Wednesday, September 27, 2023

I Hate to Brag, but … Here Goes

Recently, I received an email from a reader asking why I haven’t written anything about sports this year. He pointed out that in the past, I’ve devoted columns each summer to topics such as my favorite team, the Red Sox, or my adventures on the golf course. 

Well, there’s certainly a good reason why I haven’t written about the Red Sox. This year the team is so amazingly blah. If you look up the word “mediocre” in the dictionary, you’ll see a team photo of the Sox. Right now they’re fighting it out with the Yankees to see who will finish in last place in the division. (The only solace this year is that the Yankees stink, too.) It’s simply been a pathetic season and not worth commenting on.
Regarding golf, I have spent the last 40-plus years wanting to become competent at the sport. That is, every time I’ve played, I honestly expected to hit only good shots that day and finally break 80 — even though I’ve never shot better than a 94, which happened only once more than a decade ago. I believe that is the classic definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Anyway, it finally dawned on me that golf and I go together about as well as mustard and ice cream. So, a few summers ago, I just stopped. No more golf. To be clear, I still play in some fund-raiser scramble tournaments each year because of work obligations. But I haven’t played a regular round, where you play your own ball and keep score, since before Covid. And guess what? I haven’t missed it at all. As a result, there has been no reason to write a snarky column about the frustrations of that exasperating sport. 

There is one sports-related topic that I would like to mention. I can’t think of any way to say this without sounding like a total braggart, so I’ll just say it: recently I was voted into the Clinton (Conn.) Athletic Hall of Fame. 
It is quite an honor, and to be honest, my high school playing days were so long ago I can barely remember them. When I think back, it seems like it was someone else who was running around those fields and courts of the old Shoreline Conference. But we had some good teams, and I put up some decent stats, and the folks on the Hall of Fame committee decided I was worthy of this special recognition, along with 11 other inductees this year. 

Whoo, that last paragraph was rather awkward and uncomfortable for me to type. So, despite the good things I did on the playing field a long, long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away?), I need to mention that one of my most vivid memories is the time I set a school record, which I believe still stands. It was my sophomore year, and the baseball coach bluntly said to me, “You’re tall and left-handed. You must be a pitcher.”

I replied, “No, I have a chicken wing for an arm. I must be a first baseman.” He ignored me and had me start a varsity game early in the season. And that’s when I set a school record by walking eight batters. In. One. Inning.

Yup, that’s right. Eight bases on balls in one inning. When the coach finally called for a relief pitcher, I slinked away and muttered, “Told ya I had a chicken wing.”

So, if you notice that my head is getting really big because of the Hall of Fame thing, just remind me about the chicken wing incident. Or better yet, ask me about my golf game. 

Sunday, September 24, 2023

What Is the Father’s Will?

In this week’s gospel reading, Jesus tells a fairly straightforward parable about a man with two sons. The man ordered both sons to work in the vineyard. The first son said, “I will not,” but afterwards changed his mind and went to work. The second son said, “Sure, Pop, whatever you say,” but never went into the vineyard to work. 

Jesus asked, “Which of the two did his father’s will?” The answer was obvious: the first son. Jesus’ message also was obvious: you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. 
But there is a lot more to this lesson than simply that. Jesus addressed this parable to “the chief priests and elders of the people.” These were the religious leaders, the men who were wealthy and powerful, and who could ruin the lives of anyone who displeased them. In other words, they had a lot in common with most religious leaders down through the centuries.  

After telling the simple parable, Jesus looked these guys straight in the eye and said, “I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” 

Whoa, that was an incredibly shocking and outrageous statement to make. It’s no wonder the chief priests and elders were determined to kill Jesus. In their pompous self-righteousness, they were extremely offended by Jesus’ statement. And they were too blinded by their power and prestige to realize that Jesus’ words were right on the money. 

