3 Phrases About Catholic Family Life that Need to Change

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.

Someone Much Greater Than Me

Someone Much Greater Than Me

Ok, as promised, a post about my veil experience.

Let me start with the fact that in nearly 27 years of existence on this earth and as a Catholic, the only times I have ever worn a veil to Mass were for the sacraments of First Communion and Holy Matrimony. That’s it. A 2nd grader excited to dress like a bride, and an actual bride.

Other than those two events, I’ve never even thought about it. Growing up, my mom told me pre-Vatican II Catholic school stories of teachers bobby-pinning a paper-towel to her head at the last minute for Mass. Vatican II meant no longer having to wear yucky and embarrassing brown paper on your head. Yay for the better world we live in today!

I don’t want to get into a discussion of the wherefores and why-nots of wearing veils to Mass. Personally, I’m fine when people do. And it’s not really for me, because being as ridiculously self-conscious as I am, I hate the idea of drawing attention to myself (this girl feels nervous when her husband starts shouting talking loudly in a noisy restaurant).

Then I had my Burning-Bush moment.

Honestly, I know no other way to describe it.

It was a Thursday evening, about 6:15. The church was dark, except for the red candle near the tabernacle. As I began to pray, I felt this overwhelming sense, “Cover your head.” I mean, it came out of nowhere. I happened to be wearing a hoodie. I hesitated. “What would someone think if they saw me? Would they think less of me and think I was some kind of nut? Or would they think me more holy than I deserve?” “Stop worrying. Cover your head.” I put the hood up. It made me think of the way that God told Moses to take off his shoes in his presence in the burning bush. And then I felt at peace. Who cares what anyone thinks. Pride is my greatest struggle, I think. I prayed about that. And when I looked at the time, three quarters of an hour had passed. It was the most profound spiritual experience I’ve had in nearly a decade.

I know some modern Catholic authors say that women should wear veils because their bodies are sacred life-bearers. As a woman who’s body was created infertile, this never sat well with me. Clearly there must be more to this, right? I remember learning that Jewish men cover their heads in prayer as a physical reminder that God is above them. I like this. And this is what I felt that night. It was an acknowledgement that there is Someone much greater than me, very much above me, and this is what I was to do in his presence.