Tuesday, July 25, 2023

God Works All Things for Good 

In the second reading at Mass this weekend, St. Paul made a remarkable statement. He wrote, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God.” In these divinely inspired words, Paul assures us that God can turn any tragedy into a triumph. 

Throughout history countless people have taken great solace in this famous biblical verse from the letter to the Romans. No matter how bad things get, it is comforting to know that God can make it work for good. But to be honest, many other people have said, “Wait a minute. ALL things? God can make ALL things work for good? Hmm, maybe SOME things, but I’m not buying ALL things.” 
We can understand why people might be a bit skeptical about this verse. It must be near impossible for someone to believe that God can make all things work for good after experiencing a nasty divorce, a car accident, or cancer.  

How can God possibly make these tragic events “work for good”? How can God make a situation that is totally awful turn into something that is good and desirable?

Well, I’d love to explain to you exactly how this can be, but I can’t. Now, don’t get me wrong. I BELIEVE that God is able to make all things work for good. I just can’t tell you exactly how it works. 

However, I can tell you one way it definitely does NOT work: There is no way God or anyone else can make a horrible tragedy work for good if this natural, earthly life is all there is.

If there is no life-after-death; if there is no Heaven; if there is no opportunity for our souls to spend eternity in the glorious presence of the Lord; if, as the secularists insist (and as I once believed in my atheist days), this world is the only world and this life is the only life, then Death wins and our brief existence is pretty meaningless. 

The only way St. Paul’s remarkable statement has a chance of being true is if we consider the tragedies of life from an eternal perspective. Only on the other side of eternity, in the glorious heavenly kingdom, will God be able to make certain terrible events work for good. 

In Heaven, all the wrongs on earth that have not yet been made right, will finally be made right. In Heaven, as the book of Revelation describes, “[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Rev 21:4).
It sounds wonderful. Exactly what the specific details are, I frankly have no idea. As St. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9). 

So, God does have the power to transform all tragedies into something good — as long as God has the power to conquer death, which we as Christians firmly believe. And the best example of this occurred 2,000 years ago to a 33-year-old carpenter in Palestine. 

If you think homicide, suicide, infanticide, or genocide are awful, then try DEICIDE — the killing of God. When the Creator of the Universe’s only begotten Son hung limp and lifeless on that cross, it was the greatest triumph of evil over good in history…for a while. 

But three days later, when Jesus rose from the dead and walked out of His tomb, that tragic event was transformed into the greatest triumph of good over evil in history…forever. Also, it became the event which paved the way for sinful mankind to be forgiven and reconciled with God. 
It is true that God can work all things for good. We can see and experience throughout our lives many examples of bad things being turned into good. And the other bad things, the real heartbreaking tragedies of life, we believe by faith that God will turn into good in Heaven.  

Friday, July 21, 2023

Mom Says: 'Don’t Make a Scene!'

Thousands of actors in Hollywood and New York went on strike a couple of weeks ago, joining the screenwriters guild, which began walking the picket line back in May. The production of all movies and TV shows has ground to a halt. 

Oh no! What am I going to do for entertainment? Wait, I know. I’ll just catch up on decades of classic films that are way better than anything Hollywood has made recently, plus hundreds of old TV series that I can stream online. In other words, I’m not losing any sleep right now over the strike. 
It occurred to me that all the famous Hollywood actors are finally taking my mother’s advice. One of my mom’s favorite comments, which she said to us about a billion times, was, “Don’t make a scene!” 

Even though I put an exclamation point at the end of that quote, my mom usually said those words in a barely audible voice, and through clenched teeth, with fire in her eyes and the veins in her neck bulging. You see, my clan, the Irish-Catholics from New Haven, had an obsession about not making a scene, especially in public.

Here’s an example: when we were young, we often would join the other neighborhood kids climbing trees. If one of us fell out of a tree, which caused an elbow to bend the wrong way or blood to spurt out of a gash on our head, we would go running home screaming, “Mom! Mom!”  By the time we reached the front door of our house, our mom would already be stepping outside asking, “What’s the matter?”

