Catholic Women Share Why They Did – and Didn’t – Change Their Names After Getting Married
Last Christmas, my mom gave me and my then-fiancé personalized kitchen aprons. I was thrilled, but the name printed across the front gave me pause: Mrs. Freeman. My future husband was ecstatic and raved about how excited he was to marry me and how well my first name paired with his last name. I felt the same way, but I couldn’t get over a strange grief that bubbled up at seeing my new last name in writing. It wasn’t the man I was marrying or the name I was taking that bothered me, but rather the change itself. Why did I have to be the one to change my name? Did I even have to? Could I still be a good Catholic wife and keep my last name?
Does a Catholic Woman Have to Change Her Name?
There is no mandate from the Catholic Church that says women must change their last names after getting married. You can look in the Catechism. It’s not there.
What the Catechism does say is this: “Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter… It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving.”
Since the Church places such an emphasis on unity of the spouses, wouldn’t a shared last name be a direct reflection of that unity? Yes, it can be. But the spiritual reality of you and your spouse becoming one flesh begins as soon as you say your vows, not once you get your new passport.
Deciding whether to change your name after marriage is a personal decision, and is one that deserves thoughtful reflection. In examining my own journey toward marriage, I asked married Catholic women about their own choices to keep or change their last names.
Some Reasons for Changing Your Name
Of the women I interviewed who did change their last name, several pointed to the Church’s rich theology of marriage as the reason they chose to take their husband’s last name.
“Married life is my vocation and the taking of my husband’s last name signifies the end of my maiden days as well as my path towards sainthood,” said Katarzyna La Barre, who married over a year ago.
Others mentioned their children as motivation for changing their last name.
“I chose to change my last name especially after finding out I was pregnant because I wanted my husband, my son, and I to share a last name,” said Kelly Urbanski, who has been married for two and a half years.
My own reasons for taking my husband’s last name were much less spiritually motivated. I didn’t want to hyphenate my name or have a different last name from my future children, but I also was willing to keep my name if I didn’t like my husband’s last name. After I met my husband, I loved his last name paired with my first and middle names, so it stuck.
Hyphenating Your Last Name
In many cultures, women do not traditionally take their husband’s last name after marriage. Victoria Velasquez-Feikles said that using both spouses’ last names for children is very common in Hispanic cultures. “If I had just taken [my husband’s] name, it wouldn’t be representative of me, who I am, and my Hispanic heritage is a huge part of who I am as a first-generation Colombian American,” she said. Velasquez-Feikles also said she and her husband may hyphenate their daughter’s last name for similar reasons.
Another consideration is that many women have successful careers under their maiden names, long before marriage. When Alexis Tracey got married last year, she already had a law career – including part of a US Supreme Court amicus brief – using her former last name. In the end, she decided to take her husband’s last name on government documents and practice law using a hyphenated last name. “Especially in the legal profession, continuity is important and closely associated with credibility, so the hyphenation on my legal license captures the original name, but also shows there's been a change that's worthy of recognition,” she said.
What If I Don’t Want to Change My Name at All?
That is, indeed, a valid option for Catholic women. Anna Paone, who has been married for three years, said her decision to keep her last name partly stemmed from her own mother, who also didn’t change her last name after marriage. However, Paone does use her husband’s last name professionally and gave his last name to their daughter. “My mom always says that parents go to great pains to choose a first name that works well with a baby's birth last name. I certainly did – I love the alliteration of my daughter's name,” she said.
In the end, the decision to keep or change your last name after marriage is one as unique as each marriage. Annarose Jowenson, who created an entirely new last name based on her and her husband’s former last names, said, “There are so many ways to honor the Church's rich theology of marriage, its status as a sacrament and presenting an outward symbol of ‘being one flesh’ while still honoring the history you have with your own family name. It can – and should – be a process of mutual discernment for you and your spouse, and it's 100% worth having the conversation.”
No girl dreams of doing IVF. No woman enjoys the painful shots, endless medications, invasive vaginal ultrasounds, or emotional anxiety that accompanies all of that. No couple wants to create babies in a petri dish rather than through the loving act of marital sex.
But with infertility affecting approximately 1 in 8 couples, many women end up reluctantly pursuing IVF. These women are not morally corrupt or cavalier towards the creation of life. Rather, these women are pro-life in the most literal meaning of the term, in that they desire to bring forth life.
I am one of these women.
The Emotional Rollercoaster of Infertility
Infertility is cruelly difficult. Each month feels like an emotional rollercoaster. The arrival of my period brings grief, which blossoms into hope during my fertile days, and then transforms into anxiety during the dreaded two-week wait (“TWW”). Repeat this wild range of emotions month after month, year after year, and you get why infertility can drive one a bit crazy.
During my TWW, I hyper-analyze every little twinge, aversion, and bodily change. I persistently google “early pregnancy symptoms,” even though I know them by heart. I convince myself that my nipples look darker, my pee smells funny, and my food cravings are different. Even though I’ve been trying to conceive (“TTC”) for over 6 years, I still manage to convince myself I’m pregnant every TWW.
At some point, I began to wonder, “Why go through this pain every month if I don’t have to? Why not look into fertility treatments?”
Why I Decided to Move Forward with Fertility Treatments
My husband and I have unexplained infertility, a frustrating diagnosis. After years of religiously charting and timing intercourse, meeting with various doctors, trying different supplements and diets, and undergoing surgery, we finally agreed to meet with a reproductive endocrinologist. He told us that our best option to conceive was through IVF. My two other doctors agreed.
I hesitated, knowing IVF was deemed immoral by the Catholic Church. But I didn’t really understand why the Church said “no.” I am an involved, practicing Catholic, yet no one had ever explained the reason behind the Church’s stance to me.
Truthfully, I didn’t want to understand. I just so desperately wanted a child. It was easier to believe that the Church’s prohibition against IVF was arbitrary, outdated, and anti-woman than it was to start digging and find out I was wrong.
Plus, it seemed simple: Infertility is a medical condition and IVF is the treatment. Nothing more, nothing less. And in my case, three different doctors urged me to do IVF. Who was I to argue?
Even still, I carefully prayed and discerned over whether to move forward with IVF. I felt like Hannah in the Old Testament, bringing my ugly tears and pleas to God, over and over again. During one particular tearful prayer, I finally heard an answer, or what I thought was an answer. A sudden peace washed over me, and I truly felt like God held out His hand to me, saying, “We’ll take this next step of IVF together.”
As soon as I got home, I called our doctor and told him we wanted to move forward with IVF.
What the Catholic Church Teaches about IVF
Even though I felt confident moving forward, I halfheartedly began to delve into the Church’s teachings on IVF. I discovered that the Church has released two relevant documents on fertility treatments: Donum Vitae in 1987 and Dignitas Personae in 2008.
I’m an attorney who often reads dense material and let me tell you: Donum Vitae is wordy, hyper-technical, and difficult to decipher. Just about the only thing made clear was the Church’s staunch opposition to IVF – no exceptions.
Dignitas Personae is slightly easier to comprehend but felt rife with indignation and a lack of empathy towards infertile couples. Frankly, I found it offensive, judgmental, and clearly written by a male lacking personal experience with the pain of infertility.
Regardless, I wasn’t moved by the documents. I had a counterargument to everything.
The Church’s concern over the destruction of embryos? Not an issue. My husband and I decided that we would use every embryo created in our IVF cycle – even if this resulted in more children than what we envisioned, and even if some embryos were abnormal.
The Church’s concern over embryo reduction (selective aborting)? Irrelevant. The standard of care now is typically to transfer one embryo at a time. Long gone are the days of Jon & Kate Plus 8.
The Church’s concern that IVF separates procreation from the unitive act of sex? The joke’s on them. The monthly charting and timed intercourse did a number on our sex life and marriage. IVF sounded far more unitive than timed intercourse.
The Church’s concern for the dignity of every human being? Don’t worry. We planned to respect our embryos every step of the way, loving them as we would any child.
At the end of the day, I was comfortable in my belief that the Church missed the mark on this teaching. So onward we went.
The IVF Process
IVF consists of the egg retrieval, where a woman takes medications to grow multiple mature eggs simultaneously, and the transfer, where an embryo is planted directly into a woman’s uterus to increase the chance of implantation.
After weeks of intense medications, many vaginal ultrasounds, and the dreaded shots, we arrived at the clinic for the egg retrieval. We were overjoyed to learn we had 6 embryos: 3 genetically normal, 2 slightly abnormal, and 1 genetically abnormal. We decided to keep all of our “embabies” — what we in the IVF world lovingly dub our embryos. I felt proud of our decision, of choosing to respect all life. But sometimes I caught myself thinking, “Why did I genetically test my embryos? What purpose does genetic testing serve, if I value all life equally?”
A couple of months later, we transferred one perfect embaby. We could have pre-selected the gender, but we chose to leave that up to God. Again, I patted myself on the back, telling myself my motives were pure and godly.
Ten days after the transfer, I took a pregnancy test. I remember sitting on the bathroom floor, staring at the negative pregnancy test and willing a second line to appear. It never did. It took me a long time to get off the bathroom floor. Feeling devastated doesn’t even cover the depth of emotion I felt.
The second embryo transfer failed, too. The grief over this loss was even deeper than the first.
Soon, an unsettled feeling started gnawing at my heart. For the first time, I wondered if I was wrong. My unapologetic, confident attitude towards IVF began to chip away. I worried about my frozen embabies. “We don’t freeze infants, so why do we freeze embryos? Are they okay while frozen indefinitely in time? If they grow into healthy babies, how will I explain their conception to them?”
Above all, I questioned if my desperation to have a child blinded me to what God really wanted for me.
