My mom has become a Cafeteria Catholic


#1

This past week I was in the Pacific Northwest for some long-neglected family time. But among some really good times (which included partying like it’s 2099 with my pseudo-fundie extended family–WITH BOOZE*), I discovered that my mom has become a cafeteria Catholic.

This disturbes and unsettles me. This is the woman who used her artistic skills to write all the basic Catholic prayers in caligraphy to hang above my bed when I was two. This is the woman who fought tooth and nail to help my dad to convert. I went on a pilgrimage with this woman in '93. But on Saturday night, she and I had a real high-intensity rager in front of family and friends. Over what? I’m not even sure what the real issue was, but it was theoretically over how well Catholics know what they believe.

I should have known not to get into the topic, though. My family is held together by a sensible mix of respect and repression. Through trial and error we’ve finally reached a workable truce where we know what not to talk about. For example, I definitively answered for my mom years ago the question: “Should I give [Montanaman] unsolicited relationship advice?” I know better than to ask my dad what his “feelings” are. Unless I want to hear a string of obscenities, I know better than to suggest my brother watch his language. My sister once decked me–hard–for recommending that maybe she should spend less time on her butt and more time WRITING, as it’s her greatest gift. (She’s now in college for it, though).

But something weird has happened to the family in the years since I’ve been gone (though probably not BECAUSE I’ve been gone). As far as Catholics go, we’ve always been stronger than most. By that I mean we go to Mass more than on Easter and Christmas, we read Catholic literature, it comes up in conversation, etc. However, I’m the only one to ever take it to a fanatical level. For the most part, though, we’ve always acknowledged that there’s right and wrong, truth and error. So how weird was it to discover that my brother, who has temporarily moved back home (into the new house they just built) has his girlfriend over so often that they more than “practically” live together? And, when I planned the trip out west, I had planned to put Grace in what is now my brother’s room, and I would sleep on the couch. But no, mom insisted that we not turn the living room into a bedroom, and that I sleep in Grace’s room. “You can work out the sleeping arrangements yourselves,” she basically said.

I slept on the floor, by the way. My back is still stiff two days after getting back home.

But that’s just context, I suppose. The real fight was over Catholic education.

Over dinner, in response to some forgotten thread of conversation, I mentioned that Catholics were poorly educated about their faith. Mom said “I recall that the last time we had this conversation it didn’t end well.” She’s right–it didn’t. I thought it was because the conversation came up when I was tired, walking home from a long day at work, and I was testy. But, it was an innocuous, off-hand remark. Mom, however, took the simple fact that I was asserting into a broad value judgment about a billion people. Where I said “Catholics don’t know their Catechism,” she took it to mean, “Catholics everywhere need to be apologists or they’re going to Hell.” She never moved off of that interpretation no matter how many times I rejected the nonsensical conclusion. And that’s pretty much what happened on Saturday night.

Everyone was home–Dad, Mom, brother, sister, brother’s girlfriend and my girlfriend, Grace. I tried to derail the pointless conflict by reminding her that it was just a simple factual statement, that 9 out of 10 Catholics couldn’t pass a simple 20-point quiz I’d recently seen about their faith. She started talking about people’s gifts, and that loathesome phrase, “What’s in their hearts.” I acknowledged that the state of a person’s soul was ultimately important, but the simple fact was that most American Catholics couldn’t tell you the difference between the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth, much less how a person is saved.

Mom wouldn’t hear it, and she took it to the next level. “Not everyone can be like you, [Montanaman].”

“I don’t WANT everyone to be like me,” I said. And I don’t. I piss myself off plenty, thank you very much.

From there it just got ugly. Mom’s ultimate argument, if you can call it that, is that all that really matters is what’s in our hearts. Grace tried to be a peace-maker by explaining that her work led her to interview dozens of priests who–to a man–said exactly what I was saying. She also pointed out that the pope himself has made Catholic education one of the pillars of his pontificate. My brother, also trying to be conciliatory, pointed out that faith and reason are two different things. By saying so, he basically proved my point that most Catholics don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

(Cont’d)


#2

From there, it just got ugly. When my mom wasn’t trying to flay me alive, she was verbally slapping Grace around. When the conversational ball wasn’t in either of our possession, she glared at me, and let me tell you, it’s a sobering thing to see your own mother searing you with a look of contempt.

