Tuesday, December 5, 2023

New Survey on the Eucharist Is More Encouraging

You might remember a Pew Research study a few years ago that shockingly claimed that less than one-third of Catholics in the U.S. believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. This meant fully two-thirds of all Americans who identify as Catholic do not accept one of the Church’s most important doctrines: that the bread and wine are truly transformed at Mass into the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Christ. This doctrine has been proclaimed by faithful Christians since the first century. It goes all the way back to John, chapter 6, and 1 Corinthians, chapter 11.

That Pew study has been cited quite often as proof that the Church is, to use an old expression, going to hell in a handbasket. I cited that study multiple times in these Merry Catholic essays, essays that weren’t exactly merry, considering the sad findings of the survey.

Well, a new study has just been published, which shows that things are not quite so dire. Georgetown University’s Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) conducted a new survey, and the results challenge the methodology of the 2019 Pew study.

The CARA study shows that almost two-thirds of adult Catholics in the U.S. believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Wow, that is quite a difference, and much more encouraging than the previous survey.

The people at CARA claim that the questions in the original Pew Research study were not phrased very well, which led to the surprisingly low percentage. For example, in the Pew study, this question was asked: “Regardless of the official teaching of the Catholic Church, what do you personally believe about the bread and wine used for Communion?”

Then there were options that could be chosen regarding the bread and wine:
  1. Actually becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
  2. Are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
  3. No answer.
The problem is, even though the Church has always taught that the bread and wine are truly transformed into the body and blood of Jesus, the Church also has taught that the Eucharist is both “substance and symbol.”
The Pew study only counted people who picked option #1 as accepting the Church’s historic teaching. However, someone who actually believes in the Real Presence may have remembered Sr. Mary Margaret mentioning in 9th grade theology class decades ago that the Eucharist is substance and symbol, and picked option #2.

The people at CARA think the wording of the Pew survey caused the percentage to be too low. Their new survey question was much more direct: “Just to clarify, do you personally believe that after Consecration during a Catholic Mass, that Jesus Christ is truly present under the appearance of bread and wine upon the altar?”  

This yes-or-no question revealed that 64% of U.S. Catholics said, “Yes.” 

So, slightly less than two-thirds is way better than slightly less than one-third. On the other hand, it still means there are millions of people in this country who call themselves faithful Catholics who do not accept the core doctrine that the Church has defined as the “source and summit of the Christian life.”

The idea of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was not invented by some medieval pope a thousand years after Jesus walked the earth. It was taught by Jesus Himself, written about by St. Paul, and preached by Christian missionaries from the very beginning. 

There’s a good reason the Church calls the Eucharist the “source and summit of the Christian life.” It is truly Jesus in the flesh. And even though two-thirds of Catholics believe this, which is much better than only one-third, there are still so many people who are missing out.
Therefore, we still have a lot of work to do, and the clergy can’t do it alone. We all have to pitch in and remind our friends and loved ones about the doctrine of the Eucharist. The first thing we should do is go back and re-read the gospel of John, chapter 6, and St. Paul’s first epistle to the church at Corinth, chapter 11.

The Eucharist is a doctrine worth talking about. After all, it’s the closest we can get to Jesus while still here on earth.

(For more info on this topic, click here.)

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Is Classic Rock Now Dinosaur Music?

The other day I read an article that claimed classic rock is now a dinosaur musical genre, which soon will be relegated to the dustbin of history, along with Glenn Miller-type big band music from the 1930s and ‘40s.

The writer of the article, who obviously was some smart-aleck whippersnapper no older than age 40, pointed out that all the famous classic rock musicians are either dead, or will be dead in less than a decade. (I won’t mention the writer’s name here — mostly because I forgot it.)

It’s true that many of the artists who created rock n’ roll music, from the mid-1960s through the early ‘90s, are gone now. But on the other hand, some of them are still going strong. For example, the Rolling Stones just released a new album and the following senior citizen singers have performed in concert during the past year or so: Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Elton John, and Pete Townsend.
I think what annoyed me most about the snarky “classic rock is dead” article is the way the writer almost gleefully pointed out that Baby Boomers, those of us who are the biggest fans of classic rock, have entered into the final phase of our journey here on earth. He seemed anxious to be rid of us, so he would no longer be subjected to “old fogey” music from artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen, Joan Jett, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tom Petty, Boston, Led Zeppelin, etc.

