Monday, March 13, 2006

We're all in this together

The deacon at the Catholic church I used to attend isn't a very flashy guy. His voice tends to be a little flat when he reads the Gospel, and he doesn't ever do homilies. You might be tempted to dismiss him as unimportant, but here's what really matters about this man: He was there when I first came to the parish 28 years ago, and he's still there now. He's there to open the church every morning before the 8:30 Mass unless he's sick, which is almost never. He's there to carry out the tasks of the St. Vincent de Paul Society no matter who else wants to help. He's there for the elderly when they need a ride to the doctor, and for the homeless when they need someone to arrange a place to stay for a night or two. He's there for baptisms and visits to the funeral home when the priests have other things to do. Those priests have come and gone over the years (and to be honest, some of them seemed more absent then present even before they left), but our deacon has always been there when anybody needed him.

I've only seen this man once since I stopped going to that church. I ran into him unexpectedly in the grocery store and didn't have time to think about how to explain why I hadn't been around, and so I didn't say much of anything and hated myself for it later. I really miss the guy and wished I'd said so.

I ran into him again today in the grocery store, and this time I didn't let him get away without telling him that I think he's the most faithful and committed person I've ever met. He told me he thought I'd come back to that church eventually. I shrugged and said maybe I would, even though I don't think I ever will.

And then I went out into the parking lot and ran into another old friend from that church, one who does keep in touch from time to time, and we hugged and chatted, too. She was in the hospital recently, and is a little depressed about that, and I was glad to have spend even a few minutes with her and tell her I'd keep her in my prayers.

And I remembered my recent musings about community, and thought about all the people I am blessed to have as traveling companions on this strange journey.

And I sincerely mean this, and yet at the same time, going to church with people I don't really know leaves me with a profoundly empty feeling. I used to look around in church and think to myself that I knew most everyone there. Even if I didn't know them by name, I could recognize the members of their family and had watched their children grow up, or remembered a husband or wife now deceased. I miss that a lot, but I hear that so many others have left my old parish, it wouldn't feel the same even if I went back now. Sad, sad, sad.

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