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:
I am strong
I am loved
I am joyful
I am beautiful
I am a great mom
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.
Julie Wyma is in her late thirties, has a full time job, and is recently separated. She spent the summer tracking her period and preparing for a series of hormone injections. “I started my period five minutes before singing a concert. I was like, alright, it’s go time, this is happening.” As soon as the concert ended, she began the carefully planned flight of hormone shots. Julie, like thousands of women across Europe and the United States, is freezing her eggs.
Why do Julie and so many other women make this choice?
A Desire for a Family, but No Partner to Make it Happen
Since the pandemic, egg retrieval has increased by 39%. Julie’s reasons for egg extraction and storage could come from any of the thousands of women seeking out the procedure: “I might still want to have children someday, but I can’t right now, and I want to keep the possibility open.”
The Mayo Clinic offers four reasons for why a woman might freeze her eggs: having a disease or an autoimmune disorder that threatens fertility, undergoing medical treatment that affects fertility (such as chemotherapy), preparing for in vitro fertilization, or “wish[ing] to preserve younger eggs now for future use.”
It’s this last reason that drives most women to seek out fertility preservation, but the impetus for it is not always their career.
When a study from NYU asked women going through egg preservation why they were choosing to pursue the procedure, “the overwhelming (88%) reason cited was lack of a partner.” Yes, careers and family planning factored in, but the primary reason why women in the study sought to preserve future fertility is because they had not found a partner with whom to start a family, and they wanted to keep that dream alive.
It’s Not Always Possible to Put a Career on Hold
In September 2022, the New York Times published an article about the less-than-desirable success rate of egg freezing. Aside from pointing out the skyrocketing interest in the past few years, the article’s comments section offers a glimpse into the lived experience many women have when offered the chance to preserve their eggs, delaying the opportunity to conceive children:
“I would have loved to have had my children 10 years earlier – but this was not accommodated at the time.”
“Both women and men should be able to step out of the rat race during their most fertile years and put some focus on establishing a family, without being punished. In fact, we should be providing financial assistance to help offset the cost, since it’s almost impossible to have a lucrative career by your mid 20’s.”
“Change the workplace and career expectations so that young people can have children without forever being sidelined into the ‘mommy’ or ‘daddy’ track and never allowed to resume their genuine careers again.”
“We inflict upon ourselves costly and often painful medical procedures with a mere hope of future family life, rather than building a humane society in which such choices are unnecessary.”
“I lay the blame at the feet of a society and government that has created a system where young people spend their youth stressed about repaying loans, where hookups are taking the place of relationships, where both partners need to work for their whole lives to be able to afford basic necessities, where we are brainwashed into thinking that we are aren't ‘successful’ unless we making lots of money, where a woman is told that she isn't liberated unless she is being ‘productive’ in the service of capitalism, and where everything traditional is dismissed as regressive.”
Peppered in between comments celebrating the technology that makes freezing possible lies an overwhelming sentiment of frustration that it’s needed at all. Those commenting are self-selecting, and yet the anger expressed in the wake of this article is indicative of the larger problem facing women today: couples often determine it’s just not possible, financially or professionally, to raise a child during your prime career-building years.
As the Stigma of Egg Freezing Recedes, Curiosity Rises
“It’s been interesting how many conversations I’ve had with women from all areas of my life – and some men, too – who are really interested in the subject of egg freezing and of fertility in general, and who have been eager to have conversations about it,” shared Julie. “It’s clearly something we’re all interested in talking more about, we just need someone to get the ball rolling.”
For someone like Julie, in her thirties and exiting a marriage, the opportunity to freeze her eggs is not something she looked into before her divorce. “Like many women, I was thrown off for a little bit when my life timeline didn’t take the same timeline of marriage and children as my mother’s did.”
What is the Church’s Response to Egg Freezing?
In 2008, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith built upon Donum Vitae (Instruction for Respect of Human Life) with Dignitas Personae, which directly addresses egg freezing. The document acknowledges that “in order avoid the serious ethical problems posed by the freezing of embryos, the freezing of oocytes has also been advanced in the area of techniques of in vitro fertilization,” which is to say that couples pursuing in vitro fertilization may choose to freeze eggs instead of embryos to avoid the ethical problem of what to do with fertilized embryos if they are no longer needed. “Once a sufficient number of oocytes has been obtained for a series of attempts at artificial procreation, only those which are to be transferred into the mother’s body are fertilized while the others are frozen for future fertilization and transfer should the initial attempts not succeed.”
