Wednesday, July 10, 2024

A Day at the Beach

Recently, I spent a lovely afternoon hanging out at a beach in Rhode Island. Here are some random thoughts:

I saw a woman come out of the water and I said to myself, “Oh, she’s got seaweed all over her leg.” Then I looked a little closer and said, “Oops, never mind. Just a massive tattoo.”

As the afternoon wore on, I thought, “That sunblock I sprayed on myself four hours ago should still be working, right?” Later that evening, I had my answer: “Wrong!” Say hello to Mr. Redneck. Or if you prefer, Mr. Red Calves. Or Mr. Red Left Ear. (I have no idea how one ear got burned but not the other.)

Speaking of sunburn, I get it that the beach in the summer is not my ideal environment. I’ve never had a tan in my life, and I’ve had skin cancers removed three times. But now that my hair is gray, I look more pale than ever. I look like Andy Warhol and Edgar Winter had a baby. To give you an idea, if I took off my shirt and stood next to the Pillsbury Dough Boy, I’d make Poppin’ Fresh look like he was from Puerto Rico.
Speaking of taking off one’s shirt, I was pretty much the only person on the entire East Matunuck State Beach who kept a shirt on the whole time, even when I was in the water. I do that partly to avoid the sun and partly to keep young kids from exclaiming, “Look Mommy! Frosty the Snowman is swimming!”

I can only assume that tattoo artists are now in the same tax bracket as investment bankers. There were more works of art on display on that beach than in the entire Louvre. Have you ever gone to an event at, say, a fancy country club, and walked through the parking lot filled with Mercedes, BMWs, and Bentleys, and thought, “I wonder what all these cars are worth?”? Well, I took a long walk on that beach and thought, “I wonder what all these tattoos cost?” The total has to be equal to the annual GDP of some mid-sized country. The U.S. economy is not in recession as long as people can afford that many tattoos.
Walking around for hours while barefoot is something I do exactly once each year, when I visit the Rhode Island shore. Even though I pamper my feet with socks and shoes the other 364 days, I’m always taken by surprise at how tender the soles of my feet are. I’m pretty sure every part of my body is tougher, including my corneas. Walking around the smooth sand at the edge of the surf was OK. But then some areas had a lot of pebbles, and the walkway at the pavilion where the bathrooms were located was made of some kind of asphalt with embedded gravel. So, by the end of the afternoon, my doggies were howling. But on the plus side, this year the blisters on the soles of my feet healed in only nine days.

Even though I’m not cut out for the sunny shore, and even though I limp for a week afterward, I love going there. The smell of the salty green ocean and the steady drone of the crashing waves are delightful sensations. Whenever I go to the beach, I just close my eyes, inhale deeply, and listen. Within 15 minutes my blood pressure drops 20 points. It’s awesome.

I had so much fun at the beach this year, maybe instead of waiting until next year, I’ll go again later this summer. I just have to wait for the burns, the blisters, and the sand-in-your-shorts chafing to heal.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

The Eucharist, Part 2

Last week we noted that some groups claim the Catholic Church invented the concept of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist during the Middle Ages, long after the time Jesus walked the earth. Further, it is claimed that everyone understood from the beginning that the bread and wine were just symbolic, and nothing in the Bible describes the false Catholic view.

Well, this week let’s take a look at that claim. In the gospel of John, chapter 6, Jesus says some interesting things. While speaking to a large crowd, in what became known as the “Bread of Life Discourse,” Jesus compared Himself to the manna that came from Heaven and fed the ancient Israelites. He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
At this statement, many in the crowd were shocked. They argued among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” This was not an unreasonable question. 

Because Jesus’ statement was so shocking and offensive, many people conclude that He must have been speaking figuratively. Throughout His ministry, Jesus often spoke in figurative and symbolic language, for example, comparing Himself to a gate and to living water. But during this sermon, right after the people grumbled, read what Jesus said next, and count how many times He used figurative and symbolic terms:  

“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” 

Whoa, there is nothing figurative or symbolic there at all! Jesus not only did NOT offer any symbolic interpretation of His original claim, He instead repeated the harsh and startling statement four more times!
There is just no way an open-minded person can read John’s gospel, chapter 6, and conclude that Jesus was only speaking in figurative language. This is strong proof that the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist came directly from the mouth of Our Lord, rather than from some scheming Church leaders in the Middle Ages.

