That changed one morning during the intercessions. Michael had several intercessions that I thought seemed a little bizarre, although I do not now remember what they were. It did put him on my radar screen though and I began to notice him and his increasingly odd behavior. One morning during the priest’s homily, Michael began to contradict the priest and say things that barely made any sense. After the Mass the “little-old-ladies” descended upon Michael with a vengeance, telling him how inappropriate what he said was and how disrespectful he had been. Michael quickly became a pariah at church. People began to dread seeing him. Things came to a head one morning after Mass when Michael struck the priest. Although I was not present and only heard of it afterwards, law enforcement had gotten involved and Michael was not allowed back on the property. I figured that Michael was disturbed in some way and didn’t think much more about it.
It must have been a month or so later that I attended an interdenominational unity meeting at a Protestant Church in town. The church quickly filled with people in fine clothing and good feelings about themselves and the opportunity they had to praise God together. I took a seat in one of the pews and chatted with friends. Right before the service began, who walked in the back door and chose a seat directly behind me? You guessed it: Michael. He wasn’t really dressed appropriately but no one else seemed to know who he was. They did not have the fear of what he might do but I was immediately on pins and needles.
It wasn’t long into the service that I noticed behind me that Michael had knelt. This church did not have kneelers and we did not have a tradition of kneeling at these events but that did not stop Michael. He knelt the whole service. And, since I was directly in front of him, I could hear the words coming from his mouth: “Sorry, Jesus. Forgive me, Lord. Help me, God.” He said these words over and over again. When the service was over Michael left without any interaction with folks and I never saw him again.
I have thought about Michael for many years now. I was pretty confident about my own spirituality to the point of being pretty smug about it. And there is probably little doubt that Michael had some personal and psychological problems. He was a troubled young man. Yet, he was on his knees crying out to God. He seemed to fear only God. On the other hand, I feared Michael. Things just didn’t seem right when he was around. He made everyone who knew him uncomfortable.
In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks to the faithful about how, even though there were many widows in Israel, God sent Elijah to a Gentile widow in the land of Sidon. There were also many lepers who needed cleansing in Israel but Elisha only cleansed one: Naaman, the Syrian. When the faithful heard this, they were filled with fury and tried to kill Jesus.
I think back to that ecumenical service and remember how smug I felt about my relationship with God. And it makes me wonder: was the dreaded Michael, the pariah, the only one who went home cleansed that night?
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