I can truthfully say that my wife has been a spectacularly good influence on me. Over the course of our twenty-year marriage, my darling better half taught me how to dress in civilian clothes, how to write thank you notes, and that the perfect household tool is an awl.
But one of the most important things she has taught me over the years is to Scoot Over. Let me explain.
I used to have my Seat. It was the Seat I sat in at Mass each Sunday…that space in the pew was mine, carefully chosen to give me quick access to the aisle so I could escape at the appropriate time and only had to hold hands with one other person. My Seat was at the end of the pew, you see, and there was nothing that would make me Scoot Over. Not single mothers with small children, not old people with walkers, not large middle-aged men who couldn't fit into the pew even if I wasn't there.
Then I learned to Scoot Over.
It wasn't that I was purposely unkind, it's that I was carelessly so. Frankly, it just never occurred to me to Scoot Over rather than making someone step over me when they appeared at my pew. Once my wife pointed out that I was seriously lacking in the Christian virtue of charity, I was a little embarrassed. After all, what sort of man makes a woman and her three small children climb over him to get into the pew? Certainly not a man who practices charity.
Charity is one of the four Christian Virtues, a fancy way of saying love. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines "charity" as "the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God" (#1822). Like any habit, charity is a muscle that needs to be exercised to be strong.
Go ahead…this Sunday you have a chance to practice this virtue. It's not hard, and you might even enjoy the smile on someone's face when they realize they don't have to climb over you to get to the center of the pew. The middle of the pew is not that bad, you know, you won't have anyone climbing over you to get there. The faithful gathered around the Lord's Table at Holy Mass are truly one family; we are adopted sons and daughters of God. Family makes room for each other at the table…we should do the same.
After I learned to practice the virtue of charity by Scooting Over, an interesting thing happened…I began to be kind in other situations. I found myself Holding Open the Door, Smiling at Strangers, and Letting Others Go First. Curious how, as I exercised my charity muscle, I grew more accustomed to using it.
And it all started with learning to Scoot Over.