Speaking of being “subjected to” music, I attended a college football game back in November, and during halftime the PA system played rap music for 20 minutes straight. My seat was really close to a large speaker, and after about 10 minutes I turned to no one in particular and said out loud, “Any chance they can play some Beatles or Queen, ya know, something that actually has a melody?”
Two students nearby heard me, and turned and stared at me as if I had suggested the PA system should play Mozart’s Fugue in G minor. I smiled and shrugged. Over the next few minutes I noticed those two students were singing along with the rap songs. (Or is it reciting along with? Shouting along with? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure “singing” is not the correct word.) Anyway, they knew every word of the songs being played — in the same way I know every word of “Hey Jude” and “Born to Run” and a gazillion other classic rock tunes.

I thought I felt old during my recent annual physical, when the young whippersnapper doctor kept asking me questions like, “Have you noticed that you’re becoming more forgetful?” and, “Do you ever feel unsteady while walking?” However, that was nothing compared to the rap music halftime experience. When those two students stared at me with completely baffled expressions on their faces, I felt like saying, “And yes, I did meet Abraham Lincoln in person. He was a nice guy.”

To quote Joan Jett: “I love rock n’ roll, so put another dime in the jukebox, baby!”
Hmm, the phrase “put another dime in the jukebox” is actually rather archaic. After all, jukeboxes were popular even before another musical relic, the beloved 8-track tape player. So, I guess for people who are in their 30s today, Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock n’ Roll” is pretty much the same thing as Glenn Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”

Well, I don’t care if classic rock is now a dinosaur musical genre, as long as I have my collection of tunes that put a smile on my face. As Bob Seger put it: “Today's music ain’t got the same soul / I like that old time rock n’ roll!” 

Saturday, November 25, 2023

The Readers Reply with Favorite Disney Movies

Recently, I asked readers to tell me their favorite Disney animated movie. I received an avalanche of emails, the most ever in response to any column I’ve ever written, including the infamous Bagpipes Fiasco of 2018. If you missed that one, I wrote a snarky essay about bagpipes, and within minutes of it appearing in print I started receiving really angry emails, including some from people in foreign countries, such as Scotland, Australia, and Naugatuck. Most of the notes expressed the writers’ strong desire to shove various components of a bagpipe — bass drone, tenor drone, chanter, etc. — up my nose.
Anyway, my request that readers tell me their favorite Disney animated movie, plus the reason why, actually generated more email replies, none of which, thankfully, mentioned the desire to shove large, noisy objects up my nose.

Many people wrote that their favorite Disney movie is the same as mine, and for the same reason. “The Little Mermaid” was released when my two daughters were young, and we had a wonderful time watching that film together a couple of times. (I am using, of course, the definition of the phrase “a couple of times” that means: more numerous than the stars in the sky.)

Others had similar daddy-daughter experiences, but with different Disney “princess” movies, such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” and “Frozen.”

Here are other Disney films mentioned multiple times by readers as their favorite: “Fantasia,” “Jungle Book,” “Pinocchio,” “Lady & the Tramp,” “Snow White,” “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” Peter Pan,” “Dumbo,” “Bambi,” and “The Lion King.”
It’s interesting to note that most of the movies mentioned are from the so-called golden age of Disney animation, that is, the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. This means one of two things: either the Disney studios produced more heart-warming, family-friendly films back in those days, or the average age of my readers is, um, let’s call it “middle-aged.” (I am using, of course, the definition of the term “middle-aged” that means: been collecting Social Security for at least two decades.)

Another interesting aspect of all the emails I received is the fact that I quickly recognized the titles of all of the golden age Disney movies, but I’ve never actually watched them. I’ve seen short clips from the films on TV or the Internet, but back when I was a kid the only way to watch an entire film was to buy a ticket at a movie theater. Raising five kids on a puny teacher’s salary meant my dad’s stock answer whenever we asked to go to the movies was, “Go out in the backyard and run around. It’s free.”

