Monday, July 27, 2015

Church is in Trouble – Part 2

A couple weeks ago I discussed the situation here in the Hartford Archdiocese and in my local parish. In a nutshell, we are struggling. Mass attendance has plummeted in recent decades, and as a result, donations also have plummeted. Which means many parishes and other Catholic operations are in real danger of shutting down.

Because the situation is so dire, I said our only response is to rejoice. And not surprisingly, I received a fair amount of feedback, asking whether I’ve lost my mind, or started drinking again, or both.

Well, I’m still sober, thank God, and regarding the whereabouts of my mind, that’s always up for debate. But the reason I said we must rejoice is because the Catholic Church is the only institution on earth that has been given a divine guarantee of success. (A guarantee, by the way, which has never been given to the United States of America. With the national debt approaching $20 trillion and the populace becoming more and more self-centered, irresponsible, and violent, how long do you really think this nation can survive? Just sayin’.)

When Jesus founded the Church 2,000 years ago, He specifically said “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” This means the Church cannot fail; it cannot collapse; it cannot and will not disappear from the face of the earth. Jesus promised that He will never let that happen.

So, I said this fact should give us confidence and help us to stay optimistic even when Mass attendance and parish finances are gloomy. However, if I gave the impression that everything is peachy keen and there’s no pain and heartache as a result of the current situation in the Church, then I apologize. I was in no way trying to say we can dismiss our problems as trivial, and simply sit back complacently and wait for Mass attendance to swell right before our eyes.

The fact of the matter is: there is plenty of pain and heartache as a result of our current situation. Much of the heartache comes when historic parishes flounder financially and then finally shut their doors for good. It’s no fun when the church built by your great-grandfather’s generation—the place where all your loved ones over the years have been married and buried—is shut down, sold off, and turned into, say, a community rec center owned by the city.

The real pain and heartache, though, is not financial; it’s spiritual. On any given weekend here in the Hartford Archdiocese, Mass attendance is 250,000 people FEWER than in 1967. This is a quarter-million people who have drifted away from Jesus’ Church. This is a quarter-million people who no longer receive Christ in the Eucharist. This is a quarter-million precious souls whose eternal fate is now in jeopardy.

After all, why does the Catholic Church even exist? That’s simple: to make saints and get souls into Heaven for all eternity. Those who decide they’ll somehow make it to Heaven while ignoring Jesus’ Church and the grace-giving sacraments He instituted, are taking a big gamble, a gamble with eternal consequences.

So yes, even though Jesus promised that the Church will be victorious, He never said there would be no casualties. The current situation is indeed grim. To be blunt about it, the present state of affairs in our Church is causing countless precious souls to end up in Hell. This fact is quite sobering.

Despite all this, we still can and should rejoice. First, we should rejoice because the Lord promised that His Church ultimately will flourish, and that’s very comforting knowledge. Second, we should rejoice because confidence and optimism are traits that will attract people to the Church once again. I mean, who wants to return to a place where the parishioners are a bunch of hand-wringing sad-sacks? 

We can rejoice—while at the same time knowing that victory will be won only after a long and grueling struggle.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Sunday morning

I am grateful that Jesus Christ is really present – body, blood, soul and divinity – in the Eucharist at Mass. That’s it. I don’t really want to say anything else. It’s a blessing of cosmic proportions, and I am grateful.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The ‘Wait, What?!’ of the Week, July 24, 2015

The senior director of medical services at Planned Parenthood was recently caught on video eating a salad and drinking wine while matter-of-factly describing the best way to crush babies during an abortion in order to harvest intact hearts and lungs and livers—all to maximize profits when those body parts are sold. In the wake of this startling video, the president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, apologized for the doctor’s tone.

Wait. What?! It was the TONE that was wrong in the video? Dismembering babies was not the problem? Harvesting organs from infants was not the problem? Selling those organs for profit was not the problem? Violating federal law was not the problem? Being a modern day Dr. Mengele was not the problem? The problem was the TONE? Sheesh.

