Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Good Riddance, 2020!

 Well, the year 2020 is almost over. Funny thing, my head hurts this morning. It's like I went to a New Year's Eve party last night and got juiced for the first time in 35 years. Ugh, the bad ol' days.

I think this hangover-like sensation is due to the weird dreams I had last night. I mean, they were weird. I dreamed that everyone spent most of the year 2020 hiding behind closed doors. I dreamed the economy suddenly sputtered and millions of peopIe lost their jobs, and those folks who still had jobs were afraid to go to their places of work. I dreamed people were fearful of entering a grocery store, and they completely refused to go to restaurants. I dreamed everyone stopped going to church —  because church leaders told them not to come! I dreamed no one went on vacation, and traveling by airliner suddenly was considered to be as dangerous as it was back in, say, 1923. I dreamed that most sporting events got cancelled, and the games that were played did so in stadiums with no spectators. I dreamed that everybody dressed up for Halloween as a doctor, complete with a surgical mask, except that instead of only on October 31st, they wore this costume all the time. Have you ever heard of such crazy dreams?

Oh wait. Now it’s all coming back to me. It wasn’t a dream. It was 2020, the year when the abnormal became normal. 

So, here we are on the verge of the start of 2021. I think most folks will join me as we take one last look at the year 2020 and shout, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!!” 
Thank God 2020 is history. The year 2021 is sure to be much better, right? Well, I hesitate to get too giddy, because I hate to have my words come back to haunt me. I don’t want to jinx us. I’m sure there was some naïve sailor in Honolulu on December 6, 1941, who said, “I just love it here. This is gonna be the best Christmas season ever!” 

Therefore, I prefer not to be the naïve bumpkin who says, “After what we’ve just been through, 2021 is gonna be the best year ever!!”

Rather than being pollyanna-ish, Let’s just say my approach to the new year is cautious optimism. We’ve been through a lot, and with a little bit of luck and some divine intervention, circumstances could trend back in the right direction during the next 12 months. 

The thing is, just because we begin a new year, doesn’t mean all the problems of 2020 vanish. Viruses are not too smart. They can’t read calendars. All they know is how to keep multiplying as long as they’re in a favorable environment, such as somebody’s lungs. So, we have to be patient, since this pandemic is not going to end suddenly just because it’s a new year. 
There are encouraging news reports about vaccines. But that will take some time. We really need to adopt the attitude Winston Churchill expressed during World War II after the British army won an important battle. “Now, this is not the end,” he said. “It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Besides patience, the other thing we need to focus on is perseverance. It’s understandable that people are fed up with the quarantines, social distancing, and face masks. In order for 2021 truly to be a much better year than 2020, we have to double our efforts not to spread this nasty disease. 

If we’re lucky, sometime soon we will wake up and think, “Wow, what a bad dream. I’m glad it’s not real — anymore.”

However, regarding the New Year’s Day hangover you'll be enjoying soon, you’re on your own, pal.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Can Atheists Be Thankful?

Here we are at the end of the year 2020 and the beginning of the year 2021. Is there anyone besides me who is glad to see 2020 gone? Wow, what a crazy and abnormal year. I, for one, am very thankful that we are turning the page to another, and hopefully better, year.

The word “thankful” reminds me of a blog post I read back during the Thanksgiving holiday. One of my favorite writers, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, wrote an essay that pondered how atheists approach that particular holiday. Here is an excerpt:

"I wonder on this Thanksgiving Day what the atheist does. I admit that he may nurture a simple attitude of gratitude for the good things in his life, but does he stop to ask why he should feel grateful in the first place? Stop and think. Why celebrate Thanksgiving if there is no one to thank? One of the simplest bits of evidence for the existence of God is the human instinct to give thanks."
Fr. Longenecker’s point is that in order to be thankful, there has to be another person to whom your feelings of thanksgiving are directed. Now, of course, atheists can be thankful. For example, if a neighbor shovels snow off the sidewalk in front of an atheist’s home, the atheist expresses thanks toward that person.

However, the origin and purpose of the Thanksgiving holiday is to express gratitude and thanks to Almighty God for the good things He has provided to us, both individually and as a nation. If a person does not believe in God, then at best he or she can feel happy and fortunate about living in a prosperous and free country, but not thankful. I mean, think about it: thankful to whom or what? Fate? A lucky cosmic roll of the dice? After all, if you’re an atheist, you believe all life on earth came into existence by purely random chance.
Even though it’s been 35 years since I stopped being an atheist (or as I like to put it, “When I lost my faith in nothingness”), I still vividly remember my thought processes. I was certain life was a random accident, the result of a long, meandering evolutionary journey, where swirling chemicals just happened to arrange themselves into an interesting pattern, and then over countless millions of years mutated into all the forms of life currently on our planet.

Back in those days, I believed all the emotions humans experienced — love, joy, sadness, hope, fear, etc. — were simply the electro-chemical reactions our brains were programmed to produce depending on the situation. So, as an atheist, I felt gratitude and thanksgiving quite a lot: to my loving wife, to our parents who helped us often during those years, to my good friends who did me favors. But when it came to those things that I now would call “blessings,” such as good health, employment opportunities, a safe and prosperous community in which to live, I never used the word “thanks.” That’s because I was certain there was no one to thank. The facts of my particular situation were just good luck. I knew very well if the cosmic dice had resulted in a different roll, I could’ve been born in a different time and place and with different physical health and abilities. 

Please don’t misunderstand my motives here. I’m not trying to provoke anger in non-believers. (Although I’m pretty sure when my atheist friend Ruth reads this, she’ll get her Irish up and send me a passionate eight or nine page essay explaining how I got it all wrong and that I don’t know what I’m talking about.) I just thought it was an interesting point Fr. Longenecker raised: feelings of thanksgiving can only be directed toward another person. When we feel thankful because of our overall circumstances or while viewing a gorgeous sunset or when we get an unexpectedly good medical test report, those feelings need to be directed toward a person. But if there is no personal Creator God in existence, then those thankful impulses we feel are completely misguided. At best we should feel lucky, not thankful.
Maybe I’m just quibbling over word definitions. However, I think there is something to Fr. Longenecker’s observation: “One of the simplest bits of evidence for the existence of God is the human instinct to give thanks.”

