Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Beware of ‘You Spot It, You Got It’

Recently, Fr. John Gatzak mentioned an interesting concept on the radio. He called it, “You spot it, you got it.” 

What this means is, if you pick out something to criticize about another person, the chances are really good that you are guilty of that exact thing. For example, I bet most of us know someone who will say, “That Sally sure likes to gossip.” Which causes everyone else to stop short and think, “Um, really? Nobody gossips more than YOU!”

Very possibly this describes you or me. Maybe we’re the one who points out that Sally sure likes to gossip, right after we’ve spent the previous hour telling Sally all the juicy rumors we’ve heard about other people.
This “You spot it, you got it” dynamic applies to many other behaviors and attitudes, such as anger, sarcasm, worry, criticism, impatience, procrastination, cynicism, and pessimism. It’s just a fact of human nature that people are often blind to their own less-than-ideal behavior while quick to criticize the exact same behavior in others.

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pointed out this reality by asking, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?”

Jesus was warning against hypocrisy; that is, seeing the sin in another person’s life while ignoring the obvious sin in our own life.

By the way, Jesus also was using imagery that was quite humorous. Having a wooden beam stuck in your eye is a very comical exaggeration. I mean, think about it. A wooden beam stuck in a person’s eye is definitely going to ruin the rest of his day. Huge tree branches impaled through one’s skull tend to do that. Then, when Jesus added to the exaggeration by describing the person as being oblivious to the wooden beam in his skull and focusing all his attention on a small speck in someone else’s eye, you can’t help but giggle at this memorable lesson. Jesus doesn’t get nearly enough credit for His use of humor in His teachings.  
Anyway, there are some great aspects to the Christian faith — with eternal life in Heaven being pretty high up on the list. Besides the ultimate goal of Heaven, Christianity also helps us to live much better lives during our time here on earth. First, we are encouraged to forgive others, just as we’ve been forgiven by God (if, of course, we acknowledge our sin and sincerely ask for forgiveness).

Jesus clearly says, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you” (Matt. 6:14). When we forgive others, we are less likely to criticize them and point out their faults.

Next, Christianity helps us to understand that we are not exactly free from faults. When St. Paul wrote, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” he definitely meant “all,” as in all y’all. 

Unlike what many people claim, Christianity does not cause believers to develop poor self esteem. Instead, it helps us see reality more clearly. And the reality of the situation is that we are sinful. When we understand that we are in need of forgiveness, and when we actively try to forgive others who sin against us, we are much less likely to be caught up in the “You spot it, you got it” hypocrisy. 
Does this mean if we’re a Christian we will never be hypocritical, and never point out flaws in other people that we are guilty of ourselves? Hardly. For example, many years after I became a Christian, I was at a social event, and after a particular person excused himself to get a drink, I commented, “Wow, that guy is really snarky.” Everyone who heard what I said froze in their tracks and stared at me, as if to say, “Um, really? Have you ever looked in a mirror, Bill?!” (Hmm, I guess sarcasm is kind of my super power.)

So, be mindful of this concept that Fr. John mentioned on the radio. When you find yourself pointing out other people’s flaws, chances are you are doing the exact same things. This is because if “you spot it, you got it.” 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Shortest Month Has Many Holidays 

Welcome to February! Although this is the shortest month of the year, it has more holidays than any other month on the calendar. This is why February has become my favorite month. Except for May and September. Oh, and June and October, too. But February is better than January and November, and it’s definitely in my personal Top 10. Here is a list of the major holidays in the short month of February: 

Feb. 2, Groundhog Day — This day proves that joyous festivals and important holidays on the calendar do not necessarily have to be based — and I’m trying to be generous here — on anything sane. Let’s summarize the basic concept of Groundhog Day: the world waits breathlessly for an oversized rodent from Pennsylvania, who is afraid of his own shadow, to play the part of a meteorologist.  
Feb. 12, Super Bowl Sunday — This major national holiday was created when people realized it had been six full weeks since New Year’s Eve, and therefore a special day was needed to attend another alcohol-saturated party. Super Bowl Sunday is quickly becoming one of the most important holidays of the entire year, as measured by the sheer number of greasy chicken wings dropped onto living room carpets. 

