Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Does This ‘Hero’ Deserve 1,000 Tax-payer Dollars?

The State of Connecticut recently set up a pandemic bonus program, which is offering payments of $1,000 to “Coronavirus heroes.” The heroes are employees in various “essential” private-sector industries, where the workers were unable to do their jobs remotely.

State Comptroller Natalie Baswell recently said, “There has been incredible enthusiasm for this program. These workers were on the front lines during the worst of the pandemic, making tremendous personal sacrifices on our behalf.” 
You’re probably thinking this program is designed to reward nurses, doctors, grocery store employees, nursing home staff, and the other folks who were at risk during the pandemic. Remember back in 2020, when there were no vaccines and people were dying left and right? Yeah, it was pretty dicey there for a while. Many workers had to come in direct contact with dozens of strangers everyday, and healthcare professionals were in contact constantly with people infected with the virus.

Well, this State program is not that narrowly focused. I know this is true because I qualify for a bonus. No, really. Me, Mr. Engineering Sales guy, actually qualifies. You see, one of the industries that was designated as “essential” is the construction industry. So, anyone connected in any way with construction and who was unable to work from home qualifies for a thousand bucks. Where I work we supply HVAC equipment to commercial contractors, and we’re not set up to work remotely. When the pandemic hit, our owners said, “Keep coming in to work, wear a mask, and don’t get near each other.” 

And that’s what we did. We all came in every day, kept our distance, and no one got sick. Comptroller Baswell may think I was “on the front lines” and that I made “tremendous personal sacrifices,” but that’s not exactly true. Unless, of course, you consider eating lunch at your desk a tremendous personal sacrifice. That was the main sacrifice I made, rather than eat in the conference room or go out and grab something at Chick-fil-A or Subway. Oh, I also made the major sacrifice of wearing a chin hammock all day long, which I would pull up over my nose and mouth if anyone came near me. (Unless I had to speak and be understood. Then the mask would revert back to the chin hammock position.)
When this State bonus program was announced a few months ago, someone in my office made copies of the news article and gave one to everybody, saying, “Hey, we qualify! Go to this website, fill out the application, and the State will send you a check for a grand!”

OK, now here is the really sad part of this story. Even though I am not even remotely a “Coronavirus hero,” I thought to myself, “Hmm, if they’re handing out free money, well, why not?”

So, I filled out the application and immediately felt really guilty about it. My conscience has been reminding me that I already received a wonderful bonus during the COVID pandemic: I never missed a paycheck. There are a whole lot of people out there who can’t say the same, especially in the restaurant and hotel industries.

An interesting twist is that the State set aside enough money to fund this program — but only if 30,000 or less people apply. As of a month ago, more than 10 times that number, well over 300,000 people, signed up for the bonus money. By the time everyone who is eligible applies, we all might end up getting a check for about 47 bucks.
Whatever the amount ends up being, I’ve already decided to donate mine to charity. Otherwise, my goody two-shoes conscience will never stop bugging me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Sunday Morning Mystery

Recently, my wife and I moved, and now we go to Mass at a church in our new town. This parish does something very mysterious. At the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass, just before the Scripture readings, the priest invites all the children in the church to come up near the sanctuary. Then he offers a blessing for the 20 to 30 kids, and dismisses them. They all leave with a couple of adults, and the Mass continues for the rest of us who are still in the pews.

About 20 minutes later, often right in the middle of the Creed, the children burst into the church and run back to whichever pew their parents are in. Not surprisingly, they’re not exactly quiet as they do this. It sounds kind of like a herd of buffalo on the move, except I’m pretty sure buffaloes rarely emit high pitched giggles and shout, “Hi Mommy!”
When this happens, it takes a lot of concentration not to lose your place while reciting the Creed. And even if you don’t lose your place, I’ve discovered it’s kind of difficult to continue reciting the Creed when you’re trying really hard not to laugh out loud. 

I’ve witnessed this at Mass a number of times now, but no one has ever explained what is going on. I assume it’s some kind of children’s liturgy event, but I’m really not sure. I suppose I could ask someone after Mass, like the priest or deacon. But that would mess up my regular Sunday morning routine of trying to be the first car out of the parking lot. 

So, for the time being this is a mystery. I am very curious about what the kids do for those 20 minutes during the middle of Mass. Where do they go? What do they do when they get there? And most importantly, are there snacks involved?

In the absence of any firm data, I can always count on my vivid imagination to fill in the blanks. Here goes: I suspect the children go to a nearby classroom and study St. Thomas Aquinas’ five philosophical proofs for the existence of God. Or maybe they get crayons and color.
What do they color? Good question. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s most likely a picture of St. Thomas Aquinas, playing beach volleyball, with Jesus as his teammate, and St. Francis of Assisi and John the Baptist as their opponents. And I’m not sure why John the Baptist has a camel’s hair Speedo. On second thought, that’s probably not the picture they’re coloring. It’s probably Jesus holding a lamb. Or a ham. No wait, definitely not a ham. 

Speaking of ham, I wonder if the kids have some scrambled eggs and ham, with toast and coffee, of course, while they’re away from the main church. There was a major addition to the church building last year, and I heard part of the renovation included a new social area with kitchen facilities. The kids might as well enjoy some ham and eggs while they’re on their mystery adventure. I know I sure could use some breakfast at about 9:30 on Sunday morning.
Well, now that I think about it, maybe relying on my vivid imagination to fill in the blanks wasn’t such a good idea. It looks like I’ll just have to hang back after Mass one of these days and ask the priest or deacon what’s going on. Too bad I won’t be entered in the “first out of the parking lot” competition that day. But that’s OK. It will be worth it if I finally find out what’s up. And if the priest or deacon wants to go out and get some ham and eggs for breakfast, I’m buying.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Thanks in Advance for Reading This

Recently, I read an article in a business journal that was titled, “10 common phrases that make you sound passive-aggressive in the workplace.” The gist of the essay is that these phrases can cause a lot of tension and hard feelings among coworkers and clients.

I’ve worked in many different environments over the past 43 years, so I know first-hand that good workplace communication and cooperation can be rather tricky. It doesn’t take much to cause a lot of tension and acrimony, which leads to inefficiency and ultimately has a negative impact on the organization’s bottom line. 

