Third Monday of Advent

Monday night.  Warm.  Dark.  Misty rain.  Fog.  Three priests, nine missionaries.  Quiet streets.   We covered Prince and Mott with four stalwart bond salesmen from Bob’s trading desk, positioned the gentle souls from Evelyn’s New York RC team in the back of the church, and business started up.  Eventually, we were four deep at the confessionals.   Calls incoming way down Mulberry Street to Msgr. Sakano, “We have people showing up here at Precious Blood looking for confession!”  I call an audible and march down Mulberry with Fr. Stephen and George.  Fr. Stephen takes up a station at the rear courtyard, outside in the warm air, under an awning for protection from the drizzle.  George mans Mulberry; I head to Baxter and the front of the Church, in the mist.  No one around.  A few pilgrims come in to view the presipio; one was to confession yesterday and the others have no interest.  Around 6:45, a man dressed in dark clothes, bulging a bit in unnatural places, passes by, alone and in a hurry.  “Are you Catholic?”  No reply.  He’s Catholic.  I pursue him.  “Excuse me sir, are you Catholic?”  “What?”  “Are you Catholic?”  “Yes.  Sort of.”  “Would you like to come into the Church to pray?  We have a beautiful manger scene in there.”  “No.  I can’t do that.  I have something on me that I can’t take into that church.  It would disrespect Him.”  What a lead in.  A conversation ensues.  Sox is an ex-con.  Fifteen years in the slammer.  An ex-con with a conscience well-formed enough to know how to respect the Lord.  “Sox, one question.  What happens if you get hit by a truck tonight?”  “If I get hit by a truck, I know He loves me and I’m going to heaven.”  “Sox, you have a very well-formed conscience.  And you’re pretty bright besides.  So work with me here.  You’re presently doing something that is so bad that it would be disrespectful to enter the Church.”  “Right.  I know what is right and wrong.”  “And, you’re going to keep doing it.”  “For now.”  “And, even though it would be disrespectful to enter the Church, you think you can enter Heaven in this state?”  “Uhh…”    “Sox?  Sox?  Are you with me?”  Beads of sweat are appearing on Sox’s brow.  “Steve, I’m on a journey.  I know I’m not where I need to be, but maybe I’ll get there.  I’m 20% better than I was 10 years ago.”  “Sox, that’s good.  That’s real good.  I’m on a journey too.  And we’re not alone.  He’s with us.”  I give Sox a rosary to pray on, because, I tell him, Mary is also with you, praying for  you.  Sox  knows how to pray the rosary, but at his request, we practice our way through it.  He promises me to pray with the rosary for Mary’s protection.   I promise to pray every day for him, for his safe journey home.    “Steve, I have one question for you.  Where did you come from?  I went right by the church, and you were not there.  I’m sure of it.  Then, suddenly, you appeared out of the mist.  Like an angel.”  “Sox, I was here, just as the Lord is here.  He’s always here.  He’s waiting for you.  You just have to open the door.”  And with that, Sox,  a rosary in hand and a prayer in his heart,  walks off into the warm, damp darkness of Baxter Street.  In a hurry.  But no longer alone.

A missionary