Monday, March 30, 2015

Heading into Holy Week, but first, on religious freedom...

I’ll be signing off for Holy Week soon, but before I do, I want to share an email exchange I had with someone at Angie’s List.

I had read about Angie’s List deciding to halt expansion in Indiana due to Indiana’s new RFRA law (which is pretty much the same as the federal RFRA law and the law in twenty or so other states).  So, having used Angie’s List in the past (we were given a gift subscription), I decided to send an email to the company.

I got a reply.

I am posting both my original email and the reply, leaving out only the name of the employee who emailed me because I’m sure the employee had no particular say in what was sent.  There are a lot of things I could say about this underwhelming reply, but I thought, it being Holy Week, that perhaps those of my readers who didn’t give up commenting on blogs for Lent might like to weigh in instead.

So here’s the exchange--first, my email:
I just read in the news that your company is harassing the state of Indiana over their adoption of an RFRA law similar to the federal law that is already on the books. Laws like these do not create new rights; they merely spell out the constitutional protections of religious freedom for believers of all faiths.
As a Roman Catholic, I am deeply concerned that in the near future I will be forced either to deny my Church’s 2,000 year old teachings on the nature and purpose of marriage or else face discrimination in housing, employment, business transactions and the like. It is seriously disappointing to learn that Angie’s List is siding with people who want the law to call me a “bigot” and marginalize and exclude me from the public square due to my deeply held religious beliefs. 
Erin Manning

and second, the reply from Angie’s List:

Hi Erin,
 Thanks for contacting us at Angie's List.

To further clarify, Angie’s List does not tolerate discrimination of any kind in our workplace, and we also expect service providers to treat our members with respect. Our members have the right to post reviews of businesses who they feel have discriminated against them. A pattern of poor consumer service of this nature could result in an “unfriendly consumer practice” note being placed on the company’s profile and being excluded from search results.

However, we are always looking for ways to improve our service, so feedback like yours helps us to get a perspective on things we can do better and I apologize for any frustration this may have caused.

You can reach us toll-free at 1-866-783-2980. Our live representatives are happy to help with any other questions or concerns. Call center hours are Monday through Friday 8:00 am-9:00 pm Eastern Time or Saturday 8:00 am-5:00 pm ET.
 Thanks again for contacting us, Erin, and have a wonderful week.

The one thing I will say is this: did some kind of “email robot” write that reply?  Because I’m darned if I can make sense of it.

Perhaps those who are speculating that the real reason Angie’s List won’t be expanding any time soon is because their business just isn’t doing so well are correct...

Friday, March 27, 2015

People are more important than paperwork

In the comments below this post, my friend John writes:
Looks like I won't be entering the RCC this Easter, seeing how the annulment paperwork has been sitting on a parish desk for about a month now.
Not that it would have been likely to have been completed even if I had gotten everything submitted at the start of the year and it had been sent to the Diocese four months ago, because - "These things take time”.
I asked John if I could start off this post this way, because I think that something people lose sight of when they begin to freak out about the Synod and the chance that some pastoral provisions dealing with divorced and remarried people and whether or not they can receive Communion may be enacted is that, in no small way, the reason the Church finds herself struggling to reach those in irregular marriage situations is because the paperwork has, in a real sense, become more important than the people.

What do I mean by that?

First, I do not mean in any way, shape, or form that the Church’s doctrines about marriage are themselves mere “paperwork.”  Marriage, if it is to mean what the Church intends it to, is sacred, and Catholics should approach the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony with a sense of the serious and binding nature of the vows they will make and the promises they will exchange.  Discarding any of the Church’s teachings regarding marriage would be more than a tragedy--it would be an act that would shake the Church’s claim of being who she says she is to their core.

