Most of the time, I think I've put my Catholic school education -- all three years of it -- behind me. But then, something like this happens:
That's a story from Doug Sovern of KCBS, who reported Wednesday:
... Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the principal church of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, has installed a watering system to keep the homeless from sleeping in the cathedral’s doorways.
The cathedral, at Geary and Gough, is the home church of the Archbishop. There are four tall side doors, with sheltered alcoves, that attract homeless people at night.
“They actually have signs in there that say, ‘No Trespassing,’ ” said a homeless man named Robert.
But there are no signs warning the homeless about what happens in these doorways, at various times, all through the night. Water pours from a hole in the ceiling, about 30 feet above, drenching the alcove and anyone in it.
The shower ran for about 75 seconds, every 30 to 60 minutes while we were there, starting before sunset, simultaneously in all four doorways. KCBS witnessed it soak homeless people, and their belongings.
Right about here is where I'm reminded of one brief passage from the Gospels, a passage that often runs through my head when I walk through San Francisco and its too-frequent scenes of desperate want:
'For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
That's from the Gospel of St. Matthew, the English Standard Version (sorry, you King James fans), in the chapter where Jesus relates how the sorting-out process on Judgment Day will work. He welcomes those who have looked out for the less fortunate, he says, for "as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."
And those who withheld comfort from the poor and bereft?
"Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels," Jesus is quoted as saying. You kind of wonder how the St. Mary's Cathedral sprinkler system would do against some righteous hellfire.
But Matthew is also the book in which Jesus says, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." And while you have to wonder what's going on in an institution that, on the one hand, proclaims a message of generosity and concern and, on the other, douses those most in need of those things, the point here is not to reprove church officials who made, and have now apologized for, a dreadful, cruel mistake.
In fact, that injunction from Matthew -- "As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" -- comes to mind most often as a question: Have I done what I can to relieve the suffering around me?"
The thought recurs, I think, because most of the time, I feel the answer is, "No -- no, I probably haven't."