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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How do you teach your children about your faith when you're full of doubts?

I had two widely divergent encounters with religion and faith yesterday.

The first came at the prayer service for my oldest son's last CCD class. Families were welcome so I brought my younger two boys with me. We're not perfect church attendees so I take opportunities like this to teach them how to behave in church. The service began and I was secretly proud I didn't need a hymnal like the other parents - I knew the songs by heart.

Towards the end, the Deacon walked down the aisle and blessed the group with holy water. This is a special event in a Catholic church but when the church is filled with adults, everyone sits still and if you get hit with water, you quietly and subtly make the sign of the cross. Catholics, and Catholic services, aren't very demonstrative.

But in a church full of children, the scene was totally different. Kids raised their hands and stretched their bodies towards the deacon, begging to for the holy water. They laughed when the water hit them, and complained if they were missed. I can't say these children had any real religious fervor, but there was this current of excitement that gave me a glimpse into the ecstasy that can be associated with religion.

Back when church was easy.
I felt the same way when I was a kid. I used to be a pretty fervent believer in the Church. In 8th grade, I listed one of my life goals as "Religious Educator." I always wanted the holy water to touch me, too.  But I could never show it because I went to Catholic school and the nuns kept a close watch on our behavior. I even got hit on the head once with a hymnal for singing too loudly. A priest scolded me during Mass for saying the words along with him. I didn't know it was wrong, I was proud I knew the Mass by heart. I loved Church.

Now, as a parent, I struggle with the very idea of taking my kids to church. And I'm angry about that. I'm angry that something I loved so much as a kid has been stripped of it's beauty and honor and meaning in my adulthood and turned into just another confusing mess of good intentions with bad results. I'm sad and angry that I can't share the traditions I loved as a child whole-heartedly with my children because I'm ashamed and embarrassed of what the people in the church have done. And these feelings stem from my second encounter with religion yesterday.

I heard coverage on NPR of the trials in Philadelphia going on right now over the abuses by priests. I  was absolutely sickened. Priests, who are just stupid people after all, joked about abusing these boys. And church leaders knew this was going on. They knew and they did nothing. I've written before about how child abuse is happening in our neighborhoods, right in front of us, and how I regretted not saying something. But this horrified me. Just like at Penn State, people with power knew and did nothing. Jesus is a lot better at forgiving sins than me.

A post on SoulSeeds got me thinking about the differences between Jesus's teachings and institutionalized religion. It's not a new thought for me. But it's one I still can't answer. There's a lot about Jesus' teachings that I respect and value. Just the thought of sacrificing for the good of others is a significant lesson I want my children to learn. Should I continue going to church on Sundays, trying to distill morals from the Gospels for my children yet at the same time, not allowing them to fall too deep into the gaps of modern Catholicism?