Finding Christ in the Pews

Coming out of Mass one Sunday, I overheard a woman near me complain to her friend about the attire of some college-aged girls who had been in church with us. I cringed for those girls who had no idea that someone was talking negatively about them. Gossip and detraction are not from God. How sad that this woman had just emerged from the place where heaven meets earth—the Holy Eucharist—and rather than praising God, she was judging the people in the pews.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have witnessed such a display: not only about the clothes people wear, but also about the way they pray, the way they sing, the way they parent their children, and more. The Enemy wants to distract us from the true purpose of Mass, and here is one way he succeeds.

Sometimes it is tempting to believe that each of us comes to church for a personal, one-on-one encounter with God, and that everyone around us is peripheral. It is tempting to think that the job of others is merely to safeguard the ambience of peace and solitude we think we deserve. But this is not true. There is a reason we come to Mass together, instead of praying by ourselves. And if we are seeking the “perfect” atmosphere for prayer, we set ourselves up for disappointment—that kind of perfection is heaven’s reward. If we receive a hint of it on earth, it is a gift from God, not a right. If we look closely, we find that the interruptions and distractions that upset us are actually opportunities to grow in charity.

We are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) –one body that is made up of many parts (1 Corinthians 12:20). Those parts are people who surround us and worship with us. They are not perfect, and neither am I (so it is good news for us that Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:22 that “the parts which seem to be weaker are indispensable”!), and I am so grateful to belong to their number.

The people in the pews with us are our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are not being charitable towards them, we are missing the point. If something about others distracts us, we have a choice: We can complain about them, or we can recognize the face of Jesus in them.

Jesus is on the altar; and He is also inside of each person who makes up the body of Christ. One way we can love Him according to His commandment to love others as He loved us (cf. John 13:34) is to find and honor Him within those people for whom He gave His life—the people with whom we attend Mass.

In the elderly parishioners, whose life stories are full to the brim, overflowing with joy and also with suffering, we can find Christ. The example of their faith gives hope and wisdom to the generations who follow them. Some are able to walk through the church doors unassisted; others cannot make it up the aisle to receive Communion without help. All of them, no matter how frail, give witness to a quiet strength that only comes with age.

In the sick among us, who with courage battle aches and pains to come to Mass when their bodies want to stay in bed and rest; in those who come in wheelchairs, or in hats because their hair is falling out, or who visibly show no signs of illness but bear deep invisible wounds; we can find Christ. They are the modern-day paralytic, the man with the withered hand, the leper, the deaf man, the blind man, the hemorrhaging woman, and all who came, and still come, to Jesus to be healed.

In the parents who bring their children to Mass lovingly, and in their beautiful children, we can find Christ. Though the parents may be tired and yearning for peace and quiet, still they welcome the little ones You have sent to them, bringing them to Mass so that the grace bestowed on all present will bless the dear children and help them to grow in holiness.

In the parents who bring their special-needs children—and in these precious children who often cannot control their behavior, their noise levels, or their physical actions—we can find Christ. How close they are to Jesus’ heart as they proclaim the gospel of life to the Church and to the world!

In those who are missing family members: those who have lost parents, spouses, siblings, or children; those who are far from home; those suffering from divorce or brokenness in the family; and those who have never experienced the comfort of a loving family; we can find Christ. Their love does not go unanswered, and their heavenly family awaits them in the fullness of time.

In pregnant mothers, and in the babies they carry in their wombs, we can find Christ. In mothers who are grieving babies lost through miscarriage, stillbirth, and abortion, we can find Christ. In mothers of the heart, who are longing and waiting for babies they have not been able to conceive, we can find Christ. He who welcomes the little children carries these mothers in His arms as well.

In the ex-convicts, addicts, homeless, and rough-around-the-edges people who come to Mass because they have experienced God’s great mercy, we can find Christ. May they receive respect and admiration for the difficulties they have overcome and for the humility and great courage they have shown by trying to change their lives. They are our companions on this lifelong journey toward sainthood!

In the young people who are trying hard to fit in because they feel lonely and awkward; in the teenagers who grew up in faithless homes and who came to Mass because someone invited them; we can find Christ. Even though they feel out of place and insecure, they come anyway. They are especially precious to Jesus, Who dearly loves the outcasts.

In the people who come alone, we can find Christ. For some of them, it is hard to see so many people sitting together with loved ones. Yet they are not alone— in Mass, they are surrounded by myriad saints, angels, and holy souls who pray with them.

He is not just in the pews, of course. In His servants on the altar—the bishops, priests, deacons, and seminarians who lead us in his name and shine His truth and light to the world—we can find Christ.

