It was one of those cold January days. The trees were bare; winter was making its presence known. I dug my hands into my pockets and grasped the pyx, the shiny container that contained the Eucharist. I walked toward the old building, my head down against the chill. The cracked and broken sidewalk was the welcome mat that greeted me in this part of Hartford, Connecticut.
Her name was Ms. Flowers, an elderly parishioner to whom I was asked to bring Communion. I had never met her in my years at the church where I was the deacon. I was told that she was brilliant and wise—that long ago she was a great traveler and lecturer on the arts. She had fallen on difficult times after an accident but remained as elegant and knowledgeable as ever.
I walked up the building’s concrete steps. Strewn on the front yard were remnants that reflected the area: old whiskey bottles, fast-food wrappers, and cigarette butts. I stepped into the apartment building and was met with the undeniable odor of urine and hopelessness. I rang the bell to her apartment and was buzzed in. I climbed the stairs and knocked on the door. After a moment, I heard a quiet shuffling and a melodic voice say, “I’m coming!”
As the door opened, I stood without moving. Words wanted to escape my lips, but nothing came out. It was more than a door that opened; it was what lived in that small apartment that took my breath away. I’m not saying it was like Dorothy’s bedroom door opening to the land of Oz. There certainly was no dramatic change from black-and-white to Technicolor, but there was a sense of something inside that apartment that was far more beautiful than what was outside those walls. It was the presence of holiness that startled me.
Ms. Flowers looked up at me with this knowing smile that reassured me. She ushered me in. Had she not, I’d likely still be standing there with my mouth agape. She had set up a little table with teacups. The sunrays through the window kissed her teapot and the cups that sat on cloth doilies. I pulled the pyx out of my pocket and laid it on the table with the tea. She quietly uttered, “Amen.”
I listened as she showed me pictures of her travels. She spoke of how blessed she had been—how God had given her many years, many adventures, and many difficulties to overcome. She faced those difficulties and found that, through faith, she had become stronger because of them.
Children of God
Ms. Flowers had lost all that she had: her nice home, her money, her expensive clothing, her exorbitant vacations, and her grand adventures. She spoke of love lost and promises broken. But there was no pain in her voice or regret in her eyes. It was as if she were reading a story of someone else’s life. She had separated from that part of herself. That part of her life was gone; it was painful but necessary.
Sometime after I had heard Ms. Flowers’ stories, I began the prayers for the reception of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. When I presented the Eucharist to her, she looked at the holiness of it, smiled, and whispered, “Amen, my Lord, amen.”
Ms. Flowers offered me crackers and tea she had prepared. She thanked God for providing us a delicious meal. And we ate.
I cannot explain how the crackers tasted. I cannot describe how the sweetness of the hot tea caressed my mouth. I kept saying to myself over and over, “It’s just crackers and tea. It’s just crackers and tea.” However, in this place, with this woman of God, everything was more than I saw, more than I felt, more than I perceived. Everything was greater than it was.
In time, I left the apartment. The following Sunday, Father McDonald informed me that Ms. Flowers had passed away the day after I had visited her. I was deeply saddened. He asked me if my visit with her affected me. I said it had, profoundly. It felt as if I had been in the presence of an angel. He told me that, every once in a while, God shows us how to be his child. Ms. Flowers was one of them.
Let Us Pray
Give grace, O Lord, that in moments of anxiety,
I reflect your love and not my anger.
Give grace that I might reflect your
generosity in my moments of selfishness.
Give grace that I might speak love
into the face of hatred.
Give grace, O Lord, give grace.