I’ll tell you this story – not because it makes me look good – but because it doesn’t.
Sunday I was sitting with my family at the 5 pm Mass, having finally made our way there after a long Thanksgiving weekend filled with fine, rich food and lots of family in two states. I had spent a little time over the previous days praising God for his goodness, and even more time thanking Him for my blessings, but it quickly became obvious my heart wasn’t right for the worship service.
I remember my husband telling me early in our marriage (before I became Catholic), that you shouldn’t be late for Mass, but if you were, you needed to get there before the Gospel was read – the third of the Scripture readings. On a Sunday, this generally occurs about 15 minutes into the service.
And so it was that just as the Gospel started, three 20-something guys in baggy pants and hoodies moved swiftly and quietly to the front of the church and slid into the pew directly in front of me and my family.
Something about them made me uneasy.
Was it their very late arrival?
Was it their dress?
Two of them sported scruffy beards and fringed, unkempt hair and the other had shaved his head. Strong, subtle curves of youthful muscle filled out the shoulders of their large sweatshirts.
Was it the way they seemed unprepared for the service and restless upon the decision to sit?
The one closest to me – the one with the shaved head – was fidgety.
My thoughts raced and images of a mass-shooting at a church in Texas flashed through my head.
How awful of me to think….
Am I always this jumpy and judgmental?
Ugh, if I am – I’m truly awful.
But…my anxiety is for nothing.
Do I have such little faith?
What am I afraid of?
Who do I trust?
I trust you, Lord.
No sooner had I thought this than my focus returned and I looked down at the Scripture in my lap. I heard the Word proclaimed, read in every Catholic Church around the globe on this very day.
’Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ -Matthew 25:44
The homily came and I listened. Then it was time to greet one another with the words, “Peace be with you.”
The young men turned to face us one by one with cautious, unsure expressions. They hesitated before leaning over the seat to shake our hands.
I felt shame and Love flood my body.
“Peace be with you,” I heard myself say to the one closest to me, and as I grasped his hand, his deep brown eyes softened at the corners. His shoulders eased back as he took a breath and returned the greeting with a tiny smile.
When Communion came, the three filed out of the pew and stood aside to let an elderly couple out. But then, they turned away without receiving the Eucharist, and left the church.
I took Communion and kneeled to pray, waiting to see what I would be led to pray about.
People make more of prayer than it is. It is a simple conversation, and when I let God lead, He brings people to mind who need my prayers.
Eyes closed, my thoughts wandered for a moment.
Lord, I thank you for my husband and my kids.
I saw the face of the young man who was sitting in front of me just moments before, the other two behind him.
Pray for them, came the not-so-subtle holy prompting.
And so I did.
And I have – on and off – imperfect as I am – throughout this week.
I may never see those men again – will probably never know WHY I need to pray for them or how whatever it is that’s going with them turns out.
But none of that should matter to me.
It’s not my place to be concerned about results. My place is to follow and obey the One who cares for – and welcomes – all.
People who are in need of welcome surround us every moment of every day, and we are often blind, or worse – unsympathetic – to them.
Souls suffer from myriad kinds of prisons, illness, and hunger.
Every person we meet has an interior life which is known only by God but which requires the Love His people are called to offer unconditionally.
In God’s eyes, welcome is the first action of Love.
This Christmas season, may we have eyes to see where welcome is truly needed, so that from there, we’ll have hearts open to giving, and souls ready for joyful sacrifice.