I read the article with interest, but was quickly disappointed because the 10 so-called passive-aggressive phrases didn’t strike me as being a problem at all. In fact, one phrase is something I use regularly, especially in emails: “Thanks in advance.”
How can that phrase possibly cause tension and hard feelings? When I conclude an email with, “Thanks in advance for your help,” I am genuinely offering thanks and gratitude to the other person who will assist with my request. I’m expressing my trust in that person, and I’m not in any way putting pressure on him or her to accomplish an unrealistic task. In my mind, “Thanks in advance,” is not passive-aggressive; it’s really passive-passive. It’s an extremely polite way of communicating.

To be passive-aggressive, the phrase would have to be more like, “Thanks in advance for getting this resolved promptly for once in your life.” Or, “Thanks in advance for not screwing this up like you did the last time.”

Then there is the all too common aggressive-aggressive behavior, when someone will say something like, “That report better be on my desk by 2 p.m. or else you’re fired!” I used to work with a guy who would motivate his employees with comments such as, “Get this done immediately, or you’ll need to make an emergency visit to a proctologist to remove a size 12 shoe from your butt!”

No, I’m kidding. He never said that. He, of course, used a different word for “butt.”
I took a little break from writing this essay to get a snack, and I mentioned the topic to my wife. She said, “What is the definition of ‘passive-aggressive’?”

I replied, “I dunno. But that’s never stopped me from writing about something before.”
She said, “Why don’t you go look it up?”

I mumbled, “Sure,” and walked away, and then I did NOT look it up. (Which I found out afterward is classic passive-aggressive behavior.)
After grumbling for a while because I didn’t feel like doing research, I finally did look up the definition. Passive-aggressive is defined as “behavior that is seemingly innocuous, accidental, or neutral but that indirectly displays an unconscious aggressive motive. It is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them.”

People often engage in passive-aggressive behavior because they are insecure or lack self-esteem. One main reason is a strong desire to avoid conflict. Uh oh, that one describes me. 
Passive-aggressive behaviors include not completing assignments on time and being chronically late for meetings. Well, that does not describe me. Other P.A. behaviors are using sarcasm a lot, and being agreeable when face-to-face with people but then complaining after they’re gone. Hmm, that does kind of describe, uh, let’s just say someone I know well. 
Well, once again I’ve messed up. Instead of just writing something goofy off the top of my head — whether I know anything about the topic or not — I went and did a bunch of research on the topic. And now I realize that “Passive-Aggressive” should be my middle name.

Thanks in advance for ignoring everything I’ve written here. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Suspicious, Sarcastic, and Cynical? Who, Me?

Last week, I discussed Jesus’ teaching that we all should have childlike faith. That means we should trust the Lord completely and look at His wonderful creation with wide-eyed wonder. I mentioned that as adults, we often get suspicious, sarcastic, and cynical, which are attitudes that keep us from trusting God the way we should.

After I wrote that essay, the mirror in my bathroom said to me, “Hey pal, have you looked at yourself lately?”

I replied, “No, why?”

The mirror said, “Well, if you’d take a minute to look, you’d see that you are one of the most suspicious, sarcastic, and cynical people on the face of the earth.”
“No, you’ve got it all wrong,” I said. “Sure, I occasionally assume a cynical attitude and use sarcasm in my writing, but that’s just for comedic effect.”

“Oh, so you’re only that way when you write?” the mirror said. “What about when you’re talking to your wife, kids, co-workers, clients, friends, neighbors, and that young lady working the check-out line at the grocery store who gets flustered easily?”

“Um, now wait a minute,” I mumbled. “She charged me twice for a bag of Fritos. What am I supposed to do, let her rip me off?”

“Well,” the mirror said, “you certainly put that ‘sinister thief’ in her place, didn’t you, tough guy?”

“Now, c’mon!” I exclaimed. Then I paused and said, “Hey, wait a minute. Since when do mirrors talk?”

“Oh, are you getting suspicious, Mr. holier-than-thou religious writer?”

Hmm, maybe my mirror has a point.

I think I was correct when I wrote that the trials and tribulations of life often wear adults down and cause them to get suspicious, sarcastic, and cynical. But if it came across as if I was accusing other people of this, while it’s not a problem for me, then, of course, it’s all your fault for not being smart enough to understand what I meant. 

No wait, I’m kidding, I’m kidding! If it really came across that way, then it’s my fault, especially since I do indeed have a talent for suspicion, sarcasm, and cynicism. 
The childlike faith Jesus calls us to have can be tricky. We need to trust the Lord wholeheartedly, but we do live in a fallen world. So, that means we can’t be so trusting in our dealings with other people that we become gullible rubes.

For example, I read in the paper the other day about an elderly woman in western Connecticut who was scammed out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. A con artist called her and said she won the multi-million dollar Publishers Clearing House contest. All she had to do was pay the taxes on her winnings — up front, of course — and then she would receive her big prize. Sadly, she sent the scammer a boatload of money before her family or the bank realized what she was doing. 

Jesus is meek and mild and forgiving, but I think even the Prince of Peace would not mind if everyone told phone scammers to, “Bugger off, jerk face!!” as loudly as possible, in the hope of damaging their hearing.

It’s true that people can become suspicious, sarcastic, and cynical after many years of struggling with the trials and tribulations of our sinful world (even if they don’t have a natural gift for those traits, like me). These negative attitudes then make it difficult for us to have childlike trust in our heavenly Creator. 

Don’t forget, besides teaching that we should have childlike faith, Jesus also said this: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).

We need to find a happy medium. We must have childlike faith and enthusiasm toward the things of God, but at the same time be careful and cautious toward the things of earth. 

By the way, my mirror doesn’t actually talk to me. Everyone knows mirrors can’t talk, except in fairy tales. However, my mirror does giggle occasionally, especially when I grab a hairbrush and try to convince myself that my bald spot isn’t noticeable. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

What Is Childlike Faith?

In the Bible, Jesus says we must have childlike faith. That’s great, but what exactly IS childlike faith? 

Well, think about your children or grandchildren, especially when they were young. Remember how they trusted you implicitly? Also, they were so excited whenever they discovered something new. Every day was an adventure, and they looked at the world around them with wide-eyed wonder. 
That’s what Jesus meant when He said we must be like children. We should look at each day as an adventure, and look with wide-eyed wonder at God’s amazing creation. And we should trust the Lord implicitly, knowing that He loves us more than we can comprehend and that He is in charge of our lives.

