Nicodemo at Mass

At Mass yesterday, the priest walked out and soldiered through the prayers despite his stutter. He paused. He took a breath, if need be. But he marched us through the liturgy with an admirable resolve.

He was interrupted, right after his respectfully succinct homily, by a woman yelling.

This woman was elderly. At a certain point, age stops being fine distinctions. It’s not something you can eyeball, it’s something that is measured in aches and pains, in movements and limitations. Things you can’t know just by looking, you can only know by feeling.

She was old. And dressed in clothes I remember my preschool teacher wearing in the early nineties: a knit vest, a-line skirt, tidy croc sandals. She looked like she had wandered off the set of My Brilliant Friend—a Hollywood version of a Siclian nonna. She had a few bags—no more than I have carried with me on errand days.

She was shouting at someone it seemed. She was looking at the thirteenth stations—Jesus comes down from the cross—and shouting, at first, indecipherable phrases. But I caught the name “Nicodemo,” who she was shouting at.

She continued to walk down the center aisle of the church and look over her shoulder at the thirteenth station. Her neighbors in the surrounding pews shook their heads, shrugged their shoulders in embarrassment, or plugged their ears.

Her brother, she said, lived in a five bedroom warehouse in SoHo, south of the Holland Tunnel. And Georgio was eight years old, she said. Other phrases found their way through the noise—China Daily, Papa Francesco, Fairway culinary, and something about her parents in 1973—but, at this point, I wondered if anyone heard them.

The priest kept going. He didn’t ignore her, but he didn’t acknowledge her. The only signal he gave of her presence was frequent interruptions to breathe. He stopped. He waited. He started. But still he kept going. It was hard to hear. I can’t imagine it must have been easy.

Garden of Olives, the woman called out—Genesis, the Garden of Eden. I wanted to go over to her and ask what she was trying to say. What she was saying was perhaps only understandable to her but felt important for all of us to hear.

“I’m sorry,” she said at one point. “I feel so sorry.”

At least, I think that’s what she said.

The priest came down to talk to her after Mass. I didn’t see what he said to her before I left.

1 comment

  1. This seems like one of those haunting moments where discomfort comes to undermine the sometimes complacent nature of our faith.


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