Here is some additional biblical evidence. In St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11, he discussed the believers’ communal gathering each Sunday. He wrote, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord....For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

Interestingly, one of the most popular Evangelical translations of the Bible, the New International Version, is even more stark: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” 

Whether it’s the current Catholic translation, “...without discerning the body,” or a popular Protestant translation, “...without recognizing the body,” it is quite clear that St. Paul believed the body of Jesus had to be present in order to be recognized. How could Paul, a brilliant man who chose his words carefully, have picked the words “discerning” or “recognized” if he thought the bread was simply bread, a mere symbol and remembrance of Jesus? 

How could Paul possibly have been so upset, accusing the Corinthians of conducting the ceremony in an “unworthy” manner, of “sinning against the body and blood of the Lord,” if the body and blood of the Lord was not actually there to sin against? 
It is illogical that Paul would write these words if he believed the bread was just bread and the wine was just wine. This passage in 1 Corinthians, along with John chapter 6, are clear evidence that the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is found in Scripture. Claims that the doctrine is unbiblical are simply wrong.

Next week, the National Eucharistic Congress will take place in Indianapolis. For our third and final segment of this series, we will review next time what the early Church fathers said about the Eucharist. Then you can make your own educated decision about the accuracy of the claim that the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist was “invented” in the Middle Ages.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

How Many Photos Are Enough?

From the time I was born, up to the age of 10, there were exactly nine photographs taken of me. Each one was in black-and-white, and they were spread out fairly evenly. There was one of me as a baby, one as a toddler, one as a young boy on a tricycle, and so on, up to the ninth photo, me as a buck-toothed 5th grader wearing what seemed to be an odd version of Capri pants. Actually, I had a growth spurt that year, but our family rule was: no new pants until the “back to school” sales at the end of August. So, I had to go an entire summer wearing “high-water pants” and getting sunburned shins.


Compare that to my four-year-old grandson, known as the “Rhode Island Wonder Boy™.” In the 48 months since his birth, there have been approximately 97,000 photos taken of him, along with over 1800 hours of video. I’m pretty sure in four short years he’s had his picture taken more often than the Beatles did from 1959 through 1970.

Every person the “RIWB™” knows — my daughter and son-in-law, each of his four grandparents, various aunts, uncles, neighbors, etc. — own smartphones with cameras. And these smartphones have multi-gigabyte storage capacities, so it is possible to record every moment of this young boy’s existence. We don’t do that, of course. Instead, we just record every OTHER moment of his existence.

This is not to say that each of those 97,000 photos and every minute of those 1800 hours of video have ever been viewed by anyone. We are all in the habit of taking zillions of pictures of the boy, but never actually doing anything with them once they’re stored on our phones. I suppose our plan is to have archeologists a thousand years from now unearth one of our phones and conclude that a particular young boy must’ve been crowned monarch of the nation, which required all of his court jesters to chronicle every move during his imperial reign.

Well, that’s not exactly correct. Some of those photos do see the light of day. The younger folks involved in this whole process — that is, those who weren’t around during the “black-and-white photos are the only option” days – are familiar with exotic wizardry such as Instagram and Snapchat. So, some images of the “RIWB™” are posted on these online platforms for others to view. But over 99% of the recorded images remain as unseen piles of zeros and ones in the memory chips of various smartphones.

Compare technology throughout the ages. George Washington never was photographed. It hadn’t been invented yet. Ol’ George had his portrait painted half a dozen times, and that was about it. Unless you were famous or wealthy, your image was never recorded for future generations. 

Then photography came into existence. If you were fortunate, maybe you’d be able to save up and have your picture taken — but only once in your entire life. If your eye twitched the moment the button was pressed, or if you were having a bad hair day, tough luck. That one image is how your descendants knew you for multiple generations.
So nowadays, billions of people worldwide, including a youngster in the Ocean State, are having their pictures taken more frequently than Marilyn Monroe ever did. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I have no idea. All I know is when a cute little boy says, “Papa, let’s go outside and play,” I grab my Red Sox hat and my phone, to make sure I record the delightful moments I’m about to have. Maybe someday when I’m in a nursing home, those images will be the one thing that makes me smile.

