Thursday, August 26, 2021

It’s Never Too Late to Seek God

Here is a common scenario: someone finds out they have a fatal illness with only months to live. Then a dear friend gently suggests that it’s time for the sick person to “get right with God.” But the person responds by saying, “No, I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I ignored God for most of my life, and now that I’m dying and afraid, it would be selfish and wrong for me to go running to him.” 

Imagine a different scenario: a man discovers that his roof is leaking. His wife tells him to call the roofing contractor located a few blocks away. But the man responds by saying, “No, I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I ignored the roofing contractor the whole time we’ve lived in this house, and now that the roof is leaking, it would be selfish and wrong for me to go running to him.”
Obviously, it’s neither hypocritical, selfish, nor wrong to call a roofing contractor when your roof starts leaking. But not making a call in that situation definitely would be foolish -- unless you enjoy watching your ceilings and furniture and carpeting get ruined by leaking water.

When your roof leaks, you call a roofing contractor. Why? Because he is in the roofing business and he knows how to fix leaks. 

If you find out you have a terminal illness, you should call on God. Why? Because He’s in the eternal life business and He knows how to get you to Heaven.

Yeah, but what about the hypocritical aspect of this situation? If a person ignores God their whole life but then turns to Him when they get real sick, isn’t that being two-faced and selfish?
Not really. Yes, it certainly would be better for people to be close to God during their entire lives. Here are a couple of reasons why: First, there are tremendous benefits to having a relationship with the Lord throughout your life, such as peace of mind, joy, knowing that life has a purpose, and the confidence that God will keep His promise and give the gift of eternal life in Heaven when you die. Second, having a fatal illness with only months to live can be a blessing in disguise, at least compared to other ways that people die. For example, a man who has a massive heart attack and is dead before he hits the ground never has a chance to “get right with God.”

The main reason it is not hypocritical to seek God when things are bleak is because God is our loving Father. If a youngster falls and scrapes her knee, and then goes crying to her mother, does the mom say, “Oh sure, you ignore me when you’re out playing with your friends. But now that you’re bleeding you come running to me. You’re a hypocrite, kid!”?

Of course not. A mother’s love is so powerful she only wants to comfort her child. God is the same way. When we’re hurting and we run to God, at that moment all He cares about is comforting us. It doesn’t matter if we’ve ignored Him for the last 40 or 60 or 80 years. His parental love is so powerful, the past is forgotten.

It’s best to enter into a loving relationship with God sooner than later. After all, as Scripture says, “No one knows the day or hour.” Some people never get that chance.
But if you or a loved one ever have to face the tragic situation when a doctor says it will be only a matter of a few more months, don’t let your pride get in the way and claim it would be hypocritical to get right with God at that point. Turning to God right then and there would be the most comforting and joyful thing you could do. And spending eternity in the paradise of Heaven is pretty terrific, too.

Hot Dogs Are Unhealthy? Who Knew?

A study published last week, conducted by the University of Michigan, evaluated almost 6,000 different foods and rated them according to their “nutritional disease burden.” I’m not sure exactly what “nutritional disease burden” means, but that would make a great name for a rock band.

Anyway, you may have heard about this study, because every news outlet in America focused on one sensational aspect, with headlines like this: “Each hot dog you eat can reduce your lifespan by 36 minutes!”
First, as I mentioned, the hot dog claim is a small but quite eye-opening part of the study. I couldn’t find a single article that bothered to explore the study’s results in detail. And second, the assertion that every hot dog reduces your lifespan by 36 minutes is flat-out wrong. If it were true, then I would’ve died about 10 years before my birth.

Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. (Me? Exaggerate? Never!) I’m not sure if the hot dog claim is supposed to frighten people away from that scrumptious staple of baseball games — not to mention a scrumptious staple of backyard barbeques, company picnics, Sunday brunch, midnight snacks, High Tea with the Queen, and killing time while sitting in the dentist’s waiting room. (Hey, you eat what you want before getting your teeth cleaned, and I’ll eat what I want.)
I don’t eat hot dogs nearly as often as I’d like. My Desire-to-Transpire ratio, that is, the number of times I want a hot dog vs. the number of times I actually have one, is about 9 to 1. I estimate that I eat about 50 hot dogs per year, mostly during the summer. So, running the numbers using the “lose 36 minutes” claim, and assuming I’ve eaten 50 hot dogs per year since age four, my life-long hot dog consumption will reduce my lifespan by 75 days, or 2-1/2 months. That’s it?

