Mission In the Cloud. Today my Lumen team met virtually for a circle on the anointing of Jesus’s feet, and the first hint of Judas Iscariot’s coming betrayal. We put ourselves in the scene of that very special dinner party, and reflected on who we might have been that night. The skeptical Pharisees? The ever busy Martha, preparing the meal of her life for her Lord. The humble loving Mary, at his feet? The traitor Judas, unable to see past the “practical realities to the spiritual truth within?” the other Apostles, silent, too embarrassed by Mary to stand up and defend her against Judas. I concluded I’d have been busy like Martha, jealous of Mary, and sympathetic towards Judas. Probably would have run from the Garden of Olives a few nights later to boot. I still have a long way to go.
We turned then to today’s crisis. My suggestion of a prayer for someone we’d met on a mission was greeted a little skeptically. “Prayer is not enough! We want to do something.” Most of us are Martha types, absent the cooking skills. We came up with a list of the things we could do: order and deliver 15 pizzas for the local grocery store, whose workers are breaking overtime records servicing our community here. Order in take out for the entire emergency ward workers of a nearby hospital. Our priest, Fr. Mark, still clearing his quarantine period, plans to hop on the train from Rye on the morning of Day 15 and head into the fire at Javis Center to hear confessions of the dying. And, yes, we will lean into Jesus. Pray. Pray. Pray. Maybe that’s one of the takeaways we will all get from this Corona lockdown. In the end, the biggest, greatest gift we can give right now to a world in crisis is Jesus. Only He can cure them in the way we need to be cured. So, we pray.
Today’s virtual mission was for each missionary to remember a soul he or she had met on another SoHo mission, perhaps years ago, and to pray for that soul’s successful journey back to God. Now more than ever, that soul probably needs the Lord. For each soul, we are praying the Memorare each day of Holy Week, entreating the holy help of our Blessed Mother for that soul. Here’s the Memorare if you don’t know it:
Remember, O most gracious Virgin
Mary, that never was it known that
anyone who fled to thy protection,
implored thy help, or sought thy
intercession, was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence I fly
unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my
Mother. To thee do I come, before
thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions, but in thy
mercy hear and answer me. Amen.
Below are some of the stories that are filtering in this morning. In other cases, I went back to the original blog post and pulled the story for re-printing. As I did so, I found myself digging through so many beautiful stories, many that never made it past the editing room into The Missionary. So I clipped them here. There are many more behind this, so each day I will pull a few. For you fellow missionaries in the cloud this year, this may help jog your memories! If so, please pray for them. And if you’ve never been a missionary, pick a soul from each day’s stories and pray for one that you think particularly needs the Virgin in his life.
April 7, 2020
“A Messenger from God”
A parish church in New Jersey. I don’t know the name of the man that I prayed for today. About six months ago, I was at mass with my family after we had to pull out from an offer we made on a home. Frankly, I was in a bad mood. I was frustrated with my wife who was hesitant with the decision, annoyed with my children who were being a bit loud for mass, and otherwise not in a particularly thankful or spiritual mood. This man, who I haven’t seen before or since, tapped me on the shoulder and congratulated me. When I asked what for, he said for having such a beautiful family, and immediately I realized that the man was speaking for God. He was telling me to take stock of what was really important and to be grateful for so many blessings. That man has been in my thoughts these past days, and I prayed for him today. I thanked the Lord for sending him as a messenger, and I prayed that he may receive the same comfort and guidance, particularly during this most difficult period, that he gave to me.
“Put all my intentions on hold”
I call a few shut ins in my parish every week since I am not able to visit and bring them Holy Communion etc. Today by God’s Grace I was able to smooth a situation with the local church and give awareness to the pastor of a person’s need for his help. The intentions I was asked to pray for are unanimously all for people affected by Coronavirus. Each person, every single one, said simply, “All my own intentions are on hold. Save them all for the Corona victims, helpers, health care workers. They need them more than me.” I am humbled and blessed.
"Spiritual but not Religious"
5:45 pm. Spring and Mulberry. Out on Spring and Mulberry, a missionary finds Andrew, a well-dressed young man on his way to a date.. "Spiritual but not religious." "How's that going for you?" "Ok, I guess... well, not great." Andrew is in a hurry, so the pair walk together.... towards the Basilica. Andrew was long ago an altar boy in England, part of "The Order of St. Stephen." That's odd, Andrew. Do you know my name? It's 'Stephen.'". By the time we get to the church, Andrew has changed his mind. He goes in for ashes. Later, he comes back out, and finds the missionary, already engaged with another couple. "Thank you for being out here tonight. I never ever would have done that otherwise. That was really beautiful. "
I pray that the religious not just “spiritual” journey Andrew began that night continues.