As blogger Matt Archbold notes: “The only ‘tone’ that might work is maybe weeping and gnashing of teeth while begging for forgiveness from God, but I don't think that's what Richards meant, do you?”

You know what’s almost as sad as the murder of infants? The fact that you probably didn’t even hear about this story, since the mainstream media has completely buried it. When it to comes to the secular sacrament of abortion, the media simply will not do negative stories. Also, it’s sad that ultimately nothing will change. Planned Butcherhood will continue to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax-payer money; politicians like President Obama and Hillary Clinton will continue to proclaim that Planned Butcherhood is a wonderful organization; and the organization’s founder, Margaret Sanger, will not be vilified for her disgustingly racist views. If only she had been a Confederate general. 

A question for Ms. Richards: if unborn babies are mere “clumps of cells,” how can you sell intact hearts and livers?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Thursday evening

I am grateful the national sales manager visiting me this week is not a zeke. Let me explain: In my engineering sales job, I often have application engineers and/or sales managers visit for a few days, and I set up meetings with my clients here in Connecticut. If I’ve never met one of these visitors before, I usually keep him away from my clients until I’m sure he won’t cause more harm than good, something that actually happened many years ago. (It’s a long story. Maybe I’ll write a column about it some day. For now let’s just say if you thought of the most annoying character you’ve ever seen on a TV sitcom, this guy was him times ten. He had an amazing gift for making people cringe.) 

Anyway, the fella visiting this week is new to us, and I didn’t have a chance to “test drive” him (um, that sound a little weird), so I had to set up meetings with my clients sight unseen. Well, it turns out Mr. Murphy is a friendly, funny Irish-Catholic from Detroit, and my clients loved him. So I am grateful it turned out OK. (And no, that's not a picture of him below.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Delightful Foreign Expressions

Regular readers of this column will not be surprised to learn that I am occasionally asked if English is my second language. I freely admit I am not a trained keyboard wizard, like everyone else whose work appears in this newspaper. When I was taking those engineering courses way back in college, the last thing on the professors’ minds was teaching us how to string together a bunch of words in a goodly manner. Proper grammar and word comprehendibility were not even on the radar screen. (But designing a functioning radar screen WAS on the radar screen.)

Even though I butcher the English language on a regular basis, it is not my second language; it is my ONLY language. This is too bad, especially since I stumbled across a delightful list of foreign words and phrases on the Mental Floss website. Wouldn’t it be great if we could incorporate some of these expressions into our everyday speech?

Mencolek – an Indonesian word that describes the old trick where you tap someone lightly on the opposite shoulder from behind to fool them. I’ve never heard this behavior described with a single word, but I have heard the person doing it described with a single word, which cannot be printed in this family newspaper.

Tartle – in Scotland this word means that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can’t quite remember. Maybe we could merge this word with an American phrase that sort of means the same thing and has the same “art” sound to it: Brain Tartle.

Seigneur-terraces – this French expression describes coffee shop dwellers who sit at tables a long time but spend little money. Hmm, this phrase seems too tame. I bet French waiters use completely different words if the dawdling, cheapskate patrons are American, none of which can be printed in this or any Parisian newspaper.

Shemomedjamo – this is a Georgian word. (I’m pretty sure it’s the Georgia over near Russia, not the other Georgia just north of Florida, where they also do not speak English.) This word describes the feeling you get when you’re really full, but your meal is just so delicious, you can’t stop eating it. The word literally means, “I accidentally ate the whole thing.” Hmm, when I get that same feeling, I really can’t include the concept of accidentally, since it’s quite deliberate.

Ya’arburnee – an Arabic expression, where a person declares that he hopes he will die before a loved one dies, because he could not stand to live without that loved one. It literally means, “May you bury me.” I assume it’s understood that the burying part should not occur immediately. That would be awkward.

By far the best expressions on the list are German. Here are a few:

Packesel – A packesel is the person who’s stuck carrying everyone else’s bags on a trip. Literally, it means a burro.

