By Jeff Merman
In the middle of Mass, a stranger walked in. He stood out with his messy knit cap in church. His clothes were disheveled, and he seemed to just stare as Mass continued. He had just taken a seat on the other side of church, and I decided I would invite him to the after-Mass coffee.
After the final blessing, I walked up to the stranger, introduced myself and invited him to fellowship.
He stepped back, a little nervous and said nothing. Finally, I coaxed him into the cafeteria and tried to make him feel at home. He still didn’t say much as we stood together. Then, between bites of a donut, he finally offered, “My name is Tim.”
We talked and I got him some McDonald’s gift certificates that I keep for such occasions. I wished him well and went about the “donut” business.
Others approached, and he seemed shy as parishioners said hello. One refilled his coffee; another handed him money. He was reluctant to take the McDonald’s certificates and the money. Other parishioners chatted with him. After this encounter, I did not think again about our chance meeting.
Another Sunday — on an evening in the fall of the same year — at Holy Spirit Church’s 7 p.m. Mass I saw the same person I encountered at Our Mother of Good
Counsel. I recognized the hat. I decided that after the final blessing, I would make a dash to my car and get those McDonald’s gift certificates.
As I returned from the car, Tim walked toward me and I gave him the certificates. He looked at them and volunteered that his name was Joseph. I learned that he changes his name as he finds one he likes.
It was a bit like talking to Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rain Man. He told me that his mom and dad live with Jesus now. Then he asked if he could come home with me.
I considered my answer quickly and told him that I couldn’t take him home but that I would drive him wherever he wanted. He silently walked away, across the grass and behind the church toward Cannons Lane.
As I walked to my car, I suddenly didn’t feel so Catholic. Had the Lord sent one of his angels on this beautiful fall night to test me? I decided to drive down the block on Cannons and find him. Surely I could take him to a shelter, a hotel, somewhere.
I drove quickly but did not see him. I parked and looked around. Tim was nowhere to be found; he had disappeared. I wept. I thought I missed this angel; no it was the Lord himself.
Each time I think about this encounter, I ask “did I pass the test, Tim?” What was the lesson for me? I conclude that the lesson is to take the Eucharist from our celebration of Mass and put on Christ. Then, go and help as Jesus did; teach as Jesus did; help save others by our very actions, as our Lord did.
Thank you, Tim. Today your name is “teacher.” Yes, I am convinced I saw the face of Christ at those two Masses and, again, in the silence of that night. His name was Tim.
Jeff Merman is parishioner of St. Bernadette Church.
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