Friday, September 22, 2017

Flying the Somewhat ‘Friendly Skies’

Recently I brought some business clients to visit a manufacturing facility in Missouri. While waiting at the gate in Bradley Airport, the United Airlines employee made an announcement: “This flight is over-sold, so we need two people to give up their seats.”

Oh my, I thought, didn’t the folks at United learn their lesson? Do they really want another viral video of someone being dragged off an airplane? Do they thrive on bad press?

The announcement continued: “If you agree to give up your seat, we will give you a $700 voucher toward future flights, plus a seat on the next available flight today to your destination.”

Hmm, 700 bucks? Not bad. But I noticed that no one went up to the counter to take the offer.
Five minutes later there was another announcement: “We still need two people to give up their seats, and we are now offering vouchers worth $1,000.”

Ooh, now this was getting interesting. Again, no one went up to the counter. I wondered how high the bidding would go.

Suddenly, I got nervous. It dawned on me that I had booked the flights for my group using a new option offered by United called “Basic-Economy.” This is not as opulent as “Basic.” Nor is it as luxurious as “Economy.” It’s the lowest of low, the no-frilliest of frills. I don’t even think the peanuts are free when you fly Basic-Economy. To give you an idea, if we were about to board a ship, Basic-Economy would be known as steerage, where the travelers spend the whole journey with bilge water up to their knees while fighting off rats.

Our Basic-Economy tickets put us in “Boarding Group 5” (many airlines stop at Boarding Group 3 for small planes), and our seat assignments were in the very last row. I wondered if this meant we were at the very bottom of the passenger list, and if no one stepped forward to trade their seats for the vouchers, then they might force me and at least one of my companions off the plane.

I huddled with my group. “OK,” I said, “If they try to kick us off this flight, everyone take out your smart phones and video everything. We’ll need a good clip of a United employee being rude. When it goes viral, we’ll be in a much better position to threaten a lawsuit. And let me do all the talking because, one, I bought the tickets and, two, since I’m by far the oldest one in our group, it’ll look even more horrible when they give a hard time to a befuddled gray-haired schlub. Oh, and reason number three,” I added, “I’ll probably screw up trying to put my phone into video mode, so you younger guys take care of filming everything.”

I started rehearsing what to say. “Really United?!” I’d exclaim indignantly, “After the PR nightmare you went through earlier this year, you’re STILL over-selling flights?!!”

Or maybe I’d plead through tears, “But you don’t understand. I need to get to Missouri for my dear grandmother’s funeral. I just have to pay my last respects to Mee-maw.” On second thought, that one won’t work, since they could do some research and discover I don’t have a Missouri Mee-maw.

Just then a new announcement came over the PA system. The offer was now up to $1500 per seat. Wow, getting bumped off the flight didn’t sound so bad anymore. Then two young men went up to the counter to take the offer. No one was going to be dragged off this flight after all. 

Our business trip to Missouri turned out to be quite routine. And if you were wondering, Mee-maw’s funeral was very touching.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Our ‘Separated Brethren’ Are Loved by God

In recent months, I’ve discussed many faith issues, and presented the Catholic view on these topics. Of course, that only makes sense, since this essay series is titled “The Merry Catholic.” For example, a few weeks ago, the subject was Catholic apologetics, which is defined as offering a defense and explanation of Catholic doctrines.

However, I suspect some folks have concluded that I am one of those “Catholic only” people, who believe Catholic teachings are the ONLY correct teachings, and therefore everyone who is not Catholic is a member of a false religion and has a one-way ticket to eternal damnation. This view was embodied a few generations ago by Fr. Feeney, who erroneously proclaimed, “There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church!”

Although I sincerely and joyfully believe the Catholic Church has been entrusted by the Lord with the fullness of the Faith, that does not mean other Christian denominations are completely wrong and are hurtling at breakneck speed down the Road to Perdition.

Others who agree with my view are none other than St. Pope John Paul II and all the authors of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in the 1990s. If you don’t quite remember, the people who compiled that Catechism, under the watchful eye of JP2, were solid, orthodox Catholics. They’ll never be confused with the more progressive members of the Church, the ones who relentlessly insist the Church must cease and desist from taking a firm stand on any issue, especially ANYTHING having to do with human sexuality.

