If you’re female and Catholic, it’s been an interesting few months.
Ever since President Barack Obama’s administration announced its decision to require religious employers to provide coverage of contraceptives, abortifacient drugs and sterilization procedures (and the Church announced its unequivocal opposition to said mandate), the airwaves and Internet have been populated by pundits and politicians galore, all claiming to speak for Catholic women.
As for what the majority of those pundits and politicians have had to say? Well, their message goes something like this: “The Church’s teachings on contraception are outdated and ignored. The Catholic hierarchy is oppressive and misogynistic. And Catholic women want change.”
As Providence would have it, however, around the same time this storm of punditry was unleashed, a series of books rolled off the presses that told a very different story. All written by faithful and intelligent Catholic women, these books gave Catholic women a chance to speak for themselves about their faith and set the record straight.
Those books include Hallie Lord’s “Style, Sex, and Substance: 10 Catholic Women Consider the Things That Really Matter” (OSV, $14.95), Kate Wicker’s “Weightless” (Servant, $12.99), and Mary Eberstadt’s “Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution” (Ignatius, $19.95).
Recently, OSV spoke to the women who penned those pages. We put questions to them about marriage and motherhood, work and prayer, femininity and beauty, and much, much more.
Here’s what they had to say. In their own words.
“Let’s get this straight: The Church does not demand that women bear as many children as possible. Many Catholics do have big families (even bigger than they planned!) but the Church asks us to be prudent, and to nourish our families with love — and that includes caring for ourselves.
“Far from being an imperious, misogynist oppressor, the Church is very solicitous of women’s happiness and well-being — much more so than the secular world, which tells women to poison, scar, plug or otherwise torment their bodies for the sake of utility. The secular world says, ‘You want children? But you might gain weight, and then you’ll be useless! You might want to stay home, and then you’ll be a parasite! You might have to depend on your husband, and then you’ll be pathetic! You might need to ask your husband to make sacrifices, and you might not be worth it! You might learn to care more about other people than yourself, and then you’ll be nobody at all.’
“But the Church says that motherhood is an honor and a gift, as well as a transformative work of sacrifice. Motherhood isn’t something that takes us away from our real life: It’s something that turns us into who we ought to be. All women are charged with the astonishingly huge task of being like Mary, who brought God into the world.”
— Simcha Fisher, contributor to “Style, Sex and Substance.” She blogs at The National Catholic Register.
“My Catholic faith is at the heart of all my very close relationships, particularly my close girlfriends. This isn’t to say we sit around quoting the Catechism all the time. That’s not a realistic and healthy take on friendship. Real friendships require being real.
“But having our faith — what we say we believe and how we actually go out and do that — that should be what motivates us and thus, what we have in common with those we hold very dear.
“Believing and living the faith means things like gossiping and complaining and being chronically negative are (Lord willing) replaced by kindness and encouragement and a desire to do better. That’s the goal, even if we don’t always achieve perfection.
“For me, with my very close friends, the ‘given’ in our relationship is that we love Jesus. Bottom line. If that is the motivating factor in all we say and do, in how we make decisions and how we talk and act and live, then we can’t go wrong. It doesn’t mean we are perfect, but it means that what matters most is what should matter most. Jesus. He is the answer to all our questions, no matter what we are asking.”
— Rachel Balducci, contributor to “Style, Sex, and Substance.” She blogs at Testosterhome.net.
“The idea of ‘together forever’ is a foreign one to many in today’s hook-up culture. In comparison to the more popular notions of ‘following your heart,’ ‘finding yourself,’ and ‘being fulfilled,’ the thought of sticking it out with one spouse through a lifetime of thick and thin, better or worse, can seem an unromantic one, indeed.
‘“What if you’re just not happy?’ I once heard an acquaintance argue in favor lenient, no-fault divorce laws.
“But that’s just the thing. Catholic teaching on the permanence of marriage has the goal of human happiness at its very core. We don’t find real happiness by flitting from one relationship to the next, always scanning the room for a better deal whenever that ‘magic feeling’ begins to fade.
“Because guess what? That ‘magic feeling’ always does fade, but we can find joy and satisfaction if we replace it with lifelong commitment and shared goals that nurture the next generation. God created men and women for greater things than themselves. For those of us called to the vocation of marriage, a permanent commitment to one union and to the children that result from that union is exactly what our hearts were built for, and where our happiness lies.”
— Danielle Bean, contributor to “Style, Sex and Substance” and editor of The Catholic Digest.
“I love the way the Church bluntly and honestly addresses ‘the battle of prayer.’ Our Catechism has an entire section devoted to this squirmy truth (Nos. 2725-2745).
“Prayer — a relationship with God — is subject to the same pitfalls that hover over any relationship. Intimate connections require constant communication. They can grow settled, dull, be taken for granted. So can prayer.
“Distraction, dryness, boredom, feelings of failure — all are predictable parts of a prayer life. When we fail to understand that, we’re tempted to conclude that prayer doesn’t ‘work.’ Prayer will work, however, as long as we’re working at it. I can’t presume my marriage will thrive if I never talk to or gaze upon my husband. My relationship with God must be tended similarly. ‘We have to talk,’ must be asserted on both sides regularly — the Lord to me, me to him.
“The knowledge that maintaining a strong, intimate prayer life is a lifelong battle helps me tremendously. It’s heartening to know my deficiencies are ‘normal’: They are part of a complex relationship. That simple fact consoles and strengthens.
