I was born (85 years ago today) in the ground floor apartment of a New York City Brownstone. It was Easter Sunday morning, at dawn. Although, the old Catholic ladies of that era thought that the Sun danced on Easter morn, I was too occupied to check it out. I was grasping for the dawn in that dingy front bedroom—as the local Physician, Dr. Sprague, was tugging me out of my mother’s womb. My mother’s (twin and older) sisters had just returned from Mass at the Paulist church and were agog with the excitement that there was a new Catholic (and half- Jewish) boy in the McArdle clan.
I would live in a circumscribed neighborhood for the immediate future, worshipping at the Paulist Church, learning the “ropes” of our own street (called in the local parlance “sixty foist” street) with the local dirty necks, of which I was one, attending the Paulist grammar school for eight years and occasionally risking the long trek to Central Park where we played baseball, football and watched the awesome animals in the zoo. We, also, liked to see a tree occasionally. We played creative street games which cost nothing for equipment or space. In our ignorance of how the other half lived, we were “happy.”
We were apparently poor. I was never aware of that since we always had three meals a day, had cyclically new clothes and we laughed a lot. Everyone I knew lived the same way. Once in a while some family would be “evicted” or thrown out on the street with all their furniture and few belongings. This never happened to me. Hence, I never gave that possibility a thought. It never struck me that because I didn’t go away on vacations or that my family didn’t have a car (or “machine” as they called it), that there was something inferior to my way of life. I lived in the present and felt very loved by all my family, especially by my Jewish father and my laughing Irish mother and my loving Grandmother. I was relatively content. It was the Great Depression era anyway. It was the era of “Buddy can you spare a dime” and of well dressed guys selling apples on the corner. I felt lucky or blessed but certainly secure. I just somehow knew that I would always have three squares and a “flop.”
That eerie sense of confidence has always stayed with me all these years. “Somehow” I have known I’ll be OK and will always make it. More than hormones or ganglia, this sense of trust has fed my joie de vivre and my enthusiasm for what others have called the banal and repetitious. My prayer has been: My God stands by me. I place all my trust in Him. I have had a great life, or more accurately a delicious one. I have experienced the profundity of the Catholic Faith which has sustained and nourished me through stress and strain. The faith which clearly taught me the endless love of God the Father for me, the marvelous comradeship of Jesus the Lord, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It has made real the affection of the Blessed Mother and the endless and dazzling array of saints I can pray to.
I have had unbelievable deep friendships. I have had good health. I have been honored with the priesthood of Jesus Himself. I have traveled much of the world and been appropriately impressed. I have experienced the thrill of higher education, of teaching on graduate levels, the challenges of modern radio and television broadcasting. I have had the confidences and trust of Archbishops, priests, religious brothers, nuns, married people, and single ones, the very young and the very old, the bright and the slow, who have asked me to walk with them through their fears and joys and perplexities. Scientists, police chiefs, Broadway personnel, frightened street people, alcoholics, sexaholics, anorexics, varlets with anorexic sideburns, all have trusted me with their secrets.
In my later life I had the inexpressible privilege to minister to the good Catholic souls (of Courage) who struggle with the unasked for disordered tendency of Same Sex attraction. Week after week I have been spiritually wide-eyed as I watch the miracle of God’s grace transform men of discouragement and despair to men of hope and self esteem.
Through the mysterious plan of the Lord, I became a local confessor for the fabulous Sisters of Life at the Sacred Heart convent where I had more than privilege or pleasure but deep seated joy. I saw the beauty of real Vocation and the noble lifestyle that confronts the contemporary Christian.
How much joy can the heart hold? Or how does one articulate to the Lord the dimensions of Gratitude? How does one put into words one’s depth of feeling? Perhaps, there is no way except to stand in awe in His gracious and ineffable Presence and be still.
I have been able to recognize my gifts as, as Rush says, on loan from God. I have used them unhesitatingly, with joy and without apology. There is always something missing, to be sure. But that is the meaning of Paradise and life with the Lord in eternity. On balance, it has been a really great ride especially for a primitive, dirty necked kid from the West side. I am filled with gratitude to the Lord and my friends and family. Hallejuia!