Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Confessions of an Agnostic Catholic Feminist

There's an old joke about an elderly Italian woman who was praying in church when a workman saw her and decided to play a trick on her. He hid behind the statue of Jesus and called out in a deep voice, "I am Jesus and I hear your prayers." Nothing. The woman didn't react at all. He said it again, a little louder, "I am Jesus and I hear your prayers!" Nothing. The old woman shifted a little on the kneeler, but didn't take any notice of him. So he tried once more, even louder, "I AM JESUS AND I HEAR YOUR PRAYERS!" Finally, the woman looked up crossly and said, "Shutta your mouth, I'm talking to your mother!"

It's an old joke, but the spirit of this story is pretty close to some of the Italian and Hispanic women I worked with at a Catholic nursing home 30+ years ago. I wonder if this generation has died out by now. I was young when I worked there and still involved with the church. With my more reserved German Catholic heritage, I was somewhat shocked, listening to the women. There seemed to be so much superstition mixed in with their beliefs. Was this okay? I mean, they prayed to the saints, but if the saint didn't provide results quickly, their statue was turned to the wall, presumably in time out until they decided to behave.

The two stories have something in common. There is an intimacy in their connection with God, the saints, and especially, Mary. I often got the feeling that their talks to Mary were more like their conversations with each other. Granted, Mary didn't answer back - at least not out loud, so it may have been more of a monologue, but from what I had experienced of older women in groups, they tended to prefer simultaneous monologues and didn't seem to need anyone to provide answers.

At this point in my life, I do not go to church. I am not a religious Catholic. However, growing up in a very Catholic home, I can relate as a cultural Catholic. We still say a Catholic blessing before meals and I automatically make the sign of the cross after prayers or whenever I hear a siren.

When we left the church, we were tired of the hierarchy in Rome, tired of ambitious priests who became bishops and cardinals and went to Rome where they never had to associate with mere parishioners. We were tired of rules made by these men and appalled by the hurt caused by the priests who had molested young boys and how the church had protected the priests instead of the children.

Back to Mary - even though the church would vehemently deny this, it seems, according to their beliefs, she is right up there on the same level as God. Mary was born without original sin. The father of her son was the Holy Spirit, not an earthly man. And instead of dying, she was taken up into heaven in the Assumption. (I enjoy the choice of words: assumption. Did Mary just disappear one day and everyone just assumed she was in heaven?) These three events are things we would normally associate with gods. Mary is the closest there is to a female diety, a goddess, in a Christian church.

It's the one feminist part of the Catholic church and, like all things female, the male church seems to ignore this. The hierarchy reveres Mary while keeping her firmly in her place. The old women knew better. Mary was the Mother of God. Why go to God when you can talk to his Mother? Mary was much more approachable. She's one of them. Jesus was most important at Christmas because new babies were always exciting, especially baby God. Even as an adult, Jesus was still Mary's kid. After all, he was still single.

On Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus. It's all about the baby who was Christ who was God who performed miracles and who was killed and then rose from the dead. I think this year I'll think about Mary who gave birth in a stable filled with straw and farm animals and who nudged her son into turning water into wine (go Mom) and then had to watch her son pay the price of choosing an alternative career and rebelling against authority. 

Of course, we should also think of Joseph. Poor old Joseph doesn't get too much press, but he was rather important, too. 


Adam crunched contentedly, "Boys will be boys," he said.
Abraham sighed, beard in his soup, "Parenting is key."
And Joseph, Joseph shrugged over his ale. "Perhaps he'll be an engineer."

by John Reinhart, published in Black Heart Magazine.