There is a parish down the street from my office that I have been to occasionally, but as I am not usually here on Sundays I don’t regularly attend. You can find me there most often on holy days, and this was the case on All Saints’ Day. Or, to be a little more accurate, at the vigil mass the night before.
As All Saints’ Day Eve is also known as Halloween, I took up my regular place in the back pew with my costume by my side. The celebrant that evening was the graduate student chaplain, a man I have met several times since I first arrived on campus nearly a decade ago. He clearly did not remember me, although just about every interaction I’ve had with him has been remarkably similar. This time was no exception, and I imagine for him it’s been repeated countless times with others.
There I was, an unfamiliar face (I honestly don’t expect him to have recognized me after our few encounters), of graduate student age, sitting alone in the back of his church, and he clearly was not going to miss an opportunity. As he processed out of the church after the final blessing, his eyes locked onto me. Before the acolytes had even left the nave he had put away his music book, took a business card from his pocket, and was shaking my hand and introducing himself. Within seconds he had me out in the vestibule, filling out a contact form so that I could be added to the mailing list for grad students and young professionals.
As I’ve said, I’ve gotten this kind of treatment from him before. I even went to a couple of the events held at the Catholic Student Center when I was enrolled in a degree program, largely because of the way he talked them up. Before he approached me all I wanted to do was say ‘amen’ and get to the bar, but I departed feeling wanted and welcome.
We didn’t have time for an in depth conversation before the rest of the congregation left the church, but I have no doubt that he was sincerely interested in where I worked and what my degree was in, and that when he said he hoped he would see me again soon that me truly meant it.
In Pope Francis’ remarkable interview in the series of Jesuit journals a couple months ago, he said:
“Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent. The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage.”
Later that night I found myself approaching a couple of girls who were hanging out at Faneuil Hall bars for much the same reason as I was. I went home with a number, but the experience made me appreciate all the more just how much audacity and courage it takes to walk up to a stranger and introduce yourself.
This priest got my name and phone number in a fraction of the time that it took me, without the benefit of the liquid courage, and without having to buy me a couple of beers first. Though it isn’t my parish, he may just see me there again, and mostly because he went out of his way to find a new road.