A reader recently asked me to write about what she called "the ministry of moving over."
Our family learned this summer that we are expecting a baby in March -- due on the feast of the Annunciation. A delightful date to think of welcoming another child.
As the weeks progress, our baby's presence grows. I have to make room for my expanding waistline with looser shirts and roomier jeans. Soon the bin of maternity clothes will be dragged out from under the bed, since none of my regular clothes fit the way they did a month ago.
Making room for a new member of our family is a long and gradual process. I'm not the only one who will have to adjust. Baby's brothers are facing a bedroom shuffle as we think about where another child will sleep.
We'll pull out the bins of tiny clothes and rearrange closets. My husband will reassemble the crib in our bedroom, and we'll move the furniture again.
But making room for others is a pressing call -- for our Church and country, too. The question looms: How can our communities become places of welcome?
We follow a Lord who made room at the table for sinners and taught that when we welcome a stranger, we welcome Christ (Mt 25:35). We believe in a God of radical welcome, who reminds us that "you too should love the (stranger), for that is what you were in the land of Egypt" (Dt 10:19).
How does this call to welcome urge us to make room for others?
A reader recently asked me to write about what she called "the ministry of moving over": the simple act of scooting into the center of the pew to allow parents with young children to sit on the end -- and have an easy escape route to leave with a cranky baby or toddler.
I loved her phrase, a powerful reminder that the smallest acts of making room and extending welcome can make a huge difference.
Anyone might have good reason to need a seat on the end of a pew. But if pure preference is keeping us from moving in and giving up a favorite view, why not take up the ministry of moving over and share our seat with a smile?
Welcoming the stranger can be as radical as considering our political stance or as personal as deciding to open our family to new life. It might also be as simple as letting someone who needs the end of the pew have the seat that will make them feel welcome.
If we want our Church, our communities and our families to be known for our loving welcome -- reflecting the same mercy that God offers -- we might ask how we make room for others.
Who doesn't want a Church brimming with new members and younger generations? If this means I share a pew with families whose children are rowdier than mine, what a gift to stretch my prayer to include their needs.
I can always offer a warm smile, knowing the effort it takes to bring young children to Mass -- now a countercultural act in our society that no longer values religious practice.
As my own body stretches to make space for someone new, I feel the inconvenience of making room. It would have been simpler and smoother not to worry about the work or cost of raising another child.
But I would miss out on the gifts that this stranger is waiting to bring -- to me, to our family and to our Church.
If I can make room to meet my growing baby's needs, I can certainly scoot over the next time anyone needs my pew. What a beautiful reminder of how moving over can widen the love God asks us to share.
- Laura Kelly Fanucci is a guest columnist for Catholic News Service.