Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Social Media: More Hot Water Than a Tea Kettle

Here’s a recent news headline: “Police advised to be careful with posts on social media.” Apparently, many cops have gotten into hot water because of foolish comments on various websites, such as Satan’s Book, er, I mean, Facebook. It’s not just police officers who are posting snarky comments that may seem funny and clever at the moment, but when read days later by the entire community, come across as completely nasty and hateful.

People in other occupations are losing their jobs, too, because of foolish posts. For example, a woman in Texas was about to start a new job at a daycare center. Before leaving the house for her first day of work, she wrote this on Facebook: “I just really hate being around a lot of kids.”

As soon as her new employer found out — surprise, surprise! — she got her wish: she no longer had a job around a lot of kids.
Teachers seem to be especially prone to ill-advised social media comments. A teacher in the Bronx, NY, visited the Facebook pages of his students, and when the students posted photos of themselves, the teacher would comment, “This is sexy.” The creepy teacher was fired, which is no small feat, given how hard it is to get rid of bad teachers in NYC.

Speaking of bad teachers in New York, a group of 6th graders from Manhattan went on a field trip to the beach, and tragically one of them drowned. Later that day, a teacher in Brooklyn wrote this on her Facebook page: “After today, I’m thinking the beach is a good trip for my class. I hate their guts.”

When someone responded, “Wouldn’t you throw a life jacket to [one of your students]?” she quickly responded, “No, I wouldn’t for a million dollars.”

Well, isn’t that sweet? This teacher was fired, but a New York court overturned her dismissal, and apparently, she is now back in the classroom molding the impressionable minds of the children she loves so much.

A quick internet search found stories about many teachers who posted photos of themselves on Instagram. However, since the photos clearly showed that the teachers were totally drunk but not totally dressed, there were serious repercussions when school officials found out. Also, I’m guessing the drug paraphernalia in plain sight made it a bit tougher for the teachers to plead their case.
Getting back to the news story I first mentioned, the warning to police officers in Connecticut to be careful with social media was prompted by a cop in Hartford. He allegedly posted a photograph of a busy city intersection and commented on all the “parasites” who live in that particular neighborhood. Then, just in case you weren’t sure about his attitude toward the people he is paid to serve, he added a suggestion that someone should “call in an airstrike.”

I think the chiefs of police in our state should not tell their officers to be careful when using social media. Instead, I think they should prohibit them from having social media accounts at all.

OK, you’re correct. That would violate a whole bunch of constitutional rights. But maybe the chiefs could let the officers know that if they insist on having personal social media accounts — whether they post anything nasty or not — they will be assigned to work only the 3rd shift and be forced to drive the clunky cruiser with no heat.

Or maybe the cops and teachers could simply realize that Facebook was invented by Satan. Well, that’s an exaggeration. Zuckerberg is only a junior demon.
I can think of no better New Year’s resolution than to delete your Facebook account. It just may save your job — and your soul.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Epiphany: Messiah Revealed to The World

This week is the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, celebrating the occasion when “magi from the east” visited the child Jesus to bring Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

To clear up some misconceptions, so we don’t equate well-known holiday songs with divine Scripture, nowhere in Matthew’s gospel does it say there were three visitors from the east, and nowhere does it say they were kings. The word “magi” refers to members of a caste of priests, astrologers, and magicians in ancient Media and Persia. (But, on the other hand, I suppose the song sounds better the way it is, rather than, “We indeterminate number of priests, astrologers, and/or magicians of Media and Persia ARE; Bearing gifts we traverse aFAR…”)
Also, to clear up another misconception, the magi did not arrive at the stable just behind the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth. (And, according to some popular presentations, they did not arrive just ahead of Santa Claus, a little drummer boy, a reindeer with a red nose, a snowman named Frosty, and a guy named George Bailey looking for an angel named Clarence. Some Christmas pageants are quite extravagant productions.)

