Because Catholic Women Seem Happy

The four most important people in my life are women: Katie, our two daughters, and my recently widowed mother—three generations, with correspondingly different outlooks. What do I wish for them? Happiness.

It is logical to me, then, to judge the Catholic Church by this criterion: Are Catholic women happy?

I thought of this tonight while reading the new print edition of First Things which has not yet appeared on the First Things website. In it there is an article by Mary Eberstadt as provocative as its title, “What Does Woman Want? The War Between the Sexless.” Using as a springboard two essays by women, one in favor of and the other against traditional marriage, Eberstadt draws a dark picture of contemporary marriage, in which overworked wives and undersexed husbands grow tired of one another. Or as a blogger she quotes has it in an essay title, “For Many, Marriage Is Sexless, Boring, and Oppressive: Time to Rethink the Institution?”

Pictured with me here is my mother, Nan Bull, and I shudder to think of the arguments I’ll be in as soon as she reads this post. We may be smiling in the photograph, but we won’t be once the donnybrook ensues. (Note to sisters: Please, please don’t pass it on!) As the mother of four daughters, in addition to two sons, Mom is a cantankerous proponent of women’s rights, and she would not take kindly to a self-righteous, know-it-all male heir telling her what will or won’t give women happiness!!! (Triple exclamation point!)

But Mom, peace, that’s not my point here. I have just read an article that describes married women as unhappy, and while you may not plan to remarry, the other three women in my life are either married (Katie) or would like to be so and happily (Martha and Marian). And the evidence is not encouraging. “Two charges,” Eberstadt notes particularly, are “made repeatedly, almost always by women and with many echoes elsewhere in contemporary sources: first, that the combined pressures of motherhood and marriage and breadwinning are just too much to bear; and second, that many of today’s marriages—that is to say, marriages made among enlightened, older, educated, sophisticated people—are a sexual desert.”

I won’t spoil the ending of Eberstadt’s article. (It’s spicy! . . . Or quite sad.) I am left only with a question: Are Catholic women happy? Because being a Catholic is the most important factor in my life, and if Catholicism somehow contributed to women’s unhappiness, I would be sorely troubled.

Are Catholic women happy? I would defer to Catholic women for a definitive answer. Please note the comment box at the bottom of this post. My own, probably biased and purely anecdotal judgment is that, yes, the Catholic women I know seem very happy indeed. I suggest that you come around St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church and meet some of my female friends. There are ten masses a week to choose from, not to mention sixty hours of Eucharistic Adoration where I share time with such people as Pat, Martha, Jackie, Connie, and Paula, and meetings of such ecclesial organizations as Communion & Liberation, where I have the pleasure to know the likes of Carol, Ellen, Julie, Elizabeth, Deb, Heidi, and Jenny. These and other Catholic women I know strike me as quite happy indeed.

Is there a connection between Catholic social teaching and the happiness (or not) of Catholic women? Again, there is a comment box at the bottom. I don’t want to get in any more trouble with my mother than I’m already in.

  • Anonymous

    Hi. I'm a Catholic woman from India. I tried commenting for your last post – but couldn't. First, wanted to say thank you for this blog – its very inspiring and I love reading it everyday. Then, as a Catholic woman I DO feel happy. Jesus, above all, was (is!) wonderful with women. However, at various times, I have felt discriminated against by the attitude of the 'hierarchy' (- even by other women at times) – because I am a woman. I do not say this with bitterness, just as fact. People are not perfect and are creatures of their times – so it is natural to happen. So in theory, the Catholic Church is wonderful to women. In practice, sometimes, that doesn't come through to the last person. But that is normal, we are human and prone to weakness. More reason for women like me to stand up and slowly erode this attitude and prevent others from getting hurt. In general, I LOVE being Catholic :). Sorry for the long comment. Keep posting!!

  • Julie D.

    I am extremely happy as a Catholic woman. Indeed, happier than I ever was as a typical "feminist rights" gal which I was before I became Christian.For a happy marriage, I refer you to an excellent book which takes the elements my husband and I learned from our Beyond Cana marriage enrichment retreat and expands upon … For Better, For Worse, For God by Mary Jo Pederson. Loyola Press has it … and I highly recommend it. Good solid common sense with overarching Catholic understanding of marriage as a sacrament. Keeps married Catholics both happy! :-)

  • Patm

    I am very happy. Marriage is not easy, of course, particularly when our society is busily telling us all the reasons we must be dissatisfied. But my Catholicism informs my marriage, and makes us equal partners, because we understand our vital roles, and yes the word VITAL is operative, there. Thanks for your blog.

