Fielding Hot Potatoes: Don't Miss Opportunities to Evangelize

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Fielding Hot Potatoes

Fielding Hot Potatoes

The time:  A weekday morning

The place:  A parish church

The scene:  A young mother, holding her baby and leading several older children, is leaving the church after Mass. The mother’s name is Anne Marie.  As soon as she exits the church, Anne Marie is approached by a recently married young woman.

Young woman:  Excuse me, I just have to ask:  Are all those children yours?

Anne Marie (self-consciously): Yes.

Young woman: How wonderful!  You must be a saint.

Anne Marie (with a wry laugh):  A saint?  Talk to my older kids. They’ll set you straight on that one.

Young woman:  No, really.  I think you’re such an inspiration! How do you DO it all?

Anne Marie:  Well actually, I don’t.  I mean, you should see my house.  It’s completely trashed.

Young woman (a little crestfallen):  Well, anyway, it’s great that you get to Mass with your kids.  I hope that, when I have children, they’re as well-behaved in church as yours are.   I can see that you taught your kids well.

Anne Marie:  Not especially.  I just get them to the first Mass of the day, before they have a chance to get cranky. They have terrible afternoon meltdowns.

The young woman smiles hesitantly at Anne Marie, says goodbye, and slowly walks away.  

-Finis-

**********

Mothers, how many of you have been in a position similar to Anne Marie’s?  Perhaps a fellow parishioner was openly admiring of your perseverance in bringing your children to daily Mass, or a gentleman in a grocery store was favorably impressed by your children’s politeness. Maybe a neighbor has praised you for being the mother of young adults who are making a positive difference in the world.  Or another mother may even have said that it was your caring example that got her to thinking about having another child.

Most of us welcome positive comments like these.  They can motivate us in our daily work, affirm us in our vocation, increase our sense of self-worth, strengthen our resolve, clarify our goals, and remind us of our ultimate purpose.  Yet, we are often at a loss as to how to respond to them.  It may be because we feel undeserving of praise, or are afraid of coming across as self-righteous if we simply accept praise without first emphasizing our personal unworthiness.  One could say that words of affirmation are like hot potatoes:  warming and comforting, but hard to handle.

Because their vocation calls for frequent acts of self-denial, mothers are unaccustomed to thinking of themselves, and as a result, tend to be wholly inept at accepting praise.  Many of us behave as Anne Marie did, making excuses for the good that we do, or trying to convince the other person that we’re really no great shakes.  What we ought to be doing is following the example of St. Gerard Majella.

St. Gerard Majella

St. Gerard Majella

St. Gerard, a humble and holy Redemptorist brother, had a reputation for working miracles. One day a certain noblewoman, having heard of St. Gerard’s great sanctity, approached Gerard in church and begged him to help her sick daughter.  Gerard promised to pray for the girl, and a short time later, she was cured.  The noblewoman was overjoyed, and returned to the church to offer her fervent thanks to the saint whose prayers had miraculously saved her daughter’s life.  Gerard’s response?   He did not say, “Aw, shucks, curing her was no big deal. All she had was consumption.”  He did not say, “A miracle?  I don’t think so. Talk to my superiors; they should set you straight.”  He did not say, “Sure, I’m pretty good at obtaining miracles, but I’m not much of a housekeeper.  You should see my cell!”  He did not say, “Well, you picked a good time to stop in with your appeal, so I saved your daughter. I’m always happy to help after I’ve had my morning coffee.”   Instead, Gerard responded by simply pointing to the tabernacle.  It was God who had wrought the miracle, he said, and Gerard was nothing but the vehicle through which He had worked.

Although they may not realize it, all mothers are evangelizers.  Whenever and wherever we are with our children, we are silently evangelizing. We evangelize in every grocery aisle, in every church pew, at every Little League game.  We evangelize at the zoo, at the doctor’s office, at the playground.  And as evangelizers, we need to take a tip from St. Gerard.  Instead of writhing under the admiring gaze of those who compliment us, we should take the opportunity to direct their eyes towards the tabernacle.

St. Paul said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”   When others notice the good that we do, they are really beholding the Spirit at work in us.  Our task is to make them aware of that, and in so doing, give honor to the Source of all goodness.

And isn’t that what evangelism is all about?

***********

The time:  A weekday morning

The place:  A parish church

The scene:  A young mother, holding her baby and leading several older children, is leaving the church after Mass. The mother’s name is Anne Marie.  As soon as she exits the church, Anne Marie is approached by a recently married young woman.

Young woman:  Excuse me, I just have to ask:  Are all those children yours?

Anne Marie: Yes!

Young woman: How wonderful!  You must be a saint.

Anne Marie (with a laugh):  It’s a family project.  We’re all helping one another to become saints.

Young woman:  I think you’re such an inspiration! How do you DO it all?

Anne Marie:  With the grace of God.  He writes my to-do list and then He helps me get it done.

Young woman:  It’s great that you get to Mass with your kids.  I hope that, when I have children, they’re as well-behaved in church as yours are.   I can see that you taught your kids well.

Anne Marie:  Kids who understand what Mass is all about are naturally more attentive.  And since God is pleased when the little ones come to Him, I’m sure He’ll bless my efforts to get the kids to behave in church!

The young woman smiles at Anne Marie.  She has enjoyed their conversation, and says that she hopes to meet Anne Marie another day.  The woman waves to the children, and then, still smiling, walks away. She can hardly wait until she’s a mother!

-Finis-

Copyright 2012 Celeste Behe

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6 Comments

  1. Celeste – thank you for this awesome article – you’re absolutely correct in pointing us to the everyday opportunities to be a part of the New Evangelization! You’ve really opened my eyes with this – thanks!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Lisa! I used to look at the floor and shuffle my feet every time someone paid me a compliment. It took years, but it eventually dawned on me that I was wasting chances to evangelize. My favorite saint, St. Gerard, taught me that lesson!

  2. Great post! I think sometimes we try to show humility when we are complimented but as you point out, our response may inadvertently diminish our impact. We do need to learn how to accept compliments with grace always giving credit to God. As you point out so well, by graciously acknowledging the positive impact we may have in the world, while always giving credit to God, we remain humble and encourage others.

  3. Theresa Ceniccola on

    Thanks, Celeste. This is such an important reminder and it truly does take thought and practice to respond to compliments by giving credit to God. The other night my daughter was anxious or nervous and had trouble falling asleep…I told her to say some prayers and she tried but said “it didn’t work.” So I went in her room and sat with her while she calmed down. We didn’t speak but as I was leaving, she said “Thanks, mommy…I feel better now.” I could have just told her I loved her and left it at that. But instead, I took the opportunity to tell her that I had been praying for her the whole time and that “it does work.” Such a small thing but it speaks to exactly what St. Gerard teaches us. I have to be more aware of opportunities like this! Thank you.

  4. Pingback: Fielding Hot Potatoes: Don’t Miss Opportunities to Evangelize (Catholic Mom 2013)

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