Immediately after graduating college, I spent the summer interning with the St. Louis City Fire Department in their ride-along program. St. Louis city fire’s work schedule is 24-hour shifts on and 24-hours off. I spent much of that summer working in the busiest engine houses in the city — which meant that the following mornings I was exhausted and ready to sleep — the entire day away.
Around late July my college friend, who was also my spiritual mentor during that period, Teresa, called and said she was visiting St. Louis and asked if I had time for breakfast the following Friday. I told her my schedule and she suggested we go to mass together at the world-renowned Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis right after I ended my shift with fire. “That works”, I responded.
Quick background on Teresa: In the Catholic Church you have two types of Catholics. Those who arrive to mass 15 minutes late, sit in the back, and leave after communion. Then you have those that arrive 15 minutes early, sit in prayer until the priest arrives, and stay until the last song is played.
Teresa puts the latter to shame.
She keeps holy water in her pocket, has almost every saint either worn on her fingers as rings or as necklaces, and when you would normally say, “peace be with you” during mass and shake the other church-goers hand, Teresa uses that hand to pull you in for a hug and then whispers a quick prayer in your ear. How we became friends I don’t know but until this day she was one of the best friends I’d ever had.
Friday morning arrives and I meet Teresa outside the church. We greet each other with big smiles and a long hug before I open the door to lead us in. As we walk down the aisle I stop mid-aisle of the church to my usual church pew. Teresa, all five-feet-four-inches, stands up on her tippy toes and whispers in my ear that she sees better seats “wide open”. Considering we were two of about 15 others at mass that morning in a church that has a capacity of 5,000 I knew where this was going.
Teresa walks us right up to the front row and we take our seats.
Mass begins as it always does. We sing. We pray. 25 minutes later, “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
Or so I thought.