By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
More than 500 women from around the Archdiocese of Louisville filled St. Patrick Church in Eastwood for the second Catholic Women’s Conference Nov. 5.
The event, themed “Encountering God’s Mercy,” was organized by the Office of Lifelong Formation and Education and the Office of Multicultural Ministry (OMM) and made possible through contributions from the Catholic Services Appeal.
The day started with a welcome from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, followed by a keynote address by Lavinia Spirito, founding author of the Catholic Way Bible Study Program and an attorney who practices in Lexington, Ky.
Spirito opened her keynote address by telling the women that the Year of Mercy provided a “wonderful opportunity to hone in on the idea of God’s mercy.” Often times, she said, people believe God is merciful, but are not quite sure what that means or what it means in their lives.
Spirito shared with the congregation what she believes mercy is not. Mercy isn’t merely the dispensing of justice, she said.
Spirito quoted Pope Francis in “Misericordiae Vultus,” (The Face of Mercy), the bull of indiction officially proclaiming the Year of Mercy, “ ‘If God limited himself to only justice, he would cease to be God and would instead be like human beings who ask merely that the law be respected.’ ”
“God goes beyond justice with his mercy and his forgiveness,” Spirito told her listeners. “God is not going to stand only on justice. It’s justice tempered with mercy. Justice and mercy are two sides of the same coin.”
Spirito further delved into the day’s theme by looking at several scriptural passages in the Old and New Testaments that deal with God’s mercy.
- First, she referred to the Book of Exodus in which God led his people out of slavery and promised to accompany them on their journey to freedom. That promise of accompaniment “transfers to us as well, because he is our God and we are his people,” said Spirito. She examined Exodus 25:10-22, where God instructed the Israelites to build the Ark of the Covenant, complete with a cover made of gold meant to be the “mercy seat,” the place where God encountered his people. “The primary attribute God wanted to be known by was mercy,” she said.
- She shared with listeners Wisdom 11:22-24, which says, “Before the Lord the whole world is like a speck, but you Lord, had mercy on all because you can do all things and you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made.” Spirito said that sometimes people recognize and acknowledge that “God is all powerful and God is the creator, but still ‘missed the memo’ that God cares about them.”
“We project unto God the limitations we experienced,” she said. Yet God is constantly trying “to reveal himself to us in a way we can accept.”
- The response to that “great mercy of God,” referred to in the Book of Wisdom, she said, can be found in two stories in the New Testament.
The story of Mary Magdalene anointing Jesus with expensive perfume — told in Mark 14:3, Matthew 26:7 and John 12 — is one such story, Spirito told the congregation. These stories speak of Mary Magdalene’s level of commitment to Jesus Christ, she noted, adding, “It was her only way to show her love and extravagant commitment to the Lord.”
- The other story which Spirito said showed the proper response to the “great mercy of God,” is the parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15:11-32. When the youngest son realized what he has given up he returns home and seeks his father’s forgiveness. “There’s a lot of that going on in our culture today,” said Spirito. “Our society has run away from home. We are staggering around in the dark trying to do it ourselves.” The answer to a “culture that is lost” must be more than just inviting people to “come to our church, because we have coffee and donuts or a great bingo group,” she said, drawing laughter from the crowd. The answer, she said, starts with examining “how we approach the Lord at the table of the Eucharist and how we bring that behavior out into the world.”
Angie Lay, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception Church in LaGrange, Ky., said during an interview following the keynote address that Spirito’s message resonated with her.
“It felt good to hear the truth being spoken in a loving way,” said Lay. “It was a great reminder to bring us back to Christ, where we should be. It was a reminder too to keep following Christ because that’s where true happiness is found.”
Archbishop Kurtz addressed the women a second time during the closing Mass, telling them, “I love looking out and seeing so many faith-filled women. You represent so much possibility in our parishes,” he said.
Archbishop Kurtz called on his listeners to leave the conference and “think of yourself as leaven.”
“From a little bit of yeast can come such great bread,” he said. “I’m picturing the effect you will have on the people around you.”
Participants in the conference also heard from Sarah Fellows, Catholic campus minister at the University of Louisville; Dr. Lete Ansera, a licensed marriage and family therapist; Eva Gonzalez, director of Hispanic ministry in the OMM and Dr. Veronica Morgan-Lee, a Catholic educator.
A children’s program, entitled “discovering mercy as a child,” was also part of the day’s activities.