Friday, November 30, 2018

How’d You Sleep Last Night?

First thing every morning my wife and I either celebrate or commiserate with each other, based on the answer to this question: “How’d you sleep last night?”

This is a question we never had to ask each other in the past. Up until recently, for our entire marriage we already knew the answer to that question each morning. If we went to bed at a decent hour the previous evening, then we knew that we each had a good night’s sleep. If one or both of us stayed up too late — usually me, watching some Bataan death march of an extra inning Red Sox game — then we knew the answer would be: “Nah, didn’t sleep enough. I’m gonna be dragging at work today.”

Nowadays, however, even if we go to bed at a decent hour (the definition of which keeps drifting earlier and earlier), it’s not guaranteed that a good night’s sleep will be experienced. During the past couple of years, for no apparent reason, one or both of us have been finding ourselves wide awake at 2 a.m., staring at the ceiling.

All kinds of random thoughts and worries will race through our brains, and we simply cannot fall back to sleep. No, that’s not correct. We usually fall into a deep slumber about five minutes before the alarm clock is set to buzz. In the meantime, we enjoy hours of these kind of thoughts: “Do we have enough money to retire soon?” “Is that pain in my rib cage a pulled muscle or a tumor?” “Is Odell Beckham Jr. really worth all the aggravation?” (I’m pretty sure my wife doesn’t worry about this one), and “What should I wear to work tomorrow?”

As you can see, some of these thoughts/worries are legitimate concerns, while others are ridiculous — especially the “can we retire soon?” question. We already know the answer to that one, a resounding NO. But no matter how serious or silly, these are the kind of thoughts that keep us up half the night.

Earlier I said our sleep woes are occurring “for no apparent reason.” That’s not exactly true. I know the reason. It’s because we are transitioning from middle-agers into “junior seniors.” (Let me explain that term. I can’t quite admit that I’m a senior citizen — although I don’t hesitate to demand the senior discount at Dunkin Donuts — so for now I prefer to describe myself as a rookie in the AARP world, that is, a “junior senior.”)

If you surf the Internet, you can find dozens of articles that explain in scientific terms why older folks have trouble sleeping. Some of these articles discuss changes in the complex brain chemistry of seniors. It’s all rather technical, so as a public service I’ve taken it upon myself to summarize the scientific findings of multiple research projects: “Tough luck, Gramps!”

While online, the one thing you don’t want to do is Google this question: “How can seniors sleep better?” You’ll get 37 million search results, 36.99 million of which are trying to sell you “sure fire” remedies for senior insomnia. Some of these “100% guaranteed” remedies are priced so that one of the thoughts/worries you’ll soon ponder at 2 a.m. is, “How am I going to pay for my ElderDoze pills, along with this new SlumberFine diesel-powered mattress pad?”

You can try some of these wild remedies, if you choose. But I prefer to take the natural approach to this problem: lose sleep at night and nap the next day at work.

If you, too, doze at your desk, here’s a helpful hint: put in ear plugs so the sarcastic “Hey sleeping beauty!” comments from younger coworkers don’t wake you up.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Do Your Relatives Think You’re a Religious Nut?

Are you the one person in your family who is serious about religious faith? Are you the one who goes to church every Sunday and who has to remind everyone to say grace before dinner? Are you the only person in your family who knows how to say the Rosary, who knows where your Bible is located (and who actually reads it)? And as a result, does this mean your relatives think you’re kind of weird, and call you names such as “Holy Roller” and “Jesus Freak”?

Well, if so, you’re in good company. I know a person who is very zealous about religious faith, and as a result his family thought he was insane. His name is Jesus Christ. Yup, THAT Jesus Christ.

In Mark’s gospel, we read about Jesus traveling around the countryside, preaching and teaching and performing amazing miracles. Then he and his disciples returned home to Nazareth. In the third chapter we read: “He came home, and again the crowds gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”

Whoa! Jesus’ relatives not only thought he was insane, they wanted to seize Him. They wanted to lock Him up. They wanted to do an intervention and send him away somewhere to be cured of his delusional ideas. I can see it now: He’s locked in a room in some faraway rehab center, and every afternoon a psychiatrist with a Ph.D. from Harvard comes in to chat. “Now, Jesus,” he says in a condescending voice, “when did you first start having thoughts about being the son of God? Was it while you were grieving the death of your father, Joseph? Did Joseph ever say things to you that made you feel bad about yourself?”

