Last night on AMC’s hit drama,“Mad Men,” Father Gill, the young Jesuit priest who has parked himself at the local parish, returned for what is supposed to be the second part in a three-part story “arc.”
And you had to feel a little sorry for his parishioners.
First off, the young curate tried to wheedle Peggy--one of the show’s main characters, and an up-and-comer at an ad agency--into using her marketing skills to help him “promote” a C.Y.O. dance. (Those 1960s teens are getting less interested in things Catholic. Boy, wait till the 70s.) The very busy Peggy politely demurs, but Father presses her relentlessly (mercilessly?) into doing it “pro bono” for the church. The always-clever Peggy comes up with a smart idea that is subsequently shot down at a rectory meeting by two stodgy church ladies; when she looks to Father for some support, he defers to the two women and asks Peggy to rethink her “strategy.”
This is where the 1960s are different that the 2000s. Today if a parish pressed you to do something against your wishes, and you finally did it even though you were tremendously busy, and your work was summarily rejected, and you were asked to do it again, the normal response of many Catholics to Father would be “See you!”
Later on, Father Gill, resplendent in his blacks, strides into Peggy’s office, at Sterling Cooper. (Apparently the curate’s busy schedule allows him time to make random visits to Manhattan.) When one of the ad execs catches sight of his Roman collar and says, “Did we get the Miracle Whip account?” Yes, I thought, and maybe you’ll get Sky Chief, too.
After the by-now annoyed Peggy makes copies on the spiffy new Xerox machine for Father Gill, he begins to press her about a spiritual sore point. As MM fans know, Peggy gave birth to a child for whom her sister now cares. A few weeks ago the sister mentioned this in confession, and the priest seemed to indicate, pretty clearly, to Peggy that he knew what was going on—a definite no-no, confession-wise. Last night he asked her why she wasn’t receiving Communion. Would she like to talk about it? No, said Peggy. Are you sure? Said Father. No, said Peggy. And so on.
At the end of the show, in his bedroom in the rectory, he takes off his Roman collar and his French cuffed-shirt, takes out a guitar and starts to sing a little folk song, presumably to say something about the lonely lives that the characters are leading.
To recap: Father Gill badgers his parishioner into doing something she doesn’t want to do and says repeatedly she’s too busy to do. When she does it, he allows two women who know less about the situation to make decisions without sticking up for her. He interrupts her workday so that she can do some copying for him. He badgers her into talking about something he heard in the confessional and isn’t supposed to talk about anyway, even when she says she doesn’t want to talk about it.
In the last episode I thought he needed a course in canon law. This time I think he needs a course in pastoral counseling.
James Martin, SJ