My Discussions with a Priest about IVF
It took me months to work up the courage, but I eventually requested a meeting with my priest. I was a jumble of nerves when I arrived at his office. I word-vomited all I had done, the fears and guilt that consumed me, the arrogance I possessed when dismissing the Church’s teaching on IVF, and the worry over my frozen embabies.
I expectantly waited for his rebuke. But none came. Where I expected judgment and disappointment, he responded only with love, compassion, and hope.
My priest commended me for having the courage to speak to him. He acknowledged the depth of my sorrow, affirming that infertility was a great suffering. I felt seen and safe.
He mentioned something that I hadn’t yet considered or even heard about. He said, “The problem with IVF is that it treats babies as commodities rather than human beings. IVF is a business, and babies are the product.”
I timidly asked what I should do about my frozen embryos, afraid of the answer. He responded, “Sometimes we make a mistake and later come to a better realization. These mistakes can be hard to correct, and in the case of embryos, we can’t undo their creation.” He continued, “What we can do – and are required to do – is to treat those embryos with dignity and honor.”
He affirmed that I could transfer my remaining embryos without shame, going so far as to call my future transfers “acts of charity and courage.” He absolved me of my sins through the sacrament of Reconciliation, replacing my guilt and shame with lightness and joy.
“And Julie,” he said before I walked out, “I’d love to walk with you and your husband through your next embryo transfer, if that’s okay. At the very least, I can pray for your baby.”
Tears sprung to my eyes.
Just a few days later, I received an email from my fertility clinic notifying me that my remaining embryos were being transferred out-of-state to a storage facility. I cried in disbelief and anger. How can they just take my embryos away without even so much as a phone call? These are my babies!
I sucked in a breath, remembering my priest’s words. “Commodities.” My embryos were merely commodities to my clinic. Now, I saw the Church’s position on IVF in a different light. Now, I understood Dignitas Personae’s insistence on keeping procreation out of a lab. I could even forgive its harsh tone. After all, these are human lives at stake.
My Heart Yearns Both for a Child and to Follow Catholic Teaching
To be honest, I still feel a bit confused over IVF. Some days, IVF doesn’t seem like such a big deal. If Jesus walked the earth today, would He really dissuade us from using technology that is literally lifegiving? After all, God is the ultimate creator, and if having children isn’t a part of His plan, then IVF won’t circumvent that. Are those opposed to IVF like the Pharisees in the Gospels, wagging their fingers and looking to enforce rules without thought to one’s heart? And, what if my embryo transfers had worked? Wouldn’t the birth of my own child make the whole journey worth it?
But on other days, I feel confident that IVF is not something God wants us to do. Playing with the creation of life is just too delicate for us humans to dabble in. It reminds me of Eve wanting to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Are we like Eve, trying to achieve something that was never intended for humanity to achieve? I am also reminded of Jesus’s warning in Matthew 7:15 to beware of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.”
All I know is that IVF unsettles me. Please pray for me and all couples walking through infertility. May my desire for you, God, be greater than my desire for a child.
Why Catholic Women Should Stand in Solidarity with Muslim Women Facing Discrimination
Protests erupted in Iran last September when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a member of the country’s Kurdish minority, died in custody after being arrested by the country's morality police for not wearing her hijab correctly and for wearing skinny jeans. These protests have been led by women, who in many cases have been bravely refusing to wear their own hijabs, or even burning them.
Two and a half months later, these protests continue, and Iran’s government has violently cracked down on them, with more than 450 people killed by security forces according to the activist news agency HRANA. The Iranian court recently sentenced one protester to death, and there are widespread fears that more of the 18,000 protesters who have been detained will face the same fate.
Muslim Women Face Discrimination Across the Globe
The recent protests are the culmination of a decades-long struggle for women’s rights in Iran. After a 1979 revolution overthrew the country’s dictator, the Islamic Republic was formed based upon Islamic law, with clerics serving as heads of state. They began to require women to wear the Hijab in public in 1983.
The recent events in Iran are particularly egregious, and Iranian women undoubtedly deserve our prayers, support, and advocacy. But even before these past few months, the head covering of Muslim women has been extremely politicized on a global level. Various European countries have instituted laws (some of which have since been repealed) that mandate the opposite extreme by banning the wearing burqas (which cover the face) or headscarves in public. In the United States, women have the freedom to dress as they choose, but women who do choose to wear head coverings often face discrimination.
I would like to propose four reasons why Catholic women should stand in solidarity with Muslim women, even when they are no longer at the center of our news cycle.
1. The taking of human life is unacceptable.
This first reason is perhaps the most obvious: Both Catholicism and Islam maintain that all human beings are created by God, with inherent dignity, and any time that a life is lost is tragic and unacceptable. As Zailan Moris quotes in “Beyond the Veil: The Sufi View of Women and Femininity,” according to Islamic sacred tradition (hadīth qudsī), “I [God] was a Hidden Treasure and I desired to be known, therefore I created creation so that I might be known.” Similarly, Genesis 1:27 tells us, “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (emphasis added)
Both of these traditions hold that all of creation (including women, which unfortunately needs to be clarified) reflects God’s nature. To lose any one part of creation is to lose a portion of the revelation of God, and as a result of the events in Iran, we have lost more than 300 unique images of God to violence – with more likely to come. Violence against women (and those supporting women) needs to stop.
Catholic leaders have urged the Church to respond. Earlier this year, Pope Francis condemned violence against women as something “almost satanic.” He echoes the sentiments that Pope St. John Paul II expressed almost thirty years ago. In 1995, Pope John Paul II noted the concerning rise in violence, saying,
“With astonishment and concern we are witnessing today a dramatic increase in all kinds of violence. Not just individuals but whole groups seem to have lost any sense of respect for human life. Women and even children are unfortunately among the most frequent victims of this blind violence. We are speaking of outrageous and barbaric behaviour which is deeply abhorrent to the human conscience.
“We are all called upon to do everything possible to banish from society not only the tragedy of war but also every violation of human rights… I urge everyone to help women who are suffering.”
2. Catholic women know what it’s like to face unfair stereotypes because of our faith.
With the situation in Iran prevalent in our minds, at this moment the hijab has understandably become associated with oppression and violence. Even before this, it has been a common stereotype of Muslim women in the Western world that they are, as Moris explains, “completely defined by their function and role in the family as daughters, wives, and mothers in a patriarchal social structure that does not allow for individual development apart from and independent of these gender-based roles.” This is what has led to so many European countries wanting to restrict women from wearing head coverings: They view it as a regressive step for women.
But Muslin women cite many different reasons for wearing the hijab, and especially in the Western world, it is generally done as a free choice (according to a 2017 PEW Research survey, only 4 in 10 Muslim women in the US wear them at all). It is usually worn as a form of modesty, allowing women to avoid revealing the fullness of their beauty to any men other than their husband (or close relatives).
When interviewed by Allure in 2020, Habiba Da Silva said, “Some people assume that a woman in hijab is chained to her home, probably slaving after her husband, but they don't realize that we are businesswomen, we are surgeons, mathematicians, mayors. We are powerful, and the hijab doesn't deter us from reaching our dreams or goals.” Da Silva continued, “As difficult as it can be for people who are unaccustomed to the concept of the hijab to understand, it makes me feel so empowered and gives me agency. I have control over who can see special parts of me.”
Catholic women also face stereotypes that arise from a failure to account for a nuanced understanding of our faith. We adopt counter-cultural customs that are often labeled as regressive or anti-feminist, but that we experience as empowering in our own lives. These customs are generally less visible than wearing the hijab, although some Catholic women choose to dress more modestly or to wear a veil during Mass. Because of our beliefs, we choose to wait until marriage to have sex, and we often find it empowering to know that we do not have to have sex with every man who expects it. We choose to avoid hormonal birth control and chart our cycles to avoid pregnancy, and we find it empowering to learn more about our own bodies.
There are challenges that come with these choices, and no two women experience them in the same way, but many Catholic women I have spoken to over the years (myself included) find them to be overall empowering practices, rather than the oppressive customs they are often made out to be. So when we see a Muslim woman who has chosen to wear a head covering, we should cheer her on for adopting a practice that she feels empowers her and brings her closer to God.
3. Catholic women also know that bad interpretation of theology can be harmful to women.
Being a Catholic woman means living in the tension of embracing the ways that our beliefs empower us as women, while not being afraid to speak up when the religious practices around us fail to acknowledge our equal dignity. Sometimes there is a fine line between these things. For many Christian women in the millennial generation, purity culture is a prime example.
Too many of us grew up listening to “women’s talks” that told us that we were stumbling blocks for men, and it was our fault if they felt lust toward us. Or we were told that if we had sex before marriage, we were irrevocably harmed, like a crumpled flower. Often, at some point in these talks, we were told exactly what sort of clothing was sinful to wear – perhaps tank tops, yoga pants, or shorts and skirts that are above the knee. At their worst, these practices led to victim blaming women who were sexually assaulted.
Men were not given similar guidelines, so this form of shame and objectification was uniquely targeted towards women. As Linda Kay Klein wrote in her book Pure, “the implication that my friends and I were nothing more than things over which men and boys could trip was not lost on me.”
Women exposed to this interpretation of theology know what it is like to face pressures to conform to others’ standards of modesty, rather than to strive for the standards they set for themselves through prayerful consideration. We know that the choice not to wear a bikini because of a preference to save parts of our body for serious partners is different than feeling forced to do so because of something a priest or youth minister told us that made us feel ashamed of our bodies.
The stakes are not as high for those of us living in the United States because we generally have the freedom to choose whether or not to engage in religious practices, and we will not be arrested – or worse, killed – for our choice of dress. But we know that different people interpret our own Christian values of modesty in different ways, and we can imagine what it might be like if one of those interpretations was legally imposed upon everyone.
