|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!