Monday, May 30, 2016

‘The Grand Sez Who’ Wreaking Havoc in Our Culture

Some years ago I wrote an editorial column for a local newspaper, which explained the harmful effect of moral relativism on our culture. Moral relativism is the popular notion that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Instead, all moral values are merely personal opinions, and no one opinion should be judged as better or worse than another. I wrote that this mindset is the true source of the violence and chaos and polarization we see in our society nowadays.

That column generated a fair amount of feedback, and many of the email notes I received can be summarized as follows: You claim we need firm values, Mr. Dunn, but WHOSE values? Will it be your right-wing conservative Catholic values? No Thanks. Fanatical Jesus freaks like you just want to impose a theocracy on the country.
First of all, Christians in America, at least the ones I’ve met and prayed with, do not want a theocracy. The genius of the Founding Fathers was their ability to keep specific religious doctrines and dogmas separated from the governing of the country. But many people do not realize our nation was built on a firm foundation of traditional Judeo-Christian values and virtues. There was a clear moral consensus throughout the country. Regardless of a person’s particular religious affiliation, or no religion at all, the citizenry acknowledged a basic moral code.

Honesty, hard work, discipline, and courage were good. Deception, laziness, promiscuity, and cowardice were bad. Everybody agreed. When the U.S. Constitution was ratified, John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Most conservative Christians or traditional Catholics, such as myself, understand the wisdom and common sense of Adams’ words, and for the sake of the nation we simply want to return to a clear moral consensus. However, my email friends raised a very valid point: WHOSE values? WHICH moral code will the citizenry acknowledge and follow?

The late Arthur Leff, a Yale law professor, coined the phrase, “The grand sez who.” Leff realized that moral relativism has a fatal flaw. If there are no absolute truths, if all moral values are merely personal opinions, then there is no transcendent authority as the source of values. Every single claim about specific morality or virtue can be answered with an indignant, “Sez who?!”
Without a transcendent authority as the source of morality and values, there never will be a societal consensus. In cultures without a moral consensus there are only two possible outcomes: either a chaotic mish-mash of competing personal opinions, which is our situation today; or totalitarian oppression imposed by a ruling elite to bring order to the chaos, the scenario I fear will happen in America within a decade or so. Either way, true freedom and liberty are lost.

Thomas Jefferson identified the transcendent authority for morality and values. Jefferson, no friend of organized religion, cited in the Declaration of Independence that this source is the “Law of Nature and Nature’s God.” He knew the source was far weightier than mere human opinions.
The fact that people nowadays are indignantly demanding, “Whose values?!” and “Sez who?!” shows how much trouble we are in. If we as a society do not find a moral consensus—and fast—we will continue down the path of greater and greater cultural chaos.

At some point soon, frightened citizens will demand the government “do something!” to restore order. You don’t want to be around when that happens. Just ask people who lived behind the Iron Curtain, or who live in North Korea today—if they haven’t already starved to death.

The only way for America to avoid the inevitable chaos-then-crackdown fate is to reject moral relativism. This is in no way a desire to impose a theocracy. It is a desire to see our nation survive.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Color My World

I finally uncovered one of the deep mysteries of life. Men are not insensitive and uncaring, despite popular opinion to the contrary. The problem with men is that our brains can only recognize eight different colors. We cannot handle anything more than the basic, Kindergarten-issue Crayola 8-pack.
Women, on the other hand, are just getting started with the Deluxe Crayola 96-pack (with a crayon sharpener built into the box!). A woman’s brain can easily recognize hundreds of subtle shading nuances of each major color.
The revelation of this males-only impairment came to me, if you haven’t already guessed, while standing with my wife in the paint department of the local Home Depot store on a Saturday morning. (I believe Home Depot’s corporate motto is: “And you thought Disney World was the largest and most crowded place on earth!”)

Our mission was simple: purchase a can of paint for the walls of one of our bedrooms. My wife kept displaying paint samples before me and asking Eastern mysticism riddles, such as, “Which shade do you think is softer, the ‘Saint Martin Sand’ or the ‘Oklahoma Wheat’?”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. My first impulse was to blurt out, “How can a color be SOFT?” My second impulse was to say, “Every one of those rectangular color samples is IDENTICAL! They’re all tan!” I finally settled for my standard response: “Doesn’t matter to me, Honey. Choose whatever you like.”
In my mind I was being very prudent and wise by deferring the final decision to an expert. In a certain someone else’s mind, however, I was being insensitive and uncaring because I wouldn’t study the hundreds of subtle shading nuances before assisting in the final decision.