“In this regard,” says the Vatican, “it needs to be stated that cryopreservation of oocytes for the purpose of being used in artificial procreation is to be considered morally unacceptable.” The chief concern for the Catholic Church is to avoid the destruction of embryos, which constitute a form of life deserving of protection.
However, the Vatican does not directly address the preservation of eggs without a specific plan and in hopes of future pregnancy.
The guidance to date from the USCCB, such as Reproductive Technology (Evaluation & Treatment of Infertility) Guidelines for Catholic Couples and Reproductive Technology Evaluation and Treatment of Infertility offer commentary on multiple forms of artificial fertility assistance, but do not explicitly address the choice to freeze eggs. The Catholic Education Resource Center is equally vague: “These are very real questions that we don't have answers to yet, but that need to be considered. We need to revalue the natural and to recognize that just because we can use technology to do an end run around nature does not mean that we are necessarily wise in doing so.”
FemCatholic has previously explored why the popular movement for employers to offer egg freezing as part of compensation might not be in the best interest of the employee. Analysis suggests that employers use the promise of egg freezing to encourage employees to put off children, thus remaining productive workers. It’s cheaper for a business to cover the procedure to freeze eggs than it is to cover the cost of birth, parental leave, and an additional dependent.
Paul Lauridzen’s 2010 paper on Technology and Wholeness: Oncofertility and Catholic Tradition sought to answer this question from a Catholic perspective as well, finding “the Catholic Church has not issued a specific directive about this technology, [however] the general teaching on assisted reproduction is sufficiently clear that we can reasonably extrapolate from prior teaching to predict the likely response of the Vatican to this technology.”
Julie sees no conflict. “We live in a time when we are blessed with scientific innovation,” she explained. “I trust in God and my doctors. Neither of those things diminishes the other.”
The Question of Egg Freezing is Woven With Several Others
As with most issues facing women today, the question of egg freezing is woven with multiple threads.
Why are women having children later? Why do professional women struggle to support families? Why is it so hard for women of child-bearing age to find a suitable partner?
What policies are needed to ensure fair wages and access to childcare? Is the opportunity to freeze eggs an employee benefit, or does it stigmatize employees who choose to have children? Is access to egg freezing a benefit to women or a societal excuse to avoid tackling bigger issues of female equality?
Does discourse surrounding Church teaching allow enough space for the nuance of a woman’s lived experience?
Julie is under no illusions about the future she may face, should she choose to become pregnant. “I am incredibly grateful that the state of scientific development allows me the gift of extending my body’s timeline. It is, however, a burden that there is so little social support in general that it is in many cases impossible or extremely difficult for a woman to have a child on her own, generally paying out of pocket for conception or adoption and then being the single caregiver and earner for her family,” she said. “I feel that in general, society doesn’t do women many favors.”
How to Embrace Advent (And Not Get Sick of Christmas Before December 25th)
The commercial Christmas season has been in full swing for nearly a month. A season that once began at Thanksgiving with mall displays, Christmas music, and holiday-themed ads now begins at Halloween (sometimes even earlier). It is no longer unusual to see skeletons and Santas side by side.
Three months of Christmas feels overwhelming, especially when the season has become synonymous with Instagram-worthy trees, picture-ready outfits, and the perfectly curated gift list. Don't get me wrong. Christmas is supposed to be a party, just not in November.
If you’re trying to not get sick of Christmas before it even starts, here are five ways to bring meaning to your Advent and reclaim the real Christmas season – all two weeks of it.
1. Let tasks linger on your to-do list.
Advent is a season of anticipation, yet filling the time leading up to Christmas with "doing" leaves little time for "waiting." Find meaning in the weeks before Christmas by giving yourself a different kind of gift: one of space and time.
Resist the temptation to get all of your Christmas preparations done by a specific date, or at all. Add in time to your calendar each day to pause for five minutes to stretch, walk outside, or pray. Trust that you'll get done each day what you were meant to and that all the rest can be saved for another time. Whatever strategy you choose, remember this: it's awfully hard to wait for something when time is a blur.
