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Last week...

Last week my boys piled into the car and instantly I realized they were fired up about something.  Talking over each other a million miles a minute they started to bombard me with questions about the death penalty (which I still have no idea how that topic came up to begin with).  Being slightly caught off guard by such a heavy topic, I took a deep breath as they continued to pour out questions to me about what my thoughts were on the subject.  "Mommy, what if someone set's off a bomb in a building and a bunch of people die, would that person get the death penalty?"  Mommy, doesn't someone who kills other people on purpose deserve to be put to death?"  "Mommy, do they still electrocute people or hang them?"   Yikes!  As a mother, where do you start?

At that moment, I took a deep breath and said a little prayer asking for the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Also, I knew from my experience as a youth minister to not just answer their questions directly.   I wanted to really make sure they were listening and engaged.  So, I began to ask them questions instead.  I wanted them to really think about this before I gave my answer and I also wanted to have a better idea of what they were thinking and feeling.  By some of their answers I could tell that one of my boys felt very strongly that the death penalty was acceptable and fair.  He also happens to be my child who is always the "fair" and "just" one in our family.  The other two were not quite sure what they believed.

Finally after I asked them a series of questions, they were waiting intently for my answer.  They wanted to know, "Mommy, what do you believe?!"

I answered, "Well guys, I believe what the Church teaches on this topic."  And then I proceeded to teach them the Church's teaching on this.  Now this was when our conversation really got exciting.  We talked about God's justice, but also about His mercy.  We talked about conversion and salvation.  We talked about DNA evidence and court trials and the possibility of someone being falsely accused and what that would feel like. We talked about the Church's teachings on the dignity of life from the moment of conception until natural death.  We talked about how people are executed today and some of the implications of that.  We talked about how we ourselves sometimes make mistakes and do things we regret and we talked about the power of forgiveness and healing.  We also talked about how a lot of the people that end up making really bad mistakes that go to prison for things like murder might have grown up in families where they didn't experience a lot of love or might have greatly been hurt themselves most of their lives.

As our conversation started to come to an end, I could tell that my boys were really thinking about things and I was grateful when my one son responded, "Mama, I think I was wrong about this.  What you are saying makes a lot of sense."

I told them that I was thankful and proud of them for having such a great conversation and I reminded them that topics like this one are really hard for even adults to understand much less 8, 10 and 11 year olds.  Then (thankfully) our conversation moved on to another very important topic in the lives of my boys; their baseball tryouts that took place earlier that day.

Later that night after they were in bed and I began reflecting on this conversation and I found myself incredibly thankful for several things.  First of all, I was thankful that my children are eager to ask both Johnny and I questions, even if they are difficult ones and I prayed that this would always be the case.  But most especially, I was thankful that in this situation I was able to answer their questions, not with my opinions but with the Church's teaching.  When it comes to difficult questions, particularly in regard to moral issues, the Church's teachings are based on Truth and over 2000 years of wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit.  If all I had to offer my children was my opinion or my personal beliefs, well I'm afraid that I would often times steer them in the wrong direction.  I am humble enough to admit that I've been wrong many times before and my opinions, which are mostly based on my own personal experiences, are not always right.

Even in regards to this topic on the death penalty, my thoughts and opinions have changed over the course of my life and most especially after spending two years doing prison ministry.  If asked these same question 20 years ago, my opinion on them would have been drastically different than it is today.

The world we live in is incredibly complex and the issues we face today can be overwhelming for people of all ages.  Being a parent who is trying to navigate the hearts of small children is even more difficult.  Things are not always black and white but I've come to know that that Church's teachings on life issues and on all moral issues are beautiful even in their complexities.  I am thankful that I have a strong understanding of most of the Church's teachings and even when I don't I know all that the Church has to offer on different issues, I at least know where to find it.

This is what I want my children to understand as they grow up and are faced with these types of moral  dilema's.  That the Church in her wisdom, beauty and authority offers us so much.  We don't have to figure things out on our own, we can go to her and be formed by her.  And when we do, things just seem to make sense.

Our Catholic faith is truly a treasure chest of riches that never runs out.  How blessed are we that have access to all that lies within it.

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