Thursday, January 28, 2021

I Believe in the Creed

Do you remember the old Federal Express commercials, where the guy talked a mile a minute? Those commercials were very popular back in the early 1980s.
Wait. What do you mean you don’t remember? I’m not that old, am I? Hey, don’t answer that!
A while ago, the original “Motormouth” commercial for Federal Express (now called FedEx) was voted the most effective TV advertisement in history. Go to YouTube and search for “FedEx Motormouth.” The commercial is clever, funny, and actor John Moschitta’s ability to talk so quickly is amazing. (And that was really him. There were no fancy computers back then to speed up his speech.)

Anyway, I was reminded of those commercials the other day while at Sunday Mass. (No, a FedEx guy did not race in and deliver a package on top of the altar.) When it came time for the congregation to recite the Nicene Creed, the priest started by saying, “I believe…” and then we all joined in. Everyone in the church started out at a reasonable pace, but then as we continued, we went faster and faster, until the final line sounded like, “resurrectionofthedeadandthelifeoftheworldtocomeamen.”

I realize it’s easy to mindlessly zip through the statements we recite each and every week at Mass. On the one hand, it’s good that we make these important declarations on a regular basis, so they become ingrained in us. But on the other hand, because they are such familiar words, it’s easy for our mouths to speak while our brains are not contemplating any of it. And contemplation is impossible if it seems we’re trying to squeeze the entire Creed into a 30-second TV commercial.
The Creed is, in a word, awesome. The Creed states THE most important beliefs of Christianity. Among other things, the Creed offers a clear declaration of the Holy Trinity. We start by saying, “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.”
This statement separates us from the secular culture in which we live. We are claiming unequivocally that we are theists; in other words, we believe that God is real. He is the divine, eternal Being Who created everything in the Universe.
The very next statement in the Creed is this: “I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God.” Then a few sentences later we get to use a very cool word, “consubstantial.” We say this about Jesus: “...begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.”

We are stating that Jesus Christ is the Son of the almighty creator God, but Jesus did not come into existence at some particular point in time due to a specific creative action by the Father. Instead, we believe Jesus has existed for all eternity, way before time began. When we say Jesus is “consubstantial with the Father,” we mean He is of the same substance as the Father. The old way of saying it was, “ in being with the Father.”

The doctrine of the Trinity means we believe in one God — we are definitely montheists — but this one God, in His mysterious supernatural existence, consists of more than one person. The exact number, by the way, is three, which we focus on a little later in the Creed when we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.”

The Creed clearly describes our belief in one God who exists in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If you don’t exactly grasp how the Trinity works, don’t be alarmed; it’s an article of faith. As long as we’re on this side of eternity, constricted by our 3-dimensional natural world, it’s going to boggle our minds. But I suspect that once we leave this earthly domain and transition into the heavenly realm, it will be so obvious that we’ll slap our foreheads and exclaim, “Wow, now I get it!”

So, the Creed is a tremendous summary of our most basic and important beliefs. At Mass we should speak it slowly and clearly, and dwell on each amazing phrase. It is the heart of our faith. The last thing we should do is recite it like we’re making a Federal Express commercial in the 1980s. 

Planning a Trip Will Boost Your Happiness

In this age of COVID, most people have cancelled vacation plans and are waiting for the pandemic to subside before traveling again. The tenuous financial health of airlines, hotels, and cruise lines makes this quite clear. Also, a fair number of my business acquaintances usually attend at least two or three professional conferences each year. No one knows if anything useful actually occurs at these professional conferences, but they always seem to take place in San Diego, Las Vegas, or Miami. For some reason, they never are scheduled in Dubuque, Schenectady, or Possum Flats. My business friends tell me attending a “virtual” conference via computer on the dining room table is not nearly as fulfilling — although I suspect their livers are thankful.
Anyway, a recent survey found that simply planning a trip can help boost a person’s happiness and reduce stress. The study was conducted by the Institute for Applied Positive Research. (I wonder if there is an Institute for Applied Negative Research? In our current crazy culture, they’d have a lot more things to investigate.)

