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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Diary of a Newly Minted Papist: Reconsidering Beggars.

Your Bloviator humbly confesses he has a difficult time slogging through books considered to be what we in the entertainment industry term only semi-mockingly, "full-attention product." Two or three paragraphs into the page and this boomer of a certain age (ours being the first of the post-literate generations) finds his mind wandering here, there and everywhere; to any subject save the one he is reading about.

Happily, I have found a solution to my shallowness, the New York City subway. The trip from northern Manhattan, where I live, to midtown, where I work, takes about about 40 minutes, with one train change, and that time in the train, I find, concentrates the mind wonderfully; sufficient enough to labor through the uplifting and improving stuff. That is how last December I managed to work my way through Fr. George Rutler's superb meditation on St. John Vianney, The Curé d'Ars Today and how I now dutifully have a go at the surprisingly entertaining Confessions of Saint Augustine.

Today's train reading brought me to the chapter in Confessions about Augustine's encounter with a drunken beggar in the streets of Milan. The saint's initial distaste for the fellow is transformed when he notes, with irony, that the bum,
[w]ith the help of the few paltry coins he had collected by begging...was enjoying temporal happiness for which I strove by so bitter, devious and roundabout a contrivance. His joy was no true joy, be sure but what I was seeking in my ambition was a joy far more unreal; and he was undeniably happy while I was full of foreboding...
I am no Augustine, of course, and alas, don't expect to be one, but those words rang sweet and true to me and I resolved to act upon them. I attend (when able) the daily noon mass at the Church of Our Saviour on Park Avenue. While there are other churches much nearer to my work (Saint Pat's for one) it is well worth the brisk walk to Our Saviour to hear the erudite and informative homilies given by the aforementioned Fr. Rutler, the pastor (and the priest who received your Bloviator into the Holy Catholic Church, thanks be to God). Parked next to the west door of the church, nearly every day, is a 21st century colleague of Augustine's drunk who cheerfully wishes passersby, especially those going into the church, greetings of the day along with the news (albeit by now somewhat stale) he is receiving donations.

In all my years in New York I have never given a cent to a beggar, finding the usual whinging of wanting something to eat stretching credibility since one cannot walk more than a few blocks, especially in midtown, without bumping into a soup kitchen. The drunk outside Our Saviour, however, makes no such spurious claim: he's boiled and not ashamed of it, downright chipper, in fact. For a drunk, he is quite tidy, never leaving a mess for the sexton to clean up. So today, before ducking into mass, I dropped a paltry quarter into the old fellow's hands and will probably do the same everyday, from now on. If that quarter goes into the general fund with which he lays in a supply of Night Train or Thunderbird, so be it and God bless the old sot. I pray he will be, like Saint Augustine's drunk, undeniably happy.

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