As soon as she noticed that all the other moms in the neighborhood were stepping out of their front doors asking the same question, she would look at us sternly and say in a loud whisper, “Don’t make a scene!” Then she would usher us into the house and perform her Magical Mom Medical Maneuvers: setting the broken bones and/or staunching the flow of blood. My memory might be a little foggy. Maybe it was just putting some ice on a bruise and/or a Band-Aid on a scrape. But my memory is not foggy about the “Don’t make a scene!” comment. All of my kin heard that expression countless times.
I guess it’s not surprising that none of my relatives ever went into show business. The idea of purposely making a scene was simply out of the question. Whenever my mom told me, “Don’t make a scene!” I usually was angry or frustrated or hurt or frightened. At the time, being told to stifle my emotions was painful, so I vowed if I ever had kids, I would not treat them the same way. And it turns out I kept my vow. Instead of telling my kids, “Don’t make a scene!” a billion times, I only said it a million times. Progress.

Nowadays, I kind of wish many people in our society would follow the example of the Screen Actors Guild or listen to my mom; that is, I wish they would stop making a scene. In our current social media, TikTok video, look-at-me, narcissistic culture, there are way too many folks who are convinced that making a scene, especially in public, is a great thing.

But if I think the situation might get better, I’ve got another think coming. (Yet another of my mom’s favorite expressions.) For those of us convinced the “make a scene” people can’t get any worse, here’s some bad news: next year is a presidential election year. Ugh, the look-at-me narcissists will be out in full force. 
Wouldn’t it be nice if politicians went on strike, too?

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Our Father Who Art in Heaven, ‘Harold’ Be Thy Name

Recently on the popular TV game show “Jeopardy,” there was a stunning display of ignorance by the usually very smart contestants. As you probably know, the fast-paced show is a question-and-answer trivia contest. Actually, the format is “answer-and-question,” as the three players are given the answer, and then get points if they can provide the correct question.

Anyway, here was the answer: “Matthew 6:9 says, ‘Our Father which art in Heaven,’ this ‘be thy name.’” So, whichever contestant buzzed in first would have a chance to answer, “What is ‘hallowed’?” and win $200.
Often there is a struggle between the contestants to be the first to buzz in, since all three know the answer. And in this case, it was only a $200 question at the top of the board, meaning it was considered to be a very easy question.

Well, when the question was asked, the three contestants just stood there, looking like deer caught in the headlights. None of the three had any clue what the right answer was. After a few seconds, the little “boop-boop-boop” signal sounded, which meant time was up. The host, Mayim Bialik, provided the correct answer, “‘Hallowed’ be thy name,” while trying very hard to hide a “Are you kidding me?!” expression on her face.

Now, some people might say, “What’s the big deal? None of those contestants were church-going Christians, so how would they know? If there was a question about some obscure part of, say, a Hindu prayer, we wouldn’t expect people to know that.”

Yes, that’s true, but the Lord’s Prayer is not obscure in American culture – or at least it wasn’t obscure up until recent times.

When I was a kid, there was even a goofy joke. Question: “What is God’s name?” Answer: “His name is Harold. It’s right in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Our Father, who art in Heaven, Harold be thy name.”
I remember about three decades ago hearing a Christian preacher on the radio, who explained that at that point in time, around in the mid-1990s, the United States had become a post-Christian nation. He said that most citizens no longer truly believed or practiced the faith anymore, even though a majority still identified as Christian on surveys. I wish I could remember who the preacher was, but I clearly remember a phrase from his sermon back then: “running of fumes.” He said American society was “running on Christian fumes,” that is, Judeo-Christian values and knowledge were ingrained in people, passed on from previous faithful and church-going generations, even though most folks no longer believed or practiced the core tenets of faith.

