Wednesday, 22 May 2019

The Day I Left my Job and Flew a Kite

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

It was the best of days, it was the worst of days. But mostly it was the best of days. I was twenty years old and I had just completely humiliated myself by leaving a job five days into it. And I couldn't have felt more free.

Fresh out of teacher's training college, I was young and idealistic. I wanted to teach in a school that valued learning and creativity more than uniformity and blind obedience. I applied at one school that met my high standards, but didn't get through. I wasn't sure what to do next, but at the urging of some family members who told me not to expect the perfect situation, I applied at another school. This one was Catholic and catered to children from lower-income families, so it appealed to my naïve desire to 'make a difference'. Little did I realize that just because a school worked with the poor didn't mean that the school authorities loved or served them like I assumed they would.

The school year had just begun, and one of their teachers had dropped out. I didn't know why, and didn't wonder then. The first day they put me in a first standard class with over seventy children. Yes, the strange hierarchy and systems of Indian schools put a brand-new inexperienced twenty-year-old teacher ALONE in a class of seventy six-year-olds, instead of an experienced teacher, because those teachers had paid their dues and didn't want to be stuck with the toughest class in the school.

No assistant teacher. Seventy little faces stared at me. They didn't speak English yet. They had never sat in a class for seven hours before. They were rowdy kids from tough backgrounds stuck in a situation in which it was impossible to give them individual attention. I tried to teach them, but there wasn't a moment where the entire class was listening. They were miserable, and so was I.

On the first day, some kids in my class got into a fist fight, and blood was drawn. Yes, by six year olds. I had no idea what to do. I tried to ask the other teachers for help, but they didn't know what to say. That's just the way it was. New teachers get the short end of the stick. They enlightened me about other rules.

"I saw you leaning against the table. Teachers aren't allowed to sit down in class."

"What? Why?"

"That's the rule. There are no chairs in the classrooms, because teachers aren't allowed to sit down while teaching."

"But.. But.. We don't have any off periods. That doesn't sound fair."

"That's the rule."

During the recess, I walked out of the class and saw the principal make little six-year-olds kneel in the corridor as a punishment. The school authorities seemed harsh. I went home every day and cried. I cried in the staff room. I cried while trying to talk to the other teachers. I cried more in those five days than I had cried in my life. I felt trapped, but I could see no way out.

Until my parents suggested that I didn't HAVE to work in that hell-hole. I suddenly realized I hadn't signed any papers yet. I didn't NEED the job. They were paying me peanuts anyway. I didn't need to stay in a horrible job out of a misplaced sense of duty. The day I made the decision was one of the happiest days of my life.

"Want to come? We're going to fly a kite!"

There was a strong wind, and my siblings and some friends were heading to a neighbouring open field. I left the cage and my heart went flying with the kite. I will never forget the feeling of freedom I tasted that day, as the kite danced in the breeze.

It's so embarrassing to admit I left a job within five days. In every inspiring story about a teacher who faced terrible odds, that's just the first part of the story. They usually persevere and then they have breakthroughs and then their students become brilliant achievers. Not me though.

Did I leave too soon? I'll never know. What I do know is that after working in an corporate e-learning company for two years, I returned to mainstream teaching in a village for a year. It was one of the best years of my life. I had thirteen eight-year-olds, and a school whose vision was teaching kids to love learning. I was still a brand new teacher, but I had a free hand to work with those thirteen students. I was happy, my students thrived and we all learned together. I have worked successfully with many children since then, and I am happy that my ideals and my desires were not squashed or dimmed by a harsh, oppressive teaching environment. So I guess, no, I'm not sorry I left my job and flew a kite that day thirteen years ago.

Related Reading

I Don't Miss School

Friday, 17 May 2019

Part 3 - Non-Christians in Heaven - Ten Catholic Teachings Most Indian Catholics Get Wrong

Have you done the quiz yet? Don't read this until you've done the quiz!

How Much Do You Know About Catholic Teaching?

To recap, I left some seeds of truths in the wrong answers, and the correct answers didn't always include the full truth. Really the question should have been 'Which option is the closest to the truth?'
(Continuing from Part 1 and Part 2.)

