I don’t go to Halloween parties. I drive a cab in New York City all night and I witness a freak show every night of the year. Not everyone mind you, just the ones dressed in their fantasy costumes of a rock star or a Goth or a princess or a cowgirl or a barbarian or an artist or a hippie or a harlot or a witch or a Neanderthal or a space alien or a mental escapee. None seem to be afraid of hell and most don’t believe in the devil, although a few worship him.
Sometimes I think this is my penance for a wild youth acting just like these folk, with my guitar, long hair, bell bottoms and bare feet—drunk, stoned and stupid singing Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’. Yes the times really are a-changin’ when a former honor student and tight end on a championship football team would practically kill himself with drink and drugs a few years later. And they are still doing it today. In many ways the times are not a-changin’. The ’60’s Culture of Death is still wreaking havoc on our sons and daughters and on us. To be sure, there are many, many fine people in New York, but after midnight Cinderella’s fine coach often turns into a pumpkin, and these pumpkins are not smiling.
I am reminded of a quote from The Cure’ D’Ars Today by Father George Rutler, Doctor of Sacred Theology, and my Pastor at the Church of St. Michael in New York City. He is also the Administrator of the Church of Holy Innocents:
The chief strategy of Satan, as Anti-Christ, is to persuade people that he does not exist … Satan, haunter of the world, is haunted by holiness … St. John Vianney [the Patron Saint of Parish Priests] dealt with the Prince of Lies with ridicule. He would make the Sign of the Cross and then say something to ridicule him. [And it works]. With holy nonchalance and the wit which is evidence of moral balance challenging imbalance, Vianney nicknamed the devil a ‘grappin’ which means a little rake which scratches.
Once during a confession the room shook violently almost knocking the young student and the Curé to the ground. Vianney steadied the boy and told him, ‘It is nothing. It is only the devil.’ He then told the lad that he must become a priest, which he eventually did. ‘My excitement was still very great, and I must admit that I never went to confession to the Cure’ D’Ars again.’
Neither would I if the eternal battle “against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world” (Ephesians 6:12) was fought out right in the Confessional with me and then a priest, who most people already regarded as a saint, told me I must become a priest.
This battle still goes on with sin and evil. How do we tell them apart? Archbishop Fulton Sheen said this week on Catholic radio, “That a sinful person commits sin, but an evil person tries to destroy the good in others.”
It sounds like in our dealing with the enemy it’s good to keep a sense of humor, and a sense of ridicule. A little Holy Water helps too. I take some in my cab with me and sprinkle a little on the front and back seats. I also try to resist caving in to the evil by turning up the volume on the Catholic radio station playing on my cellphone if the riders’ talk gets too loud or immoral. Oh what a comfort to hear Mother Angelica on EWTN or Archbishop Sheen on WQOM Internet Radio or Al Kresta on Ave Maria Radio talking holy words in the front seat next to me, and who knows? Those words just might soften some hardened heart in the back seat, or be just the right words at the right time to save their life, or their soul? Often I try to engage people in conversation. Maybe tell them a little about my story, and my story centers around my resurrection—my conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Any subject reminds me about something of the Catholic Church. A man from Algeria and I were talking and of course I brought up one of my favorite writers St. Augustine from modern day Tunisia and how he had one of the greatest minds I had ever read, so deep and honest. When we got to his party’s destination, a tavern—excuse me, now they’re called “night clubs”—someone in the back seat punched a few buttons on the pay machine and they all parted in a very warm way. I then realized that they hadn’t paid me, which can happen if you press the wrong buttons. I was about to go after them in a very friendly way when the man came back out and said, “You know we were asking each other who paid? And I don’t think we paid you.”
“You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” said St. John Vianney the Patron Saint of Priests.
Any conversation brings up a thought about the Catholic Faith. Mention the subway and I tell them about the time the train stopped running when I was on my way to church and I panicked but luckily I remembered the church nearby—ironically it was the Church of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs where I had knocked on the wood rectory door in 2007 to begin my Catholic conversion after asking a nun in my AA group how I could become Catholic? “Knock on the rectory door and they’ll tell you what to do.” The words that would bring me a joy beyond my wildest imagination–something infinitely and eternally more than any drink or drug ever did.
Sometimes I hesitate to say what I’m thinking but I have to fight that fear and I can say it in a kind, nonjudgmental, non-bombastic way. Talk about the cold weather and I tell them the story of how the cold had warped the neck of my guitar on the way to Bible Study. The guitar had been given to me by a man who had fought at D-Day and France and North Africa and Italy. I think that he is in heaven now as are all who fought that war against evil. And of course a Jewish rock musician—also a cab driver—told me how to fix it with Elmer’s Wood Glue and a clamp. He might not have been here today if Corporeal George Spilgis and the other “dog faces” including my Uncle Boonie Brown hadn’t stormed the gates of hell at Omaha Beach June 6, 1944 and liberated Europe and the concentration camps. Georgie’s guitar is fine now, still playing Tantum Ergo and my all-time favorite Ave Verum Corpus—one of the world’s longest running hits—650 years! Written by Pope Innocent VI (d. 1362), it is still played on CalmRadio.com and the Catholic radio stations. I just talked to Georgie’s daughter and she reminded me that he died four years ago on Halloween. Rest in peace, soldier. I can’t believe—well yes I can—that I would think of him in an article on the anniversary of his death.
Most any conversation will call up a G.K. Chesterton quote. One of my favorites for the secularist crowd is, “Right is right, even if nobody does it. Wrong is still wrong, even if everybody is wrong about it” (Illustrated London News, May 11, 1907). He wrote that in 1907 in Post-Victorian England. Can you imagine what he would say today? At first I thought that he would become a barefoot monk living in the desert—with a notebook of course, maybe even a Notebook. But then again I think he would still be a journalist fighting Satan and all his wiles, with pen and word and deed. He would be big on Pro-Life I am certain because he was big on it until his death in 1937.
I try to keep his uproarious sense of humor in all my battles with the Culture of Death. I slip many times, of course, but calling up some of his or others’ great quotes reinvigorates me. And we’ve always got Holy Scripture, the foundation of what Augustine first called the City of God on earth, Holy Mother Church, which is Christ on earth.
And I try to remember that we’ve read the Book and we know how it ends—Christ wins, Satan loses and he knows it and as the old Gospel song says, “Satan’s mad—because we’re glad!”