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.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A question of balance

By now, you’ve probably heard all about “Sprinklergate,” or the shocking revelation that the homeless in San Francisco who try to sleep in the doorways of St. Mary’s Cathedral may end up being doused at regular intervals by a sprinkler system that was probably not legal to begin with.

Of course, the timing of these startling revelations is suspicious, given that there appears to be an ongoing PR campaign against Archbishop Cordileone for daring to require Catholic school teachers to avoid promoting open heresy or living baldly wanton and lascivious lifestyles while employed (theoretically, anyway) to provide students with a Catholic education.  Unfortunately for the PR guys, it didn’t take long before people figured out the system pre-dates the current archbishop and that he is, in fact, quite a leader in Christian care for the homeless.

Naturally, most Catholics (myself included) are not happy about this whole sprinkler system thing. The homeless ought to be helped.  It is against their dignity to pour water on them to get them to leave. Most of us are quite willing to stop with those simple statements.

But how do we help the homeless?  And in situations like this one, where the homeless were reportedly leaving feces, used needles, and other biohazards in the cathedral doorways, how do we properly balance our Christian mission to help the poor and the oppressed without creating worse situations than the ones we are trying to solve?

I once belonged to a parish where there was perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  The pastor knew quite well that homeless people would come in and sleep in some of the pews since the church was always open.  And this was fine--yet it was not fine if a homeless person began acting abusive, pulling a weapon, assaulting or threatening to assault anybody (including another homeless person), committing vandalism etc. On those occasions the police would be called. The headlines might look just as bad: “Pastor calls police to remove homeless person from church...” Yet what else could he have done?  He was perfectly ready to let the homeless, generally speaking, take shelter in the church building, but that did not translate to a right to each homeless person specifically to do whatever he or she wanted while there.

It’s easy to see that we as a nation are failing the homeless, speaking generally.  As Christians there are things we can do that will actually help, and it looks as though Archbishop Cordileone is a true leader in that regard.  I think all Christians who work to relieve the suffering of the poorest among us deserve great praise, and as much of our help as we can give (including our prayers).

Still, I think that sometimes the question of balance should be raised.  Does helping the homeless mean getting used to bodily wastes and dirty needles in public places?  Can’t we do better than that, not just for ourselves, but for them--especially for those among the homeless who suffer just as much when they are expected to sleep on surfaces covered with bodily wastes and dirty needles?

It’s a complex problem.  It won’t be solved by pointing agenda-driven fingers of blame, either.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Hope you are having a joyful celebration of this great saint’s feast day. Yes, I know it’s Lent, and this is not a solemnity.  But that doesn’t mean you have to be all dour and sad all day, either.

We’re having this for dinner, along with a lemon coffee cake just because.

And here’s one of my favorite bits of Irish wisdom:

May those who love us, love us.
And those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn’t turn their heats, may He turn their ankles
so we’ll know them by their limping.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Sometimes your Lent chooses you

On Facebook the other day one of my wise sisters opined, “Sometimes you choose your Lent; sometimes your Lent chooses you.”

I have to agree.

I’ve been down with a little stomach bug.  No big deal.  Nothing to fuss about.  Except that it is really inconvenient and annoying right when I want to go all Lent-y and, you know, DO stuff.

Like prayers and personal devotions and extra family prayers and some spiritual reading and a bit of sacrifice here and there.  You know--nothing extraordinary.  For Lent, that is.

But the prayers and personal devotions and extra family prayers have been--well--sporadic (at least on my part).  And the spiritual reading has been nonexistent (because, alas, Agatha Christie mysteries aren’t spiritual reading, not even in a “memento mori” sense, but they are easy to read when your concentration level is iffy).  About the only thing I’m rocking is the “giving up good stuff to eat” part, because I can’t eat much anyway till this thing is done with me. And I’m not even doing all that well with that, because when the low-blood-sugar migraines hit I’m more inclined to complain and gripe and get cranky than remember to, you know, offer it up.

