I was thirsty as I drove home this afternoon, so I stopped to buy a bottle of pop to sip as I traveled.
At the checkout counter a young man — I’d guess he’s 16 or 17 — received my payment. As he was making change he asked, “Are you coming from church?”
I responded, “I just came from the Baptist Home in Fairport where I celebrated Mass with the residents and others who relate to the community there.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” my young friend said. After a brief pause he added, “You know, I haven’t gone to church in a long time.” He said this in a peaceful, quiet way; his tone of voice and his demeanor suggested to me that he was not totally happy with the situation.
“You know, I used to go to church with my mother and father. But then they stopped going. And, I did too.”
“I hope you don’t mind if I encourage you strongly to try church again. I think it would be very good for you, and I’m sure you would bring much to the community.”
“Yeah, I’ll think about that.”
“Where do you live?”
He told me, and I named two parishes close to his home, adding that he would find lots of people his age at both of those parishes.
The young man was the only checkout person on duty in this fairly large store. Even during our short conversation a line began to form behind me. I didn’t want to get him in trouble with the other customers or his boss so I asked, “Could you tell me your name? I’d like to pray for you.” He told me and said thanks, and then we parted company. I’ll be praying for John (I don’t use his real name here) throughout Lent with the hope that he will come home to the church to hear God’s word each Sunday, to know again the joy and strength the Eucharist can bring, to have the encouragement of his sisters and brothers in the community.
There is someone like John in every one of our lives — perhaps there’s someone just like him in your own family. I mean good-hearted, gifted, generous young people who have no visible or sustained connection with the life of the church. They are not angry at the church. They never made a conscious, long-term decision not to go. (In recounting my conversation with John, I omitted his acknowledgement that he did enjoy extra sleep on Sunday morning!). No, they stopped because they lacked sustained, good example and encouragement from people to whom they looked for guidance.
I will realize that some absent themselves from our company by a deliberate considered decision. I know that some feel ignored or hurt by the church. And, I am aware that some have tried and found wanting for lack of welcome or warmth or an exciting sense of mission.
As we continue our prayers for our catechumens and candidates as they prepare for the Easter Vigil, I hope that we can also pray for the people like John in our own lives — that they will come back home for our good and for theirs.
But, I encourage more than just prayer for this intention. I hope that by your own witness of living the faith and by your personal invitation to the John in your life, you might help someone rediscover the deep joy of hearing the Word proclaimed, of sharing the Eucharist, of being part of a community that has a deep and beautiful purpose.
A blessed Lent to you.
Peace to all.