After their long journey—many, many months at a minimum—the magi finally found Jesus, and as Matthew explains, “on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother” (emphasis added; house, not stable). When Herod tried to eliminate a possible successor to his throne, he ordered the deaths of all boys two years old and under, not just newborn infants.

Anyway, besides bringing expensive gifts, those wise men from the east (however many there actually were) were the first Gentiles to pay homage to Jesus. The word epiphany means “to show forth,” or “to make manifest,” or “to appear.” This event was the first time God’s plan of salvation through the Messiah was shown forth, or made manifest to people other than Jews.
So, needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), the whole world should be very joyful and grateful that God’s gift of salvation through faith in Jesus is made available to everyone, not just a certain group or groups. Thank God!

Another interesting aspect of these events is the part God’s revelation plays. We can know a lot about God by observing the world around us. We can understand that God is real, and that He’s the Creator of everything, and that there is some sort of moral code—a concept of good and evil—governing the universe (Romans 1:19-20). But we can’t know too many specifics. We can’t know the mind of God and His particular desires for our lives unless He tells us.

The way He tells us in this day and age is through the Holy Spirit, through the Scriptures, through His Church. But none of these would be possible without Jesus. The Incarnation, the second person of the Holy Trinity lowering Himself to become a man, the event we’ve been focusing on these past few weeks (or if you’re in the retail business, these past few months), is the supreme way God reveals His mind and His desires to mankind. Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
The Incarnation is truly the Epiphany for all the world. It is the showing forth, the appearance, the manifestation of the Creator to His beloved creatures, humanity.

As amazing as it may seem, we CAN know the mind of God and we CAN know His will for our lives. And it’s all because of Jesus. He revealed it all to us.

As we begin a new year, is there any better resolution to make than to seek God’s mind, seek His will, and then do it? I don’t think so.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Nostalgic Christmas Memories

Christmas is without a doubt the most nostalgic season of the year. Dickens was no dummy to create a character called “The Ghost of Christmas Past,” because we all have vivid memories of Christmastime during our youth.

The older I get, the more I marvel at my parents for the way they made Christmas such a joyful and exciting holiday in our house. I’m thinking primarily of the 1960s and early ‘70s. My dad was a math teacher, which is why my siblings and I still break out in a cold sweat a half-century later whenever we hear the words, “Time for flash cards!” (On the other hand, we have never failed to blurt out the correct answer whenever anyone asks, “What is six times seven?” Of course, no one has yet to ask that question, but if they ever do, we are ready.)
Back in the ‘60s, the average annual income of a public school teacher was slightly less than the income of a 17-year-old French Fry trainee at McDonald’s. In other words, with five kids and a mortgage and my mom working part-time when she could, there wasn’t a whole lot of extra cash laying around in those days.

And yet, every December 25th, the house was always decorated festively, we had a big feast, and there were plenty of presents under the tree. I still can’t believe they pulled it off.

Speaking of the tree, we had an interesting tradition in my family. I don’t know if it was an Irish-Catholic thing from New Haven, but the rule back then was: you had to wait until Christmas Eve to put up the tree. Christmas Eve was already hectic enough for my parents, what with food preparation, last-minute shopping, and trying to corral five super-excited children bouncing off the walls, fueled in part by candy cane sugar highs.
Every year on Christmas Eve afternoon, my father and his two oldest sons, which unfortunately included me, would drive off to a Christmas tree farm, armed with shovels and a couple of yards of burlap. You see, cutting down a tree would’ve been too easy. Our mission was to dig up a tree, roots and all, so we could plant it the backyard in the spring, after the ground thawed out. As you may know, the ground in Connecticut isn’t exactly soft on December 24th, a fact that was not lost on my brother and me as we banged our metal shovels into the frozen tundra.

In retrospect, I think it was a brilliant plan by my father to get us so exhausted that we would sleep through the whole night, instead of waking up at 2 a.m. wondering if it’s time to open presents. After a couple of hours of chipping at frozen dirt (apparently, we were into CrossFit way before CrossFit existed), we finally dragged that tree home and had a great time decorating it.

