Women’s gathering explores ‘Bringing Christ to our Culture’

NEWTON -- While thousands flocked to the malls doing last-minute shopping on the final weekend before Christmas, close to 400 women came together to support each other and share their experiences as they strive to affirm life in all its forms.

This year’s Advent Breakfast Forum of Women Affirming Life, held at the Newton Marriott Hotel on Dec. 16, was entitled “Bringing Christ to our Culture.”

“It really is great to be together,” began Frances Hogan, president of Women Affirming Life (WAL), in her opening remarks.

Hogan spoke of the “responsibility” each woman gathered shares to “transform our culture -- the culture we find ourselves in -- into the culture of life.”

After Hogan’s opening remarks, Barbara Thorp, director of the Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach and longtime member of WAL, led the assembly in a short prayer service based on the “O Antiphons,” the traditional Christmas novena prayed during the final days of Advent.

After breakfast, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley addressed the assembly, noting the importance of celebrating the Advent season, despite the secular trappings of Christmas. He admonished the women to “have their eyes wide open” to Christ’s coming.

“Advent is about rescuing Dec. 25th and putting God back into the season,” he said.

In addition, Cardinal O’Malley added that “Advent is not just about looking back. We must be aware of the fact that the Lord is coming again.”

“2,006 years ago our God came into the world. He didn’t come disguised as one of us, He came as one of us,” the cardinal stressed. “God didn’t come so He could learn about our situation ... He came so we could get a glimpse of His love.”

The cardinal concluded his remarks reiterating his commitment to the work of WAL. “Know that you have my love, my support and my prayers,” he said.

The morning’s events concluded with a panel discussion moderated by Laura Garcia, adjunct assistant professor of philosophy at Boston College. Three women offered their perspective on ways of bringing Christ into the culture.

“What I find in working with college students is that there is a hunger and a yearning to find meaning in their lives,” began Kerry Cronin, assistant director of the Bernard Lonergan Center at Boston College.

Cronin spoke of the need to create nurturing relationships with young people. “The relationships we create with young people can help them,” she said.

“The most important thing I do at Boston College is not work on my doctorate, or to get good teaching evaluations, or even to teach Thomas Aquinas, but to enter into conversations with college students,” she told the crowd.

“In college life there is definitely a culture -- and it’s not often a culture we’re proud of,” she continued, adding that bringing Christianity into that culture is “to leaven the culture.”

“It’s not easy to invite people into God’s culture, but it’s more important than ever,” she added.

The second speaker of the panel group was Karin Venable Morin, a lawyer who has opted to stay at home to raise her five children. Morin spoke of the importance of living the “hidden role of wife and mother,” a role often devalued in modern society.

Choosing to stay home to raise children enables a woman “to truly focus on the faith and intellectual development of [her] children and their society,” Morin said. Staying home also enables her to volunteer her time and talent in her parish community, thus bringing Christ into her neighborhood as well.

In addition, Morin noted that “as parents we are indeed responsible for bringing the culture of life to our kids.”

“We have to get past the point of view that someone else is going to instruct our children,” she said, adding that nothing should ever replace the essential role of the parents in passing faith on to their children.

“Everywhere people have tried to substitute the family as the foundation will see this culture of life begin to crumble,” she said.

The final speaker of the panel discussion was Jacqueline Nolan Haley, associate law professor at Fordham University Law School and one of the founding members of Women Affirming Life.

“The way we hope to achieve to bring Christ to our culture is through prayer, education and witness,” she said.

In addition Haley spoke of the need to rely on hope, which is “truly an underrepresented value.”

According to Haley, certain current events such as the war in Iraq, the repercussions of the clergy sexual abuse scandal and recent court decisions are “certainly a reason to have a lack of hope in our collective psyche.”

Nevertheless, “having that hope brings you to interior peace, and a woman of peace can accomplish so much,” she said.

In order to bring Christ to our culture, we must pray, she said. In addition, Haley spoke of the need to evangelize, to bear witness to the culture of life with our lives.

Following the panel discussion, several tables were set up at the back of the room with various pamphlets, books and materials in order for people to get involved in their communities. As the women left the breakfast, they were invited to peruse the information.

“I look forward to this every year,” said Kristine Dematteo of Wellesley. “Sometimes it’s so lonely to think that you’re the only person who thinks this way but then, to come here, it confirms that I’m not the only person who feels this way about my faith.”

“This is a great reminder to try to bring Christ to my family,” said Ann Hunnewell, a mother of three from Dedham. “It will help me to have the confidence to show my faith to my children.”