Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Is He Obsessed with Old Age?


Recently, a friend said to me, “Hey Bill, for the last two years, every single one of your columns has discussed the fact that you are getting old. Why are you obsessed with that topic?”

Now, obviously that is a ridiculous exaggeration. Every single one of my columns during the past two years has NOT discussed the fact that I’m getting old. I looked through my archives, and in the third week of April, 2018, I wrote a column that had nothing to do with getting old. So there! Nyahh nyahh! (I may be getting old, but I’m certainly not getting mature.)

Well, it might be true that I have written a lot of columns recently about the aging process. But there is a very good reason for that: once you become a senior citizen, that is ALL you think about.

Every activity throughout the day is viewed through the lens of geezerhood. For example, if you are planning to drive somewhere, the most important thing to figure out — even more important than your actual destination — is where you can stop along the way for bathroom breaks. You also calculate if any of the driving will take place at night, and if so, you immediately cancel the trip.

If you are about to eat something, you first ponder whether the food will aggravate your current gastrointestinal issue(s). Sometimes you come to the end of an extravagant buffet line with just a bowl of chicken soup and some Saltines on your tray. All the other foods are way too risky.

If you’re about to do a chore or project around the house, you first ask yourself, “Will lifting this object reinjure my back and/or knee?” Your next thought is, “Who do I know that’s young and healthy — that is, age 50 or less — who I can pay to do this for me?”

If the chore or project does not involve heavy lifting (“heavy” being described as anything over 10 pounds), but instead requires exceptional fingertip dexterity, such as changing a watch battery, you ask, “If I put on two pairs of reading glasses, will I be able to see the tiny numbers on the back of that button battery?” Even if the answer is yes, you still wonder, “But will my arthritic fingers be able to work that teeny screwdriver?” At that point, you usually say, “Ahh, forget it. It’s easier to go buy a new watch.”

Even while sitting on the couch watching a ball game, age becomes a factor. Senior citizen sports fans will say something like, “If you think that guy’s good, you should’ve seen Roberto Clemente.” And if a younger person in the room says, “Clemente? Is he that new hip-hop singer?” the immediate reply is, “Get out of my house. Now!”

Many times before doing an activity, the question we seniors ask ourselves is, “OK, if I do this, which of my ‘ologists’ will I likely have to see?”

The list includes cardiologist, urologist, dermatologist, endocrinologist, orthopedicologist (yeah, I know that’s not what they’re called), neurologist, rheumatologist, gastroenterologist, and if you’re really really old, archeologist.

So, as you can see, it’s not that I’m “obsessed” with senior citizenhood and therefore compelled to write about it constantly. It’s just that the topics of my essays usually are about what’s going on in my life, and now that I’m a senior, the reality of the aging process impacts every aspect of my existence, and so what happens simply is this: I’m compelled to write about it constantly.

Just to prove that I don’t always write about this topic, next week I’ll discuss something completely different: the Social Security system and retirement planning.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Ah-choo! Jesus Bless You


Have you ever noticed how often people use the word God in everyday speech? We say things such as “Oh my God!” (also known as OMG in text message shorthand). We say, “God bless you,” “God forbid,” “By the grace of God,” “For the love of God,” “For God’s sake,” “It was an act of God,” “The wrath of God,” “Honest to God,” and, “Thank God it’s Friday!” (the famous TGIF).

Granted, most of the time when people use these expressions they are not consciously thinking about the almighty divine Creator. They instead are using culturally common figures of speech. 

Even many agnostics and atheists use these phrases, and certainly they are not renouncing their secular worldview and suddenly proclaiming faith in God. They’re just using traditional phrases to express everyday surprise, anger, fear, joy, frustration, etc.

Frankly, I’m not really sure if these expressions are violations of the Commandment about taking the Lord’s name in vain. I hope they are not, for the sake of the zillions of us who instinctively use these phrases on a regular basis. I truly believe that God cuts us some slack when we commit sins out of ignorance. So, if these common expressions are in fact taking His name in vain, I think He understands that we’re not consciously trying to be blasphemous. At least I hope that’s the case. I guess we should bring it up for discussion the next time we’re in the confessional.

Anyway, since we regularly use these expressions that contain the word God, and no one thinks we’re making religious pronouncements, we should try an experiment. Instead of saying the word God, let’s substitute the name Jesus. Like this: “Oh my Jesus,” “For the love of Jesus,” “Honest to Jesus,” “Jesus willin’ and the creek don’t rise,” “Jesus forbid,” “Jesus works in mysterious ways,” and, “Thank Jesus it’s Friday!”

