To hear more about the Why We Came project, listen to the extended segment on The Commonweal Podcast.
It was somewhere in the process of explaining transubstantiation to my skeptical seven-year-old that I taught her the phrase “Go big or go home.”
I hadn’t intended to bring up transubstantiation, or religion, or anything at all—we were just trying to make it through a rare sit-down post-church brunch (we usually do more of a perching coffee and pastries), helping the two-year-old balance scrambled eggs on her spoon, when my older kid asked, pretty much out of nowhere, “The cracker and the wine…they’re not really the body and the blood of Jesus, right?”
Even though my husband attended Catholic school for five years and has sat through more theology classes than I have, I’m the actual Catholic, so I was fielding this one.
I grabbed the moment as best I could to explain that yes, well, actually, the craziness of that idea was the point. The whole idea that something could literally transform before our eyes. That we could, daily if we wanted to, eat the body and drink the blood of a two-thousand-year-old man, alongside a billion other people across the globe. She raised her magnificent eyebrows. “Okaaaaaay.”
And, I should explain—we don’t do a lot of imaginary-type stuff in our household. I know moms who carefully write notes in glitter pens from fairies that they leave in tiny backyard fairy houses. I know moms who do Elf on the Shelf. The children of these moms, I should add, are delighted by this stuff. It’s delightful. But it’s not really me.
In our house—on the theory that there are only so many times you can convince your kid that a bearded man in the sky is watching and evaluating his or her moral choices—I downplay Santa Claus into a perfunctory nothingness. When I suggested to my daughter that she might want to put her fallen tooth under a pillow for the Tooth Fairy, she did some quick mental math and decided it was worth a dollar per tooth to hold on to her former body parts in a little plastic jar, thank you very much.
So, I didn’t have, let’s say, a large arsenal of semi-magical things to draw upon when trying to explain the whole body-and-blood thing. We’re not whimsical, really. Just religious.
Which is why I landed on the phrase “Go big or go home.” It means, I explained, when you decide to do something because it’s enormous. Because it’s crazy. Because it doesn’t really make sense. That’s how you know you believe.
And, look, I explained to her, lots of people think that the bread and the wine or the cracker and the grape juice are metaphors. That they stand in for the idea of Jesus sacrificing himself. And, honestly, that makes a ton more sense and it is way easier to wrap your head around.
But for me, well, I’m not getting up on a Sunday morning and wrestling two kids into Mary Janes before nine o’clock for a metaphor. The enormity, the impossibility of the idea, is the whole freaking point.