Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Paul’s Surprising Teaching About Marriage

The second reading at Mass this weekend, from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, contains a very odd verse. Paul wrote, “Let those having wives act as not having them.”

Um, wait a minute. What does that mean? We all know when a married man starts acting as if he does not have a wife, he is well on his way to not having a wife. And in the process, the divorce lawyers will suck him dry of every last nickel he owns—and rightfully so.

Many studies have shown that married men live longer and healthier lives than bachelors. This is because unmarried men are more likely to spend their time hanging out with other unmarried men, drinking and carousing, eating poorly, getting into barroom brawls, and crashing their cars into telephone poles at 3 a.m.

Also, unmarried men, without that feminine influence around the house, often get into the habit of wearing the same socks and underwear for four or five days in a row. Just the smell alone can take years off a guy’s life.

So, why did St. Paul tell married men that they should act as if they were unmarried? Did Paul want fellas to go out carousing until 3 a.m. and wear the same socks five days in a row? (Although I don’t think socks were all that popular in first century Palestine. Socks with sandals didn’t become popular until German tourists started visiting the U.S.)

I looked up this verse in three different Bible commentaries, and each one completely glossed over this specific statement. The focus instead was on the other things Paul said about married life throughout chapter 7.

If I had to guess (which, apparently, I have to), I’d say the last line of this week’s reading is key. Paul said, “For this world in its present form is passing away.”

During his ministry, Paul repeatedly emphasized the fact that in the Christian understanding of reality, our life on earth is fleeting. Believers should be, as the old expression goes, “in this world, but not of this world,” because our existence here on earth is transitory. We are only renters not owners. Our true home is in Heaven with the Lord for all eternity.

All the wonderful things we experience in life, including the joys of marriage, are gifts from God. But they all are mere glimpses of the joys we will embrace in Heaven. As Paul explained earlier in this epistle, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has prepared for those who love him.” In other words, Heaven is going to be so wonderfully amazing, it’s going to blow our socks off. (Well, at least for those of us who lived in a time and place where socks were popular.)

A good word to describe Paul’s attitude about our world is detachment. We are called to be detached from the things of this earthly, natural life. Now, of course, this world is important. We also are called to be good stewards of the earth and to help as many people as we can who lack material necessities.

However, we cannot be so obsessed about the things of this world, that it takes away our focus on the world to come, the world of Jesus’ heavenly kingdom.

So, I think Paul was simply encouraging us never to lose sight of the ultimate prize: eternal life in Heaven. I’m fairly confident Paul was not suggesting that married men should ignore their wives, act as if they were bachelors, and go out carousing all night. Paul just doesn’t strike me as a carousing kind of guy. 

But to be honest, if Paul had asked me to edit his epistle before mailing it to the folks at Corinth, I would’ve deleted that part about men acting as if they were not married. You know how guys are. If it takes a week for us to remember to change our socks, then there’s a really good chance we’re going to misunderstand Paul’s message.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Ambulance Bill Causes Heart Palpitations

Back in mid-December, I said to my wife, “So what are we going to get each other for Christmas, individual gifts or one big gift for the both of us?”

She replied, “Let’s go with one big gift for the both of us. And it will cost $1,200.”

“Whoa, that’s a lot,” I said. “We usually don’t spend that much, even if we can afford it, which I’m pretty sure is not the case this year.”

My wife then said, “Well, it’s not actually $1,200. The correct amount is $1,155.97.”

I said, “Oh, in that case, no prob — Wait, what?! How do you know the exact amount down to the penny?”

She held up a piece of paper and said, “Because this came in the mail today. It’s an invoice from the ambulance company, and it says your health insurance denied the claim. They’re looking for $1,155.97 from us by the end of the month.”

“Oh, I forgot all about that,” I said. “So, that five-minute ambulance ride cost 1200 bucks? Man, I’m in the wrong business.”

It’s funny how we can completely forget certain events, especially when they turn out to be false alarms. Back in the summer I thought I was having a heart attack. Wanting to be sure I could not afford a Christmas present for my wife in four months, I said, “Let’s take a five-minute van ride that costs more than round-trip airfare to Paris!” No, actually what I said was, in a barely audible voice, “This is not good, hon. I feel horrible.”

My darling bride, also wanting to make sure she could not afford a Christmas present for her spouse in four months, quickly called 9-1-1. In a matter of minutes, an ambulance raced up the street, and stopped in front of our neighbor’s house. My wife ran out and waved them over to our house, and then made a mental note to go to Home Depot and get larger numbers to affix to the wall next to our front door.

It turns out I did not have a heart attack, although my ticker definitely skipped a beat when I looked at that ambulance company invoice. What I had was an episode of something known as S.V.T., or as they call it down at the bowling alley, “Supra-ventricular Tachycardia.”