The study found that 97 percent of respondents say when they have a trip planned, it makes them happier. Additionally, just talking about planning a trip — even if you don’t make any reservations yet — can boost a person’s frame of mind. The report also noted that Americans are experiencing the lowest level of happiness in 50 years due to the ongoing pandemic and lockdowns.

Personally, I haven’t traveled for almost one full year. I typically fly somewhere for work or vacation about four times per year. So, it’s obvious that I need, at the very least, to TALK about planning a trip. The first thing I should do is remember all the wonderful experiences I’ve had while traveling. Here’s a short list:

One winter many years ago, my wife and I flew to Florida for a vacation. But mechanical problems caused our flight from Hartford to be delayed, which made us miss our connecting flight in Charlotte. So, instead of getting to Florida at 1 p.m., we arrived close to midnight. We were famished, but every restaurant and grocery store within a 100 mile radius was closed. The condo we were staying at had exactly 3 stale saltine crackers in a kitchen cabinet and a jar of mustard in the fridge. I discovered that when you’re hungry, you’ll eat anything.
A few years ago, I brought some clients to visit a factory in the Midwest. Thunderstorms caused our flight to be diverted, and again a connecting flight was missed. We ended up scrambling to find a couple of seedy motel rooms near the Atlanta airport, and after about three hours of sleep, we got up at 4 a.m. to head back to the airport and try again.

One time on a business trip, one of my clients came down with the flu, and while the rest of us were attending seminars, he spent the whole day sleeping in the back seat of the rental car. On the way home, we practically had to carry him through O’Hare Airport to catch our connecting flight. (Again with those darn connecting flights!)
On a different vacation in Florida, my wife got stung by a bee. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem since she’s not allergic, but this one must’ve been a super venomous tropical yellowjacket. After her foot swelled up and looked like a loaf of Italian bread with toes, we spent an entire day at an emergency healthcare clinic.

You know, that study was right. Just talking about my travel adventures has put me in a better mood. I am very happy right now — happy that I have NO travel plans for the foreseeable future! 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Knowing About God Not the Same as Knowing God

 In this week’s gospel reading, Jesus confronted a man possessed by an evil spirit. The evil spirit shrieked at Jesus, “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!” 

Did you catch that? The evil spirit KNEW the true identity of Jesus. But knowing the truth about Jesus’ identity did not do any good for that evil spirit. It was still an enemy of Heaven and destined for eternal torment.  

The Bible offers additional teachings on this subject. For example, in St. James’ epistle, he wrote, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder” (James 2:19). 
Also, in Matthew’s gospel Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23). 

Scary stuff, huh? Knowing that God is real and knowing that Jesus is His Son, and even referring to Jesus as, “Lord, Lord,” just doesn’t cut it. Possessing knowledge about God is not the same thing as having faith in God. Knowing ABOUT Jesus is not the same as knowing Jesus. 

Faith in God, the kind of faith that gets us into Heaven, requires that we put our full trust in the Lord. We need to do the most difficult thing known to mankind: forget about ourselves. Instead, we need to focus on God. 

It’s not easy to put God at the center of our lives. It wasn’t all that easy a century or two ago when most citizens were Bible literate and understood that pride and selfishness were sinful. It’s even harder today when most people are ignorant of Scripture and have been trained by our modern culture to view self-centeredness and pride as the most important attitudes in life.

If you told a group of average Americans that our national motto, “E pluribus Unum,” is Latin for, “What’s in it for me?” many most likely would say, “Yeah, that sounds about right. We gotta look out for Number One.”
Additionally, the Bible clearly teaches that saving faith is not a fleeting emotion that makes us excited for a brief moment in time. And faith is not an intellectual assent to some doctrinal statements that quickly get filed away in the back of our minds. No, faith is a life-changing reality that permeates our whole being, transforming our attitudes and actions. 

