Temperance and the Challenge of Substance Abuse

May 22nd, 2017

substance abuse

A good meal is one of the real pleasures in life and, indeed, the traditional way to celebrate is with a feast, as the Church’s liturgical calendar attests. If you are the one doing the cooking, then you know how important it is to have the right ingredients in the right amounts and cooked at the right temperature or else you might end up with a burnt inedible mess. You also want to serve the right food at the right time – no ice cream before the main entrée – and it is important also to exercise some self-control and not eat too much or else your waistline will get bigger and bigger.

To do things in the right amount and in right and good order is to exhibit the virtue of temperance. The Catechism instructs that temperance “provides balance in the use of created goods” and “directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion” (CCC 1809). Together with wisdom and the other virtues, temperance is significant if we want to lead a good and truly happy life. Thus, as Saint Paul counsels, we ought “to live sober, upright, and devout lives in this world” (Titus 2:12). We should aspire to masters of our worldly desires and actions and keep them ordered to what is good and honorable, rather than being a slave to them.

For example, “the virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine,” as in other aspects of life (CCC 2290). If chemical substances are administered in the right amount for a medical purpose to cure disease, they can contribute to the good of the person. Recreational drugs, on the other hand, are often harmful to the user as well as the common good and are thus morally illicit (CCC 2291). Our lives and bodies are precious gifts entrusted to us by God and we have an obligation to respect and take care of them (CCC 2288). Since such misuse of drugs involves intentional and unjustified impairment of mind and body, often leading to dependency, there is a duty to protect people against them.

Substance abuse has long been a scourge in society – it can destroy the lives of users, and also devastate their families and harm society as well. Now we are hearing stories in the news about how opioid usage has reached epidemic levels with more and more people dying by overdose or becoming addicted. The Church’s pastoral response to this evil, as Pope Francis has explained, is to offer compassionate care to drug users, helping them to overcome dependency, rediscover their dignity and rebuild their lives. Here in the Archdiocese, for example, drug treatment services are offered by Catholic Charities or in partnership with parishes and other agencies. Another crucial pastoral response is drug prevention education, including lessons in temperance.

Substance abuse is something that concerns us all. Just as we care for others in need, we all have a role to play in protecting people from this danger, helping to heal those who have already been gravely injured by illicit drugs, and encouraging people to live temperately and thereby live in a way that is good and offers true happiness.

Gaining True Wisdom from the Word of God

May 18th, 2017

Bible

“Whatever you ask I shall give you” (2 Chronicles 1:7; 1 Kings 3:5). If we could have anything, if this was said to us or in making birthday wishes, how would we respond? When God said this to new King Solomon, he asked for “wisdom and knowledge,” and he said, “Give your servant a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil.” Pleased that Solomon did not ask for a long life, riches, glory or for the life of his enemies, the Lord gave him a wise and discerning heart like no other before or since (2 Chronicles 1:10-12; 1 Kings 3:9-12).

Wisdom really is more valuable than money, power, fame or any other worldly thing one might wish for. As the Proverb says, “Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment” (4:7). Sirach adds, “Happy the man who meditates on wisdom and reasons intelligently” (14:20). We need to be wise to know how best to live a good life, to be able to focus on the things that truly matter and discern truth, and have good sense, reason and judgment. As something that should be highly sought after, wisdom can be learned by experience and teaching, and it can also be a grace and virtue. Wisdom is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the careful application of wisdom in practical affairs – which is known as prudence – is one of the cardinal virtues upon which the moral life turns.

Of all the various sources of learning wisdom, it is precisely sacred scripture which offers the richest and most fruitful lessons. In fact, the books Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, Sirach, and parts of the Psalms, are classified as “wisdom literature,” offering extensive instruction, guidance and sayings about the wise person.

