Sunday, April 22, 2012


Before returning to some theses on Jesus, let me backtrack to the postulants' excursion to Broadway on Wednesday afternoon:

Our formation directors treated us to matinees, purchasing tickets at the 40 and 50 percent discount rate available on the day of the performance from the TKTS booth on Broadway at 47th Street. Many of the brothers opted for musicals; I opted for a play. The revival of Death of a Salesman, my first preference, was not available. Instead I opted for a pre-opening night performance of A Streetcar Named Desire, playing at the Broadhurst Theatre on West 44th Street. When you purchase from TKTS, you are automatically given the best seat left available. Wouldn't you know it, but I got a front-row seat in the orchestra section. I could touch the floorboards of the stage, could grab the foot microphones, could grab the actors by their ankles if I wanted to. I was so close I could smell the herbal cigarettes the performers were smoking, could see the spittle flying from their lips. It was better than a 3-D movie, better than an IMAX "experience."

After our respective matinees, the brothers gathered at an Irish-style pub and diner, Emmett O'Lunney's, at Broadway and West 50th Street.

Does it seem like an extravagance or a scandal to you, that men in formation to become Franciscan friars would attend Broadway shows and dine at a fine Irish pub? What does it say, if anything, about our aspiration to evangelical poverty? Is a day trip like this compatible with or expressive of our charism of minority?

Perhaps those are not fair questions. They are being asked in a loaded way. They can be answered only in narrow, polar ways. Let me try to ask them more constructively. How would a friar in formation, shown the hospitality of a treat to the theater and fine dining, receive such a gift in a spirit of minority? How does someone aspiring to the station of evangelical poverty bear witness to this way of life when given a cup flowing over? Does the Lamb of God lie down on Broadway?

I thought and prayed over this at St. Malachy's Church, known as the Actors' Chapel for its century-old mission to all who are employed in the Big Apple's little cottage industry along the Great White Way. I stopped there twice in the afternoon, first around one o'clock, after receiving my matinee ticket, and then around five o'clock, after the show, to say evening prayer quietly. Few insights came to mind either earlier or later in the afternoon. Some vague traces of thought about the comedy and drama of the human condition, and how God, the author of our stories, brings an end to all tragedies through the cosmic drama of Jesus Christ, who came to enact redemption and perform reconciliation on the world stage. In a vaguely Tolstoyan way I thought about the function of art as a moral mirror, and, with Dostoevsky, of beauty as the bearer of saving truth, but that was all.

Looking back on that day, I think of the camaraderie that was built up with the postulant brothers from the Midwest and the good of fraternity. But I'm still struggling to see how our charism of minority was built up or shone forth. Oh well ... to be poor is to receive every good gift in a spirit of humility, even when the gifts are high and fine. Let me reflect on that.

1 comment:

  1. I see your point, and while I don't have the answer for you, as an actor, I appreciate your support of my brothers and sisters working on the Great White Way. The Actors Chapel is a spiritual home to me when I visit NYC (where I did my theatre training before moving away), and I'm working through discernment of a call to minister to artists once I finish my PhD in Theology & Theatre. Performing artists often feel unwelcome in the Church, and live a very emotionally difficult and spiritually dangerous life. I hope that this visit to watch and be moved by their work can be a seed in you and your brothers to pray for those who are called to make story-telling their profession, often at the cost of separation from family and friends, and usually at the cost of living actual poverty. (And a Broadway salary is no guarantee of a comfortable living situation.)