It seems that as soon as I tell a person who I've met in a church that I've never visited that I'm a 'first-timer," I hear the same response: Be sure to make your three wishes! How this folklore came to be is beyond me. It conjures up images of God with a magic wand waiting to bestow favors on a person simply for stepping into a new building. Now, I realize that a church is not just any building, and that God is always listening to my thoughts, wishes, and prayers. But why would a new church make Him more sensitive to my wishes? And why three of them? Why not four or two?
When I hear this, my heart goes to the First Letter of Jude in the Bible. The writer wishes three things to all those called "beloved in God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ." They are mercy, love, and peace in abundance. And so, I use these as my three "wishes," prayers really, for the living and deceased of the parish I am visiting.
Recently, I prayed for those things for all at Saint Francis de Sales Parish in Charlestown, Mass. I was there to do a mission appeal for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith; my custom is to arrive at the parish early so I can put donation envelopes in the pews, find out where I'll be sitting, and get the general lay of the land.
With a little extra time, I was left with some freedom to explore the church. If you've never been (and are local), I highly recommend it. What a beautiful place to worship! I was in awe.
It was the same feeling I had when I walked into Saint Tereza's Chapel in Goozi, Uganda.
Six of the tiny outstation chapels could probably fit inside the Charlestown church! Instead of hand carved marble, villagers made their bricks from the local dirt; pews were stacks of bricks with planks laid across them. Window-like spaces were left in the walls for ventilation. The Propagation of the Faith supplied metal sheeting for the roof and door, and concrete for a simple altar. Its simplicity was profound.
A few hundred people crowded inside: many more peered in the windows and doors to be part of the Eucharistic celebration. With no storage available, Father brought his own vestments, sacred vessels, hosts, and altar wine in a suitcase. As the drumbeats started and the choir began to sing, Father turned to me and said, "Be sure to make your three wishes!"
It seems it's not just our faith that's universal!
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.
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