SoHo, Spy Wednesday. The missionary in the back of the church always reminds me that faith is a journey, not an end point. Like life itself, it has its highs and lows, peaks and valleys. Last night around 5:30, with Prince and Mott fully manned with over a dozen Regnum Christi and Lumen missionaries, I took a journey through SoHo to visit our teams of 50 joyful, loving, prayerful seminarians and brothers from the Cheshire seminary….
Abortion Clinic, Bleecker and Mott, 5:30. Odd place to start a journey, perhaps. A place of great sorrow and pain. But when I’d assigned Brother Joseph’s team to this station nearly two hours earlier, apologizing that it was our toughest station, I was struck by his “yes”: “Thank you Steve. Thank you for giving us this assignment. We will go joyfully.” I arrive, and there are the four brothers, just starting the luminous mysteries. By now, they’ve been joined by two young women from the neighborhood, and many others are glancing, some staring, their way. I’m drawn like a magnet to the group, and though a voice inside me is screaming that there are many other posts for me to visit, I can’t leave. Brother Joseph explains to me later, “Steve, there was something mysterious going on out there tonight. We felt very intimately the heart of Jesus with us in front of that clinic.” I felt it too. One decade leads to another. Finally, as we finish the luminous mysteries, I wake up from my trance and realize it’s time to go. I then notice that Brother Emmanuel is nearly fainting. “Brother has a health issue Steve. We need to get some sugar into him right away!” Why can’t I find a candy bar when I need one in the busiest neighborhood of New York! I scramble out to Lafayette, and across the way spy the brothers at Station 7 helping someone nail a prayer intention to their cross, by now already crowded with other prayers. “We’re doing great out here Steve! So many stories! Incredible!” Finally I find a CVS and get Brother Emmanuel a snickers bar. I need to keep some of these in my mission bag from now on. That, and more rosaries. Lots more rosaries.
Mulberry and Houston, 6:00. I skip Station 7; they obviously don’t need any help from me with that cross of theirs! Half of team 1 is joyfully engaged on Station 6. They’re out of rosaries but I replenish their supply. A middle aged Catholic couple on a church visit walk through downtown New York stops to chat, and the brothers send them into the church with candles for an Easter prayer. I realize the other half of team 1, on station 3, is mis-positioned further down near Prince and head down there to set them up. Now they have visual contact with Houston and are relaying souls from the north side of the parish to the church. Wonderful!
Prince and Lafayette, 6:10. I hear them before I see them. One of our two hymn teams, joyfully, plaintively, singing beautiful Lenten music to the passersby as they stroll along the avenue. People are following them for a time. Joy and love in the air. Great pick me up. “Praise Jesus!”
Houston and Broadway, 6:15. This is the team I’ve been most concerned for. All the way out in the heart of the SoHo shopping district, technically outside the boundaries of the parish. Incredible foot traffic, but all of it headed for any place but a church. When I arrive, I need to remind myself yet again (hard headed!) that it’s not the missionaries, it’s the Lord. He, and the brothers, are incredibly busy. Joyful encounters going on at both corners. “Steve, I thought I heard you say it would be 40 to 1 odds out here?” “Well, actually brother, that was an average. I forgot to tell you your station is worse. More like 60 to 1, sorry.” “Oh. Well, something happened. Not sure what. We’ve been running 10 to 1.” Love, joy, and the Holy Spirit. The secret weapons of the missionary.
Prince and Crosby, 6:30. As I approach Crosby from the eastern side, Brother Mark hails me down. “Steve, Steve! Have you got any more rosaries? We’ve already made one trip back to HQ for more but have run through them too.” My bag grows lighter. No need for help here. I press on to Little Italy.
Broome and Mulberry, 6:40. I’m too late. The brothers have already joined the other singing team as planned. I see them off in the distance, with a trail of joy and love in their wake. They’ve consecrated this corner with their love of the Lord for the last two hours, and I can still feel that love in the air. On to Spring.