Here is the most common one of all. Whenever anyone sneezes, say as nicely as you can, “Jesus bless you.”

Unlike the common expressions using the word God, which no one thinks twice about, if we substitute Jesus, I suspect a lot of people will pause and say, “Huh?” And that’s exactly what we want them to do: pause and ponder the name of Jesus.

If a relative, friend, or coworker pauses and says, “Huh? What’d you just say?” we can reply, “I just said ‘Jesus bless you’ instead of ‘God bless you.’ It means the same thing to me, since Jesus is God.”

I’m not saying that when Dave from Accounting sneezes on a Tuesday afternoon, the goal is to initiate a long and deep conversation about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and the fact that in Christian theology, as the Nicene Creed says, Jesus Christ is “true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.”

That might be a little much, especially since Dave from Accounting is probably more concerned at that moment with finding a clean tissue.

It’s likely that most Christians rarely ponder those words from the Nicene Creed (and I suspect most Catholics have never pondered them, even though we recite those words at every Sunday Mass). But the fact is, those words express a basic Christian belief: Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity, one-in-being with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Maybe it’s time we took that belief more to heart and expressed it in a somewhat subtle way to our friends and family. Let’s substitute the name Jesus in all those traditional figures of speech. Try typing OMJ in your text messages, and say, “Jesus bless you,” when coworkers sneeze. I don’t think Dave from Accounting will mind, and it might even get him thinking about faith—right after he finds a clean tissue.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Goofy Is Better Than Grumpy


I have to make an important decision soon, and I hope I make the right choice. In just a few years it will be time for me to be either a Grumpy Old Man or a Goofy Old Man. Having been in the presence of many Grumpy Old Men during my life, I hope I choose the other path.

To be a Goof rather than a Grump will require a lot of willpower, since I’ve heard the aging process reduces the body’s natural defenses against a case of crotchety-itis.

When I hit that age, I want to spend a lot of time walking around the neighborhood in just my bathrobe and slippers, waving hello to everyone I see. As the terrycloth belt of my bathrobe gets looser and looser, the neighbors will wave back with a nervous smile and think to themselves, “I wonder if he’s wearing anything under that robe?” (Don’t worry. I’ll have on my Red Sox gym shorts. I want to be a G.O.M. not a D.O.M.)

The key to being a proper Goofy Old Man, I think, is going to be my cane. I don’t actually need a cane right now, but the way my knee feels nowadays, I’m sure I’ll need one soon — possibly by the time you finish reading this essay.

Anyway, a cane is a perfect prop for G.O.M.P.A. (Also known as Goofy Old Man Performance Art.) For example, a cane is ideal for playing air guitar, and I want to make sure I can nail the opening riff of “Smoke on the Water.” And if that Deep Purple classic is not actually playing at the moment, then I’ll just sing it out loud with a nasally, “Nayhrrrt nayrr-nayrrrrr, ner-nerr nay-nayrr. Nayhrrrt nayrr-nayrrr, nayr-nayrrrr.”

I just have to remember not to do any Pete Townsend windmills with my air guitar cane, because I hear rotator cuff surgery is really painful.

Another way to differentiate between a Grumpy Old Man and a Goofy Old Man is how they react to neighborhood kids playing in their yards. The Grumpy guy will lean out the front door and yell, “Get off my lawn!” But what I want to do instead is go outside and say, “Here, let me show you the proper way to slide into second base.”

Then a few moments later one of the kids will say, “Whoa, I was worried for a minute, but he IS wearing gym shorts under that robe.” And another kid will say, “Thanks for the baseball lesson, but, um, we’re playing soccer.” Still another kid will say, “Gee, mister, is your leg supposed to be bent like that?” Finally, I’ll say, “Could one of you call 9-1-1 on your cell phone? And look under that bush. I think a couple of my ligaments bounced over there.”

Another thing that will assist my efforts to be a Goofy Old Man is to employ malapropisms, like the ones often uttered by my two favorite cartoon characters: Bugs Bunny and Norm Crosby.

For example: “What a maroon!” “Don’t make a skeptical of yourself.” “Thank you, I depreciate it.”

Along with these: “Speak up, I don’t have 20/20 hearing anymore.” “I resemble that remark.” “He’s a vast suppository of information.”

In contusion, to be a Goofy Old Man rather than a Grumpy Old Man, I’ll have to avoid frustration and anger. The best way to do that is to trust the Big Man in the sky. Or maybe that’s the Big Man in disguise.

