Wednesday, February 17, 2010

sacramental health

Fr. Ragan Schriver calls me an "out-of-the-closet Catholic." It's not that I'm doing anything differently than when I lived in Burbank, it's just that there are fewer Catholics in Knoxville, so my beliefs stand out from the crowd. Blog readers and radio listeners are aware of my faith, so it's no surprise that I would get an email like the following from someone I'll call "Beth."
Dear Frank,

I wanted to see how you felt about an issue that I seem to be having with the county schools. With it being Ash Wednesday, I wanted to take my children to get their ashes at morning Mass. A friend suggested I call the school to make sure that it wouldn't count against them, making them tardy. I thought for sure that it wouldn't, due to the fact it is a religious holiday. Well, I was wrong!!

First when I called the school, they had no idea what Ash Wednesday was, and didn't know how to handle my phone call. Then they passed me to the Assistant Superintendent. Well, she was no help either, asking what was Ash Wednesday and why couldn't we just go to a later Mass. I tried to tell her that the whole point was to wear your ashes all day. It isn't something you get and then go home, shower and go to bed. Then she tried to tell me it wasn't even on the calendar!!

Finally, without being able to give me an answer, she went to ask the Superintendent. When she got back, she said there was no way he would allow it. It would be marked as a tardy. At this, I was angry. How prejudiced toward us Catholics; how unfair that my children who have never been tardy this year are going to have it count against them, all because we are going to attend Mass.

I was furious. She told me that there was nothing in the county policy about excused tardiness due to a religious event. Then she told me she was sorry, you know the majority down here is Baptist not Catholic! I know that we could go to an evening Mass but that's not the point. You are SUPPOSED to get ashes in the morning and have them on your head all day as a symbol. I know that you are Catholic and I was wondering what your thoughts on this were. We are going to church at 9:00 a.m. and the kids will have to go to school late and just have it count against them.
I applaud Beth for standing up for her beliefs. I might have done the same thing if I had been in her position. In fact, I have opted out of an upcoming work-related event that conflicts with the Easter Triduum. Beth's email made me glad that my wife and I made some sacrifices to send our children to Catholic school from kindergarten through high school.

On the other hand, Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation. It is actually more important for a Catholic to attend Sunday Mass. At All Saints, they must have realized that public school kids could not attend Mass until later in the day. The children's choir sang at the 5:00 p.m. service tonight. I think the public school could treat Beth's decision to take her children to Mass on Ash Wednesday the same as if they had an orthodontist appointment. They could count it as an excused absence.

Beth's email was on my mind as I attended the noon Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral. I was struck by the seeming contradiction of today's gospel passage that instructed "wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden."

I got my ashes and wore them to my next appointments. I was reminded of my first day on the job at Comedy World, which also happened to fall on Ash Wednesday. I showed up with ashes on my head and laughed at the comments from Bobby Slayton and others.

Beth emailed me again this afternoon to say that her child's teacher tried to wipe off the ashes because she didn't know what they were. The child was smart enough and comfortable enough to stop the teacher and explain. Obviously she learned that from her mother.

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Blogger Panthro said...

I caught the irony in the Gospel reading also. Immediately after reading about how to try and NOT show off that you are giving alms or fasting they told us to NOT remove the ashes from our foreheads. I think Beth might need to just realize that the public schools aren't going to accommodate a religious obligation, especially when after-hours services are available. Right or wrong, that's just the way it is.

Blogger PLANET3RRY said...

Going to a Catholic Grade School then High School, the environment for Ash Wednesday was very accommodating... you had Mass at school. Even some parents would come but I knew that the church had a 7am Mass for the Working.

Lent itself doesn't seem to be as popular around here as in other parts of the country. Even Mardi Gras isn't as widely celebrated around here... I guess because it's the Front Door to Lent.

If you're going to be late for school, arriving late because of your religious faith is a whole lot better than arriving late because you didn't wake up on time.

Freedom of Religion, just on our own time.

Ah Man, speaking of Mardi Gras... I didn't get a King Cake this year... shoot!


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