Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Can Believers Do ALL Things?

There is a famous Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, which says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Over the years, countless Christians have been inspired by this verse, especially when facing a daunting challenge. There are professional athletes who cling to this verse before the big championship game, as in, “I can score four touchdowns through Christ who strengthens me,” or, “I can pitch a no-hitter through Christ who strengthens me.”

I’ve heard about some Christians in the business world who turn to this verse. “I can close this big sale through Christ who strengthens me.” “I can become a millionaire by age 40 through Christ who strengthens me.”
If you take this verse literally, then it’s probably not exactly true. I mean, we really can’t do ALL things through Christ. Can I suddenly sing like Josh Groban, even if I pray for Christ to strengthen me? Nope. Can I hit a baseball 450 feet (something I couldn’t even do when I was 21 years old playing ball in college)? Nope. Can I compose a symphony? Hey, I can’t even spell symphony.

Being curious about this Bible verse, I looked it up online. In the original Greek, the language St. Paul used when writing his letter to the folks at Philippi, it does not say, “I can do all things through Christ…” Instead, it says, “I can do all through Christ…” The word “things” was added later on by translators. 

A commentary I read explained that a better way to understand Paul’s message would be to render the sentence, “I can do all this through Christ…” rather than, “I can do all things through Christ…”

Of course, this begs the question: what then does the word “this” refer to? It may come as a surprise to those people who love to cite single Bible verses in isolation, but when Paul wrote the sentence that eventually would be labeled “verse 13,” he really expected people to first read the sentences that became known as “verse 12.”

Verse 12 in the 4th chapter of Phillippians says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

The main theme of verse 12 is Paul’s ability to accept and be content with wildly different situations: being well fed or being hungry, being wealthy or being poor. Also, Paul wrote this letter while he was in prison!
The natural, human reaction is to be content and happy when we have lots of food and money and freedom, and to be depressed and worried when we have no food, no money, and are behind bars. Paul, however, joyfully declared that regardless of his circumstances, he knew how to be content and at peace. How? Through Christ who strengthened him.

You’ll notice that nowhere in verse 12 does St. Paul mention singing like a famous recording star, scoring four touchdowns, or making a million bucks. No, Paul’s focus was very narrow. He was making the point that the power of Christ filled him with peace and serenity whenever he was hungry and broke and had no idea where his next meal would come from.

So, it seems we should not read too much into this famous verse and think it is telling us that we can do ALL things through Christ – especially the desires of our hearts that will make us successful, rich, and famous. 

This is not to say Philippians 4:13 is a bad verse. It’s awesome. We just need to understand what Paul was getting at. Since some translators added the word “things” long after St. Paul wrote this epistle, let’s take the liberty to add a few more words. The verse could read, “I can gracefully accept all things – including the really bad stuff that happens in life – through Christ who strengthens me.”
That translation is not quite as spectacular as the conventional interpretation of verse 13, but it’s a lot closer to what St. Paul wanted us to understand.

Bring Your ‘Authentic Self’ to Work

Nowadays, the new buzzword in the business world is “authentic.” As in, “Bring your authentic self to work each day.”

What does this mean exactly? Well, an article in a business journal describes being authentic like this: “Acknowledging your personality, including the quirky bits, and bringing your interests, hopes, dreams, and even fears with you, even if they don’t seem relevant to your work.” 

From what I gather, the goal is to avoid corporate role playing, where employees behave in a certain way to fit in, which stifles their true personalities. When a person brings his or her “authentic” self to work, the experts claim, the relationships formed with co-workers and clients are more profound and fulfilling. And as everyone knows, the more close relationships people have — known as networking — the faster they’ll climb the corporate ladder and move into a corner office on the top floor.
Well, over the years I’ve worked with a few folks who did not hesitate to bring their authentic selves to work each day. However, when a person has no filter, that is, when he puts his hopes, dreams, fears, and especially his “quirky bits” on display for everyone in the office to see and hear on a daily basis, it’s often not a pleasant experience. 

Those experts who write in business journals, extolling the virtue of being authentic, have lost sight of one important fact: there are a lot of jerks in the world. And unfortunately, the higher a person scores on the Jerk Meter is often inversely related to the effectiveness of his mouth filter. 

