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  • Writer's pictureLauren

Moving on Post-Butker



As the Harrison-Butker-Commencement-Speech firestorm continues to smolder online, it’s becoming clear that we, as a culture, are conflating two separate, but related, conversations about the role of women in society. Though topic fatigue may be setting in at this point, if we can tease these conversations apart and tackle them one at a time, what’s really at the root of this national conversation becomes much clearer, thus making it easier to forge a path forward out of this societal quagmire we’ve created over the last 70 or so years. (N.B. If you haven’t read the actual text of Butker’s speech yet, I highly encourage you to do so. It’s vastly different from the way it’s been largely reported, even by various Catholic commentators and news sites).


The First Debate


The first debate centers largely on whether the choices between pursuing an education/career or motherhood are equivalent. To tackle the first question, it should be self-evident to any person of goodwill and common sense, Catholic or otherwise, that pursuing a corner office can never come close to the inherent dignity of raising children. It doesn’t mean you’re defective in some way if you don’t have children, but this truth is simply basic human nature. Without children, there is no future for a society. And without society, there is nothing to build or fight for in whatever career or life path you choose to pursue.


At the end of the third installment of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, with their quest to destroy the Ring successfully behind them, Samwise Gamgee accompanies Frodo Baggins to the Grey Havens, where Frodo will sail with the Elves into the East, leaving Middle Earth behind him forever:


“But,” said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, “I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.”
“So I thought too, once. … [The Shire] has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.”

Sam returns home, pondering these words with a heavy heart, yet as he climbs the hill to his home, he sees “there was a yellow light, and a fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap. He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”


And with that the greatest fantasy epic of all time ends. This quiet, simple moment at the very end of the Trilogy was the point of all of Frodo’s and the rest of the Company’s endeavors. The great deeds of the heroes, the sacrifices, and all the glory and the victory were never for their own sake, but for the sake of ensuring there were homes to return to, where one is expected and drawn into warmth and comfort and safety, where a small child, a symbol of hope, waits to be held.


The family is the foundation and pinnacle of human society. Society exists for the sake of the family, not the other way around. Education and careers are important, but they must always be subordinated to the family. To equate the two is fundamentally disordered. This is true not only for women, but for men, as well. The family suffers just as deeply if the husband/father puts his career or educational pursuits ahead of the interests of the family. It’s also true for those among us who are without children for whatever reason: they, too, must understand that for society to thrive, their work and pursuits must always be in support of the family, albeit in a more indirect way.


Unfortunately, though this should be self-evident, individualism has so thoroughly infiltrated our culture that many people reject this first part of the debate outright. They legitimately believe that prioritizing the immortal souls of your children ahead of your career or education is as good a choice (or better, if they’ve bought into the over-population myth) as sacrificing everything to win that coveted title of “Partner” (or its equivalent) behind their names. Never mind that they can’t take those Golden Globes or whatever other shiny accolades with them when they die. Personal choice is king. The only reality worth living is the one they choose for themselves, and the good of society at large be damned. These are people who can’t or won’t be reasoned with, so it’s best to just commit them to the hands of the Blessed Mother and move on if you encounter them.


The Second Debate


The second debate hinges on the answer to the first: if these two options are not equivalent, and raising virtuous children is inherently more important than a career, then should the choice to stay home full time be the default for faithful Catholic wives and mothers? This debate has been raging as long as women have worked, and women have worked, either within or outside of the home in various capacities, well, forever.


Like so many issues in the life of the Church, it’s a matter of prudence, and there is no black and white answer to cover all situations. Women who, along with their husbands, prayerfully discern that God is calling them to work outside the home while they have young children are in good company. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Zelie Martin, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Bl. Anna Maria Taigi, Bl. Eurosia Fabris Barban, Bl. Maria Corsini Beltrame Quattrocchi, and Servant of God Daphrose Rugamba, to name just a few, were all wives and mothers who worked at some level while they had children at home. Even the Blessed Mother helped out financially by selling her sewing, if the visions recounted in the Life of Mary as Seen by the Mystics, compiled by Raphael Brown, are to be believed.


These mothers who are called to work are still, at their core, homemakers, however, by virtue of the conclusion we came to at the end of the first debate. A homemaker, put simply, is nothing more than a woman who makes a home. To apply the title only to those women who exclusively stay home robs it of its richness. Homemaking is what all married women are called to do, whether they work or not. And if they do work, that outside work must always be subordinated to their primary vocations as wives and mothers within that home, just as it was in the lives of all those aforementioned saints.


In spite of this, a word of warning is needed. The key to the decision for mothers to work outside the home, like all important decisions, is that it must be prayerfully discerned and in accordance with God’s will. This must be so to ensure the primary vocation remains the priority. The saints listed above were not canonized because they were women who worked – they were canonized because they showed heroic virtue. The fact that they worked was merely incidental. We must be cautious in flatly proclaiming that it’s always, or even generally, good (or at the very least, neutral) for mothers with minor children to work outside the home full-time simply because there are saints who did it, too.


It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, but we must also be willing to discuss the influences that drove (and continue to drive) so many women from the home to begin with: Marxism, feminism, greed, the fear of abandonment, the relentless pressure of a secular culture that measures human worth by dollar signs and productivity, the pride and vanity of being a “girlboss” and having a list of accolades trail behind your name, and more. How many of these have led, even if only subconsciously, to the default position of so many women that they will continue to pursue careers full time outside the home even after becoming mothers? How many women are forced into this position because these same influences have effectively neutered so many men, rendering them terrified of the responsibility of being the sole financial providers for their families?


Again, this is not a black and white issue. We are Catholics, not fundamentalists, and we must always guard against even speculating about another family’s discernment process. I personally know several faithful Catholic families with droves of hale and healthy children who, by all external observations, lead exemplary, holy lives, and whose mothers work fulltime. But I also know, from personal experience, how the tail of the serpent can slip in and convince you that you need or deserve to pursue that career, when the better option really may be to simply rebuke the fear or put that dream on hold for a few years until the children are grown.


The Path Forward


At the beginning of this article I promised that if we could break this conversation down, we could get to the root and find a path forward. The root, of course, is simply that same age-old question of whose will we will choose to follow, both individually and collectively. Will it be the natural order ordained by the will of God, or the unnatural chaos created by self-will run amok? Right now, it’s pretty clear that our nation is plagued by the latter. The way forward, then, is in the walls of your own home.


Have children, have lots of them. Cultivate deep prayer as a family and pursue an intense sacramental life. Never let your children or spouse doubt that your vocation as their mother or father (or wife or husband) is the most important thing in your life, second only to your relationship with God. Teach them that education and careers are simply a means to an end, that end being the family. And finally, show them that “[r]aising a Christian family has always been a serious task; [but] in an apostolic age, it is a missionary adventure” (Christendom to Apostolic Mission, Msgr. James P. Shea).

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