Saturday, January 11, 2014

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

This past fall, my diocese hosted a young adult retreat that offered childcare. 

To put that in perspective, imagine if Starbucks offered car washes in their drive-thru. It's an unexpected and welcome indulgence. I've thought about starting a childcare program at church, but to be honest, the thought of being around more kids than my own is kind of exhausting.

If my transition experience from young adult ministry to marriage and family life were a NASCAR race, I pulled into pit row for a tire change years ago and still haven't made it back on the track. 

It's frustrating to feel like I'm missing out.

There is a New Evangelization taking place, and I AM STUCK ON THE SIDELINES!

I so badly want to be a part of the transformation of parishes from within, a passionate next generation of Catholics who won't be conservative or liberal or Catholic lite or Catholic Taliban, and the conversion of entire parishes.

I want to join the think groups at the heart of program and event planning and to build up the small groups of life sharing within a parish. But I can't even make it to our parish's weekly moms' group more than, well, so far my record is three times a year.

[I can't even make it to our parish's weekly moms' group more than, well, so far my record is three times a year.]

So on a cold, rainy Friday evening, I dropped off my kids -- already in PJs -- at the nursery, printed "Charlene" neatly on a nametag, and headed down the hall to the conference. I anticipated a full spiritual immersion, journaling in nature, new revelations, new friends, chats with speakers... 

I made it 30 minutes before my cell phone buzzed: your child needs you.

The rest of the weekend was spent pacing the parish hallway, holding my clingy two-year-old who would sooner succumb to repeat asthma panic attacks than play with his brother, new toys, and nice volunteers in the nursery.

I kept overhearing inspirational proclamations from the conference room and wanted to be in there, learning and networking. 

Instead, I paced with Josh in the church hallway, wondering about the big picture of God's work in the world: how can I be a part of all this, when my family seems to need me on-call and mostly in-person 24-7?

Ennie Hickman was one of the last speakers of the retreat. I was sitting cross-legged against the back wall of the gym, with ears on the speaker and eyes on Josh, who had just discovered the A/V cables. (I had been standing with him in my arms until he reached over my shoulder and found the light switches.)

Ennie said, "Outreach to our world starts in our city. What is your city?"

He scaled down from world to country to state to Metroplex to town to neighborhood to home to family to marriage to self, and then he stopped. 

The whole New Evangelization is rooted not in shouting out to the world, but in letting God in to change me, just me: letting God past the prettiness I pull together for Mass each week to see the broken, sharp, disillusioned pieces within.

I've been a little distracted the past four years. If I'm home, there's a toddler clinched to my leg (or in my arms, if the leg pull was successful), and if I'm at work, files are sorting to their alphanumeric homes while I wonder what my kids are doing at my home, and all of it, always, with a constant sense that I'm missing out on greater things God is doing in the world. Did I take a wrong turn somewhere?

I thought joining the movement of New Evangelization in my Church would mean a commitment to being more places, talking with more people, a line up of more babysitters, and a whiteboard of more projects. 

But after a weekend of pacing halls with my little one, I realized that all of my distractions from the holier things in life -- hyper toddler, menial office job, and clingy babies -- are actually a personally prescribed path to holiness. Of course it looks different from what everyone else is doing. That's how God works

Rescuing worms from the sidewalk after it rains: #784 in things to do instead of drinking delicious coffee and talking with people about deep spiritual things

Fifteen years ago, on World Mission Sunday, the Church named the Patron Saint of Missionaries as a new Doctor of the Church. Surprising to many (including me), this wasn't a parish priest, an evangelist, the missionary who had traveled the farthest in the history of the Church, or even someone who had traveled at all. 

The Co-Patron of Missionaries is a sickly obscure French girl who spent her few years cloistered in a convent, entrusted only with the most menial tasks of community (dishes, cleaning, and cooking -- sound familiar?).

My little insane asylum of life is actually compiled and gifted by a God who's more concerned with making me holy than me making the world holy. And just maybe, if I can get over all the comparing and complaining and questioning, one will actually lead to the other.


  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.