A few hours after our first child was born, my husband and I heard a knock at the hospital door. A Catholic woman and lay minister at the hospital entered the room, and she asked if my husband and I would like to receive Holy Communion and if she could say a short prayer with us. Each morning of our hospital stay, Jesus was brought to us by one of these extraordinary ministers. Those moments of receiving him in the Eucharist were treasured by us both as we started our new journey as a family of three, and we were so grateful for the ministers’ time and service to us.
Each month, the Holy Father shares a specific prayer intention, and he invites the whole world to join him in prayer. During this month of October, his intention is for the laity’s mission in the Church: “We pray that by the virtue of baptism, the laity, especially women, may participate more in areas of responsibility in the Church.”
Just like the laywoman at the hospital, Pope Francis is asking us to share our gifts and shine our light out in the world. He is repeating the message of Pope St. John Paul II in his “Letter to Women.” In this letter he writes about the feminine heart and invites women to reflect on the variety of responsibilities that we share, including roles in the Church, the family and the world. He writes: “How can we overlook the many women, inspired by faith, who were responsible for initiatives of extraordinary social importance, especially in serving the poorest of the poor? The life of the Church in the Third Millennium will certainly not be lacking in new and surprising manifestations of ‘the feminine genius’” (No. 11). And that is where we come in.
Finding our gifts
Each one of us has been given unique gifts from the Lord, and he wants so strongly for us to notice them. When we recognize our gifts, we can further develop and share them with the world. But if we keep them to ourselves, we will be left empty. St. John Paul II writes in his “Letter to Women” that our fundamental vocation is to mirror the Blessed Mother who put herself at both God’s service and the service of others: “For her, ‘to reign’ is to serve! Her service is ‘to reign’!” (No. 10). We find ourselves through our gift of self, and we also find fulfillment and joy.
Discerning how God wants us to serve and share our gifts is often easier said than done. When you are feeling discouraged, remember that God will never guide you by giving you thoughts of anxiety and fear. Those are tactics of the devil. God leads with peace and joy. If you are having a hard time confidently naming your gifts, ask the Lord to show you. He wants you to be filled with the knowledge of how he created you so you can exclaim with joyful conviction, “I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!” (Ps 139:14).
If God gave you the gift of a beautiful voice, maybe you can volunteer as a cantor at your parish. Or if you are gifted with artistic abilities, perhaps you could offer to work on some marketing designs or branding for your parish website, bulletin or other resources. As a writer, I am constantly striving to be receptive to what the Holy Spirit is prompting me to work on next. Sometimes using our gifts can take us out of our comfort zone, but God will not leave you alone in the process.
Maybe your heart seeks a way to use your gift of hospitality. If your parish doesn’t offer after Mass coffee and donuts (or the COVID friendly version of coffee and wrapped goods), consider leading this ministry. A young family at my parish organizes this every single week. They set up a table outside with the coffee and treats and offer an hour of their time to visit with all those who partake. Their family gives the gift of their presence, their time and their love.
Another unique way of providing hospitality to someone in need is by organizing a meal train. If you know someone who is expecting a baby or struggling with illness, ask them or someone in their family if they would be open to receiving meals delivered to their home. A friend of mine set up a meal train for me after I delivered my first baby, and it was an immense help to have meals delivered to our home three days a week for the first two months after coming home from the hospital. It only takes a few minutes to organize, but it provides weeks of blessings. If your parish doesn’t already have this ministry, maybe God wants to use you to bring it about.
Sometimes we feel as if there is nothing we can “do.” If volunteer opportunities are scarce, you can always pray within the comfort of your home or local adoration chapel. Women are great at anticipating others’ needs by observing someone’s body language or their tone of voice. If you notice that someone you are talking with seems to be slightly off, ask them what their intentions are before you part ways. We stay connected to our brothers and sisters in the Church by praying for their intentions, especially in times of suffering.
There is power in knowing that someone else is praying for you. I suggest following up with the person to let them know how or when you prayed for them. An idea my sister gave me is to take all of your Christmas cards at the end of the holiday and put them in a box. Then, each night during dinner, take one card out to say a prayer for that family. (You could also fill a jar with names if your Christmas cards don’t represent everyone in your life.) My husband and I have been doing this tradition for a few years now, and it is amazing how blessed people feel when we text them that they were included in our prayer intentions that day. It’s fun to see God’s providence in the timing as well.
As women, we have a careful eye for beauty. We should pay attention to this, because people notice beauty, and when they see it, they are curious about it. They look for more of it. They respect it. From the grandeur of a Cathedral to a decorated cake for a special celebration, it stops us in our tracks and makes us look closer. The purpose of beauty is to draw others in and ultimately to point them to a higher good, to God. Do not underestimate the value of creating beauty. This could be a handmade card sent to a friend or adding a vase of seasonal greens or flowers to the kitchen table in your home.
Hans Urs Von Balthasar said, “When you say yes to God unconditionally, you have no idea how far that yes will take you.” Are you willing to find out? How will you manifest the feminine genius in the life of the Church during the Third Millennium? The invitation is yours.