Good evening, everyone.  This is Maribeth Stewart and it is my pleasure to welcome you to our May Monthly Members’ Call.  Our guest speaker is Father James Stembler, the NCCW Chair of the Spiritual Advisors. 

Father Stembler has had a long association with Council at many levels.  He started with his parish affiliate in 1990 and from there progressed to the deanery level.  After that, he was asked to work with the Diocesan Council.  He was next made the Spiritual Moderator of the then newly formed Province of Galveston-Houston.  A few years later, he was asked by several of the women to consider standing for the Chair of the Spiritual Advisors and he has been so wonderful working with us on the National level for nearly four years now.

Father often says that he truly loves being a priest and how much he has enjoyed working with the women all these years.  I am sure that I speak for so many when I say that it is we who are so fortunate to have had the blessing of Father Stembler’s presence with us on so many levels of Council but especially at the National level as he has been a voice of calm and reason for us and has provided the Board with beautiful liturgies and prayers for our Board meetings in Washington D.C. and at Conventions.

Presently, Father is the pastor of St. Gertrude Church in Kingsville, Texas in the diocese of Corpus Christi.  He also works with the Southwestern Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem as the Ecclesiastical Master of Ceremonies.

We are honoured to have Father as our speaker this evening and I now will be turning my phone to mute by pressing *6 and ask that everyone kindly do the same.  Father Stembler, thank you for leading our call this evening which you have given the whimsical title, Musings of the Chair of the Spiritual Advisors.  Father Stembler.

Father welcomed everyone and said how happy he was to work with us.  He opened the call with a prayer from Saint Augustine.

Father then provided a reflection on the period of time in which we find ourselves this week; between Ascension and Pentecost.  In the Ascension, Jesus was raised up to heaven.  He told the apostles that he was going.  That was very clear.  He prepared them for it and announced that the Holy Spirit would come to guide them in the work they needed to accomplish.  The Holy Spirit would tell them how to keep going forward.  It was likely that after three years with Jesus, the apostles did not want Him to go but they came to understand that moving the mission forward was now up to them.  It was easy for them when Jesus was with them and someone came to them with a question and they could say, “He’s the head of our group.  Talk to Him.”  Now it was not going to be easy.  It was all up to them.   Jesus had told them it would he hard and that they would be scattered but assured them that they would receive an Advocate that would help them keep the message of the Gospel alive, and that they should hold on.  Father said the Kodak moment of the Ascension would look like a pair of feet at the top of the photo and all the apostles’ Adam’s apples would be prominent as they strained to look up.  So, what did they do between the Ascension and Pentecost?  Pentecost is a Jewish festival but they had no idea that this Pentecost would be so different, so unique.  They went to the safety of the Upper Room and there, on the day of Pentecost,  they received the Holy Spirit which gave them the encouragement to go forth from that Upper Room.  They followed the Holy Sprit’s guidance as they moved the Church forward.  They scattered  to India, Egypt, Greece, and Asia Minor and shared the word of God.  Undoubtedly they needed to use different methods to teach to conform to various cultures and languages but they all gave the same message.  Though the methods were different, they were united in giving the same message. Then, around 15 years later, big trouble arose in the Church over whether it was required for Gentiles who believed in Jesus’ message to follow the Mosaic Law or not.  Big discussion and arguments resulted over whether the Gentiles needed to follow Mosaic Law.  A great impasse arose within the Church and there were strong differences of opinion on the subject.  Paul went to Jerusalem to ask the Church Fathers (the Apostles)  to discuss this question and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  The result was the Council of Jerusalem and a decision was reached on how the Church would move forward.  The beginning of the document from this Council should be used for all Church documents as it states, ”It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us…”  The Holy Spirit and of us; Perfect words.  This decision was not merely their own; it was their decision following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

Father has been meditating on this a good deal lately and it has become apparent to him that this is what our National Council is all about.  We all have a common mission and pursue it through different programs in different locations as we all move the mission forward.  We do what is needed and what works for our own area from all that National provides for us.  What works in Texas may be different from what works in Illinois, etc.   But we are all united by what is offered by National.  Like the apostles, we work in different ways according to what suits the needs of the area but we all work with the same message, goal, and mission.  We evangelize throughout the United States united in one mission.  He finds that as he gets a bit older, he is recalling the music popular in his teen years.  One song from the 60’s exemplifies what he means as the lyrics state, ”United we stand, Divided we fall, And if our backs should ever be against the wall, We’ll be together…”  Our NCCW is united in our mission.  He sees this as the greatest thing about NCCW all these years; Strength in our unity. 

