When I was younger I regularly took note of the few solitary figures dotting an otherwise empty church, praying, long before Mass and long afterwards. They were a comfort to me, realizing I wasn't all alone, while their example encouraged and edified me. Those were the days of my early twenties, I considered these folks to be old people, and indeed, I suppose they were - usually retired men, often a bit shabby looking, or occasionally I'd notice a blind or handicapped man. (At that time, I rarely noticed young people at church, especially at adoration - they weren't to be found.)
It was very lonely for me when I first returned to the Church back in 1972. A few churches had adoration of the Blessed Sacrament way back then, but few people filled the pews. As a result of my conversion, I pretty much abandoned my former friends who didn't understand what it meant for me to return to the sacraments along with the renunciation of vice, much less my desire to spend as much time as possible in the atmosphere of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Hence I developed a "spiritual friendship" with the very few solitary souls scattered throughout the church.
One or two guys in particular became such friends. Of course we never spoke, except for an occasional, but rare acknowledgement of a nod or a smile. I went to Mass and adoration specifically to pray, not to make friends - that is what I told myself at least, trying to deny the deep loneliness I experienced in the initial stages of my conversion process.
One friend I've thought about lately is Matthew. I never knew his full name, perhaps some readers may. He regularly attended the novenas at Assumption, and the church of St. Louis in downtown St. Paul, as well as St. Agnes. In fact he may still be alive. Matthew was a Native American gentleman, blind, and I think a bit lame, since he used a cane. He was very friendly, as were other parishioners, who often led him up to communion during Mass or lit candles for him. Naturally I noted all of these little attentions he received. Being blind, he would never have known of my presence, and I never approached him.
I'm not entirely sure why I kept a distance. I surely admired his faithfulness to prayer and daily Mass, taking the bus at night and walking so many blocks to St. Agnes, but I think I was afraid of him. At that age I didn't know how to relate to ordinary people. I don't mean that in a snooty sense either. In addition, I wasn't sure how to deal with his blindness; Should I help him, or ask him if I can help him, or will he get angry? More deeply, there were other fears and apprehensions I didn't quite comprehend at the time, or was unable to recognize. Most Native Americans wandering around the downtown churches were pan-handlers and drunks. Simply by being a Native American with disabilities and rumpled clothing, Matthew appeared to share in that stigma.
One day, Matthew and I happened to be leaving the church together. He was just a bit ahead of me seeking the railing on the great staircase outside the church. My conscience commanded me to take his arm in order to help him down the stairs. He asked my name, we spoke haltingly, and then he requested I help him to the corner. My first thought was, "See, this is what happens when you help someone, they ask you to do more." I'm not at all kidding - there is jerk who lives inside me. Again my conscience corrected me, "If a man asks you to go one mile with him, go with him two."
As I walked arm in arm with Matthew, he sensed I was shivering, "You cold", he asked?.
"Kinda." I answered with a laugh.
Then Matthew felt my arm and my waist and he said, "You gotta eat boy, you're too skinny."
"Oh, I do. But not today."