Now don’t get me wrong. We can’t earn our way into Heaven. No matter what you might have been taught in parochial school, Scripture plainly states that salvation is a free gift offered to us by the grace of God. We can’t do a lot of good deeds — as if we’re building up Brownie points — and buy our way into eternal life. 

God doesn’t particularly want (or need) our good deeds. He wants instead our hearts. He’s smart enough to know that if we give Him our hearts the good deeds will follow. 

True faith in God through Christ has the power to transform lives. It changes people into new creations. The old sinful nature is put to death on the cross with Jesus, and a new Spirit-directed nature takes over. 

Does saving faith instantly make a person perfect? No, perfection is beyond our grasp in this world. But saving faith does change people so drastically that others can’t help but notice. (By the way, if it would come as a complete surprise to your co-workers or neighbors that you claim to be a Christian, then you’d better do an emergency faith inventory.) 
Please heed this week’s gospel lesson: knowing ABOUT God is not the same as knowing God. Yes, knowing the true identity of Jesus is crucial. But knowing His identity is just the first step. A vibrant faith and trust and commitment to Him also is needed. It’s the difference between hearing Jesus say to us at the moment of our death, “Away from me, you evildoer. I never knew you,” and hearing Him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

Living in the State of Clutter

 It’s 5 p.m. on a Friday, and you’ve just checked into a nice hotel. When you enter your room, it is pristine. Everything has been neatly prepared for your weekend stay. (I’m referring only to the visual appearance of the hotel room, of course. At the microscopic level, it’s best not to contemplate how many people have slept in that bed over the years or the fact the hotel NEVER launders the bed spread. If you dwell too much on bacteria levels and dust mite colonies lurking there, you’d probably insist on sleeping in the bathtub.)

Within minutes of entering the neat hotel room, you toss your coat onto a chair, kick your shoes off into the corner, and hoist your suitcase onto the bed and begin to empty it. You have begun the process of slowly but surely disheveling the room.
Fast forward to Sunday at 10 a.m. You enter your hotel room after a leisurely four or five trips to the breakfast buffet table during the previous two hours. Suddenly, it hits you: check-out time is in one hour. You’ve got to repack all those scattered clothes and the 47 health and beauty products piled up around the bathroom sink. It’s a daunting task.

After years of observing this hotel room phenomenon, along with many other aspects of everyday life, the only conclusion we can make is this: the natural state of human beings is clutter.

Whatever environment we enter, it’s easy and inevitable that we will create clutter. It’s our natural instinct. And resisting or eliminating clutter requires Herculean effort.

This came to mind recently when my good friend Mickey Blarney and his wife put their house up for sale. If you’ve ever gone through that, um, delightful exercise, you know that real estate professionals absolutely abhor the concept of clutter. “If you want someone to make an offer, you HAVE to get rid of the clutter!” is the final phrase of the Real Estate Agent Oath.
Getting rid of the clutter is very difficult, especially if you’re still living in the house. Mickey suspects his real estate agent wanted them to put everything they own into storage and then move to a hotel for three weeks. They might have done that, but unfortunately Mrs. Blarney spent time dwelling on bacteria levels and dust mite colonies.

The Blarneys did get their house reasonably presentable. They threw away a lot of stuff and then hid much of the clutter in the attic, under the beds, in the back of closets, and in the vegetable drawers of the refrigerator. (“Hey hon, have you seen my phone charger?” “It’s next to the cucumbers.”)

The most difficult part of selling their house was the two-week period when real estate agents brought prospective buyers over to view the place. Every morning before leaving for work Mickey and his wife had to get the house in pristine de-cluttered condition.