Backpfeifengesicht – I have no clue how to pronounce this, but in German it means: A face badly in need of a fist. Oh, those wacky and fun-loving Germans!

Kummerspeck – This word alone makes me want to learn German. (But first maybe I should learn English?) It describes excess weight gained from emotional overeating, and the literal translation is: grief bacon.

Grief bacon! What an awesome idea!

We could combine phrases here, in a trilingual expression of joy: “Ya’arburnee Shemomedjamo Kummerspeck!” This means: May you bury me, but not until I’ve accidentally eaten all the grief bacon! 

By the way, if it turns out these expressions are wrong and I’m actually swearing in many languages (incorrect information on the Internet? What a shock!), then I offer this heart-felt Norwegian expression: “Oops.” (Which, when translated to English, means, “Oops.”)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Connecticut Yankee in King Jesus' Court -- part 7


     Jerry Francis had hoped to arrive at Jesus’ tomb before sunrise. But it took two full hours of begging and pleading to convince Benjamin to join him, which in Jerry’s mind wasn’t so bad compared to the eight hours he had to plead with Benjamin on the previous day, Saturday, to remain in Jerusalem.
     After witnessing Jesus’ death by crucifixion on Friday, and then stumbling into Judas Iscariot’s dead body, hanging from a tree limb on a hill just outside the walls of the city, Benjamin was convinced the Romans were rounding up all the Zealots, the Jewish patriots who wished to drive the hated Roman occupation forces out of Israel. Benjamin insisted that leaving Jerusalem right away and hiding in a rural village would be the best way to avoid being arrested.
     Being unfamiliar with the cultural and political dynamics, not to mention being very rusty on his knowledge of biblical events, Jerry had struggled to keep Benjamin in their squalid room in the run-down boarding house. Multiple times Benjamin had declared, “That’s it! I’m leaving. You can come if you want, or stay here. I don’t care!”
     Jerry pleaded each time for Benjamin to stay. It’s not that Jerry had firm plans about what they should do. He still had no idea about how or why he had been transported twenty centuries into the past. If he was destined to spend the rest of his life trapped in ancient Israel, he figured his best bet would be to stick close to the one man who treated him as a comrade. But he really had no clue about what they ought to do in the coming days and weeks. There was only one specific plan he felt very strongly about: he desperately wanted to see Jesus’ tomb on Sunday morning.
     Jerry wasn’t sure any more about what he believed regarding Jesus. The agnostic, secular mindset that Jerry held his entire adult life was being tested. He always figured if Jesus actually existed, he must have been a nice, caring guy who was tragically murdered at a young age, and then long after he was dead and gone other people had added miraculous fairy tale stories to his legend. But now Jerry wasn’t too sure what to believe. He had seen for himself that Jesus truly was an historical person. He had heard Judas claim to be a witness to genuine miracles, which didn’t necessarily make them true, but it did mean those stories were not invented decades later. Most of all, Jerry had looked directly into the eyes of Jesus as he dragged his heavy cross, and heard Jesus speak to him, “Jeremiah, believe in me.”
     So Roman soldiers or not, Benjamin’s paranoia or not, Jerry was determined to re-visit the tomb on Sunday morning to see for himself if the central claim of Christianity for 2,000 years did indeed occur.
     Jerry was able to detain Benjamin for a while on Saturday by reminding him that it was the Sabbath, and very few people would be out on the streets. If the Roman were looking to arrest Zealots—something Jerry emphasized was probably not the case—it would be hard for Benjamin to blend in with the crowds, as there would be no crowds.
     Still, by mid-afternoon on Saturday, Benjamin insisted he really was going to leave this time. Just as he finished bundling up his few possessions, someone knocked on the door. “It’s me, Simon,” a voice said.
     They opened the door and Simon the Zealot rushed in. Benjamin embraced the man and at the same time unleashed a barrage of questions. “What’s going on?” “Where are the other Zealots?” “Where should we go?” “What are our plans now?”
     Simon waved his hand in Benjamin’s face, trying to get him to be quiet. “We’re not sure exactly what’s going on,” Simon said. “So far, no one else has been arrested. We’re all just laying low for now. I’ve been hiding in the house where we had the Passover meal the other night. But I decided to go out for a while to gather information and to get away from the big fisherman.”
     “Fisherman?” Benjamin said. “You mean Peter?”
     “Yes, he’s hysterical,” Simon said shaking his head. “He’s been wailing and moaning non-stop, saying that he’s a worthless worm for denying the Lord. I think he might go and do to himself what the Iscariot did.”
     Benjamin unbundled his belongings and flopped onto the floor with his back against the wall. “So we just sit here and wait,” he said with a frustrated voice. Then he turned his head and spit across the room for emphasis. Simon waved good-bye and slipped out the door. Jerry said a silent prayer of relief, thanking Simon for coming and convincing Benjamin to stay.

