Friday, November 9, 2018

Too Young to Retire


During the last few months, I can’t count the number of people who have asked me if I am retired. (And for a guy who works in engineering sales, you’d think I’d be able to count to five.)

A couple of the people who asked if I’m retired had never met me before. After being introduced and then some idle chit-chat, they just blurted out, “So, are you retired?”

Being the self-conscious person that I am, I interpreted this question to mean: “You look like you’re at least 70, so let’s talk about senior citizen stuff.”

Well, I’m only in my early 60s. In fact, on my last birthday, I turned fifty-eleven, so I’m nowhere near retirement age — unless I worked for the government, in which case I would’ve been able to retire with a lifetime pension about a decade ago. But I live in the real world, so talking about retirement is way too premature.

No wait, “talking about” retirement is fine. Actually retiring is premature. In fact, according to those informational emails I receive from AARP every 30 seconds or so, I should’ve been talking about, and planning for, retirement a long time ago. Financial experts say that I needed to begin saving toward retirement at age 24, the exact moment I decided I could have a more fulfilling career in the private sector rather than taking a state job. Yeah, you’re right, for someone who works in engineering sales, at times I can be as dumb as bag of doorknobs.

Well, that’s all water under the bridge. As the old saying goes: “You can’t change the past, all you can do is cry about the future.” Umm, I don’t think the word “cry” is part of that old saying. It must’ve slipped out of my subconscious.

At this point, I’m not sure which is more disturbing: the fact I’m a couple decades behind schedule in my retirement planning, or that people think I look like I’m at least 70.

The thing is, I don’t really want to retire anytime soon. I like my job. Certainly, there are moments of frustration at the office (usually self-induced, when I have one of my “bag of doorknobs” moments), but overall, I find my work very enjoyable.

Also, during the last few months, I can’t count the number of people I’ve met who recently retired, only to discover retirement is not all it’s cracked up to be. (All right, I’ll take a guess: four people.) One guy told me he’s worried his savings will run out and so he obsesses over every nickel he spends. Another guy told me he’s bored and he spends too much time watching mindless TV. One guy told me now that he’s home all the time, he and his wife are getting on each other’s nerves. And the final guy confided in me that since he quit working, he feels fairly useless and he’s starting to think society wants him to die and get out of the way. (Gee, I don’t know why he would think that, other than the fact former Colorado governor Richard Lamm once said out loud what many others are thinking, that old people have “a duty to die and get out of the way.”)

In the interest of full disclosure, during the last few months, I can’t count the number of people I’ve met who recently retired and said they now are having the time of their life. (All right, I’ll take a guess: 50 people.) OK, so a lot of people do enjoy being retired. Fine. It’s just not for me. Now I have to get back to my engineering sales job. What do I sell? Bags of doorknobs.


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Church History Filled with Scandals and Crises


The Catholic world is abuzz with talk about the current crisis: the ongoing clergy sex abuse scandal, enflamed in recent months by disclosures about disgraced ex-Cardinal McCarrick and the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

Many Catholics are angry. Many are dismayed. Many are leaving the Church, vowing never to return. And many are convinced this is the worst crisis ever to hit the Church, so much so that the Church may not survive.

I personally have heard more than a few Catholics lament that this scandal might cause the worldwide Church to declare bankruptcy and end up a hollow shell of its former self, kind of like the Sears Roebuck Company.

However, before we write the obituary for the Church, it might be best to put the current crisis in historical perspective. Yes, this scandal is bad. Yes, many thousands of people were victimized by predator priests and bishops. Yes, the financial impact is staggering, with billions already paid out to victims and who knows how many more billions needed for future payouts, especially if other states open grand jury investigations similar to Pennsylvania, as many have indicated they will do.

In her 2,000-year history, the Catholic Church has faced many scandals and crises. We can sometimes lose sight of the big picture and focus only on events that occur during our lifetime.

A great resource to put things into perspective is a podcast series by Fr. Dwight Longenecker, titled “Triumphs and Tragedies.” Fr. Longenecker is a former Anglican (Episcopalian) priest who now is one of the few Catholic priests who are allowed to be married. He currently is pastor of a parish in South Carolina, and is a prolific writer, speaker, and Internet blogger.