When they came home each evening, their natural clutterizing instincts took over. Shoes left over there; coat on the arm of the couch; newspaper here; couple of glasses in the sink; phone charger on the end table. All these little, seemingly meaningless things added up to one big honking case of clutter. They had to clean it all up and hide everything every single morning. It was brutal. And they couldn’t just put a ten dollar bill next to the TV and let the housekeeping staff return everything to pristine condition.
The good news is the Blarneys finally sold their house, and then spent an entire weekend moving into their new place. They cluttered it good, and then didn’t lift a finger to tidy up. Mickey tells me it was a great feeling. Mankind in his natural state.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Who’s Afraid of Confession? We Are! 

 What are some things that American adults are afraid of? Well, there’s an IRS audit; that’s scary. And most people cringe at the thought of going to the dentist. But for Catholics, high on the list of frightening things is going to Confession — or as it’s called now, the sacrament of Reconciliation. In fact, if given the choice between going to Confession or having a tooth drilled without any Novocain, most American Catholics would say, “Let’s get it over with, Doc,” and then open their mouths wide. 

Now, of course, most adult Catholics don’t come right out and admit they are afraid of going to Confession. Instead they often say something like, “I haven’t committed any serious sins, so I don’t need to go.” However, Confession is not just for serious sins; it’s for all sins, even the little minor venial sins most people commit on a daily basis. Here’s something interesting: both Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II went to Confession at least once a week. And we say we don’t need to go because we don’t sin? Uh huh, sure.

Other people offer this explanation: “Well, I can confess my sins directly to God in prayer. I don’t need that formalized ritual the Church invented.” The thing is, the Church didn’t invent Confession. The Lord Himself gave this wonderful grace-filled sacrament to the Church as a means for people to have their sins truly forgiven — and just as important, for them to KNOW their sins are truly forgiven. 

Even modern psychology acknowledges there is something emotionally liberating about telling your failings out loud to another person. It really “gets it off your chest” when you speak it audibly to someone else. Many folks who ask God for forgiveness in prayer, without the benefit of the sacrament of Reconciliation, end up confessing the same old sin over and over again. In their hearts they really aren’t sure whether God has forgiven them. In comparison, people who take ten minutes to go to Confession walk out truly free. The grace they receive from the sacrament lets them KNOW that God has indeed forgiven their sins. What a relief! 
If most Catholic adults are honest, they will admit they don’t go to Confession because it frightens them. Let's take, for example, a friend of mine, a middle-aged businessman, who makes dozens of tough decisions each day and has to deal with other people in a firm, no-nonsense manner. At the mere thought of going to Confession, however, he suddenly turns into Jell-O. In his mind, he is transformed into the same insecure seven-year-old who made his first Confession decades ago, and who at the time was absolutely convinced the priest on the other side of the screen was eight feet tall, five-hundred pounds, with sharp fangs and laser beams for eyeballs, who was gleefully waiting to hear the nasty things a seven-year-old boy did so he could fire those laser beams and turn the quivering child into a pile of smoldering cinders. OK, well, everyone has his or her own nightmarish scenario. I suspect this scenario is not only accurate for me — um, I mean, my friend — but is also fairly accurate for many other people.
If the seven-year-old nightmare scenario is how you envision the sacrament of Reconciliation, you are in for a real surprise. Nowadays the priests are compassionate and understanding, and I have it on good authority that hardly any of them have laser beam eyeballs anymore. Because so few people go to Confession these days, the priests are delighted when someone comes to receive forgiveness. They are there to help and to be the conduit that allows God’s healing grace to flow into you. 

If you give Confession a try, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And you won’t even need any Novocain.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

I’m Begging You: Please Call a Plumber!

 In all my years of being a (semi) responsible adult, I’ve learned one important lesson that I would like to share with younger fellows. It’s a very simple maxim: “Please call a plumber.”