But those doctrines are not going to change.  Pope Francis has said repeatedly that they are not even up for discussion.  All that is up for discussion is how to deal, in a pastorally appropriate way, with the sad reality that many Catholics in the modern age have entered marriages outside the Church, and many other Catholics have married in the Church without even pretending to believe what the Church does about marriage, and that many non-Catholics have married in ways that can’t be considered valid when they submit those marriages to the Church for examination (usually because they either want to marry a Catholic or have already married one, and need their first marriage annulled for the marriage to a Catholic to be valid).  What real things to streamline the process of applying for an annulment could be done?  What real spiritual comforts might be available to people whose annulments are no-brainers--I’m not talking about annulling a marriage between two baptized and practicing Catholics in a parish church where everybody in the community knew them from the time they were small children, or something--while they wait for the decree to be formally granted?

My friend John has shared with me some of the frustrating details of the process he and his wife are going through.  Money, time, inexplicable delays, hold-ups for no good reason, and so on have come up, along with that phrase I quoted above from him: “These things take time.”  Well, sure they do, but in the Internet age must they take so much time?  Or cost so much money?  Or be delayed so often for no discernible reason?

And John, of course, is here in America--I can’t imagine the difficulties and pitfalls for our brothers and sisters in third-world countries or in places where records are spotty for other reasons.  What if you were a lapsed Catholic whose original birth certificate was in a church in Iraq that has since been destroyed, and you married outside the Church, and now you hope to have that marriage annulled so you can marry a Catholic?  What if you were a non-Catholic married in a tribal ceremony in some indigenous region before converting to Catholicism?  What if you were forced into an arranged marriage in a non-Christian country but then became Catholic? How long will your annulment process be held up as church officials in two or three countries try to piece together records and evidences of these sorts of marriages outside the Church in order to show that your first marriage could not possibly be valid by Catholic understanding?

If the process is going to drag on and on for years, what happens to the people, to their faith, to their relationship with Jesus?

No, waving a magic wand that would allow Communion to all the divorced and remarried is not a good fix.  But pretending that all annulments fall into two simple categories--the easily granted, and the wrongly pursued that should never be granted--is also not fair to the reality of those who are stuck in the process much longer than they should be.

The pope seems to be coming from a place that want to see the people put ahead of the paperwork, the pastoral care and concern for those who sincerely wish to regularize their marriage situations ahead of the often-bureucratic annulment process.  The freakout I’ve seen by those who snidely refer to the Synod as the “Sodomy Synod” or who proclaim publicly that “most” annulments are false ones is unjust, uncharitable, and simply wrong.  The people who are caught up in these situations are still our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we need to keep them at the center of our prayers and reflections in the months that lie ahead.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why the heck is the Archdiocese of San Francisco subsidizing a school where the majority of the students aren’t even Catholic?

Yesterday--the Feast of the Annunciation--a group of whining crybabies told representatives of the Archdiocese of San Francisco that the two priests in charge of Star of the Sea School aren’t a “good fit” for them, because, you know, they act like all that “Catholic” stuff they put in brochures and fundraisers actually, you know, matters, or something:
In an emotional and at times angry meeting with representatives from the Archdiocese of San Francisco, more than 100 parents of Star of the Sea Schoolchildren pleaded Wednesday night for the controversial leaders of their school’s church to be removed from their posts.
The Rev. Joseph Illo, pastor at Star of the Sea Church since August, and Father Patrick Driscoll, the parish’s parochial vicar, sat mostly blank-faced as 15 parents, some of them breaking into tears, took turns at a microphone and cited examples of how they believe the men had disrupted the open, tolerant atmosphere of the school.
“Father Joseph preaches intolerance. And that’s preaching hate,” said Brian Wu, who has two children at Star of the Sea, a K-8 school in the Richmond District. [...]
“It is with such great sadness and such a heavy heart that I find myself right here, right now,” said parent Brenda Kittredge, who went to school at Star of the Sea herself and now has four children at the school. “It frightens me that for a second I actually thought about sending my children somewhere else.
“Too many hurtful things have happened. We are way, way, way past apologies being enough,” Kittredge said. “They are just not a good fit.”
In other words, Wu, Kittredge, and the other 98 parents (100 parents?  And the media showed up?) want to pick their own pastors and leaders.  Preferably with spiffy rainbow vestments emblazoned with “Barney” on the front, and lots of talk about being inclusive and honoring diversity, and not so much of this “Christ suffered and died to save us from our sins, so we should repent and believe in the Gospel and not, you know, go out on Facebook to talk about our favorite Sin Pride parades, and whatnot...” stuff.  And if they don’t get exactly what they want, they’ll pick up their ball and go home.