So, it’s safe to say the Catechism is a solid and orthodox presentation of Catholic beliefs and practices. And the Catechism has many interesting things to say about those who are members of non-Catholic denominations, whom we respectfully call “our separated brethren.”

There are four key points the Catechism makes about people in Protestant denominations. First, the Catechism notes that they “possess the Word of God.” Protestant Bibles have the same divinely-inspired message as Catholic Bibles. We believe these sacred texts contain the truth God wished to share with us, and therefore, Protestants are in possession of God’s Holy Word.

Next, the Catholic Catechism explains that Protestants have valid baptism. Have you ever noticed at the Easter Vigil that some people converting into the Catholic Church receive three sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation; while others receive only two: Eucharist and Confirmation? This is because they’ve already been baptized in a Protestant community, and whether it was Congregational, Baptist, Methodist, etc., it was a valid baptism that forgave Original Sin and imparted divine grace. There’s no need for them to get baptized again.

Third, the Catholic Catechism says Protestants have the right to be called Christians. If the focus of their faith is Jesus Christ and His teachings, then how could we possibly say they are not Christians?

Finally, and most importantly, the Catechism says our separated brethren in the Protestant communities have the “means of salvation.” The reason sincere and faithful Protestants can go to Heaven is simple: if you have even a little Jesus, you have a LOT of Jesus.

The Lord’s mercy and grace and supernatural Spirit are so powerful, even a lit bit of Him is more than enough to forgive sins and conquer death once and for all.

As I mentioned earlier, I sincerely and joyfully believe the Catholic Church has been entrusted by Jesus Christ with the fullness of the faith. But this does not mean I believe all non-Catholics are doomed to Hell. On the contrary, the Church says they possess divine truth and a valid path to Heaven. Plus, in my personal experience, many of them are far more faithful and loving than I’ll ever be. Thank God for our separated brethren in the faith!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Apple Watch Part 2: Jealousy and Betrayal

Last week I discussed my new Apple Watch. The main focus of that column was the financial implication of the purchase; that is, whether it made much sense to spend $400 on a tiny wrist computer that does a few interesting applications along with telling time. If you missed that column, this was my conclusion: buying the Apple Watch did indeed make financial sense, in the same way it made financial sense for the Ford Motor Company to introduce the Edsel.

I’m lamenting my impulsive fiscal decision, and I now realize whenever I’m faced with any type of monetary situation for the rest of my life, a little voice inside my head will say to me, “You know, pal, you could’ve had an extra 400 bucks in your pocket right now if you didn’t buy that dopey watch.” To make matters worse, I did not realize there also were going to be emotional implications.

Since I now own a $400 watch, I am, of course, darn well going to wear the thing. And to be honest, I’m starting to get used to checking it for emails, text messages, and stolen signs from the New York Yankees’ catcher. 

So, about six weeks after I bought the Apple watch, I was looking for something on the top of my dresser, and I spotted my trusty old $35 Timex Ironman digital watch. “Hi, old buddy,” I said. The watch did not reply.

“Hey,” I offered a bit louder, “How you doing?”

The Timex glanced at me briefly and muttered, “What do you care?”

“Now now, what’s the matter?” I asked. The watch just stared at me.

Finally, it said, “Seriously? You have no idea? You’re really that oblivious?”

“Wait,” I said, “You’re not mad about the Apple Watch, are you?”

“Oh gee, what do you think?” the Timex said sarcastically. “Just ponder this for a moment: we used to be inseparable. For years we went everywhere together, you and me. We were a team. And then one day, all of a sudden — bam! — I find myself sitting here collecting dust next to your spare change holder, and you won’t even give me the time of day.”

I replied, “Well, I didn’t think you needed the time of day because, um, you’re a watch.”

“Very funny,” the Timex said. “Why don’t you look up ‘figure of speech’ on your fancy new wrist computer, Einstein?”

“C’mon, don’t be like that,” I pleaded. “It’s not like I’m NEVER going to wear you again. In fact, I was planning to cut down some tree limbs next weekend, and I was gonna wear you when I did that.”

“Why?” the watch asked.

“Because the Apple Watch has a delicate touch screen,” I said. “It might break.”

