A few years ago I attended my first Catholic mass in a busy church outside Birmingham. It was Easter Sunday. I sat in the nosebleed section.
People greeted me with the words, “He’s risen.”
And because I was not raised under a rock, I answered with: “He’s risen indeed.”
I was not reared Catholic. I was born into a fundamentalist family with a mother who sometimes prayed in tongues over our meatloaf.
But after my father died, I learned that he had been raised Catholic. He went to Catholic school, he played Catholic baseball.
He didn’t talk about it. I never knew that version of him.
All I knew was a man who did not dance at wedding receptions for fear the pastor would catch him.
There in the Catholic cathedral, the priest announced, “He is risen.”
“He’s risen indeed,” said the congregation.
I was an outsider in the room. The priest recited the Liturgy of the Eucharist, people formed a single-file line to drink out of a chalice.
Easter Sundays in my family were nothing like this. My father was an usher at our little church. He’d stand by the front door and hand out bulletins that advertised upcoming Baptist church events.
—Thursday fundraiser, dinner on the grounds. Bring a covered dish.
—Young men’s Bible study, 6 P.M. Bring a covered dish.
—Women’s Sunday school class is holding an upcoming prayer vigil against beer. Bring a congealed salad.
—Men’s group is recruiting for its annual mission trip to Biloxi.
On Easter, my father always gave folded bulletins to those approaching. He would say, “He is Risen.”
And any Baptist worth his salt would answer with, “He’s risen indeed.”
Most who attended our church on Easter were only visitors. They came twice per year. My father called them “nosebleed Baptists.”
I never heard anyone else use that term. I asked my father what this meant.
“Well,” he said. “Some fans only come to games once a year and sit in the nosebleed section. And other fans never miss a ballgame, even when the pitcher stinks.”
“Which ones are we?” I asked.
“You’ve heard our new preacher, you tell me.”
Our preacher delivered fiery sermons. He would remove his jacket and preach to heartless sinners, drunks, and those who danced at wedding receptions.
The church services of my youth were lengthy. Someone in the congregation would either faint from low blood sugar, or be suddenly overcome with the spirit of narcolepsy.
But this Catholic business was different. Mass was foreign to me. It was exoctic, and beautiful.
All my life, my father refused to step foot in a Catholic church. And he wouldn’t even talk about it.
But then, there was that one time.
On the way home from a Boy Scout meeting, he pulled into a Catholic church. I knew my father was having a rough time at work. I’d overheard him talking with my mother through the hot-air vents.
“The boss is killing me,” my father once said. “I can’t sleep, can’t eat…”
At night, sometimes I found my father vomiting in the bathroom from stress. I would ask what was wrong, he would tell me to go back to bed.
That afternoon, Daddy wheeled into a Catholic church and turned off the truck. There was a man cutting the church lawn with a push mower, he wore a white collar.
My father told me to wait in the vehicle.
Daddy was in that chapel for almost two hours. When he came back his face was wet and his eyes were pink. I never asked why. And he never told me.
Anyway, Easter mass was lovely. I’ll never forget it. The priest told the people that “Easter is when dead things come back to life, when we remember how the finger of God can touch dead wood and make it green again.”
I had to write that down I liked it so much.
After the service, I stayed in the chapel until all people had left. The priest sat in a pew behind me. He introduced himself.
“Father,” I said, “I’m not Catholic, but I really enjoyed mass.”
“Yeah?” he said. “Thanks for celebrating the Resurrection with us.”
“Can I ask you a question, Father?”
“Have you ever lost anyone?”
“Yes. I lost my mom, my dad, and my brother.”
“Do you think about them a lot?”
He ducked his head. He let out a sigh. “Every second. Actually, I was thinking about Mom this morning. You know, when I was growing up, she would always laugh about the big Easter crowds and call them ‘nosebleed Catholics.’ Isn’t that funny?”
It sure is.
On my way out of church, the priest and I took a slow walk down the aisle. I admired the statuary, and the beautiful stained glass windows.
The priest hugged me, then said, “He is risen.”
And well, you know the rest.
Darlene Smith - April 21, 2019 6:42 am
Thank you ❤️
Linda - April 21, 2019 7:23 am
Thank you for this column, Sean. It is exactly what I needed to hear right now….
I am Catholic and was blessed to be born on Easter Sunday. They brought me to my parents in an Easter basket….
My faith has seen me thru many, many good times and a few really bad ones….but is always steadfastly there….
I wish Jamie and you a most Blessed Easter….
He is Risen.
theholtgirls - April 22, 2019 7:09 am
Linda, Easter blessings to you also. And, yes. He is risen indeed! Happy Birthday!
Sandi in FL. - April 21, 2019 8:46 am
Yes indeed, HE IS RISEN! I sincerely hope that you and Jamie have a wonderful Easter, Sean.
Robert - April 21, 2019 8:48 am
Our former Pastor called the non-regular people that attended be on Easter … Easter bunnies.
Phillip Saunders. - April 21, 2019 10:45 am
Right you are, my friend. Whether one is Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal. Church of Christ, non-denominational, whatever – He is risen indeed!! Hallelujah!!!
Janet Mary Lee - April 22, 2019 6:36 pm
We must celebrate the whole body of Christ in these times…least we do not understand that….I liked this Phillip!!
oldlibrariansshelf - April 21, 2019 11:03 am
He is risen, indeed!