Then we would watch the news on Channel 8 from New Haven, as they gave updates from NORAD, which tracked Santa’s journey with radar. “They’re not going to shoot him down by mistake, are they?” my brother once asked. “Nah,” my dad replied. “The Russians might, but not our guys.”

I know for many people, Christmastime is more painful than nostalgic, usually because loved ones are no longer here. But for me, The Ghost of Christmas Past has nothing but fond memories. And I’m very grateful to my parents for working so hard to make Christmas really special. I don’t know how they did it. It must’ve been yet another Christmas miracle.

I sincerely hope your activities this year will be nostalgic memories in the future. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2019

News Flash: God is NOT Santa Claus

Now that Christmastime has finally arrived (and golly, it seems like only yesterday the retail stores were putting up their festive Christmas decorations—on Labor Day weekend), we must remember one important truth about this special holiday: God is not Santa Claus.
Many people think of God the way He often is depicted in Renaissance art: an older man with a flowing white beard. The only thing missing is the red suit. Since God is pure spirit, those images are not correct, but we can’t blame medieval artists; they had to put something on that canvas or fresco, and a wise old man was the best they could come up with.

Many other people, influenced more by Joel Osteen than by Renaissance art, think of God as a cosmic vending machine. Or let’s really modernize the concept: they think of God as a cosmic Amazon Prime account. In other words, God is the provider of all the “stuff” we crave. God is the source of all our goodies—and we demand next-day delivery, too.

When we pray, do we praise God for who He is, and then thank Him for what he’s done, and then ask for forgiveness for what we’ve done? And then, only after we’ve made those prayers, do we request from Him what we need?

No, of course not. We skip the first three steps and go right to the gimme-gimme-gimme prayer.

I suspect the most often prayed prayer in the whole world is the Our Father. Christians of all denominations say that prayer, both individually and as groups. This means millions of times each day people offer up these words to God: “Thy will be done.”

The word “thy” is just an old-fashioned way of saying “your.” So, when we say these words during the Our Father prayer, we are turning to God and saying to Him, “I want your will to be done in my life, O Lord.”

Our mouths are reciting, “Thy will be done,” but for far too many of us, our hearts are really saying, “My will be done.” Our prayers to God have turned into letters to Santa Claus.
“Hi God. I’ve been a good boy this year. So, I want you to bring me a baseball bat, a Red Ryder BB gun, a zeppelin, a fire truck, a cowboy hat, and a Lexus SUV.”

Do you see what I mean? As mature adults and professed believers in God, we pray as if we’re in grade school writing letters to Santa Claus. That’s not who God is, and that’s not what He expects from us.

When we say the words “Thy will be done,” we’re supposed to mean it. If we are honest, we have to admit that once in a while God’s will is not the same as our will. I am using, of course, the definition of the phrase “once in a while” that means: an average of ten times per minute.

Our will is often short-sighted and selfish, influenced greatly by pride and a desire for pleasure and comfort. If you’ve read the Bible, you know that pride is the worst of all sins. Additionally, our journey through this life is expected to be somewhat difficult and uncomfortable at times. We’re not going to usher in God’s Kingdom and spread the Gospel message throughout the world by sitting on a couch and binge-watching shows on Netflix. (I think the warning about Netflix is somewhere in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.)

Now that Christmastime has arrived, it’s time to remind ourselves what this holiday really means. “Santa Claus is coming to town!” is fine for children. But for us, it’s “Joy to the World, the Lord is come!” Jesus took on human flesh to bridge that huge gulf between holy God and sinful mankind. He died to pay the price for our sins, and He calls us to pick up our cross and follow Him.
In direct opposition to the main message of our culture, it’s not all about us. When we pray, “Thy will be done,” we cannot really mean, “My will be done.”

