Yesterday after daily Mass, I had a conversation in the parking lot that stayed with me all day.
I like how God set it up for me. My church-lady friend, who sat next to me, looked at me at the end of Mass and said, "I think I'm going to stay for a little while." Sometimes she does that. So I went on without her.
There is a gentleman who began coming to daily Mass a month or so ago. You know when someone is new because we all sit in the same places every time. Even new people. He has been sitting at the other end of "my" pew. I nod "good morning" to him when I arrive, and we have chatted briefly on the way to our cars, introduced ourselves, etc. So yesterday, we struck up a conversation on the way to the parking lot.
He seemed to want to talk, and I had plenty of time to listen. It seems weird to say that there has been some kind of "connection" with him, but there has been. He is probably older than my dad. He mentioned that he had a daughter with my name, and I made a pretty safe bet that she, too, was born in the 60's. I don't usually stand in the parking lot and visit with men I barely know after Mass, but this just drew me in. There was nothing uncomfortable or strange.
I have been observing bits and pieces of his journey from an outsider's perspective, but yesterday, I heard it from him. He and his wife are separating. I hate to hear that when people who have been married for a long time separate. I would like to think that my marriage is "safe", but I'm not sure that ever happens.
I have tried to put my finger on what it was about this conversation that stayed with me, and I think that more than anything, it was listening to him talk about the kindness and grace that he has received and the ways that the Holy Spirit has moved in his life in the past few months in the midst of personal difficulty. Grace in suffering.
He told me that when he first started coming to Mass, he was going up for a blessing during Communion. This I knew because I followed him in the line, and there was an ever-so-slight change in the rhythm as the priest put down the host, blessed him, and picked up the host for the next person. He told me that he had gone to ask our pastor how he felt about him going up for a blessing (some priests have more issues with the practice than others, I suppose) and our kind priest had told him that he COULD receive Communion, even though he and his wife were separated, but first he needed to go to Confession.
He was surprised to hear that he could receive Communion as his first wife is still living, and the Confession requirement didn't seem unreasonable. He told the priest that he had quite a list after 36 years. "I'm sure you do," was the reply. They arranged to take care of business one morning after Mass, and I had figured that much, too, because one day there was no break in the rhythm of the Communion line.
He told me that Confession had just been in our pastor's office with "just you, me, and God" - according to the good monsignor. "Tell me what you need to tell me," the priest had invited. He said that when they had finished, he asked if it would be possible for him to receive the Eucharist that day, as it was his mother's birthday. (Do you think SHE was celebrating in Heaven?) Our kind pastor had unlocked the church and obliged. He was so touched by this and by the kindness of our pastor, walking him to his truck with his arm around his shoulder and telling him it would be "OK". It was beautiful to hear him tell it.
He said he'd had a court hearing the previous week, and he'd stopped the day before and asked our priest for a blessing and a prayer. He had blessed him, and then told him that he would offer the Mass he was saying at the elementary school the following day for his intention. He was so humbled, and so happy that everything had gone as he wanted in court.
I serve as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion at our parish, and last weekend was my turn to serve. This is a ministry that I would never have sought on my own, but I serve because I was asked. It just so happened that this man was one of the people in my line last weekend. He said he had hoped that it would happen that way. Truth be told, it was kind of neat for me, too. Certainly not in any kind of romantic way, but in a working of the Holy Spirit kind of way. It is an undeserved privilege to offer the Body of Christ to fellow travelers along the way. I am touched by his reverence, appreciation, and respect for the Eucharist, and it was a bit of a divine touch to be with him on that little part of the journey.
He won't be with us long. In the next month or so, he says, he is moving back to his hometown. But there is a sense of him dropping into my life for some purpose. What, I don't know.
I have no idea how long my church lady friend stayed inside the church after Mass. I never saw her leave, but I noticed that her vehicle was gone when I left. I spent some time with the Blessed Sacrament last night while my kids were at CCD. I wish I could tell you that it was the peaceful prayer of the week before - praying for my friends with cancer. But I just ended up praying for those in need of healing - physical, spiritual, and emotional. I imagine that covers about the whole human race.
And my new friend - he told me his given name, but he says "just about everyone" calls him "Brother". And so I have been given a new Brother-in-Christ.