That doesn’t scare me. Let’s look at it this way: if I never enjoyed a single hot dog during my entire life, I would live, for example, to age 85. But if I enjoy hot dogs throughout my life, this study says I will live only to age 84 years and 9-1/2 months. All I can say to that news is, “Take me out to the ballgame! I’m buying!”
The Michigan study also discussed other foods that will ADD minutes to your lifespan. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts, not surprisingly, are on the list. The positive food that was mentioned most often in news reports was the good ol’ peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A tasty PB&J allegedly will add 33 minutes to your lifespan. I spoke with some people who were very skeptical about this claim. “What kind of jelly?” they demanded. “The kind filled with high fructose corn syrup is not healthy! And what kind of bread? Everyone knows wheat bread is much better for you than white bread.”

I’m really not accepting the results of this study, since it is heavy on sensational sound bites and very light on details. It almost seems like a marketing and public relations firm had more input than actual research scientists.
However, if there are some people in my life who are concerned that I eat too many hot dogs (and I can think of one such person, but I won’t mention her name), I have a solution that will change my minus-36 to only a minus-3. Every time I eat a hot dog, instead of mustard and relish, I will cover that doggie with a heaping helping of peanut butter and jelly. It might taste a little weird at first, but you know me: when it comes to food, I’m all about good health.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

King of the Road Goes to Queens

(A note regarding last week's column: I received an email from a reader who asked, "Did you actually write an entire column filled with dumb jokes about urinating?!"
I replied, "Oui, oui, Monsieur.")

* * *

Recently, I drove with a few business friends to a Mets game. We had a great time, but driving from Connecticut to Westchester, through the Bronx, over the Whitestone Bridge, and onto the streets of Flushing, Queens — and then back again after the game — was quite an ordeal. When I finally got home I felt like I had just pitched a 15-inning complete game, except instead of one tired arm, both of my arms were beat from squeezing the steering wheel so tightly. Driving on crowded 3- and 4-lane highways, where cars routinely swerved across multiple lanes to get to an exit ramp, required relentless concentration. My brain was as exhausted as my arms.

Trying to keep my car from getting banged up required me to watch the road at every moment. I appointed the guy in the passenger seat as our official Navigator. I didn’t even want to take my eyes off the road to glance at the GPS display, so I told him to watch it and tell me when we needed to make a turn or get off an exit. I also told him to be on the lookout for wacky drivers, so I could steer clear of them. 

For two hours he offered the play-by-play of what was going on all around us. “OK, Bill,” he said at one point, “that green Toyota on our right doesn’t seem to have a driver. No wait, the guy was leaning over. Wow, that’s hard to do at 60 miles an hour. Oh, I see what he’s doing now. He’s got a sandwich. I guess he’s having lunch while he drives. Oh look — no, I mean, don’t look! — now he’s drinking something. Looks like a can of Budweiser. You might want to slow down, Bill, and let this guy get far ahead of us.”
A while later, my right-hand man said, “There’s a silver Buick coming up on our left, Bill. The driver is talking on her cell phone and drifting in and out of her lane. Hmm, it looks like she’s yelling. I think she’s having an argument. Oh yeah, she’s definitely having an argument because now she’s using her other hand to give her cell phone the finger. Hmm, she must be steering with her knees. If you can move one lane to our right and get away from her, Bill, that would be great.”

And that’s how it went for most of the trip. I was very tempted to look at some of the “characters” that were all around us, but with my luck, the moment I looked to the side, the driver in front of me would slam on his brakes. Then my car would end up in his back seat, and I would become one of the distracted “characters” that we were trying so hard to avoid.

When I finally got home, it dawned on me that during the ride to and from New York City, there had to be at least 1,000 different vehicles that spent some time either right in front of me or right behind me, or to my immediate left or right, all-the-while as we moved along at anywhere from 40 to 70 miles per hour. That means the fate of my car, whether it would get dented and scratched — or worse — was in the hands of 1,000 complete strangers, most of whom were driving distracted. 
I think it’s mathematically impossible that my car did NOT get dinged. This reminds me of a sign I saw: “A car’s weakest part is the nut holding the steering wheel.” 

