Park Avenue and 41st, Midtown. It’s Saturday morning in New York City and the weather has already turned cold. From my office here in midtown, I can see SoHo in the distance and am reflecting on our coming mission next Saturday and Monday. Saturday is the bacchanal “Santa Con”, so more than ever, our joyful missionaries will be needed to fill the spiritual void. Monday is “Reconciliation Monday” and often on days like this hearts are ready for Jesus, they just need a gentle reminder. If past experience is predictive, many souls will be brought home.
Our theme this year will be “Coming Home for Christmas.” Three thoughts to reflect on this week as we prepare our hearts:
- “The Way Home.” In SoHo next weekend, we will encounter many souls in stress. On the surface, they’ll be stressing out about all the shopping they still need to do, or in the case of the Santa Connors, how many more bars they can squeeze in before collapsing. Deeper down, there will be something else bothering them. They know they are not really ready for Christmas, that they have not yet reconciled with the Lord. Perhaps it’s an argument they are still having with a loved one. Maybe it’s an uncharitable attitude about someone at work. Or maybe it’s something deeper, some graver sin that they believe cannot and will not be forgiven. Our job is to gently remind them that there’s another way, the way home. Just open the door. Enter the church. Speak to the priest. Receive reconciliation. It’s not complicated. As the prophet Isaiah wrote so many years ago, “This is the way. Walk in it.” (Is 30:21)
- “Come to the Manger.” Many fallen away Catholics wandering the streets looking for love, are often drawn for inexplicable reasons to the manger scene, the crèche. There is something very comforting to them about this Christmas image, conjuring up memories of home, the holidays, the comfort of a world where right was still right and wrong was still wrong. Next week, let’s tap into that memory. We can invite them to the church to light a candle and visit our crèche. It’s a beauty. And while we’re doing that, let’s remind them what the manger scene stands for: “Emmanuel, Christ with us.” In coming to manger, God came down from the heights and put himself in a vulnerable, dangerous posture, surviving a cold night on a bed of straw. Not soon after He was born as Jesus, He had half of Herod’s army chasing Him down. Though they’ll be busy for sure, perhaps they will find it in their hearts to give the baby Jesus a few minutes of their time, to light a candle and pray. Perhaps they will come to the Manger.
- “Let Him Love Me.” In the end of the day, all of this is about Love, and Love is always a theme of our missions-the pure, self-sacrificing love that Jesus showed coming to the manger, ministering to a broken humanity, and ultimately sacrificing Himself on the cross to defeat Sin and Death. In our years of doing mission work, one reality that has struck us is that one of the great obstacles to bringing Catholics home is their misunderstanding of what the sacrament of reconciliation is. They think it is an embarrassing exercise where they have to tell another fellow human what they’ve done wrong and hope he forgives them. They don’t realize that it is in fact a meeting with God, in the confessional in the person of the priest. And guess what: God already knows everything they’ve done. And He loves them anyway. He wants to take away their pain, their sorry, their remorse, their guilt, their belief that they are unforgiven. He wants to give them a big hug, and remind them that He loves them. But to let Him do that, they’ve got to come home to the manger and seek Him out. They’ve got to let themselves be loved…by God…for Christmas.