Relationship Precedes Mission
The following are reflections from a participant of the 2021 GIVEN Catholic Young Women’s Leadership Forum that took place from June 9-13, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
“It is thus my hope, dear sisters, that you will reflect carefully on what it means to speak of the ‘genius of women,’ not only in order to be able to see in this phrase a specific part of God’s plan which needs to be accepted and appreciated, but also in order to let this genius be more fully expressed in the life of society as a whole, as well as in the life of the Church.” – Pope Saint John Paul II in his Letter to Women, 1995
Twenty-six years ago, Pope Saint John Paul II popularized the phrase “feminine genius” to describe the special capabilities of women. The GIVEN Institute, as it describes itself, explores the feminine response to God’s love, to illuminate the “the feminine genius” that women contribute to families, society, the Church, and the world.
At the 2021 GIVEN Catholic Young Women’s Leadership Forum at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., 130 young women ages 21-30 and more than 50 mentors, staff, speakers, and religious sisters came together in recognition of the “reality that all we have has been given to us by God: our faith, our hope, our love, our gifts, our destiny, our lives—everything–is freely given to us by God.”
At the beginning of the Forum, I didn’t know what to expect, and I fell under a lot of spiritual attack. Spirits of comparison, envy, self-doubt, and distrust swirled around me. As a D.C.-area local, I took the metro to Catholic University and when I arrived, Kathryn Jean Lopez, greeted me. Kathryn would serve as my small group leader and mentor for the Forum.
The first thing Kathryn shared was her own story as a woman leader. Kathryn is a consecrated virgin and a long-time columnist and editor-at-large of the National Review. As a journalist and writer in the public eye, Kathryn has faced her share of scrutiny, criticism, and condemnation. She has been labeled many unfair and unkind things, singling her out for her political and religious views, even by her own family. Despite this, Kathryn has risen above the noise to defend the Church and its wisdom in her writings and interactions with others. Kathryn inspired me throughout the Forum to set aside the fear of what others may think of me, because the work God is calling us to do is too important to let peoples’ criticism get in the way.
My fear and doubts abated; I began to discover the gifts God has given me in a deeper way. I took an inventory of the ways the Holy Spirit has been working in my life since COVID-19 reached the United States. I reflected a lot on my relationships with female friends, my marriage, and the state of marriage in our country.
Through conversations with other GIVEN participants, as well as the amazing talks and presentations during the Forum, God opened my eyes to the need for forming stronger marriages and stronger families to build his Kingdom here on earth. My personal desire to address the challenges that marriages face grew stronger.
Before I could go off and start working on creating a new marriage ministry, I needed to bring to prayer what was on my heart. The GIVEN Forum gave me the opportunity to do this during the Eucharistic healing procession. While the first three days of the Forum involved a lot of personal reflection, it wasn’t until the Eucharistic procession on Saturday night that I really surrendered my own plan to God’s will. God didn’t hit me on the back of the head with a roadmap for a new marriage ministry or give me some great charismatic gift to share with others. He simply and profoundly healed me of past wounds in relationships and spiritual perfectionism. He reminded me that authentic holiness does not come from fighting to be perfect or free from sin, but rather a more complete surrender to his mercy and recognition of my own weakness.
Since the GIVEN Forum, the women who participated have been able to engage in virtual discussion groups about Pope Saint John Paul II’s Letter to Women, have joined a prayer group on the Catholic prayer and meditation app called Hallow, and are preparing to enter into a year-long mentorship to begin to implement our action plans.
These support mechanisms provided after the Forum have helped me maintain my zeal and sense of peace around my call to intentionally walk with young married couples in and around my Diocese. Whenever I begin to doubt that this is God’s plan for me, the Holy Spirit reminds me that my relationship with God precedes the mission he has given me. Before we can respond with our gifts, we must recognize the gifts we are and the gifts we have been given. The GIVEN Forum was a very intimate time of personal and spiritual growth and exploration. I would recommend it to any woman with a desire to give back to the world in a way that shows Christ’s light to others through you.
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Renee lives in Arlington, VA, and works for an international development firm in Washington, DC. She loves leading Walking With Purpose Bible studies at her parish and trying new cuisines from local restaurants. She has a Master’s in Latin American Studies from GWU and a Bachelor’s in Communication Studies from the University of Miami.