Every young man has a moment in his life when he declares, “I can fix that.” It’s usually some kind of drip or leak or blockage; or a wobbly toilet or not-quite-level sink; or just a really weird noise coming from the pipes in the basement. Oftentimes, the guy in question just finished watching a “how-to” video on YouTube, and he’s fairly confident it shouldn’t be a big deal to make the repair himself. “Why pay a ton of money to a plumber,” he asks rhetorically, “when I can spend 50 bucks at Home Depot and do the job in a couple hours?”

From decades of experience, let me offer this basic analysis. Option 1: Call a plumber. He makes the repair. Pay him 1,000 dollars. Ouch! That’s a lot of money.

Option 2: Watch a how-to video. Go to Home Depot multiple times and spend 200 dollars (because the materials always cost four times more than what you figured). Work for ten hours trying to make the repair (because the labor time is always five times more than what you figured). Come to the horrifying realization that you’ve made things worse. Scramble to get buckets to keep the new and invigorated leaks from damaging floors and furniture. Apply Band-Aids to your bleeding knuckles. Put an ice pack on your aching lower back. Call a plumber. He makes the repair, after first repairing your attempted repair. Pay him 2,000 dollars. Double ouch!
By the way, unless your dad was a plumber and you worked with him every summer while going through school and you actually have a good working knowledge of plumbing, there is no Option 3.

Paying a plumber a thousand bucks is painful, for sure. A heartfelt “Ouch!” is in order. But compare that with the alternative. Twenty-two hundred bucks out-of-pocket. Hours of your life wasted that you’ll never get back. Bloody knuckles, aching back, and soggy floors. Most of all, you experience the acute and painful sensation of having your ego completely crushed, especially when the plumber says with a chuckle, “Oh wow, did YOU do this?”

This scenario causes a heartfelt “Ouch! Ouch!! OUCH!!” followed by a gentle whimper as the last molecule of testosterone evaporates from your body.

(A very funny comedian, Orny Adams, rails against products that are marketed to help middle-aged men with a condition known as “Low-T,” that is, testosterone levels that are lower than when the guys were younger. Adams passionately explains, “Don’t buy that stuff! Every bad decision I’ve ever made in my life happened when I was on ‘High-T!’”)
I’m not trying to discourage men from doing projects around the house. And I’m certainly not trying to drum up business for members of the Western Connecticut Plumbers Guild. All the plumbers I know have more work than they can handle, much of which involves repairing the attempted repairs of testosterone-inspired homeowners. All I’m trying to do is help guys avoid a big mistake.
For example, it’s fine to attempt a carpentry type project — as long as the nails or screws required are no more than an inch long. Anything larger than that? Call a pro.

And when it comes to electrical repairs, don’t even think about it. In fact, just to be safe, turn all the electrical switches in your home to the “off” position, and then leave them there — forever.
There. I’m glad I could offer these important words of wisdom to the young ambitious homeowners out there.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

A Pharisee at Sunday Mass

 Recently I went to Sunday morning Mass. I thought I was in a pretty good mood, but as I walked up the aisle I noticed some people were sitting in my usual pew. Grrr, I know we don’t officially have assigned seating in church, but well, darn it, that’s my seat!

I found another pew, and as I kneeled to say a quick prayer, I heard two ladies nearby chatting way too loudly. Gabby and Crabby, I called them. One of them, Gabby, is hearing impaired, and spoke at full volume, although she thought she was whispering. The other one, Crabby, tried to whisper, but when Gabby shouted, “Whadja say?!” Crabby repeated her comment, which was a complaint about something in the parish, at the same decibel level as a fire alarm, only slightly more shrill. I found that my quick prayer turned into something like this: “Please, Lord, strike them both mute, just for the next hour.”
When Mass began, I stood and listened to the cantor sing the opening hymn. When she began a verse a bit late and then soon after missed a note, I shook my head and muttered, “Wow, she couldn’t even take a few minutes earlier in the week to practice that song?”