I am thankful the year 2020 is over. And my thanks is directed right where it belongs: to the Lord God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Memories of Childhood Christmas

 When I think back to my youth, there are two very vivid memories of Christmas. The first occurred when I was in the 4th grade. After hearing all kinds of rumors from kids in school, I was starting to doubt the existence of Santa Claus. That year both my younger brother and I got brand new bicycles for Christmas. We were so excited. I said to my brother, “There’s no way Dad could’ve hidden two big bicycles in the house without us knowing. So, that means Santa Claus is real!”

Later that day, we got bundled up and rode our shiny new bikes up and down the street. We met a neighborhood kid, who blurted out, “I saw your father putting those bicycles together in Mr. Barry’s garage the other day!”

I thought for a moment, then turned to my brother and said, “Oh no, do you know what this means about Santa Claus?!”

He replied, “Yeah. It means Santa employs a lot of seasonal sub-contractors!”

And so we continued enjoying our bicycles, confident in the knowledge, which has not waned in the subsequent 50-plus years, that Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick is indeed real.

The other vivid youthful memory about Christmas occurred when I was in high school. At the age of 16, for the first time since I grasped the concept of gifts under the tree, I did not wake up way before sunrise on Christmas morning. My younger siblings were awake at the usual hour of 3:30 a.m., sneaking out to the living room to look at all the goodies left by Santa. 
That was the first time ever, but certainly not the last, that I found myself imitating my dad. “Go back to sleep, dammit,” I muttered to my younger brothers. “The presents aren’t going anywhere!”

As I rolled over and tried to fall back to sleep, a worried voice in my head whispered to me, “Did you just say that? Are you turning into your father?”

When a lad is 16 years old, the absolute last thing he wants to do is behave like his father, even if the ol’ man is a combination of Albert Schweitzer, Mickey Mantle, and Jesus. I suspect this attitude is genetically programmed into every fiber of a teenager’s being. Most teens react to everything their parents say or do with a major league eye-roll, and a vow never to act like their parents when they grow up. 

There I was, 16 years old, saying the exact thing my father would’ve said if he had been awakened at 3:30 a.m. on Christmas morning. (Actually, he heard the noise coming from the living room at about 3:35 a.m. His growling version of, “Go back to sleep, dammit! The presents aren’t going anywhere!” was so much more majestic and sonorous than mine. I had a lot to learn.)

I fell back to sleep and did not wake up until almost 7 o’clock. When I shuffled into the living room, my siblings had already opened all their presents. My parents sat bleary-eyed on the couch.
One of my younger brothers looked at me and said, “Hey, it’s Sleeping Beauty.” In reply, instead of throwing something at him, I just smiled. (How can you not smile on Christmas morning, even if you’re a surly teenager?)
That little voice in my head whispered, “Wow, you chose sleep over Christmas presents. You’re not a kid anymore.”

I noticed my wrapped presents waiting for me under the tree. Hours earlier my father and I had been right: the gifts didn’t go anywhere.

I yawned, turned around, and said to no one in particular, “I’m going back to sleep, dammit.”

Monday, December 21, 2020

Christmas Eve Midnight Mass

 One of my strongest childhood memories is the first time I attended Christmas Eve Midnight Mass. I was about 10 or 11 years old, and the practice of Saturday Vigil Masses had not become widespread yet. This meant the idea that you could attend Mass the day before a Sunday or a feast day was not yet on anyone’s radar screen.

Going to Sunday Mass meant you had to go on Sunday. Going to Christmas Mass meant you had to go on Christmas, that is, sometime during the 24-hour period of December 25th. So, the earliest a Christmas Mass could begin was midnight. The Christmas Eve Midnight Mass was a very popular and widespread tradition. Virtually every parish did it. Even now, over a half century after Vigil Masses became commonplace, people still use the expression “Christmas Eve Midnight Mass.” Of course, nowadays when folks use that phrase, they’re often referring to a Mass that takes place on Christmas Eve and begins at 7 p.m. or 9 p.m. 
This situation makes the following comical phone conversation occur:

Parishioner: “Hi Father. What time does Christmas Eve Midnight Mass begin?”

Priest: “It’s called ‘Midnight Mass.’ What time do you think it begins?”

Parishioner: “Umm, midnight?”

Priest: “No, nine o’clock. Who wants to stay up that late?”

Back in the 1960s, my brother and I convinced our parents to take us to Christmas Eve Midnight Mass. We had heard so many intriguing stories about it from classmates who had gone in the past. The only Masses we had ever attended took place during daylight hours. Going to Mass in the dead of night seemed so mysterious and exciting. To be honest, the main reason we wanted to go was because the next day we would be able to play with our Christmas presents all day long, rather than stop in the midst of our revelry and get dressed to go to church.

The only thing we didn’t figure on is the fact that when you’re around 10 years old, staying awake well past midnight is the equivalent of an adult staying awake for three straight days. You get so punchy and disoriented that you can doze off while standing up. 
Even though I was exhausted, I still have some vivid memories of that night. I remember the church looked so different because it was not daytime. The candles seemed so much brighter. I remember seeing some of my friends there, and they looked as tired as I was. I remember it was bitterly cold that evening, and one of my mom’s friends explained to us before Mass that she let her daughter open one Christmas present early — a new winter coat — so she wouldn’t get frostbite going to church. Most of all, I remember the place was packed. In the middle of a pitch-black freezing night, hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the birth of Our Savior. It made a very strong impression on me, even though at the time my grasp of and interest in religious doctrines was pretty much nonexistent. 

I suspect the reason our parents agreed to go to Midnight Mass was because they thought keeping us up so late would make us sleep-in on Christmas morning. Typically, we would awaken at 3:30 a.m. and tiptoe around the living room, gazing in heart-pounding wonderment at all the gifts Santa had delivered. (By the way, our “tiptoeing” didn’t exactly make us silent, as we heard our father’s gravelly voice rumble down the hallway, “Go back to sleep, dammit!”)

Since it was Christmas, all the normal rules of juvenile physiology were thrown out the window. We got home from church well after 1 a.m., climbed into bed, and proceeded to zonk out right away. And then… Boom! Wide awake at 3:30 a.m. Our grand plans for playing with our presents all day long were dashed, however, when we fell asleep on the living room rug at about 9 a.m., where we slept soundly for the next six hours. 
Ah, childhood memories of Christmas. Make sure to share your stories with loved ones this year, and create some new memories with your children and grandchildren. And don’t forget, as it says in Luke’s gospel, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

A Sad Christmas Carol

 Christmas is just around the corner. For the first time in approximately two-thousand and twenty years, people are being strongly encouraged by government officials not to travel over the holidays to spend time with loved ones. But in the past, things were much different. For example, way back at the very first Christmas, Joseph and Mary were actually ORDERED by government officials to travel to Bethlehem during the Christmas holiday. (Well, the reason for their travel wasn’t exactly because of Christmas, since Jesus hadn’t been born yet, and if the local governor went on TV and said, “Everyone must travel over the Christmas holiday,” no one would’ve understood what he meant, mostly because they didn’t own TVs.)

