Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Supplemental: Christmas at Home

It was over Thanksgiving and now this visit home at Christmas that I begin to realize how much I dislike the parish and church I attended while growing up. I'm not sure precisely when it was constructed - maybe 1970 - but it's one of those bland modern buildings that feels soulless and cold. Having visited and experienced these 50+ Manhattan churches (old and modern alike) with their beautiful architecture and wonderful sculptures and divine stained glass images and artwork, my old church on these visits home leaves me with such an emptiness inside after attending Mass here. Of course, I attend with my family and this is always a welcome change to my journeys alone in the city; and the priests at my old church often have good things to say; but as I look around in the middle of the service and am greeted with blank beige brick walls, ugly red carpeting, stucco-esque ceilings and two statues buried back in the recesses of the church, I feel deflated and soon enough drab and bland and blank all over.

Is it some kind of vibrancy I've found in these city churches that attracts me so, compared to the bleakness of these other holy houses buried in the suburbs of the rest of the country; or is there something exceptionally bad about the church I grew up with? Or is psychology somehow more involved and I just relate the first 20 years of my life, Catholicism shoved down my throat, with this building, and thus harbor no good will towards it. Soon after I left home, and escaped the bonds of my church's monotony, did I happen to wander into exceptional churches, or were they just "not" my old church?

The little Catholic hogan on the Navajo reservation, with it's scent of burning sage and wood, and the Jesuit priest from Chicago - that was a very special church. But then again, there was St. Joseph's in the middle of the western suburbs of Chicago that I loved - that place was certainly suburbia church bliss at it's finest. The church I found in Africa, where I tried to attend once a month, a lone white man among a family of Indian Catholics - that was certainly a great experience. Finding myself away from home and family I always feel more intensely bonded with the Catholic services that I attend and am sometimes inundated with the desire to return home and experience these feelings with my family at our parish church - but always returning there for holidays or special occasions or months-at-a-time long sabbaticals from my life I can never appreciate any of the good things my church offers, only it's uninspiredness - it's blah factor.

The emptiness of the church decor is sometimes reflected in it's parishioners. And there's such a whiteness about them too. I hate to be an asshole here, but as a friend and I were reflecting on it the other night, the church doesn't offer a single Spanish Mass - and I'm from a city that's more than 30% Hispanic! It's a mystery to me about my church, but I can only think this mystery exists in so many other towns around the country.

My best friend in NYC, who comes from my same hometown, calls the place Krypton, and vows never to return here, minus the occasional funeral he must attend. I, myself, have always tried to think about the best parts this place offers, yet this time around I'm finding it a harder and harder feat to accomplish.

My hometown leaves me feeling this emptiness and I desire to return to the city and my life there to see where it leads me. Surely, the best part of my old town and the only reason I return is my family's presence - I grieve when I am away from them and I am saddened I cannot take them with me.

The Sunday after Christmas we attended a different church in town than we usually do - this one resembling a more traditional, classic church decor - and one I have become familiar with in NYC. I felt more at home here than I ever did in my old church and the priest was quick and brilliant. As it was the Feast of the Holy Family, he drew everyone's attention to a stain glass at the back of the church - Jesus in the temple with Mary and Joseph looking on. He made a point about families and values - meal times together, respect for one another, togetherness, etc. And I stared at it and loved it and got what he was talking about.

As I leave my family in a few days and go back to my life I carry them and all they mean to me with me. I will remember what this priest said, using the Holy Family as my model for what I want to have one day in the future and what I want to become.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

50. Church of Our Saviour (Now the Parish of Our Saviour, Saint Stephen and Our Lady of the Scapular, and the Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary)

NOTE: In 2015 this church merged with two churches: Our Lady of the Scapular & St. Stephen Church and the Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary of St. Stephen as part of the Archdiocese of New York's great closings & mergers of 2015. Only this church and the Sacred Hearts Chapel will remain open for regular Masses and other events. This combined parish is now called the Parish of Our Saviour, Saint Stephen and Our Lady of the Scapular, and the Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. 

(mass times & church info last updated 03/31/2016)
Address: 59 Park Avenue (at 38th St.)
Phone: 212.679.8166
Weekend Mass Times: 
Sat: 5pm (English)
Sun: 9am, 11am (Choral), 5pm (all English)
Weekday Mass Times: 
Mon-Fri: 7:45am, 12:05pm (both English)
Sat: 12:05pm (English)
Sat: 4:30pm-4:55pm
Sun: 10:30am-10:50am
Mon-Fri: 7:10am-7:40am
Fridays after the 7:45am Mass: 8:15am-11:55am
Official Website
About the Organ
Yelp review
Panoramic Photo Viewer (pretty sweet)


For the past three Sundays of Advent, I revisited two of my very favorite churches in the city: St. Paul the Apostle and Ascension.

Finally, having some time after finishing moving and my work slowing down right before the holiday, I was able to go explore a new church. Per Bill's advice in my first entry, I decided to see what the midtown east Church of Our Saviour offered.

