Asking the Right Question – Pastor’s Reflection (July 16, 2017)
Last weekend favored me with a free Saturday. As is usual with me, I took the windfall in the form of a long walk. After aiming myself downtown in a general way, I settled on a goal and I picked up Broadway at Times Square with the determination to follow it all the way to Trinity Church at the corner of Broadway and Wall Street. As I made my way south, the sun lit a vibrant succession of neighborhoods. Broadway preserves much commercial architecture of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. How great that our forbears’ legacy of fine facades has been claimed by the young who live and work in the spacious interiors behind them.
Trinity Church stands at the confluence of historical significance and present finance. On this Saturday lots of tourists flocked to this spot, so well placed on the way to the Stock Exchange, Ground Zero and the Battery. The doors were wide open and people streamed in and out. No doubt a similar scene played itself out many blocks north at St. Patrick’s, and another many blocks further north at St. John the Divine. Just like the two cathedrals, Trinity was prepared to welcome its constant procession of visitors. I infer from my experience that part of their mission is to have doors open to the city. This edifies me deeply, and I regard it as essential to our own mission as a parish.
I value as priceless the position of our two churches at crossroads in the life of the city. (By the way, Trinity also has two fine contiguous churches, Trinity Church itself and St. Paul’s Chapel. Both stand on Broadway, and each played a role in 9/11 and its aftermath.) The evangelical potential of our places of worship offers great promise. Our (My) hope is that if you come and admire the beauty, savor the quiet, and feel the welcome, you might want to find out about the faith behind it all. So we are asking our buildings not just to accommodate and affirm the regulars, but also to preach to the wider world through a range of artistic media, synthesized to welcome, orchestrated to elevate the mind and heart.
But for many of the unchurched in church, it never goes beyond beautiful and interesting. Others may leave with a deeper respect for the cultural heritage and social outreach of the Church. At the deepest level though it is God’s initiative that imparts faith, and our most vibrant acres of stained glass only provide a meeting ground between the human soul and the One who loved it into being and wants to love it into His heaven.
Here I am challenged by my own reflections, because I wonder if churches still preach to me. How did I visit Trinity? Honestly, I showed up as a professional. Even on a Saturday jaunt I was asking clergy questions. How was the altar placed and vested? How was the sanctuary arranged? How were pamphlets displayed? How effective was the lighting? Put simply, I evaluated it. I did not allow it to speak to me and so ended up as an ecclesiastical tourist.
This did not make my experience bad; it was very informative and profitable; at the same time, I think that I limited the potential of the moment. I think I blow it when I put on the lens of preference. When I ask myself if I like a building, a painting, a mode of dress, a play, or a sermon, I make my comfort the measure. A very human reaction! At the same time, what speaks to me most deeply may be that which makes me uncomfortable. Here lies the ground of prophecy by which God challenges complacency, arrogance and prejudice. Here too is the place where God exposes fear in the soul, so as to overcome it.
My sense is that the “narrow way” to the power of an experience, whether visiting a church or hearing a sermon, or cooking dinner lies in the quest for understanding. When I attain this path I ask different questions. “What did they intend?” What does this signify?” “How did this come into being?” These open me to learning, to surprise, and to change.
The vast majority of the interesting and beautiful buildings I passed on Broadway no longer serve their original purpose. They are attractive fronts for something else. But not Trinity, it stands as the visible expression of the community that built and has used it continually since 1846. (It is the third building so to serve the community of the Parish since 1697.) I owed it my amazement rather than the evaluation I gave it.
I wonder how the quest for understanding could deepen much more of life than visiting churches? How much potential have we lost by settling for likes and dislikes?
Please welcome Fr. Martin Farrell, O.P. Fr. Martin is a Friar of our Canadian Province. He will be living at St. Catherine’s. He will assist in the hospital ministry and also say Mass in both of churches.
Please welcome Fr. Luke Hoyt, O.P. Fr. Luke is newly ordained and will be helping us in the hospital and the parish, so that the regulars can get some time off. We are so blessed not only to have their help but their fresh perspective and their devotion to their calling.