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

5. Will non-Christians make it to heaven?

CORRECT ANSWER 1. Possibly - Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience may achieve eternal salvation.
2. Of course - God doesn't care what religion we belong to as long as we are good people. Many Hindus and Muslims are better Christians than Christians are.
3. Not possible - the Bible clearly says 'Those who do not believe will not be saved.'
4. Hell does not exist, it was a concept made up in medieval times to scare people. God is a God of love, so all people will be in heaven with Him.

This was an easy answer to guess because I made the mistake of making the correct answer far more detailed than the wrong ones. But I just couldn't bear to cut out any part of it.

Most Indian Catholics have heard again and again the lie that all religions are exactly the same, that it makes no difference if you are Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist, that Jesus, and the founders of other religions are practically the same. This probably came as a reaction to communal tension and violence that has often been incited in parts of India, and was seen as a way to maintain peace and harmony.

But it's good to go a little deeper, both into common sense and the actual teachings of the Church.

1. All religions are NOT the same, nor are our teachings identical (although there are many common moral teachings in them). The Catholic Church DOES say there are seeds of truth in different religions. But most importantly, Jesus is not the same as Ganesh or Prophet Muhammad or Buddha, and He never claimed to be.

2. Jesus made very specific claims and gave specific instructions to His followers. If he didn't care what religions we followed, or what we believed, He would never have told His followers, "Go and teach them everything I taught you and baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." His followers by the way were Jews, and they became Christians too.

3. Jesus claimed to be the way to the Father, and the only One with the power to save. He founded the Church and sent His apostles to continue His saving mission. The Father has revealed Himself to the people who have been trying to find Him - through His Son Jesus.

4. If you have experienced Jesus' salvation in a real way, in a freedom from sins that used to control you, in having Someone to run to when you're struggling, then you know it is NOT the same thing to know Jesus as not to know Him.

It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. Joy of the Gospel 266

5. But we do NOT believe that means all who are not Christians are consigned to hell. That sounds very unjust and God is not only just, but also merciful. So how does this work together?

6. Here's a little more from that section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

"Outside the Church there is no salvation" How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body: This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation. CCC 845 - 847

7. This means it is POSSIBLE for them to be saved if they do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, have never been introduced to Him in a way they could understand, but sincerely desire to know and do His will. C.S. Lewis (who isn't Catholic) used a great analogy in The Last Battle and later said, "I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god, or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know him. For He is (dimly) present in the good side of the inferior teachers they follow. In the parable of the Sheep and Goats those who are saved do not seem to know that they have served Christ."

8. That doesn't mean we shouldn't consider the task of evangelization urgent. Just like us, people of all faith backgrounds are susceptible to sin, deceived by the Enemy in a myriad of ways, hungry and thirsty for the One who is truth and love, who brings the fullness of life, but chasing after the things that fail to satisfy. They need Jesus too. They MAY not make it to heaven (and we may not too if we do not daily accept and walk in the salvation Christ won for us).

9. The question we need to focus on is not who will or will not be saved, because we have not been given that information. Instead reflect on this - 'Those who are incorporated in the Catholic Church ought to sense their privilege and for that very reason their greater obligation of bearing witness to the faith and to the Christian life as a service to their brothers and sisters and as a fitting response to God. They should be ever mindful that "they owe their distinguished status not to their own merits but to Christ's special grace; and if they fail to respond to this grace in thought, word and deed, not only will they not be saved, they will be judged more severely."' Pope John Paul II, Mission of the Redeemer 11

This was a pretty detailed explanation, but it deserves and needs more than a short or incomplete answer.

I highly recommend watching Bishop Barron's video on the same topic.

Related Reading

Should Conversions Be Illegal?

Monday, 13 May 2019

Part 2 - Fasting - Ten Catholic Teachings Most Indian Catholics Get Wrong

Have you done the quiz yet? Don't read this until you've done the quiz!

How Much Do You Know About Catholic Teaching?

To recap, I left some seeds of truths in the wrong answers, and the correct answers didn't always include the full truth. Really the question should have been 'Which option is the closest to the truth?'

(Continuing from Part 1)

3. Are Catholics required to fast from meat on Fridays? 

1. No; that rule was revoked with Vatican II
2. Yes; any practising Catholic abstains from meat on Fridays as every Friday is a special day of penitential observance
3. No; except for Fridays in Lent
CORRECT ANSWER 4. Yes; unless they replace it with another form of penance

Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.

