In 2016, Pope Francis selected 100 priests in the US to be Papal Missionaries of Mercy. Their mission was to travel to Catholic churches all over the country and spend three nights spreading the Gospel. This year, Father Jim Sichko [sitch-co] from the Diocese of Lexington, KY was assigned to our parish in Overland Park. His “60 minutes for Jesus” sessions lasted from January 29-31. During these hour-long sessions, he stood on the altar making us laugh, sharing real life experiences and giving us lessons to take with us into the Lenten season, which starts February 14.
From the moment you hear him speak, you can tell he has a performance background. His dynamic presence and commanding voice made him captivating and entertaining to listen to and watch. Each night, he filled our church, and I’m not using that word lightly. Our parking lot overflowed and by the second night, they had to put up a projector screen in the lower level so excess crowds would have a place to sit. I was thrilled so many came to hear him, and I hoped they all took away something from his sessions like I did.
Each session highlighted different topics. He told us new stories and sprinkled in new words of wisdom in the three hours he had with us. At the start of each night, he instructed us to stand and sing “All Creatures of Our God & King”. This older hymn is known for its resounding Alleluia chorus. All three nights, he challenged us to sing out as loud as we could. After the final chorus ended, he would dive into a series of stories and lessons. Since each night was different, let’s go through each one.
First Night: January 29, 2018
He taught us the three steps for being kind. Kindness, he explained, is a simple concept that alludes many in our society. As someone who needs to be more positive, I needed to hear this. He told us it costs nothing to be kind, and by being kind we’ll receive so much in return because kindness can lead to evangelization. Most people believe evangelization is the equivalent of shoving Jesus down people’s throats, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Being kind to everyone is the first step to living a more positive, fulfilled and faith-centered life. After all, we’re all enduring some kind of cross, but the cross isn’t the end and we don’t have to let it damage our life or the lives of others.
3 Steps for Being Kind: Stop being jerks and passing your messiness onto others; stop gossiping and learn to control your tongue; and always give others the benefit of the doubt.
Second Night: January 30, 2018
After singing the same hymn as loud as we could, Fr. Jim taught us several important lessons like taking risks and trusting that God has our back. He told us that we are guaranteed to fall sometimes, and we need to trust that God is there for us when we do. We also need to do what he asks of us, even if it’s scary. By trusting him fully and giving openly without fear, we will be rewarded twice over. While there were no concrete steps given like nights one and three, Fr. Jim told us two real life experiences that demonstrated the ultimate power of trusting, giving openly and receiving.
The $5,000: Fr. Jim visited a church in Louisiana and found out they were selling $75 tickets. He was outraged and was told they planned on using his mission as their fundraiser to raise $5K for a Mary garden. Fr. Jim took out his checkbook on the spot and wrote them a check for that amount. A couple days later, he took his mom out to lunch at a casino. He put a dollar in one of the machines and won back the $5K. Soon after that, his friend’s 19-year-old son was killed in the crossfire of a gang fight. Upon hearing the news, Fr. Jim called his other friend who ran a funeral home and asked if he would plan the entire funeral for $5,000. His friend agreed.
The boy with terminal cancer: Whenever Fr. Jim receives a donation toward his mission, he contacts the sender to express his gratitude. Upon leaving one parish, he decided to text the couple who wrote him a $1,000 check that had their cell number included. He thanked them and said he was headed to Pittsburgh, PA. He received an immediate response saying they were also in Pittsburgh to visit their nephew, Russell, who had terminal cancer. Fr. Jim knew right away that he needed to visit Russell. He found out the hospital and sped all the way there, so he could make it back in time for his mission that night. He was soon pulled over by a new cop who did everything by the book. The cop asked why he’d been speeding. He explained he was headed to visit a boy named Russell with terminal cancer. When the officer asked him to repeat the information again, he then informed him that Russell was his younger brother. He then gave Fr. Jim a police escort. When Fr. Jim arrived, he discovered that Russell hadn’t received any of the sacraments. During that visit, he was baptized, received the Eucharist, gave his confession, was confirmed and received anointing of the sick. A few weeks later, Fr. Jim returned to do his funeral.
Third Night: January 31, 2018
“All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and let us sing …” 🎼 I’m sure we all had this hymn memorized by the third run. Fr. Jim then reminded us that we’re all spiritually-dry people and only Jesus can quench our thirst. Therefore, by giving God 100% of our effort, we will never be thirsty. The essential lesson he wanted us to walk away with that last night was the six steps to follow the Holy Spirit’s call. We all know following the Holy Spirit can be difficult, especially when we’re persecuted for our faith, but that’s where trusting God comes into play. When we take risks and encounter Jesus, it changes everything, as we’ve seen countless times in the Gospel (i.e. the blind see, the lame walk, the dead are risen, etc.)
6 Steps to Follow the Holy Spirit: (1) Be rooted in Jesus Christ; (2) Show gratitude always by giving thanks to God; (3) Keep the vision/ “eye on the prize” and communicate that vision (Jesus) no matter what; (4) Remember that small things matter to Jesus like acts of kindness; (5) Be willing to do difficult things (remember his crucifixion); (6) Attract followers, but do not depend on them or their approval.
God bless Father Jim Sichko and his beautiful mission. I’m grateful that he spent those three hours giving us tough love, life lessons and memorable testimonies that showed us the power of being kind, taking risks and openly giving God 100% of our effort. 💜