A Friar In New York

By Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Meet Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Fr. Steven Patti was born in Boston and grew up in nearby Burlington, MA. He joined the friars in 1994 after having served for a year as a volunteer at St. Francis Inn, a soup kitchen in Philadelphia staffed by Franciscan Friars. He was ordained in 2001 and has served in Wilmington, DE; Durham NC (at Immaculate Conception); Providence RI; and at the St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia.

Steve is a fan of all the Boston sports teams. He is an avid reader of fiction, history, poetry, and spirituality/theology, and also likes to go to the movies, and to visit art museums. When he gets the chance, he loves to hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with family and friends, and to spend time at his family’s lake house near the New Hampshire/Maine border.

A Week of Covid

July 11, 2022

Could I have thought one week ago today that here, seven days after beginning a period of Covid isolation, that I would still be here within these four walls? I did not think that! I’d have thought I’d have been sprung from my quarantine, able to go outside (thought it’s currently 95 degrees here, who wants to go outside?), able to be out and walking in the city. But here I am at the same desk, preparing myself for more days inside, more reading, writing, watching, listening. So what’s it been like? It has not been awful. There are worse things. I could go outside if I wanted, as long as it’s a time when not many friars are out and about, and I’m masked. I’m not sure I want to do that given the heat outside, or given the probability of running into other friars in the hallways. Inside, I check the TV listings. This is the first house I’ve had a TV in my room as I’m not a big TV fan, but in these days I’m glad it’s here, just to see what movies might be playing, or Seinfeld re-runs might be on. And my iPad – being able to rent movies on YouTube, or even watch movies there for free (with ads). And my books: I tend to accumulate a lot of books, and I have finished a very fine novel by John LeCarre, ”Agent Running In the Field.” I’m also reading ”Lamentations and the Tears of the World” by Kathleen O’Connor, a very fine commentary on that often overlooked book of the Bible. And ”Francis: A Life in Songs” by Ann Wroe, who writes for the Economist. And I have a whole shelf-ful of other books I can dive into if I want. Covid makes you tired. Early on it felt like deep fatigue and ache, like something had gotten a hold on me. Not so much now, but still that feeling of tiredness. And this not being able to go out – outside my door across the hallway is the laundry room, and there is a small refrigerator in there, and on a few occasions I have opened my door, looked both ways down the hallway, and gone across to retrieve a lemon-lime seltzer from the refrigerator. It feels like stealth, and a reward! I had planned to travel to Kansas City for a friar gathering which begins tomorrow, but cancelled that. I was set to preach on Tuesday on ”pilgrimage” as the six U.S. Franciscan provinces prepare to become one province by October 2023. I was looking forward to that topic, so rich. And so another week stretches out, confined here, limited in my options, having meals brought to me, and I wonder how many people have that option in their lives? A tray with an entree, salad, vegetables, and last night a rich chocolate donut from Bear Donuts which just opened down the street: a donut with chocolate frosting and some kind of chocolate mousse filling, perfect! And there’s a horizon to all this, as one day I will once again return to the life of the parish and world around me, but for now it’s this desk, these books, an upcoming knock on the door with a tray, and life within these four walls, which is not really so bad after all.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Getting COVID

July 18, 2022

Sunday morning, around 11:00, and I have not been feeling well since yesterday, went out for a Covid test at a CityMD on Friday and the test results came back negative. What could this be? I ask off of the mass schedule for the weekend. I stay mostly in my room. I go downstairs for meals mostly at off hours. And this morning I figure, let’s try a home test and see if it’s what I think it could be, negative test on Friday notwithstanding. So I take the test and wait the ascribed 15 minutes, purposely not looking until those 15 minutes are up. And then I go over and look – two lines on the test strip. Every other test I’ve taken up till today has produced a single line, a negative result. And today these two lines almost cause me to gasp: it’s been two and a half years and I have dodged Covid all that time, until now. Two shots, two boosters, in some sense maybe I thought I’d become immune, but here it was, these two lines on the test strip confirming that the tiredness, aches, cough, and chills were not just some passing thing, but instead all of it was Covid, and I’d tested positive. So what to do? I’m glad I got the vaccines and boosters. I’ve got friars bringing me meals. I’m in quarantine in my room till probably Friday. I’m looking around at the books I have, I’m glad I have Spotify with its music and podcasts. My room will be my world for the next five days or so. No going out. There are worse things though, as my time in isolation will be an invitation to some new reading, some new listening, some definite rest, and an understanding of limitations, which in one way or another we all encounter. I especially think of this as I watch the Major League Baseball draft while sitting in a recliner chair with a blanket over me: how did THIS happen? I’m sure I’ll have moments of boredom and restlessness as the week goes on, but I’m curious to see how I’ll adapt to these next few days of confinement, a reminder that, despite what our modern culture wishes to tell us, life does, in fact, have limitations. And I can live with that.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Defusing Conflict

July 11, 2022

One morning last week on the Bread Line, a man begins to loudly complain about something, and from my place on the Line it’s hard to say what has upset him, as whatever seems to have happened was further down the Line, toward the beginning. He is unhappy, he is making a scene, and the security guard walks toward this end of the line to keep an eye on things. This happens sometimes. For the most part, things go more or less smoothly, as people line up and get their bag and have the bag filled with a sandwich, a couple of snacks, a drink, a mask, and then come to the end I’m on for a hot cup of coffee. It’s at this end where this man is now, and whenever there is any kind of uproar on the line, everything else is affected as people begin to wonder, what will happen now? Will there be a fight? A few weeks back, on a Saturday morning, I am told that someone was stabbed near the line. But this seems rare. Even the security guard tells us that most dust-ups are just posturing, just saving face, and they hardly ever lead to any kind of violence. In this case, it’s hard to tell what will happen. And I watch the director of the Line, a layperson who has been director for a number of years, step calmly in and begin to speak to the man. He pulls him aside, listens to him, hears what he has to say. And I see this man, who had been quite upset, begins to calm down. After a while he admits that he was sorry for making a scene, and that he just wanted to be heard, about whatever it was that happened earlier on the Line. It’s usually something that has to do with being ”disrespected” and that can be almost anything. We’re all fragile in our ways. Later I see the director out on the street and we talk for a while. We’re both hockey fans and we usually talk about the Boston Bruins and the rest of the NHL. But this time I thank him for his calm presence on the Line that morning, for the way he interceded and defused what could have been a worse situation. While we talked, people walked by on the sidewalk, on their way here or there, and the director was out picking up leftover trash from the Bread Line, after it had ended some time before. The morning sun was brighter now. The sky was blue and I was on my way out for a walk. And as I went out I reflected on how we use words, how we use them to tear down or build up, and how his words that morning went a long way toward keeping the peace on 31st St. on a warm July morning.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

A continuous, respectful presence…

July 4, 2022

There is a book review in last Sunday’s New York Times, a new book by the late writer Barry Lopez, and it is a book of his collected essays titled ”Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World: Essays”. Doesn’t that title say a lot? I have one of his books on my shelf, ”Arctic Dreams” which I have not yet read. In this review of his book of essays, the reviewer quotes words of Lopez about prayer, and these words stay with me: “[I] relied on the centrality of a life of prayer, which I broadly took to be a continuous, respectful attendance to the presence of the Divine. Prayer was one’s daily effort to be incorporated within that essence.” From what I know of Barry Lopez, he was a man who was at home in the outdoors; in the desert, in the Arctic, in the wide open spaces (not so easy to find in these days, more and more). He grew up Roman Catholic but fell away from the faith. And it seems something of that faith stayed with him, that connection to the divine, the sense that we are never really alone, and for him it’s the ”centrality” of the life of prayer, and all that really is a continuous and respectful attendance to the presence of the divine among us. Sometimes that happens in a church. Sometimes that happens in the back yard. Sometimes that happens out in the woods, in the mountains, along rivers and streams. Or maybe in the kitchen. A ”continuous, respectful attendance…” I like that, I can hold onto that for a time.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Sunday Night Thoughts

June 27, 2022

Thoughts on a Sunday night while watching Game Six of the Stanley Cup playoffs between the the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche and keeping it on mute between the second and third periods….and Colorado up 2-1 after two periods. Maybe it’s just my getting older, but I remember going to the old Boston Garden to see the Bruins and rinks were not as filled with noise back then. Every spare moment now has to be filled with loud music or a horn or something. It’s why I don’t go to games anymore. And maybe it’s part of the reason I seek out quiet places like the deep woods or empty galleries in museums. Inside for most of the weekend with this cough/congestion thing which is apparently not Covid due to three negative tests, and I get out to walk to the post office and there are two women looking for the new Moynihan Train Hall and I point them in the right direction as I walk up the steps of the classical 1911 post office building on 8th Avenue. Who, I wonder, mailed letters from here over the past 111 years? It’s a magnificent building, grand and public, a civic space that reminds me of the connectivity of a culture, this place where I can send a note to anyone with only an envelope and a stamp. The country, meanwhile, seems to be coming apart at the seams, and what do the next decades hold for us amid so much tension and division? The January 6th commission has done a remarkable job in showing the nation exactly what happened on that day and on the days leading up to it. What guarantees are there that a nation such as ours continues as a constitutional government? It’s all fragile, and everyone seems to be listening to their own show, and there does not seem to be any sort of center to anything anymore. I listen to a podcast ”On Being” with Krista Tippett and she interviews the poet Ocean Vuong, and in the interview he talks about how often in American culture the language we use reflects violence: we’re always fighting, conquering, scoring, nailing. Language reflects something of who we are and how we think. In the gospel for Sunday, James and John want to ”call down fire from heaven” on the Samaritans because they haven’t welcomes Jesus and his followers. Jesus, when he hears this, ”rebuked them.” It’s like he wants to tell them, there has to be another way other than responding to violence with more violence. In our own days, can we hear him?
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Racism as Sin

June 20, 2022

It’s a Thursday night at the parish, and we are having a discussion based on the USCCB document on racism, ”Open Wide Our Hearts.” We’re in a room with round tables and there is a group of around 8-10 people who are there by the time I arrive a little before the 6:30pm starting time. A few of the group were present at the previous week’s parish forum on racism; they have come tonight to continue the conversation. There is a black woman present and, after my initial question to the group about what has brought them here and any impressions they might have on last week’s gathering, she begins to speak. She speaks slowly and deliberately. Why, she asks, when I was growing up in the church, did we hear about abortion as being a sin, but never any mention about racism? Her words hang in the air for a time as the group considers what she has said. Why indeed. We go on to have a discussion on race, and how in the USCCB document racism is defined as a sin, and how uncomfortable that is for many people to hear, especially white people. I remember a visit to Charleston, South Carolina, and seeing the old slave market where black people were put up for sale, whole families up on the block, a father sent one place, a mother somewhere else, the children broken up as well. It’s a raw site, easy to miss amid all the shopping and restaurants in Charleston. But important to see, as a reminder of the sinful – yes, sinful – reality of much of our past in this country. We will continue the discussion this coming week, and hear the stories. And somehow, it’s in the hearing of the stories, of the voices, that something begins to happen, things come to the surface, truths are told. It’s important for us to hear.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Racism and Church

June 13, 2022

It’s Wednesday night at the parish and we’ve called together a parish forum/discussion on the issue of racism. There are prayers, there is a talk by our provincial minister, and there are a couple of witness talks, one by a Black woman and the other by a Filipino man. The woman speaks about her experience of being ignored, about what it’s like to stand in line somewhere and have people just cut in front of her. She talks about being called names. The man speaks about his experience of riding the subway one day and having a person attack him with a box cutter, cutting him on his face. We can still see his scars. There is discussion at tables afterwards. There are questions for each table: have you ever experienced racism? As Christians, how are we called to respond to racism? Table discussion continues for 20 minutes or so, and then there’s time for large group discussion. We end a little after 8:00pm, and we will have follow up discussions in the weeks to come. Many people respond, and are interested. It all feels like something that Church ought to do: name the issue, bring it to light, have conversations around it, discern how we are called, as followers of Christ, to respond. We look forward to four Thursdays to come to continue the conversations..
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

The Sisters in South Carolina

May 23, 2022

A retreat I am giving last week at St. Francis Springs in Stoneville, North Carolina, and it’s on Franciscan spirituality, and on Friday, the last day, a group of Franciscan sisters who have been there for the retreat all week share their impressions of the week, and where they are from. And I ask them, can you tell us something about your ministry? They start to talk. They live in Kingstree, South Carolina (where is that? everyone asks – it’s near Florence SC). They arrived there 30 years ago. It’s a mostly African-American, rural poor community. They go on to speak about their first day of ministry there, in 1992. A young girl living across the street comes over to their house, knocks on the door. The sisters open the door. The young girl, who is black, looks at them and says, what are you white ladies doing here?

It’s a moment for them, and they have to ask themselves, yes, what are we doing there? It’s clear as they go on that their whole approach to ministry in the rural south was to simple be with – no trying to change or convert the people – none of that, only to be with them. And it is beautiful as they describe it, a model of ministry in which they begin to see that there is a need for after-school care, and so they begin that. There is need for a food pantry, for a clothing closet, and so they begin that. And what comes through is a great love for the people they are with, as they live simply among them.

“What are you white ladies doing here?” – the sisters invited the girl in and served her cookies and milk, and so began an ongoing relationship. After a while, the sisters stop speaking, and apologize for speaking so much. Not at all, I say, this was wonderful to hear, thank you for sharing. Especially apt in this time of Pentecost, with its vision of all kinds of people gathered together among a freely moving Holy Spirit – so beautiful.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Texas

May 30, 2022

I am so used to presiding at mass, I know the words and the ritual and how it all flows. I’ve been ordained for 21 years, and being a Franciscan priest has brought me close to many peoples’ lives, has given me a kind of entrance into peoples’ lives, and it’s the grace of ordination, of coming to see how the Word of the Lord reveals itself amid the everyday.

And so one day last week, the early 7:30 mass, not a lot of people in the church at that hour. I don’t often have that early mass, and it came the day after the mass shooting at the elementary school in Texas. I must have said something about it during the homily: this loss, this continuing violence, the way these shootings just seem to keep on happening. ”Thoughts and prayers” people say, and those words are fine as they are, but we can sense a growing frustration that those ”thoughts and prayers” ought to lead somewhere.

The mass continues on, and there is a part of the eucharistic prayer where we remember those who have died, and as I speak those words -words I have spoken and prayed so many times – I pause for what seems a long moment and remember those children and those teachers who died in that shooting. There is a silence in the church as those words linger. And then it is time to continue. All those young lives, and we remain divided over “rights”, as if ”rights” only has to do with a person’s own personal freedom to carry a weapon.

Someone sends me words from Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas. On May 25th, he lamented that Americans ”sacralize death’s instruments, and then are surprised that death uses them.” My, how those words stop me in my tracks. How we have elevated the right to own and use weapons, to ”sacralize” them – almost make them holy. And then are we really surprised when events like that which happened in Uvalde, Texas, happen? It’s another soul searching moment for our nation, one of several it seems, one after another.

A campaign ad, somewhere: ”Pro-God, Pro-Guns.” It all, somehow, seems far from being a ”Christian nation.” May the Lord grant us peace.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

The Lower Church

May 23, 2022

There is here at St. Francis in NYC a lower level to the church, accessible from the street, and in this lower level are old confessionals, old statues, and a smaller version of the church on the upper level. This lower church is rarely used, except for confessions. It has a low ceiling. It’s dim and mostly quiet. On one side is an expansive Nativity scene, behind glass, its figures lit by a blue light which gives it a pale midnight glow, evocative of some distant time. The walls down here are mostly dark wood. It feels old, and I wonder, whose voices have spoken here, how many people have come down here for confession or to pray or to gaze at this Nativity scene?

