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#820 – Dick Bernard: The Homeless Guy

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

UPDATE: This commentary has several comments. They can be found both in the Responses section of this post, as well as directly below the content of the originating post. One of the last updates, from myself, includes a few paragraph comment made in in 1982 by the then-Director of Catholic Charities of St.Paul-Minneapolis, Monsignor Jerome Boxleitner. It is an especially power commentary on the issue of the homeless and society at large. You can read it here: Mgsr Boxleitner 1982001

We’re accustomed to street folks at Basilica of St. Mary, so when I saw the guy standing in the parking area this morning, it was nothing unusual. What was unusual was that he was standing in the line of traffic into the church. He had a cardboard sign that said “Homeless”. I had to pass by him going into the church, and I said “good morning”, and didn’t leave a dollar.

I rarely do.

It was cold, zero degrees at church time, but sunshiny and calm, and this man was dressed for the weather.

This was not a desperate time for him.

I walked on towards the church, and the guy caught up with me and passed by muttering something about going to jail, which seemed directed at me, but he just walked on, catching up with some other guy with a backpack and the two disappeared towards nearby downtown Minneapolis.

There was a little twinge of guilt, but, honestly, not much. Basilica has a very active social justice ministry with a broad range of programs to assist the disadvantaged in many ways, and this man was within a block, or less, of a sandwich and a cup of coffee at the rectory, or coffee and donuts in the lower level of the church, and he wouldn’t be considered a nuisance, in fact he’d be welcomed. And the downtown Minneapolis Branch of Catholic Charities, that deals pretty specifically with homeless is three short blocks away. And we contribute a lot to both the Church and Catholic Charities.

Basilica is very heavily involved in helping those “down on their luck”.

Inside the Church, it was the Feast of the Holy Family, and the celebrant, Fr. Graham, preached a most meaningful homily about Mary, Joseph and the baby in the manger at Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

Most everyone, Christian or not, knows this story. Today, Fr. Graham put the scene in clearer context talking about what society was like back then: hierarchical and male dominated, women and children exceedingly vulnerable, an entire people essentially subjects of an alien government, nobody safe and secure. Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a smelly barn, as it were, surrounded by barn smells. No room in the Bethlehem “Holiday Inn”….

Fr. Graham didn’t know what I had experienced a half hour or so earlier.

The two experiences caused me to think a lot, today, about this entire issue of people and society.

At Basilica, it is recommended NOT to give money to the occasional panhandlers outside. It might seem a surprising position, but apparently is shared by other churches similarly situated: to give is to in effect enable unproductive behavior by such entrepreneurs as the man who I’d passed by. Charity is easily available, and given without question or judgement, but the movement to justice for such folks is not helped along by encouraging a career of begging, or so I remember the surprising column in our Church newsletter some months earlier. [NOTE JAN 2, 2014 see comment and link from Janice Andersen, and my comment, at end of this post]

But this day, my thoughts were also impacted by the sermon about the old days of 2000 years ago, augmented by the news of the previous day, announcing the cutoff of long term unemployment benefits by the Congressional Budget Agreement in Washington.

Was Basilica’s recommendation the same as the policy of Congress? How did these fit with the norms of the harsh society of 2000 years ago?

The man who was cadging me would have been pleased to get a buck. I don’t know if he was “homeless” – all I know is that he had a sign so announcing – an advertisement as it were. I also knew that he knew something about marketing, where to set up his temporary business for greatest likelihood of success.

How did he differ from other entrepreneurs, including those who’ll make a billion dollars this year alone?

Probably no difference at all: just a matter of number of zeroes following the $1.

Will we ever end the problem of stark inequity? Probably not.

Should we stop trying? Certainly not.

Is there a legitimate need for a social safety net broader than simply the man’s family? Of course, there is. Children and women are most often the victims of disequity; Vets, addicts, mentally Ill often fall through the cracks. And that’s where government, the private sector, and institutions like churches and ourselves come in. All are needed on the team.

Did I act appropriately, not giving the guy a buck? I don’t know. I think I pay for this guys care in other ways and I can understand and appreciate the Church’s position on the matter of discouraging panhandling.

But maybe I’m wrong.

Thoughts?

POSTNOTE Jan. 2, 2014:
from Janice Andersen of Basilica of St. Mary: Attached (Janice Andersen Sep 16, 2012) is something that was published in September 2012. I am not sure if this is what you were referring to in your note. This basically states the guidelines that the Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness agreed upon.

I would put a stress on the preamble, which invites people to follow their heart and conscience. There is no black and whit in this, for sure. Also, I put a stress on the first point, which encourages relationship.

Thanks for your thoughtful communication and dialogue!

Peace, Janice

Dick to Janice: The attachment is what I referred to. Thank you. Very helpful. This is a vexing issue, as can be noted by the additional comments. Lurking not far in the background for any Christian, of course, is the message that the divine manifests in the sick, the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned, etc. Then the issue becomes how best to help, when you know that some (many?) are simply masquerades?

It has been a good dialogue, and I hope it continues.

UPDATES:

In addition to the following, there are comments made directly to this post. Click responses tab at the end of the post to see those.