The next time I go to a Mets game, I’m definitely taking the train.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Commandments Repeated for a Reason

In the first reading at Mass this weekend, from the book of Deuteronomy, Moses instructed the people of Israel to follow the commandments given to them by God. Have you ever noticed the Ten Commandments have a couple of repeats? First, there’s a commandment that says, “You shall not steal.” Then later, it says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.”
Another commandment says, “You shall not commit adultery.” Then later we read, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.”

What’s the deal here? Why does God repeat Himself? Isn’t the prohibition against doing certain behaviors good enough? Why does God then go and prohibit merely thinking about certain behaviors? 

It seems that God is telling us that we are violating His law if we simply think about something, even though we don’t even lift a finger to do it. That’s weird, isn’t it? I mean, it’s almost like God is telling us that if we crave something — say, a new boat — or if we are envious of something our neighbor has — say, his new 96” flat screen TV — we have already committed a sin. That makes no sense, does it? Envy is good, isn’t it? Envy is the heart of modern advertising, and as we all know, advertising is the engine that makes the economy run, and we all want a strong economy, don’t we? If we didn’t envy a new boat or a big screen TV, then we might not take out a second mortgage or max out our credit cards or dip into the kids’ college fund so we can buy the items we crave. Which means the economy would suffer.

And what about the “covet your neighbor’s wife” thing? If I didn’t know better, I’d think God is saying that lust is bad. Huh? What’s God talking about? Lust is the second most important facet of modern advertising, right behind envy. Why do you think they use pretty women in bikinis to sell everything from power tools to pizza to Olympic beach volleyball? Simple, because it works. 
With so much actual stealing and adultery and other bad behavior taking place nowadays, you would think God would be satisfied as long as we refrain from doing it. It’s the action that is sinful, right? Surely God doesn’t care what goes on in the recesses of our sneaky little minds and hearts, as long as we don’t actually do it. As long as we don’t steal something, as long as we don’t commit adultery, there’s nothing wrong with some covetous thoughts now and then, is there?

Well, Jesus seems to think so. In this week’s gospel reading He offered an important warning. “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed,” He explained. “All these evils come from within and they defile.”

It’s a funny thing with God. What He wants most of all is to be in a loving relationship with us. That is the one and only reason He created mankind in the first place — to share His love with us. When it comes to relationships, behavior is important, of course, but the mind and the heart are just as important. God does not want us to be obedient but resentful servants; He wants us to be soul mates. 

God is no dummy, even if it seems He doesn’t quite understand modern advertising nor the concept of “just having a little harmless fun.” God knows us better than we know ourselves. He wants what is best for us: to be in loving relationships, first with Him and then with our fellow human beings. As long as we think coveting is no big deal, as long as we entertain envious and lustful thoughts and desires, we are in serious trouble. Which is exactly why God repeated Himself in the Ten Commandments. And which is why we must pay attention and take those commandments to heart. 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Do We Have to Obey the Pope?

Here’s an interesting question: Are Catholics required to accept everything the Pope says?

On the one hand, there are people who call themselves Catholic who have ignored and rejected papal teachings for decades. They claim a person’s individual feelings about an issue are all that matter. Therefore, whatever a person feels is right, must be right. So, whenever the Pope presents a particular teaching, especially on incendiary topics such as abortion, marriage, euthanasia, etc., these Catholics shove their fingers in their ears and shout, “La la la! I can’t hear you!” In other words, they claim it’s perfectly OK to ignore any and all statements from the Pope that they don’t agree with.

On the other hand, there are other Catholics who say we must accept and obey all pronouncements from the Pope. They cite the Church’s teaching on “Papal Infallibility,” and warn that if anyone disagrees with the head of Jesus’ Church, then his or her eternal soul is in jeopardy.
It all depends on how we understand the teaching on Papal Infallibility. Some folks think this means the Pope, as a person, is infallible. Since he is the Supreme Pontiff, the leader of the Church founded by Jesus Himself, it is impossible for him to think, say, or do anything that is incorrect. If the Pope declares it is going to rain a week from Thursday, then you don’t have to watch the weather report because it IS going to rain a week from Thursday. 