There were so many things I was going to get done this Lent.  There were so many good intentions about better schedules and more focused vocational living (translation: better housekeeping) and a renewed concentration on book editing and just doing a better job at everything imaginable.  I was going to kick selfishness to the curb and lob laziness after it. Instead, I’m taking catch-up naps in the middle of the afternoon because my sleep schedule is all weird again (more from the migraines and the caffeine they require for minimal functioning ability than the bug itself) and barely keeping up with the laundry.

Now, I firmly believe that God does have a sense of humor, and that the old proverb about making the Almighty laugh by telling Him your plans is quite true.  But I also think (as my sister put it) that sometimes He chooses our Lent for us, and if we cling too tightly to our own plans and goals and schedules and sacrifices we may miss the lesson He’s really trying to teach us.

For instance, I don’t often think of myself as an impatient person, but there’s nothing like a bout of illness to show me just how impatient I can be. Things like selfishness and laziness are more obvious to me, but the notion that I can get just run-down enough to be fretting and fussing and griping at people is one I don’t often consider.  Yet it is true; I have not exactly been a model of patience.  I want this thing to be gone, yesterday, before I lose any more time for Lent and spring-cleaning and getting done with all the things on my list.

The apostles were probably impatient too. Here was Jesus, the Messiah, the long-promised one! Here He was, teaching, preaching, healing the sick, making bread and fish out of thin air--and the crowds were ready to carry Him off and crown Him after that one.  So what was He waiting for? Why all of this talk about sin and repentance? Why did He tell people to pay taxes and carry soldiers’ packs an extra mile for them, instead of telling the people to commit to an uprising that would kick the Romans out once and for all?

Why did He delay?  Why did He turn so many in the crowd away from Him by saying weird stuff about giving them His flesh to eat?  What was it all about?

Then He entered Jerusalem in triumph.  The crowds loved Him.  Some of the apostles had to be thinking about the future--well, we know they were, as witness the argument about which of them would be the mightiest, which would sit at His right and left hands.  Peter, James and John had even witnessed His transfiguration, and seen their Lord with Moses and Elijah.  This was it: He was going to be proclaimed their long-awaited King.

And He was.  In mocking letters carved above the instrument of a torturous and ugly death.  His death. His cross.  And the only crown woven of blood-stained thorns.

How cruel the apostles must have felt this to be.  Was this the end of all their waiting?  Was this what they had waited, not always patiently--far from it--for?

We know the answer to that question.  We know that “wait and hope” are not mere words, not a soothing platitude to get us through the tough times in life, or even the merely annoying and inconvenient ones.

When your Lent chooses you, the best thing you can do is ponder it, and then embrace it as best you can.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Saving our outrage for real liturgical abuse

I know I’m late to this, but I wanted to write about it anyway: what happened to Katrina Fernandez (a.k.a. The Crescat) at her grandmother’s funeral was outrageous:
What this priest did was totally inexcusable.
Not only did he consecrate a wheat pita but when I went up to receive on the tongue he forcefully tried to pry open my hands to put the Eucharist in my palm. When I remained in front of him with my mouth open, holds folded closed, to receive on the tongue he grabbed my hand and took the Body of Christ, wedged it between my fingers and said, “Just take it. It’s easier this way.”
Easier for what or whom?! There were not even 50 people in that church! How was me receiving on the tongue going to disrupt the communion line? It made absolutely no sense. Just take it, it’s easier this way? And at my grandmother’s funeral is where you decide to make your little anti-trad point?
And while he was busy making a show out of denying me communion on the tongue in front of my family at my dead grandmother’s funeral, he was hap-happily giving out consecrated wheat pita to the rest of my non-Catholic family without a moment of instruction or notice in the program on why they shouldn’t receive.
Sacrilege schmacrilege.
Outrageous.  And while the comments over there currently stand at 570 and there’s no way I plan to read them all at this point, this rather recent one caught my eye:
I told my wife about this. She is a pastoral associate with a master's in Theology from Loyola University in New Orleans. She said that SHE had done the very same thing when some kid dropped to his knees in a communion line at the Church where she works(not our home parish where NO ONE since 1968 when the new church was built). She passed him by and he later told her that she had embarassed him. HER response? "You did to your self. YOU KNEW that we don't do it that way here and you chose to behave otherwise". I think this whole thing is silly. As I was told as a little boy in Catholic school in the late 50's early 60's, when in Rome, do as the Roman's do”.
If the gentleman in question posted under his real name (alas, he does not appear to) I would be sending a letter to the unfortunate parish which employs his wife, because if she is in fact the rude and ignorant bully her husband portrays her to be then she needs training immediately in the right of the laity to receive communion in traditional postures, a right which they retain in spite of pushy ill-educated pastoral associates (and I cannot tell you how tempted I was to abbreviate “associates” incorrectly just now).

