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  • Steve Auth

Mary's Hope, the Light that Cannot be Extinguished

Good Friday

Harvard Club, New York City.  This morning, Evelyn and I took Fr. Shawn to an early breakfast at the Harvard Club before he had to head out of town.  Fr. Shawn is a veteran of many missions past, and is particularly beloved by the missionary in the back of the church because he never takes a break for the entire length of the Good Friday mission, noon to 7:00.  Fr. Shawn is always there, ready with his loving message.  And because he’s done this for so many years, he’s never upended by some of the wild stories he must get in that confessional from our “20+ years away” penitents that we find on the streets.  And so, even though he’s now based in Atlanta with national responsibilities, every Good Friday he journeys up to New York to help us.  Over breakfast this morning, Father was reflecting on a painting of Mary in the Old St. Pat’s rectory, just after the birth of Jesus.  She’s nurturing him lovingly, like any new mother would.  And beneath the image, inserted as a painting within the painting, is an image of the crucifixion.  “Mary’s yes”, Father explains, “was not just to what she’d been asked, on the surface-- the incarnation.  That itself was a tough choice, given that she was unmarried virgin in a backwater town in Judea.  Her ‘yes’ was to all that, but it was also to the whole deal, right up to the crucifixion of her precious son on Calgary. And she was able to make that fiat, that ‘yes’, because of her deep faith in God and her joyful hope in eternity with Him.  That’s what we have on Holy Saturday, that’s the light in the darkness of the tomb.  That’s the light that can never be extinguished:  Mary’s hope.”

As I reflect on Mary’s hope this Holy Saturday morning, all the stories jotted into my smartphone are blending together in a rush.  I’ve realized that Mary played a key role in most of them.  So that’s my theme for today.  Mary’s hope.


“Rosary Riot in the Bodega”

“SoHo Garden” store, Prince Street, next door to Mission HQ, SoHo.  Early in the day, I made my annual Good Friday trip to the bodega next to Mission HQ, where traditionally I pick up a vitamin water and an energy bar for the long day ahead.  The workers there have gotten to know and love the missionaries over the years, but this year seemed different.  It was almost like they were waiting for me.  The manager stopped me at the counter.  “Juan needs a rosary. Over there by the canned soup.  I promised him I’d get you.”  Turns out Juan needs a couple of rosaries, for himself and his wife.  Then Diego comes over.  “Please, can I have three for my family?  ‘Verde, por favor.’”  (Pardon my weak Spanish, but most of this conversation was a combination of Spanglish and hand gestures!)  Ricardo is next.  Then everyone else.  I was besieged, in a wonderful, embracing way.  When I finally got back to the register, despite my pleas, the humble owner wouldn’t take a dime.  Just wouldn’t here of it.  Love given, love received.  Rosary riot in the bodega.

“Last year, a prayer card, next a rosary, now an evangelist”

Prince and Mott, SoHo.  A local neighborhood artist, Greta, who exhibits her modernist work in an art gallery nearby, helped me today with someone looking for a little hope.  Greta and I had struck up a friendship of sorts last year, talking long and deep about art and God.  At the time, she’d described herself as a sometimes practicing Catholic; she’d taken a prayer card on Rembrandt’s “Prodigal Son” and promised to pray on it.  This year, earlier in the week, she’d returned for a rosary, and took a rosary guide and promised to pray on that.  Then, yesterday, she became an unwitting evangelist.  Another artist in the neighborhood, Margarita, was talking with the missionaries about her mom, for whom she’s requested a rosary.  “Church?  No, thank you.  I don’t go to church anymore.”  Then Greta shows up.  They’re friends.  “Margarita, you should come with me to the 3:00 service.  It’s a great thing to do on Good Friday.    We’ll go together.”  And so plans are laid, and later, they come and give us big hello afterwards out on Prince and Mott.  Greta is on a journey, like we all are.  Last year a prayer card, next a rosary, now an evangelist.  What’s next?  (Confession!)


