Last week an NPR talk show was asking Catholic listeners to call in and share their thoughts about birth control. I found myself wondering whether I’d meet the test. I was certainly steeped in the culture and tradition. My great-grandmother went to Mass to pray for a husband. She met a prosperous widower who’d lost his first job for being Catholic. My grandmother was their eighteenth child. Her inheritance went to the Jesuits. I spent my childhood in parochial schools. I’m the sixth of ten, or seventh of eleven, if you count my oldest sister’s twin. (She lived three days.)
My mother, a convert, followed the Church’s teaching on birth control, despite her severe morning sickness. Somehow she made it through those nine years of nausea without losing her sense of humor, or humility. She’s the archtypal Madonna figure. Self-sacrificing, self-effacing, a calm Lady Madonna.
When I ask her about the rhythm method, she shrugs and says, “We were so stupid!”
According to polls, 98% of Catholic women seem to agree. I remember in high school, in a Family and Marriage class, the priest saying God had special reverence for women. I wonder now, though, how much you can revere someone while at the same time telling them they’re incapable of deciding when and how they’d like to have children? In some ways, it’s as if the little red hen says, “Who will help me plant this wheat?” and the priest says, “Not I. Agriculture is artificial interference with God’s plan.”
I presume that argument didn’t get extended to grains because even the pope likes his bread and beer. Oddly, Viagra is also perfectly acceptable at most Catholic hospitals. I guess gravity is one law of nature you’re encouraged to defy. Go figure.
It used to be that religion, politics and sex were not to be discusssed in public. Now, the three subjects, like drunk uncles at a family reunion, have wrapped themselves so tightly around one another that its hard to know where one ends and the other begins. Right wing politicians whip their congregations into a frenzy over sex. You have to wonder why this unseemly emphasis on our lady parts? What’s missing? Or as the French like to say, “Cherchez La Femme.”
She’s notably absent from the pulpit, or the college of cardinals, conference of bishops or halls of the Vatican. Apparently, she’s not smart enough to think for herself, which is, I’m afraid, the real reason I feel I’m losing my religion. Not because I don’t believe in a beautiful, all loving God.
I just think she’s been silenced in our Holy Mother Church, along with all those female parishoners who appear to be using their God-given conscience to separate the wheat from the chaff, or in this case, the ridiculous from the sublime.
For more about being/not being Catholic, read these essays by two of my favorite Catholic women writers.