Sunday, June 4, 2017

Divorce survivors and the Catholic Church: "When bitter memories freeze the tongue and songs of love are left unsung"

When burning embers in the darkness
Bring cold comfort to the heart
When bitter memories freeze the tongue 
And songs of love are left unsung

Hot Buttered Rum
Lyrics by Tommy Thompson (sung by Red Clay Ramblers) 

If you have any doubt about how fatuous the New York Times has become, then read Austin Ruse's essay in Crisis titled "The New York Times Loves a Good Love Story." Ruse began his story with this riveting paragraph:
A few years ago, the New York Times told the incredibly moving story of Robert Kennedy Jr. courting a woman who became his third wife but only after he divorced his second wife who later hung herself in the family barn after being harassed by Kennedy apparatchiks. None of this was included in the Times story.
More recently, the Times wrote another gushy story about Michael Ruhlman and Ann Hood, two accomplished writers, who crossed paths when they were younger and finally reunited and got married. However, the Times glossed over the fact that Ruhlman and Hood were both married and had children when they got emotionally evolved.

Ruse used these two New York Times stories as a springboard for his impassioned defense of marriage--marriage as the Catholic Church understands it. And I agree with everything Ruse said. Divorce is a psychological and spiritual disaster, and no divorced person who has children ever gets over it.

And as Ruse said, the harm divorce causes the children themselves is catastrophic and irreparable. "[N]o matter what the situation in the marriage, it is always best for the children for the parents to stay together." Indeed, Ruse writes, "[t]here is voluminous data that supports even the notion that it is better for a child to live in a broken home than to come from one."

But then I read Kate Hennessy's biography of Dorothy Day, titled The World Will Be Saved By Beauty. Kate Hennessy is the youngest daughter of Tamar Hennessy, Dorothy Day's only child; and Kate is Dorothy Day's youngest grandchild.

 The World Will Be Saved by Beauty is a beautifully written book. After reading only a few pages, I could see that Kate had inherited her grandmother's gift for writing.  As I turned the pages I began to see that the book is as much about Dorothy's daughter, Tamar, as it is about Dorothy.

As Kate Hennessy relates, Tamar was immersed from childhood in the Catholic Worker movement, which was started by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Although Peter and Dorothy called for a radical Catholic response to social injustice, they were both orthodox Catholics--orthodox in every way.

When she was 15 years old, Tamar met David Hennessy at the Catholic Worker farm in Easton, Pennsylvania. David was 13 years older than Tamar, and Dorothy would not allow her daughter to marry until she was 18. David waited patiently, and the two were married in 1944.

David and Tamar Hennessy lived a Catholic marriage. They had 9 children together and one miscarriage. In fact, for 14 years, Tamar was either pregnant or nursing.

But David Hennessy was a deeply troubled man. Even before he met Tamar, he got into some kind of altercation with his best friend, who shot David's ear off with a .30-30 rifle.  Not long after the wedding, it became apparent that David drank too much; indeed he eventually became an alcoholic. He was quarrelsome and only intermittently employed. He stumbled from one minimum-skill job to another and was never able to adequately support his wife and nine children.

When David got older, his mental health deteriorated and he was institutionalized for a time. Tamar finally left him, although as good Catholics, Tamar and David never divorced.

David died at the age of 92 after having lived for a time with another woman who may have been a prostitute. After his death, Kate Hennessy discovered and read her father's diaries and came to the conclusion that he may have been a homosexual.

Some Catholic marriage!

I have a Catholic Catechism in my home. I haven't read it all, but I agree with the Church's stance on marriage, family life, and the dignity of human life in all stages.

But I came from a family that did not live by Catholic values. In fact, my parents suffered from severe mental health problems and were physically and psychologically abusive to their children.

I see friends--good and decent people--who are struggling with all kinds of serious life issues: divorce, drug addiction, alcoholism, unemployment, mental illness, alienation from their children, cancer, and even violence.

God help me, but I don't think the Catechism is very useful for dealing with the harsh realities of life in postmodern America. Jesus didn't operate from a catechism. Basically he just called on us to respond with love and kindness to the human suffering we see around us every day.

But a lot of scholars, theologians, priests, and bishops disagree with me. So what in the hell do I know?

Dorothy Day and daughter Tamar

Kate Hennessy. The World Will Be Saved By Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother. New York: Scribner, 2016.

Austin Ruse. The New York Times Loves a Good Love Story. Crisis Magazine, May 5, 2017.