I have not yet found the originating commentary from the Basilica Sunday newsletter, but did find an e-mail I wrote about a meeting I had attended at Basilica nearly five years ago which speaks for itself. You can read it here: JaniceAndersen022209 (Janice Andersen, who authored the commentary I speak of above, directs the social ministries at Basilica of St. Mary. She is a Saint, highly respected. “Families Moving Forward”, referred to in my letter, gives emergency housing to homeless families, and is a shared venture between about a dozen Minneapolis downtown churches.

from Carol T: Interesting, Dick. I understand how you felt. My son and family live in So. Minneapolis, and we take the Cedar exit. There’s almost always someone standing at the bottom of the ramp with The Sign. You don’t know my son, but honestly, he and his wife are some of the kindest people I know (and what a warm feeling to be able to say that :) Both of them work in senior care, and are involved in more neighborhood helping projects than I know about. So I was as surprised as you were about your church’s position when my son lectured me long ago NOT to give to those on the ramp. He claimed that if you do, and then watch, they just head across the street to the nearest bar.

I think it was last winter when I was on my way to their house and it was below zero. There was actually a woman standing at the bottom of the ramp. Big sucker me – I stopped and gave her a little money. When I told my son and hubby, they both jumped on me…

My son knows the neighborhood, and I respect what he says. However. Once he was talking about someone they knew who they found out had fallen on the proverbial hard times, and they actually saw the guy standing on an interchange ramp… What hurts is that somewhere there may be that one deserving person.

Here’s what I did once. There was a young man (but already minus several teeth) standing on Robert Street with The Sign. I stopped and said that I was going to go eat across the street at Taco Bell, and if he walked over there and met me, I’d feed him. He did, and I did. He told me a story of how he was living in the woods with some people somewhere near Robert Street, in a shack which included an illegal heater, etc. He said he was looking for work but didn’t have a resume or any way for someone to reach him. I was teaching an ESL class near there on Robert Street at the time, and I told him if he’d show up at my next class with any info, I’d print him up a resume. Of course he never did.

Now there’s sometimes a guy in a wheelchair on the Cedar ramp. If I get caught by a red light, I busy myself digging in my purse or whatever – and of course feel really guilty. But also. If you watch how many drivers actually do “donate,” even if they are only handing over a dollar, those guys are definitely making more than minimum wage…

One other observation: Over the years I think only once have I ever seen a misspelling on one of those signs. Now, the general run of the population (I’m sorry to say) has a much worse record than that… Political protests and such – misspellings all over the place. I have this vision of them scheduling their shifts (there’s never more than one on those ramps) and then handing off those signs at the end… :\

But still it hurts – and it probably should. Maybe next time invite him to church…

PS from Carol: link here.

from Lydia H: Here are some of my thoughts re:your experience w/The Homeless Guy & its larger context from my own perspective.

For most of the 25 years I’ve been in Minneapolis, I’ve lived within a few blocks of Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. It’s a regular part of everyday life for me to be asked for money when I;m waiting for the bus or walking somewhere. Sometimes I give money, sometimes I don’t.. Sometimes I feel guilty about not giving, sometimes I feel intruded upon by those who ask for money. As with your experience, sometimes “panhandling” feels like an “enterprise” —not desperation. As a low-income person myself, I think I have some “intuition” on this. Sometimes I don’t give simply because I don’t feel safe pulling my wallet out on the street with a stranger.

Over the last 25 years what I’ve noticed most—both “on the streets” and in the upper levels of “power” in our society (government & media) is an increased MEANNESS. Those at the top demonize the poor more & more, snipping away at what;’s left of the safety net. The latest attack is cutting $40 Billion from FOOD assistance, but, Minnesota hasn’t raised the welfare grant for families on the bottom in 27 YEARS—so,, while certainly still better than my home state of Texas (which is currently REFUSING to accept federal govt money to expand Medicare for healthcare for the poor)—something has shifted. And that means it’s also shifting at “street level”, too: random violence that makes no sense reported to regularly on the 6 o’clock news or considered “fun”, like the rampage of hundreds of teens (organized through Facebook) in a NY shopping mall.

Is “inequality” the reason for these things? In significant part, yes. But, I think it’s also a fraying of SHARED social expectations–whether to care about each others well being or that some behavior is simply totally UN-acceptable–regardless of one’s economic status. The Wall Street “banksters” felt no shame at robbing the nation blind and street thugs seem equally blind to conscience.

Yes, we must reverse the widening chasm of inequality. But, we must also close the gaps in connection and compassion. Raising the minimum wage or demanding a stronger safety net and more job creation is a lot easier than deepening our connections and compassion.

from Madeline: I don’t trust the motives of panhandlers, and have often thought, if anything, one should hand them a card telling where help is available. A buck plus a few others wouldn’t solve the problem of homelessness, unless this a very successful panhandling entrepreneur, which perhaps a few are, and if it is that lucrative, it really wouldn’t be legitimate need, but rather a scam. More likely, the few dollars received in this way would go for alcohol or other drugs.

from Jeff P: I always struggle with that, but we also give to local charities that help the homeless.

