Issue Date: January 20, 2006
By JAMES STEPHEN BEHRENS
I stood off to the side of the altar and watched the priest as he started Mass. He was 90 years old and, I thought, in very good shape for his age. We had chatted for a while in the sacristy. He was a warm, friendly man. I watched him softly kiss each of the vestments before he put them on. He then walked slowly and carefully through the sacristy and into the sanctuary. His sight is very poor. He used a special book in which the words of the prayers were printed in large, bold type. The book was small and he had to hold it very close, so that each page lay open just inches away from his eyes. He read each word with care, as if discovering it for the first time, in a kind of wonder. I had the impression that each word meant something special to him.
I wondered how many words he had read over the years, how many times he pondered them. Now he is old and must hold the words close, to better see them, use them, love them for what they and only they can mean.
I looked out at the people and they seemed to be listening to him with special care, as if they were doing all they could to hold him close, too. It was kind of beautiful.
I was the homilist that morning. I spoke of the needs of our monks. After the Mass, I stood on Peachtree Street and said hello to the people who were leaving Mass.
Hey, Father, someone near me said. I turned to a man, a poor man and I would bet homeless, who approached me, holding a paper bag under one arm. He reached into his pocket and pulled out several dollars, carefully took one and gave it to me. You take this, take it for your people, he said.
I smiled and thanked him and took it and he smiled and walked away.
Old eyes straining to see the good. A poor man who gave me gold. As long as there are streets and blindness, there will be a church.
Fr. James Stephen Behrens is a monk at Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers, Ga.
National Catholic Reporter, January 20, 2006
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