One of the reasons I was so hard on Rachel Lu’s recent blog posts about her terrible experience at a parish that had (gasp) female altar servers! and EMHCs! and unfortunate music! is because when we get all het up about things that are liturgically permitted (however less-than-optimal we might personally think them) it tends to diminish our ability to complain about real, actual liturgical abuse.  From Katrina Fernandez’ blog post it seems clear that there are serious problems at the parish she mentions, problems which ought to be addressed by the local ordinary, preferably at once so that the faithful do not any longer suffer under such serious problems at Mass.

We should save our outrage for real liturgical abuse.  And then we should use it, as politely and civilly as possible, but without undue deference to error (however kind we may be to the erroneous, which is a different matter).

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Under the weather...

...blogging will be light for a bit.

Sorry!  Back soon.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Destroying the family is good for business

Our elite puppetmasters have come out of the shadows to admit the real reason they want to impose same-sex “marriage” on those of us who will never believe that marriage is anything but a union between one man and one woman--it’s good for business:
AT&T and Verizon. Dow Chemical. Bank of America. General Electric. Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. And the San Francisco Giants.
They’re among 379 corporations and business organizations that have signed onto legal arguments offering the court another reason to declare a nationwide constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry — it would be good for business.
“Inconsistent state marriage laws impose an added economic burden on American businesses at an estimated cost of over $1 billion per year,” the companies’ lawyers wrote. With 13 states still prohibiting same-sex marriage, and refusing to recognize marriages conducted in other states, they said, “our ability to grow and maintain our businesses by attracting and retaining the best employee talent is hindered.”

Of course, what our elites aren’t admitting is that destroying the family has always been one of their objectives, because families, by and large, are efficient and cautious consumers, while “households” composed of single adults, single or divorced parents, grandparents raising grandchildren, etc. tend not to be.  And the biggest spenders of all are the DINKs--double-income, no kids--which describes the vast majority of gay couples in America (since only a relatively small number of gay couples will ever or do ever have any responsibility for children whatsoever).

So naturally our elites want to destroy the family.  They have wanted to do this, says Rod Dreher today, since the 1920s:

