Saturday, February 4, 2023

Church Divine, People Sinful

I heard an interesting statement the other day: “The Church is a divine institution entrusted to sinful people.”

Nowadays, it’s unfortunate that few people would disagree with the claim that the Church has been entrusted to sinful people. The sex abuse scandal, which was uncovered two decades ago and seems to continue without end, plus many troubling financial scandals at the Vatican and elsewhere, make it clear that quite a few Church leaders have used their positions to gratify selfish desires. In other words, they are sinful. Which makes them similar to the rest of us.

Hey, what do you mean, “the rest of us,” Dunn? 
Well, just look around at some non-religious institutions, such as politics or business, healthcare or labor unions. There are a lot of selfish and power-hungry people in those fields, too. Look at people in your community, neighborhood, place of work, or family. I hate to say it, but take a look in the mirror. I guarantee there are plenty of sinful people no matter where you look.

The reason I can guarantee it is because St. Paul said so in the Bible: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And when Paul said “all” have sinned, he meant “all y’all” – that is, everybody.

It would be great if every leader of our Church was like St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa: completely selfless and concerned only about the wellbeing of others. But that’s not the case. There are, of course, countless holy priests, and even many bishops, who are moral and decent people. They dedicate their lives to serving others and spreading the good news of the Gospel.  

But it just seems that the farther up the company ladder someone advances, the more ambitious and ruthless and hypocritical they tend to be. This is true in politics and business, and it’s often true in the ecclesiastical world.

So, we are part of a Church with people in charge who are sinful to one degree or another. What should we do, quit the Church, as so many have done since the sex abuse scandal made front page news? Should we try to find another church, or stop being involved altogether because one of America’s most powerful clerics, ex-cardinal McCarrick, was revealed to be stunningly evil? (Or on a lesser scale, because Fr. McGillicuddy was rude to me last Sunday?)
Well, if the Church was merely a man-made institution, then maybe leaving would be the right thing to do. But please be aware, if you leave the Church because it’s full of sinners, whatever other organization you join is going to have the same problem. It’s simply human nature.

However, the Church is not a man-made institution. The Church was founded by Jesus Himself, and it was given the monumental task of spreading the love of Christ to all the world. Don’t forget, the original group of Church leaders weren’t exactly perfect, either. Peter, the first pope, denied Jesus and put his foot in his mouth more often than Ralph Kramden. James and John were self-centered hot-heads who wanted to call down fire from Heaven on people they didn’t like. Thomas was a pessimistic doubter. And among the first 12 Church leaders appointed by Jesus was Judas Iscariot, and we all know how that turned out. (As Peter Kreeft observes, Judas was the first Catholic bishop to receive a government grant – 30 pieces of silver – and every time since, when the Church does the government’s bidding in return for money, the results have been similar.)

It’s very discouraging when news stories break about yet another Church leader who got caught doing sinful and illegal activities. But we have to respond the same way Peter did when Jesus asked, “Do you also want to leave?”

Peter replied, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68). 
Eternal life in Heaven is available through Jesus Christ. And the best way to get in a saving relationship with Jesus is through the Church He founded. 

Yes, it’s very frustrating at times. But we should never lose sight of this one simple fact: “The Church is a divine institution entrusted to sinful people.” 

Are Air Travel Nightmares Getting Worse?

Last fall, I went on a business trip to the Midwest, and my departing flight was at 6:05 am on a Monday. This meant I had to arrive at the airport by 4:30 am to go through security, which meant I had to leave my house by 4 am, which meant I had to wake up by 3:30 am. Now, waking up at 3:30 is a fairly routine thing for me these days. But scrambling to shower, get dressed, and double-check to make sure I packed everything is a little different than shuffling from the bathroom back to the bedroom and trying to fall asleep again.

When I arrived at the airport at 4:30 am, I was stunned to see that the place was packed. There were hundreds of people lined up to go through security and there were dozens of TSA agents at work. Many of the coffee shops and kiosks were open and doing brisk business. A lot of bleary-eyed people were there — including me — but the place was really bustling. 
I looked around at everyone and thought to myself, “This is just wrong. It’s 4:30 in the morning, for heaven’s sake. All these folks, especially me, should be in bed right now!”

That particular morning, my flight departed on time, and I didn’t hear that any of the other flights had problems. But still, I had this sad feeling that somehow it was not right that so many people had to leave their homes so early just to catch a flight somewhere.

