April 19, 2019

Women’s conference speakers challenge, equip participants to live faith more deeply

Left, Harla Lyle, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, prays during Mass in St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis during the Indiana Catholic Women’s Conference on March 23. (Photo by Katie Rutter)

Left, Harla Lyle, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, prays during Mass in St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis during the Indiana Catholic Women’s Conference on March 23. (Photo by Katie Rutter)

By Katie Rutter (Special to The Criterion)

“Evangelization is simply an invitation,” Barbara Heil said from the stage at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis.

Before her conversion to Catholicism, Heil had researched the faith and frequently asked questions and spoke with Catholics, but it was 11 years before a Catholic couple invited her to attend church with them.

She shared her story at the Indiana Catholic Women’s Conference to the audience of about 530 women on March 23. The annual conference gathered dynamic speakers like Heil to challenge and equip the women of the Church in central and southern Indiana to live their faith more deeply.

Heil described that, during her journey to Catholicism, she would sit in the back of churches and listen to the Mass, even though she did not understand what was happening. Time after time, all the worshippers would leave the sacred space without even taking notice of her.

“There they were, hearing the words, ‘Go out and preach the Gospel,’ and the fish are trying to jump into the boat—but nobody’s manning the nets,” Heil said.

Heil challenged the conference attendees to take notice of new faces in church and extend an invitation to those around them both in the pews and in their daily lives.


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It was a sentiment that attendee Sherry White could relate to. She recently moved to a new area after attending St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis for 28 years. Now, feeling a little homesick without any familiar faces in the pews, White wishes that community members would welcome her to her new parish home.

“Don’t worry about how you’re gonna feel when you approach someone, you can always say, ‘I’ve never seen you here, and I just want to make sure someone welcomes you,’ ” she suggested.

Three speakers, including Heil, gave faith advice during the gathering. In addition to hearing the talks, conference attendees also had the opportunity to adore the Blessed Sacrament in a small partitioned chapel, attend Mass as a group, and visit vendor booths selling Catholic products. The sacrament of reconciliation was also available throughout the day.

This daylong event was the 14th women’s conference sponsored by the Marian Center of Indianapolis. The theme of the day was, “When sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” Conference organizer Kathy Denney chose this Scripture passage because of the recent priestly sex-abuses scandals devastating the Church and an overall worry that she felt about the direction of society.

“When it looks the bleakest, [be ready for] something wonderful, because God doesn’t fail us, and if he said this happens, it happens,” explained Denney, who serves as the director of the Marian Center of Indianapolis.

As an example of the outpouring of grace, the attendees were shown a short video about Servant of God Rhoda Wise. The wife and mother, who lived in Ohio from 1888 to 1948, is believed to have been visited by the Virgin Mary and Jesus and to have received the stigmata—wounds mirroring the wounds from Christ’s passion. The Church is currently investigating whether or not she should be declared a saint.

“I was meant to be here today. I mean, I’ve had just some things in my life that has been bothering me, and I definitely thought God guided me to be here today,” said attendee Marilyn Freyer, a member of St. Louis Parish in Batesville.

Freyer said she was particularly grateful for the advice given by speaker Rose Sweet. Sweet focused on what she called “the four temperaments,” or different ways that people behave and communicate with each other.

“It really is about four unique ways that we image God in a visible world,” Sweet explained. “People speak different languages, four different languages as it were. You’ll want to speak the language of your children and your spouse so that you can better love them and they can better love you.”

During the talks, frequent laughter and murmurs of agreement could be heard from the women in attendance. Between speakers, the women chatted together about matters of the faith, life, family and upcoming events.

“It’s so great to see our faith alive in this community and just the wonderful participation and just female camaraderie that we have here,” said attendee Erica Costello, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.

“It helps me to get that jump-start again,” White agreed, “[knowing] that this many people would take that much time. … You can get very, very busy with your life.”

The busyness of a woman’s life was a topic addressed by speaker Donna Cori Gibson. A singer and songwriter who creates sung prayers, Gibson draws her lyrics from Scripture, traditions of the Church like the rosary, and the words of saints. Her goal is to make it easier for people to pray regularly.

“Women in general, they want to nurture, they want to help,” she explained. “We’re givers. But we have to have, first, before we can give, and that’s [obtained] only on our knees, in prayer.”

From the stage, Gibson sang several of her prayers, to which the women quickly caught on and sang along. Her advice to the crowd was to plan their schedules around prayer times, rather than trying to fit prayer into an already‑crowded schedule.

“It’s all about seeking first the kingdom of God,” she said.

Rose Sweet agreed with Gibson on the importance of prioritizing prayer, especially in the midst of a busy schedule.

“We’re trying to cram way, way too much into our days and our nights. We don’t need to,” Sweet said. “We are on performance trips; we’re on guilt trips. We’re trying to be the perfect parent, the perfect spouse, the perfect minister at Church, or whatever.”

Sweet pointed out that even Jesus took time away from the crowds to rest and pray, seeking God before heading back afresh to proclaim the Gospel.

Participants came away from the conference in much the same manner: recharged, ready to seek God more fully, and more equipped to serve others.

“I was blessed to be here,” said Freyer, “I just feel so much better today, leaving here.”

“I think overall, this has been such a wonderful experience,” Costello summarized.
 

(Katie Rutter is a freelance writer and member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington.)

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