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Voices Online Edition
December 1998, Volume XIII, No. 4

Holy Spirit, Discernment, Feminism Studied at 1998 WFF Conference

by Susan Benofy

St. Louis Archbishop Justin Rigali gave the keynote address at the opening session of the 1998 Woman for Faith and Family Conference held October 9-11. The conference, in observance of the Year of the Holy Spirit took its title, He Will Guide You Into All Truth, from John 16:12. About 90 attended conference sessions at the Marriott hotel in downtown St. Louis, including WFF chapter representatives from Cleveland, Rockford and Kansas City.

Other speakers were Father James A. Viall, Dr. James Hitchcock, Sister Sara Butler, Mary Jo Anderson and Helen Hull Hitchcock.

Conference Masses were celebrated at the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France on the St. Louis riverfront. Bishop Joseph Nauman, auxiliary bishop of St. Louis, was the principal celebrant and homilist at the concelebrated Mass on Sunday, and Fr. John O'Leary of Tottenham, England presided on Saturday morning.

The annual Faith & Family Award was presented to two St. Louis women: Eleanor Schlafly, founder and director of the Cardinal Mindzenty Foundation, and Anne Stewart Connell, a founding member and former staff member of Women for Faith and Family, and mother of nine grown children.

In the Church and in Our Hearts
In his address, "The Holy Spirit: His Action in the Church and in Our Hearts", Archbishop Rigali explained that the Church and the Scriptures attribute certain actions in the world to the Holy Spirit because of their likeness to His distinctive role in the Trinity.

In the Trinity the Holy Spirit is the "personal Love whereby the Father and the Son love each other eternally", Archbishop Rigali said. He thus "brings to conclusion the cycle of the Divine Life". So anything which is a work of completion and perfection, holiness and love is attributed to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in the Church to direct all the activity of the Church and the entire work of evangelization, the archbishop said. He is the giver of true freedom in a world that would enslave us to falsehood. He is the forgiveness of sins.

The Holy Spirit's actions in the Church are also His actions in the lives of each individual believer, if we live in openness to His inspirations, said Archbishop Rigali. Such actions can never be in opposition to the teachings of the Church, which are guaranteed by the Spirit of Truth. Archbishop Rigali urged participants to "consecrate to Him our search for truth and goodness, so that He will bring it to the perfection of Love which He is in the Most Blessed Trinity!"

Helen Hull Hitchcock, WFF director, stressed the obligation of every Catholic to make full use of the all the gifts of the Holy Spirit we were given in Confirmation -- an obligation that is both a solemn duty and a great privilege. Focusing on these gifts, she said, would include a stronger effort to concentrate on the Holy Father's request to all Catholics to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the Church's teaching on the Holy Spirit, and how we can apply this to the new evangelization. Because the human person is in a unique way "entrusted to women" whether through actual physical motherhood or "spiritual motherhood" women have a powerful influence in the formation of young minds, in the transmission of moral and religious truth to the future generations of the world.

Although this is a weighty responsibility, she said, it is precisely this "genius" of women dedication to the human person that every Catholic woman must be willing to accept, to exercise and to foster in others even when this requires sacrifice. Catholic women are called, in this time of confusion in our culture, to shoulder their fair share of the responsibility for accomplishing the Church's mission of evangelization, and for shaping the future through their example and witness, relying on the Holy Spirit as our guide .

Fr. James Viall, pastor of St. Rose Parish in Cleveland and moderator of the WFF chapter there, spoke on "Discernment of Spirits" onhow to discern the working of the Holy Spirit in our time, both in the world and in our own lives. In judging various movements, the Church must decide what is authentic. Anything of God will always be in keeping with the orthodox teaching and discipline of the Church, and fidelity to Church authority. If a movement fosters in its members a tendency to schism, heresy or lack of charity it is not of God. Group discernment is popular today, but if it uses methods not in keeping with Church teaching it will lead in the wrong direction. The chief evidence of the Holy Spirit working in a movement is the fruit that movement produces, and the greatest examples of the working of the Holy Spirit are found in the lives of saints.

