Drizzly, rainy day today. Feels like Good Friday. Uptown, the NY Tri-State youth team has already set out on their cross walk from Columbus Circle. I know from past years they will be touching hundreds if not thousands of souls with their witness as they collect prayers for their crosses on the long walk to SoHo. Our three LC priests are already at work in the confessionals. Two RC Missioneros from Mexico, Oscar and Ricardo, who we picked up on the streets last year, have returned as promised to help us on the streets this year; they are waiting for me at HQ when I arrive just before noon. Julie and the NJ Shore team have returned as well, en force. Drove two hours into the city to be here. Despite the drizzle outside that awaits us, the dedication and faithfulness of this little crew lifts my spirits. We head out into the rain looking for souls. Here is just a small sample of their stories…..
The Power of Being Invited Back
Prince and Mott, SoHo. One of the slides in our missionary training pack speaks to “the power of being invited back.” Our experience on the streets is that many souls are in despair, or at least saddened, but don’t know how to get back on track. They have been away from the sacrament of confession for too long. So they avoid it, but deep inside, hope they will be found. We had many of these tonight. Alex’s story will serve. Our two missionaries on the corner are engaged. One is in a deep dialogue about confession with a passing soul, the other is handling for the moment incomings from all four directions. He spots a young woman, who’d been heading right towards him, suddenly cut left, attempting to jay walk to the other side of Mott without going through the corner. But the light on Prince is green and she is forced to wait a moment while the traffic passes. The missionary approaches her. “Excuse me, miss. You look Catholic.” “Yes, I am.” “Would you like a rosary?” “Ok, thank you.” “How about a service schedule for Easter?” “Why not.” “By the way, have you had a chance to get your Easter confession in yet?” A nervous laugh. “Well, not yet.” “Alex, today is Good Friday. When were you planning to get around to it?” “Maybe tomorrow….” A long dialogue ensues. Alex hasn’t been to confession in over a decade. She’s in a hurry. But something is holding her here at Prince and Mott. The pull of God. She feels it. The missionary is sure she feels it. “Alex, have you ever had a chance to go to Mass on Easter Sunday right after you’ve been to confession? You feel like you are resurrecting with Christ! You feel snow white! You feel incredible joy like you’ve never felt before. You feel like the Apostle John must have felt when he looked into the tomb and realized that the Lord had risen!” More talk. “Do you really think I can go? I don’t even know how to do a confession any more….” Forty minutes later, the missionary is engaged with another couple. Alex approaches, and waits. Finally, they break off. She comes to him and hugs him, with joy in her eyes. “Alex, you have what we call the ‘confession glow’ on.” “Yes Steve, I did it! I did it! And you were right! I feel so good. I am so happy you stopped me. I was trying to avoid you. Now I feel healed.”
The Return of the Prodigal Sons
Prince and Mott, SoHo. A big theme today was the return of so many souls who’d promised us earlier in the week they’d come back, and then did. It’s impossible for us to keep records on this type of thing, but we feel sure that the number of Good Friday returns was way up this year.
First there was Lauren, who’d promised us earlier in the week she’d come back. She did on Friday but declared herself still “not ready.” “None of us are ever ‘ready’ for confession, Lauren. It’s a difficult sacrament to get used to. It embarrassing, a sacrifice. But think about Jesus on the cross. Can it be anywhere near that bad? And think about how you’ll feel when you come out. There is nothing that good.” Into the church she marches.
Next, Jenny arrives, panting. Rushed all the way from Penn Station. “Am I still on time? Are your confessions still going on?” Jenny is from New Jersey. Attractive young woman who works in the city. Not ready on Wednesday night. Made a visit to the church though, where the missionary there consoled her as she cried in the back. Has taken the train all the in today to fulfill her promise to return. Skipped a dinner party. “We’ve been waiting for you Jenny! Come on in!” She emerges later, the confession glow on her face a beacon in the mist.
Jim comes into the church next. Jeanine’s crew out on Lafayette met him Wednesday night. “I can’t go to confession! It’s been many, many years. I have so many sins. Where would I even begin?” “Jim, don’t get paralyzed about where to begin. Just ‘begin.’ God is waiting for you like a loving father. Just begin.” A long discussion ensues as they walk all the way back to the cathedral, about five blocks away. He’s melting but not quite there. Finally, outside the church, he slips away. “I need to think about this Jeanine. Give me some time. I promise I’ll come back tomorrow.” Jeanine decides to give him space, back off, trust in the Spirit, and the power of their prayers. As he walked away into the night, “I knew I found that one soul I was meant to meet. I prayed for him that night and this morning.” On Good Friday, he returns, this time going into the church. The missionary at the back approaches him. “I’m thinking about it. I’m just not ready.” After praying, he gets up to leave. The missionary stops him. “Jim, do you know about St. Jerome? He devoted his life to God, to translating the Vulgate Bible. But near the end, he heard the voice of God in prayer. “Jerome, I want something more from you.” “More? Are you kidding? I just spent my life on your Word.” “Yes Jerome. But I need something more. I need to the one thing that is keeping you from me. I want your sins.” When Jim hears this, he turns back into the church. After receiving reconciliation, he finds both missionaries that brought him back, just before the 3:00 service begins. He now has a huge smile on his face. “I did it Jeannine! I did it. Thank you, thank you for helping me. I feel so free!” “Jim, each of us was called here to this mission to find one soul. I just know that you were the soul I was meant to find.”
At 7:44, Marcello approaches us, beaming. “I did it! I did it! I feel so light, like a giant burden has been lifted from my back. And Steve, it’s all because of Bob here. That man saved me.” “Tell me more.” “Well, I was walking down Prince. I walk past this church all the time, and I’m used to seeing you missionaries out here on Good Friday. So I always cross to the other side, to avoid you. But this time, I’m not sure why, I didn’t do that. Bob stopped me. He talked with me for a long time about letting myself be loved on Good Friday. Finally, I promised him I’d return after I got my hair cut. He eventually relented, and accepted my promise to come back. In the barber shop, I kept thinking about this. About how many times in my life I didn’t live up to a promise, and how I was about to do that again. And then i remembered what Bob said about letting myself be loved, about becoming the better person that God wants me to be. And I decided, ‘Not this time! This time I am going to live up to my word. I’m going back. I’m going to return.’ And I did. Now, a ton of bricks is off my back. I’m done with lying, the cheating, the drugs. It’s over. I’m on a new course. I literally feel like the Prodigal Son. I was lost. Now I’m found.”
The Last Soul of the Night
St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, SoHo. By evening’s end at 8:00, we are wet, tired, and cold. Our priests are exhausted, having delivered the Lord’s Mercy for ten hours straight, no breaks. Most times we were three deep at each confessional. Fr. Jason and I bump into each other near the altar at 8:10. He’s putting on his coat. “Steve, there is simply nothing like this for me. The grace of hearing these confessions down here in SoHo on Good Friday, from so many people that have been away from this sacrament for so long, is indescribable. I am completely wasted, but on a spiritual high.” As he says this, one of our missionaries from Prince and Mott, rushes to the front of the church. He and his wife Cathy, stationed at the Cup Cake shop, have been working with one last soul right through “closing time”. They’ve brought her in. “Father, please. Can you hear just one more confession?” I see the exhaustion in Father’s arms and face, but I also see the spark of joy in his eyes. He takes off his coat and confesses the last soul of the night. The last soul returns.