Here’s an exchange I recently had with a catechist working in RCIA for children:
I am a catechist teaching RCIA for children. This is my first time teaching RCIA. If you could recommend some approaches to answering questions to children grades 3rd through 5th RCIA, I would really appreciate your help. Here are some of their questions:
Why do we decorate the church with a barren looking tree during Lent? Who made God and why aren’t we from a different planet? What is the difference between a Catholic and a Christian?
Thank you, Joe!
What wonderful questions! I just wrote a post this morning about a question one of my 8th graders asked (“Would it have been better if Jesus didn’t die?”)
This is such a great opportunity for you to be able to work with these young people during such a meaningful time in their lives. You are also very thoughtful to be so concerned with approaching their questions in the most effective manner. How we respond to questions can have a lasting impact on a young person.
My first thought is to affirm the questions and the questioners. Let them know that they have asked a good question.
Next, show that you are interested in what they may be thinking. Invite the others in the group to grapple with the question. You can say something like, “That’s a good question that -N- just asked. What do you think? How would you respond to that question?” Let them know that it is good to grapple with issues of our faith and that asking questions is what disciples do…it’s how we learn.
Now, on to how to address the specific questions you listed:
- why do we decorate the church with a barren looking tree during Lent?
The Church has long compared the 40 days of Lent to the 40 year journey of Israel in the desert where their faith was tempted. In the same way, Jesus grappled with temptations in the desert for 40 days before beginning his ministry. For us, Lent is our journey through the desert – a barren area – where we face up to our temptations, away from the clutter of everyday life (this is why we give things up during Lent…to clear away the clutter).
- Who made God and why aren’t we from a different planet?
This is one of the wonderful and mysterious things about God – God has no beginning and no end. Nobody made God. God just is. That’s why when Moses asked God what his name was, God said, “I Am Who Am.” This means that God just is. This is a very hard concept for even adults to understand. God is the creator and we are creatures (created by God). The story in Genesis chapter one of how God created the world tells us that before the world came to be, God already existed and that he created all of creation out of love for us. We come from God, not from another planet, because we have an intimate relationship with our creator God.
- What is the difference between a Catholic and a Christian?
One of my 8th graders asked this on the first night of class this year! Of course, Catholics ARE Christians! The term Christian is a broad term that describes anyone who is a follower of Jesus and has been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For the first one thousand years of the Christian Church, there was only one kind of Christian…anyone who followed Jesus. In the 11th century, the Christian Church became divided between those who followed the leadership of the bishop of Rome (Roman Catholics) and those who followed the leadership of the Patriarch of Constantinople (The Orthodox Church). Then, in the 16th century, the Christian Church became even more divided because of the Protestant Reformation. This means that some Christians chose not to follow the leadership of the bishop of Rome (the pope). These Christians established many different denominations: Lutherans, Calvinists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and so on. They are Christians baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but they do not follow the leadership of the pope. As Roman Catholics, we are Christians who follow the leadership of the pope and bishops, the successors of the apostles. (Much of this answer will be beyond the younger children but I wanted to provide you with as much as possible and you can adapt it for your various age groups).
Great stuff! Kids ask such wonderful questions!
This exchange was posted with permission and, as always, I posted the catechist’s e-mail anonymously.