Wednesday, September 2, 2015

40 Years! You Haven’t Changed A Bit!

I attended my 40th high school reunion earlier this summer. It was rather interesting. When I first walked into the banquet hall, I was surprised to see the organizing committee had invited a bunch of old people. But then as I was looking around the room and thinking to myself, “Wow, Johnny McGillicuddy sure looks old,” I overheard someone say, “Wow, Billy Dunn sure looks old.” That’s when I realized all the old people present were simply the class of 1975.

This was the first reunion I attended since our 10th reunion, way back when we were young and ambitious pups, only 28 years old. Back then, there were two main things people bragged about at the reunion: 1) their important and stress-filled jobs, which meant they were making serious money and could afford to lease a BMW, and 2) the growing number of children filling their homes, which meant they soon would have to turn in the BMW and lease a minivan.

Now that everyone is 58 years old, there also were two main things people bragged about at the reunion: 1) how happy they were to break free of important and stress-filled jobs, because who needs all that grief now that the mortgage is paid off and the 2006 Honda Civic is so reliable? And 2) how even MORE happy they were to finally get their adult children out of their homes, which meant now when they look in the freezer to see if any ice cream is left, there actually is some!

Many of my classmates have achieved remarkable things over the past four decades, but I think those of us in attendance were most impressed by the classmates who managed to retire already with full pensions. (If reincarnation is real, the next time around I am definitely getting a government job straight out of college.) But even for the ones still working, most of us seemed to have settled into a situation where we know what we’re doing, we do it reasonably well, we make enough to pay our bills, and we let the younger guys get ulcers while climbing the corporate ladder. Forty years of post-high school experience has provided wisdom such as this: even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.

There were some awkward situations. At this age, we now have memories stored in our brains of many different groups of friends. We have our high school memories, of course, but we also have memories of the people we knew in college and/or the military; people we knew from our various jobs; people we knew in the different communities we’ve lived in; people from churches and other organizations, etc.

So 40 years removed, when we see a familiar face, our brains struggle mightily to remember who exactly he or she is. As our eyes are smiling and our mouths are saying, “Hi! It’s so great to see you!” our brains are frantically digging through dusty file cabinets. “I think it’s Jimmy,” our brains tell us. “No wait, Jimmy was that guy in college. It’s Dave. No, he’s the guy you worked with in Boston. It’s Leonard. No, he was your neighbor in West Hartford.”

We try to help our brains by nonchalantly peeking at the name tag. But with 58-year-old eyes, forget it. Finally, the other person says, “I’m Mindy. Remember?”

And we gush, “Oh of course, Mindy! You haven’t changed a bit since high school!” 
All in all, the reunion was a delightful experience. After four decades there was very little pretense. All the high school cliquey stuff was a distant memory. Everyone could just relax and be themselves. And that was pretty nice.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Jesus Commands ALL Followers To Preach The Good News

For the gospel reading at Mass on the weekend of September 5th and 6th, we can describe what happened with this three-part summary: 1) Jesus performed a spectacular miracle. 2) He then instructed the witnesses not to tell anyone. 3) They ignored His command and told everyone about it.

In a different part of the Scriptures, at the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gave us what is known as The Great Commission, telling all of His followers: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

We also can offer a three-part summary of this passage: 1) Jesus performed a spectacular miracle, the forgiveness of our sins and the offer of eternal life. (How much more spectacular can you get?) 2) He then instructed His followers to tell EVERYONE about it. 3) We ignore His command and don’t say a word to anyone.

Weird, huh? Why do we act like we’re in the group that was commanded NOT to say anything, rather than what we are, members of the group that was commanded to tell the message of Jesus to the whole world?

This reminds me of an article I read a few years ago about an elderly Jesuit missionary priest, who spent decades living with native people in the Amazon rain forest. On his retirement and return to the U.S., this missionary priest was proud to proclaim that he had not performed a single baptism in the four decades he lived with those native people. He explained that he chose not to “impose” Christian beliefs on the people, because, after all, they already had a long tradition of spiritual beliefs and practices, and who’s to say our views are any better than their views, etc.

When I read the article, my first thought was, “Wow. Apparently multi-cultural moral relativism is not unique to North America and Western Europe. It made its way to the remote jungle, too.”

My second thought was, “How sad. This guy devoted his adult life to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people who had never heard the Good News, and during all those decades he simply did not do it.”

This missionary priest was well-versed in the doctrine of modern relativism—all value systems are equal, and who’s to say one is better than another?—but he was not well-versed in the doctrine of Jesus Christ, as plainly taught by the Lord Himself in The Great Commission.

If I let my imagination run a bit wild, I can envision that elderly missionary priest, in the moment after his death, standing before the throne of God in Heaven. Jesus looks at the priest, shakes His head sadly, and says, “Dude, really? Four decades in the jungle and not a single baptism? Really?!” (Hey, it’s my imagination. In my imagination Jesus frequently says, “Dude” and “Really.”)