*    *    *

     Now it was Sunday morning. Jerry and Benjamin went out the city gate and scrambled down the rocky hills toward the cemetery. As they traveled Benjamin grumbled that he couldn’t believe he was doing something so stupid—and dangerous. “You are as annoying as my brother!” Benjamin said to Jerry.
     “What? What did you say?” Jerry asked.
     “Never mind,” Benjamin muttered, as the two men continued their journey.
     When they reached the massive rock where they had discovered Judas’ hanging body, the corpse was no longer there. The low hanging branch had broken away from its tree trunk. The two men carefully stepped toward a nearby ledge and peered down. About a hundred feet below they saw a body dashed against rocks, its neck still connected by a rope to a tree branch. Scavenger birds feasted on the bloody remains splattered on the rocks.
     The men winced and then moved on. When they finally reached the cemetery, Jerry scanned the landmarks to make sure it was the correct gravesite. It was definitely the same place, but things were much different than the last time they had been there. The huge stone had been rolled back up the incline. “Ten men would be needed to move it uphill,” Benjamin said, his annoyance about being dragged to a graveyard now replaced by curiosity.
     Scattered on the ground in front of the tomb were various articles of equipment abandoned by the Roman soldiers. “They must’ve left in a big hurry,” Benjamin noted as he picked up and admired the finest sword he had ever held.
     Suddenly, they heard the sound of hurried footsteps behind them. “Someone’s coming,” they said in unison and quickly hid behind a row of thick shrubs. They saw a man run up to the open tomb and peer inside. A minute later, another man staggered along, barely able to catch his breath. This man moved past the first man and ducked inside the tomb. After hesitating a moment, the first man also went inside. They both emerged finally, with looks of sheer astonishment on their faces.
     “I bet the big guy is the fisherman,” Jerry whispered. He stepped out from behind the shrubs before Benjamin could stop him.
     “Excuse me, are you Peter?” Jerry called out. The two men were startled by his voice. Then they stepped backward in fear when Benjamin appeared clutching the Roman sword.
     “No, don’t be afraid,” Jerry said quickly, waving his hands. “We’re not soldiers. We’re friends, really! We’re just trying to find out what happened to Jesus.” Jerry paused then added, to his own surprise, “Our Lord.”
     The tall man who had struggled to catch his breath tentatively stepped forward and said, “I’m Peter.”
     “Where’s Jesus?” Jerry asked excitedly. “What have you heard?”
     Peter glanced at his companion, then said to Jerry, “Well, some of the women came to us a little while ago with an incredible story. They said—”
     “That Jesus is alive!” Jerry interrupted.
     “Yes,” Peter said. “How did you know?”
     “Just a hunch,” Jerry replied, as a feeling of excitement and amazement welled up in his chest. “Have you seen him yet?” he asked.
     Peter shook his head. “That’s why we came here. But his body is gone.”
     Jerry walked toward the men and stuck out his hand. “I’m Jerry, uh, Jeremiah. And that’s my friend, Benjamin.” The men cautiously shook hands. Jerry learned the other man was named John.
     “You’ve never met me,” Jerry said, “but I’ve recently become interested in finding out about Jesus. Do you mind if we hang out with you for a while?”
     “Hang out?” John asked with a puzzled look on his face.
     “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just an expression,” Jerry said. “What I mean is, can we spend some time with you? Can we talk for a while? Can we talk about Jesus?”
     Peter and John hesitated, but then agreed. The four men left the cemetery and headed for the house where the other followers of Jesus waited anxiously.
     As they walked, Jerry turned to John and said, “John, huh? So I bet you’re planning to write about all of this someday?”
     “Um, I never thought about that,” John answered.

