Katie spent her girlhood in a cult, where she was sexually wounded and nearly crushed by sorrow. Katie is here today because she belongs to a Father who turns tears into dancing and darkness into light. She earned her undergraduate degree in Theology from the University of Notre Dame, which is also the place where she met Jesus in the Eucharist and took Pope John Paul II as her spiritual father. Katie ministered at a Honduran orphanage, had her heart pierced in India, and served as a pro-life lobbyist before marrying and becoming a full-time mother. Amidst her days of washing dishes, chasing chickens, and kissing babies, Katie is earning her Master of Arts in Theology at the Augustine Institute. The mother of two precious toddlers and three babies who have run ahead to heaven, Katie lives with her beloved husband, Devin, on a farm outside Austin, Texas, and serves as the co-director of Feminine Genius, Inc.
This amazing article is the best one that I have ever read about the dilemma women face when choosing between self-fulfillment through career or self-gift through rearing children. It is an incredibly difficult choice for women and one that impacts others beyond us–our husbands, our children, society, the different fields (medical, educational, etc). As author Elizabeth Corey writes:
“Modern women are right to think that both the pursuit of excellence and the desire to care for others are part of a fully flourishing life. Excellence in a particular field requires persistence, self-confidence, drive, courage, and initiative. These are eminently admirable qualities. On the other hand, serving or loving another requires the even more admirable qualities of attention, focus, care, patience, and self-sacrifice. The accent we place on them, and the way we put them into practice, is a matter for all of us to figure out for ourselves.
But we must not deceive ourselves. We cannot happily harmonize these two modes or pretend that they are somehow the same in kind. The disharmony is most apparent at the extremes, when we observe the two modes collapsed into one sphere of activity. We have all seen, for example, the driven mother who can talk of nothing but her own successes and those of her brilliant offspring, or the woman continually distracted by her iPhone, unable to focus on her children as she waits for the next important message to come in. Something is profoundly disordered.
At the other extreme, we probably know many women who have chosen not to pursue their own excellence. Of course there are better and worse reasons for this decision, the most admirable of which is devotion to nurturing others. Yet this also comes with costs.”
Saint Teresa Benedicta tells us that women have an innate knowledge of how to foster self-fulfillment, as well as to how to bring to fruition the gifts of those in their care. That’s why women make excellent mothers, as well as excellent teachers, doctors, managers, and so forth. Women, by virtue of being women, are mothers. No matter what she does, no matter if she has birthed children or not, a woman has a feminine nature and that, in turn, entails maternity. Woman are ordered toward the bearing and nurturing of life, whether physical or spiritual.
The dilemma, comes, of course, when a woman who has a flourishing career in which her spiritual maternity is fruitful (such as teaching) is then blessed with physical maternity. Suddenly, this woman has to choose–will she leave her students to rear her baby? Or, will she retain these spiritual children by seeking the help of other caregivers for her own child? Many women are faced with this predicament and must choose.
The Church gives no clear answers about what women should do, offering only general principles regarding the dignity of women, the high value of maternity, and the right that women should have from pressure to return to their careers when they decide to rear their young children at home. The Church also defends the right of women to equal pay and safe workplaces; it praises women who bless society through applying their feminine genius to their careers. Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Women offers a balanced and positive perspective on women’s contributions to the family and society.
Society needs saintly women everywhere! We need holy women in the medical field, where weak, small, and voiceless humans are disregarded. We need well-formed women in education, where hurting children need a teacher who can also be a mother and authority figure. We need prayerful women in government, where the feminine gifts of communication, synergy, and a good moral sense are desperately needed. Imagine how transformed our society would be if saintly and well-formed women filled key roles in shaping economic policy, city planning, international relations, and the academy.
We also can’t ignore the reality that some women absolutely must work to help meet their family’s basic needs. We ought never to malign the efforts of our sisters who have no choice in whether they will stay at home to raise children or work outside the home. But too often, society encourages women to look to a career as their primary source of self-fulfillment, when the fact is, women are designed by God to thrive on relationships, not recognition. And there is no more intimate and fulfilling relationship than between a mother and her child.
Our children need us, especially when they are tiny. Mother’s intuition tells us when our babies are sick, even before the thermometer registers. It tells us that our child is not having a selfish tantrum, but actually is just tired and hungry (or reacting to that red dye in her Popsicle). Consider, too, that we seem to need our children as much as they need us. Women are not able to compartmentalize in the same way that men are, which is why we can’t focus on work when we know we have a child sick at home without us. We miss our children and ache to be with them and we can’t turn it off.
