Saturday, November 27, 2021

Pro Leagues Are ‘All In’ on Sports Betting

If you watched the World Series back in October, or if you like to watch National Football League games on Sunday afternoons, then you’ve probably noticed prominent advertisements during the telecasts for sports betting services. Besides running commercials during time outs, the gambling angle is even being promoted by the announcers and pre-game hosts. 


Recently, I saw an ad for a particular “sports book” just before an NFL game was about to begin. They highlighted the fact there are now many more ways “to fund your account.” In other words, after a guy gets wiped out by the 1 o’clock games, he can use credit cards, PayPal, or bank transfers to dump in more dough to bet (and lose) on the 4 o’clock games. How convenient!
Some of the big-name wagering services are called DraftKings, FanDuel, and Caesar’s. More accurate names would be CashGone, LoseBucks, and Can’t-Pay-Rent-No-More.

Now that the NFL is all-in on people betting on football games, the league should offer a public and sincere apology to Paul Hornung and Alex Karras. 

Decades ago, Paul Hornung was a star running back for the Green Bay Packers and Alex Karras was an All-Pro defensive lineman for the Detroit Lions. In 1963 the league suspended both players for one full season for the “unpardonable sin” of gambling on football games.

After the suspensions were announced, league commissioner Pete Rozelle explained to Sports Illustrated, “This sport has grown so quickly and gained so much of the approval of the American public that the only way it can be hurt is through gambling.” Uh huh. I suspect the real reason Rozelle was angry at the two players was because they didn’t give the NFL a cut of their winnings.

Obviously, the NFL no longer thinks gambling can hurt the league, not when there’s a ton of money to be made. Even though Hornung and Karras are deceased, it still would be nice if the NFL offered some kind of posthumous statement to clear their names and admit that taking away a full year of their careers was overly harsh. By the way, the average NFL career lasts only about 3-1/2 years, so a one-year suspension is a major hit on a guy’s ability to earn a living.
A funny moment occurred the following season when the two players were reinstated. During the coin toss before a Lions game, the referee asked Karras, “Heads or tails?” Alex dryly replied, “I’m sorry, sir, but I’m not permitted to gamble.”

Major League baseball also is gung-ho about sports betting, with the same wagering services prominently featured on commercials during ball games. That being the case, there is another person who deserves an apology: Pete Rose.

If you’re not familiar, Mr. Rose is the all-time major league hit leader, but he was banned from baseball in 1989 because he bet on games. (However, he never threw a game or bet on his team to lose.) As a result, he is not allowed to be in the Hall of Fame, even though he was one of the greatest players in baseball history. 
Pete’s biggest mistake was that he refused to grovel and beg forgiveness, which is in keeping with his rather unpleasant personality. But being likeable is not a requirement for entry into Cooperstown. Ever hear of a Hall-of-Famer named Ty Cobb? Compared to Cobb, Pete Rose is Mother Teresa. 

So, I don’t really care that pro sports leagues have done a 180 degree turn and now embrace sports betting. But if gambling suddenly is so cool, the leagues should apologize to guys who were simply ahead of their time. Do you think they will? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Jesus Tells Us Not To Worry

I hate to criticize Jesus because, you know, he is God, and the last time I checked I am not. So, critiquing the divine Messiah is, generally speaking, not a wise thing to do.


However, a little criticism is in order here. Jesus made a statement during His Sermon on the Mount that kind of grinds my gears. (I think the expression “grinds my gears” is found in one of St. Paul’s epistles.) During His famous speech, recorded in Matthew, chapter 6, Jesus said, “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?”
I’m quite sure there has never been a person throughout history who genuinely thought worrying can make people live longer. In fact, most folks are aware that worrying, and the stress and poor health that comes with it, has a good chance of reducing a person’s life-span.

As someone who worries more than I ought, and who has plenty of relatives and friends who worry more than they ought, I can say with confidence that everyone knows full well that worrying never helps to improve a situation. In addition to making people feel miserable, worry often clouds people’s judgment and causes them to be panicky, and the situation is made worse directly because of their worrying. We all understand this, and most of us who worry too much would love to stop being worrywarts, but it’s just not that simple. 

