Preaching from the pews

By Terri Derbes, Clarion Herald Guest Column

On a recent Sunday, Evan let out some noise during the Mass, even as his Dad tried to quiet him. The autistic teenager’s sometimes increased volume levels are just a part of our community gathering to worship – just as is the squeaky walker going down the aisle or the kicking of a nervous foot against a kneeler.

I was sitting closer to Evan and his family that day, so I could hear him a bit better. Evan can be repetitive; Evan can be loud. What I was not expecting was for Evan to be profound.

As we sat to listen to the readings, Evan made some non-verbal noises. They were loud enough that I wondered whether the lector would be able to speak over him.

But as the assembly began to quiet, Evan said one word clearly: “Listen!”

He said it with the authority that a one-word command can convey, as one would say to a dear friend who needed to hear and pay attention to what you were going to say.

It reminded me of the Byzantine Catholic service I attended once at St. Nicholas of Myra in New Orleans, where the deacon chanted: “Let us be attentive! Let us be attentive.” I took Evan’s directive to listen as seriously as, it seemed, Evan himself did.

Evan was quiet and still during the first reading from Isaiah. Our lector’s measured pace and volume were easy to hear and follow. The cantor followed with a psalm with many refrains, in which we responded with a promise to “Sing your praises, Lord.”

The second reading from 1 Corinthians – the long form! – followed, and even though Evan seemed to not be focused, he was sitting upright in his pew. Our lector read this difficult letter with a tone that remained calm but which also contained emotion behind the words.

As he finished reading – and before the gathering had time to move – Evan said appreciatively in the silence, “That was beautiful.” 

I had come to Mass knowing that Deacon Kenny Uhlich would preach the homily. I look forward to hearing from our deacons because they are all outstanding homilists. But as Deacon Kenny finished proclaiming the Gospel and spread his hands left and right to grasp both sides of the ambo, I could not help but wonder if Evan had already told us succinctly what we needed to hear and to remember: “Listen” and “that was beautiful.”

Terri Derbes is pastoral associate at Most Holy Trinity Parish in Covington.

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