Corey acknowledges that full-time motherhood is incredibly difficult: “Although the rewards of caring for children are great, motherhood can also be tiring and frustrating, not to mention lonely. A woman must be extraordinarily self-assured to withstand the self-doubt that might cause her to wonder at times whether she has done the right thing.” Especially when children are very young, there is little time to pursue enjoyable hobbies or intellectual pursuits; most days are counted a success if everyone is fed, clean, and safe. Some days with children are extremely demanding and I know I can feel like I’m running a marathon, trying to stay ahead of my children as the day goes by. For those women who forgo a thriving career to raise children, it can help to remember that this demanding season of life won’t be forever. Children grow up quickly and the years come just as quickly in which a mother has more time to pursue her own interests.
“We are limited, embodied creatures,” Corey says. “These limits mean that we cannot do everything to its fullest extent at once, and certain things we may not be able to do at all.” She is right. As a full-time mother, I cannot excel as an astronaut, nor will I be named department chair at the UT School of Music. Such elevated positions require single-minded commitment and expertise in their respective fields.
But I can earn my Masters in Theology through a distance-learning program while the children nap. And I can live on a farm and keep sheep. And speak at Catholic women’s conferences on weekends and pursue my dream of starting my own clothing line after the kids are in bed or having time with Daddy. These ways of using my unique, God-given talents are still available to me even when raising children full-time. By prioritizing according to our vocation and the will of God, we can both lay down our lives in self-gift to our families AND be fruitful in ways that promote our own self-fulfillment. It’s that paradox laid out by Our Lord: that only in giving of ourselves can we find ourselves…only in offering ourselves totally can we be truly free.
Achieving this balance is no easy task and it is only accomplished when we constantly seek direction and grace from God. Every child deserves parents whose actions prove he is wanted and valued and every woman deserves the chance to express her own unique gifts to the world. Let us pray for one another, as we discern how best to love those placed in our care. Whether called to physical maternity or spiritual fruitfulness, a rich life of love and legacy, more beautiful we can imagine, awaits us.
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Last week, I stumbled across a blog post in which a Catholic feminist critiqued certain interpretations of the New Feminism and laid out nine suggestions that she thinks will refresh and direct its implementation. The author encouraged respectful dialogue about this topic, so I will respond to her ideas below, respectfully, of course. Let me begin, however, by sharing my personal history and how it has led to my ministry in Feminine Genius Inc.
I did not emerge from childhood as a skirt-wearing, Jesus-loving girl. I come from a really rough background, growing up in a cult where I was sexually wounded and taught through shaming and manipulation that my personal freedom was not important. Because of the weird religiosity of the cult, I was largely schooled by secular media regarding what it means to be a female. I took my fashion cues from Seventeen Magazine and my dating tips from Vogue. I had no guidance regarding the meaning of my body, or what to do with it, except from movies like “The Titanic”, which I definitely watched in the theater five times, “Something About Mary”, and “Shakespeare in Love”; I should add the caveat that I did learn one thing from the cult, which was that sex was BAD outside of marriage and that you were a sinner if you did it. Because, you know, that’s a really effective way to teach the virtue of chastity. Not.
So, as you can imagine, I made risky choices with my clothes and my body as a young adult. During my undergrad years at the University of Notre Dame, I acted in the way that I thought all normal young women acted, experimenting with alcohol and “hooking-up”, which in those innocent days only involved kissing. Despite being a successful student and active in various leadership roles on campus, I judged my value by the attention I received from male co-eds and viewed the value of my body in its capacity to attract admiration. I objectified myself and, while I appeared happy, I was in a good deal of personal pain. I compared myself to other young women and was deeply insecure, dabbling in punishing my body through depriving it of food and horrified of being “fat.” In addition to my body issues, I experimented with various philosophies and religious expressions. I was a “progressive” Catholic for a time, rallying for female priests at the Call to Action national conference in Madison, Wisconsin. I was a Marxist Catholic, volunteering among migrant workers in Naples, Florida and women and children in Honduras, as well as participating in anti-military demonstrations on campus and studying Dorothy Day, Gustavo Gutierrez, and Dan Berrigan. I stopped practicing my faith during my semester abroad in India and leaned heavily into Hinduism, exploring ayurveda and yoga. I searched the world round for the answers to my existential questions.
Thanks be to God, Who saved me. Through the power of the Holy Eucharist and the support of amazing friends, I began to experience love that I had never before known. And, when I encountered the writings of Pope John Paul II for the first time, I felt that here was the first man who truly understood me and who I could fully trust. He was my first true father and his call to the youth to be holy and brave resounded in my heart. I loved that man. He spoke, into my darkness and shame, words of mercy and flourishing, and I will be happy if the fruit of my life’s work consists in deepening his legacy. I am a child of generation X/Y who has come out of the culture of death into healing and safety. The Catholic Church is my family and my home. God the Father in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is my deepest comfort and source of life. I am one of those who Colleen Carroll Campbell calls “the new faithful” and my approach to the secular culture, as well as all those who do not share my faith, is not one of condemnation but missional hope.
