Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Testing Belief In The Incarnation


Restored Saint Patrick's Cathedral, New York City


Incarnation is the essential Christian teaching that in Jesus Christ, God has became one of us. Jesus is the God-Man. And as a man Jesus grew hungry, thirsty, sweaty, tired - even fed-up at times. We know he bled like us too. Of course Incarnation then means Jesus would have needed a bathroom like every other person on this planet. That's why I think the test of whether a parish really "gets" the Incarnation is whether or not there are bathrooms available for those who show up. My sense: Catholics are not especially good at this.

I've often tested my theory, even in other countries, but one time stands out most pointedly. While visiting the fine Catholic cathedral in St. Augustine, Florida, of necessity I discovered that the bathroom in the vestibule was locked with a sign that read: ONLY OPEN DURING CHURCH SERVICES. But on the other side of the same vestibule there was a gift shop doing a brisk business. 

Directly across the street is the Anglican Church where I knew I'd find an accessible bathroom. I've long believed that Episcopalians understand the Incarnation better than Catholics. Indeed as one enters the side door of that church, the parish offices are found just off to the right. And so I went in and the cheerful lady at the desk directed me at once to an immaculately clean bathroom, well stocked with the necessary paper and soap. 

Centuries ago a bible-copying medieval monk painted a small angel on the margin of St. Luke's gospel-telling of the Christmas story: the little angel zooming in with an open and clean diaper for the Infant Jesus! And at Bryant Park in New York City, there is a very fine, stone, public bathroom: clean, clean, clean and well stocked. An ever present and busy janitor keeps things in perfect order. There's even a magnificent bouquet of flowers as one enters the door. No requirements - no conditions: "Are you visiting the park?" "That'll be fifty cents, please." "May I see your Bryant Park Membership Card."

Bryant Park Public Bathroom

It's recently cost nearly 180 million dollars to restore St. Patrick's Cathedral inside and out. I don't object: Saint Patrick's Cathedral should be a grand, beautiful and safe place. But the cathedral has no public bathrooms. The sacristies of course have bathrooms for the clergy, but the rest of humanity has to hold it, or, (and this is sad), according to the sign I've seen posted by the cathedral's front door, "Go across the street..." 

But a Christian church should be a place where people can find some physical comfort, because God became human and that God-Man needed a bathroom, as humans do. We could add this to the Works of Mercy found in Matthew 25: "When I needed a bathroom, you supplied one."  And Saint Patrick's could be a model for these things.

If St. Peter's in Rome can figure out a way to provide showers, beds and haircuts for the poor - and Bryant Park can pull off an efficient public bathroom - then St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City can too. It's just about having the will to do it. The money garnered from the cathedral's numerous candle racks would amply pay for the paper, soap, janitor salary and cleaning supplies. "Where there's a will, there's a way." 

When asked about this, someone on the cathedral staff responded: "The cathedral has never supplied public bathrooms." Holy good God, my Irish father would have said ~ what an answer!

Bottom line: God didn't become an angel; God became a human. And that means the things of religion (at least our religion) can sometimes be inconvenient, messy, tedious, demanding and inglorious. There's really no getting around this - no wiggle room.



The flowers say: Welcome! Only your comfort!

21 comments:

  1. Danielle RodriguezOctober 20, 2015 at 9:30 AM

    I share your sentiments about wishing the Catholic Church being more welcoming and friendly. We talk of the Protestants who have community gatherings after Sunday Worship and who sing lively hymns in unity and who bring their congregations together for pot luck suppers. This is all nice. I hold on to the fact that my Catholic Faith is not just about the Church as an entity, but as being a witness to what Christ taught us. If I dwell on all that is lacking, I would give up my faith all together

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    1. I spent a week in a mountain monastery and asked the monks what I should leave (Ithinking money) "We ask for nothing," the monk replied. "But what would you like?" I answered, thinking he'd have a fixed price for my visit. "Only your comfort," he said. THAT'S CATHOLIC!

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  2. I never really thought about the true meaning of Incarnation. Yes, it means to become flesh. But this shows us the intention of the word. Simplified for our understanding. These are the things we should be taught as children. Religion would make much more sense.

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    1. "Keep it simple" AA says. Religion has a lot to learn.

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  3. What do you think Jesus would do if he came to us as a man today? What would he say about what our Church has become?

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    1. What would Jesus say? He'd say, "You haven't read my gospel in a long time, have you?"

