After a fruitful Reconciliation Monday Advent mission outside St Patrick’s Cathedral Msgr. Ritchie, rector of St. Patrick’s, has invited us to return to the Cathedral for Reconciliation Monday in Holy Week. Mark March 26 on your calendars, now!  See below for recollections from the mission.

During our training, Steve Auth told the team that the devil is not very happy about this kind of work. Here is a fragment from an email from one of our missionaries:

Thanks Doug. And thanks for including me! I have to say it was very rewarding — so many people out there that needed someone to help pull them back. They would have otherwise walked right on by that night… And when they were finished their confession, as they walked back outside, they would come up to me and were glowing. Very cool experience. I personally needed that exercise to help me love my neighbors more… It was no accident that we met, and you asked me to help on that. Thanks again!

You know, I almost did not make it Monday night. I started feeling sick that afternoon. I suspected the devil was trying to distract me, so I pushed through it. Somehow, during the ministry, I had the strength and felt happy. By time I got onto the train, my fever hit, along with the chills. I was down hard Tuesday with the stomach bug. I slept and prayed as best I could for healing. Missed work again today, but I feel much better now. Thank God. I may be nuts but I believe I was attacked, in an attempt to get me to miss that ministry. I am very glad I went and look forward to the next time.  –  Joe

More recollections. (All names have been changed and missionaries unnamed, when appropriate.)

After only 10 minutes out of the gate I hear reports of a middle-aged woman going to confession who had not gone since before she was married, another in 15 years and another in 10. Wow, this is going to be an easy bumper crop, like a fish net passing through a crowded goldfish tank; we’re going to clean up tonight, I postulate grandly. Then half an hour passes for me without another sure close. I’m humbled (again) and I remember Steve’s counsel about perseverance.

A missionary was speaking to Dave and Madeleine, a middle-aged Catholic couple, near the St. Elizabeth side-chapel. After some conversation about the idea of going to confession, the missionary proposes to Dave that they go right now, that he would take them to one of the Sisters of Life who were assisting at the confessional. While Dave is considering this, Ainsley, a young woman of 20, suddenly emerges into the conversation with evidence from her running mascara that she had been crying. Turns out she was with Dave and Madeleine, and had overheard the missionary’s proposal to Dave. She interjected “yes, let’s do that, let’s go right now.” As they all walked to find a sister, they were joined by Samantha, 17, who was also with Dave and Madeleine. Ainsley speaks to the Sister of Life, then gets into the confession line. The Sister then turns to the Samantha and asks her if she would also like to go. She shakes her head, saying she has not gone since she was nine years old, and she does not remember how to confess. Sister offers to help her prepare: she will go through the commandments one by one and Patti can recall her sins that way. Patti says “I don’t even know the commandments.” Sister begins and when she gets to the 5th commandment, Patti stops her and says “what I have done can’t be forgiven.”

Sister assures her that no sin on Earth is too great for God to forgive. It’s simply impossible. Anything she has done can be forgiven this very night. They continue through the commandments, and Samantha is now crying. Later, when both Ainsley and Samantha had been to confession, they were observed in radiant tears of joy, embracing each other, each one assuring the other that they felt gloriously better.

By 5 PM three confession lines (for four confessionals) are 15-20 penitents deep. Cardinal Dolan is now hearing confessions in one of the boxes. A missionary spots a priest approaching the north side confessionals to relieve a confessor who had completed his shift. He waits until the relieved priest emerges from the box and immediately approaches him. The missionary points to the length of the lines and asks if it would be possible for him to continue hearing a few more confessions, and he readily agrees to keep hearing them until 6 when he will be meeting with an engaged couple. An usher sets up two chairs in the St. Elizabeth chapel for him and the missionary immediately brings him a penitent whom he had left sitting in the pew at the St. Andrew side-chapel. There are now five active stations for confession. Some pressure is relieved.

