Panis Angelicus and Angela

This Lent has been difficult. I’ve seen that on lots of blogs, actually. I don’t know what’s going on this year, but it seems that everyone has been fighting an uphill battle.

I’ve been looking forward to Palm Sunday all Lent. It’s one of my favorite Masses of the year. Yesterday, in preparation for today, the Ogre and I went to confession.

It seems that all of Las Vegas had the same idea. The line was longer than any line I’ve seen for confession since we left Dallas. We waited in line for an hour, only to have the priest leave the confessional directly before we were to make our confessions. Without a word, he rushed out, and we were told by an usher that he would not be hearing any  more confessions that day. It was too late in the day to make it across town to the only other confession time available, so we left.

I’ve never been so sad about missing a confession. I was nearly in tears. You see, it was imperative that we get to confession yesterday because we’ve missed Mass for the last two weeks. The first Sunday we missed, my sister was here. This is, of course, no excuse to miss Mass; we just got busy, and we didn’t make it.

The next Sunday, last week, the kids were sick. Fever sick. The Ogre was also sick. Yet, still, we could have made it. We could have spared that hour, in spite of the misery everyone was feeling. We weren’t so sick that we were physically unable to go.

So we got up this morning and drove across town to our favorite Parish, a lovely little chapel on the old, dying Strip, right across the street from the jail. It’s the most beautiful church in Las Vegas, has wonderful priests and a great congregation.

All the while, I was feeling pretty downcast. I was so looking forward to confession, to feeling the cleansing touch of absolution, to receiving Christ this morning with joy and gratitude. Instead, we are planning on going to confession tomorrow, and I walked into Palm Sunday mass knowing that I had separated myself from receiving Christ.

During communion Liam was crying, so I left our pew and walked with him to the back of the Church. There, in her usual spot, crouched in the corner of the church, was a homeless woman. We see her every time we attend Mass there. She sometimes talks to herself, sometimes yells incoherently for no reason, often brings meager scraps of food or cups of coffee from MacDonald’s into Mass, and spreads all her possessions around her on the floor. I stood about five feet from her, gently swaying to calm Liam and keeping my eyes politely focused on the front of the Church.

Then, over the swells of the music, I heard her wailing.

Genuine, heartrending wails. She was kneeling on the floor, her hands crossed over her heart, shaking and weeping. Her sobs grew louder until half the church was twisted around in their pews, staring at her.

I couldn’t bear the sight of her there, alone, on the floor, oblivious to anything except her own obvious pain. So I shifted Liam to my hip, went over to her, crouched down and put my arm around her shoulders.

This is not a normal thing for me to do. I’ve never approached anyone I don’t know with physical comfort like that, but I simply couldn’t leave her alone. I kept thinking about a phrase I read somewhere this week, about the face of Christ being most apparent in the homeless, the beggars, the poor, and then about Melanie’s post from yesterday. About how her son is now her brother in Christ.

I don’t know if this woman is baptized or not, though she often receives communion. But she is my sister in Christ, and I just couldn’t ignore her.

After a few moments, Liam reached down and grabbed her finger. She began to stop crying and started kissing his tiny hand over and over, and then rested her head on my shoulder for a moment. When she finally had calmed down enough to speak, she whispered to me, “I’m so sorry. I just see so many people hurting each other, and it makes me so sad.”

I was stunned. I had assumed that she was weeping for herself, for her situation in life, for her hardships, but she was weeping for the pain of the world.

I leaned over and kissed her cheek. It didn’t matter that she was missing most of her front teeth or that she reeked of alcohol and cigarettes, at that moment she was the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.

After Mass we introduced ourselves. Her name is Angela. She promised to pray for Liam, saying that he is a special little boy, and I promised to pray for her. I know we’ll see her again this week, and I’m looking forward to being able to greet her by her name.

I walked out of Mass feeling blessed. If I had gone up for communion, I would never have been in the back of the Church, and I would never have met Angela. Once again, God took my own failings and turned them into something beautiful. I can’t imagine a more wonderful beginning to Holy Week.

Josh Groban Panis Angelicus from Jacy JoyPals on Vimeo.

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