Converting the Little Heathens: Evangelization at Home
"Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Mt 28: 19-2
What comes to mind when you hear the word evangelism? Who are you called to evangelize? I posed these questions to my Instagram followers the other day and received some great answers. Most of them spoke of conversion, preaching the Gospel, the Holy Spirit, etc. As to whom we ought to evangelize, responses ranged from “those closest to me,” to “everyone I come into contact with,” but for the most part they focused on non-Catholics and in general those who had not heard or not yet responded to God’s call. And while all of this is true and good, I want to propose to parents that your primary subjects for evangelization are not a general “everyone,” but a very specific group: your children.
We sometimes forget to think of our children as subjects to serve and with whom to share God’s Word not because we don’t do those things, but simply because we are so used to doing them. We’re a lot more likely to remember that feeding the hungry is a corporal work of mercy when we give food to a homeless person than when we make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for our kids’ lunch. Yet our children really are “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). This is true not only of service but also of evangelization.
Evangelization is the work of making God’s kingdom and message of Salvation known and loved (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 7-10). This is often spoken of in the context of conversion either in our own country or abroad, but less frequently in the context of a practicing Catholic home. If the whole family is already Catholic*, are we not called to teach rather than to convert? Consider, though, that children are not born Catholic. That’s why they need Baptism. We parents are the ones who introduce the little heathens to the Faith for the first time.
Not only for the first time, but time and time again. Pope Saint John Paul II described three types of evangelization: to those cultures and peoples who do not yet know the Faith, to those who have fallen away, and the ongoing work of solidifying it in those who already are faithful (Redemptoris Missio, 33). In that third type lies the bulk of our lives' work as parents.
It’s also important to remember that part of evangelizing is making God’s kingdom loved. It is not enough to simply impart the knowledge of the Faith; we must impress it upon the heart. Conversion is rarely just an immediate turning point, but rather a process. Due to the ever changing nature of children’s intelligence and comprehension level, this is especially true for them. I encourage you to think of your children not simply as needing to be taught the faith, but as actually requiring conversion. You, the parent and evangelist, are the primary instrument for this work that can only fully be accomplished by the Holy Spirit.
To further this end, we must make sure the Faith is a prominent and pleasing part of our families’ lives. Sacred images and objects serve as a constant reminder of the beauty and truth of the faith. Catholic toys and books impart a positive association with religion and recognition that the Faith is in all parts of life. Setting an example of living a joyful, loving, virtuous life helps children recognize the desirability of living the truth. To really evangelize our children, our family lives must be saturated in the Faith.
This blog, website, and store are dedicated to helping families to do that: saturate their lives in the Catholic faith. I especially plan to focus on ways to increase the presence of Catholicism in your home without trying to add extra activities to your already busy schedule. Please sign up for my newsletter for more inspiration!
*I know not everyone’s family is all Catholic, and your situation may be different than I’m talking about here. But since this is my experience, it’s what I can speak to.