It took me a while to realize I was living with a saint. Eleven years, to be exact.
For some time, my daughter Teresa, who has Down syndrome, was in need of some extra prodding to go to Mass. I spent a great deal of time pointing out all the perks. In such a vibrant parish as ours, every week seems to offer some kind of incentive:
“Ice cream social after Mass today! There’s pink ice cream!
“You’ll get see your friends! You can play with them after Mass!”
“Today’s the pancake breakfast! You know how much you love the Knights of Columbus’ pancakes and Sunny D!”
“We’ll go get pizza after Church! Yes, pizza with CHEESE!”
Lots of exclamation points here, which I normally avoid using, since they usually indicate a fair amount of phony hype. I think my 11-year-old Teresa might have been on to that. All the things that used to motivate suddenly held no appeal to her. No matter how fun I tried to make church seem, I still, more often than not, heard those dreaded words, which never fail to break a mother’s heart: “No Mass, Mommy.”
One day, I decided to go at it in a different way. I didn’t expect her to understand what I was about to propose to her, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. Maybe over time, it would sink in. Maybe if I said it every week for a year. Maybe every week for ten years. However long it took, it would be worth the wait because it was, at its heart, the truest statement I could make about the Mass.
“Teresa,” I said, stooping down and looking into her eyes, “do you want to make Jesus happy?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“That’s why we go to Mass. To make Jesus happy.”
“Oh,” she said. “OK.”
She cheerfully got herself up off the floor and into the car, as all the kids piled in alongside her, and off we all went. I was thinking, “Is this really working? Could she really have understood this?”
After Mass, she sat with a smile on her face in the pew and pulled me over to whisper in my ear. I thought I was going to hear the usual question about going for pizza. But she had something else on her mind.
“Jesus happy?” she asked, pointing at the crucifix behind the altar.
“Yes,” I smiled. “Jesus is very happy.”
For a number of weeks after that, when I told her it was time for Mass, instead of complaints, I heard this question: “Jesus happy?”
It seems Teresa knows what the saints know. Anything we do in life, done for any other reason but to make Jesus happy, only brings us fleeting happiness. As nice as it is to enjoy pink ice cream, the Knights’ pancakes, cheese pizza and a fun time with friends, nothing can compare to putting a smile on the face of the One we love above all else.
Copyright 2013 Sherry Boas