The preacher went on to warn that in another generation or so, these fumes would be gone, and when the fumes of Christian morality finally evaporate, our culture would devolve into chaos, driven by a pervasive and relentless “It’s all about ME!!” attitude.

Well, I’m so glad to see his prediction did not come true. Oh wait, I just watched the latest news report. Umm, never mind. 

Obviously, I’m not trying to say that biblical ignorance displayed by three otherwise intelligent people on a TV game show is a sign of the apocalypse. I’m just saying that their inability to come up with an answer that 99-percent of all 6th graders knew – regardless of religious affiliation – a few generations ago, is a sign that the Christian fumes are gone. 
If people are not familiar with, “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name,” then it’s unlikely they are familiar with the idea that there is a supernatural, divine Creator who is worthy of our praise and adoration. And you know the old saying: If people stop worshiping God, they’re going to worship something else. In our modern culture, far too many people worship money and sex and beauty and status and, maybe worst of all, how much attention they get on social media.

In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter much if three otherwise intelligent people have never heard of the Lord’s Prayer. But it does say something about the current state of our culture, and what it says is not encouraging. 

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Time Travel Is Not for Dummies

Many beloved novels and movies involve breaking the constraints of time. Some time-travel favorites include: “A Christmas Carol,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Terminator,” and an old novel that I find fascinating, Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”

In Twain’s story, a resourceful engineer from Hartford, Hank Morgan, suddenly finds himself in medieval England during the reign of King Arthur. Using the technical skills of the 19th century Industrial Age, Morgan dazzles the 6th century folks by creating firearms and explosives, a working telephone system, and other seemingly magical devices. He is declared the greatest wizard in the land, and is given the title “The Boss.”
During moments when my mind wanders (which doesn’t happen too often, only when I’m awake), I think about what it might be like if I suddenly found myself back in time. When Hank Morgan realized he was in the 6th century, he quickly understood that he was now the smartest person in the world. If I realized I was in, say, the 1700s during the Revolutionary War, I would be, theoretically, the smartest person in the world. But would that be true? What kind of modern technology could I employ to dazzle George Washington and the colonial army?

In Twain’s novel, Hank Morgan was appalled by the dreary lives of the peasants, and he tried to introduce democratic principles and modern technology to improve their lives. If I had a surprise audience with General Washington, what 21st century modern marvels could I introduce to improve the 18th century conditions?

Well, I think there would be potential in three key areas: transportation, communication, and medicine.

Here is how I would address each issue. First, I would say, “So, where is the nearest Ford dealer? If you guys get a bunch of F-150 pickup trucks, you could move your soldiers around so much quicker.”
Then I would ask, “What’s the wifi password here? I’ll check the Weather Channel app on my iPad and see if tomorrow’s forecast is good for a surprise attack.”

Finally, I would say, “Yuck, that guy’s foot looks infected. Where’s a CVS or Walgreens? We’ll get him some hydrogen peroxide and amoxicillin.”

Hmm, it turns out that I would not be the smartest person in the world, let alone the smartest person in General Washington’s camp. (That honor, of course, would go to Alexander Hamilton, to whom I would say, “Loved your musical, Al. By the way, when Burr counts to ten, duck!”)

I certainly would be the person in the camp with the most outrageous claims about how technology will empower people in two-and-a-half centuries. However, I would have no ability to demonstrate how any of it might happen, and my description of an Apple watch just might cause a battalion from northeast Massachusetts to want to burn me at the stake.

Letting my mind wander this way made me realize that I utilize modern technology all the time. But I honestly have no idea how any of it works, nor would I be able to develop even crude prototypes on my own. Build an internal combustion engine? Umm, here are some sticks and rocks. Will that help? Create a simple telegraph system? Uh, does that need electricity? Gather plants and minerals that have medicinal properties? Sorry, I was never a Boy Scout.
So, I’m very glad that it is unlikely I will wake up someday and find myself back in time. But if it does happen and I realize that I am in Washington, DC, in April of 1865, I am going to track down a certain someone and say, “Abe, I’m begging you, do NOT go to the theater tonight!”

