Friday, July 15, 2011

Where Even The Shadow of Death Cannot Shake Us

I wrote this in 2009 ( I didn't know that his name was Steve. I didn't know that he had Parkinson's Disease. I simply knew that he had a Faith I longed to have. The parish secretary sent me an email two days ago, to tell me the man I wrote about two years ago had passed away. I went to Steve's funeral this morning. In memory of Steve...

Here's what I witnessed and what I wrote in 2009:

On Sunday, during the parish dinner, a man choked on a piece of food. His wife stood up and put her arms around her husband and attempted to save him. In a matter of a few seconds, those of us working the floor of the hall noticed their crisis and called to a few large men to spring into action. One man made it to their table and took over. Almost immediately, the victim's air passage was cleared, and he could breathe again.

I know what it is like to choke on food. It can be absolutely terrifying. In those critical seconds, you wonder if this is it. You know that, unless something happens to change the situation, you simply aren't going to make it.

Oxygen is that important.

As I watched from a short distance away, I found myself immediately in prayer. But the only thing I could say was Jesus. Oh Jesus.

I've only prayed that short prayer once before. It was on the day I choked. In fact, it was while I was choking. In both cases, the name of Jesus became a plea for help - for help from the only one who really could help. Jesus.

It saddens me deeply when people use Our Lord's name so casually. In exasperation. In anger. In surprise.

This one who has died for us and who gives us His own Flesh and Blood so that we might live - this name we misuse. This name we defile.

We are told in Sacred Scripture that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

By this name, we are saved.

And even as I invoked the Holy Name of Jesus Christ in my one word prayer, Jesus, the man's air passage cleared and he began taking in deep breaths.

I have seen this man before. He comes to Mass every week, pushing a walker, making his way to the front to receive the Eucharist. Oh, he could stay home and nobody would think twice about it. God would even understand. Someone could bring the Eucharist to him. I don't know the name of his illness, but I do know that he can't be older than I am. Probably in his forties. But something has gone very wrong. He is frail. I've seen him collapse as he walked forward to receive the Eucharist. I have watched as ushers ran to help him back to his seat. I have watched as Father walked directly to him to bring Our Lord's Body to this one who suffers so greatly.

On Sunday, my husband was an usher at Mass. He greeted this husband and wife as they entered the narthex. John asked the man how he was. The husband didn't complain, though he was hunched over the walker and barely able to shuffle his feet along the floor and into the sanctuary.

The man replied that he was doing well. It was a good day.

And even though he struggles to walk, he comes to Mass.

Even though he risks falling in front of everyone, it doesn't seem to deter him. He still keeps making his way toward the Eucharist.

Even though he has a tendency to choke, probably due to the illness, he still comes to the parish dinner. He still breaks bread with all of us.

At Mass.

At the parish dinner.

In moments like these, I witness a portion of grace far greater than I have personally witnessed ever before. That kind of strength comes from God. No amount of personal determination and grit could account for the strength I see in this ailing and failing man.

And after I ponder this, I take a look at his wife. She is right there, by his side, as he enters the church, as he receives Our Lord. She is there behind him, using all of the strength her small frame can muster to wrap her arms around him and perform the manuever to rescue him from the brink of death. She is there with the napkin to wipe his mouth after the food and saliva run down his chin. She is always right there.

My friends, this is Catholic faith. It is richer and deeper and holier and more faithful and self-effacing than any faith I have ever seen.

It is the kind of faith that makes saints.

And I hunger for more of it. More and more of it. Until even the shadow of the valley of death cannot shake me.


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