Feb. 12, Lincoln’s Birthday — This date commemorates the birth of our nation’s greatest president: George Washington. No wait, my mistake. The 12th is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and this year it falls on Super Bowl Sunday, which is exactly how our 16th president would’ve wanted it, since he was a big Chicago Bears fan.

Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day — This is a special day for love — as in, the retailers who sell greeting cards, candy, and flowers to panic-stricken men at a 500-percent markup, just LOVE this holiday. Valentine’s Day can be rather sad for people who are not currently in a romantic relationship, and even sadder for people currently in a romantic relationship if they’re still hungover from Super Bowl Sunday and forget to buy something for their sweetheart.
Feb. 20, Presidents’ Day — Thankfully, there is finally some recognition for the heroic deeds and charismatic personality of Calvin Coolidge. The downside of lumping all presidential recognition into a single holiday — not counting Abe and George — is that at least three-quarters of all our presidents turned out to be weasels. Literally.  

Feb. 21, Mardi Gras — In French, the term Mardi Gras means “Tuesdays with Morrie.” This is the last day before the religious season of Lent begins, and Catholics around the world, and especially in New Orleans, demonstrate how holy and reverent they plan to be during Lent by getting blind drunk and flashing their breasts to strangers. Sometimes the women will do this, too.

Feb. 22, Washington’s Birthday — Please see the Feb. 12 listing for a discussion of the holiday that honors one of our most important presidents: Benjamin Franklin.

Feb. 22, Ash Wednesday — This is the first day of Lent and is often known as “I Didn’t Know You Were Catholic Day.” This year Ash Wednesday falls on the same day as Washington’s Birthday, which has to be some sort of violation of the U.S. Constitution’s clearly defined “Separation of Church and State” doctrine. 
Feb. 29, Leap Day — This very special day was created when it was discovered that the earth actually takes 365-1/4 days to revolve around the sun. (The extra quarter-day delay is because the earth, just like everyone else, often gets stuck in rush hour traffic on I-84.) Leap Day, February 29th, is so special, three out of every four years it celebrates by calling itself “March 1st.”

So, there you have it: all the important holidays that are in my most favorite month (sort of) of the year. 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Mass the Same Wherever You Are

Earlier this month, as I watched the funeral Mass for Pope Benedict on TV, it occurred to me that no matter how different the location or the setting, the Catholic Mass is essentially the same. It’s a good reminder that our faith is universal. 

If you saw the funeral Mass at the Vatican, it was quite an impressive liturgy (and that reportedly was a “toned down” ceremony, compared to what it could’ve been!). By the way, a quick comment on Pope Benedict XVI: During this past Advent, I attended a series of meetings at my parish where we studied Pope Benedict’s little book titled, “Jesus of Nazareth: the Infancy Narratives.” It was a wonderful way to prepare for Christmas, and it was a good reminder, if we didn’t already know, that the pope was a brilliant scholar and theologian. You could not read the book quickly, like a novel. After every page, you had to stop and ponder the deep spiritual concepts the pope explored. I realize that a lot of people, especially in the secular media, have gone out of their way to criticize Pope Benedict, but he really was one of the all-time good guys of our faith.
Anyway, the pope’s funeral Mass was an atypical, grand production. But at its heart, it was still a Mass, just like any other Mass we attend. Over the years I’ve been blessed to attend Mass in many different places. My wife and I traveled to Europe twice, and so we went to Mass in Vienna, Austria, and Padua, Italy.

Because of business trips, I’ve been able to go to Mass in Toronto, Chicago, Kansas City, Orlando, and Las Vegas. And closer to home, I’ve been to Mass in Boston, Providence, New York City, and of course many communities in my home state of Connecticut.

