It was snowing. Hard. Really a blizzard. The gusts kept pushing Joel off his path of previously trodden footsteps made by some other lone blizzard drifter. He was on his way across the St. Olaf Campus in Northfield, Minnesota. Just starting college, his interest was hardly on the classes he had before him. His interest was Monte, a Southern Baptist from Kentucky. She wore overalls most of the time. She was rural, plain, and had one freckle right below her right eye in the center of her cheek. But more than her physicality, Monte’s intellectuality, well, her theologicality really … Is that a word? At any rate, Joel pushed through the blizzard, his mind set on Monte and their date to go to Mass at a small Catholic chapel several blocks away from campus. This was six years before Ann. Six years before brothels, Butte, and strange funerals.
He showed up at the student center, stomping his feet and shaking the snow from his hat. Looking up he saw Monte sitting on a bench by the bookstore reading a magazine . As he walked over to her she looked up and their eyes met; she smiled her Kentucky smile and stood, “Hey, I didn’t think you’d make it. It’s horrible out there.”
“You’re telling me.” They embraced and Joel could smell the snow in her hair still cold. He stepped back and felt suddenly warm. “Are you ready for Mass?”
“Do you think we should still go?”
“Well, it’s crazy outside. It’d be an adventure.”
Monte agreed and showed her Kentucky smile again and wrapped her neck in a scarf, put her hat and coat on and wrapped her arm around Joel’s arm. Joel felt masculine as they walked out of the student center, arm in arm, into the torrential blizzard. They didn’t say a word to each other on the way down the hill towards the chapel. Both of their heads wrapped in fleece they could only catch each other’s watering eyes and Joel knew that underneath her scarf those Kentucky lips sat, warm and smiling.
After several blocks they could see the chapel. The stained glass windows dimly shown through the snow flurries and the steeple lost in white. As they approached the door Monte squeezed Joel’s arm a little tighter and from underneath her scarf a muffled, “We made it!” emerged and Joel squeezed back. He reached for the door with his free hand and pulled it open and they both entered hurriedly not noticing the thirty people all standing in the narthex.
They stomped, taking off their coats. Before they knew it, a man stood before them offering his hand, “Hello, I’m Father Jim.” The others stood behind Father Jim and looked on strangely as Joel and Monte shook the Father’s hand. It was a firm shake, Joel remembers, and the other people stood still, staring. “What on earth are you doing out in this weather? Did you come all the way from campus?”
“Yes,” Monte replied, “We came for the 7:00 mass -all this way for the 7:00 mass.” She was a bit out of breath but looked up at Joel nonetheless and smiled … her Kentucky smile.
“Yeah,” Joel said looking at Monte, “the 7:00.”
The small crowd behind the Father collectively let out a sigh of disappointment and looked at each other shaking their heads. One older lady piped up, “Oh bless your hearts, child. The mass just got over. It started at 6:00.”
Joel and Monte looked at each other in disbelief. While shaking their heads, Monte said, “All that work for –,”
“Oh no. You didn’t. Please, please wait. Give me a few moments to say my salutations.”
Joel was still in disbelief. More at the way Father Jim talked than the fact that he traveled all this way for the wrong time.
The crowd suddenly started saying their goodbyes and putting on their jackets. They all smiled, especially toward Monte as they left through the doors into the blizzard. One elderly man, must have been at least 70 years old, turned toward Monte and held her hand softly in his withered hands.
“The price Christ paid is worth walking through a blizzard. Father Jim won’t let you down.” He looked up at Joel who was at least a foot taller than the man. Joel smiled at him and the old man winked and grinned, displaying empty gums. He patted Monte’s hand one time and then walked out into the blizzard alone.
Then, Joel and Monte realized they were all alone in the small dim narthex. It was mostly bare except for a small Pieta in the corner. A picture of Jesus laughing with children all around him hung adjacent to the Pieta. Jesus laughing; Jesus dead. They turned and took in their surroundings. There was a picture of a new born infant, obviously premature, being held in a single hand. The baby reached from the end of the thumb to the wrist, curled and wrinkled and hooked to many different tubes going in and out of his belly and mouth. Jesus raised.
Right next to the picture of the baby were two doors, arced and lavishly ornamented with wooden vines and angels.
“Let’s go in,” Joel suggested.
Monte said nothing and walked up to the door, turned to Joel, stuck out her hand. Joel placed his in hers and they walked though the doors. At first, darkness. Joel closed his eyes as Monte’s hand lead him. He kept them closed until her hand lowered. He opened his eyes and saw where she sat down. Before them was an altar, simple in its construction, with two candles at either end burning dimly. They sat, legs touching and their arms wrapped in each other’s and waited.
The chapel smelled like incense and snow. Though Monte and Joel were both warmed by each other Joel could still feel and hear the cold of the blizzard trying to make its way through the thick brick walls, like a tempting whisper. The chapel was so dark except for the two candles. Monte turned her head and burrowed her nose into Joel’s neck. Eternity passed.
Father Jim entered from somewhere behind the altar fully robed.
“We kept the lights off during Mass. I hope you don’t mind.”
Monte let out a slight sigh that tickled Joel’s neck. She picked her head up and smiled big toward the Father. Joel held her hand tighter. The Father prepared a small meal of wine and bread. As he did this he told the story of Jesus and his disciples gathering for a similar meal before he was slain the next day. He spoke in such a way that Joel heard it for the first time. A simple meal.
Here is a meal before I die, repeat it and remember me.
The Father’s Word echoed. The crucifix behind the altar, barely seen in the candle light, showed Jesus’ legs strained, holding his weight up on a nail. The candles flickered.
They stood and said The Lord’s Prayer repeated a billion times by people all over the world but said for the first time as Joel and Monte held hands. After “Amen”, Monte looked up toward Joel and this time, instead of her strong Kentucky smile, her lips remained motionless and her eyes, glassy and filling with salt water, blinked. Joel looked up and The Father stood in front of him.
“The body of Christ, given for you.”
Joel raised his free hand and the Father placed the bread into it. Joel waited.
“The body of Christ, given for you.”
Monte raised her free hand and the Father placed the bread into it. Monte waited.
Then, they both raised their hands up to their mouths and ate the body.
“The blood of Christ, given for you.”
Joel raised his free hand and took the cup, drank from it and gave it back to the Father.
“The blood of Christ given for you.”
Monte raised her free hand and took the cup, drank from it and gave it back to the Father.
“May the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen you and keep you …”
Joel closed his eyes and felt the warmth of Monte’s hand through his hand. They were both the same. Eternity passed.
When Joel opened his eyes, The Father was gone, the candles still flickered, and Monte nestled her head into Joel’s shoulder. They stood for a while like this, taking in the body and the blood while outside the blizzard, moaning, pounded at the small chapel.
….and neither Joel nor Monte were even Catholic…
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