Then a couple of months later, in the wake of a powerful winter storm, thousands of people were stranded in airports for days over the Christmas holiday. Most of the airlines got back to normal quickly, but one particular airline had a complete meltdown and had to cancel over 16,000 flights during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. 
Apparently, many years ago the upper management of that airline felt computers were a passing fad, and decided to continue doing all their scheduling with a yellow pad, a #2 pencil, and an old abacus. The Christmas meltdown occurred, I suspect, when the pencil broke and no one could find a sharpener.

Suddenly, being in the airport at 4:30 am and departing on time seemed like a wonderful thing, at least compared to spending an entire Christmas vacation sleeping on a dirty carpet next to hundreds of other angry people. I wrote some song lyrics, to the tune of “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”

I got stuck for Christmas
Southwest lied to me
Took my dough, and then said, “No,
the planes aren’t here, you see.”

Christmas Evening found me
Weeping all night long
I got stuck for Christmas
Southwest, you done me wrong

A couple of weeks after Christmas, on a Wednesday morning, every domestic flight in the United States was grounded for hours because a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) computer system crashed. The system sends out safety messages to pilots before and after take-off. The government decided to halt all flights until the system was up and running again. I’m sure that caused some major heartburn for one or two or a million travelers.

I understand Southwest Airlines called the FAA and said, “Do you want to borrow our pencil?”
It’s not that I dislike air travel. I’ve visited some wonderful places because of modern aviation. However, things are just so crazy nowadays, I’m wondering if it’s worth the aggravation and stress. The next time I have to go on a business trip to the Midwest, I think I’ll stand on the shoulder of Interstate 84 and hitch-hike. What could go wrong?

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Beware of ‘You Spot It, You Got It’

Recently, Fr. John Gatzak mentioned an interesting concept on the radio. He called it, “You spot it, you got it.” 

What this means is, if you pick out something to criticize about another person, the chances are really good that you are guilty of that exact thing. For example, I bet most of us know someone who will say, “That Sally sure likes to gossip.” Which causes everyone else to stop short and think, “Um, really? Nobody gossips more than YOU!”

Very possibly this describes you or me. Maybe we’re the one who points out that Sally sure likes to gossip, right after we’ve spent the previous hour telling Sally all the juicy rumors we’ve heard about other people.
This “You spot it, you got it” dynamic applies to many other behaviors and attitudes, such as anger, sarcasm, worry, criticism, impatience, procrastination, cynicism, and pessimism. It’s just a fact of human nature that people are often blind to their own less-than-ideal behavior while quick to criticize the exact same behavior in others.

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pointed out this reality by asking, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?”

Jesus was warning against hypocrisy; that is, seeing the sin in another person’s life while ignoring the obvious sin in our own life.

By the way, Jesus also was using imagery that was quite humorous. Having a wooden beam stuck in your eye is a very comical exaggeration. I mean, think about it. A wooden beam stuck in a person’s eye is definitely going to ruin the rest of his day. Huge tree branches impaled through one’s skull tend to do that. Then, when Jesus added to the exaggeration by describing the person as being oblivious to the wooden beam in his skull and focusing all his attention on a small speck in someone else’s eye, you can’t help but giggle at this memorable lesson. Jesus doesn’t get nearly enough credit for His use of humor in His teachings.  
Anyway, there are some great aspects to the Christian faith — with eternal life in Heaven being pretty high up on the list. Besides the ultimate goal of Heaven, Christianity also helps us to live much better lives during our time here on earth. First, we are encouraged to forgive others, just as we’ve been forgiven by God (if, of course, we acknowledge our sin and sincerely ask for forgiveness).

Jesus clearly says, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you” (Matt. 6:14). When we forgive others, we are less likely to criticize them and point out their faults.

Next, Christianity helps us to understand that we are not exactly free from faults. When St. Paul wrote, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” he definitely meant “all,” as in all y’all. 

Unlike what many people claim, Christianity does not cause believers to develop poor self esteem. Instead, it helps us see reality more clearly. And the reality of the situation is that we are sinful. When we understand that we are in need of forgiveness, and when we actively try to forgive others who sin against us, we are much less likely to be caught up in the “You spot it, you got it” hypocrisy. 
Does this mean if we’re a Christian we will never be hypocritical, and never point out flaws in other people that we are guilty of ourselves? Hardly. For example, many years after I became a Christian, I was at a social event, and after a particular person excused himself to get a drink, I commented, “Wow, that guy is really snarky.” Everyone who heard what I said froze in their tracks and stared at me, as if to say, “Um, really? Have you ever looked in a mirror, Bill?!” (Hmm, I guess sarcasm is kind of my super power.)

