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Catholic Thoughts: Taste and See, Aquire a taste for Jesus

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Jeanne Hunt column

The tomato wars are about to begin. Hundreds of local gardeners have their starts under grow lights and can’t wait to plant their little seedlings. It isn’t sugarplums they dream of. It is big, juicy tomatoes, straight from the garden on a warm August day. The dream includes a “mater-sandwich:” two slices of white bread, sliced tomatoes, mayo and fresh Bibb lettuce. There’s nothing better! It takes devotion, prayers, and a long, hot summer. Those of us who learned the fine art of growing tomatoes from our parents can’t imagine living without them.

Growing faith is a lot like growing tomatoes. We inherit our passion for tomatoes because our parents were passionate about them. In the same way, when parents are passionate about faith, their children inherit their zeal. Conversion happens naturally as Mom prays with us at night and Dad shares his stories of faith. I have tender memories of gathering at the supper table and watching my parents enter prayer. I watched them still their souls into the presence of Jesus Christ. I could literally feel His presence. Before long, I hungered for what they had, and they guided me into the heart of God.

Many little children, however, have no idea who God is, and many of their parents have a similar problem. They seem to have memorized the rules of religion but have sparse knowledge of the cause for such devotion. The ongoing argument persists: what comes first — conversion or catechesis? I’m putting my money on conversion. What motivates a person to follow the law if he or she has never encountered the source of the law? In our time, we have so many people who simple can’t understand why they should go to church, receive the sacraments, or have a prayer life. Students in our Catholic schools study religion, but many seldom grace the doors of the parish church. Their parents have other priorities. The sad truth is that too many Catholics have never encountered the person of Jesus. Using the tomato analogy: why would you bother growing those sweet red treats if you had never tasted one?

So, what has gone wrong? Just a few generations ago, everyone was “God-fearing.” Our families were immersed in faith. We prayed together. We went to the Catholic parish for education, social life, prayer, and devotion. All around us were the witnesses of wonderful, faith-filled people. We met Jesus at every turn. He was the unseen guest in all of our homes.

When we read the Old Testament, it is clear that God wants to make a deal with us: He asks us to love him and obey His commandments. In exchange for this, He will provide peace and lives of wellbeing (see Deuteronomy 7:9). Notice the order of this deal: first, we come to love Him, and second, we follow His rules. God wants us to see that love (conversion) must come first. The deal is based on love as the primary energizer. Without it, the commandments are empty exercises that seem pointless. Could it be that we have neglected to lead our children into intimate relationships with God?

Now the panic sets in: how can we give our children something that we do not have? We cannot sidestep this issue by dumping it on the priests and catechists. They are only there to reinforce the faith formation taking place at home. I want to reassure you that God can take you right where you are and offer you the same sacred deal He has offered to thousands of souls before you. It is never too late. You can acquire a taste for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ at this very moment and then bring your children to him. Being hungry for God is an acquired taste . . . just like tomatoes.

 

Hunt is a nationally recognized catechetical leader and author.

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