Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
We cannot “keep” our children in the faith. We can do all the right things and still, they might drift or run away. You can do everything and still, free will taps into the equation.
After all, God created Eden. He gave his first children everything and still, they rejected a relationship in favor of their own opinions.
There isn't a formula. You just care for them, you love them, you sacrifice for them, you witness to them, and you hope more of it sinks in than they admit. Other than that, you have to hope and pray and fast against the age.
We're called to evangelize ad gentes, which means, “to the nations,” and is a term used in Vatican documents, as part of an address or decree. But we cannot guarantee results. We are, as Saint Bernadette said, “to inform, not convince.” We still have that free will, which means that we’re always invited to the table.
So how do we thaw the ground to plant the seeds?
The media dubbed the young adults of this age, “Nones.” Nones are people who belong to no community, no faith tradition, even if they’ve grown up in one. It seems to be that for the newly minted agnostic in all but name, the No. 1 common denominator is a deliberate indifference to the divine — sort of an “I don't know if God is, and I’m not about to find out” boredom with all things beyond the present. The None is a soul committed to being uncommitted and deliberately unquestioning. Because they still are, because grace is still possible, they are like seeds sleeping.
To extend the metaphor, it is winter. Snow and ice cover the ground. We need to begin the thaw.
Our age is soaked in relativism. Everyone believes there is no truth and no one is swayed by the irony of the phrase “there is no truth” being professed as a truth. They do not see beauty as anything but aesthetics. Love is not sacrificial — or if it is sacrificial, it is too costly to seek or sustain. They do not see marriage as anything but a personal choice, and children are burdens, consumers of time and energy and effort. All sacrifices are merely preferences; they hold no weight. And miracles? There are none. Witnesses? Well, that’s just proof of your preferences. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference, and to me, indifference is the hallmark of the None, the soul committed to not encountering God.
Most people aren’t converted by argument. Most people aren’t evangelized by scripture quotations or sermons. Most people go deeper and deeper into their faith as a result of an encounter, and if you ask them about that experience, it’s a story. A story isn’t sensation or feelings. We can’t share someone’s feelings, these are that person’s feelings. We can’t know someone else’s awe of God because it is merely stated, “I am in awe of God.” We can’t even appreciate being overwhelmed with God’s grace or mercy or forgiveness unless we know the why of that experience.
It seemed to me that this is the problem with most instruction about the faith. It is about the business of the faith, not an encounter. How, not who. Which brings up the question of how you introduce Jesus to people who do not know him. I know how it isn’t done. Walking up to someone and saying, “Do you know Jesus?” is like walking up to someone and saying, “Will you be my friend?” No one wants to answer yes, even if they might think “yes” in reality.
To give you a better sense of what I mean, I could tell you my son has Down syndrome. He is often the means by which God lets me know how to love my children. Saying that doesn’t really convey anything that doesn't sound like a cliché. Telling you that “he brings his family closer to each other” may be true, but that statement doesn’t move hearts. I have to bring you into the story, to bring about the revelation.
Taking my son to the ocean, he filled his pockets with shells. Next he dug and flung sand on all of us. His joy at digging overwhelmed even his oldest sister’s cynicism, and she helped him dig out a fort. Covered from head to toe in sand, he tackled his brothers to take him into the water. For the next hour, they held his hands and helped him jump the waves. When they wouldn’t jump, he'd tell them, “Come on guys!’ They jumped until their shins grew sore.
We hadn’t planned to spend the whole afternoon digging and jumping waves. Some wanted to go for ice cream, one for a jog. Three hoped to return to the cabin and play computer games, and we had a pool waiting for us. Nine children ranging in age from 6 to 24 scrambled to build a massive fort big enough to withstand the first few waves of high tide. Paul had caught most of us in his play. However he wasn’t satisfied with having 90% of his family with him, and began to search for the one sister who went jogging instead of coming to the beach, calling out her name.
His calling for her reminded me of when we serve dinner. He always wants everyone to come to the table, and won’t sit himself until everyone is seated. His desire for everyone to be there mirrors my own. I always want everyone home. I always want everyone at the table, everyone involved.
I cannot gather all my children as I once could. Many of them are adults. But my son has no problem going to taking any of his siblings by the hand and leading them to the beach or to the table. He isn’t about to be deterred by age or opinions. He simply wants them present. His simple desire for their company often brings them along. Sometimes, he calls and they come. Sometimes, when they don’t come, he seeks them out. All I can think is, “And a little child shall lead them” — and who knows, he might. He isn't interested in how they get to the table. He's interested in who’s at the table, and he wants them all. It isn’t full or complete or home without them.
Who, not how. He is warm, and he invites constantly, and not always with words. He trusts the invitation to do the work.
That's how we thaw — not always with words, but always inviting.