Bishop Barres’ Column for the July-August issue of The Long Island Catholic magazine
Dramatic Missionary Growth at Penn Station and on the Train Platforms and Expressways of Long Island
Our emotions are raw. The business day was long and stressful enough. We were looking forward to getting home and depressurizing. And now, after the hot sweaty walk to the train station, we find that we are facing yet another unpredicted Commuter Delay.
Our emotions are primal – annoyance, frustration, impatience all of which are combining to create hot, boiling anger and rage.
Penn Station is teeming with increasingly packed crowds looking up in frustration and annoyance at the train schedule boards.
We had hoped to have some extra time with our families or to sit down and maybe watch part of a ball game on TV. Or perhaps we had hoped to prepare for that tense 7:30am meeting tomorrow.
But here we are wondering yet again how long it will be before we will barely be able to squeeze onto a packed train car to make it home.
Then, the train is suddenly announced, and we undergo the competitive jostling of the huge, sweating crowd, all trying to get on the train before it becomes too jammed. Will we make the train, or will we once more be squeezed out and have to wait until the next train, hoping that it might come on time?
And, of course, it is not only train commuters who face miserable commutes. Many others sit, burning gasoline, in miles-long backups, often watching in increasing frustration as others pass them on the shoulder, making the eventual mergers even worse and the delays that much longer.
So what could Catholic Spirituality have to do with the commuter nightmares that we all frequently experience?
A cornerstone of Catholic Spirituality is Christ’s presence at every moment of our lives. Blessed Bishop Alvaro de Portillo emphasized that every sudden change of plan is an important providential opportunity to take advantage of. At first that seems to be entirely counterintuitive. How can commuter delays be providential opportunities? Or to put it another way, how do you and I find ways to grow in holiness and mission as we experience the primal and very negative emotions provoked by sudden Commuter Delays? What we need to do is to recognize that Blessed Alvaro de Portillo had it right. We cannot do anything to make the trains run on time, or to prevent a parkway from becoming gridlocked no matter how much we want to control our surroundings.
But we can calm ourselves down by recognizing that our primal emotions, while understandable, do not have to control us, and rather than seething in anger we can accept our lack of control and seek to become instead someone who seeks God even during those times in our lives in which God seems far away.
One of the great gifts we can give to the teeming crowds around us at Penn Station or on a Long Island train platform is the Joy of the Gospel even if only in small doses. A simple and sincere smile that reassures those around us who are experiencing panic and frustration is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Or, if we find ourselves experiencing high-volatility anger while facing the traffic jams and abrupt lane changes of the Long Island Expressway we can remember the great Catholic saints and mystics who teach us about the Holy Trinity’s presence within us. We can take a deep breath or two and focus on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit rather than on the drivers who are trying to pass on the shoulder.
And we can allow this Trinitarian presence within us to manifest itself in a radiant smile in the tensest of moments. A radiant smile in a traffic jam or on a train platform might seem to be beyond us, but it is not. It involves putting our present frustrations aside and focusing on something that is far more important. And that Trinitarian smile is the presence of Christ and the gentle missionary presence of the Catholic Church even if no one else sees it.
That smile is an expression of a Catholic living the rhythm of the inspired texts of Sacred Scripture and living the rhythm of the texts of the Eucharistic prayers of the Mass. And, as so often happens when we give ourselves to God rather than to the frustrations of earthly life, it is good for us too. When we finally get home, who will be able to better enjoy the rest of the evening and be present to their family, the person who is still venting rage at the Commuter delays, or the person who turned rage to smiles?
I take the train into Manhattan weekly to see my spiritual director and to go to confession. I find myself especially moved in Penn Station as I look for the track number on the Babylon line and realize that I am the Bishop and Shepherd of every single person looking up at that same Board. Some of my most powerful prayers for the New Evangelization on Long Island occur there.
Commuter delays are well-hidden presence of God moments. Commuter delays are disguised missionary moments.
Commuter delays can be one of God’s instruments of dramatic missionary growth in Manhattan and on Long Island. We live in a time in which that dramatic missionary growth is beginning to happen, and a practical Catholic Spirituality of Commuter Delays can make us part of it.
For more on a “Catholic Spirituality of Commuter Delays,” see Bishop Barres’ video at drvc.org.