Monday, January 31, 2011
Saint James the Palestinian
He knelt at the altar in prayer. Every few moments his fingers progressed to the next bead while his lips moved in silence to the prayer of the intersession of Mary the mother of Jesus. Tears streamed down his face and the drops of water could almost be heard as they dripped to the floor. Blond hair fell to his collar in waves. Monsignor knew the younger man could be found at the altar. Everyday more accurate then clockwork he knelt praying. The cleric sat behind him a couple of rows waiting for the prayer to end. As he stood, the man saw Monsignor waiting patiently. He took the seat offered and waited in silence.
“Brother James we have heard word from your mother. She is calling you home.” He hesitated for a moment letting this much of the news penetrate the silence. “Your older sister Catherine passed away in her sleep last night.” He waited again. James lowered his head cupping his face in his hands which still held the chain of Rosary beads. More tears flowed in mourning. “I have taken the liberty to make airline arrangements for you. Brother Mark will take you to the airport.”
James composed himself and stood. Walking out of the sanctuary, Monsignor walked next to him with his arm around him in comfort. They stopped at the door.
“Your silence has come to an end. Now is the time for healing and forgiveness. For fifteen years you have lived here in solitude singing and praying for our Lord. Sing for your sister and make amends with those you love. Shed your past indiscretions and forgive yourself.”
At the air terminal, Brother Mark helped James at the ticket counter with his luggage and paperwork. They walked to the entrance to James’ gate. Mark whispered instruction of how to get through security. Beads of perspiration formed around James’ face. All the noise bombarded him. His hands shook as he handed his boarding pass to a young woman. She gently guided him through security and to his gate.
“Brother James, I am here to travel with you.”
He didn’t question her presence. Instead, he felt calmed. They traveled to a small airport in his home state. As they walked to the baggage area, he saw his brother approaching. He turned to thank the woman, but she blended into the crowd only to disappear.
The days of preparation for the funeral blurred together. He spent his time marveling with each conversation he had with his mother and siblings. Forgiveness filled their hearts. His father remained distant. The night of the vigil he walked the grounds of the family parish. The moon hung in the sky full and bright. His sister loved the moon. As children they howled at it during sleepouts in the backyard. He envisioned her looking down at him and smiling.
Inside the small chapel friends and family took turns talking of Catherine. Finally he stood and made his way to the front. As he began to speak publicly for the first time in years, his father jumped out of the pew.
“You killed her. She would be alive today married with children if you hadn’t destroyed her….” The rest of the words his father spoke roared in his head. Visions of blood and twisted metal crashed in front of him sucking him into the deep abyss of regret and hatred of self.
He couldn’t recall how he left the church or how he arrived at a bar down the street. Each shot he drank deadened his pain. The roaring subsided. The vision disappeared. The golden glow of whiskey enveloped him in a warm cocoon of numbness. He stumbled out into the street marveling at the pretty lights. Stepping off the curb, he didn’t see the car barreling down the road. For the second time in his life, flashing red lights and the blaring of sirens became an instant reality.
Music woke him up. A nurse sang Catherine’s favorite song as she changed a bandage on his lower leg. Her smile radiated joy as she found him awake. He recognized her. She was the woman who traveled with him. And then he realized she was an older version of who his sister would have been if she hadn’t been paralyzed in the accident he caused in high school.
“I did it again Catherine.” Anguish seeped from every aspect of his being. “I ruined your life. How many did I ruin this time?”
“Oh, dear brother James, I was responsible for the accident. You tried to talk me out of driving. I brought my paralysis upon myself, but you blamed yourself and you never forgave yourself. It is time to forgive.”
“I can’t. Look at what I did this time. I did it again.”
“Yes, you were in another accident. This time you need to forgive. You need to move on and grown. No more staying in the past. If you believe Jesus saved the world from sin, you need to start living that belief. Jesus died to save you as well.”
Time went by as Brother James healed physically and spiritually from his wounds. Every time he began to despair he took out his sister’s picture and prayed. The rest of his days were spent in penance and prayer and forgiveness.
This is a modern day story of St. James the Palestinian. So many times we hear stories of great believers of our faith from days gone by. Though they have lived lives of purity, they were also human. In James’ younger years, he wasted away his youth. In penance, he lived the life of a hermit for fifteen years. James fell from grace after this time as a hermit. He surrendered to the temptations of life and committed a triple crime. The grace of God saved him in his despair by sending a person of God to remind him of God’s divine mercy. Saint James’ story, though drastic in crime, is much like our own story. We sin. But we need to continue to strive for goodness after these sins to continue our journey to holiness.
Blessing to you all.