“When it was evening, he reclined at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, “Surely it is not I, Lord?’”
Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral, So Ho. Spy Wednesday. Traitors out and about, looking for their chance to betray the Lord and join up with Judas. Will I be one of them? …
Our young brothers from Cheshire arrive, fresh and excited off their long bus ride from Connecticut. Msgr. Sakano gives them an inspiring speech about what they are up against. “This is the hottest neighborhood for young professionals in New York. They work hard and they play hard. And many have forgotten God, can’t even remember if they’ve been baptized. They’ve protected themselves with layers and layers of ‘things’, attractions, entertainments. On the surface, there is a patina of happiness, but no joy at the core. Your job is to peal away some of these layers, at least one. Sometimes the Spirit will help you, and you will find a path to go deep, to peel away six or seven layers, maybe eight, and get to the core. You’ll get that person to confession and a true conversion back to Christ. Sometimes you will be the 10th contact, or maybe the 100th, over several years, and others will have done the heavy lifting—there’s just one layer left and you lift it. And sometimes you will be the first person to ask someone to come back to God, and they storm off, and you feel a sense of rejection and failure. But you won’t have failed at all. You will have removed one layer of scales. You will have started them on their journey.” And off we go, to the streets….
All night long, the neighborhood is bustling with missionary activity. Plenty of Judas’ out there, mostly in the form of “devout atheists”, as they now describe themselves, pushing back against the spiritual assault they’re feeling. And many more Peters, followers who may have fallen in one way or another, but reaching out a hand to the Lord, looking for a way back. The vast majority are somewhere in between, just as Msgr. Sakano had predicted: souls with their many layers on, going about their business until the meet us. We help them grow lighter.
My notes cover 15 separate encounters by our missionaries, out of a larger total of perhaps 100 such interactions. Time and space here for just two…
Bill, one of our missionaries from St. Patrick’s in Chatham, stands joyfully at Prince and Mott, reaping the harvest. He is alone, not unusual on this corner despite our three missionaries stationed there, as at any given moment the others are escorting penitents to the church. Kim arrives at the corner, and stops for a rosary. “Kim, come into the church. We are lighting candles and taking prayer intentions. It’s very peaceful in there.” “Really? My goodness, this is just what I needed. Bill, you must have been sent by God! My daughter Gianna is in a very tough place. We just visited her eye doctor and the news is not good. She is going blind.” “Oh my goodness. How old is she?” “Twenty three.” “Kim, bring her here. Let’s get her to the church.” Kim leaves with two rosaries, and our love. She returns 10 minutes later, with her Gianna. “How is this happening to me?,” she asks imploringly with her eyes, not words—she is quiet. “We don’t have an answer, but we know this. Jesus loves you. He is at your side. He will help you carry this cross.” Together, Bill brings Kim and Gianna into the church, and turns them over to the missionary in the back there. She consoles them, and takes them forward to light a candle before the Lord. They write out their prayer and leave it before Him. “Don’t leave yet! We have wonderful missionary priests here hearing confessions. Take advantage! Think of the extra graces you will receive for your journey ahead!” Mother and daughter turn to each other. “Why not? It seems we’re here for a reason. And its been a long time since either of us went to confession.” They leave the church a good while later, restored. They’ve found peace…
Brother Jesus from Cheshire hails down Kevin, a little buzzed, out on Elizabeth and Spring. “There is no God, Brother Jesus! Trust me on this!” What an opening. An intense dialogue ensues. Kevin can’t find his way to God. “There’s only now, only the present. And anyway, how can you possibly lead the life you are leading? You’ve given up all the fun stuff!” “I have the most important thing, Kevin. I have my creator. And he loves me. That is worth more than all the TV sets, Iphones, and girlfriends you can summon.” “I still don’t get it. I just don’t. You’re young. Enjoy yourself!” “Are you enjoying yourself, really Kevin? Why are you on drugs? Maybe you are trying to escape something.” “They make me happy!” “Really? Come see one of our priests. He could help you find true happiness, the kind that lasts.” The conversation continues for over 30 minutes. Kevin wants to see a priest, but “I can’t. I don’t believe.” It’s nearly 7:00. The brothers need to leave, to attend the closing Mass. “Kevin, I have to go now.” “Don’t leave. I have more questions!” “Kevin, I have to go.” They embrace, shake hands. Kevin won’t let go. He shakes Brother Jesus’ hand again, and again, and again. Finally, the brothers part. Kevin is alone. But a layer of scales has fallen.