The annual Women’s Conference was held at the Oncenter on Saturday, October 28. Since its inception eight years ago women from our diocese and surrounding dioceses have gathered to be enriched by the presentations of guest speakers, the availability of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the celebration of the Eucharist. Over 1,000 women attended this year’s conference — the largest ever! The homily 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 Sacrament of Reconciliation, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the wise counsel of today’s speakers — Rev. Michael Gaitley, Sister Ignatia Henneberry, and Michael Dopp — the beautiful music of Annie Karto, and the prayerful remembrance of Our Blessed Mother’s appearance at Fatima. It has been a full and, I hope, a grace-filled day.
How fitting that we bring the blessings of this day to a close by the celebration of the Eucharist. Here we are nourished by God’s word and sacrament. From here we are sent forth as missionary disciples to share the fruits of this day as we proclaim the joy of the Gospel.
As I reflected on the theme for this year’s conference, “In Search of a Servant’s Heart,” I recalled the words of St. Augustine: “Almighty God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” All of us are searching. All of us are looking for the one thing that can satisfy our deepest longing. How blessed are we if, on the journey of life and faith, we discover that we are searching not for the one thing but for the one person who can fill our life with love and meaning.
From Augustine’s words, my thoughts turned to Jesus’ words: “The Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve and to give his life as ransom for many” (Mt 20:28). Jesus has a “servant’s heart” like none other. On the night before He died He showed us what it means to have a servant’s heart by washing the feet of the disciples. “Do you understand what I have done for you? . . . Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you. No servant is greater than his master” (Jn 13:12-16). Our search for a servant’s heart is completed when we encounter Jesus and allow the pattern of His life to become our own.
In today’s second reading St. Paul tells the Thessalonians they are a “model for all believers” because they are “imitators of the Lord.” Can the same be said of us? Today’s Gospel provides the standard by which the sincerity of our commitment to Christ should be measured: “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37-39). Life and experience has taught us that this command — the greatest of all commandments — is a tall order.
“Words are cheap” — so the saying goes. We can say we love God but the genuineness of this love rests in the love of our neighbor. “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 Jn 4:20).
When we find our rest in the heart of Jesus, the servant, we are obliged to love as He did. Pope Francis often challenges us to have a Samaritan attitude. He tells us, “The Good Samaritan indicates a lifestyle, the center of which is not ourselves, but others, with their difficulties, who we meet on our path and who challenge us. . . . The attitude of the Good Samaritan tests our faith, since faith without works ‘is dead’” (July 10, 2016).
How attentive are we to our neighbors? Do we notice them or pass them by — too busy and too preoccupied to see them and reach out to them? These are good questions for our self-examination. We will be judged by how we treat others. “Whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers and sisters you did for me” (Mt 25:40). The neighbor is Christ in our midst.
St. Teresa of Calcutta offers this practical advice: “Spread love everywhere you go: First of all in your own house. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.” And then she adds, “People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love then anyway.”
My dear women of faith, thank you for coming today. It is always a pleasure to be with you. Your eighth annual conference has brought together so many women from across our diocese and beyond. Your presence is a testimony to the Gospel message that calls you to follow Jesus, imitating the pattern of His life. By nature, you are called to bear life — spiritually and often physically. I know you are especially moved and concerned by the violence on our streets and in the war-torn countries in the Middle East; the widespread disrespect for human life; and the rampant political, social, and religious animosity and lack of civility that permeates society. We need your example. We need your witness. We need you, in the words of St. Paul, to be “models of behavior” in the recognition of the dignity of every person created in God’s image and likeness.
Jesus comes to you daily in His sacred word; in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist; whenever two or three gather in His name; and in your neighbor. Be attentive to His comings, respond in deep faith, confident hope, and fervent love. Turn often to our Blessed Mother. She embraced God’s word in faith and the eternal Word took flesh in her heart and womb. She will accompany you as you continue to model your life on Jesus. She is eager to walk with you as you carry Him into the world of your home, your neighborhood, your workplace, and beyond.
Be assured of my prayers for you. I ask you to remember me in your prayers.
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.