By TARA CONNOLLY
“Have you ever found yourself being obedient to God but then feeling like it didn't really work – like you weren't sure it was making much of a difference?
“Today we want to look at one of the great women in the Bible who could have had reason to feel that way herself,” said Father Richard Brensinger, June 10 during the Bishop’s Commission for Women Day of Spirituality.
Father Brensinger was the keynote speaker for “St. Elizabeth – Blessed is She” at St. Thomas More, Allentown, where more than 100 women gathered to reflect on the mother of John the Baptist, cousin of Mary and the wife of Zachariah.
He serves as diocesan director of campus ministry, and chaplain for Albright College, Reading and St. Christopher Newman House, Kutztown University.
The day also included Liturgy of the Hours, praying the rosary, and witness talks by Susan Teaford and Joan Zawisza.
“Not only is Elizabeth the daughter of a leader, she’s married to a leader; she was also the mother of a leader or prophet. We know this woman had a background of walking with God in a pure way,” said Father Brensinger.
He pointed out that Elizabeth was a woman of “righteousness” because she was kind and loving to her neighbor and treated others like she wanted to be treated.
“Elizabeth had her own personal relationship with God – as did her husband. But she didn’t rely on her husband's spirituality or his relationship with God. They were both righteous before God,” said Father Brensinger.
“I love seeing this, in this couple, because it shows me that, for them, serving God, which was their vocation, not only to him, but to each other, was much more than a job; it was a way of living their lives. They had a lifestyle of obedience. It was a current lifestyle. Their lives matched up to what they were taught.”
Females are not placed on this earth only to be wives or mothers, he said, and noted that some may feel that their role is not as significant and a man’s in the Lord’s work.
“Remember that God made women to be helpers, along with their husbands, just as he made men to be helpers of their wives. If you’re a married woman, God made your first and highest calling, next to your relationship with the Lord, to be a helper with your husband in your walk with the Lord and in fulfilling what God has put you here on earth to do,” said Father Brensinger.
But despite Elizabeth’s obedient lifestyle, she was not exempt from disappointment, hurt and pain – which was evident in her desire to have children but was barren. Father Brensinger also noted that in those days to be barren was seen by many as a sign of God’s disfavor.
“Obedience to God is not a means of our getting him to do our will. We don’t obey God so that he will make life easier for us. We obey God because he’s God and because he’s sovereign, and because he is worthy of our obedience,” he said.
And when Elizabeth was not experiencing the answer to her prayers – she didn’t give up.
“We see a woman who was not serving God for his gifts but serving God just because he was God. She was committed to obey God even when her longings were not fulfilled,” said Father Brensinger.
“Each of us should ask ourselves – are we willing to walk obediently even when life doesn’t seem to be working? When our longings are not being fulfilled?
“And will you continue to serve God with all your heart, even when your desires are not rewarded? Or are you going to use God and say, ‘Lord, I will serve you. I will love you. I will obey you – as long as things work for me?’
“Often I will remind people of the fact that we are on earth for God’s purpose, not ours. The fact is that we will always have unfulfilled longings this side of heaven. If we had all our longings fulfilled down here on earth, we’d get satisfied with what we have down here on earth. We would not continue to long for a better place, for our heart’s ultimate home.”
Father Brensinger pointed out that Elizabeth faced social stigma, humiliation and had no way of knowing how her life would unfold.
“Isn’t that the way it is for us when we have these unfulfilled longings? We pray about it. We’re obeying God to the best of our ability, the best we know how to, and we’re stuck in this immediate situation with disappointment or with pain,” he said.
In his afternoon talk, Father Brensinger asked the women to consider if they ever find themselves wanting to intervene in the life of someone they care about because they want to spare them from what they’re going through.
“Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, had an experience where I think she might have been tempted to feel that way,” he said.
After the angel Gabriel appeared to Zachariah and told him his barren wife would have a son and the “forerunner of Christ,” he became speechless and was unable to talk for months.
“After Zachariah is done with his priestly duties, he comes back home. Elizabeth knows nothing that’s gone on. Her husband arrives back at home, and he can’t talk. She’s got a different husband,” said Father Brensinger.
“Somehow he figures out how to explain to her that he has seen this angel; that God has appeared to him and that she – who is past childbearing years – is going to have a son. Talk about a shocking, jarring experience.”
After Elizabeth conceives, he said, she did not resent God for his timing and went into seclusion for five months.
“The Scripture doesn’t tell us why, but it reminds me a lot of her relative, Mary of Nazareth. When the angel came to her and told her that she was going to have the Christ child, the Scripture says that Mary kept these things; she treasured them in her heart and pondered them,” said Father Brensinger.
During the sixth month of her pregnancy, Elizabeth learns that her cousin Mary is going to be the mother of Christ.
“We know that God used Elizabeth to encourage Mary in her faith. Elizabeth has seen the hand of God on her behalf. Perhaps Mary needed now some reassurance, someone who had believed what God had said to her,” said Father Brensinger.
“Sometimes God has taken you down the pathway that you’ve been down not only so that you could know God better, but so that you can minister to others in similar circumstances and situations.”
Father Brensinger admitted that he struggles a lot with speaking before he is conscious of the Holy Spirit, and urged the women to allow the Holy Spirit to guide them.
“If you are a child of God, God has placed his Holy Spirit within you to lead you, to tell you what to say, to direct your words. How important it is that we learn to let our mouths, our tongues, be guided and directed by the Holy Spirit of God,” he said.
He reminded the women that their words can do for their husbands, children and family what Elizabeth’s words did for Mary.
“We can speak words that are destructive and cutting and harsh and quick-tempered – or we can get filled with spirit of God, and let him fill our mouths with words that are gracious, life-giving and healing,” said Father Brensinger.
“So, in conclusion, let us pray that each of our personal fiats, our yesses to God, may be blessed by him and be genuine each and every day of our lives.”