All day long, financiers, lawyers, healthcare professionals and clerical workers share the streets of the city with the unemployed and the homeless. All day long, men and women — some well-dressed, others carrying the weight of all they own on their backs — visit the church. Some dash in and out on their way to work; others simply wander through looking for a place to rest or to get warm. Harold and Anthony were two of those people.
Harold was a lawyer, the product of a prestigious law school. Every morning he attended the 8 a.m. Mass, sitting in the third pew from the front on Mary’s side, a man of power and influence dependent on no one. Across the aisle, on St. Joseph’s side, sat Anthony in the third pew. Anthony, however, never stayed for only one Mass. In fact, he usually attended several, remaining in his pew well into the day because Anthony, unlike Harold, had no job to go to.
Two men, neither aware of the other, so different from one another that the four feet of center aisle that separated them could just as easily have been four miles. At least, that is, until one Friday morning in November.
It was the day after Thanksgiving and the schools were closed. Rebecca and her 7-year-old-son, Sam, had taken the early train into town. They decided to stop for the 8 a.m. Mass on their way to see Santa. In his excitement, Sam ran straight up the center aisle of the church and into the third pew on St. Joseph’s side, landing right beside Anthony just as the priest began the Our Father. Doing what he was used to doing in his home church, Sam reached up and took Anthony’s hand. Then, before his mother could stop him, he reached across the aisle and took Harold’s hand as well.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a [lawyer] and the other [lived on the streets].” Two men whose lives might never have intersected, one powerful and the other powerless, brought together by the innocence of a child.
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.