My two-year-old daughter preached the Gospel to my parish with two simple words, "Look, Daddy!"
This evening we participated in a program at our parish called Generations In Faith Together (GIFT). It is an opportunity for parishioners of all ages to gather, share a meal, and grow in faith as a community.
This evening's topic was on preaching the Gospel. For one portion of the evening, the children had a separate session from the adults. While the adults were reminded that each of us is called to preach the Gospel by virtue of our Baptism and were instructed on how we might preach more effectively, the children listened to this Sunday's Gospel, reflected on the Gospel by drawing pictures, and prepared a homily together based on the Gospel. Since there were not enough toddlers to warrant a babysitter in the nursery, my two-year-old daughter accompanied her older sister to the children's session.
When they shared this Sunday's Gospel with the children, my daughter may not have been able to imagine how John the Baptist may have looked clothed in camel hair with a leather belt around his waist and she may have had no idea what locusts are, but she did understand one essential aspect of the Gospel and she preached it loud and clear when the children rejoined the adults.
The kids came back to the hall where the adults were gathered to proclaim the Gospel and share their homily. While the children were quietly standing in a line on the stage, my daughter looked out into the crowd and spotted me standing with the baby in the back of the room. "Look, Daddy!" she screamed across the room! She jumped off the stage and sprinted between the tables through the room to where I was standing, proudly holding her picture high in the air and smiling so exuberantly you could see her joy from a mile away. She could not wait one second longer to direct me to look toward that which gave her joy!
Her picture was not profound, she still does little more than scribble. Her words were not eloquent, she still rarely uses more than a few words in a sentence. But she understood a fundamental truth of the Gospel: when you are filled with joy you have to share the reason for your joy! She was so excited the excitement was literally busting out of her. This is at the heart of this Sunday's Gospel. John the Baptist who had leapt for joy in his mother's womb when Jesus had drawn near couldn't contain himself. The Gospel burst out of him and people came from all around captivated by his enthusiasm.
Each of us is called to preach the Gospel with as much joy and enthusiasm as a toddler who cannot wait to share her excitement. Pope Francis explained "an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that 'delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ'" (Evangelii Gaudium 10). Children share their joy naturally, but somewhere along the line we learn to suppress it, to hold back, to censor ourselves. We all can learn from a toddler how to more freely share our joy with those around us. The Christmas season presents us with even more opportunities than usual. Even many secular radios will be playing songs about the Lord who has come to bring joy to the world. The season will present us with a myriad of chances to share with others the reason for our joy this season.
As my daughter sprinted between the parishioners seated in the room, she also demonstrated what the GIFT program is all about. It is not only an opportunity for parishioners to learn about the faith from teachers at the front of the room. It is an opportunity for members of the church of all ages to share their faith with one another, for the young to learn from the old and the old to learn from the young. The GIFT program is a great opportunity for generations to share their faith within the parish church, and this exchange between the generations should happen every day in our domestic churches. Sometimes it means the Gospel is preached to the entire parish by a two-year-old!