Catholic Free Press

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  • Nov
  • 14

Women’s gratitude

Posted By November 14, 2011 | 5:12 pm | Lead Story #3
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TO SEE MORE PHOTOS GO TO PHOTO GALLERIES for Women’s Conference 11-11

By Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – Gratitude must be expressed.
With that thought, Bishop Rueger summarized the diocesan women’s conference, held Saturday at the DCU Center.
He preached at the closing Mass of Gather Us In – 2011, sponsored by the diocesan Commission for Women. The African choir of St. Peter Parish and St. Andrew Mission provided music.
The day’s theme was “Gratitude: Acknowledging and Affirming God’s Grace in our Lives.” Speakers called for showing God gratitude in song and action.
Keynoter Sister Kathy Sherman, of the Congregation of St. Joseph, said she wrote “We Give You Thanks” especially for the conference. It was among her songs used for the morning prayer service, which she helped commission chairwoman Susan Bailey organize.
Mrs. Bailey said the conference drew close to 500 women. She said organizers got excellent feedback, especially about the talk by Liz Walker, former WBZ-Boston news anchor and now a Protestant minister, who told about working with people in Sudan.
Sister Kathy, a composer for 45 years and publisher of 20 CDs, who hails from Illinois, interspersed her own  talk with her songs.
She talked about gratitude as an orientation of the heart toward life and of giving thanks for a birth, an insight or forgiveness. She asked listeners to recall children they are grateful for and let that be a prayer for all children.
“Walk with me … toward a place … where together and forever we will live in peace,” she sang, imagining that children lost through violence were addressing listeners.
Gratitude can be a gift and a cross, Sister Kathy said; it’s impossible to remain silent.
“You will work miracles in my name,” said another song. “You will be a voice for the ones that can’t be heard.” Sister Kathy spoke of harnessing God’s love and urged listeners to give thanks for the spiritual fire that sends them out into the world.
Participants expressed gratitude for her songs in the second of the “Talk-Back – Your Turn” workshops commission members facilitated.
Sister Maureen Hickey, a Sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, told Sister Kathy “the grace of your ‘yes’” was important in her formation; she left job and home and entered religious life at age 40.
Karen Hurd said she has been talking about bullying in the public school where she teaches. Sister Kathy gave her a song that is not specifically religious that she can use, she said. Sister Kathy said much of her music does not mention God, but is filled with God.
Workshop presenter, Pat Gohn, who writes articles and produces programming celebrating Catholicism, talked about “bratitude,” which can be short-term or a life pattern. Ongoing conversion stamps out “bratitude” and gratitude cures it, she said.
“Gratitude is not just a verbal ‘thank you,’” she said. “Gratitude is readiness to return kindness and goodness. Gratitude and thanksgiving can never be separated from Eucharist,” where Jesus is truly present.
“If you don’t know what your blessing is, you can never be grateful for it,” she said, telling about surviving a car crash and cancer.
“The deepest blessing … it’s that Jesus gave his life up for me,” she said. “And in order for me to give my life back to him, that has to mean something to me.”
She asked listeners how their friendship with Jesus is going, and whether there are promises to keep: marriage or religious vows and baptismal promises.
Workshop presenter Elizabeth Dreyer, professor of religious studies at Fairfield University, spoke about “Women as Grassroots Theologians.” She said she pushes for women to “do theology” because most theology has been done by men.
Theology is based on Scripture, tradition and life experience, and men and women experience life differently, she said. What men wrote about women mystics is different than what those women wrote about themselves, she said; a man might praise one’s devotion to Mary, which the woman never mentions.
“We’re in an era now where that correction is going on,” Ms. Dreyer said.
“Just because women do theology does not mean we will do it perfectly,” she said.
She asked who benefits and loses by the theology used and discussed with listeners different views of the Scripture about Mary listening to Jesus and Martha serving him.
One thought was that Mary was revolutionary, opposing the tradition of her day, where women served the men. Another was that each should be allowed to come to Jesus her own way. A third saw Mary as a beginner who would later serve.
Some people fear scholarly information will ruin their faith, Ms. Dreyer said, adding that that’s possible; many things can ruin faith. But she said St. Augustine, whom she urged listeners to read, called for people to use the minds God gave them.
This isn’t to be done alone, she said, speaking of learning from theologians from the past 2,000 years, the Church today and family.
“Theology presumes a lively faith,” she said. “It’s the faith that wants to go to the next step of asking questions about it. … Do you need to be a theologian to go to heaven? No. You need to love. … The point of this is to make faith richer, not weaker.”
For her, going to the Grand Canyon is the first moment of theology, Ms. Dreyer said. God speaks and one falls to one’s knees, weeps, and says, “Thank you.”
Presenter Christin Jezak presented her message through acting, to help viewers see Christ in the marginalized like Mother Teresa did.

