Friday, December 31, 2021

Faith Is A Team Sport

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, Jesus told them to say, “My Father, who art in Heaven….Give me this day my daily bread, and forgive me my trespasses.”

No wait, that’s not right. Jesus told them to say, “Our Father….give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses.”
Did you notice the difference? Jesus wants His followers to pray together. This is because faith is a team sport. We simply cannot do this successfully on our own. We need each other. Believers are like burning logs in a campfire. If you stack up the logs so they’re leaning against each other, you get a roaring fire. But if you separate the burning logs and lay them down on the dirt away from each other, very quickly the fire goes out and they grow cold.

It’s the same when people try to practice their faith on their own. We have a lot of “Lone Rangers” in our parishes nowadays. Or I should say, NOT in our parishes nowadays, because they never bother coming to church. Maybe you know some people like this? They claim they believe in God and accept the teachings of the Gospel, but they prefer to do it by themselves. They say they can feel close to God by taking a walk through the woods or by watching a gorgeous sunset. Well sure, that’s true. There’s nothing like a quiet walk through the woods or a gorgeous sunset to remind us of God’s amazing creative powers.

But that can’t be a person’s entire faith experience. We need each other. Sometimes our Lone Ranger friends say they no longer go to Mass because “the church is full of hypocrites.” Well, yeah! The church IS full of hypocrites. Do you want to know why? Because we’re ALL sinners.
I once heard a guy say the more time he spends with other people, the more he likes his dogs. Other people can be very exasperating at times. (Although it seems the folks who complain the most about other people are actually the ones who are the most exasperating.)

The church never claimed to be a private club only for perfect people. The church is, as Pope Francis said, more like a field hospital during a war that treats the sick and wounded. Yes, we’re all sinners and yes, we’re all hypocrites, but despite that, we still need each other. We can’t hope to grow in our faith and get healed if we don’t do it together.

If you find a parish filled only with perfect people, by all means join it. But just know, the minute you join, it won’t be perfect anymore.

Our Lone Ranger friends and loved ones may think they’re living out their faith life just fine on their own, but like the campfire log lying on the dirt away from the other logs, the fire eventually goes out and it grows cold. It’s impossible to live a vibrant and meaningful faith life on our own. We need each other, warts and all.

In the letter to the Hebrews in the Bible, it says, “We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but (we should) encourage one another” (Heb 10:25).

Also, if you don’t go to Mass you can’t partake of the “source and summit of the Christian life,” the Eucharist (Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1324).

Jesus wants us to be in a relationship with Him, and He tells us in order to do it, we also need to be in relationships with our fellow parishioners. So let’s save all the Lone Ranger stuff for old black and white TV shows. Faith is a team sport. 

Does a Low Pitched Voice Tell Us Anything?

 Recently, I heard a report on the radio about a new research study. The announcer said something like, “People with lower-pitched voices have greater leadership skills, outgoing personalities, and sex appeal.” 

When I heard that, I said, “Ooh, that’s interesting.” Then I cleared my throat, and said in my best Barry White impersonation, “OOOOOH, BABY, THAT IS IN-TER-EST-TINNNG.”
Before we moved last year, I was in the church choir and sang the bass part, the lowest-pitched notes. To be honest, I was in the bass section mostly because I couldn’t come close to the high notes the tenors were required to sing. And come to think of it, I couldn’t hit some of the low bass notes either. But trying to hit a really low note and producing no sound was much more enjoyable for listeners compared to trying for a high note and sounding like a cat who just got his tail stuck in a blender. 

But the fact is, the pitch of my voice is much closer to Robert Goulet than Johnny Mathis — except I have a rather thin tone that kind of warbles. Other than that, though, Bobby Goulet and I are practically twins. “IF EVER I WOULD LEAVE YOOOOO, IT WOULDN’T BE IN SUMM-ERRR...”

