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The heart of our mission

In these turbulent times, we continue to press forward with our mission to transform the world one woman at a time. As I prayerfully sat with the Lord this morning asking Him about the many situations confronting us, two words were impressed on my heart – “remain steadfast.” With your help, we intend to do just that. When the enemy presses hard, the only good response is to press harder. Scripture reminds us of this with the admonition, “Resist the devil and he will flee” (James 4:7). Another passage that comes to mind is “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust” (Luke 8:50; Mark 5:36). These are Jesus’ own words. My personal acronym for “trust” is True Resolve Under Severe Testing. It is clear we are in a time of testing. May we all persevere in the resolve to remain steadfast, to ward off discouragement, and to press on toward the victory Jesus has already won for us.

During this very challenging time, let us ponder anew the grace that God has given to us, and let us pledge our lives in complete fidelity with those graces as we place ourselves in the footsteps of Our Lady, who always teaches us the way in which we should go.

I want to personally invite all of our sacred sisters to join me and women across the country on July 10th and 11th for our upcoming Women of Grace Online Summer Retreat themed “Made for Happiness, Made for Joy” with Father Peter John Cameron, O.P., Samantha Kelley, Kathleen McCarthy, and yours truly. The beautiful artists of Women at the Well will also be offering us a musical presentation. If you’ve never experienced our annual retreat at the Malvern Retreat House, this is the perfect opportunity to get a bit of a taste of it! Details are available at womenograce.com/events. It will be packed with inspirational instruction for such a time as this!

May the abundant life of Jesus Christ be yours and may God bless you!

I faithfully remain…
Your sister in Christ,

Johnnette's Signature

Johnnette Benkovic Williams
Founder and President

PS: I encourage you to enroll your fathers and spiritual fathers in our upcoming Novena of Masses. You may do so here. This is just one of the many ways we hope to bless you and your family.

 

 

 

 

The heart of our mission

“Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? The moment your greeting sounded in my ears the baby leapt in my womb for joy. Blest is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.” -Luke 1:26-45

May is the month that we celebrate mothers and spiritual mothers. This role of spiritual maternity is very close to the heart of our mission to transform the world one woman at a time.

I remember a women’s retreat I conducted some years ago. In addition to the many laywomen present, there were a few religious. In one of my talks, I addressed the mission of Catholic women. When the talk was over, one of the sisters came up to me with a glow on her face and tears in her eyes. She told me she had been a religious for more than thirty years, and only that day had come to a full understanding of her vocation.

This religious sister is not alone. Many of us have questioned what it means to be a woman, and a Catholic woman at that. We know there is something dynamic and unique about it, but just what it seems to evade us. What is more, deep inside we sense that true fulfillment and happiness is somehow inextricably linked to our femininity. Where do we go to get the answer? To whom do we turn to find the way?

We need not look far. When we look to the mission of the Catholic woman, we look to our Blessed Mother. Luke 1:26-45 presents Our Lady’s Annunciation and her visitation to her cousin Elizabeth. When Mary arrives at the house of her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant with her first child, Elizabeth cries out in greeting, “Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? The moment your greeting sounded in my ears the baby leapt in my womb for joy. Blest is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.”

These lines tell us much. The leap of the Baptist and the assertion of Elizabeth proclaim that the fruit of Mary’s womb is the long-awaited Messiah and Redeemer. Mary, pregnant with Divine Life, carries that life to others. She is the Christ-bearer who brings salvation by her very presence. As the physical mother of the Savior, Mary is the spiritual mother of the elect (CCC #969).

As Catholic women, our call is to emulate the spiritual motherhood of Mary. Some of us will be physical mothers, but each of us is called to spiritual motherhood. Through receptivity, trust, and surrender, “women impregnated with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling” (“Letter to Women,” Vatican Council II). Imbued with the Divine Life and fortified by prayer, fervent reception of the sacraments, and virtuous living, Catholic women who assume their God-given call to spiritual motherhood will do great things for the Kingdom of God – we can indeed become the healers of the world.

This month, please join us in celebrating the gift of woman and her call to spiritual motherhood. Let us encourage women to embrace the truth of their identity and to be lights shining in the darkness of the day. Finally, let us share with them the exemplar of the true Woman of Grace, the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose “fiat” brought salvation to the world. May Mary, our spiritual mother, inspire the “yes” of our lives as we seek to be the women of grace God intends us to be.

May the abundant life of Jesus Christ be yours and may God bless you!

