Category Archives: family issues

#1 My Mother

My dear future Wife,

Here is the first story I want to share with you.  If you carefully read this story, you will understand how my heart was broken at the age of eight.

How do you love a man who has a broken heart???

[After you read my story, please try to answer this question in the comment box below.  I so, so, so await your warm words to me.]

Affectionately yours, aLong

The Small Comfort of my Teddy Bear

I held my warm and fuzzy Teddy Bear tight against my chest.  I waited for hours, crumpled on the floor in front of my mother’s door.  Sadness overcame me.  My dear Teddy Bear was my only comfort and joy.

I could not understand why my mother did not come to tuck me in at night and why she didn’t hold me tight as I recited my nightly “Angel of God” prayer.  I missed the lilac scent of her as she listened to me reading stories from my third-grade reader while she washed dishes in her crisp, starched apron.  She would tell me daily, “I do like your stories, my dear Son.”  I’m sure my stories could help her get well now—if only she would invite me in.

I remember when Dad got his tools and removed the normal bed from my parents’ room.  Then huge men came into the house and installed a huge bed with lots of steel bars.  My Dad said, “This bed will make your Mom more comfortable.”  But that bed was of no comfort to me.  And my mother was not “more comfortable” as my Dad had said.  I knew what it was to get sick.  And I knew what it was to get well.  Why then was my Mom taking so long to get well now that she has her new bed?

When I get sick, it’s always a joy to have my Mom fuss over me—taking my temperature, placing a cold washcloth on my forehead, running her hands through my hair, singing me her little songs.  Hey, these are the very small comforts that I could bring to my mother now.  Why, then, doesn’t she call me to jump onto her big, new bed?

Why has Mom forgotten me?  Why doesn’t she call me and ask me to read a story to her?  Why doesn’t she allow me to place a cold washcloth on her forehead?  Couldn’t she just silently wrap me in her arms and gently rock me for a while?  Would this be too much of a comfort to ask?

The hired nurse notices me sulking in the hallway and says, “Go outside and play.”  “I want to see my Mom,” I whined.  “Your mother is too sick today to have visitors,” she replied.  I couldn’t understand this at all.  I wanted to yell out, “I’m not a visitor.  I live here.  I’m her Son.”   I was plenty angry.   But there was no one to whom I could tell such things save my Mom.

So I made plans on how I might be able to tunnel into her room and bypass the nasty nurse who locked Mom in her bedroom.  On another day, I tried to figure out how I might be able to fly through her open window.  But my sadness was so heavy that it held me down and prevented me from taking flight.  So I settled with crushing my Teddy Bear against my chest.

Then the nasty night of lies arrived.  I awoke when I heard strange men talking outside my bedroom door.  I got up, grabbed my Teddy Bear, and walked in the darkness toward the sliver of light that seeped out from under my door.  When I opened it, I saw two huge men carrying a large and long basket out of my mother’s room.  “What’s going on?” I called out to my Dad.  “It’s nothing, Son.  Go back to sleep.”

The next morning, my Mom’s door was wide open, and the nasty nurse was gone.  Seeing my chance, I tossed my Teddy Bear aside and rushed frantically to my Mom’s bed, but I found it empty.  I was scared, confused, and angry.  I was never to see my dear Mom alive again.

All I would have now is the small comfort of my Teddy Bear.

Afterthoughts

Some events from my childhood are long forgotten. Others are seared into my memory.  Telling you this story, for example, I could recall with a visceral certainty the comforting feeling of my Teddy Bear and visually see the hallway where my bedroom was off to the right and my mom’s bedroom off to the left. Our interior doors were stained dark-oak and the framing matched. The doorknobs were round and made of brass. The wallpaper showed pastel floral designs.

I can close my eyes while writing this story and actually see the wicker basket that was being carried on the men’s shoulders. In a lineup, I could never finger any of the morticians, but I definitely could pick out the wicker basket that they carried from my Mom’s room.