The one thing the billionaires and the panhandlers have in common, the income ends up tax free, the billionaires thru loopholes in the system, the panhandler as it is Cash. That is not a value judgment, just an observation.

Response to Jeff from Dick: I have a friend, who at the time was a Priest in an impoverished area of a major city. One time he told me about the ‘circuit rider” charity folks, who did the circuit of churches for handout, say, enough money for their family to spend the night at a inexpensive hotel. The pastors who knew each other knew these folks, since they were regulars. My friend said that some of them were really good at their pitches, and could really have succeeded in regular jobs, but for whatever reason they stuck with their street trade.

The essential difference between millionaires and the rest of us is, in my opinion, that they have (and know how to use) the power to make the system work in their behalf. The rest of us – the so-called 99% – have even more power, but for assorted reasons, like failing to vote, etc., don’t exercise the great power we possess.

from Judy B: I’ve often thought about the issues you raise in this excellent commentary. For years, I would give money, because need might exist — especially if children were involved. In recent years, I’ve walked by panhandlers without guilt. But I’m starting to feel guilty again. I don’t like my callous self. The other day, when a desperate-looking woman approached me outside [a major store] and said she needed money for food, I told her we would go into the store together and she could pick out the food she needed. She refused, but I’m going to try that tactic again.

from a person who prefers name not be used: One time [then-MN] Gov. Pawlenty wanted them to register as panhandlers??? So Nick Coleman, who wrote for the St. Paul paper, went down to Hwy 55 and asked a woman about her typical day. She said they work in groups, one on the street the other 3 women under a tree. By the end of the day they hope to be able to buy one bag of pot, one bottle of wine..and if they are lucky a sandwich. [Twin Cities homeless advocate] Mary Jo Copeland says not to give money send them to her.

from Peter B: More people should read Richard Wolff and Howard Richards on economic issues. My take is that unless there is a change in the cultural norms, anything we do perpetuates the status quo.

This doesn’t mean don’t give people money, etc., but it does mean that these are conscience-soothing but futile gestures. ON the other hand, the homeless guy can’t be making much even if he is merely an “entrepreneur,” so no harm in playing into his game.

Where we need to put our energies is behind substantive change of the rules of the game, which under capitalism are: private property is sacred, contracts must be fulfilled, and investors are free to put their money wherever they like.

If you look at these, they mean the following: if a person has nothing to sell that anybody wants to buy, that person is soon to be homeless, and subject to arrest and indefinite detention. All people, communities, states and nations are at the mercy of the “law” of supply and demand, so they must cut taxes, give away infrastructure, and do whatever the corporations like, or the owners will invest their money some other place where the labor is cheap and the regulations as thin as smoke. Moreover, people are essentially enslaved by this system as life-long workers with no hope of escape.

These cultural norms are totally made-up fictions. There is no “law” of supply and demand, no “invisible hand,” and no reason why a few men in some boardroom should get to decide what to produce, and what to do with the profits. It is a complete scam.

There are many surprising examples around the world in which people have taken over the management of their factories and shops, and manage the distribution of profits in an open and democratic process. But we don’t hear much about them, as the corporate powers that be fear them more than anything, and will stop at nothing to prevent more such successes. It’s why we’re supposed to hate the South Americans and the Europeans and so on.

Meanwhile, those places also enjoy healthcare and unemployment and retirement benefits just for being alive in this world.

So, I guess my take is that the presence of the “Homeless Guy” is a shameful thing, not on him, but on all Americans who have bought this bad deal.

from Dick, Dec. 31, 2013:

It appears that the comments have run their course, as always. As always, there is something to learn from each, whether agreeing or disagreeing.

The most powerful comments, doubtless, are those unexpressed: too close to the surface, too painful, too personal. There was one such comment yesterday at the end of which were some powerful words: “don’t print”. I didn’t, and won’t….

The homeless issue, like any issue, is not simple, and the closer one gets to the day-to-day work with it, including within ones own family, the more complex it gets, though the simple part is always the business of relationship, sometimes impossible to maintain.

I had no relationship context whatsoever with Sunday’s panhandler. His was the “storefront” I didn’t enter, but he did cause me to wonder.

Neither did I relate, as an usher, with the drunk street person who showed up at Mass on Christmas morning, full of Christmas cheer, there to celebrate some long ago memory, but by all appearances likely to interfere with a thousand or more others in the church in one way or another. The gentleman had no boundaries.

What to do?

Everybody was courteous with the gentleman, but one minute I looked and he was gone, most likely ushered out. For every one like him are a large number of others, seeking some kind of personal solace in the church, some very well disguised; some like the guy who quietly sat at the very back of the church, apart from everyone, his apparent wish, standing out, but not outstanding.

In my personal end analysis, with the homeless and the like, it comes down to trying to do a decent job of helping those who need help, wherever they happen to be on their personal journey. Top of the list has to be the most truly vulnerable, the children, and their mothers, and the mentally ill. But there are more as well for whom the family has to be “society” at large (it is called “government”): the people who have no lobby.

