“At your command, I will cast the nets.” Luke 5:5
With the neighborhood still reeling from the onslaught of the Cheshire brothers last night, we prepare today for the one-two punch: the TriState teens, 50 strong, pull in at 3:30. Full of joy. Full of enthusiasm. Ready to roll. We talk about three of the great characteristics of deep, Christian joy: Confidence (which breeds humility), perseverance (driven by a thirst for souls), and love (which leads to a willingness –no, a deep-rooted desire– to encounter those we meet where they are, in their space.) Armed with rosaries, prayer cards, and service schedules, they head off…. Two hours later, they return. Here are a few of their many stories.
“I need to find that missionary!”
Out on Prince and Mott, a fashionable young woman, glowing, arrives from the church. “Can you guys help me find one of your missionaries? She was a beautiful teenage girl, very joyful! She saved me!” This doesn’t narrow our group down very well, but its an opening. “Did she get you to go confession, Vivian?” “Yes! Exactly! How did you know?” “We could see the glow. We call it the ‘Confession Afterglow.’ You’re shining!” “You got it! I feel so, so great! I really needed that! I feel wonderful, almost like a miracle just happened!” “Tell us more Vivian.” “Well, I was walking down the street, feeling pretty low. I was thinking to myself, I wish I could go to confession. I really need to. It’s been so long, too long. And Easter is almost here. But its’ so hard to find an opportunity for confession in this country!” Vivian is originally from Ecuador. Maybe she is feeling a little homesick here during Holy Week. “Then, suddenly, this dynamic young person jumps in my path. “Are you Catholic, miss?” “Well, yes. Yes, I’m Catholic.” “Would you like a rosary? I have several nice colors here.” “Sure, thanks. That’s sweet of you. How much is it?” “There’s no charge. It’s a gift from Msgr. Sakano, at St.Pat’s Old Cathedral. We’re holding a mission this weekend for the Easter Triduum.” “Well, thank you. That’s very nice.” “Have you been to confession lately? Our missionary priests are here hearing confessions.” “Are you kidding me? This is too weird! I was just walking along the street thinking I really need to go to confession! How did you know that?” “I didn’t. I just took a shot. Or maybe, He just took a shot.” “Then she walked me in. We were several blocks from the church and she didn’t want me to get lost. Can you believe that? What a kid! Do you know where I can find her?” “Do you know how to get back to where you met her, Vivian?” “Of course, I live near that corner.” “She’ll be there. She’ll be there.” The missionary met us later in the evening. Deidre. “I can’t believe it! She came all the way back to our corner to hug me! I feel like the whole mission was worth it for that one moment!”
“Seven minutes and a smile”
Maria has been smiling away on her assigned corner for all of seven minutes. She is joyfully greeting the passersbys out in the SoHo shopping district. Two young college women approach. “Are you kidding? Confession? We’ve been just talking about going to confession! Literally, just this minute!” Maria walks them in to the cathedral, three blocks away. Two minutes later, her team finds a woman from the Dominican Republic, here on holiday. “Confession? Oh, no! Not me! It’s been such a long time! I wouldn’t know how to do it!” “Its not about knowing how to do it. It’s about going back to God, and asking his forgiveness. Then he forgives you, you make up, you give each other a hug.” “Really?” “Yes, we have these beautiful missionary priests here. They are so gentle. They are used to people who have not been to confession in many years. They’ll guide you through it.” All the way to the church, Frances is nervous, worried. The missionaries ask her if she’d like to use one of the face to face confessionals, or the kind with a curtain. “Oh, the curtain kind please! I don’t want the priest to see me!” Later that night, all three penitents walk back to the corner to hug Maria and her team. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! You have no idea how you’ve changed my life.” “Steve, we were only there for seven minutes. Seven minutes!” Seven minutes, and a smile.
“You’ve lifted my day!”