The lower church has become a kind of resting spot for some of the street people in the neighborhood. I look in sometimes and see people sleeping, their bags on the floor, finding a quiet space and time to rest from whatever their lives are outside on the street. It’s not crowded down here. There is a man from Africa who comes in and out, carrying a bag, and sometimes I ask him how he’s doing and he says OK, says that he’s grateful he can come down here into this quiet and dark space.

There is another man named Larry and we all wonder where Larry is from, as he seems mostly mute, unable to speak a word other than ”Good, good” or ”OK.” He carries a white and black striped bag and inside are coffee cups from the Bread Line, a wrapped peanut butter and jelly sandwich also from the Bread Line, and, just visible, a Rubik’s Cube. Larry is able to sleep in a chair, his bag at his side, and no one bothers him. We see him most mornings on the Bread Line and he has a particular habit of having to select his coffee or sandwich or peanut butter and jelly sandwich himself. No one seems to mind. It’s just Larry, in his blue jacket and his white and black striped bag.

I come down here sometimes and look around, and how different it is here from the street outside with all its noise and hustle. What are churches for in big cities? Certainly a place for the sacraments, for prayer, for recollection; and here at this church, a place to find some kind of peace and rest from the wild world outside, for people who may not have any other place to go.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

A Hockey Game In The Neighborhood

May 16, 2022

Standing on the steps of the church on 31st St. before the 5:00pm mass, a couple of restaurants across the street with outside diners, and on the sidewalk just below, a steady stream of walkers and many with New York Rangers jerseys, on their way to Madison Square Garden for tonight’s Rangers-Penguins Game 7, and it’s just down the block. At the beginning of mass, I say welcome to Rangers fans and welcome to Penguins fans, though there are no Penguins fans in sight, and I almost add, and please no fighting or cross-checking in church.

In the middle of mass, two guys in Rangers jerseys walk into the church, walk over to a statue of one of the saints, kneel down in front of the saint (prayers for a win?) and then soon leave the church. It’s unmissable from where I stand behind the altar. The game begins at 7:00pm, and it’s after 10:00pm and I’m watching it on television and the score is tied 3-3 and it’s going to overtime. Whoever scores wins both the game and the series. It has to be tense for both teams. And it’s happening a block from here!

I watch because I’m a hockey fan from a long time back, going back more than 50 years watching the Bruins on Channel 38 in Boston. It’s the crisp movement, the passes, the quick wrist shot…and here it is, not too long into overtime, and the Rangers win, and the crowd is wild with joy. Whoever wins, one of the best things about watching playoff hockey is that, after the game ends, both teams line up and the players shake one another’s hand. They have been going at it for 3+ periods, they are exhausted, the winning Rangers are jubilant and the losing Penguins are heartbroken, and still here they are, one-by-one meeting on the ice, saying a few words, and it’s sportsmanship, it goes beyond the win-loss and gets at something deeper and more lasting, that they have been playing this game to win and at the same time there is an appreciation and respect of the skill and passion that go into the game.

I can hear them now just outside, horns honking, fans chanting, sirens blaring (what’s that about?), and the Rangers in the next series will now play Carolina, which beat my hometown Bruins yesterday. What lingers with me is the pictures of Sidney Crosby, star player for Pittsburgh, lingering with the younger Ranger players, speaking some words, and moving on to the next player. He has won three Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh and he is a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, and after this hard-fought Game 7, exhausted as he must be, it’s as if they’re just playing on some pond up in Canada somewhere, and there is a kind of grace in watching it all.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

A Picture of Grace

May 9, 2022

To walk around New York City, on the sidewalks, crossing busy streets, avoiding errant scooters and bicycles, and sometimes pausing to look and see what’s around me, and there is so much to see in this city, among which are the (very) tall buildings which are more and more clustered around Central Park South. I remember dimly as a young child being in New York with my grandparents and being in awe of the Empire State Building, which may have been the tallest building in the world at that time. Now, tall buildings are taller, lighter, slimmer. Not to mention more expensive to live in, and all of this highlights the growing gap between the have’s and the have-not’s, the growing disparity in wealth, which somehow always seems to be the story. of our times. There are high-end stores on the upper end of Fifth Avenue, stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany’s. I walk by, I look in the windows, but I never go in; I just can’t imagine.

Along with all these stores and tall buildings and window displays with high-ticket items, there are people on the sidewalks holding cardboard signs: need $$, need help, God bless. The pedestrian traffic is fast-paced, and most people it seems are plugged into their headphones, and so it’s a steady stream of people passing by and the people holding signs are there, sitting up against the side of a building, or leaning against a building, or huddled among blankets with a sign and a jar with a few dollar bills. It’s such a contrast: the wealth, the constant building, these window displays with mannequins with some new fashion, the gilded entranceways. And amid that, and more and more it seems, the presence of those who, for whatever reason, need money or attention or care or something. They cry out.

And one day, amid the normal bustle of the sidewalk traffic, a woman who is walking stops, leans down toward a person begging, and hands her a sandwich. She makes some sort of eye contact, speaks a few words, and then continues on her way. And for that moment, amid everything that goes on in this city, there was something human and divine and good in that simple gesture, and New York City with all its glitter and glamour and fast-paced energy, showed, for a moment, a picture of grace.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Notes From The Week

May 1, 2022

Thoughts in passing on a Sunday afternoon at Mt. Irenaeus Prayer Center in West Clarksville, NY, and after getting a flat tire on my way out earlier and now having to stay an extra night, and is that so bad after all? So here I am on a rainy afternoon….last week visiting family for a few days, dinner out with my parents and my brother, breakfast at Jimmy’s in Burlington MA with my father on Wednesday morning, and it’s his favorite spot, familiar with eggs and bacon and coffee and we linger a while before I have to leave. He’s 87 and in good health and I want to hold on to times like these. Then the trip out here, with a stop at Siena College near Albany on the way, and a stop before that at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, and a look through the galleries, and a walk up the hill with a view over the town. Siena that night and out for dinner with a friar I know and we linger over the bar and talk about our memories of ministry in North Carolina. Then Thursday on the road again, almost 300 miles out to Mt. Irenaeus, highway driving with sunshine, a CD of U2 ”The Joshua Tree” as I drive, and its haunting last song, ”Mothers of the Disappeared” which is a kind of lament in memory of those lost in the dirty wars of South and Central America in the 1970s and 1980s. Arrival at the Mountain, my hermitage called ”Clare” with its small deck looking out over a meadow, a couple of deer nearby.

A walk up to the chapel in the woods, the deep silence of the woods, I pause and hear….no sound but birds, and somewhere high above, an airplane which is soon gone. This sense of how God reaches us – not by our grasping or thinking but simply by being present and allowing ourselves to be grasped, to be known in some way by a God who is alive in creation. I pause….stillness, silence, bare trees in late spring. Mass on Sunday morning in the bright chapel, this Jesus who is revealed within the ordinary, ”come have breakfast!” he says, like the cook behind the counter at the breakfast place. My plans to leave today and go to Philadelphia and then back to NYC, but that’s all changed now, I’ll leave tomorrow, a friar helped put on the spare tire, a tire shop in Olean will put on a new tire, I’ll have another night in the Clare hermitage to gaze out onto the empty meadow. Life in its goodness reveals itself…
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

The Breadline

April 25, 2022

I love going down the stairs in the morning to go outside to the Bread Line. It starts at 7:00 am and I’m out on the sidewalk a little before 7, looking to see who’s there to volunteer, and sometimes there are more than enough volunteers, sometimes it’s a little bare-bones, but somehow everything seems to work out. If there are a lot of volunteers, I am fine just being there, with my Franciscan habit, and most of the people who come through the line seem to know what it is and who I am.

If there are not enough volunteers, I can end up anywhere on the line, handing out sandwiches or fresh fruit or masks, or on coffee, which means either pouring the coffee from large bins into paper cups, or placing the sometimes hard-to-fit lids on those cups. If I’m on lids, and we’re caught up, I can hand the cup of coffee to someone on the line, and this I prefer to just leaving the coffee on the cart to be picked up. It makes it more human, more of an encounter. Or sometimes I’m on oatmeal, and that means asking the question, apple or maple? Then opening the container and handing it off to another volunteer who adds hot water. Oatmeal is especially popular on cold days. Or sometimes I hand out masks, and this is the easiest of all, as I just hold them up and give them to whoever wants one.

The line keeps going, and I peer down 31st St. to see how much further the line is going. We’re usually out there 30-40 minutes. By the time it’s over, everyone is ready for a break, as it can be intense. Mental illness seems to be on the rise on the sidewalks and streets. Sometimes people coming through the line can be just a little on the edge of something, but through it all there seems to be a sense that the whole scene is being watched over and protected., and we’ve learned to let a lot of things go. And then, last week, one person taps me on the shoulder as he goes by and says, thank you for being here. That seemed the best thing in the world that day.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Pig and Khao

April 18, 2022

It’s Friday night, it’s cool and breezy, and a friend of mine from NC has arrived in town and we are to meet his son, who works in the city, for dinner way down on the Lower East Side, on Clinton Street, at a place called the Pig and Khao. Our iPhones tell us it’s a 58-minute walk, a little more than two miles, and walking two plus miles in Manhattan is a different thing than walking two miles in other places – so much to see and look at as we make our way south, through Madison Square, past Union Square, further east and further south from there, all the way to First Avenue, and we eventually, unknowingly, walk by the spot where the subway shooter was arrested only a few days before.

We pass a record store – a record store! – and it reminds me of all the record stores I used to visit in my youth, records with their sleeves and vinyl and liner notes and cover art. The Lower East Side has a grittier feel than the West Side; it seems there are more tattoo parlors and dive bars in this part of the city, and definitely more young people. We meet my friend’s son, we find a place to have a drink, gin and tonics all around as we find an outside table and watch the people walk by. And then it’s off to the nearby Pig and Khao, which turns out to be a Filipino restaurant. It’s crowded inside, tables all pushed together, and a menu with noodles and vegetables and mysteriously named things – my friend’s son orders from the menu, he’s been here before, and it all arrives and it’s all good, some kind of Filipino fusion. It’s loud inside the restaurant, and I’m reminded of how much I prefer a quiet restaurant these days. But it’s good to be here, out on a Friday night, in a place that reminds me of places I used to hang out in thirty or more years ago.

We finish, and the decision on how to get back, and it’s still cool and breezy, and we decide to walk, a long walk back up through Soho, up Broadway through Union Square and finally back to Midtown. Many steps on my iPhone, 28,000+ and that feels pretty good. A night in the big city, time with friends, I’m tired but grateful. ​
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Two beautiful sentences

April 11, 2022

I get a card in the mail from a friend of mine, and on the card is a quote from Thomas Merton, and it reads ”The ’spark’ which is my true self is the flash of the Absolute recognizing itself in me.” I read the card with gratitude and I write the quote down in my notebook, and I revisit it. Why do I love this quote, and why do I write it down? It’s this sense of the ”Absolute” (God) recognizing God’s own self in each of us. It’s an image of God that is interior to our very selves, an image of God closer to us than we can even know. ”The glory of God is the human person fully alive” is a quote from Irenaeus, one of the early church fathers, and this Merton quote reminds me of that. Both of these sayings open us to the the glory and messiness of the world as we receive it: wade into it all, they seem to say, and be open to what you find there.

And on Wednesday night, as part of our ongoing series on Pope Francis’s ”Call to Holiness in Today’s World,” Francis writes ”Think of your own history when you pray, and there you will find much mercy.” We discuss this some in our group. And it lingers with me afterwards: where and when have I been the subject of mercy in my life, and if I’m honest with myself, I have to say – many times, all through my life, from childhood all through the present. We often hear about showing mercy to others, and these words from Pope Francis remind me once again that showing mercy to others finds its root in having been shown mercy myself. Can I see it? Can I stay with it? Can it humble me? Can it open my eyes more to others’ experience? ”Think of your own history when you pray…” writes the pope. This is prayer that moves me more deeply into my own experience, and if I’m honest with it do I find there a living God who has in so many ways led me, often unseen and unaware? It’s the presence of grace that I want to be open to in these days approaching Holy Week.

P.S. thank you to all who leave comments, I see them but I’m not always sure my responses get out there, non-techie that I am…:)
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

St. Francis Inn

April 4, 2022

This weekend a sort of road trip, down the New Jersey Turnpike 90 miles or so to Philadelphia, and I am here because some of the volunteers of our Bread Line based at 31st St. in NYC have come to St. Francis Inn here in Philadelphia to help serve a meal to the hungry here. I arrive yesterday afternoon and we all walk down to Fishtown Diner – who can resist a diner? And today at 8:30 we begin with mass in the small chapel. The gospel is about throwing stones, and Fr. Michael talks about how sometimes people driving by the Inn during the meal throw bottles at the hungry people who are lined up. He goes on to say, do these people know the stories of these people lined up for a meal? Because if they knew their stories – where they come from, how their life has gone, what led them to the streets – they would not throw bottles, but listen with a sense of compassion.

The meal today is served between 11:30 and 1:00, and the crowd today is light. I am assigned to the back of the room and my job is to hand out boxes of that Philly favorite, TastyKakes. There’s coconut, chocolate, peanut butter. I am back there with Fr. Paul who is a friar on staff here, and as people leave the dining room after the meal, they stop at our table and we say, would you like a box of TastyKakes? One woman looks at me, smiles, and says, is that really a question? The boxes go quickly as people take them to go. These are moments of encounter, and we can see that many of these people live hard lives, struggling to get by. The clock ticks on, it gets closer to 1:00, there are a few boxes left and we walk around the room and hand them out.

I think about what Pope Francis has written about creating a culture of encounter, and how that kind of culture can break down the divisions that exist in our culture today. Where do these people go after they are served the meal? They carry around bags. They return to wherever they live. There are drugs all around here, and they are available. What must this all be like? One man lingering at a table recognizes me from when I was here from 2012-2014, and he says, where’ve you been? I say, Arthur it’s good to see you and he says the same. It’s time to sweep up the floor, another day at the Inn, the presence of grace here on the streets.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Driving to North Carolina

March 14, 2022

A long drive to North Carolina, and a long drive back. I leave NYC on Friday morning and it’s a 500-mile drive to Raleigh, and I break it down to what might seem to be manageable portions – let me get through the turnpike, let me get through Baltimore, let me get around DC, let me get past Fredericksburg, to Richmond, to Petersburg, and finally to 85 South which is less intense and crowded than 95. I am going to a funeral on Saturday at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Raleigh, my former parish, where I was pastor for six years. Driving along 85, the rest stops with the Dunkin Donuts and the quick stop convenience stores with Slim Jims and NASCAR cigarette lighters at the checkout. The sky before me which is lighter in these early spring days. Off at Exit 191 to 56, to 15 South, through Creedmor, emerge finally onto Leesville Road, turn left at the sign into the driveway for the parish. Arrival.

What’s it like to be back? It’s all familiar, and yet changed, of course. I stay at the former friary, which is the same building of course but now called a rectory. I have not been back here in 18 months. I stay in a guest room. The house looks the same inside, same chairs, tables, lamps, even some pictures. In the guest room are some books I left behind in September 2020 when I left. I go through them – at the time I was weary of packing and just left them, but now I look at them anew and decide to take some with me, including a book of photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto called ”Seascapes” with its sharp, black and white photos of the sea. No one is home on this night. I walk outside, walk around the campus, try the church doors which are open. I go into the church. It is empty, and quiet. I sit in a far corner, and there is fading late afternoon light on the far wall, in the silence. All kinds of things come back to me: images and memories of what this space has been for me, who’s been here, what’s been spoken here, how it holds all that for me, how it will always hold that for me, and how this emptiness and silence allows all this to come back.