A plainly attired African American woman named Rochelle was approached near the door of the Cathedral. She was accompanied by her 15-year-old son, Kamal, who wore a puffy down jacket and sported intricately braided hair. Kamal evinced little interest in the conversation with the missionary but was respectful of his mother’s openness to go to confession. The missionary asks Kamal if he is Catholic too and his mother answers “he is”, then he affirms the answer. “Why don’t you give God and your mom the best Christmas present in the world and go to confession?” suggests the missionary. Kamal smiles slightly but remains silent. Then mother and son sit next to each other on a pew in front of the makeshift confessional next to St. Elizabeth.

Alma is a Hispanic woman in her 40s. She has been chatting with a Sister on the front steps of the Cathedral. She is considering it. A missionary offers to accompany her to the confessional. He offers his hand and she takes it, assuring her that Jesus is going to give her a new heart. She begins to sob. He leads her inside and leaves her in the care of a Sister.

Malcolm is a slightly disheveled but educated looking gentleman in his 70s. He is wearing an old sweatshirt and has wild white hair and and expensive glasses on crooked. He is stalled in the narthex, just inside the great doors thrown wide open, peering at the Gothic arches. A missionary asks him if he is Catholic and he responds “12 years of Catholic school, Catholic undergraduate, and Catholic law school. And I can’t remember the last time I went to confession.” The missionary ventures “Fordham Law?” and the man answers proudly “that’s right!” But he is not committing to go. The missionary poses a hypothetical to him: does he think it is possible that he might somehow regret going to confession? He smiles. The missionary then suggests that if the obstacle is that he wasn’t prepared he can just sincerely ask the Holy Spirit to help him recall his sins, and the priest will assist him with the rest. There is no obstacle. He wanders in the direction of the south side confessional and the missionary whispers a Hail Mary for him, not knowing what would come next.

A missionary approaches two well turned out women of a certain age, bedecked with costume jewelry, lots of old-fashioned heavy makeup, in Christmassy coats, and one with a fur trimmed pillbox hat. They proudly inform that they are from Valdosta, Georgia and this is their first visit to New York. Are they Catholic? “No, but we LOVE Jesus! We’re Southern Baptist!” The missionary shakes their hands, God blesses them, and wishes them a Merry Christmas. They stride into the Cathedral with big smiles.

Three friends from Long Island in their 30s, all instantly acknowledge they are Catholic. When confession is suggested, one of them says yes right away, and the other two respond “why not?” Off they go.

A German Catholic couple seems reluctant to go. The missionary asks them if they have ever been to confession in English, and they answer no. The missionary gets the impression that they hadn’t been too often in German, either. The missionary assures them that their English is excellent and wouldn’t it be a great story to say they went to confession at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City? They head into the Church and only God knows the rest.

A missionary greets three women from New Jersey in their 60s. Overcoming objections about other things to do, one after the other, they are persuaded to go to confession. The last objection: they must check with their husbands, who were nearby. The missionary offers to go with them to the husbands. One of them is visibly annoyed, the other two seem neutral. The missionary asks the husbands to go, expecting declines, but hoping if they say no for themselves it will soften any opposition they might have to their wives’ going. A deal is struck. The missionary walks with the whole gang to the shortest confession line and invites the men to take a seat in the pew while their wives get in line.

It’s a few minutes past 8 PM, quittin’ time, and one missionary brings a man named Sam in his early 30s, to another missionary. He isn’t a candidate for confession: he’s Episcopalian. Sam works at a law firm near the Cathedral and lives in Jersey City. He is asking whether he should become a Catholic, and if so, why. A discussion ensues and other missionaries gather round. The conversation focuses squarely on the the Eucharist, and the Bread of Life discourse in John 6. Jesus didn’t say “less life,” he said “no life in you” without His Body and Blood. And the only way to get it is through the confessional, which requires being Catholic. Sam accepts the business card of one of the missionaries with an invitation to get coffee or lunch.

Wishing each of you a tender heart to welcome our Infant King,
A missionary