Don’t confuse God with Santa. God has plans for us that are infinitely greater than anything you’ll ever find in a stocking. All we need to do is seek His will, and then do it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Cussin’ Like Sailors at the Office

Recently I was involved in an interesting discussion with a few friends. The topic was profanity in the workplace. It seems that each of us in this small group deals with a work environment where some, if not most, coworkers use profanity as if they’re getting paid five bucks every time they drop an F-bomb.

If that payment plan actually were true, I know a few guys who would be millionaires by Thursday morning. The thing is, these guys are not anti-social outlaws from the seedy underbelly of American society. They are professionals, who often wear suits and ties and attend high-powered meetings in fancy corporate conference rooms. It’s just that at some point in the recent past, it became acceptable in our culture for folks in all walks of life to talk like the characters in a Martin Scorsese gangster movie. Or maybe someone really is paying five bucks a pop for every F-bomb. In that case, how do I get a piece of the action?
Anyway, my small group of friends and I get together on a semi-regular basis to study the Bible before the work day begins. So, in addition to the ubiquitous F-bomb, there was concern about the frequent usage of the JC-bomb, the GD-bomb, and the really offensive JFC-bomb, which is a stunning blend of crudity and sacrilege.

Some of the members of the small group offered helpful advice. For example, one young lady explained that whenever a coworker shouts “Jesus Christ!” in an angry, profane way, she calmly but firmly finishes the sentence by saying, “…is Lord.” Eventually the person catches on and the JC-bombs stop.

Unfortunately, I was unable to add much to the discussion, since I am a workplace chameleon. That is, I adapt to my environment. If everyone in a particular sales meeting is cussing like a sailor, then I suddenly become a Seaman Second Class and join the festivities.

It’s not like I would earn a million bucks by Thursday morning. But I probably could accumulate enough five-dollar bills by Friday afternoon to go on a nice vacation.

I try to convince myself that my salty language is all right, because I am not offending anyone. And I do make a point of not cursing like Robert De Niro discussing the president whenever I’m in the presence of people who would not approve, such as my wife, my mother, or my parish priest. But when I really think about it, I know my rationalization is just a load of bull— Oops, I almost went there. I mean, a load of, um, malarkey.
I’m not sure what your particular work environment is like. I used to think my experiences occurred only in the HVAC industry. But I’ve shared my thoughts with other people in recent months, and it seems foul-mouthed workplaces are present in every industry.

There has got to be something we can do about this situation. Maybe the key is the silly quip I made earlier: “five bucks.” However, instead of paying someone $5 every time they curse, how about we institute a workplace challenge: every time someone drops a profane bomb, he or she has to put five dollars in a “cuss jar.” At the end of the week, the money can be used to buy canned goods to be donated to a homeless shelter. Or if your office is like mine, at the end of the week there should be enough money to buy a Ferrari.
I think this is a great idea. Except for one thing: it’s now the time of year to gather with family and friends and watch my favorite heart-warming Christmas movie, “Die Hard.” Maybe Bruce Willis can say, “Yippee-ki-yay, brother trucker.”

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Why Jesus Came

Here’s a little story the late Paul Harvey used to tell on his radio show many years ago…
There once was a kind and decent man, certainly not a Scrooge. He was generous to his family and upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas Time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to earth as a man. “I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so, he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound. Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud. At first, he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window. 

Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat and galoshes, and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So, he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted, wide-open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms. Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn. 
And then, he realized, that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me. That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? 

Any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him. “If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.”  

At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells—Adeste Fidelis—listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. Suddenly he realized “all that incarnation stuff” was true. He now understood why Jesus came to earth. And he sank to his knees in the snow and prayed.
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord! Have a wonderful Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Shoe Box Memories – Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the stunning changes that have occurred in the field of photography. For generations, people took photos with rolls of film, sent the film off to be developed, and then weeks later the prints arrived. After flipping through the photos, and commenting that half of them were out of focus and the other half “make me look fat,” the pictures were placed in a shoe box, which was stored away in the back of a closet.