I get up, walk around, view it all from different angles and perspectives, then walk down the hallway toward Founders Room, then outside and out and around the campus, the preschool, the gym, the school, the fields, and it’s all there as it was, and it’s good to walk around and see and feel it all. Back to the house, out to Harris Teeter where I still remember the old VIC card number as I buy a bottle of wine and a jar of peanut butter, back again to the house, in the living room with still no one around, seeing all these familiar spaces which I left in 2020.

The funeral on Saturday at 1pm, the arrival of friars, maybe 15 of them, and it’s a scene for people who have not seen friars in a long time. There is recognition, and I see people I have not seen in a couple of years, and how gratifying to say hello and greet and talk, and how different it is for me to be here in a role other than pastor. Being pastor of a large parish is such a hard job and the whole thing needs to be re-thought, and here I am not in that role but just here, and as I look around I know it’s important that I’m here for the funeral and also important for me to be here just to be in this space, to inhabit it again for a time. I am back again for 5:30 mass, not in my brown Franciscan habit, and I am seen and recognized and this is also so nice, so much fun, and at the end of mass Jim Sabak calls me out and it’s like some kind of return. Such a day, this Saturday, so many memories, condensed into a day, and it’s been good for me to be here.

The long drive back: it’s 10 hours this time, and I arrive back in NYC around 11:30 at night, and isn’t the view of the Manhattan skyline magnificent on the approach off the New Jersey Turnpike. Back in my room, my space, and was it really true that this morning I was walking around St. Francis Raleigh? All kinds of gratitude.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

A Street Encounter

March 21, 2022

It’s a cool and pleasant Sunday morning in the city and I have some time before a late morning meeting, and so I decide to take a walk, to get outside in the fresh air. I exit the building on 31st St. To my right there are dozens of Koreans who are leaving the just-finished 9:15 mass in Korean. Across the street from me is an enormously popular ramen noodle shop which always seems to have a line that stretches down 31st, leaving a gap where the parking lot is, and continuing on down 31st toward 6th Avenue. Above, the sky is blue, the air is cool. I go left, down 31st toward 6th, and it’s one of those mornings when it just feels good to be outside and feel the cool air.

I walk along, and as I go, I hear a familiar voice. It’s a voice I recognize from the Bread Line in the morning, and I look and see that it’s Bobby, who often holds court on the line after he’s received his sandwich and snack and drink. He lingers in the morning and likes to talk sports. But I haven’t seen him for a while. I stop on my way, and he recognizes me. He knows me as ”the Boston fan” since I always wear my Bruins cap on the line. He starts up, remember back in 2004 when the Yankees were up 3-0 over the Red Sox and the Red Sox won the next four games!? Eighteen years later and he continues to marvel over that.

I ask him where he’s been. He tells me he’s been down in the South because there’s work down there. Where, I ask? Newport News, Virginia, he says. The work ran out, and now he’s back. Bobby is a talker, he loves to talk sports, and I ask him what he thinks of the Celtics since they have been on a good run lately. He thinks they’re OK. I ask him, will you be around in the morning on the line again? He says, you’ll see me, you’ll see me. I’ll see you, I say, and I go on my way.

I’ve been here now for a year and a half, and New York City can seen vast and impersonal and cold and distant, and then there’s this kind of encounter, and I’m grateful for it on this Sunday morning.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Demolition Man

March 14, 2022

Here at the parish we meet people from all kinds of places, cultures, backgrounds, and one day last week a man came in to talk, and he had a hard hat on, and so I asked him what kind of work he did. He responded, ”demolition,” and I was curious. Demolition of what? He told me his current work is taking down the Pennsylvania Hotel on the corner of 7th Avenue and 33rd St., and it is being demolished floor by floor. We had heard about this, that many of the buildings in the neighborhood will be coming down as new development comes in. I was more curious now: what’s that kind of work like? He didn’t say a whole lot, but that it was careful work, and would take time, maybe another 18 months or so to get it done. And he described to me an old abandoned subway tunnel which used to run trains between Penn Station and Broadway, now in disuse, but with old mosaic tile murals you can see on the walls.

All that sounds evocative and mysterious, and how I’d love to get in and see it. And how about rats, I asked, will we see more of them as all this demolition goes on? Not too much, he said, we don’t see a whole lot. Though I wonder if he didn’t want to cause any alarm, after all there are supposedly millions of rats in the city, and I’ve seen two of them in my time here, one on 26th Street and one on the top step of the Post Office on 8th Avenue. Ugh….

So for a few minutes it was a little more insight into the way the city goes, buildings go up (the Penn Hotel was built in 1919) and buildings come down, sometimes a hundred years after they were built. The city is constantly being transformed, built up new, higher it seems based on the number of very high buildings that are now here. And crowded: tourists have come back, and though not quite to the level as before the pandemic, the sidewalks are crowded again. I’m just hoping the rats stay underground and out of sight…
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Be More Human

March 7. 2022

Living in New York and there are ads, billboards, signs, neon, stores everywhere, all clamoring for our attention, all selling one thing or another. Shoe ads: one reads, “Impossible is Nothing.” Another: ”Forever Faster.” Another: ”Just Do It.” We know them. We know they’re selling. We see and hear them every day, their subtle (or not so subtle) ways of telling us that there are no limits on what we can do, that there is no slowing down, that the world is ours to claim. And that if we don’t buy it, we are somehow behind it all, not living up to the impossible, the fast, those who always ”get things done.”

We have a Thursday night scripture group and we gather to discuss the Sunday gospel reading, and this week it’s the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert. One person asks, who is this devil? Is he a man all in red with a pitchfork and horns roaming around somewhere in the depths of the earth? We agree we don’t think that’s it. But can we think of the devil in an ancient understanding, as “one who hinders?” The one who whispers to us that our lives as they’ve been given to us by God are somehow not enough, the one who hinders us from accepting the grace and limitations of everyday human life, who tells us that there are no limits to our lives, that we can always go ”forever faster.”

One more shoe ad: “Be more human.” Maybe that’s what God wants of us – not to fall for the false promises of our perfection culture (as one person in the group said, ”the burden of perfection”), not to have superpowers, not to go forever faster, but to recognize God’s grace and goodness in the world that’s been given to us, and reflect that in our lives.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

“No War in Ukraine”

February 28, 2022

It’s a Friday night in New York City and if you walk out the door and turn left toward Sixth Avenue, and look north, you can see the Empire State Building, such an iconic image of the city, and on this night it’s lit up in blue and yellow in honor of the Ukrainian flag. On the local news, reporters interview people from Ukraine, and there are a lot of Ukrainians living here in the city. On Saturday Night Live last night, a Ukrainian choir is invited to perform, and that’s how the show opens: Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon introduce the choir and they perform a ”Prayer for Ukraine.” It is beautiful, and nearly leaves me in tears.

The world is responding to the violence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. At mass this morning, we pray for Ukraine. There are images from the news that stay with me: a mother and a child boarding a train for safety; a bombed out apartment complex in Kyiv; a Ukrainian man who kneels in front of a Russian tank in a neighborhood. It seems like Europe in the 1940s all over again.

Another image: a Russian woman in St. Petersburg, holding up a sign that reads ”No war in Ukraine.” In front of her, a police officer films her. Her holding a sign is an act of courage; in Putin’s Russia she may end up in jail. A reading at mass this morning, from a letter of St. Paul, as he addresses a community of early Christians in Corinth: ”Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be firm, steadfast, always devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Did this Russian woman know these words as she held up that sign? Who knows, but her action of pleading for peace seems to be ”the work of the Lord” in these anxious times. We continue to hope and pray for peace in Ukraine and in all troubled parts of the world.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Love Your Enemies!?

February 21, 2022

It’s a Saturday afternoon and I am presiding at the 4:00 mass, and in advance I have been reading the scripture readings, walking with them, meditating with them, waiting for a word to speak. Sometimes I have to get up and leave the room, walk around a little, go outside, and then I come back and maybe there’s a word there. The gospel is challenging: ”love your enemies,” and in our Thursday night scripture sharing group, there is a sense that maybe this is extreme, maybe exaggerated. Could Jesus really mean this? But it’s right there, ”to you who hear” as the gospel passage says. And who hears? On this day it’s me.

The first reading, from 1 Samuel, takes us right into a dramatic pursuit between Saul and David. One night Saul is sleeping in his camp and David and one of his soldiers, Abishai, find him there, vulnerable. Abishai whispers to David ”Let me nail him to the ground with one thrust of the spear.” This will do it, this will end the pursuit; David has Saul in his grasp. But David responds, ”Do not harm him, for who can lay hands on the Lord’s anointed?”

Our culture often seems to side with Abishai: let’s nail him! That’s what makes David’s response so remarkable: do not harm him. There’s another way here, a path to some kind of reconciliation and peace. Further on in 1 Samuel, Saul finds out what his fate could have been, and speaks his own words of reconciliation back to David. David’s response ”do not harm him” creates an alternative possibility going forward, and who doesn’t want that?

Jesus himself must have known this story from his own study of his tradition. How many enemies he himself had, and how he always looked for another way, another path forward. He took all this even to the cross. The gospel always seems to be about some other way, some other way besides ”let’s nail him!” These are challenging readings, but they speak of deep goodness and life in our troubled world.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Parish Retreat

February 14, 2022

A parish retreat, and a whole bunch of people who live and work in New York City all go away for the weekend to a Jesuit retreat house called Loyola House, in Morristown, New Jersey. The theme of the retreat is healing, and it comes of course in a time of pandemic, and is it subsiding or will it come back again? Who knows, but the feel of the weekend is that people are weary from all of it, weary of being apart, weary of being at a distance in church, away from friends and routine. And so we break into small groups and we have reflection questions and people open up: it’s hard to pray sometimes, sometimes it feels like I’m only praying into a void, sometimes it feels lonely living and working in a bustling and busy city like this. It pours out.

There is honesty about what it’s like to be Catholic and living in New York, or living anywhere: the Catholic brand has not been the best in recent times. The small groups re-gather in a larger group, and there is large group sharing of experience, and one person says, this is what the Church really is, a community of people who do not necessarily need to ”hold it together” but can reveal weakness and need and longing for God and community. On Sunday morning, there is new snow on the ground, and we go outside for a group photo, cold as it is, and afterwards I make a couple of snowballs which sends many in the group scattering.

The snow, light and powdery, covers everything. All these New Yorkers ready to return to the city, either by car or train, and the intensity of the city, the speed of it, the isolating loneliness of it, seems to have subsided for a time as a kind of Holy Spirit has hovered over all of it, revealing that more than anything the culture tells us about who we are, we are more than anything called to community among one another, and loved by God. The fresh snow drifts down, and everything looks new again.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Poetry at the Alabaster Bookshop

February 7, 2022

It’s one of those cold, cold days in New York City, and I am not used to this because for so many years I lived in North Carolina where it doesn’t stay cold the way it does here. But it’s OK, and I have the right boots, hat, gloves, warm winter jacket and so am prepared to walk out into the cold winter streets.

I walk and walk and that in itself keeps me warm. I go to the Alabaster Bookshop on Fourth Avenue near 12th Street, which is always an experience of seeing, looking, being open to the surprise of some new book (and so different from the online experience – let me pick up a book and flip through it, feel its heft, see its pages). My glasses are fogged up from wearing a mask inside, but that subsides after a while. The Alabaster is not as well known as its famous neighbor the Strand around the corner; it’s small, well-curated, has some rare first-editions and also some quite affordable used books. And in the poetry section, a used copy of ”The Mountain Poems of Meng Hao-jan,”translated by David Hinton, and in pencil on the inside front cover it’s marked $12. I like the title, because I like mountains. And Chinese poetry is spare and gazes at landscape in a contemplative way. It’s a slim volume with many poems, and I open the book to the first poem which is titled ”Autumn Begins.” It goes this way: “Autumn begins unnoticed. Nights slowly lengthen, and little by little, clear winds turn colder and colder, summer’s blaze giving way. My thatch hut grows still. At the bottom stair, in bunchgrass, lit dew shimmers.”

Well, I linger over all this. Outside it’s cold, temperatures in the teens, people all bundled up walking by on the street. Inside the shop, I am holding this slim volume of poetry, its spare, clear imagery of approaching autumn, and the particularity of the image of the lit dew which ”shimmers,” itself an image of grace and the particularity and goodness of God’s created world. And how grateful I am for a small shop such as this, its invitation to find words and beauty in the middle of the big city.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Subway Grace

January 31, 2022

Some thoughts after a snowstorm yesterday here in NYC, a day to look outside and see swirling snowflakes, soft powdery snow on benches, and to feel a certain kind of quiet hush that comes upon a city like this when it snows. But a story from another city, Philadelphia, from last week, as I took some days there and stayed with friars at St. Francis Inn, our soup kitchen there, where I got my start with the friars.

One day I am riding the subway, somewhere underground between 8th and 11th, and there is a man on the far end of the subway train who is hunched over, with a shopping bag which holds what might be his only possessions. Across from me another man, and I see him get up from his seat, approach the man on the far end, and place in his hands a box of Tasty Kakes (it’s a Philly thing, like a big box of Hostess cupcakes). The hunched-over man looks up, and receives the box. He nods in gratitude.

The man who gave the box returns to his seat, and I catch his eye and say to him, that was a good thing to do, thank you for doing that. He nods my way, and he points his finger upward, and says it’s all to God’s glory. I say yes back to him.

It’s one of those moments, in this case on a subway train on a gray and cold Wednesday morning in Philadelphia, and it’s the man’s gesture, his pointing upward, that stays with me, and how it seems by his action the God who created all things also appears here and now in the most humble and everyday of circumstances, amid the rumble of the subway train, amid the calling out of the next stop, 11th Street, amid doors opening and closing, amid the subway train continuing on its way. I get off at 15th Street, and I will never see these two people again, but somehow the city seems held, or embraced, by an unseen graced presence that is always there but that I often forget or lose sight of, and I am grateful for the moment and the gesture, for these ways of seeing a hidden God in our midst.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Listening To People in Church

January 24, 2022

Sometimes a church in a city can just be a place for someone to come in and talk about what’s going on in their life. New York City especially can be intense and impersonal and rushed, and we hear what the effects of all that can be like, as people come in for something like confession, and we quickly realize it’s not so much confession as, will you listen to a story of my life for a moment?

On one day, a woman comes in to talk, tells what’s going on in her life, and I ask her, what’s your work, and she tells me she works as a home health care aide. What’s that like these days, I ask? Well, she says, walking into peoples’ homes, you never know what you’re walking into these days, with people drinking and smoking pot and add in all the anger that’s out there, and people not willing to wear a mask, and it’s most definitely a strain.

And so it’s a picture for me, as I listen, of what it’s like to work on the front line of things in these days of pandemic. What’s it like to be a flight attendant, a nurse, a grocery store worker, an usher, a teacher, a bus driver in these days? What’s it like to be in any profession that interacts with the public in these strange days? We hear much about ”freedom” and for many that word means to be free to do whatever one wants, without regard for other people. And that sense of entitlement is taking a serious toll on everyday people – our neighbors – who live and work around us.