Or they think Infallibility means the Pope is morally perfect. In other words, he is not capable of committing a sin. These people are shocked when they discover the Pope goes to Confession on a regular basis. “Why?” they ask. “What’s he got to confess?”

The Church’s teaching on Papal Infallibility actually is very narrowly defined. And the one thing it does NOT mean is that the Pope himself is morally perfect and incapable of making an error. (If that were the case, a lot of major league teams would be begging the Pope to play shortstop for them.)

The doctrine of Papal Infallibility is explained by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says the pope is protected from error when he “proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals” (CCC 891). 

The key is that the subject must deal only with faith or morals. The Pope cannot claim to make infallible proclamations about the weather forecast, or the upcoming NFL season, or which wine is proper to serve with hot dogs and potato salad. (Answer: wine in a box.) 
More than anything else, the doctrine of Papal Infallibility prevents the Pope from making an erroneous claim about faith or morals. You see, the Church has been teaching the core truths of the Gospel, handed down by Jesus and the apostles, for 2,000 consecutive years now. The basic claims of Christianity have not been altered since Day One, and no Pope has ever been empowered to make fundamental changes.  

Popes have made infallible proclamations only twice in the past two centuries, in 1854 (the Immaculate Conception) and 1950 (the Assumption of Mary). So, obviously, Papal Infallibility is not used very often.
Therefore, the answer to our original question is no, Catholics are not required to accept everything the Pope says. But since he is the leader of Jesus’ Church on earth, Catholics do owe him a high level of respect. If the Pope makes a statement about some aspect of religious practice, politics, or culture that we consider incorrect, we need to make sure our disagreement is polite and respectful. 

And if the Pope says it’s going to rain a week from Thursday, we should bring an umbrella that day. I mean, c’mon, he’s the Pope. He just might have some inside information.

Late Night Olympic Activities

Did you watch the Tokyo Olympics on TV a couple of weeks ago? (You did? Wow, you’re in the minority. The ratings were almost as low as the television ratings for the 1896 Athens Olympics.)
I was hoping for a better showing from my adopted home country, but the athletes from Nocturia did not fare very well. You could even say they made a splash early, but then trickled off before reaching the finish line.

During the Olympic games, I lost a lot of sleep in the middle of the night because of my beloved Nocturia. I wanted to root for them in real time, rather than wait for the replay the following day. And since I was up anyway, it worked out well.

I was hoping one of the Nocturians would win a gold medal (such an appropriate color), so the world could hear our glorious national anthem, a modified version of that old religious hymn, “Let the River Flow.”

If one of our athletes had won even a silver or bronze medal, the beautiful national flag of Nocturia would have been raised proudly up the flagpole. The flag is quite stunning. It has a black background with a full moon in the upper left, and the image of a waterfall cascading down on the right side. The moonlight gives the waterfall a warm, yellow glow. 

Whenever an Olympiad rolls around, the nation of Nocturia encounters a major problem trying to put together a competitive team. All the young and healthy citizens in the country between the ages of 18 and 35 rarely express any interest. It seems only middle-aged and senior citizens have a patriotic devotion to Nocturia. As you can imagine, this is quite a handicap. It’s difficult enough to compete against young and strong athletes from around the world, but it’s even worse when you rarely get a good night’s sleep.
I must say, however, that Nocturia regularly fields a fine swimming team. We almost won a couple of medals this year, but as often happens in the pool, right in the middle of the race our swimmers paused for about 10 seconds, then said, “Ahhh,” and continued on. Oh well, maybe next time.

We came so close to a medal in the Equestrian event. Our rider is a fine horseman named Swoal N. Prozztate. P-man, as we call him, is just a squirt of a fellow, but he’s a real whiz-kid in the saddle. He made it to the semi-finals, but in a close race with a rider from Argentina, P-man detoured off the course just yards from the finish line to search frantically for a highway rest area. 