I’d have been embarassed with Grace there if I wasn’t already familiar with her own family’s insanity. Grace made the aforementioned comments about the Catholic hierarchy’s stated need to reeducate it’s flock, but then she made the unwittingly bad mistake of quoting scripture. She didn’t do it the way you might expect fundamentalists or non-denoms to do–she was answering my brother’s question about how the Bible can be useful for spiritual fulfillment. It shocked me to hear my own mother snap at Grace with “I disagree with you completely!” I know for a fact that she had no idea what Grace and my brother were talking about–she was too busy distorting MY argument.

I finally got up, spilling my glass of wine (yes, it was a booze and theology conversation), and said, “This is surreal! I’m outta here!” I went outside and froze, thinking that I’d probably have to go find a hotel now.

The point? I don’t know if there is a point. I’m just disgusted.

Grace was the real peacemaker, though. The next morning, as I was trying to figure out if I’d gone too far (I concluded I hadn’t), and if I could receive Communion, she quoted some passage from the Bible about not bringing sacrifices to the altar if you have trouble with your brother. So, I sucked it up, went in to my parent’s bedroom, woke her up and hugged her. We never said we were sorry, but we smoothed things out enough to be able to talk, which I then mightily avoided.

Later, however, when I was at the store, mom cornered Grace to “apologize,” and thereby demolished any hope of reconciliation for the rest of the decade. In Mom’s “apology,” she said to my non-denom, possibly-converting girlfriend, “I just can’t stand it when people start throwing around Bible verses.” Grace’s point, (and mine) had been that the Church has always treasured scripture as a means to understand and love God. A year ago my mom’s “typical Catholic” comments would have had Grace running for the hills, her stereotypes confirmed.

I’m still looking for a point here. Is this the “sword” between family members that Jesus talked about? Did my mom fall because she thought she stood firm? Have I? I’m trying to work through this stuff with humility, but right now I want to write my mom a nice long letter thanking her for the faith she imparted to me, and urging her to embrace it herself. The only trouble is, I want to use words like “ignorant fool,” and “hypocritical coward.”

Ugh.

  • Particularly amusing was watching my “Baptist” uncle (who had converted from the extended family’s cult) sit down with a pint of Alaskan Amber and a shot of Maker’s Mark. He was getting down to business.

#3

I don’t have any advice, but I wanted to let you know that I read your post, and I am sorry that you had to go through that. :frowning:


#4

[quote=maryalene]I don’t have any advice, but I wanted to let you know that I read your post, and I am sorry that you had to go through that. :frowning:
[/quote]

Thank you. I may have made it sound like I’m really broken up, but I’m not. I’m just miffed that of all the places I expect to find relativistic pressure, it’s NOT from my formerly orthodox Catholic family. I’m usually so “busy” on the “front” that I guess I just always assumed the family would never change in this department. Now, it appears that my mom is ready to defend this tiny little patch of ground where nobody has to do uncomfortable things like continue working out salvation in fear and trembling. And if I even try to nudge her out of this dead way of thinking, I’m “judgmental.”

I renew my rejection of the temptation to judge people every day. When I say things like “You’re mistaken on XYZ” (in an apologetical context), I’m NOT saying “You’re an evil (or stupid) person.” There’s something else going on here, though, because she becomes furious and irrational when I simply point out facts.


#5

Politics and religion discussions among family and friends, unless everybody agrees, can usually just lead to trouble. You discovered that the hard way. I’d leave it alone.


#6

I read your post too…and I wondering if we are related! :slight_smile:
We just got back from a family visit in Texas with DH’s family who’s entire family has gone over to a church that we call"The church of whats happenning now". Its mix of nondenom Christian and new age stuff. They pray To “mother father god” and never say amen at the end of a prayer…they say “and so it is”.

