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Steps from Central Park, a church where everyone can find a home


Bella P | CC

David Mills - published on 01/17/18

The world needs the singular spiritual refuge that our sacred spaces offer.

Praying to St. Ann for a very, very sick friend, I choked when I got to the line “obtain for her the grace of a good death.” Her death is no longer only a distant possibility. But I felt some comfort in being able to ask Our Lady’s mother for her help at her shrine.

St. Ann Chapel at St. Paul’s, NYC-supplied
Church of St. Paul the Apostle/Supplied

St Ann Chapel, Church of St. Paul the Apostle, NYC

I’d misplaced the subway stop and found myself walking by an old big church. I had a few free hours while in New York City for a meeting. It was the Paulist Fathers’ church, the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, just south of the southwest corner of Central Park.

Spending five minutes with St. Ann made me feel a little Julian of Norwichy. All shall be well, and this too shall be well. Even her death would be well.

Everyone finds his home

St. Paul’s altar sits on a raised chancel, and behind it stands a large ornate baldachino holding the brightly lit Tabernacle. You can see the Tabernacle from any place in the church. I first spent some time sitting on a pew behind the chancel facing Jesus. I didn’t really pray much. It was just good to be there.

Church of St. Paul the Apostle/Supplied

High Altar, Church of St. Paul the Apostle, NYC

Behind me I could hear a low gabble, which I recognized as the Rosary from the rhythm. As I walked back and passed the women praying, I saw that the leader was an older woman in a beret, speaking in a thick, lovely lilting accent, I think Polish. She smiled at me. A friend who used to go to that church on his lunch hour told me he thought he knew her. Bless her, she’s another sign of God’s continuous presence.

Annunciation Altar by Bella P-cc
Supplied/Bella P-cc
Annunciation Altar, Church of St. Paul the Apostle, NYC

I circled the church. At about half the altars and shrines, someone was praying, and at almost all people had lit candles. Here everyone can find his place. For reasons I can’t tell you I chose St. Ann’s shrine to pray for my friend and bought a candle in the shop in the back (no honor system in New York City). I walked back to the shrine, lit the candle, prayed, choked up, yet felt comforted. As I walked out into the rain, I found that I’d been there an hour.

Only churches let you feel God’s presence this way, with Jesus giving Himself to us in the Tabernacle, and His Mother and St. Joseph and all the saints and the angels gathered round. In this church, the size of the shrines and the sense of spaciousness, and the brightly lit Tabernacle at the end, help you feel it. But smaller, simpler churches offer this too.

It’s something the world needs. It’s something I needed.

She was so wasted

After leaving, I stopped at the Starbucks a block away to write a couple of people I needed to write. At the table next to me, and in Manhattan “next” means intimately close, a very pretty young woman, looking about 22, with long wavy pre-Raphaelite brown hair, was talking to a friend in what I think was an eastern European language. She spoke English answering a call.

She spoke with her hand over her phone and mouth, but at least half the place could hear her. She’d gone shopping, she said, and met two girls and the guy who was with them. She said it as if his company were the cost she paid for the girls’ company. They went back to her apartment and drank and watched Family Guy and South Park. “We were so wasted,” she said, and laughed. She laughed almost every time she bragged of being so drunk.

“There were two girls in my bed, but nothing happened because we were so wasted.” She described one girl with disgust as “very ugly” and said of the other in an oddly judicious voice that she “wasn’t pretty.” More was said about being wasted.

I thought of St. Paul’s and the peace I’d felt inside the church. I’m not saying that this girl would like the church, with all those altars and shrines. She speaks as if for her there is no value higher than having a good time, which involves being uncontrollably drunk. Hers isn’t a good way to live, but she won’t see that until it’s too late. She needs to find God, but I suspect she would find any talk of God and the Church foreign and offensive.

Some Catholic must know her and care for her. And that Catholic is going to need rest and refreshment, of the sort St. Paul’s offers. There it has something to do with the age, the size, but especially with the beauty, the multiplication of shrines and the people praying at them, the well-lit Tabernacle. And the Polish lady leading the Rosary. But mostly with the fact that Jesus waits there for us with His Mother, and His Mother’s mother, too.

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