Yes, you read that headline correctly. This post is about how to evangelize our infant children. It sounds kind of ridiculous doesn't it? That's because most of us have developed a limited understanding of what evangelizing really is.
It would seem that evangelization is all about convincing other people to believe what we believe. The people we should evangelize are the people who don't know God and would benefit from believing what we believe, right?
Most of us overlook the full scope of evangelization because we confuse evangelization with only catechesis. Catechesis is a part of evangelization, but only one part and it includes activities that are meant to be done with people who have already committed themselves to the Lord as his disciples.
What comes before catechesis? In order to really benefit from catechesis (that is, the activities that help us to grow in intimacy and communion with God) we need to actually encounter the living God in our lives. We need to experience the loving presence of Christ before we can believe what he taught (because he taught us to carry our own cross).
Jesus showed us the way to evangelize and teaching was only one part of it. Matthew describes Jesus' ministry in this way:
"Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness." (Matthew 4:23)
Likewise, we are called to do the same in the way we minister to and evangelize all people including our children. We heal, proclaim, and then teach.
To be more specific, Jesus:
- healed the marginalized,
- proclaimed God's sacrificial love (the good news) to the crowds,
- and taught his disciples.
Okay, back to infants . . .
The funny thing is about infants is that they tend to evangelize us!
When babies are born, they are completely dependent upon their parents and, therefore, love their parents unconditionally. That kind of love is hard not to return with love back. From the moment they are born, we feel compelled to love and serve them. We commit ourselves to a life of self-sacrifice losing countless hours of sleep, spending unreasonable amounts of money on diapers, and reading book after book of how to raise great kids. Often, they teach us to pray because we become so desperate for help, we have no where else to turn to for help but God himself.
Infants evangelize us because they teach us how to love by loving us unconditionally.
How, though, do we evangelize babies?
Well, it starts with baptism. While our children may not feel marginalized or excluded like the lepers or blind men that Jesus healed, like Jesus did with them, we welcome our children into a loving community: the Church. Through baptism, our children are not just cleansed of sin, they are baptized into the Church and born into a new life with a new community that vows to support them.
This is why the priest says, just before making the sign of the cross on the child's forehead, "the Christian community welcomes you with great joy!"
As parents, in order to "heal" our children of the wounds of sin and separation, we must always welcome them and accept them and make them feel loved. For infants, this means doing what is best for them to show that they are loved by their parents, their family, our friends, and their Church.
At baptism, we also commit as parents to "train [the child] in the practice of the faith" taking on the duty of helping them "keep God's commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor."
This is where the work of proclaiming and teaching comes in.
We proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to our children by leading by example. First, we follow God's commandments not out of obligation but out of a love for him who gave his life for us and a love for our neighbors who he died to save as well. We show our children how to live the life of the gospel by humbly sacrificing for others showing our children when it means to be a Christian. We do this because Christ showed us how to follow his commandments: we have to love as he loved. How did he love us? He died on the cross. Likewise, this is how we should teach our children to love: sacrifice everything we can for them, for our spouse, for our families, and for everyone else in need.
While we may not be able to teach infants with our words, we can teach them through our actions and displays of love. If God is love, we can teach even babies to recognize God in the love that we share for them.
Babies are incredibly inquisitive and constantly learning. When they are not eating, sleep, or filling their diapers, they are learning. They are learning how to be a human being and learning, if we are willing to show them, what true love means. Love is about more than smiles and goofy faces (though kids love laughing at you). Love is about that middle-of-the-night decision to wake up, change a diaper, and feed your little loved one.
Want to learn more about this heal, proclaim, and teach approach to evangelization? That is the topic of my next book. You can sign up for more details here.
Copyright 2014, Jared Dees
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