To Father Jeffrey Romans, who touches more lives than hell ever know:
It started on a cranky afternoon as bickering exploded in my kitchen. A houseful of curious offspring had been asking questions from the moment their tiny feet hit the floor at dawn until they collapsed into bed with their ragged teddy bears at night. One kid was so persistent in her questions that one day I kept count. Even factoring in momentary lapses of quiet, the child asked 392 questions. In a single day.
Most questions were routine and childlike. From time to time, however, a kid asked something that required a thoughtful reply.
Such was the case this particular day. Ive long since forgotten the specifics, but I do recall that it deserved more attention than I could give at that moment. So I did what any loving, sensitive parent would do: I hollered at the poor kid. Write it down and put it into a jar! I barked. Well talk about it later.
Thus was born The Question Jar.
Early questions reflected the youth of our children and the fact that we were in the process of becoming Catholic. Why does the priest wear white instead of black at a bad guys funeral? inquired our 12-year old. Why does God love bad guys? a younger child pondered. If Santa Claus visits all children everywhere, why are there children in the world who have no toys? Why do priests have to go to confession? Do bad guys wear socks?
From time to time at the dinner table, we took out the jar for discussion. The funniest question was, How are people made? What our six-year old wanted to know was, Where do babies come from? Peter and I were quite willing to respond it was one question to which we actually knew the answer but to our amusement, the child insisted that it be answered by family friend, Father John Gwozdz. One evening at the dinner table, unsuspecting Father John unfolded the question and read it aloud.
After turning a lovely shade of purple, he swiftly handed the question to us.
Another time that same child asked, Why do we have belly buttons? The older kids started to giggle but before we could reply, she blurted out her own explanation. Oh, I know! Its so we can do the back float!
We erupted in laughter, but she paid no mind. My swimming teacher says that to do the back float, I have to put my belly button into the air, she explained with childish innocence. Thats why we have belly buttons so we can do the back float!
As the years progressed, questions grew more sophisticated. Can angels sin? Did the Virgin Mary experience pain during labor? And one question that kept us going for months, Are people basically good or basically evil? If they are good, why do we sin? If they are evil, how can God have made us in his image? And then there was my personal favorite, Why are Polish men so obstinate, and why do so many become priests?
From time to time, a group of priest friends gathers here for dinner, and invariably someone pulls out the Question Jar. Father Jeff Romans always peruses the contents of the jar when he thinks no one is looking. He snatches a few questions for himself, hands the clinkers to his brother priests, and stuffs back into the jar those he doesnt want to discuss that evening. Some questions are neglected for a year or more, but ultimately every query receives attention, even if we have to pull out Bibles, the Catechism and laptop to ensure accuracy.
The kids are now older teens and young adults, and again, the sophistication of the questions reflects their maturity. In recent years, questions have included such topics as Natural Family Planning, the role of women in the Church and what happens to devout Muslims after death. The last time I pulled out the Question Jar, two kids groaned, Not that thing again! And yet within minutes, they were immersed in a heated debate about whether the Book of Revelation can be taken literally. This was followed by a discussion of the relative merits of face-to-face confession versus confession with the anonymity of a screen.
I love our Question Jar. Truth be told, nowadays, many of the questions are written by me. The jar serves as a reminder that I have much to learn about the faith, and it encourages me to seek God with all of my mind. Knowledge isnt everything, but its an important start.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.