Then during the readings, as the lector proclaimed holy Scripture, I thought to myself, “Boy, he sure mumbles a lot. I’m only understanding about half the words he says. I bet Gabby ain’t hearing any of this.”
During the readings, I noticed a man and woman enter the church through the side door and quickly sit in the nearest open pew. “Hey,” I thought, “We start at nine-thirty, not quarter to ten. Did you forget to set your alarm clock — again?” Now that I was focused on Mr. and Mrs. Tardy, I heard and comprehended about as much of the readings as Gabby.

As Mass progressed, I continued to see and hear things that annoyed me. The altar server was late ringing the bells, and when he did ring them, it wasn’t loud enough. “Gabby should be ringing the bells,” I concluded. “That’d wake everybody up.”
During the most sacred part of the Mass, the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament, I tried to focus on the priest, but out of the corner of my eye I noticed a couple of boys, about four or five years old, fidgeting in their pew. I think Mike and Ike were playing with a couple of small toys. Their parents kneeled right next to them and did nothing to make them stop. “No discipline these days,” I thought. “What’s this world coming to?” I kept watching the boys as they squirmed, and missed the whole consecration.

When I got back to my pew after receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, I tried to offer a prayer of thanksgiving, but I was distracted by the line of parishioners still waiting for their turn. “Look at how people dress nowadays,” I thought. “Pajama pants and slippers? In church? Really? And look at the outfit on her. Whataya think this is, lady, a night club? Ever hear of modesty? Sheesh.”

While driving home, my wife asked, “How’d you like Father’s homily?”

“Um, it was OK,” I said, scrambling to remember what he had said. After a few moments I realized that I had been distracted and didn’t pay attention.

My wife continued, “He talked about the gospel reading, where the proud Pharisee thanked God that he wasn’t like all the lowly sinners. Father said there might be Pharisees right in our own pews, who think they’re holy and look down their noses at everyone else. They’re in for a big surprise at the Final Judgment.”
“Um, yeah,” I said. Just then I heard a little voice in my head whisper, “Hey pal, are you enjoying being a judgmental Pharisee?”

I turned to my wife and said, “Do you want to go to the 11:30 Mass with me? I think I need a do-over.”

Readers Reply With Words of Wisdom

 A few weeks ago, this column discussed “words of wisdom.” I concluded by asking readers to send in their favorite maxims, aphorisms, axioms, proverbs, platitudes, precepts, prescripts, morals, adages, tenets, and truisms. ( is a very handy website. Just sayin’.)

I received an avalanche of emails. Many readers have a lot of wisdom to share, although quite a few folks seem to have inherited the same “smart aleck gene” that I’ve been blessed (or possibly afflicted) with. Here are just a few of the replies:
Sanita wrote, “Be patient with your kids. Remember that not all the daffodils bloom on the same day.” Good point. But what if one of your kids turns out to be a cactus?

Shawnee said, “Be a doubting Thomas and question everything, even as you embrace mystery.” That’s very wise. Throughout my life, whenever I refused to accept something blindly, I was able to embrace it more wholeheartedly after proving to myself it was true.
Joe wrote, “If you want to succeed in life, look at what I’ve done — and do the exact 180-degree opposite!” Joe is a friend of mine, and he’s being way too hard on himself. I happen to know that during the past 25 years Joe has definitely done at least, um, a couple things right. Probably. Joe also offered this: “Don’t hit ‘SEND’ until you’ve sat on that angry email for a day.” Something tells me Joe learned this one the hard way.

Dick said, “Knowledge is understanding that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad!” For me, the best thing to put in a fruit salad is bacon. And chocolate.
Donna offered her dad’s favorite saying: “Don’t worry, things will get worse!” Oh boy, I hope that’s not true for the year 2021.

Art wrote, “When my wife is mad at me, I tighten all the caps on the jars in the fridge so she has to talk to me.” He also said, “I don't call it getting old. I call it outliving the warranty.” You’re a smart guy, Art.