“I’m Going ‘Down There’—Forever”
Back Entrance, St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, Mulberry and Prince, SoHo. Early on in the evening, a fit, well-groomed middle-aged man pauses as he walks down Mulberry towards the sausage vendors, and stands silently in front of the Confession sign. A missionary approaches him. “Hello, sir. How about coming into the church for a quick visit?” “No, I can’t do that. Not now.” “No time like the present!” “The ‘present’ is where I live, Steve.” “Only the present?” A long discussion ensues. Peter is a well-formed Catholic, raised in the faith by a strict Catholic mother. But along the way, something happened. He began living a lifestyle which is sinful in the eyes of the church. Around the same time, one of the priests in his parish back in England was accused of molesting altar boys. Peter was scandalized and spoke up about it. His parish priest turned on him, and according to Peter, “excommunicated me.” “So now, I’m done for. I know I’m heading ‘down there’ and there’s nothing I can do about it. So no, I’m not going into that church.” The missionary is gasping for air. The theme of this year’s mission is the eternal, and within 60 minutes of the mission’s opening, he’s encountered a soul consciously grappling with this very thing. “No coincidences.” And on top of this, while Peter himself, like all of us, clearly has sins to overcome, another issue at play here is that of influence, and the role each of us play in influencing others to the good, and sometimes to the bad. This “just happened” to be the topic of the previous night’s 9/11 gospel reflection out in the harbor (“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Mt 18:6)… “Peter, what do you think ‘down there’ is like?” “Not good, but maybe not so bad. Maybe a kind of void.” “A void without God.” A long pause. “Peter, do you think God wants you to be there?” “Probably.” “Let me assure you, most definitely, NOT!” “How do you know?” The missionary places his hand on Peter’s shoulder lovingly, and looks deeply into his eyes. Both of them are tearing up. “I know because we are all His beloved children. All of us. Everyone one of His creations. And that includes you.” “But I’ve been excommunicated.” “Look, Peter, I’m not a priest. But I really don’t think you’ve been excommunicated based on what you’re telling me here. Yes, maybe you’ve been told you cannot receive communion until you’re contrite and resolute about changing what you’re doing, but excommunication is very unlikely. And not for someone like you who clearly loves the Lord and knows the faith. Please, come into the church. Speak to one of our priests here. Maybe they can help you work through this.” “I can’t, Steve. Not now. Not at this point in my life. Give me another 10 years or so. Maybe then I can fix this.” “Take a step now, Peter. One small step. Come in, light a candle. You are welcome here. You are a beloved son of God.” “Not now, Steve. Not now.” And with that, Peter walks off into the rain. Towards the neon lights and haze of Mulberry Street. Towards eternity.
I pray that Peter’s journey back to God continues. That he finds a way to go into that Church.
Prince and Mott, SoHo. Out on Prince and Mott, Bob was doing his usual thing with Ken and Cathy across the street at the Cupcake shop, where they had their Gregorian chant music playing through an i-phone speaker. The plaintive background music infused the whole busy intersection with a subtle spirituality that people more felt than heard. Cathy had so many tales she promised me to write a separate blog, so that’ll be forthcoming. As new missionaries streamed in from training with the missionary in the back of the church, I assigned them in shifts to Prince and Mott till they got comfortable. One of them, Steve Caruso, a fellow missionary with Bob and me years ago in Mexico who is planning to start a street mission in DC, was working with Bob. Bob had hailed down Holly, a young woman who had not been to confession since her first Holy Communion 30 years ago. “I have my own relationship with God. Why do I need to go to Confession?” Bob is trying everything on her: the story of St. Jerome, the Prodigal Son, the theology of reconciliation. No progress. But something is bothering Holly. Steve senses it. He bravely steps in. “Holly, let me tell you about my own story…” He opens up with her in a very personal way. His own fall away from the church, and how the sacrament of reconciliation opened his path home. “Well, maybe you have something here. Ok, I’ll go.” Steve brings Holly to the church, and gives her to Evelyn. Evelyn is juggling the crowd, where confession lines are now are now seven deep. (The missionaries have been busy!) She’s performing spiritual triage surgery. “Holly, how long did you say it’s been?” “Thirty years. And if I can be honest with you, I actually have no idea whatsoever how to do this. I was only 7 years old. I’ve completely forgotten.” “Don’t worry Holly. I have someone here who can help you get ready.” Evelyn gently hands Holly to Jeanine. “Jeanine, I don’t think I have any sins.” “Well, that’s good. That probably means you haven’t killed anyone lately!” “Exactly.” “But maybe you’ve ‘killed’ someone verbally, by saying something to them or about them with others that was really damaging?” “Hmm….” “Or maybe you hurt the Lord by giving Him the silent treatment for a few years?” “Ohhh….” Holly eventually heads into confession. A long while later, after Mass, she finds Steve in the back of the church. She’s crying. She gives him a big, heartfelt hug. “Steve, thank you for tonight. I feel so light, so joyful. Tomorrow was going to be just another, average Sunday. Now it’s going to be “Joy Sunday.”
“I’m Coming Home”
Mulberry and Prince, SoHo. The Agugliaro clan is out on Mulberry and Prince, where so SoHo-bound Christmas shoppers are streaming west, away from the church. Their job is to stop them and bring them home. BJ is with young Mary, of “The Missionary of Wall Street” fame, who is now a mature 12 year old, very strong in her faith and frankly, ready to go toe to toe with the Christmas shoppers. She chastises her father, “Dad, you’ve got to connect with more people. You’re letting people slip through this corner. Mr. Auth told us to greet everyone we see!” BJ steps it up. Finds a man stopped for a light, moving slowly. Mark. “Excuse me sir. Are you Catholic?” Mark is a long time away Catholic. 84. Has lived in the neighborhood his whole life. Went to school at Old St. Pat’s. And hasn’t been inside the church in decades. “Confession?” “Not since I was a kid and Sister Antonio made me go.” They engage. Long chat. “Who was the Pastor back then, Mark?” Happier memories of the old pastor. “His name is actually on the wall at the back of the church, I think.” They walk together to see the plaque. Mark steps into the church for the first time in 50 years. “Wow! It’s so beautiful It’s reminding me of my mom and dad, how they’d take me here. Am I still Catholic?” “Of course you’re still Catholic, Mark. You just need to come home. We’re waiting for you here.” “I’ll be back. I’m going to come for Christmas Mass. I promise. I’m coming home.”