Last week, the pastor at my church was talking about a youth member who attends Catholic school during the week and comes to UCC faith formation on Sundays. He mentioned that, “She’s learning a lot about Catholic doctrine, so she comes to confirmation study with questions about Catholic theology, and we try to make sense of it in the context of what we’re learning here.”
I leaned over to my husband and whispered, “What a lucky kid.”
I would like for every Catholic kid to have a place she could go to make sense of the things she hears at Mass and in CCD class. Ideally, this could happen within the Catholic Church itself. Practically, the Church’s frowning upon legitimate questions about the faith means that many kids never get to explore their questions more deeply, which leads most of them to disengage with their faith entirely. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a “backup” spiritual home.
My own years of faith formation in the Catholic Church were mostly encouraging. My CCD teachers, given nothing in terms of training beyond their own experiences and the approved religious textbooks, taught me a lot by being willing to admit what they didn’t know — for leaving those questions open in the air rather than trying to spiritually beat them back into hiding. They were a series of mostly kindly middle-aged women who cared more about protecting children’s feelings than preserving official church doctrine, and so I was never made to feel as if my questions were wrong.
When I began to feel my questions were wrong was when priests were invited in to answer them. Every answer led only to more questions, mostly of the “huh?” variety.
Why can’t women be priests? Because Jesus was a man.
Why can’t priests be married? Because half of all marriages end in divorce, and if half of all priests were divorced, that means half of all priests would be sinning. (Was this to imply that the single life kept priests from sinning?)
While the CCD teachers approached questions with an open heart and a spark of interest, the priests approached them with frowns and condescension. Too much of their own egos and identities were tied up in those answers for them to be able to really step back and untangle them. As an adult, I imagine that the life of a priest must be so lonely and difficult that the only way to cope is by fervently believing there is no room for question, that what you are doing and the way you are doing it is most certainly right.
Still, children need space to explore questions and contradictions and the unknown, all of which abound in Catholicism.
This is why forcing teachers, volunteers and Church staff to sign loyalty oaths does such a disservice to the people they minister to.
Were it not for those kind CCD teachers, I may not have stayed engaged in my faith past First Communion.
I may not have sought God long enough to attend a Catholic college, write for this blog, or discover a basis for progressive Catholicism.
The priests are often feeding their own egos at the expense of feeding their flock. Those who are still forming their faith NEED for the non-institutional voices they hear to be open and questioning and appreciative.
Although I never had the benefit of two simultaneous religious homes, I too ended up being a “lucky kid” — one who learned the importance of mystery and tradition and ritual, and the importance of admitting what I just don’t know — who could then use this as a foundation upon which I could continue to build an adult faith — both inside or beyond the Church.