For example, I used to work with a guy who felt compelled to give a post-game summary of each of his trips to the men’s room. Each morning the entire office got a play-by-play description, including what he ate the previous night and how it must have impacted what had just occurred in the “porcelain conference room.”

No matter how many times we all shouted, “Too much information!” he was oblivious. He genuinely thought that if he was very interested in the workings of his digestive system, then all of his co-workers certainly must be just as interested and deserving of a detailed report.
The daily G.I. tract updates were not the worst of his authentic self, however. Whenever this fellow went away on a romantic weekend with his wife, the entire office would get a graphic Monday morning presentation of their bedroom exploits. Thank goodness he didn’t know how to use PowerPoint.

Another former co-worker at a different firm must have been entered into the “Girlfriend from Hell” competition. At least five times each day, she would call her boyfriend and berate him, loudly, for not calling her recently enough. (This was before text messages.) Other topics she regularly screeched at him, loudly, included his leaving the toilet seat up again, his forgetting to buy her more cigarettes, and his looking at the barmaid a half second too long when they were out drinking the previous evening. 

This young lady was delightful to be around, and the rest of the office was so glad that she always brought her authentic self to the office each day. (I am using, of course, the definition of the word “glad” that means: “Does anyone have a hara-kiri sword I can borrow?”)
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not saying employees should be a bunch of silent drones, straight out of the novel “1984.” And I’m certainly not saying developing personal relationships with co-workers and clients is wrong. 

All I’m saying is, it is best if everyone behaves at work exactly like me, because we all know that nobody minds when employees talk about sports all day long.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Do ‘Merry’ and ‘Catholic’ Go Together?

Recently, I received a note from a reader that said, “I don't understand your ‘Merry Catholic’ email address. Being raised Catholic, it seems to me that Merry and Catholic never fit together.”

Oh my, where to begin? 

It’s certainly true that there is a pervasive stereotype about Catholicism as being strict and stern and guilt-ridden and joyless. In other words, the exact opposite of “merry.” And this is because — well, let’s be honest — many Catholics throughout history have been strict and stern and guilt-ridden and joyless.
But guess what? There have been plenty of people in non-Catholic endeavors — such as politicians, public school teachers, basketball coaches, business managers, army lieutenants, moms and dads, etc. — who demonstrated the exact same characteristics. Those particularly unpleasant traits may have been more pronounced in Catholic schools during, say, the 1930s through ‘50s, but they are commonplace in all walks of life.

The important thing to understand is that “non-merry” behavior by so many people is proof of a key Catholic teaching: the reality of original sin. Catholics are not grumpy and stern because they’re Catholic; it’s because they are human, and therefore, prone to sin.

True Catholicism is the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is liberating and joyful. Knowing that God really loves us and that He passionately desires to forgive our sins and offer us the gift of eternal life should make us laugh and sing and dance. (Even though the Gospel message SHOULD make us react this way, I’d suggest not doing that during the middle of Mass, as your pastor might not understand.)

There are many things in this world that are entertaining and give us pleasure. Some of these things make us smile for a while but have nasty aftereffects, like hangovers, empty bank accounts, paternity suits, and seven-to-twelve years in a federal penitentiary. So, it’s not surprising that someone in a position of authority — parent, teacher, coach, nun, priest — might offer stern lectures about avoiding certain pleasurable things. And these stern lectures may come across as being the opposite of “merry.”
When you understand the consequences of sinful behavior, and then factor in the unfortunate situation of an unprepared nun being put in charge of 50 rambunctious students, then yes, you will have a lot of reactions that are strict and stern and guilt-ridden and joyless. Hence, the prevailing stereotype of unmerry Catholicism.

Our main focus needs to be on the one and only reason Catholicism exists: to get people into Heaven. This is a most joyful and merry goal. 

Wait, you thought the main reasons the Catholic Church exists was to collect priceless artwork in Rome and have regular Saturday night potluck suppers at the parish social center?

Nope, the Church exists because Jesus Himself founded it; and He founded it because human beings have eternal souls and He desperately longs for each of us to spend eternity in Heaven with Him. That’s why Catholicism exists.

Over the years many Catholics, laypeople and leaders alike, have displayed very un-merry behavior. These sinful attitudes and actions have made it easy for people to stereotype the Church as sour and dour, to the point a reader asks in all sincerity how I can claim that “merry” and “Catholic” fit together.

