About two years ago, my family stopped going to the church that we’d gone to since I was born and started going a church down the street. It was closer, my mother argued, and even if we left the house as mass was starting, we would still have a chance of making it in the middle of the opening hymns!!!! Not missing hymns, exactly what four teenagers waking up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday care most deeply about.
Don’t get me wrong; my family is very appreciative of music. On several occasions in the past, we’ve even tried to set up a family band but, as my siblings are the designated ones with musical talent, I was often limited to banging a pot with a spoon and the Lazar’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family Band Solution dissembled into a crumble of leadership issues and boredom. Those old days of being in the band existed simultaneously with the days when we used to go to St. Agnes, which was across town. My siblings and I were hesitant to make the switch from the small church we grew up in with its stream of insightful priests and a soloist who could make me cry when his rendition of “Danny Boy” would softly vibrate against the long, wide windows. Being a bigger church with lots of people we didn’t know felt to me like being a salmon tossed into a foreign river. Everything should be generally the same, the readings, the customs, the homilies, but something is completely dissimilar and unsettling.
These past two years have been enough time to get used to the new church but my mind often flutters across town to wonder how the people and priests at St. Agnes are doing. I dug through my papers the other day and found this entry from one of the journals I keep sporadically. I wrote it during mass at St. Agnes (running after communion to dash it off on a napkin in the clammy restroom) and it reminds me of how connected I am with that place, even though I don’t think of it all the time, and even though I would almost always protest going there at the crack of dawn on Sunday mornings.
“We’re in church and the priest is sitting in his little ornate chair as the lector reads. Father has just come back from a back surgery and looks as brittle as frozen glass. A crown of white hair rings his head, not unlike the crown of thorns mantled a few feet away on the wall. His naturally arched eyebrows surprisingly don’t look unkind. And then it happens—he drops his book. The Bible just slides out of his hands with a grand thump on to the floor. I think that I’m the only one watching and I cast my eyes on the soloist as scarlet patches bloom in Father’s cheeks. Confined to his chair with the bad back, he scrapes at the book with his cane, smacks it, combs it, trying to bring it forth to him. I glance about. All eyes are on the lector now. I want to leap on to the altar and help the poor man, his legs dangling helplessly and his robe spreading wildly, a wagon red tent of fabric, a tomato butterfly stretching its wings, too heavy to lift off the ground. I can’t just jump up in the middle of a scripture, which happens to be about helping people. I hate that the sacred rules are the very ones that prevent me from doing a good deed, a Christian deed. Jesus probably would have jumped right up and handed the man his book. Then again, Jesus can pretty much do whatever He wants. It is His house. And, come think to of it, His book and His servants, too. In a final attempt to retrieve the book, the priest furtively claps his heels over the cover, trying to snap the hardcover with his toes and bring it up to his hands for retrieval. He misses. This is the part where I lose it. My eyes fill up with tears watching the elderly man fumble away hopelessly. He looks up and I look down, desperate to not embarrass him. I raise my head slowly and he catches my eye. He’s seen me the whole time. He winks, jagged mouth tips into a smile and suddenly a little ray of light bursts through the stained-glass window.”