But is that the way most adults go through life? No, not even close.

Years ago, I heard a horrible story. A man put his 5-year-old son on a bed, and then told the boy to jump off the bed into his arms. When the boy jumped, the father quickly stepped aside and let the child crash to the floor. As the boy lay there crying, the father said, “Now you’ve learned an important lesson. Don’t ever trust ANYONE!”

Hopefully, most of us have never experienced such terrible treatment at the hands of a parent, but the day-to-day grind of life often does two things to us: it erodes our sense of wonder and excitement, and it makes us far less trusting than we used to be. Our personalities are dominated by the “Three S’s,” as we become more suspicious, sarcastic, and cynical. (Yeah, I know cynical begins with a C, but it sounds like an S, so for alliteration purposes, it’s included.)

It certainly is possible for a cynical person to have faith in God, that is, to believe God is our Creator and that our souls will live on after our bodies have died. But it’s possible to have an “arm’s length” faith, where we keep God at a distance since we kind of trust Him, but not fully. We’ve been hurt by the trials and tribulations of life, and we look at the world through jaded eyes. We know God is real, but it’s often in the same way that we know the IRS is real. In other words, we’d rather not have any close encounters.
Having this type of cynical adult faith, with its weak level of trust, is better than having no faith at all, of course. But it’s so much less than what the Lord wants for us. That’s why Jesus taught that people must have childlike faith. 

There is one aspect of this that is important to understand. Being childlike is very different than being childish. When someone, regardless of age, is childish, they are selfish and impulsive and quite willing to make everyone around them uncomfortable so they can get what they want. When two-year-olds act this way, we realize they can’t help themselves and we understand they eventually will grow out of it. 

However, when full-grown adults act childish, it makes everyone miserable and it is the furthest thing from God’s will. Childlike behavior is completely different, and it is the exact attitude and approach God wants from us.

To be childlike, just remind yourself periodically who is in charge: it is the Lord, and certainly not us. Next, practice gratitude on a daily basis, thanking God for His awe-inspiring creation plus all the wonderful gifts He gives us each day. These gifts include the gift of life and the gift of forgiveness, two things we don’t deserve at all.

Most of all, trust in the Lord with the same unreserved love and joy of toddlers who trust their parents and grandparents. Not only is “being like a child” fulfilling the clear teaching of Jesus, it’s also the way to have your life overflowing with serenity and peace. It’s so much better than being suspicious, sarcastic, and cynical. 

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Recycled Email Jokes to the Rescue

On a recent Saturday morning, it was my little window of opportunity to write this humor column. I like to write a couple of weeks in advance, so I have a chance to proof-read and check the spelling. (I give myself the chance to clean up these essays, but I never actually get around to it. So, a tip of the hat to the editorial staff for tidying up these literary dumpster fires.)

Anyway, it was Labor Day weekend, and I just didn’t feel like stringing together 600 original words. Not that the words I string together are literally “original.” I mean, every word I use is in the Dictionary and has been used by other people countless times. (The only original word I ever came up with is fleenerectomy, but it never caught on, mostly because it doesn’t mean anything.) What I’m trying to say is, it was a holiday weekend and I wasn’t in the mood to come up with new thoughts or observations.
Luckily, that very morning an email was forwarded to me with a whole bunch of recycled jokes. You may not get emails like this, but I receive them once or twice — per hour. To avoid laboring on the Labor Day weekend, I decided to let the world’s anonymous email circulators take care of this week’s column. Here are some that made me giggle:
  • “How do you milk sheep? Bring out a new iPhone and charge $1,000 for it.”
  • “To get rid of unwanted junk during the holidays, put it in an Amazon box and leave it on your porch.”
  • “If you’re sitting in public, and a stranger takes the seat next to you, just stare straight ahead and say, ‘Did you bring the money?’”
  • “When you ask me what I’m doing today and I say, ‘Nothing,’ it does not mean I am free. It means I am doing nothing.”
  • “Interviewer: Tell me about yourself. Me: I’d rather not. I kinda want this job.”
  • “Remember, if you lose a sock in the dryer, it comes back as a Tupperware lid that doesn’t fit any of your containers.”
  • “Sixty might be the new forty, but 9:00 is the new midnight.”
  • “When one door closes and another door opens, you are probably in prison.”
  • “When I say, ‘The other day,’ I could be referring to any time between yesterday and 15 years ago.”
  • “I had my patience tested. I’m negative.”
  • “If you answer the phone with, ‘Hello, you’re on the air!’ most telemarketers will quickly hang up.”
  • “That moment when you walk into a spider web and suddenly turn into a karate master.”
  • “When I ask for directions, please don’t use confusing words like ‘East’.”
  • “I remember being able to get up without making sound effects. Good times.”
  • “My luck is like a bald guy who just won a comb.”
  • “I run like the winded.”
  • “Don’t bother walking a mile in my shoes,that would be boring. Spend 30 seconds in my head, that’ll freak you right out.”
  • “Sometimes someone unexpected comes into your life out of nowhere, and makes your heart race and changes you forever. We call these people cops.”
  • “When you get out of bed in the morning, are your knees supposed to sound like a goat chewing on an aluminum can stuffed with celery?”
So, thanks to all the internet email forwarders out there for writing the majority of this week’s column for me. Now that there are no more holiday weekends for a while, I’ll get back to the regular routine of coming up with my own original literary dumpster fires. That is, of course, unless I have an emergency fleenerectomy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

St. Michael the Archangel

When we think of angels, what comes to mind? Often angels are depicted in sacred art as cute infants with wings, floating around the periphery of the painting. Or sometimes in movies, angels are played by pretty young ladies with sweet voices.

Then, of course, there is everyone’s favorite angel, Clarence Oddbody, from the movie It’s A Wonderful Life. (Actually, until the very last scene, Clarence's rank was “AS2” — Angel, Second Class — as he told George Bailey, explaining the embarrassing absence of wings.) Clarence was goofy and friendly, and he had a heart of gold.
So, quite often, we think of angels as small and cute and completely harmless. But that’s not how the Bible describes angels. For starters, virtually every time an angel appears to a human, the angel has to declare, “Fear not!”