“The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord,” teaches the book of Sirach (1:14). True wisdom consists in appreciating that there are things greater than ourselves, and in respectfully and humbly submitting to that majesty of God. Meanwhile, the Psalmist counsels us to not be like the fool who says, “there is no God,” and foolishly put our trust in mortal men, but to look to the Lord for salvation (Psalm 14:1, 146:3). By opening our hearts and minds to God in this way, we open ourselves to his divine wisdom, which Pope Francis explains, is “the grace of being able to see everything with the eyes of God. It is simply this: it is to see the world, to see situations, circumstances, problems, everything through God’s eyes. This is wisdom.”

To live well, we need to be like the wise man who built his house on a foundation of rock, rather than like the foolish man who built on sand (Matthew 7:24–27). It is by building our lives on the rock of the wisdom of God – including the wisdom of the Cross that the world sees as foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) – which reveals to us what is lacking in our own limited human knowledge and reason, and thus best teaches us how to be truly wise so as to lead a good and happy life.

Mother’s Day and the “Joy of Love”

May 14th, 2017
The Holy Family by Rafael Flores

The Holy Family by Rafael Flores

The opening sentence of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, offers the perfect context for Mother’s Day: “The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.”

The first and most immediate human relationship we experience is with our mothers. With God, they give us life and by their faith and love, mothers help welcome Jesus into our homes and into the hearts of our families. The family home has historically had a pride of place in the shaping of the Christian community and, as guardians of the hearth, mothers have played a privileged role in passing on the faith by instruction and living witness. In this very real way, the love of mothers reflecting Christ’s sacrificial and unconditional love brings joy to their families in their homes and also to their extended families of faith in our churches and parishes.

Like our Blessed Mother Mary in her experience of daily life in the Holy Family, today’s mothers “are asked to face their family’s challenges with courage and serenity, in good times and bad, and to keep in their heart the great things which God has done,” says Pope Francis (Amoris Laetitia, 30). And in living this maternal vocation, mothers are not alone. The Lord walks with them and the Pope emphasizes the importance of priests and members of the Church in also accompanying mothers and their families as they make their journey in life through all of its ups and downs. Mothers who face difficulties like divorce and being single parents, or realities like poverty, illness and other challenges as described in Chapter Two of Amoris Laetitia, especially need the love and support of our faith communities.

Pope Francis’ pastoral heart can be seen in how he describes the impact that mothers have on children: “A mother who watches over her child with tenderness and compassion helps him or her to grow in confidence and to experience that the world is a good and welcoming place. This helps the child to grow in self-esteem and, in turn, to develop a capacity for intimacy and empathy” (Id., 174).

On this special day, we express our love and affection for our mothers, the women who carried us, nurtured us, raised us, tended to us when we were sick, and made sure we were fed and clothed and cleaned, the women who will forever be our mothers, even when they have gone ahead to reside with God in heaven. To them, let us echo the simple, heartfelt words of Pope Francis: “Dear mothers: Thank you! Thank you for what you are in your family and for what you give to the Church and the world” (Id.).

The Canonization of Saints Jacinta and Francisco on the 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima

May 13th, 2017
Pope Francis uses incense as he venerates a statue of Our Lady of Fatima during the canonization Mass of Saints Francisco and Jacinta Marto (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis uses incense as he venerates a statue of Our Lady of Fatima during the canonization Mass of Saints Francisco and Jacinta Marto (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

At a Mass earlier today during his pilgrimage to Fatima, Pope Francis canonized the two shepherd children, Jacinta Marto and her older brother Francisco, who were previously beatified by Saint John Paul II in 2000. The lives of these holy children bear witness to the words of Jesus, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

It was 100 years ago, beginning on May 13, 1917, and continuing until October 13 of that year, that Saint Jacinta and Saint Francisco, along with their cousin Lucia dos Santos, first reported seeing and hearing the message of a radiant Lady in white who with maternal solicitude asked for penance, conversion, and prayer for peace and the salvation of souls. At the time, Jacinta was only seven years old and Francisco was nine. Lucia was the oldest at age ten.

