Reconciliation Monday, New York City.   Monday morning investment meeting.  All hands on deck.  Futures higher. Oil is rising.  “Supply and demand, Steve.  Simply supply and demand.  Venezuela is coming apart.  We expect their 600,000 bbls/day to come off the market.  It’s chaos down there.  Children starving in the streets.”  “Can we do something for Venezuela?”  I ask.  Immediately, our hearts and minds shift from the markets and oil to the children of Venezuela.   So as we prepare for the mission later tonight in SoHo, Venezuela is on my mind.  Also on my mind, a sea of “Martha” worries.  My number one partner and bride, the missionary in the back of the church, is in Rome on Regnum Christi business, praying for us all day at St. Peter’s.  We’ve deployed Bob, our atomic weapon, to the Cathedral in midtown, where Doug Dewey is leading the charge to extend the mission to Saint Patrick’s– across the street from Saks and the Rockefeller Christmas tree.   Will his crew of evangelists hold up for to their first big test as street missionaries?  And if they do, will he have enough priests?  And what about Prince and Mott?  Who do we have there?  Will the brothers arrive on time?   And how can I get these 70 violet scarves for the missionaries all the way to SoHo?  I seriously underestimated how heavy 70 pashmina scarves can be…..

At 3:30, now in a Lyft down to SoHo, I get focused on my Mary side and send this last minute prayer to our missionaries:

Dear Missionaries,

We are about to hit the streets of New York City for and with Christ!  Stories of the souls we will encounter to follow!  For now, let’s use this verse from Isiah for a final prayer:

“I rejoice heartily in the Lord,  In my God is the joy of my soul.”   IS 61:10 

Remember:  The Heart of a Missionary is the heart of Jesus:  Humility, Joy, Love.

Tonight, as I reflect on all of this, I am left, as always, in awe of the Holy Spirit.  He always comes through.  Indeed, into this sea of worries and concerns, he delivered dozens of angels, angels in the whirlwind of New York City.  And with them, we changed the hearts of many, perhaps for eternity.  Here are a few of our stories.

I am going to be a Priest

Crosby and Prince, SoHo.  Seminarian Felipe’s crew (a few of the 50 seminarians we have sent out to the byways of the parish) drew one of the short straws, stationed deep in SoHo.  Lots of last minute Christmas shoppers scurrying about.  Would any stop to talk?  Felipe notices out of the corner of his eye a young man on his phone, heading west towards TriBeca.  But the young man stops, and now seems to be casually loitering nearby as the seminarians attempt to engage the passing crowds, flowing at over 30 people a minute. Felipe resolves to try to engage him.  As traffic temporarily dies down, he approaches with a rosary, but then inexplicably, the rosary drops from his hands.  Seth picks it up and offers it back to Felipe.  “No, you keep it.  It’s a gift.  Are you Catholic?”  “Well, sort of.  I was born Catholic.”  “Do you pray much?”  “Yeah, I pray every morning, more or less.  I don’t go to church any more.  I have my own relationship with God.”  “Wow!  Awesome!  What do you pray for?”  “I pray for forgiveness mostly.  Stuff I’ve done that I regret.”  “Do you ever feel like that your sin is still there, that it is not forgiven?”  “How did you know that?”  “Seth, I am going to be a priest.  It’s a long road, but I am going to make it there.  And you know what drives me?”  “What, brother?”  “Mercy.  I’ve felt it and experienced it in a very real way, in the sacrament of Reconciliation. Through the priest, I’ve felt the Lord’s love.  That’s what drives me now.  That’s why I’m out here in SoHo.”  “Wow!  Give me some of that!”  A deeper conversation ensues, an encounter.  Seth is interested.  He doesn’t feel ready for confession, but he is willing to head to the church and light a candle.  “Brother, I’m going to go and light a candle.  Something about this night is telling me to do that.”  With that, Seth heads off, away from Tribeca and towards Prince and Mott and the Basilica, a candle in hand and love in his heart.

Stay here.  Someone else also needs you.

