I have a goal for this year to write here on the blog every day. I’ve been able to do that so far since December 7 of 2018, but part of that is that I have loyal readers, some of whom have become friends, who ask me questions and make it easy for me to be inspired to write. Among other things, I’ve been asked questions about parenting in practice and philosophy, and our family’s belief system(s) and how those things relate to each other. And I get regular requests for anecdotes from my real life with J and The Boy. So…today…in hopes to not offend anyone with a frank, personal discussion of faith and parenting philosophy and practice…I’m going to write a bit about all of these things in a real life moment for our family. I understand not everyone parents the way we do and that there are people (some of whom I love dearly) who don’t hold the same views about the universe and how it works and faith that J and I have. That’s cool. In no way does this post mean to insult or dismiss anyone’s belief system. I personally feel that whatever brings a person comfort and is not harming themselves or others is a good thing, and nearly all religious practices and faith CAN achieve that. OK, now that I’ve placed my disclaimer…the story…
When I was a kid, I never went to church. My family never talked about church or God or religion or anything spiritual (or emotional…or…ANYTHING for that matter). I actually asked to go to church when I was in 4th grade. Because I longed for things I didn’t have at home on weekends…structure, stability, a feeling of community and belonging and welcome. Really. And most of the kids I went to school with went to church, so I thought church could offer me those things.
My dad’s family is Catholic. REAL Catholic. My dad’s oldest brother and his wife had TWELVE children. My mom’s family was Methodist. Sort of. So when I asked to go to church, my parents took me for a couple weeks to a Methodist church where I knew no one and had zero knowledge of anything going on…things changed each week…I felt like I was being talked at, which isn’t what I was looking for. I didn’t feel comfortable there. And then they took me for a couple weeks to a Catholic church where about half of my huge amount of cousins went each Sunday, and the structure of Mass was the same each week…I found out that except for maybe a song or two and each priest’s individual short homily (that’s Catholic for ‘sermon’) each week, Mass was the same *anywhere you went* for that week. Same readings. Same prayers. So like if I went to Mass in Miami, Florida or if I went to Mass in Seattle, Washington or anywhere in between, except for maybe 7-10 minutes of the 50-60 I was there? *Everything would be the same.* People all over the country and even the world would be experiencing basically the same thing as me. THAT was the community and stability I wanted. So I kind of ‘chose’ to be Catholic in 4th grade. I give my parents a lot of credit for being open to what I wanted to do for myself and letting me choose for myself. I didn’t get told church was wrong and stupid and an inconvenient waste of time or whatever. And I also didn’t get force-fed religious structure and a morality code from birth on that I had no recourse from. I’ve realized in the past few years of parenting how incredibly progressive that was of them at the time. I went to Mass almost weekly from 4th grade until when I met J, and even after I met him for maybe a year. Because I wanted to.
J’s family is also Catholic. But J is not. I mean, technically, he is, because he was baptized in a Catholic church, but he wasn’t full on, confirmed altar-girl Catholic like me (yes…really…I was the first girl server at my church…THE FIRST GIRL…in over 100 years). He never went to Mass. He never asked to go to Mass. His family never talked about God, or spirituality, or…anything really…either. But that never ate at him the way it ate at me. J is not a ‘believer’ kind of a person. He stopped believing in Santa before he was 5. He’s a realist and he’s also a bit of a skeptic, and he has been since he was VERY young. I am too, honestly, but it took me a while longer to look past the good things I saw to the whole picture (that happens to me a lot in all areas of life). I began to realize that the sense of structure and stability and belonging and communion and welcoming I sought in church wasn’t something I was missing anymore with J. I never had actually gone to church because I believed in the messages or the meaning. I’ve always kind of lived by my own personal morality than following any particular religious or secular dogma or code, although a lot of how I conduct myself is compatible with Christianity (and actually most major world religions). I just wanted to have a comfortable, reliable place to go on the weekends, and when I met J…I had that every day all the time. That feeling of safety and belonging and structure and unity. I like to look for meaning and connection in life (obviously), and I’ve always been (and likely always will be) a spiritual person, but I’m not a religious one. So I stopped going to Mass, because since I wasn’t focusing on the structure and general community, I began focusing on the messages and meaning, and I had some real fundamental problems with major parts of it. And I began focusing on the church’s role in the world, and that DEFINITELY bothered me a lot. I stopped going. Because I wanted to.