But it’s not my fault. It’s genetic. A man can only tell the difference between the following colors: blue, red, green, yellow, orange, purple, brown, and white.

I think it has something to do with televised team sports. The Yankees wear blue and white. The Red Sox wear red and blue. The Celtics wear green; the Lakers blue and yellow; the Chicago Bulls red and black; the Minnesota Vikings purple and yellow; the Cleveland Browns orange and brown. Simple, basic, no-subtle-shading-nuanced team colors. And no tan.

Only one color, blue, has variations that men can notice. The Yankees wear dark blue; the Dodgers wear medium blue; and the University of North Carolina basketball team wears light blue. However, men cannot notice the difference unless the colors are side-by-side, for example, if the Yankees play the Dodgers in the World Series and the Commissioner of Baseball decides to use UNC basketball players as umpires.

No other basic color has dark, medium, or light variations (at least that men can detect). A particular color either is, or it isn’t. Someone may say that red has different variations. But of course, that’s false since light red is really pink, and as we all know, pink is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution from being used as a team sport uniform color. 

Instead of accusing me of being insensitive and uncaring, my wife should be more understanding. She shouldn’t put such pressure on me, especially in a public place.
I hope medical researchers will study this syndrome. Maybe they will label it Chromatic Arrested Disorder, or CAD for short. (Doctor: “I’m sorry to tell you this, Mrs. Dunn, but the tests reveal that your husband is a CAD.” My wife: “Tell me something I don’t already know.”) 

At least I’ll be able to get an official doctor’s note: “Bill is not allowed to enter the paint department of Home Depot stores. Instead, he should take two doses of televised team sports and call me in the morning.”

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Body and Blood: Super Symbol or Super-Natural?

This weekend at Mass we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. The second reading, from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, describes what Jesus did at the Last Supper: “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
Most Christian denominations agree this practice is a basic part of community worship. On a regular basis we use bread and wine to conduct rituals with names such as Communion Service, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharistic Celebration, etc.

In the Roman Catholic Church, however, we believe the bread and wine do not merely represent or symbolize Jesus’ body and blood. We believe the bread and wine actually BECOME Jesus’ body and blood during Mass.

Many groups claim the Catholic Church made up this particular view during the Middle Ages, many centuries after Jesus walked the earth.

But let’s take a closer look. The reading this week from 1 Corinthians, chapter 11, ends at verse 26. But if you look up in your Bible at home and continue on a few more verses, you’ll see that Paul offered some very interesting warnings. Starting at verse 27 he wrote, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.”

Now if it’s just a symbol, if it’s just plain old bread and wine, how can someone partake of it in a manner so unworthy that they’d actually be sinning against Our Lord’s own body and blood? It doesn’t make sense — UNLESS the bread and wine are something a little more special than mere bread and wine.
A bit later, in verse 29, Paul wrote, “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

If it’s just plain old bread and wine, how are we supposed to “recognize” the body of the Lord? And if we don’t recognize the body, how can we bring judgment on ourselves if it’s just plain old bread and wine? The only thing that makes sense is that we’re supposed to recognize the body of the Lord in the bread specifically because the bread now IS the body of the Lord.

The Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist was understood and believed by Christians from the very beginning. It was not “made up” by the Church in the Middle Ages. It didn’t have to be “made up” centuries after Jesus walked the earth, because during the first century—during the time the apostles were still alive—none other than St. Paul clearly believed it and clearly taught it in his letter to the faithful in Corinth.

And when you read what Paul wrote here about the body and blood of the Lord, along with Jesus’ amazing words about His body and blood in John’s gospel, chapter 6, it becomes crystal clear that a supernatural miracle is taking place: mere bread and wine are transformed by the power of God into the actual body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus Christ the Lord. Whoa! That is breath-taking!

So, this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (or “Corpus Christi,” as it used to be known), is a terrific time to remember what a remarkable gift the Lord has given His Church: the gift of Himself, when bread and wine are supernaturally transformed into His body and blood. As Paul instructs, make sure you recognize it.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Holy Trinity Is Beyond Comprehension

Imagine living in a two-dimensional world, where everything is flat. There is only height and width, but no depth. All of existence is contained on a flat plane, like a huge sheet of glass which extends in all directions as far as the eye can see.

The people living in this two-dimensional world have various shapes. There’s Timmy Triangle, Cindy Circle, Sammy Square, Reggie Rectangle, and that free-spirited non-conformist, Trevor Trapezoid.
These flat people can move forward and back, left and right. But in their two-dimensional world, there is no such thing as up and down.

One day Timmy Triangle said to Cindy Circle, “Hey, guess what? Sammy Square just told me there is someone who is made up of six separate squares but is actually one person.”

