“Here comes Peter Cottontail,” I sang. “Hooray,” squealed my toddler. I smiled with delight as he excitedly embarked on a scavenger hunt to find the eggs we dipped in food coloring the night before.
That was part of our Easter ritual until I had an awakening a few years later that as a Catholic, it is my responsibility to teach him the real meaning of Easter Sunday. So, when my son was 5, I explained to him that Easter should be referred to as Resurrection Sunday. I went on to share that Jesus died for our sins and then rose again so that we may have eternal life. My very confused 5-year-old looked at me like an alien kidnapped his mom and said, “So, Jesus is a zombie!?”
My sleep that night was erratic. My child thinks Jesus is a zombie, and I am hands down the worst mother to ever have permission to rear a life chanted the voices coming from my pillow. My Catholic upbringing was ever present. I attended weekly Mass at my all-girls Catholic school from grades one through 12 and on weekends with my parents. For my entire pre-college education, I had religion class. So the idea that the meaning of Easter was not relayed to my son properly left me with enough guilt to sink the Titanic, again.
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My faith and the belief in a higher power is the foundation of my life. The fact that my son surmised that Jesus is a zombie from my explanation of the Resurrection made me question religion and what role it would play in his own upbringing.
He attends a non-denominational school, and with our hectic schedules, we don’t get to Mass every weekend. Perhaps if we did, he would understand that Jesus is, in fact, not a zombie.
But after the zombie incident, I started to teach him what the religious traditions we follow mean from a biblical perspective. We began to have an open dialogue about God, Jesus, the Sacraments, and death. He’s always been an extremely intelligent child, so I was eager to listen as he asked questions in search of ways to understand these lofty concepts. He enjoyed learning more about Catholicism, as well as other religions.
In every parent-teacher conference, his teachers remark on his compassion toward his classmates. They tell me he is humble, kind, and courteous; qualities that in my opinion highlight how our faith has impacted his life.
One day, he asked me for a new Bible because his old one was geared toward younger kids. We went to a secondhand bookstore and browsed the aisles and eventually the Christian section. He settled on a Bible that had leather binding, and we headed home. That evening, he announced in complete disgust that he did not want the Bible. Upon closer inspection, I noticed it was badly marked up. The owner’s name was Joshua, and somewhere in between reading Leviticus and Corinthians, he wrote some very colorful expletives.
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I returned Joshua’s work of art and researched the perfect young adult Bible. Turns out this is a full-time project. Will he like the large font or regular font? Does he want paperback? What’s the most relatable modern translation available?
The Bible arrived, and he performed a CSI-level inspection even after I assured him that it had never been used. It has a reading plan, which can guide him through the Bible every day of the year. I find myself wondering what is going on inside of his head and his heart as his journey toward defining what God means to him begins.
Recently, I’ve witnessed him evolve in his prayers. He prays for people he’s never met and ideals like an end to poverty and gun violence and a cure for cancer. After the school shootings in Florida in February, he shared that when we prayed together for the victims and their families he felt better. He said, “I feel like God heard us.”
It will be interesting to see how he grows in his Catholicism as he continues to embrace living his life with love, compassion, and respect for himself and others. Thankfully, he’s clear that Jesus is not a zombie, and the holidays we celebrate as a family are rooted in something deeper than candy-filled baskets and reindeers with red noses.
We’ve missed a few of his youth soccer games lately so we can attend Mass more consistently, and he understands the importance. He doesn’t read his Bible every night. He picks it up and reads it every now and then, and that’s fine with me. When the time comes that he struggles with decisions that test his moral compass, maybe he’ll turn to the Bible, maybe he’ll turn to me, or maybe he’ll turn to his relationship with a God who already whispers to him in ways I will never know.