In Fr. Longenecker’s “Triumphs and Tragedies” podcast series, he devotes each episode to a specific century in Church history, focusing on the many struggles faced by believers during the particular period. If you think the present sex abuse scandal is the worst thing that’s ever happened to the Church, just wait till you find out what happened in the past!

The Catholic Church has endured so many crises and calamities down through the centuries, it becomes obvious that a purely manmade institution never would have survived this long. The fact the Church still exists throughout the world after 2,000 tumultuous years is powerful evidence that Jesus is the true head of the Church. Only God’s divine protection could have prevented the Church from collapsing completely many, many centuries ago.

Go to DwightLongenecker.com and look for “Triumphs and Tragedies” under the “Categories” menu in the far right-hand column. You can listen to the podcasts on your computer, or download them and listen on your phone or in your car.

Learning more about Church history is fascinating, and realizing that the Church has encountered trials as bad or even worse than the current crisis is somewhat comforting and encouraging—especially when all we seem to hear these days is, “The Church is doomed!”

Don’t get me wrong, the current crisis is awful. We will experience painful and shameful times for the foreseeable future. But the Church has survived many attacks over the span of 20 centuries, from within and from without. (The present situation, by the way, is definitely an attack from within, with a lot of help and tempting from the Evil One.)

The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Himself, and given the mission of proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel to all the world. Sinful people within the Church, of course, make that mission much more difficult. But that is what we’re called to do, and Jesus promised the Church ultimately will succeed. To see how the Lord has protected His Church during dire times in the past, listen to Fr. Longenecker’s podcasts. The Lord will surely protect us during this dire time, too.


Friday, November 2, 2018

The Season for Fashion Change


Now that the weather is turning colder, I recently performed my semi-annual Seasonal Clothing Change Procedure.

First, I pushed some sneakers and boat shoes to the back of my closet, and moved some boots and heavier shoes to the front. Then I retrieved from the basement a plastic storage bin that contained all my sweaters. I put the sweaters in a bureau drawer and put all my golf shirts in the storage bin. Finally, I brought the plastic bin back down to the basement where it will sit until next Spring.

My entire Seasonal Clothing Change Procedure took exactly six minutes. It would’ve been less but I stopped halfway through to get a snack.

My wife, on the other hand, began her Seasonal Clothing Change Procedure on Labor Day weekend and she is optimistic that this year she should complete the process by December 31st. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that my wife is a procrastinator or has an immense wardrobe. She performs her SCCPs much quicker than the average woman. Some women do not finish their Fall procedure until April 1st, the date they are required by law to begin their Spring procedure, which means during all 12 months of the year they are constantly in the process of moving, rearranging, and reorganizing their clothing to match the seasons. Shoes alone can take three months.

There are two things in life that are simply not fair. The first is childbirth. Men are burdened with the task of sitting in the delivery room — waiting and waiting and getting nervous, and making sure that our wives don’t notice that we’re glancing past them to watch a ballgame on the hospital TV — while women get to be actively involved in all the fun stuff of childbirth.

OK, I’m kidding. Obviously that last paragraph was a joke! Please don’t send me nasty letters. I fully agree it’s totally unfair that women have to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to procreation. But it’s not our fault. If you’re upset with the current arrangement, please complain to God.

However, we men ARE responsible for the other thing that is simply not fair: the difference in men’s and women’s fashions. Men have it so easy. We don’t have to give any thought to what we wear. We just put on a pair of jeans. Or if we’re getting dressed for a formal occasion, we can wear anything-but-jeans. Then we put on sneakers. Or again if it’s formal, we wear anything-but-sneakers. Then we put on a shirt, any shirt, and if it happens to be a super special formal occasion, such as our own wedding or our own funeral, we’ll grab a tie. And that’s it. The whole process of getting dressed takes men two minutes — three, if we stop halfway through to get a snack.

