When we read about public pension double dippers, folks who quit one public job, then take another so that they receive both salary and pension, I think of Steve: Not everybody takes advantage. Some people try to do good with the advantages they already have.
Anyway, Steve is an observant Catholic, just as I claim to be. He could hardly be anything else; one of his uncles was a priest, two of his aunts were nuns.
In addition to his 'part time' charity work, Steve volunteers at the neighborhood food pantry. The food pantry is run from the local Methodist church, but all the neighborhood churches support it to one degree or other. Steve is not the only member of our parish to volunteer his time there.
As a result of his weekly service there, Steve has become friendly with the Methodist minister and several members of her congregation. And, over the holidays, the minister began talking up a party for the pantry volunteers. She finally set the date for last Sunday, after her morning service. Steve decided he would go.
Steve's life is complicated, just like everyone else's. His wife, Charlotte, is taking care of her aging parents (they're both nearing 90 and in rapidly failing health) and that takes up a lot of their time. And we found out that the father of a college friend of ours passed away last week; the wake would be Sunday. And between what they had to do on Saturday and Charlotte working during the day on Sunday and the wake on Sunday evening, Steve realized that he hadn't figured out when he'd go to Mass.
"Maybe I'll just go to the Methodist service," Steve told Charlotte. She didn't say anything; she looked at him and waited.
"It's the same Jesus," he protested, a little defensively.
"Your uncle and your aunts are spinning in their graves," Charlotte said. But, ultimately, if he was to get to the party and if they were to get to the wake, going to the Methodist service seemed the best fit for his schedule.
Still, he told me, he was feeling a little guilty as he walked over to the Methodist church. He headed for the side door, the better to slink in anonymously.
That proved to be a bad idea. Just at that moment, the minister emerged from the parsonage next to the church, wearing her vestments for the service, also planning to enter by the side door. She greeted Steve with a big hug.
"I had to go then, didn't I?" Steve asked me later.
"I wonder. Does she get any extra points for bagging a Catholic convert?"
No, I assured him. Methodists are mainline, mainstream Protestants. It's the Evangelicals who think converting a Catholic is the next best thing to baptizing a pagan baby. (I'm very good at inventing stuff like this when the situation demands.)
Steve explained that one other of our fellow parishioners had also come over for the service; a food pantry volunteer, she was planning on going to the party, too. The minister sent Steve over to sit with her.
"I wonder what she must have thought," Steve said, speaking of the lady from our parish. "Half the congregation greeted me by name." He paused. "It's a small congregation -- there weren't that many people there -- but most of them seemed to work in the pantry."
She probably knows them, too, and the same way, I suggested.
"It was a nice enough service," Steve said, continuing, "and I was right at home during the sermon. It went on way too long. She kind of meandered, just like our priests do." He named one priest in particular; some years back, Steve had wound up on a committee to advise the poor man on how to tighten up his homilies.
(Olaf happened to be in the kitchen when I told this story to Long Suffering Spouse. He snorted derisively at the bit about the wandering sermon. "You should see the pastors at my parents' church," he said. "There are three. Each one takes longer than the next."Anyway, Steve said, the party was nice enough and he stayed long enough to make clear that he appreciated being invited. But soon enough it was time to walk home.
You know, thinking about it, I wonder if unfocused preaching isn't something of an unconscious homage to Moses and the Jews wandering in the desert. They wandered around lost for 40 years, according to the Bible -- and I've sat through a great many sermons that seem just as lost, and last nearly as long.)
"You know," he said, "on that walk home, I encountered one person. Just one. Care to guess who that person was?"
I thought about it for a second or two. "Our pastor?" I asked.
"Yes," said Steve, "Fr. Ed. As he came up to me on the sidewalk he said, 'Good afternoon, young man. I'm on my way over to my friend Sam's to watch the football games.' He was asking me to tell him where I was coming from, I just know it. And what was I supposed to say? I'm just coming back from services at the Methodist Church? I didn't have time to come over to our own church this morning?"
I tried to think of something witty to add here, but I was laughing too hard. So Steve continued. "A light must have gone off at the Rectory," he said, "one of ours has gone off into one of their buildings."
"Maybe they put microchips into us at Baptism," I ventured. (No, I didn't mean it; I just wanted him to keep going.)
"I thought of that," Steve said, "but Charlotte reminded me that microchips hadn't been invented when we were born."
Good point, I said.
"Charlotte figured it out. 'I warned you your aunts and uncle wouldn't let you get away with this one,' she told me. That's got to be it. They have more pull than I realized."
Now we were both laughing. "You know," Steve said, "you can't write stuff like this."
But I just did.