In Kittredge’s case, literally--she is the school’s athletic director.

Clicking around at Star of the Sea’s website reveals what may be at the root of the problem:

Star of the Sea School is a unique, loving Christian community of caring persons who enthusiastically strive to instill Christ-like values and academic excellence in a way that challenges ourselves, our students and our parents.
Our school is about people. With the rich ethnic backgrounds of those entrusted in our care, we strive to bring out the uniqueness and potential of each child.
We see effective education as stewardship. As gifted individuals, we share the knowledge and resources available in order to make the world a better place. Through our academic curriculum we strive to call forth the very best each student has to offer. Our students’ gifts find affirmation through our holistic educational program that addresses religious, intellectual, social, aesthetic, emotional, and physical needs.
Or from the “Faith & Outreach” page:
Star of the Sea embraces students of all faiths. We strive to create an environment where our young people will experience and appreciate a values-based education every day. Our students learn how faith plays a role in their own lives and are encouraged to become faith-filled moral people. Our young people experience not only a love of learning, but also an appreciation for the teachings and traditions of the Catholic Church, and most importantly, how to put their faith into action.
Well, would you look at that!  The words “Catholic Church” finally showed up.  Oh, in a nonthreatening, inclusive, vaguely syncretistic way, but still--they’re there. 

In fact, if you search for the word “Catholic” on the website, it comes up in the principal’s letters, in places where the school’s full title is used, and in a handful of other places.  One quite depressing place it pops up is here:

Complementing the students’ academic instruction, the Star of the Sea community readily embraces students of all faiths and cultures, making our student body incredibly diverse. 42% of our student body is Catholic, while the remaining 58% consists of students of other faiths. The student body reflects the many cultures of the Bay Area: 3% African-American, 35% Asian, 38% Caucasian, 2% Latino/Hispanic and 22% multi-ethnic.  [Emphasis added--E.M.]

You know, maybe these parents have a point.  Maybe when the majority of your student body is non-Catholic, having priests as leaders isn’t a good fit.  But maybe the part that’s really not a good fit is the whole “Catholic School” part.  Maybe it’s time for Archbishop Cordileone to close that parish school, put the funds to good use in an inner-city neighborhood’s soup kitchen or homeless shelter, and let the handful of actual Catholic students at Star of the Sea take their seats at actual Catholic schools elsewhere (if any actual Catholic schools exist at all in San Francisco--myself, I rather doubt it).

Because to me a bigger question than “Why did the archbishop send us a meanie pastor and a meanie parochial vicar who won’t let us keep downplaying the Catholic stuff to attract wealthy non-Catholic parents and benefactors?” is “Why the heck is the Archdiocese of San Francisco subsidizing a school where the majority of the students aren’t even Catholic?"

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

But Mary said “Yes!"

Happy Feast of the Annunciation!

Have you ever thought about how powerful Mary’s simple “Yes” to God’s will was?  Because she said “Yes,” the unborn Christ child became incarnate at that very moment, and our redemption was at hand.

We live in a world that is full of sorrow, pain, and suffering because people would rather say “yes” to their own will and “no” to God.

Many say “No!” to faith altogether.  There is no room for God in their lives.  They do not seek Him, and would not wish to find Him.

Many say “No!” to the prohibition against false idols.  They reject God Himself, but fill their lives with silly little gods of material things or physical pleasures or notions of success.

Many say “No!” to the idea that anyone or anything is sacred, especially God. The most cynical of these use God and the trappings of religion for their own personal gain, which is a particularly contemporary form of blasphemy. The honest, but wrong, blasphemer may curse God, but the dishonest one of our age pretends that he alone talks with God every day and has all the answers--for a price.

Many say “No!” to the idea of worship.  They might consider themselves Christian in some vague way, but they also say they are “...spiritual, but not religious.” They do not pray.