I’m going to dismiss the fact that whenever I’m a bit nervous, like when I’m at work giving a presentation to a conference room filled with engineers, my speaking voice tends to sound a lot like Don Knotts. That’s just nerves. My regular voice is low. Really low. REALLY LOOOOOOW. Which means, according to the researchers, I am a natural leader with an outgoing personality and sex appeal. Nice. I mean, NIIIIICE, BABY.
When I got home, I looked it up online, and found that the research study was conducted at the University of Gottingen’s Biological Personality Psychology Group, in Germany. It was published in the Journal of Research in Personality. 

However, when I read the details, I was a bit surprised. I thought the radio announcer used the phrase “leadership skills,” but the article said people with lower-pitched voices have a tendency to try to dominate others, sometimes to the point of bullying. Well, that’s not so good.  

The “outgoing personality” I heard mentioned on the radio was actually more of an ability to convince people to trust you, and as a result, believe whatever you tell them. In other words, it’s the skill of being a B.S. artist. Ugh.

Finally, what I heard as “sex appeal” actually referred to a person’s “sociosexuality level.” This is a fancy phrase that means “greater likelihood to engage in casual sex.” OH, NOOOO. Wait, I mean, oh no.

Hmm, that’s just terrible. 

You know, to be perfectly honest now that I think about it a little more, I wasn’t in the bass section of the choir. It was the tenor section. No, wait, I was a soprano. Yeah, that’s it.

And my voice sounds like Don Knotts all the time, not just when I’m nervous. (Like right now.) 
If I had to compare myself with a famous singer, it definitely would be Johnny Mathis. “Chances aaaaare, ‘cause I wear a silly grin...”

Or maybe Celine Dion. Yeah, I sound just like her. “Near, far, where evvv-err you are….my heart will go on and onnnnn.” Yup, that’s me all right. 

In conclusion, the most important thing we can learn from that research study, especially if someone has been happily married for 39-1/2 years and wants to make it to 40, is that we should never trust silly research studies. And this goes double for research studies that are reported by radio announcers with deep voices. AND I’M NOT KIDDING, BABY.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Would Your life Story Make a Good Book?

 Recently, I saw an article with this headline: “More than half of Americans think their life is worthy of a book deal.”

Reading further, I discovered a survey was conducted earlier this year, and 55 percent of respondents said the story of their personal life would make a good novel or movie. Additionally, among those people who consider themselves to be “avid readers,” the percentage jumps to almost two-thirds.
When asked who they would cast as themselves in the Hollywood adaptation of that best-selling biography of their life, here were some of the suggestions: Al Pacino, Sandra Bullock, Denzel Washington, Jennifer Lopez, and Brad Pitt. 

To the rather optimistic folks who were part of that survey, I have one piece of advice: No. Just no.

I understand that we now live in an “Everyone gets a participation trophy” culture, and most people are convinced they’re super special. And I get it that throughout our long journey here on earth, we occasionally find ourselves in the midst of interesting events. Since the advent of digital photography and smartphone cameras, every single one of those interesting events — plus eight billion other painfully boring events — have been captured and preserved for all time.

However, before a particular life story is approved by book publishers, the editors ask themselves a simple question: “Will anyone besides Aunt Clara and Uncle Bud want to buy this book?” (I believe in the publishing world it’s known as “C&B Market Analysis Algorithm.” Don’t worry, if you only have an Aunt Margaret and Uncle Jimmy, the publishers are shrewd enough to modify their data analytics to the “M&J Market Analysis Algorithm.”)
I consider myself an “avid reader,” and I’ve read many biographies of famous and influential people. To be honest, in many cases their lives were pretty boring. Some found themselves in the middle of historic events, which was the primary reason an author decided to chronicle their life story. 

I’m reminded of a biography I read about Winston Churchill. Certainly, ‘ol Winnie was one of the most important persons of the 20th century. The chapters on how he led Britain during the dark days of World War II are very compelling. But all the other chapters about the rest of his life caused me to say, “Gee, this guy is a self-centered snob who thinks he’s better than everybody else, and therefore, he ought to run their lives.” (Unfortunately, that sentence describes a lot of people nowadays, most of whom appear regularly on cable TV news networks.)