So, be mindful of this concept that Fr. John mentioned on the radio. When you find yourself pointing out other people’s flaws, chances are you are doing the exact same things. This is because if “you spot it, you got it.” 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Shortest Month Has Many Holidays 

Welcome to February! Although this is the shortest month of the year, it has more holidays than any other month on the calendar. This is why February has become my favorite month. Except for May and September. Oh, and June and October, too. But February is better than January and November, and it’s definitely in my personal Top 10. Here is a list of the major holidays in the short month of February: 

Feb. 2, Groundhog Day — This day proves that joyous festivals and important holidays on the calendar do not necessarily have to be based — and I’m trying to be generous here — on anything sane. Let’s summarize the basic concept of Groundhog Day: the world waits breathlessly for an oversized rodent from Pennsylvania, who is afraid of his own shadow, to play the part of a meteorologist.  
Feb. 12, Super Bowl Sunday — This major national holiday was created when people realized it had been six full weeks since New Year’s Eve, and therefore a special day was needed to attend another alcohol-saturated party. Super Bowl Sunday is quickly becoming one of the most important holidays of the entire year, as measured by the sheer number of greasy chicken wings dropped onto living room carpets. 

Feb. 12, Lincoln’s Birthday — This date commemorates the birth of our nation’s greatest president: George Washington. No wait, my mistake. The 12th is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and this year it falls on Super Bowl Sunday, which is exactly how our 16th president would’ve wanted it, since he was a big Chicago Bears fan.

Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day — This is a special day for love — as in, the retailers who sell greeting cards, candy, and flowers to panic-stricken men at a 500-percent markup, just LOVE this holiday. Valentine’s Day can be rather sad for people who are not currently in a romantic relationship, and even sadder for people currently in a romantic relationship if they’re still hungover from Super Bowl Sunday and forget to buy something for their sweetheart.
Feb. 20, Presidents’ Day — Thankfully, there is finally some recognition for the heroic deeds and charismatic personality of Calvin Coolidge. The downside of lumping all presidential recognition into a single holiday — not counting Abe and George — is that at least three-quarters of all our presidents turned out to be weasels. Literally.  

Feb. 21, Mardi Gras — In French, the term Mardi Gras means “Tuesdays with Morrie.” This is the last day before the religious season of Lent begins, and Catholics around the world, and especially in New Orleans, demonstrate how holy and reverent they plan to be during Lent by getting blind drunk and flashing their breasts to strangers. Sometimes the women will do this, too.

Feb. 22, Washington’s Birthday — Please see the Feb. 12 listing for a discussion of the holiday that honors one of our most important presidents: Benjamin Franklin.

Feb. 22, Ash Wednesday — This is the first day of Lent and is often known as “I Didn’t Know You Were Catholic Day.” This year Ash Wednesday falls on the same day as Washington’s Birthday, which has to be some sort of violation of the U.S. Constitution’s clearly defined “Separation of Church and State” doctrine. 
Feb. 29, Leap Day — This very special day was created when it was discovered that the earth actually takes 365-1/4 days to revolve around the sun. (The extra quarter-day delay is because the earth, just like everyone else, often gets stuck in rush hour traffic on I-84.) Leap Day, February 29th, is so special, three out of every four years it celebrates by calling itself “March 1st.”

So, there you have it: all the important holidays that are in my most favorite month (sort of) of the year. 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Mass the Same Wherever You Are

Earlier this month, as I watched the funeral Mass for Pope Benedict on TV, it occurred to me that no matter how different the location or the setting, the Catholic Mass is essentially the same. It’s a good reminder that our faith is universal. 

