Saturday, April 19, 2014


On Good Friday, after an hour and a half of Vigils and Lauds in church I decided to take a walk around downtown Newark. I was about half a block from the monastery when I started hearing a woman's voice amplified and bouncing off of various buildings.

This wasn't a social activist's rousing rhetorical tone, and certainly not a political campaigner's shouting of half-truths to persuade the voting masses. No, the voice had the unmistakable confidence, cadence and conviction of a real evangelist. As I walked down the hill trying to locate the direction of the voice as it echoed off of the courthouse, the telephone building and other nearby structures, I could feel the passion in the preacher's voice.

By the end of the block I had a fix on her position: a parking lot off to my right, next to the United Way
building on Washington. As I peered in the direction of the powerful sound booming off of the great flat wall of the United Way, I could make out a crowd of maybe fifty people, and small white canopy, and several tables lined up along the edges of the blacktop.

Since I truly needed to walk rather than stand still I contented myself with listening to the preacher's words as I walked the next few blocks. She seemed to have a real feel for her congregation -- she spoke their language, and used words that anyone could follow easily.

"How many of y'all know what we're gonna be celebrating this Sunday? ...  That's right, Easter! Except we don't call it Easter, we call it "the Resurrection". It's "Resurrection Sunday." And that's what it's all about for us - it's all about "resurrection." It's about Jesus comin' into our hearts and into our lives to overcome death. Y'all know what kind of death I'm talkin' 'bout, right? ... Any y'all dead right now from drugs? Any y'all suffering the death of alcohol? Any y'all livin' in a tomb of depression so bad that you can't hardly get out the bed in the mornin'? 

"That's why Resurrection Sunday is what it's all about, see. It's about Jesus and you personally. That's right: it's personal. Jesus loves you just the way you are. He know's all your junk. He knows what you're goin' through. And that's why He rose from death, halleluiah, just to deliver you from whatever death you're experiencing. He's callin' you this mornin', you personally, the way he called to his friend Lazarus. 'Hey, Lazarus, y'all come on out!'..."

As I got out of range of her voice I started looking around at the people passing on the sidewalks, and wished that they could hear her message. I started thinking, too, about my own pastel way of preaching the gospel. I remembered that on Wednesday night I'd listened to a Catholic layman preach the gospel. He was so passionate and eloquent, so earthy and hit so closs to home that I'm sure that if he preached from a pulpit at mass he would make lots of good Catholics uneasy - uncomfortable enough to dismiss him as a little over-the-top and therefore not to be taken seriously.

I crossed Broad Street and walked alongside the imposing bulk of the Prudential Center, a place where
enthusiastic crowds of passionate fans roar at the top of their voices for hockey teams and basketball players and indoor soccer squads. I start to think about all that enthusiasm.  Maybe my own preaching and writing needs to be more over-the-top, more "preaching the Gospel" than simply delivering words of comfort and easy optimism.

I found myself in the Ironbound neighborhood walking past the Portuguese stores. When I glanced at my watch I caught my breath as I saw that Midday Prayer was in half an hour. I turned around to head back up the hill, taking my rosary beads out of my pocket.

I started the first Sorrowful Mystery, the Agony in the Garden. I'd barely begun the first Hail Mary when I noticed three homeless people slouching on benches in a tiny park just to the east of the railroad station. A tableau of Christ's agony in the Garden being lived out in the middle of downtown.

The second mystery, the Scourging at the Pillar found me walking along the dim and filthy street the cuts underneath the railroad tracks. I looked for the men who often sleep on the gravel beside the pavement, but they weren't there at the moment. Jesus's scourging was evidently being carried out elsewhere this morning.

Downtown Newark is a great place to meditate on the Sorrowful mysteries. The Crowning with Thorns... The Carrying of the Cross ... the Crucifixion...

As I finished my rosary with he mystery of Jesus' dying on the cross I began hearing the evangelist's powerful voice again. She was still at the job of preaching the Word, but was now mixing in a few snatches of a cappella singing: "Halleluiah! He has risen!"

You could sense that she was getting near the end of her sermon, but she was still on point: "It's all about resurrection. About new life. Amen? It's all about redemption! Newark can use some redemption this mornin', Amen? Yes, you know that's right, church! Newark can use redemption this morning, and this afternoon and this evening. Amen?

"And redemption can come from only one place. [Now her voice was truly booming for all downtown to hear.] Redemption doesn't come from money -- I don't care how rich you are! It doesn't come from sex either. And it sure doesn't come from doing drugs! No, our redemption comes from only one thing: the blood of the Lamb, halleluiah, that was shed for us on Calvary that Friday afternoon, halleluiah! Nothin' but the blood of the Lamb!"

As I turned the corner onto King Boulevard the echo of the evangelist's voice grew faint. I could just hear her start to lead a spirited hymn of "Halleluiah!"

I walked up the front stairs of the monastery thanking the Lord for her message. Her shouting "Halleluiah!" on Good Friday morning was a great reminder that Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection are all tied together, all part of the one great Paschal mystery. And for her the Paschal Mystery is not speculative theology; it's about facing and overcoming the hardest things in your life, whether you're a street person or a corporate executive. For each one of us, no matter who we are, as she would put it, "This is what it's all about."   

Our 3:00 Good Friday Liturgy was richer and deeper for me that afternoon because I could still hear the passionate preaching of that evangelist. I prayed that I might some day be given even a small piece of her magnificent passion and conviction.

May the Risen Lord bless all of us! Because it's not just Newark that can use a little redemption this morning and this afternoon and this evening. Can I get an "amen" to that?

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