Before my husband, Mark, and I had children, he always said he would never use “just because” as an answer to anything our kids asked. And to his credit, he has stuck by that with both our kids.
What I didn’t realize, however, was that his promise had implications for me, too. And now that Maddie and Alex are of an age where the questions come almost faster than we can answer, at times it’s a challenge.
One area that can prove especially challenging is our faith. Why? Well, because both Mark and I have been doing many of these practices since we were children, the meaning behind the rituals in some cases has long since disappeared from memory. We do it “just because” we always have.
But, thanks to my husband, that’s just not good enough for our kids. They want answers.
'What's Wrong With My Way?'
For instance, Maddie insists on making the Sign of the Cross backward. When I corrected her, she asked why it mattered which way she did it. “Just because it does,” I said.
“Dad says that’s never an acceptable answer,” she replied.
So after I fumed at Mark for a while, I went to Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M., who writes this magazine’s “Ask a Franciscan” column, and Father Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M., who handles similar questions for this Web site. They both told me that Orthodox Catholics make the Sign of the Cross the way that Maddie does (right to left). But they had no real answer for why Roman Catholics traditionally make it left to right. In fact, Father Jim said, he made it the same way as Maddie for a long time because he is left-handed.
Time to Refocus
This exchange with Maddie got me thinking, though. There are a lot of things that we, as Catholics, take for granted just because we’ve always learned to do them that way. We tend to focus on the big events in our faith lives, such as holy days, major events like First Communion or seasons such as Advent and Lent. Oftentimes it is at the expense of the more everyday, foundational elements of our faith. Here are some suggestions for ways to deal with questions about our everyday faith practices:
Ask questions. There are a number of things my parents have always done that I never thought to start asking about until just recently. For instance, as long as I can remember my mom has always carried a key ring full of holy medals with her. When I asked her about it, she immediately had an answer. She explained that each one had special significance and represented a certain aspect of her life. Among others, she carries a medal of St. Lucy because my oldest sister, Beth, has had eye problems since she was a child. (St. Lucy is the patron saint of eye problems.)
Pay attention. Are there things that you find yourself doing simply by rote? I can honestly say that a lot of times during Mass I find myself reciting prayers without even focusing on the words. Try to give more attention to those things. Find out the answers to questions that your kids ask. While it would have been easier to stick with the “just because” answer, I enjoyed trying to find out about the Sign of the Cross for Maddie.
Make changes. If there is something that you are doing just because you always have—within either your faith life or your everyday life—don’t be afraid to make some changes. When I was growing up, my family always went to 9:30 Mass on Sunday mornings. After I got married, Mark and I realized that sometimes 8:00 Mass better suited our schedule. And while it was a good move, it did take me a long time to feel comfortable with the change.
Encourage questions. Sure, it would be a lot easier if I could just answer everything my kids asked with “just because”—and some days I’m still tempted to do just that. But I now realize I’ve learned a lot from never accepting that as an answer. So encourage your kids to ask away!
Next Month: Communion of Saints