Maybe a missionary priest who performs zero baptisms in 40 years is a shocking example of how NOT to spread the Gospel, but are we much different? After all, the mission fields right here in Suburbia USA are ripe with folks who have never heard the Good News. In our increasingly secularized culture, we are surrounded on a daily basis by people who do not know that Jesus Christ freely offers Mankind the two most valuable things in the universe: true forgiveness of sins, and eternal life in Heaven.

In the gospel reading this week, when Jesus told the crowd NOT to spread the news of what He had done, that was a unique situation. In our day and age we are commanded to do the exact opposite; we are called to tell the world about Jesus. 

I don’t think Jesus reserves His exasperated, “Dude, really?” expression just for missionary priests. He’s just as likely to say that to us on Judgment Day, too. Dude, let’s make sure that does not happen. Really!

Friday, August 28, 2015

The ‘Wait, What?!’ of the Week, August 28, 2015

The University of Tennesee’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion just issued a document expressing concern that students will be offended by the use of traditional pronouns, such as he and she, him and her. Written by Donna Braquet, director of the school’s Pride Center, the document suggests people should use these “gender neutral” pronouns: ze, hir, zir, xe, xem, and xyr.

Wait, What?! Is this for real, or did the author of the document accidentally run a few sentences thru a Chinese translation software program?

No, this is indeed for real. Ms. Braquet explains that there are “people who do not identify within the gender binary.” (I wonder if it’s OK to call her “Ms.”? Oops, is it even OK to call her “her”?!)

Anyway, this begs the question: What exactly does “within the gender binary” even mean? Oh silly, haven’t you been paying attention? Caitlin Jenner? Facebook’s 56 different gender choices? “Within the gender binary” means the traditional two options of male or female. This is now known to some folks as “old-fashioned and oppressive,” while to other less progressive-minded folks the gender binary is known as “reality.” (Personally, I think “Within the Gender Binary” would make a great name for a rock band.)

Nonetheless, Ms. (or Ze or Zir or whatever) Braquet says that students may prefer something other than “the sex they were assigned at birth.” (“Assigned,” as if gender was something handed out to us by a bored Dept. of Motor Vehicle employee while we waited in line.) If these particular students are uncomfortable with traditional pronouns, the recently invented gender neutral pronouns must be used. But how to know which ones to use? Easy, Braquet offers this simple solution: “You can always politely ask, ‘Oh, nice to meet you (insert name). What pronouns should I use?’ It’s a perfectly fine question to ask.”

Perfectly fine question? Yeah, I can see those conversations going smoothly. “Oh, nice to meet you, Frank. What pronouns should I use?”

“Pronouns? Whattaya mean?”

“You know. What gender do you identify with? He? She? Zir? Ze?”

“Uh, are you having a stroke? Should I call 9-1-1?”

There’s an old Chinese proverb: “May you live in interesting times.” Well, we certainly live in interesting times nowadays, don’t we? Of course, insanity and absurdity are often considered interesting. I think the Chinese proverb was written by a guy (or possibly a gal) named Xem Zir Ze (or possibly Yu Kiddn Mi?).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Stop Maligning Contractors

There is a segment of our society that is constantly being maligned, and I think it’s high time we stop it. No, I don’t mean politicians. They are constantly being maligned — and rightfully so! If anything, we need to increase our malignations toward those people who look us square in the eye and lie, especially now that we’re heading into a presidential election year. Complaining about politicians is the only way we regular folks can keep our sanity. It’s a defense mechanism, kind of like “laughing to keep from crying.”

Anyway, speaking about people who “look us square in the eye and lie” brings us back to today’s topic: contractors. Contractors are constantly being maligned, and a common malignuous claim is that contractors look you square in the eye and lie. But this is not true. For a statement to be a lie, the person uttering the statement has to know at the time that it is false. (For example: “I have no intention of raising taxes next year.”)

With a contractor, when he looked you in the eye and said, “I have to finish up a job in Litchfield tomorrow morning, but I’ll be back here by noon to install your new toilet,” he absolutely, 100-percent believed what he said was true. It’s not his fault unforeseen complications occurred at the Litchfield job. How was he to know that when he tightened the screw on a new faucet handle it would cause a pipe to crack under the sink, which spewed water all over the place, and when he raced down to the basement to shut off the water, the valve handle would snap right off in his hand, and then the plumbing supply house would be all out of the required replacement part, which forced him to drive to Waterbury, but his van got a flat tire in Thomaston? How would the poor guy ever expect something like that to happen, other than the fact similar situations occur on virtually every job?

So the bottom line is, he is unable to get to your house by noon, and you have to go the rest of the day, and as it turns out another two weeks, without a toilet. Hey, stuff happens. By the way, if this ever happens to you, when you visit the nearby Dunkin Donuts five times each day for an entire fortnight to use their facilities, at least buy something once in a while. Otherwise, take it from me, the folks behind the counter begin to lose their mirthful demeanor.