I bring this up in context of the post from earlier today about “Silicon Valley Mordor,” and the rapid loss in our time of what it means to be human. Setting aside Dante’s theological vision, his metaphysical vision is what’s at issue. I quote here from an essay titled “The Ascendance of Eroticism,” collected in the book The Crisis of Modernity, by the late Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noce. The book recently appeared in an English version translated by Carlo Lancellotti, a reader of this blog. Del Noce died in 1989, but his vision was extremely prescient. He says, for example, “One is not surprised by the most advanced ideas, including marriage between homosexuals.” Why not? Because del Noce realized that the metaphysical underpinnings for traditional sexual morality were gone.
Del Noce points out that the ideas behind the Sexual Revolution were completely worked out in the 1920s, but Fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism put them on hold. They returned after the war, and became dominant in the 1960s. Del Noce, writing about the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, an avatar of the Sexual Revolution, says Reich was correct to say “that no compromise is possible between traditional morality, taken in its entirety and without modifications, that is, fully recognizing its first premises, and thus without emphasizing unilaterally any particular aspect, and sexual liberation.” Del Noce, describing Reich’s vision:
"Having taken away every order of ends and eliminated every authority of values, all that is left is vital energy, which can be identified with sexuality, as was already claimed in ancient times and is actually difficult to refute. Hence, the core element of life will be sexual happiness. [...]"
Del Noce first published this in 1970. He appears to be every bit as visionary as Philip Rieff was. This is not the place to go more in-depth on his essay, but it will have to suffice to say that Del Noce argues that overturning of the older sense of metaphysics by the sexual revolutionists was advanced through the arts. In other words, it was the poets (meaning novelists, filmmakers, and all artists) who taught the world to see things differently (to use the most neutral phrasing). Whether you think they enlightened the world or endarkened it depends on what you think about the Sexual Revolution.
You can’t have a mindless consumer culture until you have maximized the creation of mindless consumers.  And you can’t do that without convincing people that the summum bonum of existence is self-gratification, including sexual self-gratification, unmoored from any considerations of responsibility, family, society, or culture.  What started with the promotion of rampant divorce and the facilitation of ubiquitous fornication via contraception has reached its present fruition--funny word to use--in the promotion of the ultimate fruitless consumer lifestyle not only of gay couplehood, but of heterosexual temporary childless unions under the banner “marriage.” Since new consumers have to be created, though, our elites are also on board with the "non-carnal" manufacturing of children via IVF, and will be the first to insist that the artificial womb be used not as an emergency incubator but as the most liberating way to process one’s children who will be carefully selected and programmed from the embryonic state to be the ultimate not only in consumer choice, but as future choosy consumers themselves.

O brave new world, etc.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Another snow day

We had another snow day today--the older girls got a call at 5:30 a.m. to tell them their college campus would be closed for the day.  Since all the other colleges in the area had already decided to cancel classes for today as of Wednesday night this was hardly a surprise.

I may be from a colder state originally, but I prefer the normal Texas springs (well, apart from the occasional tornado, but nobody really likes those).  By March 5 I’m usually rediscovering my short sleeved shirts and sandals.  Instead--well, Smidge the cat demonstrates the situation (photo by Hatchick):
(Smidge, sitting on a sweater and wrapped in a scarf)

I think we’re as ready for spring as those of you reading this in the North must be!  :)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Should Christian children be sent to evangelize in the public schools?

Rod Dreher has an interesting post up about the “missionary schooling” idea, the idea that some Christian parents have that they must eschew homeschooling or even private Christian schools in favor of sending their kids into the public schools to be “salt and light” and witness to the Gospel.

The comments over there have been pretty interesting, to say the least.

Now, I’ve sometimes erred on the side of being too enthusiastic about homeschooling, especially in the past before the mellowness of middle age hit. I still think homeschooling is a terrific way to educate your children, especially if you want to give them a specifically Catholic or Christian (or Jewish or Muslim etc.) education.  The reality of the public school is that it cannot teach much at all about religion except in a very abstract way.  Since I wanted to give my children a good Catholic education, could not afford the local Catholic schools, and didn’t really trust diocesan Catholic schools generally to give a good Catholic education anyway, homeschooling was, and remains for our youngest who is still in high school, the best option for our family.

But even though I’ve relaxed about people doing what works for their own individual families and situations including public school when that’s the best option, I still think that sending one’s kids into the schools with the idea that young children should be expected to spread the Gospel and witness to their friends is a bit much.  In some public schools where the vast majority of kids are Christians, this isn’t even necessary--but in other public schools where the vast majority of kids are from irreligious and badly broken homes and where violent forms of bullying are daily occurrences, you wouldn’t be sending your kids in as witnesses, but as potential martyrs.  To place such a burden on a child who is likely still learning to tie his shoes is not particularly just, I think.

