Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Confessions of a Seventh-Grade Catechist: Q&A Session

God bless our poor teachers. A perfect storm of health problems led to my being nearly the sole adult for our 6th/7th grade class on Sunday, and as it was a review day I decided to pull out that crowd favorite, answering anonymous questions. We passed around pencils and paper and give the crew some time to put their deepest questions into words, and then I dove in. I was only able to cover half the questions this week; I hope we'll have time to answer the rest in another class.

Answers here are approximations of what I said off the top of my head during our session, and I combine a few because I ended up repeating myself.

Q: Why did God make the galaxy, but only one planet has life? 
Q: Why is there humanity?

A: Who was at the mission the other week? Did you hear the priest talk about the wastefulness of God's love, about how extravagant he was? All the galaxies, all the stars, nine planets in our solar system -- no, I'm older than you, and Pluto was a planet when I was young; "My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas", what, am I supposed to just stop at "nine"? Nine what? -- No, Pluto was not named after the dog in Mickey Mouse. Who knows where the name Pluto comes from? Yes, the Roman god of the underworld, yes, another name for Hades. Thank you! -- and our own star is one of the middling stars, not even the greatest out there. All this extravagance, and as far as we know, we are the only planet with life. God's creative energies are huge, bigger than we can imagine, because they're rooted in Love. He creates because of his Love, because he conceives something and sees that it is good. 

Who here is an artist? Who writes stories? You have an idea in your head, and you want to get your vision down on paper, but you can't quite put your whole idea into form. You play sports, and you have a plan for the perfect play, and it never quite lives up to the image in your mind. God is able to make his visions reality simply by speaking them into being, and he looks at what he's created and sees that it is good. The first verse of John's Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God". His very words have power to create. Can you do that? Can you speak something into being? Try it now? (Babbling chaos) God speaks, and his words become what he says. Let there be light! and there was. And out of his love, he creates man, in his image and likeness, and when we look up on a clear night and see all the stars, we remember that God created them too in the extravagance of his love and creative power.

Q: Why do we kneel and sit and stand in church?

A: Are we angels? No. We're not pure spirits. We have bodies, and our souls aren't just trapped in our bodies. Our bodies and souls are so intimately joined that the Creed that we say every Sunday makes a point of mentioning that on the day of Resurrection, our souls will be joined to our bodies again. So, what we do with our bodies matter. St. Pope John Paul II talks about this in his Theology of the Body, that everything we do with our bodies reflects God. So in church, our bodies help us pray, and they reflect what's going on in the liturgy. When do we kneel? At the consecration, at the holiest part of Mass. All through history, in all sorts of human societies, kneeling is a symbol of homage and adoration, of submission. Our posture shows that this is the holiest part of the Mass. What about standing? When do we stand? As a sign of respect for the Gospel, or when we're actively speaking. Standing shows respect and action. When do we sit? The readings and the homily, and look, you're sitting right now. We sit to be instructed, to rest our body so that our mind is free to work and learn and pay attention. And our body positions are a way of actively participating in Mass, so if you're sitting slumped in the pew all through Mass you're not participating well, are you?

Q: Is Jesus always present in the church even when we are not in the Church?

A: That question has two levels of answer. The first is that of course, God is everywhere, and so yes, he's present in Church when we aren't. But some places on earth are sacred space. Why do people make pilgrimages to the Holy Land? Why is it called Holy? Because Jesus lived there, he walked there and did his miracles and died there, and so that ground is sanctified in particular way. And churches are sacred space too, dedicated to the worship of God.

But the other part of it is: have you seen the red lamp up near the tabernacle? Any time that red lamp is lit, it means that the Eucharist is present in the tabernacle, and that means that God is physically present in that church, under the appearance of bread. So yes, God is there. I make a sign of the cross whenever I pass a Catholic church, as a way of acknowledging God's physical presence in this building. 

Q: Why was Abel afraid he was going to be killed when there was no one to kill him?

A: (we had a young visitor to our class named Abel, so we'd already discussed the whole Cain and Abel story maybe fifteen minutes earlier) Well... Abel wasn't afraid he was going to be killed. He didn't suspect that he was going to be killed, as far as we know. But there was someone to kill him. Who killed Abel? Right, his brother, Cain. Cain was jealous because he didn't want to give God the best of his crops, as Abel gave the best of his flocks, but he wanted the same praise and approval for giving God his leftovers as Abel received for giving God his best. So he killed Abel, and what happened? God asked him, "Where's your brother?" and Cain said, "I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?" and God said, "Look, your brother's blood is there on the ground, crying out to me!" But God showed mercy to Cain -- He didn't let anyone else kill him. Instead he put a mark on Cain's head to show that he was not to be slain. 