The following year, both Francisco and Jacinta became ill in an influenza epidemic. Francisco died in 1919, and Jacinta died the next year. Their older cousin would later enter religious life in the Carmelite order and in a collection of memoirs that Sister Lucia was asked to write and is available online, you can see the innocence and purity of Jacinta and Francisco that characterizes the simple faith of children. Sister Lucia died in 2005 and her cause for canonization is pending.

As news of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima spread, secular authorities detained the children and tried to make them repudiate their story. The mayor there even told Francisco and Jacinta that Lucia had been boiled in oil and that fate would happen to them if they did not deny they had seen our Blessed Mother. “You can do what you want, but we cannot tell a lie. We have seen her,” they responded, reports Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The reported appearances of Mary, while notable, is not reason for the canonization of Jacinta and Francisco, however. “It was the children’s heroism in their lives, their life of prayer, their turning to God, that was truly holy,” explains Cardinal Saraiva Martins.

Saint Jacinta and Saint Francisco are the youngest non-martyrs ever to be canonized. Their faith, love, prayerfulness and sacrifice offer a special witness to children, but people of all ages can be inspired by their example as we remember how Jesus urged us to be similarly lowly and “poor in spirit,” saying, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, 18:3) In a particular way, like our new saints, we can look to the “Lady in white” as a sign and beacon showing us the way not only to pray for world peace every day, but also to seek the peace in our hearts which only Jesus can give.

Evangelization and Supporting the Trinity Dome

May 10th, 2017

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Evangelization is the mission of the Church and there are an infinite number of ways that we carry out this work, as demonstrated in the coming weeks.  For example, in the life of the Church, May is the month of Mary.  Recent popes have spoken of the Blessed Virgin as the “Star of Evangelization” because of the way in which she brings people to Christ.  Her love and faith are a model of what ours should be.  In saying “yes” to God, she with great trust and fidelity remained faithful to all that the Lord asked of her, including her maternal care for God’s children.

Another example of evangelization is by practicing acts of charitable love.  In fact, during his trip to Egypt last month, Pope Francis said, “God is pleased only by a faith that is proclaimed by our lives.”  That faith was proclaimed in a remarkable way by the missionary priest Saint Damien de Veuster, whose feast we celebrate today.  Father Damien gave his life to serve those poor souls who had been abandoned to suffer at the leper colony on Molokai, and because of his care, people there experienced the love of Jesus.

In addition, beauty evangelizes, as shown in the Church’s rich tradition of using painting, music, iconography and literature to tell the story of the Gospel and how through the lives of the saints the love of Christ has spread.  One glorious example is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is filled with mosaics that depict our Savior Jesus Christ, our devotion to our Blessed Mother and the witnesses of many holy men and women who make up the story of our faith.

This weekend, as we celebrate Mother’s Day, a collection is being taken in parishes around the country to support the completion of this place of pilgrimage with the installation of a mosaic in the large Trinity Dome. This “crowning jewel” of the house of Mary depicts the Most Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception, and a procession of saints who have an association with America.  These saints include Father Damien, as well as Saints Juan Diego, Kateri Tekakwitha, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta (an honorary American citizen) and others.

As so many people have done, over the last century you are invited to support the evangelizing work of this shrine to our Blessed Mother and help complete the Trinity Dome so that it can inspire the thousands of pilgrims who visit each year. Your contribution is one way to honor the great evangelizing mission of the Church Universal and also the personal witness of your mother who may have been the first to introduce you to the faith.  To learn more, please visit the Trinity Dome website, and also today join with the whole Church in asking the intercession of Mary, Father Damien and all the saints in charitable love of all the people you pray for.