Then we had The Boy. We had him baptized Catholic (we were both baptized…it made our families happy and didn’t hurt anything). We talked a lot as a couple about what to do as far as faith goes with The Boy, because J is totally disinterested in religion, and I really wasn’t much either, but I’m spiritual, and I remembered the feelings of wanting to go as a kid…wanting to belong…wanting to not be the only kid not going to church because I was already the only kid doing or not doing a lot of other stuff…wanting to be a part of something spiritual and connected and meaningful, even if I didn’t wholeheartedly adopt all of its tenets. And I remembered that my parents let me choose for myself after letting me have some exposure to things they knew about.
J and I landed on exposing The Boy to Catholicism some and letting him make up his own mind about what made him feel good and comfortable and whole. So we sent The Boy to catechism lessons when he was a first grader and we took him to Mass sometimes. Then he went as a second grader, which is the year kids typically make their First Eucharist (communion). There was a lot of parent involvement that year. It was alright, even though it wasn’t our thing. Even J enthusiastically participated in all the parent things. I may even write another post about him participating in the near future. We consciously made the decision to not influence The Boy either way (we made sure he knew we thought no faith is stupid or wrong; but also, no faith is superior to any other or to having no established faith, and religion isn’t mandatory). But The Boy came home from lessons and events with A LOT of questions I couldn’t adequately answer in a non-dismissive honest way. He’d ask things like, “If God is all knowing and all powerful AND loves us, how come grammas and little kids get cancer?” And “Why do dogs and cats and elephants not live as long or longer than people?” I know a lot of people of faith say things like, ‘We can’t understand God’s plan,’ or, ‘We shouldn’t question God,’ or, ‘We just have to have faith and believe,’ or ‘The Lord works in mysterious ways,’ but The Boy isn’t one to take to answers like that. They are all really just couched ways to say the same thing. So I just earnestly told him, “I don’t know, buddy.” But J and I already saw serious seeds of doubt.
Then, the final family event (kid + parents) before First Eucharist came along…practice for the actual sacrament during Mass. The deacon of this church came out to speak to the kids about what would happen and how they should behave and respond with practicality…it was rehearsal. They’d all done school programs and things already, so it was like that. And then the deacon (in a pretty creative and easy to understand way for a group of second graders, I thought…I mean this in a sincere complimentary way…I was legitimately impressed) explained the concept of transubstantiation. I’m not going to attempt to explain it here in the same formal, detailed way, which may be inadvertently insensitive, and if that offends anyone, again, that’s not my intention with this post. I’m not a theology scholar, nor have I had any sort of lengthy and formal religious training. But some people really might not know, and these short snippets are accurate, as far as my understanding of the concept is, being raised in the Catholic church and growing up in a Catholic family, so here’s the short short version of what transubstantiation is…
Transubstantiation is, according to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, the change of substance or essence by which the bread and wine offered in the sacrifice of the sacrament of the Eucharist during the Mass, become, in reality, the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
(from online dictionary)
(especially in the Roman Catholic Church) the conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ at consecration, only the appearances of bread and wine still remaining.
Upon hearing this information from the deacon, 40-50 other second graders tacitly nodded. OUR son said, audibly, “WHAT?!”
The Boy did make his First Eucharist (communion) with his class. But he no longer goes to catechism lessons and we don’t attend church regularly. Basically family weddings. And we’ve since done some amateur study at home about other major world religions and their belief systems in the untrained broad strokes. The Boy’s take for now, as a soon-to-be-middle-schooler is:
“Mom, I believe in science. And I believe people should help other people when they can, and be as nice to each other and animals as they can. I believe people should take care of themselves and other people and the places and things around them. I don’t think I’m any religion. They’re all okay. But they’re just not me.”
I told him that was okay too.
If you celebrate Passover or Easter in a serious way, I hope you have a joyous Passover and/or a blessed Easter. If you are celebrating a religious event or special day that I’m even less informed about, I extend the sincerest wishes for whatever your day or season focuses on, and I hope it turns out the best it can possibly be for you and your family and community of faith. And regardless of your belief systems, I hope you have a spring full of growth and beauty and contentment.