The church I grew up in is possibly the best space ever designed for a good game of hide and seek. There are multiple levels and all kinds of secret nooks in which one could hide away undetected for a seemingly infinite amount of time. I recall one particular game of hide and seek where I crouched in a corner of the darkened sanctuary for a good while, waiting to be found. It was a satisfyingly creepy experience for a kid- the darkness, the expanse of the room, the sense of anticipation: When will the door open? Will I be able to pop out and scare the seeker? What if someone else is creeping about the room and I can’t see them?
What I particularly remember about that night though, was a feeling of slight disappointment. Here I was, hiding in our church’s sanctuary, and it felt utterly empty. If this was indeed a holy place, why were we able to use it for a game? It was a fleeting feeling, but it’s something I will never forget.
Granted, I come from a free-church tradition. I realize there are Protestant denominations that have a more Catholic flavor in regard to sacred space, etc. But I did not realize until I was no longer Baptist how barbarian I was in terms of my regard for all things holy. (Indeed, what was there to regard as holy besides the mere concept of God?) I had never kneeled to pray in my life until we began our journey into the Catholic Church. Ditto for genuflecting or crossing myself. Completely foreign and initially very uncomfortable to do. Those are just for people making a big show, right? That was the classic accusation I heard spat about making a show of reverence. “Wouldn’t want people to think we actually take this stuff seriously” was actually the message I took away when I heard those objections.
This all came to mind this past week when I took our two youngest girls to our first holy hour for children. In the chapel, the children all kneeled around the altar while the priest talked to them, led prayers, sang songs, and led them in Eucharistic Adoration. As all those little people were gathered around the altar, I marveled at the opportunity we Catholic parents were given to help teach our youngest children how to have reverence for Our Lord.
Children are children and of course, this is all done on a learning curve; did my two-year-old run away from the altar and climb up on my back out of fear of the smoking incense?
And did I have to repeatedly pull same toddler down off the altar? Did a little kid whack my other daughter in the eye with a Rosary? Yes, yes, and yes. But someday, I hope that like her barbarian mama, our youngest daughter will see with her own eyes of faith the reality of Christ’s presence in our Holy places, and she will bend her knee of her own accord. It was payment enough to see her attempt to cross herself when the Host was elevated.