Maybe this is one of the privileges of being a Franciscan friar in a parish, being in a position to hear, to listen, to get insights into what it means to be a human person in these or any times. Life is beautiful, and life is hard. Life is deeply complex. Human relationships are hard. Sin exists, and it’s not what we usually think it might be, and what we often hear – getting distracted in prayer (who doesn’t?) – no, sin is always about relationship: relationship with God and with others, and it seems too easy for many these days to have a relationship with God, and at the same time treat other people poorly. I read about a restaurant on Cape Cod that closed for 24 hours for a ”kindness break” because of the strain its workers were dealing with from customers.

This woman in church tells me that her co-workers tell her she ”has a big heart.” She smiles. I say to her, can you imagine not just your co-workers, but God telling you that? She smiles again. We use phrases in church like ”we are one body in Christ.” Let us find ways, in these anxious and trying times, to be Christ for one another.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

A Little Snow On a Sunday Night

January 17, 2022

A Sunday in the city, and on this night, after spending a good part of the day watching football, I push open the door that leads to a deck outside, and I see a dusting of snow, just enough to cover the ground and the chairs and tables out there, and I look up at the night sky and see swirling flakes, and across the street to the tall buildings that surround us here, their windows mostly dark except for some that remain lit. From below, on the street, voices, maybe waiting in a line outside the ramen noodle shop.

Last night, around 11pm, loud voices from the bar across the street and I presume they were Buffalo Bills fans celebrating their team’s win over the New England Patriots. But tonight, after football, in for the night and after dinner, and before more football tonight (it’s been that kind of day), there is this moment to open the door and feel the chill, see how even a light dusting of snow can transform space, bring a kind of hush to city life, and be grateful for the ways in which the world offers itself to us.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Souvenir Shop

January 10, 2022

There are these little stores in NYC, little souvenir shops with all kinds of things, and in their window displays you see shot glasses, t-shirts, postcards, and often the doors are open and the proprietors stand inside looking out and hoping that you’ll come in and buy something, anything, and I can only imagine that the profit margin is slim in these places.

Today I go in to one of them, ”Memories of New York” which is strategically positioned not far from the Flatiron Building, and has entrances on both Broadway and Fifth Avenue. I’ve been in here before. It’s cramped and a little crowded. I’m drawn to the postcard racks because I like to send postcards, and I keep a roll of 40 cent stamps in my desk so I can write notes and mail them off. Here I find the usual kinds of postcards: scenes of the city, its bridges, parks, buildings, museums, famous sites. But there are also some oddball ones: one of a crazed King Kong on a tilted view of the Empire State Building, and this one I send to my brother because he likes those kinds of wacky things; another of spray-painted words that read ”Jesus Saves” and I get that one too, and send it to a retired friar I know who always had a t-shirt or a front license place which had those same words, ”Jesus Saves”; another of a nighttime view of Manhattan, one of those photographs of the city’s tall buildings all brightly lit, and darkness all around. It’s almost abstract. Another one – ominous looking – of a Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway in California from 1969, at a moment when things are beginning to spin out of control as Mick Jagger looks on at the Hells Angels trying to keep security. The postcards are 89 cents apiece and I buy eight of them, because you can always write someone a note, and my ritual here is to write a note, attach a stamp, and then walk over to the classic 1911 post office building a few blocks away and drop it into the slot which has a sign that reads ”small cards and letters.” It’s on its way, a small, personal gesture in a big city.

The price for eight postcards, tax included, comes to $7.74, and the owner, or who I believe to be the owner, tells me he’s from Long Island and has run this store for 35 years, and he counts out the change and hands it to me. He loves to talk. To the woman in front of me in line, he says, ”Keep the pen” that she’s used to sign her credit card receipt, and it’ s a pen that has a price tag on it from the store, and he says to her, ”it’s my gift to you” and she’s pleased, tells him it’s her first time in New York, and she’s from Texas. As part of my change he gives me a quarter and he searches for that extra penny but he can’t find one and I say no worries but he insists, hands me the penny. He thanks me for coming in. There are more people in the shop, many speaking languages from other lands, and they look at the souvenir Empire State Buildings, pens, magnets, t-shirts, all those kinds of things we like to get when we visit some new place, and this owner is cheerful throughout, offers to watch their large wheeled luggage which they haul through the small shop, and I can hear him say to others, ”my gift to you, thank you for coming.”
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Days Between Christmas and New Year’s

January 3, 2022

These days between Christmas and New Year’s, and a sense of anxiety in the city as Covid cases continue to rise, with Broadway shows being cancelled, gatherings at restaurants postponed, and it seems a flashback to the way things were in 2020. Still, one evening after dinner I go outside and take a walk up Fifth Avenue, and there are people out and about on the streets, crowded at intersections, looking in store windows, and I am outside with a mask and there is an aliveness, an excitement, and a joy to being in the city at this time of year, maybe even more special at night.

Walking up Fifth Avenue, past the New York Public Library at 42nd Street with its stone lions keeping sentinel. Past 42nd and further up, and there’s a Swiss chocolate shop that is open, and so I go in, and you can buy sheets of chocolate by the pound ($60/pound, and she tells me I can just get a little sliver if I’d like, because who really needs a pound of chocolate?). I get instead a box of chocolates from five different countries, in a nice box, and doesn’t the box influence the way we decide on these things? This will be for my mother for Christmas, as I’ll be in Massachusetts to see family in a few days. I linger in the chocolate shop, little bags and boxes of chocolates, and you can’t sample because of Covid, but we all linger in chocolate shops when we get the chance right?

Further on after the chocolate shop, up toward St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and before that, on the left, the magnificent Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza, all lit up at night, with great crowds stopped all along the sidewalk for a view. There are barriers between the sidewalk and the street to contain the pedestrians, who otherwise would likely spill out onto Fifth Avenue. I hear different languages being spoken: Italian, Spanish, Polish, Russian, Chinese. There are window displays in the stores nearby. It’s cold but it’s a good kind of cold: a brisk December cold, a good to be outside seeing Christmas lights kind of cold. The tree, outlined agains the art deco architecture of the Rockefeller building, all colored lights outlined against the darkness of the night. These final days of 2021, anticipation of what a new year might hold, and for a time in these days before new year’s day, light and joy in a city that has been worn down, and is ready to receive.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Nativity

December 27, 2021

Christmas in New York City, and I walk out one evening for some fresh night air and to look at the lights and the trees and maybe even hope for a winter snowflake. I walk up to 34th Street, and stretching an entire city block between 6th and 7th Avenues is the world famous Macy’s Department Store. On the side of the building, all lit up, is the word ”Believe” in enormous letters. Its presence there seems to grasp at something, or perhaps even ask: what is it, in fact, that we are asked to believe in? ”Believe” what?

It’s fill-in-the-blank. Or believe in some sense of something in these late days of December: shopping maybe? Unlimited credit? What do we believe in these strange days of Covid, of conspiracy theories, of anti-vaxxers, of false claims of stolen elections? The sign on the Macy’s store is beautiful, festive, and leaves unanswered the object of what we’re asked to believe in, and maybe that’s the times we’re in. Anything goes. Earlier in the week, at another iconic New York City landmark, this one the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Central Park. A small gallery, a little off the beaten track, and there for anyone to see is a small painting of the Nativity, done in 1406 in Florence. The painting is described as atypical in that its setting is nocturnal; around the familiar scene of Joseph, Mary, and the infant, all is dark, all is night. And from the newborn Christ child, light emanates and lights up the scene around him. His mother gazes upon him with love. Joseph gazes up at the sky as if in awe and wonder. Two cows gaze upon the child. And all around – night sky.

It seems at times that we are surrounded by nothing but night: the darkness of the losses we have all felt over these past few years, of Covid, of political unrest, of storms and floods and tornadoes and a vast sense of uncertainty around everything. I wonder if the artist of that long-ago painting, 615 years ago, felt or knew the same thing, and painted it into his painting, this reality that the world sometimes seems out of control, dark, uncertain.

And at the same time, the artist asks us to believe in his vision: yes, life is uncertain and shaky sometimes, but in the center of this painting, in the center of all things, there is a light shining from a small newborn child, and this child is what all human history has longed for and hoped for, and he has come into the world quietly, unnoticed, in humility, and to believe in Him is to believe that the world is ultimately good, that mercy and compassion and love and grace are more powerful than anything that the world might tell us. Gaze, for a while, at this Nativity scene, and see it all there, emergent into a waiting world.

Christmas morning, 7:00am, a line of people lined up on 31st Street for a sandwich, a drink, coffee, and oatmeal. The line stretches down 31st St. to the corner of 7th Avenue, as it has every morning since 1930. Where have the people emerged from? They take their bags and go on their way, to who knows where. The sun begins to emerge from the east, lighting up the tall buildings, lighting up the street, lighting up the faces of these men and women who wait for their sandwiches and coffee. Three blocks up, the ”Believe” sign on the Macy’s store seems to shine its light on this scene, and maybe even answer the question, believe in what? There is bread enough for everyone, and God’s light shines on all people. Peace and Christmas blessings to all!
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Outdoor Dining in NYC

December 20, 2021

New York City has been transformed in many ways by this pandemic, and restaurants especially have had to adapt to fewer crowds and tourists, and the reality that many people are not comfortable having dinner inside a restaurant. Over these past few days, the anxiety level has increased, with Broadway shows closing, professional sports games postponed, and a sense that we are returning to what things were like in 2020. Walking along side streets, the streets that are not on the main avenues, that feel a little less frantic and busy, you can find restaurants that have built outdoor dining areas, and some of them are built in a way that looks very appealing. You’re outside, but really sort of inside, and as you walk along the sidewalk you can see tables and chairs, diners and servers, tablecloths, bottles of wine, lamps, and looking in it feels like a little sanctuary in the big city, a semi-secluded place to be, to meet with friends, to have dinner, as the life of the city swirls around just outside. Servers come from inside the restaurant, look both ways before crossing the bicycle path, enter these little sheds, set down plates and drinks, and then come back out, again looking both ways before crossing the bike lane (which we are all learning is important to do, as the bikes, many now motorized, go fast and heedless along their way). The city with its high energy, with its fast pace, its distracted pedestrians tuned into their headphones, the sounds of trucks and sirens and people talking to whoever they’re talking to on their phones, and just up ahead, a place to have dinner, by the curb but sheltered from the curb, a kind of world unto itself with menus and diners and these intimate conversations and the bustle of servers and clinking of glasses and plates, and with the cold air on this night and the bright shining lights of the high buildings and the vastness of this great city, it’s a human space, a respite from city life, apart from it and yet a part of it, and doesn’t that make it all that much more human?
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Who Is This Man In Church?

December 13, 2021

The view from the altar on this day, mass late on a Saturday afternoon, cold outside and getting darker and the gathered crowd in winter coats, and the view from up here is different from the view from the entrance, from here I can see what’s going on, the people with their shopping bags, in their chosen spots, standing, sitting, kneeling, praying, coming here from all kinds of places in the city and beyond.

And one man comes in, goes over to the bin that has overflowing bags of donated hoodies and gloves and hats, not far from the altar. He takes a bag from the bin, the bag says ”Container Store” and he walks closer to the altar, and he is carrying also a bouquet of flowers. He is talking – to himself, to anyone else? It’s hard to say. He is talking loudly enough so that he has captured the attention of people in the front pews. I see motion, movement. The sacristan moves quietly in this man’s direction. From the back the security guard moves closer. It’s all done very gently, no commotion, nothing seems wrong, and this man with his flowers and the bag he has taken from the bin is escorted quietly down the center aisle. I am trying to remember what to say, what part of the mass we’re in, what happens next. I see him, now near the entrance to the church, and he exits out the door, back to the street.

Where did he come from, where does he go? What did he mean to say? Who were the flowers for? It was enough, for me, during the mass, to notice that something was different, and even that something might happen, that he might approach the altar, and what would I do, or what would I say? The sacristan and the security guard have done their job well, quietly addressing this who knows what will happen moment, this could-be-an-incident which turned out to be no more than words in a church, a swiped bag from a bin. Everything goes on as normal, the bread is broken, ”this is my body” raised for all to see, the strange and wounded life of the city revealing itself all around us.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

December in NYC

December 6, 2021

There is something about being in New York in December, as the darkness settles in a little after 4:00pm, and in the church the Advent candles are lit, this week the second one shining within the wreath, and outside on the streets, a sense that something is in the air, that with the chill and the dark, there is also something anticipatory of Christmas that you can just feel as you’re outside on these days.

I love seeing the Christmas trees for sale on the sidewalks along Sixth Avenue, many of them smaller so they can fit into smaller apartments in the city. I love seeing the lights in the windows, some of them high up, and in an anonymous city like this one, there is something bright and hopeful and cheery about the lights. I love walking by Macy’s, or by the storefronts along upscale Fifth Avenue, the displays in the windows which have their own sense of wonder and joy, and bring me back to being a child gazing wide-eyed at snowy scenes with trees and just maybe a hint of Santa on his way. I love the chill in the air at night, the darkness and grime of the streets and then, just ahead, lights in a window that are green and red and white, that speak of some kind of gathering, the cold outside and the warmth within.

And one day last week, in the lower church here on 31st St. in New York, pausing at the Nativity that is always on display here, its tender scene of a newborn child in a manger, this holy family which will soon be on the run, shepherds and angels looking on, a distant city in the background, and a soft blue light that illuminates all of it, and gives the scene its own deep mystery and wonder, and speaks of a grace and beauty at the heart of all things.

I pause a while, imagine all the people who over the decades have seen this, and it draws me back once again to the events that we look ahead to as we move through this season of Advent, to the birth of this child whom we all long for and hope for, who comes to us in silence and peace, and invites us to pause in the middle of everything and remember the goodness and grace of this God who dwells among us.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Be Vigilant!

November 28, 2021

On this first Sunday of Advent, the reading from the gospel of Luke warns of ominous signs in the sky, the powers in heaven and earth shaken, and people dying ”in fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.” Luke writes his gospel right around the time that Rome has surrounded Jerusalem in siege; that event would have been fresh in Luke’s listeners minds, as their own world was shaken and turned upside down.

Luke goes on to tell us Jesus’ words of response to all this, ”Be vigilant at all times.” Be vigilant, be watchful, be alert. Watchful and alert for what? It seems in these times we’re in that those words could easily be interpreted as: live as if everything out there is threatening; live in fear of other people. And we have seen the effects of that. We have seen, in these past few weeks, very public trials involving men carrying weapons into public places, and the consequences of that. ”Be vigilant” as, ”arm yourselves” because we have much to fear.

But to be vigilant in this season of Advent means something else. A single candle is lit on the Advent wreath, and shines in the darkness like a lonely vision of what is to come at Christmas, the birth of a small and helpless and unarmed child who comes into the world not as one with power and strength as the world knows it, but with the power and strength of love that meets the other person unarmed, humbly, recognizing a common humanity between one another.

And so as followers of that one who is born among us in Bethlehem, you and I are called to vigilance for HIS way of being in the world, disciples of mercy, grace, and God’s goodness in our world.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

What Have You Done?