Rich had this to say: “Don't do today what you can put off until tomorrow,” and, “You can always spot a motorcyclist by the bugs on his teeth.” Gee, I hope those bikers aren’t waiting till tomorrow to brush their teeth.

Lisa wrote, “As long as God and I are okay, I’m okay.” Good point, Lisa. And last I checked, God is still okay.

Mike said, “Don’t spit into the wind.” Actually, he did not use the word “spit,” but I’m pretty sure the different bodily action he described would not make it past the Family Newspaper Good Taste Committee.

Speaking of spitting, Ed offered this one: “Never spit in a man’s face, unless his mustache is on fire.” (And yes, in this case Ed did use the word “spit”.) Ed also wrote, “Don’t exaggerate. I must have said this to my daughters 5 million times.”

Susan explained that whenever there is a hard project to tackle, she reminds herself, “Inch by inch it’s a cinch, but yard by yard it’s mighty hard.” That’s fine, but I prefer to call a contractor and then grab the checkbook when my wife’s not looking.

A different Susan said, “I can explain it to you but I can’t understand it for you.” Hmm, enough said.
Unfortunately, I’ve run out of space and cannot mention every word of wisdom sent to me. To those who I am unable to squeeze in, I apologize, beg your pardon, ask forgiveness, excuse myself, admit guilt, cop a plea, express deep sorrow, and say I am sorry. Final word of wisdom: “Use whenever possible.”

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Jesus Aged a Lot in One Week

At church on Sunday, January 3rd, it was the feast of the Epiphany. This is the event that features the Three Kings. (Originally, I think they were called the Four Seasons. But when Frankie Valli left to start a solo career, the other guys decided to rename the group. I could be wrong about that, though.)

If you remember from watching any Christmas pageant during the past 2,000 years, the Three Kings were from the East and they traversed afar to bring gifts to the newborn baby Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. On the night Jesus was born, the Three Kings arrived at the stable about ten seconds after the shepherds. Well, at least that’s the way it’s done during most Christmas pageants.
The Bible, however, tells the story a little differently. Matthew’s gospel does not call them kings. They are described as Magi, a word which can mean mystics, magicians, priests, astrologers, college professors, diplomats, wealthy adventurers, reality show contestants, or maybe a combination of all of these. Also, Matthew never says there were three mysterious visitors. Tradition assumes there were three — probably because of the three gifts mentioned — but the Bible actually is silent about that. The Bible is not silent about other details of their journey. It says this about the visitors: “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary, his mother.”

Did you catch that? The Bible says Jesus and Mary were in a house, not a stable or barn or cave. When you consider the fact that evil King Herod ordered the murder of all Bethlehem boys two years old and younger — not just newborn babies — many Scripture scholars suggest the Magi visited Jesus when He was a toddler, between one and two years old.

At Mass this coming Sunday, January 10th, it is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This is the event when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, the official beginning of the Lord’s earthly ministry.
Wait a minute. At Mass on the 3rd, Jesus is no more than 2 years old. Then, seven days later at Mass, Jesus is 30 years old. Wow, He aged at least 28 years in one week. What gives? Why do we skip over such a large portion of Jesus’ life?

The answer is rather simple: we skip over such a large portion of Jesus’ life because the Bible skips over it. Information about Jesus’ birth, what we call the Nativity stories, is found in the first two chapters of both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels. (This means the other two gospels, Mark and John, don’t even mention Jesus’ birth.) After these four chapters, the story immediately picks up with Jesus as an adult, ready to start His ministry.

There is one small section of Luke, chapter 2, that describes the time when Jesus was 12 years old and got lost in Jerusalem for three days. But that’s it. Out of 89 chapters in the four gospels, there are four chapters about Jesus’ birth, a handful of verses about one incident when He was 12, and everything else in the remaining 85 chapters discusses His adult ministry.