4. We each have a conscience and the free will to follow it.
This leads me to my fourth and final point. Both in the case of Iran – where head coverings are required – and that of France – where head coverings are legally restricted – the government is claiming that they know what is best for these women, rather than leaving it up to them to make a decision based on their conscience.
Catholics believe that all people have “the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions,” and that they should not be forced to do anything that goes against their conscience. While we have a responsibility to seek out what is true and good in order to form that conscience, it is ultimately up to each individual to decide what they believe God is asking them to do. Accordingly, women have a right to determine for themselves which religious practices respect their God-given dignity and which are harmful. Whether a woman chooses to cover more of her body or not should remain her choice, informed by her well-formed conscience.
Ultimately, this is what the women in Iran are fighting for: the right to decide for themselves how to act upon their faith, or whether to practice it at all.
As Catholic women who live in the tension of sometimes loving our Church and sometimes wishing those within it would better respect our dignity, we ought to stand in solidarity with Muslim women who desire the right to speak and act according to their conscience, whether that means fighting against an oppressive regime for their right not to wear a hijab, or fighting against discrimination in our own country for their right to safely wear one.
As the new year begins, the internet floods with lists of the top trends to add to your resolution list. Since the pandemic, the trends have emphasized holistic wellness and mental health (think less beach bod, more self-care). This year, the focus on wellness continued, with creators promoting trends from “movement snacks” to creative emotional expression as the latest ways to care for our minds and bodies. Perhaps surprisingly, some of these wellness trends have Catholic roots.
The Catholic Faith celebrates the whole person, body and soul. Think about what we celebrate at Christmas: In the Incarnation, God takes on human flesh and shows us the dignity of our bodies by becoming one of us. Our movements at Mass also reflect this emphasis on the physical: we make the Sign of the Cross when we pray, we kneel, and we stand.
This year, some of the practices that Catholics have long incorporated into daily life are making an appearance on social media. Take a look at these three wellness trends that have Catholic roots.
Poet and activist Tricia Hersey has sparked conversation about what it means to rest. Her phrase (also the title of her recent book) “rest as resistance” has social media buzzing. She argues that resting resists America’s toxic grind and productivity culture. It is not laziness, but rather a necessity, and even a type of activism.
Her website, The Nap Ministry, argues that our bodies “are sites of liberation, knowledge, and invention that are waiting to be reclaimed and awakened by the beautiful interruptions of brutal systems that sleep and dreaming provide.” All over the internet, people are taking up Hersey’s call to celebrate the kind of rest that fills us up and honors our bodies, whether it be napping, reading, playing music, or just laying around.
The command to rest is one of the most fundamental in both Judaism and Catholicism. Genesis tells us that when God created the world, He rested on the seventh day. In Judaism, the third commandment instructs God’s people to follow this model and rest on the seventh day of the week, the Sabbath.
For Catholics, the Sabbath commandment is fulfilled by Sunday, a day devoted to God and when we rest from work to relax our minds and our bodies. In fact, the Catholic Church describes it as “a day of protest against the servitude of work and the worship of money” – in other words, a protest against the grind.
The commandment to rest is a gift: Jesus himself tells us that “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” This gift teaches us a truth that the wellness trends echo: We are not made for work alone. Not only is it physically necessary to slow down, but also a consistent practice of rest teaches us to care for ourselves and for each other. It allows us to listen to our bodies and cultivate grace and space for them to just be.
Mindfulness and Meditation
One popular form of resting has been on the rise for years: meditation. Currently, TikTok has 5.3 billion hits for #meditation. Creators walk us through various practices from sound baths to nature walks. The goal is usually to achieve peace and feel in touch with one’s inner-self or the universe. Methods engage the body through breath, movement, or touch. Creators say that practicing meditation will bring clarity, reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and even provide health benefits like lowering blood pressure. And studies do show a significant link between meditation and improved physical health and mental health outcomes.
People usually think of the Eastern religious roots of meditation, but Christianity has a long-standing tradition of meditative prayer. During this prayer, we focus the mind and imagination on holy images or words in order to seek what God is asking of us. The goal is to grow in love of God. St. Teresa of Avila, a nun and reformer from the 16th Century, described mental prayer as “nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him whom we know loves us.”
“Cycle Syncing” and Natural Fertility Awareness
Natural fertility awareness is another trend sweeping TikTok – the tag #naturalbirthcontol has over 4.1 B hits. Creators express concern with hormonal birth control and its side effects, and share their experiences switching from birth control to fertility awareness methods (FAMs). They advocate a variety of natural methods that allow women to track their bodies and cycles for avoiding or achieving pregnancy, as well as to identify and heal numerous hormonal health issues.
Advocates of “natural birth control” and fertility awareness have also pointed out that much of society is arranged to align with the male cycle - one that runs its course and starts over every 24 hours. Meanwhile, the female hormonal cycle aligns to a different rhythm, one that lasts an average of 28 days. Many influencers have begun sharing how women can begin “cycle syncing” everything from self-care to exercise to better align with their hormones and maximize results.
This more seasonal focus on life mirrors that of Mother Nature, but also the Catholic Liturgical Calendar. Throughout each year, Catholic traditions are aligned to different “seasons” - like Advent, Lent, Ordinary Time and special feast days for saints. Living life “liturgically” or “seasonally” can help us maintain balance and fulfillment - both spiritually and physically. This approach is an important counterbalance to the daily grind and pressure to function more like machines than human beings.
This concern for the whole human person is also what prompted the Catholic Church to express concerns about birth control in the 1960s, including that it would promote objectification of women. Therefore, many Catholic doctors and organizations actually pioneered research into fertility awareness, cycle charting, and how this information can allow doctors to better treat many women’s health conditions.
Want to Try These for Yourself?
If you’re looking for practices that are spiritually and physically enriching, consider adding these to your list of resolutions:
Learn how to schedule rest into your calendar.
Take this quiz to find the best meditative prayer option for you.
Learn the scientific benefits of charting your cycle.
Between record-breaking inflation, the housing market, and murmurs of a looming recession, the last few years have felt like financial whiplash. Combined with the reality that most of us weren’t taught how to manage money, it can be overwhelming. How do we save wisely? How can we give generously when we’re worried about our own situations? Is it possible to not worry about money?
The New Year is a great time to evaluate our relationship with money and learn how to spend it mindfully. Financial resolutions might not seem as pressing or exciting as exercise, health, or career goals – but money touches every aspect of our lives. The positive ripple effects of creating a solid financial foundation can be felt in every other area, now and for decades to come.
We can start by taking an honest look at our finances and developing new habits that will bring us closer to our goals.
If you want to improve your relationship with money, here are three habits to cultivate.
Spending: Prioritize What Matters to You
When it comes to spending money mindfully in a way that’s aligned with our values, there is no more practical skill than budgeting. Let’s acknowledge that budgeting can get a bad rap. It’s been portrayed in our culture like the ultimate fun-killer.
But what if I told you that budgeting is the key to unlocking financial peace? That budgeting protects the fulfilling life we hope for instead of restricting it?
Budgeting gives your money a specific role to play. It’s permission to spend money according to your goals, dreams, and values. It provides peace of mind by raising awareness of what your money is up to. It also offers freedom to prioritize what matters most to you and to make sure your finances support that (instead of going on another spontaneous Target shopping spree).
Want some help with making a budget? Check out the software YNAB (aka You Need a Budget).
Saving: Be Ready for Whatever Comes Your Way
Saving dovetails perfectly with budgeting. Your well-rounded budget should include categories for regular expenses like groceries, gas, clothing, and rent or a mortgage, but it’s also important to have savings. Here are some common categories to consider: emergency savings, piggy banks, and long-term goals.
We should have money set aside for emergencies. When you’re just starting out, save one month’s worth of expenses. Then, once you’ve paid off all of your non-mortgage debt, grow your emergency savings to 4 – 6 months’ worth of expenses.
Piggy banks are savings categories that you contribute to each month, but don’t spend from regularly. They help you save smaller amounts on an ongoing basis so that when a larger bill or expense comes, you have the money available and aren’t left scrimping or scrambling to pay it. Piggy banks are great for things like Christmas gifts, car insurance premiums, home maintenance expenses, vehicle registration, children’s activity or education fees, property taxes, etc.
Finally, we should save for our long-term priorities such as down payments, purchasing another vehicle, vacations, retirement, home renovation projects, etc. These are similar to Piggy Banks in the sense that you save monthly and the category grows with time, but long-term savings typically take a year or more to grow.
Giving: Be Generous to Those Who Need It Most
Cultivating a healthy relationship with money can help us live generously and help those who need it most. As Catholics, we’re invited to sacrifice for others out of love for them. Think about the people and the causes that you care about most, and support organizations that support them. Giving is a way to both live according to our values and spend our money mindfully.
Giving should be the first category you prioritize in your monthly budget. A good starting point is 10% of your income, as it’s a noticeable amount for most people. If giving 10% means you can’t eat, then it’s appropriate to give less. On the flip side, if 10% is a drop in the bucket for you, it’s appropriate to give more.
Budgeting, saving, and giving – these financial habits will help you improve your relationship with money and spend it well. With this foundation, not only will you have more financial peace, but it will enable you to say “yes” to whatever you are called to do. When we’re not worried about money, it’s a lot easier to answer the calling that God has for us. And it’s also easier to withstand uncertain and volatile economic conditions with peace – something we all need in these uncertain times.
Editor’s Note: Please read with discretion, as this review contains references to and descriptions of rape, sexual violence, and domestic abuse. We also want potential viewers to know that the reviewed movie contains several brief, graphic flashbacks.