However, this is 2020, the year when nothing is normal, and so we’re being encouraged to avoid traveling. It’s understandable. This Covid virus is nasty. Back in the early fall, when people relaxed and started mingling once again with other people, boom! the infection rate shot up again.
So, even though we’re all fed up to here (if you could see me right now, I’m holding my hand just below my chin) with social distancing, and even though the Christmas season is the primary time many of us get to visit all of our loved ones, the prudent thing to do is lay low this year. The usual Christmas parties, holiday travel plans, and squeezing dozens of aunts and uncles and cousins into one raucous and festive house should be avoided.

You know what that means, don’t you? It means people are going to be really sad this year — even those of us who regularly complain about the hectic pace of the Christmas season. Christmas is always hectic, of course, but the joy of spending time with loved ones far outweighs the stress of zig-zagging all over the state to make it happen. Plus, Christmas is pure tradition. The best thing about any tradition is that we can count on it. This year we cannot count on this cherished Christmas tradition.
Because of this situation, the only thing I could think to do is take two poignant Christmas songs and write new lyrics, making the songs even more melancholy.
So, break out the ol' Karaoke machine and sing this first one to the tune of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

I’m dreaming tonight of the folks I love
Even more than I usually do
And although they reside just around the block
I hate this flu

I’m alone for Christmas
You can’t visit me
Please don’t go, you must lay low
This Covid misery

Christmas Eve will find me
Where my tears will stream
I’m alone for Christmas
A nightmare, not a dream

This next song is to the tune of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” 

Have yourself a Covid little Christmas
Fill your heart with fright
From now on
The virus keeps us out of sight 

Have yourself a Covid little Christmas
Yuletide’s not so gay
‘cause now on
Our loved ones must stay miles away 

Here we are, not like olden days
Now it’s lonely days, a bore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us no more
Through the years
We may not be together
If the virus stays
Keep your shining star and tree all packed away
And pray you’ll have some merry Christmas joy someday 

Here’s wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, despite the craziness of 2020. And don’t forget: make sure you do what Mary and Joseph did back during the very first Christmas: pick up the phone and call your loved ones. If you can’t see them face-to-face, let them know you care. As it says in Luke’s gospel, “God bless us, everyone!”

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

A Chat with Old Man Winter

 The other day I called my friend Mickey, but I must’ve dialed the wrong number. When the phone was answered, I heard a low, gruff voice say, “Yeah, wattaya want?”

“Mickey?” I said, “It doesn’t sound like you.”

“Ain’t no one here by dat name,” came the angry reply. “This is Old Man Winter. You musta dialed da wrong number, bozo.”

“Oh, sorry,” I said. “Um, did you say you’re Old Man Winter?”
“Yeah, what’s it to ya?”

“Well, I’m sorry I dialed your number by mistake,” I said. “But, uh, do you mean you’re the SEASON of winter?”

“Yep, I’m da season. I decide who gets blizzards, who gets sub-zero temperatures, and who gets three straight weeks of cloudy skies.”

“Wow. Is there any reason you talk with a Brooklyn accent?”

“Shaddup, pal! I’ll talk however I wanna.”

“No offense intended, sir. It’s just that you kind of sound like Fred Flintstone doing an impression of Bugs Bunny after smoking a carton of cigarettes.”

“Tanks, bud. I been working on talkin’ wit a bit more class.”

“Um, right. Anyway, since you’re in charge of the weather, I was just wondering if maybe you could give us a mild winter this season. I don’t know if you follow the news much, but we’re going through this pandemic thing, and it’s been very stressful, and —”

“Stressful?! Ha! You ain’t seen nothing, pal! Yeah, I been following da news. Me an’ da boys been playing tiny violins for you whiny wimps.”

“The boys? Who do you mean?”

“My relatives. Ya know, there’s my cousin, Tropical Storm. He’s been cranking ‘em out like crazy dis year. And there’s my uncle, Wild Fire. He is en fuego, baby! Literally! Dis year he scorched more acres than ev-uh!”
“Those are your relatives? Hmm, they were rather busy this year. But getting back to my request, Mr. Winter. You see, 2020 has been such an ordeal, and the last thing we need is a cold, harsh, snowy winter.”

“Heh, heh, the last ting you need is gonna be the first ting you get!”

“No, please don’t say that! Because of the quarantine, a lot of us developed cabin fever — during the summer! If we get stuck in the house all winter, people will have meltdowns!”

“Hey, trust me, pal, no one’s gonna melt. Not wit daytime highs of 2 degrees!”

“But don’t you understand? Many people lost their jobs because of the pandemic. It will be hard for them to heat their homes if the weather is bitter cold.”

“Bitter cold! Yeah, dat’s my favorite! And dat’s exactly what I got planned for Round One. Drop it below zero for about nine days in a row, and then when all your pipes freeze, bam! Round Two!”

“What’s Round Two?”

“Well, let’s put it dis way, pal. Can your snowblower handle 24 inches? Every five days? For a whole month?! Oh yeah, baby, you’re gonna think you moved to Buffalo!”
“Oh, Mr. Winter, you can’t be serious! Isn’t there anything we can do to avoid such a cold and snowy season this year?”

“Yeah, there might be one ting. You’re gonna need a lot of hot air to counteract the cold air I’ll be sendin’ your way.”

“Hot air? Um, well, the election finally is over, and we have a few zillion politicians and cable news personalities who don’t have as much to talk about now. How about we have them all lean out their office windows and start flapping their yaps as much as they’ve been doing the past 12 months?”

“If yooze guys do dat, kid, lemme put it dis way: palm trees in Vermont!”

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

God Is Outside of Time

 Because of the pandemic, many parishes now video-stream Sunday Mass on the Internet, so folks can participate from home while watching their computers. My parish uses Facebook as the video platform, which records and saves copies of each Mass. This means you don’t have to watch it live. You can play back the video whenever you want later on.

In addition to videos of Sunday Mass, a lot of religious programming can be found on various websites, including YouTube. There are hundreds of different videos of the Rosary, and my wife and I enjoy praying along with the people who made the videos.
However, this raises an interesting question. If you pray with something that was pre-recorded, which means the people who made the video certainly are not praying at the exact same moment you are, is it valid prayer?