Kendra’s background shares some similarities with mine, and I know that both of us approach our ministry through Feminine Genius Inc with a spirit of compassion, humility, and love. We know how we have suffered as a result of the lies told by our secular culture, and we know that so many women in our generation are, also, wounded. We minister in humility with a deep awareness that we are still very much learning and being formed in the truth; it is in this spirit that we offer our experiences with wearing skirts, for example, or with navigating the waters of motherhood, wifehood, and our own personal fulfillment. We are not dogmatic but hope to gently propose the healing Truth that we have encountered and invite others to experience it, too.
I understand that my feminist fore-mothers lived in a different time than I do, a time when misogyny and disrespect for the dignity of women where socially acceptable, even economically enshrined, and I appreciate the tremendous efforts that those women made to break through glass ceilings and open up boardrooms. However, as a student at Notre Dame, there was pressure on me to be “successful” in such a way that discounted the importance of rearing my children, as if that were not important enough; my friends and I worried that we we were being unfaithful and ungrateful to our feminist fore-mothers when we decided to be full-time mothers, rather than working at Deloitte, and I still receive scorn from secular feminists, as if my choices are not worthy of respect.
With that said, let me turn to the blog post that I read. The author begins by stating, “I will assume a readership that recognizes very serious problems with the very idea of a patriarchy, but which is also willing to take seriously the idea that one can truly be Christian and a feminist.”
Okay, let’s start with the term “patriarchy.” As a Generation X/Y gal, the word “patriarchy” doesn’t resound much with my own experience. I understand that second and third-wave feminists used the term “patriarchy” to mean “oppressive male authority”, but I find that use of the term imprecise. The official definitely of patriarchy refers to fatherhood and its leadership role, and, in my life that has been sorely lacking, except through good priests and God the Father. I think that holds true for many young women in my generation; our fathers largely failed to protect and empower us, and were absentee emotionally, as well as physically. I could go for a little more good fatherhood in my life. Therefore, I prefer more precise terms when referring to men, such as “misogyny”, “wounded masculinity”, “healed masculinity”, and “lust and objectification”. Men, in the universal sense, are not the enemy, and a term like “patriarchy” is emotionally loaded and seems to engender resentment toward men in general, which is not okay.
She then goes on to list nine suggestions for moving the New Feminism into maturity. They are as follows, with my responses immediately after.
1. “The New Feminism must be kind.” We agree. Every person is an equal Other who bears the image of God. Kendra and I propose to women the truths of the Gospel and the beauty of Catholic teaching but always do so with respect for the freedom of the Other whose duty it is to seek truth sincerely. One aspect of of feminist dialogue that Kendra and I find disheartening is the “mean girl” syndrome. If the pagans were converted by seeing how the early Christians “loved one another”, I would imagine that present-day pagans are pretty turned off by the way that Catholic women can ridicule and laugh at other women in ministry. Recently, Pope Francis preached about the way that hypocrisy among Christians undermines their witness, stating, “Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Church’s credibility.” Even if Catholic feminists disagree with each other on principle, they offer a poor witness to Jesus Christ when they don’t “walk the talk” in their manner of speaking about each other and respecting the dignity of the other.
2. “The New Feminism must take cognizance of Third-world issues.” We agree. We feel particularly passionate about working against human-trafficking, and Katie’s heart burns to reach out to women in Russia and in India, where she has spent time in previous years and where women are so often wounded and oppressed by misogyny and lust.
We think, however, that the author makes an unnecessary dichotomy, however, between First-world and Third-world issues when she writes the following: “That means we need to remember that such things as fashion codes and gender roles mutate according to culture, and that there are very, very, serious problems women elsewhere are having to deal with, which sort of undercut some of our worries about whether our prom dresses are modest enough.” We don’t agree with that. Sins against women are bad whether they happen at the prom or in a brothel in Thailand, and to make such a jab at the “modesty movement” in the United States is unnecessary and not practicing the very kindness that the author calls for. It is true, according to Catholic doctrine, that fashion codes and gender roles mutate according to culture…somewhat. It depends upon what she means by “fashion codes” and by “gender roles.”
3. “The New Feminism must be academically rigorous. That means that we need to start engaging with fields of thought such biology and anthropology, that can help us check our assertions.” We agree. Our faith teaches that the sciences of biology and anthropology are to be respected and studied and that God’s Truth never contradicts itself. However, it seems to me that many scientists in our day, whether in the social sciences like anthropology or the life sciences like biology, espouse a materialist nominalist view of the human person and of the created world; so, we read the hypotheses of these scientists with an awareness of the philosophical hermeneutic, and we remember the exhortation of Pope John Paul II in Fides et Ratio to direct all scientific inquiry toward the ultimate good of the human person which is the Truth about God, stated in this passage:
Anthropology, logic, the natural sciences, history, linguistics and so forth—the whole universe of knowledge has been involved in one way or another. Yet the positive results achieved must not obscure the fact that reason, in its one-sided concern to investigate human subjectivity, seems to have forgotten that men and women are always called to direct their steps towards a truth which transcends them. Sundered from that truth, individuals are at the mercy of caprice, and their state as person ends up being judged by pragmatic criteria based essentially upon experimental data, in the mistaken belief that technology must dominate all.”
