Book Review: The Missionary of Wall Street by Stephen F. Auth
Close your eyes for a minute and place yourself on a busy street corner in New York City. It doesn’t matter if you have never been there, most of us have at least viewed scenes of New York in movies or advertisements. Listen for a moment to the sound of the traffic, the footsteps of people passing by, the vendors hailing their next customer, and then quiet the outside noise and focus on the conversations. Did you hear it? Did you hear the question you never expected amid the relative hustle and bustle? Here it comes again so lean in a bit closer, “Excuse me, are you Catholic?”
I bet you didn’t see that question coming and neither did I. Honestly, I have trouble visualizing myself asking that question in the city of 50,000 people where I live. It is not that I am ashamed to ask that question, but rather wonder what kind of response I might receive. Where I live is a protestant and evangelical hotbed, and being Catholic is definitely in the religious minority. Some of my fellow Christian brothers and sisters have been quick to dismiss my faith as not Christian and further lacking the full gospel.
If you are looking for some inspiration as we enter the dog days of summer then I would like to humbly, yet boldly suggest you read The Missionary of Wall Street (buy it here). When I first heard about this book, I was immediately intrigued about how one would go about evangelizing in the city of New York or in any city for that matter. I mean how many of us truly see ourselves as evangelists? How do you go about approaching someone on the street and sharing with them the good news of Christ, especially in a city that is dubbed the city that never sleeps? I have been to New York and observed the endless activity and so now I wonder how are you going to grab someone’s attention and nudge them toward a path of reconciliation and repair?
The answers to these questions are found in the pages of this story, which is a collection of notes, that Stephen F. Auth has kept over the past 10 years of street evangelization in the big apple. I found this book to be so enjoyable that I did not want it to end. This compilation of stories is easy to read, entertaining, and insightful. Truly the Holy Spirit is alive and well and is changing lives amid the busy streets of New York. He is using brave and loving men, women, and children to reach those that have lost their way. Is it any surprise that the Good Shepherd is going after His sheep? He is looking for the lost sheep and calling them home through the cooperation of holy people who sometimes bear endless rejection before they find a person seeking peace and reconciliation.
I don’t want to give too much away from this book, but here are some practical things that this missionary team has found successful. First, they have split their missionary teams into two basic categories, one group is inside of the church building and the other group is outside the church building on the street corners. The center of their mission is St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in the SoHo region of Manhattan. Logistically, they have placed their missionaries on the peripheries of the neighborhood, then have continued with more “layers” of missionaries as you work your way closer to St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. One of their goals is to get Catholics to come into the church building for prayer, adoration and hopefully confession. Candidly the author admits that sometimes the best they are able to do is plant a seed during a brief encounter with a quickly moving passerby.
Some of the techniques they employ to gain people’s attention are carrying a giant card board cut out of Pope Francis where people like to stop and take a selfie. Sometimes they carry out a large cross and invite people to write and tape a prayer intention on that cross or leave a written prayer intention in a basket when they encounter a missionary on the street corner. They hand out rosaries and often ask questions like, “Are you Catholic?” or “We are making a cross of prayer candles in the church, will you help us?” If it is around Easter, they often handout Holy Week service schedules and yes, the missionaries are definitely laboring hard and seeking souls on Good Friday!
The inside the church building missionary team is divided into four groups. There is a prayer team that is praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament while the mission work is occurring. There is an adoration candle team that guides people to lighting the votive candles to place in front of the Blessed Sacrament, as well as, handing out notepads and pencils to people so they can write a prayer intention to leave in front of our Lord during adoration. There is a team as one enters the church and that team guides and lovingly assists people to either adoration, reconciliation or sometimes both. Finally, the fourth group is the priests that are in the confessionals and are dispensing God’s loving mercy through the sacrament of reconciliation. All of these teams are working as one unit in a spirit of joy to bring people back to Christ!
A whole chapter of this book is devoted to answering the question, “Can I really be a missionary?”. In this chapter the reader will find, as described by the author, “ten elements of a successful missionary”. These ten elements are: “Willingness to answer the call, prayer and silence, reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, shared experience with Jesus, willingness to embrace suffering, love, joy, perseverance, dignity and humility” (David Niles definitely has number 10 covered). Of course, the author expands on all these points but he leaves readers with one big piece of advice that encompasses all of the above ten elements and that is to “go to the heart of Jesus as he won’t let you down.” Interestingly, some of the best missionaries on this team are the children because as Mr. Auth points out “the kids aren’t discouraged, they just keep going”, they continue asking the question, “Excuse me, are you Catholic?”
Despite me writing almost two pages so far, I feel I have barely scratched the surface of the richness of this relatively short book. These stories are full of Holy Spirit coincidences and I have not been immune to them either. I periodically remember my dreams, but most of the time they are strange and make little to no sense; however, about a month before receiving and reading this book I had a vivid dream where I clearly heard Psalm 139. The next morning, I read Psalm 139 and have continued to read it every now and again and have come to truly enjoy that Psalm. So, it was to my surprise and shock when the author revealed that one of his favorite passages to use when he is conversing with someone on a busy street corner is, you guessed it, Psalm 139. Might I suggest you pick up a copy of this book and give it a try, who knows what the Holy Spirit might have planned for you!
By Kent Keithly, Fortunate Husband and Father
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