I faithfully remain…
Your sister in Christ,

Johnnette's Signature

Johnnette Benkovic Williams
Founder and President

PS: If you don’t already receive our Daily Gracelines, I encourage you to sign up and share them with others. This month’s topic is Mary’s Spiritual Motherhood. Go to womenofgrace.com/signup. You will also receive the latest updates from our apostolate by also signing up for our enewsletter.

 

 

 

 

And a Sword Will Pierce Your Own Soul

“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” -Luke 2:33-35

As we sojourn together through the final days of Lent, Holy Week, and the current Coronavirus pandemic, we recognize now more than ever that suffering and sorrow are part of the human condition. However, when they are united to the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, suffering and sorrow become part of the supernatural dimension. By virtue of our baptism, all of us are called to participate in the sufferings of Christ in ways that are uniquely our own. I think of this reality as I meditate upon Our Lady’s never-ending fiat.

Theologians tell us Mary’s assent at the Annunciation was also her assent to the tortures of Golgotha. She didn’t understand exactly how God would work it out, but she did understand the proposal at hand: she was to be the mother of the Messiah. Familiar with the teaching of the prophets, Mary also understood what this meant – He would be a suffering servant (Is. 53:3-12), and she, by virtue of her motherhood, would suffer with Him.

Her understanding was confirmed by Simeon when she and Joseph presented Jesus to the Father: “A sword will pierce your own heart,” she heard him say (Luke: 2:33-35). But could she imagine the sword? And how would she respond to it?

Luke gives us insight into Mary’s means of appropriating the sufferings of her Son’s life and, therefore, her life’s sufferings, too. He tells us that she pondered them in her heart. The mystic par excellence, her response was reflective and contemplative. It yielded an unquestioning surrender to the Father’s will each time that will was revealed to her. Thus, from the moment of the Annunciation, Mary actively conformed to the cross that would one day bear her Son.

Long before she stood at the foot of His cross on Calvary’s hill, she interiorly beheld its mystery and embraced it. Ultimately, she entered into it.

This movement of the interior was not unfamiliar to Mary. The Fathers of the Church remind us that Mary conceived Jesus in her heart before she conceived Him in her womb. Would we not then expect that she mystically bore the pain of His Passion and death before He lived it out in time?

Confronted with such a thing, what would a mother do, especially this mother?

Would she not imbue her Son’s sufferings with maternal beatitude? Would she not offer her suffering to the Father on His behalf? Not that she could lessen the pain or add to the eternal merit He was acquiring, but rather, to offer her presence as a consolation to the travail He would endure. Was not her every “yes” to the Father’s will laden with a sweet unction that would be released in her Son’s heart at the moment He needed it most?

Perhaps it was precisely this He experienced as she ministered to Him on His ascent to Golgotha. Beholding her, He beheld pure love. He recognized that Eternal Love from which all true love is generated. In her He saw embodied the self-donating love of the Trinitarian life.

Surely it was this He saw in her when they met on the way. Surely it was this He saw in her as she stood sentry beneath the tree upon which He hung. And surely it was this that breathed with Him as He breathed His last and commended Himself to the Father.

Ultimately, only heaven will give us the answers. But one thing is certain. Each of us, like Our Lady, is called to be present to the mystery. To behold it. To embrace it. To enter into it. To let it enter into us. This is the mission of Lent. It is the glory of Easter. It is the triumph of everlasting life. So be it. And so be you and me in the midst of all things including the Covid-19 pandemic.

Please know that in this difficult time, we stand with you soul-to-soul in a special way. You are invited to join us for a weekly live Women of Grace Warrior’s Rosary Crusade live each Wednesday at 4PM ET until this pandemic is behind us. With God’s grace, we will get through this together.

I faithfully remain…
Your sister in Christ,

Johnnette's Signature

 

 

 

 

 

How to Move From Fear to Faith: Your Anxiety Can Lead You Closer to the Lord

 

Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890), ‘Christus Consolator’

In a previous article, I made the point that God’s presence in our lives is the main reason we should have no fear. He’s God, loves us unconditionally and can handle any problem that arises. Keeping that in mind will often be enough to calm our nerves even in the midst of turmoil. Sometimes, however, even the most devout Christians still experience fear. Is this normal? Could it point to an underlying spiritual problem?