“Impossible,” Cindy replied. “It’s either six different people or it’s one. It can’t be both at the same time.”

“Sammy says it’s true.”

“What does he know? He’s a blockhead. And you, Mr. Triangle,” Cindy continued, “You’re so pointy-headed you actually believe that nonsense.”

“Well, maybe it is true,” Timmy said.

“C’mon, do the math! How can six separate square people be consider one person at the same time? It makes no sense!”

Well, she’s right. It makes no a two-dimensional world. Six separate squares cannot at the same time be considered one thing.

But what if, unbeknownst to our flat people, there exists another dimension? What if the third dimension, depth, really exists and the two-dimensional flat people simply are unaware of that fact? They’ve been living their entire lives on a single plane, going forward and back, left and right, not realizing that they could also go up and down.

With three dimensions, you can take six separate squares and arrange them into one cube. For we human beings, living in our three-dimensional world, this is obvious. But to the flat people, living in their two-dimensional world, it makes no sense. They cannot comprehend how six can equal one.
Maybe this is why it’s so hard for us to comprehend the concept of the Holy Trinity. The Christian faith teaches one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Many people hear that description and say, “Oh, so Christianity is polytheistic. You guys believe in many different gods.”

“No,” we explain, “We believe in one God, who exists in three persons.”

And just like Cindy Circle, the reply is, “Impossible. It’s either three different gods or it’s one. It can’t be both at the same time. I knew you Christians were blockheads.”

Maybe we’re like the flat people, constrained by our three-dimensional time-space existence, and unaware of an additional dimension. We cannot comprehend how one God can exist in three persons.

But from the heavenly perspective, outside of time and unconstrained by physical dimensions, it may be plain and obvious—as obvious as us knowing that six squares can equal one cube.
As Christians we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity this week. We celebrate it, but in all honesty, we really don’t understand it. It is an article of faith. We believe that our eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator left the heavenly dimension in the person of Jesus Christ and entered into our earthly three-dimensional world. He did it to guide us and teach us and most of all to save our souls.

You see, we each have a soul. It is eternal. In our finite, three-dimensional, time-space existence, a little bit of the next dimension has been given to us: our souls.

Today, many folks deny this. They say the soul is fiction. They claim all our thoughts and emotions, desires and dreams, are nothing more than complex electro-chemical reactions formed by zillions of years of evolution.

Piffle. That’s a close-minded Cindy Circle explanation.

We should know better. We should realize that the core of our being—all those ideas and memories and longings known as our higher consciousness—is not purely physical and natural. There is something supernatural and spiritual about it. It is our eternal soul.

Unlike Cindy Circle, who had no way of knowing that another dimension existed, we have evidence that there is something beyond what we can see and touch. We have our souls, which point us heavenward. And we have Jesus Christ, who came from that realm to assure us that it truly does exist, and showed us how to get there.
As it says in one of the shortest but most profound verses in the entire Bible: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” 

And as the great hymn says, “Praise the Holy Trinity, undivided unity. Holy God, Mighty God, God immortal be adored.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Bad Night’s Sleep Is Terminal

The other day I got to check an item off my personal “Bucket List.” Here is item #7 on my list: “Spend the night sleeping on a thin dirty carpet on the floor of an airport terminal, with a lumpy backpack as a pillow.” Check! Cross that one off the list.

No, I’m kidding. I’ve got a few weird items on my person Bucket List, but sleeping on the floor of an airport terminal is not one of them. Even if that were on my list, technically I could not check it off because in order to claim that you slept on an airport terminal floor, you actually have to do some sleeping. I did a lot of laying on the floor, begging my exhausted brain to fall asleep, but every time I was about to doze off, one of two things occurred: either a strategic body part, such as a hip or shoulder or neck, suddenly screamed at me, “Hey, this hurts like hell, so roll over and let some other body part suffer for a while,” or the overnight maintenance crew fired up one of their industrial strength vacuum cleaners, the ones that sound a lot like the space shuttle being launched, except slightly louder.
Thunderstorms in the Midwest caused my flight from Kansas City to be delayed, so when we finally arrived in Baltimore, my connecting flight to Hartford was already gone. It was after 11 p.m. and I asked the person at the counter when the next flight to Hartford was scheduled to leave. She replied, “Tomorrow morning at 6 a.m.” Wanting to get home as soon as possible, I said, “Well, put me on that flight.”