I don’t think fluttering babies or cute little ladies or kind-hearted Clarences would need to tell people to stop cowering in fear. There’s a good reason why people freak out when an angel appears. (By the way, I’m pretty sure “freak out” is a well-known biblical expression.) It’s because angels are described in Scripture as large warriors, often wielding a sword approximately the size of a City Hall flagpole.

Angels are spiritual beings, unlike we humans who are spirit and flesh hybrids. The main duty of angels is to be the Lord’s messengers, often issuing important declarations during key moments in salvation history. But angels are also in charge of heavenly security and military operations. 

We don’t hear about angels too often at Mass. In recent years, though, many parishes have reinstituted the practice of reciting the St. Michael Prayer after Mass has officially ended and before the closing hymn.

If you’re not familiar with St. Michael the Archangel, he is a very impressive guy. We read about him in the book of Revelation, where it describes what happened in the heavenly realm before the world began: “Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it” (Rev 12:7-9).
In the gospels, Jesus mentions that He “saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven.” This is the same event described in that passage from Revelation, when the rebellious angel Satan and his followers were defeated and thrown out of God’s kingdom. Any guess who was at the head of the victorious army? Yup, it was St. Michael the Archangel.

When we pray the St. Michael Prayer at the end of Mass, we are calling on a spiritual warrior who has a track record of fighting evil and winning. Here is that powerful prayer: “Saint Michael the archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly hosts, by the power of God, cast into Hell Satan, and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”

If you don’t believe that evil spirits prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls, well, I guess you haven’t watched the news in a while. But if you do understand that a cosmic battle between good and evil is being fought in our world today, then asking for St. Michael’s help is a smart move. 
St. Michael the Archangel is not a cherubic infant with wings; he’s not a pretty young lady with a sweet voice; and he’s certainly not a goofy elderly fellow with a kind heart. St. Michael is a warrior. And his battlefield is the spiritual realm, where good and evil have been clashing since the beginning of time.  

Please pray the St. Michael Prayer. Nowadays, we need all the help we can get. 

Saturday, September 10, 2022

A Half-Century of M*A*S*H

This Saturday, September 17th, marks 50 years since the first episode of the sitcom M*A*S*H aired on TV. Very few people actually saw that episode, or any other episode that first season. In the Nielsen prime time ratings, M*A*S*H finished a dismal 46th that year. That’s the kind of ranking that would make even the New York Jets say, “Whoa, dude, that’s embarrassing.”

That first year, CBS ran M*A*S*H in the 8 p.m. Sunday timeslot, opposite popular shows “The Wonderful World of Disney” on NBC, and “The FBI” on ABC.
If you’re under age 40, you’re probably wondering, “But what about Netflix and on-demand streaming services? Did M*A*S*H compete with those, too?” No, this might be hard to believe, but back in 1972 there were pretty much only three choices on TV (and if your dad didn’t want to invest in a better antenna on the roof, when the weather was lousy there were only two choices).

There have been many terrific TV sitcoms over the years, but my favorite is M*A*S*H, the story of Army doctors and nurses trying to save lives only a few miles from the fighting during the Korean War. Featuring memorable characters such as Hawkeye, Trapper, Hot Lips, Radar, and Klinger, the show was clever and witty, and successfully balanced war-time horrors with wacky hijinx. 

Legend has it the show was going to be cancelled because of poor ratings, but the wife of CBS founder William Paley told him she liked the show, so it stayed on the air. M*A*S*H finally started drawing larger audiences by the third season, and it became one of the most popular TV shows of all time, running for 11 years. (Which is kind of interesting since the Korean War lasted three years.)

The thing I loved most about M*A*S*H was the witty dialogue. As a socially timid high school kid, I thought it would be so cool to be able to fire off quick and hilarious comments, just like Hawkeye. At the time, I didn’t realize his clever comebacks were painstakingly crafted by a team of writers. 
Fifty years later, I still wish I could fire off clever comments, but alas I have a bad case of “30 second syndrome.” That is, while engaged in conversation, I think of a brilliantly funny comment — 30 seconds too late. I used to blurt out the comment anyway, even after the conversation had shifted to a different topic, but that was awkward. Now, I’m a lot older and a little wiser, so I just keep those comments to myself, and see if there might be a way to incorporate them into one of these newspaper columns. (So far, I’m batting about .095 when it comes to successfully translating clever thoughts into print, but if nothing else, I’m persistent!)

I’d love to be able to say I was one of the few people who watched the pilot episode of M*A*S*H back in September, 1972. But like most folks, I never even heard of the show until a year or two later. However, between the blizzard of M*A*S*H reruns over the decades, and my prized collection of DVDs, I’ve seen that episode — plus every other one — countless times.
As a teenager, I learned a simple lesson from the show M*A*S*H: war is bad and laughter is good. A half-century later, I still think that’s a pretty terrific philosophy.

This Saturday, I plan to break out the “Season One” DVDs, just for old times sake.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Is it OK to Clap at Mass?

Most parishes have a music ministry. And most music ministries are staffed with dedicated, hard-working, and talented people, who put in long hours and get paid very little to enhance the liturgy with sacred music.

I really appreciate church music ministries, and having been a member of a parish choir a while ago, I understand how much effort goes into preparing the music we hear at Mass. (I also appreciate that my choir director was willing to accept a baritone with a weak voice and a six-note range. I think it helped that I knew which notes to lip-sync, realizing that no sound was better than the wrong sound.)
However, I do have a couple of problems with parish music ministries. The first is that, once in a while, there will be a song that is obviously the music ministry performing for the congregation, rather than the music ministry leading the congregation in song. You can always tell when this happens because the lead vocalist starts doing some Whitney Houston or Aretha Franklin-type riffing, and the improvisational phrasing doesn’t match the notes and cadence in the hymnal. So, even if people in the congregation wanted to sing along, they couldn’t. 

Every time I’ve heard one of these “performance” songs at Mass, it was done by fabulously talented singers and musicians. And you can tell it required a lot of rehearsal time. The thing is, I’m not sure music at Mass is supposed to be a “show time” event.

