Dear Brothers and Sisters,
May the Lord give you peace.
I had a wonderful experience at mass recently I’d like to tell you about. It involves a wonderful man with Down Syndrome. I’ll call him Jimmy.
Being a creature of habit I was seated last Sunday where I usually sit for mass–first pew, center-right as you face the altar. More often than not a family of mom, dad and two young boys sit beside me. Last Sunday the family was missing. This left the pew wide open except for a woman who sat to my right.
About 15 minutes into the liturgy, just as the priest was beginning the homily there was some comotion to my left as two men enter the pew in which I was sitting. The man closest to me was a middle-aged man whom it was evident had Down Syndrome. The man to his left was younger, a 20-something year old man, an aid to Jimmy, the man beside me. Jimmy nodded ‘hello’ to me as he removed his coat. He glanced up at priest standing at the ambo and gave Father a thumbs up. Father smiled, returned Jimmy’s gesture and continued with the homily.
Jimmy was having trouble finding his way through the missal provided by an usher. He turned to me and indicated with a series of hand gestures and hard-for-me-to-understand words that he would like some help. I did the best I could to keep Jimmy on the correct page as the mass proceeded.
Mass was filled with several liturgical anomalies instituted by Jimmy, such as Jimmy elevating the Precious Body (in imitation of the priest at the altar several moments earlier) before consuming it and insisting on a fist bump with the chalice bearer after he received the Precious Blood. None of these liturgical maneuvers is approved by the Church of course. But it is I who am bound by the liturgical norms of the Church, God is not, and I have a suspicion that Jimmy and people like him are in some mysterious way more in touch with the Trinity than I am. In other words, God likely makes exceptions to the rubrics for guys like Jimmy.
Long after the Catholics who fulfill their “Sunday obligation” and leave the building as quickly as possible after receiving Eucharist–why spend one more minute in church than absolutely necessary?–and after the crucifer, acolytes, altar severs and priest processed out of the sanctuary and toward the back of the church, those of us remaining began chatting to one another while putting our coats on in preparation to leave.
Jimmy, however, had other plans. He left the pew and moved into the center aisle. He approached the altar, stopping several feet in front of it where there is positioned a large oriental rug. Jimmy proceeded to lay prostrate on the rug in front of the altar and the tabernacle located directly behind it. He laid there for a minute or so, then stood up, returned to the pew, donned his hat and coat and he and his aid walked down the center aisle and out the door.
I was gob-smacked, as my friends in the U.K. say. Here was a man who seemed to take more seriously than any of the rest of us what had just occurred on that altar. Here was a man who seemed to be very conscious of what or rather Who it was in the tabernacle located directly behind the altar. Oh ye…oh me…, oh we of little faith.
The scene of Jimmy laying facedown before the altar and tabernacle last Sunday has stuck with me. It came to mind this morning while I was reading the transcript of a talk given by Pope Francis on September 22, 2013:
“For the Good Shepherd what is far, what is on the margins, what is lost and unappreciated is the object of greater care, and the Church cannot but make her own this special love and attention. The first in the Church are those who are the most in need, humanly, spirituality, materially.”
Brothers and sisters, let us pray for Jimmy and those like him. And when we have the opportunity let us welcome people like Jimmy into the very heart of our parishes. I can only speak for myself, but I need people like Jimmy in my life to teach me the ways of the Kingdom.
Pax et Bonum!