Another thing those of us who worry know for sure is that whenever someone tells us that worrying does no good, it just makes us worry even more. Now, besides whatever it is that’s making us worry in the first place, we add more worry because someone is concerned enough to tell us to stop worrying, and we feel bad for making them feel bad. 

So, when Jesus asked the crowd a rhetorical question, “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” I’m sure every worrywart in that crowd immediately thought, “Oh no, Jesus is bothered because I worry so much, and that makes me even more apprehensive.”
Instead of telling people that worrying does no good, which is quite negative, a better approach is to focus on something positive that will alleviate anxiety and worry. Fortunately, later in His ministry, Jesus improved His teaching technique. (Even though I’m playfully pretending as if it’s my place to critique Jesus, as I typed the previous sentence I glanced upward to see if a lighting bolt from Heaven was heading my way.)

In John’s gospel, Jesus offered some of the most comforting words in all of Scripture: “In this world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”

Now that’s more like it! Instead of offering a negative rhetorical statement that just makes people feel worse, here Jesus presents a concrete reason why we can relax and be less anxious. First, He points out an obvious truth that we all know: life is hard. Jesus doesn’t pull any punches. He tells us that we are sure to have problems. However, He immediately encourages us not to despair. And the reason we can “be of good cheer” is because Jesus has overcome the world. He is the Lord of all. His earthly mission of conquering sin and death, and providing the path for us to experience eternal joy in Heaven, completely blows away any fleeting problems we might have.

From personal experience, I can attest that meditating on these words from John’s gospel brings a great deal of comfort and greatly reduces my level of worrying. On the other hand, being told that worrying does no good only makes me feel worse.

So, I’m glad I had this opportunity to explain how Jesus fell short on the topic of worrying, but then later got His act together. There are a few other statements from Jesus that grind my gears, and I’d like to list them now.
Wait, what was that? Do you hear thunder? Hey, was that a flash of lighting? OK, maybe it’s time for me to stop. Jesus would never send a lightning bolt my way just for being a smart-aleck, would He? Uh oh, now I’m worried.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Disappointed Reader Chastises Mr. Manners

 A few weeks ago, the topic of this column was traffic rotaries. I mentioned that when I found myself stuck behind a befuddled driver who wouldn’t move, I “offered a cheery Connecticut greeting” by blasting my horn and waving my arm outside the car window, to communicate the friendly message, “Move your butt, ya bozo!!”


After that column appeared in the newspaper, I received an email from a reader who was very disappointed in my rude behavior. “That is certainly no way to communicate a friendly message,” he, she, or they wrote. (I couldn’t discern the gender of the email correspondent, so I’m not sure what pronoun is proper. And no, I’m not trying to generate more angry emails by making a snarky comment about the hot-button gender/pronoun debate. I may be dumb, but I ain’t stupid.)
The email writer added, “Nasty behavior like yours gives Connecticut a black eye. In the future, please think twice before letting your anger get the best of you.” 

OK, I know this is going to be a shock to many people, but I have a confession to make: in the 20-plus years that I’ve been writing this weekly humor column, I have on rare occasions resorted to the literary technique known as exaggeration. (I am, of course, using the definition of the phrase “rare occasions” that means “at least twice per paragraph.”)

The truth is, when recently stuck behind a befuddled driver who was unsure what to do at a traffic rotary, I did not beep my horn nor wave my arm. I instead did my home state proud by not acting like a New York City cab driver. I patiently waited for the other person to figure out finally how to navigate the roundabout, and then I went on my merry way.

You see, despite a little bombastic bluster once in a while in these essays, I’m really the type of person that recoils from conflict and confrontation. I’m not a big fan of, as the expression goes these days, getting in someone’s face.
Recently, I did something I was supposed to do back in high school: I read the Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice. If you’ve never read that book, it’s impossible to explain it here. And if you have read it, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Seriously? YOU read THAT?!”

Yup, I did. What I enjoyed most about the novel was the over-the-top manners and politeness employed by the idle rich in early 19th century England. They would use the most flowery, polite language, even when insulting someone.

I’m glad we’re not required to be like that anymore. But on the other hand, how do Americans behave nowadays? Well, we get into fist fights on airplanes. We scream profanity at the President of the United States as he’s meeting with young children. We loot TVs from appliance stores and then burn the buildings down to show how much we care about justice. We storm and vandalize the U.S. Capitol building because an emotionally troubled fellow exhorted us to march up there and “fight like hell!”