“We are entitled to three things: We want our children to be safe, we want to be steadfast in our faith, and we want to think.” This simple, yet all-encompassing, declaration of rights arrives about three-quarters into the movie Women Talking, written and directed by Sarah Polley. The film is based on the novel by Miriam Toews, which is itself inspired by real events that took place in an ultraconservative Mennonite community in Bolivia. While the inciting incidents of mass violence and systemic gaslighting are true, the plot is “an act of female imagination” that captures the struggle for self-actualization, liberation, and hope through a simple act: women talking.
Responding to Horror: Freeze, Fight, Flee – or Leave
The film opens with an image of a young woman waking from sleep and finding herself injured. We soon learn that all of the girls and women in this isolated religious community have endured a series of violent rapes. Someone – or more likely a group of someones – has been sneaking into their rooms at night, gassing them with cow tranquilizer, and raping them.
When they raise the alarm to the community, they are initially told that the attacks are the work of demons, ghosts, or their own imaginations. Eventually, though, they catch one man in the act and he quickly gives up the names of his fellow attackers. At this point, the women are given two days to forgive the men or risk being barred from Heaven. Women Talking covers the events of those two days, when the community of women sits down to debate their next course of action.
They settle on three options: Stay and do nothing, stay and fight, or leave the community forever. These options mirror the three fear responses of freeze, fight, or flee, but their decision is measured, not instinctual. There is, as one wise woman points out, a great difference between fleeing and leaving.
Creating the World Anew After Abuse
The film is immensely powerful in its simplicity. For much of the story, it’s impossible to determine what year or location the characters are living in. What they refer to as their “colony” may as well be the entire universe. This lends a mythical quality to their discussion, which becomes more universal with greater specificity.
For example, at one point they enter into a debate about whether or not they should take the 14-year-old boys with them if they decide to leave. It’s clear that a 14-year-old boy is “capable of great damage,” but at the same time he “is a child.” The practical problem they face gives way to larger philosophical questions. At what age do boys become too dangerous to save? Do they ever? Is hatred of women innate or learned? Can we love them out of it? The conversation is excruciatingly painful, but the layer of fictionalization makes it bearable for us to watch.
Perhaps this is why this film is so much more successful than the similarly-titled She Said, the recent movie about the investigation of Harvey Weinstein and subsequent societal fallout. There’s something too recent and too close to home about that story to lend any additional insight. We know what happened. What we don’t know is how to create the world anew, which is exactly what we get to witness in Women Talking. It’s a monumental task, and one we all hope to participate in.
Women Talking Shows Us How to Take the Time to Have Crucial Conversations
Women Talking does have its pitfalls. “This is very, very boring,” complains one of the younger girls about midway through the discussion. The line gets a big laugh because, frankly, she’s right. I found myself asking several times throughout why this wasn’t a play. Perhaps I am betraying my bias as a theater writer, but this would make a riveting stage play. As a screenplay, though, it’s difficult to sit through.
Of course, this boring quality is part of the point. Discussions such as these take time and care, and these women must come to a conclusion before their time is out. If you decide to see Women Talking, be prepared to spend 1 hour and 45 minutes watching exactly what is advertised. Fortunately, the pacing does pick up toward the end of the film, as we begin to wonder if they will be able to take action before the men return. On a few occasions, I found myself wanting to yell at the screen, “Stop talking! It’s too late!” As for whether they are able to come to a decision and accomplish their task in time, I’ll leave that a mystery.
I’d be remiss for not taking a moment to commend the brilliant ensemble performances. Although the cast includes stars such as Frances McDormand, Judith Ivey, and Claire Foy, the whole is much greater than its parts. There is no single standout performance, and this is clearly directorial intention. We learn a bit of the backstory of every character, from the wife enduring physical abuse at home to the single woman left pregnant by the attack.
Each character has a unique perspective shaped by his or her experience, and they’re all grappling with what has happened to them in different ways. Above all, they are imminently believable and deeply rooted in the circumstances of the world, which is precisely what this story calls for. Despite their infighting, the film is the rare case of a true group protagonist, with everyone working toward a single goal and no one clearly leading the fight.
Choosing Faith in the Aftermath of Horror
The greatest strength of Women Talking is also the characters’ greatest strength: their faith. Early in the film I was curious whether this community’s strict religious beliefs would be vilified and ultimately abandoned in favor of modern progressive values. This was almost to be anticipated because the story is based on true events, however loosely, and the real women involved were women of faith. But in a world rife with sexual abuse and violence, I would hate to see these women’s religious beliefs blamed for what happened to them. Fortunately, faith was portrayed as empowering to the women. Power, as always, is the driving force behind evil – and faith is the antidote.
The horrors these women have endured might have the power to strip them of their faith, but they do not have the power to separate them from God’s love. More than family, romantic love, or even individual freedom, the women fight to keep their relationship with God. They choose to fight for their faith, knowing that in a world of chaos and violence, only God’s love abides. It is God’s love that determines their worth, not what has happened to them and certainly not what mortal men might think of them.
Despite everything they have seen, they remind themselves again and again to aim their sights on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely.” They will not be dragged down into the depths of hatred, because their own humanity is too precious.
Thus, their final decision is taken as “a supreme act of faith, a step toward love and forgiveness,” even though they cannot fathom what either love or forgiveness might look like. At a certain point, it’s time to stop talking and take a leap of faith. Some questions, after all, are best left in the hands of God.
If you’ve ever had Mariah Carey’s “Where Are You Christmas” hit just a little too hard, then this is for you.
I remember Christmas being so magical when I was a child, but as I grew up it seemed to become all about consumerism and Hallmark movies with plots about as deep as a mug of hot chocolate. If you’re wanting to bring back the true meaning of Christmas (and maybe even some real joy), here are seven ways to make your Christmas more meaningful.
1. Buy fewer presents for fewer people.
Buying dozens of presents for dozens of people is a surefire way to turn Christmas gift-giving into an arduous task, as opposed to a meaningful expression of love. Try buying fewer, but more thoughtful, gifts for the people you love most and come up with a still sweet, but less shopping-heavy, token for everyone else on your list.
I personally only buy gifts for my husband, daughter, parents, and one sibling. Everyone else (neighbors, employees, friends, aunts, and uncles) receives a Christmas card and a few baked goods. In my family, my siblings and in-laws do a gift rotation so that each year we only buy for one sibling. This lets us spend more time and money getting one great gift instead of scrambling to find less thought-out gifts. This kind of gift-giving was honestly a game-changer for our family.
2. Put your money where your mouth is.
Black Friday used to be one day of sales, but now it's two or three weeks of “Don’t miss this deal!” ads in your inbox. Now is the time of year when it is the hardest to stick to our values when it comes to the things we buy, but that also makes it the most important time to do so.
If you care about environmental sustainability, don’t buy your nephew a bunch of plastic toys. If you hate fast fashion, skip the Walmart ugly Christmas sweater. If you don’t think people should have to work retail on Thanksgiving, don’t go out shopping on Thanksgiving.
Buying according to your values can often seem too expensive, particularly during the holidays when there are extra expenses. But if you focus on buying less and making gifts when possible, you can free up room in your budget to use your consumer power the way you want to.
This all requires discipline and forethought, but it makes the things that you do buy more meaningful because they are from companies that align with your values.
3. Read a meaningful Christmas-y book.
Swap the snowed-in-with-a-hottie-who-turns-out-to-be-Santa’s-heir romance for a meaningful Christmas read that reminds you of the things that are most important.
In my opinion, the best thing to reawaken Christmas magic (and maybe a little belief in Santa) is reading The Autobiography of Santa Claus by Jeff Guinn. It starts with the real person of Saint Nicholas and brings you right up to today’s Santa Claus. I’d call the genre historical fantasy, and the story brings back the childhood joy of Santa Claus, along with a heaping dose of the true meaning of Christmas.
There are also some great religious Christmas-y books like Joy to the World by Scott Hahn to refocus the excitement of the season on Jesus’s birth.
4. Watch a thoughtful Christmas movie.
Don’t get me wrong, I will continue to watch the Princess Switch movies every time Vanessa Hudgens puts one out, and I do love the silly and hilarious rom-com Holiday in Handcuffs (it’s not what you think). However, these movies do nothing to make my Christmas meaningful and joyful – not to mention the fact that they aren’t remotely related to Jesus’s birth.
Commit to watching good-for-your-soul Christmas movies this year and I bet you’ll see a shift in your Christmas spirit. A Charlie Brown Christmas will forever be a reminder of what is really important at Christmas and of how to look beyond the commercialization of the season. If you want to watch something religious, any of the Christmas specials put out by The Chosen are wonderful and worth watching.
5. Give the gift of your time by volunteering.
We talk about the season of giving and sharing, but we often end up giving mainly to people who don’t need anything. Volunteering at a soup kitchen, toy drive, church fundraiser, or holiday event are great ways to give the gift of your time during this season.
Outside of formal volunteering, find ways to reach out, give, and share in your communities. Invite a lonely neighbor to one of your holiday get-togethers. Take clothes and toys to your local thrift store or homeless shelter. Grab an angel from the angel tree at church. Look around your neighborhood for someone you can help or befriend.
6. Make something.
During the coziest time of the year, focus on what you make, as opposed to buy. Try out a couple of baking projects, one traditional family treat and one new one. Knit a scarf for a friend instead of buying a gift for them. Make your own wreath from discarded branches at your local Christmas tree lot.
Whatever you choose, making something makes it more meaningful for you and for the people you share it with.
7. Don’t do it for the ‘gram.
When it comes to Christmas activities, outings, and parties, all roads lead to social media. Consider this your reminder that if you bake cookies, teach your nephew how to dance, or dress up in your holly-jolliest outfit, you don’t have to put it on Instagram to make it count.
