Harrison Butker’s Courageous Defense of Women

It needed to be said: Our careers are not our vocations.

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“We must always speak and act in charity, but never mistake charity for cowardice.” 
Harrison Butker, Commencement Speech at Benedictine College

Harrison Butker’s commencement speech at Benedictine College has certainly caught the attention of many. And while it’s not surprising that the secular media is proclaiming his speech as “ugly,” many Catholics are also up in arms, stating that he represents a dangerous “new face” of Catholicism, or is wildly out of touch, calling us to live in some fantasy 1950s utopia.

All of these claims are unfounded. Butker is not advocating for a new face of Catholicism, nor is he promoting the 1950s. After all, if the 1950s were so idyllic, the heinous push for birth control, abortion, and sexual license would not have followed in the 1960s. Reading this kind of agenda into his speech reveals our own misconceptions of what it means to be traditional. Tradition has nothing to do with poodle skirts or watching Leave It to Beaver and everything to do with rejecting the heresies of modernism. Or as Butker explains, it means fearlessly living out our Faith, knowing full well it is wildly countercultural. 

Butker’s speech, in today’s day and age, is courageous because he is stating something many do not want to hear, a “crime” that brings about persecution. Nevertheless, he unapologetically points us back to the fundamental basics of Christian living: our vocation is our path to holiness. 

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Vocation, which comes from the Latin word “vocare,” means “to summon.” Each vocation is the invitation that God has given to us as a means for our salvation. In living out our vocations faithfully, grace abounds and hearts change. But sadly, the negative reaction, specifically from Catholics, reveals just how confused we are when it comes to the basic question “What is my purpose in life?”

Our purpose is not tethered to this world. Our purpose is to live for God because we are made for Him and He calls us to be saints. As it says in the Baltimore Catechism, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.”

Many of Butker’s critics claim that he asserted that the women graduating this year wasted their lives because they belong in the kitchen. Not only did Butker never say this, but this made-up critique reveals just how deeply we are hurting within the home. Butker’s speech was exceedingly pro-woman; he congratulated the girls for all of their achievements, as well as going a step further and affirming that a desire for motherhood is not only good, it’s paramount. 

For the ladies present today, congratulations on an amazing accomplishment. You should be proud of all that you have achieved to this point in your young lives…I can tell you that my beautiful wife, Isabelle, would be the first to say that her life truly started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother. I’m on the stage today and able to be the man I am because I have a wife who leans into her vocation. I’m beyond blessed with the many talents God has given me, but it cannot be overstated that all of my success is made possible because a girl I met in band class back in middle school would convert to the faith, become my wife, and embrace one of the most important titles of all: homemaker.

Our careers are not our vocations. This is not to say that work is bad, quite the contrary—work is necessary; however, work is meant to serve and not to be an end. As C.S. Lewis famously said: “The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only—and that is to support the ultimate career.” 

Butker is not condemning women who have held jobs. Women have always worked throughout history. We see this in the Bible (Proverbs 31), and we see this clearly exemplified pre-Industrial Revolution, when society was more agrarian and artisan based. Instead, Butker is pointing out that our priorities must be in order. The problem arises when material success overrides the family—when we think the title of CEO is worth more than the title of “Mom.” 

While much of modernity says that all walks of life should be equally celebrated, the negative pushback on Butker’s speech verifies the lie lurking behind this statement. Our culture is unkind toward homemakers because our world has lost sight of the transcendent. If you want to promote family life, marriage, and homemaking as more important than fleeting success, you will be attacked.  While much of modernity says that all walks of life should be equally celebrated, the negative pushback on Butker’s speech verifies the lie lurking behind this statement. Tweet This

Butker sees the dangers of losing sight of what really matters. He asserts this by pointing out that it is due to his wife that he is successful. It is because of his wife that he recognizes that his role as husband and father is infinitely more important than any worldly title he holds.  

Butker is honoring his wife for her own dedication to her vocation, which, in turn, reminds him that worldly glory is nothing compared to the glory of God. And through her love and admiration, he is strengthened in his own vocation. He attributes all of this to a woman. 

She is the one who ensures I never let football or my business become a distraction from that of a husband and father. She is the person that knows me best at my core, and it is through our marriage that, Lord willing, we will both attain salvation.

Butker recognizes that his fidelity to his vocation, not football career, is his path to Heaven. And in testifying to this, he asserts the supreme importance of the role of his wife; he knows that men and women depend upon each other. If we walk away from this speech believing it is anti-woman or condemning women with dreams, then we weren’t listening.  

As I watched his speech, I couldn’t help but reflect on the Blessed Mother. Mary, who has achieved innumerable titles—Queen of Heaven and Earth, Queen of the Angels, Spouse of God, Queen of the Apostles, and so on—is most frequently referred to as Mother. The Blessed Mother, who is not only the ultimate woman but also the most impressive human being to have ever existed, lived her entire life through the mantra “do whatever He tells you.” In everything she does, she points man back to God. And we see that Butker recognizes that his own wife mirrors this example by orienting him back to what really matters. 

Perhaps Mary’s role as Mother of God and mother of us all should remind us of the beautiful dignity that God has given women in their maternal calling. 

Reminding girls that God gave women a maternal calling is good and holy. It is not out of touch or new. It is a statement of love and acknowledgment of the goodness of their design. 

At the end of the day, Butker is simply reminding us to “stay in our lane” by living out our vocations faithfully; or, as St. Catherine of Siena said, “Be who God made you to be.” And for many of us, that looks like upholding the dignity of family life, safeguarding the sacrament of marriage, and raising children to love God. 

[Photo Credit: Benedictine College]

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