That must have been very frustrating to have his own family members think he was crazy. We all know Jesus faced opposition from the Pharisees and religious leaders in Jerusalem, but most people are under the impression that Jesus was loved and admired by all the common folk out in the countryside. Well, maybe many of them admired Jesus, but his own relatives did not.

The next time your relatives mock you with taunts such as “goody-goody” and “God squad,” just because you won’t join in their profane conversations, do what you always do—pray for them—and then be thankful they are not plotting to have you locked up. Having them only think you’re a weirdo religious nut is much better than what Jesus had to deal with. And it’s much better than what Christians in other parts of the world have to deal with for being a follower of the Lord: imprisonment, torture, and even death.

You have faith in the fact that God is real, and that it is important to worship and serve Him. So, don’t let your unbelieving relatives get you down. Who knows, they may turn out to be like one of Jesus’ relatives, a man named James. James is not mentioned in the gospels, and there’s no indication he believed in Jesus during the Lord’s earthly ministry. James may have been one of the relatives who thought Jesus was out of his mind.

But after the Resurrection, when the early Christian Church was growing, we read about James in the Acts of the Apostles. He became the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. He became a pillar of the faith. He became a passionate “Jesus Freak.”

It’s no fun to have your loved ones call you a “holy roller.” But don’t despair. You’re in good company.

Friday, November 23, 2018

NYC Stimulates the Five Senses

Recently, my wife and I spent a weekend in New York City (a place where you use the word “spent” a lot). It’s been a long time since I was in Manhattan, and while there, the phrase that kept coming to mind was “sensory overload.” The Big Apple provides relentless stimulation for all five senses.

First, the sense of sight. You can visit many other big cities, but there are certain sights you can only see in New York. For example, on Sunday morning we were at a church on Sullivan Street, and when we stood on the front steps and looked northward, we could see the Empire State Building rising above the skyline. When we looked south, we could see the Freedom Tower gleaming in the sun. I’m pretty sure there are no spots in either Torrington or Waterbury where one can view such landmarks simply by turning your head 180-degrees.

Walking the sidewalks in New York is a visual smorgasbord. The people, the buildings, the vehicles, the street vendors, the stores, the restaurants just keep coming at you, as if you put a video on fast-forward. For the sense of sight, I would grade NYC an A-plus.

Next, the sense of taste. Seemingly every five paces you’ll see another exotic restaurant. They say the best food in the world can be found in New York, and I believe it. In two days, we went out to eat four times, and each time the food was great. Although at Sunday brunch, we had to wait almost an hour to be served our omelets, which we had ordered “no cheese.” The waitress apologized and explained that the cook made them with cheese and had to redo our order. Then, oblivious to the irony, she offered us a free dessert for our troubles: cheesecake. For the sense of taste, I give a grade of A-minus.

The sense of touch also gets a full-scale workout in New York, especially on the subway. At first, it seems OK: everyone has their own seat or their own spot to stand while holding the rail. But then you come to a station and the doors open. Four people get out and 40 people get in. All of a sudden, you are squished shoulder-to-shoulder with a multitude of total strangers. If you are not a touchy-feely type of person, this can be a bit disconcerting. For the sense of touch, I give New York a grade of C.

Next is the sense of smell. While walking a couple blocks, you take in aromas that you haven’t smelled in years. In a matter of minutes, these are the thoughts you have: “Wow, what is that restaurant cooking? It smells great. Ooh, how long has that garbage been sitting there? Hmm, what is that chemical smell? Are there refineries in Manhattan? Ug, what kind of perfume is that girl, um, guy, um, person, wearing? It’s awful!” For the sense of smell, I give New York a D.

Finally, the sense of hearing. This is the most noticeable, profound, and relentless aspect of being in the city. Everything is loud: the people, the trucks, the construction crew’s jackhammers, the ambulances, the trains, and the freelance percussionists in Washington Square Park. An intense wall of sound assaults your ears non-stop. At night, even the 11th floor hotel room offers no respite, as the sirens and other street noises are quite noticeable. For hearing, I give a grade of D-minus.

All in all, we had a good time. But in my view, New York is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. (Ooh, that’s catchy. I should copyright that phrase.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Do You Love God and Hate Your Neighbor?

Have you ever met someone who claims to love God, but who has nothing good to say about other people? Someone who is constantly complaining and criticizing and making fun of others?

Yeah, me too. I know a lot of people like that. They go to church on a regular basis. They say their prayers every day and they read their Bibles. They profess to love and serve God, and yet they constantly say nasty and sarcastic things about everybody, either gossiping behind their backs or being rude right to their faces.

