The Joy of Ash Wednesday
In a few short hours, a small band of missionaries and priests will converge on the neighborhood around St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, SoHo. We will be welcoming in souls from around the city to receive ashes and the sacraments, marking (literally) the beginning of Lent. Although many Catholics think of Lent as a mournful, sad time, our message today will be quite the opposite. Lent is a joyful time. It is a time of special graces, a time when all of us receive the opportunity to prepare for the coming of our Savior, to draw ourselves closer to Him, to deepen and enrich our relationship with our God. So our primary theme today will be Joy, the Joy of the Gospel. Let’s bring that joy to everyone we meet.
As we proclaim the joy of the Gospel on the streets today, let us also persevere. It will be cold and windy. People will be in a hurry. Many will have forgotten it even is Ash Wednesday, let alone be willing to mark themselves with a cross on their way to dinner. Through it all, we will persevere joyfully. Tonight, there may be just one soul, one single, lost soul, we are called to find. He or she may well arrive late in the evening. Let’s be there at our posts waiting for her.
And finally, let’s coat ourselves inside and out with the armor of humility. Humility will allow us to engage and encounter souls where they are instead of where we are, or where we think they should be. Humility attracts. Humility is confident. Humility is joyful. Humility loves.
The following text on Joy, Perseverance, and Humility is excerpted from “The Missionary of Wall Street”, being published this April by Sophia Institute Press.
We Catholics suffer from a serious branding problem. Ask someone to describe what a Catholic is like, and the first response you get might be “guilt-ridden.” “They’re always dragging themselves through the mud,” people might say. “They deny themselves all the fun things in life.”
Pope Francis is on to this, and it’s probably the reason why his very first papal letter was entitled The Joy of the Gospel. Committed Catholics know that, far from making them miserable, their Faith makes them joyful. Connected with Jesus and following His Way, they’re becoming the perfect, happy souls that God, their Creator, made them to be. They’re finding their true selves, and there is great joy in that.
This is the Joy of the Gospel, and it’s the message the pope wants us to project in our evangelization efforts. So many times on the streets of New York, I’ve heard people say, “Wow! This is amazing! We didn’t know Catholics did this sort of thing! You guys look so happy!” There’s nothing more compelling to the beaten-down souls wandering the streets of New York than joy.
Sometimes I tell our young people when they wonder what to say out there, “Don’t say anything. Just be your joyful selves. People will come up to you and start a conversation.” Incredibly, this works. People see a joyful missionary and a voice inside them says, “Go to her. Get me some of that!”
We discussed one angle on perseverance in chapter 2 under the heading “Be Not Afraid.” Jesus certainly knows that following His Way can be scary. That’s why we find the phrase “be not afraid” more than twenty times in the New Testament. Yet fear grips us, particularly when we’re invited to go out into the streets and seek Catholics.
Remember that the people we’re evangelizing are also fearful: fearful of their brokenness, which they’ve pushed deep down inside them; fearful of facing a priest in confession; fearful of facing God on the Day of Judgment.
Here’s the rub: fearful people can’t attract fearful people. Others can sense our fear, even smell it. Joyful, fearless confidence, on the other hand, attracts fearful people, like stray sheep to a shepherd. So the first thing you need as a missionary is confidence.
How do you project confidence?
Trust in the Holy Spirit. He will guide you. Know that He is with you. You are not alone.
Above all, don’t give up early. Don’t miss that one soul who’s waiting for you in particular. Try to avoid the “white-knuckle” approach to perseverance, which relies on you and not on the Holy Spirit. Use the Holy Spirit method: put yourself in His hands and sit back and wait for Him to make things happen. He will….
After many years in the streets, I’m convinced that one of the greatest obstacles to missionary success is pride, both in the missionary who doesn’t want to step into the gutter to fish for souls and in the potential penitents who can’t overcome their pride to find a path back to God. The antidote to pride — the opposite virtue, if you will — is humility.
At least in New York, and probably in any other city in America, humility in a missionary is very disarming. In a religious context, people have come to expect the opposite: the doomsday preachers on their soap boxes in the subways, their unhappy memories of Sr. Wanda from Catholic grammar school, and sometimes even their unsettling interaction with a particularly tough priest in a confession long, long ago. When instead they encounter humility in a missionary, their defenses go down quickly, and they can engage. So, as you head out into the streets, becoming humble is a key element in your missionary success.
Where can you get humility? Same place you can get all the other attitudes I’ve mentioned: the heart of Jesus.
Go to Him.
He won’t let you down.’
March 6, 2019