A Life of Blessings,  by Michael H. Brown, a book of inspiration, hope, and enlightenment by a bestselling author who has compiled and adapted the many popular articles he has written online for this little tour de force that covers a multitude of issues -- from healing and deliverance and joy and peace to preparing for death and the afterlife -- each chapter a little essay or article on how we pray best, how we purify,  how with God there is always hope (an 'exit'), how we rid fear, obsession, attachment, what to do when we hit 'rock bottom,' and much more. (below for paper, here Kindle  or Nook for paperback click here 



Was it because of John Paul II?

On occasion, I've wondered if it was the 1995 visit of this new saint to New York that seemed to soften things. My sister, who lives in a Connecticut suburb, believed that the visit had a major noticeable effect on attitudes and the spiritual tenor of "the City." It was as if his Masses there -- the list of liturgies and devotions, the Vespers -- formed sort of a deliverance of the area.

To be sure, New York, along with everywhere else, needs much more in the way of purging evil, which in many -- perhaps most -- regards is higher than ever. We need not be fooled. Just take a gander each Halloween at the Greenwich Village parade.

But there has been some change in Manhattan. There is a bit less of that unpleasant "electricity." The pace isn't quite as frenzied as I recall (I went to college there in the Seventies and lived in Manhattan during the 1980s). On the streets, there's still rude behavior; there are honking horns; but they don't seem quite as loud. Most impressive, at least for now, is the crime rate. In the Seventies and Eighties, Times Square was a cesspool of the hardest-core pornography (displayed right in the window), prostitutes, drug dealers, and thieves. The Port Authority Bus Terminal was outright dangerous to use. I remember entering a subway car one evening and finding the floor covered with blood. Another time I exited a subway stop only to see a man with a nylon mask at a payphone. At night, trying to sleep, I could hear gunshots up past 96th Street. Once a taxi driver cussed because he had to divert over to First Avenue: there was a dead body on Third, delaying us uptown. When I was there the city had more than 2,000 homicides a year; in 2013 that figure had dropped to 333 (though the area's population has increased). Crime reached a peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s on the subway (which had the highest rate of crime anywhere worldwide), but now is at a record low. The trend began before the Pope's visit (due to better policing and an end to the crack epidemic) and continued on a radical drop after. During a recent visit to Manhattan, my taxi driver -- who had also been there in the 1980s -- went on about how much more civilized it had become.

The New York as "most dangerous city," at least for the time being, at least in part, is in the past. It is a kinder, gentler place. It is also cleaner, at least in the tourist areas, where litter used to degrade the entire experience. Now, tour bus after tour bus glides up and down the avenues.

It is a kinder, gentler place unless you're a baby. This is a city where thirty-seven percent of all pregnancies here end in abortion.

That tallies to seventy or eighty thousand babies each year -- the population of many smaller cities.

Some even ascribe the lower crime rate in part to the abortion of low-income children (more blacks are aborted than are born).

This portends a future tragedy.

There is the obsession with fashion and entertainment. There is the unparalleled materialism. No place in the world is more "worldly." There are nearly forty people in Manhattan "worth" more than three billion dollars (David Rockefeller comes in fortieth at $3.9 billion!). There is the fact that the lessons of September 11 don't seem to have taken hold. The Freedom Tower now stands where the Trade Center did as if in defiance instead of contrition (see Isaiah 9:10; if you want to read an incredible prophetic book about this, see The Harbinger).

I'll grant you that. Wall Street remains haywire. We think back to Babylon. And as for crime: you still have to be very careful; in this city that never sleeps are criminals who never sleep either.

Caution always.

But there have been improvements. The city is more sedate. The streets are not as "mean." More than any of that, the last few times I've been there, including over the weekend (6/7/14), Shop owners and waiters seem more polite. Folks take time to give you directions. September 11 broke some of the pride there.

And then there was the Pope.

We also can recall John Paul II and his arrival in Newark, celebrating Mass before 120,000 in Central Park, or his address with Vespers with the seminarians in Yonkers; we think back on his Mass at St. Pat's (which is now in the midst of a major renovation).

The city stopped and watched as he prayed (and many prayed with him).

It may well have had an effect.

(If you don't think John Paul II had angelic powers around him, at right see the reflection above his plane when he arrived in Baltimore following the appearances in New York.)

As The New York Times recalled, "On John Paulís last visit to the city, what most people saw was just a tiny gold-and-white figure on a distant altar during the Masses he celebrated for biblical multitudes on the Great Lawn in Central Park, at Aqueduct Race Track in Queens and at Giants Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands. But a more revealing episode, for thousands who witnessed it, was the Popeís moment of impulse outside St. Patrickís Cathedral on his last day in town, when he emerged after reciting the Rosary and, instead of stepping into his Popemobile and riding away, he decided to take a stroll around the block. 'Heís walking! Heís walking!' someone cried." The Daily News had similar coverage.

It was like the great pontiff -- John Paul the Great -- took all twenty million in the metro area into a chapel. We remember how quiet everything got while he was there, and how some of the quietude and goodness, the kindness, the cleanliness -- a smidgeon, at any rate, minus at least some of the "electricity" -- seems to have remained.

-- Michael H. Brown

[resources: The Harbinger]

[Note also: Michael Brown retreats: Philadelphia-New Jersey and Connecticut!]

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[Feedback: "Thank you for this story. I attended the Mass in Central Park. Afterward, walking in Manhattan with a fellow seminarian, I mentioned to him: 'something's wrong,' he said, 'what?' 'People are talking to each other on the streets and greeting us.' 'so,' he said. I replied, 'But this is Manhattan and usually nobody gives you the time of day.' On the way back to the Seminary in Latrobe I heard a NYC radio commentator make mention of the same phenomenon! -- Fr. William J Kuchinsky"]

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