When Jesus was asked which commandment in the law is the greatest, He said, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40).

So, Jesus said there is not one single commandment that is most important; there are two. We must love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves. And, of course, by “neighbor,” Jesus did not mean just the people who live on our street, as if we could say, “Hey, wait a minute, you live across town! You’re not my neighbor. I don’t have to care about you. Go jump in a lake!”

By “neighbor,” Jesus meant all people, regardless of where they live, or their race, creed, or political affiliation. That’s a little more of a daunting task, isn’t it? Jesus said we need to love everybody.

Maybe Jesus will be satisfied if we love God and kind of tolerate our neighbor. Because if you haven’t noticed, people can be real jerks. There are a lot of folks walking around these days who are very unlovable. Jesus can’t really expect us to love all those creeps, can He?

Well, in St. John’s first epistle, he wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God—whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21).

Oh brother, indeed! How do we do that? Well, it’s not easy. But there is an important concept in the Gospels, and here it is: It is possible to love people without necessarily liking them. The key is not that we have fond feeling for everyone, but that we remember every single person on earth was created in God’s image and is loved very much by God. What we have to do is sincerely wish the best for everyone. And in many cases, “the best” means that person needs to turn to God, repent, and change his or her selfish and hurtful behavior. But the biggest change occurs in our attitude toward them. Even if we don’t really like them, we can pray for them. That’s how we can love the unlovable, as Jesus commands.

So, getting back to my original question: have you ever met someone who claims to love God, but who has nothing good to say about other people? If so, then you may have met me.

If you struggle with this issue, as I do, let’s work together on it. Let’s try to love those people who annoy us the most by praying that God will shower them with blessings and change them. In the process, we’ll find that God changes us, too. And who knows, maybe all those people who call us jerks behind our backs will decide we’re not so bad after all.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Sleep Deprived After 18 Innings

For the past three weeks, many people have asked me these two questions: 1) “Did you stay up till 3:30 a.m. to watch that 18-inning World Series game?” and 2) “Are you going to write about the Red Sox winning the championship?”

Here are the answers I offered to those two questions: 1) “Yes,” and 2) “I’m not sure, because I’m so sleep-deprived I can’t think straight.”

Well, almost three weeks after the fact, I’ve finally caught up on sleep, and it’s time to write about the World Series victory by my beloved Red Sox. First, let’s start with that 18-inning marathon game. It was a Friday night, and as midnight approached and the game was tied after nine innings, I thought to myself, “Well, I don’t have to get up early and go to work tomorrow, so I’ll continue watching. How long can it go, another hour or so at the most?”

When the clock ticked past 2 a.m. in about the 15th inning, I no longer even cared who won. I pleaded with the TV: “Somebody, anybody, please end this thing!”

Anyway, the game went 18 innings, with the Dodgers winning on a walk-off home run at exactly 3:30 a.m. Eastern Time. I was relieved it was finally over, but then quickly realized I did indeed care who won, and as I crawled into bed and tried to sleep, my mind repeatedly replayed Ian Kinsler’s errant throw in the 13th inning that could’ve won the game for Boston. I didn’t doze off until well past 4 a.m.

For some unfortunate reason — probably due to the fact I’m not 25 anymore — I was wide awake before 7 a.m. and spent the rest of the weekend walking around in a daze.

There are two things that occurred during the World Series that I am not very proud of. The first is staying up to watch the entire 18-inning game. Many people have congratulated me for being such a dedicated fan, but in reality, it was one of the dumbest things I’ve done in a long time. (And if you ask my darling bride, the list of dumb things is extensive!)

The second thing I’m not proud of was directly caused by the 18-inning marathon game. Two nights later, when the Red Sox were poised to clinch the World Series title, I was so tired I went to bed after the fourth inning. While sound asleep I was awakened by the telephone ringing. I groggily looked at my alarm clock, which read 11:20. Then it dawned on me: “Ooh, the baseball game! Someone must be calling to celebrate with me! Either that, or it’s another robocall telling me to vote for Ned Lamont.”

I didn’t get out of bed in time to answer the phone, but I went in the living room, turned on the TV and saw a mob of Red Sox players jumping around and hugging each other. (Note to B.L.: Even though your wife was angry that you called me so late, I’m glad you did, so I could watch the celebration live.)

