If Jesus Came to San Francisco

Last fall just before I hightailed it from California, a Catholic lady gave me a photocopy of an article with the above title. It appeared a decade earlier in the San Francisco Chronicle under the byline Stephanie Salter. She echoed criticism of the Catholic Church hurled long before and still being trotted out today. With a slightly different vocabulary, the carping could splash over onto evangelical churches.
Ms. Salter champions the cause "a courageous Jesuit priest" who holds up the banner of a "more inclusive, Christ-like faith." That sounds like a Good Thing until she gets to the courageous priest's specifics. Among the not-so-Christ-like things Father Black Robe rails against is the Church's 2,000-year misunderstanding of the role of women. The ladies are treated like "second class citizens."

The article continues to set up boogie men and blow them away, provoking emotions in the way of discussions in a high school civics class. This makes me the perfect sophomoric thinker to answer back.

First, I'm tardy. Second, I haven't done the homework. I've not even asked the cutie pie in the next aisle to give me the rundown on the chapter everyone else read. Finally, I have no intention of looking things up or going to original sources. We just don't do that in high school. Or much in college. Come to think of it, it's not the way of post-modern journalism, either.

As reported by Ms. Salter, Father Black Robe is a member of the Chicago-based dissident group Call to Action. At a Call to Action convention on the West Coast, he delivered the homily in the closing Mass, in which he imagined Jesus arriving at SFX, then going on to challenge the smug ideas of the conservative powers that be.

I admit to some confusion about whether Black Robe is talking about San Francisco, a town hardly known for its conservative leaders, or another planet. But I am used to this and with low cunning act as if I'm on the same page.

In Black Robe's homily Jesus responds to "Deepack Shupra"s charging $25,000 a head to hear the guru speak on "Peace of Mind." I'm pretty sure Black Robe is making a play on the name Chupra. Being an inclusive kind of priest, he doesn't want to knock snake charmers or whatever it is the real Chupra does to get the big bucks. Jesus simply tells him what to do with the money:
"Go and disperse it among the poor and homeless in the street."

Verily, that sounds almost like an update on what Jesus said to the rich young man who kept all the commandments and wanted to know what else he had to do to inherit eternal life. As recorded someplace to the right of Malachi, Jesus ascertained that the young man hadn't committed adultery or borne false witness or broken whatever the other Commandments are. Then Jesus said, "One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

The phrases "eternal life," "treasure in heaven" and "follow me" may have been cut from Black Robe's parallel because he was delivering a homily, not a full-blown sermon. It could be that Ms. Salter did some editing on her own. If I were a gambler, I'd bet that the fuller biblical story was simply inconvenient. Nevertheless, we are invited to imagine, so we might assume that “Shupra” upholds the Ten Commandments, doesn't want to go to Hell, and is willing to become a disciple of Jesus so that he can have eternal life in Heaven. Otherwise sticking the money up his ass would do as much good for his soul as a tax exempt charitable donation to the homeless. Jesus real message is: to get saved you need him, and in him comes the grace to let go of the piggy bank or anything else you think is more important than God.

Black Robe's Jesus then refuses an invitation to attend a dinner with all Frisco's religious leaders. Instead, he rocks up at a Castro District bistro to be "with some friends from the gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender community." When he invites the religious leaders to join him, they refuse.

There Black Robe goes again, saying we're on Earth when he's really talking of Uranus. I mean, there have been at least three decades of San Francisco clergy supporting gay life styles and/or living them, campaigning for gay officials and officiating over same sex weddings. Black Robe's Castro café would have been chock full of clergy on the prowl to show their solidarity.

Again, it is possible that the shorthand of a homily necessitated Black Robe's leaving out what he must know of Jesus: he was always up for a party—either with winos and corrupt tax collectors or with his mom and the disciples— but never was he satisfied with a quick glad hand and hearty, "Hey, slick, you're ace in my book. "

On the contrary, Jesus' mission was to reconcile man with God. Since God doesn't change, Jesus reminded sinful men and women that they needed to. The God Jesus preached is quick to accept everyone as they are, to show mercy, to forgive them...but now the unpopular part...to help us change our wicked ways. Dealing with the woman caught in adultery, Jesus drove off her accusers, then told her, "I do not condemn you. Now go and sin no more."

That is quite a bit different from it's OK to go whatever you want with your genitals. It is the exact opposite of what media and public schools tell us. The likeliest scenario at the café is that Jesus would ask his fellow revelers to repent whereupon most would call for his crucifixion.

Some, though, would recognize that their lives are in disorder and would ask to be healed. Some would be healed immediately. Some might take years or decades. Some might never get rid of slavish desires. And some of those would either backslide and need to repent repeatedly, or would courageously carry their burden and not act on their impulses.

Jesus would never tell them that change is easy. But he does promise to stand with them.

Black Robe's Jesus continues his Bay Area odyssey by visiting prisoners at San Quentin. There he talks about the sanctity of human life "from the unborn child in the womb to my humble friends on Death Row." There are inmates, I suppose, who are humble. Whether against them or violent narcissists, the Church teaches that capital punishment should be used only in the most exceptional cases. I don't agree with that teaching, but I suspect both the real Jesus and Black Robe's would want execution abolished. Just speculation. What I'm more sure of is this: the real Jesus wouldn't do today what he didn't do during his crucifixion. Namely, he did not deny the right of the state to execute prisoners.

As the homily grinds on, we go back to women. The most faithful of Jesus dwindling followers are a group of women. The scripture, "In Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew, male or female," is used to bitch slap those in the Vatican who contend that Jesus is really calling women to the priesthood. It's the Pope and his cronies who are holding them back from their true calling.

Except for the odd heretic, never in the first nineteen centuries of Catholic history did anyone in the Church think woman should be priests. None of the Popes. None of the Saints from Mother Teresa and Elizabeth Seton, to Catherine of Sienna, that magnificent warrior Joan of Arc and Mary, the mother of God herself. The plain fact is, no Pope or College of Cardinals can ordain women to the priesthood because it goes against Cannon Law and ecclesiastical tradition, both of which are based on what Catholics have for centuries believed is the proper biblical understanding.

In recent times Protestants have allowe
d women to go from ministries like evangelism, healing and prophesy to take over as heads of churches and at times of full denominations. Obviously, some churches do modify themselves to fit post-modern views of what should and should not be. I would suggest that Black Robe and Call to Action look into joining those churches, rather than wasting time complaining about the Pope's unwillingness to be trendy.