Becoming Like the Magi

by Jen Owens

Reflecting on today’s readings, I identify most closely with the magi. During this Christmas season and throughout this past year, I found myself spending quite a bit of time reflecting on gifts–the gifts that God has shared with others and with me, the gifts that I try to share with God and with community. Here’s the thing about gifts, though, that I’m learning: they’re not just a one-way street, especially when God is involved. When God shares a gift with us, there comes a special responsibility to use it as a way of rejoicing in it, as a way of saying “thank you.” Which is not so different from receiving a tangible gift from a loved one. Doesn’t your grandma love seeing you wear the Christmas sweater she gave you last year?

This past year, I have felt especially blessed by the release of From the Pews in the Back. After almost three years of meetings, working with our contributors and the folks at Lit Press, writing, editing, and re-writing, watching the book come out into the world and into the hands of readers has been a pretty fantastic gift. But as it goes with gifts, I feel a particular responsibility to From the Pews in the Back and the people who worked together to make it a reality, namely, to use it as a tool to get people talking about their own experiences of church, especially within Catholicism. Last summer, after just a few speaking engagements in Southern California, I learned how passionate people are about some of the issues that the authors raise in this book, how deeply felt are the convictions many people have about their faith, regardless of what those convictions might be. And it was both heartening and challenging. Heartening in the sense that many of the folks I met last summer defy some of the statistics about young adult Catholics, attending Mass regularly and readily involved in their parish and university communities. And challenging because it is going to take a lot of prayerful discernment for many people to sort out how to respond to the kind of conviction coming from the pews. Whatever label we’d like to put on people’s positions on issues concerning gender and sexuality in Catholicism, people feel strongly about them, and finding common ground is not easy.

All of this makes me wonder whether or not we as a community might like to consider what we can do to increase our sense of unity amid the great diversity that characterizes Catholicism in the United States and really the world over. Perhaps this is the gift we can share with Jesus this Feast of the Epiphany and in the year ahead.

For more about From the Pews in the Back events in 2010, check out the sidebar and our Calendar page.

Jen Owens is a first-year doctoral student in systematic and philosophical theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. She is also a co-editor of From the Pews in the Back: Young Women and Catholicism.

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3 Responses

  1. Jen, I think both the book and the blog are excellent unifiers: it makes the diversity found among young women in the Church clear, and it celebrates that diversity. Then it points out the common factors: a shared history, a love for Christ and the Church, a common seeking. I think you’re absolutely using that gift.
    I moved to Saint Paul three weeks ago for grad school, and homesickness finally caught up to me this past weekend. (I moved here from Massachusetts.) I’ve been checking out different churches in the cities, and last week was St. Agnes. While I was sitting in my pew during Saturday night mass, listening to the gospel, I realized that my grandmother was listening to the same gospel at her church in MA. I realized that other friends were listening in Washington, New Hampshire, New York… And that is unity. Your post struck a beautiful chord just now. Good timing.

  2. Renee,

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! I really appreciate it.

    It’s funny that you mention timing. Yours is great! As much as I feel called to do this work and as grateful as I am for that calling, I have encountered a few stumbling blocks in recent weeks that have been discouraging. Reading your note provided some much-needed encouragement. Many thanks!

    You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers in the new year. Every blessing during this time of transition.

    Peace be with you,

    Jen

  3. Jen, what is happening in Berkeley with the book? It looks like you’ve had occasion to speak in other places, but not here? wondering how you’re doing and if you have an opportunity to get people talking locally.

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