The shoebox archive method was ideal for most families. Whenever you felt a little nostalgic, or if dear old Uncle Ned finally passed away and it was time to prepare the snapshot poster board for the wake, the “shoebox of memories” was waiting for you. Decades of family history was contained inside that cardboard rectangle with the faded words “Thom McAn” on top.
For many, many decades, this method of storing precious family memories was essentially unchanged, except for the switch from black-and-white to color in the 1960s. But then, a fairly short time ago, a quantum leap in technology occurred. The photography industry went digital. No more chemical-coated plastic film. No more sending rolls of film out to be developed. No more envelopes of prints. And no more shoe boxes.

Nowadays, smart phones have built-in cameras and memory chips that can hold literally thousands of photographs. There is no limit to the number of snapshots you can take, and you can view them right away. We now enjoy a new phenomenon: instant reminiscing. “Oh, look at us! Remember how much fun we used to have back, um, four minutes ago?”

Personally, I’m not really into photography. I mean, if I’m at a family gathering and one of my nephews gets especially drunk, I’ll pull out my phone and take some snapshots and videos. Out of curiosity, I just checked my iPhone, which I’ve had for about two-and-a-half years. It currently has 697 photos and videos stored on it. That would’ve been a humongous number of pictures during the shoebox era. It’s no big deal today.

I suspect there are many people, no doubt far younger than me, who take 697 photos every week. And some of these youngsters upload every single one of those images to their Facebook and Instagram accounts. Here’s a sincere question: if you spend every waking hour photographing your life and posting it to social media, when do you find time to actually live your life? Just wonderin’.
Despite the advances in digital technology, there is one thing about amateur photography that has not changed. Whenever we view a photographic image of ourselves, whether on the screen of a smart phone or on a curved square of paper in a shoe box, our first thought is, “Sheesh, I look lousy.” (This only applies to normal people. Fashion models and narcissistic selfie-stickers — who often think they are fashion models — don’t have this reaction.)

There is, of course, one segment of the photography industry that has the technical skill to make even the most beautiful fashion model cringe: the Motor Vehicle Department. Those photographic artists are amazing. Every time I have to renew my driver’s license, it’s an exciting adventure. Who are they going to make me look like this time? Frankenstein? Dracula? Tommy Lee Jones?
Then, for the next six years, that gruesome mug shot is with me everywhere I go, tucked inside my wallet. The sad thing is, when it’s time to renew my license, I look at that six-year-old photo and think, “I wish I still looked that good.”

Oh well, no matter how advanced the technology becomes, there’s nothing like the good ol’ family “shoebox of memories.”

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Praying in the Car

For my job, I drive a lot. Not a lot lot, like some salesmen I know, who put 70 or 80 thousand miles per year on their cars. I only put about 30,000 miles on my car each year, visiting clients throughout Connecticut and western Massachusetts. But that’s still a fair amount of time each week behind the wheel.

Thankfully, I enjoy driving. Oh, don’t get me wrong. There are still plenty of times when I sigh in frustration and mutter things like, “Is this bleeping traffic ever going to start moving again?!” or, “Uh oh, the road feels icy!” or my new favorite lament, “Man, if I don’t find a public restroom — and soon! — I’m gonna do something I haven’t done since I was five years old!” (And I don’t mean finger-painting, if you get my BPH drift.)
One of the benefits of driving so much is that I can do a lot of praying behind the wheel. No, I don’t mean those panic-induced outbursts of prayer, like, “Oh Jesus, HELP ME!!!!” whenever some distracted yahoo in a BMW cuts right in front of me at 80 mph. Usually, when that happens and I successfully swerve to avoid a collision, as my adrenaline level starts to recede, I think to myself, “Oh my, I think I just did something I haven’t done since I was five years old.”

The prayer I’m referring to is planned prayer, the type of prayer that is not adrenaline-fueled panic prayer. My favorite prayer routine is the Rosary. I downloaded mp3 audio files of the different mysteries of the Rosary onto a flash drive, and I can play them through my car’s sound system.
Also, there are dozens of great religious podcasts that can be downloaded and listened to whenever you want. One of my favorites is Fr. Dwight Longenecker.