However, as I mentioned earlier, when you understand that the main purpose of Catholicism is to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ — specifically the fact that He wants to forgive our sins, fill us with His love, and bring us into Paradise for all eternity — then Catholicism really ought to make us laugh and sing and dance for joy.
Now that I think about it, go right ahead and laugh and sing and dance in the middle of Mass next Sunday. Your pastor may not understand, but Jesus certainly will.

Does Anybody Know What Time It Is?

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I bought a one-handed wristwatch, which was designed with only an hour hand. I call it the “About Watch,” because its level of accuracy is, “About four o’clock,” or, “About quarter after nine.”

The reason I bought the watch was to wean myself away from my obsession with time-keeping precision. Most watches I’ve worn in the past 30 years had digital displays that would inform me that the time was, for example, exactly 10:36:17 AM. Has there ever been a time in my life when it was crucial that I knew it was precisely thirty-six minutes and seventeen seconds after ten o’clock in the morning? The answer is no.
If I know what time it is within five or 10 minutes, that is more than accurate enough. I can only think of a couple of occupations where knowing the precise time of day is important: 1) the producer of a live TV show, where you really need to know it is exactly 8:00:00 PM (assuming that’s when the broadcast is suppose to begin); and 2) NASA  Launch Supervisor at Cape Canaveral, where it would be kind of awkward if you were in charge of a 7:30 AM launch, but when 7:30 rolled around you thought it was only quarter after six. On the other hand, in the long history of NASA rocket launches, lift-offs occurred precisely on-time about as often as I’ve won the lottery, so it’s probably not a big deal after all.

Anyway, the reason I am rehashing all this, is because after the original column about the one-handed watch appeared in the newspaper, I received an email from a reader who congratulated me on breaking free from the oppression of time-keeping. At first, I thought this reader agreed with my view that people nowadays are too focused on precise time, when being accurate within five or 10 minutes is good enough during everyday life.

However, as I continued reading the email, I learned that my new pen pal was a bit more radical about the concept of time. He explained that ALL time-keeping is an oppressive system foisted on humanity by evil capitalists. Whereas I concluded that having my watch tell me it’s thirty-six minutes and seventeen seconds after ten o’clock in the morning was unnecessarily too precise, he passionately proclaimed that keeping track of hours and days and weeks was the source of all unhappiness in the modern world.

Um, I’m not sure that’s what I had in mind.
If we did away with all time-keeping, I can think of one person who would be thrilled that his boss could no longer give him grief for getting to work late. But for the rest of us, many things we’ve come to enjoy in our modern world would no longer exist, such as computers, phones, medicine, hospitals, electricity, fuel, cars, clean water, and food. Oh yeah, and ESPN. That definitely would be gone, too. To be honest, I’d rather not give up those things.

I guess if someone has the skill to build his own cabin, chop firewood, and grow his own food, he’d be able to survive — for a while. But the other 330 million of us in this country would be in big, big trouble. The fact is, without some basic, universally accepted time-keeping system, nothing would get done and the entire economy would collapse.
My one-handed “About Watch” is a minor rebellion against an obsession with overly precise time-keeping. But I’m definitely not a Luddite. I don’t want to destroy our modern way of life. Having no food definitely would be a problem. Almost as bad as no ESPN.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Invalid Baptisms in Arizona

Recently it was discovered that a Catholic priest in Arizona was performing baptism ceremonies improperly. Father Andres Arango had mistakenly been using the phrase “we baptize you” instead of “I baptize you” for many years, and therefore thousands of baptisms he performed were invalid. 

Technically, using the word “we” is incorrect, since it is not the congregation who baptizes someone, it’s Jesus Himself.

Here is a paragraph from one news story: “His error means that countless baptisms – an irrevocable requirement for salvation in Catholic theology – will have to be performed again. And some churchgoers could find their marriages are not recognized.”
The diocese of Phoenix has a website that includes a form to register for a new baptism. It also has this urgent statement: “If your baptism was invalid and you’ve received other sacraments, you may need to repeat some or all of those sacraments after you are validly baptized as well.”

Wow, what a mess! This situation brings up that age-old question: which is more important, rules and regulations or mercy and compassion?