November 22, 2021

In the gospel for the day, Jesus is on trial before Pilate, he has been ”handed over” by his own nation and the chief priests, and he is left alone to be questioned by Pilate, who does not seem to know what to make of the whole scene. And Pilate, quizzically, asks, ”what have you done?” It’s an accusatory question. It’s Jesus in the position of defendant. And what has Jesus done? It’s the end of the liturgical year and so a good time to look back at what we’ve heard, what we’ve seen, the actions, words, gestures of this man’s life, and ”what he’s done” has been to reveal something of what he calls ”God’s Kingdom” to a waiting and longing world. His words raise people up, his touch heals people, he commands attention in the way he points to another way other than the way of power and weapons and violence and vengeance. This other way is the kingdom of God, which we see, sometimes, breaking into our world, if we have the eyes to see. Our nation has been watching a trial in Wisconsin over the past week, we received the verdict on Friday, and we’ve seen the reactions on both sides. In the midst of all of it, I was taken by a comment by one person, who said that ”Extreme gun culture has rotted our collective soul.” Those are kingdom words, those are prophetic words that ask us to consider the ”false kings” we worship in our culture today: gun culture, consumer culture, social media gossip culture, culture that dismisses and marginalizes the poor, the migrant, and others on the margins. The question of Pilate to Jesus, ”what have you done?” is, perhaps, turned toward us, as at the end of the liturgical year, and approaching Advent, we are asked in what ways we have believed in, had faith in, followed Jesus in a culture that worships many false kings. He has shown us the way, he has “done” for us the way of the cross, and the way remains open for all of us to follow him on his often lonely path to the cross.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Bread Line at 7

November 15, 2021

The day begins on the Bread Line, at 7am, and I walk out the door onto 31st St. and the tables are set up, the boxes of sandwiches, of peanut butter and jellies, of cakes, juice, day-old pastries from the shop on the corner. The gathered volunteers, waiting for the church bells to ring at 7 as a sign for the line to start moving. The street people emerging from wherever they emerge from, carrying their bags of tin cans, old clothes, pushing carts or hauling backpacks. The sun just beginning to light up the buildings, a straight line down 31st St. Checking to see what needs to be done: do we have enough volunteers? If there are only a few, we double up on responsibilities, multi-task, this one might shift over there to help put lids on coffee cups, this one might hand out sandwiches and also pastries and also maybe face masks. The line begins, moves along, slows up because why – someone trying to balance a cup of coffee with a container of oatmeal along with a bag of other things along with dragging a trash bag of tin cans along the sidewalk. The line gets restless, testy. Then it begins to move again. A man who comes sometimes wildly drunk, shouting at everyone on the line, “are you Catholic!?” After him, the next person rolls his eyes, takes his oatmeal, and goes his way. The hot oatmeal has come back now that it’s fall and the weather is beginning to get colder. My question for everyone who comes along, ”Apple or maple?” which is shorthand for apple cinnamon or maple brown sugar. Maple brown sugar seems to be slightly more popular. I peel back the cover and hand it to Irwin to my left, who adds hot water and a plastic spoon. We work well together, falling into the rhythm of “apple or maple?” and then the water. Sometimes someone wants it to go, ”don’t open it!” a woman yells, and she wants it in her bag for later. Around the church steps, past the end of the line, a whole bunch of people with their oatmeal and plastic spoon, an early morning version of a hot meal, such as it is. The sky continues to brighten to the east, lighting up the street. Across the street, the owner of the stationery store hoses down the sidewalk in front of his shop. The city begins to come to life, bicycles and scooters and taxi cabs and someone in a truck leaning on a horn because someone on the street is not moving the right way, and the Bread Line begins to come to an end, the last few stragglers coming for their bag, just a trickle of hot water left to fill, ”did you get a bag?” ”No I didn’t,” ”Would you like one?” ”I sure would.” and the life of the city rolls on.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

D train to the Bronx

November 8, 2021

The D train on a Tuesday morning, and the director of faith formation and I are on our way up to Fordham to meet with the assistant director of the Curran Center for American Catholic Studies, to see if there are ways we can collaborate on speakers and programs. We get the tour of Fordham, we have a good meeting in her office, we learn about past events like the Catholic Imagination conference, and who wouldn’t want to attend that? We talk about what it means to be Catholic today, and how sometimes it’s from artists that we learn the most – she tells us that at the Springsteen on Broadway show this past summer, Bruce ended the show by reciting the Our Father. How faith lingers in a culture, a prayer appears somewhere on stage in Times Square. We talk about Martin Scorsese, all those food scenes in GoodFellas, how his mother played the role of Tommy’s mother in the movie, how she makes a plate of pasta for her hoodlum son and his pals after they’ve come in from some nefarious deed. Jewish Karen tells Catholic Henry to hide his crucifix when he first meets her mother. ”I hear you’re half-Jewish” she says upon meeting him. ”Only the good half” he replies with a smirk.

Afterwards to nearby Arthur Avenue for lunch, and we go to Enzo’s and have pasta and eggplant and panini and a bottle of red wine. Italian to the core: all of us have some Italian blood and so are familiar with the bread, the wine, the pasta, the Godfather movies. And afterwards out into the street, full from a late lunch, and we can’t return to Manhattan without stopping in an Italian bakery. The cases with all the cookies and the cannolis and the biscotti, the white box with Madonia Bakery, 2348 Arthur Avenue, Bronx NY 10458 on the box, and ”Est 1918” alongside. I’ll take 20 biscotti, and I have to decide which kinds, five each of four different kinds, and I take the box to go. The walk back along a busy main street, now a combination of Italian and Dominican and Mexican and maybe others, looking now for the D train station, down the steps, a lingering look at this Bronx neighborhood, and back some day again for another taste of Italy.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

"Mass"- The Movie

November 1, 2021

Sometimes it’s the movies that tell us the stories that reveal what faith looks like lived out in the real world. Wednesday this past week, a walk down to Houston Street to see a movie ”Mass” which another friar has told me about, and it’s playing at the Angelika Theater for only a few more days. It’s a 6:15 show, not many people in the theater, and the lights go dim.

Most of the film is set in a meeting room at an Episcopal Church in Idaho. In the center of the room, a single table, four chairs around it. Then, entrances: a middle-aged couple arrive, check out the room. Soon after that, another middle-aged couple arrives. Who are they? One couple are the parents of a teenager killed in a school shooting. The other couple are the parents of the shooter. Well now, what will this movie be like?

We see, obviously, the pain of the victim’s family. We see their hesitance about even having this kind of meeting. What could even be hoped for in this kind of meeting? The mother of the other teenager brings a flower arrangement, as a kind of offering, and in its way it is heartbreaking, this effort at wanting to do something, anything at all. There are accusations – why didn’t you do more to stop your son? There are honest answers: we did all kinds of things, how could we have known? There are starts. There are stops. Did you know, says one mother, that we kept getting hate mail? The two mothers, wary of each other, and yet they see in each other something that needs to be known and seen, and the movie follows this.

In the background, all throughout the movie, there is a crucifix on the wall at the far end of the room, as if Christ himself is suffering through the pain of these two families, as if he sees it, knows it, watches over it. There is no clear, everybody-goes-home-happy resolution to it all, but we watch as a sort of Christian forgiveness and grace seep into the back-and-forth dialogue between these two families. How does forgiveness work? What needs to happen for forgiveness to happen? It seems a kind of truth needs to enter into it, a breaking down of whatever lies on the surface and a deep and often painful confronting of what’s really there – and, when that can happen, something new breathes forth into a room, into human lives.

I’m not sure why the movie is called ”Mass” since there is no liturgy in it, although the friar who recommended it wondered if the ”mass” refers to “mass” shootings – I don’t know. But it’s a powerful, intense film that brings us close to two very human families, does not leave us with easy answers, and helps us think again before we casually blame other people for the tragedies that life can bring. It’s worth seeing if you can find it.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Indigenous

October 25, 2021

At a bookstore in NYC – a physical bookstore, the best kind – on the shelves is a book I have never heard of before, never knew was out there. It’s ”An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament: First Nations Version.” There’s one copy in hardcover and one copy in paperback. The hardcover has a pleasing heft, with good paper, and I decide to buy it.

Looking through it later, I find phrases such as ”eternal life” translated as ”the life of the world to come that never fades away, full of beauty and harmony” and I immediately fall in love with that kind of phrasing. We all hope for ”eternal life”, but ”the life of the world to come that never fades away, full of beauty and harmony” sounds so much richer, sounds like a day in the mountains or on a river or meadow somewhere, with bright sunshine, and who wouldn’t want that for eternal life?

Or this: the name Jesus is translated ”Creator Sets Free.” ”Gospel” is translated, ”Good Road.” Mary as ”Bitter Tears.”

I keep it on my desk and I already like looking at it, opening it up to see its way of translating familiar texts from the gospels. I’ve always been drawn to Native American culture, have been to New Mexico and Arizona and visited pueblos and have a small black pot on my desk which I bought from a potter from the San Ildefonso Pueblo, back in 2012.

It’s good to find books like this, books which remind us of the universality of the gospel, of the humble ways the Word takes root in different cultures. John’s gospel begins this way, ”Long ago, in the time before all days, before the creation of all things, the one who is known as the Word was there face to face with the Great Spirit.” I keep opening up the book and marveling at the poetry within.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

A Short Hike in the White Mountains

October 18, 2021

My father and me, and his friend Ed, at the base lodge at Wildcat Mountain in New Hampshire on Friday. Ed is 87 years old, and my father will turn 87 next month. We stand here at the base and look up at the ski trails, green now in autumn, the ski lifts – the quad chair and the triple chair – motionless now, but once the snow arrives, ferrying skiers to the top of Wildcat.

These two have known each other since college, which is what, 70 years almost now, and they tell stories about days in the late 1950s, early 1960s, taking the ski train up from North Station in Boston, skiing for the day, and then taking the train back. There is at Wildcat an old gondola from maybe the 1950s, and it’s preserved there, and you can take your picture next to it, and I remember riding that back in the 1970s and 1980s. I take a picture of Ed and my father, one on either side of it.

Across Route 16, hidden in clouds and fog, is Mt. Washington, and high up on the mountain is Tuckerman’s Ravine, where they used to walk – walk! – with their skis, boots, poles high up to the ravine – a good two miles up hill – and then ski down its steep side. On this day, a mixture of sun and clouds, they talk about those days, but we’re going to walk instead a short path, maybe 3/4 of a mile, to Thompson Falls, which our White Mountain guide book tells us is a short, easy hike from the Wildcat parking lot, and certainly far more manageable for these two skiers/hikers now in their 80s.

It’s a trail going in, among the pines, with tree roots that need to be navigated, and at one spot a stream to be crossed by carefully stepping on stones in the water. I watch them both and help them across – watching for balance. Later, the path ascends, and we stop to rest and breathe in the pine and fresh mountain air. The sound below of water flowing. Then we arrive, the sound of water closer, and there it is, these falls, the water flowing from somewhere above, and a pool of water below, and we stop and allow the scene to settle with us: fresh air, water, sun and clouds, smooth stones in the pool.

The days of grueling hikes to summits are in the past for my father and for Ed, but here we are on this day, not high up but still here in this place of memories, of mountains and streams and rivers and fresh cool autumn air, and it brings us all back to days when we went hiking in the woods and mountains and what it felt like to be alive in God’s good creation, and this maybe part of the roots, for me, of my Franciscan vocation, to feel a part of it all. I take a picture of my father and Ed by the rock pool, and I am grateful for just this time, this day, these memories of what came before and what’s here now, of what we hold.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

The Cloisters

October 10, 2021

The A train way up to the northern edge of Manhattan, off at 190th Street which is a long way from where I started at Penn Station, and out into the sunshine and to Fort Tryon Park where I walk up steep pathways looking for….the Cloisters. I have to ask someone who points me the right way, and even this seems a nice moment of civility on this bright and sunny Monday morning.

And here it is, like a medieval castle in this park in northern Manhattan, and inside I am immediately transported to some other time, long ago, this chapel with an archway and a crucifix from the thirteenth century, stone carvings of the Annunciation and the Visitation, a stone baptismal font from that time and I gaze at it and wonder, what has this stone witnessed over these many centuries, how many people baptized who have lived lives and now live in an eternal life that all this beauty witnessed to in its time?

It’s something to just pause, look around, look up, imagine these artifacts from another time transported all the way to New York, set up here looking out over the Hudson River, on this Indian-summer-esque day. There’s a way outside to a stone balcony, and from there the river flows as if to remind us of the always-present flow of life and all things, of the change in color of leaves which hints at a new season. There’s a garden with herbs and flowers which would have been of the time of the Middle Ages. There’s a breeze. The city, in all its bustle, is somewhere to the south, and for now everything feels like grace.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Saturday Night on The ER

October 4, 2021

The evening begins well, on this weekend of the Feast of St. Francis, with a bottle of wine at dinner that comes from Umbria, which we request because Umbria is where Assisi is, and it seems appropriate. But soon after, the friar here with us has to leave the table, and he returns not long after and doesn’t look well, and tells us he needs to go to urgent care, something with his esophagus, which has happened before with him, and so we go to an urgent care at 13th St. and 7th Avenue, around 8:00pm on a Saturday night.

We are there for 3+ hours, and by 11:30 or so the doctor agrees to his being discharged, and he’s relieved to be able to go home. And what’s it been like, on a Saturday night in Manhattan, waiting in the emergency room for some sort of resolution?

A big part of it is waiting. And waiting. And more waiting. Here’s half a can of ginger ale, see if you can hold this down. Here you are in this room, room #4, one room among many rooms, and outside this room is a nurse’s station, and next to this room is an armed police officer, in case of something, and the view out of this room is to the place where ambulances arrive, and every now and then the friar will say, here comes another one, someone being admitted, on this Saturday night in Manhattan. A woman in room 3, right next to us, leaves her room and wanders out into the hallway, and turns to enter our room, and an attentive nurse says to her, no honey, not there, what do you need, let’s go back to your room, and takes her back. The doctor comes in, asks some questions. The friar guesses he might be from some central European country, and he sort of looks like Novak Djokovic. He’s formal, says, “please drink your ginger ale, sir.” A nurse comes in, does what nurses do, checks things, adjusts things, leaves and comes back. The room is plain: a bed, a chair, a cabinet, a patients bill of rights on the wall, hospital lighting above, a clock which continuously reveals just how late this evening has become.

A fair amount of anxiety: what will happen, admitted to the hospital, or free to go home? We don’t know. More waiting, and signs, in time, of improvement, of getting better. But waiting still. And this nurse. She is from Scotland, has lived in Philadelphia and Australia, speaks with the kind of accent that leads to the question, where are you from? She is attentive in all the best ways. Tends to the patient with warmth and compassion, dignity and kindness. What must it be like to work an ER in New York City? She tells us that Philadelphia was harder, working in a hospital in North Philly near Temple University, the violence of that part of the city. What she’s seen.

The constant motion of all of it, all of these ER workers, and I can see why there was a long-running TV show of the same name, so much drama, so many stories to be found here. A young woman who is wobbly from something, being guided in by a friend. A man mumbling to himself as he sits alone in a small room. Police officers arriving, and what kinds of things do they see on a Saturday night in the city?

Waiting, more waiting, and then good news: you are free to be discharged. Even this takes time. Some papers to sign, instructions to take home. Good finally to leave, and it feels like leaving a drama that started before we arrive and continues after we’ve gone. Human life in its fragility, and in that, the tenderness and care of those who work on the front line of it all, tending to wounded people, like this nurse from Scotland with the captivating accent, who made an anxious friar on a Saturday night feel a little more at ease. That’s grace right there.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Jubilee of Profession

September 27, 2021

A program in my hand from Thursday night, and it reads ”Jubilee of Profession of Vows in the Franciscan Order,” and ”jubilee of profession” means those friars in the province who made their first profession of vows either 25 or 50 years ago. My first profession was in June of 1996, in Providence, RI, and so this is the year for my 25th, although one wise guy in the house asks me if it’s my 50th. Friars can be like that. Profession is not ordination – profession is vows made to the Franciscan order, and once those vows are made a friar can decide to pursue ordination, as I did, or decide to pursue other things, such as teaching or social work or really anything at all. One friar who is currently in formation is a barber.

