I will be honest — the recent Synod of Bishops on the family was not a topic of discussion at our dinner table.
Finding half an hour for our family of five to scarf down the latest concoction in the slow cooker before we splinter off to the next band practice, Girl Scouts meeting or religious education class can be challenging enough without igniting a theological debate about the place for divorced, civilly married, cohabitating and gay Catholics within our church community.
It’s not an easy conversation to have, especially with young Catholic minds whose biggest internal struggle most Sundays is deciding which of the three gets to put the envelope in the collection basket.
Lest those bishops worry, they may not have been on my tongue, but they certainly found a home in my heart and my prayers. The questions they took under consideration represent my family, my messy, nontraditional, perfectly imperfect amalgamation of people God divinely deemed to put in my life.
They represent me, a child of divorced parents, who is still a practicing Catholic. Understand this: I love my church ferociously. I love my parish family, whose members squish into the pew to make room for us each week, even though we are perennially five minutes late and one of us will undoubtedly step on their feet — twice — while needing to go to the bathroom before Mass is over.
It’s like the church hymn come to life: All are welcome.
At least, that’s what we say. But I haven’t always seen myself — and those I love — reflected in the depictions of modern, big-C Catholicism. Let me rephrase that: I have seen those images, but they suggest that somehow we are less Catholic than others who followed a more linear path to the Lord. The easiest knock on us is that we are the “a la carte Catholics,” the ones who can’t afford the whole meal of faith.
So, my gay family members are welcome, but not exactly. Ditto for those who have divorced or the unmarried couples who share the same address but haven’t yet donned the white dress to say, “I do.” And thank goodness for that annulment, or else my mother, who attends daily Mass and brings Communion to the sick each Sunday, would not be able to fully participate in the faith that is as wrapped around her soul as the skin covering her body.
Homosexual. Divorced. Remarried. Unmarried. These are adjectives we use as weapons within our faith, that somehow are used to justify that it’s OK to take away someone else’s space at the table. All are welcome — as long as they aren’t one of those.
In the end, the bishops stuck with familiar language, dialing back earlier versions that offered a more welcoming and tempered tone, especially with regard to homosexuals in the church. And really, I’m not surprised.
But I am hopeful that these conversations will continue about the very real people who make up our church. I pray that what was once a whisper in the back of church — divorce, homosexuality, civil marriages — may be amplified to the front.
Bothum, a mother of three, is a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter.
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