Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Wedding Miracle Is Sign of Divinity

This week’s gospel reading is the wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus performed His first miracle, changing water into wine. This episode is found only in John’s gospel. There are many other events which appear only in John’s gospel but not in the other three (for example, the “Word became flesh” prologue, meeting Nicodemus at night, the Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind, the woman caught in adultery, and raising Lazarus from the dead, to name a few).

Many people wonder why John’s gospel is so different in style and content compared to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It sometimes seems as if John was writing about a completely different person.

There are a couple of important reasons why John’s gospel is so different. First, it was written at least two or three decades after the other three gospels. By the time John wrote, detailed accounts of Jesus’ life were already in circulation. There was no reason to repeat certain well-known events, especially Jesus’ Galilean ministry.

Secondly, to understand John’s gospel, we must keep in mind his primary objective, the reason he bothered writing at all. John spells it out toward the end: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you might come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

John wrote so people would believe in Jesus, and as a result, receive eternal life. It is a goal which is short and sweet and to the point, and unquestionably the most important consideration in the whole history of the universe. (What, you think there are other things MORE important that eternal life? Really? Name one other thing in your life today that still will be critically important 10,000 years from now—or 10,000 billion years from now. It can’t be done.)

To achieve his goal of bringing people to faith in Jesus and the eternal life that results from that faith, John emphasized what he called “signs,” or miracles, performed by Jesus. Only someone with the supernatural power of God is capable of giving eternal life. John wanted his readers to know without a doubt that Jesus has that kind of power.

The wedding feast was a small celebration in a tiny town in a tiny country. But when they ran out of wine too soon, the Creator of the Universe stepped forward and transformed approximately 150 gallons of water into the best wine anyone had ever tasted. The party was saved and the father of the bride was not embarrassed. It was a simple little backwater episode that almost seems out of place in the majestic Scriptures.

However, John concludes this brief passage by explaining the momentous meaning of the event: “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs…and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.”

John’s purpose in writing this story is clear. It is to demonstrate Jesus’ divinity by describing the miracle He performed so people will put their faith in Him.

So, this week’s gospel is much more than a simple little story of embarrassment averted in an obscure town. It was the first of Jesus’ signs, the clear messages that proved He was divine and possessed supernatural powers. This little story of a little party points to the big story that we celebrated a few weeks ago: God has come to save His people. This is indeed the Good News.

And don’t forget: 10,000 billion years is a long time (and it’s only the first DAY of Eternity). Whatever you do, don’t miss out on eternal life. Put your faith in Jesus right now. You’ll never regret it.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Why Didn’t I Think of That?

Over the past few months I’ve been collecting clever sayings that I receive in emails or see on the Internet. I file these items under the heading: “I wish I thought of that.”

I’d like to share a few of these ideas with you, and I want to make it clear that I am not the author of these sayings. A few years ago, I was alerted to the fact that someone in a different state had copied a major portion of one of my weekly humor columns and incorporated it, word for word, into his own published article. When I contacted this person and reminded him that plagiarism is a rather ugly concept, he sheepishly replied, “Oh, I saw it online and there was no name listed, so I thought it was anonymous.”

Well, these sayings also are anonymous, but there is one person in the world who I know for sure DID NOT write them: me. However, the parenthetical smart-aleck comments are all mine.

  • “There is a fine line between ‘hobby’ and ‘mental illness.’” (I’m thinking: fishing, golf, motorcycles, and social media — especially a certain Tweeter who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.)
  • “People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.” (Which is why whenever JW’s come to the door, I cut them off by launching into an impassioned soliloquy about my devotion to the Red Sox, and within five minutes they’re sprinting away muttering, “What a religious nut!”) 
  • “You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she’s pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.” (Been there, done that, and over 30 years later my face still turns red at the mere thought of what I said to a certain very unpregnant lady.)
  • “There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday. That time is age eleven.” (I can think of a number of gray-haired Baby Boomers who need to grasp this idea.) 
  • “The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above-average drivers.” (Which is why I am not surprised that there is at least one accident tying up rush hour traffic on I-84 every single day. What stuns me — especially considering that most drivers these days have the attention span of a cocker spaniel puppy — is the remarkable fact that there are not hundreds of accidents on I-84 every single day.) 
The following thoughts are courtesy of an anonymous email titled, “Men Are Just Happier People.” Although I’m a man, I still wish I had thought of these reasons why men have it much easier than women.

  • You can wear a white T-shirt to a water park. 
  • You can wear NO shirt to a water park. 
  • Car mechanics tell you the truth.

  • Chocolate is just another snack. 
  • The world is your urinal. 
  • You never have to drive to another gas station restroom because this one is just too icky. 
  • A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase.
  • You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness. 
  • If someone forgets to invite you, he or she can still be your friend.

  • Your underwear is $7.95 for a five-pack.

  • Phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat. 
  • Wrinkles add character. 
  • You have freedom of choice concerning growing a mustache. 
  • You can do Christmas shopping for 25 relatives on December 24th in 25 minutes. 
If you know who authored these sayings, let me know. I’d like to give credit where credit is due.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Young Adults Who Leave the Church

In recent years I’ve grown close to a group of friends from church. Because we’re middle-aged folks, we talk a lot about very serious subjects, such as bifocals, bunions, and blood pressure. No, I’m kidding, we’re not painfully boring ALL the time. Once in a while we discuss a topic about which we feel very passionate: our adult children who rarely go to church anymore. It seems that many other people our age also find this to be a really big problem. Why don’t our adult kids go to church? And what can we do about it?

Statistics show that young adults in the U.S. are leaving organized religion in droves. Some have become atheists or agnostics, while many others have latched on to the trendy concept of “spirituality,” the idea that as long as you feel spiritual and try to be a nice person most of the time, you don’t need any of that traditional religious stuff.

Yeah, that may sound nice, but unfortunately, it’s the exact opposite of what Jesus said. He founded His Church on the rock of St. Peter, and then when instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper, He commanded us to “Do this in remembrance of me.” So, it’s pretty clear that the Lord wants everyone to be part of His Church and receive Him in the Eucharist on a regular basis.

My friends and I privately admit that we often feel the urge to command our kids to go back to church, while adding this gentle reminder: “Don’t you know you’re going to HELL?! You’re practically sprinting there!!”

Thankfully, we only blow off steam among ourselves and don’t actually say that to our kids. If there ever was an effective technique to get young adults NOT to go to church, it’s to threaten them with eternal damnation.

Rather than arguing with our children, we instead should focus our efforts in two other directions. First, we must pray like crazy that the Lord will touch their hearts and draw them back to Him. After all, it’s really the Holy Spirit who gives people the gift of faith. We have to remember that God loves our kids even more than we do, and we have to beg Him to help them see the light.

The second thing we must do is live genuine Christian lives, free of hypocrisy and selfishness. Those same statistics show that most young adults who no longer attend church are turned off by what they perceive as the rampant hypocrisy and cold judgmentalism of organized religion.

Jesus clearly said that people would recognize His followers by their love for one another. When we truly live this way, the Gospel becomes irresistible. But when Christians behave no differently than non-believers, then the Gospel loses its attractiveness.

If we say anything at all to our kids, we should gently ask them always to seek the truth. They can’t really argue with or get offended by that request. And if they sincerely do seek the truth, they just might discover the truth they’ve been seeking has a name: Jesus, who is the way and the truth and the life.

So even though it’s painful to watch our kids drift away from the faith, there is always hope they’ll return. After all, many of my church friends, including myself, did not come to believe in Christ and start attending church until well into adulthood. God can, and quite often does, perform miracles. And if the Lord draws our children back to the faith, that will take a big load off our shoulders and free up more of our time to discuss very serious subjects, such as bifocals, bunions, and blood pressure.

Friday, January 4, 2019

People Are, Like, Not Very Truthful

A few years ago, I wrote a column about verbal tics. (No, not the kind that spread Lyme Disease.) I discussed three different verbal tics that really annoy me. The first one is the ubiquitous “y’know,” as in, “I was, y’know, wondering if you might, y’know, be able to come over here and, y’know, fix my printer again?”

The second verbal tic is the repeated use of the question “right?” at the end of every statement, as in, “So I was walking down the street, right? And then I tripped on the sidewalk, right? And then I almost spilled my coffee, right? It was so wrong, right?”

The final one, which bugs me the most, is the use of the word “like” instead of the word “said,” as in, “So I’m like, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ and he’s like, ‘None of your business, pal,’ and I’m like, “Yes, it is my business, dude, since you’re trying to break into my car!’”

One of the reasons I dislike “like” so much is because I discovered that I use that word far too often myself. For example, I recently related the events of a meeting I attended to some coworkers. This is what I said: “Well, first I explained to him that it wasn’t our fault the shipment arrived late. But then he was like, ‘I don’t care whose fault it was, I ain’t paying that invoice!’ and I was like, ‘But you have to pay! You own the equipment now!’ and he was like, ‘Get out of my office!’”

When I finished speaking, my coworkers were pondering how to get our money from this cranky customer, but I was thinking to myself, “Did I use the word ‘like’ like a hundred times just now?” Then I thought, “And did I just say to myself ‘like a hundred times’ when it was only three?”

And that’s when I realized that our culture now uses the word “like” instead of “said” to give ourselves permission to exaggerate a situation rather than be factually correct. If we tell someone, “Vinny said to me, ‘Get out of my office or I’ll hit you in the head with a pipe wrench!’” we are clearly claiming that Vinny made a genuine threat to commit a violent assault. And if it turns out he said nothing of the sort, we are guilty of slander by using a direct quotation that was never spoken.

