Thank you for the responses to my reflection My Why: Our Souls & Our Sanity. When Arline mentioned that my questions are key to “how women remain true to themselves and to their belief in a loving God,” she helped me to see in an even deeper way what my mom and my tías were fighting for. The struggle for their souls was not just to secure a place in heaven as they were taught to be concerned about. It was also la lucha to remain true to themselves, their minds, their bodies, their integrity, and their belief in a merciful, loving God as souls in women’s bodies daring to consider that God had given them moral agency and responsibility.
Casey, Erin, and Jenny wonder how I see the story of my mom and her sisters playing out in my ministry today. I see that the tensions continue since the conversation around birth control remains hushed and whispered in Catholic settings. It is not a conversation which parishes can have openly. In my 20+ years of working in church ministry, I’ve yet to see a workshop flyer seeking to help women strengthen their own internal compass, discernment practice and decision making around this issue. Workshops will be offered in natural family planning which the vast majority of Catholic women ignore.
In my own ministry, women will bring up the topic of birth control personally, after decisions have been made. They may want affirmation of those decisions or to simply share their thinking. What I see is that women parishioners mostly talk with one another just as my mom and tías did. They create their own separate network of information and solidarity. The women who are not part of this informal network struggle more in isolation with these decisions. In general, most women do not count on the larger Catholic Church as an institution to validate their moral agency and responsibility in this area. It’s an area where the Catholic church seems to have decided to not play a relevant role, although decisions around childbearing are central to women’s lives.
It is also an area where the Catholic church does not openly acknowledge its own contradictions. Catholic schools largely rely on lay women teachers. How would these schools functions if the teachers were raising 6, 8, 10 children of their own too? How would a school operate if most of its teachers were taking maternity leave every 1-2 years? Most Catholic school teachers I know decide to raise 2-3 children of their own. The Catholic Church as an institution is actually counting on them to exercise their moral agency and to make discerning prayerful decisions about how many children they can raise while also maintaining their responsibilities as a Catholic school teacher. The contradiction is playing out on the daily as Catholic healthcare policies do not cover birth control and teachers have to pay for this out of pocket. There is a quiet, silent resentment about this situation, but teachers know that to raise the issue publicly is to risk their job.
This is the first time I am writing about these ongoing tensions and contradictions, and my courage to do so comes, in part, from one of our Called to Conspire readings by Howard Thurman. I loved it when he writes, “cultivate the discipline of listening to the sound of the genuine in you.” Meeting with my small group this week was a validation that the sound of the genuine in each one of us matters. Our life stories, our life experiences, our thoughts, the deepest desires of our heart – God is present in all of this.
A Jesuit scholastic friend of mine who is a social activist shared with me recently that time set aside for prayer is so important to him because his real rest comes from being loved by God. It was an aha! moment for me to hear that, because as a social activist myself, my prayer time can too easily become me working hard with God to discern my next steps. This week I tried something different. In my morning prayer walks, I gently kept putting my attention on just being loved by God – in the beauty of creation, the rustling of the trees, the warmth of the breeze, the joy of the birds. Perhaps simply taking the time to experience being loved by God is what provides the courage to trust the sound of the genuine in me.