We Encounter Christ in Other People

We Encounter Christ in Other People November 27, 2023

church pews and hymnals
image via Pixabay

I didn’t die last week.

Thank you to the people who were so kind to me when I was sick with another bad cough. I’m on the mend now. That’s why I didn’t write very much last week. The sudden sickness cleared out, a little slower than it plowed in, with nothing in its wake but sniffles and a messy house.

On Thursday we tidied up the house, watched the parade and baked pies. I had to keep stopping to rest so we didn’t sit down to Thanksgiving dinner until eight o’clock at night, but it was a very good dinner. I went out of ketosis just for the day so I could have pumpkin pie and ice cream.

On Friday I was doubly exhausted, recovering from sickness while also out of ketosis, so I mostly stayed around the house until we went to see the fireworks for the Christmas tree lighting in the evening. And of course on Saturday we saw the nutcrackers all lined up downtown, and I’ll have another lighthearted post about that soon. I remembered yet again that I’m learning to like Steubenville, now that I’ve gotten to a bit more stable place. I think it’s going to be all right. It’s not wonderful, but it’s much better than I thought it could be.

On Sunday evening, with the cough cleared up and the stuffy head all but gone, I went to Mass. I even sat in the congregation instead of my usual hiding place in the back. I was feeling scared and vulnerable, but I wanted to see if I could let Jesus love me at Mass. I was determined that if anything silly or triggering happened in the liturgy, I’d turn my attention back to Christ. I would try to fix the image in my mind that Christ loved me unconditionally and was trying to heal me. I would meditate on that. Every time my mind turned to how terrified and unloved I felt, I would imagine Christ welcoming me, comforting me, washing my feet like He did for the disciples, anointing my eyes like He did for the blind man, taking my hand and saying “talitha koum.”

The gospel was that wonderful passage from Matthew 25, the one about the sheep and the goats. It’s one I love and have written about before. I’ve written a whole book on the Corporeal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. It is awesome and wonderful to me that we encounter Christ in other people, and our salvation is bound up in our response.

The deacon got up to give the homily.

“I feel I wouldn’t be loving you enough if I only told you the good news and didn’t give you a warning,” he said, or words to that effect.

The deacon preached about hell. He preached about sin and judgement and going to hell. Nothing about the Works of Mercy or finding God in the marginalized, just judgement and hell.

I felt that cold agonizing feeling of a flashback gripping my stomach.

My phone was in my hand. I hold it during Mass so I can scroll to distract myself if I start to have a flashback. I only know how to process my thoughts by writing and I like to ask for help from my online friends when I’m going through a bad patch, so I mentioned on Twitter that I was trying to go to Mass and I asked for prayers because the deacon was preaching about hell and judgement and I was starting to panic. It wasn’t the wisest idea.

The deacon was enumerating the difference between our judgement at death and the final judgement that is to come, but stressing that we’d go to hell immediately after the first judgement and not wait until the second one, when I couldn’t take it anymore. I went out to the church porch and I leaned on a pillar and sobbed.

It all rushed over me just then, for some reason. I don’t know why it did. I felt everything: the constant terror of Divine judgement in the Charismatic Renewal. The fear of the Three Days of Darkness. The fear that God wanted to hurt me to atone for other’s sins. The sicknesses and surgeries. Coming down with the chronic fatigue that ruined my life, the good Catholic friends who shunned me for that and the priest who bawled me out and bullied me. Losing my family. Losing everything. Finding out that the priest I respected very much growing up had been removed from the priesthood for a “credible accusation.” Finding out that the Charismatic Renewal is a cult and that priests all around me, the men I’d regarded as saints, the ones who heard my confessions and gave me deliverance prayer and gave the sermon at my wedding and visited me after the rape, were guilty of the most horrific sexual abuse and cover-ups, destroying so many lives. My own rapist, who wasn’t a priest but who was someone I trusted because she quoted the Bible so much, saying “everything works to the benefit of those who love the Lord.” Me apologizing to her for inconveniencing her. The feeling a few weeks later, when I realized that what she’d done was rape.

I watched through the window until the deacon was done with his preaching, and then I went in. I tried to sit and kneel with the congregation as best I could. I could not stop shaking. I certainly couldn’t concentrate on Jesus loving me or Jesus healing me or Jesus touching my eyes.

When the priest elevated the Host after the consecration, I tried to look at Him. But all I could see was the deacon who preached about hell, standing behind Him with His hands folded. I don’t think that was irrational of me. After all, we encounter Christ in other people.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered to Adrienne. “We need to go.”

We got out the door.

We got all the way home before I collapsed.

I took out my phone and checked Twitter. I saw a lot of kind people offering to pray. Some were sharing pictures of their dogs or funny memes to distract me. Some even messaged me nice notes. I am very grateful to all of you who did that.

Of course, several other people had gotten on to chide me. They were angry that I was having a flashback in church. They clutched their pearls that I’d object to a sermon about hell and judgement, as if that was the point. Didn’t I believe in hell? Didn’t I believe in judgement? Didn’t I believe in the Holy Gospel? Surely the problem was with me.

Of course I believe in hell. I’ve been there many times.

I shook in bed for more than an hour, trying to forget everything.

How many times have I said that I wish there was another Mary Pezzulo to show you? A brave one who does exciting things? A smart one who can show you something interesting? Instead there’s just me.

At this moment, I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever go to Mass again.

After all, we encounter Christ in other people, and I’ve had enough of other people just now.

That’s all I have for you today.





Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.



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