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Is the Doctrine of the Eucharist a Recent Invention?

In 2021, the U.S. Catholic bishops announced a 3-year Eucharistic Revival campaign. The first two years focused on promoting the Eucharist at the local parish level. Now, during the final year, there will be a National Eucharistic Congress, which will be held in Indianapolis on July 17 through 21.

With the Eucharistic Congress coming up soon, this is a good time to discuss the Eucharist, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls “the source and summit of the Christian life.”
First, let’s take a look at the origins of the Eucharist, the Church doctrine that claims the bread and wine at Mass are transformed in the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.

There is a popular Bible tract that discusses the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist. By the way, Bible tracts are small booklets, sometimes with comic book illustrations, that present religious teachings. Fundamentalist Christians distribute Bible tracts by the millions. 

In this popular tract about the Eucharist, an unnamed pope during the Middle Ages is shown hatching a scheme to keep people in fear of the Church. With the aid of a trusted adviser, whose comic book image looks suspiciously like Satan, this pope announces out of the clear blue sky a brand new doctrine: he and all ordained priests now have the magical powers to transform bread into the body of Jesus Christ. All people must bow down and worship this bread, a practice which the tract calls blatant idolatry.

Furthermore, all people are required to eat this magical “bread of life,” or else they will NOT go to Heaven. And finally, if people disobey or in any way question anything said or done by priests, then the priests will withhold the magical bread, which means the disobedient persons are destined to spend eternity in Hell.
The Bible tract alleges this diabolical scheme was implemented during Medieval times, hundreds and hundreds of years after Jesus walked the earth. Therefore, the Catholic Church’s claim that the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Christ is not only unbiblical, but it is also based on purely selfish and power-hungry motives.

The comic book tract concludes by urging readers to flee from the non-Christian, Satan-inspired, demon-possessed Roman Catholic Church.

Fortunately, few Protestant groups nowadays go to this extreme in presenting nasty anti-Catholic teachings. However, the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is a major stumbling block. The Catholic Church does indeed teach that mere bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus Christ when an ordained priest says the prayer of consecration during Mass. Most Protestant groups, on the other hand, believe Communion is just a symbolic ritual, and the elements used, bread and wine (or grape juice), remain unchanged. When the worship service is over, any leftovers are tossed in the trash. Compare that to the Catholic practice of reverently putting any leftover hosts in the Tabernacle, typically located behind the altar in the church sanctuary.

To further complicate this issue, a sizable number of Catholics, including many ordained priests, do not believe the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist. They simply find it too fantastical that bread and wine can turn into the body and blood of Jesus.
If the Catholic belief is correct — that Jesus’ body and blood truly become present at Mass — then the Eucharist is the most powerful way for a person to be in union with the Son of God on this side of Heaven. It is “Emmanuel,” God with us, and therefore should be the central focus of the Christian life. But if the Protestant view is correct — that the bread and wine remain just bread and wine, and the whole ritual was meant by Jesus to be merely a symbolic gesture — then the Catholic Church, as the little comic book tract declares, is guilty of promoting the worst sin of all: idolatry, the worship of anything other than God.

Next week we will examine the claim that the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is not biblical. Are there any verses in Scripture that indicate whether or not the Catholic teaching about the “Real Presence” is true?

Stay tuned for next week’s episode.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Airport Baggage Handlers Give Gorillas a Bad Name

Someone recently took a cell phone video of an airport baggage handler, who was throwing bags of golf clubs onto the tarmac. The bags were coming down a conveyor belt, being off-loaded from the plane. The baggage handler pulled each golf bag off the conveyor, and tossed it about eight feet, where it crashed onto the pavement. From there, another employee picked up the bags and loaded them onto a wagon.


