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There is a man at our church that is always at church.

His name is Jim. He is an older man, maybe in his sixties, although it’s hard to tell. He is short with a pot belly, has a squishy face, clear, blue watery eyes, a broad smile and walks with a Charlie Chaplin shuffle. Some handicap has left him hunched over. When he speaks to you he needs to look up, which has resulted a permanent cowlick on the back of his head where his grey hair hits his collar. His hands are exceedingly rough. The kind of skin you would have from excessive hand washing vs. manual labor, and sometimes he puts prescription handcream on them during Mass.

He works at a hotel in the area. I think it may be in the laundry department — as I remember him telling us how hot it was over the summer. I believe he works the night shift.

On Sunday he attends 11 o’clock Mass. He sits on the left hand side of the altar, second or third row, usually four seats deep. Before Mass he makes the rounds, talking with the regulars, asking about their husbands, wives and kids, and blessing them. When he takes his seat, he arranges prayer cards, scripture, hand written notes and pictures out on the chair in front of him, and reflects on them one by one after the Eucharist. He hold on to one far longer than the others. It is of a young boy, maybe nine, clearly handicapped, with a beautiful smile. The picture looks old-ish, maybe from the late nineties. And there is pain  in Jim’s eyes.

He falls asleep a lot, draped over the pew. He hands out prayer cards to everyone around him, but particularly the kids. Some are of Pope John Paul II. But most have the Prayer To St. Gertrude on the back, which will save 1,000 souls in purgatory every time it is read. That’s his thing. Saving the souls in purgatory. I think he has given my boys 3 St. Gertude cards each.

And when he prays, oh he prays. Matt thinks he would be a great Protestant — shouting out a Praise Jesus every now and again, shaking his fist at the Lord’s name, and reciting the prayers with a Charles Heston-type intensity, mixed with the quiet love of a child.

You are drawn to Jim. Not because of his handicap or his eccentricities, but because he is Blessed. His love for God is so strong, it streams from him. You want to be near him. You want to know what he knows.You want to love him.

He comes to church every morning too. He arrives at 8:35. He parks his car with the 1160 AM Catholic Radio bumper sticker “Radio For Your Soul” in the first handicap spot next to the pathway. He prays in front of the Mary, Joseph and Young Jesus statue in the garden. He prays in front of the large bronze Mary statue on the side of the Church. He greets everyone with love and blessings — he told me I have a beautiful smile — makes jokes, then arranges his cards and notes and pictures in the front row.

Twice a week does the readings, and he is amazing. Loud, clear. expressive. After Mass, he stays for the Rosary. For all I know he is there all day.

Yesterday I was particularly inspired by Jim. Before Mass a beautiful young college girl from GMU, also a regular, came in and sat next to Jim, which was fascinating to me for a couple of reasons. One, the sheer juxtaposition of this older man and young college girl, and 2) because in a non-crowded church people have a tendency to sit away from other people. She and he started talking. He introduced her to the young man sitting behind him, and she smiled a warm, wonderful smile. He blessed her, and she continued to smile and laugh with him. She was drawn to him too. His beauty.

In the middle of Mass he looked over and “whispered” to Christina across the aisle, a beautiful red-headed, map-of-Ireland-on-her-face, mom who brings her three pre-teenage kids with her to Mass a few times a week, and gave her a thumbs up for the great work her younger son, Noah, was doing as alter boy. Of course, I would not know her or her son’s name if it weren’t for Jim. Nor would I know that the wife of the older man who sits to my left is sick. Or that one of our priests was considering going to Canada, but will stay at our parish because God wants him here.

Anyway. yesterday I also noticed a thick, grey medical tube coming out from under Jim’s sweater and going into his pants pocket. I have never seen that before. He feel asleep longer than usual during the Rosary.

I had my appointment with Father Barkett at 11, and when I walked in the lobby Jim was the first person I saw. He turned and looked up at me and asked if I knew the prayer of St. Gertrude. I said yes that he had shared it with me. He said that I “looked like someone who just might say it”, then paused and closed his eyes. It was a long pause. I leaned forward to ask if he was OK, but he opened his eyes and went right into the prayer:

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the most precious blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home, and within my family. Amen.

I mouthed the words with him, as I didn’t know them. At then end he smiled and said “2,000 souls are now saved! It’s overwhelming! It’s unbelievable! God Bless.” then he shuffled down to the main hall.

Jim wasn’t in church today. This is the first time since I have been going. I am worried for him. I pray he will be there tomorrow.

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