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  4. Only you would think of this! It's amazing how sterile we've become. Sadly I remember sending the neighbor kids home to their own bathrooms! Ugh! Mea copa!

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    1. Hmmmm. Well, you've clearly got the point I was making, so I"ll add nothing.

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  5. You said it all when you wrote that it all comes down to having the will to do it. Willingness to be kind. Willingness to forego tradition. Willingness to be slightly inconvenienced. Willingness to accept the demands that life brings to us and others. Willingness to accept others in their imperfectness. Jesus became human to show us how it can be done. I am as guilty in my unwillingness as the next person. I pray for changes of heart and a willingness to make some small difference.

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  6. My read for the train ride home and so often this brings me peace and pondering. But now I am trying to decipher your text. Are you saying that because Jesus came to us as baby needing a diaper change, that the Catholic Church should also offer bathrooms? That allowing a person to take care of their bodily needs comes before their spiritual needs?

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    1. Am I saying that the Catholic Church should offer bathrooms because God came to us as human and needed a bathroom. Precisely. That allowing a person to take care of their bodily needs comes before their spiritual needs? You see, we've got this split or dichotomy thing going on: bodily vs spiritual. Jesus breaks down those separating - compartmentalizing distinctions. It isn't human over here and spiritual over there. "Spiritual" is everywhere. Offering someone the comfort of a bathroom IS SPIRITUAL. God becoming human - everything is different now. And so the test questions for our judgement day are deeply human questions: "Did you feed people? Did you take away someone's thirst? Did you clothe people? Did you visit the sick and the imprisoned? Did you shelter people?" He doesn't ask questions about temple/church, angels, prayers - not that those things don't matter - but the place of our transformation, our growing up, our sharing in the divine energies is in our human experience. I mean, he shares his very self in ordinary human food.

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    2. This is a wonderful response. I wish it had been in the original post. I never thought of the decompartmentalizing of bodily and spiritual needs so this is a whole eye opener for me.

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    3. Amen to that! People will see your question and my response - lots of folks check out the comments that follow. Thanks for raising the question. Sometimes people just grumble when they don't understand, but you asked!

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  7. I can't even believe that St. Patrick's in NYC doesn't have bathroom facilities. There are thousands of people a day that pass through for Mass and as tourists. Have you ever been there at Christmas? So much for a welcome. Light a candle and go outside if you need a bathroom. Pitiful.

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  8. Don't give up. It will take a while for us to get the balance. Then we'll start again to renounce the pride of that balance. I guess it's just a cycle until we renounce it all and truly know God is and I'm not.

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  9. We admire the Incarnation instead of pondering it deeply enough to change us. A clean bathroom could do more to get someone's attention than all the sermons from the pulpits. In the film Brother Son, Sister Moon: St. Francis is repairing the broken church of San Damiano. He is barefoot in the snow. Bernardo, his old fancy friend, has come out to see what's going on. We watches Francis and the sees the castoffs he's collected around him. Checking out that Francis is not "crazy" he then says, "I want to help." Francis answers, "Words, words, Bernardo - there was at time I believed in words."

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  10. We admire the Incarnation instead of pondering it deeply enough to change us. A clean bathroom could do more to get someone's attention than all the sermons from the pulpits. In the film Brother Son, Sister Moon: St. Francis is repairing the broken church of San Damiano. He is barefoot in the snow. Bernardo, his old fancy friend, has come out to see what's going on. We watches Francis and the sees the castoffs he's collected around him. Checking out that Francis is not "crazy" he then says, "I want to help." Francis answers, "Words, words, Bernardo - there was at time I believed in words."

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  11. Honestly, I often think about where we might find a bathroom when traveling in cities here and abroad. We gravitate towards hotel lobbies, fast food restaurants, department stores and even public libraries. But never once did I think of looking in a church for this provision of comfort. Sad isn't it that the church doesn't call out, "Come in and visit for awhile? All your needs can be met here."

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  12. What has happened to you Father? Are you leading a revolt against the Church? You certainly have an opinion on things here and I am concerned about you.

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    1. One doesn't have to be a pope or a bishop or a theologian to call the Church to its best Gospel self. What are you afraid of? There's no revolt here - that's fear talking. What you call an "opinion" as if that's immoral or sinful or heretical or demented or whatever - I'd call (perhaps) an insight. A gleaning from the reality of Incarnation. Revolt would be if I said there is no Incarnation. Revolt would be: Tear down St. Patrick's and give the money away. And I"ll not continue a conversation with you unless you come out of the shadows. "Anonymous" can be immature.

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