Integrity. Encouragement. Confidence. Accountability. These are some of the words I’ve been hearing from Millennials who have had anything to do with a still-relatively new effort called GIVEN. It’s a leadership network for Catholic women, and its mission is the goal of helping them “discover the gift that only you can give because of the gift that you are.” The idea is that God created people in love and has a specific mission for us in life that becomes clear with the right tools — chief among them prayer (and some other more broadly appreciated tools such as knowing your temperament and those of people around you).
As I write, the second national (internationally, really, with a participant from Ireland and a mentor from Nigeria, among others), GIVEN Forum is going on in Washington, D.C., on the campus of the Catholic University of America. And it’s hard for me not to notice that I’m sleeping next door to an emptier-than-usual United States Conference of Catholic Bishops building. Top staff there have been in Baltimore for the June meeting, still trying to respond in some way that will seem sufficient to give people some confidence that there’s a way forward out of the avalanche of filth that was revealed last summer, most notably in still-not-entirely-investigated allegations against Theodore McCarrick, the former cardinal archbishop of Washington, D.C. —once a prominent churchman, who is now a layman. The timing seems no coincidence but certainly was not planned by the GIVEN staff. The way forward in the Church is for everyone to have integrity and confidence and accountability as members of the Body of Christ, encouraging one another to use the gifts God has given them to “set the world on fire,” to borrow from Saint Catherine of Siena, a doctor of the Church.
Each young woman puts together an action plan that she is expected to implement over the course of the next year to ensure that this is not a one-off retreat away from the world but that the priorities, skills, and sense of mission she immerses herself in here becomes a part of the way she lives her life going forward. The women will have something to show for it. Last time, that came in the form of, for example, ministries to homeless women and athletes, a religious-freedom rally, retreats, and other projects related to art and prayer.
I’ve been here for the better part of a week as a speaker, mentor, and spiritual director. I especially appreciated something that Joan Rosenhauer, executive director of Jesuit Refugee Service, said to the young women during a panel discussion (which included the head of the March for Life, a Little Sister of the Poor, and the founder of World Youth Alliance) on integral ecology. She was speaking about the about the importance of accompanying and serving refugees. “Women have to be humble, too,” she said. “We have not cornered the market on virtue. We need to hold ourselves to the highest standards of servant leadership and love.” In other words: This isn’t some exercise in exerting women’s power for some chauvinistic purpose, and certainly not for a political one. When Pope Francis visited the United States a few years ago, the theme of the visit was “Love Is Our Mission.” That’s what this is about. Living the Beatitudes. But you can’t give what you don’t have.
So these women take a few days to truly come to appreciate, in the most intimate and constructive ways, God’s love for them. They do it in community. And they do it with the whole of life in mind — not just career ambitions, not just vocational hopes and dreams, not just the financial or familial or health or other challenges that might be weighing them down in mind. They do so with a heightened and humbled knowledge that God created them for a purpose to live at this time and that they have their whole lives to give back to Him, in every thought, word, and deed. And, wow, let me tell you, when my friend Sister Mary Gabriel from the Sisters of Life talked to them on opening night about the desperate need that aching hearts in the world have for the kind of gaze of love that someone who knows the love of God and who can see it in herself and in another needs to be looked on with, you saw 150 young women in their 20s and early 30s “lean in” as another religious sister serving as a mentor here commented.
At another discussion in Washington in recent years, a speaker made a plea I slightly paraphrase: Please, Catholics, get your act together. He had pointed to the reach and resources of the Church, and to the best that it has to give in love and beauty. At GIVEN, it’s clear we’re still being given much — these women are leaders — for healing and nurturing and peace of the world.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.