 

PHOTO The African choir of St. Peter Parish and St. Andrew Mission provided music at the closing Mass. Photo by Tanya Connor, The Catholic Free Press

 

 

SAVING GRACE WORKS TWO WAYS

By Constance Dwyer
And Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – A former Boston television anchor saw God’s grace in poverty-stricken, violence-racked Sudan and realized people there had something she didn’t. As she tried to save them, they saved her.
That Emmy award-winning journalist, Liz Walker, told this story in her keynote address, “Grace Moves – What Happens when God Calls,” Saturday at the diocesan women’s conference at the DCU Center.
An anchor on WBZ-Boston’s evening newscasts for almost two decades, the African Methodist Episcopal Church minister is also known for her television magazine program, “Better Living with Liz Walker” on WCVB-Boston.
She said she thought reporting would be her life. In 2001 she went to do a story in what is now the Republic of South Sudan, where she met women who lost their husbands to war.
“I have never looked in the eyes of despair,” she said. But with her six-figure salary, she figured God couldn’t be calling her. Now she suggests the problem is in the reception, not the transmission: When God said, “Get off the news,” she responded, “Did you say, ‘Buy some new shoes’?”
Rev. Walker said she had prejudged Africa based on television shows; she thought the people were heathens and savages. But, she said, for years they have been pillaged by the world. In Sudan people make less than $1 a day, and less than one percent of the women are educated.
Her fellow-travelers wanted to do more, but what could a few women do?
“God works through us,” Rev. Walker discovered. She also found him working through the Sudanese.
“We’re a culture of acquisition,” basing success on owning, thus disconnecting from God’s grace, she said. “God is about relationship. … So you go to Sudan where people have nothing. They base everything on relationship. Women take care of each other’s children. And I’m thinking, ‘Hmm. They have something I don’t have.’”
After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, she considered not returning to Sudan, but her traveling partner inspired her to do so.
The world was ready to fight, “but we went, and it was as if the waters parted,” she said. Seen through worldly eyes, they were two stupid women, she said, “but God’s grace was sufficient for our trip.”
“They asked us to help them build a school,” Rev. Walker said. So, by seeking support of people like conference participants, they helped erect one for 500 girls through the “My Sister’s Keeper” project she co-founded.
The benefactors found the service mutual. When their luggage was lost, the Sudanese brought them wraps for clothes, meat and bottled water.
“We went in to save them, and they saved us,” Rev. Walker said. “I have been all over the world, and, let me assure you, there is only ‘us.’”
“It is in our brokenness that we learn to reach out,” she said, after asking how to practice God’s grace. “It has to do with an attitude of forgiveness. God’s grace is not fair. … If he treated us like we should be treated…I’d be in trouble. … When you’re driving on the expressway…Somebody cuts you off…Forgive them. …
“I call this a Kairos moment,” when things are ripe for change, she said. “It’s a time when God is telling us, ‘Don’t make me come down there.’ … We are all connected; we are sinners saved by grace.”
“She’s dynamic and you can feel her relationship with God,” Sister Valenta Akalski said after Rev. Walker’s talk. “She lives it and practices it,” the Felician Sister from St. Joseph Parish and Elementary School in Webster added.
Cathie Muriu, a native of Nairobi, Kenya, now living in the Worcester area, said, “One word says it all for me, ‘inspirational.’”

 

MOTHER TERESA ASKS: ‘Who is Jesus to me?’

By Laura Lambert
CFP Correspondent

The old woman scuttles before the crowd wrapped in her usual white garment lined in Blessed Mother blue.  Hunched nearly in two, she proclaims: “To us it is the individual that matters. I believe in person to person: Everyone is Christ to me.”
Christin Jezak, of Los Angeles, was performing “Person-to-Person: A Mother Teresa Project” for her workshops at the diocesan women’s conference Saturday at the DCU Center.
She created the one-woman play to follow Mother Teresa’s example of looking for Christ in all people. It was a project for her master of arts in theatre degree from Villanova University.  She opens with Mother Teresa, who enlists audience members to help her hang sheets of cloth decorated with hand tracings.
Ms. Jezak volunteered with the Missionaries of Charity, which Mother Teresa founded. There she worked in an after-school program for children who speak little to no English. She tried to get a small boy interested in his work by showing him how to trace pictures and their words. Halfway through the assignment, he pulled out a blank sheet of paper and traced her hand.
Ms. Jezak later learned that Mother Teresa also traced people’s hands and wrote on each finger, “You did it to me.” Her experience fueled her project.
The music changes, and Mother Teresa transforms into Frances, an angry city girl searching for meaning but unable to filter out thoughts about death. She then becomes Claire, a fiery nursing home resident whose family no longer visits her. Claire turns into Jerry, a gruff-voiced and homeless NYU music graduate. The now-sober aging man changes into Ann, a prostitute who admits her job may not be the best one, but who does not regret having a child. Ann becomes a giggly, wheelchair-bound woman named Joy who was once not joyful, but who now rejoices that she’ll leave the chair behind when she dies.
“Who is Jesus to me?” Ms. Jezak then asked repeatedly, holding up and hanging up a pocketbook and items of clothing she’d used to portray the various characters, then laying down her Mother Teresa habit. She went through the audience, touching people’s hands and repeating the question. “Who is Jesus to me?”
A song playing in the background also asked the question and offered answers: “Jesus is the sick to be healed. … Jesus is the prisoner to be visited. … Jesus is my God to me. Jesus is my spouse to me.”