The other thing that kind of bothers me is when the congregation applauds the music ministry. Don’t get me wrong, many of these folks are so musically gifted they should be performing on Broadway. But again, I’m just not sure Mass is the place for that.

A website for the Catholic Answers organization posted a Q&A about this topic. The question was: “When is it appropriate to applaud at Mass?”
Here is their answer: “There is no Church document specifying applause as an appropriate liturgical response to music (or) singing….Now that society has generally lost the sense that applause is inappropriate in church…the Church may soon have to speak on the matter before people take the idea to its logical conclusion and begin to boo when they are insufficiently entertained at Mass.”

Back before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had this to say: “Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.”

Don’t get me wrong: I love Mass. It’s the time we draw nearest to our Lord and Savior. But if the word “entertainment” is part of the equation, Mass is always going to lose out compared to a zillion other options in our society.

I guess what’s most important here is the true purpose of the liturgy: to worship Almighty God as a community of believers. Music can inspire us and elevate our worship to a higher level. But if our focus shifts from God to the musicians and singers, then we’re not doing it right.

I have to admit, there have been times at church when the music was so amazing, I’ve wanted not only to applaud, but to shout and hold up the glowing screen of my cell phone (since nobody has a Bic lighter anymore like we used to hold up at concerts back in the olden days). 
As a barely mediocre singer, I appreciate good music; I really do. But I just don’t think holy Mass is the place for talented singers to put on a show so the congregation will applaud. 

However, if those parish musicians and singers schedule a concert outside of a liturgical setting, I’ll be the first in line to buy a ticket. And during the show I’ll make a lot of noise, hold up my glowing cell phone, and yell, “Encore! Encore!”

Saturday, September 3, 2022

He’s a Regular Rip van Tinkle

A few weeks ago, something happened to me that was so shocking I’m still talking about it to everyone I meet. I mean, I haven’t had this “Can you believe that actually happened?!” feeling since the Red Sox won the World Series back in 2004. 

What occurred, which still has me walking around in stunned disbelief, is this: I slept for eight hours. No, really. I’m not kidding. I haven’t slept for eight hours in one night since Bill Clinton was president, way back when I was a young pup, long before I became an official Medicare-enrolled senior citizen. 

Now, of course, at my age I did not sleep for eight STRAIGHT hours. I still had the regular 3 a.m. bathroom break, which from what I gather, is a common occurrence for just about everyone over the age of 55.

However, on this one glorious night, when I got back into bed I did not lay there staring at the ceiling until sunrise, like usual. Nope, I fell right back to sleep! It was a Christmas miracle in the middle of the summer!

In the morning I woke up at 6:15. At first I was disoriented. I usually lay in bed from 3 a.m. until about 4:30 or 5, when I finally give up on the possibility of falling back to sleep and get up to start the day. I had never seen the green glowing digits of my alarm clock show “6:15”, so I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. 

By the way, although it’s technically an alarm clock, I haven’t had to set the alarm in about 15 years. Even if an early meeting is scheduled that requires me to leave the house earlier than usual, I’m always awake in plenty of time. I’m not sure I know how to set the alarm anymore if I had to.

I laid in bed and did the math in my head. “OK, let’s see, I went to sleep at 10, and now it’s 6:15, minus about 15 minutes for the bathroom break. So that means… oh my, I slept eight hours!”
Because I was asleep until 6:15, I got to the office later than usual. As soon as I walked in, I announced loudly, “Yes, I’m late. But I’ve got a good reason: I slept eight full hours last night!”

All the employees in their 40s or younger shrugged their shoulders, as if to say, “Yeah, so?”

But the handful of guys in their late 50s or 60s stopped in their tracks, stared at me for a moment, then rushed over to congratulate me as if I had scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. They were slapping me on the back and giving me high fives, and if they all didn’t have bad backs and if I weren’t 30 pounds above my college playing weight, they would’ve lifted me onto their shoulders in celebration.

The guys peppered me with questions. “How did you do it?” “Did you take any medication?” “Do you have the flu?” “Are you dying?”

I replied, “No, nothing like that. I just … I just SLEPT for eight hours!”

They cheered once again, then one of the guys said, “Let’s order a cake, and we’ll have a party in the conference room!”

Well, it certainly was a wonderful experience. I fully understand it probably will never be repeated, but that’s all right. My eight hours of sleep in one night gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, later this fall when I’m driving home after dark, at least once I’ll be able to say, “Hey, tonight I’m not being blinded by headlight glare!” 

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

It’s Okay Not To Watch Baseball

When I quit drinking over 35 years ago, a very powerful thought really helped me a lot. The thought was, “It’s OK not to drink.” This seems pretty obvious, of course. But back when I was in my late-20s, I really believed that if people did not get drunk on a regular basis, they were missing out on a full and happy life. (Yeah, I know, crazy, isn’t it?)

If you knew some of the guys I hung out with during my school years and then after I started working, you’d understand. To us, the most important part of each day was happy hour after work, and the most important part of each week was partying until the wee hours of the morning on Friday and Saturday nights. But when I finally wrapped my soggy brain around the concept that “it’s OK not to drink,” it was as if a big weight was lifted off my shoulders.
This idea came to mind a few weeks ago, as I was driving home on Friday afternoon after a grueling week at work. I was tired, and I just wanted to have dinner and relax, but then I remembered that the Red Sox were playing the Yankees that evening. My first thought was, “Oh boy, it’s gonna be a long night.” Boston/New York games always drag on for almost four hours, and no matter what the outcome or how close the score, the games are emotionally draining.

I actually thought of that evening’s game as yet another chore on my never-ending to-do list. “I don’t want to concentrate for four hours tonight,” I thought. “I just want to unwind and go to bed early.”

Then, an old memory bubbled to the surface of my consciousness, after breaking loose from the 1980s sector of my brain. I suddenly blurted out, “Hey, wait a minute. It’s OK not to watch the Red Sox.” I paused for a moment, then whispered in surprise, “Wait. Did I just say that?” Then after another pause, I whispered again, this time in confusion, “Wait. Did I really MEAN that?”
I looked around quickly to see if anyone heard me, which wasn’t likely since I was alone in my car, slogging through rush hour traffic on I-84 with the windows rolled up, and some classic Bachman-Turner Overdrive tunes cranking on the car’s sound system. (That’s how I stay awake while driving when I’m tired.)