The golf clubs belonged to the East Tennessee State University men’s golf team. The team was traveling to an NCAA regional tournament. Naturally, the video of the less-than-delicate baggage handler’s behavior was posted to X (Twitter) with these words: “Nice of Delta to handle our clubs with such care…”

The video went viral, and the backlash was immediate. Delta Airlines issued an apology. They also asked the college for a second chance, which they labeled as a “mulligan.” (Clever idea from the marketing department — or maybe it should be called the damage control department.) 

Here is the official apology, from Delta spokesman Anthony Black: “We apologize to the ETSU Golf team and ask for a mulligan on how their equipment was handled. We’re in direct contact with the Bucs to ensure they have what they need to successfully compete in the NCAAs.”

No word on whether Delta officials are in direct contact with the baggage handler himself. I doubt it, since the union regulations probably allow him to have one or two or twelve “mulligans” before any disciplinary action can be taken.

Here are some random thoughts that went through my head as I read the news story and watched the viral video: 
  • No matter how roughly those golf clubs were treated by that Delta baggage handler, it’s nothing compared to the way I’ve treated my golf clubs after a particularly poor round. The game of golf is so frustrating, it just makes you want to throw something in anger across the parking lot, usually whatever is nearby: your clubs, a garbage can, your playing partner, a Mini Cooper, etc.
  • I’m surprised videos of airport baggage handlers go viral these days, since it happens so often now. I mean, who is even surprised? Ever since video cameras were added to cell phones, it seems baggage handlers are tossing suitcases around with greater gusto than they used to. It’s as if they’re showing off for people in the plane or at the boarding gate who are pointing their phones right at them. “Hey folks,” the baggage handlers seem to say, “Look at this!” And then they throw a suitcase with the technique and strength of an Olympic shot putter. Once the suitcase crashes to the asphalt, they turn and bow for the cameras, confident that their final throw will earn them at least a bronze medal. 
      
  • Remember those old TV commercials for American Tourister luggage, which showed a gorilla throwing suitcases all around his cage and jumping on them? It was meant to be an exaggeration, but the way things are nowadays, it’s actually fairly accurate. (I recently read that those commercials were quite memorable, but most viewers didn’t catch the name of the suitcase manufacturer. A survey found that well over 50% thought it was Samsonite.)

  • I always do my best to use only carry-on bags whenever I fly. Besides avoiding that annoying wait at the luggage carousel, it keeps my suitcases away from baggage handlers with anger management issues. If I’m going to be away for many days, I just wear all the clothes I need right onto the plane: four shirts, two pairs of pants, five pairs of underwear, etc. I just wish people would stop taking viral videos of me as I waddle down the aisle.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Young Pup Explains ‘James Bond Christians’ 

In St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, he discussed the heart of the Christian faith, which is belief in the Resurrection. Here are some thoughts on that passage, written almost 30 years ago, in the final chapter of a little book by a na├»ve young pup:



"There are a lot of earthly benefits to being a Christian….But if there is no hope for eternal life, if the secular humanists are correct that life is a random, meaningless accident which ends tragically at the moment of death, then we might as well crack open a bottle of tequila and max out the VISA and MasterCard right now. 

"The hope and faith in eternal life is the key difference between Christians and secular humanists….This assurance, this hope, this confidence in eternal life makes all the difference. It is what allows us to live as 'James Bond Christians.' 

"Well, OK, I’d better explain that one: 

"When I was a kid, I just loved those James Bond movies….The greatest thing about the character, Agent 007, was that no matter how perilous the situation became, he was always as cool as a cucumber. It was as if he KNEW no harm could ever come to him. 

"I can remember thinking that it would be so great to KNOW that my life was part of a grand script…and that no matter how awful a situation might be, everything would ultimately turn out fine. Then I could relax and not be scared and maybe be almost as cool as James Bond. 
"Well, despite being a weird analogy, this is what the Christian faith allows us to do. God has assured us that we are part of his grand plan in which we shall be victorious. When an eternal perspective is added to our natural life-span, we are able to realize that no matter what happens here and now, our ultimate fate is victory and glory. 

"With a faith and a hope such as this, we can handle whatever comes our way just like 'James Bond Christians.' We simply know that God has prepared in advance a marvelous place for us for all eternity. 

