An act of charity, for him and for me

After I got back to church from dinner in between Saturday Masses at my normal parish, I noted the man sitting in a back pew, just sitting there. Maybe praying, maybe not. I wasn’t sure. The usual people who set things up for Spanish Mass after English Mass hadn’t been at the first Mass, so I started a couple of those duties, picking up the Book of the Gospels and taking it to the back of church so that the deacon could bring it in during the procession.

The man got up and came over to me. “By any chance, was this church once an Episcopal church?” It was not, I said. I talked a little bit about the history of our church building (it dates back to around 1869). He said the church reminded him of Notre Dame (the school, not the church).

“But the last time I went to Notre Dame, I went a little different way, and it wasn’t the same. St. Mary’s University was gone. Then another time, I went, and I don’t know what happened, but I was in South Bend and the University of Indiana was there.”

Uh-oh. It was obvious, at this point, that a few connections weren’t firing the right way in the man’s brain. He wasn’t able to stay on the topic, and the connections he was making to things didn’t make much sense, unless the roads that had run north-south were now running only west-east. In his mind, Jamaica had somehow migrated to South America. He could see saints all over church (not really; we have a couple saint-devoted stained glass windows in front and a couple icons in back, but the rest of the artwork in church is made up of the Stations of the Cross and stained glass windows that depict Jesus’ life).

But we talked for half an hour or so, in which he said he wasn’t allowed to talk in church and this was the first time he was doing it and he was making spirits mad by talking in church (and I suggested this was unlikely, but he was sure that was what was happening).

After the man left, I said to the priest (who had seen us talking), “You know, I feel bad. I think that poor guy has a few things not connecting in his mind.” He agreed. “Every once in a while, he shows up for daily Mass, then leaves halfway through, and it’s not clear why.”

But, he said, “it’s good that you talked to him.”

Yeah, it was. The man clearly wanted to talk to someone, even if he wasn’t quite communicating clearly. Perhaps that was why, as he had said, he felt compelled to come back here after attending the first Mass.

The last time I went to Confession, the priest suggested that as a penance, I do an act of charity for someone else. Like anyone else who gets one of those types of penances, I promptly forgot. (That doesn’t negate the absolution, by the way, in case you were wondering.) Though I forgot, God didn’t. And His act of charity was making sure I didn’t neglect to carry out one of my own.

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