It would be like some common peasant telling King Henry the Eighth, “Hey, Chubby, why don’t you settle down with one woman for a change and stop being such a jerk?” Safe to say that particular peasant’s life expectancy would have been drastically reduced at that moment (down to exactly…one moment). 
If there’s one thing pompous and powerful hypocrites hate, it’s when someone tells them the truth about their hypocrisy. 

Jesus’ parable does not apply only to powerful rulers, like chief priests and elders, cardinals and popes, and King Henry the Eighth. Everyday, middle-class folks can also become hypocritical and self-righteous. We must honestly ask ourselves whether we are doing the will of our Father in Heaven. But first we have to figure out what that will is. In John’s gospel, Jesus gave us what He called a “new command.” 

Did He say, “A new command I give you: go to church every Sunday”? Did He say, “A new command I give you: put a lot of money in the collection basket”? Did He say, “A new command I give you: get a haircut and stop wearing that silly nose ring”? 

Nope, He didn’t say any of those things. He said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 

How well are we doing this?

I’m reminded of an old story about the local drunk in a small town. For many years he wanted to go to church, but never felt that he was good enough. All the church-goers looked down their noses at him, and for over 20 years not a single person ever made him feel welcome. 

Often the people considered unacceptable by society are the very ones who respond to the Gospel message most fully. After all, the first and foremost concept of the Gospel is that we are all sinners in desperate need of a savior. Drunks and prostitutes and the like know all too well that they are sinners. 
If we are comfortably middle-class and respectable — and as a result proud of how wonderful we are — we can easily lose sight of our sinfulness. At that point it becomes nearly impossible to embrace two other important Gospel concepts: repentance and humility. 

When we get to Heaven, we’re going to be very surprised by who is there: tax collectors, prostitutes, drunks, and people with nose rings. 

And we’re going to be very, VERY surprised by who is not there: pompous chief priests and elders, arrogant cardinals and popes, sourpuss grouches with perfect church attendance, and cold-hearted hypocrites who said to God, “Sure, Pop, whatever you say,” but then never did their heavenly Father’s will. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

'Lifestyles of the Old and Famous'

A lot of famous rock stars are now in their 80s: Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Mick Jagger, to name a few. And Mick’s bandmate, Keith Richards, will turn 80 in a couple of months. The fact that any of these guys, especially Keith, is still alive is a miracle, even if only half of what the tabloids say about their “rock n’ roll lifestyle” is actually true. 

I watched my parents go through their 80s before they passed away. I saw firsthand what it’s like to be in that age range, with a myriad of health concerns and other daily struggles. Somehow, I just can’t imagine Mick Jagger sitting in a comfy chair, with an afghan draped across his legs, watching “The Price Is Right” reruns all afternoon. (With the TV volume, of course, turned up to 100.)
And I can’t imagine Keith Richards sitting at the kitchen table for an hour on Sunday morning with a bunch of prescription containers, carefully putting his medication into one of those seven-day plastic pill organizers. Actually, now that I think about it, Keith has probably been doing exactly that each week since the mid-1960s – except the word “prescription” was never associated with any of his pills. 

Even though Bob Dylan is kind of an oddball, I don’t think he looks out his window repeatedly during the day, waiting to see if the mailman has come. If he does do that, he’s probably anticipating the arrival of massive royalty checks, not this month’s issue of AARP Magazine, along with urgent requests from 20 different non-profit religious organizations, all claiming Saint Jude as their inspiration. 

Dylan is just weird enough that he very well may sit there with an afghan and binge-watch reruns of “The Price Is Right.” I mean, who doesn’t like the late, great Bob Barker?
During the last decade of their lives, my parents were really bored. After all, even Bob Barker gets a little tedious after five straight hours. Since leaving the house and driving even a short distance was exhausting for them, they stayed home most of the time. Their greatest thrill was having family members stop by for a visit.