“Oh, so I’m your blue collar timepiece, huh?”

“I wouldn’t put it that way,” I said.

“Do you wear your fancy new watch to the beach or in the shower?” the Timex asked.

“Well, they say it’s water resistant,” I explained, “but the instruction manual also says to avoid ‘high velocity water,’ along with soap and shampoo.”

“Do you wear it to bed?” the Timex said.

“No, I need to re-charge it overnight.”

“So, let me get this straight,” my trusty old Ironman digital said. “You spent $400 for a fragile, high-maintenance wrist computer that’s afraid of water and needs to be plugged in every night?”

“No, you’ve got it all—”

“In other words,” the Timex interrupted, “You spent four Benjamins for a wuss watch?! Ha ha!” 

I never thought my old watch would be so upset. There’s only one solution. I need to start a new fashion trend: one watch on each wrist.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Judgmental Hypocrite in the Mirror

Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s is the parts that I DO understand.”

Well, there is a very clear and understandable concept in the Bible that has me worried. It’s the fact that God is going to judge us using the same standard we use to judge others.


Jesus said, “For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.”

All of us know someone who is quick to get angry, and who is always criticizing other people. No matter what, this person is never satisfied, constantly saying things like, “Hey, why’d you do it THAT way? It’s wrong! You should know better. And I told you to be here at 10 o’clock. It’s now five after ten. How dare you keep me waiting?!”


If God uses a particular person’s standard of judgment, can you imagine what will happen when that person dies and stands before the Almighty? God probably will say something like, “Hey, why’d you live your life THAT way? It was wrong! You should’ve known better. And I told you to be here last Thursday. It’s now Tuesday. How dare you keep me waiting?”


I suspect that will not be a very comfortable situation.


Now, please be honest. Is there any chance the judgmental person you have in mind is the same person who looks out at you from the bathroom mirror each morning? Just sayin’.

It’s a fact that human beings have an amazing capacity for self-deception. We often have no clue we are holding others to an impossibly high standard, while at the same time are quick to excuse and justify any mistakes we make. It’s called being hypocritical. And hypocrisy is one of those traits we intensely dislike when we see it in others, but we’re oblivious when it occurs in us.


In the Gospels, Jesus saved His harshest criticism for hypocrites. He actually was very gentle and loving with blatant sinners, such as drunkards, prostitutes, and New York Yankee fans. But Jesus pulled no punches with hypocrites, people who acted righteous in public but were selfish weasels in private—people such as the Scribes, the Pharisees, and members of Congress. He called them “a brood of vipers.” To be fair, when Congressmen are compared to a bunch of poisonous snakes, that is an unwarranted insult—to the snakes.

Ugh. There I go again: judging politicians by one standard, and judging myself by a much more lenient standard.


The amazing conclusion from the Bible is that God will judge different people by different standards. Which means God grades on a curve. Which means God is totally unfair.

On the other hand, I suppose we should be glad God is not fair. Because if He gave us the perfect justice we deserve, well, we’d all be in big trouble. That’s the whole point of the cross. God’s overwhelming love for us caused Him to be totally unfair. He willingly paid the price for our sins, even though we did nothing to earn that kind of forgiveness.


All we have to do to remain in God’s mercy is love Him, and love our neighbors as ourselves. This means judging other people by the same lenient standard we use to judge ourselves.

Just imagine if everyone did this. There would be no more angry people in our lives, constantly criticizing everyone else. The next time you see that angry person, say, “I forgive you.” You can do that tomorrow. In the morning. In the mirror.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Tech Review: the Apple Watch

This is your tech guru, Digital Dunnster, with another review of the latest and greatest in electronic gadgets. Our subject today is the Apple Watch.

The Apple Watch is the most recent intriguing device developed by Apple Corporation, the wildly successful high-tech company that brought the world iPods, iPhones, iPads, and iPizzas.

The Apple Watch is a small touch-screen computer that attaches to your wrist. The device is synchronized via wireless Bluetooth technology to an iPhone, which typically is in the user’s pants pocket.

Although this review is focused on the Apple Watch, let me first say a few things about the iPhone. The iPhone is without a doubt the second greatest invention in the history of planet earth. (The greatest invention is the glazed cruller.)