2. Prolong decorating.
Whether it's Fourth of July, Valentine's Day, or Christmas, decorations orient us to the season we're in. They’re an anchor to a specific place and moment in time.
But before you put up the Christmas tree this weekend, pause to consider what Advent décor would look like. How can the surroundings in your home symbolize a season of waiting?
In my house, Advent décor is, well, half-up Christmas décor. I let the anticipation of Christmas build by intentionally not creating the picture-perfect Christmas scene. Some years, our tree isn't fully decorated until the days before Christmas. Advent is a time of "in progress," a car ride of "not there yet." So let your decorations be in progress, too.
3. Save something for Christmas.
Decorations don't just represent a specific moment in time; they also represent the passing of time. As you take your time decorating, consider what in your home can mark the end of Advent and the start of Christmas. On Christmas Eve, how can you visually represent that the time of waiting has ended, and that it's now time to party?
In our house, we save our outdoor Christmas lights for – you guessed it – Christmas Eve. In fact, it has become a fun tradition. Just before Christmas Eve Mass, we gather outside, count down, and have our own lighting ceremony. As we drive off to Mass, we gaze at the blaze of lights and what they signify: the wait is over.
4. Linger in your new rituals.
Moving from routine to ritual and back again at lighting speed can take away the meaning of all of it. Allow yourself time to linger in the rituals you use to celebrate Advent or Christmas.
Maybe stay at Mass a few minutes longer each Sunday of Advent, sitting in the pew until your body feels the discomfort of waiting. (Imagine the discomfort Mary must have felt, too!) When lighting an Advent wreath or opening a door of an Advent calendar, pause for a prayer. Whatever your ritual, allow yourself some time for it to really sink in.
5. Leave the tree up (and keep the party going!).
When the season starts months ahead of time, it is no surprise that people are done with Christmas once the day is over. (Has anyone else noticed the number of Christmas trees that are out on the curb by December 26th?)
Before you toss that tree out, remember that Christmas Day is only the start of the Christmas season. It is meant to last nearly two weeks! Spend time during Advent to plan how you will celebrate each day of the Christmas season. Maybe it's dessert every night after dinner, or perhaps you save a gift or two from Christmas morning to open later. You can even use the 12+ days of Christmas to lighten your Advent to-do list. Consider sending your Christmas cards during this time or host that Christmas party you weren't able to earlier in the month. However you decide to do it, make the most of those days. They're meant to be a party!
In the Catholic Church, Christmas is a season all to itself, just not the same season that department stores and TV commercials would have you believe. This Advent, bring intention to how you move through the weeks before Christmas. Above all, recognize that this time is not yet Christmas. Those days are coming, but they are not yet here. And that's okay – all the best things are worth waiting for.
Please read with discretion, as this post has content related to sexual assault and gun violence.
“Sometimes I feel like a wind-up doll. Turn my key, and I’ll tell you exactly what you want to hear,” confesses Ani Fanelli (Mila Kunis), the protagonist of Luckiest Girl Alive. It’s a fitting descriptor for a woman whose entire persona has been carefully manufactured to manipulate others, elevate her status, and bury her trauma.
Her stream-of-consciousness narration is full of biting one-liners, but the wind-up doll analogy is the only one stated twice: once in her head and once out loud to her fiancé, Luke Harrisson (Finn Wittrock). The revelation that she has been lying to please him has the potential to shatter their tenuous relationship, but it’s a necessary first step in the long process of transforming an automaton into a human being.
Luckiest Girl Alive, directed by Mike Barker with a screenplay by Jessica Knoll (author of the novel by the same name), is a story about the impact of trauma, inelegantly wrapped up in the trappings of a whodunnit thriller. At its best, it’s a raw depiction of how untended pain tears apart our relationships and our sense of self. At its worst, it’s clunky, joyless, and exploitative.
Ultimately, it fails to satisfy as it substitutes career success and the ability to toss out a cutting zinger for genuine personal growth.
This review contains spoilers.
At the start of the film, Ani appears to be living a charmed life, writing for an elite women’s magazine and engaged to the wealthy and handsome Luke. However, those of us privy to her inner thoughts quickly become aware that not everything is as it seems. Within the first few minutes, Ani describes her romance as a “grift,” lies to Luke about eating a pizza, and experiences a shocking flashback to holding a bloody knife. She artfully covers her PTSD while continuing to browse for registry items at Williams-Sonoma.
