I lingered on the trail as the sound of my friend’s jaunty voices faded into the distance. We had been walking through dusty forests, unique to the California Sierras when, suddenly, a lush meadow opened up before us. My breath caught. My friends continued on, seeming not to notice the expansive beauty captured in the tiny oasis of moisture and light dappled grasses.
Hello, God, I said, my voice the only sound rising above the soft trickle of the creek.
Our family had spent many long hours in the car on our journey from California to the Midwest. This night, we stopped at my father’s alma mater for respite and cheap lodging. Did I even know we were visiting this historic campus before we arrived? I don’t recall. Gently, my parents woke me and, in the dark of night, I stumbled into a dorm room and fell into bed, not realizing the import of the day to come. The next day, we wandered the campus. At 11 years old, I knew.
Hello, Our Lady, I said, acknowledging the ache in my heart telling me I was home.
Walking into my grandmother’s church at Christmas, I craned my neck, was it still there? Minutes before Mass, we calmly walked to the front row, seemingly reserved just for Grandma and her family. In reality, the aging Catholic population rested further back in the pews, averse to front row church going. Grateful, I settled in, the front row giving me a clear view of the Nativity.
Hello Mary. Hello Joseph. And then I waited. Baby Jesus was coming soon.
The hour was late, the church black, all lights extinguished. Then, the pounding began. Hands, large and small, gently and then not so gently pounding the backs of wooden pews. Rolling thunder, an earthquake, then silence. My heart hurt. In the distance, one light appeared and slowly began to spread, person to person, candle to candle, illuminating the basilica in anticipation of Easter. In wonder, I looked around, the church and my heart transformed.
Hello, Jesus. Welcome back.
Crying, I lay on my side in my bed, tightly wound, as small as could be. Did anybody love me? I wasn’t sure anymore. Taught, but unbidden, words came to my mind. Come, Holy Spirit. Come quickly. Tears slowed, fists released, and warmth spread over my body, as if I had been lovingly covered with a blanket, yet none was there. So this was love.
Hello Holy Spirit. Thank you for listening. Thank you for loving.
Finally trained to serve, I arrived early to Mass, selecting my position. It had to be bread, wine would be a challenge for my nervous hands, a spill sure to occur. The Liturgy of the Eucharist nearly complete, we began to sing the Lamb of God, and I journeyed with the other ministers to the Altar. Then it was time. Body of Christ, I said. Amen, they said. And I saw the beauty. Every single pair of eyes that met mine in this simple exchange was hopeful, ready, and family. This is what church means, I thought. Sharing the Body of Christ with the body of Christ.
Hello Church, I said. I love you.
I am convinced that to love our faith is to see the beauty.
How do we keep our children engaged in church?
Show them what you love.
Show them that you love.
Show them they are loved.