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Voices Online Edition
November 1997: Volume XII, No. 3-4

WFF 1997 Conference Special Report
Bishop, Converts, Call for Courageous Witness

The duty to witness "is an inherent constituent of one's very Christianity," Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln said in his keynote address to the Women for Faith & Family national conference held in St. Louis October 24-26.

Bishop Bruskewitz, known for his forthright affirmation of Catholic teaching, received WFF's Faith and Family Award at the conference banquet on Saturday night. He also autographed copies of his new book, A Shepherd Speaks (Ignatius Press, 1997). The book gives his reflections on the meaning of the Catholic faith in today's world, and on the sacraments, structure, and liturgy of the Church. (Proceeds from the book will be used for the new seminary in Lincoln.)

Bishop Bruskewitz was introduced by St. Louis Archbishop Justin Rigali, a longtime friend and associate. The bishop's keynote address followed an opening service of vespers, celebrated by Father Eugene Morris, associate pastor of St. Gabriel's Parish in St. Louis.

The conference theme, and the title of Bishop Bruskewitz' talk, "Go Tell What You Have Seen and Heard", came from the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus first gives his disciples the mission to witness.

Martyr = Witness
"Jesus bestowed the function as well as the name of witnesses on His early Church, and this function and name has come down to us", the bishop said, reminding the audience that the Greek word "martyr" means "witness".

"What we have received in the traditio [handing over] is our duty now to pass on to others [reditio]."

Bishop Bruskewitz said that we must constantly bear witness to God's word which is passed on to us, and by which we are also judged. "It is this Word of God which we must, with all the strength of character that we can muster, set forth in the eloquence of our own lives and in the eloquence of our very words. This duty of evangelization is not one that falls only to bishops, priests and religious, but is borne in a very heavy measure" by all Catholics, he said.

"When we as Catholics receive Holy Communion, we receive not only the Author of our life, the Creator of the universe, but we receive under that humble form of bread the very Truth that we are called upon to profess and go and tell". This work of witnessing will require both truth and courage, but the "ultimate motivation" for our witness "must always be love, since this is the driving force of the Christian message".

Ordinary Catholics "are going to be called upon to fulfill the mission, the duty, the obligation, as well as the privilege, the joy, and the triumphant honor of being witnesses for Christ", the bishop said.

"Our witness, that is to say, our martyrdom will less likely be of a bloody...sort, but it will continue to be the martyrdom of the ordinary in which we see our Mother the Church afflicted both from within and without more than it seems possible for us or her to bear."

Witness and evangelization were addressed throughout the conference, which also observed the Church's "Year of Jesus Christ" in preparation for the millennium.

Speakers approached the theme from a variety of perspectives. Among them, the vital importance of every Catholic's witness, the particular role of women and mothers in "passing on" the received faith, how the women in St. John's Gospel served the Church as witnesses, and practical suggestions for witness and evangelization in today's often hostile culture.

Participants from fourteen states attended the gathering, including a delegation from the Lincoln diocese, representatives of WFF chapters in Cleveland, Rockford, and Kansas City, priests, seminarians, women religious, and lay men and women.

Bishop Bruskewitz was the principal celebrant and homilist at a pontifical Mass on Saturday morning at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis ("New Cathedral") in midtown St. Louis.

Concelebrants were Father James Viall, pastor of St. Rose Parish, Cleveland, and moderator of WFF-Cleveland, Father Paul Mankowski, SJ, Rome, and Father Peter Gadient, moderator of Lincoln's Council of Catholic Women.

After introductory remarks to Saturday's opening session by conference chairman, Sherry Tyree, WFF director Helen Hull Hitchcock, read the message to the conference of Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan, which included the Apostolic Blessing conferred on the conference by Pope John Paul II. She also noted that about two dozen bishops had sent special messages of encouragement and inspiration to participants in this conference. (See "Messages from Our Bishops").

As a special remembrance, Mrs. Hitchcock read a letter sent to an early conference by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who had also signed WFF's Affirmation for Catholic Women.

In her talk, "Witnesses What We Have Seen and Heard", Mrs. Hitchcock underscored Bishop Bruskewitz's emphasis on the meaning of witness as martyr, and drew attention to the coincidence of several recent events the death of Mother Teresa, the naming of St. Thérèse of Lisieux as "doctor of the Church", the feast of St. Theresa of Avila, and the announcement of the canonization next year of Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known as Edith Stein, which call attention to the particular need for the sacrificial love and willing, obedient service of women to accomplish the Church's mission to the world today. She mentioned the example of courageous men who imitated Christ's suffering and death in order to bring the light of God's truth to the world -- St. Ignatius of Antioch, Jesuits St. Isaac Jogues and his companions whose feasts were this week.

