WHEN I WAS a student in spirituality, I met a man who knew how to ground himself in the sacred source of compassion. I was in need of spiritual replenishment, so I paid a visit to the local monastery at the edge of town. It was early when I drove through the gates. Instantly, I entered a world both still and mystical. I drove along the road and parked beside a ’64 Rambler. I found the chapel and entered through the front door. The altar was already set — candles lit, a draped plate of bread, a chalice filled with wine. Weekday Eucharist was about to commence. I stepped into the sanctuary, and that is where I first met Harry.
Harry was an elderly gentleman sitting alone about halfway toward the front. His clothes looked like they had been bought at a thrift store — a tattered tweed jacket, a wrinkled white shirt, a clip-on tie inside a V-neck sweater. Most distinctive, though, was this stranger’s posture. He had turned around and was beaming in my direction. It was as if he knew me, as if he was waiting for me — like he was the host of this party, I was the guest of honor, and he was so glad I had finally arrived.
Having no idea who he was, I simply smiled back, sat on the chapel’s opposite side, and ignored him during Eucharist. When Mass was over, he grabbed my arm, and we chatted as we walked toward our cars. So began our daily ritual.
I learned his name, Harry, and that he was 83 years old and a retired telephone repairman. He and his wife raised two boys on a working-class salary. He was proud of them both — proud that they went to college and both became doctors. Harry lived alone. Some 15 years earlier, his wife had died after 47 years of marriage. …
One spring morning, I asked him a question. “Harry,” I began, “every day I come to Mass, you’re already here. What about the Eucharist is so meaningful that you make it the center of every day?”
Harry cocked his head, leaned forward on his cane, and stared into the distance. “I don’t know,” he mused after a spell. “I guess it just feels right somehow.” And then, almost as if he were changing the subject, he said, “Say, did I ever tell you about my 40th wedding anniversary? Man, was that something else. The missus and me, we’d been married 40 years, and we were busting to do something special. The boys were away at college, so it was just the two of us. We dug out our best clothes from the closet, got all dolled up, and drove an our all the way to the Jersey Shore, looking to find the best restaurant around. No Denny’s for us, no sir. We wanted something classy. And as it turned out, we found something even classier than we knew existed: a restaurant that’s only open for dinner. … Now that’s classy.
“But we didn’t know that at the time. we just drove up in front of this fancy-looking place on the ocean and walked in. There was this man all dressed up in a tuxedo by the door, and he asks if he can help us. I say, ‘Sure, we’ve come here for dinner. We’d like a table for two.’
“He says, ‘That’s fine, the only problem is, it’s a quarter to six, and we’re not open yet.’
“‘You’re kidding,’ I say. ‘You’re a restaurant, right?’
“‘That we are, sir,’ he says. ‘But here, we only serve dinner.’ (to be continued tomorrow)
– Frank Rogers Jr
Compassion in Practice
From pages 56-58 of Compassion in Practice: The Way of Jesus by Frank Rogers Jr. Copyright © 2016 by Frank Rogers Jr. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Upper Room Books. http://bookstore.upperroom.org/ Learn more about or purchase this book.
How do you think the story will end? Share your thoughts.
And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.”
Mark 1:10, NRSV
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This week we remember: Valentine (February 14).
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