I don’t think the likes of Mick, Keith, Bob, and Paul have a boredom problem. There are probably dozens of lawyers, accountants, and music producers who are constantly trying to meet with them and pitch new projects. These world famous rock n’ roll legends most likely roll their eyes and wish everyone would just leave them alone so they can take a nap. I know I hate it when dozens of lawyers, accountants, and book publishers constantly badger me to pitch new projects. Of course, in my case, I’m already napping and the lawyers, accountants, and publishers exist only in my dreams.

Maybe it is true that elderly rock stars spend much of their day like all the average folks who have reached their 80s. Maybe doctors appointments, today’s mail, and which brand of soup is on sale this week are their main concerns during a typical day.  
Yes, on second thought, I’m sure Mick and Keith’s senior citizen years are no different than my parents’. I remember my mom always being concerned about whether her fleet of private jets were producing a large enough tax write-off. And my dad spent half his day ducking from the paparazzi and fighting off nubile groupies. So, I guess being elderly is the same, no matter if you are famous or not. 

I do hope that Mick and Keith’s favorite soup is on sale this week, and that Bob and Paul remember to take their blood pressure pills. And I hope their grandkids stop by for a visit. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Hey Ladies! Time for the Men’s Conference

It’s that time of year again. The Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference will be held this Saturday, Sept. 23rd, at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford. Every year for the past decade or so, I’ve written a message for the men of Connecticut, encouraging them to attend.

However, this year I am not writing a message for the men of Connecticut. Instead, I’m writing a message for the women of Connecticut: Ladies, do you want the man in your life to be holy and loving, honest and true? Do you want him to be so spiritually and prayerfully perfect that all of your friends won’t even recognize him anymore?
Well, if that’s what you’re looking for, I’m sorry. A one-day men’s conference will not turn the man in your life into a completely different person, no matter how much you wish it were true.

But the conference can make him a better person. And isn’t that worth a shot?

The Connecticut Men’s Conference is an opportunity for hundreds of men to gather together and share each others’ struggles and encourage one another. Let’s face it: our modern culture loves to dump on men, especially men who believe in God. We are now considered the source of all that is bad in the world.

It can be tough these days for a man who simply wants to provide for his family, love his wife, and help raise the kids. Sometimes a man feels so overwhelmed and isolated, he starts to think he’s the only person left in the world who thinks living a faithful life is important. It can be very discouraging.

The day-long conference gives men the opportunity to pray without embarrassment; to share their struggles and triumphs with other like-minded guys; to be filled with the cleansing grace of the sacrament of Reconciliation (or, as we old guys call it, Confession); and to receive the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist at Mass. Also, the Men’s Conference has a lineup of terrific speakers this year, who will encourage and inspire and entertain the attendees. 
In other words, the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference is one of the most important events to take place in this state all year. (Yes, even more important than the Travelers Championship golf tournament and the wild Super Bowl party your brother-in-law hosts each February.)

This year, the organizers of the Men’s Conference have really knocked it out of the park. The keynote speakers they have lined up include Kevin Wells, Fr. Glenn Sudano, Matthew Leonard, and Fr. Larry Richard.

I personally have heard Matthew Leonard and Fr. Larry give presentations in the past. They are fabulous! As someone who occasionally does a little public speaking — and after 35 years has finally achieved the status of “mediocre” — I am more aware than most people of exactly what it takes to give a spellbinding talk, mostly because I ain’t got it.

Matthew Leonard and Fr. Larry are an absolute joy to listen to. And I’m sure Kevin and Fr. Glenn are terrific, too.

So, I’m asking you, ladies of Connecticut, to encourage the man in your life to attend the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference this Saturday. After all, it’s a proven fact that the more a man loves Jesus, the more he loves his family. 
The event begins at 8:30 am (doors open at 7:30) and concludes at approximately 5 pm, at the end of the Vigil Mass celebrated by Hartford Archbishop Leonard Blair. The cost is only $45, and lunch is included. Go to for more information and to order tickets. 

Trust me, ladies, you will not regret sending the man in your life to this wonderful conference! 

