And there’s a Mexican ex-con who’s covered in prison ink. The right side of his face is scarred from the teardrop tattoo that was removed with laser surgery.
There is a woman named Marge who has been trying to conceive a child for as long as I’ve seen her. I know this because she told me once. On her way to sit down before Mass she stopped by my pew and said, “Pray for me. My husband and I are trying to have a child.”
Sometimes during petitions the priest will tell us to pray for the soul of so and so. The name doesn’t even register until he adds, she was a daily communicant who sat right over there, and he points to an empty pew. Suddenly, a strange realization comes over the church. We were all with that person. Every day. We all knew who she was. But most of us didn’t even know her name. That realization we all feel is guilt.
Guilt is a heavy emotion at 6:30am Mass. It’s thick as fog but invisible like radon gas, choking almost everybody. Most of us bring our own cloud. There’s a woman named Helen, whose cloud is quite large. She’s a wonderful woman, a mother of six. But she can’t stand her husband. They never talk. She’s told me as much. In increments. Over the years. She can not divorce him. He is not a drinker. Nor is he abusive. Therefore, she feels the Church would not condone it. And so she is stuck in this loveless life. One time I stayed after Mass for a bit and became sucked into a conversation with Fr. Dennis. When I finally reached my car I noticed Helen was parked nearby. She was weeping. I walked up to her and she rolled down her window.
“Is everything okay?” I asked as she dried up.
“I’m fine,” she said. Then she paused before adding, “I just don’t want to go home.”
I sort of stood there like an idiot for a moment wondering what I could do. I could’ve told her I’d pray for her, but coming out of my mouth it seemed so phony to me. So I just stood there until we were both uncomfortable.
Finally, Helen said, “Did you know tha
t St. Monica is the patron saint of married women?”
I did know. In fact, I knew that St. Monica is the patron saint of abuse victims, alcoholics, difficult marriages, disappointing children, housewives, victims of adultery and widows. I also knew that she was in a horrible marriage when she gave birth to her son, Augustine, who became a bishop and a great theologian. But I didn’t say any of this. Instead I said, “No, I didn’t.”
She then came to a conclusion. “I’m going to pray to her,” she said.
I told her I thought that was a great idea. And we went our own ways. Everybody goes their own way after daily Mass.
Strange things sometimes happen. Little things. Like one time a woman had a hanger attached to her jacket. She must’ve been half awake when she threw it on. Or sometimes, someone will enter the church, shout an expletive, and then leave. Another woman, a small Mexican lady obsessed with Our Lady of Guadalupe, will occasionally break into song – right in the middle of Mass.
A homeless man I’ve nicknamed “Tennessee” stumbles in about once a week wearing the weirdest clothes you’ll ever see. One morning he was wearing a wedding dress. I’m serious. He’s a horrible alcoholic and I don’t suppose he knows any better. He’s always trying to sell something too. Cassette tapes. Calling cards. Buttons. Anything he can find while rummaging through the garbage. He once tried to sell me some pornographic magazines.
I’m reminded of the story in the Gospels that talks about how we’re all seeds that become scattered about. Some of the seeds land on the path and they’re taken away by birds. Other seeds land near thorns where they are choked off before they can root. And other seeds land on the rocky soil. Those are the ones that grow only to wither and die. Only some of the seeds land on fertile soil. Those are the seeds that grow into something beautiful.
When I go home I often wonder what kind of seed I am. And I wonder if it is too late for me to grow into something beautiful.
Born in Detroit, P.G. Cuschieri is a writer who lives and works in Los Angeles. He is a grateful brother, uncle, friend and a proud Roman Catholic. He can be found on twitter @pgcuschieri.