Church of the Most Precious Blood, Baxter Alley,
Border of Little Italy and Chinatown, New York City
— December 20l5, Monday night
A lone missionary heads up Baxter Street, past the front of the church, and stands quietly in the mist.
No one else is around.
About 6:45, a man dressed in dark clothes, bulging a bit in unnatural places, passes by, alone and in a hurry.“Are you Catholic?” the missionary asks.
The missionary pursues him. “Excuse me. Are you Catholic?” “What?”
“Are you Catholic?”
“Yes. Sort of.”
“Would you like to come into the church to pray? We have a beautiful manger scene in there.”
“No. I can’t do that. I have something on me that I can’t take into a church. It would disrespect Him.”
What a lead-in!
A conversation ensues.
Sox is an ex-con. Fifteen years in the slammer. An ex-con with a conscience well formed enough to know how to respect the Lord.
“Sox, one question. What happens if you get hit by a truck tonight?”
“If I get hit by a truck, I know He loves me and I’m going to Heaven.”
“Sox, you have a very well-formed conscience. And you’re bright besides. So work with me here. Right now you’re doing something so bad that it would be disrespectful to enter the church.”
“Right. I know what’s right and wrong.”
“And you’re going to keep doing it.”
“And even though it would be disrespectful to enter the church, you think you can enter Heaven in this state?”
A long pause. “Uh . . .”
“Sox? Sox, are you with me?”
Beads of sweat are appearing on Sox’s brow.
“Look,” he says at last. “I’m on a journey. I know I’m not where I need to be, but maybe I’ll get there. I’m 20 percent better than I was ten years ago.”“Sox, that’s good. That’s real good. I’m also on a spiritual journey. And we’re not alone. He’s with us.”The missionary gives Sox a rosary to pray with — “Because,” he tells him, “Mary is also with you, praying for you.”
Sox knows how to pray the Rosary, but he asks if they can go through one decade for practice. He promises to pray the Rosary for Mary’s protection. The missionary promises to pray every day for Sox, for his safe journey home.
“Now I have a question for you,” Sox says. “Where did you come from? I went right by the church, I’m sure of it. Then suddenly you appeared out of the haze. Like an angel. . . . Are you an angel?”
“Sox, I was here, just as the Lord is here. He’s always here. He’s waiting for you. You just have to open the door.”
And with that, Sox, a rosary in his hand and a prayer in His heart, walks off into the warm, damp darkness of Baxter Street .
In a hurry.
But no longer alone.
What did Sox end up doing that night?
And where is he today?
I don’t know.
And what was I, a senior executive with one of the country’s largest money managers, armed with nothing more than a handful of rosaries, doing hailing an ex-con packing heat in a dark alley near Chinatown on a warm December night?
I don’t know the answer to that one either. I’m still trying to figure it out.
Saint Barnabas Hospital, Livingston, New Jersey
— Thanksgiving 2002
The day my heart nearly stopped.
I had been closing in on the end of another very busy year at work. I had recently taken on the job of chief investment officer of equities, replacing two predecessors who had split the work between them. The bear market that had begun two years before was still grinding to new lows, and too many of our portfolios were performing badly. Staffing changes loomed.
At the same time, my two young sons, Richard and Michael, were fast becoming young men. They needed fathering. But with portfolio managers spread between Pittsburgh and New York, I found myself in the air almost as often as I was on the ground.
A strong faith might have me helped me at this point, and I wish I could tell you that I had one.
After falling into an indifferent agnosticism through my four years at Princeton, I had come back to the Church enough to get married in it to the girl of my dreams, Evelyn. She was a devout Catholic.
As for me, I did my best to get to Sunday Mass regularly — when it was convenient. But I kept God in my Sunday-morning box. The other six and a half days of the week were mine.
In short, I had no deep love of Jesus in my heart. I suppose you could say I didn’t have a heart.
All this changed in November 2002, when my heart literally stopped. Electrical malfunction. That meant twelve days in the cardiac care unit at St. Barnabas Hospital, the first several of which were spent on my back, hooked up to a variety of elec-trodes designed to keep me alive, while a bevy of interns read the monitors over my head with increasing terror and relayed the data back to my cardiologist, who was at home for the Thanks-giving holiday.
The doctors at St. Barnabas are quite good, and eventu-ally they determined that I suffered from a relatively rare but potentially fatal, heart arrhythmia. Once they figured that out, they fixed me.
On Thanksgiving Day, during this crisis, a priest visited me in the hospital. I had met him only recently at an affair in New York City, but he drove five hours from his mother’s house in Maryland to visit me and give me sacramental anointing of the sick.
That meeting changed my life.
I had been way too busy for God.
Now, with a potential near-term encounter with the Eternal looming, receiving the anointing of the sick seemed like a good idea. Of course, this also entailed the sacrament of confession, which I hadn’t received in many years.
I don’t remember what sins I confessed to Fr. John Connor that afternoon, but they were probably very general, and there probably weren’t very many of them. When you’ve been away from God for a long time, you begin to trust yourself and your judgment so much that you gradually lose track of which be-haviors and habits are OK to you that might not be OK to Him.
But I did my best to give a good confession, and Fr. John was very gentle with me. After I had received the sacraments, we had a long chat.
“Steve,” he said, “this is a wake-up call from God. Take it as such. You were meant to do more for Him, to give more to Him. You’re wasting your talents. You’re being very selfish with the gifts He’s given you.” Lying there in that hospital bed, not knowing where the next few days would take me, I had plenty of time to ponder Father’s words. I knew I had to do something different with my life. I re-ally didn’t know what it would be, but I did know it would lead to places I didn’t want to go. I knew it would take me out of my comfortable Steve-centered world.
I was afraid of that.
What would I have to give up?
What sacrifices would I have to make?
I knew I’d have to make them.
“The Lord is calling,” I thought to myself. “I don’t know where He wants to lead me. But I will go.”
Art for this post on The Missionary of Wall Street: Cover used with permission; Featured image used with permission of Pixabay.
One of the ways in which we can evangelize is by affirming those who struggle with their self-image. Click HERE.