I almost didn’t write this post.
And while there are a great number of perfectly legitimate reasons (excuses?) why I couldn’t possibly take the time to write, at the end of the day, the real reason would have been fear.
Ironically, it is precisely because I am afraid that I’m sitting in my kitchen at 4 a.m., in the midst of the detritus of yesterday’s playtime and piles of unread mail, staring at a blinking cursor on the 5 year-old laptop that is almost as old as my firstborn.
So today, I write.
You should know from the outset that I write from the perspective of a first generation-born Filipino-American. My parents migrated to the U.S. from the Philippines in the late 1970s and I was born on a naval base in North Carolina. Aside from the three years my dad was stationed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines (before Mt. Pinatubo erupted), I spent most of my childhood up through my mid-20s in a northern California suburb, where I grew up around other first generation-born Filipino-Americans.
It’s been 10 years since moving to the Washington, DC metro area, and as my family has grown, I’ve moved further away from the District into white suburbia (a.k.a. northern Virginia). It’s only now, as I sit here writing this, that I realize that I go long stretches of time without seeing other people who look like me. (The fact that I light up every time I see another brown person whenever we go into DC should probably have been an indicator.)
My experience of my Catholic faith and my Filipino-American culture are closely intertwined, something of which I came to a deeper appreciation when I wrote my Master’s integrating paper, Liturgical Inculturation: A Reflection on the Filipino-American Context.
Understanding context matters, not just because it makes you a better Scripture scholar, but because it is how we become better ministers to the people of God. We weren’t born into a vacuum. A person’s story does not begin when they are born, rather they are born into a larger story that began long before they were even a thought in their parents’ minds. As Paul Waddell writes in Happiness and the Christian Moral Life:
Every human life takes the form of a story — or really several stories. Some of the stories we inherit and some we choose. We are born into a story as soon as we enter the world and become part of a family.
Our family narratives shape us for life. They affect how we see ourselves, and how we see the world.Where we are born makes a difference. When we are born makes a difference as well.
The narratives of our lives reflect our social, political, economic, and cultural contexts. They reflect our histories, the pivotal events of our lives and our most formative experiences.
That is why even though every person is a story, no two stories are ever exactly the same.
As the years pass, I’ve come to recognize the many ways in which God has placed me within a wide range of narratives, ones that could be seen as in opposition or in competition with each other.
I came to know Christ in the context of the Catholic Charismatic renewal. I grew up going to Life in the Spirit Seminars, listening to mixtapes of praise and worship, hearing people pray in tongues and watching people get prayed over for the baptism in the holy Spirit. When I first began my theological training, it was with the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
After moving to DC, I was exposed to a completely different set of Catholic experiences, where many of my friends and colleagues were Jesuit-educated and immersed in the Church’s social justice movement. I studied theology at the graduate level at the Washington Theological Union, where my classes were composed of lay people and seminarians representing various religious houses, including the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Paulists. We ate meals and studied together, panicked and dry-heaved because of the same finals and labored over the same papers. We were formed together, not just as fellow ministers, but as friends.
While I was born and raised Catholic, I fell in love with and married a white Protestant man who, like I was, was raised in a devout Christian family with a deep love for God and God’s people. In discerning how to raise our two daughters in the faith, we’ve been called to be members of two church communities, a nearby Catholic parish and a non-denominational Christian church about 20 minutes away from us. It can be messy and inconvenient, but has added a richness to our lives in ways we could never have anticipated.
I provide this context as a backdrop for my experience of being Catholic, specifically, how I see and experience division within the Catholic Church, among Christian denominations and in our wider society. The arguments and heated discussions about our beliefs and teachings are not just abstract ideas up for debate. It is something that is deeply personal to me. For me, they represent real people and lived experiences—people I have broken bread with, whom I have laughed and cried with, people whose destinies are intimately bound with mine as mine are with them by virtue of our common baptism and our common humanity.
I say all this so you know the place from which I write is a prayer that God planted in my heart long ago, Jesus’ prayer in John 17: “that we may all be one…that the world may believe.”
It’s a prayer that’s been beating in the heart of Church since its earliest days. Paul prays that the Corinthians are “united in the same mind and same purpose” (1 Cor 1:10) and speaks the same message of unity to the Philippians: “…complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing” (Philippians 2:2). For the Romans, Paul prays that they “think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord [they] may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5).
This unity we long for is not simply “rigid uniformity of thought and expression” (NAB commentary, Romans 15:5), i.e., the mere appearance of unity. The “thinking in harmony” of which Paul speaks is born out of “thoughtful consideration of other people’s views”’(Ibid.). It is unity that is rooted in thoughtful dialogue and mutual understanding. It’s a unity that comes about when all those involved are “thoughtfully considered.”
I said at the beginning that I was afraid to write this post. Afraid that I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say. Afraid that whatever I had to say wouldn’t be received in the spirit it was intended. Afraid that it wouldn’t be good enough.
But what God shown me is that there is too much at stake when I remain silent. That when we speak of thoughtful dialogue in the Church, there must be equal conversation partners so that thoughtful consideration can take place. That the work I do now, in adding my voice to the conversation as a woman of color, in shedding light on another aspect of what it means to be Catholic — I plant seeds for my daughters and for the people of faith who come after me.
That even if I know not how or where this conversation will go, that even if I am afraid, I must take my place at the table if true dialogue is to ever happen.
And so today, recognizing that I am not the author of this story, but that I’m joining a story that’s been told since the beginning of time, a story of failed and attempted dialogue, of humans trying to make sense of the world and one another, I choose to write and be counted as one among many storytellers.