There is a big reason why the most popular books and movies are works of fiction: the authors and screenwriters have the freedom to create exciting stories. Just think of Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, James Bond, Mark Twain, Steven King, etc.
When the average schmoe, “avid reader” or not, takes a survey and genuinely thinks his or her life would make a compelling novel and/or movie, I can only ask, “What exactly have you been avidly reading? Haven’t you noticed these interesting stories have NOTHING in common with your life?”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the life stories of those of us who are among the throng of everyday schmoes should not be written down. Every person’s life does tell a story. With modern computers it’s not difficult to type out your life story and family history. Then these adventures, for example, can be posted on an Internet blog site. At that point, please do not sit by the phone waiting for Denzel or Sandra or Brad to call, because they won’t. However, Aunt Clara and Uncle Bud and the rest of your kin will be delighted.

Liturgical New Year’s Resolutions

The new year is almost here. So, let me be the first to wish you a happy new year — four weeks late!

Wait, what? That’s right, the Liturgical new year began over four weeks ago, on the first Sunday in Advent at the end of November.
Hey, Dunn, why are you talking about the Liturgical new year, when we’re on the verge of the real new year that everyone celebrates on January 1st?
OK, well I guess you’ve never heard of the Chinese New Year or the Jewish New Year, neither of which occurs in January. But that’s all right, we’ll go with the new year that most people are familiar with, January 1st, if that makes you feel better.

For the new year that begins on January 1st, what are your Liturgical new year’s resolutions?
Um, what does that mean?

Let me explain. Liturgical new year’s resolutions are similar to the typical resolutions people often make at this time of year. But instead of focusing on more mundane things — like losing weight or joining a health club or learning how to play the tuba — liturgical resolutions are focused on a person’s faith life.

For example, if you’ve gotten out of the habit of going to Mass because of the pandemic, this would be a great time to resolve to start attending each week. And I mean attend in person, not just watch a streaming video of Mass on your computer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome that we have the technology to live-stream an event using just a cell phone camera and a Facebook or YouTube account. This is great for the elderly or those who have difficulty traveling.
However, if you can get out and about, it’s definitely time to attend Mass regularly again in person. Additionally, when you’re at Mass in person, you can receive the Eucharist. Yes, it is possible to participate in a “spiritual communion” when you can’t get to church, which truly provides special graces from God. But there’s nothing like receiving the real flesh and blood of Jesus in the, well, in the flesh. 
So, for new year’s, please resolve to attend Mass each week.

Speaking of the real flesh and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist, the Church teaches that we really should not receive Communion if we’ve committed any serious sins that have not yet been absolved during the sacrament of Confession. This might come as a surprise to many people, but the Church has never declared that Confession is an optional activity for whoever feels like it (even though many Catholics act as if the Church made that exact declaration). 

Confession is a crucial and REQUIRED sacrament. So far, there have only been two people in history who were sinless, Jesus and Mary. (Three, if you count my mom.) For the rest of us who are not sinless, we really need to confess those sins and get them absolved. Take my word for it: when you finally force yourself to go to Confession, it’s a joyful sensation. You really feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off your shoulder. (That’s because carrying around the burden of sin is really, really heavy.)

The sacrament of Confession is a perfect new year’s resolution. I’m tempted to suggest that you go each month, but I don’t want to terrify you so much that you decide to change religions. So let’s say we all should start out by going to Confession at least every three months. How’s that sound? Not so bad, right? Of course, if you’ve committed a really serious sin, then for heaven’s sake, don’t wait! (And I mean “for heaven’s sake” literally. Dying with unconfessed sins is not a risk worth taking. Why gamble with the fate of your eternal soul?)