However, if we tell someone, “Vinny was like, ‘Get out of my office or I’ll hit you in the head with a pipe wrench!’” we are adding a bogus story to make the point that Vinny was angry. And if he said nothing of the sort and it comes up again, we can just shrug and say, “You know what I meant. He was honked off.”

The word “like” is a simile, which is a figure of speech used to make a description more emphatic or vivid. The dictionary offers some examples: Crazy like a fox. Brave as a lion. Angry like a Vinny.

It seems that our culture has become similized. We’ve changed our speech patterns, using the simile “like” instead of the word “said,” so we can tell tall tales instead of telling the truth. We are now living in Western Similization.

This is often called the era of “fake news.” Media outlets are accused of distorting the truth (and often these accusations are made by people who wouldn’t recognize the truth if it bit them on the butt).

Maybe it’s time to value truthfulness and honesty once again. Y’know, if we did that, it would be, like, the best thing that ever happened, right?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Some NEW New Year’s Resolutions

Most people are not very fond of the first full week of January. It’s dark and cold, and the post-holiday letdown has kicked in. Our once gorgeous Christmas trees now lie by the curb, dry and brittle, completely naked except for a few straggling pieces of tinsel. Also, the credit card bills for December are due in the mail any day now. And when we open those credit card bills, we’re sure to exclaim, “Why did those stores in the mall FORCE me to spend so much money?!”

Yes, this time of year can be quite depressing. To add to the gloom, we also may be frustrated by the realization that we’ve already failed to keep our New Year’s resolutions.

New Year’s resolutions are good—in theory. As the Christmas season concludes, we likely have developed a fair number of bad habits, such as eating and drinking too much, sleeping too little, and whipping out the credit card as if our last name was Kardashian. So, as we turn the page on a brand new calendar, it seems proper to resolve to cut out some of the unhealthy habits we’ve developed.

We vow to stop drinking, to stop eating bad food, and to lose ten pounds. We vow to get to sleep by 9:30 each evening, and to join a health club and work out every day. But then reality sets in. The health club idea falls through because our credit card gets rejected when we try to buy a membership. The diet vow is broken when we realize the fridge is stuffed with leftovers from multiple holiday parties, and of course it would be a sin to throw out perfectly good lasagna, pumpkin pie, and those three glazed hams. So, we take the edge off our post-holiday blues by having an occasional snack or two or twelve.

May I suggest that instead of focusing on physical things—food and exercise and sleep—we try a different approach to New Year’s resolutions. We should try a spiritual approach and resolve to develop some good habits of the soul.

I have two suggestions that may seem a bit daunting at first, but compared to going to a health club every day and giving up our favorite food and drink, my suggestions are a piece of cake (or possibly a piece of pumpkin pie, assuming we haven’t eaten all the leftovers by now).

The first suggestion is to spend a few minutes each day reading the Bible. I know, I hear you. “It’s too confusing!” “I don’t know where to start!” “I thought Catholics weren’t allowed to read the Bible!”

Here’s a simple plan: read one chapter of a Gospel each day. It takes less than five minutes. Pick one of the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, or Bob—and begin with chapter one. (Yeah, I know there’s no Gospel of Bob. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.)

The four Gospels have a total of 89 chapters. So, it takes about three months, at a rate of four or five minutes per day, to go through all four. By April it will be time to start over again. It’s a very easy habit to develop, and it’s very rewarding.

The second suggestion also is simple: go to Confession each month. Oh please, stop whining. Confession is NOT scary. The priests are very gentle and helpful. Confession is an awesome sacrament that completely refreshes us from the inside out. And considering how we behaved at the company Christmas party (yes, everyone was watching), it’s not like we have nothing to confess. And best of all, after Confession, feel free to have a piece of pumpkin pie.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Celebrating New Year’s Eve

So what are you doing on Monday night to celebrate New Year’s Eve? Going to Times Square? Attending some fancy party with tuxedos and evening gowns? Or are you going to see if you can somehow stay awake until 10:30 p.m.? Yeah, that’s more my style.

New Year’s Eve is a weird holiday. It’s the only holiday on the calendar which features alcohol consumption as an important part of the proper celebration — not counting, of course, St. Patrick’s Day. (Or the way I used to approach holidays when I was in my 20s, which was to feature alcohol consumption as an important part of the proper celebration of EVERYTHING. “Hey, today is Flag Day! Let’s make some Bloody Mary’s for breakfast to celebrate!” or “Hey, today is that famous holiday, August 17th! Let’s break out a bottle of Jack Daniel’s to celebrate!”)

If you think I exaggerate, how many other holidays have articles in the newspaper each year offering tips on how to cure a hangover? Or how many other evenings of the year are referred to as “amateur night,” when people who aren’t used to drinking and driving will be menacing the highways? (As opposed to other nights of the year when you’ll encounter, presumably, only professional drunk drivers.)

