The Voice of Catholic Women

We (that is, my co-editors Marie Failinger and Lisa Schiltz) just sent to Ashgate Publishing the manuscript of our book on women, law and religion. Part of our motivation for writing/editing the book (which includes chapters written by each of us and as well as by a number of other women of different faith traditions) is to remedy the lack of the voice of women of faith from the legal feminist dialogue.

Responding to a similar concern that we hear too little from Catholic women on too many issues, Our Sunday Visitor has recently published Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves, edited by Helen Alvare. I was delighted to receive a copy of it from The Catholic Company as part of its reviewer program.

In her Introduction, Alavare invites: “If you want to know who believing Catholic women are, and what we think about being Catholic and female today in connection with a host of hot-button issues, listen to engaged Catholic women, not commentators with little genuine curiosity. Listen to women who are honestly trying to grapple with how their faith might inform their thinking and their acting. Let Catholic women speak for themselves.”

And that is largely what the book does. Although I would not say that the women who contributed to the book represent the broadest range of views of Catholic women, there is a diversity of age, occupation and background of the contributors. Their faith journey differ, but they all have grappled seriously with difficult issues. And, while each of our faith journeys is unique, hearing each others’ stories helps us as we navigate our own path.

There are some themes that carry through the very different chapters. First, is that there are many ways women of faith may live out their vocation in the world. Religious order or lay, married or single, professional or stay at home. There is not single model of a “good” Catholic woman, and that diversity is worth celebrating. Second, is that we can find no answers to the difficult questions we face without opening ourselves to the power of God. Each of the authors recognize, in Alvare’s words, that “when we let God in, better answers suggest themselves, answers that satisf[y] both our souls and our minds.” Third, is that the voice of women matters. We have something important to bring to table – to all issues, not just those often spoken of as “women’s issues.”

To be sure, there are some statements in the chapters I would take issue with if I were engaged in conversation with the women who made them. But that doesn’t detract from the value of the book. Perhaps it actually adds to it.