I spent most of my short New York City time downtown, and as I happened upon a Catholic church, would check the doors, hoping for a look inside. Most of the time I was unsuccessful, for the doors were locked.
Yes, I understand security issues, and they are real. But still, isn’t it sad to come across locked Catholic churches?
Well, one one of my forays uptown, I came across an open church, at last – the Church of Our Saviour, more widely known as “Fr. Rutler’s church.” It was interesting to go in and look around – the church is smaller than I had expected, and quite lovely, which was not unexpected. There were perhaps six people praying inside at the time – about 3 on a Thursday afternoon – two people were tending to the candles, and the doors were wide, wide open onto Park Avenue.
(I took photos but they are awful, blurry and useless. So I won’t burden this space with them.)
Yesterday morning I was taking one more stroll around the Lower East Side where I was staying and which totally won me over, by the way, and got to St. Mary’s on Grand which let you know what it was all about loud and clear:
St. Mary’s also had a small religious goods store, open on a Friday morning (again unusual – most in suburban parishes would only be open after Sunday Mass). An older woman and a younger man (son, maybe) were crowded in there, looking at rosaries and such, chatting, when the younger man knocked over a display. “Muchacho de Dios!” the woman exclaimed, an expression I fully plan to appropriate and regularly exclaim myself.
But anyway. How often is a parish that blathers on the most about “hospitality” also one that is locked up tight during the week?
Here’s the real Catholic “ministry of hospitality” at work: an open church, decorated in a way that renders the Church, past and present, militant and triumphant, present – in the images of saints, in telling stories – in a way that you can just walk in and be in the midst of it, even in a small way if that’s all that can be managed – the crucifix, the Mary and Joseph statues, the Ways of the Cross, a statue of the of the parish’s patron, and some candles and the holy water, of course. All there in the Real Presence of Christ. Welcoming. If that’s all there can be, so be it. But it’s a start – to hospitality – that is, welcoming whoever walks in into the Church.
And you add to that some reading material – missalettes or whatever the parish uses, an explanation of the church’s interior, some pamphlets, contact information, a pile of rosaries.
The disdain for this kind of fundamental, traditional “ministry of hospitality,” I think, can be ideological, and comes from people who are not so much concerned about safety and security but who want people to move beyond the physicality and concreteness and who lock up churches for the same reason they hide the Blessed Sacrament – because they want you to be all focused on the Sunday Gathering where the Spirit Moves and not get all fixated on God in a Box or Mystery on the Cheap.
Eh. Here’s what I saw at Our Saviour.
Most of the people scattered in the pews were praying – some, from their physical posture – rather intensely.
(And there’s another value of the open church – you go in, you see someone obviously praying deeply, perhaps suffering, and you’re reminded that it’s not all about you, and you’re moved, in the presence of the saints and the Lord, to pray for someone else besides yourself. Hospitality.)
But then one woman drifted in, and just sat there, looking around. Interested. Curious.
She picked up a missalette, riffed the pages rather quickly, then turned back to the beginning of the book and began again, turning the pages more slowly. Then she turned back to the beginning again and started reading, glancing up at the images around her, at the others praying as she read.
Who knows why or what will happen. Only God, and that’s okay. All I know is that the Church did its part.
Because..well, um, please join me in singing: all are welcome here!
(I did happen upon one more open church – several doors wide open – Transfiguration – but it was surrounded by a fence, and I couldn’t figure out how to get in. I’m sure there was a way, but I couldn’t see it, and I needed to get back across to Manhattan. This was on my brief adventure in Williamsburg, about which I will write more later…)