Her lies extend to other areas of her life. Her mom, Dina (Connie Britton), drunk and obnoxious at her wedding dress fitting, points out that Ani’s modest gown was chosen to please the stuffy high-society snobs who will be her guests, rather than reflect her own tastes. While Dina’s manner of delivering this message is brutally unkind, Ani is most upset by the fact that she is right.
Ani embraces the grift at work as well, commandeering her boss’ corner office for meetings where she pretends to be an executive. This is a risky endeavor, considering this same boss has promised to bring Ani along with her to The New York Times Magazine. But Ani’s entire life is a carefully constructed charade built around a single goal: legitimacy.
To cut an extremely long and convoluted story short, Ani’s aim is to become high-status enough that people will finally believe her when she confronts her rapist.
Dean Barton (Alex Barone) is a respected author and gun control activist, having been confined to a wheelchair after living through the “deadliest private school shooting in American history.” He has also publicly accused Ani, who was a scholarship kid at the elite Brentley School, of having been involved in the attack. It’s his way of discrediting her accusations of rape, a strategy that has worked well thus far. As long as Ani writes sex columns and he’s in a wheelchair, she considers herself at a disadvantage. Maybe if she gets that job at the Times, she thinks, she’ll be ready. Then again, her heirloom engagement ring is a useful tool for manipulating emotions. “How dare anyone think I did any of that while wiping away a single tear wearing this ring?” she ponders.
There’s a lot happening in Ani’s backstory. As it slowly unfolds in flashback, we piece together a story that combines gang rape with a school shooting that culminates in Ani first being urged to shoot her rapist and then stabbing the shooter to death.
Any one of these traumas would be enough to motivate Ani’s emotional retreat. When combined, the impact of the individual events gets lost in a haze of pain. The intention seems to be that Ani’s trauma isn’t normal trauma, that she is in fact the unluckiest girl alive, but the effect is that everything is minimized. For many viewers, it must feel like a bit of an insult.
Little by little, Ani decides to open up about her past, but truth-telling doesn’t come easily for her. Her first attempt, motivated by a documentary filmmaker, is full of her standard obfuscations. Notably, she presents her mother as having supported her, when in fact Dina blamed her for jeopardizing her status and putting herself “at risk.” When Dean interrupts the filming, she walks out on the movie, determined to tell the story her own way. But her first attempt at a New York Times exposé falls flat.
Ani’s boss and mentor is the only person who sees through her act and encourages her to reveal the true source of her pain. “It’s a lot easier to be angry with the guy,” her mentor advises, “An approximation of honesty doesn’t make the cut at the paper of record. Write it like no one will ever read it.” It’s good advice, and we’re glad when Ani finally takes it. Her second draft is a searing indictment not only of Dean, but of everyone who failed her throughout her adolescence. For the fiancé Luke, it’s also a validation of what he’s always feared: that he’s nothing more than “another box you have to check off to convince yourself you’re doing okay.” The revelation could have been an opportunity for Luke and Ani to finally be vulnerable with one another. Instead, Luke gets angry at Ani for not being “fun” anymore and wishes she would deal with her emotions “in private.” It’s a waste of potential for growth, which bodes poorly for the rest of the movie.
It’s good that Ani tells the truth, not only for the sake of justice but for her own mental health. Unfortunately, Ani’s honesty doesn’t seem to prompt any actual healing. Instead, Ani gets a spot on the Today Show and, of course, the coveted New York Times job. Oh, and she gets to curse out a nasty lady on the street who criticizes her for outing Dean as a rapist. “I’ll always remember you as the woman I told to go f*** herself on Fifth Avenue.” Cha-ching! Victory!
It’s a pretty empty victory. A job at The New York Times and the ability to tell people off with confidence are both poor substitutes for what Ani really needs: love and support.
Most people who face their trauma head-on are not rewarded with a dream job. They’re not rewarded with anything other than the possibility of a more fulfilling life, a more honest life, and the ability to trust again. Ani doesn’t seem to get any of these, so the whole journey ends up feeling bleak and empty. The premise of the ending seems to be that it’s better to be alone with honesty than in relationships built on false pretenses. That’s inarguably true, but it’s also a false binary. By the end of the movie, we yearn to see something new replace the emptiness Ani has carried inside of her.