Far out at station 9, Mulberry and Broome, Br. Peter and his crew are hailing down visitors in busy Little Italy.  Joan appears out of the darkness, wearing a white coat.  “Are you Catholic?”  “Sort of.”  “Would you like a rosary?  It was blessed at the Basilica by Monsignor Sakano.”  Joan puts out her cigarette, and takes the rosary on offer. “When was the last time you held a rosary, Joan?”  “My Mom gave me one, years ago.  I lost it.”  “Joan, we are here tonight to offer reconciliation. We have missionary priests up at the Basilica hearing confessions.  They are amazing.  When was the last time you had a chance to receive reconciliation?”  “Wow!  That was a long, long time ago.  I’ve done some things that are probably unforgiveable.”  “Joan, nothing is unforgiveable for the Lord.  He just wants you to come home.  He loves you.”  “I can’t go.  I’ve got to get my Christmas presents wrapped.”  “Joan, really?  We are talking here about eternal forgiveness!  And you have to get your Christmas presents wrapped?”  “I’ve had a really rough year, Brother….”  Joan breaks down in tears, on the streets.  She is going to the church.  Brother and she start walking there, talking though her issues.  Finally, she strengthens.  “Brother, thank you. I’m ready.  I’m going.  Now I want you to do me a big favor.”  “What’s that Joan?”  “I want you to go back to that corner.  You’ve already healed me, or at least started me on the path. I’m going in.  But I don’t want to be the cause of you missing another person that needs you like I did.  Get back out there!”  Brother Peter heads back to Mulberry and Broome; Joan to Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral.  Later, after Mass, Joan finds Peter in the back of the church.  She has giant, teary smile on her face.  She thanks him, and heads off lightly into the night.

The Angels from Venezuela

The day had started with Venezuela, and Venezuela was on my mind as I was trying to figure out who would cover the front gates of the church, a critical station for us.  Promptly at 4:00, in march Andrea, Valeria, and Ismer, three beautiful, smiling, joyful young women from…  Venezuela.  “Venezuela, are you kidding me?  Even I can’t make this stuff up!”  “Are you Steve?”  “Yes, how did you know that?”  “We were sent by the consecrated women.  I am discerning my vocation. I was a missionara!  I brought my friends with me.  We are ready to go, to man any station you need!”  Lord, thank you, thank you, thank you.  I station the three women out in front of the Basilica, and head off into So Ho with the brothers.  An hour later, I return.  “Steve!  Steve!  We are nearly out of candles and rosaries!  We got 24 people into the church! What do you need next?”  The rest of the night, I just dubbed them “The Angels from Venezuela”, a veritable devil-wrecking crew.  They have many stories to tell.  More to come.

Christ in me, Christ with me, Christ before me

Cathy and Ken, our stalwarts from upstate, arrived shortly after the Angels from Venezuela.  Experienced missionaries, I deployed them immediately to Prince and Mott.  Here is their report:

It was the start of Mission night and our team of two was looking forward to meeting the rest of the team. But we had anxiety that we might not find the group or maybe they decided to go uptown.

We find the team and get our materials and assignments. It was the busy sidewalk, a city sidewalk with people rushing somewhere. You didn’t hear silver bells. There weren’t many smiles. There were lots of ear buds and headphones. Some newer missionaries doubted what impact they had or if what they were doing made sense.

I mentioned to my friends that a smile and presence has meaning. There was chatter among us as to how many candles we gave out. One tired missionary (who drove 10 hours the previous day to attend) noticed the darkness. The corner street lamp was out.

How appropriate to have darkness and doubts during Advent. But how joyful to know our Hope is in the Lord made flesh! The Savior! The King of Kings! The missionaries were noticing they needed to restock their candles and rosaries. On our street corners our merry missionaries greeted passersby inviting them to light a candle or come to visit the Basilica. Ear buds were coming out to listen to our invitations and some said no but thanks while others said ok. I felt that once the need to “rush” was gone something beautiful was happening.

There goes Saint Patrick interceding or was it the Holy Spirit or both? I recall the prayer of St Patrick’s Breast plate.  Christ with me, Christ in me, Christ before me….

I also recall St John Paul II prayers to the Holy Spirit.