For example, if your parish priest consecrates the host during Mass at exactly 10:39 a.m., but you bow your head and whisper, “My Lord and my God,” at 1:15 p.m., as you watch a recording of Mass, are you in fact honoring the Lord’s body? I mean, for one thing, you’re looking at an iPad or laptop computer, five or 10 miles away from where the Mass took place. For another thing, the church where the Mass occurred is empty at 1:15. And the Eucharist that was consecrated a few hours earlier has already been distributed to people who attended Mass in person. They consumed the Blessed Sacrament and went their separate ways after Mass.

So, does your expression of reverence and devotion, no matter how sincere, really count? Does God acknowledge your prayer, even if a consecrated host does not exist at the moment you’re bowing your head reverently toward a flickering image on a screen?

Not surprisingly, this issue is not addressed in the Bible. Back in those days, they did not have the technology to record sound and/or images to be played back later, so none of the apostles ever thought to ask Jesus, “Hey Lord, is it OK if I sleep late on the Sabbath and then watch a replay of the service later on my stone tablet?” (Or if someone did ask that question, the writers of the Gospels were wise enough to edit out both the question and the reply Jesus might have offered: “Nope, get your keister to synagogue, because the wifi signal at your house is too weak.”)
The Bible does tell us this about God: “With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Peter 3:8). This is a poetic way of saying that God is outside of time as we know it. The Church teaches that God is omniscient and omnipresent, that is, He is all-knowing and always present. Time is an aspect of our three dimensional natural world, and since God is a supernatural being, it’s only logical that He is outside of time. Every moment in history — past, present, and future — is present to God as if it’s occurring right now.

Therefore, I think it’s safe to say that it doesn’t bother God at all if we reverently pray along with a pre-recorded video. God is able to blend the prayers of the person who recorded the video with our prayer while watching it, even though they occurred at different times. In God’s omniscient mind, it’s as if both are happening at the same time.
One last comment about this topic: although our prayers are heard, even if we’re sitting on the couch in our pajamas while watching a computer, it definitely is better to be at Mass in person. Of course, while this pandemic drags on and on, those of us in high risk groups must be careful — and the bishops have made it clear that Mass attendance is not an obligation if we personally think it’s too risky.

The important thing is to pray with all of our heart and mind and soul. And even if we’re watching a recorded video, the all-knowing and all-loving God hears and answers our prayer.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Words of Wisdom for the Young

 I was born just before the Dodgers left Brooklyn, so that makes me a junior senior citizen, or as I prefer, a late-stage middle-ager (which does not mean, as my children think, that I was born in the Late Middle Ages). After all these years, I think I’ve acquired a little bit of wisdom. Anyone who survives six or more decades has to learn at least a few valuable lessons that can be shared with young people.

For example, my friend Ace, who is one of the most impulsive persons I’ve ever met, recently offered these words of wisdom to one of his grandkids: “Don’t ever ride a dirt bike through the woods at night. While drunk. Without a helmet. Shirtless. Barefoot. And far from the nearest Emergency Room.” 
When Ace offered this advice, he whistled on every “S” sound because the dental plate he wears to replace the teeth lost that evening doesn’t quite fit anymore. After hearing this information, Ace’s teenage grandson, Ace the Third, asked, “But is it OK to do that if I’m close to a hospital?” to which Ace replied, “Um, sure, why not?”

Here are some other words of wisdom that experienced folks, also known as “seasoned citizens,” can offer to the younger generations (courtesy of various Google searches):
  • “I thought the dryer made my clothes shrink. Turns out it was the fridge.”
  • “Your parents aren’t nearly as dumb as you think they are.”
  • “I’m not sure how many chocolates equals happiness, but so far it’s not 27.”
  • “Relax, we’re all crazy. It’s not a competition.”
  • “It amazes me how Exercise and Extra Fries sound alike.”
  • “It’s OK to be angry. It’s never OK to be cruel.”
  • “Think about how stupid the average person is, and then realize that half of them are stupider than that.”
  • “Some people cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”
  • “Always remember you’re unique. Just like everyone else.”
  • “The unhappiest people in the world are those who care the most about what other people think.”
  • “Life is good, but it ain’t fair.”
  • “Do what’s right, not what’s easy.”
  • “Don’t make decisions when you’re angry. Don’t make promises when you’re happy.”
  • “Don’t take things personally. No one thinks about you as much as you do.”
  • “I regret all the time I wasted regretting things.”
  • “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.”
  • “Too many people are buying things they can’t afford, with money that they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like.”
  • “Most situations are not as bad as you think they are.”
  • “Sometimes when someone says, ‘It’s for your own good,’ they really mean, ‘It’s for my own good.’”
  • “Your relationship with other people is more important than money. But a steady paycheck can keep you from having a relationship with the bill collector.”
  • “Real people are much more interesting than video screens.”
  • “Don’t text all the time. Talk face-to-face once in a while.”
Over the years I’ve learned a couple of things I’d like to share. The first is: “Don’t sweat the small stuff. And the big stuff becomes small if you give it some time. So, don’t sweat the big stuff either.”

My second piece of advice is: “Don’t go to skinny doctors. They always nag about your eating habits. Try to find a doctor who’s a little chubby. And if he or she smokes, even better.”
Many of my readers are fellow seasoned citizens. And I’m sure they have a lot of wisdom to share. So, please do me a favor: send me an email with the words of wisdom you’ve learned over the years. I’ll do a follow-up column and share them with everyone. Thanks.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Fr. McGivney and the Call to Sainthood

Did you watch the Beatification ceremonies about a month ago for Fr. Michael J. McGivney? Fr. McGivney lived in the late 1800s. He was born in Waterbury, CT, and served churches in the Naugatuck Valley and New Haven. He founded the Knights of Columbus, and by all accounts he was a faithful and dedicated priest who focused all his energies on serving the people in his parishes. Sadly, he died at age 38 when a pandemic swept the area. (Sound familiar?)
The Beatification Mass was broadcast on TV, not only on local stations here in Connecticut, but worldwide on EWTN. During the ceremony, one of the commentators mentioned that Fr. McGivney is the first native of Connecticut to be beatified, that is, declared by the Church to be a saint in Heaven.

This caused a good friend of mine to exclaim, “You mean there’s only been one person from Connecticut during the past 350 years who made it into Heaven?!”

