People waste a lot of time philosophising about religion. They debate minutiae and they kill each other over dogma. Some from the outside generalize the religious as uneducated morons and some on the inside label those outside as heathen rabble. It has been going on for centuries. But I can sum up what is good about Catholicism by something that happened at my Catholic school's open house on Sunday.
There was a good crowd of people milling about in the halls; prospective students and families were walking on tours with teachers who were showing them the premises and explaining about the programs; some of our most energetic students were chipping in, some of them adeptly leading tours of their own.
Many of the families were in their Sunday best; others were sharp in stylish sportswear or crisp jeans and sweaters, whistle-clean hundred-dollar sneakers on their feet.
Through the happy clamour, I saw an oldish woman standing at the sign-in table. Her coat was dirty and her gloves were worn through to the stuffing. Her sneakers were dust grey and her hair was a dusty, sparse red. She was bent over, filling in a registration card. Anne, our advancement director, asked her, "Do you have a prospective student with you?"
"No," the lady answered. "I'm just here for the open house."
This, of course, meant that she was just here for the free soft pretzels and water and for a few minutes out of the winds of a suddenly-cold October day.
She couldn't have been in the hands of two finer gentlemen.
The woman followed them, both gloves clutched in her now thoroughly-warmed hands, as she expressed wonder and interest in everything she saw. At one point, she asked a teacher "how many hallways" we have; which, for some reason, I find inexpressibly moving.
After the tour, she stayed until the show was over and the lights were being shut out, making a point of saying goodbye to the advancement director. As she walked into the slightly warmer afternoon sunshine, she was explaining that she had talked to the school's priest who had made arrangements for her to pick up some food back at the rectory.
As the teachers were leaving, I mentioned to Bill and Joe how nice it had been of them to have spent so much time with the woman. Bill replied, "Hey, we're a Catholic school."
And there it is.