Holy Thursday

Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral, So Ho.  During his powerful homily on the transformative power of the sacraments, Msgr. Sakano this evening spoke of Christ’s call for sinners, those “not worthy” and “not able” to carry his cause into the streets.  “This unworthiness is precisely what qualifies them for the task.  Their unworthiness gives them the gift of humility needed to receive fully his grace in the sacraments, and through that grace, to be transformed from sinners to saints, from ragged followers to inspired apostles, from humdrum observers to impassioned missionaries.”  Today we witnessed this transformation within  our young people, who arrived 50 strong mid-afternoon and were soon out on the streets.  And through them, we witnessed the transformation of the neighborhood from a hotbed of secular New York to one teaming with real life.  The place was abuzz, and those of us out on the streets found that, suddenly, self-identifying Catholics had shifted from the 40 to 1 odds we were getting early in the week, to more like 10 to 1.  Rarely were our missionaries not engaged in a rich encounter of some kind with one of these awakened souls.  Our five priests were backed up all night, till we had to call off confessions so they could participate in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.  Transformation.  Grace.  Love.  Mercy.  Everywhere.  The missionaries filled me with so many stories as the evening ended, I was overwhelmed,  Flooded.

Our young team out on Mott, by the Puck Building, led by one of our most experienced teen missionaries, Chris, initially had tough going, what they described as a “bad experience.”  Not unlike the brothers’ experience the night before outside the abortion clinic, a passerby they tried to engage went hostile, mocking the very thought that God exists, and literally reducing one of the younger teens to tears.  Chris had the presence of mind to rally his troop, hold their ground.  “Something good will come of this,” he encouraged them.  Shortly thereafter, they approached a young man hanging on the street corner.  A long discussion of faith ensued.  Gilbert, a senior at a prominent NYC Catholic high school,  loved the story of what the missionaries were trying to do, finding former Catholics and bringing them back to the Church, transforming souls.  Soon, they were walking him in from Mott, to the Basilica for prayers and confession.  Then, Gilbert got himself a missionary sweatshirt and signed up, on the spot.  He spent the rest of the evening out on the streets evangelizing.  Transformation.

Our group out on Lafayette, led by another seasoned missionary named Catherine, had yet another “white dog story.”  Trying to evangelize a young woman who admitted to “having a few Catholic friends,”  the dog eventually sat down and wouldn’t move.  Tug as she might, the dog’s owner couldn’t get the dog going.  A long discussion on faith ensued.  Later, they walked in James from Haiti, “not Catholic, but spiritual.”  “Why are you here?  What are you doing?”  “We’re here to find you.  To bring you His love.”  He agreed to pray in the church, and later thanked the teens for the chance “to bring my faith to life.”  Love.

Another team out in Little Italy found Michael, 60 years old and “not Catholic”.  Tim, sensing something deeper happening, engaged Michael in discussion.  “Would you like to visit the church and pray?”  “What are you doing out here?”  “We’re missionaries.”  “Missionaries?  Why don’t you go mission out in the Mideast where they need you!”  “We’re needed here.  This city needs Jesus too.  It needs His love.”  “Ok, I was Catholic.  But I can’t go into a church.  They’ll never forgive me.  I married a Jewish woman.  I’m done for, not worthy, a sinner all my life.  Haven’t been back for 40 years.”  Tim assured him that he was misinformed, terribly.  Quite the opposite, the Lord still loves him, wants him back.  The Church wants him back.  Every sin can be forgiven, you just have to ask.  “Jesus wants to re-capture you out here in the streets.  He wants to love you.  He wants you to come home.”  Later, one of the adult missionaries with the group, BJ, walked Michael in from Little Italy.  Stayed with him right up to the entrance to the confessional, preparing him for the gift he was  to receive.  A new beginning.  A journey begun. From sinner to saint.

Patrick, out on Elizabeth Street, “felt” a woman across the street,  off on her own on a doorstoop,  “needed me.”  He approached her, got the usual response.  “Been there, done that.  Not Catholic anymore.”  “Come back.  He wants you back.”  “I can’t.  I lost my spirituality long ago.  Now, I just want to die.”   “He wants you to live.  To feel His love.  To come home.”   They cried together on the street.  Brad and Patrick agreed to keep praying for her.  She went off feeling loved, but not yet ready to come home.  They’re still praying for her tonight.  “We’ve decided to adopt her.  We named her Grace.”  Kid hasn’t been to any past missions, knows nothing of the Grace saga, or the book by the same name,  they’ve produced.  I can’t make this stuff up.  Grace delivered, again.  Grace.

Out on Prince and Mott, busy all night with people moved to speak with us about their faith, many to make the next step into the church for reconciliation.  We had a new adult missionary from the suburbs show up, Kevin, saying this was “on my bucket list.”  Incredibly engaging.  Instantly fell to work finding souls.  Bob and his daughter Beth out by the cupcake shop seemed to have one little miracle after the other going on.  “The Lord must have put you in my path,”  one penitent told them later.  Another, out walking her dog and pushing a  baby carriage, handed both over to Beth for safekeeping while she had Fr. Dyas give her reconciliation right out on the street.  Mercy.

In the back of the church, our missionary there was busy all night with incomings while our Lumen women’s prayer team bore down with their rosaries.  She found a couple from Florida,” just in to pray for a few minutes”, not interested at all in confession. She sensed they were deeply troubled.   Eventually, the husband agreed to see a priest…for a long time.  After awhile, the wife begins crying, then sobbing uncontrollably.  “What’s wrong, Mary?”  “He’s telling the priest everything!”  “That’s the beauty of this sacrament,” she tells Mary who by now has determined to follow her husband into the confessional.  “You can tell God everything, without reservation.  You can unburden your heart.  You can be transformed.”

A missionary