Mined from the notebooks, Sunday, September 30, 2018. Posted Wednesday morning, October 10, 2018.
Detail from a painting of the 20th Century Italian virgin martyr Saint Maria Goretti at prayer on display at her family home, via the St JoseMaria Institute.
This is the first of two parts. Part two in the works.
Somewhere in the jumble of self-flattery, self-pity, self-satisfaction, fallacious logic, overacted righteous indignation, and lies and evasions that made up his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday [September 27], Brett Kavanaugh played the good Catholic card.
Being a good Catholic appears to be synonymous in his mind with being a good person or, at any rate, a key quality of being a good person which he appears to think is synonymous with being Brett Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh’s defense of himself has been essentially tautological.
“I wouldn’t have done that because I was too good a person to do such a thing and the proof that I was too good a person to have done such a thing is I was too good a person to have done such a thing.”
Well, he wasn’t and he did, and as a self-professed good Catholic he should know that, given the right temptation and under the right circumstances, nobody in the history of Christianity, except Jesus and Mary themselves, has been too good a person to commit even the worst of sins.The Catholic Church wasn’t really built upon Peter the rock. It was built on the letters of Paul, and Paul, before he was Paul, was Saul, a religious terrorist and murderer.
Judging by his mood during his testimony, I’d guess Kavanaugh would identify more with the martyred St Stephen than with the leader of the mob who stoned him to death, whom he’d see as a one of the committee’s Democrats. If he were to meet Paul, I wonder if he’d ask him if he liked beer.
I don’t know what Kavanaugh means by being a good Catholic. I’m pretty sure it means being against abortion. That’s one of the main reasons he was nominated. Beyond letting us know he goes to mass on Sunday and makes sure his kids say their daily prayers, he didn’t elaborate. He seems awfully proud of his Jesuit education. The Jesuits aren’t all that proud of him at the moment.
As Pierce says, you don’t fk with the Society.
Other than that, it’s not for me to judge. Questions of faith are between the individual and his god. I don’t know what I mean by being a good Catholic myself. It’s been a long time since I’ve been one. In fact, I stopped being one while I was still an altar boy. I know what it was like to have been raised a good Catholic in St. Helen’s parish in the 1960s and 70s. Not being able to wait to take off my tie and white dress shirt at the end of the school day, getting out of class to serve funeral masses---a mixed blessing--- and being taught by nuns who loved baseball and had advanced college degrees. There’s been a lot of focus on Kavanaugh’s high school days at Georgetown Prep, naturally, but I can’t find where he went to grade school or junior high, so I don’t know what else he had in the way of a Catholic education. I’m not that much older than Kavanaugh---he’s the same age as my kid sister Linda---but there’s enough difference in our ages that it’s a good bet that if he did go to Catholic schools before high school he wasn’t taught by as many nuns as I was.
For the record, there was Sister Mary Francis, who was crazy; Sister Mary James who was very young and lots of fun and who you won’t be surprised to hear left the convent within a year after she taught our second grade class; Sister Mary Anthony, who gave us a good grounding in...the ground and the people who lived on it---geography and world culture were her specialties; Sister Mary Antonia, who taught me everything I know about grammar and usage; Sister Mary Jacinta, who, despite her being strict and stern, was my favorite; and Sister Mary Catherine, who taught us that Darwin was right and evolution and natural selection were how God did it. They belonged to the Sisters of the Presentation, a progressive teaching order, and they all had college degrees in an era when the great majority of women, including my mother, didn’t. Several had master’s degrees, and Sister Mary Catherine either had or was working on her Ph.D.
I had lay teachers too. Mrs Fulmer, who looked to me like Lois Lane and with whom I was madly in love; Mrs MacLane, who was my second favorite teacher ever, grade school, high school, college, and grad school included; Mrs Hinkel, who tried her heroic best to teach me algebra; Mr Schick, whom I’ve written about as the destroyer of my faith in the bible as the literal word of God; and Mr Snyder, who had sideburns like Mike Nesmith and from whom I learned that teachers can be too cool for school. Along with his style of cool, he passed along to us his love of literature. He couldn’t get us to appreciate “The Pearl” though. Not his fault. That’s all on Steinbeck.
No priests or brothers taught at St Helen’s. Whatever I learned from men in backward collars I learned as an altar boy in the sacristy at church when we were getting ready for mass. Mainly what they taught me and my fellow servers were practical things, like how to light a block of incense with a length of candle wick and how to put out the burning surplice sleeve of an altar boy who got too close to the candle wick. That happened. Not to me. I was the one who very calmly let my friend Paul know he was on fire. Father Cote put him out. Paul was lucky he didn’t go up like a candle wick himself. The lesson from Father wasn’t God was looking out for him, but Paul’d and the rest of us better be more careful next time.
Anyway. In the year between when I started kindergarten and Kavanaugh would have graduated whatever Catholic grade school he might have attended, nuns and priests began taking off their veils and dog collars and leaving the Church in droves, and in the ensuing decade very few young men and women took up vocations to replace them.
So, depending on how the post-Vatican II changes played out in the daily life of his parish, it’s likely young Brett Kavanaugh received more of a lay education than I did, which means he probably wouldn’t have been taught certain lessons we were taught by the Sisters of the Presentation--- the morals to stories of the lives of the saints and what it meant to say that boys will be boys---at least not in the same terms and with the same emphases.
Most of us boys in my grade liked our nuns and felt they liked us. But we also thought they were harder on us than they were on the girls. More demanding, more strict, less forgiving of our mistakes, less tolerant of our minor misbehavior and lapses in judgment, manners, and self-control, less willing to give us the benefit of the doubt, and more likely to administer more severe punishments. And they were.
We thought this was unfair.
They saw it as realistic and necessary.
When people say “Boys will be boys” as an excuse for young men’s bad behavior they usually mean only minor misbehavior. But often they mean actual crimes, from acts of vandalism on up to violent crimes short of murder and sometimes even that. And, of course, there’s the question of what they consider minor misbehavior, and we’re getting reminded that many people think sexual assault is minor misbehavior. Whatever the phrase excuses, however, behind it is the sense that boys are entitled to misbehave and their lives and feelings take precedence over the feelings, lives, and bodies of anyone they hurt. In fact, it’s up to their victims to shrug it off and forgive them because, well, you know, boys will be boys and their lives shouldn’t be ruined because of it.
The sisters at St Helen’s believed that boys would be boys too. But they didn’t see it as an excuse. They saw it as a problem. To some extent, as the problem.
Boys were undisciplined. We lacked self-control. We were impulsive and self-indulgent. We were irresponsible and lazy, and not just when it came to schoolwork but when it involved anything that required mental, spiritual, or moral effort and strength of character and purpose.
We were vain and self-centered. We thought too highly of ourselves and too little of the feelings of others. We could be casually cruel just for fun. We were prone to be bullies and the followers of bullies. We liked to show off for each other by ganging up to pick on whoever we decided was too weak to stand up for themselves at the moment.
Boys who were allowed to get away things because they were just boys being boys grew up to be bad men.
The sisters thought our parents let us get away with too much. They thought they were too often too easy on us, too impressed with our most trivial achievements, too willing to overlook or excuse our worst behavior.
Our nuns thought it was their duty to protect us from ourselves. They did this out of love for the stupid, careless, and naughty boys we were and a greater love for the good men they believed we could become.
End of Part One. Part Two to follow.