The Leper Attends MassSunday, February 26, 2012
This struck home and it hurt. You see I have no faith. If anything my all-doubt is simply (worse?) a belief in oblivion after my body, a refrigerator of sorts, is finally unplugged. The body will stink but I will not be around to smell myself.
It was sometime in 1959 when my classmate John Straney at the Roman Catholic boarding school, St. Edward’s High School in Austin began to publicly state that he was an atheist. The Brothers and Priests of Holy Cross took to an intelligent solution to the vexing problem. They ignored Straney. I remember arguing with Straney and using every method I had learned from Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. our religion teacher to argue for the existence of Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, to no avail.
I was never able to contact Straney after we graduated so I will never know how he stood with his “unmaker” before he died prematurely at a young age.
On Sunday February 12, 2012 I was attending Homecoming Mass at St. Edward's Ragdale Center. I sat on the second row, most of the other Brothers of Holy Cross were on the first row. I was sitting next to my new friend Brother Edward Zdrowski, and two other brothers, Brother Richard Daly and Brother Richard Critz.
I was dressed in a black turtleneck, black jeans and a black blazer. I looked no different from the other brothers and I am sure that many in attendance thought I was a brother.
The mass, to celebrate a university and high school homecoming (and especially the classes of 1962, and Brother Edward had graduated from St. Edward’s University then), was officiated by the Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, DD., STL Bishop of the Diocese of Austin. Concelebrants were my friends Fathers Rick Wilkinson, C.S.C. Father Michael Sarker, C.S.C. and a third priest (who looked like an Irish bruiser, in spite of his name) Father Lou Brusatti,C.S.C.
Communion time came and just about every person in the room went up to partake. I remained standing by my seat and when Brother Edward tried to walk around me I felt ashamed when he looked at me in the eye. I had read in the program (see here) that I could go with the others and be blessed without having the sacrament. But I was unsure of this and I did not want to make a faux pas like the one made by our Canadian Prime Minister Harper. I stayed put and reflected on what was happening to my emotions and feelings of sheer angst. For those who have gotten this far, in order to receive the sacrament of Communion, one must be in a state of grace. That state of grace is what happens to the person who goes to confession (a sacrament in itself) an receives absolution (from God) via the priest.
I particularly reflected on the Bishop’s sermon explaining the Gospel of the day (read below). He told us that lepers were complete outcasts and they could not participate in any religious events or any other social gatherings. Lepers were shunned and had to ring a bell to warn of their immediate presence so that people could scurry away.
I was that leper that day at that Mass. I thought of correcting (if such a word is the right one) my ways and going to confession. After all there were two priests that were my friends and a third one Father William Crumley, C.S.C. who had given me a book, authored by him, on economics.
The problem is that like the protagonist of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen I have no faith. I am not even sure I ever had it. Brother Edwin taught me of the importance of the forgotten sacrament of Confirmation that makes us all soldiers of Christ (in the sense of explaining our faith and religious beliefs, the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church). I was confirmed as a young boy but I can state here that I can explain fully on matters of church doctrine with a surprising expertise, care of Brother Edwin.
Unfortunately, explaining is not believing. What am I to do?
But not all may be lost quite yet. I had told Brother Edward that the choir and band playing, the Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel Choir, headed by the piano playing and fabulous baritone, Gabe Perez was my favourite. Listening to it was always a high point in my Austin visits when I went to Mass with Brother Edwin. We were intrigued by a trumpet underneath Perez’s feet.
Perez did play his trumpet, the last song as the congregation was filing out. Brother Edward and I lingered in our mutual joy of enjoying every minute that we were enjoying. Brother Edward has invited me to visit him in Flushing, New York. I see us at a Mets baseball game. I can only hope that I can pull a Paul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus and that a light might just give me that faith I do not have. And if not I can only hope that if I go somewhere I will run into my friend John Straney.
Gospel Mk 1:40-45
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,” If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him,” I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere