For a Friend I Barely Knew

By Samantha Reynolds

I sat in Fr. Tom’s office in Immaculate Conception Church in Fairbanks, Alaska. The room was bright and simply decorated, which, under the circumstances, was enough to be comforting. 

“You’d like to request a Mass?” Fr. Tom asked. 

“Yes, for Ed Bermudez,” I said. “For repose.” 

“He was the director of the soup kitchen, wasn’t he?”

I nodded.

“How’d you know him?”

In truth, I didn’t know Ed well. He was a colleague I saw sporadically at committee meetings. There are some people, though, who are so genuine and kind, the fact you don’t know when their birthday is or what their hobbies are seems irrelevant. Your brain automatically files them under “Friend.” That was Ed, a friend I barely knew. 

Two days earlier I had attended a meeting at the local food bank to discuss the problem of food accessibility. I was the voice for economic development, and Ed (who hadn’t arrived yet) represented the soup kitchen.

“Did he say if he would be here?” I asked the food bank’s CEO. 

She met the gazes of the handful of people gathered. “Ed passed away last night. He — took his own life.”
When I returned to my office, I pulled up Ed’s Facebook page. Already there were posts eulogizing him and sending condolences to his fiancée. But below those notes were twice as many visitor posts from the day before, all wishing Ed a happy birthday. 

The date was Nov. 13.

No Such Thing as ‘Unlucky’?
His birth date — on the 13th — got me thinking. What is it we in the West find so threatening about this number? Googling the question spawns hundreds of articles ruminating on our fear of 13. Many highlight the fact that Judas was the 13th person at the Last Supper. Medieval mathematician Petrus Bungus noted the negative prevalence of 13 in the Bible, including that Psalm 13 was a heartrending lament. And 600 members of the monastic military order the Knights Templar were captured and tortured by King Philip IV’s men on Friday, Oct. 13, 1307. 

For centuries, Western cultures have assigned the devil to 13, and now it would be easier to wrest a slab of meat from a wolf’s jaws than redeem the number from Satan’s grip. At least, that would be true if not for God’s mercy. For if fear is a famished wolf, hope is a well-fed lion.

In answer to our triskaidekaphobia, God sends the Theotokos — the Mother of God. Indeed, wherever there is danger for God’s people, He gives us Our Lady, through whose intercession our defeats may be transformed to victories. 

While the culture built a case against 13, Mary adopted the number as an emblem of her motherly care. 
Judas may have been the 13th guest at the Last Supper, but Mary was the 13th person in the Upper Room at Pentecost.

And yes, Psalm 13 is a lament, but the 13th verse of the 13th chapter in the 13th book of the Bible (1 Chr 13:13-14) concerns the Ark of the Covenant, which Catholics consider a foreshadowing of Mary. If Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant, then this passage prefigures her three-month stay in the house of Zechariah (Lk 1:56).

Finally, 610 years to the day the Templars were arrested, one of the greatest Marian apparitions occurred on Oct. 13, 1917. On that day, as one eyewitness recounted, the sun “spun round on itself in a mad whirl.” This was one of the final signs given by Our Lady of Fatima, who for the previous five months had appeared to three shepherd children — on the 13th day (except for the August apparition, because the children had been imprisoned). She instructed the children to pray the Rosary daily and offered a message of hope: “The war will end soon, and the soldiers will return to their homes.”

The Blessed Mother’s promise reaches beyond the trenches of World War I and into our embattled 21st-century homes, offices, and soup kitchens. Because when all is said and done, we’re just war-torn soldiers fighting to get home.

Masses for My Friend
I arrived at my apartment and finally cried, and then began praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for Ed. 
I was barely through the first decade when the advice from one of my childhood priests came flooding back to me. In a homily, he said the most powerful, effective thing you can do for someone is have a Mass said for him. I decided to have a series of 30 Gregorian Masses offered for Ed, and so pulled up the Marian Fathers’ website. 

A couple weeks later, a vinyl-bound card arrived in the mail. A depiction of the Blessed Mother graced the inside cover, and next to her image a certificate with the Marians’ official seal read: “A series of Gregorian Masses for the soul of Ed Bermudez will begin on May 1.” 

Heaven seemed intent to send reassurances that Ed hadn’t died out of God’s reach, but rather wrapped in His Blessed Mother’s mantle. He had been born and died under one of her emblems, the number 13, and now his soul would find comfort in 30 Masses said for him in May — the month of Mary. Like Jesus’ body in the Thirteenth Station on the Way of the Cross, Ed was placed in Mary’s arms and held close to her broken, but hopeful, heart.

Despite the Marians saying the 30 Masses for Ed, those Masses would be celebrated far from Fairbanks, and May was still six months away. I wanted to be present at a Mass celebrated for Ed, and as soon as possible. I wanted to hear his name spoken in the presence of the Eucharist. Which is why I found myself in Fr. Tom’s office watching as he scrolled through the spreadsheet, trying to find an available Mass. 

“The earliest day I have is Dec. 13. Is that OK?” he asked, turning to me.

“Perfect.” 

Samantha Reynolds is a Marian Helper living in Fairbanks, Alaska. Visit 
marian.org/mass or call 1-800-462-7426 to request Masses.

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Photo by Zhen Hu on Unsplash.

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