So, as I’m sure you can tell, liturgical new year’s resolutions are pretty easy. At least, they’re much easier than dieting or joining a health club. And they’re WAY easier than learning how to play the tuba.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Best Christmas Gift Ever 

This is the time of year when people gather to celebrate the Christmas holiday with family and friends. (Ever notice the expression “family and friends” kind of implies that family members are not friends. That’s an unfortunate implication. I know many people who consider all their family members to be very close friends — as long as they don’t count the ones they no longer speak to.) 

A fun activity when family and friends (and friendly family members) gather is a game called “Best Christmas Gift Ever.” The rules are simple: you take turns describing the most favorite and memorable Christmas gift you ever received. When describing the gift, be as truthful as possible regarding the basic details, such as the gift itself, who gave it, and how old you were at the time. But with all the other aspects of the gift, such as how you reacted, how jealous your siblings were, and how the gift transformed your life — feel free to embellish the story. Because if you won’t, surely your friends and family (and friendly family members to whom you may not be speaking later, depending upon their level of sarcasm) will offer their embellished recollections. 

My most favorite gift ever was a bicycle I received from Santa Claus when I was 8 years old. My brother, who was 7, also got a bike that year. We were so thrilled when we snuck out of our bedroom at 3 a.m. on Christmas morning to take a peek. When we saw the silhouettes of two large bicycles in front of the tree, we just about burst. Imagine two youngsters more hyper than Charlie Sheen in the middle of an all-night party, but unable to say a word or else we’d wake our parents (which quickly would’ve turned “Ho ho ho!” into “No no no!”). We just kind of quivered with joy, hovering about two inches above the floor the whole time, waiting for 6 a.m. to arrive. 
One of the things that made us so excited about the bicycles was the realization that there truly was a Santa Claus. You see, at ages 8 and 7 we had heard some disturbing rumors at school about the Big Guy. So we spent a great deal of time that December examining every nook and cranny of our house looking for hidden Christmas presents. We didn’t find any, and there was NO WAY our parents could have hidden two large bicycles without us discovering them. So that meant Santa was real. Yay! 

Well, later that afternoon we were riding those gorgeous new bikes up and down the street. One of our loudmouth neighbors, who thought he was so cool because he was 10 years old, came out of his house to tell us some disturbing news. 

(Spoiler alert! Everyone who is age 8 or younger should stop reading this column right now! And what are you doing reading this column anyway? This is for mature adults only. Go back to reading the sections of the newspaper more suitable for youngsters: the Business Page and the Police Blotter.) 
Anyway, the neighborhood kid yelled to us, “Hey, I saw your father putting those bikes together in Mr. Barry’s garage the other day!” 

We were stunned. Our father, not Santa, put the bicycles together? In Mr. Barry’s garage, not the North Pole? We hung our heads in sadness. Then my brother said, “But we get to keep the bikes, right?” I replied, “Yeah, I think so.” 

Then we yelled in unison, “Yay!!” and continued riding up and down the street. 

Yup, no doubt about it: best Christmas gift ever. Here’s wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!

Sharing the Faith Is Easier Than You Think

The Church needs volunteers to go door-to-door and preach the faith to strangers. Please raise your hand if you want to sign-up for this.

Do I see any hands? Anybody? Hmm, that’s what I thought. Sharing our faith with other people is not very comfortable, is it? I’m not surprised there were no volunteers. (And in case you were wondering, I can see you through this computer screen.)
To be honest, I didn’t raise my hand either. Oh sure, I’m all gung-ho about my faith while typing away at my computer in an empty room. But if I had to choose between talking about religion to strangers or getting a root canal without Novocain, I would say to the dentist, “OK, doc, let’s get this over with.”

I was reminded of this recently when the deacon in our parish, Deacon Dave Reynolds, was giving a homily at Mass. He mentioned that when he was working out at a gym a while ago, a personal trainer in the facility started talking with him, and the personal trainer matter-of-factly said, “My life has gotten so much better since I put my faith in Jesus.”

