I made the decision to go to Mass by myself this evening, thinking it would better afford me the ability to pray on this the glorious feast of All Saints. It wasn't long after I had settled myself in the second pew, however, that an unearthly cry came from the back of the church. I didn't turn to look at who or what had let out such a noise or why. The Mass proceeded as usual.
In the middle of the first reading the sound came again-- this time much closer. A man in a long coat and boots approached the altar. He waved his hands high in the air and was shouting nonsense intermixed with words from the liturgy. He stopped before the altar rail and fell to the ground in some sort of posed prayer. He stood up suddenly, shouted again, and took a seat RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. I was terrified.
I eyed the people around me and even tried to catch the attention of the priest with my powerfully persistent stare, but nobody seemed as put out by this man's strange behavior. When he shouted again and reached into his coat, I thought for sure this was the end for me. I knew it. I had always known it, ever since first grade when I had learned the meaning of the term "martyr" and wondered how I might be called to die for my faith. How else than to be shot down in a church, and on the feast of All Saint's no less?
I considered reaching for my cell phone, dialing 911 and leaving it open on the pew. I knew I was a goner because I was this man's first shot if he turned around, but I figured I might save some lives that way. That's when the priest stood up and stepped forward. As Father demanded that he leave the church, the strange man took his hand out of his coat and pleaded to stay. He didn't have a gun, it seems. When father asked for volunteers to escort the man out, several parishioners came forward. He left without much of a struggle, but shouted strange things all the way, poor soul.
Once he was gone, the woman who had been sitting beside him turned to me and said in a quietly concerned voice, "I thought he was going to shoot us all." "So did I," I replied through a relieved half smile and pressed her extended hand.
And that was it.
I suppose I should be rethinking my whole life now and making dramatic resolutions to change, but honestly, I am just relieved. On the drive home all I could think or feel was relief that the Lord hadn't called me--yet anyway-- to the quick and obvious martyrdom of my childhood imaginings. I was only too pleased to return again to the slow, daily grind of death to self.