Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Encouraging Questions

Throughout the entire span of Catholic Christianity, the Catholic Church has encouraged her children to ask questions. Asking questions is the first step toward finding the truth, and the Truth is something the Church has every interest in helping her children to find. After all, in the Catholic Church the truth is not a thing. It is a very real person. The Truth is also known as Jesus Christ, the spouse of the Church, the brother of all Christians, and the Son of the Living God.

Some people have read the first few chapters of Genesis and noted that it was the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that was the only forbidden fruit in the entire garden. They have taken this to mean that knowledge is an evil. However, that would be a misinterpretation of Scripture. The sin committed by Adam and Eve was not that they sought knowledge, but that they sought to become Gods themselves. God was already walking and talking with them in the Garden, teaching them little by little and day by day the things that they were ready to learn as they were ready to learn it.

“Then Abraham drew near, and said, ‘Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be it from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ And the Lord said, ‘If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake,” – Genesis 18:23-26

God has never been afraid of His children asking Him questions or even of calling Him to have mercy on someone else. Wise parents who follow the model of the Catholic Church will do likewise, encouraging our children to ask questions and will help them in their quest to find answers.

The truth about an education

One of the spiritual works of charity, acts of love from one human being to another, is to educate the ignorant. The real purpose of an education isn’t to get a diploma or a better job. It isn’t even to open doors or help your child succeed in life, although it may do those things. The real purpose of an education is to help your child find the answers to the questions they have about life, the universe, and their place in it.

I have an Associate’s degree in Elementary Education. I spent a year in classrooms as a teacher aide working side by side with teachers who had been in the field for a very long time. Not once during my education was the question brought up of why an education was necessary or what purpose it served. We learned everything else – what to teach, how to teach, when to teach, even different ways to teach the material, ways to take control of the classroom and ways to assess whether or not the children were learning what they were supposed to be learning – but never why we were teaching it in the first place.

The truth is I never questioned it as necessary. My mother had told me it was, my grandfather assured me I needed it, and I had taken it all on faith. I enjoyed school, loved learning new things, and couldn’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to learn. Then I gave birth to my son. He took absolutely nothing on faith – not even his education. He didn’t want to learn, and he didn’t see a need to go to school.

My husband and I tried everything we knew of to convince him that school was something he needed and that he should put real effort into, but nothing we said ever worked. The harder we tried to make him learn, the more he fought us. The turning point came towards the end of his 7th grade year. He was failing, and I was at my wit’s end. I did something it had never occurred to me to do before. I prayed to God for help in getting this boy to see why he needed an education.

That day, God answered my prayers. I realized that an education is nothing more than a toolbox we hand down from one generation to the next. Inside that toolbox is everything the next generation needs to find the answers to their biggest questions about life, the universe, and their place in it. Every single subject we teach is a tool in that box, helping them to unpack and explore the world around them and locate the very best answers to those questions. When I explained this to my son, he realized that an education was not about controlling him. It was all about giving him the ability to take control and find the answers he needed.

Admit to what you don’t know

When I was in Catholic School, my religion class was taught by a Sister. She didn’t know what to do with me, because I was constantly asking questions. I think she thought I was trying to cause trouble, but I really did want the answers. Her response to any question she couldn’t answer was “It’s dogma.” I think she responded to me this way because she didn’t know the answers and didn’t want to appear ignorant in front of the class. Unfortunately, her responses to my constant questions left me feeling like there were no answers to be found in the Catholic Church and so just a year and a half later I would walk away from the Church not to return for the next 10 years.

When you do not know the answer to a question your child asks, it is important that you be honest and open with them about the fact that you don’t know. However, don’t stop there. Tell them that although you do not know the answer, the two of you will work together to find that answer. Then follow up with them. Teach them by working with them how to research a question and find the answers they need. Doing so teaches them that just because one person doesn’t know, doesn’t mean there isn’t an answer it just means they need to find someone else to ask.

Answer in Stages

Jesus, and through Him the Catholic Church, always speaks the truth to His children. Sometimes, though, He knows that the person listening isn’t ready to hear everything. To these people, He speaks in parables. These parables are allegories that work like verbal picture books to help show them the truth in a way that makes it easier to understand and embrace. What we can learn from this as parents is that sometimes our children may ask us questions before they are fully ready to hear the complete answers.

When this happens, it’s important to be honest, but don’t unload on them the things they are not fully ready to hear. For example, when my son wanted to know where babies came from at age 4, I answered him that they came from their mommy’s tummy. This satisfied his curiosity for the time being. As he grew older, he was given more complete answers that corresponded with his development. At age 16, he knows that he is capable of creating new life with his body and for that reason needs to wait until he is ready to make a lifelong commitment before doing anything with his body that might result in a lifetime commitment. Your child needs honest answers, but they aren’t always ready for or able to understand the complete truth.


I hope you have enjoyed today's chapter of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting. If you are just joining us, you can find the introduction and earlier chapters by following the link above.  I hope you will join us tomorrow for chapter 17: Seeking the Truth.

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