It’s just after 5 o’clock on Saturday and I hustle, as quiet as I can, into the church. I sit in the new section, a 1,500sqft addition that squeezed the last bit of space out of our church’s tiny footprint–making space for our ever-expanding community of parishioners. At more than two thousand registered families we’re the physically smallest parish in our area, but also, by most metrics, the most vibrant. And that’s why I’m here, to speak after Mass about the New Evangelization, about the amazing impact our parish has, and can have, on the community and how a wayward convert from Evangelical Christianity found a home here–and how that makes our parish unique.
Sometimes it takes somebody from the outside, looking in, to tell us exactly what we’ve got to be grateful for.
At any rate, I’m late as a result of the relentless traffic along my route and I slip into the church as quietly as possible followed by a father and his four children. I quickly find a pew along an outer wall and watch as they ramble around for a bit–the father balancing a carseat on one arm while holding the hand of one of his young sons. Like me, they quickly realize that the nave is full tonight, a packed house and just another one of the reasons for our recent expansion–we’re bursting at the seams. It’s then that the young boy, realizing that they’re doomed to sit with my in the narthex, drops his father’s hand and begins to cry.
“I wanna go inside! I wanna go inside!”
His screams echo, I know, all the way up to the altar. The addition exposed some of the original stone church from the 19th century and makes for some beautiful, and sometimes unfortunate, acoustics.
“I wanna go inside!” He continued to scream. And I thought, what a beautiful lesson. A child so excited to be as close to Jesus as possible that he can’t possibly fathom having to sit on the outside of the nave, so far away. And if we’d left it there, if that’s all that little boy and his patient father had taught me that night I would’ve been more than satisfied. But it wasn’t.
That we should desire Jesus so fully that having to sit so far away from him is too painful to bear is a beautiful takeaway from our encounter. It reminded me that I need to constant circle back to that child-like faith encouraged by the Apostles and Church Fathers. I need to be vigilant with my prayer life, with the choices that I make and the way I interact with others–that I need to be humble and grateful and, like that little boy, desire a particular closeness with Christ on a daily basis.
It was a little while after the boy’s first echoing screaming incident that his mother arrived and relieving the father of the carseat and one of the older sons he and the younger son were able to slip quietly into the nave and, I assume, find somewhere to sit. And I didn’t see them again, until the end of Communion.
It was then that I heard a familiar voice–a familiar scream–this time echoing, “I want one, too! I want one, too!” All the way down the aisle and out into the atrium where I was still seated. Then out came the dad and his young son, red-faced from crying and completely inconsolable as he repeated his complaint over and over again between wrenching sobs.
“I want one, too! I want one, too!”
And exchanging a smile with the woman next to me I realized what he meant: He went up for Communion and didn’t get to share in the Eucharist. Didn’t get receive the Host because he must not be old enough yet and hasn’t been confirmed like his older brother and sister. And I imagined what that must’ve felt like for him, and it wasn’t very hard to do.
Here was another poignant lesson.
As a non-Catholic Christian I had a very loose grasp of what the Catholic Church taught. As I began to read, research, and meet and speak to Catholics I gradually began to come to understand the beautiful and ancient theology of a Church that traces its roots back to the Apostles themselves. A Church which believes, in sync with a two-thousand year old tradition, that Christ is really present in the Holy Eucharist. That there is something real–a powerful grace–to be received for those that partake.
As an Evangelical Christian I couldn’t have imagined such a closeness with Christ.
And of course, if we truly understood what was at stake, and what an incredible grace it is for us to receive Jesus–really and truly present–we would scream as well like that little boy at Mass. You’d hardly be able to keep us from storming the altar to receive Communion. We’d never skip Mass again because we’re too tired or busy or otherwise preoccupied. There’s nothing we’d want more in life, I imagine, if we really understood the implications. The blessing and miracle of the thing.
Sometimes it takes somebody on the outside, like the little boy at Mass, to show us the incredible value and worth of what we’ve had all along. And to remind us to share what we’ve got and pray that the refrain of those that meet us in the course of our daily lives come to see the grace we’ve been given and say, with us, “I want one, too!”