As devout Catholics, we delve a little deeper when scientific “discoveries” surface that contradict the tenets of our faith. We want to help women direct their steps to the Truth which sets them free, that Truth which Jesus Christ offers through his Church, and are confident that good science corresponds with the truths of our faith.
4. “The New Feminism must shed the idea that most women in the world right now are godless relativists.” Kendra and I don’t think that most women are “godless relativists.” Women have a natural affinity for the spiritual and are very rarely “godless”; many women in our day, however, are not grounded in the Truth that offers freedom and flourishing and practice the superstitions of neo-paganism, pantheism, and spiritualism. While each of these spiritual groups may offer certain attractions, it is only in the Catholic Church that the deepest freedom of each man and woman is protected and taught, and we propose to every woman the fullness of joy in the heart of God the Father through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit where she will find perfect love and everlasting mercy and tender healing.
5. “The New Feminism should be active and public.” We agree with this and do our best through our little apostolate to host public events and engage in public discourse.
6. “The New Feminism should be pluralistic. We should remember that not every Christian woman is white, middle class, and English-speaking.” Absolutely. Feminine Genius Inc would love to partner with our Christian sisters of other denominations to eradicate sex-trafficking, violence against women, abortion, and so forth. However, as we minister in humility, we also know that we have limited resources of time and energy; while we are open to working inter-denominationally and while we laud the beautiful ministries supported by our Christian sisters, we do our best to minister where we are and to the neighbors in our midst. If the only women we reach are Catholic, we trust that Our Lord will send other laborers to other harvests and don’t need to worry about reaching every community.
7. “The New Feminism needs to very seriously question the traditional gender roles and stereotypes that have been placed on women for
centuries in thisculture and in others.” The term “gender roles” is imprecise and I wonder what the authormeans by questioning traditional roles. Does she mean that women should have equal employment opportunities as men and that women should fill engineering job, construction jobs, military roles, and so forth? Or, is she referring to “gender roles” like the notion that only women birth children and nurse them. This traditional gender role, of course, is now obscured in secular culture by sex change operations, which allow a woman to become a “man”; however, the woman who has undergone the operation still may retain her uterus and mammary glands, as was a case that gained national attention, where the “husband” carried “his” baby girl to term. “He” argued that he was a man and that being pregnant and giving birth did not make him less than a man and his claims were supported by laws and court decisions; “he” is legally a man married to a woman but, because his wife is infertile, he bears the children for the family.
So, first, let me address the question of changing gender roles through changing bodies. Pope John Paul II, in his theology of the body, stated that the body expresses the person, echoing ancient Catholic doctrine articulated by Saint Thomas Aquinas as “anima forma corpis” (the soul is the form of the body). I understand these statements to mean that I am my body and that my body says something about who I am interiorly, in my soul. If I have the body of a female at birth, I am a female; my female body expresses truths about my feminine soul, such as that I am spiritually inclined to mother nascent life, physical or spiritual, and am naturally gifted at sustaining that fragile life. In this view, which I understand to be the orthodox Catholic position, when a woman feels like she really is a man, her feelings are a sign of a serious psychological and emotional-spiritual wound, rather than a sign, as our secular culture believes, that she really out to be a man. As a woman who was sexually wounded in childhood, I can really relate to women who reject their femininity, seeing it as a liability and a weakness, and who posture themselves as men. At Feminine Genius Inc., we pray for such confused women but we stand with the Church in believing that sex changes do not solve the real dis-order within a woman’s heart and soul. Women who are wounded and confused about their identity need healing from God and a good psychologist, not operations.
Now, with regard to questioning traditional gender roles by encouraging women to excel in Calculus and chain-sawing and krav maga, we stand with the Church in supporting those women. Pope John Paul II in Mulieris Dignitatem, as well as Saint Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta) in her Essays on Woman, encouraged women to participate in all levels of society, in business as well as government. The beautiful distinction that Pope John Paull II made, reaffirming the thought of Saint Edith Stein, was that, whatever a women does, what matter is WHO SHE IS. Pope John Paul II repeatedly reaffirmed in Mulieris, as well as the theology of the body and in his “Letter to Women”, that a woman is always a helpmate (bride) and a mother. Whether spiritually or physically, the woman only flourishes when she acts out her spiritual motherhood and spiritual companionship through her work. If a woman is a computer software engineer, Saint Edith Stein writes, she will only truly enjoy it if she can connect it to personal values and see her work as a service to others. Women are only truly fulfilled through abstract work if they can somehow make it concrete and particular through connecting it to persons. It is this tendency of women to seek the personal and the particular-concrete that Pope John Paul II called the “feminine genius”. At Feminine Genius Inc., Kendra and I seek to empower women as women, in their spiritual maternity and companionship, whether they work as teachers, artists, doctors, city planners, or full-time mothers.