When I exaggerate in these essays, describing my boorish words and deeds, it’s supposed to be humorous because I never actually would do that. But the way things are going in our current culture, apparently it’s not so funny since crass behavior has become so commonplace. 
So, to the gentle reader who was grieved by the thought of me angrily beeping my horn and waving my arm at another driver, rest easy. I never did and I never would act that way. Even if I wanted to behave like that, considering the current anti-social climate, I’d rather not risk having my car riddled with 9mm bullets.

We DARE to Call God Our Father

Have you ever noticed at Mass that right before we all recite the Our Father prayer together, the priest says, “At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say”? And then we all join in, “Our Father, who art in Heaven…”

Isn’t the expression, “We dare to say,” kind of odd? Why use the word “dare”? 

In the dictionary, the word dare is defined as: “To have the necessary courage or boldness to do something.” 
Do we really need courage or boldness to mindlessly mumble a bunch of words we learned as kids, while our brains are thinking about what we’re going to do when we get home from church? (Speaking from experience here.) Is it really a courageous risk to say the Lord’s Prayer along with everyone else at Mass? Obviously, we do not need courage or boldness to engage in that particular weekly routine.

But the word dare is included for a good reason. Those of us who grew up in Catholic and Christian families, learned the Our Father prayer at an early age. Then later, during a CCD or Bible study class, we were taught the meaning of the prayer. And most likely we didn’t pay attention to that particular lesson because we were too busy making goofy noises in the back row and trying to get Eileen Crolly to laugh out loud. (Again, speaking from experience here.)

The point is, the words of the Our Father prayer were ingrained in us at a young age. It was the first and foremost prayer that all Christians memorized and there certainly was no need to be courageous or bold in order to say the prayer.

But that wasn’t always the case. Before the Incarnation, that is, before Jesus was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary and walked the earth 2,000 years ago, people trembled in awe before the Almighty Creator God. And rightly so. After all, God is the all-knowing, all-powerful Being who created the entire Universe. In comparison, we puny human beings are nothing. It would’ve been insulting to the majesty of God to consider Him as a pal or buddy or playful daddy.

However, that is exactly what Jesus taught: The all-powerful God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob actually is our “Abba, Father,” an expression that means something like, “Daddy, Papa.”
Jesus taught his disciples that they (and us, too) could informally turn to prayer and communicate with the Divine Creator. Prayer was no longer the exclusive domain of special community rituals and ceremonies. In any informal setting, such as our bedrooms or while taking a walk, we could look up and speak directly to our heavenly Father, just as a trusting child says, “Hey Daddy, I need some help.”

This teaching was stunning when Jesus explained it so many years ago. (And I understand that Matthew wasn’t paying attention the first time Jesus taught this lesson because he was too busy making goofy noises trying to get some girls to laugh. Luckily he paid attention later on and included the words of the Our Father prayer in chapter 6 of his gospel.)

It doesn’t seem like much of a dare to us nowadays to recite a prayer we learned as kids. But when Jesus first taught his disciples to say this prayer, it did require courage and boldness. The idea of having a personal conversation with the Creator of the Universe surely made the first disciples tremble a little. And to be honest, engaging in a personal conversation with the Almighty Creator should make us tremble a little, too.

Jesus’ mission on earth was to bridge the huge gulf between the Holy God and sinful mankind. Because He came to seek and save what was lost, we now can approach God as our tender Father. So, go ahead. I double-dog dare you: say the Our Father prayer with courage, boldness, and most of all, joy. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Logon to the ‘Impatient Portal’

I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but recently I’ve received numerous emails like the one I got from my cardiologist the other day. It said, “Log on to the Patient Portal to see the results of your examination.” A couple of days before that I received an email from my health insurance provider, which said, “Review your claim status by logging on to the Online Membership Page.” 


