Gabrielle might be only 2 years old, but the girl knows how to look like a Catholic. When she enters a church, her demeanor becomes very pious. First things first: She finds the holy water fonts. After that, her approach is systematic.
She balances on teetering tiptoes, stretches one arm high above her head and manages to dip the very tips of her chubby fingers into the water. She then makes an elaborate show of blessing herself, her dolly, her little brother and any other person or object within reach.
When the soaking — I mean the blessing — is complete, she commences an elegant procession to the pew. This involves taking three or four steps at a time, pausing for dramatic effect and then performing a deeply reverent genuflection that lasts for several seconds. Next she stands up, takes another few steps, pauses and kneels again. In this way, she manages to call attention to herself — I mean honor Christ’s presence in the tabernacle — four or five times before we make it to our usual spot at the front of the church.
If anyone in the pews utters anything that sounds even remotely impressed. Gabrielle smiles coyly at her admirers, then doubles up on her devotions.
I sometimes find it amusing to chide Gabrielle for her wholly exterior devotions. I gently remind her that Scripture tells us: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father” (Matthew 6:1).
Well, that’s what I used to do — until one day when I discovered myself to be as guilty as Gabby of shallow shows of piety. And getting caught at it.
Here’s what happened. We hired a plumbing company to do some work. After introducing themselves, the workers disappeared into the crawl space beneath the main floor of the house.
I forgot all about them. Then my husband came from work and went down into the crawl space to check on the workers’ progress. He soon returned to report: “I could hear everything going on in the house from down there.” “Everything?” I gasped. “Yeah,” he went on. “I heard everything you said perfectly.”
My mind raced back through the morning and I instantly regretted 1,000 things I had said when I thought that no one but my kids was listening. Nothing horrible mind you, just … not exactly Mrs. Pollyanna Perfect.
For example, when my 4-year-old dumped the entire contents of a cup of milk on the kitchen floor — minutes after I had cautioned him not to try pouring it himself — I barked at the nearest kid to go fetch a towel. Loudly. A better Christian witness would have been to calmly coo: “That’s okay, darling. The floor needed mopping anyway.”
The following Sunday, as I followed along behind Gabrielle’s weekly performance, I smiled at the memory of my embarrassing but enlightening lesson. Gabrielle’s affectation is a healthy reminder for me to do justice for justice’s sake. It shouldn’t matter whether plumbers are listening in or not.
Now when I watch Gabby do her thing as we enter our church, I let myself be reminded that I am called always to be forgiving, patient and kind in the everyday living out of my vocation as wife and mother. In other words, I always need to behave as if someone is always watching. After all, Someone always is.
Danielle Bean writes from
Belknap, New Hampshire.