Hindsight, especially 45 years of it, is 20/20, and in hindsight I should have kept my mouth shut in religion class.
I grew up in Malden and received my elementary education at Cheverus School, which was named for the first Roman Catholic bishop of Boston.
The nuns who taught us were Sisters of Providence, a small order out of Indiana. The good Sisters of Providence were fine educators who could have moonlighted as bouncers because they knew how to get someone out of a classroom with uncommon speed and alacrity.
Occasionally, I was removed from religion class, usually for asking questions or making statements that conflicted with Catholic dogma.
Before I knew what hit me, and usually it was one of the nuns, I’d be sitting in a big wing chair in Sister Superior’s office, my feet dangling off the floor. If the offense was deemed especially egregious, Sister Superior would call my mother.
Well before my teens, I held a rudimentary understanding of the reproduction process, informed by dirty jokes told by older boys. When I raised my hand in my sixth-grade religion class to dispute the fundamental biology behind the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the teacher, a very old nun, didn’t react with anger; she simply walked over, put a hand on my shoulder and guided me to Sister Superior’s office.
For whatever reason, Sister Superior didn’t call my mother. I’m guessing she just didn’t want to have that conversation with my mother. And while I disagreed with Sister Superior on myriad issues, she got that one right.
Over the next half-hour, Sister Superior did not browbeat or beat me in any fashion as she calmly explained that Mary became pregnant through the intercession of the Holy Spirit.
“But, Sister Superior,” I interjected, “Joseph was her husband and to make a baby. . .”
Sister Superior closed her eyes and raised her right hand, silencing me.
Then she repeated the story.
I must say, Sister Superior dramatically increased my admiration for Joseph, who in her telling was a remarkably patient, kind man who remained loyal and loving to Mary after learning she was pregnant with a child that was not his. He loved Jesus like his own son.
I figured I could get out of classes for the rest of the day if I kept playing dumb, which wasn’t much of a stretch for me. Then I remembered we hadn’t had recess yet, so in the midst of Sister Superior’s explanation, I widened my eyes, as if dawn had finally broken over Marblehead.
“Oh,” I said, nodding. “Now I get it.”
She probably didn’t believe me, but presumably had better things to do than explain the concept of virgin birth to a 12-year-old smart ass.
I was thinking about all this and more after reading about a guy named Roy Moore, who — according to the Washington Post — thought it was perfectly acceptable to “date” teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
Moore is running for Senate in Alabama, and you’d think any politician who billed himself as a clean-living, God-fearing Christian would be ashamed and remorseful when confronted by credible accusations that he sought out girls half his age for relationships.
But, like a lot of self-righteous, judgmental, fundamentalist phonies who cloak themselves in religion, Moore is shameless. He thinks the Bible takes precedence over the Constitution and flouts them both. He obsesses about and condemns gay people in hateful ways, denouncing them as unfit to be parents. He denies the allegations, says his accusers are liars, and says the Post is driven by partisan politics.
Some of his Bible-thumping apologists claim what Moore did was no different than Joseph courting Mary.
But Joseph was not a lech. He was a good, decent man. He was, in fact, a saint.
Sadly, Sister Superior died years ago, but I’d pay big money to watch Roy Moore sit in her office and compare himself to St. Joseph.
I bet she’d call his mother.
Correction: An earlier version of this article contained an incorrect reference to the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth of Jesus.