It’s hard to write humor these days. You come up with an idea for a list of funny things to give up for Lent, and some third grader beats you to it. And not just one, but three. The first thing I thought of was vegetables. I was still thinking about it when I stopped in to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Forest Hills, Queens recently for a prayer. I could hear the yelps from children in the grade school next door. In the vestibule was a bulletin board entitled “Third Grade Lenten Activities.” Pinned to it were about fifty hand-written little posts. Everything from candy and sweets to TV and computer games. But right near the top was a post – “For Lent I am going to give up vegtables.” Misspelled and surely not meant to be funny, but it made me laugh.
Further down the board, the same Lenten sacrifice was posted again by another child, this time spelled correctly. Then near the bottom of the board was just a one word post written in very shaky handwriting “Vegables.” The kids were not trying to be funny just earnest. An elderly lady came near to look at the display and when I chuckled and pointed to the “Vegables” post. She said in an Eastern European accent, “Vegetables are good for you. I am a grandmother and I have to correct them.” She asked me if I had a pen and wrote the phrase “And candy too” on the post with my pencil. I wondered if it was proper to write on the exhibits in church, but I figured that grandmothers have extraordinary rights that we converts just have to accept.
I was inspired by the posts and want to share them with you. Some are insightful. The comments in the brackets are mine. I have left in the misspellings, because I think they are cute, and they also remind us of what a heroic challenge it is for kids to first learn to write at all, and then to get their thoughts down on paper. It still is for me, many decades older than them.
Here are some more of their posts:
- Prayers for elderly, especially Grandma.
- Snacks for 40 days.
- Give up NHL 14
- WWE 13
- Be Nice
- Be good to my parents
- Being extra nice to my sisters [Indicating a problem area here?]
- I will do a chore for 40 days.
- Writing sloppy [Took personal note of this one.]
- I will give up my iPad computer TV and mom’s iPad [Very prudent, not just giving up my iPad but any iPad.]
- Make my bed on Saturday and Sunday.
- I am going to get my family over for a feast.
- Make a meal for my parents like they always make for me.
- Set the table.
- Ice cream
- Give food to the poor. [Pope Francis must like this one.]
- I will give up gummys.
- Going to give up shoping.
- On Lent I will wash the Flor. [Would have never crossed my mind, not even as an adult.]
- I promise I will say good morning.
- Good afternoon.
- Good evening.
- And good night [This is a thorough child.]
- Donate some old toys.
- Watch TV over weekend.
- Talking in school. [This is a good idea for relativistic teachers.]
- Popull [Probably meant “popular.”] and be the [person] I am really am and smart and nice people.
- Read more books when I am able to and write short stories. [A blooming writer here?]
I couldn’t help thinking of the Scripture:
“At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” (Matthew 18:1-5).
The next Sunday I was at Mass at this church sitting next to my friend Susan. She has a number of ailments and today she brought her cane. I asked her if she was all right and she said, “Not so good, but I’m okay.” Despite her infirmities she still knelt each time. She sang every hymn in an innocent voice that sounded like a little girl. I imagined her at eight years of age singing the same way in church, her sandy brown hair even more curly but without any grey, her eyes still the blue of an Easter morning.
After Mass was a celebration of Infant Baptism and a half dozen tiny souls would be coming to Christ. The church was bustling with babies and toddlers. Outside a couple were posing for wedding photos near the doorway of the Gothic stone church modeled after one built in Durham, England in the 1100’s. The bride-to-be was in her bright white wedding dress. There was an easy radiance in her face that only brides possess, about to enter into the Domestic Church and open to new life.
The school is next door where I used to attend A.A. meetings in their basement. Seven years ago I asked a nun in one of my meetings what I had to do to become Catholic? She directed me to the Rectory door, the door that would open for me a new life. Those last few years I had been getting away from things: booze, drugs, partying. Now for the first time I was going to something—a Church, a new way of life, a person, Jesus Christ.
As I stood on the sidewalk observing everything around me, just grinning and gawking, I thought of how grateful I am for this Church, this alternate universe, this hope, this meaning, this purpose, this life. The words of Mother Angelica, Foundress of EWTN, the network that aided in my conversion, came to mind. “What a wonderful thing is our Church.”
© 2014. Jamey Brown. All rights reserved.
Photography: See our Photographers page.