Another reason we jump from Jesus’ infancy to the start of His ministry so quickly is the fact we have to squeeze the whole story of salvation history into a 12-month Liturgical timeframe.
Each Liturgical year begins with Advent. The Mass cycles cover that season and then Christmas. Then there’s a short period of Ordinary Time until Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. After Lent is the Easter season, which ends on Pentecost Sunday, usually in May or June. At this point, the Church calendar moves back into Ordinary Time for many months until the next Advent and a new Liturgical year.
Even though there are 12 months, it is a daunting task to include all the important feast days and all the key episodes in Jesus’ life. If the Church had to include many events from Jesus’ childhood, it would be impossible to cover everything. So, that’s probably why, after four brief chapters about the Nativity, the Bible jumps right into Jesus’ adult ministry. 

St. John said it best at the end of his gospel, when he explained that if every single thing Jesus did was written down, “I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.”

Please don’t be concerned if it seems like Jesus aged three decades in one week. There are many, many things that had to be left out of the Scriptures. But all those mysterious gaps in the story sure give us a lot to think about! 

Friday, January 1, 2021

Too Dark and Cold this Time of Year

 It’s hard to get motivated this time of year. The holidays are over, which is always an emotional letdown. But more importantly, there is simply way too little sunlight each day. Plus, it seems like it’s getting colder and colder. The only thing I feel like doing right now is climbing into bed and hibernating until April.

I think sunrise is about 10:30 a.m. and sunset occurs shortly after noon. OK, I might be exaggerating, but it definitely SEEMS that way, especially since during the few hours when the sun is up, it’s usually cloudy. And on those rare occasions when the sun is shining brightly, it means the temperature has plummeted to about minus-50. (Oops, I’m exaggerating again. It’s only minus-20.) 
For years I was skeptical when I heard people say they had Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition which causes mood swings and depression because of a lack of sunlight. It turns out it’s a real medical condition, although you shouldn’t waste your time asking if health insurance companies will pay to let you live in Australia for the next four months. I already tried. But you know what’s even worse than too little sunlight? Too little warmth! I swear, it gets colder and colder each year. I finally figured out why senior citizens go to Florida for the winter. It’s not because they’re retired and they want to play golf all year round. It’s because they don’t want to freeze to death. It’s a medical fact that once you reach age 67-1/2, your blood turns to solid ice on the day after Thanksgiving. (I am, of course, using the definition of the term “medical fact” that means: I just made it up, but I’m fairly confident there’s a grain of truth in there somewhere.)
At this time of year, getting out of bed in the morning is torturous. Each morning, when I first realize that I’m awake, I pull the blankets up over my face. My hair sticks out like little NASA space antennae monitoring atmospheric conditions and relaying the data back to Mission Control. Lately my hair has been able to determine: (1) although it’s twenty minutes to seven, it’s still pitch black outside; (2) although it’s 92 degrees under the covers, the air temperature in my bedroom is 61 degrees and the surface temperature of the hardwood floor, which is gleefully waiting for one of my bare feet to touch it, is approximately minus-50; and (3) every guy in the neighborhood is out scraping ice off his windshield. With that kind of precise information, no wonder my body refuses to get out of bed. The only reason I don’t stay in bed until April is because at my age if I don’t visit the porcelain throne every few hours I’ll end up doing something embarrassing that I haven’t done since I was four years old. (Or maybe I was 14.)
Once I’ve finished my business in the Tiled Library, and once I’ve treated my feet for frostbite, I figure I might as well get dressed and go to work. But since the grueling act of getting out of bed pretty much used up all of my available energy — at least until I have a chance to spend another eight or ten hours under the covers — I can’t possibly be expected to do any actual work while I’m at the office. Speaking of the office, I recently proposed a plan to my boss that would solve all these problems: let me open a branch office in Australia. He didn’t say anything, but as he turned and walked away, my hair antennae were able to detect how warmly he received that idea: minus-50.