Old Faithful

He’s got to be at least 75, but he’s probably closer to 80.  He’s nearly bald and he has a gray beard.  He wears khaki from head to toe except his shoes are soft black slip-ons.   He’s kind of thin and he sort of reminds me of that old guy neighbor in HOME ALONE.  

I find him fascinating.

In my random 10:30 Mass attendances, occasionally I see him.  While the rest of us lean our butts back on the pews because even the cushioned kneelers aren’t padded enough for our delicate knees, Old Faithful kneels  in the back of the church on the hard floor in front of the alcove that holds a statue of the Blessed Virgin behind the green globes of the votive candles.  That’s what caught my interest about him the first time I saw him. 

I can tell by looking at him that he remembers when times were harder, when churches weren’t carpeted, when kneelers weren’t padded.  Today, he started out paying his respects to the various depictions of saints in the alcoves at the rear of the church.  He set down his jacket and glasses on one of the ledges nearby and then I lost sight of him, but I soon located him seated in a pew.  When the Consecration began, there he was, back on his knees in front of the votives, eyes closed, lips moving, one fist clutched to his chest.  Occasionally his fingers moved in a pattern whose meaning was known only to him.  Then he’d finger the medal that dangled down along the buttons on his shirt.

He reminds me a bit of my father, a product of a small country church in rural Missouri.  My Catholic upbringing missed something in the translation of meaning in the beating of the breast, the devotion to the icons.  But my dad would clutch his fist over his heart and tap against his chest occasionally during the service, just as Old Faithful does.

I passed by him and thought of telling him I find him inspiring, but I didn’t.  Maybe one day I will.  In an era where a quarter of the church empties out after Communion, his devotion is refreshing.  He obviously doesn’t care what anyone thinks of his behavior during Mass, that he makes the choice to kneel on the floor and pray his own way.  In a society where we’re all afraid to act on what’s in our hearts lest we be ridiculed, it’s wonderful to see someone who either was always like that or who has aged beyond caring.

As usual I zoned out during a lot of the Mass, lost in my own thoughts, praying for what’s important to me and being thankful for what I have.  It occurred to me how often we whine, moan and groan about everything.  How many people I come into contact with who complain and grouse constantly.  I thought about saying to them the next time they start in, “Let me see your hands.”  Could I point out to them that there are no scars from nails running through their palms or through mine?  Perhaps we have no idea what true suffering is.  We haven’t been hung on a cross.  So until that happens, why don’t we count our blessings instead of complaining about how bad our life/spouse/job/living conditions are?

Why don’t we emulate Old Faithful and get down on our knees and thank God for what we have instead of blaming him for what we don’t?