We yearn for Ani to experience hope. Hope is what keeps us moving through pain, rather than mired in it. Hope makes room in the soul for grace. Grace allows for healing and, eventually, genuine love. This is not the false price of love based on status, but a new love that is freely given and genuinely accepting. It doesn’t have to be romantic, it only has to be real. Love looks forward to life, not backward to death. Love creates, restores, and renews. And it’s what Ani has been missing all along.
I came back to the Catholic Church during my sophomore year of college. After encountering God during a retreat, I wanted to take my faith more seriously. I wanted to pray. I wanted to be a “good Catholic” – whatever that was. I plugged into my Catholic young adult (YA) community to try and understand what this whole Catholic thing was about, thinking that maybe I could figure out how to be a “good Catholic” there.
The Dangers of Preaching One Way of Being a "Good Catholic"
My YA group definitely had a “vibe.” Going to daily Mass was like a badge of honor. People talked about praying the Liturgy of the Hours or which Doctor of the Church they were reading. Lots of the women wore veils to Mass, and more than one man had a giant rosary wrapped around his belt. There was an underlying tone of, “This is what the good Catholics do.”
And so, over time, I did those things, too. I became a daily Mass-going, rosary-praying, veil-wearing, Bible study-attending Catholic, developing my own list of spiritual practices to live my faith and be the Catholic I thought I was supposed to be. I thought there was only one way to be a “good Catholic.”
The problem was, being this kind of Catholic didn’t give me any peace. As I tried to keep up with these rules, I became quickly overwhelmed and anxious. I started getting scared of missing daily Mass or not praying the rosary, worrying that God would be mad at me for letting Him down. The rosary gave me constant anxiety because I worried I hadn’t prayed it well enough. Trying to pray at all became increasingly uncomfortable and I didn’t know how to find rest in anything in my faith life.
I didn’t know it at the time, but in pursuing the one way to be a “good Catholic,” I had developed a mental health disorder around living my faith.
The relationship between faith and mental health is a long and storied one. Notable people throughout history have dealt with “religious scruples,” anxiety, and OCD, including the well-known Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. After going to therapy and starting to work through these experiences, I discovered that I too had developed scrupulosity, a sort of pathological anxiety and guilt about being a good Catholic and living out my faith. And my story is not the only one.
The Development of Faith-Related Mental Health Disorders
Dr. Ally Sequeira, a psychologist who earned her PhD in counseling psychology at Texas A&M, works with Catholics of all ages to overcome these mental health disorders, specializing in OCD and religious scrupulosity.
“I see a lot of individuals who have scrupulosity,” says Dr. Sequeira, “who will pray multiple times, over and over again until it's just right. It kind of stems from this belief that God is going to be upset with me if it's not perfect. Or, I've had some patients who really struggle with Confession, and so won't go to Confession because they're afraid that they won't say everything perfectly, or that they'll miss a sin and then would have to do it all over again. So, it's just an intense pressure to be the perfect Catholic, which kind of goes against our faith. We're not called to be perfect.”
Where do these disorders come from and how do they develop? To some degree, mental health conditions are genetic. Dr. Sequeira explained that for OCD, “ee don't know exactly what causes it. But we do know that there is a neurobiological component to it, so it's highly hereditary. So if somebody in your family has OCD, there's a huge chance that you might have it as well.” Other mental illnesses, such as anxiety, also have a hereditary component.
However, genetics and family history isn’t the whole story. Going from a genetic predisposition to developing an actual mental health disorder depends heavily on the influence of our culture. Dr. Sequeira says that “we’re heavily influenced by the people around us, and heavily influenced by social media. When we have a belief, we tend to get any evidence that supports these beliefs that we have about ourselves. So, if we believe that we're not a good Catholic, then we're going to look for accounts and stuff like that to be like, ‘See, I need to be working harder,’ and that can really reinforce a lot of fears and anxieties.”