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn

Recently, the Archdiocese of Hartford announced sweeping changes to the parishes in the city of Waterbury, CT. Some churches will be closed, and others will be merged with larger parishes. Not surprisingly, many people are quite upset at this news. A common lament goes something like this: “My grandparents built this church! How dare you shut it down!”

There’s no doubt the closing of a parish is a painful experience. Especially for people who have been loyal and faithful parishioners for decades, along with those whose ancestors literally constructed the church building a century or more ago. Whenever this occurs, it surely feels like a death in the family. A multitude of powerful memories are created inside parish churches: baptisms, first Communions, weddings, Christmas pageants, and yes, even funerals. 
The local parish church used to be the center of community life for many generations of Americans. There are still some folks who feel this way about their neighborhood congregation.
However, as we all know, times have changed – and quite drastically. In the wake of the big announcement about the churches in Waterbury, the local daily newspaper ran a survey. Now, this particular survey was not scientific in nature; it was simply a multiple-choice questionnaire. The respondents were people who visit the newspaper’s website. But the replies were telling.

The single, simple question was: “Do you go to church?”

Thirty-one percent replied, “Yes, regularly,” and 12-percent said, “No, never.” Another 12-percent answered, “Only on special occasions like holidays or weddings.” 

Finally, 45-percent of respondents answered that survey question, “Do you go to church?” by saying, “No, but I used to go.”

Well, if you want to know why many city parishes have to be closed or merged, look no further. If close to half of survey respondents say that they used to attend church but no longer do, you know exactly why the good ol’ days are a distant memory.

For discussion purposes, let’s say a small parish needs a minimum of $300,000 income per year to break even with its expenses: heat, lights, insurance, salaries, maintenance, etc. But if the pews are mostly empty during Masses and that particular parish brings in less than $100,000 per year in donations, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in mathematics to understand that there’s a big problem here.

If the worldwide Church was merely a man-made institution, then I’d say it looks like it might be on the verge of going the Blockbuster Video and Radio Shack route; that is, it will continue to shrink until it eventually ceases to exist.

But the Church is not a man-made institution. The Church was founded by Jesus Himself, and therefore it has a Divine guarantee of being victorious. So, instead of lamenting the fact that Mass attendance is currently shrinking and parishes are closing, let’s be excited and joyful. Why? Because we know that God is about to do an amazing miracle. He is going to revitalize His Church and make it once again a beacon of hope and peace in a troubled world.

Just look around. Are people happy and content these days? Has abandoning the worship of God made folks more peaceful and serene? Hardly. 

I truly believe we are on the verge of a new and wonderful revival. Ignoring our Divine Creator just doesn’t work. And since Jesus is the one who offers the world “peace that passes all understanding,” it’s just a matter of time before people finally become so desperate they give the “faith of our fathers” another look. 
So, please don’t despair. The situation does look bleak right now. But don’t forget: things looked REALLY bleak when Jesus hung on that cross. Three days later, however, Sunday finally came and everyone’s sorrow turned to joy.

A new Sunday is coming for our Church. Lost sheep are going to find their way back to the Shepherd. And when they do, it will be glorious. 

Friday, September 8, 2023

Maybe I Should Try the Pony Express

How would you like to go a full month without getting a single piece of junk mail? That sounds great, doesn’t it?

Well, that’s what happened to my wife and me recently, and the no junk mail thing was indeed great. But there was one small negative aspect to this situation: for the entire month we did not receive a single piece of regular mail either. No letters, no magazines, no checks, no bank statements, no doctor appointment reminders, no birthday cards, and no bills. (The no bills part sounds great at first. But then when you discover you are delinquent in paying a bunch of invoices and your credit rating just took a major tumble, it’s actually not so great.)
So, how were we lucky enough to go an entire month without receiving a single item in the mail? That’s easy: we moved. Now, moving to a new home is not exactly an odd thing. People do it all the time. The Post Office has a simple “Change of Address” form to fill out. The last time we moved, we filled out that form and everything was fine. (Other than the fact someone at the Post Office typed in our new address incorrectly, so all our mail was forwarded to the condo unit next to us. But 50 feet away is much better than two counties away.)

