By Sister Regina Siegfried, ASC
The scene at midnight Mass at St. Vincent de Paul was exquisite: The venerable, old church in St. Louis, my parish, was dressed up in red poinsettias, white lights, candles, and crib, and the choir was enchanting and soulful. In the pews near the back, however, scenes from Good Friday unfolded.
An intoxicated, incoherent and injured woman, in need of a shower and clean clothes, had encountered four Catholic Sisters in the church parking lot as they arrived at the church for caroling. She was screaming and pleading, ‘Help me! Help me!”
They invited her inside the warm church, where she sat and began singing carols in a lovely voice. But before long, she became agitated and began talking to statues and figures in the crib.
Meanwhile, a homeless man stumbled into church, choking with an asthma attack. The greeters for the Mass reacted promptly and called 911 for help.
Mass did indeed begin at midnight, but Good Friday continued in the back of church where police and emergency medical workers helped the man into a waiting ambulance.
One of the Sisters and I stayed in the back pew trying to keep our female guest calm and safe as we strategized how we could find more help for her. We took turns going to communion so that she would not be left alone.
After the last carol, the recessional, and after most of the congregation was on its way out, a parishioner who works with the mentally ill homeless called 911 to get her to a nearby hospital for care, warmth and safety.
We stayed with her, surrounding her with compassion and listening to her intermittently coherent ramblings, until the second set of emergency medical workers were escorted into the church Christmas Eve night.
The Incarnation is a seamless garment: It is birth, death and resurrection. It urges us to care for the least and most abandoned. That mystery unfolded once again at St. Vincent de Paul, named for the 17th Century French Roman Catholic priest who dedicated himself to serving the poor.
The homeless asthmatic and the intoxicated, disturbed woman weren’t left abandoned on the steps of church but were cared for in the spirit of our patron saint, and in the true meaning of Christmas.
Our community of believers rose to the occasion. Our own distracted participation in the celebration wasn’t an interruption at all, but sign and symbol of God with us, God made flesh in the person of the homeless man and incoherent woman.
She may not remember the events of that holy night or find her way back to our parish, but she carried mystery, Good Friday, and Christmas with her into church.