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  • Steve Auth

This Was No Accident

Mission Blog Day 3

Spy Wednesday



St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, SoHo. Low front stalled over New York. A cold damp mist hangs in the air. The mission is back where it started, in Old St. Pat’s. I arrive at HQ at 3:00, just as the busload of joyful brothers pull in from Cheshire. After a few slices of Lombardi’s pizza and a quick pep talk on “Answering the Call” -- showing up, being present for everyone we meet, and not “hanging up” or assuming we’ve received a wrong number, persevering—we all head out into the streets.


The evenings with the brothers are always uplifting ones for the missionaries. What they lack in mission experience they make up with joy and enthusiasm. And as I make the rounds of the neighborhood to spend time with each of the teams we’ve scattered about in a matrix fashion, the Lord “winks at me” (to quote from Tuesday’s blog) along the way. Here are some of those winks….


“I would love a rosary at this moment”

Bleeker and Mott, near abortion clinic. A missionary is heading north to the cross-team’s station on Lafayette and decide to pass the abortion clinic. He’d not stationed any of the brothers here this year, fearing violence following the demonstrations that happened here post Roe v. Wade. He notes a police car parked right out front. Is he here to protect the clinic or to protect the Catholics? A young woman emerges from the clinic and his first reaction is, “Approaching her is probably illegal, and that’s why the cop is here.” Then he’s reminded of the resolution from last night’s reflection on perseverance, to push the envelope of love, putting ourselves out for someone in an uncomfortable way, and persevering through it even if it became upsetting or embarrassing. The young woman is on her own and clearly fully alert, so he knows she has not yet done anything she’s going to eventually regret. On the other hand, the police car is right here and approaching her might be illegal…..


But the resolution did state, “… in an embarrassing way.”

Gulp!

“Excuse Miss, you look like you could use a rosary. Would you like one?”, the missionary asks as joyfully and matter-of-factly as he can.


Incredibly, she replies in the affirmative.


“Oh thank you, that would be really nice. Could I have the blue one please?”….


“Sharon, I’m from the parish down the street. I just want you to know that you’re loved and you’re always welcome at the church.”


Sharon smiles back, and heads down the subway stairs. She’s holding the rosary tightly in her right hand, perhaps pondering this chance encounter….


“Matthew Jeremiah Pauses to Reflect”


Corner of Spring and Mulberry, Little Italy. On the way towards Station 4, a missionary bumps into Matthew Jeremiah. It’s taken a few minutes to get the middle name out of him.


“I know Steve, this is ironic. I’m a baptized Catholic with a very biblical name and even more biblical middle name, and I’ve converted to Islam.”


“No, I don’t want to explain it to you. It’s complicated. I hope I did the right thing.”


“And no, I don’t want a rosary. I shouldn’t. I’m a Muslim now.”


As Matthew Jeremiah heads off briskly into the mist, the missionary notices a slight hesitation in his step relative to his gait when they’d first approached each other….



“A Jewish Street Evangelist Makes an Unexpected Friend”

Spring and Lafayette, SoHo. The missionary is heading southeast from Station 3. He quickly passes a young, bearded man in traditional Jewish garb.


“Any chance you’re Jewish?”, he asks the missionary.


“No, sorry. I’m Catholic.”


The missionary keeps walking, but after a block he hesitates.


“I should have helped that guy. His technique is way off.” He walks back to the corner.

“Hi, my name is Steve. What’s yours?”


Joshua is a serious young man on a mission. He’s not sure he has time to waste on a superstitious Catholic person. But he’s sort of cornered.


“Joshua, I’m actually a Catholic missionary. I do what you’re trying to do here, And I’ve been doing it a long time. Let me give you a couple of pointers.”


“First, never ever use the words ‘by chance.’ Nothing with God happens by chance. “

The missionary puts his hand on Joshua’s shoulder, and leans in. “You know that, don’t you Joshua?”


“Yes I do, Steve. And I agree with you. That’s a good suggestion.”


“Second, get the person’s name pretty early on. Once you get their name, you’re having an encounter, not a transaction. Like what we’re doing now.”


“That’s another good suggestion.”


“Third, smile, with some joy in your eyes. You’re selling a great product, here. God. Be joyful about it! It’s not like you selling umbrellas or something.”


“That makes sense too.”


“Tell me, Steve,” Joshua asks. “You’re not trying to convert Jews to become Catholic out here are you? Please don’t do that.”


“Don’t worry, Joshua. That’s not what we’re up to. We’ve got our hands filled with just bringing back the ex-Catholics. The city is filled with them. And I suspect you’ve got your hands filled bringing back the ex-Jews.”


Joshua relaxes. The missionary shares with him a story from a few years ago about a sad young Jewish man that the missionary encouraged to return to the faith of Abraham, to a synagogue, to fill “a hole in his heart.”


Before he leaves, the missionary asks Joshua to pause for a selfie with him. They embrace and get back to work. Brothers out on the streets, trying to bring souls back to God.


“This Was No Accident”

St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, Mott Street. Back in the Cathedral, a relatively quiet night. It seemed the whole neighborhood was quiet, enveloped in a misty fog, with most people curled up at home with their GrubHub deliveries. But the folks that did accept the brothers’ invites to say a prayer in the church were often there for a while. Long enough for our missionaries stationed there to plant a few more seeds.


A young mother and her son have been praying for a few minutes before the Lord in the monstrance, set out on the altar near our cross of candles. One of our missionaries approaches them.


“No hablo Engleis,” Sonia tells her regretfully.


The missionary switches to Spanish.


“Tenemos uno padre que habla Espanol!”, she assures the mother. (‘Yes, we have a priest who speaks Spanish and can talk to you.’)


“We have to go!,” the mother excitedly tells her son and the missionary at once, in her native tongue. They do. Both to a different priest the missionary has suggested to them.


A while later, after arising from a long post confession prayer, the mother and her son prepare to leave the warmth and safety of the basilica. But first, Sonia stops to hug the missionary who’d approached her with the news of the Spanish-speaking priest.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she blurts out tearfully in Spanish. “I was having a really bad day. This changed everything. This gave me a really great day.”


“You’re welcome, Sonia,” the missionary whispers. “You know, there’s no accidents with the Lord. Nothing happens by chance.”


“You’re completely right. This was too good. This was no accident.”


A missionary

April 6, 2023

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