I believe in questions.
My curiosity has taught me many things, chiefly that no one has all the answers. During the early years of my Catholic education, I asked my teachers every conceivable question, because I wanted strong beliefs to hold on to and a tangible measure of how to live the right way. It didn’t take long for me to realize that some of their responses made me deeply uncomfortable, and some of my teachers didn’t even agree with each other – and that maybe I had to find my own answers, not anybody else’s.
As a high school freshman, I loved to quiz my religion teacher – a Franciscan friar – on the intricacies of Church teachings. If a child dies before it’s baptized, will it still go to heaven? “Yes, there’s a baptism of water, a baptism of blood, and a baptism of desire. If the child’s parents desired for it to be baptized, the child will be saved.” If a man beats his wife, is it a sin for her to leave him and get divorced? “Yes.” Boom. That was his simple, shattering reply. “Abuse is an illness, and we pledge to stay with our spouses in sickness and in health.”
I obviously believed God was speaking through Father Joe, and I didn’t like what God was saying. My intrinsic disagreement sent me into a tailspin. Now I had questions for myself: Am I a bad Catholic? How dare I disagree with God?
I asked another friar if what Father Joe had said was true. “I’m not saying Father Joe was wrong,” Brother Joe responded, “but he was wrong.” I was comforted by his words, but it took me a long time to understand their meaning. We were right; Father Joe was wrong. End of story.
As I grew and asked more questions and became uncomfortable with yet more of the Church’s “answers,” I came to see that Brother Joe was trying to tell me that each of us has to take what we learn from others, reflect on what we experience ourselves, and make a commitment to what’s right for us.
My own commitment can be summed up by the thirteenth verse of the first book of Corinthians: “Faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” It’s the product of my conservative church’s teachings, my progressive family’s social awareness, my Jesuit university’s intellectual challenges – and most importantly, my own reflections and hard questions. Some may tell me otherwise, but I believe that living rightly and contributing justly have nothing to do with religious affiliation, marital status, or sexual preference. For me, they have to do with love.
Now, as an educator myself, I often think back to Brother Joe. Because of him, I encourage my own students to ask tough questions and find their own answers – and to seek peace with the uncertainty of life.
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