The gift of the Given leadership forum

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Attendees take notes during a June 13, 2019, GIVEN session at The Catholic University of America in Washington. The annual GIVEN Catholic Young Women's Leadership Forum is designed to help young adult Catholic women with a heart for mission and an aptitude for leadership identify their particular gifts and find practical pathways to put them in the service of the Gospel. (CNS photo/Sydney Clark)

Kathryn Jean Lopez“Discover the gift that only you can give, because of the gift that you are.” If you spend any time around the GIVEN Institute, this is what you’ll hear. About 130 young women immersed themselves in the message at GIVEN’s Catholic Young Women’s Leadership Forum at the beginning of June at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. After being interrupted by COVID-19 last year, it was the institute’s third forum, and each one is a sign of hope that God has not abandoned us and reaches into the hearts of young women, even as they are raised amid so much rot and confusion in our culture. They love God and want to serve him. 

The themes for each day typically are: 1) receive the gift that you are; 2) realize the gifts you’ve been given; 3) respond with the gift only you can give. It’s a recipe for some overflowing gratitude. It’s also a way out of victimization. Yes, terrible things happen in the world — and to us. Acknowledge this, seek healing as is appropriate — sometimes it’s prayer and friendship, and other times there is a need to seek professional help. And look to the cross. 

June is a month where we encounter “Love is love” in rainbow letters all around. Jesus Christ on the cross is true love — sacrifice and endless charity in the face of the greatest injustice. But we can’t receive that message about love if we don’t have the slightest clue about what our lives are about. 

Cicadas haven’t made their way to New York City, so I was expecting the worst plague as I headed to Washington, D.C., for a week. What I encountered were loud, large bugs that don’t appear to be equipped for life in this world. My experience of them was that these flying insects lack self-control, have little direction and are lost in the world, sometimes plunging into concrete suicide. I’m sure there is more to them than that, but that was my meditation. 

Don’t we put young people in similar positions? Some of the 17-year-olds I’ve seen getting abortions have been set up for something similar — the death of the greatest gift they can be given. If we talk about life as a gift and help young people see what gifts they are, maybe they could begin to cherish the life within them. 

GIVEN tells young women: You are a gift from the Father! God loved you into being, chose you to live at a particular moment in history, fashioned you in his image and likeness. You reflect a facet of the glory, the beauty, and the mystery of God. God made you totally unique — and your fingerprints bear witness to the wonder that you are, the only you that has been and ever will be! If he would take such care in designing the pattern of circles on the tips of your fingers, how much more the love of your heart? Your life is God’s pure, unmerited gift to you. Receive his loving affirmation — you are also a gift to him. 

The whole GIVEN vision is a gift of Pope St. John Paul II, who wrote in a meditation on givenness: “I will not play recklessly … not tousle … not ruin … not belittle … but raise up, praise, magnify … Totus Tuus. All yours. Yes. We must ourselves be a total gift, a disinterested, sincere gift in order to recognize, in every man, the gift that he is, and to thank the Giver for the gift of the human person.”

This message can change the world. Know it. Love it. Live it. Share it. For the greater glory of God. And as Sister of Life Mary Gabriel put it during an evening meditation, “The saints are sinners who didn’t let themselves get distracted by themselves.” When we focus on God as the giver of all good gifts, we don’t mess around as much.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.

Kathryn Jean Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.