It is precisely as he mentioned - small, elegant and beautiful. The Christmas decorations accented the aesthetics wonderfully - and it was nice to gather in here, away from the cold snowy weekend, on this Saturday night before Christmas.

It was kind of a cozy feeling in this church on this cold night - partly because of the warm colors inside the building, but also it's smaller size than a lot of the other midtown churches.

The priest, I assume it was Fr. Rutler who I keep reading about on the web, had an intense and dramatic tone with which he delivered the sermon. I can say his words were very good and very thorough. Sadly, this Saturday night mass did not offer any music, I wonder if the Sunday services are accompanied with any.

I attended this church tonight with my girlfriend. Things have been good with us lately and though all these thoughts race through my head - fears, anxieties, pressures, and of course, a young man's angsty madness - most all of our steps together are steps forward and as time goes on I feel better and better about us.

We recently saw the theatre company Dzieci's performance of Fool's Mass. Has anyone ever seen this? It was an incredible experience. It's a play about how a group of "fools" (village idiot types, idiot savantes, etc.) in the 16th century attempt to carry on with a Mass after they discover the priest has died right before it's about to begin. We kind of wandered into this, not knowing what to expect, worried it would be either offensive to the mentally handicapped or sacrilegious. In my opinion, it was neither. In my opinion, it was a near perfectly done spiritual slapstick exercise - and it had a good point about religion and God and we lowly ones down here on earth in all that we do to honor God. Most of all, however, it was funny. I laughed my ass off and often couldn't stop. I have not laughed this long or this hard in quite some time. I'm not sure if it was my own 30 years of pent-up Catholicity finding some (ir)reverent release, or the sheer cleverness of the actors' buffoonery - but there was some magical mix in their performance and I loved it. When I wasn't laughing out loud or struggling to hold back my laughter during the more solemn moments, there were tears streaming down my face - mostly from the laughter and of joy, but some from the pure sweetness of the message of this very real and brilliant comedy of errors. It was like an enjoyable and poignant comic sermon.

Next Christmastime, if you have the chance to see Fool's Mass - go see it. After enjoying it so much in the company of my girlfriend whose tastes run a bit more conservative than mine, and my married friend who claims he is an atheist, and witnessing them enjoy it as well, I think whatever your tastes and whoever you are, you will most likely enjoy it and get something out of it as well.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Supplemental: Halfway

I have now ventured out and visited over half of the Catholic Churches on this damned and blessed island - though recently not with any sort of intended regularity because of life's distractions.

1) Work.

Attempting to work a lot, save money and climb out of debt as this bad winter of an economic crisis swallows us whole - I hear it will continue for about the next five years. This house of cards we have built up with our debt is falling down upon us, and I am to blame, like so many others, having spent and traveled and drank my own share away. We have all become prodigal sons and daughters. We have done fucked up. I am trying to rectify my own situation, paying it off a penny at a time.

2) Moving.

Nearing the top of my list of 10 hardest things to do in life is finding an apartment in NYC. What a pain in the ass! It combines all the insecurities and self-doubt of job-seeking with all the insecurities and self-loathing of entering into a relationship. Like a job hunt, you don't know if you've got what it takes for them to accept you. And like a relationship, you're looking for that impossible perfect match that you'll most likely never find.

I've only been searching less than a couple weeks, but all the pain and duress that I underwent two years ago finding a place have rushed back upon me. The search should be easy enough: we know what kind of place we want, we know where we want/have to live, and it's currently a renter's market out there. But oh how I forgot the stress one endures on this search! You find something great that you think will work and some other dope comes along and steals it out from under you. Or you find a kind of perfect place that no one else seems interested in and you struggle to figure out what's wrong with it - knowing full well it's only a matter of time (hours after you move in, probably) before you're all too likely to discover the reason.

Twenty-five blocks further north, downsizing a bit, paying a little less, taking on an additional roommate. Isn't life here in this towering institution a little insane? I'm 30 years old and I need roommates to survive! Doesn't adulthood suggest one be living and sustaining life on their own or at least with a spouse? And here I am in a three bedroom, two roommates, paying a fortune (considering,) don't own a car, certainly don't own an apartment or a house, live far from my family, looking for a job that suits me better than the one I currently have, and filled with so much doubt - wondering if this is the life I am supposed to be living.

3) Women.

I don't even know how to describe what's going on in the relationship I find myself in. We've been arguing - about what I've no idea. I can't tell if we go well together or if we're just trying to tell ourselves that we do.

She can be sweet and good and wonderful but then there is this other side that conflicts with the very basics of my human getup. She seems to lack a kind of passion that my soul screams a necessity. I don't know for sure if she is hoping in the future one day to build a life together, or is simply going about planning her life and allowing me to be a part of it.

Will this year be just another Christmas gift exchange with another beautiful face I will not go on to live my life with?