Archbishop-designate of St. Paul and Minneapolis Bernard Hebda was welcomed last night to much hoopla in a prayer service at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. I was there. It opened with an American Indian dance, drum, and flute spectacle, followed by Hebda knocking on the door of the church and Father John Bauer presenting him with the cross and holy water. Then came the holy water blessings, the procession to the sanctuary, and finally the prayer service.
In the middle of the prayer service, a lengthy series of welcome-messages were given by civic and religious leaders. The lineup included Democrat U.S. Senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar (a Protestant), Republican Minnesota State Senator David Hann (ditto); a group of mixed Protestants (guaranteed to contain less than 30% peanuts); a Jewish rabbi and his coterie; a Catholic(!) youth organization; brothers and sisters religious (monks and nuns); clergy (priests); more nuns; and the Internationalism Brigade: American Indians, Nigerians, Kenyans, Ghanaians, Swahili, Koreans, Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Hmong, Filipinos, Polish (Whitey’s lone entrant), Vietnamese, and others.
The scripture reading was an odd choice, given the celebration of diversity to which the night had been given over: the Tower of Babel story (Gen. 11:1-9.)¹ In that story, men make bricks to build a tower to “make a name for ourselves,” but God thwarts their plans by “confusing their language” and scattering the men over the face of the earth.
If I’m reading this story correctly, “diversity” must be read as God’s punishment for our arrogance and a remedy to stop us from communicating with each other to get things done that might unduly glorify ourselves over God.²
But that wouldn’t exactly be a complimentary lesson to teach in the presence of the impressive array of ethnic groups on display in the Basilica tonight. So to preempt the resentment he might have incurred should the congregation have heard this exegesis³, His Excellency applied some eisegetical³ sleight-of-hand to advance the claim that the Tower of Babel story is really about how men value “things” over “people”, which is bad, and we Catholics value people, and also diversity, and bring on the foreigners! Ta-daaaaa!
Hebda also highlighted some of the charitable activities the Church is doing, such as the Basilica’s shoe and sandwich ministries⁴ and the construction of the new, huge Dorothy Day Center for homeless people in downtown St. Paul.⁵ (Editor: Must…resist…urge…to throw in…sarcastic….eisegetical proof-texting…of the Tower of Babel…story!)
“The real bottom line,” Hebda explained in his homily, “has to be human, rather than economic.”
Such false dichotomies are the thought-terminating clichés of do-no-harm statesmen like Hebda. That’s not a swipe at Hebda; he has actually been quoted to have said his primary concern is to “do no harm.”⁶ This was in reference to his nine-month tenure as apostolic administrator to the archdiocese preceding his appointment as archbishop. God knows whether he will retain this lukewarm policy as a pastor in the years to come.
Hebda will be officially installed tonight at the Cathedral of St. Paul.
The Cynic’s Gospel Conclusion:
I just wish Hebda didn’t feel the need to resort to meaningless pandering. What the faithful — and more to the point, the Church unfaithful — need now and always is not platitudes but strong, uncompromising leadership in the apostolic tradition of St. Peter. We need morality teachings. We need to be told what is right and wrong. We don’t need the vague, compromise-laden, gates-of-hell-cracking rhetoric of such ramblings as Amoris Laetitia⁷, et al.
That said, I had a larruping good time⁸ at His Excellency’s reception and I pray God will lead him to shepherd his flock with manly courage.
Featured image via The Catholic Spirit on Twitter.
- Given its fame, the Tower of Babel story is a surprisingly brief read (Gen. 11:1-9, Revised Standard Version, BibleGateway.)
- Try Clarke’s commentary on Gen. 11 at Bible Hub.
- Exegesis is reading “out of” a text; eisegesis is reading “into” a text. The former is preferred by serious people. (Definition by Dictionary.com.)
- Charity and Service, Basilica of St. Mary.
- “Dorothy Day Center raises more donations”, Finance and Commerce.
- Concerning “do no harm” and other predilictions of the eminently degreed desk jockey, one of the less shallow reports I have read about Hebda: “No longer administrator, how might Hebda change as Twin Cities archbishop?”, National Catholic Reporter.
- One perspective on the absurdly wordy encyclical Amoris Laetitia: “Voice of the Family calls on Pope Francis to withdraw Amoris Laetitia”, LifeSiteNews.com.
- As you can see, it really pays to subscribe to Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day emails.