Norma Norton - April 21, 2019 11:30 am
Thanks- so touching
Harriet - April 21, 2019 11:38 am
What a wonderful way to start my Easter morning! Happy Easter, Sean. He is risen indeed!
Karen - April 21, 2019 11:39 am
My mother is a lapsed Catholic and my father was raised as a Methodist. They had six children, and the only time we saw the inside of a church was when my grandparents took us to Catholic mass on Easter. My sisters and I were dressed in white dresses and wore lace ‘mantillas’ on our heads. The service was in Latin, so I never understood a word. I watched my Mimi pray the rosary, and stared at the stained glass, the statues of the Saints, and the ornate high ceilings.
Later in life, I came to know Christ. I know He is risen. Indeed. Thank you for your writing. Happy Easter.
Jess in Athens, GA - April 21, 2019 12:02 pm
Sean, around here we call people that only attend church twice per year – C&E Christians…………Christmas and Easter. Have a wonderful Easter, Sean.
Connie Havard Ryland - April 21, 2019 12:17 pm
Happy Easter Sean. I hope you and Jamie have a wonderful day. To all your readers, in case they read this, no matter what your beliefs are, He is risen indeed, for us all. Love and hugs.
Carol Heidbreder - April 21, 2019 12:36 pm
Yes, we know the rest. He has risen indeed! Hallelujah! Thank you for a beautiful Easter message!
Robbie Rainer - April 21, 2019 1:02 pm
Thank you for this wonderful story! He is Risen Indeed!
Edna B. - April 21, 2019 1:24 pm
Pogo and I are wishing you and Jamie and the fur babies a Blessed and Happy Easter. Hugs, Edna B.
charliestsimons - April 21, 2019 1:47 pm
You really are a “writer” ! And a good one. Louis would be proud. Your daddy is too.
kathleenivy - April 21, 2019 2:31 pm
Thank you Sean, He is risen indeed!
Carol - April 21, 2019 2:33 pm
He is risen Indeed???Amen!!
Linda Moon - April 21, 2019 4:08 pm
Indeed. He is risen, and we shall be too.
Jack Darnell - April 21, 2019 7:21 pm
Another one out of the park. You done good my friend, I loved it. I know there are things you wish you had asked your father and didn’t. BUT let me assure you, if he had died at 69, there would still be things you WISH you had asked or known. How about them nose bleed folk???
My best to you this Easter, now hug that sweet woman real tight and say, “He is Risen and I am HERE (for U)!”
Sherry & jack…
Jody - April 21, 2019 7:32 pm
He is risen. Hallelujah
Holmes Edy - April 22, 2019 1:22 am
God comforts us in many ways.
Charaleen Wright - April 22, 2019 4:48 am
Ann - April 22, 2019 2:53 pm
Chasity Davis Ritter - April 22, 2019 4:32 pm
Hope you had a lovely Easter this year Sean. You and your amazing lady. Ours was really nice too. I’m not a nosebleed Christian by any means. I’m there most Sundays as I can be. But this Easter when others who don’t come were filling the pews I was in Eastern Oklahoma for my grand daughters first Easter (she’s two months old my Annie Grace). We went fishing and the lake was God’s cathedral and the birds were singing us hymns. My 3 year old Grandson Nova Lane caught his first fish ever and I even managed to bring in two on my own. First time in double digit years. I know my Dad was there with us watching his grand kids and great grandkids because there were dragonflies all around. I felt him in the sunshine on my face and the breeze in my hair. I heard him in their laughter. It was a beautiful service I have to say. And the last thing I want to say to you, Sean, is He is Risen. ( And I’m so truly thankful He Is Risen Indeed! )
Lois Young - April 24, 2019 4:42 pm
I don’t know why, but that one made me cry. I was raised Carholic but have been going to the Methodist church for about 30 years. I went to Easter service this year at an Episcopal cathedral. It was such a beautiful service. I cried there, too. Thanks for this story.
Julia S Boykin - April 12, 2020 1:31 am
As always a beautiful post .. Hope you, Jamie and the Pups have a Happy and Blessed Easter!! And Yes…. Hallelujah!! He Is Risen !!✝️✝️✝️❤️
Matilda Wille - April 12, 2020 2:19 am
My husband was raised Lutheran and I was raised Baptistcostal (it’s a thing) I learned that there is beauty in all different Christ centered denominational worship. And the nose bleed attendees? I read an article once that said most of these people were church goers in the past who fell out of attending church over the years, yet yearn for a connection back to Christ and the church. Their attendance at Easter and Christmas is less awkward for them as they are in the presence of others just like them. So, embrace them and welcome them back to the House of the Lord! Happy Easter Sean and Jamie. Christ Is Risen Indeed!
Mary davis - April 12, 2020 2:46 am
He is risen indeed! As another former sCb (small church baptist), I want you to know I’m stealing the term, “the spirit of narcolepsy”—priceless! I know a few of us who could be DELIVERED of that one!
Anne Arthur - April 12, 2020 2:48 am
3rd trial to comment on your glorious blog, which struck a special string on my Lutheran-born, Catholic converted heart tonight. So sad that Corona prevented us to chant the Hallelujah and share the cup in a jampacked church, including those on the nosebleed benches. Be blessed, Sean.
HE IS RISEN. HE IS TRULY RISEN.