The evangelical force hiding in plain sight
For decades, Catholics have been working to evangelize neighbors and the broader culture. Unfortunately, we have limited what evangelization means to a very narrow skill set, namely, apologetics. Shortly after publishing my book, Nudging Conversions: Bringing Those You Love Back to the Church, I spoke with a friend about her lukewarm husband. “If only I could find the right argument,” she said to me. So many of us tend to think this way – that evangelization is merely an argument to be won. This was my thinking for years and a motivation behind my doctorate in philosophy. I was rudely awakened by the realization that we truly live in a post-logical, post-rational culture, and even the most perfectly argued points will often miss their intended mark.
Shifting gears, I’ve spent years trying to get to what really works. More than anything, evangelization boils down to relationships. Successful business owners know this, and business book after business book points to the fact that it isn’t intelligence that makes success, but good people edified by good relationships.
As a result of the emphasis of apologetics over relationships, as Catholics, we have overlooked a most promising source of evangelization: women. Women have an incredible capacity to form relationships and to share their faith. Historically, the Church is dotted with Margarets, Theresas, Catherines, Monicas, and Bridgets, who have passed their faith on to their families and neighbors. Moreover, women are the very soil of every civilization. We have to ask how we have been cultivating them.
As I explore in my book, The Anti-Mary Exposed, our culture has embraced decadence largely because of the overwhelming influence magazines, daytime television, Hollywood, and pop music have had upon all women. We don’t notice it because it seems normal, but the corruption of our culture wasn’t because women were reading Marx and Margaret Sanger, but because they were reading Cosmo and Vogue while listening to Madonna and Beyoncé. These are the kinds of sources that have led to our post-logical culture.
By contrast, there are organizations for Catholic women, but they pale in comparison to the tsunami of secular information that paints the pro-choice woman as stylish, smart, and happy, while Catholic women are frequently depicted as out-of-touch, poorly educated, and door-matty. Far too many have bought into this narrative.
Truly supporting and cultivating healthy Catholic women needs to become a priority, with the reminder that simply by living and sharing the faith, WE are evangelizing. We need to go on the offense instead of always feeling like we are merely defending the faith. We need to know that our homes, our families, our warmth, and compassion are gifts to the culture and that they are beautiful, compelling, and vitally important. How much easier it is to share the faith when we realize it isn’t something to be hidden or ashamed of, but an incredible gift to be shared.
This was the approach I took with my co-authors, Noelle Mering and Legate Megan Schrieber, in our book, Theology of Home. Women love the visual, coupled with engaging content, as evidenced by the still-robust print magazine industry. Historically, there has been no greater patron of the arts than the Church. Additionally, years of philosophy and theology ensure that we can answer the questions of why and not just how to live and love. We would love to see more projects like this proliferate to truly give women alternatives beyond the checkout stand.
Catholic women can do the important and rich work of evangelizing; we just need to be reminded that it isn’t what we think it is, and we aren’t who they say we are.
CARRIE GRESS has a doctorate in philosophy from The Catholic University of America. She is the author of seven books, including her most recent, The Anti-Mary Exposed and Theology of Home. Carrie is also the editor of the online women’s magazine, TheologyofHome.com. Expecting her fifth child, Carrie and her family live in Virginia.