The jubilee is held this past Thursday night, postponed from its usual time in June due to the pandemic, and there are around 30 or so friars in the church. It’s a mass, the presider is the provincial minister of the province, and after the homily, the “renewal of vows by the jubilarians” which we all speak together (there are 7 of us, including last year’s group which could not gather at all due to the pandemic).

I save the program and read over these vows a few days afterwards. It begins ”All praise be yours, O Lord, for all creation gives you glory. All praise be yours, O Lord, for all good things come from you. All praise be yours, O Lord, for you call us to the life of your risen Son.”

25 years ago in Providence RI I was a nervous, ”what am I getting into” 32-year-old who professed vows, but who honestly had little or no idea of what he was getting into. Which is probably to be expected, right? In his homily on Thursday, the provincial spoke about our lives as friars, the 7 of us over the years serving in ministries all over the East Coast, and our lives formed and touched by encounters with people, seeking to create a space for the Holy amid the everyday.

The 7 of us stood behind the altar, looking out over the church and seeing friars we’ve known for years, remembering our years of ministry in places we’d never imagined we’d be, and for me, that includes a death row ministry in North Carolina, a soup kitchen in inner-city Philadelphia, having to announce the friars’ withdrawal from parishes in Providence RI and Raleigh NC, countless encounters with people as signs of grace and goodness along the way.

And as I read over the program from Thursday, the renewal of vows begins with praise: it all belongs to God. As much as we sometimes might think ”it’s up to me” (and don’t we all think that sometimes?), as I read this over, all goodness, all life, all everything emerges from a loving and creating and renewing God, and 25 years into it all, it still feels ongoing and surprising, and that’s a good thing!
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Unmapped Territory

September 20, 2021

From a book I found at the Strand Bookstore, called ”Consider the Birds” by Debbie Blue, and it’s a reflection on birds in the bible and also a wider reflection on the bible itself, and in a reflection on the Israelites’ time wandering in the wilderness, she writes, ”There’s no logical or geographical reason for it to take forty years to get from Egypt to the Promised Land. We sometimes believe the shortest path is the best one, but maybe there is a need to wander. There is unmapped territory that needs to be explored – desires to be let go of, renounced, or transformed.” (p. 57).
I write all this down in a notebook, the whole quote, because it seems to get at something of the human experience, and how to interpret the bible. The ”unmapped territory” of the forty years of wandering: reading this not as a story about how they got from Point A to Point B, but maybe there’s an interior story here about the human experience of wandering, of not getting there promptly, of way stations along the way, of paths taken that don’t seem to lead anywhere, but then do, of God’s patience with our right turns and our wrong turns, and our general puzzlement sometimes as to how or where to go in life. The ”unmapped territory” that can be the place of divine presence and encounter, whether we’re aware of it or not (and usually, at least for me, it’s not!).
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

The Stream in the Woods

September 17, 2021

In New Hampshire, a few weeks back, and how I love to be in New Hampshire, whether it’s in the Lakes Region or further north in the White Mountains, it all holds memories. I’m in Sanbornville, NH, where our family has had a home since 1976, when I was 12, and on this day a few weeks back I walk from the lake house, down past the Poor People’s Pub, past the Lovell Lake Food Market, past the town hall, and turn right onto Forest Street where I walk all the way down to where we had that first NH house back in 1976, until we sold it in 1992 for the current house on the lake. And I look at that house that we had, now added on to, and it doesn’t look like the original house but it sort of does, and it holds all kinds of memories, with the tennis court right next to it, and I am sure dozens of tennis balls lost in the marsh next to it, sent over the fence sometime back in 1979 or so, when we were gathering around the old black and white TV set to watch Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe in their heyday. It’s all there, it all looks much the same, and I stand there and remember that 40 years ago we were teenagers here, playing games, going for swims, planning hikes and ski trips.

I linger awhile, because memories have a way of settling and holding on, and I look around at the houses and the pond and the trees and the tennis court with the original chain link fence, and remember all of us back then, younger (!) of course, and how the years have a way of adding up and disappearing, and yet how places continue to hold us, as in, these things happened here, in this place, and the landscape holds it all.

I walk on, go and see St. Anthony’s Church which is not far away. The doors are locked. I walk back in the parking lot, and behind the parking lot there are woods, and I remember from all those years ago there was a stream back there. I go back and look. Cars drive by in the street out front, but they seem far away. The parking lot is empty. It’s late in the afternoon and no one is around. I go to the edge of the asphalt, look into the tangled woods. I hear, faintly, running water, and there, I can see it, just a glimpse of a stream in the woods. And then, just then, sunlight reflecting off branches, off the water, and is this a sign? A sign of what? Maybe, it seems, of a kind of abiding baptismal presence through the years, a stream of life that runs through it, even when the traffic of everyday life seems the only thing we can hear – here, now, this sunlight on water and tree, this is the abiding presence in your life, and sometimes we are granted a look, a moment, in which it all seems to be there, an ”I am with you” kind of moment, and I linger, again, for a moment, and then begin walking back, deeply grateful for a hidden stream in the woods which reveals its presence within the everyday and the ordinary.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

9/11

September 13, 2021

Walking down Sixth Avenue on a sunny and cool Saturday morning, and the date is September 11th, 2021, and in the distance, all the way down the avenue, I can see the Freedom Tower, and I know that twenty years ago on this day, right around this time, there was a very different view looking down Sixth. I have visited the site, seen the empty footprints of where the buildings once stood, read the names of those who died, including that of Mychal Judge, a friar who died that day in the towers, and whose name is now inscribed on South Pool, Panel S-18, under the grouping of First Responders, agency name New York City Fire Department Chaplain, OFM. Not far from there is a tree that survived the day, now fenced in with a plaque, its branches reaching outward and upward. I talk to a friar who lives here and who tells me on that day, he remembers seeing Mychal Judge come down the stairs and going out the door, and he thinks he may have been the last friar to have spoken with him. He now has Mychal’s umbrella in his room, as a kind of memento. I talk with a friar who tells me that Mychal’s body was brought to the fire department which is right across the street from here. I talk with a woman who, on that day, was living where she lives now, in lower Manhattan, and remembers the ash and smoke and awful terror of the day. In the church, on the left hand side, is part of the wreckage from the towers, and someone has set a single rose in the midst of it. A friar at dinner tonight tells me that yesterday, 9/11/21, he walked down to the memorial, said it was filled with crowds, with people leaving flowers at the site. At mass, there are prayers. There is a moment of silence at the beginning, and a bell tolls five times. At night, rising into the night sky, two beams of light which symbolize what used to be there, a memory of what happened twenty years ago, rising like a prayer for those who died, like hope for those of us who remember.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Driving Back into the City

September 6, 2021

Driving back into New York City on a Sunday night of Labor Day weekend….with all the hopes that maybe, just maybe, traffic may be lighter because of the holiday. The way that traffic comes to a near halt on 95 approaching the George Washington Bridge; the truck or whatever it might be behind me with its high beams shining brightly; the ever-present fast-moving car weaving in and out of lanes; the trying-to-make-sure I’m in the right lane so I can exit onto the Henry Hudson Parkway, and then finding that the right lane that exits onto the Hudson Parkway merges with incoming traffic from somewhere else, and so in the darkness and lights the right-hand blinker to get over there; the way the parkway splits into north and south and trying to make sure I’m in the southbound lane, which means a quick look and a quick crossover into that lane; the parkway and its multiple lanes and multiple cars changing lanes quickly and so the attentive watching, all with the Hudson River on the right, and the city in all its bright lights and traffic and high buildings sprawling on the left; the exit onto 42nd St, the right turn onto 11th Avenue, the left turn onto 37th, the right turn onto 7th Avenue, and watching, watching, watching to see what that bicycle will do, where that pedestrian will go, and finally the left onto 32nd and then right into the garage, which, strangely enough, feels almost peaceful and calm compared to the spectacle of the city outside. And so I have driven back into the city on a Sunday night, and I remember that only yesterday morning I was at a lake in New Hampshire, a cool breeze coming in off the water, sunshine, kayaks, and a day later in an altogether different place, now back in my room, unpacked, and how is it that we are who we are and where we are, that I can be among the lakes and mountains and fresh air of New Hampshire, and not long after turn into a parking garage on West 32nd St. in midtown Manhattan, and as I wait to turn left onto 42nd St., the window down, the city air, “Exile on Main Street” side 3 on the speakers, it seems true to me that God has led me places and shown me places that I quite possibly never could have imagined, and it feels like grace.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Driving in NYC

August 30, 2021

Early Sunday morning and I am leaving the city by car, driving north out of Manhattan on my way to Massachusetts, with a stop in Providence RI on the way to meet my brother. The car is ready to go in the garage, parked on the side, and this part, the exiting of the garage onto 32nd St. , and the navigating the streets of Manhattan to leave the city, is the high-alert part, the leave-the-radio-off part as I fully concentrate on driving these streets. Sunday morning at 9:00am is not a bad time to venture out – streets not so busy, not a lot of traffic, not so many pedestrians. But the pedestrians are still there, and they still crowd the intersections, and so driving becomes a combination of pressing forward and claiming the lane, always with a large dose of defensiveness and caution that anything at all could happen on these streets.

And so I pull onto 32nd St., a right turn out of the garage, stopping and waiting for pedestrians on the sidewalk coming from both directions. Then it’s the intersection of 32nd and 6th, and I have a red light, and yet an officer is waving me forward – why? I go forward, look both ways, and she is doing this because there is a major bicycle event going on this day in the city, and she tells me through my open driver-side window that I can’t turn left onto 6th Avenue as I’d hoped, there are “too many bikes,” and I can only go straight ahead.

And so I go…straight ahead. 32nd to Madison, left on Madison, right on 34th, then straight on 34th to the FDR Expressway, which goes north out of the city and onto 95. The city streets at this hour, in these neighborhoods, are mostly quiet, and the most challenging part of the drive is making sure I’m in the proper lane, as lanes have a way of suddenly turning into right-turn or left-turn only lanes, but it does not become an issue on this morning.

And the highways, the FDR becoming something else, which becomes something else, and I haven’t left the city via the east side in a long time so I have to pay closer attention to all the exits and signs, since I usually leave via the west side, along the Hudson. There is something about driving in New York City – it requires a whole other level of hyper-attentiveness, and at least on a Sunday morning it’s not so bad, and it all eases up once I’m out of the city and onto 95, like whoever thought that 95 would be a relief from driving anywhere?

And then, three hours later, I am in Providence, RI, and I stop at St. Mary’s on Broadway where I was once pastor 10 years ago, and then to Wayland Square where I meet my brother for lunch, and then to Wakefield MA where I am staying with my other brother, and at night I take his black lab out for a walk around Lake Quannapowitt, and I look across the night water and marvel at how we can inhabit such different worlds in one single day.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Profusion of Line

August 23, 2021

Back, and back again, and back even again, to the Museum of Modern Art, to the Cezanne Drawing exhibition, and from the exhibition catalogue this description of the artist’s work:

“What is most distinct about his drawing is the profusion of line – the way it multiplies, repeats, twists, trembles, searches. Wary of singularity, definition, purity, Cezanne warned that, however beautiful, a precise ‘bloodless’ contour should not be trusted….what we comprehend in these multiplied, repeated, crossed, and aligned strokes is the material equivalent of seeing, whether that seeing is wholly contingent, uncertain, and precarious; on the verge of coming to terms with its subject or an allowance that something may be more than one thing; or a demonstration of how vision fails as it rounds an edge, the limits of sight…such a refusal of contour, or borders, of finality, of commitment is found throughout Cezanne’s pencil drawings.” (“Cezanne Drawing”, p. 15).

I write all this down in my little notebook because it so well describes what I see at MoMA and why I keep going back. Drawn lines as repeating, twisting, trembling, searching; precise contours “not to be trusted” (!); some thing as maybe “more than one thing”; how vision can fail “as it rounds an edge.”

It’s all an acknowledgement of how life can seem to be, made up of searching lines that may go somewhere or may not; how things are seldom precise or perfectly resolved; how there is more to things or people or the world itself than we think we know; how much is unknown or unseen on the other side of whatever horizon I see; how life can seem a trembling, twisting, multiplying, repeating search for what’s there or not there.

And so I keep going back, maybe for only 25-30 minutes at a time, to look again at a drawing of apples and pears, or a study of trees which only hints at the subject and leaves large sections of empty, unfilled space, or of a forest path which disappears into blankness, a few trees, some foliage, not much else. As if to say, you fill in what’s not there, leave room for mystery and the unknown, be open to the presence of grace in the unfilled places of your life.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Larry Looking for a Place to Rest

August 16, 2021

The early mass this morning, 8 o’clock, and where do people come from at this time of the day on a Sunday morning, from the nearby subway, from the streets, and in any case they are here, maybe, like the presider, still not quite fully awake, waiting for a post-mass coffee with its jolt of caffeine to spark the day.

From where I stand at the chair looking out over the church, I can scan the crowd, some familiar, some surely visitors to the city arriving from nearby Penn Station, or on their way somewhere in this always-moving city. It’s not a neighborhood church, it’s not a place where people necessarily know each other. At the sign of peace during the mass, the now standard turn and wave to anyone within waving distance.

Mass begins, begun by a beautiful song by the cantor who later will solo an Ave Maria that transports me to a medieval church somewhere in France, this soaring voice. And I look out, and halfway down the center aisle, settling into an empty pew, I see Larry, whom I know only as – Larry.

Larry is a regular on the Bread Line, he shuffles up to the Line toward the end, and all of us working the Line have developed a strange sort of affection for him. He barely can speak. He arrives in an old blue jacket, old white sneakers, carrying a bag with him, inside of which I once saw, among the sandwiches and peanut butter snacks he had, a Rubik’s cube. Larry approaches the Line and always has to select what he wants himself: we stand back and let him take his sandwich, his peanut butter and jelly, his cake, his coffee.

We are glad to see him, we ask him how he’s doing, and he always replies, “good, good” in a vaguely mute way. He might say “OK.” Or he might say again, “good, good.” There is little if anything more. And here today, at the 8 o’clock mass, he arrives and takes his spot, but he does not seem to be aware of what’s going on, or what the mass is, he’s just here in the church, a place to rest, or a place to find some peace perhaps, and he is familiar and surely troubled and someone once said that he spends most of the day standing up in Penn Station, and so when he comes to our church on 31st St. he rests, during the week in the lower church, head bowed down, bag by his side, left alone.

And today he’s in the upper church, he’s found his place whether he knows what’s going on around him or not. At the end of mass, as I walk down the center aisle, I pause and I lean his way, tell him hello, and he looks up and says, “good, good”, and then I continue on my way. Where will he go afterwards, where does he come from, what does he do – he is, no doubt, one of God’s own, dispossessed in some way and yet in his gentleness, maybe even his lostness, his needing a place to rest for a while, an image of an incarnate God who searched and searched and searched until finally born into this world in a forgotten stable.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Directions?

August 9, 2021

I am walking south on Sixth Avenue one day last week, amid the usual crowds and the usual distractions, the bicycles riding the wrong way either in the bike lane or (maddeningly) on the sidewalk itself; the street vendors selling what must be fake bags and sunglasses and iPhone cases; pedestrians walking with earbuds and talking to….someone else somewhere. An overall effect of utter distraction and rapid movement – add in cars, trucks, sirens, horns leaned on, walk/don’t walk signs, and you realize quickly that walking in New York City is not like walking around a pond somewhere, but like merging into the far left lane on the highway, from 0-60 in hardly any time at all, constantly watching for what’s coming at you, and needing to pivot quickly to avoid…something or someone.