Down in Little Italy, Danielle and her team are outside one of the pizza shops. One of the workers inside sees them out there, passing out rosaries. He takes a break and comes out to greet them. “Hey, what are you kids doing?” “We’re out here spreading the joy of the Gospel, Luigi! Inviting people to services, handing out rosaries.” “Can I have one?” “Of course, what color?” “Blue please!” Back into the shop. Ten minutes later, he’s back out. “You guys are terrific! I can see how much love you’re spreading around out here! Give me a high five!” For the next hour, Luigi comes out every 15 minutes, shaking hands and encouraging Danielle’s crew. As they are getting ready to head back to Mission HQ, he comes out one last time. “Thank you kids. You really lifted my day! I love you guys!”
“No one wants you here!”
Out on Elizabeth and Spring, a darker corner for sure, one of our teams is experiencing slower going. They spot a photographer across the street, taking photos. He’s taking a picture of them. They smile for him. “Would you kids mind! I’m trying to get a shot of that wall behind you! I don’t want you in the picture!” The teens joyfully and confidently persevere in their task, greeting the passersby. No one moves from their station. The photographer gets fluxommed. “What are you doing here, anyway? No one wants you here!” “Jesus wants us here, for one. And there are an awful lot of people back at the church that seem to wants us here as well!” Eventually, he gives up and slinks away. Our team holds the field.
“I know Msgr. Sakano”
Usually 2 or 3 times a year, we come across a parishioner we still haven’t gotten to confession. Last night was no exception. “Can I have a Mass schedule, dear? I’m trying to figure out which Easter Mass to attend.” “Absolutely. I have one right here.” “Thank you. See you soon!” “By the way, have you been to confession yet? Great way to get cleaned up before you go to Easter Mass.” “Confession? I don’t go to confession. I know Msgr. Sakano.” “Isn’t he the greatest? We love him too. He’s our hero too! But that alone won’t get you to heaven! You need to come and make up with God too.” “Really? I don’t even know how to begin? I forgot how to do it.” “Don’t worry about that. We have missionary priests here. They are experts at dispensing God’s mercy and walking you through it. And here’s the best part—they are only here once a year! They’ll never see you again! And Msgr. Sakano will never know!”….. Several minutes later, she heads in. Later in the afternoon, she re-emerges, glowing. “Thank you Evelyn! Thank you! I had no idea how much I needed that! I feel so light, so full of grace! Thank you.”
“I could literally see the seed being planted”
Patrick, one of our enthusiastic veterans from previous missions, is out on Layfayette and Broadway, with the Pope cutout. He and his team are pimping selfies with the Pope, and hoping that leads deeper. It often does… Bill walks over. “Are you Catholic?” “No, and I’m not interested. Thank you though.” He hurries off. A minute later, he returns to the Pope. “What’s your guys’ deal? What are you doing this for?” “We came from all over the Tri-state to help people find their way back to God! This is our little mission for Jesus during Holy Week.” “Really? That’s crazy. You’re wasting your time here, guys! This is New York City!” “We don’t think so. We’ve met a lot of people, and many of them have gone to visit the church. Why don’t you come for a visit?” “Are you kidding? I’m not Catholic! I don’t believe!” “Are you really not Catholic? You seem like you might be Catholic, Bill?” “Well, ok, I was baptized Catholic. My mom was Catholic, but my Dad never was a believer. And I’m not either.” “Bill, is that all to your story? You’re holding something back.” “Well, ok, I went to a Catholic college, at my mother’s urging. And I really loved it. I was surrounded by Catholics, and kind of got into it then. But now I’m here, in New York City, and there are no Catholics and frankly I’ve lost my faith.” Wow! “Bill, everything happens for a reason.” “I believe that Patrick.” “We met for a reason.” “I believe that too.” “Come back Bill. Come to confession and reconcile with Jesus.” “I can’t, Patrick. I’m too far gone. I have too many sins. I can never go back now.” “Bill, the Lord will forgive you. He always forgives us. He loves us like a father, like your father, like your mother. His doors are always open for you.” With that, Bill slips off, into the city. “But I know we removed a layer, Steve. I could see it happening. I could see the seed of re-birth being planted in Bill, right before my eyes. I feel like I was witnessing a miracle.”