This is the first of several posts on Catholicism.
A few weeks ago my husband and I saw a promotion for a new television show, The Jim Gaffigan Show. My husband read one of his books and was familiar with his comedy, and thought it might be something we would like. I only knew about his five kids and great quote about having four kids, something like, “Having four kids is like…it’s like you’re drowning, and someone hands you a baby.” That was enough to convince me.
Watching the show is interesting. Spoilers ahead.
A family of seven, sharing a two bedroom apartment in Manhattan. Now, I do think it’s worth noting that their two bedroom apartment looks to be rather generous on the square footage, at least as far as Manhattan apartments go, and they appear to have a full-time nanny, but still, raising five kids in Manhattan without ten billion dollars in the bank takes courage.
I like the show, I think he’s funny, and I think the show deals with things in a clever way. In one episode Jim is recognized in a local magazine as being “Super Dad,” and his wife eventually becomes irritated, because while she dedicates her life to her children all day every day, he likes to sleep until noon and occasionally changes a diaper. It’s funny, because I believe that’s not the case in real life – I think he actually is a seriously involved dad – and also because that’s how it really works. That is, Dad shows up one time to pick up the kids from school after Mom did it all year, and suddenly he is the best dad in the world for taking the time to pick up his kids. I know, it’s special because Mom stays home and doesn’t have anything better to do, and Dad works, etc. Still, moms are rarely recognized for all that they do, and every time a dad throws a football with a kid in the park people want to give him a trophy. That kind of behavior actually makes it less likely men will be involved, good dads, because everyone just starts to accept that double standard as reality. I digress.
In the episode that aired this week, and one I only caught up on last night, because I am forever behind on television, they deal with what it is to be Catholic in modern society, and the tightrope any celebrity walks if he or she admits to being religious. Immediately one group of people love you, and that’s great, but another group hates you, and eventually, everyone ends up hating you, because you are both too religious and not religious enough at the same time, no matter how religious you actually are.
I am not a celebrity, in case that has not been made abundantly clear by now. Still, I do think that point is relatable. What is the saying? “Never discuss politics, religion, or money with friends,” something like that? Or maybe that’s with people you work with? I can never remember these things. I can’t imagine not discussing any of those topics, at least to some extent. How would conversations ever move past, “How’s the weather?” and whoever Taylor Swift is rumored to be dating? Anyway, even in my rather small, simple life, I feel like the issue of religion has become more sensitive.
Maybe it has always been exactly this sensitive and I am simply more aware now, or maybe it’s because we’ve moved a few times and where I grew up, things were different. I can’t say for sure.
Two major moves ago I was sitting in the waiting room of a dance studio waiting for my pre-schooler to finish her ballet lesson. I was there with a toddler and a large round belly, and was wearing a small crucifix around my neck. In hindsight, that was probably a pretty clear indication to anyone with any normal skills of perception to conclude I’m Catholic. This woman, whom I would refer to that way even if I remembered her name, because sometimes I’m passive aggressive too, had already made clear to everyone that she was better than all of us because she was a forty something year old criminal lawyer with trial experience and she took one day off per week to spend with her one child, and she took an hour out of that time to send her child to ballet. We sat down and within ten minutes we knew what she made in a year, what she did for a living, what kind of car she drove, how much her new kitchen cost, what she had planned for her daughter for the following summer, why we were all wrong for not sending our children to preschool and swimming lessons with her daughter, and where her four year old would likely attend college. I wish I could say I am exaggerating. I am not. There was actually quite a bit more.
She briefly said something about politics, Hilary Clinton is the greatest, something like that, and we were all sort of half-listening, wondering if anyone else would get a chance to speak this time, when she abruptly turned on me.
“I don’t know how you can be Catholic,” She said loudly, and courageously, given that she was surrounded by chosen people, atheists, and agnostics. Her eyes were always opened just a little too wide for my comfort, but now they were like saucers.
I’m not sure if I was more shocked by what she said, or by the fact that she paused, indicating she expected a response of some kind, or by the fact that she paused and was actually giving someone else an opportunity to speak.
“Uh. I’m not sure I know what you mean,” I responded, mentally asking myself whether I could have misheard her, or whether the outrage rising up my throat was being primarily fueled by pregnancy hormones, or whether this would be that moment I embarrass my daughter so horribly she would never forgive me.
“I just mean after all of the sex scandals. It’s bad enough that they hate women, but now with all of the sex stuff, I just don’t get how people don’t understand how offensive the Church is,” she explained.
I didn’t really have the opportunity to say much more, and I don’t remember exactly what I did say, but I know it was pretty vanilla. People who know me well would be surprised by that. I tend to get a word in when I want to, and I tend to come to those situations with something like a hammer. I was just so shocked, and so confused. I wanted to try to explain in a way that was kind and patient, but I knew anything I said would be wasted, and frankly, I didn’t trust myself to say anything in a kind or patient way, and I didn’t want to be the crazy ranting pregnant lady embarrassing my daughter in front of her friends’ mothers, especially because sometimes during pregnancy I become easily tongue-tied. I also had a lot of blood pressure issues that were exacerbated by stress, so I tried to focus on breathing and keeping a civil look on my face.
I do remember thinking after, “What if she had said that about any other religion?” which, I know, many people would say is unfair. Years ago a professor, whom I actually admire and respect very much, said something regarding making fun of Catholics like, “It’s different, because when you are part of a group that is the majority, or the group that is in power, when people make fun of you it’s not as bad. When you make fun of someone who is weak, that’s when it’s wrong.” I did not then remind him that it wasn’t so long ago that Catholics were excluded from a lot of things, including practicing law, just like people of the Jewish faith, and Catholics were (are?) persecuted by the KKK. I suppose for people who are not Catholic, and who are not Protestant, or Irish, it seems like Catholics and Protestants are more or less the same, and all fall under the “Christian” umbrella, sort of the way Donald Trump sees all “Mexicans” as being the same, even when they are not from Mexico.
I have not ever been in a position quite like the one with that woman, before or since (I’m telling you, there is nothing like the waiting room at a dance studio), but I have had the opportunity to try to explain, to people who were actually interested, why I don’t believe the Church hates women, and why the sex scandal, horrible though it was, did not cause me to leave the Church, and also other things, like why I don’t think I have to hate the LGBT community to be a good Catholic (although I never, ever claim to be a good Catholic). It’s a long conversation, but it’s one worth having, and now that we have Jim Gaffigan and Stephen Colbert on television, and Pope Francis coming next week, now seems like an appropriate time.
A few notes first.
I realize no one asked for my opinion on these matters. That’s perfectly fine. If you are not interested in reading it, feel free to skip it.
I am not writing on behalf of the Catholic Church. I did not check with a priest or a bishop before writing my blog (obviously), and I do not claim to perfectly represent Church teaching in anything that I write, say, or do. I am Catholic, in belief and practice, but I don’t have all of the answers.