An Altar Boy Comes Home 7-1-2018

When he was eight years old, he wanted to be an altar boy—he even harbored thoughts of becoming a priest. It was the summer of 1958; he just completed the third grade. He memorized all the Latin responses; he practiced all the movements. Finally, the morning came when he would serve Mass for the first time.
To his horror, the eighth-grader who was supposed to serve with him didn’t show. One of the sisters in the parish sat behind the flag in the sanctuary prompting instructions. But disaster struck. It came time for him to pick up the heavy missal and bring it to the other side of the altar. As he genuflected while trying to balance the book on its stand, his foot got caught in the hem of his cassock, and both he and the missal went sprawling to the floor. The priest stopped the Mass and turned. His face was red, his forehead clenched like a fist. “What’s going on?” he barked. “I want you to leave and never serve Mass for me again?” The boy ran from the sanctuary. He ripped off his cassock and surplice. And he never went back to church again. Ever.
Thirty years later, he was traveling through the Midwest on business. He passed a cathedral he and his family had driven by many times when he was a boy. The cathedral’s design was inspired by the silos of the farm belt. Both the church’s simple interior and exterior were nothing like the Gothic churches he knew growing up. He went inside where he struck up a conversation with a priest he met. As they talked about the beautiful simplicity and symbolism of the church, he told the priest the story of his literal “fall from grace” – a story he had never told before.
The priest listened compassionately. Then he replied, “Priests don’t always do everything right. Please….forgive us!
Tears came to his eyes. The priest embraced him.
And so began a long and bumpy road home.

The “touch of Jesus’ cloak” can be experienced in a simple act of generosity or a kind word offering forgiveness. The hurt and humiliation suffered by this one-time altar boy, like the illness suffered by the hemorrhaging woman, was “healed” by the simple “touch” of a priest’s compassion; the “power” of Jesus mercy is extended in the priest’s simple, heart-felt apology. May the despairing and needy experience the power of Jesus’ compassion and peace in the “cloak” of our compassion and care.

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