“Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come!” (Song of Songs, 2:10)
St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, New York, wind chill 26 degrees. I arrived at Mission HQ from the office at 2:30. And already the first wave of enthusiastic seminarians had arrived. Wave upon wave of young brothers followed, over 50 of them in all. Their ranks were supplanted by another 15 or so laity, some seasoned veterans and others here for the first time. Ready to roll.
I tried to curb their expectations.
“Look, this is going to be the toughest four hours of your life. It’s brutally cold, and along with the latest Covid wave, few people will want to talk to you. We are estimating our hit rates (of people who will stop and engage with you versus the total you greet) will be somewhere around 1 in 50. But out there somewhere is one soul you were meant to bring home. Go find her. And remember, witness is more powerful than words. Witness your joy, show them your hope, give them your love. Love them in.”
As usual, the Lord over-delivered. Within the first 60 minutes, we’d already brought in over a dozen souls to an Advent meeting with Christ in the church, witnessed the faith to several hundred passersby, and filled the prayer cross up on Lafayette and Bleeker with pleas to their Creator. My smartphone was humming with the incoming stories, and by evening’s end, was nearly out of power. Our three priests were busy all night, as the church team ushered more and more souls towards them. After nearly two years in the Covid lockdown desert, the missionaries were back. As cold and difficult as the night grew, the neighborhood seemed to warm us, embrace, welcome us home.
Way too many stories for a single blog, so look for more to come through the Christmas season. Here’s the first installment.
“Put Christ Back in Christmas”
39th and 2nd, New York. Lugging an oversized bag of donated rosaries and purple scarves for the missionaries, I decided to eschew the usual subway and call in an Uber. Juan arrived three minutes later. He popped the hatchback of his van and there on the back, I saw his large sign boldly proclaimed for all of New York to see.
“Put Christ Back in Christmas “.
“Juan, nice sign.”
“Well Steve, I just think someone has to say it. Things are getting crazy in this town!”
“Are you Catholic, Juan?”
“You bet Steve! All my life! There were nine of us in the family. Our older brother is a priest. We’re very proud of him!”
“That’s really awesome Juan. Beautiful….. So, are you ready for Christmas?”
“Pretty much. Just a couple more gifts to pick up.”
“That’s not what I meant Juan. I meant are YOU ready for Christmas? Did you get your confession in yet?”
“Confession? My brother is a priest.”
“Awesome. When was the last time you’ve been?”
“Been to what?”
“Oh…. a while.”
“A long while?”
Fortunately, we got stuck in traffic. Juan was sort of trapped, I guess. Near the end of the ride, he promised to come in after his shift for his first confession in 20 years.
Near the end of the ride, I asked him if he’d ever read “The Missionary of Wall Street.”
“Oh, that explains it. You’re one of those missionaries I used to see all around SoHo! Wow! I just delivered a missionary to that mission, and you just delivered me to confession! Best ride of the week!”
“It gets better Juan. Do you know what we call our Advent mission?”
“What. Put Christ back in Christmas?”
“Yes. Put Christ back in Christmas. Not a coincidence Juan. There are no coincidences. Welcome home.”
December 20, 2021