"Breaking Through"


Dr. Helen Alvaré, from the United States of America, is a Consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Laity, working in particular with the Dicastery’s “Women’s Section”. She recently compiled a most worthwhile collection of essays, called Breaking Through. Catholic Women Speak for Themselves. Dr. Alvaré has written two of the essays, as well as the introduction and conclusion. With her, eight other highly qualified women also authored essays. The collection draws on some familiar themes for this type of publication, such as maternity, contraception, women in the workplace, but also on less usual subjects such as being single, how women handle the scandal of sex abuse by American clergy, and the life of the Christian woman as a basis for a new culture. These themes are examined with great freedom of thought, far-removed from pre-conceived formulas. Each of the contributions stands up to the requirement of making a breach in the dominant thought of ideological feminism, imposed by the mass media and generally far removed from real life.

As can be seen from the reviews published on our website, many recent works from the United States address similar issues, giving a sign that we are probably close to a turning point in ways of thinking the identity of the woman and the meaning of her relationships and social functions. The ideological schemas of feminism, with their corollaries both old (sexual liberation) and new (gender theory), despite being deeply entrenched in the reflexes of the mass media, now show themselves to be inadequate in giving answers to the real questions asked by women and by society.

This book fits easily into this line rich in publications, but also has some points that make it stand out. The book is neither theoretical, nor polemical, but explicitly reflects the existential experience of the women involved. The high qualifications and technical rigour of the contributions do not subtract from this; often telling the story of the writers’ lives and, frequently, of a journey of conversion. Indeed, it is this factor that best expresses the quality of the publication. The biographical element is not used as a literary artifice for transmitting theoretical content but, rather, it structures the message, with life experiences being what allows the demystification of ideology. What becomes clear is that the Achilles’ Heel of the media-maintained ideology that has a hold on contemporary western mindsets is precisely the fact that it has lost contact with reality and with the truth of life; obliging people – and in particular women – to make choices that alienate them and produce disorientation and suffering.

In the personal lives of these writers, all of Catholic origin, one sees clearly the role played by Church Magisterium in finding answers to the unavoidable questions about existence that the dominant cultural system has attempted, in vain, to silence. This Church teaching, initially seen with suspicion and sometimes with disdain from the perspective of western relativism, comes to the fore because of the untamed requirement of truth and of love that is common to the experience of each of the contributing writers. The discovery of Christian moral thought’s depth and relevance has been a key for these women in accessing reality and a compass in orienting them towards choices that are fit-for-purpose. Here the teaching of the Church is not presented as something ‘confessional’ that opposes a dominant ‘doctrine’, or as a counter-ideology. Indeed it is not Catholic ‘doctrine’ as such that breaks down the machine of relativism, rather it is the reality of life that does this - a reality made accessible thanks to Church teaching. The reality in question is the rediscovery of the value of being a woman, of the gift of material and spiritual motherhood and of the ‘feminine genius’. These things, in motion, break through the wall of prejudice built up by old-style feminism and contemporary relativism. For these reasons, this book cannot be sidelined as the expression of a religious ghetto or of an intellectual elite; on the contrary it bears a universal message rooted in life (and in this it is authentically Catholic), announcing a liberation and a hope for all women.

A translation of this book into other languages would be most welcome. 

Breaking Through. Catholic Women Speak for Themselves, Helen Alvaré editor, Our Sunday Visitor Inc., Huntington 2012

Msgr. Antonio Grappone

Book Reviews

© Copyright 2011-2015  Pontifical Council for the Laity | Site Map | Links | Contact us


On 1 September 2016 the

Pontifical Council for the Laity
ceased its activities.
Its responsibilities and duties
have been taken over by the
Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.