I keep my mouth shut and make it publically known when they try to put me into a conversation like that, that I feel its impolite to talk about religion, sex, or politics. So I talk about other things completely and can still see them every few years.


#7

[quote=beckyann2597]I
I keep my mouth shut and make it publically known when they try to put me into a conversation like that, that I feel its impolite to talk about religion, sex, or politics. So I talk about other things completely and can still see them every few years.
[/quote]

Good advice!!


#8

Alchohol and Religion…two things that do not mix well…

At least…montanna, you weren’t having a heated discussion about the crusades, or whether there is any merit to Paganism…(My last family “discussion”)

I do not see your mother as Cafeteria…she knows the letter of the law…possibly she was not wanting a heated discussion about religion between herself and your protestant girlfriend…it sounds to me that she was speaking “protestantese”… she was trying to show Grace that Catholics understand that we must have God in our hearts…and by you arguing toward Catechesis…that was working against her objective (thus the glares)…I know those glares by the way…non-verbal shut ups is what they are!

Ahhh…family! Ya just gotta love 'em!


#9

montanaman, gotta say, I always love reading your posts.

Yes, by all means, write your mother a letter thanking her for helping you to grow in your faith over the years. Maybe you can even let her know that her aparent apathy distresses you, but I think you know that it would be completely fruitless to include emotionally charged epithets such as “ignorant fool” and “hypocritical coward”. I guess you are right to come here and blow off your steam in that regard.

Well, I have no practical advice, other than to provide you with some thoughts from those who successfully did make their way down that narrow path which we must tread:

To criticize, to destroy, is not difficult; any unskilled laborer knows how to drive his pick into the noble and finely-hewn stone of a cathedral.

To construct, that is what requires the skill of a master.

St Josemaria Escriva
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For my part, I believe that love is the measure of our ability to bear crosses, whether great or small.

Teresa of Avila
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It is better to do less with patience, meekness and kindness, than to do more with precipitation, anger and impatience. * When people see a person who does things in the latter fashion, they are scandalized and repulsed.

Anthony Mary Claret

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The first step toward freedom from anger is to keep the lips silent when the heart is stirred; the next, to keep thoughts silent when the soul is upset; the last, to be totally calm when unclean winds are blowing.

John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent
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We should remember that he (Christ) himself said that by gentleness we inherit the earth. * If we act on this we will win people over so that they will turn to the Lord. * That will not happen if we treat people harshly or sharply.

St. Vincent de Paul

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Let us clothe ourselves in a mutual tolerance of one another’s views, cultivating humility and self-restraint, avoiding all gossip and backbiting, and earning our justification by deeds and not words.

Clement of Rome

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Let us be slow to judge. * Each one sees things from his own point of view, as his mind, with all its limitations, tells him, and through eyes that are often dimmed and clouded with passion.
St. Josemaria Escriva

+++++++

For it seems to me the habit of judging keeps the soul far from Thee, so I do not wish to fall into this snare.

Catherine of Siena

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Look upon yourself as a tree planted beside the water, which bears fruit in due season; the more it is shaken by the wind, the deeper it strikes its roots into the ground.

Margaret Mary Alacoque

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Let obstacles make you bigger. * The grace of our Lord will not be lacking:“inter medium montium pertransibunt aquae!” - “through the very midst of the mountains the waters shall pass.” You will pass through mountains! What does it matter that you have to curtail your activity for the moment, if later, like a spring which has been compressed, you’ll advance much farther than you ever dreamed?

St Josemaria Escriva

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Don’t waste your energy and your time- which belong to God - throwing stonesat the dogs that bark at you on the way. * Ignore them.

St Josemaria Escriva

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Why feel hurt by the unjust things people say of you? * You would beeven worse, if God ever left you. Keep on doing good, and shrug your shoulders.

St Josemaria Escriva


I happened to have those handy since I recently posted them on my (Baptist) family’s website after we had a big blow out.

Good luck and , by the way, I really like Grace.