Back in 1981, when I was on the Board of Catholic Charities in the Twin Cities, I heard the need powerfully expressed by the then-Director and legendenday Fr. Jerome Boxleitner. I and likely others thought his message was so powerful that it was reprinted, and I’ve kept a copy in my file ever since. Here is what he had to say, then: Mgsr Boxleitner 1982001

Have a Happy (and contributing) New Year.

from Kathy M, Jan 1:
The ramps off 35W to St. Joan’s are “staffed” regularly with a revolving group asking for money. I frequently feel conflicted…randomly though seldom give a dollar.

Good discussion with comments and your wrap up. Anyone must be fairly desperate. I always think it would be humiliating to beg.

#808 – Dick Bernard: Some thoughts on “Black Friday”

Friday, November 29th, 2013

Yesterday, Thanksgiving, was an especially good day. It included “An Interfaith Celebration of Thanksgiving” at Basilica of St. Mary co-officiated by Ministers of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, Plymouth Congregational Church, the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, the Imam of Masjid Al-Imam, the Rabbi of Temple Israel and, of course, Pastor of Basilica of St. Mary.

It was an inspirational hour. One of the officiating clergy read, early on, a brief but highly inspirational poem, Otherwise, by Jane Kenyon.

“Otherwise” is a very powerful reminder not to take what we have for granted…and not to expect it to be permanent. In particular, note the final sentence of the poem.

(click to enlarge photos)

Pastors at the Interfaith Celebration of Thanksgiving at Basiiica of St. Mary Nov. 28 2013

Pastors at the Interfaith Celebration of Thanksgiving at Basiiica of St. Mary Nov. 28 2013

At the Interfaith celebration.  500 programs were printed, and they ran out long before the service began.

At the Interfaith celebration. 500 programs were printed, and they ran out long before the service began.

Of course, shortly before this years American Thanksgiving, there were two other happenings of great significance:
1) a breakthrough in the years-long stalemate between the U.S. and Iran signals a chance for progress. Of course, those whose power depends on enemies and potential war are not pleased, but I think the beginnings of an agreement is very good news indeed.
2) and Pope Francis I issued his highly publicized teaching, putting ‘meat on the bones’ of changing the tone of power in the Catholic Church. I haven’t read the entire document as yet; a friend who has, recommends it highly. You can access it here.

Then there’s “Black Friday” that uniquely American Exhortation to Shop to Achieve Business Success (“Profit”) during the “Christmas Season”.

Many have answered the call….

In my corner of the universe, the business Christmas Season began at my local coffee shop about November 1, when Holiday napkins first appeared, and the background muzak began to include a sprinkling of Christmas songs.

Today begins all-Christmas all-the-time, I suppose.

We’ll put up the tree next weekend, Cathy tells me, and it will be, as usual, nice, though it forces me to relocate my favorite chair. Oh well.

But for me the best “Christmas presents” of all have already been received, as noted above.

#792 – Dick Bernard: The Gospel of the Soprano

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Friday evening my 88 year old Uncle and I went down the hall to visit his sister and my aunt in the Memory Care unit at the Nursing Home/Assisted Living facility in a small rural North Dakota community. It was a short trip, under a single roof. My Aunt, at 93, is most likely not suffering from severe dimentia, but nonetheless the placement is appropriate. She’s been in the unit for about a year.

My Uncle and I just went to visit. My Aunt was working on a puzzle. (photo at end.)

It was supper time, and two other ladies were at the same table, one familiar to me, the other not, perhaps a recent resident.

“Emma” was attempting to engage, but not succeeding. The second lady was easily understood but not allowing for much visiting.

We may have looked or sounded annoyed: at some point you don’t know what to do. Those knowing someone with any variation of dimentia understand.

The man assigned to evening duty came around. I’d talked with him during an earlier visit. He’s a retired teacher in the town, and as I recall, he willingly took his job more as a service than as a job. He had a relative – perhaps his Mom? – who was or had been a patient in this very facility. Maybe, it has since occurred to me, she was Emma….

For whatever reason, he entered the conversation: “Emma stood in front of me for 20 years in our Church choir”, he said. “She had a wonderful Soprano voice.” He mentioned one particular piece which required a phrase one octave higher than the usual, and it was Emma who would sing it, beautifully.

As I recall, Emma had nodded off.

Off he went to other duties, and our visit continued, helping my Aunt finish a puzzle (she’s good with puzzles) and then we left.

And all the next day, driving 300 miles back home, I kept thinking of that brief but powerful encounter in the Memory Care section of the Nursing Home.

This morning Cathy and I went to 9:30 Mass at Minneapolis’ Basilica of St. Mary as usual.

Fr. Greg Welch was celebrant and homilist, and today’s Gospel was Luke 18:9-14, the well known passage about the righteous Rich Man and the repentant Tax Collector (I knew is as the Pharissee and the Publican story).

Fr. Welch, in his own comments, chose to focus on the Pharisee, and drew us into the Pharisee’s circle, as it were, with a simple parable of his own.

