As a second Sunday visitor at a church, I sit toward the back of the sanctuary,
“if I sit in the back, I can hide that I don’t know the Catholic mass protocol“
The mass procession begins.
Late, following behind the processional, a family scurries up the aisle and files into the pew in front of me – a mother with four children. The mother whispers the seating arrangement instructions, and the youngest grimaces and whines, “I want to sit next to you!” The mother looks at the young boy and points to the end of the pew.
The oldest and youngest boys bookend the family in the pew. Two identical twin girls flank either side of their mother.
The mother is semi-disheveled. With hair that hasn’t been washed and wearing a loose-fitted, wrinkled shirt and faded jeans, the mother’s large frame spills onto her twins on either side of her. I wonder if she spent the early morning getting her children ready for church, not herself.
During the majority of the church service, the mother spends her time “shhhh-ing” the three youngest children. The oldest boy sits perfectly still on the end of the pew next to the center aisle. He actively participates in the service – reciting, singing and praying. His mother doesn’t look at him. He knows the drill, and I watch him. I see his earnest attempt to follow the rules and to please his mother. He wants to behave. He wants to be good. He’s been taught how to act. He respects his mother. I can tell.
The two twin girls are identical -the only difference allowing me to tell them apart is their jean shorts’ lengths. Both with shiny, silky, brown braids hanging down the centers of their backs, the girls sneak peeks toward the back of the congregation, fidget in their seats, and hang on the pew in front of them. The twin to the left of her mother leans forward so she may have eye contact with her mother and asks, “how much longer?” The mother firmly squeezes the twin’s arm, whispering, “SHHHHhhh,” and the twin sits back in her seat next to her mother. Her mother’s side seems to wrap itself around the young girl and to hold her in her seat.
I look at the mother who’s seated directly in front of me. I notice the mother’s soft, porcelain skin wrapping around her billowy frame. She looks so motherly – what she’s wearing and the fact she seemingly hasn’t showered don’t matter. She’s first and foremost a dedicated mother. I can tell.
The family’s seated stillness is tested during the priest’s message – The priest spoke about Saint Thomas Aquinas and why he was considered a saint – The children’s attentions lost.
The perfectly-behaved oldest boy lowers his head. The youngest boy lets out a full-faced yawn and attempts to crawl across his twin sister’s lap into his mother’s arms. The twin momentarily nudges him away from their mother, but then quickly makes room for her brother. With the youngest boy on her lap, the mother’s side cuddles the twin on the left, and her right arm wraps around the twin on her right. The mother looks to her oldest boy over the head of the twin on her left. They have eye contact, and the boy smiles.
Whew! The family makes it through the priest’s message, but now it’s time for communion. The twin on the mother’s left lies down in the pew. The mother tells her to sit up. The twin tries but fails. The twin slides down onto the kneeling bench. The other twin leans over and tries to make her twin sister stand up. Suddenly, the mother motions to the oldest boy to move into the center aisle – they’re leaving. The oldest boy moves and the rest of the family follows him out of the sanctuary. They leave as quickly as they had arrived, late and now early, and all together.
After the family left, I felt the stillness in the pew ahead of me – this family had made me think.
Unknowingly, this mother taught me lessons about sainthood not from the pulpit but right from her pew this morning.
Late or early, good or bad, or right or wrong, we aren’t here to be perfect in procedure. Instead, it’s about recognizing the perfection that comes from goodness.
Not knowing when to kneel, how to take communion and far from being a saint, I’m comforted by this mother and her children. I’m reminded that life’s about showing up and giving to others and about being still and not whining.
Life’s not about perfection – it’s about seeking the good.
Life’s about seeing the beauty in others and glorifying others’ incredible work.
How to seek goodness is taught, often by saints.
It’s up to us to watch and copy their goodness.
Maybe I’ll seek a pew a couple rows up next Sunday…
“From the Pew”
“The things that we love tell us who we are”
-Saint Thomas Aquinas