“A clean heart create for me, O God,
And a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
And your Holy Spirit take not from me.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
And a willing spirit sustain in me.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
And sinners shall return to you”
In just a few short days, we will be engaged once again in the great battle of light and darkness, played out in our small corner of the universe, the streets of New York City. I know many of you are already preparing yourselves for this incredible adventure with Jesus on the streets of SoHo, and now, midtown. As you continue to pray and prepare for the work ahead, please meditate on the Heart of Jesus. This is our theme for our 2018 mission.
As the stories of SoHo have spread around the city and even the country, some of the veterans of the SoHo mission have increasingly been called upon to “train” other missionaries in New York and points abroad. Our early versions of this mission training were reasonably lame, focusing as we did on our particular actions and techniques for pulling in souls from the streets to the confessionals. Lame because, of course, none of us have pulled in one soul to church; at best, we’ve been granted the privilege of an “assist” from the great fisherman in the sky, the Holy Spirit. As our little training course evolved, we found ourselves focusing more and more on what has really made the mission so successful: the Heart of Jesus. For it is only when the missionary has allowed Jesus to transform his own heart into Jesus’s heart that recalcitrant souls can be “loved in”. So the theme this year is Jesus’ big heart. Let’s focus on that. Let’s become that.
Here are a few specific points:
Answer the call.
I’m not really sure how many times in my life I’ve said to myself, “I’m not holy enough for that job!” or, “That’s not my gift!”, or “That’s way over my head.” I am sure the number is in the hundreds. I’m sure many of you, or others you’ve asked to join us in SoHo, have thought the same. If there is one truth I have learned as a missionary of Christ, it is this: none of us are qualified for this job. Only He is. None of us can convert a lost soul, none of us has some special magic sauce. Only He does. And in this spirit, it is very prideful to think we can do it on our own, or alternatively, cannot do this but can do something else in its place. ALL that we do, ALL that we accomplish, is in and through Him. And the reality is, He is calling us all the time; we just don’t notice it, or worse, we prefer to ignore it. So the first step to developing your missionary heart is to stop analyzing each ring of the phone, whether to pick it up or not pick it up, and whether you are or are not qualified for the task at hand. Get off your chair and begin to understand that “the Lord does not call the equipped, He equips the called.” Pick up the phone. Answer the call.
Prayer and Silence.
If you are keeping up with your Magnifcat readings each day, you’ll already know another secret to the heart of a missionary: prayer and silence. Indeed, as I’ve reflected this Lent on the lives of the multitude of saints described in its pages, one common denominator in their spiritual lives seems always present: considerable lengths of time spent silently, in prayer. Jesus himself was the ultimate guide to us here, often beginning and ending his great miracles in long periods of silent prayer. Only in silent prayer can you ever truly hear his whispering voice, through the din of the hustle and bustle world around us. So if you are planning on coming to New York next week, do a lot of praying in advance. Get yourself as connected as you can be to your creator. Maybe even go to a silent retreat next weekend. It’s His heart you are trying to meld with.
Personally experiencing the Lord’s mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation is probably the single best way to prepare for the missions in New York. This may seem obvious to you, but initially it wasn’t too me: it is only through the process of receiving the graces of this blessed sacrament that a missionary can be effective in offering the Lord’s merciful heart to others. You can’t give what you don’t have. Over the years, I’ve observed many missionaries on the streets. Some seem incredibly effective, others less so. Among the latter, I often ask them at some point, “Have you had a chance to get to confession yourself yet?” Inevitably, the answer comes back, “No, not yet.” I often gently push them into the church right then and there. More often than not, they return energized, joyful, and a lot more effective. In my own case, having broken from the church in my youth, receiving the sacrament of reconciliation played a huge role in my work as a missionary, and still does. And if there’s something you’ve done that embarrasses you to tell one of our Legionary priests, all the better; seek that particular priest out, and go to confession with him. Remember, the greater the sin, the greater the mercy that forgives it, and the greater the joy for having been forgiven. And the greater that joy, the more powerful the desire to give others the chance to others to receive that same mercy. “His thirst for souls compels us.” So even if you’re spiritual life is in pretty good shape, and you may only need a “light wash” before heading to the streets, go and receive the sacrament. It’s message of mercy and love is a key element of the heart of every missionary. And if you really want a rocket booster, try a lifelong General Confession instead, or at least meditate one morning on sins past and forgiven in previous confessions. You may find yourself in a whole other orbit.
Another key aspect of the heart of a missionary is shared experience with the Lord. All good relationships deepen and grow with two key elements: communication, and shared experiences. In our relationship with God, prayer is the communication part. A mission is a shared experience part. If you let go, if let Jesus control you, drive you out in the streets, you will have the chance to share an experience with him. Time and again, the most joyful missionaries I encounter, bubbling over with their street stories, tell me “Steve, I felt Jesus’ presence, there with me.” If you want to develop the heart of a missionary, be attentive to this presence. Jesus IS there, with you. Feel him, smell him, become Him. It’s His heart you are after. He’s in the streets, where it’s messy, difficult, even dangerous. He’s in SoHo, waiting for you.
As human beings, we don’t like to suffer. We are programmed to avoid pain, at nearly all costs. And one more thing: we all suffer at some point. It is the human condition. If you are fearing the suffering that will come next week on the mission, good. Turn that fear to Jesus. What he will let happen to you out on the streets will be less than 0.1% of what he endured on Calvary. Embrace this. If you do so with love and hope in your heart, you will feel Jesus’s heart beating next to yours. Don’t run from this gift. Thank the Lord with all your heart, and embrace it.
Love is the secret sauce of the heart of a missionary. “Love everyone” is Christ’s command, his entreaty, his plea. No exceptions, even on the streets of New York! How can you possibly love everyone, especially the rude and disrespectful ones who are streaming past you in SoHo thinking you are some homeless person from the Bowery? The only answer I have to this is to love Christ, with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might. When you love Him, with the kind of agape love, the self-sacrificing love that He loved us, loving all His children, your brothers and sisters in Him, is easy. In fact, it is not an effort. It is an instinct that wells up out of you, and which others palpably feel. Of all the elements of the heart of a missionary, this love of others distinguishes us from the crowd. Often, its turns the tide of battle. It is the sense of love that the casual passerby can feel, which prompts a stirring somewhere deep in his or her own soul, to stop and talk to a missionary. All of us want to be loved, and many of us are not loved enough. So when someone feels love in the air, they more often than not, will stop to enjoy it, to embrace it. And that is the beginning of an incredible encounter on the streets. So
So missionaries! Get your hearts in order! Find Jesus there, and bring Him with you to SoHo.
See you next week.