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Is discipleship mostly about paying attention?


Photo courtesy of Father Gregory Malovetz

Msgr. Gregory E.S. Malovetz - published on 09/08/23

In a culture that was not child centered, it must have been surprising, even shocking, when Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.”

She looked up at me wide-eyed. Her expression seemed to be asking, “What is this song everyone is singing, and why don’t I know it?” Born during the pandemic, her baptism delayed, three-year-old Lucy now joined her infant sister at the font for the sacrament. Celebrating during a Sunday Mass, the congregation was singing “pray with us” as the cantor chanted the Litany of the Saints. I stooped down in front of her, holding her hand. Lucy followed my lips carefully and soon we were together singing “pray with us.”

It was an unplanned moment that became a photo op for relatives. And several parishioners commented on it as they later congratulated the family.

At the end of Stephen Sondheim’s musical, one of the characters, providing the moral of the story, sings “careful the things you say, children will listen. Children may not obey, but children will see and learn.”

A week after Lucy’s baptism, her parents sent me an email with a video attachment. It was not from any part of the baptism, nor the Litany of the Saints moment. It was a video of the baby monitor for Lucy’s room. After her parents put Lucy to bed, she could be heard over and over singing unintelligible words, followed by the repeated clear response, “pray for us.” 

In a culture that was not child centered, it must have been surprising, even shocking, when Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” This was no sentimental moment ready-made for a photo. It was a calling. The call to discipleship is about listening, noticing and paying attention. It is realizing that every small or ordinary moment can be an encounter with God’s loving presence and grace. Even more: People are listening and watching us. It is a lesson we are never too old to learn and live.

It has been 40 years since I celebrated my first baptism as a priest. Sometimes the child is sound asleep, sometimes crying or staring with wide eyes. It has been a blessing to follow many of them on their spiritual journey and be grateful for some small difference I have made on that journey. But never quite as quickly as days after the baptism.

It is said we never know what difference our faith might have on someone we meet along the road of life. Often the lack of immediate results can make us wonder if it is worth the effort. But then you kneel down in front of a face filled with interest and joy. You realize you have, with the grace of God, the ability to help them enter the song.


This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.

The Human Being Fully Alive
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