Then I started running the numbers in my head. “Let’s see, by the time I call around to find a hotel with a vacancy, and then get a cab, and then have to wake up in time to take a quick shower and get another cab back to the airport so I have enough time to go through security and be at the terminal for the boarding that begins at 5:30, I’ll probably get no more than an hour or two of sleep. So I might as well just spend the night in the terminal.” I then asked myself this rhetorical question, “How bad can it be?” Here’s the rhetorical answer: REALLY FREAKIN’ BAD!

There are few things more painful than being unable to sleep when you are completely exhausted. The hard floor and the lumpy backpack pillow were simply excruciating. My brain was tired to the point of hallucinating, but it would not doze off.

The last time I slept on a floor was over 30 years ago and I was drunk, so it was no problem. (Well, being a drunk proved to be a big problem. But sleeping through that particular night was a piece of cake.) 
Now, however, in my late-50s and sober, getting some sleep was just not going to happen. So I spent about four hours prone on that hard floor, tossing and turning and wondering if one of the unicorns frolicking through the airport terminal would let me ride on him. (Hey, I wasn’t kidding about the hallucination thing.)
In hindsight, my big mistake was choosing to take the 6 a.m. flight. If the same situation ever occurs again, instead of the earliest flight the next morning, I’ll take a flight that leaves about two days later, which will give me time to find a hotel and take a few 12-hour naps. 

Either that, or the next time my company wants me to travel to Kansas City, I’ll attend the meetings via online video-conference, from the comfort of my bed at home.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Profound Truth in Simple Baltimore Catechism

The old Baltimore Catechism asks this question: “Why did God make you?” The correct answer is: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”
Millions of Americans who attended parochial schools in the 1940s and ‘50s memorized this answer and could spout it out on demand, although to be honest, many did so just to avoid the wooden ruler wielded by Sister Mary Margaret Knucklewacker.
Nonetheless, the correct answer does contain profound theological truths. This weekend is the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, when we celebrate the mystery of one God in three Persons. Let’s look at the Baltimore Catechism’s three key verbs regarding God: know Him, love Him, and serve Him.


The very idea that we can know the eternal, Almighty Creator of the Universe is mind-boggling. Throughout much of recorded history, mankind has considered the Divine Creator to be too powerful and too mysterious and too distant to be known.

The fact is, unless God actively reveals Himself to us, our understanding of Him will be at best very general and vague. At the heart of Christianity is the idea of divine revelation. God has clearly revealed to us the mysteries of who He is, what He is like, why He created us, and what He expects from us. God most definitely wants us to know Him, and He has made sure that we can.


We human beings already know that we are capable of love. Most of us have loving relationships with our family members and our friends. To love God means that He also must be capable of entering into loving relationships. In fact, He can. This is because God is a Person. He has a personality, just as we do. God’s very nature is love. That is why He created the Universe in the first place. Sadly, many people nowadays reject God’s love because they don’t even realize He is offering His love to us.

Based on the simple facts of the situation—God is God and we are not—we have a duty to serve Him. After all, He is the one who gave us life. He is the Creator; we are the created beings. Despite what we often think, we are not in charge. When we understand this, the most logical and rational conclusion is that we should serve God, whether we like it or not. And nowadays, most people most definitely do not like it.

Modern Americans hate the idea of serving someone else. What a shame it is that we have such a selfish, “It’s all about me” attitude, when the fact is, serving someone else is the key component of a truly loving relationship. Take a minute to think of a married couple that you would describe as “happily married.” Most likely each spouse takes time to serve the other. Each spouse is less concerned about his or her own needs and more concerned about the needs of the other spouse.

Serving God is the exact same thing—only better. It is not a dreary obligation. It is a joyous opportunity.

Although the Baltimore Catechism has been all but forgotten these days (along with most other forms of sound doctrinal instruction, just sayin’), we can learn a lot from this simple and yet profound lesson. God made us to KNOW Him, to LOVE Him, and to SERVE Him. These three actions are indeed possible. There is no threat of the wooden ruler anymore. Just the opportunity to understand why we exist, and what we need do to fulfill the fantastic plan God has for our lives.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Pentecost and ‘The Da Vinci Code’

[Note: this essay was originally published ten years ago, when the movie “The Da Vinci Code” was released.]

This week we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, commemorating the event that took place 50 days after the Resurrection, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and infused them with the power and courage they needed to spread the Good News in a hostile environment.

It has been about two weeks since the new Tom Hanks movie, “The Da Vinci Code,” was released, and this is a good time to discuss both the movie and the Holy Spirit, as one is being hyped to the max right now while the other has all but been forgotten. (If you’re not sure, the Holy Spirit is NOT the one receiving tons of media hype these days.)

