Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Homeless People and Catholicism

(it's late and I don't know if this makes sense)

A while back my friend Jessica (who, by the way, is the number one example of people I know named Jessica who are awesome - I have never met a Jessica who wasn't awesome. If you're thinking of baby names for a girl, I suggest you bear this in mind) asked me a question. She was wondering if Laney had ever had an uncomfortable run in with a homeless person. I was chewing that over for a while and remembered one.

When Laney was about three or so, we were in the Wicker Park post office doing something. Don and I were at the counter and Laney was kind of wandering around, being three. It was around Christmastime. This crazy old bag lady came up to her and asked her if she knew that Christmas was about Jesus and not Santa. I sort of steered her away and when the woman approached me I just said "no" and shook my head. Then she followed us around telling Laney that if she couldn't get away from us, she'd go to hell. She kept telling me that I was damning my baby to hell.

I was filled with a mix of pity and rage. Laney wanted to play with the stamp machine.

And then I remembered something that If I live to be a million I'll never forget. Way back in December of 1977 or 78, Fr. Stritch told a church full of kids that we were all going to go to hell if we didn't settle down and listen to the service instead of getting all excited about the promisingly heavy snow outside. In Memphis! On a school day! That mean old fart actually told eight year olds they were going to hell. Almost ruined our snow day. Asshole.

I still remember that mean old priest. I don't think Laney will remember the crazy old homeless lady. I was older, sure. But I think it's important to note that unlike the crazy old post office lady, Fr. Stritch was in a position of unquestionable authority.

I'm not sure that one has anything to do with the other. And I also seriously doubt there are any priests left who roll that way. I imagine that if you wandered into any Catholic church and told the pastor that story, he'd be appropriately appalled and would talk to you about Jesus' love for children. I also think there are few (if any) parents left who'd be at all leery of questioning the authority of a priest who said such a horrible thing to their kids. And questioning it with choice words, no less.

People will say shitty things to kids and from our position as adults, we'll have a hard time discerning how much that will scare the kid in question. But, we hope that we can raise our kids so that they know they can come to us with their fears and that we will do everything in our power to make sure they know they're safe. My own personal opinion is that I think it helps when you run your household with Mom and Dad as unquestionable authorities instead of the near-retirement priest at the failing grade school. But I'm sure there are people out there who disagree.

More to the point, and in keeping with my last post, I'm hoping that when moments happen with crazy homeless people, I can use that as (and I'm so sorry for using this hackneyed phrase) a teachable moment. To tell her that people on the streets are often people who are sick in their mind, either from disease or addiction, and that they deserve our kindness and not our judgement. I often remember this thing I heard about Jane Addams: she'd never judge a person for what they'd become because she knew what life could do to people.

And, you know as I ponder it from my vantage point all these years later, I think I could afford some posthumous kindness for Fr. Stritch too. In his own way, he was a victim of what his life did to him. Although, the word "asshole" still echoes through my brain.

It's a process, I guess.