What the Church really teaches about women’s dignity, vocation

June 10, 2024 at 9:32 a.m.
Katie Chihoski smiles after receiving her degree with her daughter, Lucia, in her arms during her graduation ceremony at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., April 27, 2024. She is the first graduate of the Catholic school's St. Teresa of Calcutta Community for Mothers. (OSV News photo/courtesy University of Mary)
Katie Chihoski smiles after receiving her degree with her daughter, Lucia, in her arms during her graduation ceremony at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., April 27, 2024. She is the first graduate of the Catholic school's St. Teresa of Calcutta Community for Mothers. (OSV News photo/courtesy University of Mary) (OSV News photo/courtesy University of Mary/Trenton Monitor)

By Emily Zanotti • OSV News

There is little needed to set fire to the world of online Catholics – and last week’s commencement speech from Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker to an audience of Benedictine College graduates seemed to riddle Catholic social media with fractures, as traditionalists and liberals, Catholics and non-Catholics, and even men and women came to loggerheads over how to digest the controversial remarks.

Butker’s remarks, in context, suggest that while the women in his audience had achieved great things, they had done so under the auspices of a “diabolical lie,” which led them to seek corporate achievement instead of a life in the home.

Butker’s apparent vision of the role of women in society . . . is an overly simplistic version of the Church’s own vision, which is rich, nuanced, deep and beautiful. And not centered on biological motherhood alone.

“Congratulations on an amazing accomplishment,” he said to the women in the audience, before suggesting that they have “had the most diabolical lies told to you.” While they may go on to “successful careers in the world,” he suggested his wife’s life only “truly started when she started living her vocation as a wife and as a mother.”

As Catholics, we see a difference between a job and a vocation – the latter being a call from God Himself, and a purpose for life that aligns with God’s plan. For many women, including myself, our vocation includes marriage and biological motherhood. For many women, it is a call to holiness, to chaste singleness or to the acknowledged highest calling of a woman, religious life.

Butker’s comments, many Catholic and non-Catholic women believe, suggest that he believes the role of a stay-at-home spouse to be the highest, if not the only legitimate calling, for women. Whether that was Butker’s intention or not, his remarks, and perhaps his beliefs, seem poorly constructed in light of Catholic social teaching, articulated so boldly in St. John Paul II’s work on the subject of the vocation of women, “Mulieris Dignitatem.”

Popes have spoken only infrequently on the subject of women’s roles in society. Pope John Paul II, however, devoted an entire apostolic letter to the subject of the dignity and vocation of women in the early 1980s – at a time when women were moving in large numbers into the working world, and feminism was well within its third wave. His words are designed to remind (women) – and society at large – of the significant and, more importantly, vital role that women play in the world, not just as biological mothers, but as spiritual, societal, temporal mothers as well.

(There are some who) may view women as subservient to men. Pope John Paul II entertains no such thought, elevating instead the “mutual relationship” of man and woman in marriage, and noting that “domination” of either sex threatens civil stability.

But what of (women’s) vocation? In (his 1995 Letter to Women), Pope John Paul II calls upon women to participate in “every area of life – social, economic, cultural, artistic, and political,” and he suggests that a “greater presence of women in society will prove most valuable,” for “it will help to manifest the contradictions present when society is organized solely according to the criteria of efficiency and productivity, and it will force systems to be redesigned in a way which favors the processes of humanization, which mark the ‘civilization of love.’”

Pope John Paul II reminds us that women are in fact equal in dignity and called to all sorts of vocations and involvement. Their womanhood, their feminine genius and their maternity are, in fact, strengths. Women, by their very maternal nature, are assets to every part of society, as long as we don’t deny our female nature, but embrace it.

Zanotti is a humor writer and political communicator who focuses on the joys and trials of life as a Catholic mother. She and her family live in Nashville, Tennessee.



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There is little needed to set fire to the world of online Catholics – and last week’s commencement speech from Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker to an audience of Benedictine College graduates seemed to riddle Catholic social media with fractures, as traditionalists and liberals, Catholics and non-Catholics, and even men and women came to loggerheads over how to digest the controversial remarks.

Butker’s remarks, in context, suggest that while the women in his audience had achieved great things, they had done so under the auspices of a “diabolical lie,” which led them to seek corporate achievement instead of a life in the home.

Butker’s apparent vision of the role of women in society . . . is an overly simplistic version of the Church’s own vision, which is rich, nuanced, deep and beautiful. And not centered on biological motherhood alone.

“Congratulations on an amazing accomplishment,” he said to the women in the audience, before suggesting that they have “had the most diabolical lies told to you.” While they may go on to “successful careers in the world,” he suggested his wife’s life only “truly started when she started living her vocation as a wife and as a mother.”

As Catholics, we see a difference between a job and a vocation – the latter being a call from God Himself, and a purpose for life that aligns with God’s plan. For many women, including myself, our vocation includes marriage and biological motherhood. For many women, it is a call to holiness, to chaste singleness or to the acknowledged highest calling of a woman, religious life.

Butker’s comments, many Catholic and non-Catholic women believe, suggest that he believes the role of a stay-at-home spouse to be the highest, if not the only legitimate calling, for women. Whether that was Butker’s intention or not, his remarks, and perhaps his beliefs, seem poorly constructed in light of Catholic social teaching, articulated so boldly in St. John Paul II’s work on the subject of the vocation of women, “Mulieris Dignitatem.”

Popes have spoken only infrequently on the subject of women’s roles in society. Pope John Paul II, however, devoted an entire apostolic letter to the subject of the dignity and vocation of women in the early 1980s – at a time when women were moving in large numbers into the working world, and feminism was well within its third wave. His words are designed to remind (women) – and society at large – of the significant and, more importantly, vital role that women play in the world, not just as biological mothers, but as spiritual, societal, temporal mothers as well.

(There are some who) may view women as subservient to men. Pope John Paul II entertains no such thought, elevating instead the “mutual relationship” of man and woman in marriage, and noting that “domination” of either sex threatens civil stability.

But what of (women’s) vocation? In (his 1995 Letter to Women), Pope John Paul II calls upon women to participate in “every area of life – social, economic, cultural, artistic, and political,” and he suggests that a “greater presence of women in society will prove most valuable,” for “it will help to manifest the contradictions present when society is organized solely according to the criteria of efficiency and productivity, and it will force systems to be redesigned in a way which favors the processes of humanization, which mark the ‘civilization of love.’”

Pope John Paul II reminds us that women are in fact equal in dignity and called to all sorts of vocations and involvement. Their womanhood, their feminine genius and their maternity are, in fact, strengths. Women, by their very maternal nature, are assets to every part of society, as long as we don’t deny our female nature, but embrace it.

Zanotti is a humor writer and political communicator who focuses on the joys and trials of life as a Catholic mother. She and her family live in Nashville, Tennessee.


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