He opened with a simple comment: when he was young, he grew up in a family that assumed the kids would go to college. There was no need to discuss this reality. For many other families, college is not even a dream, he said. It is not part of their reality for financial or other reasons.

Those of us in those pews are mostly pretty privileged, and Fr. Greg wondered aloud about the wisdom of a country criticizing “Obamacare” while 32 million people are without health care, and no alternative being offered; about cutting food stamps while considering military expenses to be essential; about people, including the homeless holding those cardboard signs on street corners, needing a job not being able to find one in which they can earn a living.

The open question, not directly addressed, was to each one of us: “where do YOU fit into this picture?”

It was an applause worthy homily; we in the pews were very, very quiet.

I’ll let the Memory Care attendant know about this blog post, and perhaps he will tell me what motivated him, on Friday night, to tell us about Emma, the lady whose grasp of what we take for granted is very limited.

At any rate, he sang a magnificent Soprano for us on Friday afternoon. It is a message that will stick with me.

(click to enlarge)

My Aunt and Uncle with the completed Puzzle, October 25, 2013

My Aunt and Uncle with the completed Puzzle, October 25, 2013

UPDATE Nov. 3, 2013:
Today’s Gospel was the story of “Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man” (Luke 19:1-10). Our Pastor, Father Bauer, gave an excellent homily interpreting the Bible story.

As with the previous Sundays text and interpretation, this Gospel fit into todays news, which included, this past week, the mandatory cut in “snap” funds at the federal level – I think they’re called food stamps.

There is a lot to talk about….

Also, this past week, came a review of what is likely a very forgettable book, by Bill O’Reilly, which essentially attaches the crucifixion of Jesus to taxes, and another “Christian” who labored mightily to prove that “government” is not “people”, when that is all that government ever is or has been….

It takes all manners of tortured interpretation. But the reality is, there are those of us who have, and we have an obligation those who have less.

Some day we may find ourselves in the same position of needing help.

#705 – Dick Bernard: The Beginning of the Pontificate of Pope Francis. One Catholics View at Easter 2013.

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

Being an active Catholic, I was interested in who the new Pope would be after the resignation of Benedict XVI.

By happenstance, the day of the Pope’s election, March 13, I was in Florida. I was on a tour bus with Grandson Ryan and his friend Caleb, at the Kennedy Space Center. The cell phone rang and Cathy, my wife, said a Pope had been elected. The phone connection was bad, so I got little information.

As such elections go, this papal election was rather rapid. I didn’t pay much attention to who’s in the running: apparently, at least to my knowledge, the elected Pope was not on the prognosticators short list. He turned out to be of Italian lineage, and an Argentinian, and the first Pope from the western Hemisphere.

Three days later, visiting a friend in Clearwater FL area, I said I’d like to go to the Cathedral in Tampa to see what they had to say about the new Pope. My friend isn’t Catholic, and he selected an ordinary parish church; it turned out the Tampa Bay area Cathedral is in St. Petersburg. But by happy accident I ended up in Sacred Heart Catholic Church, a Franciscan parish in downtown Tampa, on March 17, and Pastor Fr. George gave a wonderful homily about this new Pope who took the name of Francis of Assisi. The bulletin included a column Fr. George had written the day prior to the Pope’s election. It too is interesting: Fr. George Col Mar 12 13001

(click to enlarge photos)

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, downtown Tampa, FL

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, downtown Tampa, FL

Fr. George, March 17, 2013

Fr. George, March 17, 2013

The Church Bulletin for that Sunday had a full-page article on “Francis of Assisi: A Sacramental View of Nature”. (That column, and many other columns about Saint Francis, can be found here. Anyone interested in getting a sense of the new Pope’s inclinations would benefit from reading these essays.

As for the collective “Catholic” attitude towards the new Pope, I felt Fr. George “hit the nail on the head” early on in his homily. He recalled two bumper stickers from the time Benedict XVI was elected as Pope a few years ago. One simply said: “God’s Rottweiler”; the other, as simple, said “The Cafeteria is Closed”.

Of course the first comes from the left-wing of Catholicism: those who felt that Benedict would be the authoritarian enforcer; the other comes from the right-wing, who despise what some call “cafeteria Catholics”, who allegedly pick and choose what teachings to obey.

Then, of course, there’s everyone in between.

Anyone who attempts to typecast the “typical” Catholic is on a fools errand.

As for Pope Francis, my guess is that the “Rottweiler” faction is worried, and the “Cafeteria” faction more hopeful.

No Pope can truly be said to be in control of anything any more. There is no papal enforcement mechanism. To my knowledge, Church and State are nowhere conjoined as a single entity these days. Catholicism is a significant but still small minority of the World population; and however bulked up the numbers, the American Catholic Church is less than one-fourth of the population. And as I’ll see at Basilica of St. Mary today, at Easter Mass, the Catholics who enter the door are a motley crew, including many who will leave after Mass, not to return again until the Christmas Mass nine months from now.

The Pope does set the tone for we Catholics. And he is at minimum the official figurehead.

From early indications, and from my own personal perspective, Pope Francis is a good choice, and the Church will be the better for his becoming the Pontiff.

