Gun season opens Wednesday night at religious ed. It’s time to study the Sacrament of Confession, which means another exciting of round of the game I do love, Is it a Mortal Sin? I say things like, “If you commit a mortal sin, you need to go to Confession,” and “Here are the three conditions for a sin to be mortal.” Then I say something really outrageous, like, “Do you have any questions?”
This is the students’ cue to inquire about the pizza guy who got mugged, and what if a Nazi comes to your door*, and what do you do if you think the bad guy is going to shoot your best friend but you aren’t 100% sure . . . all that stuff.
Last year was surprisingly quiet on the shooting scenarios, though I did get asked if a person who murders his spouse is free to re-marry? (No.) But here’s what I love about teaching fifth graders: They want to know the answers. I’ve had more than one student ask if it were a sin for a soldier to shoot the enemy during combat — fully ready to accept that if that were the case (no), they’d need to put away the plastic Army men and think hard about how to break the news to friends and family.
The other fun part of 10,000 Gun Questions Night is keeping it strictly Catholic. I often hear a double complaint about the Church:
- How can we possibly have a firm teaching on anything?
- And if so, why don’t we have a firm teaching on everything?
As if it were somehow more logical to worship a god who gave out brains and then refused to let you use them. [Catholic moral theology tip: If God gives you something, He’s got a plan for how it’s supposed to be used. Thy body is not a knick knack.] The challenge with the 5th grade questions is that within the guidelines of just warfare and legitimate self-defense, Catholics are free to hold any number of opinions on what makes a good gun law, or whether those soldiers ought to be over there doing that.
I enjoy teaching as precisely as I can. To be as aware of the limits and definitions of Catholic doctrine as I am able, and therefore hopefully pass on a view of the faith that veers neither right nor left.
In the short run, I avoid undermining the student’s family, and I like that. If your mom has chained herself to the gate of a nuclear weapons facility, or your dad is president of Kids Need More Guns Inc., those are positions a Catholic of good will could hold and still be faithful to the teachings of the Church. At any age, students deserve to learn the faith without having it mixed up with personal opinion; in fifth grade it is particularly important to stay in the middle of the narrow road.
–> At ten and eleven, kids aren’t ready to form their own opinions on open questions. They do delight in wearing the opinions of the people they love. Politics is best left to parents. (It is bad enough I’ve got to break the news about divorce and remarriage, and also about how, yes, you really do need to come to Mass every week.) It makes for a better course if I acknowledge there is more than one legitimate opinion, and leave my own opinions home.
In the longer run, teaching plain old Catholicism gives students a firmer grounding in their faith. As they grow older and are wondering if Mom should have chosen a different sort of peaceful resistance, or maybe Dad carried it a tad too far in his love of the Bill of Rights, they have already been told that the Catholic faith is not the whole crazy package of everything every Catholic they ever loved might have said. They’ve already been told: You can disagree about _________________ and still be Catholic.
Teens and adults need to be able to sort through the world of ideas; the Faith has to stand up to testing, and it will. But to do that effectively, you have to know where the faith ends and opinion begins.
*Actually Nazis threaten the hypothetical doors of internet grown-ups much more than they disturb 5th graders. 10-year-olds tend to stick to situations being reported in the local news. But sometimes, yes, the Nazis make their appearance.