I invite you to sit back and experience Christmas without bothering to think of cute captions or worrying about good angles. Don’t make your holiday bucket list based on the festive activities that you see online. Maybe even skip social media for a couple weeks to avoid FOMO. Do the things that get you in the Christmas spirit. Wear the sweaters that you think are festive. Bake the cookies without trying to perfectly dust the countertop in the background. And if you happen to snap a few pictures to send to Grandma or to put in the family album, that’s great – but consider it a bonus and not the purpose of what you’re doing.
“Wakanda Forever” Highlights Black Female Leadership That’s Rooted in Community
This article contains some spoilers.
Like many movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever confronts increasingly relevant cultural issues through the action and adventure we’ve come to associate with its superheroes. The film can be described as a meditation on grief, the burden of leadership, and the historical consequences of colonialism by Western nations. But the genius of Ryan Coogler’s second installment of the Blank Panther franchise ultimately lies in how it centers this discussion in black female leadership.
The film begins in a nation forever changed, by both the decision to share its scientific knowledge with the world and the in-universe death of King T’Challa (mirroring the real life loss of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman). Western nations threaten military action as we meet Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), the demigod-like leader of Talokan, a futuristic Mayan underwater empire. Namor offers Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) an ultimatum: Either hand over the brilliant young American scientist, Riri (Dominique Thorne), or face incursion by a seemingly indestructible Talokan army.
I Am Because We Are: Leadership Rooted in Community
Throughout Wakanda Forever, black women lead in every major decision, and their leadership is never questioned based on their gender. The leadership of these women is one that shares power and responsibility, trusting those who are qualified, even in moments of doubt. Decisions are made in consultation with others and they are almost always focused on the good of the whole of Wakanda.
Like most cultures across the African diaspora, these women lead from the principle of Ubuntu: “I am because we are.” Their purpose as individual leaders is found in their belonging to the community.
Even the pivotal question of the movie – that of the correct moral response to threats and colonizing forces – is rooted in female leadership. The defining moment of the film is not when Shuri becomes the Black Panther, but rather when she decides to emulate the example of her mother to show mercy. She discovers her strength as queen when she recalls the joy of the people of Wakanda and Talokan. Her choice of mercy is rooted in a choice to prioritize the flourishing of all, rather than her personal vengeful triumph. It is the culturally grounded leadership of shared responsibility, focused on Ubuntu, that brings resolution and peace. The choice Shuri makes embodies what we read in Gaudium et Spes:
“[The] common good, that is, the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment, today takes on an increasingly universal complexion and consequently involves rights and duties with respect to the whole human race. Every social group must take account of the needs and legitimate aspirations of other groups, and even of the general welfare of the entire human family.”
In its focus on black female leadership, Wakanda Forever invites us to consider how the communal strength of indigenous cultures provides an antidote to the individualism that allows colonialist mentalities to thrive in Western nations. Rather than replicating colonialism with new empires, this black female leadership uses its strength to shelter and protect. By remaining rooted in culture and community, Shuri finds a path that allows everyone to flourish and be a valued ally.
Not Just in the Movies: Women’s Leadership Benefits Communities in the Real World
These cinematic themes are supported by the real world results of women’s leadership. United Nations research shows that women in parliamentary seats are more likely to work across political lines, even in the most polarized nations.
In addition, women in leadership tend to be more effective in communal decision-making. Take, for example, the direct causal relationship between childcare access to representation by women on municipal councils in Norway. Look also at the research in India that shows that female-led village councils were 62% more likely to implement drinking water projects compared to male-led councils.
Pope Francis recently made reference to this reality in his interview with America Magazine, continuing the emphasis on the importance of women’s contributions that began with John Paul II’s 1988 letter Mulieris Dignitatem. To women in the African diaspora, this affirms what they have always lived: That they will work to ensure that every life – whether children, parents, or peers – has a chance to flourish.
Our Faith Calls Us to Community-Focused Leadership
As Catholic women following Jesus and trying to live our faith in the modern world, these reflections on Wakanda Forever invite us to consider how our civil and social institutions could benefit from more female leadership and the wisdom of indigenous cultures.
This wisdom asks us to identify, affirm, and nurture individuals’ gifts in our workplaces, families, and communities. It teaches us to make decisions through our economic, social, and civic activity that consider the good of every individual. It reminds us to consider the impact of our decisions on the whole community, in addition to our own person.
We can do these things individually in our own spheres of influence, as well as within institutions and groups. It takes courage and inner strength, as we see in the journey that Shuri takes in Wakanda Forever. But that inner strength is something each of us can have through our relationship with Jesus Christ. We do not have to be superheroes to make lasting change in our world. We simply need to be women, grounded in our culture and in our community, bringing our feminine genius into the world.
Dear Therapist: What Do I Do When I Want to Go Off Birth Control, but My Partner Disagrees?
I was raised as a lukewarm cradle Catholic, went to private school, and am currently in my final year of my PharmD. For the past two years, I’ve found myself reconnecting with aspects of my former faith, a faith that’s been mostly reduced to wearing a Benedictine medal that a friend gave me years ago and getting into discussions with practicing Catholic friends about progressive issues in the Church.
I’ve been on birth control since I was 14, at first mostly for acne issues. Three years ago, I met the man I believe to be my “life partner.” Initially, we were casually dating so using contraceptives was a no brainer. As time went on and I began to get further into my studies, I realized that my daily pill was becoming inconvenient. I had too many things on my plate to be worrying about whether or not I had taken it.
As we became more exclusive, we both decided that I should try an IUD, which was an excruciating and disappointing process for me because my Asian genetics required custom sizing. After three painful attempts, my gynecologist suggested a Nexplanon. “Great!” I thought, “Finally something that fits my busy lifestyle.” I got it inserted in my arm and we both felt a wave of relief. We became official after that.
Around this time, I got a new roommate. To my distress, she was a Catholic – and a practicing one at that. I thought she could learn a lot from me given our three-year age gap and me nearing my thirties. We stayed up night after night discussing why she, a bright young woman, would be living her life in a faithful way. She began opening up my eyes to a new species of Catholicism, one that was (to my surprise) authentic, generous, relevant, and devoted. We began finding ways to be more sustainable, non-toxic, etc. and we had a surprisingly large amount of similar interests. She was relatable and imperfect and real, and I began to learn from her.
Not that long into our friendship, I got an infection in my arm where the Nexplanon was inserted. She stayed up tending to me and my fever, making me food and making sure my bandage was clean. I was afraid she was going to judge me for having it, so I was ready on the defense, waiting for her inevitable comment. To my surprise, that comment never came. But I wanted her to say something.
I asked her, “So what will you do so you don’t end up with thirty kids?” She laughed and said that while she had a wholehearted openness to any pregnancy she’d have, if she and her husband discerned it was not the right time for serious and private reasons, she’d practice something called NFP or FAM. I was incredulous. I had never heard about it. She explained the science of it, the different methods, the efficacy, and the intentionality required. The more I learned, the more curious I grew. I began to study the resources she sent and ask more questions. I saw her succeed with NFP through her first year of marriage, and through her I learned about the ups and downs, the struggles, and so on. When she and her husband decided to have a baby, they knew exactly all the signs to indicate when to try.
I decided I wanted to try NFP. If not to relieve one less toxic load into the environment by no longer expelling synthetic hormones into our water resources, then I wanted to try NFP to learn all of the valuable information about my body that I was somehow willing to neglect until now. I was scared. I hadn’t had a “real” period since I was 14. Could I even do it? I knew it was going to take some effort.
I talked to my partner about this. He was shocked, to say the least. He begged me to reconsider, stating that if he could take male birth control he would. He sent me article after article about the ramifications of “risking” pregnancy.
After a few months of back and forth, it came down to an ultimatum: He would not risk bringing a child into this world, and he was not willing to “abstain” while I tried to figure it out on my own.
We’ve been together for nearly 4 years and I am certain that if I had never brought this up, we’d be taking the next steps in our relationship. I never expected this response, and I am just not sure what to do. We love each other so much, but I don’t think we can see past the current situation. He’s open to having children in a few years and he’s asked if I would wait until then. But I have never felt so convicted about something in my life.
Do I do what I feel is best for me and risk losing the man I love, or should I wait until he’s ready to risk pregnancy?
Response from Regina Boyd, LMHC
Hey sister, thanks for the question. First, bravo to your friend for helping you through this. People like her are hard to find in life, keep her close if you can.
You said that you would be talking about marriage with this man if it weren’t for the NFP thing, but maybe you still can. These are issues that married people need to discuss as well, and I think it’s critical to have these conversations before marriage, rather than after.
Disagreements that last more than 5 minutes are about the meaning behind the argument, so I would start by getting to the underlying meaning of his position. He says he’s not willing to abstain; what does that mean to him? It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that he is being egocentric, but what if it is something else? Is he afraid of losing a deep connection with you? Does he primarily bond through physical touch? Once you understand the deeper meaning behind his position, you might be able to arrive at a solution that satisfies both his and your desires.
Another question to consider is would he (or you) be willing to abstain for another reason, like you going out of town for work, a temporary or permanent relocation and long distance relationship, or health issues? If he goes out of town for work, does he abstain then?
Finally, you matter, friend. Your desire to take care of your body, to understand how it works naturally, the delicate dance and balance that takes place inside of you each month – all of that is important and is worthy of affirmation. What I hear you saying is, “An important boundary for me is not to jeopardize my health using a hormonal contraceptive.” Just like saying no to sex for another health reason, like recovering from surgery, it is valid for you to set a boundary and prioritize your health. People who don’t respect your boundaries don’t get to trample them, especially if you are thinking of marrying them.
