by Frank Pauc
This first appeared in Frank’s blog on June 8, 2019. It is republished here with the author’s permission.
Reno is not a very spiritual place. Well, it is probably more spiritual than Las Vegas, but that isn’t setting the bar very high. I doubt that many people have a mystical experience while in Reno unless they come up with a straight flush while playing high-stakes poker. It is a very materialistic city, in a profoundly hedonistic state, in a country that worships the Almighty Dollar. In short, Reno is a place that God probably avoids. Reno isn’t quite in the same class as Sodom, but it leans in that direction.
Karin and I had time to kill before we met Joseba for breakfast at Mel’s diner in The Sands Hotel. Karin and I try to go to morning prayer and/or daily Mass whenever we can. That clearly was not going to happen in Reno.
The early morning (or late, late night) crew was in the casino. Almost all the people in the casino were sitting at the slot machines, chain smoking and staring grimly at the glowing screens. Maybe they were having fun, but they certainly didn’t look like they were. I did not see anybody win while we were at The Sands. I’m not sure that winning would actually make much of a difference. The winner might smile briefly, and have a momentary adrenalin rush, but then he or she would slip right back into the strange, distorted world of flashing lights and ringing bells. The bar was open and it was already crowded. I couldn’t decide if the folks on the stools were drinking early, or if they had been there all night. I guess it doesn’t matter.
Karin and I left the hotel as soon as we could, and we stood outside the casino in the early morning light. The air was crisp and clean. At 8:00 AM the town was ugly. At night, Reno looks flashy and exciting, kind of like an adult version of the Emerald City from “The Wizard of Oz.” In the morning, Reno looks exactly the way a hangover feels: dull, physically exhausted, and thoroughly unpleasant.
A few blocks from The Sands, there stands a church. We didn’t know what church it was, but we walked in that direction anyway. Once we got clear of the cluster of casinos, the neighborhood got decidedly ghetto, almost instantaneously. Most downtown areas that I have visited have nice restaurants and shops within walking distance of the hotels. Not Reno. The casino/hotels are self-enclosed environments, in an odd way similar to the International Space Station. Once a person leaves the casino, they are in a vacuum.
Anyway, I wanted to talk about the church.
When we got up close, we could see that the large, red brick structure was the Cathedral of St. Thomas Aquinas, the heart of Catholicism in Reno. We wanted to go into the church. As we expected, it was locked. Karin and I were ready to walk away. As we moved back toward the street, a man spoke to us. He had been sweeping the sidewalk in front of the cathedral.
He asked us, “Do you want to go into the cathedral? It is closed now, but there is a Mass at noon.”
We told the man, “We will be long gone by noon.”
“Why do you want to go into the church?”
That seemed like an odd question. We answered him by saying, “We want to go in there to pray.”
The man nodded, and stopped sweeping.
“Okay, I let you in. Come with me.”
The man met a co-worker as we entered the building. He told the woman, “I am opening the church for these people. They want to pray in there.”
The woman replied, “Okay. I’m going to the office to start some coffee.”
The man said, “Good.”
He unlocked the door to the sanctuary.
Before we went into the church, I said to him, “Thank you for doing this for us. Sir, what is your name?”
The man looked at me for a moment, and then he said, “My name is ‘friend’.”
He walked away.