or, The Curate's Egg
We're only human
Miss Charles is an elderly spinster who comes faithfully to Mass each week on Saturday evenings. She always sits in the same spot dressed neatly in her hat and coat. She has the traces of a foreign accent and a slight stammer and you could probably tell that she lives alone because she will relish the opportunity to talk at great length, slowly and precisely, as if she is weighing every word.
One winter night when the rain was falling heavily I offered her a lift home after Mass. We drove to the edge of the parish it must take her more than half an hour to walk to church and we stopped at the entrance to her flat.
In a yard behind a motorbike shop full of old boxes and tyres was a cast iron staircase leading up to the front door of her flat above the shop. She was telling me how worried, terribly worried, she was because she has to have a new fridge and the council are going to charge her £40 pounds to take the other one away and she doesn't think she can manage that and pay for the new fridge. I promised her that if that was the case I would get the SVP to help.
I came away feeling sad for her, having the impression that hers must be a very lonely life, and in such loneliness worries such as whether you can afford a new fridge expand geometrically. Like the dark, loneliness magnifies fear.
I have thought of her and prayed for her often since then. I called once, but she may have been out, or perhaps just doesn't open the door. I have also marvelled at her faithfulness in coming to Mass rain or shine. She always seems to have an enormous bag with her too; I am not sure what's in it.
This week she was there as usual, half an hour or so early for Mass, sitting in her usual spot praying.
"I feel peace here," she told me once. After Mass I spoke to her and asked her how she was. She began telling me in the most matter of fact way that since 1990 she has had no health worries. She used to suffer badly from angina but was healed, she told me, in our church on the eve of Palm Sunday.
"It was the precious blood, you see," she explained, as if it were obvious really. That is why she always sits in the same spot, for it was there, after returning from receiving Holy Communion, that she had a sensation in her chest which she described as "like parchment tearing" and then a feeling of complete peace.
On Easter Sunday evening as she lay in bed she says she had a vision of Padre Pio, who told her that it was through his intercession that she was healed.
She has never suffered with angina since. There is something so matter of fact about the way she tells me this that she cannot be making it up.
I don't know if it is truly a miracle worked through Blessed Padre Pio's intercession, but what is certain is that this little lady, for all my sympathy, has resources and consolations of which I know nothing. God protect her!
Miss Charles at least has her independence still. I celebrated Mass at one of the parish's larger nursing homes this week. Bridie has been there only a few weeks and is putting a brave face on it. I suspect that at the moment she is pleased to be with other people after her life alone in a flat, for it is hard to be alone with sickness and pain.
She weeps when she speaks so highly of the care she is receiving, and she weeps when she speaks of her family and her long dead-husband. As I leave her room she says: Are you the parish priest? "No," I reply, "I'm the curate." "Ah well," she says enigmatically "Sure, we're all human, aren't we?' I am not quite sure what to make of this; I think I need to ponder it at greater length.
We make our way to the lounge where I am going to say Mass. She proves to be very devoted in her Mass, concelebrating loudly with me, usually just a couple of words in front, and sometimes using her own translations: "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God . . . It is nice to give him thanks and praise."
Mass is not entirely without incident; people walk around and shout things out. I give the sign of peace to one lady who says "That was a lovely service vicar" and I have to tell her it isn't quite over yet. Another lady says, looking at me intensely, "I've seen Jesus, you know." So she has. For he is here to heal all and restore all in the sacrament of his love; the Bread of Heaven in the residents' lounge.