8. “The New Feminism should involve itself with religion on a personal level – that means that we move beyond the idea of a church as just an authoritarian governing body telling us what to do, and instead take cognizance of ourselves as women in relation to the person of Jesus Christ.” I hope that I have already made clear that the Feminine Genius Inc. is grounded in a personal encounter with Jesus Christ; however, we don’t view the Church as an authoritarian governing body telling us what to do. We view the Church, as I have already said, as our sanctuary and mother, as our wise teacher and field hospital.
My journey, through Marxist pacifist progressive Hinduism into the arms of Jesus in the Eucharist, taught me deeply to believe and trust what the Catholic Church teaches. She is wise and very ancient. Her doctrines offer the clearest and most beautiful explication of what it means to be human and to be truly free. The mission of Feminine Genius Inc. is to lead every woman to the fullness of joy in the heart of God the Father in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, and we cannot do that apart from the Church who is the Eternal Bride and guardian of the Sacraments.
9. “This means that the New Feminism should try to find new ways for women to be genuinely involved in church affairs. What about involving women in magisterial and administrative roles, since – unlike the administering of the sacraments – these are not required to be done in persona Christi? We should recognize that while there are enduring teachings of the church that are not going to change, there may be traditions and disciplines that SHOULD be changed. What about restoring a female diaconate, for instance?” At my parish in small-town Texas, the only male in magisterial and administrative roles is our pastor, Father George. Women are the office managers, the events schedulers, the choir director (and, oh what power she holds, as she chooses every week songs that support her particular theological biases and forces us to sing them; Saint Augustine said, “He who sings prays twice” and if the law of prayer is the law of belief–”lex orandi lex credendi”–our dear choir director is one of most powerful catechist at our parish), the DRE, the volunteer catechists, the lectors, the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and so forth. It would be a blessing to the parish, I think, to have a few more males in leadership roles, in order to foster the complementary gifts of men and women and bring a bit more balance to parish ministry.
I know that this is not the case in Vatican City, however, where it appears that men outnumber women, and I agree with the author that it would be a blessing to Church governance to involve women more at the Vatican.
As for the female diaconate, I think that if we are honest about history, we have to admit that evidence of female deacons seems limited to the role of preparing female catechumens for baptism. In the early Church, baptism involved full immersion in nothing but one’s proverbial birthday suit, and Catholics then thought it best to have women undress women. There are volumes to be written about the gift of women in the Church in areas other than ordained ministry, but I will simply close this section by highlighting Pope Francis’ interview in America magazine, where he said the following, “Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity. ”
I like this statement. I like how the Holy Father distinguishes here between function and dignity. I think that, when we women believe that we won’t be fully equal to men until we can do all the same things as men, we fail to recognize our particular charism and ministry in the Church. I do not think that ordained ministry will truly foster female flourishing, but I will save further comments on that for a later post.
I hope that this response to the blog post fosters deeper mutual understanding and is the beginning of an ongoing conversation between committed Catholic women. I know that both the author and I want women to flourish and be truly fulfilled and, while we might disagree about the means to promote that flourishing, we can pray and work together to strengthen the Church and evangelize our culture.
I’m writing today to all the single Sistas. Girls, it is so hard to be single. It is hard because it can feel like there’s not quite a place for you in the Church. It is hard because there IS a place for you in secular society, but it is a place that is not worthy of you. I speak of the Cosmo girl that society tells you to become, if you want to be truly happy, and we both know that Cosmo girls, God help them, are not happy as they seek their next “mind-blowing” orgasm.
First, however, let me start by stating my thesis. My point in this post will be to explain what is the blessed place of single/virginal women in the Church and society, and, if you are single and aching for your vocation, to encourage you to consider the beauty of where you are at this moment.