  • Wendy C.

    As a former Protestant I would say I am much happier as a Catholic woman! One of my Protestant friends always says "the Catholic Church treats women better, because they respect and reverve Mary". I couldn't agree more, out of that extension comes a respect for women and their role in salvation history. Women are honored in this Church much more than in any other church I have attended (even those that had women "ministers" – as you discussed in a previous post). I would also say the Catholic women I know are happier that my good Protestant friends.

  • Ferde

    Catholic women, and I mean CATHOLIC women, do not merely seem happy, they ARE happy. At least the ones I (and you) know. They are happy in the same way Catholic men are happy. They have sought Jesus Christ in His Church and have come to know him as a personal Presence in their lives. Christ IS His Church. To be Catholic is to know Him. What's not to be happy about?

  • Webster Bull

    Right on, Brother Ferde! :-)

  • Carol

    I can say with complete convictionthat it is my Catholic faith that helps me to be a very happy Catholic woman, wife, and mother. So much of my happiness is BECAUSE of Catholic teachings and my friendships with other Catholics – women and men alike that helps me to be happy and live my vocation more fully, more in line with what Christ calls me to do either at work or at home. My Catholic faith gives me the strength and my friends give me the witnesses to embrace my vocation and be open, honest and loving toward my family and others that I meet in my daily life. The more I embrace my faith, the happier I am in my work and my family life. Ferde's right, we don't just "seem" happy, we ARE happy! Webster, thanks for such wonderful blogs each day!

  • Anonymous

    I might also add to this discussion, CATHOLIC wives with CATHOLIC husbands do not have sexless marriages.Our men protect, support, uplift, acknowlege …and practice natural family planningwhich increases the sexual intensity.CATHOLIC wives with CATHOLIC husbands have partners in the ever interesting challenge of deepening our faiths and our relationship to God and Church.Real CATHOLIC wives have CATHOLIC husbands who go the Church, lead family prayers and take all of us to Adorationthese are among the reasons why Catholic women are happy. :)

  • Anonymous

    I am a "cradle Cathlolic" who married a non-Catholic and we at first lived a DINK (Double Income No Kids) life. We contracepted and were pretty happy, although our intimate life was a bit lackluster. I always attended mass (not even worried about the mortal sin of contracepting) and he went through RCIA at a fairly liberal parish. (Nobody there seemed worried about contracepting either.) Then John Paul II came to Denver. (Oops – I gave away what city we live in.) By the grace of God, and through the ministry of JPII and a fantastic priest at the parish we switched to, everything is different now. We were challenged to live what our church teaches and discovered, not without trials, NFP. We now are the happy parents of 5 amazing kids and our sex life has never been better!The world says "put yourself first and you will be happy." How long it takes us to realize that is not working. Then we put Christ first, stop pursuing our own happiness, and realize that, often, happiness is an entirely inadequate word for the bliss that life can be.

  • Celia

    As a nominal cradle-Catholic who spent 30 years as a Protestant, I'm a very happy Catholic woman who is overjoyed to be back in the Church for the past 10 years. Every time I go to Mass, it's more wonderful. Every time I go to Adoration, He's more beautiful. Yes, Catholic women – I would qualify that by saying "devout, practicing Catholic women" – are happy. God bless you, Brother. I'm glad the Anchoress pointed us to your blog.

  • Celia

    I'm a very happy Catholic woman, who is overjoyed to have come back into the Church after 30 years as a Protestant. Every time I go to Mass, it's more wonderful. Every time I go to Adoration, He's more beautiful.Yes, (devout, practicing) Catholic women are HAPPY. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is JOY. God bless you, Brother. I'm glad The Anchoress pointed us to your blog.