How to Set Boundaries
I would start by sharing the meaning behind your position. Is he aware that you are concerned about your health? Is there anything else you could share to help him understand your desires?
Then, take time to reflect on your wants, needs, and boundaries.
What is absolutely important and necessary in this situation? Those are your needs. I’d suggest that respect, kindness, and honoring one’s dignity are non-negotiable and should be integral to any relationship.
Wants are things that you would like to have, but that can be negotiable. For example, Thai or pizza? Long cuddles or one big bear hug?
Boundaries are those things that you put in place to help preserve your needs. For example, not allowing someone to control, demean, isolate, or manipulate you.
How to Communicate Your Boundaries
Once you’ve taken time to reflect on your wants, needs, and boundaries, let him know that you would like to talk about them. Pick a specific date, time, and place you think would be ideal to have the conversation. When would he be most receptive? Where can you both be relaxed and calm?
Next, talk about your boundaries and why they are important to you. You might say, “I love you and I really can see us getting married one day. I’ve been on such a roller coaster with all of these types of birth control and I want to be at my best, physically, mentally, and emotionally for you. I never want to have to go through something like that again. Can you help me? It’s important to me that we are on this journey together. I need your support, even when it’s hard. It’s hard for me, too.”
Though it won’t be an easy conversation, it will hopefully give you clarity about how to proceed in your relationship. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t add that if a client said that her boyfriend was unwilling to stop having sex with her for any reason, I would say that sounds like a red flag to me. The fact that this is over NFP is immaterial.
I wish you luck, friend. Getting to the real meaning behind your positions is challenging but rewarding, and while learning to set and maintain your boundaries is hard, it will help you have the relationships you deserve.
Thoughtful gifts from women entrepreneurs? Count us in!
We made it easy for you with this list of some of our favorite women-led businesses, especially those with affordable gift options. Read on to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list.
1. Positive affirmation socks from notes to self
Laura Schmidt, an entrepreneur and mom in Kansas City, started notes to self with a mission to spread positivity and kindness through high quality, long-lasting athletic socks that come with affirmations. The socks tap into the power of positive thinking: our subconscious is most receptive early in the morning and late at night, when we’re putting on and taking off our socks. And what makes it even better? notes to self has donated over 100,000 pairs of their socks to homeless shelters, women’s shelters, and children in great need.
Check out some of these sweet affirmations:
2. Upcycled sari scrunchies from Darn Good Yarn
90’s kids rejoice — scrunchies are back in style! Darn Good Yarn supports South Asian women artisans and they upcycle sari fabric that would otherwise be thrown out to make one-of-a-kind skirts, dresses, bags, and accessories. Scrunchies come in a 5 pack, so you can give one or two to each friend!
3. Vinyl stickers from Brick House in the City
We love Brick House in the City’s sticker packs. Their intentional designs are both cute and packed with wisdom from the saints. The Mental Health, Nature, and Women of the Church sticker packs make awesome additions to a laptop or water bottle.
4. S’ip by S’well in Black Chalk or White Sky
Help your bestie stay hydrated with a S’well bottle. These classy 15 oz water bottles from one of today’s most iconic women-led businesses are easy to carry when on the go. Keep it plain or dress it up with vinyl stickers. We like the Black Chalk and White Sky colors.
5. Surprise Ball from Natural Life
Surprise Balls make an affordable and whimsical gift that’s great for your office friend group or as a stocking stuffer for someone who’s hard to shop for. These colorful crepe paper balls have 10 mini-gifts like bracelets, stickers, charms, keychains, and inspiring notes that you find as you unwrap the (many, many, many) layers of crepe. We’re pretty sure it’s impossible to open a Surprise Ball without laughing aloud at the adorable silliness of it all!
6. Miraculous Medal & Crucifix Charms from Chews Life
For your stylish Catholic friend, Chews Life has beautiful accessories from gemstone rosary bracelets to Marian earrings. We’re partial to these affordable, classic-yet-modern charms featuring a miraculous medal and a crucifix that would make a great addition to your friend’s keychain, bracelet, or necklace.
7. Standard or Baby Baggu by Baggu
Baggu’s reusable multipurpose bags make a gorgeous and practical gift for your sustainability-focused friend. They come in eye-popping patterns, fold up into small pouches, and are built to last. Baggu’s designs range from prints like Trippy Swirl Salmon, to solid colors, to collabs with big-name designers. The Standard Baggu can hold up to 50 lbs and is perfect for toting groceries. Baby Baggu is slightly smaller and great for bringing your lunch to work.
8. Pick 6 Tealight Sampler from Corda Candle
We all have that one friend who’s obsessed with candles and has them everywhere in her home. This customizable set of 6 scented candles is perfect for her to try out these high-quality, sustainable tea lights in multiple scents.
9. Wall art prints from Be a Heart
Erica Tighe, the owner of Be a Heart, says that beauty is what brings her closer to God – so it is no surprise that her shop is filled with gorgeous things! This biz has many subtly Catholic prints, some that are already printed and others that are available as digital downloads for you to print off yourself. This stylized gold foil Our Lady of Guadalupe print would be perfect for the friends who are new parents to hang in their child’s nursery, or for anyone with a devotion to La Virgencita to have by their door as they head out for the day.
10. Artisan-made fabric bracelets at Bombchel
Bombchel is a bold Atlanta- and Monrovia-based clothing brand with a full range of women’s clothing and accessories. Many of their products are made by women artisans in Liberia, many of whom are earning a salary for the first time through their employment with the company. We recommend their bracelets made with beautiful West African-inspired prints.
11. Gifts under $35 at The Little Catholic
The Little Catholic has a stunning array of home gifts and accessories under $35, all inspired by Catholic tradition. Some of our favorites are the Mary-inspired headbands and the dainty, vintage-style earrings. We’re also eyeing the Mother Teresa magnet for our kitchen.
Bonus: DIY and Other Affordable Gifts
Your time, attention, and effort all make valuable gifts, too! Here are some simple ways to DIY a thoughtful, affordable gift:
Letter-writing. An oldie but a goodie. Reminisce on meeting your friend for the first time or recall a favorite childhood memory in a note to your cousin. They’ll cherish a handwritten note from you!
Print off a photo and frame it. We have thousands of photos on our phones, but what’s even more impactful than texting that picture of you and your best friend is printing it off for her. If you’d like a frame, you can find an inexpensive one at a secondhand store. Want to DIY it? Break out the mod podge and magazine clippings!
Free photo shoot. If you’re talented at taking photos, offer to take free professional headshots or to update a friend’s family photos. Share the files digitally so that they can choose if or how they want to print them.
Cookie mix gift jar. Buy ingredients in bulk, put on some Christmas tunes, and prep a jar for all your friends while keeping the cost low! Check out these 24 flavor ideas.
DIY spa and beauty products. The gift of a self-care beauty experience doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are 25 ideas for homemade gifts from face masks to sugar scrubs!
Many women who grew up in the Catholic Church were told to emulate Mary, the Mother of God – a woman whose purity and lack of sin can make her difficult to relate to. She is often portrayed in paintings as a meek, pale lady holding the baby Jesus, appearing to be agreeable, polite, and nice: three words that psychologist Dr. Nicole LePera used to describe “Good Girl” conditioning. But was Mary really a “Good Girl”?
Who was Mary?
Mary was a young Jewish woman living in the Roman Empire. Based on our knowledge of Jewish customs at the time of Christ’s birth, the fact that she was betrothed when the angel Gabriel appeared to her suggests that she was around 14 years old (possibly younger).
Mary was not wealthy. In the Gospel of Luke, there is an account of Mary and Joseph’s presentation of Jesus in the temple which recounts that they offered a sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” which according to Mosaic law is only allowed if the woman is unable to afford a lamb to sacrifice (Luke 2:24).
By all accounts, Mary does not have much power in her society: her age, her gender, her religious affiliation, and her socioeconomic status all place her fairly low in the social hierarchy.
Catholic tradition also tells us that Mary was “immaculately conceived” in her mother’s womb, free from original sin, making her an appropriate vessel to one day bear Christ into the world. To be clear, I am not questioning this teaching of the Church. Rather, I am exploring whether Mary fits into the contemporary image of a “Good Girl,” as it is being popularly discussed by psychologists.
What is a “Good Girl”?
As psychologist Dr. Nicole LePera recently explained in a Twitter thread, “‘Good girl’ conditioning is messaging we receive beginning in childhood to be: agreeable, polite, and nice.” These seem like good traits that we should try to emulate. But the problem lies in how far women are asked to go in order to keep up this image. Namely, to the extent that they are asked to betray their own needs or values in order to win other people’s approval.
Dr. LePera gives the following example: “As a young girl you feel uncomfortable around your uncle. He drinks a lot and is loud and your intuition guides you to avoid him. Your (well-meaning) mother senses your discomfort. Rather than helping to guide you through those emotions, to validate you, and to teach you how to honor your own boundaries: she tells you that you have to give him a hug. It's polite. And, she tells you that you can't ‘look rude.’”
As a result, she explains, girls learn that “external appearance is more important than internal feelings.”
Later in life, this conditioning often shows its effects when we are constantly appeasing others and avoiding conflict. Some examples of this are given by Dr. LePera: when “you feel bad asking for a waitress to fix your order, when you over-explain that you can't attend an event, when you automatically defer to someone else's opinion.” Or, to use an example from my own life: when you always dread the interview question that asks for an example of how you handle conflict, because you don’t have any. You avoid it at all costs.
Mary’s Fiat: Empowering or Appeasing?
With those terms established, we can return to our original question: Was Mary a “Good Girl”?
