The English language is rich in colorful and elaborate metaphors. New York City, “the Big Apple,” lends itself to such literary devices. For 30 years its “twin towers,” loomed powerfully over its financial district until symbolic acts of calculated destruction brought them crumbling down. Their 2014 replacement will never erase the horrible memory of that infamous sunny Tuesday morning in the heart of the financial district.
Most people don’t realize that New York has another pair of twin towers that are more notable as mirror images than they are for any generic similarities. Like two menacing cultural symbols at war with each other, they stand large and tall at opposite ends of New York’s historically fashionable 5th Avenue.
On 51st street is the newly refurbished St. Patrick’s Cathedral with its amazing Gothic spires that direct the eyes toward God in His heaven above. It stands erect and defiant in opposition to its traditional trinity of evils, the world, the flesh, and the devil. About five city blocks uptown is the eponymous “Trump Tower,” a gilded monument to the ego of one man, Donald Trump. While its tower reaches to the sky, its entire focus looks downward to the material accomplishments and possessions of its namesake.
The inside of St. Patrick’s is dark and mysterious, despite the thousands of picture-taking tourists who are too often indifferent to their presence in God’s House to notice. Despite the many distractions, one may still sit in silent adoration or just breathe in the aroma of the holy incense and expired candles.
In stark contrast, the Trump Tower is festooned in gold. Inside are thousands of picture-taking tourists, who walk aimlessly about its several kiosks and counters where they can buy Trump’s books on how to become enormously wealthy like “the Donald.” They can also dress for success with a rich assortment of Trump shirts, ties, belts, and watches. For their recreational hours, there are Trump games and tee shirts. Trump’s marbleized walls stare back with lavish pictures of him and his beautiful third wife. In the eatery on its lowest level, one can sip a latte, and listen to the cacophonous chatter of a diversity of unrecognizable languages and dialects, reminiscent of an older tower in Babel. The only thing missing is the golden calf.
Holocaust survivor and Catholic convert, Viktor Frankl, anticipated New York’s metaphoric standoff with his 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning. It is essentially a reflection on the universal fact of man’s existential vacuum. This is the basic fact of our human nature that drives us on an endless search for our personal fulfillment. It is a matter of our choice as to what fills that empty feeling we often have.
Not to be outdone by New York City architecture, the Bible is also rich in metaphoric allusions. In God’s book, the heart is the vital center of human architecture. Matthew’s Gospel (6:21) tells us that where your heart is, there will be your treasure. The late Bishop Fulton J. Sheen often pointed out that the actual physical human heart appears to have a missing chunk.
Bishop Sheen, who is interred behind the main altar in St. Patrick’s, often preached that this piece belongs to God and we can only be whole when we rest our weary hearts in His love. In sharp contrast, the Trump Tower or the house of mammon rests on man’s insatiable need to possess things. While Trump watches and apparel may satisfy for a moment, they will never fill Frankl’s vacuum or make Sheen’s heart whole again.
The twin towers of God and man also symbolize an American culture that has lost its traditional sense of integration. Material things and the love of God no longer work in tandem for our salvific needs. Now they stand poised like two gladiators in a public arena. When the battle is finally over, only one tower will remain standing. My money is on St. Pat’s.