Michelle Martin

Look at all the people

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

When I was a very small child, there was a finger game we used to play.

With hands folded together, fingers interlaced and tucked inside our palms, we would say, “Here is the church.” With index fingers extended to come to a point, we’d say, “Here is the steeple.”

Then we’d turn our palms outward, wiggling our fingers in the air, as we said, “Open the doors and see all the people.”

I thought of that rhyme as we went to church on a gorgeous September Sunday.

As we walked toward our church, there was a man standing at the bus stop on the corner with two kids, all three of them decked out in Cubs gear, almost certainly on their way to the game.

“Look at all the people going to church,” he said, a tone of wonder in his voice. Like it hadn’t really occurred to him that going to church was something people might do on a Sunday morning.

He’s not alone. For a lot of people, going to church doesn’t even make it on the list of possible things to do when they wake up on Sunday, falling somewhere far below sleeping in and putting off waking up at all, going to brunch or finding an early game to watch.

Most Sundays, our parish church is not that full. That day was catechetical Sunday, and the first family Mass of the school year for Teresa, which meant that the school choir was singing for the first time. Between the teachers and catechists, the religious-ed students who had just gotten out of class, the choir members and their classmates and their families, the church was just about full. Maybe not quite school-Christmas-concert full, or even Easter Sunday full, but there were no empty pews.

That’s not the case every Sunday at our parish, or at most parishes in the archdiocese, or the nation. As it was, I couldn’t help finding that day’s Gospel reading, the parable of the prodigal son, especially apt. It was a good reading for the people who don’t usually come to Mass, but showed up because their child was singing, or because their child’s religious-education teacher was going to go up for a blessing, or because the school principal had encouraged them to go with a promise of coffee and doughnuts afterward.

It was also good for those who do show up every week and had to make room for the newcomers, scooting down to fill in the middle of pews and sitting through three songs at Communion. It’s human nature to want everyone to pay their dues, to suffer what we have suffered to get the benefits we think we are owed.

But if the parable of the prodigal son tells us anything, it’s that it’s not up to us to decide who is welcome. It’s up to us to welcome everybody, so much that people on the street say, “Look at all the people going to church.”


  • family life