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Big Brother Is Watching You!

The State of Connecticut recently approved the use of traffic cameras. These devices will automatically issue moving violations and steep fines to drivers who are observed speeding or running red lights.

Well, the tickets will not be issued to the drivers, since the traffic cameras only record the offending vehicles’ license plates. So, good luck getting your brother-in-law to pay the fine after you let him borrow your car. And good luck trying to convince your insurance company not to raise your premiums because you weren’t even in the car when the traffic infraction occurred. 
State legislators insist this new law and these fancy traffic cameras will cause drivers to obey the laws, which will reduce the number of roadway accidents, especially the recent rash of people driving through red lights and crashing into other vehicles. I suppose that’s true, because we all know that teenagers who steal cars and go joy riding are very concerned about making sure the owner of the stolen vehicle does not get a moving violation and fine.

Traffic cameras have been in operation in other states for a number of years. I read about a situation in Florida a few years ago where a funeral procession was driving from the church to the cemetery. Police escorts were directing traffic, and at an intersection, a cop waved multiple cars through to keep the procession intact, even though the light was red.

Every single one of those cars got a ticket in the mail, plus a hefty fine, for running a red light. The traffic camera had no way of knowing a police officer was overriding the red light, so all the vehicles got snagged. 

Here’s the exciting part of this Florida story: the people who got tickets and fines had no way to appeal the infraction. If they paid the fine to avoid late fees, it was considered to be an admission of guilt. If they did not pay the fine, and tried to explain the situation to the motor vehicle department and/or law enforcement personnel, they got nowhere. Meanwhile, the late fees kept piling up.

Eventually, squads of commandos burst into their homes at 2 am, dragged them out of bed, tossed them into the back of unmarked vans, which drove off to an undisclosed government location. The traffic violators were never heard from again.
OK, I made up that last part. But the no appeal process and compounding late fees parts are true.

When our noble ruling class politicians tell us that a particular piece of legislation is sure to improve our lives, it’s not that I don’t believe them. It’s just that I’ve developed a tiny bit of skepticism over the years. (I am, of course, using the definition of “tiny bit” that means: larger than Mount Everest.)

The first time I remember having skepticism was almost three decades ago. The Republicans had swept the 1994 midterm elections on a “reduce the size of government” platform. A couple of months later, President Clinton, who always knows his audience, declared at the State of the Union Address: “The era of big government is over!”

At the time, our national debt was almost $5 trillion. Now, it’s about to hit $32 trillion. Something tells me the era of big government did not quite come to an end in the mid-90s.

I suppose there’s not a whole lot I can do about the new traffic cameras, other than to make sure I stop when the light turns yellow rather than accelerate through the intersection. After all, at my age I don’t think my achy back and knees are going to like it if commandos toss me into an unmarked van. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

The Eucharist Is a Face-to-Face Meeting 

We are in the middle of a 3-year Eucharistic Revival. This special time was proclaimed by the bishops in response to a survey a few years ago, which discovered that a full 70% of people who identify as Catholic do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Since the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Christian life, this is a big problem. So, I thought this would be a good time to dig out an old essay from seven or eight years ago.


Do you have any loved ones who are far from home? Quite often we are separated from the people we love because of jobs or school or military service. When people are separated, they can share their thoughts via letters and email, and they can make phone calls and speak to one another. This keeps the relationship alive and healthy, but the truth is, both parties in the relationship would prefer to be in each other’s presence, to see each other face-to-face. 