  • Anonymous

    I am so happy to be a Christian flying the Catholic banner. I'm happy because I know that I am absolutely part of Christ's church here on Earth. I am happy because when I have trials which I think I cannot possibly bear, I remember the Mysteries of the Rosary. I remember Christ's agony in the garden (over us!), I remember His scourging at the pillar (for us!), the crown of thorns on His head, the carrying of the cross, and His crucifixion. I realize that He has done this for me, and for each of us…no matter our status. I realize that He is WITH me in everything I do, as He has gone before me in all things….hardships, joys, love, faith, friendship, losses, Life, and death, etc. In His resurrection and assention and the time in between the two, He became Living Proof that Life is Eternal. I am never without Hope. Through His gift of the Holy Spirit to all Christians, I am constantly overjoyed by the knowledge that in our mere asking in Christ's name, that we are given the Eucharist wherein Christ's flesh becomes one with our own, making us truly brothers and sisters in Christ. I am grateful that God has taught me well in Mercy because I have needed Mercy…. I am glad in knowing that only God can see to judge a man's heart, because I could never withstand that burden. I am grateful for a love so everlasting and complete, that had I been able to ask for any gift from God, I never would have known to ask for anything such as He has given me without my needing to ask. Perhaps, I have fallen short of answering the question "Why am I Catholic", because indeed, only a couple of my statements set me apart from any other Christian member of God's Holy Church….but this I know…I find a fullness in the Eucharist that cannot be explained with mere words. I find unbelieveable healing through the sacrament of reconciliation/penance. I find joy, hope, understanding, healing, and wisdom through the mysteries of the holy rosary. I believe that Life is a holy gift from God, and no person has the right to take it from another whether they are born or unborn. I believe in Christ's miracles in everyday life. My life is a living testament to God's help, humor, mercy, forgivness….but most of all….His undying, everlasting love. God's blessings to all who read this, and may He always make you a light for someone searching in darkness. Be gentle. Be Kind. Remember the Beatitudes. xoxox… Pax Christi

  • Julie

    I LOVE my Catholic life! I am a happy Catholic woman (wife, mother of 7, friend) because I live life with a GRATEFUL HEART. I recognize the presence of Another and that my life and all that has been given to me is from Him. I did not create my life, my world. I am not in control of everything. In living life with a grateful heart, I see the beauty in all that I have been given and it brings me great joy, every day. I have a wonderful Catholic husband who I can count on for anything. Some would think having 7 children to be such a burden, (some think 1 or 2 to be burdensome) but it is such a gift! Am I busy? Yes! But everybody I know is busy. Am I burdened? No! Do I get sad, angry, tired. Yes. I am human, and those are human emotions. But they are fleeting emotions. They do not last. Love is eternal. And because we have a large family I am always at the receiving end of much love. (Think about it: We have 3 times the LOVE in this household that the "average" American home has!) Unfortunately, our society/culture pushes us to always want what we don't have, instead of looking at the REALITY of what we do have. Love your blog Webster. Your testimony is beautiful and helpful. This is my first blog post ever!

  • MJD

    Not 100% happy. Hoping for without being 100% sure about heavenly rewards, we practice natural family planning, meaning once a month sex. I am inclined to attribute some of the unhappiness in our marriage to this fact.

  • Ellen

    So…I'm a little late to the party here as I wanted to take some serious time to contemplate both the questions posted by Webster as well as some of the responses. I initially was looking at this in two ways: (1) Can a feminist be a happy Catholic? and (2) As an unmarried (never been) Catholic woman, am I happy? In contemplating this, I decided to drop the first question (Reader's Digest condensed version answer: Yes) and focus on the second question.So…not only do I come to the party late, but I come as a never been married single woman who is forty something (and close to being a not forty something anymore). And the one word answer, for those who like to skip the analysis and just know the results, is a resounding yes (okay, I guess that's a two word answer).My resounding "yes" emanates from finally understanding God's plan for me and my life. While I was never one to wail and gnash my teeth because I never found "Mr. Right" nor had any children, I must admit that the question would arise in my mind occasionally. I have 4 siblings–all of whom are married and blessed with children—why them and not me? Over these past couple of years, as my practice of the faith has become more intense and meaningful, as my prayer life has become more meaningful and focused, as I have enjoyed (and learned from) the friendships of such AMAZING people such as Webster and Father Barnes and Ferde and Carol and Julie(speaking of which–can't you see from their comments above what special people they are? How blessed am I to call them friends!)as I have recognized the presence of Christ in my life each and every day, God has revealed His plan for my life to me. There is such peace and joy in knowing God's plan for my life, and in living it. I have come to the conclusion that we all can find our happiness if we come to understand God's plan for our lives and then live it willingly–saying yes as Mary said yes. I must admit that I often fall off the track–I don't always say yes willingly–but often grudgingly. But God, in His mercy, forgives my stubborness and allows me to get back on the track. This Catholic woman is very happy–despite all that society would say is missing from my life. But I know there is nothing missing–for Christ gives me all that I need.Final note: Re: MJD's post above: I am praying for you and your husband.

