Harrison Butker’s commencement speech was shared a few days ago on a text thread with six of my closest girlfriends. Before I had a chance to watch it, the comments came in, 

“His speech was epic! Blew it out of the park!” 

“Can hardly wait to listen to the whole thing!” 

These were followed by a few emoji hearts, clap hands and praise hands. 

This group of women is comprised of two attorneys, a project manager, a dietician, a CPA, and a breast surgeon. Some of us have experienced infertility, and others of us have up to four children. All of us are mothers, whether through adoption or birth. And like the graduating class of 2024 at Benedictine College, we applauded that speech. Why? 

All of us share this one critical unifying force: We are all practicing Roman Catholics. 

As practicing Roman Catholics, my friends and I have embraced our vocations. The professional titles, while important, are secondary to our purpose is life. Our purpose is laser-focused on the eternal goal and vocation we all share: to use all we have, including our place in life, to become Saints in the Kingdom of God. The earthly titles are just that - temporal. 

Addressing the women in the crowd, Butker said, “I think it is you, the women, who have had the most diabolical lies told to you. Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world, but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world. I can tell you that my beautiful wife Isabelle would be the first to say that her life truly started when she started living her vocation as a wife and as a mother.”

With an upward gaze toward the eternal, these graduates understand the many spiritual and physical layers of vocation in a Catholic setting. Their roaring ovation at the conclusion of the commencement speech testified to their agreement.

Why? Why would a newly-minted female graduate, who had just poured her efforts into a degree, applaud such remarks? 

It’s about that word vocation. It means something very specific to Catholics. 

A feminist-supported message tells young women to first, and foremost, focus on financial stability and independence with a good job before considering a family. This is why we see the average age of marriage rising, and more women delaying motherhood or choosing to be childless. The world tells them that it is too expensive, and even too selfish to bring new people into the world. Family is an afterthought. 

But the discernment of vocation through the Catholic lens first acknowledges God, then what family will look like, and then discerns details of how that family will look, where it will live, and how it will support itself. It is relationship-oriented. 

In all cases, practicing Catholics are to invite the Holy Spirit to work through them - whether that be performing breast surgery or washing their child’s plate - in order to honor the King. We pray as we work. We acknowledge the presence of a very close and living God in all aspects of our lives. 

A vocation is not singular or necessarily exclusive. In other words, a vocation to the priesthood may not preclude a man from also being a doctor. A vocation to motherhood may not preclude a woman from becoming a partner in a law firm.

The concept of vocation is critical to grasp in order to see Butker’s words as encouragement. Our identities are not based on the world’s definitions of success or honor. They are rooted in the confidence God has in and through us to be used for His good. 

Of all vocations, motherhood stands uniquely apart from the rest. There is no other vocation as physically, mentally, and spiritually life-altering as motherhood. It is truly a daily “dying to oneself” through child bearing and raising. The very nature of nurturing children is constant, sometimes sleepless, and selfless. This vocation is a spiritual practice of the dulling of vices and pruning and growing of the fruits of the Spirit the Lord cultivates within us as evidence of our closeness with Him and journey to become Saints. 

In the Catholic Church, motherhood also holds a unique value because of Our Lady’s example. As the mother of God, Mary submitted her entire future to the will of the Holy Spirit by accepting her role as the Virgin Mother. And as the mother of Christ, she gave her only Son back to the Father and watched at the foot of the cross as He died. Mary was not martyred like the disciples, but her own soul was pierced.  Any mother who has lost a child can attest to the intimate, spiritual death that occurs when a child’s life ends before his mother’s. 

Women carry within them that intrinsic ability to sacrifice their will through the care and nurture of others - whether through physical motherhood or spiritual motherhood. 

Even the wide world understands the permanence and identity found in this vocation of motherhood. A simple hashtag search on Instagram tells the story - while career-oriented hashtags such as #girlboss and #bossbabe yield 27 million and 22 million uses, respectively, #mom and #momlife yield a staggering 61 million and 79.9 million uses. Everyone alive has or has had a mother. And once a mother is made, she is always a mother. Science itself supports that the cells of a new baby remain with the mother, even if the child is lost to abortion or miscarriage. 

As a practicing Catholic, the decision to become a wife and a mother is meant to be a permanent vocation, and we must start with that truth. We make a covenant with our spouse, and with God. It is not meant to change or expire, like a contract does. It is not meant to change like a profession can. And this is the lens through which Butker speaks. 

It’s just that his voice has taken a hard landing for women in the secular world who have so readily placed the titles received by others above the titles bestowed on us by our Creator. Because we have been distracted by the world’s labels of success, we are susceptible to the lie that motherhood precludes us from any other good thing.

Regardless of whether you are Catholic, if you are a mother, disheartened by the world’s response to your most gratifying vocation, do not for one second believe that you are alone in your contentment of motherhood. That contentment is a direct arrow pointing to the spiritual nature of raising souls. 

If you are a single woman who longs to have a family, foster that desire. It is of the Lord to raise up children. In the waiting, ask Him to make you a spiritual mother to those around you. 

Now back to our text message thread. Just one conversation before the Butker speech, one of us sent this Saint Therese of Lisieux quote: 

“The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is a heart of a mother.” 

What a gift to be a mother. As my six professionally successful friends and I will tell you, it absolutely is the most exciting call to accept the vocation to raise saints. 


Written by Leah Bendele


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