"Power in Baking Cookies"
In a talk entitled Recovering the Spirit, Mary Jo Anderson, a contributing editor to Crisis magazine, said that we are facing a battle with the increasingly pagan culture. In order to overcome this we must recatechize ourselves and our families. In particular, we must recover an authentic Catholicism for the United States, since our culture is the dominant one in the world. We must do this realizing that the Church, like all of creation, is hierarchical, with a division of roles between clergy and laity. She noted "power in baking cookies" -- that women set the tone in their homes and if these provide a warm place where people can be affirmed in the truth of Christ, this influence will spread out into our neighborhoods and into the wider world.

Sister Sara Butler, MSBT, professor of theology at Chicago's Mundelein Seminary, spoke about discernment of what is and is not consistent with Catholic teaching in various types of feminism. She distinguished between four basic types of feminism: 1) "liberal feminism", which she believes is based in both the Gospel and the Enlightenment, seeks human rights for women equal to those of men; 2) "socialist feminism", which seeks the "liberation" of women by means of economic independence, which leads to a belief that they must be relieved of the responsibility for home and children through state-supplied services including birth control and, eventually, abortion; 3) "cultural feminism" which promotes women's participation in public life based on their "special gifts" and accepted the complementarity of men's and women's roles and the value of motherhood; and 4) "radical feminism", which views patriarchy, and especially any sort of hierarchy, as the root of all social domination, and rejects men, marriage and the family as oppressive.

Sister Sara contends that while many of the ideas of feminism are contrary to Church teaching (especially "socialist" and "radical" types), what she describes as "cultural feminism" seems compatible with Catholic teaching, and with what the pope meant by the "new feminism".

Dr. James Hitchcock, professor of History at St. Louis University, gave the banquet address, filling in for Elizabeth Fox- Genovese, who had to cancel because of illness. In his talk, "The Holy Spirit and the Spirit of the Age", Dr. Hitchcock explained that whenever a new historical movement arises we are all affected by it in some way. Each movement has some new insight, but it must be subject to the judgment of transcendent truth. Without such eternal truth, Dr. Hitchcock said, we become victims of historical processes and "go with the flow" of events. In order to judge such movements and social theories, the Church must determine whether they are actions of the Holy Spirit, which can never be contrary to the nature of the Church, including its hierarchical structure.

Putting ideas into action
A symposium on Sunday morning featured brief presentations from all the speakers (except Archbishop Rigali), and included conference participants in an "open mike" discussion of the conference theme and issues raised by the speakers. Much discussion focused on problems with the idea of developing a "new feminism" and particularly of the wisdom of retaining the term "feminism".

Some argued that the term "feminism", even when carefully nuanced, is so indelibly tainted by its association with abortion advocacy and anti-Christian "spiritualities" that it can no longer be used to describe a positive view of basic equality of human rights and appropriate social advancement for women. At the same time, some were concerned that to reject the term "feminism" might convey the impression that one did not support basic human rights for women. One person commented that it might be justifiable to use the tainted term when speaking to some audiences, in order to explain certain ideas about the authentic role of women, but acknowledged that this could also be misleading.

Another substantial discussion considered how to apply discernment of the Holy Spirit's guidance to various specific situations, particularly considering the problem of the many "private revelations" which have been claimed recently. Several people observed that fascination with seers, visionaries, etc., can be a serious distraction from the real work of the new evangelization.

The conference closed with Mass at the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France (The Old Cathedral). Excerpts from Bishop Naumann's homily, We Do Well Always and Everywhere to Give You Thanks, appear in this issue.)

Music for the Mass was provided by RK Voices of Rosati-Kain High School, an archdiocesan school for girls, directed by Chris Patton. (The Rosati-Kain choir will also sing at Mass during the Papal Visit to St. Louis in January.)

All conference sessions were audio-taped and are available from St. Joseph Communications.

( Helen Hitchcock contributed to this story.)

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