Engaging the Culture: The Revolution is Underway

Editor’s note: Today we welcome Celeste Behe to the New Evangelizers blogging team!

I’m fascinated by words:  their origins, meanings, and sounds.  I especially like to think about whether the sound of a given word suits its definition.

Take the word “engage.”  To my ear, it has a metallic ring.  Maybe that’s because its sound is similar to that of the word “cage,” a sturdy steel enclosure that might confine an exotic bird, and “gauge,” a standard of measurement for lovely soft metals like gold and silver.

The word’s hard “g” sound also gives it an icy edge that makes me think of a diamond. (Specifically, a large, pear-shaped diamond flanked by baguettes and set in white gold with a Florentine finish. But I digress.)

It’s no wonder, then, that the definition of “engage” that springs to my mind – the “promise to marry” – involves precious metals and diamonds.  A man “engages” his beloved with a diamond ring and a pledge.

Now a soldier hearing the word “engage” might also think of things metallic, but those things would likely be weapons of combat.  To him, a “cage” might confine a prisoner of war; a “gauge” would mean the diameter of a gun barrel.  Since the very duty of a soldier is to “engage” the enemy in order to keep him from gaining ground, it’s likely that diamond rings and earnest pledges would have no place in a soldier’s definition of the word.

As Catholics, we are called to “engage the culture.”  The question is, are we to answer that call from the standpoint of a lover… or of a soldier?

If I’d been asked that question some years ago, I would probably have replied by hiking up my fatigues and spit-shining my carbine.  At the time, our family didn’t own a television, and the reception on our radio was so poor that I didn’t have to worry about the actual effects of rock music, only the risk of ear strain to kids trying to hear Alien Ant Farm through the static.  The home computer’s spotty internet was for the exclusive use of Mom and Dad, and even they didn’t want to get involved with anything having a creepy URL like www.facebook.com.   (It sounded like a compilation of mug shots.)  Eminem was just the phonetically spelled name of a chocolate candy, and if someone with “Slim Shady” on his iPod were caught loitering on the doorstep of my domestic church, I’d blow him away.

My enemy was the contemporary culture, and my mission was to keep it from encroaching on the home front.

It took years, but I eventually came to realize that I was out on the wrong mission.  

According to Francis Cardinal George, “Our culture is as much in us as we are in it.”   In his book The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion, and Culture, the cardinal points out that the first step in engaging the culture is to “take responsibility for the culture to be evangelized.”

What this means is that a Catholic should not reject the culture, but rather, embrace it while seeking to understand it and, ultimately, imbue it with the message of Jesus Christ.

To embrace.  To understand.  To fill with the love of Christ.

These are not normally the objectives of a camo-clad infantryman – er, infantrymom – even if she is from R.C. Company.  Rather, they are the aspirations of someone who, like a sincere lover, seeks to “bring out the best” in another.

Engaging the culture with the aim of transforming it requires that we recognize its positive aspects as well as its flaws.

And isn’t that what a lover does?  He sees the good in his beloved and nurtures it, while admitting of her imperfections.  Likewise, Catholics are called to foster the goodness in our culture, and to not only acknowledge our culture’s evils, but overcome them with the love of Christ.

Indeed, “a program for evangelizing American culture,” says Francis Cardinal George “…begins, continues, and ends with love.”

It may be hard to imagine a revolution beginning around the hearth of the home.

But the evangelization of our culture calls for nothing short of a revolution, a quiet revolution of love that will supplant the forces of death with the Gospel message.

And where else should such a revolution begin other than within the family, where love is first cultivated?

Yes, I’ve come to modify my definition of the word “engage.”  My mission is no longer to keep the culture away from my kids, but to teach my kids how to engage the culture.

I’ve consigned my fatigues and combat boots, and I’ve put my carbine way at the back of my “junk closet,” behind the shoebox that holds a secret stash of M&M’s.

The revolution is underway.

Copyright © 2012, Celeste Behe

Celeste Behe

Celeste Behe

Celeste Behe is a storyteller and sometime humorist who, according to one book author, "writes like Garrison Keillor would, if he were Catholic and had nine kids." She is also a contributor to Faith & Family magazine, the National Catholic Register, and the Integrated Catholic Life, and she blogs at A Perpetual Jubilee. As a designated Toastmaster, Celeste entertains audiences with both nostalgic tales of her childhood in the Bronx, and modern-day tales of adventure that could only be told by the mother of nine. Celeste's memoir--cum-cookbook, Nine Kids, No Dishwasher: A Celebration of Life, Love, and Table, is a work in progress.

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