It’s such a shame P-man did not win a medal. After the raising of the flags and the playing of the gold medal winner’s national anthem, he would’ve performed the traditional Nocturian folk dance right there on the podium. The dance consists of putting your knees together and walking in circles while biting your lower lip and closing your eyes in discomfort. 
People often ask me what it will take for a Nocturian athlete to win an Olympic medal. I always shrug my shoulders and reply, “Depends.”

I am certain my adopted home will win an Olympic medal one of these days. Of course, our chances will be significantly greater if the Olympic organizers add the following events: shuffleboard, bocce, checkers, bridge, and competitive napping.

If those events are included, there will be a stream of Olympic medals returning to the proud nation of Nocturia. The citizens will gush with pride. Joy will flood the land. It will be a whiz-bang day of celebration. And night. Multiple times at night.


Friday, August 6, 2021

Don’t Make the Wrong Assumption About Mary

This year August 15th falls on a Sunday. So, the readings for the Feast of the Assumption of Mary will be proclaimed at Sunday Mass. This means many Catholics will be present to celebrate this Feast for the first time in a long time, since they often don’t get around to attending Mass whenever any Holy Day of Obligation falls on a weekday. (In the modern American Catholic dictionary, the word “obligation” is now defined to mean: if I feel like it.)

This is a very interesting feast. It commemorates a very fascinating event: the Blessed Virgin Mary’s entire body being supernaturally “assumed” into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. The gospel reading is from Luke, chapter 1, and it describes the time when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visited her cousin Elizabeth. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth cried out to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
Mary responded by praying what has come to be known as “the Magnificat,” which begins, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Hey, wait a minute. Why are they using that reading instead of the actual Bible passage that describes Mary’s Assumption? Ha! Trick question. There IS no Bible passage that describes the Assumption. Our knowledge of that event is based on Church Tradition.

You see, from the very beginning, Jesus founded His Church. He said St. Peter would be the “rock” on which the Church would be built (Matthew, chapter 16). Jesus founded a Church, He did not write a book.
When giving pastoral instructions to Timothy, St. Paul wrote, “You should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim 3:15).

St. Paul’s epistle, which is now part of the Bible, claims the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth. Nowhere does he or any other biblical author claim that the Bible is the sole authority.
Here’s another example: St. Paul also wrote, ““Hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thes 2:15). 

It is very clear there are important teachings about our faith that were written and eventually compiled in the Bible. And there are important teachings that were passed along by word of mouth. These oral teachings are what we call the Apostolic Tradition.

One of these Apostolic Traditions is the claim that Mary was assumed bodily into Heaven. Is that idea so far-fetched? Jesus Himself ascended bodily into Heaven. Would a loving son do no less for His mom?

Two other figures in the Bible also experienced supernatural ends to their natural lives without experiencing death: Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11).

So, there is biblical precedent for people who are especially close to God to experience very stunning, supernatural endings to their earthly lives. I ask you: who in all history was closer to God than the mother of the incarnate Jesus? If anyone is going to experience one of these special endings, why not Mary?
One important point about this Feast Day: although we honor Mary as the preeminent of all saints, Catholics in no way worship Mary. (And if some do, it is done out of ignorance, and it is very wrong.) The Church clearly teaches that worship is reserved for God alone. Mary is not divine. She is a great saint and servant of the Lord. In fact, she referred to God as her Savior in the Magnificat, which means she needed divine help to reach Heaven, something a god or goddess wouldn’t need. The Trinity is complete and perfect as a trio. There’s no need to make it a quartet.

As Christians, we are supposed to imitate Jesus. Well, Jesus honored His mom. Therefore, we should honor her, too. Make sure you pay attention at Mass this week!

To Sleep, Perchance to Scream

Recently, I saw a couple of interesting articles that discussed the findings of two different medical studies. The first article had this headline: “Just 3 straight nights of poor sleep causes ‘great deterioration’ in mental, physical well-being.”

No kidding, Sherlock. They needed to conduct a medical study to find that out? I could’ve told them. And by the way, it really should be ONE straight night of poor sleep. Speaking for myself, one fitful night is bad enough, and if I suffer through three straight nights of poor sleep, “great deterioration” doesn’t even begin to describe my mental and physical well-being. “Total meltdown” is more like it.
The other article had this headline: “Teen sleep deprivation quickly leads to lethargy, anger, and depression.” Are they sure those behaviors are caused by sleep deprivation? The headline would not have been incorrect if it said, “Being a teenager leads to lethargy, anger, and depression.” 