Many say “No!” to the demands of family relationships. They disrespect their parents or neglect their children. They mock the whole idea of parenthood by supporting the commodification of children through the evil of IVF and similar technologies. They bring dishonor and shame on their families by their lives of sin.

Many say “No!” to the sanctity of life.  They support unjust wars, violence, and torture. They applaud the militarization of the police on the one hand, or the violence of the mob on the other. They refuse to listen to the Church regarding the death penalty.  They support abortion and praise those who slaughter innocent unborn children in the womb. They clap for those who agitate for euthanasia or even those who commit it whether by taking their own lives or those of others. They are part of a culture of indifference to the prisoner, the homeless, the desperately poor, the drug addict.

Many say “No!” to the sanctity of marriage.  They support fornication, adultery, remarriage after divorce, contraception, sodomy, and the evil of gay “marriage.” They support, or are indifferent to, a culture of porn and a coarsening of the public square, with its ads and music and “entertainment" accessible even to children. They participate in the trivialization of sexual evil as presented in popular culture by consuming those offerings unquestioningly and deriding those who do not. They mock the whole notion of chastity and virtue.

Many say “No!” to the rejection of theft. They steal time from their employer, who then steals even more from them by paying them a salary based on a 40-hour workweek and then demanding they work 50, 60, even 80 hours a week. They steal by cheating on their taxes, by falsifying coupons or other “deals,” by copying works that are protected by copyright.

Many say “No!” to the primacy of truth. They lie to themselves and to others. They demean and criticize. They gossip, spread slander and detraction, commit calumny, and otherwise harm the reputations of others. They form “cliques” and exclude those they deem unworthy. They excuse as “good lies” those committed for political or social reasons, as if the end of lying can justify the act of lying.

Many say “No!” to avoiding illicit sexual desires, avoiding the coveting of someone else’s wife or husband, avoiding the coveting of a person or relationship that is inherently sinful. They give bad advice to those seeking divorce, encouraging them to leave a valid spouse for some person they are not married to and can never validly marry. They put a primacy on adult happiness that fails to take the pain and suffering of the children into consideration.

Many say “No!” to avoiding the coveting of others’ goods. The sin of envy rises large in our society. It makes many separate the poor into categories of “deserving” and “undeserving” instead of remembering that we help the poor because we are followers of Christ, not because of anything a poor person may or may not deserve. This “no” fosters a spirit of greed and acquisitiveness, and blinds many to their own avarice, and their lack of charitable support, financial and otherwise, not only to their communities but to the poor within their own extended families. They judge others for not making good financial decisions without first walking a mile in their shoes.

Many of us do many of these things.  All of us do some of them.  All of us say “no” to God on a daily basis, even if it’s in a moment of selfishness or anger or of a desire for something that is not good for us.

But Mary said, “Yes!” And because of that, our many cries of “No!” to God’s will do not have to doom us for all eternity, if we seek to take her as our model of the acceptance of God’s will and the submission of our own.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Fathers, please talk to fathers

Talk to nearly any active Catholic family today about what, if anything, keeps them from being more involved in parish life, and I would be willing to bet that a solid majority of them would answer: “Time.”

Press them for a few details, and here are a few things you may hear:

--Weekday Masses are scheduled in such a way that people who work regular hours or whose kids go to school can’t get there;

--Parish activities are scheduled in such a way that few but retired people can possibly attend (case in point: our mission parish’s share in a recent parish retreat, which involved talks on weekdays at 9:00 a.m.);

--Upcoming activities aren’t announced far enough in advance, so that parents don’t have time to arrange childcare if they want to attend;

--Religious education classes and activities make life frustrating and difficult for any family who has more than one child in RE at any given time;

--Weekend activities, especially if they are scheduled for Saturdays, may conflict with children’s school and sports activities or with the schedules of parents who work non-traditional hours (such as police officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, etc.);

and so on.

Now, none of these problems are specific to parish schedules.  One of the prices of modern life is that while we have more things than ever, we have less leisure than our grandparents did. When my grandfather left each day’s work as an inventor for Brach’s Candy Company at approximately 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, he left his work at work.  He may have done a bit of design drawing or puttering at home, but the idea of being on-call 24/7 would have been obnoxious to him (family rumor has it that he had a lock on the inside of his workroom door and that even Mr. Brach had to knock).  What our grandparents might have denounced as a kind of tyranny has become the modern way of life; when work calls, we answer, or face the consequences.