Just so you know, I am definitely a rules and regulations kind of guy. I instinctively embrace order and organization, plans and processes. Whenever I’m at an event – whether it’s related to business, church, entertainment, etc. – if the theme is, “We’re just gonna wing it today,” I break out in a cold sweat. I hate winging it. Instead, I’m a big fan of this mindset: “Plan your work and work your plan.”

So, I totally understand why the Church has clearly-defined rules and regulations for how to perform the Liturgy and the various sacraments. After all, if the Church had been loosey-goosey about how to perform rituals over the past 2,000 years, allowing clerics to just “wing it” based on their feelings, the Church would be unrecognizable today. The important doctrines and liturgies that are the heart of the faith would have been loosey-goosied into oblivion a long time ago.

That having been said, however, we should never forget that Jesus declared, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” He said this to the hypocritical Pharisees, who were focused much more on legalistic observance of the religious laws rather than love and forgiveness and joyful faith. In other words, Jesus was saying to these guys that the spirit of the law is much more important than the letter of the law.
What, then, to make of the situation in Phoenix, where it sure seems Church leaders are much more focused on the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law?

Well, the Phoenix diocese website has an interesting explanation, noting: “God is not bound by the sacraments in that He can and does extend His grace in whatever measure and manner He wills. We can be assured that all who approached God, our Father, in good faith to receive the sacraments did not walk away empty-handed.”

If everyone present during a baptismal ceremony truly desired a valid baptism for the baby, do you think God said, “Aw gee, I’d like to infuse supernatural grace into this baby’s soul, but you see, the priest said one word incorrectly. So, I can’t do it. My hands are tied. Sorry, that’s the rules.”

No way. God is not a bureaucrat at the Department of Motor Vehicles. God can, as the Phoenix diocese said, “extend His grace in whatever measure and manner He wills.” God desires mercy, not sacrifice. Whenever God has to choose between rules and regulations or mercy and compassion, He chooses mercy and compassion every time.

I totally understand that Church officials in Phoenix want to get this right, and are encouraging everyone who was baptized by Fr. Arango to get baptized again. Imagine if the bishop just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Don’t worry, it really doesn’t matter what words the priest used.” That would be the first step down Loosey-Goosey Lane, which heads straight off a cliff.
In conclusion, rules and regulations are important. They avoid chaos and make sure the Gospel message is passed faithfully from generation to generation. But God is the God of love. He cares more about our hearts than the minutiae of our rituals. The folks in Phoenix should get baptized again as soon as possible, but they should not lose any sleep over it either. 

First World Maladies

Recently, I saw an article that described a new malady afflicting many folks these days: Phantom Vibration Syndrome. This is where people think their smart phone is ringing or vibrating when it’s really not. Apparently, a lot of people are so concerned about missing a call or text message that they’ve become extra aware of the sensation of their phone vibrating. They think they feel something, then reach into their pocket for the phone and are disappointed when it’s a false alarm. 

Wow, I can’t believe that condition now has an official sounding medical name. They could’ve gone with “Get-a-Life-itis.”
There are other health problems that did not exist 20 years ago, such as the condition known as Text Neck. This is when you get a stiff neck from having your head tilted downward all the time looking at your phone. This malady often is accompanied by a condition called Text Thumb, which is an inflammation of the tendons in the thumbs caused by the repetitive motion of typing hundreds of text messages each day.

Another medical issue is called Toasted Skin Syndrome. This occurs when a person uses a laptop computer for hours on end, and then discovers the tops of his or her thighs are irritated because of the heat emitted from the bottom of the computer.

I read about another modern health problem, but this one is not caused by digital devices. It is called Orthorexia Nervosa, and it is defined as an eating disorder that involves an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. In other words, people who suffer from this condition are so focused on maintaining healthy eating habits, they worry themselves sick about the possibility of eating something tasty, er, I mean, unhealthy.

Oh no, what if a person only lives to age 88 instead of 89, because he accidentally ate a cheeseburger way back in 2022?
The only nutrition-related medical condition I’ve personally been diagnosed with is called Fruitpietus Nervosa, which is the fear of running out of Hostess Fruit Pies. It hasn’t been confirmed by a doctor yet, but I suspect I also might be afflicted with Reesesitus Nervosa, an obsession with making sure the house always has a sizable supply of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

This is just my opinion, but I’m starting to think our modern culture is getting kind of wimpy. These definitely are “First World” maladies. Back in the olden days, say, the 1800s, people didn’t think much about stiff necks or sore thumbs because they were too busy trying to avoid real illnesses, such as smallpox, cholera, tuberculosis, and being crushed to death by industrial machinery. (Well, technically, that last one is not a disease, but it occurred so frequently back then it deserves to be on the list. Whenever a guy was squashed by a machine, the benevolent factory owner often would tell the grieving widow that he’s decided not to charge her for the cost of cleaning up her late husband’s blood. Talk about generosity!)