The movie, based on Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, makes some rather outlandish claims about the history of Christianity, including: Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a daughter; in the year 325 A.D. the emperor Constantine declared Jesus to be divine, an idea that had not occurred to anyone prior to the 4th century; Constantine rejected dozens of other gospels and rewrote the four that are in the Bible; and the Catholic Church has for centuries suppressed the truth about Jesus, using lies, deception, and murder.

In my mind, the most disturbing aspect of “The Da Vinci Code” is not that Brown wrote a story that is sacrilegious and blasphemous toward Christianity. Archbishop Angelo Amato, a top Vatican official, noted that if “such lies and errors had been directed at the Koran or the Holocaust, they would have justly provoked a world uprising.”

But as anyone following the news in recent years knows, it is perfectly acceptable in our culture to trash traditional Christian beliefs—and especially Catholic beliefs—with impunity. Brown states in the book, “everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false,” and then spends the rest of his novel trying to convince readers it is true. Ho hum, another Christian basher. It’s getting rather routine.

And in my mind, the most disturbing aspect of “The Da Vinci Code” is not that Brown portrays fiction as if it is historical fact. Brown coyly tries to have it both ways, asserting at times that his book is a novel, while at other times claiming that he is presenting the truth. For example, when the book was first published in 2003, Brown told National Public Radio that his characters are fictional but “the ancient history, the secret documents, the rituals, all of this is factual.” That same year he told CNN that “the background is all true.”

There is a wealth of historical evidence that demonstrates beyond a doubt that Brown’s version of history is simply ludicrous. Even secular historians are in agreement that the early Christians, from the 1st century onward, believed that Jesus was divine. Ho hum, another modern relativist who thinks “truth” can be whatever someone feels it is. This too is rather routine these days.

No, in my mind, the most disturbing aspect of “The Da Vinci Code” is the fact that so many faithful Christians have no clue about the history of the early Church, and as a result are accepting Brown’s fantasy as plausible. Most Christians are quite ignorant about the early centuries of Christian history, and dare I say, virtually ALL Catholics—my own people—are completely in the dark about the fascinating story of the growth and development of the early Church.

It’s almost as if some people—people who identify themselves as Christians—really WANT the “Da Vinci” story to be true. Author James Hitchcock points out, “Millions of people read The Da Vinci Code not because they necessarily believe its absurd story, but because it creates a myth that serves certain emotional needs and allows them to be ‘religious’ without submitting to the demands of faith.”

Hitchcock explains that the story “is not merely another ‘liberal’ revision. It is nothing less than the claim that Christianity has been a deliberate fraud almost from its beginning, that the true story of Jesus was suppressed, and that only now are we finally learning what it was all about.”

The philosophical worldview of “The Da Vinci Code” is a mixture of New Age spirituality, neo-gnosticism, and radical feminist goddess worship. It tells us to look for God not above and beyond us, but rather inside of us. Instead of God coming down to meet mortal humanity—most obviously at the Incarnation, when the Second Person of the divine Trinity took on human flesh—the “Da Vinci” view claims that people already have the “divine spark” within. To paraphrase Mel Brooks, “We don’t need no stinkin’ Savior, we can save ourselves.”

Combined with our culture’s intense distrust of all authority—especially Church authority—and our culture’s rampant narcissism, “The Da Vinci Code” is the perfect vehicle for this new wave of feelings-based spirituality.

What does all this pop culture stuff have to do with Pentecost and the Holy Spirit? Ah, I thought you’d never ask. Let’s review what Jesus told us about the Holy Spirit. In John’s gospel Jesus said, “When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me.” A little later Jesus also said, “When he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.”

From the very beginning the Church has firmly believed that the Holy Spirit—who Jesus called “the Spirit of truth”—has been guiding the faithful, keeping the Church from embracing erroneous doctrines. It was the Holy Spirit who inspired the authors of the New Testament documents to write the truth about God; it was the Holy Spirit who guided the Church to choose which documents belonged in the Bible; it was, and is, the Holy Spirit who makes sure the Church teaches the truth about the life of Christ and God’s plan of salvation for the world.

As mentioned last week in our discussion of the so-called “Gospel of Judas,” the National Geographic Society (NGS) firmly believes that historical events are ultimately the result of human politics, power, and public relations. The sensationalistic TV special produced by the NGS claims that the people with the most power and influence, the early Catholic leaders, forcibly suppressed another version of the story of Jesus, a version that makes Judas the good guy.

“The Da Vinci Code” has the same view, claiming that the organization with the most power and influence, the Catholic Church, has suppressed the truth about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and the true Gospel of the “sacred feminine.”

