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!


11 thoughts on “Jimmy

  1. Don Smith

    Awesome! So true!

  2. Heidi

    I’m *almost* glad we were out of town this weekend and not sitting beside you. I missed worshipping with you, but I’m so so so glad you go to experience this!

  3. Kristina Terry

    Beautiful! Thank you.

  4. becki

    What an inspiration Jimmy is for all of us!

  5. Scott Fuir

    very moving sharing, Brother Rex. May our life be a sermon, using words, if necessary.
    We have Robby in our congregation who teaches us the love of Jesus. (He sits in the front pew and hugs or high fives many of the people.) I know Henri Nouwen’s most blessed time was not at Harvard or Yale, but in the group home with the lambs of God…
    Peace, Scott

    1. Robert Swegart

      Would that “group home” be a L’Arche community? Jean Vanier, the great Canadian philosopher and founder of the international community of L’Arche was a friend of Henri Nouwen. They lived and worked together in a L’Arche community in France I think. Thanks for your kind comment. People with such mental disabilities give us a great gift of reminding us of our nature as created beings with a future somewhere in eternity.

  6. jeff Cotnoir

    By his actions, by his childlike trust and faith, by his expression of indying and inconditional love, by his sincerity in glorifying the Father, Son and by fully illustrating the Holy Spirit”s presence and power, I would say that it is I who am in the church’s margins and I who need prayer and to give thanks for “Jimmy” for showing me TRUE faith, TRUE love, TRUE belief. It is Jimmy who is already in the “heart of our parish” and we who need to learn the lessons of such a heart and to come in from the margins and join him prostrate before the Lord!.

    Thank you Brother Rex for sharing this. It is truly inspiring and deeply humbling. Praise Jesus. Praise God. Praise the Holy Spirit who is One in and with them both. Peace be to all who read and to you, Brother Rex Anthony Norris for thinking of us all in sharing this.

  7. Patrick

    How awesome!

  8. Jeff

    That is so awesome.

  9. Thomas

    What vivid humility…good for you for having “eyes to see,” Brother….”Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matt 5.3.

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