Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Special Collection

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Special Collection

Article excerpt

Watching the collection baskets circulate this morning at Mass, I am suddenly and powerfully reminded of an extraordinary moment from my childhood.

Sit with me then, at the noon Mass on Sunday, the last Mass, the one that collects all the sleepy teenagers grimly attending the Mass they do not want to attend, and have bickered continually about attending, and are grimly attending only because of some faint shard of remnant respect for their parents, like a last good seed in a pile of husks.

I am one of those teenagers, slumped in the back, yawning, annoyed, bored, resentful, absorbed only by the occasional thumping of headlong bees against the stained-glass windows; do they think the brightly colored saints are mountainous flowers?

The collection begins; the two ushers start their mathematical progression from the front pews to the back; surely I am not the only cynical teenager silently excoriating the commercial pause, the rustle of lucre, the ostentatious deposits of big bills and fat envelopes, the scrabble of money in the temple, all in the name of the One who lost His temper for this very reason in a temple long ago, and started a memorable ruckus about it; and I sneer at the naked greed of it all.

And then there is a moment.

One of the two ushers distributing the collection baskets is named John. He is the janitor at the school attached to the church. He has been the janitor for as long as anyone can remember. He is about five feet tall. He is famously gruff and grumpy. He was born in Italy. His hands and forearms look like steel cables. He has cleaned up everything you can possibly imagine spilled in the school. Go ahead and imagine what he spent years cleaning up. During the week he wears blue jeans and a blue denim shirt and work boots and he is never still. He also is the gardener and the mechanic and the electrician and the plumber for the school and the church and the rectory and the convent. I never saw him smile in the years I was a boy in school and church there. I do not know if he was married or a dad or a grandfather or solitary or bruised or a mystic. We children took him for granted. He was just there. When something went wrong he fixed it without comment. He wasn't friendly or unfriendly, just terse. Maybe he didn't speak our language very well and didn't want to make mistakes in it. Maybe he didn't like his work even though he had done it forever. We didn't know. We didn't know anything about him. He was just there. When something went wrong he fixed it and then rattled away with his bucket and mops and his face of glower and granite. …

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