In both cases the religious beliefs that have emerged down through the centuries are based solely on human efforts. The group with the most power—the Catholic Church—ended up “winning” the PR battle. God was not a factor.

But in the views of both the “Gospel of Judas” and “The Da Vinci Code,” God is a silent, powerless wimp. Sinister men were able to squash God’s true message.

Well, I don’t know about you, but the God I worship is not a powerless wimp. And He is not silent. He didn’t go to all the trouble of creating mankind in the first place and employing a wonderful plan of salvation after mankind rebelled, to then just sit back idly as His plan was being suppressed. The God I worship is not that impotent.

The only “version” of history that makes any sense at all is that God employed His wonderful plan of salvation, and then insured that the plan would be known to all the world by sending the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth,” to “guide [us] to all truth.” 

The other “versions” of history may give people a warm fuzzy feeling, and make them think that they possess secret, special knowledge—not to mention allowing them to focus on themselves rather than the much more difficult requirement of denying themselves. However, the Good News of Jesus Christ, preached beginning on the Day of Pentecost in the year 33 A.D. and continuing unchanged to this very day, is the true Truth. And it is the only “version” of the story, guided and preserved by the Holy Spirit, that can get us into Heaven.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Carbs cause lung cancer? Oh my!

When I was a young man, I often proclaimed, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy!” Ironically, during the time in my life when I frequently uttered that statement, I was an atheist who had a severe drinking problem. Apparently, my metaphysical worldview and a notable absence of happiness did not prevent me from latching onto a clever comment.

Years later, when I became a sober Christian (not to be confused with a somber Christian), I had to modify the statement to: “Doughnuts are proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy!”
So imagine my chagrin when I read the following headline recently: “Are CARBS the new cigarettes? Experts warn carbohydrates may increase the risk of lung cancer by 49%.”

Good grief. The food nannies are at it again.

I know that too many carbs will cause weight gain, but lung cancer? C’mon, I only wolf down doughnuts and bagels and cake, I don’t smoke them. (Cue the Wizard of Oz song: “Doughnuts and bagels and cake, oh my. Doughnuts and bagels and cake, oh my!”)

This story about carbs reminds me of one of my favorite comedians, the late, great John Pinette. John struggled with weight problems most of his life, and he often talked about the various diets he tried and the personal trainers he employed. One time a personal trainer told him if he went on a low carb diet, the carb cravings would subside after a week. John explained that even after many weeks, the carb cravings were still strong: “When you drive by a bakery and jump out of a moving vehicle, I’d call that a craving!”
Yeah, I can relate to that. Although I have to say my carb cravings aren’t nearly as bad as John Pinette’s, since I have the willpower to wait until the car comes to a complete stop before jumping out and sprinting into the Dunkin Donuts store. (Oh, and if you see that elderly lady I accidently knocked to the floor the other day, umm, tell her I’m sorry.)

According to a report I read online (and my motto is: “If it’s on the Internet, it must be true!”), a new study conducted at the Anderson Cancer Center in Texas found a correlation between lung cancer and “high glycemic index” foods. In layman’s terms, the glycemic index is a measure of how quickly blood sugar levels are raised after eating. High G.I. foods include white bread, bagels, Russet potatoes, rice, and doughnuts.

Another statistic listed in the report: more than 150,000 Americans will die of lung cancer this year, with 12-percent of them, or 18,000, being non-smokers. Whoa, something is causing cancer to form in the lungs of those non-smokers. Could it really be carbohydrates? Darn! Why is it everything that’s good turns out to be bad? The next thing you know the health nannies will publish a report that claims the greatest cause of death is life. (“The data indicates 100-percent of those people who experience a bout of life will eventually die. We’re working hard to find a cure.”)

The report offered a list of foods with a low G.I. rating, which therefore means they are not a lung cancer risk: whole wheat and pumpernickel bread, oat bran, sweet potatoes, yams, lima beans, and lentils. 

OK, I think we can work this out. When I go to Dunkin Donuts — and first, I’ll try my best to walk into the store slowly — I’ll just order a glazed pumpernickel doughnut and a sweet potato cruller. That sounds tasty (sort of). And then I’ll sing the Wizard of Oz song: “Oat bran and lentils and yams, oh my!”

Monday, May 9, 2016

Holy Spirit Makes Us God’s Children

This weekend we celebrate Pentecost, the feast that marks the birthday of the Church. On the first Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection, The Holy Spirit came upon the small, frightened band of believers in a spectacular and powerful way. We hear about this amazing event in the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles.
While gathered together indoors, the disciples were startled by “a noise like a strong driving wind.” Then tongues of fire appeared, “which parted and came to rest on each one of them.” The Holy Spirit then filled each of the disciples, giving them the power to speak in many different languages. They went outside and began to proclaim the message of the Gospel to a multi-ethnic crowd.