There could be far worse models for the Catholic Church than St. Francis of Assisi.

And a brief PS:

I did search out the real Cathedral of Tampa, which was St. Jude in St. Petersburg. I arrived there after the last Mass, and had coffee and a donut. The Church is under reconstruction, and I didn’t hear any message, including nothing in the Church bulletin, about the new Pope.

St. Jude's, St. Petersburg Fl. under reconstruction

St. Jude’s, St. Petersburg Fl. under reconstruction

At St. Jude's Mar 17, 2013

At St. Jude’s Mar 17, 2013

UPDATE: After 9:30 Mass Easter Sunday.

The above content is as written last evening.

As usual, I ushered this morning at Basilica. Large crowds are expected at the Christmas and Easter Masses, but this mornings crowd was exceptional, above expectations. The Church was near full a half hour before Mass time, and the large overflow area also ended up very crowded. Both the sanctuary and undercroft were standing room only to the limit.

Undercroft at Basilica Easter, March 31, 2013

Undercroft at Basilica Easter, March 31, 2013

Unbeknownst to me, the local Archbishop said the Mass and gave the homily (sermon). In authoritative mode, our Abp. is not a very friendly appearing type. His hope message included a usual complaint from him, about government interference with his notion of religious freedom (a complaint, I am guessing, most Catholics don’t share.) In my opinion, our Archbishop is more on the Rottweiler fringe…. Recently a friend sent a commentary about Abps style that I found most interesting. It is here.

Abp Nienstedt March 31, 2013

Abp Nienstedt March 31, 2013

As the transition period continues (for some years, I would guess), there will be a sorting out of roles and authority between the local diocesan heads (Bishops et al) and the new Pope. Changes will be gradual, and more likely imperceptible unless considered from a long term view. In a sense, the Papal transition is somewhat similar to the election of a new President of the United States: incorrect assumptions are made about dramatic and instant sea-changes at time of change in power at the top. Rarely if ever is this so, unless precipitated by some calamitous event, such as President Kennedy’s assassination. The change, whatever it will be (and I think there will be change), will be gradual, but very noticeable.

After Easter Mass, while I was distributing church bulletins (we call them newsletters), a young woman came up to me and asked “who was the man who gave the sermon?” I said, “Archbishop Nienstedt”. “Oh”, she said, and off she went.

Except in his closer circles, the Archbishop is not part of the ordinary household vocabulary.

At one point a long-time friend and I, also active in the parish, speculated about the extraordinary attendance this particular Easter day. She thought it might be the attendance of the Archbishop. I speculated it might have something to do with the newly installed Pope in Rome. “I hope so”, she responded. I share her notion of hope.

Such is how the conversations within our Church begin in this first month in the reign of Pope Francis.

From early indications, Pope Francis will not be timid, and a cookie-cutter imitation of his immediate predecessors.

For me, that is a good thing.

Directly related, here.

#547 – Dick Bernard: Part One. Palm Sunday, the Passion, Haiti and the Mega-Millions Lottery

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

UPDATE April 4: An excellent commentary on the economics of the lottery can be found here. And on another angle, here.
A followup post on this topic is here.

This morning started, as usual, with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The entirety of page A4 – no ads – was devoted to two topics: the top two-thirds was headlined “U.N muddies Haiti’s cholera war”; the bottom third was headlined “3 Mega Millions winners, more than 100 million losers.”

The two articles speak clearly for themselves.

Then we went to Basilica of St. Mary, picked up up our palms, and settled in for the long Gospel, the Passion, this years version according to St. Mark, Chapter 14:1 – 15:47. (There are three versions of the Passion, and they rotate each year.)

This year, probably because of the juxtaposition of Haiti’s most recent uninvited and undeserved catastrophe with the frenzy to hopefully win the treasures of the Lottery, one section of the Passion particularly caught my attention.

Here it is as recorded in my Grandma Bernard’s 1912 edition of the Douay-Rheims (Catholic) Bible:

“And when he was in Bethania, in the house of Simon the leper, and was at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of precious spikenard: and breaking the alabaster box she poured it out upon his head.

Now there were some that had indignation with themselves, and said: Why was this waste of the ointment made?

For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and given to the poor. And they murmured against her.

But Jesus said: Let her alone, why do you molest her? She hath wrought a good work upon me.

For the poor you have always with you: and whensoever you will, you may do them good: but me you have not always.

She hath done what she could : she is come beforehand to anoint my body for the burial.” (Mark 14:3-8)

Every Catholic who darkened a church door today heard this Gospel, and likely some in other denominations as well.

Last week, some of us were having a little debate about the relative merits/demerits of the Lottery, and the ‘feeding frenzy’ for tickets as the Jackpot went up into the stratosphere.

The conversation got around to the evil of taxes (the winnings are taxed), and giving contributions after winning, etc. There were many points of view, even among the few of us in the little conversation.

Then comes this piece of text which can, doubtless, be ‘spun’ in many different ways, depending on what one wishes to believe.

Personally, I think the Christian Scripture (aka New Testament), including this particular text, is not a comfortable collection of thoughts for the wealthy Christian…and by any measure of this or any other time, Americans are a very wealthy society. That’s probably why the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament) are much more comfortable to the set that gives deference to wars and kings and such….

