August 24, 2020 // Perspective

Caught, not taught

“Mom, you too slow. I do it.”

The almost 3-year-old began to say the Hail Mary, complete with a little head bow at the name Jesus and a profoundly loud “Amen!” at the end.

I stood there in stunned silence, and as I pulled the sheets up around her and gave her a kiss goodnight, I resisted the urge to say, “Where did you learn that?”

Walking back into the living room, I told my husband, “So, our kid knows the Hail Mary now.” He laughed and said, “Figured she’d pick up on it eventually.”

How much do our kids pick up on? How much do we all pick up on from each other?

I went to bed that night proud — proud of my child for learning a prayer, but weirdly also of my husband and myself for being the kind of people who have said the Hail Mary around our child enough times that she’s slowly picked up the words and committed it to memory.

It should be duly noted that when I asked her if she’d like to pray the next morning, she quickly told me that “prayer is just for bedtime.” Clearly, we still have a lot of work to do.

But this idea of picking up on things is far from limited to our homes with our children as they learn their prayers. In day-to-day living — at home, in places of work, walking through the grocery store, pulling in and out of a parking lot — what are we accidentally yet somehow very purposefully showing (and teaching) one another?

What witness are we giving and why are we giving it? Have we realized we’re giving witness to something, to someone? And, if we do come to realize that our very lives are testaments and testimonies to what we believe, why is it sometimes so hard to give that witness authentically, joyfully and without reservation?

We’re not necessarily called to walk into the middle of Walmart, catechism and Bible in hand, and stand up on top of the checkout counter and shout, “Repent and submit to the pope and believe in the Gospel!” (Or you could try that. Let me know how it goes).

But we are called to somehow articulate that we are Christians in love with the Lord to the people we encounter in that Walmart. Maybe not by handing them a rosary and teaching them how to pray the Hail Mary but perhaps by offering a helpful hand, a gentle smile, maybe a simple good morning.

It’s almost silly. “Saying hello makes me a Christian witness!” But more and more, it feels like that “hello” is a thing of the past, a mark of a time when civility, kindness, even charity were the virtues of the day.

Now we judge people before we’ve even spoken to them or placed someone in a box based on what we’ve seen them post on social media — partitioning our lives into “people I want to love” and “people I have to tolerate,” rather than “people in whom I get to see the face of Jesus Christ.”

If we only recognized that every person we encounter, whether friend, foe or perfect stranger, is someone to whom we can give a witness to the joy of Jesus, to a faith that transforms, and to a Church that is home.

Who would we be if we knew that our faith is not taught so much as caught, and how would we act if we truly believed that our life was a walking, talking, breathing vision and version of the Gospel?

My toddler learned her Hail Mary because we have prayed it every night for three years. Eventually, by “Catholic osmosis,” she knew the words and even the gestures of the prayer.

What will the people you see, meet, talk to, work and live with learn from you, a Christian, who loves Jesus and shares Him with the world?

Katie Prejean McGrady is an international Catholic speaker and author.

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