Q: Can you be a priest if you are transgender?

A: (waits for the titters and whispering to die down) Canon law says that a priest must be a man who is physically whole, who is able to perform, know what I mean? Jesus was a human male, fully man and fully God, the perfect sacrifice to the Father, and the Old Testament laws for sacrificial victims call for unblemished male lambs, fully functional, and the priest is the image of Jesus on earth. Does that answer your question?

Q: (silence)

A: Next one, then.

Q: My brother is starting to lose his Christian faith, because he doesn't believe in the story of creation. Did God create the cycle that created our solar system and the universe beyond? Also, I fear that my classmates are breaking their relationship with God, because I see and hear them break the Ten Commandments very often. What should I do?

A: Remember our discussion earlier? Is the best way to read the Bible to read every word literally? No. The Bible is written at many different levels, and sometimes the best way to understand it is to read it metaphorically, or as talking about the end of the world, or as prefiguring Jesus. As Catholics, we are not required to believe that God literally created the world in six 24-hour periods. We're not in conflict with scientific evidence that shows billions of years of development on this planet. So what does the Biblical account of Creation tell us about God? It shows us God's creative powers; it tells us that what God creates is good -- that's what he says after each thing is created, that it's good! It tells us that man is made in the image and likeness of God. Each one of us reveals a unique facet of God's creative power, one never revealed before in history and one that will never be seen again. Yes, even you there slouching in your chair.

The Bible doesn't tell us literally about the physical creation of the world. Again, we're not required to believe that creation literally took one week. But we are required to believe that God endowed humanity with his own life, with souls. We are required to believe that God created everything from nothing. We are required to believe that God is the first cause. We look around, and we see that everything is caused by something, and that cause comes from somewhere. What's the first cause? Every movement is caused by some other movement. What is the first mover? Who is the first mover? God is the uncaused cause and the unmoved mover, and Genesis has a lot to teach us about the the spiritual origins of man and our fall from God's grace.

As to the question about classmates, I think there are two ways to help them. The first is by living a Christian life yourself. The example that you provide by choosing what's good and trying your best to show God's love to others has far more power than you can understand. So doing your best, with God's help, to live out the ten commandments and the two greatest commandments is going to be one of the best things you can do.

The second thing is prayer. Nothing is more powerful than prayer, talking to God. It can change the most difficult situations. And it's not just words, either. You can offer sacrifices for your friends as well. Anything you do can be offered to God for your friends, for your family, for people who've died, for your enemies. And the smallest sacrifices matter -- not complaining; eating everything on your plate; not rolling your eyes when Mrs. Hodge is up here talking. God takes each of these things and joins them to Jesus's sacrifice on the cross to give them a greater power than we can achieve by our own efforts.

Q: How has God always been here? How did God create God?

A: Can anyone tell me what the time word in that question in? What word gives us the idea of time? Always. As humans, we are bounded by time. It's almost impossible for us to think unlinearly, without something coming first and then something happening afterward. When we talk about God, we get stuck using time words. But God is outside of time. Can anyone tell me what God said his name is? Right! "I am who I am." God IS. He is existence and being itself. People say, "Well, if God knows that this is going to happen in the future, why doesn't he change it?" Future, going to happen: these are time words, people. Every moment (another time word, we can't help it) is NOW for God. He sees our every choice as happening in this very moment. We touch that timelessness a little bit now. Anyone ever been in a class which seemed to take forever? You thought it would never end, but it was only an hour? Yeah, I thought so. What about when you're having fun with your friends, and time seems to fly by? Our sense of time can be mutable, but we're still stuck in in. God is not. He hasn't always been here. He simply IS.

Sixth-grade boy: Whoa, my mind is blown.

A: God doesn't create God either. We talk about the Son being begotten of the Father, but they're both God. Sometimes we use the analogy of fire and heat. The fire causes the heat, but they both come into existence at the same moment.

Seventh-grade boy: But when you strike a match, the friction creates heat before fire.

A: So it's an imperfect analogy, clearly.

Q: Are demons real?

