From the U.S. Catholic interview with Julie Hanlon Rubio:
Because Julie Hanlon Rubio’s father was a civil rights attorney, the family’s dinner table discussions during her childhood often revolved around his work. “Just having that consciousness rather than always talking about our own lives was important for all of us,” she says.
When she and her husband started their own family, dinner conversation continued to range far beyond soccer and school. “But what I really wanted,” she says, “was for our kids to have contact with people who were poor—beyond just collecting cans or putting together a Thanksgiving basket.”
Hanlon Rubio’s work as an ethicist at Saint Louis University has drawn directly from her real-life experience of trying to make the works of mercy and justice as central to her family as homework and sports. She felt oddly like a pioneer. Even while studying for her Ph.D., she says, “my professors were visibly not happy with me when I turned up pregnant once and then twice. It’s not what theologians do.” Hanlon Rubio begs to differ.
“I don’t know that we have many models—which is fine, really,” she says. Drawing from the marriage liturgy, sacramental theology, lay movements such as the Christian Family Movement, and adding Catholic social teaching on the family, Rubio stitched together her family ethics. “If I really believe that I am trying to form my kids as disciples,” she says, “then I have to ask: How does each activity contribute to that?”
You’ve said that typical suburban Catholic parents feel a certain emptiness in their lives. Why?
It comes out of my own experience of hearing that everyone is busy, which means that so many interactions are on the surface.
Many of my moments with other families are as we run past each other at games, at picnics, at all these different activities. So often people say that they lack the time to be with each other, to be at home with their kids or their spouse.
I hear, “We have these great friends, but we so rarely get a chance to see them.” Many married couples rarely have a date night: There’s no money for a baby-sitter, and after driving the kids everywhere all week, they’re tired.
It’s not that people are doing things that are bad or useless or selfish—they’re doing lots of really good things, but there’s a depth that seems to be lacking. A lot of people speak of something missing.
So where do we find resources in the Christian tradition to help guide the family? And what do we do with the parts of our tradition that say, go to the desert, sell all your possessions, leave your family?
I think we should listen to that stuff, actually. When students come to my class and they hear that Jesus says hate your family (Luke 14:26), they’re sure I’m making this up. It’s really important to wrestle with these sayings, to ponder how family can become an idol if it’s lived in a certain way.
How can family be an idol?
There is a real danger in putting all of your focus on the family, of putting all your energy there, especially for middle class families. We talk about helicopter parents and wanting your kids to have the best: These are highly prized cultural values. While I’m not so sure that we really put marriage first, as we sometimes claim, we certainly do put the kids and the house and the resources first.
That can really be a form of idolatry, and I think that’s what Jesus and the early Christians worried about. Can you get too caught up in family, so that you don’t have to think about what it actually means to be a disciple? Should I translate discipleship so fast into just doing everything for my family?
In Pope John Paul II’s theology, what’s really striking is the emphasis on marriage as a communion of love between two people which then moves outward. The same thing happens when we’re at Eucharist: There’s something that happens internally to us as a church community but then we’re supposed to go forth from that.
John Paul II is very explicit in his writing that it starts with love and usually children. But even if couples don’t have children, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a fruitful marriage. You can be spiritually fruitful if you’re not physically so. But he says you can’t stop there, because in a Christian marriage you go outward to serve society and serve the church. That’s our theology of marriage, but I don’t think we ever get past the first two parts, marriage and children. …continued next week
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