And so I am walking south on my way, and at the corner of 6th and 25th, a woman walking near me turns to me and asks, “is this 8th?” It’s a rare moment, someone asking directions or for orientation, and that hardly ever happens anymore in these days of smartphones. And, she is younger! A younger person than me asking directions! What universe have I landed in?

Is this 8th? She wants to know if she’s on 8th Avenue and she’s not, she’s on 6th. I am momentarily startled by the question, or not so much the question as the fact that it’s a question that’s been asked: a person wanting to know if she’s in the right place, going the right way. This hardly ever happens anymore and so when it does happen, it’s a recognition of a kind of public accountability we have to one another: we can offer a courtesy, we can share what we know, we can help place a person on the right path to somewhere. For a moment, there are no earbuds, no squawking phones, but a question, an encounter.

And so I answer her, tell her she’s in fact on 6th and that to get to 8th she needs to turn right here, pass over 7th, and then she’ll get to 8th. And she turns right and is on her way. And I continue on my way, south on 6th, and I feel like what, a New Yorker, or one who knows my way around the city, or one who has had an encounter with another person in the city that is not electronic or virtual, but one that involves a few words, a gesture, a pointing that way. And as 6th Avenue once again reclaims its chaotic flow, I walk along happy to have shared one bit of minor knowledge with a stranger now on her way, in this vast and beautiful city.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Early Saturday Morning Walk

August 2, 2021

Early Saturday morning, and it’s unseasonably cool on this last day of July in the city, temperatures in the 60s, and I walk down the five flights of stairs to the first floor and out the door onto 31st St, and now, the question, where to go? Which direction? Here on 31st between 6th and 7th is sort of like living in no definable place: it’s not a neighborhood, there is little or no charm, no trees, though there are a couple of restaurants across the street which seem to do well. We are a place on the way to somewhere else: Penn Station is nearby and everyone, it seems, is in transit. We are a crossroads, but hardly anyone would say, “let’s go explore 31st St. between 6th and 7th.”

So, to go out the door, where to go? I go to the left, to the east, and then south on 6th, and stop at Chelsea Flea Market on 25th St. where a few weeks back I found a Neolithic arrowhead for sale, and some time before that I found a pre-Colombian axe-head. An awareness of deep time as I hold them in my hand. It’s early at Chelsea Flea, warm in the sun, and I like to just look and see what’s there. And then from there further east on 25th St., all the way to 1st Avenue, and it’s in these places that you feel like you’re in a neighborhood, brownstones and little shops selling coffee and snacks, dry cleaners, shoe repair shops, the ubiquitous pizza shops (“$2/slice!”). A sleeping city slowly beginning to emerge into the light.

And then south on 1st Avenue, all the way down to Houston Street, the temperature slowly rising into the higher 60s or lower 70s, a cool breeze, a blue sky. People out getting their coffee. People walking their dogs, all kinds of dogs, the dogs a kind of conversation piece for those passing by. Hardly any traffic this time of day – even with the “don’t walk” sign, you can look down any of these side streets and see that no car is coming and make your way across the street.

Late morning now, the city now coming to fuller life, especially in the Village, and it’s mostly younger people out in the fresh morning air. The clear blue sky, the sun on the sidewalk, all the little stories being told on all the blocks, tables set up selling bags and books and iPhone cases, food trucks selling kabobs and bottles of water. Noontime now, a lot of walking, my bottle of water run out, and here’s a pizza place with freshly made pies, and I’ll have a slice of meatball/pepperoni and a slice of pineapple and another bottle of water, right there in the shop on Bleecker Street. Early afternoon now and….time to begin to walk back to 31, and the city this morning has been exhilarating and alive and such a joy to walk and take in.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

The Incomprehensible Universe

July 28, 2021

I read an obituary in Monday’s New York Times, and it’s of a physicist who won the Nobel Prize for his work, and I’m drawn to some lines toward the end which read this way: “In his interview with the Nobel Institute, he was asked about [an oft-quoted line] – ‘The more that the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless. What I meant by that statement is that there is no point to be discovered in nature itself; there is no cosmic plan for us. We are not actors in a drama that has been written with us playing the starring role. There are laws – we are discovering those laws – but they are impersonal, they are cold.”

He added: “It is not an entirely happy view of human life. I think it is a tragic view, but that is not new to physicists. A tragic view of life has been expressed by so many poets – that we are here without purpose, trying to identify something that we care about.” The obit added that he “opposed religion, believing that it undermined efforts to seek and discover truth.”

I am not a physicist and I did not do well in science in school. But I love what scientists do. When I studied theology in Washington D.C. there was a professor there who taught a course on science and religion, how they each were their own “magisterium” – they each had their own way of seeking, their own questions, their own approach – and yet they did not need to be at odds with one another. They each help to make sense of the world in their own ways.

The quotes from the obit are insightful into the laws of nature, but so, so bleak about what we mean by meaning. What does it all add up to, it seems to ask. We can study it, we can find patterns, we can discover what’s happening, and yet, in the end, everything just sort of stays distant from us, observable and identifiable and classifiable, and yet….nothing really beyond or behind at all. Religion (my field!) cannot explain a lot of things, but “identifying something to care about” is something that religion does have something to say about. The life of Christ is a life immersed into the beauty and terror of human life – no promises here that everything will be easy (“take up your cross!” = expect that life will you bring you difficult and painful things).

And it’s those figures in human history who somehow, in a world and culture in which “care” seems far away, saw something beyond that, and through their lives and witness, spoke or acted in a way that made the existence of God real, even if unseen, doubted, or disbelieved. I think of Oscar Romero in El Salvador in the 1970s, Dorothy Day in New York City in the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr.’s deep faith during the civil rights era. And so I read this obit, am amazed at the life’s work of this physicist, am curious about this apparent gap between what we can see or know or classify or describe, and the other kind of knowing – more intuitive, more heart, more drawn to love and mercy and compassion as somehow embedded into all of this chaotic life, and I respond not with despair but with a deeper kind of looking and longing at what’s there and what could be, a Franciscan view of the goodness of the whole creation (even amid suffering), and a sense that whatever God we believe in is not just “up there” but within it all, suffering along with us (see the cross!), and with us even in that, with a kingdom yet to come.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

The Joshua Tree

July 24, 2021

I find at a Barnes and Noble on Fifth Avenue a book with the title “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know” and I am right away drawn to this title. It has a subtitle “The fascinating stories behind great works of art, literature, music, and film.” So who wouldn’t want to see what’s there? There are images on the cover: Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” (which happens to be 7 blocks north of this Barnes and Noble, at the Museum of Modern Art), a cathedral, a photograph of Mahalia Jackson, an image of the Tanner painting of the Annunciation, and there in the far left corner, the album cover of “The Joshua Tree” by U2.

Later in the week I find a used copy of that U2 album and I play it on my CD player. It was a huge hit for the band in 1987, when I was much younger than I am now…:), and I remember seeing the band play the Orpheum Theater in Boston in 1983, getting tickets for a group of friends and me for $12 each, being in the balcony on that night, and the sound of a band that was on the rise.

And knowing, also, that there was something spiritual about them, that their soaring sound carried a kind of longing or yearning or searching, and that their song lyrics referred to the band members’ own Christian spirituality. And on “The Joshua Tree” – a song called “Mothers of the Disappeared” which is about the mothers of those who were “disappeared” during the war in El Salvador in the 1980s; a song called “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with the lyric “I believe in the kingdom come/and all the colors, bleed into one, bleed into one…” It’s that lyric, with that song title, that stays with me: the title of the song is about searching and looking and longing and hoping, and in what? Some kind of kingdom to come, in which all the colors (of what? Humanity, right?) bleed into one – and it’s an achingly beautiful song that expresses hope that, amid everything going on every day in the world, there is a kingdom to come that God will usher in, and we are all still hoping and searching for it. And so the “75 Masterpieces” book has me looking for more, and what’s there? Bob Dylan, Flannery O’Connor, Emily Dickinson, Rembrandt, Graham Greene, Willa Cather…and more. The world in all its beauty speaks to us.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Cezanne Drawing

July 19, 2021

An exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and on this day, as the crowds begin to come back in the city, it’s more crowded than I’ve seen it in a long while. This one I’m drawn to, it’s called Cezanne Drawing, and for whatever reason Paul Cezanne has become an artist I want to learn more about – he was a kind of bridge figure between Impressionism and what was to become Cubism and abstraction.

I am in no way a trained art scholar but there is something about Cezanne, the way he could look at a landscape, or a human figure, or a table with apples and pears, and draw these things in a way that makes them look vital and infused with their own kind of internal energy.

And so I enter the crowded gallery, read the signs and descriptions that help orient the viewer, and begin to just look – and maybe that’s the key, it’s all about looking, not for “meaning” or any kind of big picture thing, but only to look and see what’s there.

From the introduction: “Cezanne believed that drawing each afternoon prepared him ‘to see well the following day.’ To consider Cezanne drawing is to recognize his tireless efforts to look, and look again.”

There is a holy kind of beauty in all this: seeing, looking (and looking again!). You could say that the gospels are all about seeing and looking, and seeing and looking all over again, all in the light of God’s kingdom. Artists help us with that. I am grateful to be able to walk the 22 blocks north to MoMA to be reminded of this.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

My Octopus Teacher

July 12, 2021

I hear somewhere about a new documentary about an octopus, and a diver who develops a kind of attachment to the octopus, and one day I have a chance to see this documentary, which is called “My Octopus Teacher.” Interesting, just the title, right? That this diver would be open to being taught something by an octopus – I’m in.

The documentary is set somewhere near Australia, and it’s about a diver who decides to commit to diving every day to “visit” an octopus. The undersea world is fascinating, filled with all kinds of sea creatures swimming and hiding behind things, small fish and bigger sharks, all kinds of life. Octopus, we learn, are extremely intelligent, and we see this throughout the documentary. An octopus can hide from a predator by collecting shells and hiding within all the shells, and this is the way the diver first encounters the octopus.

What is moving in this documentary is the way the diver and the octopus begin to develop a kind of trust between each other. The diver commits to diving every day, and over time the octopus begins to emerge from its hiding place, as if to seek to know somehow this strange diver who appears, and who does not appear to be a threat. Over time, the octopus begins to reach out one of its tentacles, like a gesture of greeting, or of trust, and it’s both strange and beautiful to see this begin to happen, this creature of the deep and this human diver, developing a kind of trust between each other.

The diver, over time, begins to see the octopus as his teacher, as helping him to understand what it means to encounter “the other.” And what, really, could be more “other” than an octopus? We see, throughout this documentary, how this daily encounter with an octopus begins to open him up to the interrelatedness of all things (very Franciscan, I might say!). It’s moving to see this, and it opens our eyes to a natural world that is far more connected, and far more sentient, than perhaps we have imagined. Most definitely worth a look…
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Smoothies On The Way

July 5, 2021

A walk up Fifth Avenue with my brother one day, and it’s a lot of blocks from where I live on 31st St. up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 82nd St. But it’s an interesting walk: block after block of all kinds of busyness, people tuned into their earbuds or talking on their phones, shopkeepers sweeping the sidewalk, someone begging for a dollar or a scrap of food while holding up a cardboard sign, the ongoing game of pedestrian vs. automobile at every intersection, the guessing just how many cars will drive through the just-turned red light before the pedestrians once again claim their spot in the intersection. It’s a long walk, a sensory-overload walk, and when Fifth Avenue arrives at Central Park, a calmer walk. No intersections to cross, the park with its green on the left, distinguished older buildings on the right, and now, just up ahead, among the many food carts, one that sells smoothies. Healthy, right? We stop and look. There are more than 30 combinations you can choose from: strawberry, banana, lime, pineapple, ginger, honey, apple – in all sorts of mixtures.

It’s that time of the morning when I am not overly hungry but a smoothie, a healthy smoothie, with fruit and other healthy sounding things, sounds like the thing for the moment, and so my brother and I each get one, as the man in the food truck starts the blender whirring, and we each have a cool and presumably healthy drink as we continue our walk up Fifth Ave.

The sun is out, there is the sound of kids playing in the park nearby, we walk by a building somewhere in the 60s with the words “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself” inscribed on its facade, we draw close to the Met where my brother, visiting from Rhode Island for the day and in the midst of a divorce, has wanted to see paintings by Thomas Cole of the wilds of New York and New England, these expansive images of open space and light. We stop a moment outside the museum as I retrieve my membership card, good for me and one guest, finish our smoothies which have been cool and refreshing, and go in. On days like this, this city is beautiful.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

The Canticle of St. Francis

June 28, 2021

In these days of virtual everything, even as we emerge from the pandemic maybe more quickly than anyone expected, I try a virtual session for the parish on Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Creatures.” This canticle of Francis was composed by him in the year 1225, about a year before his death, and it’s a kind of summation of what he has seen and experienced in his life and now reflects back upon.

Francis, nearly blind, composes his canticle from the Church of San Damiano down the hill from the main town of Assisi, and it’s a hymn/song of praise to the created world: Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Sister Water, and onward as Francis draws from within himself his experience of simply seeing the wonder and beauty of God’s good creation. And it’s a reconciliation of sorts: his alternating use of brother and sister, of things forceful (wind) and receptive (calm water) almost mirrors his own inner reconciliation of competing forces within himself. He wanted to be a knight, a warrior, he wanted to be recognized by that kind of glory, and yet his experience of openness to God’s voice within (the mysterious inner voice he heard: “Francis, who is it better to serve, the master or the servant?” Francis’s response: “The Master”, and he is drawn more deeply into following the voice of Christ which speaks to him from the cross).

And so what of this Canticle today, nearly 800 years after its composition? Is it just a nice song/poem from the Middle Ages that sings the praises of God’s created world? Well, yes, on one level. But on another level it speaks to us of this man at the end of his life who has, through openness to grace, come to an inner sense of peace, and who by that is able to reflect that peace to the world and culture around him.

Francis of Assisi is sometimes reduced to being the “saint of the birdbath” out in the backyard. But there is more: there is deep experience in this saint of the presence of God working within his life, and we look to him as one who was open to receive that grace, and one who thus became an instrument of that grace in the world.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

One morning in June...

June 21, 2021

Observations early on a Friday morning from behind a plastic folding table as I help hand out sandwiches to a long line of street people which stretches down the block….

There’s a near-developing fight between two guys who are in the line and then out of the line, going back and forth with each other from a little distance, out in the street, back on the sidewalk, in between cars. Is it real, are they posturing, will it lead to anything? Who knows how or why it started: usually one says something to another and that sets it all off, and usually it all just fizzles out.

The security guard is on it: he moves with the two of them, always staying between them, telling each of them to calm down and walk away. He’s good – he’s a big guy with a presence about him, and he also knows how to defuse things. The Bread Line, which is set up to run as a system with everyone in their place, each volunteer placing one thing in the bag, is now distracted by this street theater, by the rising voices, by the threats which pierce the early-morning 31st St. air. Everyone seems to watch, volunteers plus those in line, almost like the way traffic slows down to see the wreck on the side of the road.

Soon the two guys take their case further down the street, away from the line, and we hear an occasional raised voice and then we don’t, and then they seem to be gone. Later, after we’re packing things up, I say thank you to the security guard for his calm and professional work.

Meanwhile, that same morning, from across the street, a woman with her arms stretched toward us as she seems to be – maybe? – placing a hex on us. It looks that way as her voice takes on a repetitive pitch and she holds out her arms, and in this neighborhood, at this hour, who knows? And then she’s gone. The volunteer next to me at the table, who’s been around here longer than I have, says to me, I’ve seen it before, don’t be surprised. He places a cake in the next bag, and I place a sandwich, and it all goes on.