It’s not like we do not have any serious health issues to worry about nowadays. Close to a million Americans have died from or with COVID. Nearly 100,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses last year alone. And, of course, heart disease and cancer continue to wrack up startling mortality statistics month after month. Despite all this, the FWWs among us are causing medical professionals to come up with official names for cell phone related aches and pains. (What does FWW mean, you ask? First World Whiners.)
All these new maladies should be diagnosed by psychologists rather than medical doctors. And they all should be lumped together as a single affliction. I prefer the term “Get-a-Life-itis.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

In the Beginning, God Created

As a Catholic, I know we’re generally not very comfortable with the Bible. Few of us were encouraged to read Scripture, and some of us were told outright NOT to read the Bible. I have some relatives who remember their parochial school days back in the 1940s and 50s, when the nuns told the students, “Don’t ever read the Bible on your own. That’s what Martin Luther did, and look what happened to him!” (The implication was that the worst thing that could ever happen to a person was to become a Protestant. I have a lot of friends and relatives who are fallen-away Catholics, and I would weep tears of joy if any of them became a Protestant.)

Back in those days, the students were told that the bishops and popes and trained theologians were the Bible experts, and they would let us know if there was anything important we needed to understand from the sacred texts. So, even though the Church has done a 180-degree turn since then, and now says faithful lay people should read the Bible, the vast majority of Catholics still avoid the Scriptures.
I personally know many Catholics who would like to read the Bible, but they are intimidated. They don’t know where to begin and they don’t know what to do if they get bogged down. So out of fear they avoid it completely.

Well, I have the simplest Bible study in the world. We don’t worry about the 1,200 pages and the 73 separate books that make up the Bible. All we have to do is focus on the first five words of Scripture: “In the beginning, God created.”

If you’re curious, you can find those words in the book of Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1. If a person understands those five simple words, he or she will know far more about reality than the average person living in our secular world today.

The first five words of the Bible tell us that everything in the Universe, especially life on earth, did not just accidentally appear. Everything was designed and planned and created on purpose. And it was all done by a Being more powerful than anything we can comprehend.

Knowing that each and every person on earth was designed and created by a supernatural Being, rather than the mere product of mindless biological processes, makes all the difference. 
Our modern culture has embraced secularism with a passion. Traditional religions are now scorned by the intelligentsia, and children are taught in school at a young age that mankind emerged from the primordial slime. It was all random, accidental, and unplanned. This secular worldview makes it very difficult to assign any transcendent meaning or value to our existence.

Almost a century and a half ago, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “If there is no God, all things are permissible.” Our modern culture is now putting this into practice. As a culture, we no longer believe in a divine Creator, which means we scoff at the idea that there is a heavenly purpose for our lives, and we reject the notion that there is a godly moral code we should follow. All values, all definitions of morality, now are based on individual feelings and desires. Not surprisingly, given that human instincts often are self-centered and short-sighted, this new worldview has produced chaos in our culture. 

Therefore, someone who understands the words, “In the beginning, God created,” is likely to know more truth about our existence here on earth than a whole lot of Ph.Ds at, say, Harvard and Yale.
I encourage my fellow Catholics to read the Bible. But if it’s too intimidating, then at least meditate on the first 5 words. Knowing that God is real, and that He designed and created us, gives our lives true meaning. It fills us with joy and purpose. That knowledge is the most important lesson you'll ever learn.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Is It Time to Clean Up Our Frickin’ Act?

 It is time to join the “Frick Revolution.” 

The only person I’ve ever heard of named Frick was former Major League Baseball commissioner Ford Frick, who lived from 1894 to 1978. However, it turns out there have been many famous Fricks throughout history. Wikipedia lists dozens of them, most of whom were originally from Germany, Switzerland, or Liechtenstein.
So, Frick is much more common than I thought, and it needs to become even more common, if we’re ever going to recapture what used to be called common decency.