In the faithful who attend Mass every day, and also in the people who have just returned after 5, 15, or 50 years away, we can find Christ. He grants the same graces to those who began His work in the morning and those who stumbled upon Him at the end of the day, and He especially rejoices over His lost sheep, His prodigal children, who return to His fold.

There are sinners in these pews. I am one of them, and I know I am in good company. We do not wish to sin, but the humility of being sinners brings us to our knees, and that is a fitting place to be: On our knees, before our God, we know that we are nothing, and He is everything, and we place all our hope in Him.

We are not separated in Mass, each looking at the altar from our own world. We are the body of Christ. We are blessed and broken and shared. Side by side, we pray with those in the pews, and their triumphs and struggles are ours, too. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12: 26).

It is no accident that God has placed us together with the dear people who surround us at Mass. Let us encourage each other, for “every house divided against itself will not stand” (Matthew 12:25). Echoing the words of Jesus, let us say of one another, in this Year of Mercy and always, “Father, they are your gift to me” (John 17:24).

Maura Roan McKeegan


Maura Roan McKeegan lives in Steubenville, Ohio, with her husband, Shaun, and their four children. She is the author of the children’s picture books Into the Sea, Out of the Tomb: Jonah and Jesus (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2016), and The End of the Fiery Sword: Adam & Eve and Jesus & Mary (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2014), which are the first two books in a series introducing children to biblical typology. Her articles have appeared in publications such as Catholic Digest, Crisis, Guideposts, Franciscan Way, Lay Witness, and My Daily Visitor.

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  • prolifemama

    Dearest Maura – once again you have given your reader just what she needed today! God bless you for your generous loving heart and forgiving soul. God bless you for sharing His love with your fellow creatures. And may God bless you as you continue to write and welcome us to the feet of Christ, to listen to His Word, and see His eyes filled with Love, and feel His strong and tender touch, and taste of Him in the Bread and Wine, and smell the Heavenly fragrance that draws us while still here on earth.

  • Bill Guentner

    I am confused. Since when it is gossip or detraction to state to another how you personally feel about a given situation. Detraction is giving a person’s faults to a third person. However, in the case you mention the third person has also seen the manner in which the young people were dressed. Personally I think it is wrong for people to attend mass in clothes that are immodest, in T-shirts with various statements and/or pictures on them. If their dress is all they have, God bless them for showing up for Mass. If I am to present myself before the King of kings, I should acknowledge that by my manner and dress. People attend marriage ceremonies, attend the theater, and parties, well dressed for the occasion. What greater occasion is there than to be present when the Lord of all descends from heaven to be bodily present before us.

  • bringiton

    I agree. And I also wish folks would stop their loud, useless chatter while still in the nave of or exiting the church.
    The lower we set the bar because we’re afraid of being labeled “judgmental”, the less reverence (very sad!) we should then expect.

  • disqus_IzaNrsLv3A

    “It is no accident that God has placed us together with the dear people who surround us at Mass”. Apparently the author believes it’s so that those who find irreverence before our Lord may shamed into hushing.

  • James Keating

    Author never said that. I get that some people’s lives are so miserable that they have to play liturgical and clothes police, but finding a hobby is a much better use of time and will keep you from avoiding a harsh judgement. At the end of the day, you are only responsible for your actions. If something really bothers you, bring it to the priest’s attention.

  • Susan Shelko

    I cannot go to a restaurant and receive service if I go there without a shirt or without shoes. No shirt, no shoes, no service. (As a woman, I would be arrested.) We have that minimum standard for public health purposes. Yet, there is no standard or respect to receive the Holy Eucharist — the body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord.

    There are young women at my church who look like they could be walking the streets or going out for a night on the town. Their mothers are often dressed the same (or even worse). Nothing is left to the imagination. One would not dress this way for business nor for a meeting with an important person. Would they dress like this to see the Pope?

    I understand that this type of dress is the standard of the world; apparently there is no difference between the church and the world. On one hand, I am glad they are there. On the other hand, I am truly grieved because they “diss” (disrespect) our Lord. The elderly, infirm, special needs children, homeless, and crying babies: these are different.

    Believe it or not, I am not the fashion police, nor do I care to become the fashion police.
    As I see it, “dress” is merely a symptom of a far greater problem. If I love you, I want to please you in all that I do. If I am being transformed from the inside out, I will put away worldly/ carnal things and be separate from the world (i.e., become holy and sanctified).

    Other symptoms include the lack of volunteers, children not knowing basic prayers because these are not said at home and 1 1/2 hours of PSR each week isn’t going to fix that, the exodus from communion directly into the parking lot, not being able to fill slots for adoration, the inability to find greeters, non-attendance at mass — the list goes on.

    Does love and charity mean remaining silent in the face of inappropriate or unacceptable behavior? Is that what Christ himself modeled for us?