Mulberry and Spring, 6:50. The brothers are still here, but they’re all engaged with passersby. I join them. A few minutes later, I look up and they are all gone—headed as instructed to the 7:00 Mass at the Basilica. I’m alone with the Holy Spirit on the corner. “Here we go again!”, I think. “I know we’ve been on this corner before at almost the same time and in the same situation. Something always happens. Don’t move, Steve! You’re not alone.” A minute later, 30-something Mary arrives. “Yes, I am Catholic. I’m shopping around for a parish, New to the neighborhood.” Before long, Mary is signed up for St. Pat’s Sunday night Mass for the young professionals. But something is wrong. “Mary, have you been to confession lately?” “No, not really.” “How ‘not really’?” “Oh, I guess since my confirmation.” We talk about walls that we build between us and God, the beauty of the forgotten sacrament for helping us break down those walls. Mary is tearing up. She promises to return on Good Friday. Then, she heads off into the night. On a journey.
“Out of Love”
It’s Spy Wednesday and the scenic drive along the Palisades Parkway is magnificent – red tail hawks fly high among the tall evergreen trees against an azure blue sky. The grassy median serves as a refuge for birds and other animals. Deer run in the tall green grass in the beaming sun. The magnolia trees are in bloom along with forsythia and local native flowers. In just a few minutes there will be some magnificent man-made structures in my view – The George Washington Bridge against the Manhattan skyline on a GOR-GEOUS spring day. Just 20 more minutes until I reach my mission post. Driving was smooth sailing until I reached the West Side Drive. The same beautiful view I was enjoying was also being enjoyed by locals, tourists, street vendors, motorcyclists, cyclists, rollerbladers, joggers, walkers, truckers, buses, cab drivers, motorists – I’m stuck in TRAFFIC. To keep my joyful disposition, I delight in the ability of man to navigate around traffic with a GPS. I can’t change the traffic, but I can change my response to it.
The drive is still beautiful as the scene changes to the local streets. As I travel the thought of “Why am I doing this mission?” reoccurs and I shrug off any deep thinking. I like to keep things simple so the answer “Because I can.” satisfies me. But there’s something more to do today.
New friends arrive ready to receive Missionary training. I witness Evelyn training with motherly care the missionaries and through her charity those whom God calls the new missionaries to serve. Monsignor Sakano is nearby and we ask for his blessings. He reminded us we were like sowers of seeds and sometimes you will see the fruit of the labor and yet other times it may take another lifetime to bear the fruit. So, off the new missionaries go to get uniforms and I head into the side hallway of the church.
Just two seconds down the hallway I turn back and see a woman. And so, in quiet voice I greet the woman with my name, tell her that we have a mission, ask her if she knows about the mission and hand her a flyer. She replies “No, I didn’t know about it.” I say, “We have Missionary priests. Have a good visit.” I walk into the church. I think I was looking for Steve. I turned back around. “Can you please tell me where to go to Confession?” asks the woman. I smile as I think about the crucifix on the back of my sweatshirt with the message “Be Not Afraid”.
Next, I was drawn to talk to Matthew because he smiled at me and I smiled back. He stood up from the pew to talk with me. I said I was so happy to meet him and our God is so amazing. Matthew smiled as tears of joy trickled down his face.
The question came back to me – “Why am I doing this mission?” Because I am an adopted daughter of God. FABULOUS!! I wonder if Matthew was relishing his Father’s love! The word adoption developed mid-14c., from Old French adoption or directly from Latin adoptionem “chose for oneself, take by choice, select, adopt,” especially “to take into a family, adopt as a child.
There are adoption stories in the Bible. In Exodus there is Moses. In the Book of Esther there is Esther. In Matthew 1:18 Jesus was conceived through the Holy Spirit and was adopted by His mother’s husband. Joseph took Jesus as his own child, and along with Mary, raised a Son. And there is Spiritual adoption (Romans 8:15) “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
God says we become part of His family in much the same way a family welcomes a new child — it is done out of love. We know and remember how much He loves us. He died on the cross for us.
A missionary in front of the cup cake shop