No matter how different the churches are — and trust me, majestic St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna is quite different compared to tiny St. Romuald’s Chapel in Matunuck, Rhode Island — the Mass is the Mass. And that fact is such a wonderful blessing. No matter the local customs or language, the Mass follows the same basic format. 
When we went to Mass at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna many years ago, the Mass was said in German. I don’t understand a word of German (except for a few phrases I picked up while watching “Hogan’s Heroes” as a kid), but it didn’t matter. I knew exactly what was happening during each part of the Mass. And when the priest offered the prayers of Consecration — in German — at that moment the bread and wine were transformed into the true body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus Christ, exactly as it happens in, say, Hartford or Waterbury or Torrington. 

So, no matter where you attend Mass, in any part of the world, it is essentially the same. We have this amazing geographical connection spanning the entire globe. But not only do we have a vast geographical connection to the Mass, we also have a remarkable time connection. You see, the Mass we celebrate today is surprisingly similar to the liturgy that was celebrated by Catholics 2,000 years ago. 

Many aspects of the Mass have evolved over the centuries, of course. For example, I’m pretty sure the church that St. Paul founded in Ephesus did not have Bose speakers hanging from the wall, nor could parishioners watch the Mass at home over the Internet (mostly because the wifi service was lousy back then). But the two primary parts of the Mass, the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist, were present from the very start of Christianity. 
If you didn’t get a chance to watch the funeral Mass for Pope Benedict, I’m sure you can find a recording of it online. It was rather unique. After all, how many times does a sitting pope preside over the funeral Mass of the previous pope? Despite the unprecedented aspects of this particular liturgy, it was at its heart the same Mass we experience every Sunday.

We should thank God for the Mass. It is the sacred liturgy that transcends time and space. It allows us to create spiritual bonds with believers in other parts of the world and throughout time. The Mass is a great gift and we should embrace it as often as possible. 

Can a Flatscreen TV Ever be ‘Too Big’?

During the recent Christmas season, Santa Claus impulsively gave me a new 55” flatscreen TV. You’re probably wondering how he got it down a narrow chimney. Well, in this case, instead of delivering the gift in his sleigh on Christmas Eve, Santa instructed one of his “elves” on December 28th to notice the TV was on sale at Walmart for $358, insert a credit card in the little device without giving it any thought, slide the large box into the back of a Chevy Equinox with the help of a Walmart employee, and then spend the whole journey home trying to think up a good excuse to tell Mrs. Elf. (I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever referred to my wife and myself as elves.)
It took almost two days to install the TV on the wall in our living room. Getting the bracket attached to the wall wasn’t too bad, but getting the TV attached to the bracket would’ve been a bit easier if I had a doctorate degree in structural engineering. It didn’t help that one instruction manual had only pictures and no words (I believe that’s called the IKEA language), while the other instruction manual had plenty of words, but was obviously written by someone who speaks only Korean and ran it through a Google Translate app. For example: “Insert Screw B into Flange of Fortitude M.” (Flange of Fortitude? That would make a great name for a rock band.) By the way, there were no screw Bs anywhere in the bag of parts.

Anyway, the important thing is, I finally got the TV mounted to the wall without accidentally dropping it during the process. It’s not very heavy, but a person really needs the wingspan of Kevin Durant to lift it up properly. Maybe this note in the instruction manual, “Installation exclusively on two bodies, never with only person,” was trying to tell me I should’ve called my brother-in-law to come over and help me. 

I thought installing the TV was difficult, but that was nothing compared to programming it. You see, it’s called a “Smart TV,” which means it’s guaranteed to make the owner feel dumb. The TV comes with all kinds of software and programs and apps, and needs to be connected to the internet via wifi. This, of course, means I had to try and locate all my various usernames and passwords; another delightful chore. 
The programming instruction manual — surprise, surprise — wasn’t all that helpful. And the remote control that came with the TV is about the size of an ironing board and contains at least 900 buttons, half of which have cryptic markings and don’t seem to have any useful function. (One of the buttons was labeled “Flange of Fortitude.” But still no Screw Bs anywhere.) 

By mid-January, I finally got the TV to communicate with the cable box. So, now I can watch the 180 channels for which I’m paying every month through the nose (even though I only watch six of them). 