So, I’ve got a daunting assignment this winter: I need to watch a couple dozen classic Disney films. Since I’m already paying $20 per month for the Disney+ streaming service, it won’t even cost me anything extra. At my age, it makes a lot more sense to watch movies indoors than to go out in the backyard and run around, which won’t be free once I include the co-pays and deductibles for the inevitable visits to orthopedic specialists.
One final observation. A reader sent an email and explained that her favorite animated movie is not from Disney, but from Warner Brothers: “The Iron Giant.” (Never heard of it, but online reviews are positive. I’ll have to track it down.)

Then, this reader made my day by noting that her favorite animated character is Bugs Bunny. Yes! Bugs has been my hero since I was 10 years old. He taught me the art of sarcasm (which my 5th grade teacher did not appreciate).

Well, I think we’ve all got a lot of work to do. Those movies are not going to watch themselves. 

Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Advent!

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. The word “advent” means arrival. During the liturgical season of Advent we prepare to celebrate the arrival of the Messiah — both His arrival as a baby in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, and His other arrival, when He returns to earth at the promised Second Coming.

Each year for the past three decades or so I’ve encouraged people to avoid getting caught up in the Christmas rush so early in December, and instead make some time to enjoy the season of Advent. (Did I just type “so early in December”? What am I thinking?! It’s more like “so early in November”!)
Not surprisingly, my efforts to convince people to focus on Advent have been about as successful as a guy trying to cut a 4 x 4 wooden post in half with a plastic butter knife. But I’m going to keep trying anyway, because it really is an important issue.

Advent is a wonderful prayerful season. Also, it’s the perfect antidote to all the hoopla and folderol of the modern Christmas season. (How often do you see the words “hoopla” and “folderol” in a sentence that was written after 1942?)

Let’s face it: 99% of our modern holiday traditions have absolutely nothing to do with Christ. I mean, think about it. A singing snowman? Reindeer, with or without a blinking nose? Chopping down a tree and bringing it (along with a few dozen spiders) into the house? Installing enough flashing lights so your house can be seen from outer space? Eggnog? Figgy pudding (which is what, exactly? I have no idea)? Getting blind drunk at office parties? 

The list goes on and on. And, of course, there is the main focus of the modern holiday season: maxing out your credit cards to buy expensive items that more often than not wind up in a cluttered corner of the basement by late March.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not totally bad-mouthing all of our modern holiday traditions. Many of them are harmless fun that evoke nostalgic memories of childhood Christmases from long ago. Despite popular opinion, I am not a Puritan who wants to outlaw Christmas. I’m just a Catholic who thinks we ought to pay a little attention to an important season on the liturgical calendar: Advent.

Therefore, here is some reverse psychology. Because of the way the calendar lands this year, the 4-week season of Advent is going to last exactly three weeks and one day. And the final day, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, is Christmas Eve. So guess how much Adventing is going to take place on that day? Right. Exactly zero.

(By the way, is “adventing” an actual word? I have no idea, and I suppose it doesn’t matter in our spelling-and-grammar-don’t-matter-anymore culture.)

So, here’s the reverse psychology: the season of Advent is so brief this year, you are going to completely miss it unless you make some effort right away to enjoy it. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

Yeah, you’re right. That is some seriously pathetic reverse psychology. As if people are going to scramble to acknowledge something they always ignore anyway.

Well, let me instead go back to my usual sales pitch this time of year. We really ought to pay attention to Advent because it is a major season on the liturgical calendar. If we do focus some of our time on Advent, two wonderful things will happen. First, when Christmas does finally arrive, it will be really exciting, rather than anti-climactic after six weeks of non-stop hoopla and folderol. (There are those words again!)
Second, if we spend time honoring Advent during the first weeks of December — and let Christmas wait until it actually arrives — we just might use our credit cards more sparingly, rather than going into total max-out mode. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to pay for a tank of gas on, say, December 28th because we still have a little credit available on the card? Would that be a Christmas miracle, or what?

Therefore, take some time to enjoy Advent this year. If you have to, pretend the Advent wreath with candles is a mini Christmas tree. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it, even if there is very little hoopla and folderol. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

It’s the Most Hectic Time of the Year

This is a very hectic week. Thanksgiving is on Thursday, November 23rd, which means this is the busiest travel week of the entire year. If there is anything more soul-crushing than the ordeal of modern air travel, it is the ordeal of modern air travel during Thanksgiving week. 

