I was standing on Fifth Avenue the Friday morning after the New York primaries, my left arm out in taxi-hailing position, when a NYPD officer in a passing patrol car put his hand out for a high-five. We were outside St. Patrick's Cathedral, where for 25 minutes Cardinal Timothy Dolan had just heard New Yorkers' confessions after morning Mass. Now that the New York primaries are over and done with, can we talk about New York values?
First of all: I get it. The "New York values" slam was issued with good reason. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton don't exactly represent everyday American lives. But that's not the whole picture, not by a long shot.
When this whole anti-"New York values" thing began back in January, I subsequently spent the weekend at the annual New York Encounter, a cultural conference filled with families. They were listening to music and lectures, celebrating Mass and hearing about the plight of persecuted Christians and refugees from what we once called the "Arab Spring."
The New York values I see involve crowded daily Masses, long lines for confession and homeless people you're on a first-name basis with. Calvin outside the deli on 34th and Lexington likes bologna, and the guys inside know how he likes it when someone offers to buy him something. Or Louis who hangs out outside St. Agnes by Grand Central and always says, "God bless you" and "Safe travels."
I can't get Calvin and Louis off my mind. These men keep us honest. These men remind us that behind every political debate and policy discussion there are real people and beating hearts. And they remind us that we should never be too busy to see the human beings in front of us.
My experience of this year's New York primary week was bracketed, as it happens, by the archbishop of New York hearing confessions. On the Saturday after the primaries, he was about 40 miles outside the city, at the shrine of Our Lady Help of Christians in Stony Point, for one in a series of events in Pope Francis' designated "Year of Mercy."
Cardinal Dolan arrived to the welcome of Sisters Antoniana and Karen, both from the Sisters of Life. He showed them the cross that Iraqi bishops had given him when he made his first visit to that country as head of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. The sisters couldn't stay long, both having to get back to the work they do helping women, men and families embrace life and heal from the damage that abortion has done to their lives.If you walk through the bronze St. Patrick's cathedral door nearest to the Armani Exchange across the street, you'll see the "door of mercy" sign outside. It's an invitation to reconciliation, an invitation to know the peace that can come from knowing that you're created in the image and likeness of God, as is the person next to you, as is the family who fled their home on account of ISIS very far away.
New York values welcome you at the main door of St. Pat's, too. Women like immigrants Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini and Elizabeth Ann Seton, who built schools, hospitals and homes for outcast immigrant communities, and the Native American convert St. Kateri Tekawitha are carved into the door. If you keep your eyes out, New York values could actually change your life for the better.
When St. Pope John Paul II visited New York in 1979, he made special mention of the Church's mission: to direct hearts to God, to keep alive hope in the world. To quote Saint Paul: "This explains why we work and struggle as we do; our hopes are fixed on the living God."
It's not only not all bad here, it can be quite radiant.