Toward the end of the line, all of us wondering if it’s a full moon or what today, a man appears in the line pushing a cart, and in the cart are more than a dozen pink roses. He hands one to a woman who is waiting in line, who thanks him for it. They both get their bags and continue on their way. Just another morning on the line…
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

A Day In The City 
With My Brother

June 12, 2021

My brother took the train down from Rhode Island yesterday, and after we had a couple of slices of pizza at a corner restaurant on 33rd and 5th, we walked around the neighborhood for a while, and on those streets I never get tired of gazing up at the Empire State Building which looms over everything, an icon of 20th century art-deco design. We decided to meet up again at 4:30: he wanted to walk down to the site of the 9/11 Memorial.

It’s a long walk all the way down there, and we walked west on 31st St. toward Hudson Yards, then up the steps to the High Line, along that till it ended near the Whitney Museum, and then over to the Hudson River. We walked south along the river, with a cool breeze coming off the water on a very warm day. Sailboats out, some kayaks on the water; bicycles, strollers, walkers, all out on this sunny NYC day.

We walk and walk and walk and are soon near the Freedom Tower, and nearby the deeply moving memorial to 9/11. Twenty years this September. We look up, imagine the skies on that day. The footprints of the Twin Towers are there, now with the names of those who died on that day, and an endless flow of water in the empty space. The name of one of our friars – Mychal Judge – is inscribed on the South Tower memorial. It is after 6:00pm and so the memorial is closed, but we remain and look for a time.

We continue on our way, over to Wall Street to see the bull, and then turning back north, and we stop in Greenwich Village at a sushi restaurant for a glass of Japanese beer, sushi, and tempura. Not many in the restaurant, and the server comes by to refill our glasses of water and ask if we want another beer. Then back outside, early evening shadows and sunlight on the facades of buildings, and a walk up Sixth Avenue back to midtown. One of the great things about being back in the northeast: closer to home, closer to family, able to walk the city on a June day and spend the day with my brother.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

A Day In The City With My Brother

June 7, 2021

My brother took the train down from Rhode Island yesterday, and after we had a couple of slices of pizza at a corner restaurant on 33rd and 5th, we walked around the neighborhood for a while, and on those streets I never get tired of gazing up at the Empire State Building which looms over everything, an icon of 20th century art-deco design. We decided to meet up again at 4:30: he wanted to walk down to the site of the 9/11 Memorial.

It’s a long walk all the way down there, and we walked west on 31st St. toward Hudson Yards, then up the steps to the High Line, along that till it ended near the Whitney Museum, and then over to the Hudson River. We walked south along the river, with a cool breeze coming off the water on a very warm day. Sailboats out, some kayaks on the water; bicycles, strollers, walkers, all out on this sunny NYC day.

We walk and walk and walk and are soon near the Freedom Tower, and nearby the deeply moving memorial to 9/11. Twenty years this September. We look up, imagine the skies on that day. The footprints of the Twin Towers are there, now with the names of those who died on that day, and an endless flow of water in the empty space. The name of one of our friars – Mychal Judge – is inscribed on the South Tower memorial. It is after 6:00pm and so the memorial is closed, but we remain and look for a time.

We continue on our way, over to Wall Street to see the bull, and then turning back north, and we stop in Greenwich Village at a sushi restaurant for a glass of Japanese beer, sushi, and tempura. Not many in the restaurant, and the server comes by to refill our glasses of water and ask if we want another beer. Then back outside, early evening shadows and sunlight on the facades of buildings, and a walk up Sixth Avenue back to midtown. One of the great things about being back in the northeast: closer to home, closer to family, able to walk the city on a June day and spend the day with my brother.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Walking the High Line

May 30, 2021

There is an old elevated rail line that runs along the west side of Manhattan, built long ago and abandoned also long ago, which in the last ten years or so has been rehabilitated into what is now known as the High Line. It is no longer used as a rail line; it has been repurposed and reimagined as an elevated park.

There are a number of entrances, and the closest one to here is on 30th St. near 10th Avenue, and so sometimes I walk that way, walk up the steps, and begin to walk south along this old rail line. There’s a view. You can look down on the streets below. You can see old brick buildings which are now residences and shops.

And as you walk, you can see the old rail tracks – worn down, left as they were, a palpable witness to another time in the life of this city. There are sections with flower beds, with plants; there are seating areas so you can rest a while. There are a couple of food trucks selling sandwiches and gelato and coffee.

All the while, you feel sort of above it all, in a good way, walking along above the city traffic, with sometimes a view of the Hudson to the west, the sun sparkling on the waters, a distant sailboat against the New Jersey shore on the other side. The High Line ends right about where the Whitney Museum stands, and you can walk back down the steps, re-emerge into the life of the city at street-level, see what’s on view at the Whitney, and maybe walk back north along the Hudson. Cities like New York need this: a way of balancing a past and inviting a new way to be part of it. All there to be found!
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Final Account

May 25, 2021

To the movies yesterday, to see “Final Account” which is a documentary about men and women of the Hitler Youth, now in their elder years, remembering what it was like to be in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, and the whole question of what did they know. What did they know? Some say they knew: smoke rising from camps, the disappearance of Jews. Some say they didn’t know. Most said there was a sense that you simply had to follow along, or else be shunned or worse.

It raises questions: what does one do in times like that? What does it mean to follow along, and what does it mean to take a stand? And, what does it mean to be human: signs that denigrate Jews, “Jews forbidden here,” “Do not buy from Jews,”, haunting stories of the Kristallnacht, the burning of a Jewish synagogue and Jewish homes as people simply watch, and strangely accept, what is happening.

What does it mean to be human? And not only in Nazi Germany, but in other times and other places, how easy is it to just say, that’s the way things are? How easy to go along with racial or ethnic superiority? In my “Give Us This Day” book which has all the daily readings for the month of May, a reflection on Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, who is described as a “conscientious objector and martyr” and who, during the war years in Germany, refused to take a military oath toward his country. For that, he was arrested, and eventually beheaded.

Such courage, such conviction, and that word “martyr” which means “witness”, and in this case, a witness toward a whole other way of being and way of life which refuses allegiance to whatever powers may be, and stands, often alone, for a witness to the gospel.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Chelsea Flea Market

May 24, 2021

Not far from here, just six blocks south between Sixth Avenue and Fifth Avenue, is the Chelsea Flea Market, which occupies a parking lot on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year. It opens early on Saturday morning, around 8:00am, and sometimes if I’m out walking I like to stop by and see what’s there.

And there’s a lot there: Africans selling colored textiles and wooden stools and tribal masks; tables set up with old jewelry, watches, baseball cards, old coins, postcards. There is always a table with bins of vinyl records and most of the time a soundtrack to it all, some classic rock from the 1970s, a little Led Zeppelin or David Bowie or The Rolling Stones. There is a mobile truck selling coffee for $2/cup. There are tables filled with all kinds of things that appear to have been salvaged from everyones’ attic and closet and tool shed and garage, and set out on tables for all to see.

And I love to wander and weave through all the tables set up in this parking lot, to look and see what’s there, to see if there are any hidden treasures to be found. Once, I found a wooden top, “handmade somewhere in New England” the man behind the table told me, and so I spun it on the table to test it out, and it spun well. And so I bought it and have it on my desk right now, and isn’t there something about spinning a wooden top that brings its own kind of joy?

What else have I found there: old brass bottle openers, sometimes with the name “Pepsi” or of some brand of beer, and I try to but cannot convince myself that I might need one of these. One time there was a table with an ancient sewing kit, said to be from the 14th century in Peru, and there it was, a wooden box that you could open and place things inside. Was it really that old? There was no way to tell, but maybe it was. On the same table, ancient stone tools: an axe head, a stone grinder, both of them said to be found in the ground somewhere in New England. I pick them up: they are smooth and cool to the touch. Wouldn’t they be nice to have? Maybe some day, but not now. I keep wandering around. On another table, ancient Roman coins for around $75 each. To hold an ancient coin like that, to imagine who must have used it, and what it paid for all those centuries ago.

Flea markets are fun, an open air way of seeing how what’s old can become what’s new, of looking for something shiny that you can take home with you. Last time there, I find an old paperback copy of “A Pilgrim in Assisi: Searching for Francis Today” by Susan Saint Sing, published in 1981, and I ask how much, and I’m told, three dollars. Three one-dollar bills later, it’s mine, and I’m on my contented way.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

The Stevedore

May 17, 2021

Sometimes it’s good to get out of the city, which I did a couple of weeks back, out to a Franciscan retreat house in western NY state, and on the way back a stop in Philadelphia, and while there last Monday, a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

There was a gallery of portraits. Portraits offer a window into a human soul – who is or was this person in life? Among many there, one of a stevedore, which is a person whose job it is to unload trucks or other vehicles. It’s a painting from 1936, done by a Jewish immigrant named Julius Bloch. He paints the man with a sense of great dignity: in a chair, facing forward, both hands on his knees, wearing his work uniform of overalls and worn boots. The description of the painting tells us that it was rare for a portrait painter to paint the “common folk” – usually it was the wealthy or the high-born. But not here, here we have a man who unloads trucks, who is tired and worn down, who wears old clothes, and who in this painting has been given a great sense of dignity.

The description goes on to say that the year 1936 is an important factor in this painting. What was happening in the world in 1936? The Spanish Civil War, the rise of Nazism, the inequalities of race in the United States (the stevedore portrayed is a Black man). And so in the midst of all that, all those dehumanizing “isms” that wear down the human person, that diminish what it means to be a human person, this painter lifts up this man and tells us who view it: see what it means to be a person, see what it means not to be defined by fascism or Nazism or racism, but to be defined as created in the image and likeness of God. There! And so for a moment in that quiet gallery last week in Philadelphia, I stand before this image and I am grateful for artists and the way art shows us things, the way things are and the way things ought to be. I linger a while and move on, grateful for the encounter.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

An Invitation Into 
A Spacious World

May 10, 2021

Walking in the city these days, and the crowds are up, especially on weekends, and especially in the neighborhoods in and around Greenwich Village, as people begin to crowd restaurants and there is a general sense of relief that these days of pandemic are finally coming to a close. Still many people masked, which is good, and I suspect that will last for a while, that there won’t be an “off-on” switch from pandemic to post-pandemic. This has been too deep and too life-altering. But on these days of warm weather and bright sunshine, a reflecting sun off the calm waters of the Hudson, off the tops of the Art Deco buildings lining midtown avenues, off the Flatiron Building with its scaffolding – in all this, it seems like some kind of grace is finally beginning to shine on everyday life, and in May especially with its emerging colors and light and sun.
And so walking in all this…breathing seems easier, the light seems lighter, and it all feels like an emergence from something we have not known in our lives. I read from Ellen Davis’s book “Opening Israel’s Scriptures” a reflection on the word “salvation”, as she writes that it means “to be capacious or make spacious. Thus the dynamic of salvation might be viewed as giving breadth for existence…the state of salvation is the opposite of being in straits…contrary to much popular religious wisdom, the God-fearing life is not a matter of walking the straight and narrow.

Rather, the scriptures invite us into a spacious world, the new world of the Bible…the main business of the Bible is to challenge our ordinary conception of ‘how things really are’ – to call into question the necessity and even the reality of the limits we impose upon ourselves and others, to show us that the cramped conditions of human existence are most of then the result of misplaced fear or desire.” (Davis, p. 6-7, p.s. she teaches at Duke). I could read that over and over, its hopeful and forward-looking image of salvation as capacious, as widening our worlds, as “giving breadth for existence.” Maybe that’s what these days feel like.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

The Grace of Encounter

May 1, 2021

One morning in the lower church and I have two chairs set up facing each other, and I am there with my New Testament and book of reflections on St. Francis of Assisi and waiting to see who might come in on this day for confession or, in many cases, just to talk. That’s what I like about the chair set-up.

It’s all in the listening, and a man comes out of the nearby chapel, scans the waiting area, sees me, and comes over and sits down. And this is where the grace of ministry comes in, especially in a city as busy as New York. So much anxiety and tension and pressure out there. And this lower church space becomes a kind of respite.

What does he tell me: he is from Nigeria, he just lost a cousin over there, he is worried about the terror group Boko Haram. He lives in Brooklyn. He lost his job and is looking for a new job. I listen. He just needs to talk it out. He says to me, I’ve seen you around here, and this tells me that maybe after eight months here people are beginning to know me.

It’s an encounter, and it’s not formal, not formally sacramental, but there is something I love about this kind of ministry, which is, just tell me some things, come into the quiet church and talk about your particular life. What gets revealed is humanity, and so much in our culture today seems to diminish our humanity. It’s two chairs. It’s old statues. It’s a quiet nearby chapel. It’s off a constantly moving 31st St, constantly looking out for pedestrians and bicyclists and skateboards and scooters and trucks backing up and the fire station across the street and a taxi driver leaning on a horn. Come inside for a rest from all that. Dim presence of faded candles and statues and this mysterious calmness that seems to exist in the quiet of an old church. We finish our conversation, we pray together, and off he goes to the life of the street, back outside. It’s the grace of encounter.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Beauty and Strangeness

April 20, 2021

There is a beauty and a strangeness to living in New York City, and the beauty can catch you as you walk along, say, the Hudson River on a cool and sunny Saturday morning, with only a few people out running or walking or bicycling by the river, and the sun reflecting off the calm waters, and in the distance, to the south, the Statue of Liberty rising in welcome to those new to the city. There is something about being near the water, stopping by a railing, the busy city for a moment behind me, the rush and noise subsided, a moment of fresh air.

And the strangeness of something like this: a group of people in red jackets walking in unison down 31st St. on a bright and sunny Saturday morning, carrying signs with them, and on their jackets the words “I hope you don’t go to hell.” They are on their way, it seems, to some kind of evangelization, some kind of street corner preaching, and I am sort of curious to see what this might be, but not curious enough to make a detour on my way to Union Square.

The strangeness of so much religion and preaching in these days, the casualness of a statement of ultimate destination, the uniform red color of the jackets, the steady walk toward some place to preach, the strange mixture in a crowd of this group of red-jacketed religionists and of everyone else on their normal way about things.
Beauty and strangeness and everything in between, and it’s another day on the city streets among the towers and alleys and trash and crowds and bright sunshine glinting off the river, and on this day at least NYC is a great place to be.
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM

Late Afternoon In The Lower Church

April 16, 2021

What it’s like in the lower church….the lower church has a lower ceiling, the entrance is not as obvious or easy to find as the upper church. The upper church is the grand church with all the mosaics and statues, and all the space, and you just walk up the steps from the street and you’re in.

What is it about this lower church on a late weekday afternoon? Dim, not many people. An old faded carpet that probably needs to be replaced. A tacked up paper with mass and confession times. Old confessionals: how many voices have these heard over the years? A wooden sculpture of a mourning Mary holding her crucified Son. Candles flickering in the dimness. A hush to things, it’s less busy than upstairs.

Old wooden pews in the chapel facing an altar, and here, late in the afternoon of a cold and rainy day in New York City, there are maybe four people who have come for….what? They sit quietly in the dark wooden pews, some dozing, some leaning back and resting, bags by their side, a moment amid the chaos and noise of the city.

Absolute quiet, and the kind of peace and calm that everyone always seems to be looking for, four people quietly resting and being found by a searching and loving and compassionate God on this dark and rainy day in New York. It seems to be the center of the world, at least for now.

By the altar, flickering candles. Old dark wood. The feel of prayers that have been prayed by how many, and have risen and continue to rise, part of the air of this lower church. Silence. On the way out the door, above the exit sign, the words “Love one another.”
Fr. Steven Patti, OFM