To begin to answer this question, we need to look at the story of the Annunciation in the Gospel of Luke. When the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, she is “greatly troubled” (Luke 1:29). And she is not alone in this feeling. For all of the artwork we have of adorable cherubs, angels are actually very frightening creatures. When Gabriel visited Zechariah to announce that his wife, Elizabeth, was pregnant with John the Baptist, he was also “greatly troubled by what he saw” (Luke 1:12).
Most of us have heard the story that comes next: Gabriel tells Mary, “Do not be afraid,” before explaining to her that she is to give birth to a child named Jesus. Mary says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” This last line is celebrated as Mary’s “fiat” – her “yes” to God which enabled the birth of Jesus to be possible.
This question of whether Mary was a “Good Girl” hinges on whether she really said “yes” freely, without coercion. The word “yes” doesn’t appear in the English translation of the Bible. And she was never actually asked a question: everything that the angel Gabriel said comes across as a command, or at least a statement of fact: “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus” (Luke 1:31) and “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).
It could seem like God sent Gabriel to tell Mary what she was expected to do, and she went along with it because there was a frightening, mysterious being in front of her who was literally sent by an all-powerful God. And, being immaculately conceived, does Mary even have the capacity to say “no” to God? Would that be considered a sin?
If Mary wasn’t actually presented with a choice – or even if she was, but she remained terrified and unable to make an uncoerced decision – then Mary failed to stand up for her own needs and went along with someone else’s plan, despite potential concerns about how it would change her life. This sounds like what Dr. LePera described: ignoring our own needs and desires to win approval from others (in this case, God). If those of us with “Good Girl” conditioning feel pressure to sacrifice our own needs to please mere humans in front of us, it is not too hard to imagine that a 14-year-old girl would feel pressure to please a divine being by going along with their plan.
Yet, after Gabriel’s assurance to “be not afraid,” Mary doesn’t act afraid. In fact, even before Gabriel said that, her reaction was different than that of Zechariah. Pope Benedict XVI writes about this in his book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. Zechariah was “greatly troubled” and afterwards, “fear fell upon him” (Luke 1:12). Mary too was “greatly troubled,” but afterwards she “pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29). She was seeking to understand what was happening, rather than cowering in fear (Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, p.33).
Mary has enough courage to ask the question, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Luke 1:34). And at the end of their interaction, the fact that she felt the need to say “let it be done to me according to your will” suggests that she sensed that the angel was waiting for some sort of consent. When she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth shortly after the angel’s visit, both women joyfully celebrated their pregnancies, and Mary describes how God “has done great things for me” in the prayer that is called her “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-50).
If that is the case, and she freely chose to become pregnant with Jesus, then Mary demonstrated incredible courage in the face of a daunting circumstance. She decided – without the permission of her father or her betrothed – to bear a child into the world in a way that would necessarily cause conflict and potential physical harm.
In becoming pregnant before she had gone to live with her betrothed, Mary was breaking a huge social norm. She would have known that her pregnancy would upset the majority of people around her. Until Joseph was visited by Gabriel himself, he would have thought that she had slept with another man, committing adultery. This was an offense that was punishable by stoning under Mosaic law, which is why Joseph had “decided to divorce her quietly” so as to not “expose her to shame” (Matthew 1:19). No one she encountered – other than those who had also interacted with the angel – would have understood that this baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and she remained a virgin.
Anyone with “Good Girl” conditioning would cringe at the thought of all of the conflict that could come from such a situation: all of the disapproving stares, demeaning words, and actual physical harm. Mary may have cringed too – but she did it anyway.
So, Which One Is It?
This question is hugely important, not just for our understanding of Mary, but also for our understanding of God. If God sent an angel to Mary with the intent of ordering her to bear a child into the world – a fully divine child – then God does not actually care about our free will. God would be a puppet master who orchestrates our lives at whim, and we would be mere puppets.
But if God sent an angel to Mary with the intent of appointing a more-approachable (though still initially frightening) mediator to bring God’s message and to await Mary’s response, then God is a loving parent who, though He knows what is best for us, allows us to make our own choices. God is a God who “lifts up the lowly” (Luke 1:52) rather than exploiting them like powerful human beings tend to do. God entrusts the “lowly” with large roles in the work of bringing about His kingdom, but He waits on them to choose to participate.
Theologians have explored these issues in depth – too much depth to fully go into here. But it is widely accepted among Catholic theologians of different persuasions that Mary did, in fact, have a fully free choice.
Pope Benedict XVI writes that the entire mission of Jesus is dependent on this freedom. Because humans first made the free choice to turn away from God, “the only way he can redeem man, who was created free, is by means of a free ‘yes’ to his will . . . His power is tied to the unenforceable ‘yes’ of a human being” (Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, p. 36).
To contemporary feminist theologians, this free choice of Mary demonstrates her strength.
In her book Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, Elizabeth Johnson writes:
“This young peasant girl discerns the voice of God in her life, commissioning her to a momentous task. Exercising independent thought and action, she asks questions, takes counsel with her own soul. In a self-determining act of personal autonomy, she decides to go for it. This is her choice and it changes her life. A woman of Spirit, she embarks on the task of partnering God in the work of redemption.”
In her book Standing in the Shoes My Mother Made: A Womanist Theology, Diana Hayes writes:
“Black Catholics also speak a new and challenging word about Mary, the mother of God, rejecting the symbol of passivity for the courageous and outrageous authority of a young unwed mother who had the faith in herself and in her God to break through the limitations society placed upon her in order to say a powerful yes to God, standing alone yet empowered. Hers was not a yes to being used merely as a passive, empty vessel, but a yes to empowerment, challenging the status quo by her ability to overcome those who doubted and denied her and to nurture and bring forth her Son as a woman of faith and conviction.”
Mary was a courageous woman who chose to dive headlong into conflict in order to do what she believed was right. She broke social norms and didn’t let a desire to please other people stop her. She celebrated how God worked in the world, upsetting the status quo by throwing down rulers from their thrones, and believed that when she participated in that work of disruption, “all ages will call [her] blessed” (Luke 1:48).
So, no, Mary was not a “Good Girl.”
Taylor Swift’s “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” is the Catholic Guilt Anthem We Didn't Know We Needed
Please read with discretion, as this post has content related to intimate partner violence and sexual abuse.
Taylor Swift has a reputation for writing lyrics that pack a punch – they’re gorgeously poetic and yet heart-wrenchingly relatable. In a hidden gem vault track from Midnights (3 a.m. Edition), Swift (who is rumored to be a cradle Catholic) has proven herself even more relatable to her Catholic fans with a song that I would like to dub the unofficial Catholic guilt anthem: “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve.”
The Story Behind “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve”
In the song, Swift reflects on a relationship that she had more than a decade ago and the ways in which it has continued to affect her. Due to the specific details she includes, it is widely believed to reference her relationship with John Mayer, during which he was 32 and she was just 19.
In the immediate aftermath of their breakup, she wrote the angsty ballad, “Dear John,” calling Mayer out for his emotionally manipulative behavior and expressing her regret for not heeding her loved ones’ warnings to stay away from him. In that song, she concluded, “I should’ve known.” Fans speculate that re-recording “Dear John” for the upcoming Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) caused a resurgence of feelings, causing her to reflect on the relationship and what she would say to her younger self.
The title of her newer track, “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” (WCS) signifies her expanding understanding of the different layers of hurt that came along with their relationship and of the complicated guilt that goes further than a simple, “I should’ve known better.”
On the one hand, she does feel that she could have and should have stayed away from the relationship, which even at the time she knew went against her better judgment. She takes responsibility for her choice, noting that she believed she wanted it at the time and that “the pain was heaven.
On the other hand, though, she realizes that the guilt should not be entirely hers to bear. WCS is particularly poignant because Swift wrote it at the age Mayer was when the pair dated, giving her new insights into the ways she believes he took advantage of her youthful naïveté. She criticizes him for pursuing a relationship with her despite a large age difference and power imbalance. She admonishes him for “wash[ing his] hands” of any moral responsibility for entering into a predatory grooming relationship with her just because she was technically a legal adult: “And if I was a child, did it matter if you got to wash your hands?”
As in “Dear John,” she expresses indignation at the emotional manipulation that left her feeling hurt: “But, Lord, you made me feel important, and then you tried to erase us.” Her choice of diction throughout the song is extremely violent (“pain,” “wound,” “poison,” “weapon,” “hitting”), highlighting their unhealthy relationship dynamics. While she admits to her role in the dysfunction (“living for the thrill of hitting you where it hurts”), she makes it clear that she sees Mayer as the true villain, straight-up referring to their time together as a “dance with the Devil.” In her most gut-punching line, she skillfully makes herself sound like a teenager again as she demands that Mayer give back all he has taken from her: “Give me back my girlhood; it was mine first!”
But ultimately, the song is not about Mayer as much as it is about how the situation affected her relationship with herself, her heart, and her faith.
“Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” and Faith
WCS is dense with religious imagery. Swift laments, “Ooh, all I used to do was pray,” and reflects that if she had known better, “I would’ve stayed on my knees, and I damn sure never would have danced with the Devil.” She mentions “heaven,” “stained glass windows,” and “the God’s honest truth,” and the official lyric video has background scenes of churches and candles.
There are all sorts of biblical allusions. She calls out Mayer for “wash[ing his] hands” of responsibility, à la Pontius Pilate. She reflects with remorse, “And now that I know, I wish you'd left me wondering,” which could be an allusion to Eve’s regret after eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. And the line, “The wound won't close, I keep on waiting for a sign,” is reminiscent of Doubting Thomas, who needed a sign that the resurrected Jesus was real, and the sign he was given was Christ’s open wound.
