US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Mary and Mass

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A Catholic woman connects with the feminine side of God, even if it’s not often acknowledged in church.

Guest blog by Karen Kirkwood

I have not found a home in the Catholic community and I’m not involved in parish projects in part due to the patriarchal nature of the church. However, I do attend Mass. When I was considering becoming Catholic several years ago, the church’s male hierarchy and exclusive language repelled me, but its social justice stance and unapologetic emphasis on Mary’s role attracted me. Even though I have many concerns about the church’s standpoint on women, I continue to attend Mass because it feeds me. I handle what I feel are archaic and absurd policies in several ways.

First of all, I concentrate on what does make sense to me. Before I became a Catholic, I asked a progressive priest how he dealt with the gender issues. He answered, “The church is slow to change, but change she does. I’m patient. Also, I’m confident that God is working on us.” I look at the long history of the church and see it is making progress, albeit slowly, and what I receive at Mass trumps the current injustices towards women.

Also, I make some changes I need to in order to participate. Often during Mass, I supply my own inclusive language. Even though I’m not following strict procedure, I don’t believe I’ll be damned for calling God She. “Our Mother, who art in heaven…”

I comfort and educate myself by reading the mystics of the church, who often offer a broader definition of God than I find in the traditional church. I’m currently reading Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen, by Hildegard of Bingen and commentary by Matthew Fox. Hildegard struggled with being a gifted woman in a male-dominated church. Her words and mandalas inspire me because she rises above gender pettiness to share her all-encompassing and revolutionary insights into who we are and what our relationship to God should be.

Lastly, I meditate on an icon of La Virgen de Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint. I stare at her belly, awestruck, for she cradles God in her womb. This mystery fills an aching chasm in me that no male God can. One of the Hebrew words for God’s compassion is associated with the womb. Womb love. When I need comfort, I don’t picture myself in the arms of a male God as I was taught in Sunday school, but as floating, warm and secure, in God’s womb, a distinctly feminine impression.

Guest blogger Karen Kirkwood is a contributor to U.S. Catholic who lives in Walla Walla, Washington.

As a supplement of the January 2011 special issue on women, U.S. Catholic is asking guest bloggers, “How do you keep the faith as a woman in the church?” To submit your answer (about 500 words), e-mail

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.