My summer assignment as a friar has brought me to the Big Apple, where I first met the Dominican order and discovered a call to the priesthood. The other Sunday evening, I had to run an errand which took me to the west side of Manhattan, near the Hudson River. After I parked the car, I heard music playing and a stream of people coming up from a sloping sidewalk that I didn’t recognize at first. After taking a closer look, I realized that it was a restored area of Hudson River Park. The newly restored walkway brought you underneath the West Side Highway, towering many stories above you, and then out onto a beautiful pier. The weather was perfect and the sun had begun to set, yet still high enough to feel the warmth on your face and to make the river glow.
There was a soul-jazz band playing as part of a “Sunday Sunset” concert series, and people were sitting around the small covered stage. The breeze was blowing right off the crisp small waves of the Hudson. An outdoor cafe was packed with an assortment of young hipsters, families, hardened New Yorkers, and some older folks. Underneath the sea of table umbrellas, you could catch glimpses of people wearing sunglasses and groups of friends sitting around pitchers of beer and sangria and plates of burgers and tacos. Then, as I walked out on the long pier, it seemed from the curve of the bank that you were almost in the middle of the river. As I reached the end and turned around to lean back on the rail, I looked up to a long row of recently built high rise apartment buildings sparkling in their reflection of the setting sun, towering against the blue sky, slowly darkening in the approaching summer night.
I took it all in in what seemed seemed one fell swoop: a perfect mix of what Blessed John Paul II described in his 1995 visit to New York. “This enormous metropolis of New York,” the Pope said, “[is] considered by many to be the zenith of modern civilization and progress, a symbol of America and American life.” Every one of my senses was engaged, and what began as a Sunday evening’s bask in easy living ended up causing me to think: “This is all created by God, and thus it is good, to be sure; but God’s love is greater than any earthly good or pleasure.” As the Psalmist says, “Your love is better than life” (63:3). Don’t get me wrong, the stroll was such a delight, but the deepest desires of man—even when the senses are presented with fantastic offerings—can only be satisfied by the love of God. Nothing compares with the deep interior reality of a full Catholic and sacramental life.
In the 1995 address here in NYC, Blessed John Paul the II went on to ask, right after his description of “the city,” this piercing question, which almost perfectly describes what I was feeling out on the pier:
From the viewpoint of the Kingdom of God we must therefore ask a very basic question: have the people living in this huge metropolis lost sight of the blessings which belong to the poor in spirit? In the midst of the magnificent scientific and technological civilization of which America is proud, and especially here in Queens, in Brooklyn, in New York, is there room for the mystery of God? That mystery which is “revealed to the merest children” (Mt 11:25); the mystery of the Father and the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit; the mystery of divine love which is the source of everything? Is there room for the mystery of love? Is there room for the revelation of life—that transcendent life which Christ brings us at the price of his Cross and through the victory of his Resurrection?
I can answer a resounding “Yes! There is room!” to our beloved late pontiff. This is only because of the presence and indwelling of the Trinity from the grace of the Sacraments. There is no other answer to explain it. My question or, better yet, my hope, is this: “Did anyone else on the pier that evening experience the same thing, the same mystery?” As I walked back to the car I noticed a woman sitting on an electric scooter, slightly crippled, praying what appeared to be a rosary, looking out on the water. I think she got it.
The words of Scripture provide a powerful meditation with which to close:
But as it is written: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,” God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God (1 Cor 2:9–10).