No no, that’s not what it means at all, although based on the way people have been behaving in recent years, you might think so. A person does not need to be beatified by the Church in order to make it into Heaven. In other words, it’s not only the folks on the Church’s official list of saints who are in Heaven. Yes, there are a lot of people who have been named saints by the Church over the years; right now the number is well over 10,000. But compared to the number of people who have put their faith in God during the past 20 centuries, 10,000 is a drop in the bucket. Just because the Church did not officially declare these countless millions to be saints Certainly doesn’t mean they all were condemned to Hell.
The Church beatifies someone only when there is a wealth of evidence that particular person lived a holy life of faith. It can be a very long and drawn out process. Here are the four basic steps to sainthood:
  1. A Cause for Beatification and Canonization begins and the candidate is called Servant of God.
  2. The Positio (or case) is created to document the person’s Heroic Virtue and they are voted to become Venerable.
  3. Evidence of a first miracle is investigated and verified, and they are declared Blessed.
  4. After a second miracle is proven, the person is named a Saint and is canonized by the Pope.
Right now, Fr. McGivney’s cause has reached the third step, and one additional miracle is required for him to be canonized by the Pope. If you’ve followed the process for Fr. McGivney, as many here in Connecticut have done, you know it’s been going on for years and years.

So, being declared an official saint by the Church is the final result of a grueling and detailed process. This is why most of the saints were not just holy and faithful, but spectacularly so. They often were brilliant and powerful and influential, with a lot of historical records chronicling their lives and achievements.
The primary reason the Church goes through this long process to declare that certain people are saints is fairly simple: it’s to give the rest of us examples to follow. The lives of the saints are powerful witnesses of how to live faithful and fruitful lives. The more we know about these holy people, the more we can be inspired by them and strive to live our lives in a similar fashion.

Here is a point that must not be overlooked: we are all called to be saints. We do not need to be canonized and officially declared a saint by the Church to make it to Heaven. In case you’ve forgotten how, here’s the formula for getting into Heaven: put your faith in God through Christ, and love your neighbor as yourself. 

It’s wonderful that someone from Connecticut is well on his way to official Sainthood. Fr. McGivney’s selfless love for his neighbors is a shining example for us. But we are all called to join him in Heaven, even if there won’t be a TV broadcast letting the world know about us. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

On a ‘Quest’ for a Flawless Online Appointment

Recently I had to get blood drawn before my annual physical. In the past, this task always has been quite a “quest.” For the blood test to be accurate, you have to fast for at least 12 hours. When going that long without food or drink, time goes by anything but fast. Instead of a “fast,” they should call it a “slow.”

Because of this fasting requirement, every morning at 7 a.m., when the testing facility opens, there are usually eight or 10 people waiting impatiently to begin their “quest” to scribble their name on the first-come, first-serve sign-up sheet. Last year, I got there at quarter to 7, but I didn’t get my blood taken until after 8 o’clock. By the time I was done, the snacks in my car (coffee and a glazed ham) had gotten cold.
This year I began my “quest” by going to the facility’s website, to confirm that it opened at 7 a.m. I discovered they now have an online sign-up procedure. By clicking on a calendar and searching for an open time slot, I could make a personal reservation. I found an open spot, 7:30 on the following Wednesday, and reserved it. The website immediately sent me confirmations via email and text message.

My first thought was, “This is never going to work.” You see, I’ve done online sign-up and ordering in the past. Once I ordered six grinders for a Saturday afternoon party, using the website of a local deli. When I went to pick up the food, they had nothing ready. The guy behind the counter apologized and said, “The computer thinks your order is for next Thursday.”

Another time I placed an order online for a pharmaceutical product, and when I went to the drug store to pick it up, the clerk searched his computer and finally exclaimed, “Oh, the computer says you’re gonna pick it up at our Torrington, Wyoming, store.”

So, I was convinced my blood sample “quest” was going to be another high-tech, online disaster. The possibilities for a screw-up were endless: wrong day, wrong time, wrong location, wrong procedure. I mean, maybe instead of giving a blood sample, the computer decided I needed a kidney transplant.
Finally, the day of my “quest” arrived, and 15 minutes before my scheduled appointment I received a text message. It contained a link so I could inform them I was in the parking lot, and it said they would send another text when it was time for me to go inside to get my blood drawn. 

“Oh sure,” I said to myself. “I’ll probably be here for hours waiting for a text message that will never come.”

I began outlining a newspaper essay in my mind, which would chronicle this high-tech disaster, and how computers and the internet are ruining everything nowadays, even something as simple as getting a blood test.

Well, at exactly 7:29 a.m., I received a text message saying they were ready for me. I hoped this didn’t mean they were ready for me at the Torrington, Alaska, facility.
I went inside and they ushered me into a small room, where a very pleasant young man took my blood sample. I was never so relieved to have someone stab a needle into my arm. I was back in my car by 7:40, washing down a warm glazed ham with hot coffee.

The only problem with this whole adventure is that I had to ditch all the sarcastic and critical things I was going to write. Now, instead of saying I was on a frustrating and futile “quest,” I can say I had a terrific experience at Quest. And I don’t mean Jonny.


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A Holiday Season Unlike Any Other

 Here we are, at the beginning of America’s unofficial six-week long Holiday Season. Thanksgiving Day is Thursday of this week, and on Sunday the liturgical season of Advent begins. Then at the end of December the two big holidays of Christmas and New Year’s occur. However, this is 2020, the year when nothing is normal. And our traditional holiday festivities are going to be quite different compared to anything we’ve experienced in recent times.

I remember when the Coronavirus appeared back in March. One so-called expert on TV said this virus, like most flu viruses, would just fizzle out when the warm weather of summer arrived. Well, that never happened. Another expert predicted the virus would not be under control until an effective vaccine was developed, which might take 12 to 18 months. Unfortunately, it seems like this is the way things are panning out.
Anyway, the pandemic surely has altered our way of life in unprecedented ways. This holiday season will be a prime example. Health officials advise that people should not gather in large groups for Thanksgiving dinner this year. Only members of the same household should dine together. So, for the first time since the horse knew the way to carry the sleigh to grandmother’s house over the river and through the woods, large extended family gatherings will not be taking place. There will not be houses full of people feasting on turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and football games on big-screen TVs. (Back in colonial times, when folks traveled by sleigh to grandmother’s house, obviously they did not watch football games on big-screen TVs. Instead, they streamed the games on their iPads.)