I was inviting people to come to the church and was hopeful they would accept my invitation but the invitation I received from a passerby was greater.  The first person I spoke with heard me. I said there was water in the curb. I grumbled at the sight of it. A blind man looked toward me and asked me for help. Me! He asked me. He trusted me to take him across the street in busy city traffic.  I gave him my elbow as we walked across the street. I told him we had a mission at the church. I said you can light a candle and that the church smells beautiful with the fragrance of incense. I asked him his name and he said Manny. I didn’t realize who he was yet today I more clearly understand what truly trusting means.  Jesus was right smack in front of me and I helped him cross the street. My prayer is that I may truly trust in Jesus without reservations as this blind man trusted me.  O Come Emmanuel!

The Cardinal Delivers

Up in midtown, the Cathedral crew was meeting with a level of success that even we had not anticipated.  With confession lines growing long, Doug asked for more help.  The Cardinal delivered.  Here’s Doug’s morning report:

One word: AMAZING. Second word: GRACE.

Msgr. has already green-lighted Reconciliation Monday in Holy Week. He invited us before I asked. Cardinal Dolan was with us, in the confessional.

God bless you.  More tomorrow.
Doug Dewey

First Time Missionaries Experience Christ on the Streets

This short note came in this morning from Sheri, who with her husband and son came to the streets in SoHo, completely out of their comfort zone, and….

Good morning!

Just wanted to write a quick note to let you know how blessed we were last evening outside of St. Patrick’s. We were able to share the love of Jesus and direct a few people into church. The most surprising encounter happened to be with a priest walking in the street named Father Michael who along with my husband and I and Father Simon had a very meaningful conversation as he shared his life and the joy of the Lord with us…I feel it really spoke to my son Mitchell. I thank you for including us!

And on the way to Grand Central I was able to give a rosary and share Gods love with a very lonely taxi driver from South Africa who was really missing home at this Christmas season!

God bless you and your family always!!!
Grateful for you,

In the Back of the Church

With our back of the church crew short-handed, Marie stepped up to the lead role, a missionary veteran with the personality of… an angel.  Marie and her crew was critical last night, as we were sending dozens into the church with candles to pray.  Their job was to invite them to confession once they sensed the Holy Spirit had moved them. Marie reported in this morning….

Good morning Steve!

Great mission.  Many souls confessed by the grace of God– many after years of being away from the sacrament.  Tell Evelyn her prayers for us all day out in St. Peter’s were answered.  A man who could hardly walk, who didn’t confess, but lit a candle said to me in the course of conversation I am going through a lot, but I have a seed and I will confess soon. The suffering Christ!!!

Love in Christ


This short note on the bus ride back to Cheshire from Brother Mark, a first timer to the missions…

What a fantastic experience!  Thank you.  I could practically touch the miracles.

And as I ride on the bus home, full of wonder that what I saw and felt was only a sliver of God active in our world, I am reminded of your tip about perseverance.

The moment came a few times in the first hour or so when I saw my partner having success and wondered why I was bothering – but it was only a temptation, not long lasting and an invitation to greater faith and daring.

So thank you for telling me that moment would come, making it even easier to dismiss it.

Mark Swartzberg

Feliz Navidad

After Mass, which the seminarian choir lit up with the praise of God, I headed out the front gate to collect the few rosaries left over back at HQ on Prince.  Around the corner, I hear them coming—the angels of Cheshire, instruments in hand, joyfully singing the great Christmas carol, “Felice Navidad!”  Up and down Prince they are marching, passersby stopping to watch, taxis literally pulling over to listen.  Fr. John, in charge of this merry crew, is exhorting them to stop, to head for the bus.  They march right by, almost as if he is not there, joyfully serenading the entire neighborhood.  He can’t control them.  In the heart of the melee, I bump into the merry Msgr. Sakano.  “Steve, can you imagine what great priests these young men will become!  Such joy!  Such fervor!  So full of the Holy Spirit!”  Off they dance and sing towards the bowery, angels in the city.

Feliz navidad
Feliz navidad
Feliz navidad
Prospero año y felicidad

Feliz navidad
Feliz navidad
Feliz navidad
Prospero año y felicidad

I wanna wish you a merry Christmas
I wanna wish you a merry Christmas
I wanna wish you a merry Christmas
From the bottom of my heart

We wanna wish you a merry Christmas
We wanna wish you a merry Christmas
We wanna wish you a merry Christmas
From the bottom of our heart

A missionary
December 18, 2017