When I was a kid, I would go to Mass and stand up in the back of the church with my foot up against the wall. I thought I was a tough guy. I wasn’t.
Going To Mass
Mr. O was an usher. It seemed he would look for me and that he was at every Mass I went to. He would put his hand on the back of my neck like my dad would do and gently but firmly guide me to a pew and instruct me to have a seat. I grew to really dislike Mr. O and promised myself that one day I would punch him square in the face and run out of church. That day never came.
Fast forward 12 years later. My fiancé and I were engaged. We started going back to Mass again. I stopped going to Mass for many years until we were engaged and so I never saw Mr. O. I forgot all about him.
In 1988, my fiance and I bought our first home in anticipation of getting married the following year. We found an affordable brick row house in Marine Park, Brooklyn that needed a gut job. We didn’t have much money and I had no construction skill, but my future father in law promised he would help me get the house into shape. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn’t have much time since I was working during the day. When I got home from work, I ate with my family (I was still living at home) and then I would go to our house and begin the demolition into the wee hours of the morning. Apparently, all the banging at 2 AM didn’t go over well with my new neighbor who was none other than Mr. O himself. That’s right, the usher who would grab me by the scruff of my neck. The very same man I promised to punch was now being disturbed by my construction work at 2 AM. We shared a common wall. He would make banging noises on the other side of the wall to alert me that he was being disturbed. I laughed and laughed but stopped construction out of respect and went home to sleep. Man, does God have a sense of humor or what?
Mr. O and I became good friends. He was the first owner of his home which was built in 1927. He moved in as a newlywed, too. He and his wife would tell us stories about the neighborhood in its infancy and about their life, his profession as a banker and the various home improvements he made. I shared my plan to punch him and he laughed.
Mr. O always looked old to me. He hadn’t really changed much but he still looked old to me. He was sharp as a tack but then his wife passed away, leaving him alone. He started to age now. His son, who lived in Manhattan, asked for my phone number in case he needed me to check on his dad. Well, he used my number a few times a week, usually around midnight. He would call his dad late and the line was always busy. Worried something happened to his dad, his son would call me to check on him. I would get dressed, ring his bell. No answer. Knock on the door. No answer. I would then use the keys; slowly enter only to find Mr. O sound asleep in his chair with the lamp on and the phone receiver in his lap. Relieved that he was not laying there dead, I would gently wake him up and let him know his son was trying to reach him. Yes, God does have a sense of humor.
Mr. O had several children. I only saw his son Bob and his lady friend Nisha who were living in Manhattan. His daughter was out of state and he had a son who was a priest in the mid-west. As he aged he became ill and incontinent. One afternoon, Nisha rang my bell frantically. She was irate. She took Mr. O to the doctor and he had an accident in her car on their way home. He was in the passenger seat and she needed help getting him inside and showered. I ran out to help him. She must have been yelling at him because he looked terrified, embarrassed and sat there shaking. I felt so bad. I calmed everyone down, assured them this happens to everyone sometimes and brought him inside for a shower. Yes, God does have a sense of humor.
Receiving The Sacraments Before Death
A few weeks later Mr. O’s health had declined significantly. I didn’t see him out and about as usual so I paid him a visit. I asked if he wanted a priest so he could go to confession and receive Holy Communion since he had not been able to go to Mass. He said “no.” I called the parish priest anyway. When Fr. Luke arrived, Mr. O was a bit belligerent and stubborn about not wanting to go to confession. After I gently encouraged him, he agreed. Mr. O received the anointing of the sick, Holy Communion and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The next day, he died.
The man who had earned my ire when I was a child by grabbing me by the scruff of my neck and making me sit down at Mass was now the recipient of my concern for his physical and spiritual wellbeing. What were the chances that I would have returned with such fervor to my faith when most of the people I grew up with did not? What were the chances that we bought a house with a common wall next to Mr. O? Was I possibly an instrument of his salvation directly into heaven? We believe that receiving the anointing of the sick and confession wash away sins and perhaps the indulgences attached to these gifts from heaven even cancel out the need for purgation in Purgatory. Viaticum is so powerful for the soul in its final battle in this world. I feel confident that maybe through God’s grace I was His instrument to help this good man go directly to heaven. I keep him and his wife Grace in my prayers; may they rest in peace.
I remember feeling that every time Mr. O saw me it was a kind of ‘gotcha’. Then I moved next door to him and at first made his life a bit hectic with all the noise. That was my gotcha. And then God stepped in and God’s gotcha was the best one of them all.
Eternal rest grant to Mr. and Mrs. O’Donnell O Lord and may Perpetual Light shine upon them and all the faithful departed. May they all rest in peace. Amen.