This means the recommended Thanksgiving feast this year will be with two or four or maybe five people at most. Or in a lot of cases, one person. Don’t forget: there are plenty of Americans, especially among the elderly, who live alone these days.

The same goes for other cherished holiday traditions, such as Christmas shopping, workplace holiday parties, Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve celebrations. With the cancellation of office parties and New Year’s Eve parties, at least there should be a reduction in DUI arrests and liver damage. However, a different kind of damage is being inflicted by this COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s only going to get worse during the holidays. I’m referring to emotional damage, as the social isolation we’ve endured the past eight months will be magnified during the Christmas season.
For many people, the time period from Thanksgiving through New Year’s is the only opportunity they have to see their loved ones face-to-face. It’s a fact that a lot of people now live and work far from their original hometown.

Because this is 2020 — the year when nothing is normal — the holiday season also will be anything but normal. A lot of folks are just starting to realize that they will not see many of their loved ones in person this year, and this realization is increasing the emotional damage already inflicted by the pandemic.

As Catholic Christians, it is our duty to comfort those in distress. This year, some of the distressed people in our society very well may be our own relatives. Since it is risky to see them in person, we have to do the next best thing: pick up the phone and give them a call.
In his letter to the Ephesians in the Bible, St. Paul wrote, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called” (Eph. 4:4).

St. Paul used the word “called” twice, and I think it’s pretty obvious he was referring to telephone calls. Because there is one Spirit and because all believers make up one body, it is imperative that we call our lonely relatives during this holiday season. See? That’s irrefutable proof right from the Bible.
And don’t forget, if you take the time to phone relatives and cheer them up, God will reward you. In Romans, it says, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). But keep this in mind: if God does call you, don’t let it go to voicemail.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

LinkedIn Is Far Out

Last week I discussed the “digital media” initiatives at my place of work. We have a new, slick website, and as the Engineering Marketing Manager, it’s my job to do multiple blog posts each week and to be actively involved with social media each day.

In the business world, the primary social media platform is LinkedIn. If you’re not familiar with LinkedIn, it’s basically Facebook for business, except without all the demonic influences. That is, you can go weeks at a time on LinkedIn without seeing a single comment equating Trump with Hitler (except that Trump is more evil), or equating Trump with Jesus (except that Trump performs more miracles). 
It’s quite refreshing that wild-eyed, foaming at the mouth political screeds are not present on LinkedIn. It almost makes the shameless self-promotion and product marketing tolerable. Oh, by the way, my main mission on LinkedIn is shameless self-promotion and product marketing.

However, since my jobs during the past four decades all have been sales and/or marketing related, I was able to fit right in quite easily.

There is one thing about LinkedIn that cracks me up. One of the main thrusts of the website is helping people connect with other business folks with the goal of getting a new and better job. So, in addition to all the sales and marketing info posted on the website, I constantly get reminders from LinkedIn to check out new job openings that are “a perfect fit” for me.

LinkedIn already knows that I graduated from Bucknell University in 1979. Which means, barring the possibility that I was a child prodigy who got through college at age nine (well, that’s certainly not the case), LinkedIn knows that I’m approximately 63 years old. And since LinkedIn is supposedly so savvy about the world of business, it certainly must know that not a single employer on Planet Earth has any interest in hiring a person my age. Yeah, yeah, I know, there’s a law against age discrimination during the hiring process. There also is a law against driving 40 mph in a 35 mph zone, too. Both laws are routinely ignored.

On the bright side, I don’t WANT anyone to want to hire me. I like my job, and I hope to keep doing it for another five years or so, and then retire.
Another humorous aspect of LinkedIn’s constant push to find a new place of employment for me are the actual job openings themselves. I’m not sure how LinkedIn defines the phrase “a perfect fit,” but some of these jobs are doozies. Here are just a few:
  • Customer Service Representative at an animal hospital in Wethersfield. Sorry, but I’m not bilingual. I don’t speak Cat.

  • Event Marketing Coordinator at WWE in Stamford. This is the professional wrestling outfit, and even if I were interested in that job, my wife would divorce me in a heartbeat because she thinks the popularity of professional wrestling is all the proof we need that our culture is about to collapse.

  • Senior Consultant, Product Development, at Lincoln Financial in Hartford. If their products include heating and ventilation equipment, then maybe I could help. But if it’s anything to do with money and finance, then my only input would be, “Hold on 17 while playing Blackjack.”

  • Director, Software Development, in Windsor. If these guys saw me on the phone for two hours with Tech Support a few months ago, when I purchased a new computer but couldn’t get the stupid Microsoft Office software to load, they wouldn’t even hire me to sweep their floors.

  • Special Agent, FBI, Hartford office. Well, this position is right up my alley. I watch so many crime and detective shows on TV, I won’t even need any training. And when I turn 93, I can retire with a full pension. 
Well, that’s enough commentary about LinkedIn. I have to get back on the website and do more shameless self-promotion and product marketing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Jesus’ Relatives Thought He Was Insane

 Sometimes when I listen to the Gospel readings at Mass or read the Bible at home, the stories are familiar enough that I just gloss over them without thinking very deeply. After all, I’ve heard the various events described in the gospels dozens of times during my life.

Well, once in a while something in the gospels just jumps out in a new and different way. That’s what happened to me recently when I was reading from Mark’s gospel, chapter 3. Jesus was healing people and big crowds started following Him. There was a lot of “buzz” around Jesus, and when one particularly large crowd gathered to see Him, this is what we read in verses 21 and 22: “When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’ The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘By the prince of demons he drives out demons.’”
So, the religious authorities from the Temple were trying to discredit Jesus and claimed He was demon possessed. That’s nothing new. We know the Pharisees and scribes from the big city didn’t like Jesus and were upset at the large crowds that came out to hear Him.

But did you catch that first sentence about Jesus’ relatives? The Bible says that Jesus’ aunts and uncles and cousins thought He was nuts! They are quoted as saying, “He is out of his mind.” Also, it says they wanted to seize Him, which means have Him locked up!

Well, I’m not completely sure about the locked up part, since I’m not familiar with the state of mental health services in first century Palestine. I suspect emotional counseling wasn’t very impressive back then, even if you had a good health insurance plan through your employer. (That’s a little joke, by the way. There was no such thing as health insurance back then, and no such thing as mental health services, either.)

