Reflection on the Pittsburgh Catholic Classified Advertisement Page

by John Houk

It is not my regular routine to read the classifieds in the diocesan paper. The whole paper usually occupies no more than five minutes as I flip through looking for familiar names, who has died, who has moved, who is celebrating, etc. The "news" is always terribly slanted and invariably stale. Yet here I was reading the classifieds. Do you want your walls washed? Two ads offered special senior citizen discounts and claimed 30 years of experience. How could someone have 30 years experience washing walls? Doesn’t that tell its own story? But two types of ad clearly dominated the page, and that is what caught my eye and really peaked my interest.

The ads that caught my curiosity were for group tours. Group tours could be nice although I have never been on one, but there were two types of tours that completely dominated the page—casinos and shrines. I sat back and said to myself, "why casinos and shrines?" What possible connection could there be, or is there even a connection? The obvious is that the people who paid for the ads must know their intended audience. The people they directed their ads toward are people who want to go to casinos and shrines. But why?

I put the question to Joan sitting across the table. She has the same general level of non-interest in the diocesan paper. Without even looking up from her cup she quipped back, "cheap grace." I had to let that soak in, but the fog gradually began to lift. Casino patrons want something—money without working for it. Can we translate that into wanting a better quality of life which for some reason has escaped them?

And why do people go to shrines—aren’t they looking for some divine intervention into their lives? Can we translate that into wanting a better quality of life which for some reason has escaped them? What seemed at first to be strange or even alien tour destinations may really be exactly the same.

Is Joan’s assessment of cheap grace correct or fair? First, I know her well enough that this was not a put down, but rather it expressed her reality check on tour promoters first, and participants second. Tour promoters know there are a lot of hurting people, and they offer them the hope of a quick fix in the form of casinos and shrines. The reality for participants is that they are prepared to believe the tour promoters. I think Joan has it right. Don’t forget to check the classifieds and see for yourself.