WHAT’S AND WHY’S – Questions children ask priests (I)

– Fr Leonard E. Dollentas

In 2007, Professor Michelle Chouinard an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California found that on average, children posed more than 100 questions every hour. Interacting with very young primary school students and entertaining their questions was not something I expected to enjoy, but it has turned out to be one of the best moments in my ministry as a priest.  More often, children are curious, creative and sincere with their queries. Their questions may seem at times annoying yet profoundly hilarious and challenging.  The questions collected in this article are real questions asked by children who are curious about the life of priests and the work or ministry they do.

Father, do you have children?

Priests are not married and therefore do not have children. When diocesan priests like me are ordained, we make a public promise of celibacy and obedience and we are expected to live a life of simplicity and detachment from luxurious living, to live a simple life just like Jesus.

Celibacy means we have to live like Jesus who has no wife and children, to dedicate his entire life to the mission entrusted to him by his Father. The promise of celibacy helps a priest to live with a single-minded heart and will that seeks to serve the Lord alone and the people of God. It helps a priest to have all his time devoted to saying Mass and performing the sacraments and teaching children and others about God. Through celibacy and the fidelity to it, a priest represents an important and valuable example of devotion, to seek first the kingdom of God and “all of these things will be given you besides” (Matthew 6:33). It is a promise freely made after years of discernment and prayer.

Why do priests wear a long black robe?

That long black robe with a white collar is called a “cassock.” Some priests who belong to religious orders wear distinctive clothes called habits. When you see a priest wearing a cassock it shows his consecration to God and his role as someone set apart for priestly service to God’s people. It is also a symbol showing the world that God is the true Master of priests in their service and ministry. Wearing such a long robe is sometimes uncomfortable, especially in summer. Thus, it is also a way of performing a daily penance to God – a sacrifice offering for the people of God. The cassock is a distinctive sign of the priest’s availability to the people whom they serve, just like the way you see a doctor or a fireman wearing their uniform to identify the work they do. But a priest’s cassock is more than a uniform, it is sacred and is a sign of consecration, dedication, and service to God.  Wearing a cassock or a clerical attire every day and not a variety of clothes means that a priest “is not his own,” he is a visible sign of Jesus Christ, present in the midst of everyday life, ready to bring the presence of Jesus Christ to the people.

Can priests play video games?

Yes, priests can play video games. In their leisure time and when they have finished their work, they also relax. Some priests watch basketball or football and are sports fans. They also play ball games, so long as it doesn’t interfere with their schedule and ministry. The type of video game that priests play does matter. One cannot play games that endorse immoral actions. Therefore, it’s not decent for a priest (or for anyone else, really) to play that sort of game. There are other wholesome video games that are enjoyable, and priests if they have the time, may play them.

My pet dog Genghis Khan, died last October. Do animals go to heaven?

When human beings like us die, our souls are brought before God, and if we deserve heaven we will be with him happily in heaven, but if we die in serious sin then we will be in hell. Certainly, there are animals who are well behaved, maybe just like your pet Genghis Khan. However, they do not live beyond death and need no salvation. But you have to thank God for your pet dog, for the affection he gave you. He was one of those animals that God has given to human beings so that we may achieve certain natural goods and joys in this life. Pray that God may give you another pet that will give you the same love and affection as that of Genghis Khan. 

My father is always sleeping during the homily on Sundays. Does he commit a sin?

I know it looks bad when people fall asleep during the Mass and especially during the homily. Priests spend long hours preparing for their homilies. Is it a sin to fall asleep in church?  Perhaps the action itself is not good, but your father may be tired.

But was he tired from staying up too late watching movies or playing video games? Was he tired from having too much wine or beer the night before?   If so then, perhaps it is a sin to fall asleep in the church. 

I believe we should prepare for the Mass on Sunday and do our best to be alert, and actively participate in the different parts of the Mass.  Ask your father to get a good night’s sleep on Saturday night and maybe avoid some wine on Saturday evening. Perhaps, you can even suggest to go to Mass during the time he is not sleepy.

Why can’t we eat snacks during the mass?

Surely, crackers, cheerios, and biscuits are nice snacks. Your parents often give you such snacks and perhaps fruit juice every day in school. But  school is different from the church.

Other people inside the church may consider it rude when they see you eating during the Mass. No one wants to smell your cracker or hear some crunching sound while they’re trying to listen to the priest. If you are really that hungry, then ask your parents to bring you outside that you may take a snack. But this should not happen every time you go to Mass.

For babies, when their mothers give them a bottle of milk or a little snack, that is fine. But for other children who maybe are 3 years old and above, and that includes you, should be able to make it through the Mass without eating anything. Don’t get too excited for the Sunday Mass and forgetting your breakfast. Eat enough food before going to Mass so you may not feel hungry in the middle of the Mass.

Our teacher told us to pray for priests. Why do we have to pray for priests when they already work for God?

I have to thank your teacher for asking you to pray for priests. Each of us has a different task to perform in the Church, and each has his or her own responsibility, according to one’s state of life. We should pray for your fathers and mothers to be good parents; for children like you be good children; for the young people to serve God in their respective positions, and for the other people that they may be faithful to God.

So, too, priests deserve to be prayed for. Priests are humans too just like the others. The fact that they are working for God does not mean they are free or totally protected from committing sin and being exposed to temptations. They too need our prayers so they may always be faithful to God. When you pray for priests, your guardian angel smiles at you and happy for you. Pray for your priest and remind him that you are praying for him.

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