Years ago, if someone was suffering from mental health problems, the family probably brought the person home and prevented him or her from going outside. The person likely was a major embarrassment to the family, and they did their best to keep the afflicted soul out of sight so the neighbors would not gossip so much. (By the way, this is just another reason we all should be thankful we live in the 21st century, where mental health problems are better understood and can be treated successfully, rather than the old method of assuming the person was possessed by a demon and needed to be banished from community life.)
Anyway, Jesus’ own relatives were convinced He was out of His mind. They were so embarrassed they wanted to drag Him home and lock Him away so no one could see how insane He was. Wow, and I thought it was uncomfortable to have some of my relatives think I’m a “religious fanatic” because I go to Mass each week, write these essays, and occasionally give talks at churches. 

The impression I’ve always gotten from the gospel accounts is that the common folk in the countryside were attracted to Jesus and His message, while the sophisticated religious rulers in Jerusalem were unimpressed and wanted to stop Him. But this episode from Mark’s gospel makes it clear that not everyone in the rural regions were attracted to Jesus, especially His own blood relatives.
How do you think that made Jesus feel? Sure, He already knew the leaders in Jerusalem would oppose Him. But what about Uncle Lou? Auntie Helen? Cousin Lenny? Did Jesus expect these loved ones He’d known His whole life to completely misunderstand His divine mission and try to stop Him?

I guess this Gospel story is meant to teach us a couple of things. First, if God calls us to do a particular task, we must do it even when we face opposition. Second, if even Jesus had difficulties with His relatives, we shouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see eye-to-eye with our relatives once in a while.
At least in my case, my loved ones don’t claim I’m out of my mind. I think.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Time to Upgrade the Digital Presence

 Recently, my employers made the decision to increase our online “digital presence.” Apparently, the guys who own the company have concluded this Internet thing is not a passing fad.

At first, I thought “digital presence” was an odd way of saying someone flipped you the bird. But it turns out the phrase means a major upgrade to our website, along with new opportunities for blog posts, which then are linked to popular social media platforms, such as Face-Chat, Linked-Out, Insta-Scam, or whatever they call those time-wasting, soul-sucking things. (Oops, someone’s bad attitude accidentally leaked out again. What I, of course, meant to say is: “Or whatever they call those innovative, brilliant, business-enhancing networking and marketing tools.”)
Well, anyway, since my official job title is “Engineering Marketing Manager,” guess who is most responsible for utilizing these brilliant networking and marketing tools? That’s right, it’s me, also known as “Mr. why can’t we do everything with a Bic pen, legal pad, and typewriter, just like we did in 1981?”

So, in addition to all my regular duties (and if anyone actually knows what my regular duties are, please drop me a line), I now am responsible for three new activities: 1) Create and send out an email newsletter each month to every engineer in our territory; 2) Create and upload short blog posts onto our website three times each week, and then link them to the aforementioned Face-Scam, Insta-Linked, and Chat-Scat social media sites; and 3) Go on those social media sites multiple times each day and “Like” various industry related articles, along with offering my “comments” wherever appropriate.
The net result of all this extra work, or so I’ve been told, is that our “brand” will have a greater “digital profile,” which in turn will create “synergy” and make us an “industry trend-setter.” (Again, if anyone knows what any of that actually means, please drop me a line.)
Now, many people might think the real net result of all this is that I no longer have time to do my regular work. After all, who cares how many “links” and “likes” I have online if I can’t get a fan-coil unit selection and dimensional drawing to a consulting engineer on time? Or, does it really matter if an HVAC contractor in Arizona is impressed by the photo I took and posted of a roof top air-conditioning unit, when our sales territory stops at the New York border?

However, there is one saving grace that will get things back to normal very soon. Alert readers may have noticed an oxymoronic phrase a few paragraphs back. I mentioned that one of my new duties is to go online and offer my comments wherever appropriate. If you’ve been reading this column for any length of time, you know the idea of “my comments” and the word “appropriate” should never appear in the same sentence.
I’m sorry, but I just can’t help it. Whenever I perceive an opportunity for a snarky or sarcastic remark, it just spills right out of my mouth — or in this case, just spills right out of the tips of my fingers onto the computer keyboard.

After only a few weeks doing my new digital duties, I’ve received a lot of, um, interesting feedback, half of which is along the lines of, “Hey, that was funny,” and the other half more like, “Are you allowed to say that on Linked-In?” 

I’m pretty sure that quite soon I will be suspended from all these social media platforms for violating their “terms of service.” Then I’ll be able to do my job once again. I’ve got my Bic pen, legal pad, and typewriter all ready to go. I’ll drop you a line.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The Church Teaches: Purgatory Is Real

A few weeks ago, the topic here was the Communion of Saints, the fact that those who have gone before us in faith are now in the presence of the Lord and they can observe us as we struggle here on earth. These saints actually pray for us and encourage us in our difficult journey of faith.

An aspect of the Communion of Saints is the Church’s teaching on Purgatory. Whoa, wait. You’re not really going THERE, are you, Bill? I mean, c’mon. No one still believes in the silly medieval story that was meant to scare people into signing up for a sleazy fund-raising scheme. Most Catholics today are smart enough to know there is no weird place between Heaven and Hell where believers are sent to receive a fiery punishment for their sins before they are allowed into Heaven. When’s the last time you heard a homily on Purgatory, huh? Even the priests know it’s baloney and refuse to preach about it.
Well, the fact is, regardless of how many people, including priests, don’t believe that Purgatory exists, Church teachings are very clear. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo a purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God” (section 1030).

The doctrine of Purgatory is based on some key biblical verses, such as “Nothing impure will ever enter [Heaven]” (Revelation 21:27), and, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
Scripture also implies there is some kind of third possible destination after death, which is neither Heaven nor Hell. In his first epistle, St. Peter wrote, “[Jesus] was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago” (1 Peter 3:18-20). 

The souls Jesus visited and to whom He preached, during that time between His death and Resurrection, were not condemned (Hell), but they also were not yet in glory (Heaven). At that point in time, those souls were in a mysterious third destination.

Finally, in his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul describes the good works of believers, using the analogy of constructing a building. He says, “If any man builds…using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, his work will be shown for what it is….It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work” (1 Corinthians 3:12-13).
Paul continues in the next two verses: “If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (emphasis added).

The specific word Purgatory is not used here by Paul, but it sure sounds like Paul is describing it. He says if someone’s earthly Christian works do not meet the test, he or she will suffer loss, but ultimately will be saved.

A logical way to describe Purgatory is to use a parable. Imagine spending the day outside doing yard work. When you come into the house, your clothes are covered with dirt and sweat. Your spouse, dressed impeccably, grabs your arm and says, “We’re going to a fancy banquet. Come on, get in the car right now and let’s go.”