Nowadays, however, the Post Office has instituted new safety measures. When you complete a Change of Address form, they won’t forward your mail until the new address has been verified. According to a letter carrier (who was more than willing to talk to me one afternoon about this issue for an hour while she sat in her mail truck and I stood in front of my mailbox), there has been a rash of change of address scams. Apparently, people were filling out bogus change of address forms and having someone’s else's mail forwarded to, for example, a seedy apartment they rented for a month. The scammer would go through the mail looking for cash, checks, and personal identification information. Then after a month, they would move on to a different seedy apartment and scam a bunch of other people.

As a result, the Post Office now has a multi-step verification process to make sure people are legitimately moving to the new address. However, as far as my wife and I can figure, telling the letter carrier that we’re definitely moving and having her reply, “I’ll take care of it,” is not a valid verification option. Going to the Post Office, filling out the proper form, and having the person behind the counter say, “I’ll take care of it,” also is not a valid verification option. And calling the Post Office two weeks into the no-mail saga, pleading with the gentleman on the line to start forwarding our mail, and having him say, “I’ll take care of it,” is yet another fruitless option.

The official verification process involves going to a Postal Service website and entering a special verification code. I did that. Then, a week later, I did it again. Then after another week, I did it two more times. Each of the four times I did the online verification process, I received a message saying everything was all set and I would be receiving my forwarded mail right away. Hmm, I guess different people have different definitions of the term “right away.” To me it means: by the end of the week. To the Post Office, apparently, it means: by the end of the millennium. 

If you would like to share your experience with the USPS, send me an email. But please, DON’T put a letter in the mail! 

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Has Tipping Reached a Tipping Point?

Have you noticed that everyone is looking for a tip nowadays? No, I don’t mean info about which horse is going to win the 4th race at Saratoga. I mean monetary tips, when you give money to someone who provides a service.

Not long ago, you would tip the waitstaff person at a restaurant — 15% typically, and up to 20% for excellent service. That was about it, except for giving some money to the newspaper delivery guy at Christmas, and tips for the taxi driver during those rare visits to New York City. Also, many bartenders would put a large glass in the middle of the bar with some dollar bills in it, and the patrons would add a few bucks, especially if the bartender had a sympathetic ear. (Since I quit drinking 38 years and 8 months ago — but who’s counting? — I’m not sure how bartenders operate these days.)
Anyway, that was then. Now, everybody is expecting a tip. I first noticed this tipping trend at the Hartford Yard Goats minor league baseball games. The team’s season was canceled in 2020 because of Covid. When they resumed playing in 2021 the entire ballpark had become cashless, supposedly to protect everyone from sharing germs when passing cash back and forth. All purchases had to be made with credit cards.

That’s the first time I was introduced to the “screen turn.” You pay for your two hotdogs and a Coke with your credit card, and then the person working the concession stand rotates a computer tablet on a stand toward you. The screen says “Add a Tip?” and offers some options. You have to make a selection in order to complete your transaction. The choices are usually something like: “15 percent,” “20 percent,” and “25 percent.” Below in tiny print is, “None.”
For the past half-century, I don’t ever remember tipping the person who sold me a hotdog. When I finally experienced this, I thought: “Tip? Really? You didn’t bring me food while I sat at a table. You just reached back, grabbed two hotdogs and a soda and put them on the counter.”

So, did I press the “None” button on the screen? Of course not. In about half a second, these thoughts raced through my brain: “Should I do 15%? It’s the lowest option, but maybe too low. Twenty-five percent is too high. Sheesh, I guess I’d better push the 20% button.” And that’s when I added another $4.60 to an already over-priced purchase.