Let’s begin with a quote from Gertrude Von Le Fort’s little masterpiece,The Eternal Woman: “The one whom we negatively call the unmarried woman is, in a positive sense, the virgin. In other times, the virgin held a position of dignity. Not only does Christianity approve of her, but many of the values that it emphasizes have been anticipated also in pre-Christian times. Names of mountains and of constellations claim the virgin; while her character as expressed in Diana or a Minerva, though differently conceived and motivated, is in a natural sense no less impressive than a Christian saint…Her inviolability, which, if it be purity, always includes a depth of pain, denotes the sacrifice that is the price for an insight into the infinite value of the person. This explains why the liturgy always places the virgin beside the martyr who, like her, bears witness to the absolute value of the soul in the holocaust of his/her earthly life…For the woman who does not recognize in her virginity a value that has its relationship to God, the unmarried state and childlesness are really a profound tragedy…Once we acknowledge the religious import of the virgin, we easily understand her temporal significance. The virgin who sacrifices marriage and motherhood in order to represent the worth of the solitary person secures by this very renunciation both marriage and motherhood…Virginity, then, denotes in a special manner a capacity, a release for action…Thus, the woman whose strength is not limited to her own generation, rightly and naturally feels the urge to make her own contribution toward the historical and cultural life of her people.”
Okay, that is a long quote. Let’s unpack it. First, I like how the text identifies the value of virginal women who, by virtue of their freedom from responsibilities to husband and children, can do mighty deeds, like Joan of Arc, and move Popes, like Catherine of Siena. Single women, because of their freedom from the constraints of marriage and child-bearing, are able to love everyone. They have time for their friends, for their nieces and nephews, for the work, and for volunteering. If you are a single woman, you are able to mother everyone, rather than just your own children. I’m being a little narrow here, obviously, because every woman is a mother by virtue of her femininity, and women who have children to certainly love on people beyond just their own families, but you see where I’m going with this.
Single-ness, and I am using that interchangeably with virginity here, opens before a woman the opportunity to serve God in unusual and extraordinay ways. A single woman, like Katie, can adopt an entire orphanage of children. She can be a doctor who gives all of herself to her patients, seeking new cures and providing round-the-clock assistance. Watching the video below makes me want to be single and go to Africa and love on babies.
Women who are married and have children cannot do these things. Society tells us that we can have it all, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that babies need their mamas all the time; it would be an injustice to my children, as well as my husband, if I adopted an entire orphanage. My children need me to love them in a particular way, and my husband needs to know that he is a major priority. As a married woman, I cannot give myself universally in the same way that a single woman can, and that is a pain for me because I see the world wounded and dying, but I must be faithful to the vocation and that means being faithful to making lunch and changing diapers and feeding the dog and loving my husband. My point is that either vocation, married life or single/virginity, entails giving up something in order to be fruitful in some way.
Another aspect of the above quote that I appreciate is Von le Fort’s recognition of the sacrifice that singlehood/virginity implies, as woman’s unfilled longing for the comforts of husband and babies translates into “a release for action.” If you feel called to marriage but, despite all your prayers and best efforts, you have not yet met your husband, it hurts. There is an ache in you for the comforts of home and family, and I am just so sorry that your prospects are so few. When Gertrude Von le Fort wrote The Eternal Woman, there were few marriageable men because so many of them had died in World Wars I and II. In our day, there is a different reason for the lack of good men.
The awful fact is that nearly one-third of our generation has been aborted, which means that one-sixth of men who might have been marriage material are not here today. God have mercy. In addition, the men who are alive today are largely handicapped, emotionally and spiritually; they have been fed a steady diet of pornography, video games, alcohol, and sports-addiction, and each of these fosters men who live in their heads or on the computer screens. Men, who are naturally inclined by God to action and bravery, have been largely reduced to Peter Pans who are unable to pursue a marriageable young woman with the intent of courting her and winning her hand. Wow, that sounds harsh. I think that I feel so much frustration on behalf of the beautiful single women I love, women who go on dates with “good Catholic guys” again and again and feel disappointed every time. It seems like there are few men who actually know what they want and who know how to deliberately pursue it. But, please forgive me if I speak without mercy or without a balanced perspective. I know that there are many men who seek God’s plan for their lives, but it can seem like there are so very few.
Which is why y’all need to become saints. “Right,” you say. “Thanks a lot, Katie. Not!” But, I’m really serious. One of the primary gifts of women is to sacrifice for those we love, right? We have an extraordinary capacity to “hold the tension”, as Heather King says, to make up for what is lacking in others and to stand strong if there is an emergency. And, ladies, if there ever was a time when heroic women needed to stand in the gap, it is now. Our world seems to be falling to pieces–families breaking up, sex-trafficking rampant, abortion, pornography, and so forth. If the man who God intended as your husband has failed to find you and failed to be worthy of you, then please consider offering the pain of your vocational longing as a prayer for our dying culture.
The only answer to the wounds in our world is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the only way that Jesus is going to be made present in that world is if you become a saint. Jesus needs you to become a flame, to be set on fire with His love, and to draw others to your warmth. Love, eternal and merciful and tender, is the only antidote to our culture of death, and when you cooperate with God’s plan to make you a saint, you become “walking Love” for others. If Our Lord has allowed you the deep suffering of having an unfulfilled vocational longing, the only way to make sense of it is to offer it up; you take every tear, every lonely Valentine’s Day, ever year of fertility that slips away, and you offer it to the Lord, asking Him to make it fruitful and beautiful. There is no other way to peacefully bear your singleness.