Knowing that you would be quite embarrassed to walk into a fancy banquet dressed in dirty work clothes, you instead say to your spouse, “Give me 45 minutes. I’ll take a shower, put on my best clothes, and then I’ll be ready for the banquet. I might be a little late, but at least I’ll be prepared.”
Purgatory is kind of like that. But instead of cleaning physical dirt and sweat, it is our bad attitudes and unrepentant sins that are cleansed. If people are honest with themselves, most will admit that despite their faith in God and regular church attendance, deep down inside there still lurks occasional bouts of selfishness, anger, envy, dishonesty, and pride.

So, the Catholic Church still believes in and teaches the doctrine of Purgatory. It is not a place of cruel, arbitrary punishment. It is instead an opportunity for spiritual purification and cleansing. All sincere Christians should be thankful that it exists. And yes, priests should give homilies about Purgatory once in a while. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

No Business Trips This Year

Because of the pandemic, this is the first year in two decades that I will not be flying out of town to visit a factory. Part of my job is to bring consulting engineers and HVAC contractors to visit manufacturing facilities for some intense product training and a little hospitality. 

I would be lying if I said these trips were always a wonderful experience. The factory tours, training seminars, and dinners at local restaurants are usually quite enjoyable — especially one particular barbeque joint in Springfield, Missouri. I’d like to retire in the apartment building right next door to that restaurant. If I did, my heart would only hold out for six months tops. But their brisket is so good, it still might be worth it.
The process of getting to the various locations around the country can be quite an ordeal. On one trip a few years ago, thunderstorms caused us to miss a connecting flight, so we had to scramble to find a couple of rooms in a seedy motel near the Atlanta airport. When we finally reached our destination a day late, the rental car company no longer had the van I reserved, but the guy at the counter assured me six adult males and their luggage would fit comfortably in a different vehicle. By the time we all piled in, it felt like we had been hired by Barnum and Bailey to perform in the clown car show. One of my guests was sprawled across the little shelf next to the rear window. I suspect when he was studying hard to get his mechanical engineering degree, he never envisioned that his professional career would include being the first ever 5’ 10”, 175-pound bobble-head doll.
Another aspect of these factory trips is the likelihood that one of my guests will suddenly decide he is not a 49-year-old Project Manager with a large contracting company, but instead is once again the 21-year-old fraternity brother he was in 1992. Which means his new mission for the next three days is to see how much alcohol he can consume without throwing up. (He usually makes this determination by indeed upchucking and then muttering, “OK, 19 shots of Jack Daniels is one too many. Tomorrow night I’ll only have 18.”)
Although everyone involved on these trips is a highly trained and skilled professional, as the host and organizer, it sometimes seems like I’m a Cub Scout den mother trying to corral a half dozen hyperactive second graders. I have actually shouted the following statement in an airport bar more than once: “Alright, fine! But if you’re not on the plane in time, you’re on your own getting back to Connecticut!” 

When the pandemic halted most business travel back in March, I felt a bit relieved that I would get a break from these factory trips. But now that it’s been many, many months without a trip — and it looks like they won’t resume anytime soon — I recently realized that I miss them. I miss the camaraderie and the adventure.
I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the traveling part of it, too. I miss dragging my suitcase two miles from Gate C-12 to Gate M-22 at O’Hare. I miss being startled when the guy in front of me suddenly leans back in his seat and turns my kneecaps into guacamole. I even miss those spacious airplane bathrooms. Obviously, this pandemic has had an adverse effect on my ability to think rationally.

No one is looking forward to our society getting back to normal more than I am. When I’m finally able to schedule another factory trip, I’ll start grumbling like always, but with a smile on my face. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Be Prepared for Your Most Important Day

In this week’s gospel reading, Jesus offered a parable about being prepared. He used a wedding feast to symbolize Heaven, and a bridegroom to symbolize Himself. No one knew when the bridegroom would arrive and begin the feast. Half the people were ready; the other half were not (“foolish,” Jesus called them).

When the bridegroom finally came, Jesus explained, “Those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked” (emphasis added).

Later on, those who were unprepared came to the feast and knocked on the door. They yelled, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us!” The bridegroom replied, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you” (again, emphasis added).
Although we may not fully understand 1st century, middle-eastern wedding customs — with friends of the bride (the virgins) and lamps and oil and waiting up all night for the groom to arrive and start the party — we still can understand Jesus’ main message. He is telling us that we do not know when the most important day of our lives will come, but when it does come we had better be ready. If we’re ready, we’ll be invited in to an awesome party. If we’re not ready, the door will be locked and Jesus will say to us, “I do not know you.”

The most important day of our lives is a day most people dread, and a day many people can’t even admit will occur. It is the day we end our journey here on earth and stand face-to-face with God. It is the day of our death.

The letter to the Hebrews is crystal clear: “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb 9:27).

More often than not, people do not know when this most important day will arrive. It comes without warning. For some unfortunate souls, this most important day arrives with striking suddenness: a deafening crash on the Interstate or massive chest pains while shoveling snow. For others, this most important day arrives with a quiet whimper: a bedside vigil at a nursing home or hospice facility.
However it comes, that day will arrive for every single one of us. And when it does arrive, we either will be ready or we will not be ready.

Now, here is the most important question about this most important day: What exactly does it mean to be ready?

There are two clear aspects to being ready. The first is knowing Jesus. Not knowing about Him, but rather, having a personal relationship with Him. God created us in the first place to be in fellowship with Him, as the Baltimore Catechism said, to know Him, love Him, and serve Him.

Putting our faith in the Lord is much more than acknowledging His identity and accepting that He did what the Bible claims He did. Faith involves trust, it involves reliance, it involves relationship.

The second aspect of being ready is putting that relationship — that trusting faith — into action. This is not to say we have to work our way into Heaven; no one is holy enough to do it on their own.

It means instead that our gratitude toward God — our loving response to His incredible love and mercy toward us — transforms our hearts and minds, and is expressed in righteous living. We do good things because we want to, not because we have to.

We don’t need to be frightened of that most important day. If we have a relationship with Jesus, if we put our trust and faith in Him and let the Holy Spirit guide our lives, we can be confident the door will be opened and we will be invited in.

Ironically, the more we understand that our time here on earth is exceedingly brief and the more we are prepared to meet God, the more we can relax and enjoy these precious days and years. It’s a win-win situation: joy and peace during this life, and a heavenly wedding feast for all of eternity in the next life.