What this means is, my heart decided to go from 75 beats per minute to 200 beats per minute, and then just stay there, pounding like a jackhammer. Even though my heart was beating almost three times faster than normal, not a whole lot of blood was getting to my head. I only had enough blood flow to think about who I hoped would attend my funeral Mass, and which songs I wanted played. (On further review, I don’t think Fr. Michael will approve the recessional hymn being Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”)

The doctors told me S.V.T. is not a life-threatening condition, although it might be a “life-STYLE threatening condition.” To which I replied, “No kidding, doc. If I suddenly get so little blood to my head that I’m about to pass out, it probably will be a threat to my lifestyle if I happen to be cruising down I-84 at 70 mph or climbing a ladder at work.”

Anyway, after a battery of tests, my heart is in surprisingly good shape, especially for someone who should be attending Donut-aholic Anonymous meetings. 

Next week I will relate the saga of trying to get an explanation from the insurance company as to why the main ambulance service in my town happens to be “out of network” and therefore not covered. It’s a story that will make your heart skip a beat.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A Chat with Tim Staples, Part 2

At the recent Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with the keynote speaker, Tim Staples, who has been a Catholic evangelist and apologist for the past 23 years. I asked Tim if it’s difficult to defend the truth in a culture that doesn’t even acknowledge anymore that truth is a real thing.

He replied, “Absolutely. We’re back to Pontius Pilate’s question, ‘What is truth?’ You’re exactly right. And so, apologetics is really, really crucial in our culture. In fact, one of my newest hires at Catholic Answers is a fellow by the name of Trent Horn, who wrote, I think it’s the best popular-level book on answering why we believe in God. It’s called Answering Atheism by Trent Horn. Great book. But we really do, we need more apologetics works like that.”

Tim then went on to describe how the emphasis of his ministry has changed over the years:

“When we first started at Catholic Answers, we were really focused on the Catholic-Protestant matter. And not just Catholic-Protestant, but Fundamentalists in particular, and the Pentecostals that tend to be a bit more anti-Catholic. That’s where we started. But the culture has moved to a place now where we have a growing agnostic and atheist population. And we also have what we call ‘nones,’ N-O-N-E, that are basically nothing. Lots more of those today. So, we do need to answer those basic, fundamental questions: Why do we believe in God? Why do we believe in truth? Can you prove that to me? Yes, we can!”

In the early years of Catholic apologetics, the primary mission was to counter the false claims made by Fundamentalists about Catholic doctrine. Many of the most successful Catholic apologists were former Protestant preachers, like Scott Hahn and Tim Staples, who had been raised in very anti-Catholic environments. When they came to understand what the Church really teaches and converted to Catholicism, they understood exactly how their debate opponents thought—because they once thought the same way.

However, these days there is a popular concept called “relativism.” This means that all declarations of fact are really nothing more than personal opinion. If you haven’t noticed, we now live in the age of relativism. There is no such thing as absolute truth anymore. According to a lot of prominent folks, everyone now is allowed to define for him or herself what’s right and what’s wrong.

But the basic claims of relativism are ridiculous. Here are things a relativist will say with a straight face: “The only absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth. The only idea which is definitely wrong is the idea that something can be definitely wrong. The only opinion which is strictly forbidden is the opinion that certain things are strictly forbidden.”

The average 6th grader will understand the blatant contradictions contained in these statements, while the average college professor will wholeheartedly agree. (Which reminds of a line Dr. Peter Kreeft said: “Some things are so foolish only a PhD can believe them.”)

Tim Staples acknowledged it’s more difficult to debate a relativist, someone who doesn’t believe in absolute truth, than to debate a Bible-thumping anti-Catholic Fundamentalist. His organization has evolved over the years to meet the challenge.

Tim explained, “Chris Stefanick wrote a little booklet that we sell at Catholic Answers called ‘Absolute Relativism,’ It’s a great title. But that title alone says a lot: ‘I’m a relativist, and I’m ABSOLUTELY RIGHT about it!’ The logical inconsistency!”

As I mentioned last week, go to YouTube and search “Tim Staples” for hours of fascinating video. Also, consider purchasing the publications Tim mentioned, Answering Atheism and “Absolute Relativism.” 

The Lord calls all believers to be able to explain our faith. Our present-day culture, steeped in doubt and despair, needs to hear the Gospel message more than ever.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Fun Day Doing Nothing

Recently I spent an entire Saturday doing nothing. Well, I didn’t do NOTHING. I watched TV. I surfed the Internet on my iPad. I took a nap. And, of course, I ate three full meals (or possibly four), plus the requisite snacks in between.

When I say I did nothing for an entire day, I mean I didn’t do any of the typical things that consume my life nowadays. I didn’t attend a meeting. I didn’t work on a project. I didn’t scramble to meet a deadline. I didn’t do any chores. I just hung around the house all day. I think it was the first time in at least five years that my daily to-do list was completely blank.

Typically, when the weekend arrives and I don’t have to go to work, I still do a lot of stuff. There’s a never-ending list of chores around the house and yard, and the weekend is when our frenetic social life kicks into gear. (Yeah, you’re right. I’m kidding.)

