There has been a little development of the blessing-in-the-bank story I recounted a couple posts ago. I went in there again recently and the same bank officer asked for another blessing—while I was waiting in line. There were two different reactions to this. The ensuing conversation with the bewildered teller, who evidently considered this incident worthy of setting aside his professional reserve and detachment, went like this:
Teller: “What were you doing to her?”
FJ: “I was giving her a blessing. I’m a priest.”
Teller: “Do you, uh, do stuff like that very often?”
FJ: “Not so often in public places. She asked me to.” [I had to make it clear I wasn’t imposing my religion on the staff!]
Teller: “She is a rather outgoing person…”
FJ: “Mostly I give blessings in the context of church activities or ministries.”
Teller: “Right, church. So what can I do for you today?”
The other reaction was more favorable. I had to change the PIN on my new debit card [a traditional sign of acceptance by a religious community is the solemn bestowal of a debit card], so I had to go to the desk of one of the officers. After the business was concluded and I was getting up to leave, he said, “Father? Can I ask you to give me a blessing? I have a meeting today at which my possible promotion will be discussed.” So I blessed him, happy to see that the public display made by the one who first asked a blessing encouraged at least one other to seek a blessing in that secular context. Who knows? Maybe eventually they’ll all be lining up for a blessing!
The next event is not actually a South City event but one that took place in The City itself. I usually don’t like to go there, partly because I don’t know my way around and because of the traffic and the absence of parking space within ten blocks of wherever you happen to be going. (It’s also forbidden to make a left turn almost anywhere in The City.) The main reason, though, is the creepy feeling of spiritual oppression I get almost every time I go there. But since the cathedral is there, that’s where I had to go.
The cathedral, by the way, is a rather bizarre specimen of modern architecture, bearing no external resemblance to a church. It’s a little nicer inside, but not a whole lot. There’s this stained glass window at the entrance that had me mystified. My first impression was that it was the first frame of a trailer from some ghoulish zombie movie, but then I thought, no, they wouldn’t put that in a church. Then I thought maybe it was a depiction of the descent into hell, but even if it did depict that divine mystery, this form of it seemed to emphasize the hell part and so it didn’t really draw me into contemplation, either mystical or aesthetic. Finally someone told me it is supposed to represent Christ within a chalice. Oh.
Anyway, I went there to attend and concelebrate (with about 100 other priests) the Installation Mass for our new archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone. We have hopes that he will restore a measure of orthodoxy to this archdiocese, and some people have fears that he will do so. No doubt a number of the concelebrating priests were among these, but the most noticeable naysayers were those who were milling around outside, carrying signs (the one one nearest us sporting the “f-word”) and hurling obscenities at us as we processed in for the solemn Mass. They were all, as far as I could tell, gay activists of some sort, though I think a few might simply have been people who called themselves Catholics but who were confused about the nature and purpose of marriage. The archdiocesan planners of the event utilized an effective strategy. They hired a mariachi band to play joyful songs outside the cathedral doors, so hardly anyone could hear the protesters. A lot of cops were on hand to help keep the peace as well.
The Mass was mostly well done, even including, to my delight and spiritual consolation, a considerable amount of Gregorian Chant. (This gave us more hope about the sensibilities of our new archbishop—and I suppose gave the others more fears!) A couple of predictably trite post-V2 ditties were included, just to remind us that we had not in fact died and gone to Heaven. Despite the arch-modern architecture and the inevitable distractions provided by a large crowd and a large choir (which, though very good, sometimes sounded more like they were giving a concert than enhancing our worship—yet the environment was immediately sanctified when they began the chant), I was profoundly moved at certain moments, especially right after Holy Communion. This proved to me that the Lord is still with and in his Church, even if the building in which the Blessed Sacrament is housed resembles some futuristic façade in a sci-fi video game.
The obscene protesters did provide some material for meditation, though it wasn’t their actual words that did so (needless to say). At the beginning of the Mass, the new archbishop had to be greeted and welcomed into the cathedral by the Apostolic Delegate to the U.S., along with the former head of the CDF (and former archbishop of SF), Cardinal Levada, as well as the outgoing archbishop. Well, when the doors opened to receive Archbishop Cordileone, the unholy dissonance of the Christ-haters outside filtered into the cathedral, threatening to pollute the atmosphere of prayer that was developing there. But when the doors were closed, the obscenities and blasphemies could no longer be heard—only the celestial strains of Gregorian Chant as the new archbishop was led to the sanctuary. Not only were the evil voices not heard, they were entirely forgotten during the whole of the celebration.
This reminded me of what it would be like for those who are welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven, and those who, through their own grievously unrepentant fault, must remain forever outside. The Lord will open the doors of his Kingdom, inviting all the elect to enter. Meanwhile, his enemies will be raging and blaspheming, having chosen to wallow in their anger, hatred, and all their wanton wickedness instead of submitting themselves to the yoke of Christ. Then the doors will be closed. The evildoers will go on with their raspy blasphemies for all eternity, but no one in the Kingdom will hear or even think of them, for the eternal Wedding Feast of the Lamb will have begun, and all memory of evil will be forever erased.
Even though the exterior of the cathedral in San Francisco would never be mistaken for the Heavenly Jerusalem, what we experienced inside was still an anticipation of the joy and beauty and glory kept in Heaven for those who worship in spirit and truth, who “keep the commandments of God and bear witness to Jesus” (Rev. 12:17). “Outside,” says the same Book of the Bible, “are the dogs [an ancient slang term for male prostitutes] and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (22:15).
Let us then spare no effort to make sure we are on the inside, with the apostles and martyrs and all the faithful of the ages. Those who are on the outside blaspheming God and the Church and the sanctity of life and marriage and family are in danger of remaining forever outside the Kingdom. The Lord weeps over them as He did over the earthly Jerusalem, saying: “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!” (Lk. 19:42). Grace and truth make for peace, both here and hereafter, and “grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17).