proclaimed the greatness of God.    She knew the life growing within her was a gift from God that would extend God’s mercy to all generations. She was an instrument, a chosen vessel, in God’s plan of salvation. So are you, my dear women. You are chosen vessels meant to bring Jesus and His Gospel to others. Stay close to our Blessed Mother. She will bring you to her Son and you, in turn, will bring Him to others. And isn’t this the heart of the matter?

If you have an intention you would like me to remember in prayer, please forward it to me at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, NY 13202.

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