With loved ones far from home, being in each other’s presence is the summit of joy. We’ve all seen those heart-warming photos and videos of servicemen returning home after many months overseas. The hugs and kisses and tears of joy are profound. The personal relationship is overflowing with love at that moment. 
With this in mind, here is an analogy regarding our faith life: it is crucially important to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; all great Christian teachers down through the centuries have made this clear. In our relationship with Jesus, the Bible is similar to letters and email, as He tells us what is on His mind using His written word. And prayer is similar to phone calls. We speak to the Lord and then He speaks back to us, encouraging us, inspiring us, and guiding us. Both of these methods of communication are good and wonderful, and are very important. But to be honest, in order to make the personal relationship more complete, a face-to-face meeting is necessary. 

With our relationship with Jesus, we do have the opportunity to meet Him face-to-face and experience profound joy and love: this opportunity is the Eucharist. Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, body and blood, soul and divinity. Sadly, far too many Catholics just go through the motions when they receive the Eucharist at Mass. They have lost sight of Who is really present. 
Imagine if a soldier came home after being overseas for a year. His wife is picking him up at the airport. When he gets off the plane and walks through the doorway, seeing his wife face-to-face for the first time in 12 months, his heart is overflowing with love and joy. He desires to embrace her in a huge bear hug and let the tears of joy flow freely. But instead, imagine if she just walks up to him and says in an annoyed and hurried voice, “Hi. C’mon, let’s go, we have to beat the traffic.” 

When Jesus becomes present in the Eucharist — body and blood, soul and divinity — by virtue of the Spirit of God working through the priest during the prayer of consecration, it is as if He is walking through a doorway after being away. His heart is overflowing with love and joy for each and every one of us. His desire is to hug us in a powerful embrace. He wants His soul to enter into us. He gives us Himself, using the consecrated bread and wine now made flesh and blood. His being becomes a part of our being. Two are made one. It is a co-union, a communion of two souls. It is the wonderful, blessed sacrament, by which the Lord God of the Universe keeps His promise to us: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). It is the pinnacle of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 
When you receive Jesus in the Eucharist at Mass, please don’t say to Him: “Hi. C’mon, let’s go, we have to beat the traffic out of this church parking lot.” That would be such a missed opportunity.


During this 3-year Eucharist Revival, please ponder the Real Presence. The Eucharist is a genuine supernatural miracle. Jesus is truly present, body and blood, soul and divinity. Come and meet the Lord of Heaven, face-to-face. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Time for Upstanding Citizen to Do Civic Duty

About a month ago, I was talking to a young guy at work who told me about his adventures at jury duty. He’s barely 30 years old, and this was the second time he’s had to serve. I laughed and said, “I’m more than twice your age, and I’ve never been called for jury duty. Not once. I don’t know why. I’m registered to vote. I’m in the phone book. But I’ve never, ever been called.” (The fact that I used the phrase, “in the phone book,” gives you an idea how old I am. The 30-year-old guy had no idea what that expression even meant.)

My colleague looked at me and said, “Uh oh, Bill, I think you just jinxed yourself. You’re gonna get called now.”

I laughed and said, “Nope, I don’t think so. If they haven’t called me now, they never will.”
So, anyway, guess what I got in the mail the other day? That’s right, it was an “Official Summons for Jury Service.” When I opened it up, I read, “This is a summons, not an invitation. This means you are required to appear in court on the day noted.”

Hmm, if it’s not an invitation, then I guess I shouldn’t ignore it. But on the plus side, if it’s not an invitation, then at least I don’t have to buy a gift for the bride and groom.

I have to report to the Hartford Superior Court at 8:15 on a Monday morning about a month from now. I can already tell you that traffic on I-84, along with trying to find a parking space, are going to be a nightmare on that particular day. (No, I’m not a psychic. I know it’ll be a nightmare on that day because it’s a nightmare EVERY day.)

Right now my schedule is wide open for that date. If I mark it on my calendar now, then it shouldn’t be a problem. And since I’ve never been called for jury duty during all these years, I feel like I’m overdue to contribute my fair share as an upstanding citizen. (OK, fine. I added the word “upstanding” just to see if you were paying attention.)
However, what if I get assigned to some sensational murder trial and end up being sequestered for many weeks — or many months?! That is going to cause some major problems at work, with the most major of those problems being a lack of paycheck for me. 