Myra Hails Down a Fed Ex Worker Looking for Mary

Prince and Mott, SoHo.  One of our new missionaries this year was the young, energetic, and incredibly joyful Myra, a friend of Angela’s from uptown.  She’s been with us all week since Monday at the big Cathedral, and importantly, she’s trilingual.  “Steve, I could do this every day.  It gives me such joy and peace!  I love this stuff.”  Myra is utterly courageous and ignores all obstacles, real or imagined.  At one point, I catch her lunging after a FedEx truck driver stuck at the light.  Both Christo, and his assistant, Miguel, take rosaries for themselves and their mothers.  “I’m a believer, Myra.  I’m a believer!,” Christo says firmly.  “I want to bring Mary home.”  Shortly afterwards, Regina, an RC member from Argentina touring in New York, who’d bumped into us earlier in the day and ended up joining the mission,  hails down a Spanish delivery worker from Columbia, pushing a dolly loaded with boxes.  “For your wife, Angelo!”  He joyfully takes a bright red one.  This got my spiritual competitive juices flowing, so later on I managed to catch a UPS driver unloading his truck in the neighborhood.   This all brought back for me the early days of the mission when one of our famous missionary veterans, now retired, used to pull this kind of razzle dazzle play, I think to throw me off balance.  Move over, Bob Infanger; Myra is on the court now.

“Pedro’s First Big Catch”

Cup Cake Shop, Prince and Mott.  The Cup Cake shop crew, manned by Angela and Shawn, are busy all afternoon and evening in joyful conversations with passersby, and I frequently find myself re-stocking them with rosaries.  At some point, they’re joined by Pedro, an outgoing and convicted young acolyte of Fr. Daniel’s, who’s come to the church to chat with Father and receive reconciliation.  Seeing all the missionaries out on the streets, Pedro joins up and is assigned to Angela’s corner to see how it’s done.  A few minutes later, an older gentleman, Robert, takes Pedro up on his offer for a rosary.  He takes a shiny blue one.  A long discussion ensues.  Robert has not been to confession in 20 years—about the time that Pedro was born!  Pedro tells him about the joy of a great confession, like the one he’d just had with Fr. Daniel.  Into to the church they march the long “confession walk.”  And before long, Robert is born again.  Pedro brings him, his first big catch.  Many more to come.


“We cure the whole person”

Prince and Mott, So Ho.  About mid-afternoon, I see two members of the loyal “RC shore team”, Julie and Ellen, literally escorting a middle-aged man towards the church, arm in arm.  He’s back and forth on the whole thing, but they are gently leading him on anyway.  “We’re doctors, John.  And we believe in curing the whole person, including your soul.  And we have just the expert (Jesus) in that church who can do it.”  John eventually wriggles off the hook—for now.  As Julie knows from past experience, John will be back.  Maybe not this year, but perhaps next or perhaps the year after.  But he’ll be back.  A loving seed’s been planted. 


“Now she doesn’t need the Grubhub delivery”

Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral, So Ho.  From the back of the church, I have a slew of stories of folks who’d met a missionary out in the neighborhood and were now paying a visit to the basilica.  “Just get them into the church,” I kept encouraging the missionaries.  “If you get them in there, Evelyn and the Holy Spirit will take them the rest of the way!”  This morning, Evelyn gave me several such stories, one about two friends who’ve made a quick pit stop in church.  One Catholic, one not.  Invited to confession, Maria is considering until her friend reminds her they have no time.  “We’re really in a big hurry here.  We have to go.”  “What are you hurrying to?”  “Well, for one thing, we’ve already ordered a food delivery and it might even already be there.”  “Ladies, ladies.  Let’s stop and think about this for a second.  We are talking about eternity here.  And you’re worried about a food order?  Jesus has the food that never runs out, the water that satisfies your thirst forever.  The food will wait.”  Maria sees the point, and even her friend reluctantly concedes.  Maria goes to confession.  Now she doesn’t need the Grubhub delivery.

“From bagels to rosaries to Jesus”

Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral, SoHo.  Carol, a Jewish bagel shop owner from the neighborhood, strolls into the basilica with a coffee in his hand.  “Just wondering if I can get a rosary for my nephew.  He’s Catholic.”  “Why don’t you stay a moment in prayer here. Our doors are open to all.”  Carol does.  Later, he and the missionary in the back of the church have a long chat.  “You know, I think the real reason I came in here is that I’m considering converting.  I see all these joyful Catholics in this church and am thinking I need to be part of this.  Despite all the darkness in the world, you guys seem like you have a special light.”  Mary, we know you’re hoping for him.  And for all of us.  Help all of us to forget about the bagels and Grubhubs and parties in our lives.  Help all of us go from bagels to rosaries.  And help us use our rosary to find our path to Jesus.  Help all of us to find your hope.  It’s the light that cannot be extinguished.

A missionary

March 30, 2024



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