By Tim Hayes

In the early summer months of 2004, as we approached our parish church one Sunday morning, it quickly became apparent that something very extraordinary was afoot.

About four large coach buses had been parked along the street corner surrounding the block where the church building stood, with many additional limousines standing nearby.  Official-looking people wearing sunglasses and earpieces could be seen, scanning worshippers on their way into Mass.

Those worshippers – us included – could only enter the sanctuary once the go-ahead had been given by the advance team inside.  What in the world – or, more appropriately, who in the world – had decided to descend on our little neighborhood chapel and toss such a monumental monkey wrench into the proceedings?

U.S. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, that’s who.  The soon-to-be-nominated candidate for President of the United States from the Democratic Party.  His wife, Theresa Heinz Kerry, had a home nearby, and the couple wanted to attend Sunday services together.

Once all of the initial commotion had been concluded, though, Mass went on as usual.  The Kerrys were seated in one of the front pews, and the Secret Service asked for a two-pew buffer zone around them, which of course the congregation honored.  It quickly became a secondary notion that a national political figure sat among us that sunny Sunday morning.

The choir sang, the lectors read verses from the Old Testament and the Letters of St. Paul, and our pastor then read that week’s Gospel verses from the New Testament.  Next came his homily, and that’s where the day became truly memorable.

“Well, as you all are obviously aware, today we have a VIP – a Very Important Person – here at Mass with us,” said Father.  “This person is about to experience something very special.  Something to remember for a lifetime.”

Heads began turning to Sen. Kerry, whose expression couldn’t be seen very well from behind the two-pew buffer zone, where most of us had been seated.  Father nonetheless soldiered on.

“This VIP is about to have a life-changing encounter.  After this encounter, nothing for this person can ever be the same again.”

Now, don’t quote me on this.  It might have just been a subjective observation from my vantage point in church that day.  But I could swear I saw that distinctive mane of the Senator from New England puff up just a tad higher as our priest went on.

“I would like to ask that all of us please recognize this VIP in our midst this morning,” Father said, as we anticipated the obvious.

“Let’s give a warm round of applause to…”

The Senator leaned forward, about to rise…

“…Miss Susan Jones, who is making her First Holy Communion today!”

The sanctuary exploded in applause for a shy seven-year-old girl, adorned in a white lace dress and matching veil.  Her family got her to rise, eventually, as the applause continued.  After a few seconds, a standing ovation started to spread through the pews, begun by none other than Sen. and Mrs. John Kerry.  A pretty classy move, all things considered.

As the applause died away, Father added, “Oh, and we welcome Senator Kerry and his wife, Theresa, as well!” which, as you might guess, brought down the house.

Leave it to a man of the cloth to put things into their proper perspective.

Copyright 2014 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting