I have seen the Face of God.
My eighteen-year old daughter was late to mass this Sunday and I was unaware. As a music minister at the front of the church, I didn’t see her sidle around the back corner and into the last pew. As it turns out, she, who had hoped to go unnoticed, slid into that back bench right next to God. I’m not joking. It was my friend Corinne, and in that moment, she was literally the Face of God.
Corinne has known my daughter since she was a baby. Our eldest children, both boys, were together in their first grade class, and we did a lot of school volunteering in those days. Corinne was always bringing in treats or hosting gatherings. Always showing concern for others. Honestly, I’ve never known anyone as generous as Corinne, but that’s not why she was the Face of God that day. It was her welcome.
Corinne was so happy to see my kid. Like, overjoyed. They caught up briefly in the bench as my daughter was home on break after her first semester of college. She expressed that she might get in trouble for being late and Corinne just lit up with a smile and said how wonderful it was that she was there.
When I taught religious education classes, so many of the kids didn’t go to mass on a regular basis. It wasn’t their fault, and you could see they felt the sting of that lack of understanding and belonging when we talked about the basics. I always wanted them to know that church was a home for them, that they were welcome anytime, that God would be delighted if they visited, even years down the road. In speaking those hopeful words into them, I aimed to give comfort and reassurance to my students, not knowing what each road might bring. This Sunday at mass, Corinne expressed the delight I had described; she made my words true. She was the Face of God.
When it was time for the sign of peace, I made my way down the aisle to greet my daughter, oblivious to any of what had occurred, and she met me halfway with a grin. So did Corinne, standing behind my daughter, pointing, smiling, and giving two enthusiastic ‘thumbs up.’ She may have been trying to cover my daughter’s lateness, softening the landing for a perceived transgression, but none of that was necessary. I was so glad to see my kid there. What Corinne did do was to give me an additional gift in her picture of the welcome of God: ebullient, effervescent, excited in a ‘thumbs up’ kind of way. Oh, how He loves us. I could see it all over her face.
My kids were raised with mass. They sat in the front row, week after week, as my husband and I did music ministry on the altar. They were involved with church activities, and we were a family who put faith and charitable action at the center. My kids have known good priests, great homilies, and authentically joyful Kingdom work, but they’ve also seen the negative parts of our Church: hypocrisy, a lack of inclusivity, abuse, scandal. Though they both attend Catholic colleges, I’m not sure they make it to mass all that often, and that is what it is. They may not see the Face of God in the places we taught them to look as children, at least not yet, and that kind of makes sense. Everyone has to find their own path, gain their own authentic understanding, and this takes time and struggle. But it gives me immense peace to know that while they’re walking that road, God is walking with them, hiding in plain sight. Cheering for them, teaching, reassuring, guiding, and welcoming them. In the faces of strangers, friends, teachers, co-workers, and the people, light, thoughts, and ideas God puts in their paths. Because we’re never too late, not really. When we show up, it’s always right on time. The door is always open. God is ever ready with a smile and open arms, eager to welcome us Home.