During our first annual International Women’s Day Panel, you submitted so many excellent questions to our panel that we weren’t able to answer them all. So, we asked professional women from our GIVEN network to respond to them through our Blog! In this post (1 of 3) Meghan Cokeley, Director of the Office for the New Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, shares her thoughts on what inspires her, what keeps her grounded and how we can discern God’s will for our lives.
If you’re interested in hearing more from Meghan, register here to see her GIVEN Academy presentation!
This is the first article in the Q&A series.
What inspires you as a woman leader in your role?
Two of the things that I draw from the most in my work are the Church’s teachings on the feminine genius and also her teachings on the complementarity of men and women. Studying these teachings and letting them transform my life has afforded me a strong and persistent awareness of the gifts that I bring as a woman to every situation. When I am working with colleagues, including priests and even bishops, I am palpably aware that as a woman I have a way of seeing the world that is different from theirs and is necessary in order for any perspective to be complete.
And vice versa, through these teachings, I also know that I need the gifts of the men with whom I work who bring to discussions and planning a perspective that I cannot reach on my own. Being grounded in these teachings gives me an openness that I don’t think I would have otherwise: an openness to receive from the other the particular gifts he or she has to give and also an openness to the amazing ways that God may want to use me and my gifts for those around me.
I find that often I will think of my softer feminine nature in terms of weakness and fear that others won’t take me seriously. As a result, I’ll often fall into using a hard-nosed demeanor when in an uncertain setting. Do you have any advice for embracing femininity and its natural vulnerabilities in all circumstances?
At the root of a fear like this is usually a lie that needs to be renounced. For each woman this lie may be a little different. She will need to ask the Holy Spirit to bring to light the particular lie that is motivating her fear and her tendency to overcompensate through control. It may be the lie that “femininity is weak.” Or, “if I am truly myself, I will not be taken seriously.” Or, “being vulnerable leads to being taken advantage of.” Whatever the lie, we need to take our stand against them with Christ by deliberately renouncing them.
Along with renouncing the lies that empower our fears, we also need to grow in the truth of our identity as daughters of the Most High God. As we grow in relationship with God the Father, we begin to experience His great delight in our feminine nature, the way He cherishes our softness, our sensitivity and our vulnerability. We begin to understand that He made us with the precise intention to save the world through our unique gifts. As this truth unfolds in our life, it becomes the ground upon which we stand and engage in our work. When our self-worth is anchored here, we become far less dependent on what others think of us and have much less of a need to prove ourselves to others. In other words, our identity as beloved daughter of God diffuses the power of the temptation to grasp, control or strive. This is the truth that sets us free to give ourselves in all of the beauty and splendor of the way He made us.
How do you resist the urge to compare yourself with others, especially in competitive environments?
Competitive environments are often saturated with messages that aren’t true: “Your value is in your productivity.” “Results are what matter.” “You are not enough.” “The other person is a threat to your success.” One of the things we can do to root out the tendency to compare ourselves, is to develop a healthy “tone-deafness” to the false messages of a competitive environment and reinterpret them in the light of Jesus Christ. In Him, we do find a call to aim for excellence, to work diligently and to work hard. But we also find in Him the great call of charity: that my neighbor is not a threat but a gift, and that my work must never be at the expense of my humanity or my primary relationships. It is within this truth that we can then find our footing in a competitive environment because we are doing our work with and for Christ and are not answering to the impossibly high standards of the world.
How do you know if God is calling you to be consecrated or single?
A number of years ago, I was working with the Missionaries of Charity in one of their houses for the homeless. I was washing up some rags with one of the sisters and she was telling me about a young woman who had entered their community to discern religious life. She told me that at some point in the process, they discerned that she was not called to religious life and they helped her make the decision to leave. I asked her, “Sister, how did you know that she wasn’t called?” She answered me very simply, “Because she wasn’t happy.”
I never forgot that conversation because it revealed to me a very simple truth: that the will of God makes us happy. There is an Ignatian principle of discernment that goes something like this, “Follow the peace and look for the fruits.” If you sense that God might be calling you to the consecrated or single life, take a step in that direction. Seek out a religious community that attracts your heart and go on a discernment weekend. Set a lengthy period of time when you intentionally stop dating. Test out the inspiration through real, practical actions. And as you are taking those steps, pay attention to how your heart is responding. Are the fruits of the Holy Spirit appearing for you? Are you experiencing peace, love, joy, contentment? These are signs to keep moving in this direction. On the other hand, if you are experiencing inner conflict, anxiety or sadness as you take these steps, this may be a sign that the Lord is not calling you in this direction. It’s really important to have a good spiritual director to help you with this process. He or she can help you discern these movements in your heart so that you are following God’s lead wherever He wants to take you.
This is the first article in the Q&A series.
As the Director of the Office for the New Evangelization, Meghan’s main responsibility is to guide and support the 200+ Catholic parishes of the Archdiocese in the area of adult faith formation and evangelization. Meghan has a B.A. in Theology and a Master of Theological Studies degree from the University of Notre Dame. She earned Ph.D. Candidacy in Theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family at the Catholic University of America. In 2019, Meghan received the Benemerenti Medal from the Holy Father for her service to the Church. Before coming to Philadelphia in 2012, Meghan served in parish ministry as a Director of Religious Education and Catholic school religion teacher. She was born and raised in Somerville, NJ and is an aunt to seven awesome nieces and nephews.