     “Well, trust me, you will,” Jerry said matter-of-factly. “And when you do,” he continued, “please do me a favor: don’t mention that I was here, OK? I’d hate for Sister Mary Margaret to have to redo her lesson plans.”

Monday, July 20, 2015

‘How Come You Catholics believe the fairy tale called Purgatory?’

“How come you Catholics believe in the fairy tale called Purgatory? That word is not even in the Bible, and yet you Catholics say that God gets a kick out of torturing people before letting them into Heaven. The whole idea is just a medieval invention by the Vatican, designed to trick people into paying money to the Church to relieve the suffering of their deceased loved ones. That’s why you Catholics are not real Christians!”

*     *     *

Wow, have you ever been confronted with these questions by a friend or co-worker or, most zealous of all, a family member who USED to be Catholic? How do you respond? Is it really true that we Catholics believe in a place of torture called Purgatory, but it’s actually just a fairy tale?

First, regarding whether the word Purgatory appears in the Bible, it’s true that it is not there. However, other words and phrases also are not in the Bible, such as: “Bible,” “Trinity,” “Easter,” “Incarnation,” and one of the most beloved Christian concepts of all time, “Pot-luck supper.” (Well, at least it’s beloved by me.) If our sole litmus test is that a word must appear in the Bible, then a lot of key doctrines and long-standing traditions would be right out the window.

Even though the word Purgatory is not in the Bible, its existence can be deduced from Scripture. First, the Bible is clear that only people who are pure and holy will get to Heaven. “Nothing impure will ever enter [Heaven]” (Rev. 21.27). “…without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).

Next, some sins can be forgiven after death. Jesus said, “…anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt. 12:32).

The Bible also indicates there is some kind of third possible destination after death, which is neither Heaven nor Hell. “[Jesus] was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago” (1 Peter 3:18-20).

Finally, in 1 Corinthians, chapter 3, St. Paul alludes to our earthly works being tested, as by fire. Read the chapter for yourself. Essentially he says if someone’s earthly works do not meet the test, they will suffer loss, but will be saved, as if escaping through flames. Hmm, very interesting. Paul never uses the word Purgatory, but it sure sounds like he’s describing it.

Another fascinating tidbit: in the catacombs in Rome, requests to say prayers for deceased loved ones are etched into the subterranean walls. These etchings date back to the 1st and 2nd centuries. If someone’s soul is in Heaven, he has no need for prayer. If his soul is in Hell, no amount of prayer will do any good. Offering prayers for the dead only makes sense if there really is some kind of intermediary state on the way to Heaven, a place where we can be purified before entering into the Lord’s eternal kingdom. Catholics call this Purgatory, and it’s been the Church’s belief and practice from the very beginning.

Speaking personally, I trust in the Lord. I put my faith in Jesus many years ago and I’ve tried to follow Him ever since. I’m a lot better than I used to be, but the truth is, I’m definitely not pure and holy—not even close. If I drop dead at this moment, well, if that happens, then this essay will end rather abruptly. What I mean is, if I die today, I am not ready to see the Lord face to face. I first need to have my ingrained selfishness and bad attitudes scrubbed away from my soul. I first need Purgatory.

Just because some clergy abused the doctrine of Purgatory centuries ago as a fund-raising scheme, does not invalidate the doctrine. Purgatory can be gleaned from Scriptures, and most of all, it makes sense.

Oh, and one last thing, in case you’re not sure: Catholics definitely ARE real Christians.