St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, SoHo. High winds. Rain, heavy at times. Other times, a mist. Temperatures in the high 40’s. “Well, not so bad,” a new missionary says encouragingly as he arrives for training at Mission HQ. “It could be snowing!… Ooops. That’s Monday’s forecast!” The usual vendor stands along the church’s southern wall on Prince were only half set up; the rest had decided the weather was a no go. It wasn’t a “no go” for the Santa Conner’s. They were out in force on their jolly pub crawl, no umbrellas, already wet, and going nowhere in particular—no real excuses for not talking with a joyful missionary. And it wasn’t a “no go” for the missionaries; we were 25 strong and armed with our rosaries. The Santa Conner’s didn’t have a chance. By night’s end, I barely could get a bite at the missionary dinner at Louie’s, so busy taking down the stories that flowed in. Here are a few….
Prince and Mott, SoHo. Out on Prince and Mott, Bob was doing his usual thing with Ken and Cathy across the street at the Cupcake shop, where they had their Gregorian chant music playing through an i-phone speaker. The plaintive background music infused the whole busy intersection with a subtle spirituality that people more felt than heard. Cathy had so many tales she promised me to write a separate blog, so that’ll be forthcoming. As new missionaries streamed in from training with the missionary in the back of the church, I assigned them in shifts to Prince and Mott till they got comfortable. One of them, Steve Caruso, a fellow missionary with Bob and me years ago in Mexico who is planning to start a street mission in DC, was working with Bob. Bob had hailed down Holly, a young woman who had not been to confession since her first Holy Communion 30 years ago. “I have my own relationship with God. Why do I need to go to Confession?” Bob is trying everything on her: the story of St. Jerome, the Prodigal Son, the theology of reconciliation. No progress. But something is bothering Holly. Steve senses it. He bravely steps in. “Holly, let me tell you about my own story…” He opens up with her in a very personal way. His own fall away from the church, and how the sacrament of reconciliation opened his path home. “Well, maybe you have something here. Ok, I’ll go.” Steve brings Holly to the church, and gives her to Evelyn. Evelyn is juggling the crowd, where confession lines are now are now seven deep. (The missionaries have been busy!) She’s performing spiritual triage surgery. “Holly, how long did you say it’s been?” “Thirty years. And if I can be honest with you, I actually have no idea whatsoever how to do this. I was only 7 years old. I’ve completely forgotten.” “Don’t worry Holly. I have someone here who can help you get ready.” Evelyn gently hands Holly to Jeanine. “Jeanine, I don’t think I have any sins.” “Well, that’s good. That probably means you haven’t killed anyone lately!” “Exactly.” “But maybe you’ve ‘killed’ someone verbally, by saying something to them or about them with others that was really damaging?” “Hmm….” “Or maybe you hurt the Lord by giving Him the silent treatment for a few years?” “Ohhh….” Holly eventually heads into confession. A long while later, after Mass, she finds Steve in the back of the church. She’s crying. She gives him a big, heartfelt hug. “Steve, thank you for tonight. I feel so light, so joyful. Tomorrow was going to be just another, average Sunday. Now it’s going to be “Joy Sunday.”
“I’m coming home”
Mulberry and Prince, SoHo. The Agugliaro clan is out on Mulberry and Prince, where so SoHo-bound Christmas shoppers are streaming west, away from the church. Their job is to stop them and bring them home. BJ is with young Mary, of “The Missionary of Wall Street” fame, who is now a mature 12 year old, very strong in her faith and frankly, ready to go toe to toe with the Christmas shoppers. She chastises her father, “Dad, you’ve got to connect with more people. You’re letting people slip through this corner. Mr. Auth told us to greet everyone we see!” BJ steps it up. Finds a man stopped for a light, moving slowly. Mark. “Excuse me sir. Are you Catholic?” Mark is a long time away Catholic. 84. Has lived in the neighborhood his whole life. Went to school at Old St. Pat’s. And hasn’t been inside the church in decades. “Confession?” “Not since I was a kid and Sister Antonio made me go.” They engage. Long chat. “Who was the Pastor back then, Mark?” Happier memories of the old pastor. “His name is actually on the wall at the back of the church, I think.” They walk together to see the plaque. Mark steps into the church for the first time in 50 years. “Wow! It’s so beautiful It’s reminding me of my mom and dad, how they’d take me here. Am I still Catholic?” “Of course you’re still Catholic, Mark. You just need to come home. We’re waiting for you here.” “I’ll be back. I’m going to come for Christmas Mass. I promise. I’m coming home.”
