Encountering God in a tangible way at women’s retreat

By Jessica Doherty, 7 July 2021
Musician Gen Lee from St Patrick's Cathedral, Parramatta, leads praise and worship during the Beloved Women's Retreat at St Finbar's Parish, Glenbrook, in June 2021. Image: Supplied


During a recent women’s retreat, participants were encouraged to encounter God in a tangible way, as well as sharing that they are not alone on their faith journey.

Women today have never had so much freedom, independence and opportunity, however, they have never felt so alone and dissatisfied.

We have so many voices competing for our attention. The loudest voices are the ones that are telling us we are not good enough, not funny enough, not pretty enough, not fit enough, or don’t earn enough. We are too much, too emotional, too conservative, too dramatic, too loud, too quiet, too outspoken. These voices are so loud today that we can’t hear the voice that matters the most – the quiet, still voice that calls us by our name – His voice that calls us The Beloved.

A few years ago, God planted a tiny seed in the smallest of cracks in my dry, weather-beaten heart. This seed was weighted with eternity and infused with grace and it drew me to pay attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, who was encouraging me to build good, faith-filled female friendships that could start a revival of Catholic Women who were not ashamed to stand up for their faith.

My main aim was for women to not feel so alone in their faith journey, so I began a podcast called Universal Sisterhood, where women can share their stories of faith, family and life.

Participants during the Beloved Women’s Retreat at St Finbar’s Parish, Glenbrook, in June 2021. Image: Supplied

In May 2018, I had an encounter with God in a very simple yet profound way. Standing at the base of Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) in the Northern Territory, I was struck by their enormity and the distance of the moon and realised that the God of the Universe, who created all of this, knew me.

He saw me and He knew my name. I felt so insignificant, yet so very known. I knew I was loved.

I attended a Blessed is She Retreat in Phoenix, Arizona, in February 2019, and knew then and there that this was what was being asked of me – to bring something similar back to the women of Australia – when women know they are truly seen, known and loved, they will do anything. Our Catholic Church needed this injection of faith, especially from women.

The Beloved Retreat was held at St Finbar’s Parish, Glenbrook, on 12 June 2021. The intention of this Beloved Retreat was to speak the universal language of the heart – God’s heart for us. It was no coincidence that the retreat was held the day after the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and on the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady.

My team and I were very clear on one thing – that the women were to feel loved in every detail of the day and were to encounter Our Lord in a tangible way.

Leila Abdallah speaks during the Beloved Women’s Retreat at St Finbar’s Parish, Glenbrook, in June 2021. Image: Supplied

We had speakers speaking on The Beloved, touching on different aspects of this. Sr Lydia Allen RSM, a formator at the Good Shepherd Seminary, Homebush, spoke on what it is to be ‘The Beloved’. Leila Abdallah spoke on being Beloved when it looks like you have been abandoned. Catholic musician Alyssa Agius spoke on sharing your Belovedness with your gifts. Fr Brendan Murphy, parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, St Marys, spoke on how God sees His Beloved.

All of these talks were incredibly insightful and were able to show that we are each called His Beloved, no matter our circumstances.

During the retreat, Fr Joseph Lam, parish priest of St Finbar’s Parish, celebrated Mass, and confessions were heard throughout the day by several generous priests. Gee Lee from St Patrick’s Cathedral Parish, Parramatta, sang us through the day with incredible praise and worship sessions both in the hall and church.

A special experience during the retreat was the gift of Eucharistic healing Adoration. Led by Fr Greg Morgan from the Archdiocese of Sydney, healing adoration is when Our Lord, in the Blessed Sacrament, is brought to every single woman. She, like the haemorrhaging woman, is able to reach out to Him in faith and ask Him to heal her. It was an experience that could live over and over again in my heart and mind, and is a remarkable way to experience the love of Our Saviour.

Women participate in Eucharistic healing Adoration during the Beloved Women’s Retreat at St Finbar’s Parish, Glenbrook, in June 2021. Image: Supplied

Over 100 women from all ages and stages in life and on their faith journey participated in the retreat. It was a truly powerful day, one which all the women would love to repeat again next year.

I have been blessed with wonderful, faith-filled friends and knew first-hand their blessing in my life and saw how much we needed each other, and how other women desired this. We are wired for community and connections and need these relationships today more than ever.

Jessica Doherty is the organiser of the Beloved Retreat. if you wish to stay in touch, please follow universalsisterhood_ on Instagram or listen to the Universal Sisterhood Podcast on Apple or Spotify. She can also be contacted by email on jessica@doherty.com.au


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