My dear dear Sistas who are single, please know that I ache right there with you. I see how beautiful you are and worthy of a good man and what a wonderful mother you would make, and I am so sorry. I pray for each of you. Amen.
Raise your hand if you love having your period. Really. I mean it. I know that we make all sorts of jokes about our monthly menstruation, saying funny things like, “I’m on the rag.” or “Aunt Flo is visiting.” And, for some of us, monthly menstruation is a time of excruciating pain, as well as crushing disappointment at yet another negative pregnancy test. But, what I will propose in the following blog post is that we offer our period each month as a time of prayer and reparation.
If you’ve read “The Red Tent” or the book of Leviticus, you know that ancient societies like the Hebrews were very suspicious of a woman’s monthly blood. Menstruation was considered a source of uncleanliness in women, for which they were isolated away from tribal life and marital relations. (I know this “unclean” label sounds terrible, but I can’t help but wonder if ancient Hebrew women laughed quietly to themselves as they headed off to the menstrual tent, knowing that they were about to enjoy five days of girl talk, frequent naps, and chocolate while their husbands picked up the extra work at home.) If a menstruating woman touched a warrior’s weapons, they would have to be purified. And, if a husband had sexual relations with his menstruating wife, he would have to be ritually purified.
This negative view of the female body even persisted in the Catholic Church during the early years of Christendom, with a certain squeamish suspicion of all things physical promulgated by the ever-lingering heresy of Gnosticism, even amongst devout Catholics. In contrast to most people of her day, my favorite Saint Hildegard of Bingen wrote about female menstruation with clinical calmness and theological orthodoxy; unlike most of her religious peers, she harbored no suspicion of the body and repeatedly praised God’s design in the female body. I love that woman.
So, if you shudder when you think about having your period, you might be subscribing to ancient prejudices against your own body. Or, another reason for your repugnance may be because you equate menstruation with suffering. I know that some women have terrible cramps and excessive bleeding when they menstruate, while others who struggle with infertility view their period as another failure to conceive. If that is the case, I am so sorry. I remember buying my first pregnancy test after my first month of marriage, so hopeful and eager, only to see a negative result; little did I imagine the long years that lay ahead before I would be blessed with a baby in my arms, and I understand the grieving that happens each month when one desires pregnancy but has a period instead. If you have these issues, please know that your pained menstruation and your infertility are not normal and are a sign of a physical problem, such as endometriosis or hormone imbalance, that can be remedied. Your NaPro doctor can help you to chart your cycle and can diagnose and treat your difficult periods with natural hormones or other gentle and natural means. The Pill is not the answer to painful periods, and if you have a doctor who will only prescribe the Pill for your menstrual issues, I encourage you to seek a NaPro doctor.
What I would like to encourage each of you to consider, as you read this, is offering your monthly period as a time of prayer and penance. Whether it is for you a week of pain or tears or only relative inconvenience, every month you have a beautiful opportunity to “offer it up.” I say this from my experience in pro-life ministry, as well as my own infertility pain, namely, please consider offering up your cramps and discomfort as a prayer. As a prayer for the woman who rejects her fertility and has had her tubes tied. As a prayer for the woman who rejects her baby and has an abortion. As a prayer for the woman who contracepts. As a prayer for the woman who is infertile. Each month, as your uterine lining sheds, I encourage you to ponder the beautiful mystery of that and to offer that up as a prayer of thanks to God. This blood is a sign that you have the God-given capacity to offer hospitality to a tiny child in your uterus and that your feminine fertility mirrors the life-giving action of God. When we bleed each month, we can say with Jesus, “This is my blood, given up for you”, and we can offer our menstruation as a sacrifice for those who cannot bear children and for those who reject their children and their fertility.
Today, I will highlight the way that Satan deceives our minds in order to trigger negative emotions and lead us into discouragement, and, ultimately, despair. In the last two weeks, I’ve had at least three conversations with women who are beautiful, blessed, and economically comfortable; yet, each of these women was in great distress, sharing with me emotional pain such as sorrow at not being married or fear of miscarrying or regret at sinful choices. And, while these women were not sinning in their fear and sorrow, they had allowed their peace to be taken from them by the Enemy who plays with our heads.
