Holy Saturday

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different forms of service, but the same Lord.”  1 Corinthians 12:4-5

Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral, SoHo.  Holy Saturday.  “Last chance Saturday.”  Day for closing deals, finishing strong.  Knowing this will be the longest, toughest day, we deploy all our  troops.  Our team of Regnum Christi families from Cheshire arrives mid morning, fresh, eager, and well formed.   One of our leaders sees that immediately when little Theresa, all of six years old, answers his first question  for them, “What makes Good Friday ‘good’?  “Because Jesus died for us on that day!”, she shouts.  Oh, these kids are going to overwhelm this neighborhood!  After prayers in the church, they march out from church as two teams, one heading south and the other north, carrying crucifixes and collecting prayer intentions.  Later, they take up stations around the parish and, together with our adult missionaries from around the tristate and five Legionary priests, we press forward.  Further north, the tristate teen team is in Harlem, spreading joy.  On Prince and Mott, we are doing brisk business all day, right up to the last soul we reel into the church just at the “closing bell”, 7:45.  (One of our priests, getting ready now for Mass,  heads back to his confessional to reconcile this last big fish.)   At mid afternoon, we give out our last rosary and send one of our new missionaries running back to HQ for two more bags, along with all the remaining Immaculate Mary medals he can find.    In the melee on Prince and Mott, all our missionaries are maintaining almost continuous, independent dialogues with a  vast variety of souls:  parishioners, tourists,  fallen away Catholics, bike delivery men from South America, Lutherans, Jews, Muslims, Hindi, a FedEx delivery hauler, sidewalk vendors, police men and women, even a passing delivery truck that stops for rosaries as traffic backs up to Houston,  horns blaring.  At some point, out of the corner of my eye, I am aware that Msgr. Sakano himself has arrived, to help with the overflow.  At another moment, deeply engaged with an evangelical Christian who seems drawn to us, I hear a man who had paused briefly nearby say to his girlfriend, “Goodness. What is going on out here?  There are some real deep theological discussions happening out here!  I am enjoying this.  Do we really have to go?”   Leading another anxious soul to the church, and the missionary in the back there, I notice to my left two dogs, tied up outside in the courtyard, barking loudly as someone is setting up the bonfire for the coming Vigil Mass, with Eddie the parish maintenance supervisor trying to console the anxious animals.  “Got him,” I thought briefly as we passed through the crowd. “That was the guy from the parish who couldn’t do confession because of his dogs.  (A 20 year long problem, apparently.)  “Young Ben up there by the front gate can watch your dogs. No problem!”  “You know what?  They don’t like people ”  “Well then tie them up in the courtyard!  They’ll survive!  This is your last chance for confession before Easter!”  “Ok, ok.  Let me think about it.  You don’t need to walk me there. I’m a local.  I know Msgr. Sakano…”

Around 5:00, Allen returns to the corner, now with his wife Elizabeth, who speaks a hard-to-understand Creole dialect and little else.  Bob, then Catherine, had both spent 30 minutes each with Allen yesterday, when Allen  agreed to “think about it”  and come back with his wife.  He was particularly impressed that Cathy had given him a prayer image she pulled from her bag, of a Haitian saint, not knowing that he was in fact Haitian. “Wow!  That’s a little weird.  What moved you to give me that particular print?”  “I don’t know.  Maybe it was the Holy Spirit.”  Now, for round two, Bob introduces Allen to me. “No, we don’t  want to go to confession.  Have never been.  Don’t need to.  We talk to God on our own.  But we love you guys just the same!”….   “Psalm 139″….”Last chance Saturday”… “Time to get a big hug from Jesus”….  “Nothing like it!”…. “Special missionary priests”…  “Everyone that comes back is glowing”…..  “You are named for the cousin of Mary, for goodness sake!”  As I am selling,   Elizabeth keeps pointing for more rosaries (for her daughter) more Pope cards (for her niece), more Immaculate Mary medals (for her and Allen.)  “Ok!  That’s it!  You two have now taken from us approximately  12 rosaries, seven pope cards, a print of a famous Haitian saint, and four Immaculate Mary medals! That’s it!  You’re going into that church and you are going to confession. No more ifs, ands, or buts!  Bob here will take you in.”  In they march.  Bob hands them over to the missionary in the back.  Once inside, they agree to pray only.  Finally, the missionary back there melts them with St. Jerome.  “I’ve given you the best 40 years of my life Lord?  What else do you want of me?”  “Give me your sins, Jerome, give me your sins.”  Allen sees Fr. Steven and first, then, in a special exception we’ve been allowed once before, Allen attends his wife’s confession to translate from Creole to English.  Later, they appear one last time on Prince and Mott, glowing, and hugging us.  Before heading off jubilantly, they pause for a photo.

Near the end of the night, the Cheshire team has assembled in HQ, witnessing their experiences on the streets before the long bus ride home….. Collette, a very gentle, soft spoken missionary and clearly devoted mother,  tells her story, from the team outside the abortion clinic.    “It is pretty quiet.  We are  praying the rosary.  A young woman walks slowly out of the clinic.  She seems deep in thought.   “Are you ok?”  “Yes, I’ll be fine, thank you.”  “Are you sure?”  “Yes.”  Collette’s motherly instincts tell her this young girl is not at all fine.  She is deeply troubled.  “Would you like a rosary?  You can pray to our Blessed Mother with this.  It was  blessed at the old cathedral by Msgr. Sakano.”  “Oh, thank you. That would be nice.”  “Would you like to come to our Mass tonight?”  “Oh, no.  I couldn’t.  I couldn’t.  And I shouldn’t.”  “Of course you can.  Of course you should!  Our doors are open to you.  God still loves you, no matter what. You are his precious daughter, and he will never give up on you.   Never. No matter what you have done.  He wants you back.”   They hug, and the young woman takes a rosary.  With that, the  girl slips away.  But as she rounds the corner, a young missionary from Collette’s team sees her pause, lean against the wall, and cry…

Minutes  before the Cheshire team leaves the gym, Fr. Simon leads them all in a final prayer of thanks, united in a circle, holding hands.  With them is one of our lead missionaries.   He is crying tears of joy. It  has been a long, emotion-filled week, and he briefly breaks down himself.  “All week long, I have been sending small teams up to that abortion clinic.  All week.  It is a dark corner, there seems to be an evil presence there, and very few people pass there.  I was really getting ready to give up, thinking it is not fair to send a new team up there, wondering if the Holy Spirit really wants us there, wondering if it is a good use of our limited missionary resources.   But when Phil volunteered to go,  it gave me the courage to give it one more shot.  Tonight, my self-doubts have been settled.  I believe that each of us is called to this mission for a special purpose.  That each of us has some special talent or disposition that is particularly suited to some soul out there in the streets.  And I believe that the Holy Spirit  brings that person to us.  Collette, you answered the call.  You took the tough assignment. And you were there for that young girl at just the right moment, giving her the hug and reassurance she needed to go on.  You were just the gentle mother she needed at that very difficult moment.    What if you hadn’t been there?”

A missionary

Hallelujah!
Praise God in his holy sanctuary;
give praise in the mighty dome of heaven.  
Give praise for his mighty deeds,praise him for his majesty.
Give praise with blasts upon the horn,praise him with harp and lyre.
Give praise with tambourines and dance, Praise him with strings and pipes.
Give praise with crashing cymbals,
Praise him with sounding cymbals!
Let everything that has breath give praise to the Lord!
Hallelujah!”

Psalm 150