I checked online and found out the state will pay you $50 per day if you’re a juror for a long, drawn out trial. Well, I suppose that was a decent amount of money — back in, say, 1972. But nowadays 50 bucks per day will barely cover the cell phone and cable TV bills, let alone other sizable monthly expenses, such as the mortgage, car payments, taxes, insurance, Spam-of-the-month-club membership fee, etc.

I also saw online that if you ignore the summons and do not show up for jury duty, you could be fined $150. Wait a minute. If you do the math, just paying the fine is a whole lot better financially than being on a long, drawn out trial. 

I’ve decided that I’m not going to take the easy way out. After all, if I don’t show up and just pay the fine, I won’t be able to include the word “upstanding” when I describe my citizenship status. So I will show up and do my civic duty. But if I end up a juror on a long, drawn out trial, someone will have to set up a Go Fund Me campaign for me. After all, that Spam-of-the-month-club membership fee isn’t cheap. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Being a Slave to Sin Is Hard Work 

At Mass this weekend, the second reading is from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. He explains how the Spirit of God can transform us: “You are not in the flesh,” Paul wrote, “on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.” 

In many of Paul’s writings he discussed the difference between living by the Spirit vs. living by the flesh. In his letter to the Colossians, he wrote: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed….anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” (Uh, oh. I’m glad Paul wasn’t within ear-shot of me the other day when the Red Sox got swept by Miami.) 
Paul’s list seems downright impossible. It’s bad enough we were born with the innate desire to do most of those things, but it’s even worse nowadays since our modern culture actually encourages us to revel in all those sinful behaviors.

How can we possibly live holy lives these days? Paul must have been way too optimistic if he thought we could avoid all those temptations. Well, Jesus didn’t think so. In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” 

We often think that living a virtuous, sanctified life is such hard work. “Oh no,” we say, “I have to give up all the enjoyable activities and start doing a bunch of boring church things? No way. It’s too difficult.” 

We don’t realize that living a life of sin usually requires much more effort. I once read about a young woman in New York City who was into the wild nightlife scene. Each evening she would find herself involved in drinking, drugs, and casual sexual encounters. It was wearing her out, both physically and emotionally. Finally, she sought help from a therapist, who said to her, “You know, you don’t have to keep doing that stuff.” 
She was stunned. “You mean I don’t have to do what I WANT to?” she asked. It was a surprising revelation. Just because she had the opportunity to live decadently, she didn’t have to do so. 

Jesus doesn’t necessarily call us to DO a lot of boring, goody-goody church stuff. He calls us to break free from our slavery to sin.

No one has ever equated being a slave with a life of luxury and leisure. Throughout history slaves were routinely worked to death at an early age. It’s the same with being a slave to sin. The workload is enormous, the cost is high — physically and emotionally — and the end result is often an early death. 

In addition to the obvious, here-and-now price to be paid for being a slave to sin, there is a far costlier there-and-then, spiritual price: eternal separation from the love of God. As a wise man once said, “No matter how many years you live, you’re gonna be dead a whole lot longer.” 

If, as Jesus taught, our souls are eternal and live on forever after our bodies have died, then there is nothing more important than making sure our souls end up in Heaven. The alternative — being consumed with heartache, regret, and loneliness for all eternity — is the worst thing that can happen to a soul. 
So, if we follow St. Paul’s advice and let the Spirit of God transform us, we can stop being slaves to sin. We can realize that we don’t have to give in to the temptations that permeate our culture these days. We don’t have to engage in activities that offer fleeting pleasure but in the long run wear us out physically and emotionally. We don’t have to keep doing things that separate us from the love of God.

If we want to get rid of the chaos and stress in our lives, we need to turn to Jesus in faith. His burden is light, and He can give rest to our souls, both now during our earthly lives and for all eternity.