Ash Wednesday, 2017

Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral, So Ho. Warm, balmy evening in SoHo tonight. Better weather than many Holy Week Missions! The streets were full and our little band of a dozen missionaries and brothers were doing a brisk business on the byways of the parish. Inside, our four Legionary priests were hearing “Big Fish” confessions all night, a few well past the end of the “closing Mass: at 7:00. And for once, nearly everyone we met seemed to be Catholic! In we herded them for ashes, prayer, and confessions!

The stories were flowing all night long. Michael, divorced several years ago, was astounded to find that he is still welcome in the Church. In he marches to see Fr. Sliney. Three young women, out to enjoy the evening, hadn’t been to confession in years. They hugged us an hour later, on their way once more, with lighter hearts. “This was nothing like the confession I remember from grammar school! The priest was really nice to me!” Joe, who’d headed in for ashes and then was moved to receive reconciliation, came back to the corner to get us all a round of coffees. “No need! Lou from the Little Cupcake Shop already offered us one, along with cupcakes!” (None for us this night! Trying to fast joyfully!)

As the night moved a pace, the flow of Catholics seeking ashes and confession seemed to accelerate. Our missionaries were often all engaged simultaneously, escorting souls to the Basilica, or involved in a spiritual discussion. The 7:00 Mass arrived so quickly, it seemed too soon. On entering the cathedral, Bob and I were struck almost dumbfounded: packed to the brim, almost standing room only! We thought back to our first mission here 9 years ago– nearly empty Mass that night.

In the congregation, we spied several folks from our chats out on Prince and Mott. One was Donald, a 30-something man who we’d first met three years earlier. Back then, Bob had had a long chat about Faith, and about how Confession is a personal gift we can give to God, a chance to return God’s love for us, to let Him love us, to enter into a relationship with Him.  Afterward, he’d left us, moved on. Said he wasn’t ready. “God bless you!”, we hailed as slipped off.

He’d remembered this scene from three years back, and recanted the conversation in detail when one one of us approached him again as he walked past Prince and Mott. “Is the invitation still open? Will a priest hear my confession now?” “Of course! But this seems too easy! Didn’t you say it’s been many years, since your last confession?”

“I did. But you see, what you said three years ago about confession being a gift to Jesus– it’s been ringing in my ears ever since. I can’t get it out of my head.”

A missionary
March 1, 2017