The Frick Revolution is a brand new grassroots effort (started by me five minutes ago) to clean up our act when it comes to garbage-mouth conversation. Let’s face it, the big ol’ F-bomb has become so ubiquitous these days, it’s impossible to avoid it.

Here is a short list of people who use the F-bomb constantly: Joe Rogan, Joe Biden, Bruce Springsteen, Samuel L. Jackson, Adele, Phil Mickelson, and most of the people in my office, including, occasionally, me. (I am using, of course, the definition of the word “occasionally” that means: only when my mouth is moving.)

A few decades ago, Mike Myers made the classic “Austin Powers” comedy movies, and a main character, Dr. Evil, used the frick bomb, as in, “Throw me a frickin’ bone!” and, “I want sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads!”
Because no one in these movies said the real F-bomb, the films were rated PG instead of R, which doubled the size of the potential audience. It was a brilliant move by Mr. Myers, which netted an extra $100 million in box office receipts. More importantly, it also demonstrated that the frick bomb can be just as effective in making a point, while at the same time not causing grandmas to swoon, Kindergarteners to cower, and seasoned potty mouths like me to roll their eyes and say, “Wow, even I think this is getting out of hand.”

Back in the olden days, television and radio were regulated by the Federal Communication Commission, which had strict rules about profanity. So, you never heard the various verbal bombs being uttered over the airwaves. The cutting edge TV shows would throw in the occasional “hell” and “damn,” but that was it.

Nowadays, with the proliferation of technology such as streaming services and satellite radio, the entertainment and communications media have become F-Bomb City. (I think their airport’s three-letter symbol is FBC.)

And those of us without our own show or podcast have joined right in. Every time I’ve been at a public event in recent years, I’ve noticed that many folks don’t hesitate to spew loud F-bombs that can be heard by total strangers. My visit to Citi Field to see a Mets game last summer was a prime example. Fans from the age of 8 to 80 were talking as if they were entered in the Howard Stern Sound-Alike Contest. Even at my worst, I only talk that way with fellow dumpster mouths, and never when there are people present who might be offended.

To be perfectly honest, living in F-Bomb City has become tedious.
Taboo words have always existed as a last resort. If a person said THE word, well, then everyone knew he was really angry. Those words were reserved only for the most serious situations. But today, if someone drops 10 or 20 F-bombs during a simple, casual conversation, what is left to use in serious situations? (Yes, I know: a Glock.)

I think it’s high time we get the Frick Revolution off and running. We can start here, in little ol’ Connecticut, and then this movement will spread across the country. Who wants to join me? It will be frickin’ great!

Sunday, March 6, 2022

COVID and Faith Inertia

I remember from physics class the definition of the word “inertia”: “A body at motion tends to stay in motion, and a body at rest tends to stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force.”

As we reach the 2-year anniversary of the start of the COVID era, many of us have experienced what I call “faith inertia.” In other words, those church-related routines we had before the pandemic — Sunday Mass every week, daily Mass once in a while, Bible studies, prayer groups, singing in the choir, regular Confession, etc. — just stopped in their tracks. Our faith activities had momentum and inertia. We were in a groove. We were on a roll. And then those activities were acted upon by an outside force, namely COVID. 

Now the second part of the inertia definition has occurred. We’ve lost momentum; we’ve gotten out of our good habits; we no longer are in motion. And we can’t seem to get things back in gear again.

There are some people who have not been inside a church since March of 2020. (Of course, there are people who have not been inside a church since March of 1980, but that’s a topic for another day.) When the bishops announced two years ago that it was OK for everyone to stay home from Mass until further notice (the first time that happened, I’ve been told, in the history of our 2,000 year old Church!), we got used to watching Mass on TV or the internet — when it was convenient. 
Now, two full years later, things have transpired in ways that no one could’ve predicted. Since March of 2020, we have experienced a lot of fear and death; ventilators and overflowing hospitals; quarantines; mask mandates; record-settingly quick vaccine rollouts; burgeoning optimism in the Spring of 2021; the Delta variant; surging and waning positive test rates; the realization that the vaccine did not prevent infection but instead reduced the symptoms; the highly contagious Omicron variant; vaccine mandates; frustration and anger in the Fall of 2021; disinformation coming from all sides; and month after month of pandemic burnout. Who knows what surprises are around the corner? Yes, it’s been a wild and unpredictable ride. 