#10

montanaman–I had very similar experiences with my parents when I was in my 30s. I think it is related to parents struggling with the adult relationships with their adult children.

You confronted and disagreed with your mother on an issue that SHE has always been the boss. I bet she felt threatened that you had your own ideas and she no longer had the final authority or control over. It sounds like of the three “adult” children, you are the only one living independently. So she may be subconsciously struggling with that. You come home with the girlfriend who may soon be part of her family, you disagree with her on things she feels strongly about (religion), and she reacts somewhat irrationally.

My advice is to back off. Realize that you can’t change her (and she can’t change you). Be happy that you have your life in DC (because the relationship would be even more strained if and when you moved back!) Step back and consider that she is probably at the stage of life where she is struggling with letting go of her old role as mother to children who “needed” her and deferred to her. She is also at the stage where she is facing being a mother-in-law and grandmother and physical decline due to aging and so on. So be compassionate.

In summary, join the club. This kind of strained relationship is very typical between young adults and their parents. It’s all part of psychological and emotional growth.


#11

Hmm. Good ideas, folks. This “separation anxiety” may be part of the issue. She’s been fighting hard to get me to move home for a while now and these “independent thoughts” might seem to be an impediment to that ever happening.

However, there’s a lot more to it, and it’s not appropriate to go into all of it here. Suffice it to say I know where I get my combative nature–mom has always managed to find the fight in otherwise happy human interactions.

Personally, I think she’s taken the normal human resistance to “rules” and “change” and “God’s will be done” and magnified it about a thousand times. She lives a life of luxury, (huge house, Mercedes, every want satisfied, etc.) and anything that smacks of sacrifice is reflexively repugnant. I may be wrong–and I am frequently wrong with deeply-entrenched perceptions of people–but I think I’m right on this one. We’ll see.

I think I will write her a letter. I’m fairly good at it (and I do it professionally). I’ll draft it, send it through a couple more drafts, and maybe even ask for opinions here.

And so it is…(Lol. I loved that).


#12

Here’s my sneaky advice. Next time you visit, “accidently” leave some good literature. DON’T give it to her. Just leave it. Also, make sure it is really readable. I don’t have any advice as to what you should leave since you know what might interest your mom.


#13

[quote=JMJ Theresa]Here’s my sneaky advice. Next time you visit, “accidently” leave some good literature. DON’T give it to her. Just leave it. Also, make sure it is really readable. I don’t have any advice as to what you should leave since you know what might interest your mom.
[/quote]

Oh, the house is full of literature. Marian apparition stuff, “The Final Hour,” devotionals, etc. Mom inspired my faith, at least initially, by her own saturation in “all things Medjugorje.” We both burned out at about the same time, too. But for some reason, I was always more interested in the “head” stuff, i.e. apologetics. Mom never was, and she (like me) has a virtually impenatrable wall of A.D.D., or poor retention, or something, that takes a lot more energy to get through so that actual learning or comprehension can get done. So, leaving apologetics pamphlets around wouldn’t do the trick, I think. She even spat Karl Keating’s name out like a dirty word.


#14

[quote=montanaman]So, leaving apologetics pamphlets around wouldn’t do the trick, I think. She even spat Karl Keating’s name out like a dirty word.
[/quote]

Guess you won’t be leaving any Catholic Answers tracts out! :smiley:


#15

[quote=ReginaNova]Guess you won’t be leaving any Catholic Answers tracts out! :smiley:
[/quote]

Um, no. Lol.


#16

Best to just drop it. Now!
In my enthusiasm as a “new” Catholic, I managed to alienate every family member over a short period of time. They are all non practicing "nothing in particular"s and took offense at every religious idea or comment I raised.
After 4 months of DD refusing to speak to me, I decided to not ever bring my faith up again.
Now, we all get along and the subject of religion never comes up.
Sort of an unmentionable subject among us.


#17

I guess I’m a little confused. What tenent/dogma/doctrine of the Faith did your mother deny? It’s not an act of heresy to assert that the majority of today’s Catholics ARE well-informed about their faith…it’s a little laughable, but it isn’t a heresy.


