From mouths of babies

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There are two methods of evangelization. One where you’re trying, and one where you’re living. Both can be valid and effective to varying degrees. Let’s focus on the second one for a moment. Children are experts, here. When you are very young, you don’t really care about offending people. You say what’s in your heart without any of the barriers that prevent adults from doing the same. The following story is an example of what can happen when you share your faith in all honesty and innocence.

I was always an—outspoken—child. I’m still a blunt adult, to a lesser extent. When I was about five years old, I was in kindergarten in a public school. A few quick facts about me: I am an immigrant, English is not my first language, and I grew up in a beautifully Catholic family, where Faith and life were intertwined. For me, at five, there was no difference between being Catholic and being alive.
There were many difficulties I encountered, that first year in the US. When, for example, I was told I couldn’t wear my mom’s wooden cross (my comfort object) to school because it might offend people. Yet I noticed the Jewish boy could wear his yarmulke, and the Muslim boy could have his prayer beads. I didn’t understand. Maybe I resented them a bit for it, or was jealous. My peers would use English against me on the playground, which didn’t help. They mocked me when I confused words, or had ‘English only’ games to exclude me. Some threw dirt and gravel at me if I tried to join. As a result, I developed a much closer bond with my teacher than with any of them. I remember trying to stay inside with him, rather than go play on the playground, things like that. I also had an assortment of crazy winter hats he’d tease me about, but that’s another story.
He was a kind man, and he’d ask me questions about what life was like at home and, knowing me, I’m sure I’d overshare without a qualm. Now, naptimes at this school were ridiculous. They expected us to sleep by putting our heads on the desk instead of laying down. I could never fall asleep. My teacher noticed this, and one day he asked me what I did that kept me quiet. I told him I talked to the Virgin Mary and prayed Hail Marys. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, honestly. I didn’t know he was a fallen away Catholic, and I wouldn’t have cared if I had known.
That year, for Halloween, I was either Raggedy-Anne or a cat, I can’t quite recall. But I do remember that my sister was Joan of Arc, and that I thought that was an infinitely cooler costume than mine. It gets a bit hazy here, because I can’t remember if I lied to my teacher and told him I’d been Joan of Arc, or if I just bragged about the costume. I think of him and his family every Halloween.
Later, when I was older, I learned that this was a turning point for him. Me being myself, showing him that life and faith aren’t separate, sparked curiosity. That curiosity brought him to church, and God did the rest. We only need to open a small door. We don’t need to push or prod or preach, although some people do seem to need that. Don’t hide what you’re living in your faith! Live it with pride and joy! Being Catholic means being joyful. Not cheerful, that’s different. We can’t always be cheerful. But joyfulness is a gift. It’s a warmth that stays constant if we choose to embrace it, and it can light fires of hope and of faith in other people of we don’t hide it. Five-year-old me could have sat on the playground and cried every day. Instead, I made a friend in an unlikely place, and through that God changed lives. Not only the teacher’s, but his family’s as well. Be filled with joy, and you will find that you fill others with the same. 

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