Why didn’t I press the “None” button? Because of a concept psychologists call “the power of the nudge.” The person who serves you is standing three feet away, staring at you. He’s not demanding a tip, but turning that screen creates undeniable social pressure. You are being gently but forcefully nudged into giving a tip. You don’t want to be a jerk, and besides, the server would only have to move his hand six inches to “accidentally” shove his thumb into one of your hotdogs. So, you just press “20%” to get out of that awkward situation. 

Then, as you walk back to your seat, carrying your hotdogs and Coke, you shake your head and mumble, “What just happened?”
The Wall Street Journal had an article about this phenomenon titled, “You Want 20% for Handing Me a Muffin?!”

Besides ballparks, tablets on stands and the pressure-packed “screen turns” are now ubiquitous at coffee places, sandwich shops, and many other retail establishments. 

This guilt tipping thing is kind of annoying. I just hope when I pay my electric bill online next month, Eversource hasn’t added a new “tip page” to the process. Trust me, 20% of what those guys charge nowadays is not spare change. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Receiving the Eucharist Reverently 

Have you gone to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles lately? You see people waiting in line, bored, listless, hands in their pockets. They slowly make their way forward. When they finally get what they came for, they make a beeline for the parking lot. “There,” they think to themselves, “that obligation of getting the car registered is done. Won’t have to come back here again, hopefully for another year or two.” 

A lot of people have the same attitude and appearance when they receive communion at Mass (including the part about not coming back for another year or two). They wait in line, bored, listless, hands in their pockets. They slowly make their way forward. When they finally get what they came for, they make a beeline for the parking lot. 

Most of us in the pews can’t quite see what happens at Communion. But in talking to a few priests and deacons over the years, apparently the manner in which many people receive the Eucharist is downright dreadful. It seems our parishes have an epidemic of irreverence. 

Some people hold out their hand to receive the host with all the enthusiasm of a guy waiting at a bus stop checking to see if it just started to rain. 

Some people snatch the host from the priest or deacon’s hand like they were taking a number at the deli counter. You almost expect them to stand off to the side waiting for their number to be called and then order a pound of liverwurst. 

Some people commit gross violations, such as waiting until they return to the pew before consuming the host, or even worse, breaking it in pieces and sharing it with young children who have not had their First Communion yet. 
But it’s really not so much a problem of irreverence. It’s a problem of ignorance. Receiving Communion has become a rote ritual for many Catholics, similar to a trip to the DMV, because we’ve forgotten what is present in the Eucharist — or rather, WHO is present. 

Most of us haven’t heard a detailed explanation of the Church’s doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist since CCD class in the 4th grade. I don’t know about you, but when I was in the 4th grade, I had the attention span of a chipmunk on crack. (Actually, that’s an insult to chipmunks — my attention span was much worse.) 

Anyway, let’s just say it’s been a long time since the average Catholic was taught that the bread and wine are truly transformed into the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus. It is not symbolic. It is not merely a remembrance ceremony. It is truly Jesus in the flesh. 

How can this happen, you ask? Well, it’s a divine, supernatural miracle. If we’re Catholic, we already believe in miracles: the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Red Sox winning the World Series in our lifetime. We believe miraculous things are possible when God causes them to happen. Just look in the mirror. Your very existence is a supernatural miracle. Of course, some folks look rather super, while the rest of us look a little too natural. 
We believe the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Jesus. Now we don’t believe this because it sounds nice, or because some Church leaders told us it’s true. We believe it because Jesus Himself clearly taught that it’s true. When you have a few minutes, go read John’s gospel, chapter 6, and pay close attention to Jesus’ blunt words. The fact that Jesus Himself taught that His body and blood truly are present in the Eucharist makes all the difference in the world. 

So at Mass, let’s try to be more reverent when we receive Communion. Let’s remember exactly WHO is being placed in our hands. And you don’t even have to bring your vehicle registration form with you.