First, we need to understand that fear is an emotion, also known as a passion or a feeling. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Feelings or passions are emotions or movements of the sensitive appetite that incline us to act or not to act in regard to something felt or imagined to be good or evil. (CCC 1763)

In themselves passions are neither good nor evil. (CCC 1767)

Even though your brain may tell you otherwise, the Church teaches that there is nothing morally wrong with being afraid. That’s good news, isn’t it? In case you’re still not convinced, the Bible contains numerous examples of very holy people who experienced the emotion of fear. In the pages of Sacred Scripture we see that Moses (Exodus 2:14), Elijah (1 Kings 19:3), David (1 Chronicles 13:12), Mary (Luke 1:30), Joseph (Matthew 1:20) and Paul (Acts 27:24) were all afraid at some point in their lives.  Take a glance at that list of names again. Moses, St. Joseph, the Blessed Mother? That’s a very impressive list. At one time or another, they were afraid. Therefore, the fact that you are afraid at times doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem with your faith.

When you are afraid, it means that you are experiencing a normal human emotion. Are there times when we are afraid and we shouldn’t be? Absolutely, but I’ll leave that discussion to the psychologists and therapists. I am not a mental health professional, but I know a thing or two about managing anxiety. I have dealt with the panic attacks, digestive issues and sleepless nights. I know what it’s like to be afraid of the future and feel hopeless. Fortunately, I also know that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ can allow chronic worriers like me to live in peace. And, while it’s okay to be afraid, it’s not okay to let that fear lead you to worry. God desires something better for you. Rather than give you a list of when and when not to be afraid, I will encourage you to let your fear be the door that leads you closer to Christ. Whenever you feel afraid, think of the following message from Jesus:

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

When you are afraid, Jesus is knocking on your door. If you open it up and let Him in, He will grant you His peace. How do you open the door for Him? Here are some simple steps that will get you started:

1. Pray – It is not possible to have a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ and experience the peace that He wants to give you without praying every day. Make it a point to start your day by saying “Good Morning” to Jesus and ask for the grace that you need to get through the day. Instead of worrying about your problems, ask Jesus to help you with them. I guarantee that He cares (1 Peter 5:7) and will not turn a deaf ear to you. Also, ask Him to help you make it through the day without worrying. How much time should you spend with the Lord? As much as you can, but I recommend that you start with five minutes. If you can’t find the time for prayer, use some of your “worrying” time!

2. Read the Bible – This is something that I avoided for years. Even when I realized that it might be helpful to read the Bible, I was intimidated by its size and confusing language. I now understand that the Lord speaks to me whenever I read Scripture. Reading the Bible daily will put you in direct contact with the Lord and bring you peace. If you are not familiar with the Bible and don’t know where to start, I recommend that you either start with the daily Mass readings (available online or in numerous Catholic magazines) or the Gospel of Mark. He gets right to the point and you’ll read about Jesus performing several healings in the first chapter alone. As a worrier, you need to know that Jesus loves you and can perform miracles in your life. It becomes more difficult to worry when you begin to understand His power and His love.

3. Receive the Sacraments – The Sacraments give grace and allow you to grow closer to Christ. That will result in increased peace. Once I started going to daily Mass and confessing my sins at least monthly, my anxiety level decreased dramatically. What a great gift! Christ instituted the Sacraments to draw us close to Him and help us reach heaven. The closer you are to Jesus, the less you will worry. Don’t make the mistake of trying to conquer worry on your own. Instead, let Jesus help you. It will not only be more effective, but it will make Him happy. He wants to help you so why not let Him?

While it’s probably true that you’re sometimes afraid because you don’t trust God, it’s more important to look at how you respond to that feeling. If your fear leads you to the Lord then look at it as a blessing. Who knows where you would be without it? Jesus loves you and wants to draw you close to Him. For many of us, He does it through our anxiety. Ultimately, the end result is the same. The closer you get to Jesus, the more peace you will feel. Being with Him and experiencing His peace is what counts. How you get there doesn’t really matter.

“We must not fear fear.” —St. Francis de Sales

This post originally appeared in National Catholic Register and is reprinted with permission.

Read the rest…

How to Lead Virtual Small Groups

Women of Grace® study programs give you the blessed privilege of witnessing the magnificent movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the women who attend – and you will experience His dynamic power and grace in your own life as well. As your study group learns about the great gift of authentic femininity and how to live it out in our world today, hearts will be healed, lives will be changed, and souls will be saved. This is indeed a time of transformation, renewal, and deepening commitment. Read the rest…

The halfway mark

“This is the way to become a new creation in Christ Jesus. The old way of being will pass away and
we will be made new in Him.”
-2 Cor. 5:17-18

All of us here at Women of Grace are busy preparing for our upcoming events, additional webinars on insightful and inspiring topics, and a host of other outreaches to help us live our call as Catholics in the world today, none of which would be possible without your prayers and financial support. Please visit our website (womenofgrace.com) to find out all about our upcoming events, including our annual Women of Grace Retreat at Malvern Retreat House in July.