The religious imagery comes together to contribute to her thesis: “You’re a crisis of my faith.” That is, the guilt she felt from acting against her better judgment and the shame she felt as a result of the abuse she experienced ended up destroying her faith. The regret and shame she felt was not just a compartmentalized remorse over one bad decision; it permeated her whole sense of identity and self-worth, distancing her from the Church she had previously taken comfort in.
Part of this distance may have stemmed from a purity culture that made her feel irreparably damaged by certain sexual behaviors she might have engaged in (consensually or not). “If you never touched me, I would've gone along with the righteous. If I never blushed, then they could've never whispered about this,” she reflects. “If you never touched me” is in the passive voice, suggesting she may have not been entirely comfortable with the speed of their relationship. But “If I never blushed” is in the active voice, suggesting that she felt actively guilty about what they were doing together. In purity culture, girls are taught that straying from Church teachings makes them like a chewed up piece of gum or a “crumpled up piece of paper” (to make another Swift reference) – in other words, irreparably tarnished and unworthy.
Against her will, she feels like something has been taken from her. When she implores, “Give me back my girlhood!” there is so much pain there, and it is about more than just sex. By making sexual purity a proxy for all virtues, purity culture puts so much of a woman’s identity up for grabs as something that can be taken from her by a man. When Swift demands her girlhood back, it could be about virginity, but it could also be about herself – her trust in her own convictions, her sense of belonging in the Church, her hope of true love, her belief in her own goodness, her childlike relationship with God, or any number of other facets of girlhood. She feels that Mayer had the power to transform her from a girl into a woman, before she was ready and against her will – but no man ought to have the power to do that. This erroneous belief is the result of a grossly distorted purity culture.
As a consequence, she sees herself as irrevocably changed. She will never know who she would have been if she hadn’t been in this relationship. In fact, she uses the same “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve” language in another bonus track on the album, “Bigger Than the Whole Sky.” This track is often thought to be about mourning a miscarriage or another loss of a loved one, but an alternate interpretation bolstered by the lyrical parallelism is that Swift is mourning the woman she could have become if she didn't make the choices she regrets: “I’m never gonna meet what would’ve been, could’ve been, should’ve been you.”
Indeed, throughout WCS, Swift explicitly confesses, “I miss who I used to be,” and “I regret you all the time.” She wants to be past that chapter of her life, but more than a decade later, “the wound won’t close.” Even as she has moved on from Mayer, dated other guys, and is now in a committed and happy long-term relationship, something is impeding her healing process. She reflects, “If clarity’s in death then why won’t this die? Years of tearing down our banners, you and I.” A banner is like a flag, something that represents a cause you have allegiance to. She felt that she had to tear down the banner of her faith as she was no longer worthy to wave that flag. And yet, it doesn’t bring her the healing she hopes for; the pain won’t die.
“God rest my soul,” she begs repeatedly. As a result of her shame, she can no longer find peace in the Church the way she used to. But she can’t find that peace outside the Church either, and something in her heart keeps pulling her mind back: “stained glass windows in my mind.”
As she cycles through lamentations in the outro, sometimes she tellingly switches up “the wound won’t close” with “the tomb won’t close,” recalling the open tomb at Jesus’ resurrection. As hard as she tries to shut her faith out of her life – to close Jesus in the tomb – the tomb won’t close. Jesus refuses to let shame be the stone that closes off her relationship with Him.
Catharsis for our Catholic Guilt
Swift’s lyrics tend to be intensely personal, referencing hyper-specific details. And while we may not be able to identify with specific details, she has a magnificent power to make art that resonates with so many. In this case, I’m calling “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” a Catholic guilt anthem because it rings true with those who are grappling with Catholic guilt.
The guilt and regret that manifest in the song are palpable, but this guilt is not just a result of the narrator’s bad choices. There are several factors at play:
1) She made a choice that she knew at the time went against her parents’ and friends’ warnings and what she had been taught was right. She chose to do it anyway.
2) She was manipulated and/or taken advantage of in some way in the relationship. There was likely emotional or psychological abuse, and possibly some level of physical or sexual violence. By its nature as abuse, this is not her fault, and she is not morally culpable.
3) There is another layer of guilt and shame laid on her by our Puritanical religious culture that puts too much emphasis on sexual purity at the expense of a regard for the whole person: Swift’s lyrics suggest that she feels so damaged by her shame-filled experience from years ago that there is still deep pain in her relationship with God and the Church, which affects her to this day.
Each layer of the wound requires a different treatment: Confession, therapy, and reform, respectively.
Confession and Therapy: Remedies for Catholic Guilt
Sometimes, Catholic guilt is good. It’s a way that the Holy Spirit talks to us through our conscience, letting us know when we’ve missed the mark, and calling us to do better. We should feel guilty if we knowingly did something we shouldn’t have. In that case, we have the sacrament of Confession, in which we own up to our role in the wrongdoing and are graced with relief from guilt and a path to true healing.
However, there is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is a productive feeling meant to lead us back to God, whereas shame leaves us feeling isolated, empty, and alone. Guilt tells us that what we did is wrong. Shame tells us that who we are is wrong.
In WCS, Swift illuminates the complicated interplay between the two feelings, both the guilt she feels for her choices that led to the unhealthy relationship, but also the shame that grew within her as a result of the abusive dynamics.
Some priests – often those who have training as therapists or gifts of emotional intelligence – can sit with us in Confession and help us sort through which of our perceived sins are true sins and which are a result of our distorted perceptions. People who have experienced abusive relationships or have been coerced as a result of power imbalances often feel shame for things that they are not morally culpable for.
No matter how ashamed you feel, I am here to tell you that being abused is not – and can never be – a sin. Even if you didn't fight back, even if you didn't say no, even if you experienced mixed feelings at the time.
And while the Church’s stance on this is unequivocal, priests are imperfect, individual men, and not all of them do a great job of communicating this truth in the confessional, either because they’re short on time or poorly trained or just not exceptionally comfortable with these delicate topics. I wish all priests were trained as therapists, but they’re not. (In fact, there is a shortage of both.) Regardless of whether Confession makes you feel fully healed on the spiritual level, it’s also good to seek healing on the human level – and that is precisely what therapy is for.
In fact, one Swiftie described WCS as “‘Dear John’ after therapy.” In “Dear John,” Swift’s emotions are raw, full of anger and self-blaming. In WCS, however, she comes to an understanding that she was young back then, and a grown man was emotionally abusing her. With distance, she is able to reflect on how it affected her and look back more empathetically at her younger self. Her anger is not the fresh anger in the moment but rather the righteous, protective anger of someone who sees an injustice being done. She sees herself more tenderly, more like the beloved child God sees, a sign of therapy-induced growth.
“Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” and Unhealed Religious Trauma
The religious imagery of WCS struck a chord in a similar way among different listeners who were raised Catholic, but who are no longer practicing for various reasons. The song has brought up the pain of feeling ostracized by or unsafe in a Church that was once so important in their lives.
On TikTok, many people are using sound from WCS to reflect on their religious trauma from experiences like coming out as queer, being slut-shamed, or experiencing an unwillingness to accommodate their needs as disabled or neurodivergent people.
In the Gospels, Jesus showed kindness toward women who worked as prostitutes and women who had committed adultery, and yet sexuality – especially women’s sexuality that is deemed deviant for one reason or another – has been made into this all-consuming, identity-definining thing. We have turned sexuality into a gatekeeper for our churches to keep out the very people that Jesus was making a concerted effort to reach.
Crucially, in our efforts to build bridges to welcome lapsed Catholics back, we need to recognize the trauma that has been inflicted on young, impressionable Catholic kids and teens by bad theology and particularly by bad sexual ethics education. We need to recognize that people in the Church have done things that have pushed others away from their relationship with God. As a Church, we need to recognize that harm, reach out with humility rather than judgment, and work to repair the relationship.
Holding Abusers Accountable, Inside and Outside the Church
And with this discussion of abuse, I would be remiss not to mention the ways in which the Church’s sex abuse crisis has led to a crisis of faith for so many of us. Swift’s line, “If I was some paint, did it splatter on a promising grown man” hits like a punch in the stomach, and it holds a damning mirror up to the abuse scandals and cover ups in the Church.
Swift uses this clever play on words to reference the trope of the college rapist who should not have to face consequences for his actions because he is such a “promising young man.” But in the case of her abuser, and so many of the abusive priests in our Church, he was a grown man who should have been held accountable for his actions but instead was protected and valued above the victim because of all his potential.
I can’t help but think of the case of a priest at Franciscan University that recently came to light. When the victim of abuse by Fr. David Morrier tried to disclose her abuse to another priest, Fr. Shawn Roberson, he cut her off and accused her of splattering paint on the promising Morrier’s reputation: “I’m sure if I go home tonight, and ask Fr. Morrier about this, which I intend to do, he will have a different story, so instead of sitting here gossiping, which is a sin, why don’t we focus on why we are here and that is you and your problems.”
Stories like these are enough to cause a crisis of faith for anyone. I wish the institutional Church would’ve, could’ve been better. It certainly should’ve.
It’s time for us to turn to the sacraments and therapy to seek healing for our Catholic guilt. We must be the hands and heart of the Church by reaching out to others to welcome them back and heal their religious trauma. And we must remind the Church that it should, can, and must do better to prevent and punish abuse, protect the vulnerable, and generally act more like Jesus.
Author’s Note: This piece is best described as a literary analysis through a close reading of Taylor Swift’s art. I don’t know Swift on a personal level. When I refer to Swift, I’m talking about her as the protagonist of the autobiographical song. As it is literary analysis, this involves a lot of speculation and reading between the lines, so any assumptions I make about the nature of her relationship with Mayer or with her faith are purely speculation. That’s between her and God, and I’m sure she’d like to keep it that way.