The fourth annual Syracuse Catholic Women’s Conference was held at the Oncenter on Saturday, October 26. [See more about the event on page 10 of this issue.] The theme for the occasion was “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace.” The event brought together over 800 women from our diocese and neighboring dioceses. The homily that I preached on that occasion is printed below.
How happy I am to be with you once again for this wonderful gathering of faith-filled women. You set aside this time to deepen your spiritual lives through the celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the wise counsel of the women who will speak today and the conversation and encouragement you offer to one another. It is a joy for me to see so many of you, 800 strong. Welcome to this fourth annual women’s conference. I extend a special word of welcome also to those from outside our diocesan boundaries who join us today.
How fitting that we begin the day with the celebration of the Eucharist. We will be nourished by word and sacrament and sent forth to announce the good news to all with whom we come into contact. Women, you know, were the first to announce the good news of the resurrection. All four evangelists, each with minor differences, recount that women went to the tomb, prepared to anoint Jesus’ body, but found it empty. Angels told them “to go” to the disciples and tell them that the Lord had risen. Women, from the beginning days of the Church, were vital instruments of evangelization. And so it is today.
When I think of you and your mission in the Church I think of our Blessed Mother and the Church also known as Mater Ecclesia, Mother Church.
Our Blessed Mother is the perfect “icon of faith” (Cf. Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, 58). She is the perfect symbol of our faith. And like all women she is a mother. The Fathers of the Church attest to the fact that Mary bore Christ in her heart through faith before she carried Him in her womb. The soil of her heart was the “good soil” of which St. Luke speaks: “These are the ones who when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance” (Lk 8:15).
Mary’s “yes” spoken at the Annunciation and repeated many times during her lifetime shows us the way of discipleship: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:27). Blessed, too, are women through the ages, and you, women of today, who listen attentively to God’s word, accept it into your hearts through faith and live according to that word. By this faith you give and nurture life.
Pope Francis recently spoke about the “vocation and mission of women” in terms of maternity when he addressed the participants in a seminar organized by the Pontifical Council of the Laity. He noted, “Many things can change and have changed in our cultural and social evolution, but the fact remains that it is the woman who conceives, carries in her womb and gives birth to the children of men” (Pope Francis, Message to Women, October 12, 2013). All women, whether or not they give birth physically to new life, are called to nurture life. Pope Francis alluded to this as well when he said that women’s maternity is “not simply a biological matter, but carries a wealth of implications for the woman herself, for her way of being, for her relationships, for the way in which we lend respect to human life and to life in general. Calling a woman to maternity, God entrusted the human being to her in an altogether special manner” (Message to Women, October 12, 2013).
In speaking to the Bishops of Brazil this past summer, Pope Francis asked them, “Are we a Church capable of warming hearts . . . of bringing people home . . . to the sacraments, the scriptures, community and friendship with the Lord?” (Cf. Pope Francis, Meeting with the Bishops of Brazil, July 28, 2013). Pope Francis often refers to those who have left the Church, those who have no faith and those with weak faith and our responsibility to reach out to them with mercy.
If the Church is to warm hearts, then we, the “living stones,” must warm hearts and invite people home to God’s household. In a special way, I think this kind of pastoral care belongs to women. It is you who give birth, nurture growth and guide others by your maternal care. It is the maternal heart that strengthens the weak and welcomes back those who have strayed. You have a particular sensitivity for helping others to understand the mercy, tenderness and love that God has for all of us.
You have chosen as your theme for this year’s conference, “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace,” taken from the prayer of St. Francis. It seems to me that everyone is looking for peace. Peace in the world. Peace in the home. Peace on the job. Everyone is looking for peace but are they finding it? In our first reading today, St. Paul told us where we can find peace. If we live according to the spirit of Christ Jesus we will find life and peace (Cf. Rm 8:1, 6).
Without elaborating on a heady definition of peace and a wordy commentary on what peace means, I think we intuitively know that peace has a great deal to do with our relationships with others. The prayer ascribed to St. Francis acknowledges this connection between peace and relationships. It tells us what is necessary if we want to find peace: love not hatred, pardon not injury, faith not doubt, hope rather than despair, joy rather than sadness. The prayer reminds us also that the peace for which we are searching is a gift. We ask the Divine Master to help us to be people who console, understand, love and pardon others.
Because giving life and nurturing it through relationships are such important features of your lives, I think you are particularly suited to be instruments of peace. You are instruments of peace when you live the fruits of the spirit — peace, joy, hope, faith, mercy, compassion and understanding. You are instruments of peace when you choose to live according to the peace which Jesus instills in your hearts: “Peace is my farewell to you, my peace is my gift to you” (Jn 14:27). And you know that this gift requires that you live the paschal mystery, the dying and rising of Christ. Francis’ prayer says it clearly, “. . . it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
Please God, we remember our mothers as those who, in tenderness and love, showed us the path to follow in life, called us back in understanding when we strayed from that path and never grew tired of supporting us even when we failed. Mothers are similar to the gardener we heard about in the Gospel parable today. The master wanted to cut down the barren tree. But not the gardener. He pleads for one more year. One more year to till the soil in the hope that the tree will bear fruit (Cf. Lk 13:7-9). Mothers do not give up on their children. We remember our mothers as models and teachers of love, forgiveness, joy and hope. And doesn’t this memory help us to describe and understand the Church? The Church is after all a woman, a mother.
And today, I add, what a beautiful description of every woman of faith who shows by her words and example the tender, understanding and patient love of a mother. How vital your role is to the mission of the Church, the New Evangelization, which calls you to announce the mercy and love of God with renewed ardor and enthusiasm. Go forth and share this good news; give and nurture the faith, a precious treasure you have been given to share with others.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.