Before we go on, let me interject a little metaphysics; metaphysics is simply a fancy word that refers to who a person is psychologically/spiritually/in their inner self. Metaphysically speaking, therefore, it seems to me that one of our dominant female weaknesses is inconstancy, namely, the temptation not to remain faithful to God and continue to believe that we are loved. Women need to love and be loved. It is our primary vocation, given by God at the first moments of creation, and is summed up in the titles “helpmate” and “mother”. God offers woman to man, and, in some sense, to every person she meets, as helpmate who provides support and encouragement; this vocation is closely tied to that of mother, whether spiritual or physical, who draws nascent life into fullness and offers her energies to sustain and nurture that life. These dual vocations of mother and helpmate are bound up in the feminine genius. Pope John Paul II coined the phrase “feminine genius” to describe woman’s natural talent for relationship, for identifying the human dignity in every situation and emphasizing that personal dignity over economics or convenience. Feminine genius guards women from treating others as objects or from using others for their own gain.
While we females are relational geniuses and while we thrive on love, it is very difficult for us to steadfastly believe that we are loved, no matter what. This is because we are daughters of Eve; we bear Eve’s curse, which includes the propensity to listen to the Serpent when he lies to us that God is not real and that we are not precious. Here is how Satan works against women. It is the method he used with Eve, and he continues to use it successfully against women every day. First, he attacks woman’s thoughts with a lie, such as “You are never going to get married because God doesn’t have a wonderful plan for your future.” At that moment, unless a woman quickly takes that thought captive and intentionally thinks the Truth, like “God loves me and I entrust myself entirely to Him. Jesus, I trust in you.”, her emotions will start to react. She will become sad at having an unfulfilled vocation and frightened of spending her life alone. Those emotions will quickly snowball and before she knows it, she might start to think about all the reasons she has to be sad, such as the job she hates and the fight she had with her friend last week. Suddenly, life can begin to seem unbearable, and her feelings lead her into discouragement. This malaise of discouragement, if allowed to grow, will spiral into depression and, if not stopped there, ultimately, despair. Despair is a sin; it is the sin of believing that God does not love me and that my circumstances will never change, which is simply not true. And, despair can lead to awful things, including suicide, eating disorders, escapism through alcohol or sexual promiscuity and so forth.
Now, please know that I am not condemning female emotion, nor am I saying that sorrow and anger are bad. Emotions are neither bad nor good. Emotions simply are; they are raw energy which cooperates with our intellect to move our will to action, and they are not sinful. However, very often we allow our emotions to be roused unnecessarily and we suffer needlessly when, if only we had caught the Lie an hour ago, we would not be in tears on the floor right now. We let the Deceiver trick us again and again and allow our emotions to be triggered. And, while emotions are raw energy that is non-moral, they do take a toll on us, leading us through a veritable roller coaster that drains our energy and makes us grouchy with our families and co-workers.
It is amazing how much damage can be started by one deceptive thought. And, we fall again and again, allowing lies to infect our minds and to steal our peace. Everything might be great–my husband and I are in an affectionate season, my children are healthy, I feel pretty, and I feel close to God. Then, tomorrow, I might see a woman whose diamond ring is bigger than mine and, if I don’t catch that thought of jealousy, I might end up with feelings of resentment toward my husband for not having more ambition and with feelings of frustration that I don’t have a bigger house and, suddenly, I hate my life and am feeling tempted to drive to the airport and fly to Italy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve let the Serpent’s thoughts into my mind and ended up with wild desires to drive to the airport. Seriously.
So, what I propose is that we put on the armor of God mentioned in Ephesians 6, most especially the Helmet of Salvation. The helmet of salvation is Truth, truth about who God is and who I am in Christ. God is Love. God the Father is visible in Jesus Christ. God wants my good. I am willed for my own sake, and I am not forgotten. Etc. These are a few of the truths that I often have to repeat in my head as I hold back a barrage of Deceptive thoughts. Some days, when I am especially tired, the thoughts come like an assault, and, if I am not careful, I will be almost immersed an emotional response before I even realize what is happening. On days like that, when I know that I am especially at risk, I put the Helmet of Salvation on tightly and turn off my mind. I refuse to think about the future or what I wish for my life and repeat doggedly, “Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you.” As if holding off the barbarian hordes, I keep my head down and pray over and over, “Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner”.
I will close with this anecdote about Saint Therese; please pardon the rather vague paraphrase. Basically, when Saint Therese felt distressed, she would say, “Jesus, I know that you are asleep in the stern of the boat, and I am not going to wake you up. I am going to trust you and let you sleep.” That is beautiful. And, that is the sort of trust that God hopes from us, that, just because circumstances are frightening today, we remember the peace and joy of yesterday and hold onto the blessings that we have received and refrain from accusing Christ of failing us. Please, dear sisters, be brave and strong and take thoughts captive that are ugly and untrue. Guard against thoughts that are anxious and that dread the future. Guard against thoughts that lie to you. Do God the service of being faithful to Him in your mind and emotions, even when the world seems to be falling to pieces all around you.
Put on your helmets of salvation, ladies, and hang on to the truth!