The iPhone is a multi-faceted wonder that allows the owner to send and receive text messages and emails, surf the Internet, and use thousands of fascinating and useful applications. The iPhone also has a built-in camera, video recorder, flashlight, GPS, address book, calculator, stop-watch, and alarm clock. It can store and play thousands of songs and dozens of movies. And if you were wondering, yes, the iPhone has driven many companies that used to make these items out of business. Oh, and one other thing: the iPhone occasionally is used to make phone calls.

Personally speaking, I don’t know what I would do without my iPhone. I’d probably be forced to have face-to-face conversations with people. Yeow.

The Apple Watch was developed to be a companion to the iPhone. Besides displaying the time (after an annoying pause), the Apple Watch offers various functions and alerts, so the user does not have to be burdened with the incredibly disruptive and difficult task of, um, looking at a phone.

After many months of wondering whether I should buy an Apple Watch, I went on a fact-finding mission at an Apple Store in the mall. My plan was to have the customer service person explain all the features and benefits to me, and then I would ponder this information and make a decision in a week or two. So, twenty minutes later, I walked out of the store with my new Apple Watch. (My comment to my wife: “Good thing I didn’t go to a BMW dealership.”)

I very much wanted the Watch to be worth the investment. It’s been about a month now, and I’ve tried hard to utilize every feature available on the Watch. Here is a summary: the iPhone in my pocket can do hundreds of different things, and do them very well. The Apple Watch on my wrist can do dozens of the same things the iPhone can do, and do them rather poorly. (Poorly is probably not the best way to phrase it, but I’m not sure if “mediocrely” is an actual word.)

So, here’s my advice to all readers out there wondering if the Apple Watch is a good idea: if you are in a situation where you have only two financial choices, either (1) buy an Apple Watch, or (2) take four one-hundred dollar bills and toss them into a blazing fireplace, then I recommend purchasing the Apple Watch. It will be a better use of your money — barely.

 However, if your situation allows for other financial choices, such as sending your pet to a Doggie Day Spa, buying $400 worth of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or putting it all on “red” at a Roulette table at Foxwoods Casino, then I would say do not purchase the Apple Watch. You definitely can get more bang for your buck elsewhere. 

If I had it to do all over again, I definitely would go with the Peanut Butter Cups.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

St. Paul: Content in All Circumstances

In the Bible, St. Paul made a curious statement. In his letter to the Philippians he wrote, “In all circumstances I have learned to be content.” Paul meant that his faith in Christ allowed him to be serene and at peace regardless of the problems he faced.

Well, that’s fine for Paul. He only had to deal with being imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, whipped, chased out of town by a mob throwing rocks at him, and other minor stuff like that. He never had to deal with serious things, like rush-hour traffic, or his computer crashing, or not being able to find the remote control when his favorite show was about to come on TV.

Back in Paul’s day, life was simple and stress-free. They only had to worry about starving to death or being stabbed by Roman soldiers. They didn’t have to endure the embarrassment of having a credit card rejected while at a fancy restaurant, or getting a $200 speeding ticket when everyone else was driving just as fast. Now that’s aggravation.

You know, I think if St. Paul lived in our fast-paced world today, he would’ve changed his tune and wrote, “In all circumstances I have learned to overreact and throw a hissy fit.”

Hmm, on second thought, maybe we can learn a few things from St. Paul. After all, I suppose being beaten and then thrown into a filthy dungeon without a trial might be almost as frustrating as, say, not having a strong wifi signal.

Although America is the most prosperous nation in world history, we Americans are some of the most stressed-out and unhappy people in world history. St. Paul was content, even in the face of severe deprivation: lack of food, lack of shelter, lack of freedom. We have all those things in abundance, and yet we’re not satisfied. We complain. We get angry. We always want more. We have no serenity or peace.

St. Paul possessed two things that most Americans, including American Catholics, do not have. First, he had his priorities straight. He knew the most important facet of life is to be in a close relationship with God. Far too many of us think having lots of money and cars and shoes and electronic toys is what life is all about, and if we have any spare time on a Sunday morning, we’ll think about God for an hour. But if God is not our first and most important priority, then we’ll never be at peace. As St. Augustine said, “The human heart is restless until it rests in God.”

