Friday, July 1, 2011
Saints Among Us
Then someone like C. or D. shows up at the kneeler beside me, and regret turns to something deeper, an awareness including astonishment. There are saints among us.
C. is 86 years old if she’s a day. She lives at a residence for the elderly behind our church. I used to see her at daily Mass but she had a bad fall several months ago, leaving her face bruised and her neck in a brace. I catch up with her once a week, when I bring communion to her Rosary group at the residence, but only recently has she been returning to Adoration on Thursday afternoons. As such she is my relief, the 4:30 person following my 3:30 slot.
Like the rest of us, C. goes down on two knees before the Blessed Sacrament before entering the sanctuary. I hear her doing so. I would never turn to watch, which I think would be disrespectful. Then she approaches her kneeler cautiously and articulates her body at elbows and knees, the way you would fold the metal pieces on a human model made with an Erector Set—sharp angles always everywhere. Her head does not bend forward on her neck but stays perfectly upright, already focused, without respite, on the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle behind the altar.
Yesterday, C. brought a tiny Dixie Cup of water with her, all the way across the street from her residence, carefully protecting the water from sloshing in her trembling hand. As I was leaving the chapel, I aksed her about the cup: Did she need more water? She smiled up at me in surprise and said, yes, her doctor told her she should drink plenty of water. I offered to bring her a large cup of water from my office just across the street, and when I did so five minutes later, she smiled again. “Thanks, Dexter.” (Sometimes C. calls me Dexter.) “You’ve saved my day.” “Happy to do it, C. You take care now.”
Earlier this week, I entered the Adoration chapel to find D. comfortably slumped in his seat, not sleeping, I could tell, but deep in contemplation. D. is perhaps 30 years younger than C., but movement comes harder for him than for her. A few years back, D. was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and he now gets around paintstakingly on a cane.
Everyone in our parish knows D., so there’s hardly any point in using an initial instead of his name. Before his diagnosis, he was a cantor. He sang in the parish choir. He was a lector. He did God knows what else. Now it’s all he can do at Friday morning Mass to pull himself up the four steep steps of the ambo to read for us.
Our parish school holds an annual dinner to honor those who have served with particular distinction, either in school or church. This year, D. was one of five honorees. M. was another; I wrote about him here. Award for loudest applause was shared by D., with his MS, and M., an altar server with Down syndrome. (M. did receive an extra burst of acclaim when he approached the podium, thrust his arms in the air, and declared himself “world’s greatest altar server!”)
When D. became aware of me at the kneeler beside him, he began gathering his things: breviary, keys, cane. Then he slowly walked out. But not straight out. He turned toward the right side of the church and approached the statue of St. Joseph, who presides there. He leaned on his cane and pondered St. Joseph from a crooked standing position for a long minute. (I did sneak a glance or two, since St. Joseph is my own personal patron, and I like to know who’s hanging out with him.) Then D. began a long, slow recessional toward the elevator in the right rear corner of the lower church.
Then he stopped halfway. I heard him stop. The metallic click of cane came to a sudden halt. There was a long silence, and when I finally craned my neck back to see what was happening (was he in pain?), he began walking back toward St. Joseph. He reached the altar rail before the saint and knelt for 30 seconds. Then he stood again—what effort that must take!—and began again the long march to the elevator.
In an old, relatively conservative parish like ours, you see scenes like these every day. They make me wish for more faith, hope, charity, and especially devotion.