Is the “salt and light” option a good way for Christians to engage the culture via their children?  Is it a terrible idea that puts innocent children at risk from a culture which is daily growing more hostile to their, and our, values?  Or is it really just a nice way for Christian parents to put things so that the local Christian co-op parents will quit bugging them about homeschooling which really wouldn’t work for their particular family?

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Communication and the parish

This weekend I learned, during the announcements at Mass at the main parish, that our parish is looking for a “communications minister.”  The deacon who made the announcement humorously stressed that this would be a “ministry,” by which he meant a purely voluntary, unpaid position. The person who signs up is supposed to create a new updated parish website (for, I’m guessing, both the main parish and our mission parish), establish a social media presence on various platforms, set up some email and texting options, and so on.  Once everything is set up, it is being assumed--rather optimistically, I think--that the volunteer will “only” need to spend about five hours a week maintaining everything.  For free.

On Facebook today someone mentioned how difficult it can sometimes be to get in touch with one’s parish.  The person who posted was trying to find out specific information about an upcoming parish event, and the information was not available on the parish website or through the “phone menu.”  When a real live office person finally answered there was reportedly a bit of grumpiness involved.  I’ve had that experience as well over the course of my life, and I’m sure many of my fellow Catholics have, too.

Then again, I’ve known other priests who insist on answering the parish phone themselves whenever possible, and this can be equally difficult on some occasions.  I’ve always hated to interrupt a priest during what is usually a busy day just to ask some little question that a parish secretary could theoretically answer as well (if not, let us be honest, better in some instances).  I doubt I’m alone.

From the priests’ side of things, though, I’ve heard that it can be extremely frustrating when the phone rings and rings and RINGS so that, thinking it must be an emergency, Father dashes to answer, only to have a brusque person asking what time a daily or Sunday or Holy Day Mass will be--information that is actually available on the parish website, even if it was designed by an organizationally-impaired and colorblind computer novice thirteen years ago and never updated since.  Some older priests have adjusted extremely well to the new communications technology, while others have not--and some younger priests are so used to being contacted on their cell phones by anybody at any time that they can’t understand why older parishioners don’t call when they need him (because the older parishioners were raised in a more polite era where phone calls to a priest meant somebody was dying).

It’s interesting to ponder all of this, because our faith is one that is centered around Communion. Yet sometimes we’re not very good at communicating with each other.

Does your priest/parish have the “communications” thing figured out?  What works?  What doesn’t?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Complaining about priests

Last week, Rachel Lu, who wrote an earlier piece complaining about “schlocky liturgies” she endured while on vacation, answered her critics here:
Liturgy is an important element of Catholic life, and we need to think about what sorts of liturgical practice will make us better Catholics and people. It’s really not just a matter of taste. Good liturgy elevates our minds, and indeed all of our senses, drawing us closer to God. It’s often uncomfortable, because it forces us to grapple with the immensity of the mysteries that are found in the Mass. But that’s a healthy sort of discomfort. We ought to be challenged in that way, and it can actually be a good thing to feel a bit “alienated” at Mass, insofar as that alienation comes from the recognition that (as we read in Hebrews 11) we are “foreigners and strangers on earth,” and that our true home is with God.
Bad liturgy is often oriented towards making worship a more comfortable and communal sort of experience. It’s easy to understand why this would appeal. Modern people often like to shed formality in favor of something more “original” or “human” or “communal.” That’s really just to say that they prefer to downgrade ceremony into something that doesn’t require them to face up to the real, serious significance of what is taking place. Consider the absurdities that take place in many contemporary weddings and funerals and you should understand what I mean.
There’s a lot of it, pretty much in the same vein; you can read it all here.

