Valerie Schultz

My daughter is dating a Baptist. Well, she says, he’s not really a Baptist. He was baptized into some Protestant denomination, and he attends a church that happens to be Baptist. In any event, he is non-Catholic. My daughter is 21, almost self-supporting, a woman on the verge of everything. She has adopted San Diego as her home. Her boyfriend is soft-spoken, attractive, kind. He is from the Midwest, and we try not to make fun of his slight Fargo accent. Being Californians, we think we have no accent. Until one ventures beyond home, no one has an accent.

But I digress. The point is that my daughter’s nice, transplanted boyfriend is not Catholic.

A childhood chant came back to me recently, not a holy one, but one from the church of outdoor games. During the long evenings of summer, we played hide-and-seek in the fading light, our innocuous hiding places becoming more ominous as they were enrobed in darkness. The person who was It chanted as a courtesy to those who were too slow witted or nervous to be hidden by the count of 50: Apples, peaches, pumpkin pie! Who’s not ready? Holler I’! Hardly any of us ever hollered. A holler, which would reveal location, was an act of desperation.

I’m hollering now, Lord. That’s me, hollering. I’m not ready to be the mother of adult children. Just when I thought I would always haul a diaper bag and a car seat everywhere I went, I found myself teaching daughters how to drive. Just as I thought I would always tuck girls in with bedtime stories and then feel small bodies in the wee hours slipping into my bed, I found myself dropping daughters off at college dorms, and renting apartments in other cities. In recent photographs, I am the one next to the vibrant and beautiful young woman. I am the one who looks like somebody’s mother. It has happened as quickly as I was told it would.

But back to my daughter’s sort-of-Baptist boyfriend. He looks so good to a mother who wants perfect men for her daughters. He actually goes to a Bible study class, rarely drinks, attends school, drives a safe car, lives in his own apartment and has a steady job. I can understand that she wants to keep him. My problem is that I secretly want to convert him.

On the phone she told me that she had gone to his church that Sunday instead of going to Mass. I could hear my voice go up an octave, even as I tried to stop it, as I said, Oh?

It was great, she said. All we did was sing songs and listen to the sermon. We didn’t have to do all that stand-up-and-kneel-down, over-and-over, boring Catholic stuff.

You mean like the Eucharist? I asked, more acidly than I intended.

I knew I shouldn’t talk to you about this, she said. Mom, this was interesting!

Twelve years of religious education, and my daughter is no defender of the faith.

I want to blame myself: first, as the mother, who should have done more holy things around the house, who should have lit a hotter Catholic home fire; and second, as the parish director of religious education where she attended her confirmation classes, who should have held on tighter to post-confirmation students, who should have inspired a deeper hunger for the Eucharist, who should have at least recruited more exciting musicians. She seems to be slipping away.

My friends and I now have kids who are coming out of closets, going into depressions, giving birth in and out of wedlock, breaking hearts and mending broken ones, traveling to New Zealand, studying their brains out, dropping out of school, joining the Peace Corps, going to war. None of us is ready; but ready or not, here they come. They need love and advice and loans and help with car insurance. They move away, come home, move again, come back to visit. They amaze us with their resilience and flexibility and optimism. Their futures stretch farther than they can see, and they take another day and another chance for granted. They really think they will someday find what they want to be when they grow up, and have no idea that today, this day, is the day that they already are grown up. They don’t see the ladder formed by choices they have already made. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans, John Lennon once sang. He was exactly right.

When I had those babies long ago, I thought being a mother meant I was in charge. I thought those babies would always look up to me and adore me and agree with me, even as I encouraged them to be independent thinkers. Which is what they have become.

On some days I think that things have really gotten away from me. On other days I know that I am planted where I am meant to be.

At least, says my husband, our daughter has a relationship with God, a God she loves and worships and seeks to serve, albeit right now in a non-Catholic way. And he’s right. We will always be hugely blessed in being her parents. She is an adult, and her spiritual decisions are hers alone, even if I still pray that someday God will guide her home. Perhaps, though, someday we may see a Baptist wedding, and little Baptist grandchildren, and that will be okay. We will turn our search engines to ecumenism and go through new doors.

I realize anew that in this challenging game of life, God is always It. We can pretend that we are It, but we are not. Ready or not, here I come! says God, and we can only have faith that, as imperfect, hollering hiders, we will indeed be found. Again and again.

Valerie Schultz, who lives in Tehachapi, Calif., is an occasional contributor to America.

Comments

Kristeen A. Bruun | 2/19/2007 - 5:09pm
First, let me say to Valerie Schultz, “I feel your pain” (9/13). I raised a fine young man in a lifestyle that centered around the church, but he no longer practices or claims the faith. I was a parish professional, with various titles, for 20 years. Sometimes I think that was precisely the problem. Because of my work, he got too close and saw too much. Every unjust occurrence became part of our living room conversation. Once when we were discussing vocations, he shot back at me, “Mom, are you crazy? Don’t you think I know how they treat you? Don’t you think I know who makes you cry? Why would I want to become one of them?”

“Post-Crisis Morale Among Priests,” by the Rev. Stephen J. Rossetti, (9/13) was interesting. Because of my aforementioned 20 years in parish ministry, some of my best friends (as the cliché goes) are priests. I do not know of one who has not been negatively affected by the scandal. The fact that they feel confirmed in their vocations does not mean they haven’t struggled and suffered. The support of the people is supposed to be one of the greatest strengths of priests, especially of the diocesan clergy, so one of the most difficult aspects of the past several years is the distance and uneasiness that the scandal has created between priests and people. Not that priests as priests are necessarily held in suspicion. But out of self-protection, priests have created new boundaries.Their sense of isolation is profound.

Last year, one of my friends traveled to Mexico to visit the home village of some of his parishioners. Upon returning, he remarked on the warmth and affection expressed toward him by the villagers. “There was no way to explain to them how different things are up here,” he said. “So I decided to just relax and enjoy it.” That he even had to think about the issue illustrates the profound difference created by the scandal, along with our response to it.

Even for layfolk, things are different. New regulations abound, like “No adult should ever be alone with a group of children. All formation groups, no matter how small, require two teachers or a teacher and an aide.” The regulations are prudent (I’m not arguing against them; if they protect one child from harm, they are worth it), but they create a sense of caution and distance that was not there before.

Something is seriously wrong with the sampling techniques or the questions, or both, if surveys do not reflect the sadness and loss within the hearts and souls of many, if not most priests, and lay church workers as well. Most of us have experienced a seismic shift in our pastoral relationships, and things for us will never be the same. Before we can embrace the new reality, perhaps we need to grieve for the innocence of our past, gone now forever.