It was such a surprising idea, I would’ve been embarrassed if I thought someone heard me. But then I pondered it some more, and came to the stunning conclusion, “Yes, it IS okay not to watch the Red Sox.”

At this point, a different sector of my brain started offering counter arguments. “Hey pal, you’re paying that massive cable TV bill every month specifically to have access to all the Red Sox games.”

That’s true. Subscribing to Bombast cable company’s Hexfinity service is kind of like making a monthly car payment — on a brand new Mercedes, plus a boat or two. Paying through the nose for 200 uninteresting channels that I never watch, just so I have access to NESN (the Red Sox network) is not exactly a wise use of money. And the way the Sox are playing this year, it would make more sense to burn a stack of hundred-dollar bills on the gas grille.
As I mentioned earlier, the idea might be obvious — at least to people without addiction issues. But it is very much OK not to do things that end up causing you pain.  

What an amazing concept. Now, wouldn’t it be nice if I could just figure out a way to avoid I-84 rush hour traffic?

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Sunday Best, or Sunday Mess?

The summer is winding down. Labor Day weekend is just ahead. Schools are either back in session or about to begin. And it’s almost time when people in church will stop whispering, “Good heavens, look at the way they’re dressed!”

About 20 years ago, I wrote an article that examined the always emotional issue of: Does it matter how people dress for Mass? 
There are two sides to this debate. One side is the “You bet it matters because people need to show some reverence in God’s house” point of view. The other side is the “The only thing that matters is that people are at Mass, and besides, God doesn’t care how we dress” point of view.

There are some good arguments for both views. On the one hand, if we truly believe that Mass is where human beings draw closest to our Almighty Creator, where Jesus Christ Himself becomes truly present in the Eucharist — body, blood, soul, and divinity — then Mass is an extremely important and reverent event. It’s kind of insulting if people dress exactly the same way they do for mundane activities, such as mowing the lawn, stopping by the convenience store to buy cigarettes, or going to bed. (I’m not sure why, but I’ve noticed recently that pajama pants and slippers have become a fairly common way to dress outside of the house. Maybe for some folks, sweatpants and sneakers are just too formal.)

On the other hand, there are some people who can’t afford fine clothing, and they come to church wearing the only clothes they own. Other people may have health problems and are barely able to get out of bed and get to Mass on time, and so they show up with pajama pants and slippers. Still others may have just gotten off work, or have to go to work right after Mass, and so are unable to wear what others would describe as their “Sunday best.”
The primary point is that we don’t know the circumstances and struggles of other folks, so we shouldn’t judge the way they dress for Mass. We simply should be happy they are at Mass, since so many people have stopped going to Mass in recent years.

That was the main gist of my article 20 years ago. I laid out the arguments for the two points of view, and acknowledged that some folks have difficult circumstances and we shouldn’t judge if they dress the same way for Mass as they do for a quick trip to the 7-11 store. But my conclusion definitely leaned more toward the “Would it kill you to show some reverence?” side of the issue.

Back when I wrote that article, Mass attendance was starting to drop a bit, and many people were beginning to question whether church attendance really mattered. Looking back from today’s perspective, all I can say is, “Boy, those were the good ol’ days!”

In the wake of the COVID shutdown, Mass attendance has not “dropped a bit.” It has fallen off a cliff. Many people who got into the habit of not going to Mass at the height of the pandemic have not returned. I’m not exactly sure about their thought processes here. Did they lose their faith completely? Did they convince themselves that God doesn’t really care whether they show up? Or did they just lose their momentum and can’t seem to get back in the habit of going to Mass each week?
There’s no doubt in my mind that quibbling over how people are dressed at Mass is silly. At this moment in history it is a million times more important that people GO to Mass rather than what they wear. I would be thrilled if we had churches overflowing with people all wearing pajamas and slippers. I might not join in, but in solidarity, I definitely would break out some sweatpants and sneakers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Prayer is Powerful – Especially When You’re Freaking Out

Did you ever notice how much more powerful your prayer life is when you’re desperate? Thankfully, I’ve never had to experience being under enemy fire during a war, but I understand where that old saying comes from: “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

By the way, I’m not sure the fear of getting killed in battle turns atheists into religious believers. Many people have pointed out, “‘No atheists in foxholes’ is not an argument against atheism, it’s an argument against war.” Good point. I suppose a better way to phrase it might be: “There are no luke-warm believers in foxholes.” 
I figure if a person has no belief in God, being terrified won’t make him suddenly convert. However, if a person does believe in God, but hasn’t given much thought to religious faith in quite a while, then being in fear for his life just might put “sincere and fervent prayer” at the top of his to-do list.

I’m pretty sure this is true, and I’ve never really been in fear for my life. Well, there was one time when I was driving on Interstate-91, and a car coming in the other direction suddenly swerved across the grassy median divider into oncoming traffic, and for a few moments it was heading right at me. I slammed on my brakes, which allowed the out-of-control car to cut in front of me. That car finally came to a stop against the guardrail without hitting anyone. The whole thing happened so fast, the adrenaline surge didn’t make my hands start shaking until about five seconds after I was in the clear. 

At that point, I did offer up some heartfelt prayers of thanksgiving. But during the couple of seconds when I thought my life was about to end, I frankly did not have time to take inventory of my level of spirituality.

Anyway, I was reminded recently that prayer gets much more powerful and intense when you are desperate. What I experienced wasn't anything life threatening, but it was stressful. It would take all day to explain the details, so let me summarize by saying it was very important for me to locate a particular legal document from some proceedings that occurred about four years ago. 

I looked everywhere in our home, but unsuccessfully. I realized the last place the document could be (not counting accidentally thrown away when we moved last year) was in the storage unit we’re renting on the other side of town. So, on a sweltering summer evening, I went inside an even more sweltering storage room, and I started digging through dozens of large plastic bins (and countless dozens of spiders). That’s when I started praying … a lot.
“Jesus, please, I’m begging you, help me find that document!” I pleaded. With each bin that turned up empty, my anxiety level increased and my prayers became more intense. I was praying out loud with childlike abandon, and after a while I felt God’s presence in that hot storage unit. It seemed He was urging me to relax, and although I wasn’t relaxing all that much, I was becoming more accepting of the distinct possibility that I had accidentally thrown out the document, and I would just have to deal with a delay and extra legal expenses.

