Our Holy Father offered Holy Mass this past Friday practically next door in Madison Square Garden. Next Thursday, October 1, one of our parishioners, John Wilson, will be ordained to the diaconate in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome along with forty others. He will be the only New Yorker among them and, while I shall not be there, Cardinal Dolan will be the ordaining prelate. We look forward, God willing, to John’s priestly ordination next May and his first Mass here at St. Michael’s.
I have been blessed to assist a long line of candidates for Holy Orders and am grateful that the abundance of priestly vocations is now evident here at St. Michael’s, which has had a venerable history of producing young priests, for many years in abeyance but flourishing again. Also, this week we celebrate our patronal feast with a Triduum beginning Sunday evening and culminating on the Tuesday feast, assisted by a large number of Haitians who customarily fill our large church in veneration of the patron of their native land.
All this is taking place in what has long been called Hell’s Kitchen. It is riveting to think that the Successor of Peter has been in Hell’s Kitchen, and that young men here are now taking up the call to spiritual combat in this time of severe cultural confusion and threats to the Holy Church in many manifestations, civil and moral.
Perhaps it was a singular inspiration in 1857 that chose Saint Michael the Archangel as our patron. Who better to cast out evil? Against all those who mock and disparage the Faith of the Saints, he wields a mighty sword—much like the one convincingly depicted on our statue of him in the church, and also in the painting over the chimneypiece of the rectory dining room.
Quis ut Deus? That is the Latin for Michael, which in Hebrew means, “Who is (like) God?” The answer is no one or no thing: no civil executive, or judge, or congressman is like God. And no one can change the truth of God, try as they sometimes might.
Now that Hell’s Kitchen is becoming the most valuable real estate development in our nation’s history, it risks falling prey to the temptations of affluence, which could be worse than the old afflictions of crime and vice born of poverty.
I am glad there has been strong resistance among merchants and residents to “gentrifying” Hell’s Kitchen by renaming it Clinton. Even if the eponym were the noble Governor DeWitt Clinton, whose picture used to be on the $1,000 bill, since replaced by Salmon P. Chase (not that I have ever seen one in our Sunday collection), it is better that we enjoy the old name, since in spiritual combat it means that we are on the front line, like Octavian’s Actium or Wellington’s Waterloo.
Rev. George Rutler is the pastor at St. Michael's Roman Catholic parish in New York City.
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