My only daughter, Maria, who is 10, attended a three day camp last week. It is held every summer at the home of a Catholic homeschooling family that lives on several acres and it is for homeschooled kids.
Though we no longer homeschool, Maria is invited every year because of the friendships she had made during the years when she was homeschooled.
If you, when you hear the words “Catholic homeschooling families”, immediately imagine lots of kids and big vans and Republican politics that is pretty accurate. Though we have a big van and lots of kids and are Catholic we don’t have much in common with most of the people beyond that; on the rare occasions when I find myself around them I don’t speak much, or I stick to small talk.
Apparently Maria does not fit in so well, either.
She told us that she was with maybe 6 other children, all within a year or two of her age. They were curious, as she went to school.
So, you go to a Catholic school?
Is everyone Catholic?
No, in fact there is one girl who is a Buddhist.
At this some of them scoffed. How could anyone believe in Buddha? How could they not believe in God and the Catholic Church?
At this Maria bristled. How do you know that God does not work in Buddhists? You don’t know God; no one can. He can’t be limited like that. Our minds are so tiny. He can’t be understood.
At this they were alarmed: Yes, we know God! We know Jesus!
Maria was adamant: No one knows God. Even the word “God” is just a word to name something that can’t be named.
At this they said: You are not a Catholic! You are not even a Christian!
Excommunicated by her peers, Maria held fast.
Things were getting heated. An adult, who by chance teaches theology at a local Catholic college, was walking by and notice the commotion. He strode over and inquired about what was going on. Both sides explained their positions. He noted that while we can know some things about God, as He has revealed Himself in Christ, Maria is correct: no one can know Him in His essence, His inner life; He is forever beyond our concepts.
Maria was vindicated, the others no doubt disturbed.
When she told me this story I had to smile to myself. Besides the fact that she had found, in her 10 year old way, the truth of the apophatic way, what the West calls the Via Negativa, I was imagining the sparks in her eyes as she stuck up for the truth she had grasped.
She is bold like that. Last week we were in the grocery store. We were walking by the seafood section, and saw that the lobsters, who used to be kept in a tank of water, where they were free to move around, were now in a container of ice. Thus cooled, they were somnolent. Maria was indignant. In the next aisle I noticed that she was no longer with me. When she reappeared at my side some time later, I asked where she had been. She had found the seafood manager and confronted him about his cruelty to animals!
All of this is familiar to me: making a lone stand for some unpopular truth or misunderstood conviction, a passion for justice, pondering the mysteries beyond religious words and concepts (I remember doing this as a young child) and, yes, the sheer cussedness.
As I watched her tell her tale I just smiled inside and thought: that’s my girl.