And then, after some more loud and passionate prayers, and with only a few more bins left to examine, there it was! The document I so desperately sought! I was almost giddy, and I offered up joyful prayers of thanksgiving. (My joy was tempered a bit when I noticed I had about 14 big bins to repack and re-stack before I could leave, and it wasn’t getting any cooler in that sweat box.)

As I was driving home, I realized that I hadn’t prayed that fervently in months, probably since the time I went on retreat last winter. I really wish I could pray that intensely when things are going fine and I'm not under stress.

Wouldn’t it be great to have such a powerful prayer life that your prayers are passionate and the Lord’s presence is real, even when there’s nothing to worry about?

I think I’ll write a book about it, called, “The Spider-filled Storage Unit Prayer Handbook.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Can You Break Up with Your Phone?

Last week I discussed the fact that many people are now addicted to their smartphones. I have a vivid memory of getting my first smartphone about 12 years ago. Well, the phone was a BlackBerry, so it wasn’t all that smart compared to today’s iPhones and Samsungs. But it was a whole lot fancier than the good ol’ flip phones I had been using during the previous decades. When it was explained to me that I could receive and send emails on my new kinda-smart phone, at any time of day regardless of whether I was in the office or not, I exclaimed, “This is the greatest thing ever!”
Then, no more than a week later, after receiving some emails that demanded a prompt reply — even though I was in bed at night, or in the bathroom, or taking a walk during lunchtime — I exclaimed, “This is the worst thing ever!”

It’s been all downhill since then, as my phones have been getting smarter and smarter, and I’ve been getting dumber and dumber. Like countless folks these days, I have become addicted to my smartphone. But unlike countless folks these days, at least I recognize this fact and admit it.

Last week I mentioned that I recently read an interesting book titled How to Break Up with Your Phone, by Catherine Price. She describes the devices this way: “Smartphones engage in disruptive behaviors that have traditionally been performed only by extremely annoying people.”

Price lays out a 30-day plan to break free from all the bad habits we’ve developed with smartphones. I found it to be a very interesting book, although it was ironic that I purchased her book as a Kindle download and read it on my phone. Yes, that’s right: I read about how addictive smartphones are by constantly staring at my smartphone.

In many ways, Price’s book was not surprising. It chronicled how people are on their phones all day long and feel severe anxiety if separated from their phones for even a few minutes. What was very eye-opening was the description of how tech firms, especially social media companies, purposely make their products disruptive and distracting. As Price notes: “Focus isn’t profitable. Distraction is.” Turns out I wasn’t far off-base when I joked that Facebook was invented by Satan. 
People who are addicted to smartphones are slowly re-wiring their brains, and not in a good way. Price explains, “Spending hours a day on our phones has negative effects on our attention spans, memories, creativity, and stress levels.” 

One of the suggestions in the book is to regularly avoid all internet-connected screens for a 24-hour period. Price calls this a “Digital Sabbath,” which made me laugh because I have a friend in Israel named Alan who faithfully observes the Jewish Sabbath. From sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday, Alan and his family disconnect from all electronics. I mentioned this book to him and he replied, “The break from technology for one full day is something I don’t think I could live without anymore.”

I need to use my smartphone for work and to keep in touch with my family. I can’t “break up” with it completely, but going forward I think we should just be friends. I’m going to try not to look at my phone in the middle of conversations with people, a rude behavior known as “phubbing,” which is a contraction for “phone snubbing.”

Catherine Price also advises not to use a smartphone while eating a meal or using the bathroom. Hmm, I can probably stop looking at my phone at dinner, but it will be difficult to give up one of my favorite parts of the day: the morning throne news round-up. 

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Martha, Martha, Gimme the News

A few weeks ago, the gospel reading at Mass was the memorable “Martha, Martha” incident. Jesus visited a town, and went to the home of Martha, who had a sister named Mary. When Jesus came into the house and started teaching, Mary sat on the floor right by Jesus' feet and listened with rapt attention.

Meanwhile, Martha was working hard in the kitchen preparing food for the visitors. Exasperated, she went to Jesus and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”
Way back in the 1980s, when I stopped being an atheist and became a Christian, I started paying attention to the readings at Mass for the first time. Even though my parents took me to Mass every Sunday while I was growing up, I worked very hard each week to force myself not to listen to whatever was being said in church. So, in my late 20s, after realizing that God is real and the Bible is indeed His inspired Word, I started listening to the readings at Mass a lot like Mary did: with rapt attention.

I vividly remember the first time I was really paying attention to this “Martha, Martha” story. Right at the moment when Martha said to Jesus, “Tell her to help me,” I fully expected Jesus to say something like, “That’s a good point, Martha. Hey Mary, please give your sister a hand. Then after we’ve eaten, you can come back here and I’ll teach some more, OK?”

I mean, that seemed to me to be the Christian thing to do, right? Instead of having one person do all the work while everyone else sat around doing nothing, giving Martha a little help with the chores was the obvious course of action.

So, imagine my surprise when the reading continued, and Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

(By the way, whenever I think, hear, or say, “Martha, Martha,” in the back of my brain I can hear that old Robert Palmer song “Bad Case of Loving You.” The lyrics of the chorus are: “Doctor Doctor, gimme the news / I got a bad case of lovin' you / No pill's gonna cure my ill / I got a bad case of lovin' you.” Except when I hear it in my head, it goes like this: “Martha, Martha, gimme the news / You got a bad case of servin’ blues.” I’m not sure why that is, or more importantly, why I shared that with you. But that’s what I hear.)
Anyway, the very first time I heard this gospel reading at Mass, I was stunned. My mouth hung open, and I silently said to myself, “Wait. Did I hear that right?!”

I was really shocked that Jesus told Martha, in effect, to stop whining and leave Mary alone. In my mind then (and now, too, to be honest), I thought Martha had a really good point and that Mary was being somewhat of a slacker.

After thinking about it some more, and reading some Bible commentaries, I now understand that listening to life-changing proclamations from the incarnate Son of God is much more important than making some baloney sandwiches for a Thursday lunch.

