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.


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

What Makes a Mass Invalid?


Here’s a question for you: if a priest just goes through the motions, and says Mass quickly and inattentively, does it count as a real Mass?

A friend mentioned to me that he recently attended a daily Mass at his parish, and there was a substitute priest who zipped through the whole Mass in a fast monotone, with no homily and seemingly no interest or reverence for what he was doing.

When Mass ended, the priest quickly walked out without saying anything or making eye contact with anyone. The entire Mass was over in slightly more than ten minutes.

So, my friend wondered whether that Mass actually counted, because it seemed like the priest was completely disinterested.

Thankfully, the Mass and Eucharist are so important that God set things up so it’s almost impossible for a Mass to be invalid. According to the website Catholic Answers, the validity of Mass depends on four things: minister, intent, matter, and form.

 Minister — If a priest has been ordained and has not had his faculties suspended by the bishop, then he is able to say Mass, regardless of how bored or tired or distracted he might be at the moment.

Intent — As long as the priest intends to celebrate Mass and consecrate the Eucharist, it is valid. For his intent to be invalid, the priest would have to approach Mass thinking something like this: “What I am doing is NOT the Eucharist. I don’t believe any of this stuff, and I'm only play-acting for those gullible people in the pews!” It’s very unlikely any priest would approach the altar with those thoughts.

Matter — The bread must be unleavened wheat bread and the wine must be real wine with a dash of water, so unless the priest is using something obviously wrong, such as Pop-Tarts and Pepsi, then the consecration is valid.

Form — The correct Eucharistic prayers must be verbalized. The Catholic Answers website explains that if improper or unauthorized words are used, the Mass may be considered illicit and/or sinful, but not necessarily invalid. As long as the words used for consecration express the fact that “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” then the consecration will be valid.

So, it’s good to know that it’s almost impossible for a Mass to be invalid. If you attend a Mass where the priest seems to be bored and disinterested, or even angry and frustrated, a supernatural miracle still occurs and Jesus still truly becomes present in the Eucharist.

However, a more important question might be this: why is the priest so bored or angry that he’s doing the Mass in a fast monotone, seemingly desperate to get it over with and get out?

When was the last time you thanked a priest for being a priest? I hope you realize what a major sacrifice it is for a man to take a vow of celibacy and devote the rest of his life to being overworked and underpaid. If a priest is occasionally told that the parishioners appreciate his sacrifice, that might put him in a better mood.

When was the last time you took your priest out to dinner, or invited him over for a homecooked meal? Besides being overworked and underpaid, many priests nowadays suffer bouts of painful loneliness. It’s not like the old days, when each parish had two or three priests, so they always had companionship. These days, with the acute priest shortage, our parish priests go home every evening to an empty rectory, where there’s no one with whom they can share their struggles and worries. A little “off the clock,” non-job-related conversation might be very welcomed.

If you ever attend a Mass where the priest just goes through the motions, do three things: first, be thankful the Mass is valid and Jesus is truly present. Second, say a prayer for that priest, asking God to help him with whatever is bothering him. Finally, if you can catch him at the end of Mass, thank him for being a priest, and ask him if you can buy him a cup of coffee. Even if he says no, I bet it will make him feel better.


*    *    *

By the way, coming up this weekend is the annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference, one of the most exciting and uplifting events of the whole year. This day-long celebration of faith is on Saturday, October 20th, at St. Paul’s High School in Bristol, CT. Go to CTCatholicMen.org to order your tickets. It’s a great day with great speakers, great food, and great fellowship. I hope to see you there!

Friday, October 12, 2018

This Soldier is Roamin’ Away from Battle


About a month ago, I wrote about my tender feet and expressed surprise that the Roman Empire conquered most of the known world 2,000 years ago using soldiers who wore only skimpy sandals. I observed that I never could’ve been an effective Roman soldier, unless some military contractor quickly invented and then supplied me with a pair of regulation Army boots.

If I had to go into battle wearing what they wore — flip-flops with a thin strap around the ankle — I would’ve limped over to the aid station within five minutes of the first shot being fired. Oh wait, that was 2,000 years ago. I mean, within five minutes of the first arrow being launched.

I can just see it now: after assisting soldiers who had limbs chopped off, arrows lodged into their necks, and various other battle injuries, the Roman doctor gets to me and says, “Where are you wounded?” and I reply, “Well, you see, I have kind of a hot spot on the ball of my foot, and I can just tell it’s gonna turn into a blister if I keep walking on it. So, I think I’ll hang out here for the rest of the day and soak my foot in water, OK?”

Yeah, I’m sure that would’ve gone over really well with the commanding officer, as soon as Dr. Hawkeyeicus Piercius turned me over to the MPs.

