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When I Evangelize, I am Not in Control

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Before Covid, my children were going to a Catholic religious education program called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS).

It is Montessori-based. A child will play with different religious figures and objects – like a wooden cutout of Jesus and sheep. And she is encouraged to ponder their meaning. There is very little actual “teaching.” It’s the most hands-off approach I’ve seen in religious education.

I wanted to be excited about it, but I started getting a little frustrated. I chose the program because I’m not a home-grown Catholic, and other parents recommended it. But while volunteering, I kept wanting to step in and explain things. The children were blank pages I felt I had to be writing on.

But reading the book written by the founder of CGS, I discovered part of the reason they take this approach. It has to do with the respect she had for the spiritual life of children. As she saw it, every person’s relationship with God is sacred. Like the Ark of the Covenant, we don’t touch it.

We guide it and help it along, but we need to understand that it doesn’t belong to us.

Construction Worker or Gardener?

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To be honest, I don’t grasp all the implications of that insight, but I’ve been thinking about it more as I have begun wrapping up the video series on why I am Catholic. I say what I say in this blog because I want people to know the beauty of the Catholic faith – a kind of catechesis. And, to be honest, I want to convert them.

But the method I learned growing up for doing this was more like that of a construction worker breaking a wall with a sledgehammer and less like a gardener planting, watering, and hoping for growth. One method sees the person I am trying to reach as a project or something to be conquered. The other sees the person as someone I have no control over and should not have control over. It sees the other as someone I can only offer something to without forcing them to take it.

Yet even that analogy is still not good enough because the one I seek to convert is a sacred mystery in themselves. The other has a spiritual life only God can reach. And it is filled with knots, webs, and caverns too deep for me to plunge into.

This reminds me of something Pope Francis said in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti:

Indeed, only the man who approaches others, not to draw them into his own life, but to help them become ever more fully themselves, can truly be called a father.

Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, Introduction

Where We Are

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I am pondering this in the middle of a cultural moment wherein a lot of people are walking around with sledgehammers. Some think it’s perfectly fine that cities burn and cops die if it means BLM will get its way. And others think senators should hang if Trump cannot be president.

I am not saying people should let go of their convictions, but what does that approach accomplish other than creating a few damaged properties and dead bodies? How badly did this backfire on those who employed it? More to the point, all of this seems like an attempt to rip those we disagree with from the dignity of their own free will.

No Games

We cannot play that game as Catholics – physically, emotionally or spiritually. We cannot force our morality, spirituality, or agenda on others. We cannot coerce, only convince. Even my own children will grow to make up their own minds. Where they will go I do not know.

And as for us Catholic missionaries, even as we seek to convince people, how our mass of words and actions somehow translate or don’t translate into someone seeing the beauty and truth of the faith we hold dear is a mystery beyond our understanding.

We can lament this. We can throw our hands up in the air at how “left” the nation is going or how this country used to be Christianized. We can long for the good old days and preach till we run out of breath. But however much we fuss about the world going to Hell, we have no control, and the weight of saving it is not ultimately on our shoulders.

All we can do is plant, water, and hope the sun will make it grow. All we can do is offer what we have and respect in every way the free will God gives each person to follow their own conscience.

Something tells me that’s a good thing.

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