Similar emails have been sent to me from my dentist, a blood lab company, my regular general practitioner doctor, and a local pharmacy. In every single instance, the email instructed me to click a link that would allow me to log in. And on every single login screen, I was asked to enter my username and password. Now, here’s the thing: in each case I responded by saying out loud to my computer, “But I don’t HAVE a username and password, because you people never GAVE me one!!!” (And yes, I did speak loud enough that three exclamation points are necessary.)
In a past essay, I mentioned that I have well over a hundred usernames and passwords for a plethora of different online accounts, both work-related and personal. There are manufacturing firms my company does business with, plus other outfits such as Amazon, Google, L.L. Bean, redsox.com, and Lucky Dragon Chinese Take Out (where every order is ready, “In 10 minutes!” even if you always have to wait more like half an hour).

At this point, I don’t really mind setting up another six or eight healthcare accounts, if that’s the best way to get important personal medical information. But guys, you have to meet me halfway! With other organizations, take for example, L.L. Bean, if I see something on their website I want to purchase (because after all, who doesn’t need a new flannel plaid shirt every six months or so?), I select the item and then they give me clear choices: “Do you want to make a one-time purchase as a guest, login to your personal account, or set up a new account?”

The first time I bought something on the Bean website, I set up an account. I gave them my personal info, and created a username and password. Luckily, I remembered to write down the username and password right away. There have been times when I’ve created a username and password, and then two days later thought, “Uh oh, I never wrote it down. Guess I’m not buying anything from them again.” (Sometimes when I see my monthly credit card statement, I think, “Too bad I remembered to write down my L.L. Bean username and password!”)
The point is, they made it easy for me to create my personal user account. Unlike my healthcare providers, they didn’t jump right in with Step #2 (“Logon using your username and password”) before going to Step #1 (“Would you like to create a personal account?”)

Because I have no way of accessing my medical info, I’m forced to do what most guys do when it comes to healthcare: completely ignore it. No, I’m kidding. I’m not like that anymore. Having a person you refer to as “my cardiologist” has a way of making you rather serious about getting information. What I’m forced to do is call the doctor’s office and ask them to explain my test results over the phone.

When the receptionist cheerfully says, “Oh, you can get that information by logging on to the Patient Portal,” I am forced to tell a lie. Even though I work with computers and software all day at work, I play the geezer card. I say, “I’m so sorry, young lady, but at my age, I just don’t understand this interweb thing.”
 
The whole situation is way too stressful. It’s enough to give a guy heart trouble.

Listen to Your Mama

At the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference back in September, one of the guest speakers was a Catholic evangelist named Gary Zimak, who gave a very interesting talk about the Blessed Virgin Mary. 


By the way, the term “Catholic evangelist” is not an oxymoronic concept. It’s true that Catholics are generally not associated with the word evangelist, which is most often used to describe fundamentalist Protestant preachers. But the fact is, all believers are called to spread the Good News of the Gospel. Some do it by traveling the world and giving presentations at large conferences, like Mr. Zimak, and the rest of us are supposed to do it by living godly lives and being unafraid to stand up for the Lord in the midst of our secular culture. So, are you doing a good job these days being a Catholic evangelist? Um, yeah, me neither.
Anyway, Mr. Zimak explained that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is quoted in Scripture on only four occasions: the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Finding in the Temple, and the Wedding Feast at Cana.

You may notice that these four events correspond to different decades of the Rosary. In rosarian terms, the word decade does not refer to a period of ten years. Instead, it means ten recitations of the Hail Mary prayer, said while meditating on a particular Gospel event.

The Annunciation is when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was going to give birth to the Messiah, even though she was a virgin. Mary replied, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold on there, chief! You got some ‘splainin’ to do!”
 
Actually, that’s not what Mary said. One of the reasons I enjoyed listening to Mr. Zimak was because he humorously expressed how we might respond, using current vernacular, if we were in Mary’s situation. What Mary really said was, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” Then, soon after, she said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

A few months later, Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, and proclaimed what is called the Canticle of Mary, or The Magnificat. This is a beautiful prayer extolling the glory of God.

Then, moving ahead to the time when Jesus was 12 years old, Mary and Joseph lost Jesus for three days. When they finally found Him, inside the Temple in Jerusalem engaged in deep spiritual conversation with the religious scholars, Mary said to Jesus, “You are SO grounded, young man! And no Nintendo for a month!!” 