#18

[quote=JKirkLVNV]I guess I’m a little confused. What tenent/dogma/doctrine of the Faith did your mother deny? It’s not an act of heresy to assert that the majority of today’s Catholics ARE well-informed about their faith…it’s a little laughable, but it isn’t a heresy.
[/quote]

It’s not a question of heresy or not. It’s actually a very bizarre thing. I was only trying to make one simple little point, and it was an off-hand remark at that. Only my mom’s vehemence and anger kept me at it, trying to clarify, trying to figure out what the problem was. My point was simply that Catholics don’t know the mechanics of the faith very well. I phrased it perhaps too breezily at first, and maybe she got the impression that I was saying they don’t know God, or don’t know what faith IS. But Mom wouldn’t hear anything beyond her distortion of what I was saying.

As for denying doctrines, though, she apparently does deny that fornication is a mortal sin because she sponsors it right in their house. She seems to have no problem with my brother’s live-in girlfriend. Dad, while chock-full of admirable qualities, is an absentee father on the whole spiritual leadership issue. That leaves it to Mom, who, I believe, has burned out on a role not intended for her to have.


#19

[quote=catsrus]Best to just drop it. Now!
In my enthusiasm as a “new” Catholic, I managed to alienate every family member over a short period of time. They are all non practicing "nothing in particular"s and took offense at every religious idea or comment I raised.
After 4 months of DD refusing to speak to me, I decided to not ever bring my faith up again.
Now, we all get along and the subject of religion never comes up.
Sort of an unmentionable subject among us.
[/quote]

That may indeed be what happens (dropping it) but the problem arises when seemingly innocuous actions on my part are interpreted as overt impositions of MY faith. For example: when I make a point of saying that I don’t want to sleep in the same room with my girlfriend, that’s not a moral “choice” to be “respected” as so many people might say. What that is is a thumb in her eye; a statement that I’m so much holier than her. Similarly, saying that most Catholics couldn’t explain the difference between justification and the Virgin Birth is a direct assault (apparently) on her somehow. Whether she feels threatened, or she’s insecure about her own lack of technical knowledge, or she now holds heretical ideas, or she feels guilty for tacitly endorsing certain activities under her own roof, I don’t know. That’s what I have to find out in the most charitable way I can.


#20

[quote=montanaman]It’s not a question of heresy or not. It’s actually a very bizarre thing. I was only trying to make one simple little point, and it was an off-hand remark at that. Only my mom’s vehemence and anger kept me at it, trying to clarify, trying to figure out what the problem was. My point was simply that Catholics don’t know the mechanics of the faith very well. I phrased it perhaps too breezily at first, and maybe she got the impression that I was saying they don’t know God, or don’t know what faith IS. But Mom wouldn’t hear anything beyond her distortion of what I was saying. **Sometimes parents can’t take their kids having ideas of their own. Maybe she sees herself as the person responsible for her family’s faith/spirituality, etc., and there’s a level at which she feels her position is being usurped, etc. **

As for denying doctrines, though, she apparently does deny that fornication is a mortal sin because she sponsors it right in their house. She seems to have no problem with my brother’s live-in girlfriend. Dad, while chock-full of admirable qualities, is an absentee father on the whole spiritual leadership issue. That leaves it to Mom, who, I believe, has burned out on a role not intended for her to have.
[/quote]

**Well, she probably STILL thinks fornication is a sin, but doesn’t want to alienate your brother or his girlfriend (who may well be the mother of one of her grandchildren someday) and so has simply decided not to discuss it. I was appalled when my younger brother moved in with his fiance (they’ve since remarried). My grandfather also didn’t approve. Did either my brother or his intended know how we felt? No. They were both in their 30’s, and my brother had been raised with the values of the Baptist church. He knew it wasn’t right and he didn’t need reminding. Your mom may feel the same way. **

Our moms are always our moms. I would be gentle with her if I were you. Just sticking my oar in.


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