For the past two days, I’ve paid tribute to two priests who greatly influenced my early journey as a Catholic. Both were warm and welcoming, each of them treating me like a daughter — despite the fact that they each of them were pastors of large parishes, with thousands of other souls entrusted to their care.
Soon after Craig and I received our children on our first foster-care assignment, we decided to start going to church at another parish. It was much closer to our home, and had a mother’s program — something I was in desperate need of, given that I had become a mother to three children overnight.
Our first week at Mass, we sat near the front, where Father had a bird’s eye view of three-year-old Christopher squawking for Cheerios and his older sister kicking the pew in front of us every minute on the minute. We had just settled nervously into the homily when Sarah suddenly … required an immediate change of clothing, forcing me to climb over four other people with all three children (since the older two refused to be left with my husband, even momentarily). It was not my proudest moment.
We returned just as it was time for the consecration, and (rather smoothly, I thought), I timed our arrival so we could cut in line just behind my husband as we approached to receive the Eucharist. “The Body of Christ,” Father intoned to me, placing the host in my outstretched hand (the other was holding the baby), and reaching down to trace the sign of the cross on Christopher’s forehead … “Oooof!”
Christopher had punched Father in the breadbasket.
“Brat,” I heard someone behind me mutter. Mortified, I hustled everyone back to the pew and prayed for strength. After church, Craig and I went to explain ourselves to Father — I couldn’t help but notice he kept a healthy distance between himself and our foster son. “I’m so sorry, Father,” I began. “Christopher is our new foster son. He’s just learning that when a man reaches out to him, it can be with kindness. He’s been hurt too many times.”
Father’s face was a study. I would later learn that this particular priest was not very comfortable with small children or crying women. But today, he rose to the challenge. Getting down on one knee, he held out a hand to my son, who gave him a tentative high-five. “I hope I see you again real soon, buddy.”
And every week thereafter, Father had a kind word for us — even when Christopher’s three-year-old hands patted the front of his vestments in an awkward place, trying to get the elderly cleric’s attention. He’d just ruffle our foster son’s head, and chortle, “How are ya doing, buddy?”
Sometimes love shows itself not in sentimentality, but in simple tolerance.
Today’s Love in Action: Have you ever had an embarrassing moment in church? How did your pastor respond?