No, what she really said was, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”

Finally, if we fast-forward to the start of Jesus’ ministry, Mary and Jesus and His disciples were at a wedding feast in the town of Cana. If you’re familiar with this story, you know they ran out of wine right in the middle of the festivities, a serious social embarrassment for the hosts. Mary told Jesus about this problem, and then said to the catering staff, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Those are the last words of Mary recorded in Scripture: “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.”
Catholics have gotten a bad rap over the centuries for supposedly worshipping Mary. Judeo-Christian tradition clearly teaches that worshipping anyone or anything other than God the Creator is idolatry, the worst of all sins.

Catholics do not now worship, nor have they ever worshipped, the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is a human being, created by God, and worshipping her instead of worshipping God would be a terrible thing to do.

However, the Bible clearly says that Mary is “blessed.” She has been favored in a special way by God. She is the earthly mother of the Second Person of the Divine Trinity, the vessel through whom the Incarnation occurred. So, we rightly venerate Mary as one of the most special of all saints.

On the four occasions when Mary is quoted in Scripture, she never put the focus on herself. She always pointed to the Lord. And that is her main role in Church history. She points to Jesus. The last words she spoke in Scripture summarize the Gospel: Do whatever Jesus tells you.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is our spiritual mother. She is a great saintly example for us. Gary Zimak wrote an interesting book on this topic, which was the basis of his presentation at the men’s conference. It’s titled, “Listen to Your Blessed Mother: Mary’s Words in Scripture.”
It definitely is worth your while to order or download this book. After all, we should always listen to our mother, especially when she’s blessed.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Justice Is Ingrained in Our Hearts

We hear the word “justice” a lot these days. And that’s a good thing, since justice is a crucial part of civilized society. In fact, human beings instinctively desire justice. Just think about an expression we hear all the time: “That’s not fair!” This passionate lament is offered by little children, senior citizens, and everybody in between. Whenever someone yells, “That’s not fair!” he or she is expressing a desire for justice. 
The Bible also talks about justice. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow” (Is 1:17). And the prophet Micah wrote, “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and love goodness, and walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8).

What exactly is justice? Here’s a simple definition: Justice means people behave in a way that is fair, equal, and balanced for everyone, so that everyone receives what they deserve.

Justice is such an ingrained concept in human nature, that even when, for example, two guys conspire to rob a bank, if one of them tries to take a larger portion of the stolen money, the other one will shout, “That’s not fair!”

We hear a lot nowadays about social justice, economic justice, and racial justice, and rightfully so. In many ways our society is better than it was, say, 100 years ago. But there still is plenty of room for improvement.

When thinking about justice, consider these situations: 1) a six-year-old boy gets hit by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting and dies. The shooter is never arrested. 2) A mother of three young children gets cancer and dies a painful death at age 35. 3) After working hard for four decades, a man looks forward to a long, relaxing retirement, but a week after he stops working he is struck and killed by lightning on the golf course.

With each of these scenarios, we instinctively cry out, “That’s not fair!” And our anger and frustration is greater depending on how many potential years of life are snatched away from the unfortunate soul. 
Here’s a theological angle on the topic of justice: If there is no God, there will never be justice. Ever. 

Think about it. If there is no God, and therefore no life after death, when a six-year-old is senselessly killed, there is no way to make it right. Even if the shooter is arrested and imprisoned, that hardly makes the situation fair, since the little boy’s future has been irretrieveably lost. When there is no guilty party to punish, as with the young mother and the retiree in our examples, it’s still unfair and frustrating.

Only if there is a Heaven can we hope for real justice. Our faith tells us that Heaven is the place where every tear will be wiped away, and all the wrongs on earth will be made right.

Even when earthly justice is achieved — for example, the perpetrators are imprisoned and their victims compensated, and opportunities are equal and fair for everyone — there is still the great and terrible injustice that haunts us all: death. 
As a wise man once said, “No matter how many years you live, you’re gonna be dead a whole lot longer.” If everything we work so hard to achieve in this life disappears like the morning dew upon the moment of our death, how is that just? Talk about being unfair!

Justice is good and true and beautiful. It is a concept that’s been ingrained into human nature by our Creator. Therefore, we must strive to seek justice in all we do, both personally and as a civilized society. But true and lasting and perfect justice is only possible with a righteous God and His glorious Heaven.