“‘Against our dullness and laziness, the battle of prayer is that of humble, trusting, and persevering love,’ says the Catechism (No. 2742). That love, which is at the core of prayer, is worth every skirmish. And that’s what I wish our culture could understand.”
— Karen Edmisten, contributor to “Style, Sex, and Substance,” and author of “After Miscarriage: A Catholic Woman’s Companion to Healing and Hope” (Servant, $12.99). She blogs at KarenEdmisten.com.
On body image
“As someone who has struggled with body angst and an eating disorder, what proved to radically transform the way I saw my body, as well as how I treated it, was recognizing that God is more than an abstract idea. God is not something but someone who sees me as nothing less than beautiful.
“Women value themselves to the degree they have been valued. Yet, in our broken lives people hurt us. Society degrades women. We’re objectified in media. We’re told we don’t have what it takes to be a mother; abortion is the solution. We believe the lies that we are not thin, pretty, strong or good enough. Somewhere in the hearts of many women is the belief that they don’t deserve happiness or love. So we use our bodies as scapegoats. Stay away from me. I’m too fat. Or: I cannot make myself be loved, but I can make myself get thinner. If we were thinner, curvier, younger, less dimpled, life would be better. We would be better.
“But we are not called to look perfect or to be perfect in everything we do. What we are called to and where true beauty resides is in seeking a perfect union with God. He is a loyal lover who never stops pursuing us. The way to achieve real beauty is to be receptive to His love.”
— Kate Wicker, author of “Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body.” She blogs at KateWicker.com.
“In the Catholic sexual ethic, our sex lives cannot be compartmentalized into some dark corner of our consciousness. Our sexuality is so intrinsically connected to our spiritual life, and to the physical shape our lives take on, that sex often occupies a place of prominence in our thinking — either in the shape of what people call ‘Catholic guilt’ on one hand, or in ‘the seamless garment’ ethic on the other.
“In the latter, what we believe and what we do are not in conflict with one another. We don’t have to accept, for instance, a pro-choice ethic in order to compensate for our sexual choices. With the seamless garment, abortion is a non-starter — we don’t need it, when we believe sex is for children. If we are not for children, we are not having sex.
“The seamless garment is about living every aspect of our lives in the light. Nothing is hidden from God, nothing from one’s spouse. The dark corners of the soul are very quickly swept clean in Confession, and we can be open and true in our interactions with everyone we encounter. It really is an incredible freedom.”
— Elizabeth Duffy, contributor to “Style, Sex, and Substance.” She blogs at bettyduffy.blogspot.com
“The first thing I wish more people understood is that this isn’t just a ‘Catholic’ thing — because if people understood as much, then today’s debates would be a lot better informed than they are.
“Orthodox Jews and Muslims and Mormons all circumscribe contraception in different ways, for example. More to the point, all Christians were united in that teaching from the Church Fathers on down until very recently — 1930, to be exact. Numerous prominent secular thinkers have also pondered the sexual revolution and pointed to its problems. Yet only the Catholic Church gets jeered at for teaching what it does, because many people are ignorant of history.
“The second thing people should know is that this teaching is based on a profoundly positive vision of human nature — one that says human beings are more than just animals with iPads and opposable thumbs. The ennobled vision of men and women to be found in documents like Humanae Vitae roundly trumps the debased understanding of human nature so prevalent in non- or anti-Church circles. It’s just a better vision and a better argument. It wins.”
— Mary Eberstadt, author of “Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution.”
On beauty and style
“A common misconception many women wrestle with is that the pursuit of personal beauty and style is an exercise in vanity. Something G. K. Chesterton said gave me a lot of peace surrounding this issue. He said, ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.’ So will we sometimes wrestle with vanity if we focus on our personal appearance a bit? Yeah, we might. Ultimately, though, to completely neglect the physical inhibits our ability to do a lot of good in this world.
“When we put energy into exercising, eating well, grooming and choosing clothes and hairstyles that express our personal style, we send a message to our husbands that we delight in catching their eye; we convey to our children that this vocation of ours has worth; and we show the world at large that we are thriving as Catholic women. On a more personal level, when I am wearing something that I love I have a little extra spring in my step. That added joy goes a long way in getting me through any tough moments I might encounter during my day.”
— Hallie Lord, contributor to and editor of “Style, Sex, and Substance.” She blogs at BettyBeguiles.com
On Catholic womanhood
“I really wish our culture understood that the Catholic Church is the most pro-woman organization in the world. There has been a lot of outcry lately, particularly on the issue of contraception, and I find it deeply ironic that the Catholic stance on this issue is portrayed as being bad for women. Not only are the Church’s teachings on human sexuality not oppressive, they are actually the key to women’s freedom.
“There’s the old saying that to be fully Catholic is to be fully human. As a convert, I have absolutely found this to be true. Specifically, I’ve found that the more I pour myself into my Catholic faith, the more I understand what it means to be fully female. There is so much angst and unhappiness among women in secular society, much of which I experienced myself before my conversion. My biggest wish for the women of our culture would be that they could also experience the peace and freedom I’ve found when viewing myself and my gender through the eyes of the Catholic Church.”
— Jen Fulwiler, contributor to “Style, Sex, and Substance.” She blogs at ConversionDiary.com and The National Catholic Register.
: In celebration of the feminine genius