Now, where’s my cane? I need to air guitar some “Purple Haze.” “Nayr-nayr-neh-nayrrr, neh-nayr-nayrrrr!”

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Time for the Conn. Catholic Men’s Conference


Hi guys! It’s that time of year again for the annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference. This day-long conference will be held once again at St. Paul’s High School, 1001 Stafford Ave., in Bristol, CT. The date is Saturday, October 19th, 2019, and the time is from 8:30 a.m. until the conclusion of Vigil Mass at about 5 p.m.

It you’ve attended the Men’s Conference in the past, then you already know it’s a wonderful opportunity to renew your faith life and connect with hundreds of other guys who are trying to do the right thing and be faithful in our confused and faithless society.

If you’ve never attended the Men’s Conference, let me try to explain why it’s so important that you attend this year. First, we have to understand that our modern American culture—including and especially our Church—is having a crisis of masculinity. We hear a lot these days about “toxic masculinity,” as personified by Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and many other men whose behavior was exposed during the “Me too” frenzy a couple of years ago. Treating women as sexual playthings obviously is not Godly masculinity; it’s just being a selfish creep.

On the other hand, our Church for many decades now has been noticeably feminized. The majority of people who attend Mass on a regular basis are women and children. And in the wake of the Theodore McCarrick scandal last year, we’ve learned that a huge percentage of our clergy would rather, um, let me see if I can phrase this correctly, would rather make a kale salad with cranberries than throw a football out in the yard.

I’m certainly not saying that our priests and bishops ought to be crude beer-chuggers who drive pickup trucks into the woods and hunt bears. (Although if some of them did that, it would be kind of cool.) I’m just saying that when you think of occupations that are “ruggedly masculine,” the Catholic priesthood is way down on the list.

To have the proper balance of masculine and feminine traits in our Church, the needed boost of additional testosterone is going to have to come from the laity. And that’s where the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference comes in. The theme of this year’s Conference is “Forge Your Path to Holiness.” The organizers of the Conference specifically chose the word “forge” to invoke the image of St. Michael’s sword.

Yes, I know. The thought of a weapon, whether actual or symbolic, makes many folks faint with fear nowadays. But let me try to clarify: Being a spiritual warrior does not mean you wield power over others and dominate people for your own selfish gain. Being a spiritual warrior means you are willing to defend your family and your Church and your community against the forces of evil.

(By the way, it’s very fashionable these days to downplay the concept of evil, and instead claim the real problem is that people occasionally make poor choices. Hmm, that kind of thinking must be the result of too much kale and cranberries. The fact is, evil is real, and it’s our duty to fight against it.)

The traits of true Catholic masculinity are courage, strength, holiness, and most of all, being willing to lay down your life for your friends and family. True Catholic masculinity overflows with love and sacrifice. Catholic men are most masculine when they bow down before God Almighty and seek to do His will.

When you spend an entire day with fellow Catholic men—listening to great speakers, enjoying the food and fellowship, receiving the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist—you will get a booster shot of courage, strength, and holiness. You will be filled with Catholic masculinity.

Please check out the website: CTCatholicMen.org , where you can learn more about the Conference and register. I hope to see you there, guys. And I’ve got it on good authority that there will be no kale and cranberries at the Conference.


Thursday, October 3, 2019

Cut Bad Bosses Some Slack


Recently I found an old issue of “Bloomberg Businessweek” magazine, and the main theme that week was “Trouble at the Office.” Most of the articles were inspired by readers who complained about problems in their workplaces. And many of those problems dealt with bad bosses. Some of the articles were titled, “Toxic Bosses,” “How to Live with the S.O.B.,” and “Are You Being a Jerk…Again?”

Most of the bosses in the articles were portrayed as a combination of pure incompetence, similar to the clueless boss in the Dilbert comic strip, and pure evil, similar to Nasty McGillicuddy, a kid I knew in the 6th grade who liked to torture helpless creatures, such as frogs, cats, and 5th graders.

The primary tone of the articles was something along the lines of: You should try to learn coping skills to keep your boss from getting under your skin because you’ll probably get caught if you kill him, even if the cops never find the body. The magazine seemed to imply that all bosses in all organizations throughout all of history have been and continue to be sadistic slave drivers.

