In my column at First Things today, I recount a bit of personal family history:
My mother—let’s call her Alice—was born during the Depression to a couple who could neither hear nor speak, and were rather famous around Coney Island for their ability to initiate spontaneous parties and sustain them for whole weekends.
They were the polar opposite of today’s “helicopter parents.” For them, parenting was not half as interesting as playing the ponies, their factory-shift work, or partying with their fellows (had the word “homies” then been in vogue, I have no doubt that Gran and Grampa would have used it, turned their caps backward, stuck out their tongues and folded their arms with nods full of attitude), so they frequently left Alice under the long-term supervision of a rather bitter grandmother who taught her how to sew, bake, and weed a garden with such resolute vigor that I never saw Alice do any of those things during my lifetime.
She was big on floor-scrubbing, and the sheets were always fresh, but like her parents, whom she adored, Alice preferred the social and monetary rewards of working outside the home rather than within it.
While Alice was faithfully, if rather sternly, clothed, fed, and taught her catechism by her grandmother, it was her glamorous-seeming parents who captured her imagination and on whom she modeled her own personality. As a mother, she too was dutiful—if the meals were awful, the school uniforms were pressed and the lunches made—but she parented with a determined eccentricity, as well. Returning from school one day, my brother noted that most of his closet was strewn about the neighborhood, one shirt still dangling from his bedroom window. Laughing, he gathered up clothes as he walked, and explained, “Yeah, I forgot to make my bed, this morning. She hates that.”
I drag my poor dead mother, her fizzy parents and tragic old Great-Grandma Emilia out into the limelight in order to illustrate a family situation that — in an unusual way — relates a bit to the current tensions between some Catholic churchwomen and the hierarchs in Rome, and more specifically to a recent interview in which L’Osservatore Romano columnist, Lucetta Scaraffia said, “There is misogyny in the Church . . . It’s not possible to go on like this. Women in the Church are angry!”
In the throes of anger, it can be hard to swallow even the morsel of humility it takes to acknowledge things we would prefer to ignore, particularly if doing so might be misconstrued by some as defeat.
But truly, if we can look back (even in our resentment) and locate something positive and true, and bring it forward, that can be the beginning of a healing and a bigger victory than may at first be obvious.
The piece is difficult to excerpt and could easily be misunderstood, particularly by people who might want to misunderstand things, so I invite you to go over and read it for yourself.
UPDATE: Joanne McPortland says it’s easy to bash bishops, who have the worst job in Christendom