Now, of course, since Deacon Dave is an ordained clergyman, they ended up having a nice discussion about faith. But even if he wasn’t a deacon and did not want to talk about religion, the comment by the personal trainer was so simple and non-threatening, no one would have been offended or uncomfortable. (Well, except for those folks in our society these days who enjoy getting offended by everything.)
Most of us assume that “preaching the faith to strangers” means hitting them over the head with a Bible and threatening them with eternal damnation if they don’t believe exactly what we believe. 

However, instead of criticizing people for being sinners and spouting Church doctrines at them, it’s much more effective—and a whole lot less stressful—if we simply mention what faith means to us. It’s called giving a personal witness, and that personal trainer’s comment, despite being so short and simple, was actually very powerful.
Someone could spend hours presenting in detail St. Thomas Aquinas’ five philosophical proofs for the existence of God. However, whoever was listening to this lecture quite likely would have either spaced out or dozed off long before the end. In other words, despite the power of Aquinas’ logic (and it is powerful), a high-brow presentation would be ineffective in convincing most non-believers to trust in God.

On the other hand, a simple witness can be surprisingly effective. Short and sweet comments can really get another person to think, comments such as: “I don’t know what I’d do without my faith in God,” or, “The Lord always gets my through the tough times,” or, in the words of that physical trainer, “My life has gotten so much better since I put my faith in Jesus.”
Now, if you do believe in God and if you’ve been going to church for a long time, but none of those short statements are true for you, then it might be time to re-evaluate your faith life. In my view, people who trust in God and enter into a loving relationship with Him can’t help but be better off. If nothing else, focusing your attention on the Lord means you’re not focusing your attention on yourself, which psychologists tell us is often a main source of unhappiness. If you’re not sure, just check out some of the frantic show-offs on Facebook and Instagram. Do you really think desperately seeking affirmation from others is emotionally healthy?

Anyway, the volunteers who will be going door-to-door and preaching the faith to strangers will be meeting at the parish hall at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. I’ll see you there, right? No, I won’t see you there -- because I’m not going. That is definitely not my cup of tea. But casually mentioning to people that my life has gotten so much better since I put my faith in Jesus is something I can do, and it’s not difficult. 

Please raise your hand if you want to join me in this low-key method of giving a personal witness. Well, that’s much better! 

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Is Christ Still In Christmas?

What does Christmas mean to people nowadays? Well, here’s a short list:

  • Santa Claus
  • Presents
  • Stockings
  • Decorated trees
  • mechanical reindeer on the front lawn 
  • A scraggly Charlie Brown Christmas tree
  • The “You’ll shoot your eye out” movie
  • Figgie pudding (whatever the heck that is)
  • I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas (a song written in California during the summer by Irving Berlin, who I’m pretty sure was not Catholic)
  • “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (a horrible song that makes light of date rape)
  • Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim
  • The Ghost of Christmas Past
  • Eggnog 
  • Rudolph
  • Yukon Cornelius
  • Christmas cards
  • Braggadocious family update letters inside those Christmas cards, saying things such as, “Our son Johnny volunteers at the hospital 3 days each week!” (Well, yeah, because he was sentenced to community service after stealing a car.)
  • George Bailey, building and loan manager, and Clarence, angel second class

  • Frosty the snowman 
  • Mistletoe & holly & ivy & poinsettias & wreaths
  • Elves
  • Buddy the Elf
  • Hermey, the elf who wants to be a dentist
  • The North Pole
  • The Polar Express
  • The Hallmark Channel
  • Candles
  • Jingle Bells
  • Johnny Mathis and Bing Crosby
  • Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer
  • The Grinch 
  • Cindy Lou Who, who was no more than two
  • Shopping malls
  • Christmas hams
  • Candy canes
  • Blinking lights
  • Tinsel
  • The Burgermeister Meisterburger
  • Ebenezer Scrooge and Mr. Potter (I like to group together the villains of famous time-travel Christmas stories)
  • Christmas cookies
  • Sleigh bells
  • Burl Ives
  • Miracle on 34th Street
  • Andy Williams
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks
  • The Nutcracker
  • Twas the Night Before Christmas
  • Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus
  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  • Home Alone
  • Die Hard. If you can believe it, some people actually claim this heart-warming film starring Bruce Willis is NOT a Christmas movie. Obviously it is. “Yippee ki yay, figgie pudding!”