But, what does the text from this morning mean?

Or, rather, what did Jesus mean?

Happy Easter.

UPDATE April 4:
John Borgen:
I am rereading one of my favorite books, The Hebrew Bible, A Socio-Literary Introduction by Norman Gottwald. In it he continues to observe that the admonitions of the prophets to the Jews and Israelites, for over a thousand years, PRIOR to the time of Jesus, was to remind the well-off that they are not to exploit the poor, the peasants and those less fortunate than they are and to provide economic and social justice for all. The author suggests the book of Psalms upbraids wealthy Judeans and Isrealites for “pauperization of the populace through the manipulation of debt and confiscation procedures…”

The suggestion is that “Yahweh” punished the leaders in ancient times for the lack of economic and social justice which didn’t exist. Gottwald says these kinds of things throughout this interesting and challenging book.

#504 – Dick Bernard: Church, State, the Stadium, and We, the People

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

This morning, as usual on Sunday, I went to 9:30 Mass at Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

Not as usual, I entered through the door directly beneath the west bell tower. I noticed a new marble step there. That door has been blocked off by yellow police tape for a long time – most of a year – because a 300 pound piece of the 100 year old structure had fallen off the facing of the bell tower sometime during the night many months ago. It had damaged that particular step. It could have been a catastrophe had people been entering the church at the time.

Back home I read the front page article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the news-making conflict between Basilica, city, state and the Minnesota Vikings over the possibility of a new stadium whose property would begin a football field length away from the north end of Basilica property. You can read all about the conflict here. The Basilica is enlisting we parishioners to come to its defense – that’s how Power works.

The story is a good old-fashioned clash of the titans. I’m very loyal to the Basilica, active but disgruntled Catholic for a number of reasons, not a sports fan, but not particularly upset about the prospect of a new stadium for the Vikings somewhere – though I don’t see it as needed, etc., and the so-called Linden Hills site makes little sense. I’ve raised my objections but I see a new stadium as inevitable.

But the elements of this particular story got me to thinking about another aspect of this kind of conflict between powers-that-be…and those with seemingly less power.

I keep thinking back to 1965, the year I arrived in the Twin Cities. It was my most difficult year, ever. My wife was dying at University Hospital and I was broke in a strange town, living briefly with her relatives in south Minneapolis, then in a rooming house not far from the University, and later working at the then-Lincoln Del in St. Louis Park to survive.

If my memory has not failed me, some time that summer I watched the demolition of houses in the path of soon to be Interstate 35-W going south from downtown Minneapolis. This was a “clear cut” project through people’s houses. This is how it happened everywhere as this system we now take for granted was being constructed in the late 1950s and 1960s.

The easiest neighborhoods to cut through were the poorer ones – no effective resistance. And the routes were constructed so as to be most convenient to those more well-off and powerful….

Later, in 1968 I believe it was, The Lowry Tunnel at Lyndale and Hennepin was constructed to facilitate traffic north on Interstate 94, literally across the street from this same Basilica of St. Mary.

The Basilica was spared, but not the neighborhood, but the incessant traffic has done its damage to the Basilica and is at least part of the cause-and-effect of that 300 pound piece of stone falling off its face….

Now its the Vikings who demand something new and extravagant, and will likely get it after the Republicans decide how to position themselves to be in opposition; then claim credit, but blame the Democrat Governor Mark Dayton for the resulting mess. It’s just how it is.

Personally, I’ve done my part as a citizen, written my letters, gone on record with the people who represent me.

If there is to be a stadium, it ought to be the Metrodome, which came in under budget and on-time when it was constructed about 1980 and is a perfectly situated place.

If, stupidly, we’re going to build a new and unneeded stadium, we ought to have the guts to pay for it through taxes, rather than more gambling, the most destructive tax of all.

But this is a fascinating look at how power works, and if those ‘power to the people’ folks are going to exercise their power, they ought to be learning some lessons from this to begin shifting attitudes.

Related, here’s a personal discussion about POWER, here (scroll down).

Some of the kinds of "power" which can be wielded by people. There are many more, at play in the stadium location conflict.

#492 – Dick Bernard: Christmas all year long….

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

I was at 7:30 a.m. Mass Christmas Day at Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis. Usually, I’m found at 9:30 a.m. They had a need for a few ushers, the time was open, so I volunteered.

Celebrant this day was Father Tim Backous. He is a regular visitor from St. John’s University in Collegeville MN, and always has a cogent and powerful message. Today was no different.

He opened his homily with reference to one of those inspirational “forwards” that tend to appear at this season of the year.

This one, as I recall it, was about a Colorado physician, enroute home for Christmas, who encountered car problems and limped into a service station for help. Inside the station was a woman, crying. The woman said she was enroute to California with her three kids to start a new life. The kids were in the car. She said she had run out of money. The physician, a woman, filled her gas tank, bought food such as it was available at the station, and gave her whatever extra money she had. And the woman was on her way.

