In just one week, a small band of missionaries will appear on the streets of one of New York City’s most secularized neighborhoods, SoHo. They will be armed with nothing more than a handful of rosaries, prayer cards, and Holy Week service schedules—and the Lord. He will be with them. Their theme this year is “The Return of the Prodigal Son”, and there will be many prodigal sons out there in SoHo—lost and afraid, but armed with a patina of happiness that they’ve designed to help them blend in. Many are secretly, even sub-consciously, hoping against hope that someone will find them, will “love them back in”. But to get to them, we will first have to clear through the walls of secularism that surround them, a culture that diminishes and confuses them, and their own walls of sins and bad habits that they’ve erected between themselves and God. And as importantly, we will have to climb over our own walls of protection that we’ve erected against the world that seems so antithetical to our core beliefs that we’ve stopped trying to engage it. The following excerpt from “The Missionary of Wall Street”, courtesy of Sophia Press, highlights the challenge we face:
“…Still, out here among the busy holiday shoppers (most of whom seem to have no idea what the holiday is about), “not interested” is the most common reaction.
For a break, I head back to the church, where I find many of our missionaries huddled behind its protective walls.
I take shelter there, too.
The original St. Patrick’s Cathedral, known more formally as the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, was built in the early 1800’s, mostly with thousands of small donations from local Irish and Italian immigrants. It’s surrounded by a fortress-like, ten-foot-high brick wall, which once was quite literally used for defense. Earlier generations of English and Dutch Protestants saw Irish Catholic Masses coming into their neighborhood as a threat to their American way of life. Anti-Catholic riots were common.
Now we don’t have to worry about riots. But over the years, as the neighborhood grew increasingly secular, the parish seemed to retreat inside that wall surrounding the church.
It’s safe there.
We can deal with it.
But Christ called us to proclaim that “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) That was what our mission was about.
So we had a choice to make.
We could stay in our comfort zone, our holy huddle, as the world around us slipped into a secularism that aims to eradicate God completely. We could build a wall around us, even higher than the one around Old St. Pat’s, and try to stay holy within it.
That approach might get us to heaven—but it certainly wouldn’t bring many more with us.
The other choice was to lock arms as brothers and sisters in Christ, advance with determination outside the wall, and let God work through us to grow the Kingdom.
It’s messy outside the wall.
It’s mixed up.
It’s tough going.
It’s full of people who are walking alone, indifferent at best, often hostile.
But that’s where Christ is.
Outside the wall.
Out there on the streets.“
I will see you on the streets of SoHo.
April 7, 2019