So nope, Vatican 2 did not revoke the call to penitential acts on every Friday. Oops on behalf of myself and many other Catholics who assumed that. It doesn't have to be meat, but it does have to be something that the bishop's conference of your country prescribes.

So what does the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India aka the Episcopal Conference for the Latin Rite in India say about our Friday penitential practice? From a document called Complementary Legislations to the Code of Canon Law, I learned something new-

This Conference decrees that our faithful fulfill the obligation of abstinence, besides the traditional one of abstinence from meat, by choosing at least one of the following forms of prayer/penance/works of charity: 

1. attending Mass or making a 15 minute visit to be Blessed Sacrament or doing 15 minutes of reading of the Bible or a 15 minute meditation on the Passion of Our Lord or making the Way of the Cross; 
2. missing breakfast or any one meal; 
3. taking strictly vegetarian meals (avoiding fish and eggs as well); 
4. abstaining from alcohol (for those who drink); 
5. abstaining from smoking (for those who smoke); 
6. abstaining from beverages (like tea/coffee between meals); 
7. giving 10% of one's daily earnings in charity
8. abstaining from meat for those for whom meat is part of their regular diet.

Nothing very demanding, but a small way to unite ourselves with Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross.

4. Do we need to fast before Mass? 

1. Yes - For one hour before Mass starts
2. No - God doesn't care
3. Yes - Except for liquids like coffee
CORRECT ANSWER 4. Yes - For one hour before receiving Communion

I was once selling Christmas cake outside Church, and we were offering free samples. A lady was rushing in for Mass, but stopped when she saw the free samples. As she lifted the cake to her mouth, I being an incurable teacher of the faith, asked, "Aren't you going for Mass? What about your Eucharistic fast?" She laughed as she popped the cake in her mouth, "God doesn't care about that." A lot of people either seem to not know or not care. Are we being too focused on unimportant rules?

Like I wrote in my post Nitpicky Church Rules a few years ago, 'The disciplines He asks of us are out of love. When I fast for an hour before Communion, I am more conscious of what is about to happen, Who I am about to meet. I am consciously emptying myself physically and spiritually, instead of casually walking in, unaware of the Guest awaiting me.'

What does the Church say?

Can. 919 §1. A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine.

Now you know.

Stay tuned for Part 3. 

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Part 1 - Parents and Children - Ten Catholic Teachings Most Indian Catholics Get Wrong

Have you done the quiz yet? Don't read this until you've done the quiz!

How Much Do You Know About Catholic Teaching? (Click the link to do the quiz.)

A lot of you may be mad at me for this, but I was kind of tricky in my quiz, leaving some seeds of truths in the wrong answers, which obviously made it harder to get the correct one. Also the correct answers didn't always include the full truth. Really the question should have been 'Which option is the closest to the truth?' But if you read carefully and have a very good understanding of the nuances of Catholic teaching, you would have got a good score that you can be proud of.

And if you didn't, hopefully your curiosity was sparked, and you want to know how you could have possibly got that obviously correct answer wrong. So here goes! Enjoy!

1. What role does a parent play in the choice of one's career and spouse? 

1. A major role - It is the right and responsibility of the Catholic parent to direct and influence a child's choice of career and spouse according to what is best for them

CORRECT ANSWER: 2. A minor role - Catholic parents should be careful not to exert pressure on their children either in the choice of a profession or in that of a spouse.

3. A deciding role - Catholic parents should make the final decision about their child's career and spouse after listening to their child and taking it to prayer

4. An advisory role - Catholic parents should offer a selection of careers and options for spouses based on their child's personality and the needs of the family, and then allow them to choose one of the options

The tricky part was the words 'minor' being right and 'advisory' being wrong. Here's what the Catechism has to say about it.

CCC 2230 When they become adults, children have the right and duty to choose their profession and state of life. They should assume their new responsibilities within a trusting relationship with their parents, willingly asking and receiving their advice and counsel. Parents should be careful not to exert pressure on their children either in the choice of a profession or in that of a spouse. This necessary restraint does not prevent them - quite the contrary from giving their children judicious advice, particularly when they are planning to start a family.