"In conclusion…when it comes time for my funeral, I don’t want any weeping or hand-wringing, understand? Save the tears and flowers for some other occasion and have a graduation party instead."


Oh, wasn’t he so cute, with his cock-sure optimism, split infinitives, and misuse of the words “which” and “that”? Don’t you just want to give that mid-1990s guy a big hug? 

But overall, he made a reasonably good point. Our faith in the Resurrection allows us to have confidence in eternal life. And it allows us even to laugh in the face of death, as St. Paul did: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). 
God never promised our journey here on earth would be easy — something the pup began to learn in recent years. However, despite our trials and tribulations, we still can be joyful and confident because our God is more powerful than death. 

The Resurrection and eternal life make all the difference. The truth of the Resurrection and the promise of eternal life allow us to be shaken, but not stirred. (Sorry, I had to say that.) We face many difficulties, but when we put our faith in Jesus and cling to His promises, we will never be defeated.

(Oh, by the way, the young pup who wrote those words three decades ago? Yeah, that was me.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

To Substack, or Not to Substack? That Is the Question

Recently, a good friend said to me, “Bill, you should expand your audience. You should start publishing your essays on Substack.”

“Stub crack?” I said. “What’s that?”

“It’s Substack,” he replied. “An internet platform for writers. You can create regular online newsletters, and as your audience increases it can turn into a very nice retirement income for you.”
“Wait. Did you say income?” I asked. “As in, money is paid to me, rather than me shelling out each month for my Mailchimp group email service?”

“Exactly,” he said. “On Substack, writers post a lot of stuff for free, but they have special content that’s for ‘members only,’ the readers who pay a subscription fee.”

“Oh, I have to ask people to subscribe and send me a check?” I grimaced. 

“No, it’s simple,” he said. “The subscription price is five bucks a month. They pay with a credit card. It’s like asking your loyal readers to buy you a cup of coffee once per month. Or half a cup, if we’re talking about Starbucks.”

I hesitated. “Aw, I dunno…”

He said, “Bill, for every five dollars that comes in, Substack keeps a small percentage, and you get the rest. Here’s an example. If your audience is a mere 500 people, that will be over $2,000 per month in your pocket, each and every month.”

“Wow, that would be nice,” I admitted.

“And,” he continued, “if you gain some readers in other parts of the country, and the number of your paid subscribers grows to, say, 5000, that would be over $20,000 for you — every month! Don’t you want to get rich in your retirement?”

“Rich?” I laughed. “I’ve spent the past 45 years making bad decisions to insure that I don’t get rich. My only retirement goal is to avoid living in a cardboard box under a bridge down by the river.”
“Bill, you gotta listen to me,” he implored. “This is the future of publishing. Now, you’ve got plenty of content, right?”

“Oh yeah,” I answered. “I write two new essays every week, and I have an archive of almost 1200 published humor columns, over a thousand faith essays, two novels, and ideas for at least three novels I’d like to work on during retirement.”

“Perfect!” he said. “You can serialize the novels, and mix the old stuff with the new in your Substack newsletters.”

I sat quietly for a few minutes, while visions of 20 grand per month danced in my head. Then I said, “Oh no, it won’t work.”

“Why?” my friend asked.

“If the people who regularly read my stuff were around 40 years old,” I explained, “it just might work. People that age don’t hesitate to use their credit cards to pay subscription fees. But you see, the people who like my stuff — at least based on emails I receive — are retired seniors.”

“So?” he asked. “Seniors are the wealthiest demographic in the country.”

“No, you don’t understand,” I said. “Many seniors may have some money, but they NEVER give their credit card number to an internet site — at least based on my parents and in-laws.”

Well, at this point, I don’t know what to think. Whenever I’m unsure about something, I ask this simple question: What would Jesus do? 

No wait. That question is for other situations. For this situation, the correct question is: What do the readers think?
Please send a note to MerryCatholic@gmail.com and let me know if having access to my “special content” plus serialized novels is worth a cup of coffee per month — or half a cup if we’re talking Starbucks. Thanks in advance for your words of wisdom. And keep it clean.