The second thing St. Paul possessed was a clear understanding of the concept of acceptance. No matter what his circumstances, he accepted that it was God’s will for him. Even when he was wrongly imprisoned, Paul did not complain. He accepted his fate and knew that God could make something good happen. And God did. While in prison Paul finally had the time to write inspired and brilliant epistles, which are now part of the New Testament.

Have you ever been stuck in rush-hour traffic, and said to yourself, “I’m going to accept this situation peacefully as God’s will for my life.” Yeah, me neither. But wouldn’t it be great if we actually could do that, and accept situations we can’t control, and avoid all that stress and anger and high blood pressure?

St. Paul didn’t have a smart phone, credit card, or big screen TV. But somehow he was able to be content in all circumstances. Maybe it’s time we did the same. After all, we have nothing to lose except our ulcers.

Friday, September 1, 2017

All Aboard the ‘Aches and Pains’ Express

Not that long ago, I occasionally woke up in the morning, got out of bed, and muttered to myself, “Ouch, why is my back so stiff and my legs so sore?”

Then I would remember that on the previous day I did something strenuous, such as help a friend move, which required lugging a sleeper-sofa up three flights of stairs; or I paddled 10 miles in a kayak, with 8 of those 10 miles going against the tide; or I built a deck, which would explain the painful slivers in my fingers and the high-pitched ringing sound still in my ears from using a circular saw all day.

I’d say to myself, “Oh yeah, right. No wonder I’m so sore today.”

However, recently I’ve notice that when I wake up in the morning, get out of bed, and wonder why I’m stiff and sore, there is nothing strenuous to remember. Typically, the previous day involved these activities: drive to work, sit at my desk all day, drive home, eat dinner, doze on the couch, and go to bed.

When I mentioned to a co-worker that it felt like I did something strenuous recently, even though I didn’t, he offered these gentle words of comfort: “But you DID do something strenuous recently, Bill. You turned 60!” 

When he saw by my puzzled expression that I wasn’t quite comprehending, he added, “Hey, if the comments from some of my senior citizen friends are any indication, from here on out you can look forward to aches and pains every single day.”

Oh goodie. Just what I wanted to hear. I would’ve slapped him on the back of his head, but I can’t lift my arm up that high because my shoulder hurts. How did I hurt my shoulder, you ask? Throwing too many sharp-breaking curve balls? Doing too many pull ups? Doing one too many weightlifting sets at the gym? Um, no. I hurt it by reaching into a kitchen cabinet one morning to get a coffee mug. They should put warning labels on those cabinet doors. I’d go to the doctor and have my shoulder checked out, but I’m afraid I’ll hurt myself hopping up onto the examination table.

So, now that I’ve discovered my co-worker was indeed correct, and every single day offers a new opportunity to relish the joys of aches, pains, and stiffness, I have to get in the habit of remembering this when I wake up in the morning. You see, when I first gain consciousness around 5 am, I forget that I recently turned 60. For a brief moment, I still think I’m a frisky 55-year-old youngster, and so I swing my legs around and jump to the floor.

This behavior has produced another reason I don’t want to see the doctor. I know the following conversation will occur. Doctor: “So Bill, how did you pull your hamstring muscle?” Me: “Well, first I got out of bed.” Doctor: “Then what happened?” Me: “That’s it.”

It’s bad enough to pull muscles or tweak tendons by getting out of bed too fast, but now I’m concerned that I’m going to hop out of bed one morning and try to walk, and my legs are going to say to me, “Yeah, no. We’re not doing this anymore, pal.” And then as my legs crumple below me, I fall face first into the dresser drawers, and have this conversation with the dentist: Dentist: “So Bill, how did you knock out four teeth?” Me: “Well, first I got out of bed.” Dentist: “Then what happened?” Me: “That’s it.”

I guess it could be worse. At least when the morning arrives these days, I still wake up.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Receiving Communion: Irreverence or Ignorance?

Ever go to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles? You see people waiting in line, bored, listless, hands in their pockets. They slowly make their way forward. When they finally get what they came for, they make a beeline for the parking lot. “There,” they think to themselves, “that obligation of getting the car registered is done. Won’t have to come back here again hopefully for another year or two.”