But still, couldn’t Jesus have told Martha to sit down next to Mary and listen, and order Peter and the other apostles to go into the kitchen and finish making lunch?
Or couldn’t Jesus have announced that He’ll resume the lecture after lunch, and then go into the kitchen Himself and help Martha with the serving?

There are a lot of different ways this story could’ve played out that are better, at least in my mind, than what actually happened. Please understand, I’m not usually in the habit of telling Jesus that He should’ve done things differently. But in this case…well, just sayin’.

I’m glad Martha did not say what I would’ve said if I was in her place, which is: “OK, fine. I’ll sit here and listen, too. All y’all can feed yourselves! The phone’s over there, and Pizza Hut delivers!”

Time to Play the Smartphone Game

My wife and I have a new game we play to pass the time while watching a boring baseball game. (By the way, some people think ALL baseball games are boring. To be honest, the pace of play has gotten so slow in recent years, I’m having a harder and harder time refuting that claim.)

Whenever the TV shows a close-up of one of the players standing near the box seats by the dugout, we try to find at least one spectator who is not looking down at his or her smartphone. Go ahead and try it out. When the camera shows six or so fans in the background, invariably they all are staring at their phones. 
Sometimes it takes us a few innings before we finally see someone. “Hey look!” I’ll yell. “That guy in the green hat is actually looking out at the field. I saw him first! So, you have to go in the kitchen and fill up the pretzel bowl!”

Other times my wife will call out, “I see one! That lady in the white top is the only one watching the game. You have to go in the kitchen and make some tea.”

Then I’ll say, “No, that doesn’t count. I wasn’t looking at the TV.” I make this statement with all sincerity, as if looking down at my smartphone on the couch suspends our little game, rather than being evidence of why we play the game in the first place: the world has become addicted to smartphones.

This situation raises a very important question: Why do women refer to their shirts as “tops”? I mean, c’mon, that makes no sense. It’s a shirt, so call it a shirt.
No, wait. I’m sorry. The important question here is: why do people cough up literally multiple hundreds of dollars to buy box seat tickets for a major league baseball game and then spend 90% of the time looking down at their phones?

In many ways, I get it. Baseball can be really boring at times. But still, when you see a camera shot of a player in the on-deck circle, and all seven spectators in the background are staring down at their phones, something is wrong.

Some people might claim that what is wrong is baseball. The game is boring, with way too much dead time between pitches and very little exciting moments. People who claim this, of course, don’t know what they’re talking about. Baseball is not the problem. 

(Don’t get me wrong. Baseball has problems, but it’s kind of like when I was a kid. Back then it was OK for me to make fun of my younger brother, but if someone outside the family picked on him, I’d come to my baby bro’s defense in a heartbeat. In the same way, only true baseball fans are allowed to criticize baseball. All the whiners who don’t know Tom Seaver from Tom Brokaw need to zip it.)

No, the real problem is that smartphones are too awesome. Think about it: there is an entire universe of information, videos, and personal connections inside that little flat rectangle of glass and aluminum that fits so nicely into our back pockets. That’s why they are so addicting.
In last week’s column about “digital amnesia,” I mentioned a book by Catherine Price called How to Break Up with Your Phone. Well, I recently downloaded the book and just finished reading it using the Kindle app — on my phone. (Irony detectors are beeping like crazy right now.)

Next week, I’ll discuss what I learned from Price’s terrific book. In the meantime, keep an eye on the ballgame, or else you might have to go make some tea.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

A Green Light for Booze and Betting?

Years ago, an Evangelical Christian friend said to me, “You Catholics are so lucky. You get to drink alcohol and gamble.” 

I asked him to explain, and he told me in his church they teach that drinking alcohol is always a sin, even the tiniest amount. They even insist that at the wedding feast at Cana, described in the Bible, Jesus turned water into grape juice. He also said that any form of gambling is a sin — such as lottery tickets or the Friday night bingo games that used to be so popular at Catholic parishes.
The odd thing was, my friend didn’t say this to criticize Catholics for being sinful. He said it with a touch of envy. I asked him why he didn’t just have a beer once in a while. He said it would cause too much trouble with his family and fellow church members.

That reminds me of an old joke: “Jews don’t recognize Jesus, Protestants don’t recognize the Pope, and Baptists don’t recognize each other in the liquor store.”

My friend also told me that it wasn’t too long ago that his church denomination finally allowed members to go dancing and watch movies. Wow.

Now, obviously when we Catholics say that drinking is not sinful, it doesn’t mean we have a green light to abuse alcohol. And if it’s okay to buy lotto tickets or enjoy a night at the casino, we can’t blow the rent money at the blackjack table.

Moderation is the key. If we abuse alcohol or gambling, and cause harm to our families, then it definitely is a sin. And the sad thing is, substance abuse and gambling addictions have really inflicted horrible damage to a lot of people’s lives, especially children.
I’ve been thinking about this topic lately, because all I see on TV these days are ads for sports betting services. And as we know, Connecticut soon will be opening recreational marijuana retail stores all over the place, just like they have in Massachusetts, Colorado, and a bunch of other states.

I’m usually a “live and let live,” libertarian kind of guy. I think people should have as much freedom as possible, as long as we don’t reach the point where society devolves into chaos. (On the other hand, when I watch the news on TV at night, I often think: “Oh boy, we’ve already reached that point!)

Even though Catholicism has a reputation for being super strict regarding personal morality and behavior, when it comes to things like drinking and gambling, we’re actually kind of libertarian. People can enjoy themselves, as long as they don’t hurt others, especially their loved ones.

When I compare my old friend’s fundamentalist church’s view to our Catholic view on alcohol and gambling, I usually conclude that we are more commonsensical. We focus on important things, like Church doctrines, and don’t sweat the minor things. After all, imposing a million rules and regulations only causes people to live hypocritical lives — and to pretend they don’t recognize a fellow church member when they bump into each other at the liquor store.

However, at other times I look around at our instant-gratification culture, and read about all the problems they’re now having in states that legalized marijuana a few years ago, and I think: you know, we really need to send out an army of grumpy nuns in full habit to whack people with wooden rulers whenever they step out of line.

Well, of course, that’s not the solution. I guess we just have to rely on people’s common sense so they don’t take advantage of their freedom and abuse things like alcohol and gambling. Yeah, I just thought the same thing you did: Heaven help us!