This is just a partial list of all the Christmas traditions that exist nowadays. But did you notice anything missing from that list? With all those various Christmas activities, not a single one mentions Jesus.

You remember Jesus, right? The “reason for the season”? We don’t hear much about Him during Christmas anymore, do we?
A person can be immersed in the Christmas season — which for many folks begins around mid-October and doesn’t end until, oh, about March 10th — and not once encounter a reference to Jesus, the Incarnation, Bethlehem, or anything remotely religious. (By “religious,” I don’t mean the way some people religiously max out their credit cards every year buying gifts that no one particularly needs, or the way certain folks plan a trip to the mall with the same religious fervor of someone going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.)

What I mean is, despite a multitude of popular Christmas traditions in our culture, there’s practically a black-out about the original meaning of the holiday. So, with that in mind, here are some things you can add to your Christmas holiday season, to stem the secular tide just a bit:
  • A creché
  • An Advent wreath and/or calendar 
  • Adding faith-based Christmas carols to your playlists, and purposely playing “O Holy Night” loudly every time the radio plays “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which will counteract the evil spirits emboldened by that nasty song. 
  •  Read the Bible, especially chapters 1 and 2 of both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels, where you’ll discover the Magi arrived to worship Jesus up to two years after His birth. You’ll also learn the Bible never says how many Magi there were, nor if they were royalty, even though one particular song says there were three of them and they were kings.
  • Go to Mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day
  • Wear a little button that says “Jesus is the reason for the season” or “Keep Christ in Christmas”
  • Watch the original “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” especially toward the end, when Linus recites from Luke’s gospel. 
A lot of the things that have become our cultural Christmas traditions are not really all that bad (except for that horrible song and the obsession with going into debt). Much of the holiday activities are harmless fun that inspire many fond childhood memories. It’s just the elimination of Jesus from the festivities that is sad and puzzling.

Therefore, try to keep a little Christ in Christmas this year. Gather with your loved ones and watch the heartwarming Charlie Brown special, and then after the kids are in bed, watch a cheery Christmas movie. I prefer the one starring Bruce Willis.

Christmas Card Letters Full of Baloney

 Right about now your mailbox should be filling up with Christmas cards. Often the cards will contain “family update” letters. These short (and sometimes not so short) notes are a convenient way to let friends and relatives know what has happened during the past 12 months. For example: “Season’s greetings to all of our friends! Suzy is now in the 6th grade and doing well. Davy is playing in the town’s Park & Rec basketball league. Dave Sr. is still working in the Engineering Dept. at KTR Industries.” Etc., etc. 

Sometimes, however, you’d swear the family update letters were written by the same people who make political campaign commercials; that is, they are short on basic facts and long on braggadocious baloney. (Braggadocious baloney? That would make a good name for a rock band.) 
For example: “Season’s greetings to all of our friends from our new 10,000 square-foot, 6-bedroom, 5-bath home on 17 gorgeous wooded acres! Suzy just won another award: the Percy C. Westminster III gold medal, given to the smartest 6th grader in her private school, Snobwood Academy. She was just accepted on early admission to Harvard, but we think she should at least complete 7th grade before heading off to Cambridge. Davy is the most talented basketball player ever to participate in the town’s Park & Rec league. Although he is only in the 8th grade, he’s already being recruited by Duke and UCLA. Dave Sr. just bought out his partners and now is the sole owner of KTR Industries.” Etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. 

