Let me say right now that I fully support and accept everything the Church teaches as true. If there is error in the following, please let me know.
Full disclosure, I’m not a theologian, and the following article is solely my opinion.
Now that that’s out of the way…
In my life as a Catholic woman (28, almost 29 years), I have noticed that in our beautiful, rich, life-affirming culture as Catholics in this country, certain phrases or sentiments have taken root in our lexicon that:
A) Over-simplify the truth to the point of becoming false, and
B) End up hurting people unnecessarily as a result.
Notice that in all of these statements, the problem in the second half of the sentence. We get the “what” right, but our “why” needs a little refresher.
Phrase #1: Women are sacred because they “bear life”.
Everyone assumes all women have wombs, and they extrapolate on that. (Example, Alice von Hildebrand in her final chapter of The Privilege of Being a Woman). “All women” have the capacity to bear children, therefore we’re sacred.
The problem: Women are indeed sacred—but not all of us have the capacity to bear children. In fact, not all of us even have wombs (I don’t). Not all of us are called to be physical mothers, and hinging our value on that doesn’t work. At best, it’s only hitting the surface, and ignoring the tremendous depth of what it truly means to be created female. At worst, it’s hurting tons of women who aren’t perfect and making them question their identity and sense of belonging as a daughter of the Lord.
Solution: Let’s avoid the kitsch and get right to the honest truth: Women have a beautiful calling from God to love and nurture and support and encourage and help everyone around them. God calls women to all sorts of beautiful vocations that reflect this: some to be mothers, some to care for the elderly, some to teach, some to guide, but all of us are called to LOVE.
Phrase #2: Marriage is like the Trinity because when husband and a wife love each other SO MUCH their love becomes a new person, a baby.
We’ve all heard it before, either in CCD, Catholic school, or even an occasional homily. It’s sappy, it’s cliche, and it’s not entirely true, either.
The problem: Here’s the thing: it’s true that marriage mirrors the Trinity, but this particular phraseology is ridiculous. The Father and the Son didn’t create the Spirit- the Spirit was there from all eternity. This statement sends the message that marriages to which God doesn’t grant children are somehow not complete, not successful, or worse, not even real. Furthermore, many beautiful, sacramental, fruitful marriages do not result in children (CCC 1654).
Solution: Let’s re-write this: “Marriage mirrors the trinity in that the love of a husband and wife radiates new life.” Marriage is life giving, but this doesn’t always mean physically. It means that the love in the marriage generates a spirit of love that spreads outward, affecting the world around them. And that is a beautiful thing.
Phrase #3: That’s a “Good Catholic Family” because they have enough children to fill up the pew.
This seemingly innocent phrase is commonly uttered regarding families with 6 kids under 10 with one on the way. Or, you know, a minimum of 5.
The Problem: NOBODY LIKES THIS. If you ARE a big family, you don’t want to be put on display, and you know that your life is far from perfect. You’re probably embarrassed when strangers say it.
If you’re NOT a big family, this kind of talk makes you feel like you are living contrary to God’s will. Almost every infertile or sub-fertile Catholic that I’ve met in my life has admitted to feeling supremely judged by their fellow parishioners. People assume that they are using contraception, or that they’re afraid to say “yes” to God, when really their “yes” just looks a little different. (Yes, I’ll accept this cross. Yes, I’ll accept another humiliating family gathering, Yes, I’ll accept another excruciating loss.)
This kind of talk, which is embedded into our culture as Catholics, is not only false, but also extremely hurtful all around.
Solution: Do we want to encourage the faithful living of vocations? Absolutely. Does holding up someone’s blessings as evidence of their faithfulness achieve this? NO. In fact, it borders on Osteen-esque Prosperity Gospel. Come on, people, we know how wrong this is. Think of the man born blind. Let’s talk more about the reality of life, the reality of crosses, the reality of holiness, and stop assuming things about other people, period. We know that blessings come because of God’s insane generosity, not because of our glittery awesomeness. Holiness comes from the cross.
