More than two decades ago I was privileged to offer Mass each Sunday at a church in downtown Brussels, the French and Flemish bilingual capital of Belgium. The drive from where I was living and teaching in Leuven was a traffic-free, relaxing 19-mile commute. The self-proclaimed “parish” of 57 faithful souls hailed from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. They contacted me because they preferred to hear the Liturgy celebrated by an “American-speaking” priest, which is how they described me, and I was happy to be of service.
Their children, like the majority of the youth in Belgium, were expected to be fluent in four languages by the time they graduated from high school or so-called secondary school. However, since most of their core studies were conducted by teachers with an English accent, my USA pronunciation of words intrigued them. Apparently, my intonations gave them the impression they were listening to the soundtrack of a Hollywood movie. The fact that I had never even visited California didn’t seem to matter.
Religious education for their kids was tantamount to home-schooling by devout parents who cherished the fundamentals of their Catholic faith as much as they valued their ethnic heritage. This is why I stood mystified one weekend when I was greeted after Mass by a couple from Ireland who asked me to listen to the catechetical reasoning of their six-year-old daughter. Bear in mind that the only time these parishioners saw me was when I was wearing vestments and ministering from the church sanctuary.
Mrs. Fitzsimmons: “Maureen, tell this priest what name you call him.” The red-haired lass stared at me intently and announced, “You are God the Bob.”
“Excuse me,” I replied, trying my best not to sound like a dramatic screen-writer’s acting script.
“You are God the Bob” the child repeated, looking perplexed about how a grown man could be confused about his identity. Her parents smiled as I furrowed my brow toward them and shrugged my shoulders in search of an explanation.
Mr. Fitzsimmons: “We were reviewing a catechism lesson last night and I asked how many persons are there in God. Maureen answered, ‘Four.’”
Mrs. Fitzsimmons: “When I asked who taught her that, she pointed to the two of us which was a complete shock. So without hesitation I told her to name them. She said, ‘God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and God the Bob.’”
Mr. Fitzsimmons: “And I immediately wanted to know who is this God-the-Bob person? Maureen explained, ‘Every Sunday you tell me I have to behave in church because that’s God’s house. And every Sunday Father Bob is in that house talking and talking and talking. Since he lives in the church and the church is God’s house, he must be the fourth person, God the Bob.’”
This child’s fascinating logic was a great source of amusement for us adults at the time. But her theological insight, and dare I add spiritual challenge, has stayed with me these many years later.
Dogmatically, Maureen got it wrong. There are only three persons in the Blessed Trinity. Ascetically, Maureen got it right. We are all made in the image and likeness of God. Her angelic innocence gently reminds us that divine imitation is actually a two-way street. Yes, our world would be a much better place if each time we looked at other people the first thing we saw in them was an image and likeness of God.
On the other hand, the opposite side of this equation is just as compelling. When was the last time we asked ourselves what sort of image of God are we projecting for others to witness? Wouldn’t our world also be a much better place if all of our thoughts and words and actions echoed what God would think and say and do? If our lives were a representation of God’s goodness, wouldn’t this make it easier for others to perceive us as a reflection of God’s image and likeness? Granted we can never become the fourth person of the single God-head. But we can strive to exhibit some dimension of the divinity that the Creator deliberately fashioned inside our humanity.
For Holy Homework: Through the month of May, Mary’s month, instead of the words “God the Bob,” let’s fill in the blank by adding our own name or initials to the phrase: “God the _______.” Then, let’s print out and attach a copy of this declaration to a mirror we look into every morning and ask Mary to intercede for us so that we will remember that we constantly display an image of her Son to everyone who observes us each day.
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