Shamed

April 29, 2013 at 12:36 pm (Community, Faith) (, )

It was a busy Sunday, hardly a day of rest, with seemingly each member of the family running in different directions. Hockey at 7:30, clean up for the previous night’s event at 9, a performance at 11, 1 and 4…we couldn’t get to any of our usual masses, so we found ourselves at one of the “last-chance masses” downtown on Sunday evening.

We pounded sandwiches for dinner on our way down, and arrived soaked to the skin from an evening rainstorm. I led our bedraggled little group to a pew on the right-hand side of the church, all the way up at the front. As we filed in, I realized that the woman sitting directly in front of us was homeless.  She had several black garbage bags stuffed full of her belongings with her in the pew. She smelled. Her white hair was greasy, hanging in limp hanks across her shoulders, and her layer upon layers of clothing were dirty.

I sighed as I shuffled my kids to the other side, away from her.  “I don’t want to touch her,” I said to myself, the Kiss of Peace looming in my mind.  I couldn’t pay attention to the readings, or the homily, or even the music, as I worried about how I could avoid shaking her hand.  Maybe I could feign a cold, smiling politely as I pretended not to want to share my germs.  Perhaps I could duck out to go to the bathroom, using my youngest as a beard.  Or I could just occupy myself in the other direction, looking at her ruefully as we ran out of time to share a handshake.

I hadn’t quite picked my strategy when I saw her stand up to leave.  She exited the pew and headed up to the altar, placing her garbage bags over the altar rail.

“What on earth?” I wondered.  “Is she mentally disordered to boot?  Will someone need to do something?”

She walked over to one of the now ubiquitous containers of hand sanitizer and rubbed her hands together.  I watched her in bemusement, still not catching on.  As she approached the priest and the altar, I finally got it.  This woman whom I had disdained, this creature of God whom I had considered unworthy of my touch was going to distribute the Body of Christ to the community…to me, and it was I who was utterly unloveable and unworthy.  I burst into tears, and my oldest asked if I was ok.  I shook my head and got up to receive the Eucharist, great heaving sobs wracking my body and tears pouring down my face.

The woman smiled at me as I approached her and I swear to you, she could read my mind.  Her smile said to me that she knew me, she forgave me, and she loved me.  Her face now seemed beautiful to me, shining in the light of the candles and lanterns.  Of course she was beautiful, for she was Divine.

“The Body of Christ,” she said, placing the Host on my upturned palms.

“Amen,” I choked and I fled back to my pew and knelt, hiding my face in my hands.

I wept for the rest of mass.

I wish I could tell you that afterwards I approached her, and introduced myself and begged her pardon and hugged her and redeemed myself.  I could tell you that, but it would be untrue.  Here’s the end of the story.  After communion, she disappeared and I cried all the way home, eventually choking out what happened to my husband in sign language and words of one syllable, and even though this happened months ago, I’m crying writing it down now.

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1 Comment

  1. Kimberly said,

    Crying, too!

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