It seems that only successful people bother to write these family update letters. It’s as if they feel compelled to remind all of their relatives and acquaintances: “Yes, we’re doing great. And by the way, you are not! Merry Christmas.” 
Well, there is no reason the rest of us cannot write family update letters, too, even if we’re not quite as successful as Suzy and Davy’s Stepford family. Actually, there is a reason. Most successful people plan ahead and don’t procrastinate. For example, I usually think about writing a Christmas card family update letter around December 28th. Which isn’t so bad, because often I don’t get around to sending out Christmas cards until about January 14th anyway. (I don’t get around to? What am I saying? The next time I send out the Christmas cards will be the first time.) 

Regardless of one’s particular lot in life, everyone can write a nice family update letter. All families have achievements they can be proud of. The key is to keep the letter upbeat and positive. 

For example: “Season’s greetings to all of our friends from our new 10,000 square-inch, 4-bunk, 1-port-o-let, deluxe 1976 Winnebago mobile home on 57 gorgeous paved acres of Walmart parking lot! Suzy just won another award: the lunch money of a classmate who was smart enough to hand it over rather than risk another black eye. Suzy’s teacher tells us she is just so creative and resourceful — and has an excellent left hook. Davy is the most talented lock-pick ever to rummage through lockers in the town’s Park & Rec league. Although he is only in the 8th grade, he’s already being recruited by the Bloods and the Crips. Dave Sr. is still employed by the state, and he is doing a fabulous job in the Laundry Dept., according to the warden. In just five more years, little Davy will turn 18 and then be able to live with his dad full time.” 
So don’t be intimidated by the accomplishments of others. Type up your own impressive list. After all, this is the season for peace on earth, goodwill toward men, and braggadocious baloney.

Friday, December 3, 2021

The Readers Reply: Motorists ARE Bonkers!

A few weeks ago this column discussed motorists on I-84 whose behavior is (to use the technical medical term) totally bonkers. That essay generated a ton of passionate emails — almost as many as my infamous column a few years ago that made a couple of light-hearted observations about bagpipes. (I am using, of course, the definition of the phrase “a couple of light-hearted observations” that means: “dozens of sarcastic insults.”)

Unlike the email feedback I received about the bagpipes article, the notes about bonkers drivers all agreed with me, and not a single one expressed a desire to use a loud, shrill musical instrument to perform a colonoscopy on me.
One such email note came from Nancy Naugatuck. (Note: the names have been changed to protect the guilty.) She said, “I am not sure whether Connecticut drivers have become pure maniacs, but I am sure we do need more MARKED state police vehicles cruising along beside us as a deterrent.” 
I understand Nancy’s frustration, but the roads are already so crowded, if we add hundreds of additional state police cruisers, the traffic jams will be even worse. Plus, the state’s pension system would collapse in three years (rather than the currently projected five years) if we added hundreds of extra troopers to the payroll.

Tommy Torrington sent a note with this advice: “Try not to drive more than 9 MPH over the limit. There is good reason legally to stay under Connecticut's maximum limit so you won’t get a reckless driving violation instead of a speeding charge.”
But, Tommy, that means I’d have to start driving 64 MPH in a 55 zone. Nowadays, that’s too slow for even the far right lane. (It might be too slow for the breakdown lane, too.) In the far left lane, of course, no one drives less than 85, unless the driver is a senior citizen visiting from Florida, in which case they usually drive in the far left lane at 37 MPH, with the blinker on the whole time. As other cars race by, the Jesus figurine glued to the dashboard covers His eyes in fear. I think that’s right out of Matthew’s gospel: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest — but not so darned fast, for Chr-, I mean, my sake!”
Wendy Waterbury wrote and asked a simple question, “Whatever happened to the rule NO PASSING ON THE RIGHT?” 

I think the current rule is that you can pass on whichever side you choose, the right or left, but you’re not allowed to drive directly over the car you want to pass — unless you’re passing a Mini Cooper; then it’s fine since it probably won’t even cause a scratch. 

Wendy also noted that she recently observed a vehicle drive right past a school bus that had its red lights flashing and children exiting the bus. And the vehicle that drove right by? Another school bus! Maybe school buses have diplomatic immunity when it comes to that school bus law.

