Without skipping a beat during his Sunday sermon, our pastor scooped up the wandering toddler into his arms and carried him around while he finished the homily.
When a child veered away from his parents and headed towards the altar at the end of another Mass, the pastor asked if he wanted to sit in the empty deacon’s chair. He gently lifted the wide-eyed boy into the seat next to him and spoke with soft seriousness: “Maybe you want to sit here someday when you’re bigger, too.”
And every Sunday in the communion line, he bends down to greet the children first, shaking their hands and speaking words of blessing before he shares communion with their parents.
Every time he welcomes a child with such love and openness, we in the congregation smile and chuckle. It’s adorable, of course, to watch a tall man in flowing robes lean over to talk to a tiny toddler. But sometimes I wonder if we let these interactions change us, if we who are parents let ourselves learn from our pastor.
I admit that I don’t always make such gracious space in my work for my children.
They pull over chairs to the counter in the middle of my dinner prep, and I sigh because little hands will now make a mess in the flour and steal veggies off the cutting board.
They show up at my elbow while I’m writing and ask to sit on my lap, and I grumble because I’m in the middle of finishing an important project with a pressing deadline.
They appear in the middle of folding laundry or sweeping floors or washing dishes, and I mistake the real work for the chore at my hands, not the moment unfolding in front of my eyes.
But I’ve never seen our pastor turn a toddler away or act annoyed that a child interrupts his homily. Here is a man who walks newly baptized babies around the whole church to introduce them to the community. Who crouches down to thank each child who brings up the gifts to the altar. Who came over to our pew on Holy Thursday to ask our son if he could wash his feet.
This priest has a gift for seeing kids as Christ did: central to the kingdom, close to God’s grace.
Admittedly, he is only around the children for a short time on Sundays, not the all-day, every-day that starts to drag down any reasonable human being after hours of incessant whining. And he knows he has the eyes of the congregation on him whenever he responds to an occasional child’s unorthodox attempts to participate in Mass.
But maybe I need to remember that my behavior is public performance, too—that there is always Someone who sees how I greet and treat the least around me.
And maybe I need to remember to respond to each child’s needs within the small present moment, not heap its demands onto the towering mountain of All That Is Asked Of Me As A Mother.
Our pastor’s way is gentle, guided by the child, and gracious enough to embrace all of us. I imagine that Christ’s way was much the same. And I hope my parenting can stick to this path, too.
So while our family is blessed to have leadership in our community who makes space—such lavish, abundant space—for our children, I need to remember to thank him. Not only for showing my boys what a servant priest looks like, but for reminding me how we all learn from each other’s callings when we each live out our vocations with love.
Copyright 2013 Laura Kelly Fanucci