Comedian and Ethel Merman interpreter Dominic Mattos, who according to his profile page at Inside Jokes Comedy Club read Theology at Oxford University, had just attended IOSOT, the triennial International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament, in Munich.
I’d never visited Bavaria before but felt sure it would be full of the Baroque Catholicism I love, and of good heavy food and beer. I was not disappointed.
At about 4 o’clock, when I was almost fully catatonic, a small man came into the book exhibit. He had a beard, a rucksack, and was barefoot (which I didn’t notice at first). I was vaguely aware that he was going around the room talking to the publishers, but beyond that my mind remained as utterly blank as it had been before. A few minutes later he arrived at my stand, and held a small card out for me to look at. I sat inert for a while longer before coming to. The man asked me what was on the card. I saw that it was a picture of the Turin Shroud. So I said , it’s ‘The Turin Shroud’. He said something to the effect of; ‘yes, but it should really be called the "Christ" shroud, because it’s Christ’s shroud not Turin’s, the latter being a place’. I nodded in agreement, I could not – and had no wish to – fault his logic. Then he said the card was his gift to me. I said thank-you very much. He then offered me another card, with a truly ghastly picture of Jesus on it. I politely declined and said I liked the shroud better and to take two of his cards would be greedy. Then he said ‘thank-you, you very nice. Goodbye’, and pottered off around the room. By this point my brain had woken up and I took more notice of my recent conversation partner. I noticed his barefootedness, and beard, and simple and direct approach. I also noticed that most people were instantly refusing any conversation with him. This didn’t seem to bother him much and in a few minutes he was gone.
I sat and reflected for a while. My chief reflection was that had I been in any way awake, or any less inert, I would not have been in any way receptive to this man. I would have turned him away instantly. I’d have presumed him to be crazy, and indeed he may be so. As it was I was given a small grace, for I also reflected that this man had asked nothing of me. He was not a beggar – at least he did not beg anything of me – and he did not push me to say, or react to, anything. It didn’t occur to me to offer him anything in return, and this did not bother him. No, this man had quite simply brought me Christ, on my feast day when I had been unable to go to Mass, and because of my inertia I had found myself able to accept him. This made me well up a tiny bit – the heat was getting to me – so I said a few Aves for the man, and tucked the picture away. Here it is:. . .