A: Yes! We see orders of creation lower than humans: animals, plants. There are orders of creation higher than humans, too. Who can tell me what angels are? No, they don't have wings. No, they don't fly. Angels are pure spirit. I can't be here and there at the same time. I can see what you're thinking, thank God. Angels aren't bounded by bodies, and they aren't bounded by time either. We have free will, and living as we do in time, we have every single instant of our lives to make choices either for or against God. That's why St. Paul says, "Now is the acceptable time! Now is the moment of salvation!" When we make a bad choice, when we sin, we have the opportunity the very next instant -- the same instant! - to use our free will to turn away from from evil and seek God and his forgiveness. Angels, outside of time and seeing the face of God, immediately accept or reject him. Those that use their free will to reject God are called demons, and they have some power. Do not play games with demons! Don't use ouija boards or tarot cards or play stupid games like "Charlie Charlie"! The demons don't care if you're just joking. If you invite them in, they will come in. Don't open your spirit up to attack. 

Q: Who is Jesus? Why did he rise upon us?

A: Well... first, Jesus is a historical personage, a man who lived on earth 2000 years ago. He's not just in the Bible. We have mention of him in other historical documents, in the writings of Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived in Rome, and in other Roman works. He's not invented. And his followers died gruesome deaths rather than deny that Jesus was who he said he was: the Son of God. Of the twelve apostles, eleven of them were martyred. St. Andrew was crucified in an X. St. Peter was crucified upside down because he said he was unworthy to die exactly like Jesus. St. Bartholomew was flayed -- you know about that? His skin was cut off of him, kind of like how leather is made, except that he was alive while it was happening. And he would rather suffer that than deny that Jesus was God himself, just as he said. There were witnesses to Jesus's miracles and resurrection who changed their lives as a result of what they'd seen, and who wrote about him and told others about him. He had the power to change lives, and his own life fulfilled the prophecies in the Old Testament about the Messiah, the very person Jesus claimed to be. And being God, he could do his miracles through his own power. People came back to life because he told them to. His words created life. He rose himself from the dead. No one called him forth, as the prophets did when they raised dead people through God's power. He raises himself! He is both human, to atone for the sins of humans, and God, the only one who can make perfect atonement.

Q: Why is there God the Father?

A: Why do we call God the Father? For one thing, he calls himself Father. And yes, because he's the creator. God allows us to be co-creators of life through our actions as human mothers and fathers, but that final creative power is in his hands. And he's the model of fatherhood. Many people have fathers who are bad examples of fatherhood. I hope that none of you do, but that's the sad truth of life on this earth. But God is the ultimate model of Fatherhood, of love and care, and when human fathers fail, we look beyond them to the fatherhood of God.

Q: Why did Jesus say that he was the king of the Jews?

A: What did Jesus say about his kingship? "If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be here fighting for me right now." Do you remember who called Jesus the king of the Jews? Pontius Pilate. He even gets a mention in the Creed: crucified under Pontius Pilate. Pilate was the Roman Governor of Judea, and over Jesus's cross he hung the words The King of the Jews. It was a tribute and an insult and a warning: look what I can do to your king! Look what I can do to anyone who sets himself up as king against Rome! But it was more true than Pilate knew. Our king suffers and dies and triumphs.

Also, who was the greatest king of the Jews? David. And the Messiah was prophesied to come from David's line, and Jesus was of the house of David, something that was very significant for the Jewish people. Matthew makes a specific point about Jesus's family history in the beginning of his gospel.

Q: How was the Trinity made? 

A: The Trinity is God, right? It wasn't made at all. Remember God's name? I AM. The Trinity exists. The Father begets the Son -- begets, not creates -- and the Holy Spirit is the love between them, which is so powerful it is its own person. I love my husband, and the love between us has produced six children, but our love on its own can't create. Only God's love is that potent.

Q: What would happen if you never went to confession and confessed your sins?

A: If you lived in a tribe in, say, the Amazon, and you never heard of Jesus, are you going to hell because you never go to confession? No, of course not. God gives us the sacraments as direct lines to his grace -- shortcuts -- but he's not bound by the sacraments. He can bestow his mercy as he pleases, and he sees everyone's hearts. Anyone who knows in his conscience what is right and chooses to do that is participating in God's life, because all goodness comes from God. So God honors that.

But we have heard of Jesus, and his Church, and the sacraments. You live in Catholic families, you come to church, and you're here in PSR getting some fine instruction. Jesus says, "To whom much has been given, much is expected." You know that God chooses to give forgiveness through Confession, and you know that the church requires us to go to confession at least once a year -- now you know! -- so you're responsible for acting on this knowledge in a way that the tribesman in the Amazon isn't.

Q: Can we leave early?
Does Jesus want us to go to PSR? 
How old was Jesus when he died?
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
How much is "hell" on the pain scale?
What is the sixth commandment?

A: You thought you were being clever, but it's backfired, because I'm going to answer them all.

The sixth commandment is "You shall not commit adultery".

Jesus was 33 when he died.

No, you can't leave early.

So, which came first? The egg? Who laid the egg? The chicken? Where'd the chicken come from? This is a cause and effect question, and so we'll cut the Gordian knot by saying that God created the chicken, and then the chicken laid the egg. The real answer is that God created everything, chicken and eggs.

Does Jesus want us to go to PSR? Jesus wants you to grow closer to him. One way of doing that is by obeying your parents, so if your parents want to you go to PSR, then yes, Jesus wants you to obey him. But going to PSR isn't a matter of faith and morals. It's a particular way of teaching a group of children about the faith that the Diocese of Columbus thinks is effective at this moment. At other times in history, the faith has been taught in other ways. Your parents are your first and primary teachers, so you learn the faith mainly from them, but PSR is a way to help them teach you.

How much is hell on the pain scale? Have you ever had to watch a friend or family member suffer? It hurts you, doesn't it? You want to help, but you can't, and it seems worse than physical pain. Or you've been upset or afraid about something, and it's eating away at you, and you'd rather be in physical pain than that mental pain.

Well, the main punishment of hell is separation from God. That doesn't sound so awful, right? It's not like burning in fire forever, is it? But let's look at it this way: have you ever been in a bad mood, one of those moods where everything is stupid and everyone is a jerk and you're critical of everything? Your friends are stupid, your brothers and sisters are stupid, your parents are stupid, Mrs. Hodge and this class are stupid... And have you tried to pull yourself out of the mood by your own power and found that you couldn't? That you were trapped? It's pretty miserable, isn't it? That's the tiniest taste of being cut off from love, and it's lousy. It would be hell to be forever trapped in ourselves, unable to escape.

Q: Did Adam and Eve have belly buttons?

A: No, guys, this is a good question. Think about it. Did they have belly buttons? Why do you have a belly button? From your umbilical cord? But Adam and Eve didn't have umbilical cords, right?

But remember what we said about not reading the Bible literally all the time? It doesn't really matter if Adam and Eve had belly buttons. It matters that we believe that man, and everything else, was created by God.

Someone wrote a book called "Did Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons?" You have it at home? Bring it in next time!

Q: Is it bad not to know all the prayers in church?
Do you have to know the 10 commandments in order?
Can you mix the 10 commandments up?
Why do we have to go to Parish School of Religion every Sunday?
Who wrote the Bible?

A: It's not bad not to know all the prayers in church. I still trip over the new translation of the Creed. That's why we have missalettes. It would be wrong to use not knowing the prayers as an excuse not to pay attention or participate.

You don't necessarily have to know the ten commandments in order, but the order does tell us something about God's priorities and what he thinks is important for us to know in order to live a good life. So if you get them mixed up, that's okay, but you should know them all.

You have to go to PSR every Sunday because you are obeying your parents. And also because I like to see you here.

Who can tell me what "Bible" means? It comes from the Greek word for "book". The Bible is a library, a collection of books. Some of them are history. Some of them are laws. Some of them are novels: Job, Jonah. Some of them are letters, and some of them tell us about Jesus's life. Each book was written by a human author, yet all of them were inspired by God. The church collected together these inspired books and put them together in one volume, which we call the Bible.

If you were going to read the whole Bible, where should you start? No, I wouldn't start with Genesis. I'd start with the Gospels. They're the most important books of the Bible, and they give us a lens for reading the rest of the Bible. There's lots of books in the Bible that seem hard to read, like Leviticus or Deuteronomy, but think about it: if you read an index or a table of contents or footnotes by themselves, would they be interesting? Would they make a lot of sense? Some books of the Bible need to be read in the light of other books, and that light -- the answer key -- is found in the Gospels.


Jean Egolf said...

love, love, love this.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Good job, Mrs. Darwin! My kids would have loved being in your class.

Linebyline said...

Did Adam and Eve Have Belly Buttons has a sequel: Did Jesus Have a Last Name?

It's been a while since I read either of them, but I recall liking them.