9 thoughts on “3 Phrases About Catholic Family Life that Need to Change”
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I totally feel you on these!! Esp #2–as I read the similar words written in my CCD text book to my students year after year I can’t stop the feeling of shame that I haven’t been able to ever get pregnant 😦 And if I had a dollar for every time someone says “children are a gift” ….or “blessed with children”. YES they are certainly a gift and you were blessed with them and I love that people recognize that but it ALSO hurts my heart (I am astonishingly self-centered, I know) every time I hear it because it reminds me that for whatever reason God has said that’s not going to be my gift….
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Laura, I don’t think it’s self-centered to feel pain when your cross weighs down on your shoulder. Also- if you have to opportunity it round out that teaching for the kids and show them that the life marriage creates isn’t only about children, you could truly change the world for someone. I know God has a wonderful plan for you even if it’s not clear yet. Praying for you, and Merry Christmas! ❤
I agree completely! I don’t see anything here that is contrary to Church teaching, it is in fact (to me) the depth of the reality of what the Church teaches. Thank goodness, or I would have to find some different answers in my life. But, yes, we have to find a way to speak that teaches the beauty of new life and marriage and how that relates to God, but in a way that recognizes so many more people. All of those things are the only things you really hear, which leaves out those of us that are single (whether it’s because we’ve never met the right person, or we got divorced and are now living celibate or have same sex attraction but are trying to live out the Church’s teachings) or whether our family doesn’t look quite the same. Further, how does #2 really allow for adoption? We like to teach to the “norm”, but so few people fit the norm any more that a lot of people end up hurting worse than they already did.
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Thank you. It’s true- when we over simplify this stuff and leave out the depth it alienates people. Great point about #2 and adoption- I hadn’t even thought of that. Agree that teaching to the “norm” doesn’t work. We need to teach the whole truth. Imagine how things would be among Catholics if we did a better job of teaching the whole truth! ❤
Yes- speaking about #2 in this way does create confusion with adoption, and, I’d imagine, would even end up hurting adoptees unnecessarily.That’s totally why I wrote this. When we over-simplify things and leave out the complete truth, we end up with people hurting worse than they already did, as you put it. And thank you for pointing out how this negatively affects single people too! One of my friends in real life is struggling with a lot of these things now as her life isn’t matching the “norm”, and I find myself drawing on a lot of our exchanges to understand her better. So thank you! ❤
Nicely done, Connie! This brought so many thoughts to mind – excuse the rambling that is about to come!
1) I think we can say that all women are called to be motherly (and all men to be fatherly) – that of course doesn’t mean that we will all have/raise children, but it retains the deep-down distinction between men and women and the ways they love and care for others, and speaking personally, it helps me see ways in which I can be motherly (caring, nurturing, putting another person first, helping someone grow) – perhaps to someone elderly, not a child, or to someone lonely, etc. I like thinking of being motherly, and this challenges me to look outward and not get self-absorbed. Just a thought!
2) My understanding of the analogy of Father-Son-Spirit / Father-Mother-Child is that the love between the Father and Son is so REAL that it is another Person. (Not so much the “quantity” of love.) HOWEVER the first fruit of marriage is the marriage BOND (I put that in capital letters because I think it is just such an amazing truth :)) Something real and new and never-before-existing comes into the world on a couple’s wedding day. Of course there are so many other ways their love can be life-giving, like you said so well. But I personally really like thinking of the bond – it reminds me of how truly real our love is, the source of any other fruitfulness we have (children and otherwise).
3) Yessss to this! Every time I hear this I think of big Catholic families that are majorly dysfunctional or end in divorce or whatever, and think how unfair it is that simply by having more children than family X you get singled out for praise? When the family with 0 or 1 child has loved so beautifully and faithfully….it’s about holiness, absolutely.
Ok thanks for indulging my thoughts 🙂 A great post!
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Thanks Bethany! Sorry I’m just now responding. I love what you said, “the first fruit of marriage is the marriage BOND…” I’ve never heard it put in those words, even though I’ve lived it in experience. Beautiful and true and such a comforting thought!