I had an epiphany in church today. So for years, I've had this giant "check list" of the acts of mercy. Everytime, I heard that "what you did for the least of them, you did for me" reading--I'd think "Oh man! I haven't visited anyone in prison lately!"
This was how ridiculous I was. I thought I had to go enter some prison ministry program, in order to get Jesus to like me.
Here's what I think now happens. Jesus writes those acts of mercy directly into our heart!
I might not get that many.
Here's the one that I did get in spades "I was a stranger and you welcomed me."
I'm on the church's welcoming committee. It doesn't matter that I don't have an official name tag. Everything that I do, hospitality, getting pregnant, greeting new priests and seminarians, teaching Vacation Bible School, smiling at new folks in church--that's my unique mission to "welcome strangers."
I have wasted so much time and energy trying to get other people onto my program. "Young kids should be in church", etc. Truly, it doesn't matter what anyone else does. In fact, they might not have that same grace to drag their often screaming two year old into Daily Mass. But I can smile at strangers--if they are toddlers or 94 year old men.
So here is what happened today. I knelt down in the back of church with 15 kids ready to launch our first ever children's choir, when a Dad with a screaming toddler tried to climb over me on the way out of the door. He collided with a microphone, which I so felt in my heart. (I've so often been there and done that).
After the song, I had my eye on the little girl. She was being two and refusing to sit in the pew. Instead, she played hopscotch in the aisle. I looked down the line and realized their was no Mom. Then I really felt bad. (My kids often act up in church and the only thing that gets me through is winks from my husband. Solo parents in church have it so much harder).
Something in my heart told me to help. I asked my friend if she had a pen. Then I scooped up Baby Abigail, jumped up some pews, knelt down in the aisle, and started smiling at the little girl. I intended to hand the girl a pen and some paper because I often keep my two old daughter silent and still while drawing. This two year old just stared at me. We were strangers. It's in the middle of Mass, so I can't talk to her. I took out the pen and started drawing for her. She looked at me like she's never held a pen before. (Which is probably true, since normal people don't let 2 year olds draw in pen and ink). So I drew a woman and some rainbows.
Then the little girl said "What's that?" pointing to Baby Abigail.
"That's my baby," I answered. We talked about the smiling baby for a while. I pointed to Jesus in the manger next to her and said "See baby--baby!" We had a nice moment. Then the Consecration was done. I figured the super important quiet part of Mass was finished, so I went back to my seat.
The entire time I was kneeling there, talking to the little girl, I had this voice in my head "This isn't how we do this!" I wasn't supposed to get out of my seat, kneel on the floor and help entertain a strangers child. I was supposed to sit in my pew and sent a few indulging smiles. At the same time I thought, "Wow this is so easy! I wish someone had done this for us." Instead of massive lectures about the appropriate behavior expected at Mass, I wish a more experienced, kind parent had come up and drawn some stick figures on a piece of scrap paper for my kid --in the moment that I was having trouble. No judgement, just help--welcoming the stranger to Mass that was my little puddle of 2 year old energy.
After Mass, I went up to cute toddler's father and introduced myself. We started talking and in the crazy way of Jesus-one second we're talking about the coincidence that this toddler shares the same name that the baby getting baptized --and then I find out that this toddler isn't baptized and this is the Dad's second time back at Mass in over 10 years!
The man needed a welcome!
It is so beautiful to realize that Church is not abstract. It's not "oh the Church welcomes sheep back into the fold." But a specific act--Mommy Mary will send her daughter Abigail to personally greet a Father trying to bring a wiggly toddler to Mass for the second time.
I don't know if this Father will come back.
I do know, that he's a heck of a lot more likely to come back after his little girl had a rockin' time hanging out with my four daughters in the back of a church pew and after I took the time to learn his name and assure him of my prayers.
My name is Abigail Benjamin. I am door greeter for the Catholic Church.