By: Jillian Maxey
When I heard the news of an extraordinary session of the Synod of Bishops to discuss issues related to marriage and family, I was intrigued. Might this be the kind of conversation I have been yearning for as a lifelong, but relatively young Catholic—a wife, a mother and a theologian. These are all lenses through which I see myself and my church, but, rarely do I feel “seen” through the fullness of these lenses by my church.
As I read and reflect on the preparatory document (www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod), I try to read it with a critical eye and a gracious heart to see how it speaks to my constellation of identities. I’m also challenged to “hear” how others with a different constellation of identities hear it, to consider how the authors hope it might be “heard” and to respond in a constructive and hopeful way.
As a wife, I affirmed by the language of “the sacramental bonds of marriage” and the role that my husband and I play in “creative work of God.” But I can’t help but think that we aren’t necessarily running around talking about the sacrament of marriage everyday. We are living it—and that means daily negotiations of making meals, straightening the house, coordinating schedules, sharing the TV remote—all in the midst of a loving, challenging and textured relationship that has its roots in our strong family identities and Catholic identities, however implicit. We talk about how we want to raise our children, how to responsibly manage our resources, and our innermost hopes and dreams—but we do it over a bottle of wine on a Saturday night.
As a mother, I am grateful for the high priority the church places on welcoming children into the world with love and our responsibility as parents to educate our children, but I can’t help but think of the ramifications—in terms of human energy, love and material resources that welcoming and responsible parenting entails. I must admit that I don’t think about evangelizing my two-year old, but we say a sweet bedtime prayer in which she names all of the family members and friends she can remember that night. At a recent rehearsal for a family wedding, she was comfortable enough in church to explore the altar and make herself at home sitting on its steps. But just this weekend, she ran from the back of the church to the front before I could catch her and I wonder what others think about my husband and I bringing such an energetic and talkative toddler to mass. And sometimes, I wonder if its worth it.
As a theologian, I am interested in the tone and language of the document. While it mentions same-sex unions, divorce, single-parent families, mixed or inter-religious marriages, etc… it does so in terms of them being “concerns…or new situations that need the Church’s attention and pastoral care.” I can’t help but think we should be thinking in different terms. These are people struggling with the joy of the possibility of same sex unions in a Church that doesn’t affirm them, people who have to face the reality of a failed marriage and who must rebuild a life after divorce, people who find love and commitment in another who is other, etc…
While the document itself seems focused on generalities, the topics for reflection and questions offer an opportunity for those of us “in the trenches” to share what the living out of these generalities looks like in concrete lives, families and communities. This living out can look very different in different places, cultures, and for people at different stages of life—all the more reason that we take seriously the responsibility to respond.
As the conversation builds, I hope that we can recognize and affirm implicit forms and moments of grace in a range of human relationships, most notably families, in all of the concrete diversity that entails. I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the conversation as a wife, mother and theologian and look forward to the contributions coming from all corners of the church. I wish us all, not least of all our bishops, intelligence, grace, and integrity as we consider the state of the questions on family and evangelization over the coming months.
Jillian Maxey is a PhD candidate in Comparative Theology at Boston College. Her dissertation, Walking with the Wise: Interreligious Dialogue as Relational and Transformative, focuses on the interpersonal dimension of interreligious dialogue and explores the responsibility to do theology in a way that respects the integrity of the religious other. She recently co-edited a volume with Catherine Cornille, Women and Interreligious Dialogue (Cascade 2013)