Betty Duffy

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Who is Faithful?

“What is important for all people, what makes their life significant, is the knowledge they are loved. The person in a difficult situation will hold on if he knows someone is waiting for me, someone wants me and needs me. God is there first and loves me. And that is the trustworthy ground on which my life is standing and on which I can construct it.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Benedictus, p.88)

I wonder sometimes if I could love men as much as I do, if my own father had been less worthy of my love and respect. Not to say he has always been a saint, but he cleaned up his act before I entered the scene. So I was lucky to grow up with a father who was affectionate, while maintaining appropriate distance, who sought God, and made necessary amendments in his life. Most importantly, he has, to my knowledge, always loved my mother, which made me feel safe in his love for me.

And while I love my mom deeply, and have catalogued her virtues before, I have never felt the same dependence on her love that I have with my dad. If Mom was angry with me growing up, no big deal. But if dad was angry, there was no happiness until things were right.

As an adult, this feeling has translated to my relationship with my husband. When my husband and I are fighting, nothing’s right. I’m short with the kids. I lose interest in the house, and start looking elsewhere for affirmation. When we are at peace, when I’m confident in his love, I want to build up and protect our family.

I don’t think this craving for masculine approval and affection is entirely specific to my being a woman either—because my sons, too, crave approval and affection from their father, whereas I suspect they could really care less what I have to say.

Nevertheless, I think it is a man’s love that is often most elusive. I watched the movie “Precious” recently, had read the book before so knew there was an incestuous father/daughter relationship. What struck me watching the movie was the interview with the mom—how could she let it happen? She says she was jealous. She wanted to keep her man, and if that meant offering her child as a sacrifice, that’s what she was going to do. Otherwise, “Who’s going to love me?” she asks.

There was no trustworthy ground on which to stand, and the perversion of man’s love caused her to hate and abuse her child, and to withhold the maternal love that her child should have been able to take for granted.

That John Mayer song that was out a couple years ago—“Fathers be good to your daughters. Daughters will love like you do. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers, so mothers, be good to your daughters too”-- there was a lot of sweet sentiment about it when it first came out. What a positive message for fathers. But every time I heard it, I wanted to yell at the radio. No, No, NO, John Mayer! You’ve got it all wrong! Fathers be good to the mothers of your children, so your daughters can feel safe in your love.

Mayer sets up this family structure where love flows from the father, through the children and then back to mom---as though that would be enough for her, as though it would be comfortable for the kids. But it was a safe platitude for a culture where nearly fifty percent of fathers do not live with the mothers of their children.

In high school, a friend’s dad left her mom for another woman. So my friend and I took his credit card, went to Victoria’s Secret and purchased 200 dollars worth of push-up bras. Never would have crossed our minds to do such a thing to a Father who loved his bride.

And I think about the scandals in the Church, how they came sort of spiraling into my life—the sexual abuse was out there somewhere, and it was deplorable, but it didn’t have much to do with me. It kept creeping closer and closer, however; the head of a religious order to which I belonged was guilty, and then a priest that I actually knew.

Fulton Sheen said never to refer to the Church as an institution, because it is a marriage between Christ, who is always faithful, and the Church, which strives to be faithful as well. And I saw, very concretely, that the Church has not always been faithful, and it did something to me.

I have not spent one minute of my life waiting for the Pope to tell me it’s OK to use birth control. I’m not chomping at the bit to become sterile, not waiting for a green light to go on the pill. But when the sex abuse scandals broke, I started having moments…moments when I’d be at the grocery store, looking for Tampax or toilet paper and I’d pass the racks of Durex and Trojans (so many genital products have the letter x in them), and I’d just pause for a moment, considering…what must that be like, to come out of my bunker of fringe Catholicism, the twenty thousand ways to evade the question, “So are you done?”

Why should I be faithful? Who is faithful?

I suppose there was another part of me that was relieved to postpone a deeper kind of faithfulness --a wholeness of person—because I assumed that was for other, holier people, as I believed priests were (and many are). Let them be faithful for the both of us, and I will go on suspecting that even though I’m having kids, and going through the motions, I’m a little bit of a whore inside because I do it all grudgingly, and if there were no hell, I might not do it at all.

So here walked an unhappy person, someone who was not sure of her footing, because infidelity had made its mark, and when the head hurts, the body hurts.

That’s not a good feeling, being a divided person, and I knew that already from back in the days when I bought pushup bras with someone else’s money. But apparently, I had to learn it again: I want to be one of the ones who is faithful.

It’s very easy to come up with examples of the infidelity and the failings of other people. If I wanted to come up with excuses for the times I’ve behaved badly in my life, I could easily find someone at whom to point my finger. Infidelity, after all, is contagious.

But what do I make of the faithful? Because I do know people who are faithful, actually, quite a few, for whom faithfulness is the best thing they have going for them. They might have bad hair and eczema, but they are truly holy.

When my priest breaks the darkness and silence of the morning with the words, “Blessed are you Lord God of all creation…” I hear true devotion in his voice. He is not just dialing it in, and it makes me want to bless the Lord too, because faithfulness, like its opposite, is also contagious, and it only comes from God. But, like God himself, it’s so easy to ignore, disregard, and doubt in the face of all the nastiness that can happen right alongside it.

I loved the meditation yesterday in Magnificat from Pope Benedict XVI (of course):

There are men who not only destroy themselves but also corrupt others with them and leave behind powers of destruction that drive whole generations into nihilism. If we think of the great seducers of our century, we know how real this is. The negation of the one becomes a contagious disease that carries others away. But, God be praised, this is not only true in the negative. There are people who leave behind so to speak, a surplus of love, of perseverance in suffering, of honor and truth that captures others and sustains them.

(emphasis mine)

Those are the coattails, I want to hang onto. May all the saints in Heaven pray for us.


Lizzie said...

I've always remembered the very first wedding I went to as an adult when I was more tuned into the sermon. Although I have heard it said often since then, one phrase from the sermon has always stuck with me "the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother". Resonant on so many levels. Thanks for yet another great post.

wifemotherexpletive said...

i am glad to have read that post. glad. thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

Dawn Farias said...

Excellent post. Thank you.

I especially agree about how we can use the poor behavior of others to justify our own infidelities but then, like you said, what do we make of the faithful people?

People often use the hypocrisy of others, as they see it, to not believe in God. They rarely ever use the good, and often sacrificial, behavior of others as proof that He might exist.

Bridget said...

I, too, loved that quote from Magnificat.
Thanks for the thoughtful post.
Time to ponder...

Claire said...

Great post.
I think the "multiplication" of the negatives is much less powerful than that of the "positives." Love is always creative, but evil and nihilism just lead death, and that's it. It ends eventually, but love does not.

Claire said...

I had to come back to re-visit this post this evening. It's just so good. What a gift you have.