Even when we’re away on vacation, we plan various events and activities. Vacationing is fun, but it’s not doing nothing. To get the most out of our limited vacation opportunities, we cram a lot of things into each trip. Maybe this is why when we get home from vacation, I always feel like I need a vacation.

The reason I was able to spend an entire Saturday doing nothing is because I was sick. Well, I wasn’t sick sick. I wouldn’t have been able to eat those three full meals (or possibly four), plus the requisite snacks in between, if I was flat on my back with the flu. What I had was a nasty cold, with a stuffy head and scratchy throat, and I sneezed and blew my nose every two minutes like clockwork.

So, I felt fairly lousy, although if I had a particular obligation that day I would’ve been able to attend to it, most likely sneezing on other people the whole time. (That’s exactly what folks want this time of year, to get sneezed on, right?) But I didn’t have any pressing obligations that day, just a half-dozen items in the “you should get these things done soon” category. Therefore, when I woke up that Saturday morning, after first blowing my nose for 20 minutes, I said, “I am doing nothing today. I mean: NO. THING.”

Then, just for emphasis, I pretended to press a button on an imaginary 1960s-style desk intercom, and I yelled at it, “Shirley, cancel all my appointments for the rest of the day!” (Which prompted my wife to roll her eyes and mutter, “You really are sick. And I don’t mean your cold.”)

What I did that entire day was exactly nothing. And it was awesome!

I had forgotten how much fun it is to have no responsibilities and do nothing all day. It was like living in a fraternity house at college once again — minus a Springsteen album on the turntable, column speakers that shook the walls, and an assortment of “head shop” paraphernalia. (It’s not what you think. We were just ahead of our time getting on the medical marijuana bandwagon. Really.)

Many of my friends and business associates are beginning to retire. I’ve always worried that I’d be bored to tears if I retire. But now I’m thinking that doing nothing every day might be pretty good after all. Maybe I’ll try it for a month, to see if I like it. (I wonder if they’ll notice at the office that I’ve disappeared for four weeks?) It should be fun, as long as I have three full meals each day (or possibly four), plus the requisite snacks in between.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Chat with Tim Staples

At the recent Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference, I had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with the keynote speaker, Tim Staples, who has been a Catholic evangelist and apologist for the past 23 years. I asked Tim to discuss the term “apologetics.”

He laughed and then replied, “I set people up all the time. I ask what they do for a living, and after they’re done, they naturally say, ‘And what do you do?’ and I say, ‘I’m [a Catholic] apologist.’ They say, ‘Really? What’s that? Do you apologize for being Catholic? Are you that sorry?’ But actually, apologetics comes from a Greek word, apologia, which we find in Scripture in 1 Peter 3:15. Our first pope said, ‘Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts always and be ready to give everyone a reason for the hope that lives within you, with meekness and with respect.’ So, apologia is a reason or a response, an answer why we believe what we believe. And apologetics is the science of giving those answers.”    
Tim went on to tell me about the beginnings of the organization where he works, Catholic Answers, based in San Diego. In those early days, there were very few people engaged in Catholic apologetics. He explained, “When I first started, there were very few of us. Scott Hahn and me, and there [weren’t] a whole lot of folks out there. And now there are organizations and apologetic apostolates all over the United States and growing around the world. It’s exciting. People are catching hold of the truth that we as Catholics are called to evangelize this world. And if you’re going to evangelize the world, you’ve got to know what you’re talking about.”

This is one of our biggest problems: most Catholics in the U.S. have never been properly trained about the basic doctrines of the Church. Since it’s impossible to clearly explain what you don’t know, ignorance of our faith has always been a glaring weakness among Catholics.

Before converting to Catholicism and becoming an apologist, Mr. Staples was a fire-breathing fundamentalist preacher. His passion for Jesus Christ and the Bible, combined with his speaking skills and high-energy personality, made him a very successful evangelist. He freely admits that back in those days, the easiest people to evangelize were Roman Catholics, who invariably did not understand the basics tenets of the Church. Whenever Tim and his fellow fundamentalists engaged Catholics in conversation, a few carefully phrased theological questions—along with Bible verses to back them up—would have the Catholics reeling, and in many cases, within 15 minutes, they’d be convinced the Church was a non-Christian cult and they’d be ready to join a fundamentalist congregation.

Nowadays Tim kind of cringes when he thinks about the multitude of people he led out of the Catholic Church, and he hopes all the hard work he’s done as a Catholic apologist during the past 23 years has helped to even the score.

Having a dynamic keynote speaker was a great experience for the approximately 600 men who attended the Men’s Conference. But I asked Tim what can be done to promote apologetics at the parish level, where bringing in a gifted speaker from California is not practical.

He told me, “We’ve got to start as Catholics doing what our Protestant friends have been doing for a hundred years—and that is these local Bible studies where folks get fired up. And then they have a vehicle, they have an instrument, where they can bring their friends.” 

If you’re curious, go to YouTube and search for “Tim Staples.” You’ll find hours of amazing video of Tim hard at work. And hopefully you’ll be inspired to ask your pastor about forming an apologetics Bible study in your parish.