Anyway, after that essay appeared in the paper, a reader sent me an email and agreed that I never would’ve made it as a Roman soldier. However, he said it would not have been because of my sore feet. Instead, he pointed out that long before my feet started to hurt, my fair Irish skin would’ve been burnt to a crisp by the harsh Mediterranean sun.

That’s a good point. There probably were very few Roman soldiers who got sunburned from sitting next to a 60-watt light bulb. Oh wait, this was 2,000 years ago. I mean, from sitting next to a 60-watt oil lamp. (Yes, I’m exaggerating. I’ve never gotten sunburned from a 60-watt light bulb. But I did turn ruby red after sitting by a pool in Florida for no more than 20 minutes. I spent the remainder of the vacation hiding indoors applying Noxema to my shoulders with a kitchen spatula while everyone else had fun.)

If the military back then did not even have halfway decent footwear for the soldiers, I’m pretty sure they were not handing out bottles of SPF-50 sunblock to the troops.

There are actually many reasons why I never would’ve made it as a Roman soldier. I suppose the most obvious reason is the fact I was born in 1957 while the Roman Empire collapsed in the year 476. But assuming I happened to live back then, I still would’ve washed out of Roman boot camp. Oh wait, that was 2,000 years ago. I mean, Roman sandal camp.

First, I’m a wimp. I get squeamish at the sight of blood, especially my own. Next, I get very cranky if I happen to be in a place with poor wifi service, and I understand Roman soldiers rarely got online with their iPads. That would’ve driven me nuts.

Also, I am lactose intolerant. If the Roman soldier diet 2,000 years ago was anything like Italian restaurants today — that is, loaded with formaggio — I would’ve spent most of my military enlistment in the men’s room. Oh wait, that was 2,000 years ago. I mean, in the woods.

I am very glad I was never a Roman soldier. And I’m sure the Romans are glad, too, since if I was fighting for them, the Empire would’ve collapsed a hundred years sooner.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Honor the Lord’s Day


The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses our Sunday obligation. In addition to the requirement of attending Mass, it says this: “On Sundays…the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God…and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body” (CCC 2185).

The Catechism goes on to say that if certain people are required to work on Sunday—for example, medical professionals, law enforcement personnel, retail or food service workers—then it’s OK to go to work, as long as these folks set aside some time to worship God.

But for the rest of us who do not have to go to our regular jobs on Sundays, what’s all this talk about “appropriate relaxation of mind and body”? Do we even pretend to do that anymore? Sunday has become the day of sports and traveling and yardwork and shopping and a zillion other activities that are anything but restful or relaxing for our minds and bodies. And we wonder why we’re so exhausted all the time?

If you’ve been around as long as I have, you probably remember when Sundays were indeed a day of rest. If you went downtown, nothing was open. I can remember getting ready to go to church on Sunday morning and my father exclaiming, “Oh no, I forget to put gas in the car yesterday! I hope there’s enough in the tank to last until tomorrow morning.”

That’s right, even the gas stations were closed on Sundays. And back then, there were no self-serve pumps with built-in credit card readers. You had to pay up front, usually in cash, and then the attendant pumped the gas for you. (He also often cleaned your windshield and checked the oil, things I forget to do nowadays for years at a time.)

Anyway, Sundays may have been a little boring back in those days, but our culture was still respectful of Christian traditions, so Sunday was understood to be a “day of rest.” Most of society willingly went along with it. Now, Sunday is just the second day of the weekend, and if you ask the average person in our culture this question, “Did you know Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest?” I suspect his or her reply would be something like, “Umm, I don’t know what you’re talking about. But I gotta go. We’re late for little Jimmy’s soccer practice!”

In the beginning, God took six days to create the heavens and the earth, and then He rested on the seventh day. God set the example for us. After working hard for six days, we should take a day off. You may think this story from Genesis is merely symbolic, and it probably is, but God made sure mankind preserved this story because it tells important truths about Him and about us. First, it tells us that God truly loves us and cares about us, so much so that He wants us to be refreshed and well-rested. And it tells us that we are not machines. We cannot go full speed day after day after day without eventually breaking down. We need a day off.

Modern medicine has confirmed that one day of rest every seven days is an ideal system. It’s a terrific method for keeping us refreshed and strong. It prevents us from getting worn out and depressed.

Our culture no longer respects Christian traditions, so closed stores and empty streets on Sunday are not coming back anytime soon. We need to create the “Sunday rest” on our own. There are two things we need to do: first, read Scripture and the Catechism to assure ourselves that the Sunday rest is indeed a divinely-ordained blessing. Second, we need to develop the habit of saying no. We need to say no to invitations to shop or travel or go to a ballgame. We should stay home and rest. We can read the Sunday newspaper, take a nap, talk with our loved ones, and simply enjoy the rest God wants us to have and our body desperately need.