As everyone knows, women cannot leave the house unless they agonize over every last fashion detail. Sometimes women are forced to fly to Milan to purchase just the right scarf to accentuate their shoes and purse — so they can be properly attired to take the dog for a walk.

And it’s all the fault of men. Women believe they must focus all that energy on fashion to be attractive to men, when in reality most men don’t even notice what women are wearing because we’re too busy glancing past them to watch a ballgame.

So, let’s put an end to this madness. Women, please don’t worry so much about what you wear. We men won’t mind; we probably won’t even notice. In the meantime, we’ll see what we can do about making childbirth more fair. Maybe we’ll turn off the TV.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Despite Scandal, God Wants Us to Be Joyful


One of my favorite Catholic authors is Dr. Peter Kreeft, a longtime professor of philosophy at Boston College. Recently, I saw a video where Professor Kreeft discussed Christian joy. He said he was pleased to learn that the Catholic Church will not canonize a saint unless all nine Fruits of the Spirit are present in his or her life. And this includes joy. So, in other words, a Gloomy Gus or a Grouchy Gretchen cannot be declared a saint.

As I’m sure you know, I discussed the nine Fruits of the Spirit about a month ago. What’s that? You don’t remember? You mean you’re not memorizing these brilliant essays? Oh, now I’ve lost all my joy.

Just kidding. I don’t expect you to memorize these essays. I don’t even memorize them. Half the time I’m not even paying attention while I’m writing them. What’s that? Oh, it’s that obvious? Hmm, thanks.

Anyway, to refresh your memory, the nine Fruits of the Spirit, as described by St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians, are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I fully acknowledge that it might be kind of hard to feel very joyful right now. The Church is mired in this horrible season of shame, with more and more facts being uncovered about sexual predator clergy, Animal House behavior in seminaries, and powerful bishops who willfully ignored these problems.

It is, admittedly, somewhat difficult to declare these days, “I am a joyful Catholic!”

However, we cannot let the present Church scandal take away our joy. First, the men who committed those sinful acts are a very small percentage of the clergy. Most priests are dedicated, holy men who strive to love God and serve God’s people.

Second, and more importantly, we cannot lose sight of the real reason God founded the Church, which is to tell the world that He is real, that His Son Jesus is the Risen Lord, and that the good news of the Gospel can provide the two deepest longings of the human heart: true forgiveness of sins in this world and eternal life in Heaven once our time on earth is over. This news is so breathtakingly good, it should put a permanent smile on our face.

Dr. Kreeft makes this stunning claim: “The Incarnation is the biggest joke in history.”

Now, obviously, he does not mean this in the cynical, sarcastic way a militant atheist might say, “Religion is a joke!”

No, Kreeft is saying that the Incarnation—the divine Lord Jesus taking on human flesh—is the most absurd thing that ever happened in world history. Just think about it: the almighty, all-perfect, supernatural Creator of the Universe decided to lower Himself and become one of His dirty, smelly creatures.

The key to all humor is surprise. Think about the first time you heard a very funny joke compared to the tenth time you heard it. When there is no surprise, there is no humor.

The most surprising, startling, stunning thing that has ever happened in the last 15 billion years is the Incarnation: God becoming man. It’s like a farmer deciding to sleep in the pigpen. It’s like the corporate CEO deciding to scrub toilets with the cleaning staff. It is so amazingly unexpected, we can’t help but laugh out loud.

The Gospel message brings joy. The fact that God loves us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to rescue us from sin is the most wonderful news of all time. If it doesn’t put a smile on your face, then maybe you don’t quite understand the true Gospel message.

Despite the frustration, sadness, and anger produced by the Church’s season of shame, we cannot lose sight of the big picture. God is still God, and He is still in charge. Let’s not give in to the temptation to be a Gloomy Gus or a Grouchy Gretchen. God wants us to be filled with joy.


Friday, October 26, 2018

Movies vs. Books, Part 3


Occasionally people ask me where I get ideas for this weekly humor column. I always try to be honest, so I reply, “Drug flashbacks from the 1970s.” However, sometimes I get my ideas from a different but equally as mind-altering source: the readers.