This unfortunate scenario is the exact reason why contractors should be admired rather than malignated: they risk their financial security every single day despite overwhelming uncertainty. You think it’s easy being a contractor? You think they’re all getting rich? Think again. What if you quoted a price for a job, and calculated it would take 10 hours to complete, but when it was finally done, it instead required 25 hours and you ended up losing money on the project (along with leaving a couple people waiting extra days for their new toilet)?

Personally, I hate uncertainty. I prefer a steady paycheck each week. I’d be unable to sleep if I knew that despite working hard every day I still might not get paid if a few unforeseen problems occur. Frankly, I don’t know how those guys do it. 

So let’s stop maligning contractors. (Hey, surprise! I used the word correctly for a change.) Contractors are the backbone of our entire economy. And if one of them could stop by and install my new toilet sometime this month, the folks at Dunkin Donuts and I would be very grateful.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Only 4 more months till Christmas!

Just a heads up: only 4 more months until Christmas! Yes, it’s hot and muggy outside right now, and the kiddies are going back to school. But if you haven’t noticed, time flies, and before you know it Christmas decorations will be in the stores (October) and then we’ll hear non-stop Christmas carols on the radio (November) and finally the big day itself will arrive. 

Also, to make us feel better, the AP reported yesterday that the Farmers’ Almanac just published their prediction for this upcoming winter. They say in the Northeast U.S. it will very similar to last winter, that is, much colder than usual and much more snow that usual. Oh goodie! I can hardly wait. “It’s the most wonderful time, of the year!”

Monday, August 24, 2015

But Mass Is So Repetitive and Boring!

The other day a friend said to me, “Hey Bill, how come you go to Mass every single week? Mass is the same old thing every time. I can’t believe you waste your time going through the same repetitive, boring ritual every single Sunday.”

I replied, “Well, I don’t. Sometimes I go to Vigil Mass on Saturday.”

He rolled his eyes and said, “You know what I mean. You go to Mass every weekend, and it’s the same old thing every time.”

I paused for a moment and said a quick prayer to St. Shecky, the patron saint of smart-aleck comebacks, and then said to my friend, “Let me ask you something. Why do you eat every day? Why do you sleep every night? Why do you do your laundry every week?”

He said, “Um, I don’t do laundry. Ever since I put a new red shirt in with white stuff, and turned everything pink, my wife won’t let me near the washing machine.”

Now it was my turn to roll my eyes and say, “You know what I mean.” I continued, “Why do you do those boring repetitive things over and over again?”

He said, “Well, with food, I need to nourish my body, or else I’ll die. With sleep, I need to rest and recharge my batteries, or else I’ll, um, I’m not sure what’ll happen if I never sleep, but I’m sure it’s not good. And with laundry, that’s obvious. You don’t want me walking around with dirty, smelly clothes, do you?”

“You mean dirtier and smellier than what you usually wear?” I asked. (By the way, I forgot to mention this conversation took place on a weekend, the time when we guys often relax our hygiene standards—by which I mean we pretty much have NO hygiene standards and will put on any article of clothing that does not have visible mold colonies chewing through the fabric.)

Getting a bit more serious, I said, “What you just said are the exact same reasons why I go to Mass each week. I need to get spiritually nourished on a regular basis, or else my soul will starve. I need to rest and recharge my mind, and get away from all the electronic noise once in a while. I need to clean myself of all the selfish thoughts and nasty attitudes that build up during the week. That’s why I go to Mass: to keep my soul and spirit healthy and clean.”

My friend thought about this for a minute. Finally he said, “I guess that makes sense—for you. But for me, Mass is so boring. I don’t feel nourished or cleansed or any of that stuff. That’s why I hardly ever go anymore.”

“I totally understand,” I said. “There was a time years ago when I felt the same way. But that was before I discovered a really important celebrity was in attendance at Mass.”

“Celebrity?” he said. “Around here? Who do you mean, the mayor? That wacky weatherman on TV?”

“No,” I said. “I mean the Creator of the Universe. Jesus Christ Himself is really present in the Eucharist at every Mass.”

“Wait, you don’t really believe that stuff they taught us in 3rd grade catechism class, do you?” he asked.

“Why shouldn’t I?” I replied. “Jesus taught it, St. Paul repeated it, and the Church has proclaimed it for 2,000 years. He is truly present in a special, supernatural way. And it only happens at Mass.” Then I took a deep breath and said quietly, “Why don’t you join me at Vigil Mass today? It starts in an hour.” 

My friend looked at me and sighed. “OK, why not?” he said. Then he tilted his head, lifted his arm, and sniffed. He looked up and said, “But first I’d better put on a clean shirt.”