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Joy & courage: They were watchwords of the day at the Catholic Women’s Conference

By Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

Two high-energy, quick-talking speakers with a message of joy and courage had the third annual Catholic Women’s Conference buzzing March 7 at Marshall School in Duluth, and by the end, organizers say, feedback from those in attendance rated it one of the best conferences yet.

Themed “The Joy of Our Faith,” the conference presented those in attendance with a copy of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel.”

Conquering fear

Hallie Lord, a married mother from Charleston, South Carolina, pregnant with her seventh child, was the first speaker. A writer and a regular guest on Catholic radio and television, Lord said she was the child of hippie parents and a convert to the faith, full of joy.

Kelly Wahlquist

Speaker Kelly Wahlquist called joy a bridge between hearts for the New Evangelization during one of her two presentations at the annual Catholic Women’s Conference in Duluth. (Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

She said she didn’t take it too much to heart when a kind priest tried to prepare her for the fact that it wouldn’t always feel that way. But a bout with infertility followed by several children in quick succession and her husband facing unemployment left her in a cycle of struggling to trust in God, then turning back to trust him only to find it happening all over again.

Then, while driving a small Saturn car with four children in it, she encountered three friars of the Little Brothers of the Lord along the side of the road and gave them a ride.

“And I had the most transformative experience I’ve ever had,” she said. They had “spiritual fizz” and an infectious joy and had taken an extreme vow of poverty.

Despite Lord’s fears that God wasn’t with her, their message to her was that he loved her. As she pondered their lives, with all the uncertainty of their vow of poverty, and their happiness, she came to some realizations.

“They had figured out that fear is joy’s Kryptonite,” Lord said.

She realized all the challenges she had experienced had been full of blessings she hadn’t noticed and that a lot of her fears were about things that hadn’t even happened yet.

“God does not give grace for the imagination, he gives grace for the situation,” she said.

She said learning to trust God is a lifelong process, but she offered some tips, turning to the Blessed Mother and then recognizing and naming a fear, rejecting it and pouring love in.

“Every single one of you, you are the apple of God’s eye,” she said.

Joy, courage and the New Evangelization

Kelly Wahlquist, assistant director of the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and founder of WINE: Women in the New Evangelization, gave two talks, one to close out the morning and one to finish the afternoon.

She began with an image she had heard from a talk about the Shroud of Turin, that the image on the shroud was created by a sudden burst of light at the Resurrection. “We need to be that sudden burst of light that brings Christ to the world,” she said.

That, she added, is what evangelization is.

Wahlquist said Catholics have “evangelophobia” but that evangelism shouldn’t be scary. It’s really about love, she said, sharing one’s heart more than one’s head, but you need a bridge between hearts.

“I think that bridge is joy,” she said, and joy that is not giggly but found in Christ.

“Some of the most joyful people I know are people who suffer,” she said.

She noted that evangelization is a call for everyone in the church and, interweaving personal stories to illustrate, cited three ways God is with us in evangelization: the Holy Spirit, Sacred Scripture and the Eucharist.

She encouraged conferencegoers to have a relationship with the Holy Spirit and particularly to pray to him when encountering someone with questions about the faith.

She also encouraged people to pray with Scripture. “Evangelization is really the fruit of a prayerful and meditative life with the Holy Scripture,” she said.

The Eucharist, she said, helps us to “become little Christs.”

Wahlquist’s second talk was about courage, a virtue she said is necessary to live the other virtues.

She said for women, courage is often lived out in compassion and endurance, exemplified by a mother’s heart. “Courage comes from a heart that loves,” she said.

She gave several examples of courageous women from the Bible, such as the wife of Noah, Hannah and Mary Magdalene, who each offer lessons.

But the greatest example, she said, is Mary, as seen in her Seven Sorrows. “She lived with the greatest courage because she lived with the greatest love,” Wahlquist said.

A full day

The day began with Mass and a short address by Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba, and it was emceed by Benedictine Sister Lisa Maurer of St. Scholastica Monastery.

The day included time for adoration and confession, as well as book signings by the speakers and halls filled with vendors.

After lunch, there was also a personal testimony from Mary Lou Jennings, who spoke of her work with the Sister Thea Bowman Foundation.