Interesting Questions I’ve Been Asked4
August 7, 2014 by lucieromarin
Questions about the faith arrive in all kinds of ways. Bitter experience has taught me that if a guy asks me out for coffee, it’s not because he’s thinking I might be the future mother of his children, but because he wants to ask me something about philosophy. So, too, I’ve often betaken myself to a party or dinner, only to have the hostess announce, “This is my Catholic friend!!!” whereupon someone moves out of the shadows to corner Exhibit A and demand explanations. Of course, if I really hated it that much, I could put an end to it, and I don’t, because people are interesting, I like knowing what they think (when they’re not being pontificating, stupid, or rude), and, strange as it sounds, there’s a kind of learning that comes exclusively through being questioned, and it’s valuable.
Children’s questions are the most challenging for me – not because they’re unanswerable, but because I find it difficult to match the often-startling depth of the question in language intelligible to a five-year-old. When a child says, “How is Jesus in every Eucharist?” you cannot say, “When considering the nine accidents of being, we find that there are two modes of being-in-place, which we call circumscriptive-where and non-circumscriptive-where.” You just can’t!
So, with this in mind, I thought I’d share some of the most interesting questions I’ve been asked. They’re not necessarily the most difficult or the most controversial, but they each alerted me to something I’d not noticed by myself, whether that was a particular need in the soul of the questioner, or a perception of the Church.
1. Why isn’t the Madonna ever black?
Which made me realise that kitsch – both pious and sacrilegious – has a lot to answer for. That kitschy kind of horrible has really become the default image of Our Lady in the modern mind – and trads are not the only people annoyed by this. Fortunately, it’s an easy question to answer.
2. If miracles were real, why did they suddenly stop after the Middle Ages?
Which showed me just how much information the secular media doesn’t share, not even to mock it.
3. Lent? I thought that was something only Muslims did?
So, it seems that some people know a) that Lent is about fasting, and b) that Muslims fast… and that’s it. To me, though, this reveals not ignorance on the part of the questioner but the extent to which Christians – both Catholic and Protestant – have abandoned traditional practises, so that we are no longer associated with them. My interlocutor had been raised in a Christian community, studied, worked, travelled around Australia and around the world, and, in forty years, had never met a Christian who fasted during Lent.
4. What miracle did the Pope perform?
Someone thought that we thought that Popes had to work miracles to be elected. I assume this was a canonisation mash-up.
5. Is it possible that we are already in Hell, and that going to Heaven will just mean changing the place we already are?
I was introduced to two Buddhists at a friend’s party, and enjoyed a long and wonderful discussion with both of them. (One had a name which meant ‘He who smiles a lot’ and it was perfect for him; he was so lit up from within with natural virtue.) Er, obviously I said ‘no’ to this, but it was interesting to be introduced to a concept of Heaven and Hell which was not linked so much to the presence or absence of God but to degrees of suffering and joy based upon human virtue.
I was talking with some Jehovah’s Witnesses recently about their concept of Heaven; only a few of them, they believe, will live in some kind of direct communion with God, while the majority of us (including the majority of JWs) will simply enjoy an earthly paradise. They were perfectly content with this, saying, “I can just see myself playing with the lions! Can’t you?” “No!” I exclaimed. “I want to see God!”
These experiences, among others, made me realise that, while the concept of Heaven as a place of mutual love and peace, is hardly unique to Catholicism, our emphasis on the Beatific Vision is unique, and this probably shapes our choices on earth more than we realise.
6. Which would you say is more powerful, the Eucharist or the Cross?
I needed a moment before answering this question, because I was temporarily disarmed by its depth. I’d never thought of the two as being in any kind of competition or hierarchy, but I saw for the first time how Catholic teaching might look that way, and I saw the mind that quickly absorbed lots of new information and analysed it in the light of Our Lord’s mission. (I’d just given a talk on the Eucharist.) I’m explaining this very badly; let’s just say I wished I could have talked with this man for longer and learned something about him.
7. Can you prove that the soul is immortal without referring to the Bible?
My first thought was, “Gah!” and my second thought was, “This is why people need to study philosophy!” It showed me how deep the thirst can be for a faith in which natural reason plays an active part, and how, for such souls, a purely revelation-based faith won’t be enough. The intellect needs clear reasons to accept revelation in the first place.
8. I mean, surely being punished eternally for your sins could only make sense if you were in some way as responsible as God?
At which point I had the head-spinning experience of realising I was in the presence of some kind of not-really-agnostic genius, because this supposedly religion-hating person had, in fact, all on her own, thought her way into the Catholic concept of grace as divinisation. She may not have had ‘grace’ or ‘divinisation’ in her vocabulary, but she’d worked it out.
9. Why is God three persons, and not four or two?
This was from a nine-year-old. Nine! I can assure you I made a complete meal of this one, and not in a nutrionally-balanced sense.
Wow. I wish I could have a crack at number nine without being afraid of falling into a heresy – I was thinking about the Father and the Son and thought, if They existed together without the HS, their mutual love would be like a dark star, huge, immense but no radiance. But the generation of the HS is the radiance of heat and light for us. The public aspect of their love, if you like. Er. Is that heretical?
Sorry for the belated reply! I love your analogy! I couldn’t presume to declare it heretical or otherwise, because after a five-year-old listened to my explanation and declared, “I’m confused,” I said… “Because four would be too many, but two wouldn’t be enough,” whereupon the room full of children chorused, “Ooooh! Right!” as though all their questions had been answered! And I thought, “Aaargh! One day you’re going to quote this to someone and as soon as it leaves your mouth you’re going to realise how terrible it is!”
Heh. Maybe especially at that age, they can only understand it by rudimentary analogy. You could try demonstrating the intrinsic strength of triangles, how they are the best shape for taking strain (use toothpicks and playdough?), how they are themselves made up of an infinity of triangles, how three elements are the smallest number of things that can contain space (would there be any room for us in a dual or mono God?). But still, “Four is too many, two is too few” is a pretty good formulation, I think.
Speaking of the Trinity (though I speak as perhaps should be silent), I saw a beautiful living icon of the Trinity the other day. I was waiting for my children at a stadium carpark, and a boy and his dad drove up, got out, and their dog got out as well. The dad gave the dog a drink, and then they all stood, looking at one another with such love and affection. You could tell that the dog was such a nice dog because he belonged to the father and the son; and the dog loved the boy and his dad, and would do either of their bidding, but of course the son would never ask the dog to do something that his dad wouldn’t have. There was such accord there. So I hopped out of my car and asked the dad and the boy if I could pet their dog. They said, yes, of course, so I did, and the dog came to me most willingly, and that was the way I got a little share, for a moment or two, of the love in that family. Hello, Holy Spirit…
On number 1, let us also remember that depicting Our Lord as of dark complexion has a long, very traditional (while most Filipinos would not even know about the EF (except the older generation, who are proportionally small – Filipino Catholics are known for their fecundity) but when it comes to many traditional devotions, they are very much alive there otherwise) history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Nazarene.