I slipped into the church, unseen by the women cleaning on Saturday morning; the vacuum’s blare wiped out my footsteps. Early for a women’s breakfast, I thought I’d say hi to Jesus.
In our church, an alcove creates a private space in front of the tabernacle. When I sat there, I sang a Communion hymn from my childhood so I wouldn’t scare anyone when I emerged from the hidden spot:
Oh, Lord, I am not worthy
that you should come to me.
But speak the words of comfort;
My spirit healed shall be.
When I was halfway through the verse, the vacuum stopped, and a harmonizing voice joined me. It was beautiful! I didn’t think anyone remembered that old tune. I launched into verse two. I’m an alto in the choir, so I didn’t hesitate to follow with “Amazing Grace.” I was feeling amazingly graced in that moment.
When I stopped, I heard a soft voice praying a beautiful, heartfelt invocation for our parish community. When she finished, I was surprised to hear a chorus of voices say, “Amen.”
I walked around the corner to see about eight women with cleaning tools standing in a circle, now visiting casually. I said to them: “Wow. Your harmony was great!”
One responded: “No. Your singing was a wonderful treat for us!”
Finding it hard to accept praise, I said, “Oh! Well, thank you for cleaning our church.” (Why couldn’t I say thank you for the compliment? False humility was at work.)
I said, “I’m early for the women’s breakfast, and we have plenty of room. Come over to the hall!”
One by one, each expressed her unworthiness to attend: “I can’t; I’m in jeans;” “Look how I’m dressed;” “It wouldn’t be right to show up when I didn’t RSVP in advance.”
I told them, “We always have several cancellations. And it doesn’t matter what you are wearing! You are welcome!”
One, shaking her head, said, “I smell like dust.”
That one really threw me. What does dust smell like? Pope Francis said we should smell like the sheep we serve. But dust?
None of those holy women accepted my invitation. Perhaps feeling unworthy is a topic for a future women’s gathering!
As I left the church, I met Flo and her son Angelo, 3, and tried to entice them to the meal with thoughts of fresh muffins. Flo said they clean the church every Saturday, and afterwards go to breakfast as a family. As we were speaking, her husband Juan came up, dragging a trash can and smiling. He works outside while they work in. I marveled at the example of humble service this young couple is setting for their son. These are everyday saints.
It’s only during a review of that prayerful experience that I connect what we sang: “Oh, Lord, I am not worthy…”