A long way back, so far back it was a previous century, I fell in love with a wonderful woman. We got married on a soccer field (hold that thought for a future writing). Who would have thought we’d ever get married. She was Roman Catholic. I was a United Methodist pastor. She was the Parish Administrator for an Episcopal Church. Maybe that was a good thing. We had it covered coming and going.
She had an uncle who I really bonded with. He lived in New York City. He, too, like she, was Roman Catholic. He was active in his church. He was really active. He was some big shot in the Knights of Columbus. This old country Protestant pastor didn’t understand the dynamics of that, but I was smart enough to realize he was somebody in his church.
He died. He left instructions that he wanted this old country parson to deliver the message at his funeral mass. And so, I headed north with my “Yankee” wife to celebrate, as I term it, the life and resurrection of this unique child of God.
At the wake, his priest approached me. “Pastor,” he said, after introductions, “would you do us the honor of reading this scripture?” He was wrong about whose honor it was. At the appropriate time I stood by his side as he handed me his Missal and pointed to the part I was to read. I did. And I did it nervously as I was truly a novice at this ritual.
The next day, I stood, again, by his side as he went through the ritual and covered the casket with the funeral pall. And then we led the casket down the center aisle of that huge cathedral side-by-side. I broke off from the procession at the first pew closest to the altar, next to my Roman Catholic wife who took my hand as she obviously sensed my nervousness.
The Father, along with the other priests who assisted him, proceeded through the liturgy of his faith with obvious compassion and love for this dear, dear saint of his congregation. And then he nodded to me.
Shaking like a leaf I walked to that high, high, pulpit. I delivered the message about my wife’s uncle, his life, his resurrection, and the promise his faith held for each of us. I walked down from the pulpit and seated myself beside my wife once more. Suddenly, I realized where I was sitting. I would be the first to go forth to receive the Eucharist.
Married to a Roman Catholic, this was not my first attendance at a Mass. When the appropriate time came, I walked forward, crossed my arms across my chest to indicate I was not Roman Catholic, and intoned the words, “Bless me, Father.”
The Father smiled. Before I knew what happened he stuck that wafer into my mouth and said, “You are blessed, my brother.”
I cried. I cried like a baby all the way back to my place in the pew. I understood the enormity of what had just happened.
At the graveside, an older priest approached me. I later learned he was not without influence with the powers that be in the church. “Now, Pastor,” he said with a thick Irish accent, “let’s not be telling a lot of folks what the father did back there at the church. Some authorities might not understand.”
So, for decades I haven’t told anyone. But realizing how old I am now, and realizing the priest was at least ten years older than I, he, if he still lives, is beyond the retribution of any bishop. And I? I still remain the old country preacher who one day, in that really big, big, city, at the altar of that really big, big cathedral was blessed by a priest who was a walking definition of ecumenical.
And now I sit here wondering why we all cannot get along.