Saturday, September 26, 2015

City Life

At Madison Square Garden in Manhattan last night, fresh from his visit to Our lady of Angels in East Harlem and his triumphal procession through Central Park, Pope Francis celebrated his only public Mass in New York. During his homily, he spoke about city life - a fitting topic for a day in the great city, especially for someone who grew up and eventually served as Bishop of Buenos Aires, one of South America's greatest cities. Like my family and like so many other families through all of history, Jorge Bergoglio's family found a home and a life in a big city. Since time immemorial, people have flocked to cities for the fuller human life which cities uniquely make possible.

Big cities, Poe Francis told his Madison Square Garden congregation, "are a reminder of the hidden riches present in our world: in the diversity of its cultures, traditions and historical experiences. In the variety of its languages, costumes and cuisine. Big cities bring together  all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life, wherever we may be."

Of course, along with increased opportunities for human fulfillment, there are always the challenges to realize those opportunities despite the deprivations of inequality. In big cities, the Pope warned, " so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no 'right' to be there, no right to be part of the city. They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly. These people stand at the edges of our great avenues,in our streets, in deafening anonymity. they become part of an urban landscape which is more and more taken for granted, in our eyes, and especially in our hearts."

The solution to this deformation of city life is, of course, the common solution to all our deformations. "Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope. A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city." 

City life naturally predisposes us to community. Hence, the social (as well as environmental) damage done to human life in the 20th century by the automobile and the consequent suburbanization of our nation. 

The human city is the natural analogue of heavenly city of Revelation. We are being prepared here and now for the fullness of life in that heavenly city by how we experience and respond to the opportunities and challenges of living and connecting with one another here and now in the human city.

Today, Pope Francis moves on from New York to another classic American city, Philadelphia, the city which played such a significant role in the initial realization of the American dream - and such a significant role in the early life and mission of the Church in this country.

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