FOUR Catholic priests sit down to dinner Saturday night somewhere on the Peninsula. As they break bread, they savor the topic du jour — the Vatican's latest appointments. Let's listen in.

Appetizers

"I can't believe it, you guys! Bishop George Niederauer is coming from Utah to be archbishop of San Francisco, young Randy Calvo is going as pastor from Redwood City to be bishop of the diocese of Reno, and ol' Bill Levada gets the red hat in Rome!"

Entree

"I read that on two occasions, Niederauer's bookshelves collapsed in his Salt Lake City office — from the sheer weight of his books!"

"Yeah, his roots may be SoCal, but he couldn't resist coming up to Stanford for a semester of English Lit before the seminary. He says the experience settled his vocation."

"He sure has a way with words. How else did he convince old Cardinal MacIntyre to let him get a doctorate, at USC, of all places?"

"You have to admit the degree came in handy in Utah, where he gave seminars on Flannery O'Connor, the Catholic writer, to the Mormons at BYU."

"It's no surprise that he's a supporter of Catholic education. But it won't be easy for him to cheerlead in the cash-strapped parochial schools of the Mission District, nor even in the Peninsula's better financed ones."

Salad

"I hear Randy Calvo has rented the biggest banquet room in Reno for his ordination as bishop. The cathedral is just too small."

"Listen, Randy's going a long way.


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He's served as a judge on the San Francisco church tribunal and served three years on the board of the Canon Law Society of America. 'The Biggest Little City' is great for gambling, but it won't be his last stop."

"You're right. But Randy is more than brains — he's a diplomat. Remember when the San Mateo County sheriffs and the Social Activities League were in a dither about clergy access to the Redwood City jails? Who mediated the settlement? Randy. He's a born reconciler. It's in his family history — did you know his cousin was governor of Guam?"

Coffee and dessert

"And what about our former archbishop, William J. Levada? I hear everything is scheduled so Levada will install Niederauer in San Francisco on Feb. 15. Next, the boys will trot off to Reno, where Niederauer will be presiding prelate at Randy's ordination on Feb. 17. Then, frequent-flier miles in hand, the whole bunch will go to Rome for Bill's elevation to the College of Cardinals on Feb. 22, the Feast of the Chair of Peter.

"I can almost hear Pope B-16 now, as he drops the red hat on Bill's head — 'Vell, Villiam, you left some of your blutt in San Francisco defending the kirk; now you muss be ready to give it alls here in Rome mit me.'"

Food for thought

This, finally, is the perspective of faith. To serve the Church as a bishop, archbishop, or cardinal is not about rank, career advancement or prestige. If these three prelates are not ready to lay down their life and pour out their blood for the Bride of Christ — the Church — then the rest is all empty pomp.

On this, our four dinner companions would agree.

The Rev. James Garcia is the parish priest at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in unincorporated Menlo Park. Next week: Rabbi Karen Citrin