The 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima

May 8th, 2017
(CNS photo/Rafael Marchante, Reuters)

(CNS photo/Rafael Marchante, Reuters)

On Saturday, the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima, the devotion for the Blessed Virgin Mary that fills the hearts of the faithful and the Church Universal will become even more intense with the 100th anniversary celebration of those events in the meadow of Cova da Iria that are as remarkable today as they are mysterious. It was one hundred years ago, May 13, 1917, that the poor shepherd children Lucia Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto experienced what Juan Diego and Bernadette Soubirous did before them. As they would later report, on that day and again each month until October 13, a radiant Lady in white appeared and spoke to them.

From the beginning, it has been understood that the Lady was our Blessed Mother Mary and as part of the festivities marking this historic day, Pope Francis is making a pilgrimage to Fatima, just as many popes and millions of faithful have before him. While there, he will celebrate a Mass for the Canonization of Francisco and Jacinta, who were only 10 and 9 when then died in 1919 and 1920, respectively.

During her appearances, the children said, the Lady asked with a mother’s heart for penance, conversion, and prayer, particularly the Rosary, for the salvation for souls and for peace. She also shared visions with them and warned that there would be much suffering in the world – horrors even greater than those of World War I, which was then raging – and that the Church would suffer a time of violence, persecution, and martyrdom. Yet, she also offered the blessed hope of her Immaculate Heart that these evils would be overcome with persevering faith, self-sacrifice and prayer.

During his own pilgrimage to Fatima, Pope Benedict XVI offered this observation: “At a time when the human family was ready to sacrifice all that was most sacred on the altar of the petty and selfish interests of nations, races, ideologies, groups and individuals, our Blessed Mother came from heaven, offering to implant in the hearts of all those who trust in her the Love of God burning in her own heart.”

The Immaculate Heart of Mary is at the center of the meaning of Fatima and as previous popes have, Pope Francis re-consecrated the world to her Immaculate Heart on October 13, 2013. This heart, a “Heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God,” said then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his earlier Theological Commentary on Fatima, “is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind.”

The message of Fatima thus invites us to open our hearts like Mary to the Lord and his triumphant love, and trust in the promise of Jesus: “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Celebrating the Vocation to Teaching

May 5th, 2017

050217_GoldenAppleAwards-29

Saint John Paul II wrote of an “urgent need in various schools, whether Catholic or not, for teachers and professors among the lay faithful to be true witnesses of the Gospel, through their example of life, their professional competence and uprightness [and] their Christian inspired teaching” (On the Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful, 62).

Here in the Archdiocese of Washington, we are blessed with many such teachers whose faith is manifested in the classroom and subject matter that they teach. It is thanks to them that our Catholic schools are able to provide such an academically excellent environment where revealed truth, reason and charity are engaged in an ongoing effort to shed greater light on the human condition and to build up the kingdom of God in our world today.

Through the generosity of the Golden Apple Award Foundation, founded by the Donahue Family, we are also blessed to be able to recognize annually ten outstanding teachers from across the archdiocese.  We honored these educators collectively last evening in a special awards dinner, but all through the month of April school officials visited classrooms, assemblies and school Masses to surprise a teacher who for the students and fellow faculty members alike, manifests the face of Christ the Teacher and the joy of the Catholic faith.  Those celebrated for their achievement were:

  • Graciela Marlene Aguilar-Nahas, Our Lady of Victory School, Washington DC
  • Nicole Hayes, Saint Philip the Apostle Catholic School, Camp Spring, MD
  • Judith S. Horne, Saint Anthony Catholic School, Washington DC
  • Jennifer Massey, Mary of Nazareth School, Darnestown, MD
  • Justin McClain, Bishop McNamara High School, Forestville, MD
  • Michelle Morning, Saint Michael School, Ridge, MD
  • Hannah Ruckstuhl, Saint Mary of the Assumption School, Upper Marlboro, MD
  • Kenneth Scheiber, Saint Mary’s-Ryken High School, Leonardtown, MD
  • Michelle Truss, Saint Mary’s School, Bryantown, MD
  • Elizabeth Scribner, Holy Redeemer School, College Park, MD

Pope Francis has said, “We need to remember that all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness” (Evangelii Gaudium, 45).  In my pastoral letter Being Catholic Today: Catholic Identity in an Age of Challenge, I invited all of us to consider both the power and responsibility our Catholic schools have in forming our young people to transform the temporal order into a kingdom of goodness, love and peace. It does not simply happen because the building is a Catholic school, but because of the Catholic spirit that permeates the people in it.