As the players celebrated and the trophies were presented, I perused various sports apps on my cell phone, trying to learn the details of the game. To be honest, at that moment I felt like a fraud. “What kind of fan am I? I was asleep during the clinching moment. I never would’ve done that in 2004. I don’t deserve to wear any of my 17 Red Sox hats!”
Three weeks later, and now well-rested, I think I’m still a loyal fan in good standing. And here’s a question for the MLB executives: Would it kill ya to start the games a little earlier?!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Don’t Lose Sight of the Good News

The past few months have been kind of depressing in the Catholic world. With the clergy sex abuse scandal flaring up once again, passionate and angry declarations have been dominating the daily news cycle. Our heads are swirling with various names and phrases: McCarrick, ViganĂ², Wuerl, cover-up, Martin, lavender mafia, Bergolio, settlements, seminaries, celibacy, Mansell, Cupich, PR statements, non-disclosure agreements, and on and on.

Some people are actually calling for Pope Francis to resign. Others are insisting that any criticism of the hierarchy is the work of Satan, as the Evil One attempts to create scandal in the Church.

Reports indicate that countless parishioners are leaving the Church, disgusted at the level of sin by the clergy and the cover-up by the leadership. Experts are certain dozens of states will follow Pennsylvania’s lead and conduct their own grand jury investigations, which will lead to further billions and billions of dollars in payouts to victims. Many pundits predict the financial impact will be so devastating, the Church will be forced to declare bankruptcy and may collapse entirely.

So, during this sad Season of Shame for Catholics, it is quite likely that many folks have been so focused on the failings of the Church, they’ve lost sight of the one and only reason the Church exists: to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Jesus founded the Church and declared the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. This is very comforting, especially during these times of crisis, when it seems Hell is doing a bang-up job of tearing the Church apart. We can and must remain confident that the Church will prevail in the end.

The Church needs to get back to the business for which it was founded: preaching the Good News of the Gospel. If you’re like me, you probably haven’t thought about that in quite a while, with the current scandal dominating the headlines.

Therefore, let’s have a little refresher course. What is the Good News of the Gospel anyway? We can simplify it down to four basic points:

First, God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives. In our very secular culture, it’s easy to forget that there is indeed a supernatural divine Being who created the entire Universe, including all life on earth. And this Being, called God, did it all out of His abundant love. He knows each of us by name, and He desperately wants us to share in His love.

Second, unfortunately, human beings committed sin, which separated us from the love of God. Just like Adam and Eve after they sinned, we feel shame and fear, and we hide from God. This makes things even worse, as we get caught up more and more in the habit of sin and selfishness. It becomes a spiritual downward spiral.

Third, God provided us with a way out of our predicament: He sent His only Son, Jesus, to become a man and bridge the big gulf between God and humanity. Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for our sin, and His Resurrection three days later conquered death once and for all.

Fourth, and best of all, Jesus promised that if we put our faith in Him and live our lives according to His teachings, we too can conquer death and spend eternity in God’s heavenly kingdom.

This is the basic Gospel message. The Church exists only to spread this message to a hurting world. It is truly the Good News.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the current scandals, if your faith life is sputtering these days because of the relentless negative news, spend some time focusing on the Good News. Spend some time focusing on Christ. Turn off your computer and all those negative reports, and open your Bible. Spend some time alone with Jesus in prayer.

The Good News is always good, no matter how often sinful members of the Church try to mess it up. Let’s not lose sight of that.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Too Young to Retire

During the last few months, I can’t count the number of people who have asked me if I am retired. (And for a guy who works in engineering sales, you’d think I’d be able to count to five.)

A couple of the people who asked if I’m retired had never met me before. After being introduced and then some idle chit-chat, they just blurted out, “So, are you retired?”

Being the self-conscious person that I am, I interpreted this question to mean: “You look like you’re at least 70, so let’s talk about senior citizen stuff.”

Well, I’m only in my early 60s. In fact, on my last birthday, I turned fifty-eleven, so I’m nowhere near retirement age — unless I worked for the government, in which case I would’ve been able to retire with a lifetime pension about a decade ago. But I live in the real world, so talking about retirement is way too premature.

No wait, “talking about” retirement is fine. Actually retiring is premature. In fact, according to those informational emails I receive from AARP every 30 seconds or so, I should’ve been talking about, and planning for, retirement a long time ago. Financial experts say that I needed to begin saving toward retirement at age 24, the exact moment I decided I could have a more fulfilling career in the private sector rather than taking a state job. Yeah, you’re right, for someone who works in engineering sales, at times I can be as dumb as bag of doorknobs.