That’s when I noticed the TV takes up practically the entire wall in our modestly-sized condo living room. I started feeling guilty for splurging on such an ostentatious consumer product. But then, luckily, I visited my brother-in-law (the one I should’ve called to help me), and he just finished installing a brand new 70” flatscreen TV (and he should’ve called me to help him).

When I returned home and gazed at that puny 55-incher, I shook my head and muttered, “It’s just too small. We need a bigger one.” I think I’ll wait until next Christmas. That will give me 11 months to think up a good excuse to tell Mrs. Elf. 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Will We Recognize Our Spouses in Heaven?

Each morning I receive an email called “Daily Bible Living,” from an Evangelical organization, which promotes some aspect of the Christian life. I have no idea how they got my email address, which is a question I can ask about at least a hundred other groups that send me “urgent” messages all day long. At least the Evangelical group never asks me for money, which is more than I can say about most of the others.

To be honest, I hardly ever read those daily emails because, as the popular meme says, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” However, recently the daily email had such an intriguing subject line, I just had to take a look. It said, “Will I recognize my spouse in Heaven?”
Ooh, now that’s an interesting question. I read the article and it made some good points about the Bible being rather short on details about Heaven. Oh sure, Scripture assures us that Heaven will be wonderful, with no tears or sorrow, and only endless joy for those who enter into God’s eternal kingdom. But exactly how it will be is left unsaid.

St. Paul’s comment in his first letter to the church at Corinth says, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Paul is saying that  Heaven will be wonderfully joyful, no doubt about that, but our puny little human brains can’t even begin to comprehend just how awesome it will be. The bulk of Scripture seems to take a similar approach, offering many positive statements about Heaven but no specific details.

There is a passage in the gospels where some Sadducees tried to trap Jesus with a bizarre story about a woman who married seven different brothers, one after the other, as each husband died. (You know this is a ridiculous premise, because in real life, after the second brother died while married to this woman, brothers Number 3 through 7 would’ve said to each other, “This lady is bad luck! Steer clear of her!”)
The Sadducees wanted to know, after the resurrection occurs, which of the seven brothers would be married to her, since all seven had been her husband at one time. Jesus replied, “You are misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.”

That’s a very interesting statement from Jesus, but it raises about 100 follow-up questions that apparently no one in the crowd thought to ask.

Years ago, I was in a Bible Study/Prayer Group, and one of the ladies was simply distraught over this passage. She loved her husband so much, she couldn’t fathom how she could ever be happy in Heaven if she were not still married to him.
The key to this situation, I believe, is the nature of God. He is all-good and all-loving, so whatever Heaven turns out to be, it will be exactly what we need, what we want, and what is perfect. God loves us so much, He would never make Heaven “almost” perfect; that is, great in many ways but with the one drawback that we end up being separated from our beloved spouse.

You can look at this with some logical reasoning. First, here are a couple of statements that are true: 1) everyone in Heaven is completely happy, and 2) I won’t be happy unless I’m with my spouse. Therefore, the logical conclusion is: I will be with my spouse in Heaven.

My guess is that our relationship with other souls will be different in Heaven (as Jesus said), and whatever Heaven is like will turn out to be infinitely more amazing than we could ever imagine (as St. Paul said).
So, the answer to that intriguing email subject line is this: “Yes, of course I will recognize my spouse in Heaven, because that’s what it will take for me to be perfectly happy.”

God has not given us a lot of details, but we know without a doubt that Heaven will be wonderful. The main thing we need to do for now is simply trust God and not worry about it 

A ‘Moving Party’ Is Anything But a Party

Recently I was reminded of an immutable fact of life: moving stinks.

Most of the time when someone moves, it’s an exciting new chapter in their life: a new house, a new city, a new job, etc. And yet, the process of making the move simply stinks. (I’m trying really hard not to use a different word, but since this is a family newspaper, the word that pops into my head most readily — along with a trusty profane adverb — will get flagged by the editors, so I’ll stick with “stinks.”)