If you saw the funeral Mass at the Vatican, it was quite an impressive liturgy (and that reportedly was a “toned down” ceremony, compared to what it could’ve been!). By the way, a quick comment on Pope Benedict XVI: During this past Advent, I attended a series of meetings at my parish where we studied Pope Benedict’s little book titled, “Jesus of Nazareth: the Infancy Narratives.” It was a wonderful way to prepare for Christmas, and it was a good reminder, if we didn’t already know, that the pope was a brilliant scholar and theologian. You could not read the book quickly, like a novel. After every page, you had to stop and ponder the deep spiritual concepts the pope explored. I realize that a lot of people, especially in the secular media, have gone out of their way to criticize Pope Benedict, but he really was one of the all-time good guys of our faith.
Anyway, the pope’s funeral Mass was an atypical, grand production. But at its heart, it was still a Mass, just like any other Mass we attend. Over the years I’ve been blessed to attend Mass in many different places. My wife and I traveled to Europe twice, and so we went to Mass in Vienna, Austria, and Padua, Italy.

Because of business trips, I’ve been able to go to Mass in Toronto, Chicago, Kansas City, Orlando, and Las Vegas. And closer to home, I’ve been to Mass in Boston, Providence, New York City, and of course many communities in my home state of Connecticut.

No matter how different the churches are — and trust me, majestic St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna is quite different compared to tiny St. Romuald’s Chapel in Matunuck, Rhode Island — the Mass is the Mass. And that fact is such a wonderful blessing. No matter the local customs or language, the Mass follows the same basic format. 
When we went to Mass at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna many years ago, the Mass was said in German. I don’t understand a word of German (except for a few phrases I picked up while watching “Hogan’s Heroes” as a kid), but it didn’t matter. I knew exactly what was happening during each part of the Mass. And when the priest offered the prayers of Consecration — in German — at that moment the bread and wine were transformed into the true body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus Christ, exactly as it happens in, say, Hartford or Waterbury or Torrington. 

So, no matter where you attend Mass, in any part of the world, it is essentially the same. We have this amazing geographical connection spanning the entire globe. But not only do we have a vast geographical connection to the Mass, we also have a remarkable time connection. You see, the Mass we celebrate today is surprisingly similar to the liturgy that was celebrated by Catholics 2,000 years ago. 

Many aspects of the Mass have evolved over the centuries, of course. For example, I’m pretty sure the church that St. Paul founded in Ephesus did not have Bose speakers hanging from the wall, nor could parishioners watch the Mass at home over the Internet (mostly because the wifi service was lousy back then). But the two primary parts of the Mass, the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist, were present from the very start of Christianity. 
If you didn’t get a chance to watch the funeral Mass for Pope Benedict, I’m sure you can find a recording of it online. It was rather unique. After all, how many times does a sitting pope preside over the funeral Mass of the previous pope? Despite the unprecedented aspects of this particular liturgy, it was at its heart the same Mass we experience every Sunday.

We should thank God for the Mass. It is the sacred liturgy that transcends time and space. It allows us to create spiritual bonds with believers in other parts of the world and throughout time. The Mass is a great gift and we should embrace it as often as possible. 

Can a Flatscreen TV Ever be ‘Too Big’?

During the recent Christmas season, Santa Claus impulsively gave me a new 55” flatscreen TV. You’re probably wondering how he got it down a narrow chimney. Well, in this case, instead of delivering the gift in his sleigh on Christmas Eve, Santa instructed one of his “elves” on December 28th to notice the TV was on sale at Walmart for $358, insert a credit card in the little device without giving it any thought, slide the large box into the back of a Chevy Equinox with the help of a Walmart employee, and then spend the whole journey home trying to think up a good excuse to tell Mrs. Elf. (I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever referred to my wife and myself as elves.)
It took almost two days to install the TV on the wall in our living room. Getting the bracket attached to the wall wasn’t too bad, but getting the TV attached to the bracket would’ve been a bit easier if I had a doctorate degree in structural engineering. It didn’t help that one instruction manual had only pictures and no words (I believe that’s called the IKEA language), while the other instruction manual had plenty of words, but was obviously written by someone who speaks only Korean and ran it through a Google Translate app. For example: “Insert Screw B into Flange of Fortitude M.” (Flange of Fortitude? That would make a great name for a rock band.) By the way, there were no screw Bs anywhere in the bag of parts.

Anyway, the important thing is, I finally got the TV mounted to the wall without accidentally dropping it during the process. It’s not very heavy, but a person really needs the wingspan of Kevin Durant to lift it up properly. Maybe this note in the instruction manual, “Installation exclusively on two bodies, never with only person,” was trying to tell me I should’ve called my brother-in-law to come over and help me. 