And, of course, this is quite true. The very nature of the boss-worker relationship guarantees acrimony and hard feelings. This is because the boss needs the employees to work harder and to be more productive than the employees think necessary. Just imagine all those times you told your teenage children to clean their rooms. Your definition of “clean” meant clean, while their definition of “clean” meant not quite condemned by the Board of Health. Now just imagine every time you had those conversations with your kids, they were defended by a team of O.S.H.A. bureaucrats, workplace attorneys, and labor union officials. It’s enough to turn any parent into Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss — or Nasty McGillicuddy.

It’s easy to bash bosses since they have more power, they make more money, and they can leave in the middle of the afternoon to play golf “with a customer.” (You always make little air quotes with your fingers when saying “with a customer,” which is office code for “most definitely NOT with a customer.”)

For many years during my work career I was the direct supervisor of other employees. For a while I was the manager of a department of about 20 people in a factory. Then I was the supervisor of six people in a sales office. Let me tell you, there was nothing whatsoever good about being the boss — as long as you don’t count more power, more money, and leaving in the middle of the afternoon to play golf “with a customer.”

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been the direct supervisor of anyone, and that’s just the way I like it. The main problem with being a boss is that, unless you are the C.E.O. of the company, you are being supervised by an even higher up boss. And your job performance is based exclusively on how much blood, er, I mean, work, you can squeeze out the employees under you.

It’s a no-win situation for a boss. If the boss tries to be a decent guy and treat the workers nicely, then his higher up boss will come down on him like a ton of bricks. If he wants to please his higher up boss, then he has to crack the whip.

If you think your boss is a total jerk, please cut him some slack. Who knows, he might be getting dumped on by his boss, and in reality, he’s only a partial jerk. However, if your boss is named Nasty McGillicuddy, I suggest you turn and run as fast as you can.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Catholics Confuse Symbols and Substance


So, what’s new in the Catholic world these days? Well, a recent survey found that 7 out of 10 Catholics do not believe the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Jesus. Instead, these 70% of American Catholics think the Eucharist is just a symbol, which directly rejects 2,000 years of Church teaching.

Also, in recent weeks, the head of the Jesuit order said that Satan is not real. Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, the Superior General of the Jesuits, said, “The devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.” This view, too, rejects 2,000 years of Church teaching.

Hmm, seems like there is a lot of confusion these days about what is and is not a symbol. Now, don’t get me wrong. Symbols are very important, and our Christian faith tradition uses symbols and symbolic language all the time. And don’t forget, Jesus frequently taught using parables and analogies, which often used symbolism to make key points.

But here’s the thing: if we take firm, fundamental doctrines and reduce them to mere symbols, we drain all the power and meaning out of them.

Regarding the Eucharist, the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states it is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” But if it’s just a symbol, there’s no way the Eucharist has the power to be the source and summit of faith. It can only be that important if it truly is the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ Himself.

From the very beginning of Christianity, 20 centuries ago, the Church taught and the faithful believed that Jesus’ body and blood truly become present when the priest consecrates the bread and wine. Can we possibly explain in scientific terms how this happens? No, of course not. It’s an article of faith, and we believe it’s true because Jesus said so.

The gifted 20th century author Flannery O’Connor commented on this in her typical blunt way. If the Eucharist is not the real body and blood of Christ, she said, “Then to hell with it!”

During the past couple of generations, Mass attendance has dropped in the United States approximately 70%. Gee, I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that 70% of Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. Just sayin’.

If someone truly, truly believes in his heart that the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ becomes present at Mass in the elements of bread and wine, as a result of a supernatural miracle of God, then that person would never miss Sunday Mass. But if he thinks the bread and wine are just plain old bread and wine, and merely symbolize something or other about Jesus, then he’s not going to be too bothered if he misses Mass once or twice or a hundred times.

Regarding whether or not Satan is a personal being, the statistics are even worse. A recent survey indicates that 83% of Catholics agree with the head of the Jesuits: the devil does not really exist. But again, Scripture and the words of Jesus are very clear: Satan is a fallen angel who rebelled against God and was cast out of Heaven, and now he prowls about the world seeking to devour innocent human souls.

If we don’t believe what the Church teaches about Satan, we are not going to be aware of his sneaky attacks and temptations. And if we don’t regularly fill ourselves with a supernatural power to resist the devil—primarily by receiving the Eucharist—our souls are ripe for the picking.

Let me remind you of two important truths: being separated from the love of God is extremely painful, and eternity is a really long time.

Please don’t fall for the symbolism fad. The Eucharist IS the body and blood of Jesus. And Satan IS an evil personal being. Jesus clearly taught this, and the sooner we embrace these truths the sooner we can be victorious in the ongoing spiritual battle.