If I stand at Melrose and one-five-six, my back to the big blocked letters of Key Food, my face facing Mama Jo’s community garden and P.S. 29, crouching like a wounded dog (dark and low, silent for the night), I see Jackson Housing, towering seven buildings deep. Its electric lights usurp the stars on this and every other night. If I stand at Melrose and one-five-six, the projects, a wave of brick and mortar, crest over the South Bronx. A Number 6 bus passes as a harsh fluorescent rectangle. Then the Number 41, windows opaque with breath, and I see the face of a man: a dark-skinned profile, angularly lined. An underbite. No hook to the nose. No hat on his head. No crease in his narrow neck. He doesn’t move. The heat of his breath just crawls over the window, and, mixing with the others, blots each passenger out. Consider: within each of those square project windows is, at least, one such face, one such pair of lungs, one such heart—at least—pumping out a living rhythm under all this manufactured urban noise. And I wish Christ had more hands than mine, more feet and words than mine, because all of me is standing backed to a grocery store feeling as small and as fleeting as the vapor of my breath is small and (look!) how fleeting in the cold night air before the swell of humanity confronting me.
And you tell me—you, happy-eyed and blind, tell me—that yes, Christ does have more. Look at all the great programs buttressing the church. You point me toward twenty-something college-campus missionaries, seminarians with peach-fuzzed faces, internet bloggers, vloggers, traces of parish-renewal programs. Go to Manhattan and see hundreds of adults adore Christ on the Upper East Side! Go to the national youth conferences! Enroll in apologetic programs! This is the time of the laity. The New Evangelization and the New Apologetics is all over the new media. Look around! There is so much happening, you say.
A bus passes. Another, in the other direction, passes. And on those buses I see none of those people you spoke of. I see none of them in those windows. And I don’t feel encouraged.