You’ll notice that I said moving is an exciting new chapter “most of the time.” I realize that sometimes moving can be due to foreclosure, eviction, divorce, loss of job, health problems, etc., and it certainly is not an exciting new chapter of life.

I only experienced that once, and at the time I was drinking so much I didn’t realize I was supposed to be embarrassed. Right after I graduated from college, I got a job and rented an apartment with a friend. A while later, I was dismissed when I got caught drinking on the job. (I described that incident a bit differently on my updated resume.) Since I couldn’t pay my share of the rent anymore, I had to move back into my parents’ house. Boy, were they thrilled. 
Anyway, my recent experience with moving was a joyful and exciting occasion: the purchase of a new home by a close family member. But the actual moving part stunk (or is it stank? If they’d let me use my profane word, which is not classified by grammarians as an irregular verb, there would be no confusion. Outrage, yes. Confusion, no).

There are two primary ways you can move, and both of them stink. The first way is to bite the bullet and hire a moving company. This method often costs as much as three mortgage payments, but at least it keeps you from having to carry heavy furniture up a flight of stairs. It does not, however, keep you from cringing every time the moving guys smash a four-drawer bureau into the wall, or scrape the varnish off a stair railing with a metal bed frame. For the amount of money moving companies charge, they ought to throw in a free can of spackle or touch-up paint with every job, because you’ll be needing it for a full month after they’re gone.

The other way to move saves lots of money, but it loses lots of friends. It’s the good ol’ “Hey, I’m having a moving party on Saturday!” technique, where you promise all your friends and co-workers unlimited pizza and beer if they’ll stop by on Saturday at 9 a.m. — with, of course, their pick-up trucks — and help you move “a couple of things.” Never in the history of human language has the phrase “a couple of things” be so misapplied. 
By 5 p.m. on Saturday, after one small pizza and a six-pack of warm beer, you begin to realize you now have exactly zero friends, plus half of your stuff still has not been moved.

The process of moving is stressful and frustrating and expensive — in other words, it stinks. Despite the genuine trauma of moving, you can count yourself lucky if ALL of your possessions actually show up at your new place. (Did you ever drive down the highway and see a mattress or chair or coffee maker by the side of the road? Yup, that stuff accidentally flew out of the back of somebody’s friend’s pick-up truck.)
The most joyous statement in the whole English language is, “We’re all done moving!” And the most frightening statement is, “Hey, I’m having a moving party on Saturday!”

Saturday, January 7, 2023

St. Bernard Says Humor Is No Laughing Matter

I recently read a quote by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the 12th century monk and founder of the Cistercian order. Apparently, St. Bernard was not a big fan of humor. He said this about a person who laughs a lot: “At times he simply cannot stop laughing or hide his empty-headed merriment. He is like a well-filled bladder that has been pricked and squeezed. The air, not finding a free vent, whistles out through the little hole with squeak after squeak.”

There are three things that jump out at me in the quotation. The first is the general tone, which makes me think, “Wow, Bernie must’ve been really fun at parties.” I don’t know if Bernard was referring to a particular person who laughed constantly, or if he meant jolly people in general, but it sure seems like he was against all forms of humor and laughter.
The second thing I noticed about St. Bernard’s quotation is the phrase “empty-headed merriment.” That would be a great name for a rock band, by the way. Obviously, empty-headed anything is not good. I mean, who would want to hire an empty-headed lawyer or get operated on by an empty-headed surgeon? (If he was an empty-headed brain surgeon, that would be kind of ironic, wouldn’t it?) The only occupation where empty-headedness is rewarded, it seems to me, is being the host of a cable news talk show.

The third thing that comes to mind is St. Bernard’s reference to a “well-filled bladder.” Hmm, I don’t know how he knew the reason why I need to get up every night at 3 a.m., but it’s not very funny, especially if I can’t fall back to sleep. (By the way, here’s a note to my co-workers and clients: if it seems like I’m somewhat “empty-headed” during an afternoon business meeting, it’s probably because I’ve been up since 3 a.m.)