Most years, the Sunday after Thanksgiving is the first Sunday of Advent. Ah yes, good ol’ Advent. The Church has been trying for years to convince people — to no avail — that we should enjoy this wonderful season of prayerful anticipation that comes before the official Christmas season.
Unfortunately, no one is listening. Our culture kicks off the Christmas season in earnest the moment Thanksgiving dinner is finished or when it’s halftime during the Detroit Lions football game on TV, whichever comes first. This is different compared to the corporate retail industry, which kicks off the Christmas season in earnest on September 20th — at least based on what I saw filling the shelves at Walmart two months ago. Once Thanksgiving Day is about half over, the nonstop ho-ho-ho juggernaut steamrolls through the following four-plus weeks until everyone collapses with exhaustion on December 25th.

 There is an interesting situation this year. Thanksgiving comes very early — the 23rd of November. Therefore, the Sunday following Thanksgiving is not the first Sunday of Advent, which instead occurs this year on December 3rd. The Sunday right after Thanksgiving is the final Sunday on the Church calendar: the Feast of Christ the King.

So, we have a wonderful opportunity this year. We can enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday the way it was originally intended, that is, by giving thanks. (You would think the name kind of gives it away, but far too many people have no clue.)

As a quick refresher course: In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation designating November 26 of that year as a national day of thanksgiving to recognize the role of providence in creating the new United States and the new federal Constitution. (By the way, George’s use of the word “providence” referred to the care and guidance provided by Almighty God, not the capital of Rhode Island.)
Then, in 1863, as the Civil War raged on, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday on the last Thursday in November. Lincoln’s proclamation urged the nation to heal its wounds and restore "peace, harmony, tranquility and Union." 

This might come as a shock to those folks who think the true meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday is eating until you can’t move, watching football on TV, and making a list for your Black Friday shopping excursion that begins before sunrise the following day.

Nope, the meaning of Thanksgiving is to give thanks, specifically to God Almighty for all that He does to provide for us. I admit that’s not quite as exciting as installing 4 billion watts of holiday lighting in your yard or getting into a fistfight at the mall. But thanking God has never been really flashy — it’s simply the right thing to do.

If we could enjoy Thanksgiving this year with a heart of gratitude, understanding that Christmas is more than a month away, it could really improve our peace of mind. Then if we go to Mass on Sunday and worship Christ the King, understanding that Advent is still a week away, we’ll have our hearts in the right place.
And maybe, just maybe, a few people next week might realize that Advent is not synonymous with Christmas and is instead its own special Liturgical season. If that actually happened—  Well, I admit it sounds kind of preposterous nowadays. But never say never. After all, we’re heading into the season of miracles. With God, all things are possible!

I hope you have a great and grateful Thanksgiving holiday. Have a holy season of Advent, too. Then have a wonderful Chris—  No wait, I’m not even gonna say it. It’s way too early! 

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Retirement Is Looming on the Horizon

Now that my expected retirement date is only a couple of years away, I find that I have way less tolerance for workplace stupidity. Don't get me wrong. Quite often the stupid workplace incidents are caused by me. In the past, when I made a bonehead move at work, I would offer a sheepish grin and say, “Well, here’s another opportunity to learn a way NOT to do it.” Or once in a while I would quote Bruce Springsteen: “Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.” (Which prompted the rest of “Rosalita” to start playing in my head: “But now you’re sad! Your momma’s mad! And your papa says he knows that I don’t have any money…”)

However, nowadays I seem to get really frustrated really quickly. My new favorite expression is, “I’m too old for this stuff!” (Except sometimes I might not use the word stuff.)
When something goes wrong at work, and my co-workers can measure my stress level based on which word I tack on to the “I’m too old…” declaration, I start thinking seriously about moving up my official retirement date. Instead of my current date, a vague “sometime in a couple of years,” I have an urge to set a new retirement date: “Exactly one hour ago! See ya!”

It’s not that I’m desperately longing to retire. I like my job, and the lively work environment allows me to pretend that I’m not quite yet an old geezer. 