It would be easy enough to write a point-by-point piece based on what Lu wrote, but I don’t think that would get at the heart of why what Lu writes, and the way she writes it, bothers me.

I’m not opposed to reverent liturgy (I use “reverent” instead of “decorous,” “formal,” or “uncomfortable,” words which appear often in Lu’s piece).  I’m actually very much in favor of it, if by “reverent” we mean that the liturgical rubrics are followed, a prayerful spirit pervades the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and that innovations are strictly avoided.  

But that, I find, is not what many people who complain about “schlocky liturgies” or insist on their own particular vision of liturgical decorum are really talking about.  Most of them are complaining about the following things:
  • the priest’s choice or permission for music they dislike or find tacky
  • the priest’s choice to permit lay people to assist him in various roles--a choice which the Church fully permits and even in some cases seems to encourage
  • the priest’s choice--also permitted by the Church--for some of these people to be female
  • the priest’s continued use of ugly church buildings, many of which are old enough not to have been the choice of anybody within living memory let alone that particular pastor
  • the priest’s choice to permit or overlook ugly or tacky Church decorations (the Perennial Gripe about the Felt Banners)
  • the priest’s choice to permit or overlook Our Father-hand holding (or at least to mention it a time or six before realizing the people are being incorrigible about this and it’s not the battle he wants to fight, at least not right now)
  • the priest’s choice to use the option to let the congregation participate in the exchange of the Sign of Peace, which is in the rubrics and a perfectly permissible thing for him to do.
In other words, most people when they complain about “bad liturgies” or “schlocky liturgies” are really complaining about priests.  Specifically, they are complaining that the priests don’t have the same concern and care for the liturgy that they, the well-informed laity, do, because everybody knows it’s impossible to have a reverent and Holy Sacrifice of the Mass if women in purple dresses are allowed to assist as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion or if girls are allowed to be altar servers or if Father has the execrable musical taste of much of his generation and actually likes “All Are Welcome.” (Side note: I have now sung that dratted piece twice in two Sundays, after 46 years of never hearing it, because we couldn’t get to our regular church this Sunday due to an icy neighborhood and when we went to the main church of our parish later in the day that song was on the list.  At least I had practiced it and wasn’t totally lost--much of the congregation didn’t even bother.)

I find this puzzling not because I don’t share some sympathies here and there, especially as regards the music--I wish we were singing Bruckner and Palestrina and Mozart and Bach and chant at every Mass instead of most of what we do sing, and there are some musical settings of the prayers of the Mass which ought to be taken out and shot--just the music books, though; I’m not bloodthirsty.  I find this puzzling because having gone through my own season--and it was a long one--of Snobby Liturgical Pride I finally realized that one of the worst liturgical abuses of all was my own idea that somehow I ought to be doing Something About Schlocky Liturgies, when, in fact, I am not an ordained minister of the liturgy whose job it is to do such things; I’m a pretty average lay Catholic wife and mother whose job is to assist at Mass like any other lay person, and to be willing to put my talents, such as they are, at the service of my parish community as long as Father thinks it’s a good idea and my voice holds out.

My job at Mass is not to nitpick and criticize and roll my eyes (I’m not saying it never happens, just that it’s not my job).  No, my job at Mass is to pray, to plead for forgiveness and ask God to help me do a better job in all those areas where I always need help, to offer to Him those dear hearts in my family and among my friends and especially those people I’ve promised to pray for, to beg Him to draw everybody in the world close to His Sacred Heart, to remember that nobody alive is yet lost to His Mercy and to beg for that Mercy for myself and those I pray for as greedily as any child begging in front of a cookie jar, and then to receive Him Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity and carry this priceless Treasure with me in prayer for as long as He remains present. Oh, and to sing a lot.

So much of the liturgy wars boils down to complaining about priests and what they are doing.  I bet that if we just prayed for them at Mass instead, we’d see some really good things happening. Maybe even some Palestrina.