Answering the big questions

FATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA

It is fortuitous that our series on teaching children about religion is running during the Olympics.

Not because the Olympic ceremonial has a certain ersatz paganism to it, acknowledging in a roundabout way that great public spectacles need a religious component, but because we have been hearing a lot about parents. Rare is the athlete profile that does not include a mention of parents who for 10 years drove Junior to practice before sunrise, spent family vacations at low-end motels in dead-end towns for competitions, worked double shifts and took out second mortgages in order to pay for the dream of Olympic glory in a sport their neighbours had never heard of. And we laud such parents for their devotion and sacrifice. Without such committed parents, Junior's resolve may have flagged and the happy day of his bronze medal would never have come. Cue the inspirational music.

Not every child has a bronze medal is his future. But every child has a soul. And what do we expect of parents in regard to their children's religious formation? What are we to make of a father who can spend 40 minutes driving home from the rink dissecting the flaws in his 14-year-old son's power play performance, but never speaks to that boy about religious questions?

I would prefer to say "ultimate questions"—as the basic questions of human existence have to be answered by all: Why is there something rather than nothing? Why does the human heart yearn for love, liberty, justice, peace? What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of my life? What happens when we die?

There are religious answers to those questions. There are also philosophical answers. They are basic human questions, and parents who choose not to address them in the upbringing of their children are, to use a strong but fair word, derelict. After all, what are parents raising their children to be? Mere professionals? Amateur athletes, musicians, dramatists?

Think about the analogous category of citizenship. Parents expend a great deal of energy teaching children, from an early age, to be good citizens—law-abiding, concerned for the common good, solicitous to the needy, grateful for the blessings of a free and prosperous country. Moms and dads do this primarily by their good example.

The ultimate questions are no different. Religious believers, who ostensibly build their lives on certain answers to those questions, would wish to live in a way that made their faith obvious to their children. Even more so, what parents would not make the utmost effort to instruct their children in the most important truths? Is it possible that a mother would help her daughter learn the periodic table, but be lackadaisical about sin and grace, damnation and salvation?

Parents owe their children their best answers to the deepest questions. Children are genuinely interested in the larger questions, as anyone who has spent an hour with a four-year-old asking "why" about everything knows. For many parents though, being honest with their children provokes an awkward examination of conscience. The religious formation of children requires one to be honest about one's own religious practice.

It would be very difficult to say to one's children—and to oneself: Your mother and I are superficial people who do not bother to seek answers to the fundamental human questions.

Parents owe their children their best answers to the deepest questions.

Or: We are religious believers but too lazy to actually worship or pray with you.

Or: We have gotten so busy with secondary things that we neglected to teach you about primary things.

Or: We are atheists, and believe that you are a product of random chance of no eternal significance.

Or: We care enough about you to worry about the health of your body, but not enough to worry about your soul.

So much easier to simply say: We won't impose anything on you, and let you choose for yourself. That is not education, but abdication. A seventh-grade band teacher, to say nothing of the school nurse, couldn't get away with that.

Parents owe their children the best of themselves. Their best is not only good schools and extracurricular programs. It is their basic values, including their answers to the ultimate questions. The Apostle Peter said, not about the Olympics, but about the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ: "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you."

Parents should do no less.


 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Answering the big questions." National Post, (Canada) February 25, 2010.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

THE AUTHOR

Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2010 National Post




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