Every baby, especially the first one, is a challenge to the parents, isn’t it? It makes them question their previous priorities, and their previous way of life and of sleep! Now a tiny baby takes centre stage, and their lives are turned upside down. That’s surely why the story of God coming to us as a baby is so important for us isn’t it? But it doesn’t, or it shouldn’t, stop there.
As the baby grows into a toddler a different set of challenges emerge for the parents. Keeping the toddler safe, of course, but more important answering all those questions, especially the “Why” ones! At that age children have no inhibitions and will ask anything, often at the most inappropriate moment, won’t they? If they ask about God, then the parents really find it hard. After all, how do you explain an invisible power that no-one can explain to a 3 year old who wants an answer? By the way, I do have some ways of coping with such questions worked out, after almost 50 years doing it, so do refer them to me if you want to.
The best parents always encourage their children to continue to ask questions, and not to be afraid about bothering people, like priests ; because that is the way all of us learn. Scientists above all will tell you that good science is not principally about providing answers, but of always questioning, always asking why.
I hope you have already seen the link I am about to make with today’s Gospel, (Luke 2:41-52) for we know from this story that questioning was clearly encouraged by Mary and Joseph in that house in Nazareth where they lived. Otherwise how would Jesus, as a 12 year old, have been bold enough to have been found by them “in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions.”? But we also know from the stories of the Gospels of his later life that it did not stop there, that questions were always important for Jesus. After all, his last words from the Cross were “My God, my God, WHY have you forsaken me?”
There are questions all the way through the Gospels. Remember that passage (Luke 10:25-31) where Jesus says that the heart of his teaching is to love God and to love one’s neighbour? It is a classic example of the way Jesus taught people. A man asks “Who is my neighbour?” – a good question, but Jesus, instead of giving a direct answer, tells the story of the Good Samaritan; of the three different people who came upon the man who had been robbed and left to die, and how only one, a hated foreigner, stopped to help. And then Jesus asks the man a question “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
This way of teaching by asking questions sounds very modern. It is, after all, the way all good teachers work, at least some of the time, drawing out from the students what they already know, and coaxing them with appropriate questions to go a bit further. One of the greatest teachers of the Catholic faith also used that method. St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century wrote a number of enormously long books summing up his teaching on the faith. But all are based on a series of questions. First he asks the question, and then gives the answers, but we knows that when he was actually teaching live, he would not have given the answers, but tried to get his students to work out the answers, always more than one, from the questions he asked them. In the end however, he had a vision of Jesus, and after that he wrote no more, saying to a friend who tried to get him writing again, “Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems to me like straw”
What a pity that some priests have tried to teach the faith as a series of facts to be learned, rather than an exploration into the unknown? It is sad too that I still meet people who worry that asking questions, is somehow a sign of a lack of faith when actually it is usually a sign that their faith is deepening.
So let us all follow the way of Jesus, let us be as he wants us to be, like little children in a loving family, let us explore… wonder… question, and find a relationship with God like that of a lively questioning toddler, or a 12 year old. Never afraid to ask, and aware that sometimes there are no easy answers, just more questions.