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.
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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.