Women's Day of Spirituality - Keeping Joy Alive On Our Journey
January 05, 2012 at 12:34 PM
By TAMI QUIGLEY
“A Joyful Journey” was the theme weaved throughout the third Women’s Day of Spirituality, which drew approximately 190 women to the Nov. 5 daylong event at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Bethlehem.
The Commission for Women of the Diocese of Allentown sponsored the day.
Award-winning writer and speaker Patricia Livingston offered three presentations: “Struggle on the Journey,” “What Helps Us?” and “Deepening Our Joy.”
Bishop John Barres was the main celebrant and homilist of the day’s Mass.
Diane Rice, Commission for Women advisory board member, offered the presentation “Becoming Women of Joy.” This marked the first Allentown Diocesan-wide engagement for Rice, a leader in parish-based retreats, spiritual director, and women’s prayer group and Bible study facilitator. She is a parishioner of Notre Dame of Bethlehem.
The Commission for Women serves as an advisory board to the bishop of Allentown, offering a woman’s perspective on issues of concern to the bishop and the church.
MaryAnn Genna, assistant coordinator of the diocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities and Social Concerns, is diocesan liaison to the Commission for Women, which serves as an advisory board to the bishop on women’s issues.
Genna said the commission was privileged to sponsor the event. “Understanding a woman’s deep desires to further their spiritual growth, the commission continues to offer a special retreat day designed for them to reflect on their many gifts as women.”
“Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, we were blessed and honored to have Pat Livingston as our featured speaker and Diane Rice, who shared her personal journey in living joyfully,” Genna said.
“Together, Pat and Diane shared their unique and joyful spiritual journey. These very gifted women came together in synergy and clearly established a bond,” Genna said.
“The wonderful women in attendance expressed their ‘joy’ and gratitude for this women’s day of spirituality.”
In her opening talk, “Struggle on the Journey,” Livingston said when there is so much “bad news” on every front – economic downturn, terror, war, natural disasters – we need more than ever to hear the good news of God’s loving presence.
Her talk reflected on the struggle in our lives, and helped women claim again the message in Scripture that God is always with us, creating out of chaos, bringing life out of what seems to be death. Livingston described three different ways God brings “blessings in the mess” keeping joy alive on our journey.
In Livingston’s second presentation, “What Helps Us?” she led a sharing on what makes a difference as we make our way through the struggle. Livingston suggested several – prayer, Scripture, laughter, kindness – then asked women to discuss it at their tables.
She subsequently facilitated the sharing of some of these in the large group.
“A main point of the day is that joy is not something frivolous,” Livingston said in her afternoon talk, “Deepening Our Joy.”
“In the New Testament we see again and again that joy is the sequel to faith. In Acts and the Gospel of Luke and the letters of Paul there are many passages with phrases like, ‘believing, they went on their way rejoicing,’” Livingston said.
The speaker explored various ways we keep our joy alive. It is essential to focus on goodness. This is a crucial practice because we are surrounded by negativity, and negativity has great power,” Livingston said.
She noted French philosopher Leon Bloy said, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”
“My hope for our day is that we will help each other to strengthen our experience of the presence of God and let our joy shine more clearly in our darkened world,” Livingston told the women.
In presenting “Becoming a Woman of Joy,” Rice made the point that joy is not the same as happiness.
“We are generally happy when everything is going well in our lives. Joy, however, is that deep abiding sense of God’s presence where we feel peace and contentment regardless of the present circumstances of our life,” Rice said.
“This is not to negate the validity of sad times and struggle in our lives; desiring joy and developing the habits that lead to joy are precisely the tools that God has given to us to help us deal with the more difficult realities of life.”
“As Catholic women we have access to joy because it is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit,” Rice said. “The journey to joy is essentially a journey of deeper intimacy with God. We cannot create this joy for ourselves, but we can open ourselves to receive it.”
Rice believes the primary concept that undergirds joy is the belief that we are beloved daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves us each as if we were the only one.
“We start with the realization of ourselves as beloved … which leads us to want to have a personal relationship with God … trying to let go and discern God’s will for our life. And when and where does this relationship develop? In prayer.”
Rice said surrendering is another milestone on the way to joy. “It’s easy to say we want to allow God to take control of our lives, but surrender is when we actually attempt to let go of our agenda.”
Rice also spoke of the importance of “living reflectively.”
“To make sense out of things, we need to take time to reflect. Living reflectively means to learn to look for the holy in every experience; how often do we fail to recognize the small miracles in our everyday lives?”
In highlighting gratitude, Rice said, “Our sense of joy and optimism grows when we see how God provides for us in so many ways. As we allow this to sink in deeply we are better equipped to deal with life’s ups and downs without worry.”
“The last and probably the greatest asset in our tools that open us to receive joy is to recall the hope we have because of our relationship with Jesus Christ,” Rice said.
“We call Jesus our savior – he has saved us from our sins and we know that our real home is not here but in heaven; heaven is our final destination on this journey. Resting in that assurance allows us to hold the struggles of this life a little lighter,” Rice said.
“Jesus is our hope and the more we own those words, the more we become joy- filled Catholic women!”
Rice noted the Holy Father has been calling for a new evangelization – “a reawakening of Catholics to their faith – and we all have a role to play in this evangelization of our friends and neighbors. This joy we have in our hearts is meant to be contagious and we can spread our love of Jesus to others simply by approaching each day of our lives with joy.”
“I was thrilled to see how many ladies came to our day of spirituality,” said Norine Burghardt, chairperson of the Commission for Women.
“It shows that there is a real spirit of oneness with the women. Our speakers made us laugh, brought tears to some and gave us all a special feeling of joy. I am sure all the ladies will be looking forward to our next day of spirituality,” Burghardt said.
Msgr. Edward Sacks concelebrated the Mass with Bishop Barres. Father Allen Hoffa was master of ceremonies, and Deacon Joseph Buragino assisted. Female choir members, directed by John Keglovits, provided music for the liturgy. Altar servers at the Mass were all female.
Women are encouraged to pray the Prayer to St. Catharine of Siena and ask for her intercession in their daily lives:
“St. Catharine of Siena, God our Father enkindled the flame of holy love in your heart as you meditated on the passion of Jesus his son. Moved by his grace, you devoted your life to the poor and the sick, as well as the peace and unity of the church.
“Through your intercession, may we also come to know the love of Jesus, bring his compassion to all and work for the unity of his church. We ask this in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen.”
Livingston, author of “Lessons of the Heart” and “This Blessed Mess,” has been featured in “Praying,” “St. Anthony Messenger,” “Studies Informative Spirituality” and “U.S. Catholic.”
She is a sought-after public speaker who leads workshops, retreats and seminars throughout the United States and abroad. Livingston lives with her husband, Howard Gordon, in Tampa, Fla.
The event marked the fourth consecutive year that Livingston has spoken in the Diocese of Allentown. She conducted a retreat for parish nurses of the diocese in 2010; gave an Advent retreat at St. Francis Center for Renewal, Monocacy Manor, Bethlehem in 2009; and spoke at the diocesan Parish Ministry Conference in 2008.