The Gospel according to Ben

John Sullivan
Professor of Christian Education
Liverpool Hope University

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

On Sunday I sat behind Ben, a five-year old little boy.  I was enchanted by him throughout the Mass.  It would be wrong to say that he distracted me from the Mass.  Rather, he helped me to appreciate some aspects of what is at the heart of our Christian faith.  He deepened my appreciation of the essence of the Gospel.  I felt graced by Ben.  He was a gift to me, a gift which enriched my experience of the Mass.  

What was it about Ben that had this effect on me?  

Ben had two little cars.  He told me that his favourite colour was red.  He was captivated by these two cars.  He patiently rolled them back and forth along the bench and delighted in catching them before they fell onto the floor.  He was quiet throughout the Mass, a model of good behaviour.  But he was not cowed by what was going on; he was not frightened into being quiet.  No doubt, in his own way, he had some sense of the solemnity of the occasion and of the reverence expected of this holy place and sacred time together.  

Next to him was Roseanne. She was watching over him but without needing to intervene.  There was no heavy hand needed to keep him under control.  Roseanne was relaxed, and her calmness was transmitted to Ben.  Ben knew she was there and her presence, along with his evident experience of her love and support no doubt made him feel completely at ease.  He knew she was otherwise engaged and did not expect her to play with him at this time.  He was full of trust in her presence.  She was there if he needed her.  She was doing something special and important and he respected that and he did not press her for her attention as she took a full part in the Mass.  

Because of this relationship between Roseanne and Ben, he could live in the present moment, fully in that moment, with no worries about the past and no fears for the future.  He delighted in the colours, in the movement of the cars, in the smoothness of how they moved along the bench; he was thrilled by the sensation of speeding them along and taking the risk that they would fall on the floor (which would make a noise, a noise he knew would not be suitable in this time and place).  He rejoiced in the repetition of doing something so enjoyable, yet so simple.  

He took a special delight in repeating the sign of the cross multiple times, proving to himself that he knew how to make this gesture.  He could tell that this was part of what the grown-ups were doing.  It was obvious to me (but, of course, I could be wrong about this) – it was obvious to me that Ben knew he was present at a holy event, one he was glad to be attending, although attending in his own way, a way fitting for a five-year old boy.  

If I could feel that level of trust displayed by Ben; if I could be so patient as he so evidently was; if I could leave aside the worries of the past and concerns for the future and live fully in the present moment in the way Ben did; if I could attend to what was immediately around me with the intensity and appreciation that Ben did – I am sure I would find myself nearer to heaven – though not as near as Ben is.  

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