‘He was a seeker.” It was Thursday morning at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the feast day of St. Andrew, the Apostle. At the 7 a.m. Mass, Cardinal Timothy Dolan was preaching about how, once Andrew encountered Jesus, he knew had found what he was looking for and had to bring others to Him. And so he did. He brought his brother Peter, and the rest is what is known as salvation history.
Fast-forward a few hours. I had popped into a church on Park Avenue, on my way to a lunch meeting. A man with a bright smile saw me, made eye contact, and reached out his hand. “Remember me, Timmy?” I did, of course. He was always warm and gracious and always asked whether I might have some money or food to spare. I instantly realized I had no cash and no food on me. And I was, I confess, preoccupied with getting to that meeting. It was not Timmy who was in need but me.
“I’m finally baptized!” He clearly wanted all the world to know. He said he was turning his life around, and he was overflowing with gratitude. There was a peace about him. His smile through his broken teeth communicated more about love than do so many words and so much of our culture. He even wanted to buy me coffee but then remembered that he was going to Mass and an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting afterward. He told me how the people there helped him get to the point of Baptism: to get cleaned up and healthy. And now radiant.
The night Matt Lauer was losing his job, I was in the Mary chapel, behind the main altar at St. Patrick’s, across the street from the studios of The Today Show. After the 5:30 p.m. Mass there were devotions: the Rosary and Benediction — about 20 minutes of people on their knees, worshiping God. As soon as the prayers were concluded, practice for the tree-lighting at Rockefeller Center could suddenly be heard even in the cathedral, as “All I Want for Christmas Is You” blared up and down Fifth Avenue and into the inner reaches of the St. Patrick’s. It was just hours before the news about Lauer, who usually is on hand to host the lighting — he served in that role at the Thanksgiving Day parade the week before — would be splashed across headlines. The timing seemed to be begging us to listen to the message of Advent, about the renewed coming of God to the world. Maybe we can take a break from keeping up with every commentary — and tweet — for a few weeks leading up to Christmas and give time for the kind of peace and joy Timmy’s discovered in faith.
On Saint Andrew’s Day, prayers included Saint John Chrysostom’s words about the apostle: “After Andrew had stayed with Jesus and had learned much from him, he did not keep this treasure to himself, but hastened to share it with his brother. Notice what Andrew said to him: We have found the Messiah, that is to say, the Christ. . . . Andrew’s words reveal a soul waiting with the utmost longing for the coming of the Messiah, looking forward to his appearing from heaven, rejoicing when he does appear, and hastening to announce so great an event to others. To support one another in the things of the spirit is the true sign of good will between brothers, of loving kinship and sincere affection. ‘He brought his brother to the very source of light, and Peter was so joyful and eager that he would not delay even for a moment.’”
Timmy was very much like Andrew that day, wanting me to see the greatest gifts: a renewal, a change in life. Redemption. Faith. Hope. Love.
Lunch on Saint Andrew’s Day was with an archbishop from Iraq. At one point he spoke of “the blessings of persecution.” They include a unity among the people and a brotherliness among the bishops, whereas in easier times there might have been distractions. I should have invited Timmy to lunch because that’s exactly what he’s made himself about, the choice for unity and brotherliness.
On social media, especially, there’s been some glee, some of it emanating from high places, about Lauer’s termination. A healthier response might be a little sadness about all the mire of scandal and the pain involved — a little humility about our own sins, and a desire to be proclaiming what is most important, from the street corner, in beautiful ways, as Timmy did. This is a time of year when you see “joy” in every kind of advertisement. It could become an opportunity for us to be advertisements for it — to be encounters with it for people we meet. Don’t worry so much about the Christmas letter and gifts. Find and bring joy.