Four Gestures that Encouraged my Child in Church and One Sweet Reward
When was the last time you walked into a parish for mass without knowing anyone from the community? Did you feel welcomed by an usher at the door, or the friendly smile of the Eucharistic minister? Or did you feel anonymous, like a burden to the person you had to scoot past clumsily to get to the center of the pew, or ignored by your neighbors during the sign of peace?
Our family regularly visits new parishes, especially in the summertime. When school is out of session, we like to spend weekends adventuring and exploring new places that are within driving distance of our home in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. We often spend one night away from our home on Saturday evenings, and then make our way home on Sunday afternoons. We stop for mass wherever our exploring leads us.
1. Greet Everyone – Even the Tardy!
This weekend, we made a retreat our family’s little cottage in Cape May, New Jersey, and attended mass at a nearby church. As we scurried into the church three minutes before mass was to start, two ushers greeted us with huge smiles and held the door open for us. One said, “We’re glad you’re here.” I felt encouraged.
2. Smile at the Kiddos
Unfortunately, my five year-old, George, was not as quiet or as still in mass as I had hoped. In fact, he really had ants in his pants, and he could not refrain from asking all about what we were going to do at the beach the next day, or singing Christmas carols. Yes, fa-la-la-la-la in September. And flossing! I was afraid that the woman in front of us was going to get irritated. Instead, she just turned around on occasion, and smiled and winked at George.
3. Praise the Effort
When mass ended, an elderly gentleman walked up to George and said, “You were very good today. It must have been really hard to sit so still.” I prompted George to thank the man for his compliment. The man turned around, pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to George. It was a one dollar bill. He told George, “You should go buy yourself a little treat.” George was ecstatic!
4. Give Generously
As we waited in the back of the church for the end of the closing hymn (because I could not wrangle George in the pew any longer), the faithful shuffled past us, accepting bulletins from the ushers on their way on the door. As it happened, we were standing by the poor box, where elderly women dutifully slid their neatly folded one dollar bills into the slot in the front of the box. It certainly made me consider the widow’s mite from the Gospel. Always inquisitive, George and I shared a brief chat that the money in the poor box is given to people who need it. George nodded but resumed his dancing. He even attempted a handstand just out of my arm’s reach.
Your Hospitality Will Be Rewarded in Ways you Never Anticipated
Once we left the front door of the church, a light bulb went on for George, he said, “I know what I’m going to do with my dollar!” “What?” I asked. “I’m going to give it to the poor box. Do you have another dollar,” he asked. I told him that I did. He asked, “Well, can we put another dollar in the candle box and say a prayer for someone?” Sure.
So that is what we did. We worked our way upstream through the church narthex and back to the poor box. George folded his dollar and carefully placed it in the box. I handed him a new dollar, and he made his way to the candles, where he placed that dollar in the money slot and gingerly lit his candle.
I asked for whom we should pray, and he said, “For Aunt Pat. And for all the people of this church.” Of all the prayers that George could have said, he chose the Fatima Prayer . . . George style.
George’s Fatima Prayer
Oh my Jesus
Forgive us our sins.
Save us from the fires of health.
Lead all souls to heaven,
Especially those in most need of my mercy.
Amen, George. This reminded me that we never know how simple gestures of hospitality – a smile, a reward, a greeting at the door, a donation – will serve as encouragement or examples to someone else, and that our small gestures will be repaid in ways we will never know. My family felt welcomed by the greeter and the woman in front of us. The man who showed kindness to my antsy son has helped me consider how to be more generous. Beyond the immediate assistance to the poor, the women placing money in the poor box taught my son by example to share his reward and sparked a mindfulness of others. Going full circle, all of the people George encountered were lifted in prayer to a God who especially asks for the children to come to Him.
Thanks for the hospitality, Cape May. We’ll see you soon!