I left out “wicker” in my story because, as a boy, I would not have used this word. On the other hand, I can audibly hear the matter of fact tone of voice that my Dad used when he said, “It’s nothing, Son. Go back to sleep.” I’m 80% certain that these were his exact words.  It’s curious that some aspects of the events are very clear while others are fuzzy and THAT I CAN NOTICE THE DIFFERENCE.

My fantasy of flying through the window is also part of this memory. I haven’t told anyone this story until now. Hence, I am quite sure that I didn’t just make this up in order to fill in the story. The fact that the fantasy of flying would never occur to an adult is perhaps a confirmation that even my fantasy life was being seared into my memory.

Most of the activities of my childhood are entirely forgotten. But the events leading up to the death of my mother were so unusual and so traumatic that I cannot ever forget them. To forget them would be to forget who I was and who I came to be.

The Lies Told and the Terrible Silences

My Mom was dying for roughly six months in our own home.   As an adult, I discovered that the cancer had spread throughout her internal organs, and no surgery was ever contemplated.  Hence, following the medical practice of that epoch,  my mom was sent home to die.  Morphine was used to take the edge off her pain.  This usually led to drug addiction and the dossage had to be increased to the point that my Mom was living in a continuous mental fog.   My suspicion is that she entirely forgot her children.

My Dad, meanwhile, decided to keep all of this secret from his own children.  He didn’t even have the presence of mind to say anything of significance to his first-born Son.  He could of, for example, taken me in his arms and said to me, “Your Mom loves you very much, but, because she is so ill, she is unable to tell you this herself.”  He might even have said something as simple as this: “I talked to your mother last night, and she told me that she loves you dearly.”

Even after Mom’s death, my Dad never had the presence of mind to communicate key messages coming from my mother beyond the  grave.   “Your Mom would have been proud of how well your doing at school” [or “how well your doing with your paper route” or “how well your doing in scouting.”].  Nothing.  Total silence.   With the death of my mother, I had effectively lost both my parents.  I felt that I was orphaned and that I needed to pull myself together and to manage things on my own.

So, there you have it,  I invite your reflections in the comment box below: How do you love a man who has a broken heart???

Affectionately,
aLong = Aaron

PS: In a few days, I would invite you to tell me a story of tragedy in your own period of growing up.  You can copy and paste your story in a comment box below.  If you wish, ask me a special question as well.

 

 

 

Five reasons the synod is doomed to fail

Five reasons the synod on the family is doomed to fail

  • Pope Francis speaks with a cardinal as he arrives for a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 15. At right is Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops. (CNS/Paul Haring)
Faith and Justice
The synod on the family has created a lot of interest in the church and spilled a lot of ink (or electrons) in the media, but there are five reasons that it was doomed to fail before the bishops even gathered in Rome Oct. 4. Perhaps Pope Francis can perform a miracle and save it, but the odds are against him.
First, the topic of the synod, “the family,” is too broad.
The family touches everything and is touched by everything. Anything bad in the world affects families, and any problems in families affect the societies in which they live.
Social and economic factors impact families: unemployment, housing, war, terrorism, climate change, interreligious differences, consumerism, social media, education, and on and on. Every problem in the world has an impact on families, from addictions to political corruption.Scores of moral issues surround the family, everything from the sexual act itself to fidelity, abortion, contraception, surrogate mothers, homosexuality, divorce, gender equality, child abuse, spousal violence, and so on.

Families are the place where one learns or does not learn the Christian faith, to say nothing of simple moral habits and virtues.

And we have not even gotten to the theological and canonical issues surrounding families: marriage as a sacrament, annulments, liturgical ceremonies, the family in the church, etc.

It is simply too much to deal with in a three-week meeting.

Second, the membership of the synod makes dealing with the topic of the family difficult.

The 270 synodal fathers come from many different cultures and as a result have very different priorities and concerns, not to mention different cultural conceptions about family life.

Bishops in the Middle East and Africa see their families facing the constant threat of violence and death that forces them to become refugees fleeing their homes. How can you have a family under these circumstances?