If you ask me, sometimes empty-headed merriment is a great way to spend time with loved ones and friends and relieve some stress. Have you ever been with close friends and laughed so hard your sides hurt? I truly believe times like that can be holy. After all, Why would God create us with the ability to laugh, and why would He make laughter a powerful way for us to bond with other people? And, of course, God wants us to have close relationships with our fellow human beings. 
However, it’s important to note that laughter can be used to hurt people. If we laugh AT someone to insult and put them down, that’s not holy at all. But if we laugh WITH someone, sharing a truly humorous moment, that is a wonderful experience.

St. Bernard was a monk who experienced severe deprivation as he built up his religious order and sought to do God’s will. But I’m going to have to call him out on this one. Going through life and never laughing is not healthy. Maybe he was referring to one particular person who had a habit of breaking out in raucous laughter at the exact wrong moments. (We all know someone like that, right? A person who laughs at funerals and makes flippant comments at someone else’s tragedy? Not very nice.)

If St. Bernard truly despised laughter, there’s still no doubt he was an important and faithful saint. If he really did not like laughter, he’s not going to enjoy Heaven very much, because everyone in Heaven is filled with joy 24/7. And when you’re filled with joy, you can’t help but laugh.
That reminds me…. A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar, and the bartender says, “What is this, a joke?”

Skiers Take Umbrage with ‘Weirdo’ Label

 Last week I discussed the cold and gloomy weather this time of year. I included this observation: “...the only thing we have to look forward to is 12 straight weeks of dreary, cold winter — which, obviously, is not exactly something a sane person looks forward to, except for those ski weirdos, who actually get excited when arctic weather arrives.”

Not surprisingly, a few ski weirdos, er, I mean, ski lovers, were offended by my characterization of them. I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize. When I wrote those words it was cold and dark outside and I was not in a good frame of mind. My attempt at a playful exaggeration didn’t come across well at all. The fact is, I do not think people who routinely embrace frostbite and risk snapping knee ligaments are weirdos. They are just, um, different. Especially since they spend an ungodly amount of money to do it.
Maybe I’m a little prejudiced toward skiing, and therefore, skiers, because I can’t fathom how the experience can be enjoyable. You see, I have skied exactly twice in my life — once at age 22 and once at age 24 — and both times I was completely miserable.

No, I take that back. I was not COMPLETELY miserable. Of the combined total of nine hours that I spent on the ski slopes, I enjoyed myself for a full 14 minutes. (And seven of those minutes were when I somehow made it to the bottom of the mountain in one piece after the last run of the day, and joyfully ripped off my skis and boots and ran to the ski lodge where I promptly ordered four shots of Jack Daniels. This was in my pre-sobriety days.) 
The main problem might’ve been that I was not properly dressed for the winter weather. Oh, I was properly dressed for winter, meaning that I had enough warm clothing to walk from my apartment to my car, and then from my car to my office, without getting too cold. But apparently I was not properly dressed to spend four straight hours on the side of a mountain at the Killington ski resort in Vermont during the first week of February when the temperature (not counting wind-chill effect) was minus-5 degrees.

Also, spending my one-hour “ski lesson” falling face-first into the snow every 30 seconds just added to the overall bone-chilling sensation. (I put the term “ski lesson” in quotes because it wasn’t really a lesson; it was one of my drinking buddies — who had skied since he was seven — attempting to explain to me everything I needed to know, in between loud guffaws.)
A number of people have asked me to give skiing one more try. They say if I have the right equipment and clothing it is sure to be a very enjoyable experience. Well, if I had the right equipment and clothing — and IF I were four decades younger again — then maybe they’d be right. At this point in my life, however, just the thought of strapping a pair of fiberglass planks to my feet and sliding down an icy hill makes my right knee swell up and my left ankle ache. No, I think that ship has sailed. (And as it steamed away from the harbor, I’m pretty sure the block lettering on the stern of that ship spelled “Titanic.”)

The only thing that could get me on a pair of skis again would be four shots of Jack Daniels. And no, don’t even think about it! We’re not going down that painful road again. For me, the only thing more foolish than falling off the sobriety wagon would be to, well, go skiing.