Taped signs on Saint John's Capuchin Monastery doors read: "USE OTHER ENTRANCE" with a scribbled arrow pointing down the street. I pushed the door and it opened easily, so I went in. After winding around cracked cement and orange cones along a littered hallway, there was another glass door that opened to a well-lit church.
I stepped in and the sick smell of mold struck me so strongly, I raised my hand to my nose. I felt a sense of loss for the great monastic tradition, and whispered, "how depressing."
(photo of 'Christ in the City' statue 31st Street entrance to the Monastery)
I turned to leave but stopped as I faced the altar - the Blessed Sacrament was on the altar. At first I didn't think there was a host in the center of the monstrance so walked closer to get a better look. There it was.
This added revelation gave a whole different meaning to my visit and I knelt in the closest pew to say a few prayers. When I sat back in the pew, I moved a parish bulletin and uncovered a small, plastic, flat box marked 'sterile'. It contained a needle and clear liquid - part of New York City's needle exchange program for addicts. I slid it over and sat next to it. Whoever sat in the pew before me left it there on purpose for someone else. Or, someone forgot it and will need it desperately soon. It felt so hypocritical to judge them, so I sat with the Blessed Sacrament
exposed before me and the addict's needle next to me. It was a strange place to be in the
middle of New York. Yet, It seemed perfectly acceptable.
There was no monk, religious sister, or priest keeping watch. Instead, off to the side, a woman cried at the feet of a St. Francis statue. By the Father Pio shrine, an older man mumbled, touched the statue's black garment three times, and let out a large moan. Then, the man shuffled to the Sacred Heart statue and repeated his actions. In fact, he went to each statue in the church. A young homeless man sat in the last pew. Everything he owned pressed up against his body and he sat upright, eyes fixed on the Blessed Sacrament. He was as still as the saints nestled in their niches.
Many times I've tried to duck into a church for a quick visit and found the doors locked. But here, the doors were open. The people Jesus came to love and serve now kept watch over Him. The God often forgotten because of busy lives is adored by the addict, the broken, the mentally ill, the homeless, and a few of us who just happen to stumble into Their Presence.