What do we think of when we think of cities? Of Port of Spain? We think of busy-ness and business— the world of money, of wheeling and dealing. We think of dirt and grime, of the homeless sleeping, begging, puking and defecating in myriad places.
We think of gambling and prostituting; we think of thousands of immigrants—especially Venezuelan but also Haitian, African and sundry other immigrants. We think of organised crime, of the young men in their twenties shot and killed on Duncan and Nelson Streets, in Laventille, Beetham and Sea Lots.
Yes, the world of the flesh, on account of its own evil, recoils from itself in a flight for safety and peace of mind. The moment we capitulate to this we slide into Gnosticism, that anti-flesh, anti-material doctrine that has dogged the Church for centuries.
It surfaces when we want a respite from it all—a world of purity, free from temptations of the body, of the city; we wish we could live in the Blessed Sacrament chapel. In the midst of all this temptation to flight Jesus says to us: “Stay in the city”.
Why the city? Because the city is more graced than we think. For Plato, we long to be freed from the body to enter the real world of the forms, of the spirit, devoid of flesh. For the Christian, redemption comes through the flesh for grace dwells there; how we inhabit the city is a preparation for our permanent habitation—the Heavenly City.
We therefore need to look at the city more penetratingly. Under the crusty exterior of the city’s homeless we discover a man with feelings, who has ended up there not by his own choosing, and is willing to accept our help for a better way of life.
In the city we meet the kind people of St Vincent de Paul on Duncan Street and the fellow pilgrims (Muslims) of Jama Masjid who feed the poor in one common service of charity. In the city we meet the immigrant prostitute who uses her body as a means of making money to send home so her family can buy food.
And yes, sexuality too. For the city attracts the LGBTQ community who disturbs our “normality” and forces us to think of the mystery of sexuality, a mystery that precedes our certain moral norms, as important as these are.
Ascension speaks of all of this. It is not a flight away from earth after the hard work is done. Our liturgy gives us a better teaching: the flesh going up to the heavens (Ascension) is paralleled by the Spirit coming down to meet the flesh (Pentecost).
It is this Spirit that “clothes us with the power from on high” and teaches us how to live well in the city in spite of the city’s capacity to devour the good. It teaches us not only to live in the city but to transform the city.
Christians have an obligation to transform the city because in Baptism and Confirmation they were “clothed with power from on high”. It is this conviction that is lacking in Christian faith today. To forget it ensures tepidity; to reclaim it assures victory.