As a convert, I came into the Church with some misconceptions about what the life of a Catholic women should look like. We didn’t know many Catholics in real life. Our parish even had to rustle up a sponsor for us because we didn’t have any Catholic friends. I think his name was Mike? God bless him, wherever he is.
ANYHOW, my perception of Catholic womanhood came from a small niche of Catholic homeschooling mom bloggers. They were lovely women, but I was under the impression that their lives were what I was supposed to shoot for if I was to be a good Catholic. And that’s simply a lie.
Thank goodness we have the saints to show us the myriad of ways to live a holy life for Jesus. There is no one way to be a holy Catholic woman. The saints show us that you might be a military leader, a queen, an illiterate peasant, a mother of many or of few, a wife, a nun, among other things and live out your Catholic faith heroically.
Sometimes we make the mistake of idolizing certain things–good things! And then we treat those good things as if they’re the ONLY things a Catholic woman can do.
Here’s a few things you don’t have to do to be a holy Catholic woman:
Breastfeed your kids. I think breastfeeding is great, after a traumatic nursing experience with my first baby, I was able to really love nursing my daughters and even practiced extended breastfeeding until my youngest was almost three. But I wasn’t any holier by breastfeeding my daughters after bottle-feeding my son. St. Zelie Martin didn’t breastfeed any of her children. And you know what, breastfeeding has never and will never be a requirement for being a good Catholic.
Dress femininely. Skirts and dresses are lovely. I like wearing ‘em! I also like a good pair of PANTS. And hey, that’s ok! You wanna wear flowy skirts? More power to ya! You wanna wear jeans everyday? No problem. There’s no official Catholic dress code, but occasionally you do run into certain circles that hyper-focus on women’s clothing which I think is a big mistake. You know who got criticized for not dressing femininely enough? St. Joan of Arc. I doubt it bothered her too much since she was pretty busy commanding armies.
Be married to a Catholic. Interfaith marriages can be hard. There are certainly many advantages to marrying a fellow Catholic and I will encourage my kids to consider them when looking for a spouse. But guess what! You can be a holy Catholic woman married to a non-Catholic. St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine of Hippo married to a Roman pagan. It wasn’t always easy but she was so holy that he decided he wanted to be Catholic, too.
Never experience depression. I think there’s a very dangerous idea that circulates in religious circles that unless you’re a bundle of joy at all times, there’s something spiritually wrong with you. But this is simply false. Consider the great saints that experience severe depression and “dark nights of the soul” like St. John of the Cross! And newly canonized St. Teresa of Calcutta suffered from depression and feelings of distance from God for the last 50 years of her life. Suffering from depression doesn’t mean you’re not a good Catholic, but it might mean that you need to talk to someone who can help.
Focus 100% of your time on your kids and don’t work. Good moms stay home with their kids, right? Wrong. Good moms do what’s best for their families. There’s not one way to be a good Catholic mom. St. Zelie Martin was a business woman and she raised St. Therese, one of the most powerful saints of modern times. So apparently being a working mom worked out just fine for her. Do what’s best for your family.
Homeschool or send your kids to Catholic school. I’m obviously a big fan of homeschooling or else I wouldn’t do it. I also think there’s a lot of great Catholic schools out there. But sending your kids to school, even a non-religious school doesn’t result in getting your good Catholic card revoked. St. Monica sent St. Augustine of Hippo to be educated in classical Roman schools and by Latin tutors. You’ve got options, ladies.
Be meek and mild. Maybe you have a big personality. Does you need to keep quiet and hold it all in to be holy? While having control of one’s tongue and temper is a very important thing for any Catholic, if you’re not naturally meek and mild it won’t prevent you from being holy. Just think about St. Teresa of Calcutta’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994. Speaking out against abortion in front abortion activists was a pretty fierce move. But she didn’t hold her tongue, she spoke the truth. And it wasn’t remotely mild, either.
Be well-read. To be holy, you should be an intellectual who has read all the most important books about the saints and Catholic teaching, right? Mmmm, no. While educating ourselves about our faith and deepening our spiritual life through reading religious texts is very important, you don’t need to be an intellectual to be holy. Just think about St. Bernadette. She was an illiterate peasant. And fiery St. Catherine of Siena was also illiterate for much of her life (until God gave her a miraculous gift of literacy). If you’re not bookish, it doesn’t mean you can’t be holy.
Love saying the Rosary. Guess who didn’t love praying the Rosary! St. Therese of Lisieux. That’s right. The Little Flower loved Our Lady but had a really hard time getting into the Rosary. So there’s hope for all of us! The Church offers us so many beautiful devotions. We’re going to connect with some of them more than others. And that’s ok because we’re all different! God can handle that.
Get married young. Not everyone has to get married by 20. There’s nothing holier about marrying young. St. Gianna Molla married when she was 33, after she’d been practicing Pediatrics for several years. 33 isn’t ancient by any stretch of the imagination, but St. Gianna’s story reminds us that there isn’t a magical order of marriage, career, etc that Catholic women have to follow. In fact, to be a good Catholic woman, you don’t HAVE to get married at all. You could choose a different vocation!
My intention in this post isn’t to minimize the importance of the decisions women make regarding marriage, motherhood, work, etc. These decisions are a big deal and are made after much consideration and prayer. But we must remember that Catholic life is full of freedom. God takes YOU into account. Your unique situation, gifts, and passions. Just because your life doesn’t fit into a certain box doesn’t mean you’re not living a holy life. The saints show us the beauty of how different lives show Christ’s love, even if it’s completely counter-cultural and unconventional.