I’d be the first to tell you I was not a very good mother. It never occurred to call my kids “honey” or “sweetie.” I called them by their names and one of my sons swears that for years he thought his name was DammitJohn.
Understand, I loved them to death — still do, of course. I would die for them. But when they were pre-teens I sometimes thought that a little time in their company went a long way, which is a terrible thing for a mother to think. I actually said it to DammitJohn a time or two.
I was trying to be funny, but it probably played better in my head.
But the fighting — the nonstop fighting that went on, daily. I tried to remind them that someday their father and I would be dead and they would only have one other, so they should stop trying to destroy each other, or they would destroy their future happiness. They would be alone at exactly the time they’d really want a brother.
That made no impression at all. Daily, the battles wore on, usually over the same damned things. Occasionally there were fisticuffs. I recall one boy dragging another boy over a berber carpet by the ankle while the dragee burned scarlet in his bellowing threats of annihilation.
I didn’t appreciate being called to school the next day in order to explain the rugburn on DammitJohn’s back. Luckily the teacher, mother of two teenage girls, wholly understood the sibling dynamics and said, “Expect more scars.” She was right.
One afternoon the incessant rage got to me. I announced that Mother had “had enough.” Sitting them down in separate chairs I told them through gritted teeth that they were no longer allowed to talk to each other. Not a word. “You will not talk to each other; you will not look at each other…”
“For how long,” they asked.
“Two whole days!” I said without thinking.
DammitJohn’s face wrinkled as he burst into tears. “But I want to talk to my brother!”
“Yeah, well,” said this mother of all compassion, channeling Baby Jane Hudson, “ya can’t.”
It lasted a couple of hours, and then I heard them whispering, “Let’s ask together…” They came into the kitchen as unified supplicants, applying to me as I often apply to Jesus: “Pleeeeeease? We’ll be good! Promise!”
My parenting methods were seldom pretty but we managed a few pleasant days, and I privately felt so terrible about my harsh measure that when the battles again commenced, I simply told them to take it outside and stay out of the street.
They have grown into gentlemanly adulthood, but I credit my husband for that. I know all too well from whence came their savagery.
I’ve been thinking about all of this as I watch Catholics screaming at each other on social media, in Catholic forums and elsewhere. The uncharitable accusations, the vicious name-calling and the nasty, gossipy infighting (why are men such startling gossips?) that goes on daily between people who love the church and have strong feelings about how she should minister to the world, how she should comport herself, and why everyone else is wrong, dammit!
Over the years I’ve realized that my sons fought because they were very different, very smart, very strong in their thinking and committed to their perspectives. They were also young, still unformed, and with a great deal to learn. My job was to teach, encourage, gently correct with a balance of justice and mercy, and help them to advance in both faith and reason.
The truth is, I wasn’t a gifted enough or attentive enough parent to help my kids bring their best thoughts and energies together in order to make something great and unique — something that spoke to the world of both of them, in all of their gifts and talents, their wild eccentricities and compassionate generosities. I was not a “bad” parent, but I could have been a much better, less pro-occupied, less selfish, more selfless one. Because I was not, our house was often roiled, and the children sometimes led with reckless anger and destructive behavior that advanced them in goodness and maturity not one iota.
You see where I’m going with this, right? I don’t have to paint you a picture? We’re fighting too much amongst ourselves and our bishops are not attending; they’re not bringing our best thoughts and energies together in order to bring forth a church that speaks to the world of Christ through all of our gifts and talents. Instead…we’re doing the reckless anger and destructive behavior thing. We’re not advancing as a church, as a people, or as a family.
“I want to talk to my brother…”
I believe we do want to talk to each other, but bad habits ingrained upon us through the culture wars have made us forget how to do that. We are better than what we show of ourselves as we deal with the sins of the Church and all that is lacking, sinful, neglectful, unprepared or lazy in our spiritual fathers.
Still, we are a family. If a number of our spiritual parents are not quite what we need in this moment, Jesus is always there. Mary is always there. We can look to them, and model their behavior when we deal with each other, in order to become that which each of us feels call to be — and what we wish to see in the church.
So, here is my bad-motherly advice:
Who wants a Church of Co-operation,
Let them model Mary who co-operated with the Creator for the salvation of all Creatures;
Who wants a Church of Courage,
Let them model Mary, who said “Yes” to Unknowing and Mystery;
Who wants to see a Church of Justice,
Let them model Jesus, who is All-Justice;
Who wants a Church of Wisdom,
Let them model Jesus, who is The Way;
Who wants a Church of Truth,
Let them model Jesus, who is The Truth;
Who wants a Church of Life,
Let them model Jesus who is the Life;
Who wants a Church of Mercy,
Let them model Jesus who is all Mercy;
Who wants a Church of the Poor,
Let them model Jesus, who loved the poor;
Who wants a Church of Sacrificial Love,
Let them model Jesus, who is Love, Sacrificed;
Who wants a Church in Peace,
Let them model Jesus, who is Peace.
Or, as I told my sons, if we want a Church with an empty future, one without brothers or sisters, let’s just keep fighting amongst ourselves, and we’ll get one.