Honoring the Lord’s Day is one of the Ten Commandments. If we really do it, we’ll be amazed at how much energy and optimism we have, which enables us to deal successfully with the rest of the week.


By the way, coming up soon is the annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference, one of the most exciting and uplifting events of the whole year. This day-long celebration of faith is on Saturday, October 20th, at St. Paul’s High School in Bristol, CT. Go to CTCatholicMen.org to order your tickets. It’s a great day with great speakers, great food, and great fellowship. I hope to see you there!


Friday, October 5, 2018

Is the Movie Better Than the Novel?


Sometimes I find myself lost in thought, pondering the many deep and philosophical questions facing humankind. Recently, this is what I spent a few hours contemplating: Has there ever been a movie that was better than the original novel?

After much rumination, I concluded the answer is “no,” there has never been a movie that was better than the original novel. And I’m not alone with that opinion. Novelist John le CarrĂ© famously quipped, “Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.”

(In the 17-plus years of writing this weekly humor column, I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve had to type the phrase “bouillon cubes,” which would make a great name for a rock band.)

Admittedly, my personal sample size is rather small. I estimate I’ve seen about 30 movies over the years where I’ve also read the novels on which they were based. Even very good movies — such as “Jaws” and “The Godfather”— can’t hold a candle to the original novels.

For example, Steven Spielberg did a terrific job creating the film adaptation of Peter Benchley’s best-selling shark terror story. He inserted some clever Hollywood-style moments of surprise and humor. And the big bang ending was emotionally cathartic for the audience, but completely ridiculous. However, the film never captured the powerful social class undercurrents of the novel. Instead of a short, bearded smart-aleck (Richard Dreyfuss), the oceanographer character, Matt Hooper, was in the novel a tall handsome upper-class preppie. Hooper’s presence in town triggers suppressed resentments in Chief Brody’s wife, who many years earlier gave up her social privilege to marry a middle-class cop. (I won’t give away how Hooper and Mrs. Brody dealt with this tension.)

 Anyway, good movie, better book.

Same thing with “The Godfather.” Francis Ford Coppola’s award-winner classic is a great movie, in large measure because it stayed so faithful to Mario Puzo’s novel. It even added some of my all-time favorite movie lines: “Leave the gun; take the cannolis,” and, “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”

Like all movies, there was simply no time to explore the back stories of interesting characters, such as Johnny Fontaine, Jack Woltz, Lucy Mancini, Al Neri, Moe Green, and the aforementioned Brasi. Again, it was a wonderful movie, but the novel was better.

So, imagine my surprise when I found an online article, published by Variety magazine, titled, “Ten Movies That Are Better Than the Book.” Right at the top of the list were these films: “Jaws” and “The Godfather.” Wait a minute! I know “Variety” is a Hollywood industry publication, but did those guys even read the novels?

By the way, the other movies on the list were: “Psycho,” “Planet of the Apes,” “The Spy Who Loved Me,” “Die Hard,” “The Bridges of Madison County,” “Jackie Brown,” “The Notebook,” and “Fifty Shades of Gray.”

“The Spy Who Loved Me” is the only one where I’ve seen the film and read the novel. It shouldn’t even be on a list like this, because other than having a central character named James Bond and the same title, the movie’s plot is 100-percent different than the novel’s story. (And both were mediocre at best. Ian Fleming acknowledged it was one of his worst Bond books.)

I’m curious what you think about this subject. Do you agree that the movie is never as good as the novel it’s based on? Or do you think there are movies that are better than the novel? Feel free to contact me at MerryCatholic@gmail.com and let me know. If you make a good argument for your point of view — or at least write something funny — I’ll include it in a future column.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

What God Has Joined Let No Man Separate


Occasionally, people will use an interesting debate tactic. They’ll say, “Jesus never talked about [blank], so how can anyone claim to know what he really thought about it?”

Most of the time this technique is not sincere, and it’s meant to muddle the discussion about an uncomfortable topic. Well, in this week’s gospel reading, Jesus made a clear statement about an uncomfortable topic, and there is no need to speculate about what He really thought about it.

Jesus said this about marriage: “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Then He added, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.”

This is a very uncomfortable subject nowadays because every single person in America now either is divorced or has a very close friend or relative who is divorced. Even people who are blessed to be happily married for many years find this topic uncomfortable. (In my case I am very, VERY blessed. My darling wife of over 36 years is patient and loving and patient and kind and patient. Did I mention that she’s patient? She has to be; she’s married to me.)

