Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How It Feels To Be Catholic Me

Week One: Women and their Relationship to the Church

"How It Feels to be Catholic Me" by Julie Robison
"Grandmother Kaleidoscope" by Elizabeth at Startling the Day
"A Relation of Love" by Trista at Not a Minx

This is the first post of a Lenten blog post series called "Bright Maidens". We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We're here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

Also, today is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day! May we all rejoice in our feminine vocation, and properly appreciate the males in our life too.

I was born a poor black child. No, wait; that was Steve Martin. I was born a Catholic girl, which is kind of like the same thing.

Don’t believe me? Think about it: I’m oppressed by celibate white men who make rules about my body, say I can’t hold leadership in my Church because I happened to be born female, and tell me to accept my place in this world as a child-bearer.

At least, that’s how the World-at-Large phrases it. I am here to refute commonly misconstrued claims about Catholicism as a Catholic woman who not only adheres to the traditions and teachings of the Church, but freely follows the Pope, reads Scripture (and thus delights in dogma), and rejoices in her feminine vocation.

The modern world is full of choices and possibility, and today’s women are indiscriminately exposed to birth control ads and unrealistic expectations, like the need to be sexually desirable in both body and dress. Intellectual development is checked off the To-Do List once a woman graduates school. Morals are now synonymous with personal decisions.

Women are not more or less than men. They are equal, but their equality does not lie in a power tug-of-war or numbers game. If so, then it is not equality women seek, but liberation from their very femininity. A woman rejects that she is equal, compatible and complementary to man when she relinquishes the only power woman has over man: the ability to create life.

A Catholic woman has three possible vocations: religious, single or married life. All three are great and noble; all three have different limits and aims. A religious woman gives her life to serve God; a single woman serves those around her; a married woman serves her family. The modern woman seeks a fourth option- to serve herself- and, as a Catholic and a woman, I reject that.

The Catholic Church has protected the dignity of women since it was founded over 2,000 years ago. The Church, the Bride of Christ, encourages a sacramental life of beauty, truth and goodness to help women, not hinder them, in their pursuits. It was Pope John Paul II that said the problem with pornography isn’t that it shows too much—it is that it shows too little.

A Catholic woman can think, read, laugh, run, study, dance, play, talk, and drink alcohol, just like a Catholic man. Catholic women cannot divorce, use birth control, have sex outside marriage, have abortions or curse-- and neither can Catholic men. Now do they? Of course. Catholics are human and therefore fallen. But that doesn’t make it right or okay. Catholicism is not a democratic institution, and neither is truth.

What binds a Catholic woman may seem harsh, but in practice, it is liberating. It is not easy to be defined by beauty of body and soul. The Church provides life guidelines and supports true feminism. When a woman respects herself first, so will others. A Catholic woman is not perfect. She suffers and bears hardships; she appreciates good things; she serves those around her; and, most importantly, she remains constant in her faith and trusts the Church, even in turbulence.

It has been said that the Catholic Church has benched women to the back pew. I say, if a Catholic woman is sitting in the back pew, it is only because the view is so much better!


  1. Wow, I'm having a hard time picking a pull quote.

    "The modern woman seeks a fourth option- to serve herself- and, as a Catholic and a woman, I reject that."

    That is it in a nutshell. Catholic women have the option to choose selflessness.

  2. Julie, that is powerful writing! I seriously want to spread this far and wide. You are a gift. Now I have to see what your friends are writing. What a great idea! Thank you.

  3. I read this aloud to my little sister! Beautiful post, m'dear!

  4. How wonderful that so many of us still 'get it'. ;-)

  5. This is excellent. Tessa and I were discussing a similar topic the other day. I appreciate the spirituality of perspective required to view the Church as an institution outside time. As a Catholic, I think your thoughts on sexuality and morality are right on. But what of the Church as a historical institution? I often struggle with the seemingly arbitrary distinction of men as spiritual leaders which arose out of a history of men as political and social leaders as well. I am uncertain of how to resolve this. Thoughts?

  6. I posted a post with exerpts and links, just letting you know.

  7. Either one of your parents is a Steve Martin fan, or ... one day, exploring a cobweb-ridden attic in an abandoned house, you stumbled across a dirty, dusty record player and forgotten, forlorn copies of Comedy Is Not Pretty and Let's Get Small. Nevertheless, you had me from the first line. Great post, Julie.

  8. This is a great article! You had me at the first line. ;-)

    I disagree with a certain sentence, however:
    "A woman rejects that she is equal, compatible and complementary to man when she relinquishes the only power woman has over man: the ability to create life."

    It seems here that you are stating that besides woman's ability to bear children, they are exactly the same as men and that is the only special thing about them.

    Women have many many incredible things about them that men don't -- and vice versa. But bearing children is NOT the only thing that makes us special.

    And anyway, we wouldn't be able to do it without the guys anyway, now would we? ;-)

  9. @Brenna- the male hierarchy is not arbitrary because it was instituted by Jesus in the beginning of the Church (think the apostles, apostolic succession, the priesthood, Peter as the first pope), which derived from the Jewish and Greek traditions of male leadership.

    I would disagree, though, that men were the only spiritual leaders in historical context. Just because men hold power in the physical structure of the Church does not belittle women's contribution. Women were the ones raising and forming these males and are incomparable in their contributions to family, school and church life. It is a different type of power, to be sure, and perhaps should be more highly praised and emphasized, but not less in spiritual matters, to be sure. Think of all the mystics, nuns/ sisters, missionaries, mothers and virgins who add to the Church's rich history! No one would say that Joan of Arc did not contribute, even if she was a mere handmaiden soldier for the Lord. :) We women all serve our purpose, and though we may not be publicly acknoweldged, there is a comfort in knowing God sees it, and will thus reward us in Heaven.

    @Wyld- I'm glad you liked it so much! Thank you for commenting. I will now gently disagree back, if you do not mind. The ability to conceive and bear children is not the only special thing about women, to be sure, but it is the most unique to women. Medical advances and flukes aside, men cannot get pregnant. They do not have the inner tools for such. Yes, of course, we need men to do their part in the marital act, but we need women to have the same courage to defend this gift.

    I would never downplay the importance of one's masculine and feminine vocation- men and women have very different natures, while retaining the ability to do similar tasks and activities. See the difference? And that is why bearing children is the litmust test- it is one thing men cannot do.

    Thanks to everyone for the feedback!