Wednesday, October 8, 2008

An exceptionally painful encounter

I have a lot of pastoral encounters. It is normally prudent not to write about them. A week ago last Sunday, after the 6:00 PM Mass, my third of the day, as I was preaching that weekend, I was going into the rectory of the Cathedral, feeling relieved that I was done for the day, when a woman said- "Deacon, deacon, wait a minute". So, I stopped, holding the door as she motioned with her hand to somebody I could not see. A second later a very young woman, holding a baby seat turned the corner. The older woman asked, "Do you have a minute?" I answered that I did. They followed me into the dining room. I was still vested in alb, stole, and dalmatic, all indicative of my sacramental office of service.

As we sat down, I removed the blanket that covered the baby seat, to see a very little, brand new, baby boy. I was asked to give little Anthony, who was a month old, a blessing, which I gladly did. The young mother was an eighteen year-old, very innocent-looking, Native American woman. She did not speak except to give me her son's name and answer yes, no, or I don't know to some questions I asked. I found out from the older women that they were both living at a local homeless shelter. The older woman worked and paid all of her money to send her two school-age sons to a local Catholic school. She had befriended the young woman because the young mother and her son appeared so vulnerable and alone. They had come to Mass, even though the young mother is not Catholic.

We had a discussion about some things and they were off. They were so thankful to me for simply imparting my blessing, which, at least to them, was Christ's blessing, but I felt powerless and useless. I walked them to the door, bid them farewell, urging the young woman to keep an appointment. I removed my vestments feeling emotionally paralyzed. I walked up the stairs, entered the hallway that leads to my office, and there became overwhelmed. Due to some issues I have, my emotional responses are almost always delayed. For example, when a very close friend died after high school I had no emotional reaction until months after his death, when I was in the vicinity of where he had worked and thought about dropping by see him. Only then did I realize I would never see him again. Finally, I grieved for him sitting on a bench in a mall. So, without thinking, or having time to get a grip, I felt tears streaming down my face and found myself on my knees. It became clear to me in that moment that I had just had an encounter, an exceptional encounter. Nonetheless, there was nothing romantic or sweet about it. I was scared for Anthony and for his young mother, terrified for them. I am still. I have thought about them everyday. I have not seen them since. I also think of her older companion, who had adopted this young woman, looked after her, brought her to Mass, to Jesus, as a refuge. There is nothing supernatural here, it is all existential, experiential, which makes it real in a way I would prefer it not to be.


  1. The Ironic CatholicOctober 8, 2008 at 9:43 AM

    Scott, I think I know how you feel. Right now "sic" and I are very involved in the Catholic Worker, as I think you know...and we may be opening our home to a homeless family. Theoretically, great. Practically, very very complicated. Emotionally, its an absolute wringer. We've been familiar with this woman, her sometimes out of jail husband and her three very young kids for two years, and in my years of working with the homeless, I have never met a more messed up situation: mental illness, extreme poverty, abuse, debt. That's saying something. But they seem to have played out *every* other option they have. Right now, they're camping. In Minnesota, in October. That works perhaps one more week.

    The oldest child (a girl, let's call her Kayla, 5 yrs old) was at our house a few months ago with her brothers while their mom was taking a GED test. While having a snack, one of my daughters said "so, should we pray?" And Kayla jumped in and said "Oh, I can do that." Folds hands, looks up. "Dear God, it's me, Kayla. You know, the one who loves you?"

    You don't know whether to laugh or to cry. Crying afterward, for whatever reason, can be a blessing. I think the saints are crying too. Don't knock it.

  2. Thanks, I needed to hear that. God is good. It's we who have the issues. I hope people like Kayla pray for me. I am poor in spirit.

  3. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! for writing. I am going through some emotional upheavals (of different sort). And I was reading the notes from Carron's Beginning Day address. His insistence on starting from reality is a challenge. Your experience gives me more comfort and certainty about this call.

    See you in a few days.

  4. You and those you help have my prayes.

  5. Deacon Scott - As I read your blog, I felt the pain and anguish. I was quite emotional along with you. I choked back tears as I read your comments to my wife. Thanks for sharing that with us. It reminded me of the works of mercy that we should strive to do each day.

  6. Thanks, Tim, for your encouragement and for your quiet and steady faith. Thank you also, and your wife, for granting me the privilege of being your companion on this journey.

  7. First of all, I was very moved by this, but also struck by how similar your personality is to my own. I am a "delayed reactor" also. I've long had thoughts of becoming a Deacon, and I always wondered how much they were actually involved in pastoral work. I marvel at how these two women sought a Deacon rather than a priest.


God's love for us is tireless

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