But what I think sometimes bugs the average Catholic is the apparent cluelessness on the part of some priests (not all--many of the younger ones get this all too well) as to what family life these days entails.  You will hear a bit of “gentle kidding” from the pulpit about how few dads signed up to help with a fundraiser (a fish fry where those helping have to be in the parish hall by 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, for instance) or how few moms are coming to the “Mom’s Coffee and Bible Study” hour set up on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. (no children, please, and no, we don’t have childcare on the premises).  You will even hear some consternation at how few people attend daily Mass--why, 8 a.m. is early enough for dad to get to work by nine since daily Mass is brief, or if that doesn’t work, surely he can get to the 5:30 p.m. daily Mass instead!  It’s almost as though some priests, despite having abandoned Latin, fiddleback chasubles, buckled shoes, and other bits of 1955, still think that the family has been preserved in amber in roughly that year, so that Dad works from 9 to 5 on weekdays and never on weekends, mom is home with the younger kids while the older ones are in school, and there is a whole network of grandparents and single aunts and kindly neighbors who can step in at a moment’s notice to watch those little ones while Mom makes a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, attends a “Mom’s Coffee and Bible Study” hour, or responds to an emergency request to help out at the school or the parish.

The truth is that when it comes to time, many families are stretched to the breaking point.  As a stay-at-home mom I am one of the lucky ones (and yet as a homeschooling mom the idea that I’ve had years of total leisure makes me chuckle a bit).  Families larger than mine often include kids with college and work schedules, kids with grade school and high school obligations, and some “littles” still at home.  Yes, some families end up overextending themselves--but some of that “overextending” happens at the parish level, when some tender-hearted moms or dads sign up yet again to help with something that the parish priest may assume they have oodles of time to take care of, not realizing that they will be juggling multiple responsibilities and patching together some extra babysitting or whatever the case might be to get it all done.

And that’s why I want to repeat a plea I’ve made before: Fathers, please talk to fathers.  Pastors and priests, I know that you, too, are insanely busy and don’t have tons of spare leisure time, but even if you could send out an email or something, please ask families, and especially fathers of families, about issues like these.

I know that some priests complain about the laity’s lack of involvement in the parish and the absence of a spirit of discipleship.  I think that they might learn that the biggest obstacle to these things for many is not indifference or selfishness or a lackadaisical attitude--it is just time.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Confession of a homeschooling math-hater

As long-time readers know, I have homeschooled two of our three daughters all the way through high school.  Our youngest, affectionately called “Hatchick” on this blog, is a junior in high school.

I attempted to help her with some math today.  Luckily, she figured it out on her own.  Because after my own education and years of homeschooling, the truth is this: I still hate math.

My loathe affair with math must have started pretty early, but I think for a long time it was just a negative thing.  Math wasn’t reading; I loved reading; therefore I didn’t love math.  But I would do the little worksheets and take the little quizzes without much caring.

In second grade we had to do “times tables tests,” where the teacher would hand out mimeographed sheets (remember those?) face down, and when she gave us the signal we had to turn the paper over and fill in all the answers in the space of a couple of minutes.  It was terrifying. One day I turned the paper over and it was blank on the other side!  I raised my hand in panic--the clock was ticking, people!

The teacher, rather unfairly I thought, blamed me for not checking to see that the paper had printing on it.  “But we’re not supposed to turn them over until you say,” I wailed.  She let me do the test anyway, but I could tell she’d have rather given me a zero because that was the kind of teacher she was.

Luckily, around that time we moved again.  My family moved on an average of once every two to three years when I was growing up (not military; Dad was an early computer professional in days when businesses were still trying to decide if these expensive doohickeys were worth acquiring. Sadly, businesses still hate to pay for I.T. departments and equipment and I.T. people despite the reality that they are indispensable nowadays).  Moving frequently did impact my math traumas in various ways.