  • MJD

    Thank you. I hope your prayer will work.

  • Anonymous

    MJD,Please talk to a NFP-only physicial and/or a NFP teaching couple … you should not be abstaining that much following any NFP method!!!YSIC,Renee

  • Anonymous

    MJD-You might want to contact a CCL teaching couple about this once-a-month marital relations. They could show you where you are being too conservative.OR, God is calling you to a (or another) child, and therefor you are experiencing discontent with NFP.Ask for help, this is what CCL is for. And of course ask our Lord for help first.God Bless,D

  • Ferde

    MJD, if you're restricted to sex once a month using NFP, you're doing it wrong. D is right. Contact an approved instructor from your diocese. For my wife and me, our 'down' time was about 8-10 days a month. God bless you for your allegiance to your faith, but NFP isn't meant to be a penance.

  • MJD

    Thank you, D, for this advice. We may be called but nevertheless we are waiting as long as possible for a baby, and while we are being conservative, when you are practicing nfp, that is where the error must fall, is it not. We (my husband and I, although really it could be anybody) both have many temptations and I am certain that, in time, we must either fall to them or live with them unhappily. Why is the emphasis on Catholics being happy? When did that become the interpretation? For as long as I can remember, being Catholic was being acutely aware of your sinfulness and being a good Catholic was about feeling guilty for it. We are to carry the cross of sin until death, with occasional reprieve in the form of reconciliation. Aren't we taught that happiness is in the next life, not in this one.

  • Webster Bull

    Gotta jump in here, MJD, man, woman, or whatever. "Happiness" is my category, but it is also my experience. Being Catholic makes me happy, joyful, so I am forced to ask, Is it only joy for me? What about women (since I have important women in my life)? No good, if the joy is only mine. And so, this post and all the amazing comments. Peace, WB

  • Anonymous

    Oh, I must jumb in,to answer MJDyes, happy HAPPYeven with the, no because of,the sence of sinfulness and unworthinessMarywe have this Sacrament called Confessionwhere it is all washed AWAY!!This is part of how practicing Catholicseven with our sence of sinfulness can be so truely happy.


    I am a forty-plus single Catholic who has also wondered why I never found "Mr. Right." I finally adopted two babies from Latin America because I wanted the opportunity of being a mother, while maintaining my hope for marriage. I feel that the post-Vatican II culture pressured women like me to 'do it all': education, professional life (I'm a physician), find a husband, juggle a household etc. As I was growing up I witnessed the nuns shedding their traditional habits, often becoming 'mini-men', and the CCD program at my parish watered down to felt banners of a silhouetted Jesus in sandels. I tried to maneuver my way through this spiritual jungle and stay true to the teachings of Mother Church. Am I happy? Yes and no. I love the Church (as She was meant to be), I thank God for Mass and the sacraments, and I dearly love my two little children. But I also realize that, as a women I was and am unable to do 'all things well.' While I am a dedicated doctor, I have sacrificed a busier career in order to make a home for my children. While I was preparing to be a doctor there were years of either dating non-Catholic men, or not dating at all. Somehow I think that the chaos of the 1970s and the changes of Vatican II really led many women in my age group into a desert emotionally and spiritually. I am grateful to the many angels along the way that helped me to cleave to my faith and to the sacraments. As I soon enter my 49th year I can honestly say that I AM A HAPPY CATHOLIc WOMAN!! I have, however, realized that I should have prayed for God to bring me a CATHOLIC man — and I have recently begun to pray that specifically!