As the chaplain for the Lumen Institute in Manhattan, I have the opportunity to ride the Metro-North train into the city on a fairly regular basis. So besides offering regular spiritual direction to business leaders and their wives, running retreats and “Bible Boot camps,” and organizing several mission trips during the year, a good part of my time is also spent doing “train ministry” on the railways of New York City.
Not too long ago, a tourist from Canada sat down next to me. She was from Montreal, so she spoke fluent French, but her parents were both from Italy, so she also poke Italian (part of our Legionary formation is to be fluent in at least Spanish and Italian). She was a fallen away Catholic with a teenage son and her 70-year-old mother had also come along for the trip. She had not been to Mass in over 20 years. She blamed this partly on her upbringing, and partly on not having gone to confession in a long time. So after a long discussion of the value of practicing the Faith, as we were approaching the tunnel to Grand Central, she promised me she would go to Confession when she returned to Montreal. I said, “Why not go to Confession right now, we can speak in Italian in a soft voice and keep it quiet.” As the train came to a halt in Grand Central, her face was beaming with peace and she rushed to introduce me to her mom, who was delighted to have her “fallen away” daughter back in the Catholic fold once again!
Rushing one night to catch the 8:09pm train back to Rye, New York, I heard these words from a passenger as I entered the train car, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned!” This young woman who shouted out these words was sitting next to a middle age man and she immediately invited me to sit down next to them. The man became a little uncomfortable with my presence, and my simple but probing questions, and exited the train a few stops later. The woman looked me in the eyes and began to cry. “Fr. Michael, God sent you to me on this train. I was having an affair with that married man, and I knew this needed to end. Your presence confirmed what I felt in my heart. My mom will be so happy.” She then dialed her mother on her cell phone and I was soon listening to her mother say, “Father, you are such a blessing for my daughter. Please encourage her to come back to the Church and to leave her sinful ways behind. She has a good heart, but she needs some guidance.” Five minutes later, she had to get off at her stop but she promised to go to Confession that Saturday, start attending Mass on Sunday and never speak with that man again.
The Holy Spirit is always working, always searching for lost sheep and New York City has plenty of straying sheep in its pasture. Please pray that I can be open to whatever God wants and not get in his way.