Larry Litchfield sent me a note and lamented that car dealers offer many expensive options, but not the one he really wants: a rocket launcher. Well, I suppose that would be an interesting way to express displeasure at a reckless driver. However, I suspect there might be a downside to giving motorists the ability to fire rockets at each other. I can’t think of anything at the moment, but some problems probably would arise.

Maybe car dealers could supplement those wimpy car horns by installing loud bagpipes. That would startle a reckless driver into obeying the traffic laws. Uh oh, now I’m going to get a whole new batch of passionate emails. 

We Don’t Have to Fear Death

 Over the years I’ve noticed that a lot of my relatives and friends are terrified of dying. Now, don’t get me wrong. Death is indeed kind of scary, and personally, I definitely prefer being alive. But what I mean is, when the time comes for our earthly lives to end, some people face it with courage and hope, trusting in God’s promises of a glorious life after death in Heaven; while others face it with fear and anxiety.

I’ve noticed that most of my loved ones who are or were terrified to face death grew up in the 1930s and ‘40s and went to Catholic school. In those schools, they were taught by the nuns that God is angry at them, and if they die with a single unrepented and unconfessed sin on their souls, then they are destined for eternal torment in Hell.
This is a lousy thing to tell school-aged kids because, one, it’s emotionally crippling, and two, it’s not even close to being theologically accurate. The Bible could not be more clear that God is loving and merciful.

(By the way, I’m describing what I’ve been told by my relatives. Don’t forget that my gene pool is known for “blarney,” the story-telling gift that emphasizes an interesting tale over an accurate tale. Maybe some of the stories I heard were embellished a bit, drawing on the old stereotype about angry, ruler-wielding nuns. However, I heard enough similar accounts from multiple people to trust that the main gist of the story is correct.)

It’s not all that difficult to get into Heaven. All we need to do is repent and believe the Good News. OK, yeah, that can be difficult for some people. It means acknowledging that our thoughts, words, and deeds have hurt others, and we should feel remorse about that and strive to do better in the future. And it means accepting the fact that God is God and we are not — something that is a challenge for folks nowadays who have been shaped by our modern, selfish culture to believe that they are the center of the universe.

The point is, the message in the Bible, plus the historic teachings of the Church, make it clear that God is merciful and He doesn’t want to see anyone lost. He gives us every opportunity to repent of our failings and to trust in His mercy. When we reach the end of our earthly journey, if we have sincerely repented, asked for forgiveness, and trusted in the Lord’s goodness, we will not have to face death with fear and terror.
On the other hand (you just knew there was going to be another hand, didn’t you?), we have to be careful not to commit the sin of presumption. This is when people presume they definitely are going to Heaven, regardless of their thoughts, actions, and beliefs. Many denominations preach a “name it and claim it” version of salvation. If someone walked up a church aisle and said a prayer when he was 10 years old, then he is guaranteed entrance into Heaven, regardless of his attitudes and actions during the rest of his life. This, too, is unbiblical.

There is a happy medium between the fire and brimstone teachings of Depression Era parochial schools and the rainbows and unicorns, happy-sappy stuff being taught in many circles today. 

God is all loving and He is all just. He wants everyone to experience Heaven, but there are some requirements. Otherwise, sin would get the same reward as righteousness.
We should not presume we’re definitely going to Heaven, but we can be confident about it if we sincerely repent of our selfishness and ask God to forgive us. And when we’ve reached the end of our earthly sojourn, we don’t have to be terrified about what comes next. Why? Because God’s love and mercy — epitomized by the Crucifixion and Resurrection — are more powerful than death. Now, relax and enjoy the rest of your life.
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Hey, if you're in the area, I'll be the guest speaker at St. Michael Church in Waterbury, CT, this Sunday, Dec. 12, beginning at 10:30 am. The topic is: "The Scandal of Christmas." If you can make it, I'd love to see you!