So, this is what his muse has sent him for us this evening.

Next, Father reviewed the Job Description for Spiritual Advisors including what they are supposed to do in terms of supporting Council, giving spiritual advice and responding to other questions when asked.  They attend meetings and events, witness to the work of Council at all levels, attend Council conventions, must be willing to work with the women of Council to ensure we fulfill our mission, provide days of reflection, give a spiritual presence to meetings and never allow anyone to lose sight of the spiritual dimension of Council, even when Councils face difficult temporal challenges such as finances.  He noted that as Catholic women we are to “be in this world but not of this world.”  Spiritual Advisors should also notify Councils of special events in the local diocese.  They represent the bishop to the women in Council. If a Spiritual Advisor is doing his or her work well, we shall always have a meeting of Catholic women.  He noted that they are appointed by the local bishop.

Father noted that the Spiritual Advisor Directory is available on the NCCW website.  This enables better communication between the Chair and the other Spiritual Advisors and helps them stay connected with the membership.  He will be leaving his position in September and hopes that his successor will maintain or enhance this Directory.  Perhaps the new Chair will be a bit more advanced technologically (Father said that he still yearns for the days of 2 cans and a string but he’s not giving up hope of advancing in his knowledge of technology!). 

Father then said that they always have a meeting of the Spiritual Advisors at Convention where they vote on various items.  Only Diocesan and Province Spiritual Advisors have a vote as this ensures equal representation from throughout the country, an even distribution.

The call was then opened to anyone with a question or a comment.

Columbus:  Can we have the job description of the Spiritual Advisors in writing?  Father responded that he will make it available to the Board at the end of the month and the Province Directors will bring it back to the diocesan presidents.   It was asked if it was on the website.  Not sure but don’t think so.  He will give it to the Province Directors for dissemination to the women.

Jane Carter:  Commercial for Million Works of Mercy!  We need to overcome our usual reluctance to speak of the good we do and fill out those forms and send them in.  This unites us across the country in a common goal.  She is delighted to read the notes and of the works that come in to her by mail.

Father said that as this is the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we should note that each diocese has at least one Holy Door.  He suggested that it would make a wonderful spiritual event for a day of recollection: Visit a church with a Holy Door, learn about it and pray together.  Have about 6 months left to do this.

Florida:  At their diocesan convention, their Spiritual Advisor asked them to consider making a pilgrimage to a Holy Door on 15 August.  They are planning on taking the school children with them.

Father said that he is taking the older students from school in the fall.

Milwaukee:  Their Archbishop is conducting a pilgrimage on the corporal works of mercy, exploring one each month through visits to homeless shelters, food pantries, etc.  This is providing wonderful opportunities to participate in the corporal works of mercy.

Father: They had a speaker on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and he has been putting examples in the bulletin asking, “How are you fulfilling it?”  He has received interesting comments.

Michigan:  What is the usual length of time for a Spiritual Advisor to serve and how does the bishop select a Spiritual Advisor?  Father indicated that it varies from diocese to diocese.  Some may be time limited and for others, there is no time limit.

Father was asked if there was an active CCW in Corpus Christi.  Father responded that it is pretty active.  They lost some affiliates over the last 5-6 years but some are coming back as the President goes out to speak with them.  This provides an opportunity to see how to do things differently.

Milwaukee:  Their Spiritual Advisor has been with them for many years.  He retired from active ministry but wished to continue his work with the Council.  He is greatly appreciated by all.

Iowa:  A former member of St. Paul parish in Corpus Christi, Texas thanked Father Stembler for getting her interested in Council while she was in Texas.  Now she is active in her Council in Iowa.  Maribeth mentioned that, like these monthly calls, this is another indication of the scope of Council and a great benefit that wherever we go in our nation, we can stay with Council.  Father agreed and said that he enjoys meeting women from all over the country, making those connections and maintaining them.

