You changed my mourning into dancing; You took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness. Psalm 30:12
Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral, SoHo. The sun was shining brightly in SoHo today, and despite the solemn air of the occasion, a spirit of joy prevailed. Good Friday is almost always the day when our nets burst with giant fish, and today was no exception. Everywhere we went, we found Catholics. Our youth were bustling about the city witnessing the Joy of our faith, from early this morning on the Midnight Run, to their cross walk from Times Square to SoHo collecting prayer intentions (hundreds), to the via Crucis so beautifully and movingly portrayed on the streets of the parish. The spiritual stirrings were palpable throughout the neighborhood, and overwhelmed with traffic, we elected to station our entire band of at times two dozen adult missionaries in the immediate perimeter of the church to reap the harvest. All day long, missionaries seemed to be walking souls into the church to reconcile with God, many for the first time since their First Holy Communion. My notes are full of enough stories to keep this blog running for weeks. We will settle for a first installment of three illustrative ones from a few of the many different facets of this incredible day.
“I needed you. I really needed you.”
Up west of Time Square, Chris and his team reach out to a woman from the theater district, dressed in an actress’s costume, seemingly on her happy way, waltzing along in her disguise. She gives then a simple prayer request and moves on. About 15 minutes later, she finds two of the young women, Nicole and Maria, from Chris’s group, now alone. “Oh, I am so glad I caught up to you girls. I have something to confess to you.” “We’re here for you. Tell us.” “Well, I gave that nice young man you had with you a kind of fake prayer intention, something that would seem normal. I was too embarrassed to give him my real one.” “No prayer is too embarrassing for God. He wants your prayers, your deepest ones especially. ‘Ask and you shall receive.’ You can tell us.” She begins to tear up. Nicole hugs her. Maria embraces her. The prayer comes forward. Tears flow. The three women are now standing on the corner, hugging. “Let’s all pray together right here for your intention. ” “Right now? Right here on the corner?” “Yes. Right here.” They form a small circle, hold hands, and Maria leads the group in prayer. The actress, layers dripping off as the prayer goes on, is sobbing uncontrollably. As they part ways later, the woman seems at peace. “I really needed you girls. I really needed you.”
“In the footsteps of Jesus and Mary”
At 5:00, the teens with perhaps 300 observers in tow, set out on the Via Crucis. All were moved, including the missionaries themselves. Here are the witnesses, given later tonight, by the teens who so movingly played the roles Mary and Jesus.
“I was very nervous to play our Blessed Mother. She was ‘Immaculate Mary.’ How could I ever manage to portray her? I prayed to her to help me understand the sorrow and pain she experienced that day. That’s all I could do. Pray. And then as the procession started, I began to experience great pain. That’s why I was crying so hard. I really felt the pain of watching my son die on the cross.”
“I’m heading off to college next year. I knew this was going to be my last mission. So when I was asked to play Jesus, despite my fears of doing so, I decided to try my best. The whole long walk, I kept thinking in wonder of the many passersby out there who were being moved by the Holy Spirit as they watched me ‘suffer.’ Being touched in ways I would never know. I just kept meditating on that reality. It kept me going, and it humbled me. I really truly felt like an instrument of God, being used by Him to touch people in whatever way He needed. I was all His. And that was very comforting.”
“The team at work”
During and immediately after the Via Crucis, “business” on Prince and Mott goes into hyperdrive. Despite having armed ourselves with two bags of rosaries, we eventually had to rush a missionary back to HQ for more supplies. A young fashionably dressed couple approach us at the corner, on their way out of the church. “No thank you. We just came from church and someone there already gave us rosaries. We’re all set.” “Terrific! So you went to confession also?” “Oh no, not confession. Neither of us are ready for that!” A long discussion ensues. We pray Psalm 139. “The Lord already knows everything you did. He just wants you to come and make up with him, for you to apologize so He can give you a big hug.” Anna has “nothing to confess.” She’s pretty firm on this. “One of the missionaries in the back if the church already asked us.” “Well, I have something to confess!” says Joey firmly. “I would like to go.” “Come on Joey. You’re fine. You don’t have anything to confess. Let’s go.” Back to Psalm 139. “I will go.” Together, the couple and missionary walk towards the church. He gives Anna a pamphlet on preparing for confession. “Just in case you need something to read while you are waiting for Joey here.” They arrive at the gate, but Joey stops. “I need to get ready, to collect my thoughts. I’m not ready to go in. I promise you I will go. I promise.” Sensing he’s taken this as far as he can, the missionary leaves them there, in the hands of the Holy Spirit. Eventually, Joey musters the courage to re-enter The church. The missionary at the back of the church sees them with the reconciliation pamphlet in hand, and knows the missionaries on Prince and Mott have gone deep here but need help. “Welcome Back? Are you guys thinking of going to confession? I have wonderful missionary priests here.” “Yes, we are thinking about it, but we’re not sure how to do it.” “Let’s pray on this together.” The missionary kneels behind them in a pew, and begins meditating out loud. ‘Did I miss Sunday Mass?…. Did I say something bad about someone?… Did I lose my temper?.. Did I look at pictures on the internet that I shouldn’t have?……” About an hour later, Joey and Anna arrive back at Prince and Mott for the third time, now joyful and glowing. “We did it! We did it! Thank you so much. We feel so great!!” As they head off into the early evening dusk, the missionary reflects on how many missionaries it took to help that couple back to God. The 50 some-odd teens witnessing the Way of the Cross through the neighborhood. The missionaries on Prince and Mott who twice sent them into the church. The missionaries in the back of the church who prepared them. The priests who confessed them And the Holy Spirit, who moved them and ultimately embraced them. The team at work.
During his sermon at the 3:00 service in the Basilica, Msgr. Sakano talked about how this most solemn of days became “Good” Friday, instead of “Bad” Friday, or “Tragic” Friday. “We know that through the cross He saved us, sinners all. Peter. John. You. Me. Through His ultimate sacrifice, He transformed us from sinners to saints. He turned bad to good. Hate to love. Gloom to joy.”