I don’t want to be critical of teenagers, but having been one recently (well, a few epochs ago), I remember all too well how moody and surly my friends and I were during those years. That’s what happens when you take a normal human body and subject it to hormone surges, growth spurts, powerful peer pressure, and sudden eruptions of facial hair (which happens to the boys, too).

If I remember correctly, when I slept only 4 or 5 hours at night as a teenager, the next day I was lethargic, angry, and depressed. But if I instead slept 8 or 10 hours at night, the next day I was lethargic, angry, and depressed.

The articles did not say how much money was spent conducting these studies, but I could’ve saved them a lot of dough. They could have published a brief document with the title, “Mom was right: go to bed!” Then the entire body of the report, rather than six pages of statistical analysis, could simply say, “And I’m not kidding, young man!” 
Sleep is an amazing thing. Everybody does it. Which is why Steven Wright’s old joke still makes us laugh. “I woke up this morning and my friend said, ‘Did you sleep well?” I said, ‘No, I made a few mistakes.’”

We take sleep for granted and often don’t give it much thought, unless, of course, we don’t get enough of it. Then that’s all our brains think about. And when we are sleep deprived, our brains struggle to do anything quickly and accurately. I’m not sure of the exact medical description, but it seems to me when I’m lacking sleep, the usual electrical synapses in my brain get coated with a sticky substance, probably peanut butter, which really slows down the whole cognitive process. Or maybe that’s not the exact medical description. (Is it obvious that I’m staying up too late right now to type this essay? Yeah, I thought so.)

People do not take sleep for granted when they get into my age range. (To give you an idea of my age range, I’ve been receiving AARP junk mail for 14 years, which translates into 76 tons of paper for the recycle bin, plus one flimsy tote bag with a broken zipper for me.) We seniors know we need sleep, we enjoy sleep, and we set aside plenty of time to sleep. And then what happens? We wake up at 3 a.m. and stare at the ceiling until dawn. 

It’s a very odd situation: teenagers can sleep for 8 hours straight, but don’t want to. And seniors want to sleep for 8 hours straight, but can’t. Just like a half-century ago, I’m once again lethargic, angry, and depressed. But at least I have a flimsy tote bag. 

Sunday, August 1, 2021

The Bread of Life or a Cool Dude? You Decide

“Jesus Christ? He was a great moral teacher.” 

“Yeah, Jesus was a wise and spiritual guy, the founder of one of history’s most popular religions.” 

“If everyone was as kind and loving as Jesus, the world would be a much better place.” 

“That Jesus, man, he was a really cool dude.”

Yes, Jesus was a great moral teacher. He was wise and spiritual, and Christianity is one of the world’s most popular religions. No doubt His love and kindness are wonderful examples for us all. And I suppose you could even say, speaking in the current vernacular, that Jesus was a really cool dude. 
These opinions about Jesus are true. He definitely was all of these things. But these views about Him only scratch the surface. They don’t get to the heart of the matter, the true identity of Jesus: He was, and is, the only Son of God. Jesus is divine. He is God, one-in-being with the eternal Creator of the universe.

The Bible teaches that Jesus has always existed as the second person of the Holy Trinity; through Him all things were made way back at the dawn of creation; and for a little more than three decades He took on human flesh and walked the earth so mankind might be reconciled back to its Creator. 

Many people nowadays cringe at statements like that. “Oh, for crying out loud,” they moan, “Why do you have to go overboard about that divinity thing? Why can’t you just focus on Jesus’ teachings? Why do you have to deify the guy? Don’t you realize more people would be interested in Christianity if you weren’t so intolerant and fanatical about that stuff?”

Well, some Christian denominations have un-deified Jesus in the last half-century, and the results have been drastically shrinking membership rolls. But that’s besides the point. The purpose of religious faith is not to devise the most successful marketing ploy; the purpose of religious faith is to present the truth.