A lot of people have the same attitude and appearance when they receive communion at Mass (including the part about not coming back for another year or two). They wait in line, bored, listless, hands in their pockets. They slowly make their way forward. When they finally get what they came for, they make a beeline for the parking lot.

Most of us in the pews can’t quite see what happens at Communion. But in talking to a few priests and deacons, apparently the manner in which many people receive the Eucharist is downright dreadful. It seems our parishes have an epidemic of irreverence.

Some people hold out their hand to receive the host with all the enthusiasm of a guy waiting at a bus stop checking to see if it just started to rain.

Some people snatch the host from the priest or deacon’s hand like they were taking a number at the deli counter. You almost expect them to stand off to the side waiting for their number to be called and then order a pound of liverwurst.

Some people commit gross violations, such as waiting until they return to the pew before consuming the host, or even worse, breaking it in pieces and sharing it with young children who have not had their First Communion yet.

But it’s really not so much a problem of irreverence. It’s a problem of ignorance. Receiving Communion has become a rote ritual for many Catholics, similar to a trip to the DMV, because we’ve forgotten what is present in the Eucharist—or rather, WHO is present.

Most of us haven’t heard a detailed explanation of the Church’s doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist since CCD class in the 4th grade. And I don’t know about you, but when I was in the 4th grade, I had the attention span of a cocker spaniel puppy. (Actually, that’s an insult to cocker spaniel puppies—my attention span was much worse.)

Anyway, let’s just say it’s been a long time since the average Catholic was taught the bread and wine are truly transformed into the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus. It’s not symbolic; it’s not merely a remembrance ceremony. It is truly Jesus in the flesh.

How can this happen, you ask? Well, it’s a divine, supernatural miracle. If we’re Catholic, we already believe in miracles: the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Red Sox winning the World Series, etc. We believe miraculous things are possible when God causes them to happen. Just look in the mirror. Your very existence is a supernatural miracle. Of course, some folks look rather super, while the rest of us look a little too natural.

We believe the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Jesus. Now, we don’t believe this because it sounds nice, or because some Church leader tells us it’s true. We believe it because Jesus Himself clearly taught that it’s true. It really makes all the difference in the world. 

So, at Mass, let’s try to be more reverent when we receive Communion. Let’s remember exactly WHO is being placed in our hands. And you don’t even have to bring your vehicle registration form with you.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Celebrate Until It Hurts

If you read last week’s column, you know the topic was the proliferation of “look at me!” show-off athletes in sporting events nowadays. Those of us in the fuddy-duddy generation prefer the old-school approach, epitomized by the player who simply hands the ball to the referee after scoring a touchdown, as if he does that every day.

If you didn’t read last week’s column, WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?!

Oh, sorry. As you probably noticed, those of us in the fuddy-duddy generation tend to get cranky easily. At our age, our boxer shorts must be getting a little too tight.

Anyway, there is another aspect of modern sporting events that has gotten out of hand. Along with all the strutting and chest thumping and “look at me” behavior whenever a player does something significant on the field, today’s ballplayers engage in ridiculous celebrations whenever they win a game. And I don’t mean the 7th game of the World Series. They celebrate all the time now, even when they win a weekday afternoon game in Cincinnati, a victory which propels their team into a tie for 3rd place, only 21-1/2 games behind the division leader. (If you don’t grasp my sarcasm here, I’m trying to say the game has all the importance of a company picnic softball game, that is, none.)

When a player gets the game-winning hit, the entire team pours out of the dugout and greets him at home plate. The moment he touches the plate, he is mobbed by two dozen young, healthy athletes, who pound his back, slap the top of his head, splash buckets of water and Gatorade on him, and try to rip his jersey off his back. A recent addition to this ritual is having the entire contents of a baby powder bottle poofed into his face. That must be great for the eyes and lungs.

The level of exuberance demonstrated during these victory celebrations far exceeds the importance of the game. I mean, we’re talking baseball here. They play 162 games each season. Even the worst teams win at least 50 games. You mean to tell me every single victory requires a display of jumping and screaming similar to a squadron of Marines in 1945 who just found out Imperial Japan surrendered? (Note the fuddy-duddy historical reference.)

