Catholic Women have Style, Sex, and Substance


It was the perfect storm. Just as the HHS mandate was making front page news and all the world was becoming aware that the Catholic Church forbids contraception, Rick Santorum was pushing towards the front of the GOP presidential nominee race and my children were being featured on the front page of the New York Times because they advocated in Richmond for homeschoolers to gain access to afterschool activities in the public schools. All of a sudden, I found myself confronting stereotypes of faithful homeschooling Catholics everywhere I turned.  Social media outlets were minefields of misinformation, misperceptions, and misunderstanding.

I learned that many people have strong opinions--about the Church, about openness to life, about home education-- and those opinions are not positive. I saw a whole lot of hatred spewed. What surprised me most, though, is that the people who advocate for all sorts of progressive liberties were venomous when confronted with the witness of my life and my assertion that I am entitled to live my faith freely, openly, and completely in this country. They failed again and again to understand the beauty that I see--that I live--in the living the fullness of the faith. There is a widespread misunderstanding about what it is to be a faithful, joyful, wholly Catholic woman.

It is a very happy coincidence that a long awaited book was published just as this storm raged. Style, Sex, and Substance: 10 Catholic Women Consider the Things That Really Matter is edited by Hallie Lord. Hallie is joined by nine of the brightest voices in America today. These are sharp, articulate, thoughtful, humorous, happy women who live lives in full communion with the Catholic Church. They embrace the truth, the whole truth, and live to write about it with candor and joy.

Of the ten contributors, nine are married. None of them uses contraception. Several of them educate their own children at home. This slim volume is packed with wisdom and insight into the lives of women who are real and really live a life of contradiction in this culture. None of them is oppressed. None of them is a haggard, frumpy, wrung out woman who has wasted her life on her man and his kids. Actually, I know several of them personally, a few very well, and they are all rather beautiful. And funny. And fun. They are warm, lovely women in love with God and with life.

This is no shrinking violet of a book. These women tackle tough topics. Elizabeth Duffy’s essay on sex is frank and forthright. She presents a picture of what it is to live a life of honest openness to life and love with clarity and grace. Where the caricature is of judgmentalism and oppression, Elizabeth Duffy is compassionate and understanding and fresh and (yes!) funny.

Danielle Bean writes about marriage with her customary style and sensitivity. And honesty. This is real marriage, the kind that is one’s vocation, one’s true calling and path to heaven. It’s hard work. It’s forever. It’s the grace-filled, authentically Catholic variety. Not only do you want to keep reading about it, you want to have it for yourself. Danielle isn’t a woman trapped by a man and eight kids. Far from it, she’s the editor of a major magazine, a blogger, and a television personality meeting the demands and the blessings of life and love with the benefit of huge doses of sacramental grace.

And that whole idea of a homeschooling mama with a dated hairstyle and a denim tent dress? Hallie Lord confesses that it was cute Catholic fashion that first had her considering converting to the faith. She makes it clear that modesty is wholly compatible with stylishness, that dressing well enhances self-confidence and a sense of wellbeing, that there is an art to womanly presentation and it is an art we would do well to learn. Hallie looks honestly at the struggles of a mother to look and feel her best and she offers genuine encouragement to women of all sizes and shapes.

There is much, much more. We are treated to practical thoughts on cultivating a rich prayer life, pragmatic observations about our place in cyberspace and beyond, and thoughtful encouragement towards healthy friendships. It’s the kind of book that inspires one to call a friend read passages aloud.

The book is a quick read. I devoured it in an afternoon, eager to pass it along to so very many people. I came away from the experience holding my head a little higher, my shoulders a little more square. More importantly, I came away feeling as if I’d just had a long, leisurely talk with kindred spirits. It can be a brutal world out there. It’s awfully nice to be understood.


"Style, Sex, and Substance" book trailer from Hallie Lord on Vimeo.