And the truth about Jesus’ identity—no matter how unpopular it may be in today’s sophisticated, relativistic culture—is that He is God. No if, ands, or buts.
Don’t take my word for it. Don’t even take a priest’s or a minister’s word for it. Instead, check out what Jesus Himself said. In this week’s gospel reading Jesus proclaimed, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

Just as today, the people who heard Jesus could not believe that He was anything other than an ordinary man. They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

Jesus immediately replied, “Stop murmuring among yourselves.” (Isn’t that great advice for practically any situation? It ought to be the 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not murmur among thyselves.) He went on to explain that no one except Himself has ever seen the Father in Heaven, and that He alone is the bread of life which came down from Heaven.
He compared Himself to the manna from Heaven which fed the Israelites in the desert after their exodus from slavery in Egypt. But unlike those who ate the manna and eventually died, Jesus said that anyone who eats the bread of life He brings will not die. He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Now, do these sound like the words of a man who considers himself a mere mortal, however wise, moral, loving, kind, and dudishly cool he might be? Hardly. These are the words of a man who is convinced that He is God in the flesh.

It may seem incredible that the supernatural Creator of the universe would love us enough to lower Himself and become a man. To modern sensibilities, stripped of almost all spiritual and supernatural discernment, the whole idea is simply juvenile and ridiculous.
No matter what your personal view of the issue, you can’t dismiss Jesus’ words. He believed it. He was convinced that He was God. We each must decide whether or not He was telling the truth or whether He was a lying nut job — which is most definitely not dudishly cool. 
In this week’s reading, Jesus also explained what is at stake. He said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” The flip side is obvious: whoever does not, does not.

Our decision about Jesus’ identity will determine the eternal fate of our souls. This is why the most important question we will ever answer is the one Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?”

You Can Take It to the Bank — But Make an Appointment

Does anybody remember the good ol’ days, when you could walk into a bank and talk to a real person? Oh, I know banks still have “tellers,” but what they mostly “tell” you, from behind their plexiglass fortress, is to make an appointment in advance if you want to do anything more complicated than cash a check or make a deposit.
Not that cashing a check or making a deposit are simple activities these days. You need lots of identification, plus your personal bank card, and most importantly, you need to remember your PIN number. (Yeah, I know what the letters P-I-N stand for, which means I’m actually saying “Personal Identification Number number.” I don’t care. I still call it a PIN number, and I also call the device on the outside wall of the bank the ATM machine.)

In order to cash a check or make a deposit, you have to slide your bank card into the little gizmo by the teller’s window, and then type in your PIN number. This is when I start to panic and think to myself, “Umm, what is my PIN number again? Is it my birthday? My birth year? The year I graduated from high school? Oh no, I think I changed it to a random 4-digit number after reading an article that said you should never use your birthday, birth year, or high school graduation year for your PIN number.” 

After a few futile attempts, I can feel my face turn red. I’m certain the teller thinks I stole the card and that I’m in the process of trying to commit a felony. I offer a nervous smile and say, “Gee, I can’t seem to remember the number. You know how it is these days, people have a zillion passwords!”

The teller gives me an exasperated eye roll, and I suspect she has reached under the counter to press the silent alarm button. Any minute now a SWAT team should be tackling me to the floor.
Usually, I can show my driver’s license and ask the teller to look up my account in the computer system. After much anxiety and embarrassment, I finally cash my 87-dollar check. When the teller asks, “How would you like that?” meaning 20s or 10s or whatever denomination, I discover she is not amused at all when I say, “Hundreds, please.” 

So far, I’ve discussed walking into a bank and talking to a real person — the exact opposite of my original question. If you have to do something a bit more complicated, like closing out an old account, then you are required to make an appointment in advance. I’m not sure if every bank does it the same way, but the bank I recently dealt with required me to schedule a face-to-face appointment by using their website. 

I do stuff online all the time. Some tasks are fairly simple, while other tasks take hours of your time as you fill out information by clicking through an endless series of screens. The online process to make a simple bank appointment was brutal. Imagine you are on a website trying to do your tax returns, take out a mortgage, and apply for U.S. citizenship — all at the same time. That would be 100% confusing, wouldn’t it? Well, the online process I went through to make a simple bank appointment was at least 200% confusing.

By the time I finished making the appointment online, the day and time for the appointment had already passed. So, now I have to start over. It would be easier if I just let the bank keep the money in my old account. Hmm, that probably was their plan all along.