Not only are these baseball celebrations ridiculous, they’re also dangerous. A few weeks ago, New York Yankee slugger Aaron Judge had half of a front tooth broken off during one of these frenetic celebrations when a teammate’s batting helmet smashed into his face.

A few years ago, major leaguer Kendrys Morales hit a walk-off grand slam home run for the Angels, and during the jumping and pounding that greeted him at home plate, he broke his leg. The injury put him on the disabled list for an entire year. 

Frequently, we hear that a player is scratched from the lineup because of “neck stiffness” or “shoulder tightness.” Hmm, I wonder how many of these injuries were really caused during a dopey celebration rather than during game action?

Back in the good ol’ days, when a player made a game-winning hit, his teammates would greet him — in the dugout, not at home plate — and show their appreciation by offering him a hearty handshake, a slap on the back, and a cigarette. (OK, not everything about the good ol’ days was good.)

As a fuddy-duddy who also is a realist, I accept that the self-absorbed, “look at me” generation is here to stay. But if they could avoid injuring each other while celebrating, that would be nice. And don’t waste all that baby powder. Those of us with tight boxer shorts could use it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Who Is Jesus, and What Did He Do?

A friend of mine has a four-year-old grandson, and recently the little boy attended a baptism at my parish. In our church, there is a huge crucifix above the tabernacle, in the middle of the sanctuary. It’s a gorgeous sculpture, and the lifelike image of Jesus must be at least eight feet tall.

When the four-year-old boy walked into the church, he looked up at the crucifix and stopped in his tracks. Then he blurted out, “Who is he?! And what did he do?!”

Out of the mouth of babes.

This little boy was stunned by the larger-than-life figure of a mostly naked man painfully nailed to a cross. The two questions that immediately popped into his head concerned the man’s identity, and what he did to deserve such a fate.

That’s the theme of this week’s gospel reading, when Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”

And you know what? Those questions asked by that little boy are the TWO most important questions in the whole world: Who is Jesus? And what did He do?

When you boil it down, those two questions are the entire basis for our Christian faith. First, the identity of Jesus: He is the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, the Eternal Word through Whom the entire universe was created, and the Savior of all mankind. In this week’s gospel reading, Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Second, what Jesus did: He humbled Himself by taking on human flesh; He offered up His life on the cross to pay the price for our sins; He rose from the dead, conquering death once and for all; and He promised that if we put our faith in Him, we too can live forever.

You’d be surprised how much conflict there is about these two basic questions: Who is Jesus, and what did He do?

Many people are convinced that Jesus was merely a good and wise human teacher, but not divine. The thinking is that Jesus taught a lot of great things about loving other people and taking care of the poor, but He himself was just a man.

However, if you look at some of the claims Jesus made about Himself, you cannot possible conclude that He was a good and wise human teacher. Jesus said that all authority in Heaven has been given to Him. He said that He existed before Abraham and saw Satan cast out of Heaven. He said that He was more important than the holy Temple in Jerusalem. He said that His death would somehow reconcile mankind back to God.

A mere man who makes such claims cannot be considered good; he would be a deceiver who told blatant lies to manipulate others. And he cannot be considered wise; he would be a fool—and possibly insane—if he actually thought those claims were true.

What Jesus did also is debated nowadays. Many people, even those who call themselves devout Christians, no long believe the Bible is a divinely-inspired and trustworthy text. They think the Bible is interesting and curious ancient literature, but it was composed by ignorant, pre-scientific men who didn’t know much about the real world. And so, the conclusion is: there is no reason to trust what the Bible teaches, including what it says about Jesus’ earthly ministry.

How sad. These folks incorrectly answer the two most important questions in the whole world. But a four-year-old boy, not even in Kindergarten yet, sees an image of Jesus on the cross and is awestruck. He blurts out the two most important questions in the world: Who is He? And what did He do?

How many of us in the pews are so familiar with the sacred images in church that we don’t even notice the crucifix anymore? How long has it been since we saw an image of Jesus suffering on the cross, and had our hearts stirred with awe and wonder?

Now would be a great time for all of us to ponder the two most important questions in the world: Who is Jesus? And what did He do? 

That four-year-old child could not have said it any better. Out of the mouths of babes.