By Lesa Tines
McCOOK (SNR) - Bishop James D. Conley spoke to a group of more than 70 women at St. Patrick Church in McCook Saturday, Oct. 4 during the fourth annual women’s’ retreat.
The annual retreat was started by Father Robert Barnhill, who was then pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Cambridge. He contacted Sarah Weber of St. Patrick Parish in McCook to gauge interest in a retreat for women in the western part of diocese. The retreat was held the first two years in Cambridge, and in Arapahoe in 2013.
The retreat includes lunch, speakers, confession, Benediction, a rosary and Mass. This year, the Knights of Columbus of McCook served supper. Speakers gave presentations on NFP, managing family conflict, and the Theology of the Body.
Bishop Conley was the keynote speaker and presented a talk titled “Mary: The Beauty of Feminine Genius,” which centered on the new evangelization and how the Blessed Virgin can help show the world the beauty of family life.
The bishop stated that the American family is in decline and under attack. According to research, 21 million children in America live in a one-parent household. Couples do not see a need for marriage, even those with children. And in more than half the United States, marriage is defined as a union between two partners: ‘spouse one’ and ‘spouse two.’ He quoted George Weigel who said, “Marriage has been reduced to a contract for mutual economic advantage among any configuration of consenting adults.”
Bishop Conley called on Christian families to be witnesses to the world, showing what is good and beautiful about married life.
Participant Shelley Biegler recalled that the bishop said women in particular are prepared for this mission: “Women have a unique gift of bringing people into friendship. They always have room for one more.”
Bishop Conley explained how the Virgin Mary witnessed her beauty to the world through a life of obedience, service and discipleship in Jesus Christ. With her help, he said, Catholic families can do the same. Mary’s beautiful example offers to families a grace that will keep them close to Christ, which is her mission.
The bishop encouraged families not to hide the challenges of family and married life.
“Family life is hard,” he said. “Raising kids is tough.”
He pointed out the way society encourages women to portray themselves as carefree, organized and happy at all times, even though this is not reality.
“Don’t hide the challenges,” the bishop said.
True joy can exist in difficulty and pain, he explained. The life of the Blessed Virgin is an example of how pain and struggles can bring joy. Bishop Conley pointed out that Mary’s life didn’t turn out the way she planned. Even though she endured much suffering she also experienced great joy. She lived a life of close, personal interaction with Jesus, in their mother and son relationship. Because of this great love for Him she also experienced great sorrows which are depicted by the Seven Sorrows of Mary: The prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, the loss of the Child Jesus in the temple, the meeting of Jesus and Mary on the way of the Cross, the crucifixion, the taking down of the body of Jesus from the cross, and the burial of Jesus.
Mary embraced this suffering, Bishop Conley said, because she knew God would use her to bring souls to Christ, and the witness of Christian families can do the same.
The bishop said the most powerful influence in the world, next to grace, is the example of goodness in another person. Seeing their joy makes others want to be like them.
“I liked when the bishop was talking about how we don’t always have to be ‘right,’ or ‘win’ the argument,” said participant Amanda Peterson, “just be an example in the way we live our day-to-day lives!”
Christ told his followers to “take up our cross and follow him,” the bishop reminded retreat participants. Meaningful Christian witness does not ignore suffering and difficulty, he said. Instead, witnessing to the difficulties in life reveals the beauty of the Lord.
To become stronger witnesses to the Faith, he urged, families should take advantage of the sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist which will keep them close to Christ.
“The world needs our witness,” Bishop Conley said. “And if we want to bless the world as Mary does we need to commit to an intimate closeness with Jesus Christ.”
He pointed out that confession and prayer form Christians to model the heart of Mary, who was made perfect so she could reveal Christ to the world. Bishop Conley said God wants to do the same with all people; the Father is waiting through his Son in the sacraments to transform all and bring families closer to Him.
Bishop Conley encouraged all families to imitate Mary in her personal relationship to Christ in this way, by partaking in the sacraments, embracing suffering and being a loving witness of the joys of family life to the world.