The mission and message of our Catholic schools exhibit a vision of life that is rooted in Christ, articulated in his Gospel and manifested in his Church.  This vision is manifested not only in classroom instruction and school activities, but in the witness of our teachers.  In this way, our Catholic institutions of learning are distinguishable from secular ones – the lessons learned about faith and love in these schools help graduates build a better world in a way that others do not.  Our Golden Apple teachers help make that happen.

Prayer for the National Day of Prayer

May 4th, 2017

National-Day-of-Prayer

Earlier today in a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House, I was honored to join with religious leaders, President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other dignitaries to observe the National Day of Prayer. Following the custom of the early days of our nation, this day has been set aside annually to encourage people of all faiths to come together and turn to God in prayer and meditation. Please join with me in the following prayer which I offered at this special gathering:

In the Prologue to the Gospel of Saint John, we read, “The light shines in the darkness that did not overcome it.”

Good and gracious God who has revealed your glory – a light – to all nations, grant us to preserve the works of your mercy, conduct ourselves in the ways of salvation, always free to walk in your light, in your truth.

Father of all creation, you made us in your image and set us over the works of your hands. Once you chose a people and gave them a destiny, and when you brought them out of bondage to freedom, they carried with them the promise that all people would be blessed and all would be free.

It happened to our fathers, who came to this land, a place of promise and hope. It happens to us still in our time as you lead all people to the blessed vision of peace, walking in the freedom of your light.

Just as we have been called out of darkness into Christ’s marvelous light, let us turn to him in humble but fervent petition, seeking the grace to root out from our hearts all traces of anything that holds us back from walking in the full freedom of the children of God.

O God who gave one origin to all peoples and willed to gather from them one family for yourself, fill our hearts, we pray, with the fire of your love and kindle in all of us a desire for the just advancement of our neighbor, that through the good things which you richly bestow upon all, each human person may be brought to perfection, every division may be removed, and equality and justice be established in human society.

God our loving Creator from your provident hand we have received our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, you have called us as your people and given us the right and duty to worship you in Spirit and in truth.

We ask you now on this National Day of Prayer to bless us in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty. Make us always mindful of our solidarity with those who suffer persecution for religion’s sake around the world. Keep us joined in solidarity with brothers and sisters of faith in their times of trial and suffering. Give us the strength of mind and heart to always stand for our freedoms whenever they are threatened and give us the courage to make our voices heard on behalf of all people who suffer persecution today and in defense of the freedom of conscience for all people.

We ask you, Father of light, wisdom and justice, to whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgement decreed, assist with your Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, that his Administration may be conducted in righteousness and be eminently useful to your people over whom he presides by encouraging due respect for virtue and morality and by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy.

Let the light of your divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry and knowledge; and may perpetuate for us the blessings of equal liberty.

Grant all of this we pray, Heavenly Father, that for sake of our children and our grandchildren and all who come after us, this great land will be always be “One Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

This prayer we make in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen.

In Remembrance and Thanksgiving: the Blue Mass

May 2nd, 2017

BlueMass2017

Earlier today, it was my privilege and honor to celebrate the 23rd Blue Mass at Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church.  With all the pageantry of a procession with honor guard, bagpipe and drum corps, officers on horseback and fire ladder trucks outside, this yearly liturgy in the Church of Washington is offered for all those who give of themselves in public safety and law enforcement, including local police, firefighters, first responders, and others whose service helps keep our community and nation safe.  In particular, we gather in prayerful and grateful remembrance of those heroic servants who made the supreme sacrifice in the fulfillment of their duties.