Many bishops in the developed world are concerned about how to respond to high divorce rates. But outside the wealthy, industrialized nations, the issues may be human trafficking, arranged marriages, interreligious marriages, child brides, polygamy, female genital mutilation, and cultural customs where marriage is seen as taking place over time, not in the instant when the couple says their vows.

Can so many people from such varied backgrounds have any common understanding of the problems facing families and how to deal with them?

The third problem facing the synod is the synodal process itself.

Synods are paper factories. They produce lots of speeches, recommendations and sometimes even a final document, but do they make a difference? In 1980, I covered an earlier synod on the family that faced almost every issue that this synod faces. Did it make any difference? If it did, I don’t see it.

The 1980 synod made many of the same recommendations that this synod will make: better marriage preparation, better formation of clergy so they can help families, better education programs, greater support from governments for families, less violence, more love.

New programs and ideas are not generated at synods. Bishops can only share what they bring. New programs are created by entrepreneurs who have an idea, experiment with it, and improve it through trial and error.

The fourth reason the synod is doomed to failure is that it is seriously divided on the question of what can and cannot change.

This clash is most obvious over the question of readmitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion.

One side sees only the law — the marriage contract is permanent and can be terminated only by death. The other side sees millions of people suffering from broken marriages that cannot be put back together.

One solution to this crisis is the annulment process, whereby the church declares that, even though there is a signed contract, the contract is not valid because of some failure at the time the wedding took place. There was much support at the 2014 synod for making the annulment process easier and faster, and Francis acted on this between synods.

The attitude of the bishops toward annulments is the greatest change since the 1980 synod on the family, when the American bishops were fiercely attacked by curial cardinals for making annulments too easy.

Francis has gone way beyond the American procedures by allowing bishops to declare a marriage annulled through an administrative process rather than a judicial process. Even canon lawyers are scratching their heads wondering how this will work.

But the fundamental problem faced by the synod is the same one faced by the Second Vatican Council: What can and cannot change in the church?

The pope and the bishops are constantly saying that the synod will not change church doctrine, but only pastoral practice. Bishops appear to even be afraid to talk about the development of doctrine, lest they be seen as wishy-washy on doctrine.

The conservatives see the readmission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion as violating a doctrine of the church — the indissolubility of marriage. To them, it would be an admission that the church was somehow wrong in its teaching in the past.

Any student of the Second Vatican Council recognizes that this was the same complaint of Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani and his conservative colleagues who fought changes in church teaching on ecumenism, religious liberty and other matters.

So for the bishops to allow divorced and remarried Catholics — who don’t have an annulment but are civilly married — to receive Communion, they must somehow explain it as only a change in pastoral practice and not a change in doctrine.

The fifth reason the synod is doomed is the absence of theologians at the synod.

One conservative curial cardinal complained of the “schoolboy theology” being presented in episcopal speeches. There is some truth in that complaint. There is little evidence in their talks that bishops consulted theologians in order to understand contemporary thinking in Scripture, ethics or doctrine.

The bishops would have been better off spending the first week listening to theologians do an exegesis of scriptural passages on marriage, explain the concept of the development of doctrine, recount the history of the church’s treatment of marriage, and propose resolutions to controversial questions.

The reason that Vatican II was successful was because an alliance was forged between the theological periti and the council fathers that was capable of defeating the Roman Curia’s intransigence. Tragically, this alliance was broken after Humanae Vitae, when theologians were cast into the outer darkness as dissidents whom the bishops were to avoid at all costs.

The result has been disastrous for the church. It is as if the management of a major corporation is not on speaking terms with its research and development division. Would you invest in such a company?

Is there hope for the synod? Yes. Francis has begun a process; he has opened the windows closed after Vatican II. It will take more than three weeks to move the church forward, but he is moving it in the right direction.

Perhaps the synod is not doomed to fail but simply to be unfinished.

[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. His email address is treesesj@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]