The world at the end of the second millennium is as full of "restless hearts" longing for the freedom and peace of Christ as it was in the days of St. Augustine in the 5th century, she said, and we who have been called by God into being at this crucial time in history must be willing to witness, to serve, to labor in his vineyards with self-giving love. "Women of our time must now shoulder our full share of the cross of Christ", she said.

How to Avoid The Empty Church
Professor Thomas Reeves
, in his address, "How to Avoid the Empty Church", gave a brief history of the decline in membership and influence of seven mainline Protestant denominations since the 1960s, and the precipitous drop in numbers of Catholics attending Mass. Professor Reeves is a noted historian from the University of Wisconsin Parkside and author of The Empty Church The End of Liberal Christianity (Fortress).

The failure of church members to evangelize and retain their own children, Professor Reeves said, is among the principal reasons for "empty churches". Other chief problems he has observed are that theological and moral relativism are being forced on students in church schools and seminaries, and "political correctness" dominates much of what goes on in seminaries, just as it does on secular college campuses. So-called "gender studies, race studies, and deconstructionism are found in abundance", he said, and "clever new theologies" have subjected the clergy to one fad after another.

Orthodoxy must be restored in order to save the Christian churches, Reeves believes. "Since human beings are innately religious their spiritual needs must be met, preferably in church. Both young and old want meaning, certainty, and direction for their lives."

He said that healthy churches make demands of their members. Orthodox members of "mainstream" churches will have to organize to insist that foundational creeds and traditions be followed, in his view. Clergy must be holy and qualified and the church must be genuinely missionary-minded. Some Protestant churches may have to merge in order to survive, he believes.

In an article on the same subject in Our Sunday Visitor (March 9, 1997) Professor Reeves had observed that Catholics may be able to withstand the civil war going on within the Church because they have papal authority and tradition, which are guarded by the Holy Spirit, as well as an abundance of authoritative documents and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to guide them.

In a response to a question from the audience, Dr. Reeves, a former Episcopalian, gave his own testimony of his and his wife's decision to become Catholic. "It was the authority", he said, explaining that it was not a particular doctrine that he had difficulty accepting ("Anglo-Catholics" like himself generally accept many central Catholic dogmas), but rather that he had come to recognize the necessity for the Church's teaching authority in fundamental matters of faith.

Dr. Reeves and his wife, Kathie, who also attended the WFF conference, were received into the Church on July 31. He publicly thanked Catholics who had helped and welcomed them into the Church.

"From cult to Cult"
Another kind of witness was given by Mary Woodard, who described herself as a "third-generation Jehovah's Witness" before her conversion to Catholicism last year. She gave a gripping account of her life as an active "Witness", and her years of suffering and depression as she tried to understand what was wrong with her spiritual life.

She briefly outlined the central beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses, and said that they are taught that those who leave the organization are regarded as completely evil and under the control of Satan, so as she began to question "JW" teachings and way of life, and made initial steps to leave its influence, she was plagued by these terrible thoughts. Her spiritual journey "from cult to Cult" eventually led her to find her way "backwards through the Protestant Reformation", Mrs. Woodard said, and she entered the Roman Catholic Church on Trinity Sunday 1996.

Today, while deepening her own faith by study, she works at developing strategies which communities can use to protect citizens from totalitarian cult groups and maintains a help line under the name of Community Initiative for Cult Awareness in Douglasville, Georgia.

The Church Militant, The Church Triumphant
In his address, "The Church Militant, The Church Triumphant", Jesuit Father Paul Mankowski, who teaches at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, noted the effects of our culture's denial of the fact that Catholic and pagan (atheistic or agnostic) world views are fundamentally opposed and that "among the central doctrines that comprise Catholic orthodoxy is the teaching that we can, by our choices, lose our souls."

One of the most frequent worries he hears from Catholic parents is the state of the souls of their children. What Catholic parents most fear when their children set out on their own, he said, is "not the potential harm to their health and prosperity but rather the harm that comes from believing the wrong things, from living a life of error, from an incapacity to seek and find what is true."

Catholic parents are right to worry, "even after years of being offered theological sedatives" he said. "Worry is painful, but it is a sign that the moral nerve tissue is still alive. Just as a soldier's mother wants the safety of her son, the Catholic parents I talk to want salvation for their children. They're interested not in their own feelings but in the reality."

Forty years ago Catholics in doubt about the lifestyles of their children could have turned to the Church, Father Mankowski observed, and could usually expect doctrinally clear answers from their parish priest. But the situation has dramatically changed. He quoted a 1995 essay of James Hitchcock, "If at almost all times in the history of the Church a concern for orthodoxy has been paramount, the contemporary Church has an eerie feel about it precisely because of the absence of that concern. At the diocesan and national levels it is possible to raise questions about pastoral strategy, administrative competence, economic feasibility, human sensitivity, awareness of injustice, and numerous other things but never about orthodoxy. The very word, and its opposite heresy is seldom uttered..."

