Thursday Before Holy Week, 2016
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father,* I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice,* “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” John 11:38-44
Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral. It’s the Thursday evening before Holy Week in New York City. Stormy weather. Holy Week just days away. The week ahead has great promise for the mission. Once again, we are expecting record numbers of missionaries from around the Tri State and beyond to descend on the parish here, and our plans to utilize them effectively are ready and waiting to be executed. With the Year of Mercy in full swing, we intend to incorporate the Church of the Most Precious Blood and its Holy Doors within the mission district, so our battle lines will extend this year from the southern edges of Greenwich village through NoLitTa and SoHo, down Little Italy, to the very border of Chinatown. Our priests are arriving in force starting Monday afternoon. And we are all praying for the Holy Spirit to energize and direct us in the week ahead. We expect He will.
Our theme this year is “Rise Up”. Drawing on the gospel story of the raising of Lazarus, we will all collectively focus in the week ahead on three important sub-texts of this theme.
- “Patient, dogged endurance.” The Mexicans call this “Aguante”, a form of perseverance that doesn’t quit, that pushes on joyfully through thick and thin with a calm confidence in ultimate success. Martha had Aguante. She pursued the Lord relentlessly, confident he could save her brother Lazarus. She continued to pursue him, to plead with him, even long after her brother was apparently beyond saving. In the streets of So Ho next week, we will need this Aguante, this patient, dogged endurance. Not for the first hour that we are on that corner getting nowhere. Not even for the third. Rather, for the sixth hour, the seventh hour, the eighth hour. We have no way of knowing when He is going to bring us that soul He has uniquely set us out on that corner to encounter. Without the endurance of Martha, we may never find out.
- “Roll back the stone.” In this Holy Year of Mercy, the Pope has asked Catholics everywhere to be loving witnesses to Christ’s mercy for everyone that we meet. He wants us to exude with our whole being the tender love for souls that emanates from the very heart of Jesus. He’s asking us to express this merciful love towards everyone that we meet, without exception. In the streets outside the protective walls of Old St. Pat’s, this will sometimes not be easy to do. Many of the souls we will encounter have entombed themselves in sin, in a lifestyle and attitude that is enmeshed in the secular world and all its pleasures. Within this self-constructed tomb, their spiritual life is effectively dead, or at least on life support. Our job, first and foremost, is to roll back the stone within which they have entombed themselves, to awaken in them a spark of their spirit, enough to allow themselves to be touched by Christ through our priests, or as a minimum to allow them to begin hearing the proddings of Holy Spirit that they hitherto have ignored. Some of the stones we confront this week will be heavy, almost immovable. With His grace and help, we need to be believe that nevertheless we can roll back the stone. If little Martha could do it, so can we.
- “Rise Up.” Ultimately, only Christ can give someone new life. Next week at Old Saint Pat’s, Christ will be with us, particularly through our priests in the confessionals, en persona Christi. As we persevere with love and joy through the week, witnessing the Mercy of God through our attitudes and our interactions, hundreds of souls will come to be touched by Him through us. Some will even make it to the Church for a potentially life-giving confession, perhaps the first in many years. They will “Rise up”, and some will even come back to us on the street corners, literally transformed, beaming with faces of angelic joy for the new life they can palpably feel within them. This will be the payback for our patient, dogged endurance. This will be the hug from Christ that comes back to us only when we first give that tender love of mercy to others. This will be our chance to be with Him in the raising of Lazarus.
We will be in So Ho all week. Join us. Rise up.