Each time we come together in this way, giving thanks to God for all those who have the care of the community as their responsibility, and asking the Risen Lord’s blessings upon them, we bear witness to the glory of love.  What motivates these valiant men and women day in and day out, ultimately, is love – their love of their families to be sure, and also their love for the community, their selfless love for those they do not even know, for those who may not even like or appreciate them, but for whom they are willing to risk their own lives. This love is reflected in all of the routine day in and day out challenges they face all the time.

This annual Mass, to which all from every religious commitment and faith conviction are invited, is something we do every year lest we ever forget how much we owe all of those who every day put on a uniform at the service of the community – at the service of you and me and our own loved ones.  We do this every year because of our need to say, “thank you.” We need to thank God for those who place themselves between us and harm.  We need to let them and their families know that we know how significant their actions are and that we are truly grateful.

Recognizing that not every law enforcement officer, firefighter, emergency responder or medical personnel returns home at the end of their shift, we pray especially for the fallen and their families.  A hallmark of the Blue Mass is the solemn reading of the names of the officers who died in the line of duty accompanied by the sounding of Taps. Reflecting our faith in the Resurrection, our prayers are directed to our loving and ever-merciful God, whom we ask to receive into his kingdom of new and eternal life those who have paid the last full measure so that others might live, prosper and be free.  We also pray that the Lord of all consolation heal the pain of their families, lifting them up from the depths of grief to the peace and light of his presence.

Let us today and everyday give thanks to God for the gift of courage for those who stand up and stand in the way of harm for others. May we always stand together in recognition of their great gift of self which allows us to live in security and freedom as we offer our own personal service in helping to build a truly good and just society.

In Service to the Lord and the Church

April 29th, 2017

st-catherine-of-siena

Saint Catherine of Siena, whose feast we celebrate today, exemplifies the tremendous gift that so many women have been in the life of the Church. With a burning desire to serve the Lord, her life was one of rich and deep prayer combined with charity in service to others, including nursing those dying from the Black Plague that decimated Europe in the fourteenth century. Catherine also worked for peace between the republics and principalities of Italy and boldly counselled two popes while speaking on behalf of a unified Church in a time of internal discord. It was Catherine who through prayer and dialogue gave voice to the need for the Church to exercise strong leadership and above all seek unity in service to our Lord.

Saint Catherine is only one of so many women who have played indispensable roles throughout the history of salvation both before and after the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the first being of course Mary, Blessed Mother of our Lord and Mother of the Church. The Old Testament tells us about prominent women like Miriam, Esther and Deborah to go with the countless unnamed women who provided the strength of faith to their families and neighbors. The New Testament recounts both nameless women who became Christian through the preaching of Jesus and the Apostles and also names women such as Lydia, Susannah, Phoebe, and Prisca who were stewards within the young Christian communities. We can imagine that they were inspired too by the strength and faith of companions of Jesus like Martha and Mary of Bethany, as well as Joanna, Salome and Mary, the mother of James, each of whom with Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the Apostles, were the first witnesses to the Resurrection.

Not only are these women models of faith, but to their stories we add the succeeding chapters of women today whose faith and service make our parishes and communities places of hope. Next month, we highlight just two examples.

On this coming Wednesday, May 3, many will gather at the annual Hope Blossoms gala to support of the work of St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families, founded by the Daughters of Charity. For more than 150 years, unmarried expectant mothers have found at St. Ann’s the support and preparation they need to care for their children. St. Ann’s has also proven remarkably capable of creatively responding to the needs of mothers and children facing homelessness and women who have been victims of human trafficking.

On May 20, women from across the area will gather at Catholic University for the archdiocese’s fifth annual women’s conference. Capturing the joy of the Easter season, the theme is “Occasions of Grace.” Women will be invited to reflect on how they receive God’s grace in the ordinary moments of life. This conference is both a time to thank the women of this local Church for great service, as well as a time to come together in prayer and fellowship steeped in the life-renewing grace of Easter.