Last Chance Saturday
The missionaries like to call Holy Saturday “Last Chance Saturday.” It’s the day that we all run out of excuses. “I’ll go to confession tomorrow. I promise.” “Do you know what tomorrow is, Julie? It’s Easter! We don’t do confessions on Easter! This is it. This is your last chance to get cleaned up for the Lord’s great feast”….
We are all neighbors now
Prince and Mott, SoHo. The afternoon starts off with inspirational chats with some of our young people. The Ave Maria crew meets us for a quick lunch at Louie’s, overflowing with joy over the week. Joe is still processing everything; he was selected to play the role of Jesus in the Via Crucis yesterday and has connected in some very deep way with the heart of Jesus. Andrew and Mary are in love, with each other, and with Jesus. They are exhausted, but light on their feet. “We’re missionaries, now.” We get back to HQ, and Kelsie, a glowing young professional from the neighborhood who’s been reading the blogs, is waiting for us. “Can I be trained to do this? I want to be part of the action!” As we run through the training program, I can already see she is going to be a natural….
Out on the streets, missionaries are buzzing about everywhere. All through the afternoon, a steady flow of penitents are heading to the church. The confession lines lengthen, the missionary in the back triaging the incomings as she is preparing those who need it for their first confessions in many years. Gary, who’d had his first confession in 30 years on Monday, now brings his wife Zooma for the sacrament. Zooma takes a long time to prepare in the back of the church. She leaves later, proclaiming “I feel like a child again!” Thomas, initially doubtful about this confession idea, ends up taking his whole family with him for their Easter reconciliation; it is a blessing to see them walking off later, united. Steve returns from last year; he has not received the sacrament since then, and he senses he’s slipping back down the slope. “Steve, slipping is the human condition. It’s the story of St. Peter. He slipped many times. But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that he kept getting back up.” “Ok, but I can’t go now, though. I’m walking my dog.” “Steve, we specialize in dogs, here. Been doing handling them all week. No issue!” BJ walks him in to Fr. Stephen, holding the dog’s leash the whole way. Carolyn is on the fence, but has an ice cream. She’s ready to go, then her non-Catholic friend says, “I don’t want her to go. I don’t want to wait for her.” A missionary asks her, “Aren’t you her friend? Don’t you want the best for her?” “Well, yes…. You’re right. Come on Carolyn. I’ll hold your ice cream while you pray at least” In the march for a prayer; we hope it leads to more. Kelsie has snagged Miguel and Sophia, from Portugal. She loves her way through the language barriers, and brings them in for their first confessions in years. A Catholic/Jewish couple, Carolyn and Simon, heading south down Mott, are turned back for a church visit and prayer after a long discussion on salvation history and the faith of our fathers. “I started this conversation angry with you guys, and now you got to me. You’ve really got me thinking I need to get back to my faith.” “Are you a Jewish convert, or something?” Simon asks as they head north, towards the Basilica. Another couple, Dan and Annie, agree to come back after lunch and do; Annie is later spotted in the back of the church, sobbing with our missionary there as she prepares for confession. The couple returns to the corner later, glowing. “Now we can receive communion together!” In the back of the church, two young boys, who’ve received confession at school this week, are our youngest missionaries of the day; they have brought in their mother for her first confession in years. Our missionary there finds her sobbing, and encourages her the rest of the way. She spends a joyful few minutes with the two gentle young boys in the back of the church, while their mother is reconciled. Back on the corner, Dick and his son, visiting New York from the Midwest, spend 20 minutes with Bob on the importance of confession, its transformative power, the grace it gives us to be the people God wants us to be. Finally, they head nervously in. For Dick, his first confession in 62 years. Forty minutes later, they’re back, beaming. “This was so beautiful, Bob. So beautiful. I can’t believe I waited 62 years to do this. Thank you, thank you, thank you…” Now, I sense they don’t want to leave the corner of Prince and Mott. “I wish we could stay right here. I wish you guys were my neighbor.” “We are now, Dick. We’re all neighbors now.”
Hard Wired to the Heart of Jesus
St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, SoHo, The Great Easter Vigil Mass. It is the great Easter Vigil Mass! The church is packed. In the rows ahead, I can see the multitude of parishioners, the newly baptized Catholics, the many visitors to the neighborhood, and of course our joyful missionaries sprinkled among them, the yeast in the bakery. There is a great sense of holiness, of Easter purity, in the church tonight. “There is nothing like hearing the Gospel of Jesus’ Resurrection proclaimed at the Easter Vigil, then receiving Him in Holy Communion, just after you’ve been washed clean by the sacrament of Reconciliation!” we’d assured many now in the church in front of me. Now, I could feel they shared the same joy we felt. Now, they too were fully part of ”the one body of Christ.”
In yet another of several penetrating sermons this week, Msgr. Sakano caught the moment. “All week, the joyful missionaries among you have been out on our byways and highways, proclaiming Jesus’ love, his heart. As I watched them today, I knew they must be bone tired, worn out. But somehow, they just weren’t. They kept joyfully at their posts, each new encounter as fresh as the last. They seem hard-wired to the Holy Spirit, the heart of Jesus…. Now, we are all missionaries. Now, we go forth and proclaim the Lord has risen! Now, we are the Easter People! Alleluia! The Lord has risen! Alleluia!”