“Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13: 1-2
“No good deed goes unpunished,” or so it sometimes may seem. Although, we might be astonished by the reverse.
John Collins woke up that Easter Sunday morning, went to get the newspaper, puttered around the house and eventually, was called by his wife to breakfast. After reading the paper, he walked their dog, they each showered and got ready for church. He was the head usher for the last scheduled Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church, in Stuart, Florida, so he and his wife Mary had to be there early – by noon, at least.
John and his team were not only responsible for helping people to their seats, but also dealing with various health-related emergencies and receiving the collection. They also had to choose a representative couple, or preferably a family, to present to the priest the offertory gifts – bread, hosts actually, and wine and water that the priest would consecrate for Holy Communion.
Bill and Maureen Mitchell woke up that same Sunday in Jensen Beach and, realizing it was Easter Sunday, decided that they should probably go to church, not having done so in many years. They had grown up Roman Catholic, but for some reason they chose not to attend the local church, St. Martin de Porres, but to drive eighteen miles south, across the Roosevelt Bridge, to attend the 12:15 p.m. Mass at St. Joseph. By this time their two children Amber and Josh were up and somewhat surprised that they would be going to church.
When they got to the parking lot, they later told me they half expected the roof to cave in on them when they entered the building. Instead, they met John Collins. When he saw them enter, he found the perfect solution to his offertory gifts dilemma – a perfect nuclear family on Easter Sunday. First, they hesitated, but his welcoming nature inspired them to acquiesce.
Having experienced John’s hospitality – and having completed the celebration with the roof intact – the Mitchells began to contemplate their situation. Many years before they had been married outside the church. They thought it best to start there and began the process of securing annulments from prior marriages. Amber, who’d not been baptized, and Josh qualified for the Rite of Initiation for Adults adapted for children their ages.
Bill and Maureen relished sponsoring their children in this learning process because it gave them new perspectives about their own faiths. Their journey of marriage blessing, called convalidation, and the initiation of Amber and Josh, took a year. Both children were welcomed into the Catholic Church at the following Easter Vigil.
The following September, Maureen decided to join the adult choir (which I directed). She promptly became, by far, the youngest member, and all were glad to have her sing. Unfortunately, Maureen was diagnosed with breast cancer soon afterwards. The choir community rallied around her and the Mitchell family as she underwent a radical mastectomy and subsequent recovery.
After her recovery, Maureen resolved to become a Minister of the Eucharist, specifically to bring the Eucharist to people who were sick and could not come to church. To her, it was a way to give something back to the church that had helped her and her family so much. During the training session in the daily chapel, each candidate told the story of how they decided to become a Eucharistic Minister. Maureen shared the story of an usher’s hospitality on that Easter morning three years ago, and how such a little thing had so strongly influenced her recent faith journey.
At the conclusion of the training, the group went into the adjacent Eucharistic chapel to learn where they would be able to get the consecrated hosts to bring to the sick. People could also come to that chapel to spend a holy hour in prayer. That night, among those people, sitting alone in the back, and deep in prayer, was John Collins. I brought the group over to him and introduced him to Maureen. It was a good deed that took three years to come full circle, a good deed that went rewarded.
A native of Florida, Dan received his Doctor of Ministry from Drew University. Prior to that he earned a Bachelor of Music from Westminster Choir College and Master of Theology and Master of Divinity from St. Vincent de Paul Seminary. He has been an Adjunct Professor of Liturgy at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary and an Assistant Professor in the Doctor of Ministry Office at Drew University. In addition he has facilitated workshops in the areas of liturgy, interfaith, Christian initiation, and film studies.