Saints, beauty and the present moment

by Kristina Lahr | New Earth

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Former presidential speechwriter, Colleen Carroll Campbell, spoke as a keynote speaker on the topic “Love Comes First: Lessons from the Women Saints” at the REDEEMED Women’s Conference March 11 at the Holiday Inn, Fargo. (Kristina Lahr | New Earth)

Let me just preface with saying I’m not much of a conference person.

I’m not big into crowds, packed schedules and long days. I’ve been to plenty of retreats and conferences before and usually after a day of listening to many (albeit, wonderful) speakers, I feel like I’ve forgotten everything that was said. Any notes that I took throughout the day don’t seem to capture the true movement of my heart that drew me to write the note in the first place. After all the speakers, fellowship, music and prayer, as refreshing and delightful as they can be, I still come home to my same apartment. There are still dirty dishes in the sink and I still haven’t cleaned the bathroom. Life goes on.

But there was something a little different about the REDEEMED Women’s Conference on March 11 in Fargo. About 650 women gathered in fellowship that day with some 200 men committed to prayer either at the adoration chapel, at the conference, or at their own churches and homes. Knowing how many were involved to make the day happen was a beautiful thing, a realization that we are never alone.

As I was helping with registration in the morning, I was touched by the distance some traveled to get there. Faithful came from all corners of the diocese and beyond, as far as St. Cloud, Sioux Falls, Bismarck and Winnipeg. For some, this conference was a pilgrimage that required a lot more planning and expense than it did for me. I didn’t drive four hours to get there. I drove four minutes.

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Sister Mary Elizabeth, vicar general for the Sisters of Life, speaks with a woman at the conference following her keynote presentation “Our Feminine Identity: A Gift to be Received and Given.” (Kristina Lahr | New Earth)

Sister Mary Elizabeth was the first keynote speaker and is the vicar general for the Sisters of Life in New York. Her joy and energy was undeniable. One story she told was when a little girl, maybe four or five years old, asked her about the clothes she was wearing. Sister Mary Elizabeth explained she was a sister and a bride of Christ. The little girl then exclaimed, “He chose you?!”

It was a light-hearted moment, but it struck a chord with me. Christ chooses all of us, and that is shocking. Even in our brokenness, he finds beauty and longs to draw nearer to us in our everyday moments, whether mundane or chaotic.

Author, print and broadcast journalist and former presidential speech writer Colleen Carroll Campbell spoke next with her presentation entitled, “Love Comes First: Lessons from the Women Saints.”

“The saints remind us to embrace the unknown, even when Jesus doesn’t reveal his plans,” she said. “Or follow ours. ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways,’ he tells us in Isaiah. It’s an unsettling truth. However, it’s also a liberating one because we don’t need to figure it all out. The key though, is to keep moving even when he beckons us to places we’d rather not go, and to be ready to abandon our plans in favor of his. This too is something we see in the lives of the saints.”

I realized that the saints took their walks in life one step at a time, just like all of us. It’s easy to think that the saints are a select few, specially chosen for holiness. Nevertheless, we all have the ability to be saints, beginning right now. That’s one of the great beauties and mysteries of our faith. Christ is always present, and sees our potential for saintly greatness.

Colleen concluded her presentation with these words.

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A woman venerates the missionary image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Kristina Lahr | New Earth)

“In the end, the question isn’t whether or not we have what it takes to be saints. The question is whether we really want to be saints. May Jesus enflame our hearts with that holy desire and may he never let us be content to settle for less.”

After lunch, musician and composer Eric Genuis performed on piano along with a violinist, cellist and vocalist. Genuis is world-renowned and for good reason. Not only was his performance uplifting, he frequently uses his talents to perform at prisons, a place devoid of beauty.

“They’re cut off from beauty there,” Genuis said. “The walls, the food, the beds, the way people talk to each other, what people are wearing… it’s all ugly. So when they encounter beauty in music, it touches a part of them that’s been buried deep.”

We can all find ourselves cut off from beauty if we don’t seek it. Whenever we make our own prisons for ourselves through our sins, we see the world in a darker light. But God himself is beauty, and he can be found anywhere, even in the worst situations.

There were several breakout session speakers in the afternoon including Jennifer Anderson, Roxane Salonen, Dr. James Link and Renae Duppong. I attended Renae’s presentation entitled, “Longing for a Purpose.”

She shared the story of caring for her sister during her sister’s yearlong journey with cancer. It was a time when countless negatives could have overwhelmed her and her family, but when they focused on the good and present moment, beauty could always be found.

“I would ask, what is God trying to show me right now? This minute?” Renae said. “God can make beauty from anything.”

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Eric Genuis performs with his ensemble “An Encounter with Beauty.” (Kristina Lahr | New Earth)

By this time in the conference, any apathy I brought in with me was washed away. I spoke with several women who attended that had similar experiences.

“I’ve enjoyed this conference greatly, coming out here with sisters in Christ,” said Stacey Coles from St. Michael’s Church in Grand Forks. “It’s keeping me focused as a daughter of Christ. In a world with so much chaos, it’s refreshing to come together with my mom and sister to be uplifted.”

Patti Doll from Perham, Minn. appreciated the simplicity of the message, a message she saw as relevant to all women, whether they were a mother or grandmother, single, married, widowed or divorced.

“The love of God is given to us so freely, and we don’t often take the time to recognize it. I can just see a fire rekindling in the eyes of the women here.”

The day ended with Mass with Bishop John Folda as the main celebrant. The gospel message was the story of the Transfiguration. Just as the Transfiguration was a “mountaintop experience” that the disciples didn’t want to leave, the conference left me with a similar desire. These words from Bishop Folda allowed me to see that this mountaintop was a gift from Christ, sometime to turn to whenever following Jesus becomes difficult.

He said, “Like Abram – whose name was changed by God to Abraham – we too are on a pilgrimage to a better land. We too must bear the burdens of the day, the heat and dust of the road. And in all our bearing, we must help others to catch a glimpse of the glory that we have seen, the glory of holiness, the glory of God’s compassionate love.”