“The Santa Conner’s Call It a Night”
Prince Street, SoHo. All night long, the missionaries were hailing down the Santa Conner’s. Most just stumbled by us. “Couldn’t be talking to me! I’m on a Santa Con!” Others mumbled obscenities. Some passed us a “Merry Christmas.” Most didn’t seem terribly happy. Some stopped for a spiritual pep talk. Stephanie and her friend Mary accept two rosaries for protection. They promise the missionary to be on their best behavior tonight, and will turn to the rosary if they need a Hail Mary. As he promises to pray for them, they skip into the darkness. Katie and Rosie, from California, are quite Catholic and know tonight will be dangerous for them spiritually. They’re thinking about that. No time for confession tonight, but they promise the missionary to see Fr. Antonio for confession when they get back to Santa Clara. A specific date is set: December 20. The missionary promises to remember them in his prayers that day. Across the street, two new missionaries have hailed down four young Santa Conner’s, already a sheet to the wind but still coherent. All four of them are Notre Dame Graduates. Catholic. The group calls the missionary over for a chat. “Ladies, think of me as your Dad. What do you think he’d think about all this?” “Not great.” “Why are you out here? What are you seeking?” Soon, the young ladies agree, “We’ve had enough tonight! We’re coming to the 7:00 (pm) Mass tomorrow! We’re going home.”
“Children of Hope”
St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, SoHo. At the closing Mass tonight, Fr. Jason speaks in his sermon on St. John the Baptist about Hope, one of the great distinctive virtues of Christianity. Children of hope may know they face difficult odds, trying circumstances, bad weather, Santa Conner’s, whatever. But they have hope in a better outcome, because they believe that in the end, Jesus will come. The opposite of hope is despair, and it’s a fine line. Children of despair see the same impossible odds, but with no God in their lives, they see no possibility of a better outcome. All is lost. Children of despair have no hope.
On Monday, we’re expecting snow in New York. Conditions will be tough. Fewer people on the streets, and those that are will be in a hurry. No one will want to stop. “No chance. Mission impossible!”
We’ll be there, nearly 100 strong. Children of Hope. Come join us.
“Sewing Seeds of Hope”
I meet BJ and his daughter at the outside rear of The Basilica. I know it’s going to be a great mission day. I got a parking space across the street ! “We’re not quite ready to start. The wedding time was wrong.” Off goes BJ and his daughter and I start congratulating the wedding party and responding to their questions about how to enter the church. A group of anxious tourists want to find the “Catacombs Tour”. And all these people had someplace to go as they passed by me and the large purple lettered CONFESSION sign. My first thought with a happy heart was “I hope they’ll go to confession.”
Later at the celebration of Mass Father Jason preached these words as part of his homily.
As Christians we know our Hope lies in what God does. Hope is something we get and God gives it. When something is hard and dark. What will get us through? Putting our trust in ourselves or in Him? On Guadate Sunday we are invited to rejoice even though it looks like God will not act. The dark night then is followed by the Rose color before the sunrise. Even though you may have a dark night. We don’t have to wait. In fact the Lord is here and us coming very soon.
I had no idea what I’d hope for the day ahead. I enter the church and there were clusters of people talking standing and sitting and praying. I’m finding my way out to the front of the church and there is the beautiful bride who sees the vERY large purple lettered CONFESSION sign. She strikes a smiling pose in front of it and her three photographers capture the moment. YES! That’s what I hope for – happy souls washed clean in reconciliation- filled with hope and joy for the Son Of Man to reconcile us with the Father!
