By JEAN DRISKELL, Special to the Bulletin | Published August 4, 2016
SMYRNA—The Atlanta Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women held its annual leadership and networking seminar on Saturday, June 25, at the Chancery in Smyrna.
The seminar included talks on the structure and mission of the AACCW and servant leadership, a report on the National Council of Catholic Women, and the various duties of officers in the organization.
“If you are going to be a good leader, first you have to be a good disciple,” said Alycia Murtha, guest speaker and founding member of the Marian Franciscans, a private association of the Christian faithful in the Diocese of Buffalo, New York. This is a new community that is being formed within the Catholic Church.
Murtha is originally from St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro, where her mother and grandmother are members of the women’s council. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, with a double major in theology and catechetics.
Quoting from St. Luke’s Gospel, she said that Jesus told his disciples whoever wishes to follow him must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him.
“These are the three conditions of discipleship,” she said.
When Jesus first predicts his Passion to the disciples, Murtha said, “Jesus emphasizes that death, some kind of death, in discipleship is always necessary. If you are going to be a follower of Christ, some part of you must die.”
However, in the Transfiguration, the disciples are shown the glory that follows Christ’s Passion.
“It gives us an understanding that regardless of the depth that we must die, it is absolutely nothing in comparison to the glory in heaven, absolutely nothing,” she said. “It gives us the ability to see what we are gaining by what we are losing.”
Be humble, accept the cross
Murtha said that to deny oneself must involve the virtue of humility.
“We have to be authentic women,” Murtha said. “We need to be able to recognize our strengths and absolutely not, under any circumstances, be afraid to recognize our weaknesses either.”
Using St. Paul and his thorn in the flesh as an example, she said, “Do not think that God will not use your weaknesses to minister to the world. Do not think he won’t use you to glorify himself in and through you if you just simply allow him.”
Letting other people know laying down one’s life is hard lets them provide help and opens doors.
“Sometimes you need someone to walk with,” she said. Other people need to know it is OK to struggle, that you are somebody they can reach out to, rely on, and pray with.
In taking up our crosses, Murtha said, “we need to learn how to suffer well.”
“You cannot experience a resurrection, you cannot experience an Easter Sunday, if you do not experience a Good Friday.”
Murtha said that the culture tells people to push aside pain and suffering, but Pope St. John Paul II repeated the phrase of St. Augustine that “we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.”
She said in the Catholic Church you find the tabernacle and the crucifix: “Your food for the journey and the means of salvation.”
Bearing the crosses God has given them allows women to witness to the hope that they have in Christ, she said.
“You and I have a special place in this church,” Murtha said. “We have the ability to convey to (others) the strength that is found deep within us.”
She said that women can take this understanding of suffering and “turn it into joy and give that back to the world.”
Pope Francis has called on Catholics to live the joy of the Gospel and to do this one must have confidence, she said.
“Confidence is hope that is fortified by solid conviction,” Murtha said. “Our hope is in a Person and that Person is Jesus Christ.”
Healthy relationships needed
Murtha talked about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and that “we are called to wash the feet of every single person that we meet … because every person deserves to know their dignity as a child of God. We were created in love, by love, and for love.”
To be a good leader, she added, “we must be women of prayer” and steeped in Scripture and the sacramental life.
“Our prayer leads us to a relationship with God. If we share where we are at spiritually with people, they come to know Christ,” she said.
“To be faithful disciples,” she said, “be women of prayer. Speak truth. Be (the person) God created you to be so others may experience the love of God.”
In other presentations, Peggy Ashe, Leadership Commission chair, spoke on servant leadership and Deanna Holmer, immediate past president of the AACCW, addressed the structure of the organization and its commissions.
Ashe said, “True leadership is servanthood. Put others at the center of your decision.”
The role of the leader is to serve, sacrifice, love, and to let Jesus work within her, Ashe said.
Leaders need to be honest, trustworthy, good role models, caring and committed, she said, and they need to have healthy relationships, starting with a deep prayer life that is their relationship with God.
“All life is relational to God, self and others,” Ashe said.
Holmer outlined the structure of the AACCW, which starts at the parish level with the parish women’s council and then is divided into four districts: Northeast, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest. The AACCW is part of the National Council of Catholic Women and the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations.
There are three commissions in the AACCW, addressing spirituality, leadership and service.
“Each commission works to enhance activity, educate about issues, and empowers women to respond in faith, with justice and compassion,” Holmer said.