Sometimes I would arrive at a school and be ahead of the class.  This was always nice.  I still remember the time when, a week into my newest school, the math teacher entered the class frowning and wrote the students’ test scores on the blackboard--one A, no Bs, no Cs, a handful of Ds, and the rest of the class had failed.  While I was praying fervently to be one of the Ds she informed the class that since the only student to get an A on the test had just arrived from a different state--me--it clearly behooved her to repeat the lesson that week, and I got to be her assistant.  A week free from math homework!  I was going to like this school.

But experiences like that could be offset by other ones, such as the time I came downstairs and found my math teacher in our living room.  I was way behind on my homework and falling ever farther behind the class--what was wrong?  Now, this math teacher was a nice and lovely person who really cared, but what was wrong was simple: she was assigning her fifth-graders fifty problems of long division of the sort that started out “12,347 divided by 485” and ended up “4,862,369 divided by 17,864.”  Fifty of them, every night of the week, due first thing in the morning.

I tried to explain that, but both the teacher and my mom pointed out that the other students were turning in their homework.  So I promised to do better.

The next day I grabbed a classmate.  “How are you getting all these problems done every day? We can’t work on them in class and we have so much other homework...”

She looked at me like I was crazy.  “I use a calculator.  We all do.”

“But we’re not supposed to.  We’re supposed to show our work.”

Her expression grew a bit scornful.  “She never checks,” she said.

It was true, as I may or may not have learned from personal experience.

Eventually we moved again, and I think my next math teacher had sane and reasonable homework expectations; I don’t remember any real trouble after that point.  Part of that was because the one lesson I had learned from the homework fiasco was this: you don’t really have to learn math, you just have to know the process well enough to pass the tests at the time.  If you forget all about long division or balancing equations or the Pythagorean Theorem when you’re done with that particular class--no one will check.  Ever.

Unless you homeschool.

Now, we’ve shopped around for curricula and found a decent math program that mostly worked for us, and I took the sane and reasonable approach as to how many problems the girls actually had to do at any given time, and I made use of DVD lessons and online help and emailing teachers and bugging my former-math-major friends and whatever else worked.  The end result is that I have one who struggles with math, one who excels in it but is indifferent to it, and one, like me, who finds it stressful and loathsome whether she grasps a lesson completely and whizzes through it or whether it just plain never makes sense.

The point of all of this is to tell my fellow homeschooling moms a few things:

1. You can homeschool even if you hate math.  Especially today when you can pay other people online to teach math to your children (I wish that had been available when mine were young!).

2. Homeschooling will not fix your hatred of math, not if it’s as deeply-rooted as mine apparently is.

3. Not only my own family, but things I’ve heard from other homeschooling moms, tells me that there is little correlation between the homeschooling parent’s love of and/or excellence at math and the kids’ ability to get it and/or love it.  There are math-intensive homeschooling families who have at least one math-hater kid; there are math-hating or math-fearful homeschooling families whose kids are natural math geniuses.

So go ahead and admit that you hate math.  It’s okay.  Some of us will never love it.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

If you give a mom...

If you give a mom a white feast day, she will want to bake a giant cookie.

If you also give her a migraine, she will forget that the cookie batter needs two pizza pans, not just one.

If she forgets that the cookie batter needs two pans, she will try to bake ONE giant cookie on a pan that is too small.

If she tries to bake ONE giant cookie on a pan that is too small, the cookie will drip unbaked dough onto the oven floor.

If the cookie drips unbaked dough onto the oven floor, the unbaked bits will catch on fire.

If the unbaked bits catch on fire mom will put the fire out but then be unable to use the oven to cook dinner until everything has cooled enough to be cleaned.

If a mom with a migraine has reached this point, she is going to call her husband and ask him to bring home pizza on the way home from work.

If she calls her husband, he’s going to bring home the most awesome pizza ever from a place mom hasn’t tried yet along with a cinnamon dessert pizza to enjoy on the white feast day.

And he’s also going to clean the oven for her after dinner.

Because he’s wonderful.

And she’s still wearing ice and hoping the migraine will go away by tomorrow...but somehow, that doesn’t really matter.