The display of power by the Holy Spirit is certainly spectacular, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Back on the night of the Last Supper, about two months earlier, Jesus promised that the Father would send the Spirit to the disciples. He said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.” A bit later Jesus explained, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything.”
Nowadays many people assume the spectacular power displayed by the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost was only for that moment in history. The thinking goes that after waiting a gazillion years to make His appearance, the Holy Spirit came and empowered the early disciples in a special way. Then when enough Christian communities were established a few decades later, He went back to Heaven for another prolonged vacation.

The fact is, the Holy Spirit is still present and active in the lives of believers. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul made it clear that a person cannot even be a follower of Jesus unless the Holy Spirit is present in his or her life. Paul wrote, “But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (emphasis added).

To be genuine disciples of Jesus, the Holy Spirit must dwell inside our hearts. With the Holy Spirit inside of us, we become the children of God, and not in the sterile, generic sense of the word. We’re not God’s “children” in the way some people view it: “Well, yes, since God is the creator of everything, that makes us technically His offspring, His children.”

Paul said, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God….You received a spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’”

The word Abba literally means, “Daddy!” or “Papa!” This is not some sterile, generic acknowledgment of a distant and impersonal creator. This is a close and intimate relationship. Paul’s message is absolutely stunning: God Almighty Himself has adopted us. We are no longer lowly peasants cowering in fear before the king. We are now members of the royal family!
All this is made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s why the feast of Pentecost is such an important event. We commemorate the day the Holy Spirit was first poured out onto the disciples, changing forever the nature of the relationship between God and His followers. Pentecost is not just the official end of the Easter season and a day to wear something red to church. It is a day to remember that God has adopted us into His family. 

Because of Pentecost and the power of the Holy Spirit, we don’t have to kneel in fear before God waiting for His punishment. We can instead, with childlike enthusiasm, jump into His lap, give Him a big hug, and exclaim, “Abba! Daddy! I love you!”

Friday, May 6, 2016

Jesus’ Prayer for Unity

In the 17th chapter of John’s gospel, which we hear at Mass this weekend, Jesus offered up a passionate prayer to God the Father. On the night before He sacrificed His life for the sin of the world, He prayed that His followers “may all be as one.” Jesus desired that all those who believe in Him throughout history would be of one heart and one mind, so that by their obvious unity, unbelievers would be drawn to the saving truth of the Gospel.

Well, let’s see if Jesus’ prayer was answered. We currently have the Orthodox churches, split mostly along national lines, such as Greek, Russian, Serbian, etc.

We have in excess of 30,000 different Protestant denominations (it’s impossible to get an accurate count as new ones are being formed daily), each one convinced its particular interpretation of Scripture is right.

And of course, we have the Catholic Church, which may appear to outsiders as somewhat unified, but trust me, as a member, I know it too is wracked with splits and divisions. Unlike Protestants, these Catholic factions don’t leave to form new denominations, they instead work to change the church—or in some cases, it seems, work to kill the church—from the inside out.

Some Catholic groups want the church to drop its emphasis on “superstitions” (such as the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the existence of God, and other old-fashioned doctrines) and focus all its energies on Marxist social policies. Other groups want women to become priests; some groups want priests to get married; still others want priests to get married…to each other. But the jaw-dropping award winners are those groups which want the church to bless the act of ripping a wiggling infant from his or her mother’s womb and tossing it into a Dumpster.

Which reminds me of a popular bumper sticker: “You can’t be Catholic and Pro-Choice.” Very simple but very true. If you are Catholic, you cannot be pro-choice—and vice versa.
To be pro-choice, a person must deny a host of basic church doctrines, including the doctrine that the Bible is the Word of God. In Scripture, God is quoted as saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). If that statement is accurate, then a fetus is a unique human being and abortion is terribly wrong—end of discussion. 

When people claim abortion is acceptable, they deny the accuracy of the Jeremiah verse (and many other verses), and therefore deny the accuracy and inerrancy of Scripture, which is a very un-Catholic position.

The most important church doctrine being violated by the pro-choice view is the belief that God alone is the author and Creator of life. In Psalm 139, King David expressed awe over God’s majestic, creative power: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Ps 139:13-14).