I did use the word minor deliberately though, because it is MAJORLY the decision and choice of the individual themselves. Indian parents, God has NOT asked you to pick a spouse or a career for your child. You cannot give them a selection to choose from, or tell them they may NOT marry some particular individual, or threaten to cut them off if they do.

What you can and should do is give them judicious advice, and then pray that they make the right decision. Even better is to help and train them from the time they are young to seek the Lord, and to learn how to make wise and responsible decisions. Focus on building a trusting relationship so that they feel comfortable consulting you without feeling you will pressure them in one way or another. You cannot and should not try to control their lives.

And Catholic adults, it is your right and duty to choose your own profession and state of life and spouse. It is not somehow holier to leave it all in the hands of your parents.

2. What does a Catholic adult owe his/her parents? 

1. Nothing; an adult is responsible only for himself or herself
2. Obedience in all things and financial support as soon as and as long as they are earning as required by the commandment 'Honor your father and mother'
3. Honor and respect, unless the parents have neglected their duties as parents
CORRECT ANSWER 4. As much as they can, material and moral support in old age and in times of illness, loneliness, or distress

Another misconception in India propagated by many within the Church is that obedience to parents is the highest good, a holy and unbreakable commandment. That is not however what the Church says. What DOES it say? As CHILDREN living at home, we are expected to obey our parents in all things (except in matter of sin). But as adults, no longer under the legal custody of our parents, we do NOT have to obey them in all things. We are responsible for our own decisions, and though we should willingly seek their advice, we are not under any obligation to do what they demand or expect.

CCC 2217 As long as a child lives at home with his parents, the child should obey his parents in all that they ask of him when it is for his good or that of the family. But if a child is convinced in conscience that it would be morally wrong to obey a particular order, he must not do so.

 As they grow up, children should continue to respect their parents. They should anticipate their wishes, willingly seek their advice, and accept their just admonitions. Obedience toward parents ceases with the emancipation of the children; not so respect, which is always owed to them.

It is a little trickier when adults live with their parents as is often the case in India. My understanding though is that if you are contributing financially to the household and no longer dependent on your parents, you have the same right to make your own decisions. If things become difficult - like parents demanding obedience in unreasonable matters, it may be better to move out. And on the parents'part, if you have adult children living at home and NOT taking on their share of responsibilities at home, you may need to ask them to take on those responsibilities, or move out. The only WRONG solution is to continue treating them as if they were still children, instructing, nagging, and controlling.

Whether parents deserve it or not, we are still obligated to show them respect and honour. (That doesn't mean remaining within an abusive relationship.)

[I promise I'm going to write a Boundaries post about this topic.]

What about our financial obligations to our parents? I remember a young man in his twenties telling me that his salary went straight to his parents, and they gave him an allowance out of that. That does  not sound like a healthy parent-child relationship, but unfortunately it doesn't sound very surprising in India.

What does the Church say?

CCC 2218 The fourth commandment reminds grown children of their responsibilities toward their parents. As much as they can, they must give them material and moral support in old age and in times of illness, loneliness, or distress.

If your parents have their own source of income and are not in financial need, or are able to work, you are not obligated to support them financially. What about the money they spent on your education? Parents do not HAVE to fund your higher education. You can take loans, get scholarships, and pay your own way. Your parents could even be the ones to loan you the money. If they choose to freely save up and pay for your education, or a large part of it, then they should have done so without any expectations of return. You are free to repay them if you desire. But if they are comfortably off and you need to make financial decisions for your own spouse and children, your obligation is to your new family.

When they are older however, or struggling in any way, you ARE responsible for them, whether or not they contributed financially to your education.

There is a lot of wisdom the Church offers us about the relationships, rights and responsibilities within families. Sadly, we often take unhealthy cultural norms and act as if they are God's law. We see the ill-effects all around us, in interference and control, in resentment and rebellion, in neglect and manipulation, in irresponsible and entitled behavior. God's truth reaches into these broken places and offers us ways to set things right.

There's a lot more good stuff about the parent-child relationship in the Catechism. Go ahead and read about the fourth commandment if you're interested.

Part 2 - Coming Soon

Related Reading

A Catholic Perspective on Arranged Marriages

13 Ways Parents Can Help Their Kids Choose Christ 

Moving from Pleaser to Rebel to Lover