FROM THE PASTOR
November 9, 2014
by Fr. George W. Rutler
The proposed realignment of parishes is complete for now. The most recent segment of the process called “Making All Things New” was extensive and even draconian, and representatives of our parish participated in it faithfully and patiently. Their work has borne good fruit. Contrary to some recommendations, both churches for which I am responsible, St. Michael’s and Holy Innocents, will remain open.
A parish is a “juridical person” that cannot close, but may be merged. Holy Innocents remains as is for the foreseeable future. St. Michael’s is in the unique position of being amidst the most extensive development of commercial and residential properties in the history of our nation. Along with the astronomical rise in the value of the area’s real estate are the increasing numbers of residents and commuters, with improved access to public transportation via a new subway stop that is to open nearby. These are considerable matters in configuring the future of our Catholic witness.
The Church of St Michael was established in 1857 near the current site of the Pennsylvania Station and was moved to our present location fifty years later, preserving much of the church’s art and stonework. Our present situation is being “monitored” to determine if another relocation into the heart of the Hudson Yards development will be prudent some years from now. While there may be nostalgic connections to buildings, nostalgia is not holy tradition, for the latter is the dynamic transmission of unchanging Faith.
In any battle, sometimes a battalion holds its ground, and sometimes it makes a strategic move. How that works for us has yet to be determined. A parish is not a family heirloom, but a military base. We are engaged in a spiritual battle in our culture, greater than any physical struggle, for we are engaged against “principalities and powers” not of this world. It is not an exaggeration to say that the fate of the city depends far less on improved schools and transportation and health and social welfare, than it does on bringing the life of Christ to a culture that is spiritually traumatized.
The number of people in New York City who currently identify themselves as Catholic is about the same as it was seventy years ago. Yet back then, weekly Mass attendance in the city was over 70%, and now it is about 12%. Most of the decline occurred in the conflicted time immediately following the Second Vatican Council. In recent years, the decline in attendance has leveled off, but the numbers have yet to increase. If all Catholics were serious about their response to Christ’s call, there would be no redundant churches.
The first stage in spiritual health is to have a good examination of conscience, just like a physical examination. When the doctor says your body mass has to be improved, you trim down, exercise and eat well. Spiritual fitness is the same: we need to slim down what drags us down, worship and be nurtured by the Sacraments. Then comes the new strength.
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