It’s hard to believe we are already closing in on the halfway mark of Lent. How would you evaluate your Lent thus far? It’s a good question to ask at the mid-way point. It’s never too late to adjust, begin again, or even start over should you need to.

Life being what it is, I have often found it beneficial to come up with a plan and a strategy to help me enter more deeply into the Lenten season. In years past, I have planned and strategized how to “give up” certain foods or treats (don’t buy them), activities and recreations (don’t go to them), habits and behaviors (don’t do them). One year I even gave up going to the mall (don’t drive by it). That was my longest Lent ever!

Along with the exclusions, I have often added a few inclusions: more time in prayer and study, going to adoration more frequently and performing additional acts of charity.

This year, I have devised a new plan centered around behaviors that start with “C,” as in Cross. Together, they are acting as a compass leading me through this holy season. The goal has been to implement some and eliminate others. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which!

Here are a few:

» Complain

» Collaborate

» Console

» Control

» Complete

» Carp

» Conciliate

» Carry On

In the end, the purpose is to advance in becoming what the cross is all about – LOVE. Recall that it was because of His love for us that God gave us His Son, and it was out of the Son’s love for us that the Son chose the Cross. Two passages from Scripture tell us as much: For God so loved the world that He gave His Only-Begotten Son, that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life John 3:16), and There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).

As Christians, we are called to live Christ, to be His presence in the world, to be His love among men in all of the diverse circumstances, situations, and nuances of our daily lives. Jesus tells us:

This is my commandment: love one another love as I have loved you (John 15:12). And this, It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you to go forth and bear fruit. Your fruit must endure… The command I give is this, that you love one another (John 15:16,17).

Both remind me of yet another passage. Given to us through St. Paul, this one shows us the way to love: Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not jealous, it does not put on airs, it is not snobbish. Love is never rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not prone to anger; neither does it brood over injuries. Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices in the truth. There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure … Love never fails … There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13: 4-7, 8, 13). This is the way to become a new creation in Christ Jesus. The old way of being will pass away and we will be made new in Him (2 Cor. 5:17-18).

Lent is 40 days long. Researchers tell us it takes about six weeks to engage a new behavior. My hope is that implementation of my “C” words will help me overcome vices, grow in virtue, and better become Christ’s love in the world today.

It’s been a lofty goal to be sure, but why not think big for the Lord? We can never arrive at our destination if we never set off.

Let’s sojourn together through this holy time no matter or plan or strategy. Together we can do great things through the Lord!

As always, I faithfully remain…

Read the rest…

A Four Point Plan to Make a Good Lent

I’m re-posting this blog which was written several years ago.  It contains a four point plan to help you make this a good Lent and some wisdom from my granddaughter Julia.  At the bottom, I’ve shared the podcast from yesterday’s Women of Grace Live radio program as well as my Lenten themed e-book.  During the program we talked about this blog and had a lively, thought-provoking discussion about it.  Please read, listen and share.

May God bless you abundantly this Lent.  

This morning, my somewhat precocious six year old granddaughter and I had a conversation over breakfast:

“Grandma,” she said gazing out of the kitchen window in our Florida home.

“Yes, Julia?” said I.

“Pretty soon Easter will be here because it is Spring outside.”

“Yes, you are right. Ash Wednesday is this week and that begins the season of Lent.” Read the rest…

Saint Jacinta Marto-100th Anniversary Celebration

by Thea Parsons
We are celebrating the life of Saint Jacinta Marto, a young Saint with more humility and heroic virtue than many of us reading this email! Without question, she accepted the call of God through Our Blessed Mother to suffer…to suffer for the conversion of sinners! To pray for those who have no one to pray for them, the lowly. How blessed are we by this young Saint?! By her courage?! May she intercede on our behalf, that we may exercise the same obedience she did with her brother and cousin, that we may be as courageous and steadfast in our, ‘yes,’ when we are called, and in our prayer, and suffering!

Read the rest…

Mary Visits Her Children: Our Lady of Lourdes

Perhaps no other appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary has captured people’s hearts and imaginations like those she made to Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France in 1858. Our Lady appeared eighteen times that year to an impoverished, uneducated fourteen-year-old girl who lived with her family in an old jail. Since that time, more than five thousand healings are reported to have taken place in the spot where the Blessed Mother appeared; sixty-four of them the Catholic Church has proclaimed “miraculous.” Read the rest…