I remember when I fell in love with my church. It must have been fourth or fifth grade when my school and church were invaded by a roving band of brothers. We heard it for weeks, “The Francisicans are coming, they’re building a college on our land and taking over our parish”. It sounded a little like science fiction to my young mind, so it meant very little at the time.
Then they came and the whole place changed. Suddenly there were men in brown robes and funny shoes walking all over our campus, often joining in on kickball games or friendship bracelet circles.
In church they walked off the altar and into the congregation to preach. They said things that seemed to make sense, even to my young mind. They spoke to us kids as people, not over our heads like we didn’t matter or down to us like we were too simple to understand something as complex as faith. They made mass accessible, and spoke of God as if He was someone we’d want to know. This was all new for me and I suspect many of my peers.
As I grew, these friars joined me on youth retreats and made confession less scary and prayer relevant. They didn’ preach about the evils of teenage life and warn us about sin. Instead, they taught us about self-worth, and making choices to honor ourselves and maintain the dignity of our souls.
They came to youth group beach weeks and said mass on rental house floors and served communion on sailboat plates. They taught me that Jesus was everywhere, The Holy Spirit wasn’t terribly formal, and God loved you just for showing up.
As an adult I bounced around from church to church trying to replicate the feelings of my youth. I’d all but given up when I heard a sermon by a priest at my current church. He is a visiting priest who spends much of his time working at a local college and joins us on Sunday to help with Mass. Week after week, as I struggled with whether to even stay a Catholic, I’d show up on Sunday and he would speak to my heart, like those Friars did so many years ago. I thought maybe God was teaching me that these messages can come from any man of the cloth, not just Franciscans.
Then, one morning I spotted it. Peaking out from under his Sunday vestments, an inch of brown robe. Sure enough, after his name on the bulletin, those three magic letters I’d searched for, OFM. It’s as if, in that moment, I heard Him in my ear, “stick around Cris, you may think you’ve seen it all but I may still have a few tricks up my sleeve.”
Two weeks ago I watched my kids begin to fall in love with their church. This time the man’s robe is standard black, not the brown I’ve grown to love. He doesn’t have any magic letters after his name but he speaks to kids like they matter. He taught them to genuflect and pray the Rosary and adore the Blessed Sacrament. He took time to be still, and he made time to laugh, all in God’s House. They high-five him at every turn and they all wanted him to know their name.
They bought everything he was selling, from the high-fives to the rosaries they carried around in their pockets every day. A few weeks ago, I watched my children fall in love with their church, and it didn’t take a single brown robe or funny shoe to do it.
I guess the messages can come from anyone as long as they take time for the children. Maybe I will just stick around.
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