It really helps get my day off on the right foot when I pray the Rosary early in the morning while driving to my first meeting. There are also many good Christian radio stations that have inspiring music and terrific religious teachings. The best one, of course, is WJMJ, 88.9 on your FM dial, the radio station of the Archdiocese of Hartford. (“Where faith meets life!”)

The only problem with my prayer plans is that there are so many other options, I sometimes get tempted to skip the praying and listen to something else. So, just like every other aspect of my life, temptation is a never-ending struggle.

To give you an idea, my car is nothing special, just an economy model Chevy Equinox. But like most newer cars these days, it has a ridiculous amount of audio options: satellite radio, regular radio, mp3 files, and all the music and audio content on my iPhone played via Bluetooth.

Here’s how old I am: when I was in high school, I had wooden crates filled with vinyl record albums. Then when I entered college, I started collecting 8-track tapes in big cardboard boxes. By the time I graduated, I had a bunch of shoe boxes filled with cassette tapes. Then it was CDs, and dozens more shoe boxes. If I had kept all that music over the years, I bet it could fill a two-car garage. But now, I have at least ten times more music, all stored on a little memory chip inside my cell phone. And there’s still enough room on that chip to store a couple dozen full-length movies and thousands of photographs.
I have no idea how the technology wizards made that possible, but I sometimes laugh at the sheer volume of audio and video content at our fingertips nowadays.

Anyway, I don’t really need high-tech electronics to have a good prayer life. I can just turn off the audio system in the car and count the Rosary prayers on my ten fingers. The important thing is to pray every day. If you spend a lot of time each day in your car, use some of that time to pray. Also, watch out for crazy BMW drivers. And if you’re my age, always know where the nearest public restroom is located.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

This Special Season

It is early December, which means we have entered a special and festive and joyful season. We are once again in the season of Advent.

Advent?! Who pays attention to Advent anymore? Our entire American culture has been going bonkers for the Christmas season since about 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving afternoon. This doesn’t include the retail industry, of course, which started focusing on Christmas the minute the Back-to-School sales ended on Labor Day weekend.

Maybe we should be a little counter-cultural for a change, and think about Advent for the next few weeks.

If you’re like me, a semi-faithful churchgoer, during December you often focus on traditional Christmas themes, such as: Jesus’ birth in the stable; Santa Claus and Rudolph; the Red Ryder BB gun; Ebenezer Scrooge and his beleaguered clerk, George Bailey; Charlie Brown and his pal Frosty the Snowman trudging through the snow looking for a scraggily Christmas tree, etc. (Hmm, maybe my Christmas themes have been getting a little mixed up. Might be time for me to crack open a Bible again.)
Anyway, our culture has it all wrong. Nowadays, the Christmas season begins in earnest during halftime of the Detroit Lions football game on Thanksgiving afternoon. Then it continues at a feverish, frantic, and over-indulgent pace right up until the morning of December 25th. And in many people’s minds Christmas is over as soon as the last gift is opened — which in some households occurs at about 5:45 a.m. (The season of “How am I going to pay these bills?” begins in mid-January when the credit card statements arrive in the mail. This is followed in early February by the season of “Did I really spend 2400 bucks on a treadmill for a Christmas gift that’s now being used solely as an expensive coat rack?!”)

However, according to the Church calendar, the season of Christmas BEGINS on Christmas Eve, and then the Twelve Days of Christmas continue until the Feast of Epiphany on or about January 6th. The four-week period leading up to Christmas Day is the season of Advent.

It might be a good idea if we embrace the concept of Advent once again. Let’s be honest: even those of us who love Christmas often find the month of December to be very frantic and frustrating, expensive and exhausting. Wouldn’t it be nice to lead up to December 25th with a sense of calm and serenity, rather than the usual throbbing headache, frazzled nerves, and volcanic heartburn?
Here are some good things about the season of Advent: number one, candles. An Advent wreath with candles is such a quaint and cozy change of pace compared to those gaudy, blinking-light mechanical reindeer. Also, Advent calendars are pretty cool (especially the ones with chocolate).