OK, let’s get back to the original topic: faith inertia. The pandemic has caused many of our faith traditions and activities to grind to a halt. Our positive momentum, our forward progress, is gone. Most aspects of our faith life have become inert. As my physics teacher would’ve said, this body at rest needs to be acted upon by an outside force to get moving again.

Well, I called Rome and asked the pope to visit parishes in Connecticut and give us a pep talk. But that didn’t fit into his schedule. So, we need another plan. Hey, how about if we ask Jesus to visit parishes in Connecticut and give us a boost? Oh, wait. Christ is already present inside the tabernacles located in every Catholic church. Hmm, maybe that would be a good starting place: a little Eucharistic adoration to jump-start our faith.
I suspect getting our faith lives in gear again will require us to go back to the basics. Why do our churches exist in the first place? Because God is real, Christ is Lord, and we cannot get through this thing called life successfully without worshipping Him as a community. That’s why. 

To be honest, I’m not sure what is the best way for us to recapture our positive faith inertia again. Maybe we just need to take the first step, and then God will take the second step, and by the time we take the third step, we’ll realize it was God who took the first step.

The first step is to go to Mass this weekend. Then make yourself do it again the following week. We are in the season of Lent. This is the perfect opportunity to jump-start our faith activities and get that inertia going again.

We can do it. We MUST do it.

This Retirement Plan Is Offensive and Dumb

About 20 years ago, when I was a youngster in my mid-40s, I wrote a newspaper column describing my poor choices regarding retirement planning. It turns out hoping that a rich uncle will bequeath a ton of money to me when he dies only works if you have a rich uncle. I forgot that part. Also, buying lotto tickets instead of opening up an IRA account is a retirement strategy frowned upon by most financial advisors.
In that column, I jokingly mentioned that I was not worried about retirement income because I had selected Option B on the company retirement plan. Here is a description of Option B: on your 65th birthday, you have a massive heart attack at work and slump forward onto your computer keyboard. Problem solved! No need for retirement income.

Back when I wrote that, I thought it was funny and clever. Many times over the years I’ve written things that I thought were funny and clever, only to have alert readers send me email notes pointing out that what I wrote was actually offensive and dumb. (Way back in the olden days, I decided to call this column “A Matter of Laugh or Death.” Turns out, at least according to many readers, I could’ve called it “A Matter of Offensive and Dumb.”)

Anyway, now that my 65th birthday will be this Sunday, I’m the one who has to send an email note to myself pointing out that my column from 20 years ago was offensive and dumb. One good thing, however, is the certainty that what I described in that old column cannot possibly come true on my 65th birthday. That’s because it will be a Sunday and I won’t be at work. Oh, I still could slump forward onto my computer keyboard, dead as a doornail, but it will occur at home rather than at work. So, I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.
Let’s assume this Sunday comes and goes and I’m still around. I’d prefer the newspaper prints yet another offensive and dumb essay next week with my picture next to it rather than my obituary. Especially since I haven’t picked out an obit photo yet, and I don’t want them to use that same dopey snapshot from nine years ago that appears with my column each week and doesn’t even look like me anymore. (Did you ever notice that when you see a photo of yourself you immediately think, “Yeow, I look awful,” but then when you see that same photo five or 10 years later, you think, “Gee, I wish I still looked that good!”)

Yes, so let’s assume I’ll still be around for a while, which means Option B did not pan out, so we’re back to Option A on the company retirement plan. Unfortunately, Option A requires you to diligently sock away money each month into a retirement account, beginning no later than age 35. Hmm, I guess that ship has sailed.
All along I was focused more on Option C (rich uncle, who doesn’t exist) and Option D (lotto tickets). But the good news is, I learned recently that “65 is the new 55.” (I saw one article that claimed “65 is the new 45,” but everyone in their 60s — no matter how much delusional thinking we employ — knows that claim is plain crazy.) 

All I have to do is keep working for another 10 years. I’ll have plenty of retirement income during the next decade, just no retirement. Then, at age 75, I’ll implement “Option B plus 10” on the company retirement plan. Problem solved! So, I got that goin’ for me, which is nice, er, I mean, offensive and dumb.