The pro-choice view is based on the notion that mankind is the sole authority regarding life and death issues. Mankind, not God, has the right to determine when, where, and how life is created. How incredibly prideful and arrogant! The only way to proclaim this view with a straight face is to be an avowed atheist. Anyone who holds this view while believing that God exists is, well, is a very scary person indeed.
But, thanks be to God, the tide of public opinion is slowly moving away from the Culture of Death. Before he died a few years ago, Charles Colson noted the ambivalence in the pro-choice camp. He quoted one abortion supporter as saying, “We know what’s inside those garbage bags behind the clinic. We’ve seen our friend’s sonogram.” Keep praying.

So, anyway, speaking of prayer, with all the disunity and confusion in Christendom, was Jesus’ heartfelt prayer answered? It would seem not. But we must remember that all prayers are answered by God. However, sometimes the answer is “yes,” sometimes the answer is “no,” and sometimes the answer is “wait.”

Apparently, God told His own Son to wait. Mankind’s sinful nature—our pride and selfishness and parochial prejudices—cause divisions and disunity even among those professing faith in Christ. It’s a shame, and it’s not the Lord’s will for us, but it’s a fact of life in a sinful, fallen world.

Jesus’ prayer that all believers be as one should give us some insight about what He considers important. Don’t forget, He offered this prayer when He was on the verge of being tortured and killed. If He could focus on the unity of His followers at that point in time, it must be a really crucial issue.

Maybe we could remember this the next time we’re tempted to join in the latest round of sectarian squabbles, doctrinal disputes, and dogmatic dog fights. Maybe if we instead focus on the love of God, the miracle of Creation, and the joy of the Resurrection, we’ll demonstrate the truth of the Gospel to an unbelieving world and bring more souls with us into Heaven. 

Maybe then the answer to Jesus’ prayer finally will be “yes.”

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Hugs Not Slugs

I tried to institute a new family tradition this past Easter: male hugging.

You see, I’ve been involved with the church choir the past few years, and one of the major features of the group is hugging. The ladies hug the ladies. The ladies hug the guys. And, yes, you guessed it, the guys hug the guys.
At first I was really uncomfortable. Guys hugging guys? We don’t do that in New England. Up here in the chilly Northeast we’re reserved and unemotional. In this part of the world, when you greet another guy, you shake hands and mumble, “’sup?” (Full translation: “What is up with you, my good man?”)

If the other guy is a very close friend — say, a twin brother you haven’t seen in a decade, or someone you fought side-by-side with during a war — you demonstrate your affection by punching him in the upper arm and saying, “Hey, how ‘bout them Red Sox? If they get a little more pitching, they might go all the way.”

My initial reaction when I encountered the friendly choir people was to run for the parking lot, but my wife assured me we were not in the midst of an alternative lifestyle religious splinter group.
Surprisingly, after a while I got over my huggaphobia and realized it was a wonderful way to greet friends regardless of gender. So, a brilliant idea occurred to me: this would be a great thing to do in my family when we all got together at Easter.

We arrived at my mom’s house on Easter Day, where all the usual aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, in-laws, and outlaws had gathered. I walked into the living room and gave my mother a kiss and a hug. No problem so far. Even we chilly New Englanders agree it’s OK to kiss your mom.

The first guy I came to was my brother-in-law, Lumpy, the truck driver. He reached out his right hand and mumbled, “’sup?” I ignored his hand, threw my arms around him, and pulled him toward me. Suddenly my chin was on his shoulder and we were standing there chest-to-chest. I cheerily said, “Happy Easter, Lumpy!” 

Lumpy began to quiver in terror. He broke free and stepped away from me, glancing around the room to see of anyone had witnessed what had just happened. The room was silent, with every mouth frozen in mid-sentence and every eye staring straight at us. Lumpy looked like he was about throw up. He finally offered me a timid smile, punched me in the arm, and blurted out, “How ‘bout them Red Sox?! Tied for first place!”

“It’s March,” I said. “The season hasn’t started yet. Everyone is tied for first place.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Lumpy said, not hearing a word, “If they get a little more pitching, they might go all the way!” He turned and ran to the kitchen to get a beer or two or twelve.
Moments later, after hearing a quick summary from Lumpy, my father walked in from the kitchen. He said to me, “Son, we don’t do that around here.”

“But Dad, what’s the big —”

“Son,” he said firmly, “We’re saving that kind of behavior for a special occasion.”

“Huh? What’s more special than Easter?” I said.

“When the Red Sox win the World Series later this year,” he answered.

“Yeah, right,” I said sarcastically. “You mean later this century — maybe.”

“Now don’t be like that,” my father said, his voice becoming more pleasant. “If they get a little more pitching, they might go all the way.”

He smiled at me, and then to let me know everything was all right, he clenched his fist and affectionately slugged me in the arm.