The service people checked the physicians car to find out what was wrong, and they could find nothing amiss. She went on her way, and never again had any problems with the car.

A Christmas miracle.

Fr. Tim noted that this and similar stories are common this time of year, and indeed they are all wonderful.

“But at the risk of being labeled a Grinch”, I recall him saying, there is a larger message.

He continued, Christmas is only one day of the year, and it is useful to keep that in mind every day of every year.

It is one of those uncomfortable messages we need to hear.

Every day should be Christmas day…if not in scale, but Christmas spread out in bits and pieces through the entire year.

Merry Christmas, and 365 compassionate days in the coming year.

Manger Scene, Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis December 25, 2011

Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis MN, December 25, 2011

#421 – Dick Bernard: “Be SEEN, Be HEARD”

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

One of my favorite volunteer duties is usher at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis MN. Through the doors of that magnificent place come people at all places in their faith journey, the welcoming and non-judgmental mantra of the Parish.

The Sunday just past I was working at the back (main) entrance to the Church, and I saw a plainly dressed gentleman standing in the back. He was wearing a purplish tee-shirt, on the back of which was written, in easily seen letters:
Be SEEN
Be HEARD

That powerful mantra got me curious. I moved a little closer, and in smaller letters I saw “NWCT”. That didn’t make any sense.

So I did what I should have done in the first place, and just asked the guy “what group is this?”

He was happy to explain. The shirt was for a twin cities community access cable television station, Northwest Community Television. I’d actually been in that station last October, and I was favorably impressed.

We talked further, and the gentleman said he does a program on that station called “Painting with Dave” (scroll down), and it plays on certain community television stations, particularly in the Twin Cities, and also, for some reason in Connecticut. In the Minneapolis area, the next program is August 27, for 30 minutes.

I’ll see if it plays out here, and check it out.

The moral of this story is very simple: it is hard to make an impact if you are not willing to be seen, and to be heard.

Thanks, Dave, for wearing that shirt!

#330 – Dick Bernard: The Gospel According to Rasheed

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Last Sunday, a visiting Pastor, Fr.Michael O’Connell, a man we greatly respect and admire, gave the homily, based, he said, on one of the readings for the day, Isaiah 58:7-10.

He had just returned from a three week January vacation in San Diego, a place a bit warmer than the Twin Cities, and he had had a pleasant time.

Michael is about my age, at the top of his career, highly respected by movers and shakers in this metropolitan area, but he is also one who has often spoke from the pulpit about the down times he has personally experienced. He walks the talk, from Isaiah “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.

Where Peace and Justice is spoken, not far away is Father Michael O’Connell

But it’s not always easy, even for him, as he related last Sunday.

He had rented a car in San Diego, and stopped at an airport area gas station to fill the tank before returning the car. He had plenty of time. One of his quirks, he said, was that he can never remember his zip code, so he doesn’t use credit card in such situations: ordinarily, a zip code is required to validate the card.

Tank filled, he went into the store to pay the bill. It happened that somebody was in front of him, somebody pretty obviously homeless who had come in to buy lunch: standard junk food fare and a soda.

Michael had noted that the station was in an area that seemed to have quite a few homeless.

He waited, and waited and waited. The customer was digging through his pockets for change, pennies and such, and the clerk – who Michael noted to us was named “Rasheed” – was patiently counting the coins and stacking them until the customer had come up with enough spare change to pay for his lunch.

As noted earlier, Michael had a great plenty of time, but was feeling, and apparently looking, annoyed at the delay the homeless guy was causing. His impatience had overcome his sense of understanding and justice – two qualities I know he has in abundance.

Now it was Michael’s turn at the register.

Rasheed had apparently noticed Michael’s agitation, and had no idea who he was, much less that he was a man of the cloth, and just quietly said, “that guys a human, too, just like you and I“.

Nothing more needed to be said.

Chastened and reminded, Father Michael left, returned his car, caught his flight, came home…and shared with us the lesson of Rasheed in the gas station near the International Airport in San Diego.

A good reminder.

#309 – Dick Bernard: Prelude to Bells for Haiti, 3:53 p.m. CST January 12, 2011

Monday, January 10th, 2011

One year ago today – it was Sunday, January 10, 2010 at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis MN – I was privileged to hear one of the most powerful messages for justice I have ever heard.

The event is described in a blog post I did at the time. You can access it here, and it speaks for itself.

The speaker, a Catholic Priest long serving in Cite Soleil, arrived in Minneapolis late the previous day, and left early the next, and was back home in Haiti when the earthquake took its awful toll.

I have thought often of Fr. Tom since that extraordinary Sunday one year ago; and the following Tuesday when he escaped serious physical injury, but not so the residents he served, nor the facilities of his ministry.

Someone has said that he’s now back home on leave, the stress of the past year having taken its toll.

We live in comfort as the Haitian continue to struggle. We all have our stories about where we were when we heard about the devastation of the Haiti earthquake, or our personal connections. We each can continue to do our part.

Bells will ring at Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis Wednesday afternoon.

I hope to be there for those 35 seconds.

More about the Bells for Haiti observance Wednesday, January 12, 2011, here.