I called her The-Lady-Who-Sits-in-the-Pew-in-Front-of-Us. She was there every Sunday at the 10:15 a.m. Mass, about eight rows from the altar on the pulpit side of the church. Whether I ever saw her face I can’t recall.
What I do remember, and with great clarity, is her hat. Its color was a sort of gray-yellow-brown hybrid that today’s Etsy merchants might call ecru, but which at the time reminded me of soft cheese mold. The really interesting thing about that hat was the panoply of matching ecru sequins that dangled from it: nickel-sized discs that would make the slightest clicking noise whenever the hat-wearer bent her head in prayer.
That was around 1968. All through that long-ago winter, the sequined hat of T-L-W-S-I-T-P-I-F-O-U was a reliable marker of my family’s place in church. My little brother, who was too young to count pews, would just head for the glinting discs when my mother, late as usual, hurried us into church during the Epistle.
After our quarter-mile walk through winter weather, the hardwood pew was as inviting as a hearthside. There, after completing our weekly shuffle of glove-peeling and hat-doffing, my brother and I would be hastily placed in reverent postures by maternal hands.
Once settled, I knew that I would be free to indulge my senses without interruption until the Concluding Rite. I would listen blissfully to the church sounds: the voice of the priest echoing in the cavernous church, the click of rosary beads, the hiss of dwindling candles, the clink of coins in the collection basket. I would smell the lingering incense, the melting wax, the wet wool of my coat, my mother’s Sunday perfume.
And I would watch the light shimmer, dance, and wink on the ecru sequins in front of me. In those moments, the world was as perfect a place as I could imagine. There was comfort, light, security, and warmth. My family was with me, and God was there. Right there.
Now, forty-five years later, my children tease me about my fascination with sequins. Whenever we’re in a craft store, I will pick up a packet of sequins and turn it this way and that, watching the light play on the smooth, shiny shapes. Fingering sequins transports me to a time and place that’s warm and secure, that smells good, and that dates back almost half a century.
It’s easy to see how sequins and church-going might be linked in my own mind. It’s harder to see why New Evangelists should care.
Consider this: What if parents made an effort to create certain associations for their children; for example, during family Rosary? Suppose that Mom always nursed or cuddled the baby at that time? Or that an uber busy father could give his family only one hour, and chose to spend some of it saying the Rosary with them? Or that family Rosary was routinely prayed in an area of the home that was lovingly prepared for that purpose?
Would that baby grow to associate the Rosary prayers with comfort and maternal love? Would the children, when they became adults, remember the closeness of Dad when praying the Rosary with their own kids? And would the recitation of the Rosary bring back memories of a bright candle burning before a lovely Madonna in a cozy room?
It breaks my heart to say that one of my sons has become an atheist. Another has begun to turn away from the Faith. Although neither of these young men will actually recite the Rosary prayers, they are both attracted by the warmth and the sense of togetherness that arises when we pray the Rosary as a family. I like to think that, in their earliest years, my sons formed happy associations with Catholic family life; associations that time and circumstance cannot break.
Fond memories and sentiment may not be standard-issue in the evangelizer’s toolkit, but they can certainly soften hearts, thus making them more open to receiving – or, in my sons’ case, accepting — the Gospel. After all, God can use all things to the good.
Copyright © 2013, Celeste Behe