These toxic influences can come from many places, ranging from Instagram or other social media platforms to one’s local community. Dr. Sequeira’s sister Victoria Mastrangelo, who works as a high school theology teacher and campus minister, remarked,
“As an educator and someone who works in ministry, I’ve seen how scrupulosity can be a real obstacle to faith… I do think that there are schools of catechesis or theological formation that have led to a more everyday scrupulosity that keeps people from being able to live their faith freely and authentically, and that is so heartbreaking to me. For example, I was talking with a mom at my kid’s school about how it was ingrained in her that not praying the rosary everyday could send her to hell, which is in no way actual Church teaching.”
Women Who Have Seen and Experienced the Struggle with Mental Health Disorders and Faith
For Maria Brown*, who has been healing from OCD and panic disorder since January 2022, it started within her own family.
“A big part of my family's identity involves it being important to be Catholic, and I'm super sensitive to other people's emotions. So I was always very aware of how non-Catholics were talked about in my family… It was like an ‘othering’ of other people. And I was so terrified of not being included, that I just, like, made sure I was included.”
This desire to be included in her family eventually developed into OCD.
“I prayed the same structure of prayer from the time I was probably like seven or eight until January [of 2022]. I never deviated from it. It was the same words, and if I didn't finish it when I was falling asleep, I would wake up in the middle of the night and finish it… And I'd keep going until I made sure I made the Sign of the Cross… I was like, ‘It has to be this way.’”
Whether it be obsessive behaviors, as in Maria’s case, or extreme anxiety and fear, as in my case, the end result of these unhealthy relationships to spiritual practices is the same: a feeling of distance from God and a lack of authentic relationship with Him and the Church.
Dr. Sequeira witnessed this struggle with the patients coming to her office:
“I think that when you're in the midst of really struggling with scrupulosity, it's really hard to have that authenticity, because you're focusing so much on, ‘How am I praying?’ versus, ‘What am I saying?’”
Victoria Mastrangelo has seen similar struggles:
“When the rules or guidelines are taught from a place of rigidity and absoluteness, then it places boundaries on people that trap them in a place of fear. And our relationship with God should never be rooted in fear – it’s in no way why He made us or what He wants. He loves us into existence and it’s His greatest hope that we are free to love Him in return, and that should be what frames our prayer lives. It also contradicts the teaching of our uniqueness in being made in God’s image to say that we all have to pray only one way to be able to reach Heaven.”
Healing from Faith-Related Mental Health Disorders
So, what’s the remedy for women like me and Maria who are struggling with their mental health and in their relationship with the Church? Naturally, the answer in part includes professional therapy. The particular therapeutic path taken depends on the individual person, but generally includes directly challenging related negative beliefs, thought patterns, and behaviors, to uncover the truth underneath them.
Dr. Sequeira explains, “[For OCD] we take a step back to say, ‘Well, what are we called to do as Catholics? What are our beliefs? What are the things that we're taught to do?’ Like, if you were to explain how someone's a good Catholic to an eight year old… Breaking it down, people are able to start realizing, ‘Oh, what I'm doing isn't what I'm supposed to be doing.’ Then, we would systematically go through different exposures that would help them realize – [we] put OCD to the test. Through that people can recognize that nothing bad happens. My discomfort goes away on its own and I actually feel closer to God when I break these rules.
“With anxiety, [because] we do get intrusive thoughts, but they feel like facts… The treatment for that is to help us identify more appropriate, more rational thoughts versus that irrational thought.”
For Maria, healing from OCD has included challenging her rigid prayer structure and focusing on her needs:
“Every morning, I'll be like, ‘What do I need right now? What do I want to do?’ I do think that understanding my relationship with God as a relationship, one in which I'm having a conversation, in which sometimes things are kind of dull, [and] sometimes I talk for a long time… It really feels way more fulfilling as prayer… The sort of antidote to my scrupulosity has been [saying], ‘Okay, let yourself kind of do what you want for a little bit and see what is or isn't working. And if something isn't working, you have a relationship with God and you will use that relationship to help manage it.’”
For women like us, this process of undoing irrational thoughts, fears, and practices can be both long and mentally, spiritually, and emotionally challenging. Mine has involved three years of therapy, intense prayer, and learning to lean into a healthy, supportive community. Maria’s journey is well underway. For others, the conflict between a genuine desire to live the faith and the feelings of pressure to do it perfectly is still ongoing. As we see from these stories, a toxic Catholic culture can teach us (wrongly) that there is only one way to be good.
Author’s Note: Some names and identifying information have been changed at the request of the interviewee.