Husband & Wife Articles


Catholics Only?

By protecting our kids from the culture we may fail to evangelize

By Sabrina Arena Ferrisi

A few years ago, I had a picnic lunch with a few Catholic girlfriends. As we watched our children playing, one of them mentioned that she only wanted her children to hang out with the children of other families “with our values.”

I thought about this for a few seconds then asked her, “But if all of us only hang out with families that think like us – how can we be apostolic? How can we evangelize?”

She looked at me, a little stunned, and said, “Well, that’s not important to me.”

That phrase has knocked around my brain for years. I understand her point: no parent who is serious about the faith wants their children to hang out with children who may be a bad influence or lead them away from the Catholic faith. But there is something amiss about an attitude which completely shuts the door to any person who is not a devout Catholic.

If all new parents with the best Catholic formation decided to associate only with one another for the next 20 years – until their children entered college – that would be 20 years of missed apostolic opportunities. Ironically, through a severe attempt to preserve their faith they would be neglecting one of its basic tenets – evangelization. The Apostles did not live that way, and neither did the saints.

When I look back on the past two papacies, both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the New Evangelization all the time. It was so important to Benedict XVI that he even created a new pontifical council at the Vatican dedicated solely to the New Evangelization.

Pope Francis gave an address four days before his election, in which he described the fundamental illness within the Church as “ecclesiastical narcissism.”

“When the Church does not come out of itself to evangelize,” he said, “it becomes self-referential and then gets sick.”

In the 2010 book-length interview El Jesuita, then Cardinal Bergoglio said, “It’s key that we Catholics, both clergy and laity, go out to meet the people….not only because her mission is to announce the Gospel, but because failing to do so harms us….A Church that limits herself to parish work, that lives enclosed within a community, experiences what someone in prison does: physical and mental atrophy.”

The odd thing is that, on the one hand, the folks who want to stick to their own herds are the devout Catholics who send their children to Catholic schools or homeschool. Yet these are also the same folks who often have the most Catholic formation and the most developed spirituality. Who is left to do the evangelization that our popes are begging us to partake in? Our clergy? If there is one point that Vatican II made clear it was that all of us – clergy and laity – are called to sanctity and evangelization. All of us are called to be apostles.

When I look at the last 13 years of my married life – and the friends my husband and I have made – I see that some of our best friends are not Catholic. This is not to say we wouldn’t like them to be. Some of them are simply college friends who are wonderful people. Some are spouses of Catholics we know, who sometimes exhibit more virtue than the Catholic spouse.

Do we bring up God in our conversations with these non-Catholics? Not enough. It’s so easy to be polite – to talk about safe issues: the weather, the kids, the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. That’s a failing on our part.

In Matthew Kelly’s book The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, he makes the point that evangelization has to be intentional. It doesn’t just happen. We have to do it on purpose and be a little bit more courageous. The vast majority of Catholics do not engage in evangelization, but we must if we want to build a dynamic spirituality. Ways to do it include: giving good books or CDs as gifts, inviting people to Catholic events, bringing up a “godly” perspective in casual conversations, learning Catholic teachings on difficult issues and articulating them when the Church is attacked, answering people’s questions about the faith. The most important one is: demonstrating God’s love through generous and authentic friendship.

When Pope John Paul II was a little boy, he was friends with a Jewish boy named Jerzy Kluger. Little Karol’s parents never forbade this friendship. Karol would grow to be the goalie for his hometown’s Jewish soccer team. As adults, Kluger lived in Rome and helped Pope John Paul II work to establish diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel. All of this happened through a friendship between two people from two different herds. Imagine the lives we can touch by daring to be Catholic outside of our comfortable Catholic circle.

Sabrina Arena Ferrisi is senior writer for Legatus magazine.