My friend, musician and composer John Angotti, recently led a retreat for a grade school near me. He asked the children if anyone wanted to sing. Liliah, a little second-grader, raised her hand and stepped forward. But then she got crippling stage fright and began to tear up. John picked her up, told her everything would be okay, and that she should just focus on him. He got her to sing “This Little Light of Mine,” quietly at first, and then belting it out on her own microphone like it was a show tune.
Who wants to go to Mass?
I don’t know why, but his story made me think of some of the people we see in our pews on Sunday. It is as if the Holy Spirit wakes up on Sunday and asks, “Who wants to go to Mass today?” All the Liliah’s raise their hands, crawl out of bed, brush their teeth, and show up at church.
But once they get there, it’s not what they imagined. It’s hard to show up for faith in front of others. They get stage fright. They don’t want to stand out. They don’t want to embarrass themselves. And yet, they are hoping something big will happen. They are hoping for a moment in God’s limelight. They are hoping to be lifted up into God’s arms and promised that everything will be alright.
Will next Sunday be their last Sunday?
And, if we’re honest, that seldom happens. If feels like nothing compelling happens. A mediocre experience is the best we can offer them. And for many, many people, their experience is worse than mediocre. For them, last Sunday was their last Sunday.
But what would happen if, this Sunday, someone spoke to the Liliahs who come to your parish? What if someone comforted that small, shaky faith that is in the hearts of most of the people who sit in the back two-thirds of the pews? What if someone could say to them, “I promise everything will be okay”?
If you are immediately thinking whoever is in charge of liturgy in your parish would never do that, I have good news. You don’t have to wait for someone else to change the Sunday experience in your parish. You can change it. This Sunday. All by yourself.
Lift people up
This Sunday, make it your mission to find the Liliah in one person you don’t know. Smile. Introduce yourself. Shake a hand. Ask a question. Try one of these:
- Do you usually come to this Mass?
- Are you a parishioner here? Would you like to be?
- Have you met our pastor?
- Have you met [someone you know who is sitting nearby]?
- Can I help you find the opening song in our hymnal?
- Can I sit with you during Mass?
- Is there something I can pray about for you this morning?
- Would you like to have coffee after Mass?
- Can I tell you what I love most about this parish?
- Do you know about our monthly book club?
As soon as you reach out to just one Liliah, you will change what happens in your parish on Sunday. You will make a difference. You will make something big happen.
Tell us how it goes
Try it this Sunday. If you are willing to try, write a quick note in the comments section below. And then please come back to this post and tell us what happened.
3 thoughts on “This little light of mine — how to let it shine”
Yesterday I was waiting for our young RCIA folks to show up for the scrutinies. They are habitually nearly late so I waited by the side doors at the back of church, watching for them. I figured I might as well do something so I began opening up the doors and welcoming people coming in and I got a lot of surprised looks followed by big smiles. You’re right. I can change things.
Just like Margaret, I decided to join Pete at the church entrance. Pete has always been the first person I see when I get to church. Pete will tell you that God has placed it on his heart to make sure he greets everyone who comes to church. So, I joined in. What an experience! I’m also a catechist for our Faith Formation programs and I was amazed at how many of my students I saw and, for the first time, met their siblings.
I found myself smiling more and, I am quite certain, that my smile had to be contagious; everyone was smiling! My favorite line when I am asked how I am doing? Simple, “I’m doing good, but I’ll get better!” It is good for a quick chuckle and, when someone asks how that is possible, I tell them, “There is no point in putting a cap on just how good we can feel.”
It makes a difference when people hear a hello or see a smile and a Good Morning. When I wait for my RCIA folks to show up for our Mass that week-end, I wait in the Gathering Space and it’s amazing how many people smile back and say hello or Good Morning back to me. I feel not only like I made their day, but they brought smiles to my day as well.