All day yesterday and all night last night, I thought of him in pictures: Justus, coming out of his office at Trinity with a sheaf of papers in his hand. Justus, wheeling a cart overflowing with bag lunches up to St. Paul's chapel. Justus in a hard hat, covered with Ground Zero dust. Justus and me, one frigid Christmas Eve, celebrating the Eucharist on a picket line with striking Daily News workers -- we used a battered tin cup and plate that he brought from home.
Still, today, they come: In a cathedral procession, he carries the Gospel book on his right shoulder. At Goldwater Hospital, he pushes a patient on a gurney into the chapel for the Sunday Eucharist. On Good Friday, we carry a large wooden cross he made throughout Lower Manhattan, and settles it gently on the shoulders of an old woman who begs to be allowed to carry it just a little ways: The Cross is Laid on Simon of Cyrene. And on a chilly Easter morning, we share Eucharist as the sun comes up over the East River.
An actress delivers a funny monologue, but her last and best line consistently fails to get a laugh. So Justus cuts out her spotlight as soon as she has spoken the line -- and, night after night, the audience erupts in laughter. And when Thomas Becket is murdered in front of the altar at St. John's in the Village, Justus waits a horrified second and then gives us the flashing blue and red lights of a police squad car. As a director, I am often vague in my requests for the effect I want. Justus listens to me carefully and then goes up to the balcony to tinker with lighting equipment long past its prime. Time after time, he gives me perfection.
New Year's Day at St. Elizabeth's in Flatbush, long before anybody in New York was talking about Flatbush becoming the next hot neighborhood: brothers and parishioners, down-on-their-luck houseguests, neighborhood children and their parents sit down to a wonderful meal the brothers have has prepared. After dinner, as the afternoon turns to evening, we have vespers in the chapel. Happy New Year.
Which tense to use now, in speaking and thinking of him? Is Justus a was, or an is? Oh, that's easy: he is both. Justus is in Christ, who was and is and is to come. He is all around me, all around us -- and he sends me memory after memory, and each memory makes me more grateful that he is in my life. He is closer to me than he was before he died. They all are.
It is Justus who told me not to leave out those little invitations to prayer when I am praying alone. You know the ones -- someone says "The Lord be with you," and everyone answers "And also with you." I was telling him that I didn't say those when praying alone, that it seemed a little silly saying "The Lord be with you " to an empty chapel. Oh, no, he said, I always say them. When we say "The Lord be with you," all the saints and angels answer us back, all of them. "And also with you," they all say. "And also with you." "And also with you."
He was right. There is one more, now, in the company of heaven. He was here, and now he is there. But we have not lost him. He is closer than he has ever been.
Hello, Justus! The Lord be with you!
You can see a wonderful picture of Bro. Justus, and read his matter-of-fact account of his many achievements at http://www.justusssf.us/
To make a donation in memory of this wonderful man, send a check payable to "Society of St. Francis" to P.O. Box 399, Mount Sinai, NY 11766.