I belong to a pretty fantastic parish. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty wonderful. We have both the old and the young in the pews, there are opportunities both for formation and fun, and we’re blessed with a pastor who pours his life into his work.
Last week, one of our newest members finally found happiness. And I’d venture to guess it was due in large part to my pastor and our parish.
Teresa stood outside of St. Mary’s for many years and sold The Contributor, Nashville’s weekly street newspaper. I don’t know how long she sold it there, but she had been there since I began going to the parish a few years ago. She would often come in during Mass and find a seat in a pew, to stay warm or dry or cool, depending on the season. I was first struck by the parish’s love when they had a birthday party for her at coffee and donuts.
Seeing Teresa every week reminded me of how hard it really is to live the Gospel. Did I always want to smile at her? Did I welcome her into my pew with open arms the first time she plopped down next to me? Was it always easy to love her?
No. I had a hard heart that prefers to give some money in the collection plate or write a check to a nonprofit rather than to care for my brothers and sisters myself. I didn’t want to walk out of church and walk by her and feel guilty I wasn’t doing anything to help her. It’s far easier to look the other way, and then rationalize away feelings of guilt by believing all homeless people are going to abuse the dollars I give them.
But my heart began to turn, little by little, week after week. I tried to look her in the eye, as a human person, and address her by name. Good morning, Teresa. Have a nice week, Teresa. I didn’t do as much as I should, don’t get me wrong. It was easier to give her a few dollars for the paper than to buy her breakfast from the coffeeshop, which I probably should have done.
Two weeks ago, Father Baker announced that Teresa had been diagnosed with advanced cancer and was living in hospice. He also told us that she had requested to be received into the Church and had received her first Holy Communion. St. Mary’s had adopted Teresa so many years ago, but now she was our newest parishioner.
Teresa died last week, shortly after Father visited her, praying the rosary and the prayers for the dying with her. She will be buried from her home – St. Mary’s.
I will perhaps always regret not being a better Christian for her. Not visiting her in hospice before she died, despite Father’s invitation. But her death should give us great joy. The homeless, abused soul who left this world with nothing has left it with everything.
It seems heartless to be happy when someone dies. But it’s hard for me to mourn Teresa’s death. To mourn her life, maybe. But it’s hard for me to be sad about her death.
As Father reminds us in his blog post, Teresa was our Dives. Now Dives gets to go to heaven – not because Lazarus ignored him, but because he didn’t. Through Father and the parish, Teresa found Jesus Christ and received Him in the sacraments. And last week, after a life of loneliness and suffering, she left us for eternal happiness.