And then I go to Cupcake Corner because that’s my sweet spot! And so dressed in Mission gear with a bigger smile than the bride I ask the passerby, “Hi. Are you Catholic?”And my mission friend and I went fishing in the light drizzling misty damp street corner filled with Hope. The Hope was to bring souls to the Lord. After numerous invitations to anyone who was walking toward me or diagonally away from me finally a reply as a lady shouts, “I’m pagan” as she whizzes by me. My mission friend was engaged in a conversation on the corner. Then the proclaimed pagan comes back and puts her hand in my face and says, “See.” As I smile even more, I reply, “Nice nail polish.” Her fingernails were painted with jet black non glossy nail polish. And I’m thinking Saint Patrick knows how to handle pagans. Then I get introduced to her husband. She took the time to talk with me. And then parts of her story start to unfold as she shares it including how her mom in Puerto Rico formed a Sacred Heart society. My mission friend invited me to speak Spanish to the lady and man and so I did. And finally she shared her name, “Maria Teresa.” And I responded back in a soft Spanish accent, Maria Teresa. The encounter concluded where my Mission friend and I invite Maria Teresa and Edgar to the Mission.
Then I introduce myself to Olga and invite her to confession. “How long has it been since your last confession? It’s ok. It’s never too late. You can decide. My Missionary friend can walk you to the church. It’s just right there. You can meet Evelyn too.” Later that night I found out Olga said yes! Praise God.
Later the bride passed by Cupcake corner and I offered her a red and white Rosary. She joyfully accepted it. Then lots of passersby clap for the newlyweds. It was a beautiful moment for the crowd to give witness. Moments later I meet Jennifer who also accepted the rosary but was on the fence about going to confession. I pray Jennifer comes down off that fence.
Then walks past me in the middle of the throng of people a very famous European actor. I’m peaceful. I already claimed the corner for Jesus. So our eyes locked and he glanced at the Christmas mass schedule I had pinned to my sweatshirt. And like a rocket out of my mouth came, “You’re my favvvorittte actor.” The stern look on the actor’s face collapsed and broke into a beautiful smile. I hope he finds his way to Christ.
A woman approached me and wanted a rosary. “How’s this purple one and what is your name?” “Thea.” “Thea, that’s friend of God. We have confessions going on at the Mission. Please come.”
Now there was a lovely young couple who replied to our Catholic question saying “Yes, We’re Catholic. We’d love to go but we have to go across town.” After three invitations they said, “Maybe on the way back.” “If today does not work remember Monday -Reconciliation Monday!”
In between these stories we had seen Reindeers, Santas, Mrs. Claus’, Elfs, Christmas PJ’s and yes half clothed Claus. It wasn’t snowing. It was misting and about 59 degrees F. Yes, we asked Santa and his entourage if they were Catholic. We were wished a few Happy Hanukkah’s. Some Clauses were very merry, past the North Pole and ready to use any pole to get grounded.
I was not concerned one bit about who accepted the invitation or not. It’s God’s time, not mine. Along comes Tyler. “Tyler, some of the most gifted priests are at this mission hearing confession. What if I tell you your life will change amazingly by going to confession?” He replies, “Oh yes. My brother is a priest and he posts things on Facebook.” “Tyler this is right now and it’s real. When was your last confession?” The physical reaction he gave was indescribable. He seemed in the moment of our encounter, hoping for something. I invited him to go the church but he frowned and said he had to travel upstate. “Ok then. Tyler it’s Reconciliation Monday and I invite you to go to Confession.”
The Holy Spirit comes down upon us like the dew fall and inspires us. We just have to get out of our way and let God. My fellow Missionary was about to call it quits because the dew changed to downpour. Ah, temporary relief from the awning. “I know your feet hurt so I’ll go to fetch the umbrellas.” “Do you want something from the cafe.” No, let’s wait.” Just after fetching the umbrellas I walked into “Belle’s”. I explained to Raissa (who’s name in Yiddish means rose) I’m wearing mission gear for the church. “I have to ask. Are you Catholic?” “Yes, I am.” And by the time I finished getting my coffee she planned to go to Reconciliation Monday with her mom. And I gave her the green Our Lady of Guadalupe rosary. I arrived back with another story of Hope and hmmm the rain had totally stopped. So I decided to go into “Little Cupcake Shop” to meet Solimar (who’s name is a variant of Solemaria – sun and sea – must be Our Lady). “You say my name very well.” “Thanks. Those are my two cupcakes. I’m on a Mission. Are you Catholic?” “Yes, I’m Catholic.” “So come on Reconciliation Monday before work.” And she too received the beautiful green rosary with the image of the Blessed Mother.
We gather together at mass and lit several candles for the Hope to bring souls to Christ. “God you know what they need.”
Father Jason begins his homily saying today is about Hope.
“Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.” (Psalm 126:5-6)
The missionary in front of the cupcake shop