I thought installing the TV was difficult, but that was nothing compared to programming it. You see, it’s called a “Smart TV,” which means it’s guaranteed to make the owner feel dumb. The TV comes with all kinds of software and programs and apps, and needs to be connected to the internet via wifi. This, of course, means I had to try and locate all my various usernames and passwords; another delightful chore. 
The programming instruction manual — surprise, surprise — wasn’t all that helpful. And the remote control that came with the TV is about the size of an ironing board and contains at least 900 buttons, half of which have cryptic markings and don’t seem to have any useful function. (One of the buttons was labeled “Flange of Fortitude.” But still no Screw Bs anywhere.) 

By mid-January, I finally got the TV to communicate with the cable box. So, now I can watch the 180 channels for which I’m paying every month through the nose (even though I only watch six of them). 

That’s when I noticed the TV takes up practically the entire wall in our modestly-sized condo living room. I started feeling guilty for splurging on such an ostentatious consumer product. But then, luckily, I visited my brother-in-law (the one I should’ve called to help me), and he just finished installing a brand new 70” flatscreen TV (and he should’ve called me to help him).

When I returned home and gazed at that puny 55-incher, I shook my head and muttered, “It’s just too small. We need a bigger one.” I think I’ll wait until next Christmas. That will give me 11 months to think up a good excuse to tell Mrs. Elf. 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Will We Recognize Our Spouses in Heaven?

Each morning I receive an email called “Daily Bible Living,” from an Evangelical organization, which promotes some aspect of the Christian life. I have no idea how they got my email address, which is a question I can ask about at least a hundred other groups that send me “urgent” messages all day long. At least the Evangelical group never asks me for money, which is more than I can say about most of the others.

To be honest, I hardly ever read those daily emails because, as the popular meme says, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” However, recently the daily email had such an intriguing subject line, I just had to take a look. It said, “Will I recognize my spouse in Heaven?”
Ooh, now that’s an interesting question. I read the article and it made some good points about the Bible being rather short on details about Heaven. Oh sure, Scripture assures us that Heaven will be wonderful, with no tears or sorrow, and only endless joy for those who enter into God’s eternal kingdom. But exactly how it will be is left unsaid.

St. Paul’s comment in his first letter to the church at Corinth says, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Paul is saying that  Heaven will be wonderfully joyful, no doubt about that, but our puny little human brains can’t even begin to comprehend just how awesome it will be. The bulk of Scripture seems to take a similar approach, offering many positive statements about Heaven but no specific details.

There is a passage in the gospels where some Sadducees tried to trap Jesus with a bizarre story about a woman who married seven different brothers, one after the other, as each husband died. (You know this is a ridiculous premise, because in real life, after the second brother died while married to this woman, brothers Number 3 through 7 would’ve said to each other, “This lady is bad luck! Steer clear of her!”)
The Sadducees wanted to know, after the resurrection occurs, which of the seven brothers would be married to her, since all seven had been her husband at one time. Jesus replied, “You are misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.”

That’s a very interesting statement from Jesus, but it raises about 100 follow-up questions that apparently no one in the crowd thought to ask.

Years ago, I was in a Bible Study/Prayer Group, and one of the ladies was simply distraught over this passage. She loved her husband so much, she couldn’t fathom how she could ever be happy in Heaven if she were not still married to him.
The key to this situation, I believe, is the nature of God. He is all-good and all-loving, so whatever Heaven turns out to be, it will be exactly what we need, what we want, and what is perfect. God loves us so much, He would never make Heaven “almost” perfect; that is, great in many ways but with the one drawback that we end up being separated from our beloved spouse.

You can look at this with some logical reasoning. First, here are a couple of statements that are true: 1) everyone in Heaven is completely happy, and 2) I won’t be happy unless I’m with my spouse. Therefore, the logical conclusion is: I will be with my spouse in Heaven.

My guess is that our relationship with other souls will be different in Heaven (as Jesus said), and whatever Heaven is like will turn out to be infinitely more amazing than we could ever imagine (as St. Paul said).
So, the answer to that intriguing email subject line is this: “Yes, of course I will recognize my spouse in Heaven, because that’s what it will take for me to be perfectly happy.”

God has not given us a lot of details, but we know without a doubt that Heaven will be wonderful. The main thing we need to do for now is simply trust God and not worry about it