Just as it’s true there are some days at the office that make me want to retire immediately, there are other incidents that make me very glad that I’m not retired. For example, recently I was in the locker room of the YMCA at about 6:45 in the morning.

In case you’re wondering, I go to the Y three days each week and swim laps for a half hour. Someone asked me why I do that, and I replied, “Because I want to delay, plus minimize the impact of, my first heart attack.” He said, “Oh come on. How do you know you’re gonna have a heart attack?”

I said, “Unless I get hit by a truck or a stray bullet, it seems inevitable to me. I just want to make sure when it happens the doctor uses the sentence, ‘It was a mild incident,’ rather than the sentence, ‘I’m sorry, we did everything we could.’”
Anyway, when I was at the Y the other day, two retired guys were getting dressed after swimming. I estimated they were about my age, maybe a little bit older. One of them said, “So, will you be here tomorrow?”

The other guy replied, “Oh sure. If it wasn’t for this place, we wouldn’t have much of a life, would we?”
I was in the middle of tying one of my shoes, and I wanted to stand up and yell, “Hey, if you really believe swimming at the Y at 6 a.m. is the highlight of your life, then you are NOT doing retirement properly!”

Of course, I didn’t say anything. I just shook my head and thought to myself, “I’m glad I actually have to hustle now to get to work on time. That’s a whole lot better than the YMCA being the defining aspect of my existence.”
When I do retire, I’m not sure exactly what I will do to keep busy each day. But I’m going to make darn sure my morning visit to the YMCA is the start of my day, not the highlight of my day. 

In the meantime, I’ll keep hustling to get to work on time, so I can contribute my fair share of workplace stupidity. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Spending Way Too Much Time On Work Emails

A recent survey of 8,000 office workers discovered something I’ve suspected for many years: people spend way too much time writing email messages, most of which are either never read or quickly skimmed.

The survey was commissioned by Slack and conducted by OnePoll. To be honest, I’ve never heard of either of those organizations — if they even are organizations. Their names kind of sound like pop singers or Hershey’s new line of candy bars.

Anyway, the survey found that the average office worker spends 11 hours each week composing 112 separate work-related emails. Of these 112 emails, only about 40 are fully read and understood by the recipient.
It’s hard to determine exactly how many emails are fully read and understood, so the survey people calculated this number based on the fact that 62% of questions asked in an email go unanswered, while 49% of email senders get asked questions they previously answered.

That sounds about right. For my job, I send out about 130 emails each week. (I actually added them up from each of the previous four weeks to find out.) And I’m certain I spend way more than 11 hours each week composing emails. I’ve never had a stopwatch clicking on and off all day long as I write emails to find out — mostly because that would slow me down as I scramble to address the avalanche of messages I have to deal with each day. 

My full-time job is engineering sales for a commercial HVAC equipment distributor — a job description that does not fit all that well on a business card. For my work, it’s very important that I properly convey a lot of crucial technical information in my emails. There are so many little details, if communicated incorrectly, that could cause a major disaster at some point during a construction project. I know from experience that if a key piece of equipment is delivered to the jobsite on the wrong date, or with the wrong voltage, or the wrong dimensions, or the wrong direction of rotation of the blower — plus any of a hundred other things — it can be a really expensive mistake. I also know from experience that it’s not very pleasant to have a stressed-out contractor screaming at you over the phone and vowing to hunt you down and strangle you with his bare hands. 
So, yeah, I spend a lot of time carefully double-checking all my facts and figures and then crafting each sentence in an email to be as clear and concise as possible. (Something I obviously don’t bother to do when writing these newspaper columns.)

Another reason I take extra time to carefully craft each sentence in my email messages is the fact that many people in my industry have heard that I write a weekly newspaper column. That’s not to say they’ve ever read my column; they’ve only heard about it. You see, the people I work with day in and day out are really smart. But it’s the kind of smart where they can do long division in their heads down to the fourth decimal place. However, to them, being able to write complete sentences with proper grammar is kind of like being able to juggle: it’s a curious and interesting skill, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the real world. 

Even though I receive dozens of emails each day from very intelligent people that appear to have been written by a cat walking across a computer and stepping on random keys, I want to make sure my emails are grammatically correct. Irregardless of whether the recipients actually read them, my emails gots to be excellently goodly in the writing composition thingee.