by Lauren Mickler
As a lady who identifies with the Catholic Church, it’s been difficult to reconcile my feminist identity with a strongly patriarchal religion. I grew up Catholic and always had a strong relationship with my God through prayer. I loved praying the rosary, and I was so proud of myself when I realized I had memorized the Nicene Creed, which is a statement of belief recited weekly at Mass. I should say that I would identify my upbringing in the church as social justice-oriented. I helped out with coffee and donuts, and every summer I attended a week-long mission trip to somewhere in the South, working with Habitat for Humanity. I went to a Catholic High School by choice and was taught religion by activists who used to protest for human rights on a number of issues.
It follows that, when I was 18, my best friend Sabrina was a passionate feminist. Together, we explored the ins and outs of female empowerment, and I embraced feminism as an identity for myself. You may have noticed that I referred to myself at the beginning of this blog as a lady instead of a woman or a female. That is part of how I live out my feminist values because lady is one of the only words regarding women that doesn’t have a male root. Unlike woman or female, lady comes from a word meaning “one who kneads dough,” which is something I absolutely identify with.
However, once I started wondering how feminism and Catholicism interacted with each other, I was worried that they couldn’t coexist. I often asked myself, am I really a catholic if I think that women should be priests? Am I really catholic if I say a version of the Nicene Creed that only refers to God with gender neutral language? Why would I stay with a religion that I feel oppresses my gender? Why would I continue to identify with a Church whose policies I sometimes disagree with? For example I agree with the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it says that we have a duty as Christians to love and accept LGBTQIA people, and to treat them with as much respect as we would anyone. I don’t agree with that same passage when it says that having gay sex is a sin. My mother always explained it to me by saying that it’s not being gay that is the problem, it’s having sex outside of marriage. So, any kind of premarital gay sex is just as bad, and not worse, than premarital heterosexual sex.
One of the bible verses I clung to when I was sorting out what I believed, what I didn’t believe, and what that meant for my worldview identity was Micah 6:8. I changed the scripture to include my gender-neutral perception of God. “And [God] has shown you, O Mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” This simplistic version of what God asks of me kept me grounded, and I used it as a mantra when I felt doubt. It was one of the only things that anchored me to Catholicism, along with my memories of my high school “Social Justice for Catholics” class.
Salvation from my painful journey came two summers ago, when I turned 20, and I got to work for St. Mary’s Press, a Catholic publishing company. It was then, with those wonderful people, that I realized why I still wanted to be a part of the Catholic community. Despite all of my qualms, I love the rituals we have. I love the way we worship. I love the fact that we value social justice, and that we strive to respect everyone’s human dignity, even if we fall short more often than not. Catholicism is a practice that makes it easy for me to connect with my God. So, while I’m not as devotional as some, or as vocal, and even though I may not believe that mine is the one true religion, or that there is one correct interpretation of the bible, I am still Catholic. I still believe in the Nicene Creed, even though I may change the words, and I still believe in standing for the poor and the disadvantaged, even if I am pro-choice. It was very liberating to learn that there is no right way to be religious, and just because I don’t look like certain Catholics, I get to be just as Catholic as they are.
Lauren Mickler is a senior at the University of North Florida. She is studying sociology, religion, and ceramics. She was raised as a social-justice Catholic and currently identifies as spiritual Catholic. She enjoys crafting, theological discussions, and the beach.