Father Mankowski noted that the "near-total disappearance of the language of salvation and damnation" and of the notion of sacrifice from the Mass, has resulted in this "eerie" sense of dislocation for Catholics. ("It's like one of those dreams where you walk into your childhood house to find the wrong people there not strangers, but other acquaintances dislocated from their proper places. It's your house all right, but it's been given a new use which they can't make you understand.")

The notion that damnation is possible "has been patronized out of existence" by advocates of a "growth model", he said. But the teaching of Jesus is radically at odds with this. Jesus calls, instead, for severe pruning, for repentance precisely in order to avoid destruction, being "thrown into the hell of fire". "Human souls with eternal destinies are at risk of eternal loss"; thus Jesus' hard teaching is "considerably more merciful than the multiple assurances" that a person only needs to "accept himself".

Father Mankowski stressed that "the laity have the duty to bear witness, to be martyrs to the fullness of faith", and that they should not wait for help from church bureaucracies. He emphasized the importance of example. "What your children will take most seriously is that which you, as parents, go to some trouble to perform," he said. Some of his suggestions for parents were:

Read the New Testament through each year. Children can read Bible stories or biblical translations suitable for their age. Reading Scripture puts life in perspective, and one "gets the just proportion of things."

Participate in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. It is particularly important for children to see their fathers on their knees.

Return to observance of Lent as a penitential season with voluntarily assumed penance and fasting; and observe the true penitential nature of Advent as a time of preparation for the Christmas season.

"God has inserted us into the battle at this particular time", and "fighting these particular difficulties, different from the difficulties of other times" still characterizes the Church militant, Father Mankowski said.

"As the Year of Jesus Christ draws to an end, we look forward to being reunited when the reign of Jesus Christ will have no end, when the Church militant ceases to exist, and has become once and for all time the Church triumphant".

Motherhood in Crisis
"Motherhood in Crisis" was the title of the banquet address by Donald DeMarco, the prolific and popular author of many books, and professor of philosophy at the University of St. Jerome's College, Waterloo, Ontario.

Professor DeMarco described ten ways in which the concept of motherhood is being mistreated today. He gave several striking examples of how contemporary writers and feminine activists have demeaned motherhood: by looking at pregnant women as victims; by declaring the word "mother" to be too emotionally laden and suggesting that it be neutralized; and by asserting that fetal development should somehow be carried on "in the open" so that developing abnormalities can be easily detected.

Professor DeMarco noted that the ability to introduce technology into the heretofore natural process of pregnancy has opened the way for redefinition of "mother" and "father" as "reproductive collaborators".

Witness of Women in Gospel of St. John
Sister Timothea Elliott's
address on Sunday morning, examined "The Plan for the Evangelization in the Fourth Gospel Through Five of the Women from the Gospel of St. John". Sister Timothea, a Scripture scholar, is a Sister of Mercy (Alma) who teaches at the New York archdiocesan seminary, St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie. She emphasized the importance in the early Church of the witness of women who were close to Christ: Mary the Mother of Jesus, the Samaritan woman at the well, Martha and Mary (Lazarus' sisters), and Mary Magdalene. She described them as typical of Jesus' disciples as well as strong personalities.

Sister Timothea pointed out that just as John says of his own relationship to Jesus "I am not worthy to untie his sandal. He must increase and I must decrease", so too did the women who witnessed to Jesus' life regard their mission as one of service to Christ.

"The women fulfill the witness call ... by hearing the Word of Jesus, becoming engaged by what He says, following Him, asking questions, remaining with the process, and finally becoming witnesses to their own faith and to others," Sister Timothea concluded.

Sisters in Crisis
The final address was given by Ann Carey, a writer for Our Sunday Visitor, who said that the first story she published in the Visitor was a feature article on the founding of Women for Faith & Family. She is also the author of Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Religious Communities (OSV Press, 1997).

Drawing on her well-documented book, she described the circumstances which surrounded the decline of most communities of Catholic women religious, of the Vatican's role in encouraging the updating of life in religious communities, and of the response of various communities.

Although a few religious orders remained faithful to their institute's charism, living in community with shared prayer and wearing religious garb, the majority ignored or circumvented Vatican guidelines for authentic renewal. This resulted in a dramatic decline in vocations to the religious life, which seems to be leading inexorably to the demise of such communities.

The good news, she said, is that the orders who have remained faithful to their vows, have maintained their corporate identities, and wear some type of identifying habit are attracting new vocations.

THE CLOSING EVENT of the 1997 conference was the celebration of Mass in the historic Basilica of St. Louis, King of France ("Old Cathedral") on the Mississippi riverfront. Father Mankowski was principal celebrant and homilist. Concelebrants were Father Viall and Father Gadient.

In his homily, Father Mankowski pointed out that Jesus never simply "issued an invitation" nor made mere suggestions to His disciples or to those He healed, but commanded them with the authority of God, which was His own.

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