Saturday, August 14, 2010

Those men in the back of the church.

I believe it was early spring when I first noticed him at the back of church as I came in for confession.  He had shoulder length dark hair, glasses, a beard, and was dressed in a denim shirt - tails hanging out over his tattered, but clean jeans.  He had on hiking boots and carried a large leather bag.  He was kneeling, hunched over in prayer, oblivious to anyone around him.  Every Saturday afternoon since I have seen him in the same spot, sometimes venturing forward to kneel in prayer at Our Lady's altar.
Once in awhile I'll nod to him and he nods back.  Early on, one of the adoration ladies called my attention to him, "Did you see that scruffy kid?"  But that was just the way she referred to him - she wasn't being disrespectful.  "He looks really clean," she added.  "I wonder what his story is?"  And sure enough, Dorothy went up to talk to him to make him feel welcomed, and gave him some devotional literature.  The next week she gave him a rosary and taught him how to pray it.  I notice he now goes to Communion.
He still dresses in the same clothes, jeans and denim shirt, worn boots, although a couple of weeks ago he cut his hair and isn't always carrying his knapsack.  Instead of nodding to him, I now give him a small wave and he waves back in recognition.  I don't know his name.
There is another guy at the same Mass - he's the one who told me he is a recovering alcoholic.  He wears a Hawaiian shirt, jeans and beat up sports shoes.  He waves to me now and then, just before Mass.  I see him with an old lady whom I assume is his mom.  He goes to confession on a regular basis.  He's very simple and kind.
Then there is this really fat guy - I think he buys his clothes from a direct mail company like "King Size" - or maybe not.  But he wears huge polo-type shirts that could function as a dress for a plus-sized woman, and though he doesn't wear real jeans, he does wear a sort of jersey-denim, undecorated rumpled sport pant, and again, well worn sports shoes.  He has trouble walking, but that doesn't stop him from doing the collection, panting and gasping for air as he does so.  He's usually unshaven, or badly shaved.   For several years he would ignore me, but then one day he actually smiled and nodded when I said hello.  It made me feel good. 


  1. Beautiful reflection, Terry.
    The good Lord has made me (for whatever reason...something known to Him, Alone) the "caretaker" for many of the "men in the back of the Church"; probably because I am one of them.
    Saints in our midst; the ones that might get overlooked, eyebrows raised, not respectable...etc.
    I pray I can always be like "the men in the back of Church"...I really identify with them.

  2. Oh, and not that I consider myself a "saint" no means, far from it.
    I just want to be identified as one of the "least"...
    I deserve to be cast out of the Kingdom; but God's Love and Mercy is so absolutely tremendous, that He keeps me with wondrous!

  3. Wonderful reflection.

    At first I thought you were gong to talk about ushers. One of our ushers, during the temperate months, performs his duties barefooted in shorts. Not sure where he got that from.

    I have a friend, in his 50s, who is a shop-a-holic and a hoarder. Among the things that he can't not buy are really "loud" men's shirts and pants and just about any informal man's hat. He's quite the scene, even when he attends Mass at St. Joan's.

    But he's the only one in that unique congregation that kneels for the Consecration. And he says grace before every meal.

  4. Holy people unrecognized walking among us. We don't deserve them.

    Undesirable people,I wrote about them too but with waaay more colorful language. (Father N.P. forgive me!)

  5. belinda: don't worry, these ears are "asbestos" covered (don't tell the feds, okay:<)?)
    I forgot to say that this "out-take" was superb, Terry.
    I never saw this...I'm very interested in seeing more of it.

  6. Ray: At least the ushers aren't on the steps "havin' a smoke" during the Mass...something I've heard from some Greeks...(unecumenical...sorry!)
    Yeah, well, for the vast majority of so-called homilies, I'd go out and have several smokes and good shot of whatever...bad priest!! Very bad!!

  7. I guess I can't comment on ushers puff away, Father.

    It was pretty well drilled into me by the Benedictines that coming late was not allowed.

    And Fr. Shubitz, the assistant, would stand in the back after Communion to observe who was leaving early. Woe betide the student who left early. I had to do that once to get home to babysit so my Dad could go to Church and I still feel a tad guilty from the look on Father's face.

    He would regularly harangue the congregation about the "St. Anthony's Track Team", running out early. But it didn't seem to have much of an effect. Probably because he was just the assistant.

  8. Ray: Bless the Benedictines, harsh as they might have been, in days, well, God forgive me, but from what I know being in a Benedictine abbey, studying graduate theology in the 1980's...not only would they have been providing the ciggies and the booze, but probably a LOT MORE (behind the "barn", if ya know whatta I mean).

  9. +JMJ+

    Thanks to you, Terry, I'm starting to look at what people are wearing at Mass. And no, I don't mean that in that way.

  10. In 12 years of Benedictine education, I saw a nun hit a kid once; he was acting up in a fire drill line. She grabbed his hair and rapped his head against the wall a couple of times. He laughed.

    Fifteen year later I saw him at Mass with his wife and kids.

    I talked to my two brothers and they confirmed that physical contact in our schools was almost non-existent to the point where they could remember only one or two incidents.

    The standard punishment seemed to be "clapping erasers" after school.


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