Monday, July 27, 2009

Mercy and the Single Mother

Enbrethiliel at Sancta Sanctis has an interesting post up, analyzing current attitudes toward single motherhood among (mostly female) Catholic bloggers. With the caveat that "[as] for myself, I don't want a Catholic blogosphere that's too sweet," she quotes from a couple of blogs that make accusations, based purely on the authors' speculation, against single mothers, the main one being that single mothers make the considered, if not calculated, choice to be consigned to poverty and exhaustion because they want sex without consequences (ascribing uncanny, almost parthenogenetic, powers to single mothers, these bloggers essentially ignore the concomitant choices made by men). One of the bloggers Enbrethiliel quotes goes even further:

"In Feminist Fantasy Land we are supposed to look upon irresponsibility as something to be praised and we are supposed to boo and hiss at duty and responsible adult behavior. Therefore, marriage is to be looked upon as a waste of time and promiscuity is to be embraced.

The result? A massive, and still growing, class of impovershed [sic] single mothers that demand tax payer money [sic] to care for themselves and their children. All while many of them continue on in the same irrisponsible [sic] behavior that landed them in poverty in the first place.

And we are supposed to feel sorry for them and praise them as heroic martyrs. (???)

. . . . [S]ingle mothers are not special and they do not deserve special praise or special treatment above married mothers. " [Emphasis in original]

I'm not sure if it's worthwhile to unpack this diatribe, which after all speaks for itself. But I am saddened to see these sentiments emerging from Catholics who adhere proudly to their faith. Then again, maybe "adhering proudly" is the key to this disparagement, to this -- dare I say it -- scorn, and even hatred, for one's brethren. I believe that the Catholic faith contains, teaches, and advances the truth, but having received the gift of faith-- through no merits of my own -- gives me no cause to boast, and even less to disparage others, especially others who are in need of friendship and spiritual support.

Some readers of this blog know of my close friendship with a single mother living in poverty, who is a mother in spite of every effort of her ex-boyfriend's family to induce her to abort (and, pace Coffee Catholic, she is not supported by taxpayer money, though her pre-school-aged daughter, as an American citizen living in poverty, qualifies for food stamps and Medicaid). She did not make the choice to deprive her daughter of a father; her daughter's father made that choice. And her "irresponsible behavior," like that of so many other women, was motivated far less by "feminism" than it was by love and the desire for love. Was that love misguided? Most likely yes. But bloggers like Coffee Catholic and Leticia are luckier than they know if their own love and desire for love was never misguided, mishandled, mistreated, or cast before swine. Perhaps they had attentive parents of whose love they were assured, and therefore never knew the desperate loneliness and sense of unworthiness that encourages so many women to seek love and its substitutes elsewhere; if so, in that regard, they are also luckier than they know. But from those to whom much has been given, much is required.

The patristic apologist Tertullian famously described the early Christians by saying: "Look . . . how they love one another." That love was truly revolutionary in the pagan ancient world. Equally revolutionary, in a culture that regarded strength and ruthlessness as virtues and meekness as a sign of cringing subservience, was the idea of humility as a good for which to strive. I understand the attraction that some Catholics feel to the ethos of the Church Militant, but that does not cancel out the necessity, modeled by Christ Himself, for us to humble ourselves and to love one another in truth. If we are living in a neo-pagan era now, shouldn't we, as Christians, counter the culture by cultivating love for one another -- especially for those we're naturally inclined to scorn and hate?

There is a phenomenon among Catholics of a certain lack of enthusiasm for converts (or, as in my case, reverts), in spite of the fact that heaven rejoices over repentant sinners far more than over the righteous. I sometimes think that the righteous ones resent the fun that the more sinful converts and reverts had spending themselves in disorderly living, and think that we should pay for it temporally more than we seem to have already -- the workers coming at the eleventh hour and all that. To them, all I can say is that God is good, and one of the strange paradoxes of grace is that those who deserve it the least have the most right to His mercy. May God teach all of us, especially me, to be merciful.

(Above: Colin McCahon, Madonna and Child)


ratiocination said...

This is a beautiful post, touching on some very important issues--ones very close to my heart--both forcefully and gently. I happened across your blog quite by accident and was intrigued by your profile description as a fellow mother (and sinner!)

Pentimento said...

Thank you so much for your good words, Lisa. Mothers, and sinners, are extremely welcome here! God bless.

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree.

lissla lissar said...

Not a direct reply, but a passage the end of your post brought to mind, about rejoicing over the righteous, from my favourite novel (from which I tend to spout with annoying frequency).

"As I have told you, I myself was the good son, so to speak, the one who never left his father's house- even when his father did, a fact which surely puts my credentials beyond all challenge. I am one of those righteous for whom the rejoicing in heaven will be comparatively restrained. And that's all right. There is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality. It makes no sense because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal. So how could it subordinate itself to cause or consequence?"
-Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

Pentimento said...

Wow. Beautiful, and astonishing. Thank you.

lissla lissar said...

Thanks. I recommend the novel highly- the whole thing reads like that.

I'm a Catholic convert myself (formerly Anglican), and I think the sour-grapes bitterness spans all denominations, and is just part of our longing to be granted continence and self-control, but not yet, O Lord, because we might miss something good.

There's a traditional extension of the parable of the Prodigal Son- I think I read about it years ago, so I can't cite the source- where the elder son is so angry about the father's generosity that he too leaves, squanders, and comes back years later to find his father still there, and patiently waiting for him.

I really like your blog. I found it linked off Darwin Catholic a few days ago. It's lovely.

Pentimento said...

Thank you, Lissla! I looked at your blog too, and it's very senstively written.

I think I may actually have Gilead around somewhere, in one of the many piles of books waiting to be read. . .

elena maria vidal said...

Two of my best friends are single mothers who have been through hell and back and are trying (and have been trying) to raise their children in the faith. My own godmother became a single mother when I was a small child; my parents brought her to live with us so they could take care of her and the baby, which they did for over a year. I very early learned about falls and the redemption that comes through repentance. Funny, but so many of my close friends are "fallen women" and I guess I have always seen myself as a being a fallen woman. Or at least as having the potential to become one, if God had not protected me, for reasons of His own. If God had not kept his Hand on me, I would certainly have had become a single mother at one pint in my youth. We are all weak. We are all sinners. Chastity is a gift. It cannot be worn as a medal of honor once we think we have achieved it, since the devil lurks as a devouring lion, and we can always fall again, if not into impurity then into other sins. Chastity is a fragile virtue for many people, one that should never, ever be taken for granted. Yet as St. Francis de Sales said: "There are many virgins in Hell, but there are no humble people in Hell."

Many of our young converts are reacting (and perhaps over reacting) against their own heartbreaking and soul-searing experiences in the world. Only time and growth in the Faith can give calmness, peace and balance of expression. So I tend to let them rant, knowing that they will eventually work it out, and that they will be receiving gentle correction from their sisters in Christ. We are all really here to help each other along a very dark path.

Pentimento said...

What a beautiful and moving comment, Elena. Thank you for sharing your experiences and your wisdom.

As for the gentle correction from our sisters in Christ -- well, we need more of it. "They" need more of it, and I need more of it. Too often, though, vituperation, correction, is offered. A friend of mine likes to say that we are ALL the workers who came at the eleventh hour. May we all know ourselves as such.