This past weekend, Ella and I went to the WCMX World Championships which were being held in South Dallas. She had done pretty well on Saturday, and we were getting ready to watch the pro skaters when we took advantage of a break in the schedule to slip off to Sunday morning Mass at a nearby church. We didn’t have time or a place to change, so we went in the jeans and t-shirts we had worn to the competition.
We didn’t know anything about the parish other than that the website mentioned Convent Mass times, so we assumed that they had nuns. It turned out to be a tiny, aging church tucked into a neighborhood of tiny, aging houses. Built of concrete and the 1970s, we nearly mistook it for a garage or an old warehouse. The simplicity of its demeanor continued inside the church with its plain windows and garden-picked flower arrangements. We had just settled into the front pew when the priest came out of the vestry followed by a man putting on his mitre and carrying a crosier.
“That’s a bishop,” I whispered to Ella. “It’s not our bishop, but that’s a bishop. I wonder who he is.”
As she shrugged, the choir director came forward and said, “We are very lucky today to have as our con-celebrant His Excellency the Papal Nuncio to Sri Lanka.”
“What’s a nuncio?” Ella asked.
“The Pope’s ambassador.” I replied.
“Why is the Nuncio to Sri Lanka in Texas?” She asked.
I shrugged in reply as the trumpets blared and the music swelled with a magnificence that was wholly unexpected given our surroundings. It was a beautifully simple Mass with glorious music, but I don’t think Ella heard most of the beginning. She was too concerned with watching something across the aisle. I followed her gaze to see a tiny girl, who couldn’t have been more than three, seated in the front pew next to her mother. The girl was wearing a beautiful pink and green dress and matching hair bows – on her feet were dingy much-worn Hello Kitty slippers.When Mass ended, His Excellency positioned himself at the end of the aisle. It was such a narrow space that there was no way to escape without coming face to face with him. I watched as the little girl and her mother got into line just ahead of us, and I could see the blush deepening on the mom’s face and neck the closer she got to the Nuncio. Eventually, it was their turn, and the mom began a hurried explanation of the muddy fluffy slippers.
He help up his hand and silenced the mother, and leaning forward on the crozier, he asked the girl, “Those are special shoes. Do you like them?”
She pulled the thumb from her mouth and chirped “They’re spark-a-we.”
“Ah. Sparkly is important in shoes.” He told her. “Are they your favorite?”
“She never takes them off.” Her mother confessed.
“They’re my booful shoes!” the girl shrieked to the amusement of a growing crowd.
The Papal Nucio placed a hand on the girl’s head, looked at her mother and then around at the rest of us and said, “This child is teaching us two important lessons today. The first is – do not be conformed to the rules of this world – the rules of this world are meaningless. And the second is – always offer to God your best. Even when the best you have is sparkling cat shoes.”
And Ella pulled me down and hissed in my ear, “And the third lesson is – never wear jeans and t-shirts to Mass, because the day you do the Nuncio will be there.”