The Last Seven Utterances
Fifty women gathered on the Eastern edge of our diocese to pray and learn at a Lenten Women’s Retreat on March 11, sponsored by the Superior Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. Given by renowned Catholic speaker, Elizabeth (Liz) Kelly, the day was a beautiful reflection on three of the Last Utterances of Christ, as he suffered and died for us on the cross.
We were treated to a homemade breakfast and lunch from the women of St. Peter the Fisherman in Eagle River, and the atmosphere was bright and welcoming. Pastor Father Patrick McConnell was also available throughout the day for Confessions and the Exposition and Benediction surrounding our Holy Hour. We were blessed by the service of this parish community. Elizabeth introduced the day with a reflection on the meaningfulness of the last words and moments of a loved one – how we often remember those in a particular way when other memories of our deceased friends and family have faded away. How proper it is, then, to recall those last words and actions of our Savior? Especially in this somber season of Lent. The first conference was given on the words “Mother, there is your son. Son, there is your mother.” Liz presented one of the themes from St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Mulieris Dignitatem”: the feminine genius present at the Crucifixion. She talked about our receptivity as women, that we must order our lives so that what we are accepting into ourselves from our environment is good and nourishing to the soul. Often, women have a difficult time receiving, for we think it means that we have a need to be helped, and that can be profoundly humbling. But it is precisely in this humility that we express our cooperation with God, as our Lady did at the Annunciation when she emptied herself so completely, she allowed God to fill her with the fullness of His grace. “Hail, Full of Grace” the angel speaks to her. Liz invited us to meditate on emptying ourselves in this way. “You don’t get to retire from service,” she said. “Ask God, where are you sending me next?”
The second conference centered on “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Liz presented the difficult theme of accepting suffering as an intimate gift and mercy. She looked to the lives of two saints in particular: St. Teresa of Calcutta, who endured forty years of spiritual darkness, and St. Pope John Paul II, especially in his suffering of Parkinson’s disease at the end of his life. Both of these individuals endured great interior and physical suffering and were able to persevere through the love of their savior. Suffering can make a person bitter or better, if we are able to turn it into an opportunity for self-donation or service. We must attempt to see our suffering as “a precious invitation to share in the life of Christ and heal the wounds of this world and of our own soul.”
Following these conferences was time for personal prayer and reflection in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Confession was also available. At the end of our Holy Hour, we took a break for lunch (complete with “a dessert table that should have been illegal during Lent”), and conversation that remained in “retreat mode”, discussing amongst our smaller groups what the Lord had place in our hearts so far.
We then adjourned for the third conference: “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” It was personal testimony of receiving forgiveness and mercy in Liz’s life. She described a vision she had of a double-sided dagger in her heart from her sins and failings that she was terrified of having Jesus remove. The time came for Jesus to remove the dagger, and instead of the intense anguish and physical pain she expected from having it torn from her heart, she only felt a soreness where the scar was. Jesus lovingly told her, “I dissolved it.” We were invited to meditate on the places in our lives that need forgiveness and mercy, for ourselves and others. Then we prayed together the Rosary to the Holy Wounds, a devotional revealed by Our Lord to Sr. Mary Martha Chambon. It was new to me but very similar to the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
We ended the retreat with time for Sharing the Days Graces, an opportunity to share with the group any Graces we had received during our day together. It was a beautiful way to conclude our time together. I echo the response of the last woman to share: it was a blessing to be present with all these ladies, young and old, knowing that far and near across our whole diocese there are women who continue to seek Christ and to grow in love for Him.