Someone asked if there were nominees for the position of Chair of the Spiritual Advisors.  Father said that the By-Laws call for a slate of three.  We have three candidates and he will announce them at the Board Meeting at the end of May. He has told the Spiritual Advisors but the announcement to Council will be made official at the Board meeting.  Someone asked if one doesn’t have to be a priest to be the Chair.  They had heard that there were candidates who were women.  Over the past years, a number of (arch)dioceses and local affiliates have asked and received a woman religious or lay woman to be their Spiritual Advisor.  Therefore, they can put their names forward as candidates for the Chair of Spiritual Advsiors.   It was then asked who votes then?  Father replied that it would be the diocesan and Province Spiritual Advisors present at the Spiritual Advisor meeting at Convention.  The caller expressed the view that she and others to whom she had spoken feel that the Chair should be a priest.  Father said that woman have become Spiritual Advisors due to a number of reasons and that they are involved in the work of helping  their Councils.  A caller then asked if the Spiritual Advisors stand alone, separate from NCCW members. Father said that the Spiritual Advisors have their own set of By-Laws and they follow them.  There is a nominating committee of three who received the information and qualifications of the candidates.  Father had sent the call out for persons interested in the position three times and received the response from the last candidate about a week before nominations closed on 31 March.  He was then asked if a Spiritual Advisor had to be a (Arch) Diocesan or Province Spiritual Advisor to be Chair.  Father responded that it should be someone at least at the (arch)diocesan level as you really need more experience to be Chair than someone with experience at the affiliate level only.  A caller then asked if those were the qualifications, how could a woman be considered?  Father responded that we do have some (arch)diocesan Spiritual Advisors so they qualify.  A caller then asked how it would work to have a woman Chair when the Board needs someone to say Mass each day when they meet.  Father responded that this would be a challenge but that perhaps the Sisters at the Retreat House would know a priest who could come in or the Board could go to the Basilica.  It was pointed out that this would not work given the tight timeframe for the Board to get all their work done and that the Sisters have to go out to go to Mass when a priest is not there for a meeting or retreat.  It was also pointed out that this would not work at all during a blizzard such as was experienced this past January at the Board meeting.  Father responded that this would be quite a challenge but through discussion might reach a possible solution.  He then mentioned that the photo of him shoveling snow (for the first time) was still making the rounds in Kingsville!

South Carolina:  The caller noted that they have such a wonderful group of women and she finds it truly inspiring to belong to Council.  She wondered how to get around some pastors who don’t want Council in their parish as they fear it would take away the work the women do in their parish at present.  She asked how we can get them to see that we are all working together and that they should be helping to spread the word about Council.  Father said that he has gone with his diocesan officers to see the bishop on a yearly basis and asks what they can do to help the bishop.  This has lead to them co-sponsoring a Women’s Conference where they had a table with Council materials.  Their former Corpus Christi president goes to parishes on Sundays and asks to speak with the pastor and/or women’s group.  They found it works best to get the women’s organization on board and then speak with the pastor.  Father said we need to explain that the parish is the primary responsibility for the women but that they can use National’s resources and programs to enhance and supplement their work in the parish.  He also suggested having a day of reflection for the women in the diocese and drop gentle hints about joining then.  One thing that is important is that if you have a diocesan convention or meeting, invite all the priests especially the ones with un-affiliated parishes.  Let them get to know our mission and our work.  Break any preconceived notions through communication.  Janet indicated that she had just come from her convention prior to the call and there were 7 priests there: 6 parish priests and their diocesan Spiritual Advisor.  It was wonderful to see the priests there in support of Council.

After asking, Maribeth then said that since there were no other questions or comments, she was sure that she spoke for all when she says how much we appreciated Father’s time, reflection, and advice on the call tonight and all the work he does for Council.  Father said that he appreciates us –we keep him on his toes!

Father then closed the call by saying that this Sunday is Pentecost, the end of the Easter Season, the arrival of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  We pray for our Church to be the community of faith we are called to be; to reach out to others and help them to be a part of the community of faith.  We pray for vocations.  What have you done to help with vocations?  Pray for vocations.  Pray for our Church.  Pray for our NCCW.  The NCCW is moving in a very good direction but we cannot rest on our laurels; we must work hard to continue to do our best.  We pray for each other and our commitment to our work in the National Council of Catholic Women.  He closed asking that we pray the Hail Mary together.

We thanked Father again and said good-night.