Does his mama know he made me cry?

I carried my toddler up the church aisle, looking for my husband's head among the pew dwellers. I longed for at least five minutes to sit with my family without a willful child in arms. I spotted him easily and then... I also saw the man sitting directly behind my empty seat. That man. The one who is often a little smelly, sometimes a bit inappropriate, and who always makes it difficult to sing on key...

He usually comes with a couple other men, both of whom share his more difficult characteristics. I don't know them but I suspect that they live together in a nearby group home. I see them walking together to Mass and recognize behaviors that keep them from blending in well with the "normal" population. Sitting close to all three of them can be a real trial. Especially for me, since, during my years of motherhood, I seem to have absorbed a toddler's ability to concentrate during Holy Mass.

But there he was. And my mouth twitched in disappointment. Bu then... my heart began to flutter and I thought...

I hope that he prays out loud today. 

I knew he would and my anticipation grew. On my ornery days, I grit my teeth and pretend my skirt is glued to my pew bench so I don't hustle my seat to anywhere-far-away-from-him. But there are those days when I just can't wait to hear him pray. He was quieter than usual. I wondered where his brother and friend were and felt guilty for my happiness that the one who smells so heavily of smoke was missing. And then I forgot about all of them until... he began...

Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison...Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison...

He started out quietly and fervently. The sounds from his mouth expressed the most pure and passionate devotion to Jesus and Blessed Mother. Not unpleasant. Rhythmic. Heart captivating...

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia...

I could sense him rocking slightly behind me and his prayer increased in fervency. The choir sang and for once, the gentleman didn't try to sing with them. Instead, he raised his hands and started to chant...

Jesus, be lifted up and draw all people to Himself.

Jesus, be lifted up and draw all people to Himself.

Jesus, be lifted up and draw all people to Himself.
 

My heart started to race. I looked at the crucifix and felt the weight of all of my arrogance and pride upon my soul. And I cried tears of sorrow and joy as I listened to the man's song of praise. 

I snuck my pen out of my purse and discreetly (I hope) wrote down the words. Why do they sound familiar to me? Whose words are they and why does he know them and not I? Turns out that my praying brother knows a lot of Jesus and they are indeed, the words of his Savior...

Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." He said this to show by what death he was to die. The crowd answered him, "We have heard from the law that the Christ remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?" Jesus said to them, "The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light." John 12: 30-36

For all the books and articles and digital inches I have read devoted to the subject of prayer, this man teaches me  more - every single time - about how I have made love about my ego instead of about Christ.

The first time I sat in front of him, I was absolutely stifled by the smells and sounds. The nose itching scent of chain smoking bachelor group home living men. The shuffling in and out of the pew to smoke. The snoring head on the back of my pew. The singing that isn't always singing and isn't always in tune and the words that aren't always the right ones. It was overwhelming and I had to fight the urge to move. But then the smoker left for a while and I could breathe. And the praying man started to talk and pray.

He began by quoting Scripture and mixing in a little Glory and Praise. He threw in some Alleluia's and some of the most beautiful traditional prayers that must have come from the old beat up prayer book he held. Then he began to speak to his brother...

You have a great responsibility. You are mother's first born son and that place in the family is revered. It is honored. Mom knew that and she taught you the words of God. She brought you to Jesus and offered you as the first fruits of the family. You are first fruits. First fruits. So you must stand up and honor Him and give Jesus your whole life. You need to learn your prayers. Learn these prayers. Your mom wanted you to know your prayers. Say them every day. Every day.

And he continued to pray. It poured forth from his mouth like a rolling river - fluid and quick and strong. Never a moment's hesitation. The prayer flowed from his head and his heart and I was in awe. I quickly forgave him every wrong note and then just as quickly chastised myself for thinking he needed my patronizing forgiveness. As if my health and wealth were bestowed upon me for my own glorification. As if this man's rough exterior took away even an iota of his dignity and purpose.

So when I saw him today, I was drawn in even while I was repulsed. As I blinked the tears back, I knew that I needed to listen up. Because if we had died at the same instant, I felt confident that He would be walking into the arms of Jesus well before I. He would know Him and be known. The relationship would just continue where it had left off. 

Tears of sorrow. Tears of shame. Tears of joy and renewal and hope.

I wonder if his mother knows that he made me cry. I hope she does. You done good, mama. Your boy loves Jesus. Thank you.

Posted on December 8, 2014 and filed under Faith, Family Life, Spiritual Life.