Next, there is the music of Advent. OK, you’re right, there aren’t a lot of Advent carols. But “O Come, Divine Messiah” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” are so lovely, and much nicer than constantly hearing that horrible date-rape anthem, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

If you really want to do something counter-cultural, consider attending a half-day Advent retreat at Blessed Sacrament church in Waterbury. The men’s retreat will be this Saturday, December 7th, at 9 a.m. The women’s retreat will be next Saturday, December 14th, also beginning at 9. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find a real guest speaker, so instead, they booked me to give the talks at both retreats. It still will be a good time, and I promise to keep the corny jokes to a minimum.
So, please enjoy the true season. And if you can make it on either of the next two Saturdays, I’d love to see you and say hi.

Ho, ho, ho, and Merry Advent!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Who Are the Real Religious Nuts?

These weekly Merry Catholic essays are broadcast on WJMJ-FM, the radio station of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford, CT. Over the years I’ve had people say something like this to me, “Hey Bill, I heard you on the radio the other day. So, you’re kind of like… umm, INTO religion, huh?”

I can tell they’re trying to be polite, but what they really want to say is, “Hey Bill, you’re a religious nut, aren’t ya?!”

Well, in the eyes of our modern secular society, my public expression of faith in God is certainly a little counter-cultural. But let’s take a closer look and see if we can figure out whose behavior is truly nutty.
First, let’s look at people like me. We believe in God. We believe every human being has been given an eternal soul by God. We believe every soul will spend eternity in either Heaven or Hell. We believe God has clearly communicated to Mankind the path for getting into Heaven and avoiding Hell. If what we believe is really true, then there is no more important issue in all of human existence. After all, eternity is a whole lot longer period of time compared to a mere 60, 80, or 100 years here on earth.

If you really believe what I believer, then there is nothing nutty about sharing this crucial message with others.

Now, let’s look at atheists. They believe faith in God is a silly, ancient superstition. They believe human beings have no eternal souls, and when we die, we cease to exist. It’s understandable that these folks don’t like it when religious people talk about God in public, because to them, the message is completely false.

So, the behavior of atheists, given what they sincerely believe, is not at all nutty. It’s very logical.
OK, let’s look at a third group of people. These folks believe God is real. They believe human beings have eternal souls. They believe all souls will spend eternity somewhere, hopefully Heaven. But these people rarely think about these beliefs, and they really feel that anyone who talks about these topics in public is kind of a weirdo. Words and phrases most often used to describe those of us who talk about religion in public include, “intolerant,” “offensive,” “imposing your views on others,” and a term that’s become very popular in recent years, “hate speech.”

So, we have a group of people who claim to believe pretty much the same things we so-called religious nuts believe, but they’re convinced that thinking a lot about it and especially talking to others about it is wrong.

I’ve got some news for you: THAT is the nutty behavior.

That’s a lot like discovering a highway bridge just collapsed, but instead of warning motorists driving in that direction, you decide you don’t want to impose your views on them, so you stand there silently and watch car after car plunge into the river below.

If you really believe something is true, is it so awful to mention it to others? Especially if the message you believe in may be the difference between experiencing eternal joy or eternal torment?
If you haven’t noticed, many people in our culture don’t hesitate these days to “impose their intolerant views” on others. Have you crossed paths lately with a militant vegan, a climate change activist, a Cross-Fit fanatic, or a New York Yankees fan? They certainly don’t hesitate to preach their particular gospel to anyone and everyone. But when Christians do it, that’s somehow bad form? Hmm, I don’t get it.

Well, if people hear me on the radio and think I’m a religious nut, that’s OK. But I sure wish they would take a moment to think about their own beliefs and behaviors. They might discover they’re a little nutty, too.