My wife and I attend a party each year at the house of friends. It’s always a great time, but our biggest problem is trying to figure out how to leave the party before 11 p.m., so we only get a poor night’s sleep rather than a horrible night’s sleep. You see, if we leave before 11, we’ll be home and in bed well before midnight, which means we lose only about two hours of a normal night’s sleep. But if we stay at the party until midnight to ring in the New Year, which we’ve done a couple times in the past, then we don’t get out of there until about 1:30 a.m. This is because the host waits until midnight to break out the desserts, and if you think I’m leaving a party at the exact moment dessert is being served, then to paraphrase Bugs Bunny, “You don’t know me very well, do you?”

So, if we stay there past midnight, that means we’ll lose out on about four hours of a normal night’s sleep, which definitely puts it into the “horrible” category. Now, I can hear some of you asking a question. (Yes, I can hear you right through the newspaper — it’s a new technology the newspaper industry is using to spy on users, just like Facebook does.) You’re asking, “Well, why don’t you just sleep in late on New Year’s Day?”

Oh child, dear na├»ve child. You have no idea what it’s like living in Geezerville. When a person slides through middle-age and becomes a card-carrying senior, it no longer matters when you go to sleep. You always wake up at the exact same time every morning. For me, it’s 5 a.m.

If I go to sleep at 9 p.m., I wake up at 5 a.m. If I go to sleep at 11 p.m., I wake up at 5 a.m. If I go to sleep at 4:55 a.m., I wake up after a refreshing five minutes of sleep. (Two months after the fact, I’ve finally caught up on sleep after that insane 18-inning, 3:30 a.m., Red Sox World Series game.)

My wife and I are looking forward to attending the New Year’s Eve party. We just have to figure out how to sneak out early without being called wimps by our friends. On the other hand, if the host breaks out the desserts at 10:30, I’m sure I’ll stick around for a while longer.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Late Night Reflections of St. Joseph

My name is Joseph Bar-Jacob. It is now about midnight and my wife Mary and the newborn baby are asleep. I’m exhausted, but I’m still overwhelmed by what has happened, and so I can’t possibly doze right now.

It’s so very quiet. I can hear the livestock breathing softly as they sleep. But it wasn’t so peaceful in this stable a short while ago. Every shepherd from every nearby hill was here. They claimed that a host of angels lit up the sky and announced the birth of this remarkable baby boy. I did not witness that, but I’m not surprised it occurred, since everything about this child is a miracle.

It seems like a lifetime ago when this all began. I’ll never forget that day. Sweet young Mary—the woman I was scheduled to marry, the woman I planned to build a family with—told me she was pregnant. Well, I knew I wasn’t the father, and although I was devastated, I told her parents that I would quietly end our betrothal pact, to avoid scandal.

However, Mary insisted she had not betrayed me. She said an angel of God had appeared to her and the child within her was conceived by the Spirit of God and was destined to be the ruler of all Israel.

Now I was doubly devastated. Not only had Mary betrayed me, but she was telling outlandish lies. But then the dream came. Late one night while I was sound asleep, an angel of God came to me in a dream. It was no ordinary dream; it was quite real. Although I remained asleep, the message was vivid, as if I were wide awake. The angel told me to fear not, and that I should take Mary as my wife because what was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit.

The next day I went to Mary and told her I believed her. She was so relieved. I also said that the angel had told me the child’s name, the name she also had been told, but had never mentioned to anyone. We looked into each other’s eyes, paused for a moment, then said in unison: “Jesus.”

The following months were a whirlwind. I prepared my home for the new baby. Mary left to visit her kinswomen Elizabeth. Then the Roman census was announced, and we had to travel here to Bethlehem. And then yesterday, Mary’s time arrived, but there was no place for us to stay. So, I tried to make her as comfortable as possible in this cramped cave with all these animals. Mary never complained, and when the boy was born early this evening, it was the most breathtaking event I have ever witnessed.

But I feel so unworthy. Why did God give me this awesome responsibility? I have no wealth, I have no education. I could not even find a respectable place for this miracle child to be born. How can I possibly raise this boy properly? He is the Son of the Most High, and I am nothing. How can I ever meet God’s expectations?

I would never tell Mary this, but I am frightened. I am almost out of money, and I’m not sure I can buy even a little food for us tomorrow. I trust that God will provide—somehow—but I just wish He would let me know what to expect.

Well, I’m finally getting drowsy, so I should try to sleep.

Wait, what’s that noise? I’d better go look. Oh my, it’s a small caravan of camels, with three obviously rich men riding, and many servants walking alongside. And they’re coming this way! Oh, I wonder if there is any chance they might share a little food with us. That would be so helpful.