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.