2001-10-28 I have enjoyed reviewing some of our neighborhood history...
October 28, 2001
I have enjoyed reviewing some of our neighborhood history, and am specially mindful of the fateful day in 1776, on September 15, when the Revolutionary War almost was concluded here. This parish was mostly meadows and some swampland and the streets as we know them did not exist. George Washington, up around what we now call 100th Street, could hear the cannons as the British troops landed at present-day 34th Street. There they captured more than 300 American troops and about twenty officers. This was discouraging since more than 1,400 American soldiers already had been killed in the Battle of Long Island. General Washington galloped down here, to find his soldiers fleeing in panic. He positioned himself on horseback where the Grand Hyatt and Chrysler buildings now stand.
Famous for the composure and "gravitas" the ancient Romans esteemed in their leaders (even King George III, for whom Washington was treasonous, considered him a great man), Washington in that moment dashed his hat to the ground and began to strike the fleeing men with the broadside of his sword: foot soldiers and officers, even one brigadier general. They refused his orders to dig in and fight. Finally he cried in righteous fury: "Are these the men with whom I am to save America?" As a regiment of Hessians neared, a young aide-de-camp pulled Washington's horse away by the bridle, and the great man finally withdrew to Harlem Heights, moments from capture. Soon Aaron Burr secretly led 5,000 troops up the west side of Manhattan, and the Americans would prevail. For days, General Howe had the British and Hessian soldiers encamp on what is our church property.
We are now engaged in another war. Washington was a great man, but Christ is more than great, and his divine voice summons us, in New York as once in Galilee: "When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8)" If Washington tested his men with his sword, Our Lord tests our faith in other ways. St. Augustine said, "When the Lord sought be I hid from Him, and when I sought Him, He hid from me." Faith, as a gift to the intellect accepted by a free will and increased by grace, teaches us that God does not fail us, and that the climactic battle of life the one for the salvation of souls is certain of victory for those who have faith.
Fr. George W. Rutler