Divorce is one of the most difficult topics in our society. On the one hand, Jesus’ words are quite clear: divorce is wrong. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll agree that the high rate of divorce in our culture is not a good thing. The breakdown of the family has produced millions of kids who are now being raised by single parents, or by a series of step-parents, or by mom’s boyfriend-of-the-month. Not good.

On the other hand, we all know of situations where the relationship between spouses has simply collapsed. If they don’t get away from each other soon, someone is likely to end up in the Emergency Room.

So, if you think I’m going to offer a quick solution to this problem, then you must think I’m a lot smarter than I am. I don’t have a solution. All I know is that divorce is sad. It’s like a death in the family. Quoting this week’s first reading from Genesis, Jesus said, “A man shall…be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

When two people are married, a new single organism is created, the “one flesh” Jesus spoke about. A divorce is the death of that “one flesh.” Like all deaths, it is terribly sad.

Although I don’t have any solutions, I’d like to make an observation. In the gospel reading, when the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” He answered their question with a question, “What did Moses command you?”

They replied, “Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.”

And that is true. Moses, the great law-giver of the Old Testament, allowed a man to dismiss his wife (Deuteronomy, chapter 24).

But then Jesus offered His amazing statement, explaining why Moses did it. “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.”

Wow. Moses actually gave a specific law to the people of Israel, not because it was God’s will for them, but because they were so stubborn and selfish.

I wonder how many of our laws today—whether criminal laws, civil laws, or church laws—exist not because of what is right and just, but exist because of our stubbornness and selfishness?

If people spent a little less time looking inward and saying, “My will be done,” and instead looked heavenward and said, “Thy will be done,” maybe our culture would be just a little less stubborn and selfish. And maybe our marriages and families just might stay intact at a higher rate than we now see. I suspect if that happened, it would put quite a smile on Jesus’ face.


Friday, September 28, 2018

‘Bye-Bye, and Be Careful!’


Quite often, whenever someone is about to leave the house, someone else in the family will say, “Bye-bye. Be careful.”

If you don’t happen to hear that when you leave the house, it means either your family members don’t care about you, or you belong to the Flying Wallendas family, where the standard expression is, “Bye-bye. Be dangerous.”

It also could mean you’re home alone and no one is around to say “Be careful” to you. In those instances, when there’s no one in my house to say “Be careful” to me, I take on that duty by having a conversation with myself. As I walk out the front door, I say, “Be careful, Bill. Oh, thank you for your concern, Bill. Don’t mention it, Bill. OK, Bill, maybe you should stop talking to yourself now because the neighbors are staring at you. No, they’re staring at you. Nuh uh, they’re staring at you!”

Anyway, what exactly does “Be careful” really mean? Is it simply a way of saying, “I care about you, so have a safe journey”? Or does the expression have some deeper meaning? In some cases, saying “Be careful” as a person leaves the house also could mean:

“You’re not smart enough to realize that driving an automobile on our congested highways these days is risky, so unless I say, ‘Be careful,’ you’ll surely drive recklessly and end up plowing into a bridge abutment at 80 mph.”

Or it could mean, “I’ve said ‘Be careful’ to you every time you’ve left the house for the last 30 years and you’ve never had a car accident, so the one time I don’t say it you probably will have an accident and everyone will blame me, so I’m gonna keep saying ‘Be careful’ whenever you walk out that front door, even if you’re just going to get the mail.”

Or it could mean, “One of these days you’re going to have a fender-bender, and when that happens I’ll be able to say, ‘I told you to be careful! Why weren’t you careful? You never listen to me! I go to all the trouble of reminding you to be careful, and what do you do to show your gratitude? You smash up the car! Thanks a lot, pal!’”

For decades my wife has said “Be careful” to me each time I’ve left the house. Being the snarkaholic that I am, I would usually reply, “No! I’m NOT going to be careful! Just because you said that, I’m going to put on a blindfold and drive 100 mph and steer with my feet!”

Then she would roll her eyes and say, “Well, when you’re driving to work, at least don’t have any of those distracting conversations with yourself, OK?”

For many years I thought I was being such a carefree smart-aleck, and then something truly frightening occurred: our two daughters became teenagers and got their driver’s licenses. Now, this happened a long time ago, but I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Every time one of the girls walked out the front door, I leapt up from the couch and pleaded, “Be careful! I mean it, really. BE CAREFUL!!” And then as I returned to the couch, I could feel another patch of hair on my head turning white.

Then, a little while later, in case she had forgotten, I called her cell phone and said, “Hey, it’s me. Just be careful, OK?” My daughter would reply, “Dad, I swear I’ll be careful — as soon as you hang up so I can back out of the driveway.”

Well, I’m no longer a snarkaholic (at least on this particular issue). So, everybody, please, do me a favor: be careful!