I am the pastor of a parish that lays in the shadow of the United Nations building on the East Side of Manhattan. Our church is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. We have two daily weekday Masses — one in the early morning, and one at lunch hour. Both Masses attract people who live or work in the neighborhood. So do the Confessions offered before the noontime Masses. I am truly impressed by the number of people who take time out of their busy schedules to be with the Lord and receive His sacramental refreshment.
I am also inspired by the number of people who stop by the church when there is no Mass being celebrated simply to pray to God. They have come to the house of God to be with God. People kneel, sit, or stand in the sight of God and open their hearts to Him. They especially turn toward the Divine Savior Jesus Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle to renew their love and devotion. They also light candles and ask the intercession of the saints.
Our parishioners come from all the nations of the earth. Many work at the United Nations. Others are from among the many immigrants who come to New York in search of a better life and jobs that will allow them to help their families back home. As with Rome in the past, all roads lead to New York, or at least it seems that way.
The people who come to spend time praying in our church are part of the mystery of God’s providence. They are a great reminder to me that the priest and the parish church — indeed, the whole Church throughout the world — are only here to make available to people the opportunity to get to know and love Jesus Christ. The people praying in my parish church are glad (I hope!) that I am there, but that is not why they come. I can be transferred tomorrow, but the parish will still be here. They come to find where Jesus lives and to spend time talking with Him.
They come to a Catholic parish because that is where God resides on earth. The house of God is a truly accurate description of the parish church. As I observe the comings and goings of people who visit my parish, I am reminded that they want to be with God in heaven when they die, and so they come to prepare for that journey by spending time with God in His earthly abode.
It has been said that home is a place where they have to take you in no matter what you may have done. Our parish home is where God not only takes you in, but purifies you from your sins in the sacrament of Penance and then nourishes and strengthens you with His own Body and Blood in the Most Holy Eucharist.
I know that people are happy when they see their priests praying in church apart from Mass. The lay faithful should know how much we priests are inspired and encouraged by seeing ordinary people step into the church to spend time in prayer. Take advantage of seeing an open door at any Catholic parish to spend time in heaven’s antechamber, where the God we long to see face to face in the next life is already present among us, hidden in the sacred host in the tabernacle. We all benefit spiritually from this very good use of our time.
FATHER GERALD E. MURRAY is pastor of Holy Family Church in New York. He holds a doctorate in canon law from Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and appears as commentator on religious topics on TV and radio, including EWTN, Fox News, Fox Business, MSNBC, NY1, Radio Maria, Relevant Radio, Fox News Radio, and the Voice of America. He writes a monthly column for The Catholic Thing website. He served in the U.S. Navy Reserve Chaplain Corps from 1994 to 2005.