A while back I wrote a column stating that a movie is never as good as the novel it’s based on. I also asked readers for their input on this subject. As you may remember, over 50-percent of last week’s column was comprised of the views and opinions sent in by readers. Creating a column by cutting and pasting other people’s words is by far my favorite way to write. (Kind of reminds me of doing a term paper in college, except the amount of other people’s words was more like 99-percent.)

Anyway, I am pleased to announce that yet another column, this one, will be devoted to the same movies vs. books topic, again with a sizable percentage of words that are not mine.

Sheila M. contacted me and pointed out that you really cannot compare movies and books because they are completely different mediums. She also mentioned that although she reads a lot of books, she really loves movies. She has a good friend who loves novels, and they’ve been debating this topic for a long time. If I had only known that, I would’ve let them provide the words for many of my previous columns. Based on other email notes I’ve received over the years, that’s something I probably should’ve done.

Sheila also explained that a good movie provides a satisfying story in approximately two hours, while a novel can take days or weeks to complete. Movies free up time for Sheila to clean her house. (Don’t tell Sheila that I’m sharing this with you, but she added this: “I have often excused my messy housework by stating I was reading a good book I couldn't put down.”)

Another person who contacted me is Dave L. I know Dave personally. He’s a terrific writer and the author of many books. (I suppose Dave won’t mind if I mention his last name is Lopardo, as long as I don’t reveal his preferred method for avoiding housework.)

Dave wrote, “I firmly believe that when you make a movie into a book, there always seems to be one character missing, and that person is THE AUTHOR. The movie ends up being the producer and director’s INTERPRETATION of the book.”

This is a good point, and it’s the precise reason I would never let a Hollywood studio make a film version of my novel. (Unless, of course, they offered me money. Anything over a hundred bucks would probably do the trick.) If a Hollywood producer happens to be reading this newspaper, my suspense novel is called Purge the Evil, and Matt Damon and Sofia Vergara would be perfect in the starring roles.

Speaking of books, I recently self-published another collection of my weekly humor columns, titled A Matter of Laugh or Death (Parenthetical Comments from the Back Row). It contains 100 of my favorite essays from the past decade. Years ago, I really thought I could get a big publishing house to print and market my books. But now that I know how the publishing business works—apparently they prefer quality material, sheesh!—here is a more realistic plan: if you’d like a copy of my book, send a note to MerryCatholic@gmail.com with your name and address. I’ll mail you a copy, and if you like it, send me a check for 15 bucks. If you don’t like it, mail the book back.

And if you want to turn it into a movie, be aware that I drive a hard bargain.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Don’t Lose Heart, My Dear


Please, my dear, don’t cry. I know it was a shock when the doctor said you have cancer. There are few words in the English language more frightening than that one. But don’t forget, the doctor also said there is a 100-percent chance for a full recovery. The disease you have is serious, but with intense treatment, the cancer can be completely eradicated and you will return to health.

It is a relief, you must admit, to know finally why you’ve been feeling so poorly for so long. There were the nagging pains and feeling of weakness. There were those long bouts of apathy and confusion. There were so many days when you went through the motions because you just didn’t feel like your normal self. We both suspected something was wrong, but we just couldn’t put our finger on it. Maybe, as we thought before the recent test results were revealed, it was simply the things one experiences at a particular stage of life. Maybe when one reaches a certain age, aches and pains and problems are common and normal.

However, now we know the cause of all those uncomfortable symptoms: cancer. Yes, I know it’s hard even to say the word. But say it we must. Cancer. There are malignant growths chewing away at your vital organs. It is a fact. It’s a depressing fact, to be sure, but a fact we must confront with all of our strength and will.

My dear, I know the future is frightening. The treatments you must endure in the short term will be painful and exhausting. There’s no sugar-coating that reality. Those cancer cells were doing their dirty deeds in secret, and it never even dawned on us that the disease was so widespread. But now it’s all out in the open. The diagnostic tests are conclusive beyond a doubt. The enemy has been exposed at last, and now all the powers of medicine are focused on removing each and every nasty cell. It’s even more comforting to know that the Great Physician has agreed to take on your case. He has the amazing ability, like no one else, to remove all filth and purify you completely.

