Saturday, January 11, 2014

Changing the World One Diaper at a Time: Parenthood and the New Evangelization

On a cold, rainy Friday evening, I dropped off my kids, already in PJs, at the parish nursery. Then I headed down the hall to a diocesan young adult conference. The novelty of a young adult event offering free childcare was an unexpected and welcome gift. This was the first time I attended any kind of faith formation since my first child was born four years earlier.

I longed for the full retreat experience: quiet Adoration, uninterrupted journaling, new revelations, connecting with friends, chats with speakers...

But I only made it 30 minutes into the retreat before my cell phone buzzed: your child needs you.

For the remainder of the conference, I paced the parish hallway, holding my clingy two-year-old. We walked back and forth to muted proclamations leaking through the closed doors of the main conference room. I wanted to be in there, learning and networking.

Instead, I rocked my son, wondering about the big picture of God's work in the world: how can I join the New Evangelization of the church when my family seems to need me on-call 24-7?

By the end of the retreat, I snuck into the back of the conference room, toddler still in my arms. He reached over my shoulders and flicked the light switch, so I sat down. He squirmed from my lap to unsuccessfully yank at A/V cables.

"Outreach to our world starts in our city," declared the final speaker. "And outreach to our city starts in our neighborhood. And outreach in our neighborhood starts in our home. And outreach in our homes, to our families, starts with… ourselves."

I hadn't heard that before: The New Evangelization isn't rooted in shouting out truth to the world, but in opening myself to God's gentle work, inviting him past the fragile composure I hold together at Mass to offer the broken, often sharp, disillusioned pieces I hold within, and asking God to heal me. This is where outreach begins.

I thought joining the New Evangelization would mean talking with more people, being in more places, and tracking a whiteboard of more projects… But after a weekend retreat spent pacing church hallways with my child, I realized the distractions in my life that seemed to keep me from holier pursuits—a clingy baby, hyper preschooler, boring office job—are actually my own personal route to serve the world.

The patron saint of missionaries isn't a parish priest, an evangelist, a missionary who traveled farthest in the history of the Church, or even someone who traveled at all.

It's St. Therese of Lisieux, a sickly French girl who spent her few adult years cloistered in a convent, entrusted only with the most menial tasks of community. And yet, she prayed and loved through her work, and it changed the world. Today, October 1, is her feast day!

Wherever we are in life, whatever our daily work, may we find God and invite him in.

Lord, in every moment, be present. May the healing of the world begin in our own hearts, in our closest relationships, in our families.

Saint Therese, pray for us!

*Also published October 2021 at From His Heart. 


  1. I love you, Charlene! This is wonderful and spot on. As new members of our parish I keep getting the message that we need to sign up to volunteer for everything....but wait, I have a super-wiggly 4 yr old and a baby under 1 yr. I feel mad and guilty every time I go to mass. Not because of my kids but because of the pressure. I need to take it all with a bit of humor and let the Lord calm me down. So what. The pastor and parish leaders may not be happy with us now...but we (my 5 rambunctious kids, husband and I) are the Church and we're not leaving. Just give us a few years and little more sleep and we'll be really helpful.

  2. Oh Rosemary, you can add "and two huge across country moves" to your family's list! I was always impressed by how involved you were at MIC and MIS. If Maryland turns out to be just awful, please come back to Texas ;-)

  3. Charlene, I LOVE this piece, and it was definitely something I needed to read! I constantly find myself in a tug of war between what I have dubbed "the glamorous holy-looking things that I want to do" and "what God has actually given me" aka diapers, a perpetual pile of laundry, and a little family who needs my constant attention. It was so wonderfully affirming to read your perspective on this, and I think it's something a lot of parents need to hear.