Well, that’s all water under the bridge. As the old saying goes: “You can’t change the past, all you can do is cry about the future.” Umm, I don’t think the word “cry” is part of that old saying. It must’ve slipped out of my subconscious.

At this point, I’m not sure which is more disturbing: the fact I’m a couple decades behind schedule in my retirement planning, or that people think I look like I’m at least 70.

The thing is, I don’t really want to retire anytime soon. I like my job. Certainly, there are moments of frustration at the office (usually self-induced, when I have one of my “bag of doorknobs” moments), but overall, I find my work very enjoyable.

Also, during the last few months, I can’t count the number of people I’ve met who recently retired, only to discover retirement is not all it’s cracked up to be. (All right, I’ll take a guess: four people.) One guy told me he’s worried his savings will run out and so he obsesses over every nickel he spends. Another guy told me he’s bored and he spends too much time watching mindless TV. One guy told me now that he’s home all the time, he and his wife are getting on each other’s nerves. And the final guy confided in me that since he quit working, he feels fairly useless and he’s starting to think society wants him to die and get out of the way. (Gee, I don’t know why he would think that, other than the fact former Colorado governor Richard Lamm once said out loud what many others are thinking, that old people have “a duty to die and get out of the way.”)

In the interest of full disclosure, during the last few months, I can’t count the number of people I’ve met who recently retired and said they now are having the time of their life. (All right, I’ll take a guess: 50 people.) OK, so a lot of people do enjoy being retired. Fine. It’s just not for me. Now I have to get back to my engineering sales job. What do I sell? Bags of doorknobs.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Church History Filled with Scandals and Crises

The Catholic world is abuzz with talk about the current crisis: the ongoing clergy sex abuse scandal, enflamed in recent months by disclosures about disgraced ex-Cardinal McCarrick and the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

Many Catholics are angry. Many are dismayed. Many are leaving the Church, vowing never to return. And many are convinced this is the worst crisis ever to hit the Church, so much so that the Church may not survive.

I personally have heard more than a few Catholics lament that this scandal might cause the worldwide Church to declare bankruptcy and end up a hollow shell of its former self, kind of like the Sears Roebuck Company.

However, before we write the obituary for the Church, it might be best to put the current crisis in historical perspective. Yes, this scandal is bad. Yes, many thousands of people were victimized by predator priests and bishops. Yes, the financial impact is staggering, with billions already paid out to victims and who knows how many more billions needed for future payouts, especially if other states open grand jury investigations similar to Pennsylvania, as many have indicated they will do.

In her 2,000-year history, the Catholic Church has faced many scandals and crises. We can sometimes lose sight of the big picture and focus only on events that occur during our lifetime.

A great resource to put things into perspective is a podcast series by Fr. Dwight Longenecker, titled “Triumphs and Tragedies.” Fr. Longenecker is a former Anglican (Episcopalian) priest who now is one of the few Catholic priests who are allowed to be married. He currently is pastor of a parish in South Carolina, and is a prolific writer, speaker, and Internet blogger.

In Fr. Longenecker’s “Triumphs and Tragedies” podcast series, he devotes each episode to a specific century in Church history, focusing on the many struggles faced by believers during the particular period. If you think the present sex abuse scandal is the worst thing that’s ever happened to the Church, just wait till you find out what happened in the past!

The Catholic Church has endured so many crises and calamities down through the centuries, it becomes obvious that a purely manmade institution never would have survived this long. The fact the Church still exists throughout the world after 2,000 tumultuous years is powerful evidence that Jesus is the true head of the Church. Only God’s divine protection could have prevented the Church from collapsing completely many, many centuries ago.

Go to and look for “Triumphs and Tragedies” under the “Categories” menu in the far right-hand column. You can listen to the podcasts on your computer, or download them and listen on your phone or in your car.

Learning more about Church history is fascinating, and realizing that the Church has encountered trials as bad or even worse than the current crisis is somewhat comforting and encouraging—especially when all we seem to hear these days is, “The Church is doomed!”

Don’t get me wrong, the current crisis is awful. We will experience painful and shameful times for the foreseeable future. But the Church has survived many attacks over the span of 20 centuries, from within and from without. (The present situation, by the way, is definitely an attack from within, with a lot of help and tempting from the Evil One.)

The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Himself, and given the mission of proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel to all the world. Sinful people within the Church, of course, make that mission much more difficult. But that is what we’re called to do, and Jesus promised the Church ultimately will succeed. To see how the Lord has protected His Church during dire times in the past, listen to Fr. Longenecker’s podcasts. The Lord will surely protect us during this dire time, too.