So, do not despair, my dear. The coming months and years will be painful as you go through the surgeries and treatments. You will probably lose a great deal of weight and become a shell of your former self. You surely will be weaker for quite a while. Many people will see you and shake their heads, certain that your case is terminal with no chance of recovery.

But when that happens, please know that the cleansing process will already be well underway. The final outcome is already pre-ordained. When the treatments take effect and the cancer is removed, your strength will return and a new sense of vitality and holiness will fill you, such that you have not experienced is ages.

Don’t fret, my dear, and never lose hope. The Great Physician is on the case, and He assured us that the power of this cancer is nothing compared to His healing power. I believed He phrased it something like this, “The gates of Hell shall not prevail!” What a delightfully poetic way to put it.

You are precious, my dear, and you will be healed. The nastiness of this cancer has caused a great deal of pain, but it soon will be gone. Once again you will be strong and vibrant and a force for good in the world. After all, my dear, you are the Catholic Church, the bride of Christ. He has promised that He will never leave you nor forsake you, even during this season of scandal.


Friday, October 19, 2018

The Readers Reply: Movies vs. Books


A couple of weeks ago I wrote that a movie is never as good as the novel it’s based on. I cited two examples: “Jaws” and “The Godfather,” two very good movies, but in my view the books were even better. Also, I asked readers to contact me with their opinion on this subject, especially if they thought a particular movie was better than the book.

Apparently, we have a lot of literati movie fans in western Connecticut, because my email inbox was so jam-packed, it looked like AARP was doing one of their periodic membership drives — which they do about every 90 minutes.

Susan L. opined that “Gone With the Wind” was better than the book. (I was, of course, compelled to reply to her note with this comment: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”)

Joe S. was surprised that “Die Hard” was on a Variety magazine list of movies that were better than the novel. “‘Die Hard’ was a book?!?!” he exclaimed. Good point. The movie was somewhat entertaining, but it seems like it either was based on a comic book, or they didn’t actually have a written script and just told Bruce Willis to shoot guns for a few days and then they’d try to piece together something in the editing room.

Here is a summary of many replies I received, listing the name of the respondent and the movies he or she thought were better than the original book: Barb N., “Life of Pi.” Michelle L., “Slaughterhouse 5.” Jenn B., “Contact.” Doug H., “The Long Hot Summer,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Dr. Zhivago,” and “The Great Escape.” (By the way, Doug is a friend of mine and the fact he has read that many novels struck me as, um, kind of surprising.)

I also received notes from: Doug O., “Where Eagles Dare,” “Guns of Navarone,” and “Ice Station Zebra.” Maureen M., “The Perfect Storm.” William F., “To Have and Have Not.” (Ooh, Lauren Bacall sizzled in her screen debut.) Rex L., “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Shawshank Redemption.” Larry W, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” (Larry pointed out that he’s referring to the TV version, not the horrible Jim Carrey movie, because the music in the TV special “had a good beat and you could dance to it.” Because of Larry’s clever “American Bandstand” reference, I bet he gets as much junk mail from AARP as I do.)

A few additional observations about this exercise. My original column appeared in the newspaper when the Red Sox vs. Yankees playoff series was taking place. Many of the notes I received offered brief references to movies and books, but long paragraphs about baseball. One note particularly stood out. Mike M., a passionate Yankees fan, gave this heartfelt wish to me, a passionate Red Sox fan: “Every time you travel I hope you get the middle seat.” Thanks, Mike. The last time I was on a business trip, I was in the middle seat between two overweight and sweaty guys. (Which meant on that delightful flight to Chicago our row had three overweight and sweaty guys.)

Another observation: a few people took umbrage with the fact I stated that Jaws and The Godfather were terrific novels. Hey, I never said I was a high-brow literature snob. I like what I like, and for me those two books were enjoyable page-turners.

Finally, because of all the emails I received, I now have at least 25 movies I need to see and 50 books I need to read. I suppose I can do that at my office. If my boss complains, I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.