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.