Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Can the Saints Hear Our Prayers?

This week has two important days on the Church calendar: All Saints Day on November 1st, and All Souls Day on November 2nd. These feast days remind us of an important concept in Catholic theology: the Communion of Saints. This is the belief that those who have died in faith before us are now in the presence of God in Heaven, and they are aware of what we are doing here on earth. Most importantly, we can ask them to intercede for us with the Lord. It is very powerful when we ask the saints to pray for us.

There is a humorous website called The Babylon Bee. It’s a satire site that publishes comical stories about current events. The website is run by Evangelical Christians, and oftentime the satirical articles cover religious topics. They describe themselves as “Fake news you can trust.”

Recently, The Babylon Bee published a fake news story with this headline: “Saints In Heaven Shocked To Learn Catholics Have Been Trying To Talk To Them This Whole Time.” The comical article quotes the Archangel Gabriel as saying, “Wait a minute. You mean people have been trying to contact us for HOW long? When was someone going to tell me about this?”
It’s a clever story, because it plays on the big difference between Protestants and Catholics regarding the Communion of Saints. The Protestant view is: Why pray to a bunch of dead people, when you can pray directly to God Almighty, through Jesus Christ?

They do make a decent point. People can pray directly to God. After all, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He said, “Say this: ‘Our Father, who art in Heaven…’”

It doesn’t get any clearer than that. So, we should pray directly to God — and often.

However, there are a couple of very powerful reasons why we should supplement our direct prayers to God with requests for the saints in Heaven to intercede on our behalf. First, the epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament talks about believers here on earth, and describes our daily struggles to live holy lives as if we are running a race. It also says that our race is being watched, kind of like a sports stadium with many fans cheering us on. 
The entire 11th chapter of Hebrews is a long list of faithful people who lived their lives and died, and then received their heavenly reward. Then in the first verse of chapter 12, the author of Hebrews writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us…persevere in running the race that lies before us.” 

It’s crystal clear the main message here is that those who died in faith before us are now in the presence of God and they are very aware of what we are doing here on earth.

The next important concept is very simple. In his epistle, St. James plainly instructed believers to “pray for one another….The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful” (James 5:16).

All believers, especially Protestants, pray for their loved ones, and ask their loved ones to pray for them. It’s right in the Bible.

Well, when people ask their loved ones to pray for them, why not ask devout believers — who happen to be in the presence of God — to pray, too? That’s also right in the Bible.

The Babylon Bee is pretty funny. And I did laugh out loud when I read, “St. Anthony expressed shock that for 800 years people have been asking him to help them find things. Then he asked, ‘By the way, what are “car keys”?’”

Despite that website’s playful mocking of the Communion of Saints, it actually is a terrific doctrine. Those who have fought the good fight before us know all about our struggles. They can intercede with the Lord on our behalf when we’re too tired or scared or confused. We do not pray to the saints as if we are worshiping them; worship is reserved for God alone. But we do ask the saints in Heaven to pray for us and our loved ones. 

So, don’t hesitate to ask the faithful saints in Heaven to intercede on your behalf. They’re just waiting to pray for anyone in need, including Protestants! 

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

It’s Possible To Love People Without Liking Them

There are many awesome teachings in Christian theology; true forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Heaven, just to name a couple. But the one teaching that’s had the biggest impact on my life is this: it is possible to love someone without necessarily liking him.

I remember years ago when I first heard Jesus’ command: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” I immediately thought to myself, “Are you kidding, Jesus?! How can I love someone who hates me and wants to hurt me?”
Then when I heard Jesus’ command: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” I thought, “OK, Lord, I’ll try to do that whenever possible, but obviously you’re not referring to people who are total jerks, right?”

I accepted that Jesus is God, and therefore all-knowing, but sometimes I wondered if He had lost sight of the fact that I had to deal with so many unlovable bozos.

The problem is, the English word “love” implies affection. We say we love ice cream or puppies or sunsets. We can’t comprehend loving something unless we also are fond of it. And this goes especially for people. So Jesus’ command to love the people we don’t like seems impossible.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and in Greek there are multiple words that are translated into the English word “love.” The word Jesus used when He said, “Love your enemies,” is agape. This is divine love, the kind of love Christ showed toward us when He paid the price for our sins on the cross.

Here is one simple definition of agape love: truly wanting the best for the other person. Now, imagine this scenario: there’s a guy at work, let’s call him Fred in the Accounting Dept. And Fred is obnoxious and rude. He gossips about people behind their backs, and lies to their faces in person, and no one knows why he hasn’t been fired for sexual harassment because of all the lewd things he says. Most coworkers secretly would be delighted if something terrible happened to Fred.
So everybody dislikes Fred, including you. But instead of just grumbling about Fred and secretly hoping something bad happens to him, try this instead: truly wish for the best for Fred. In his case, this would mean he has a total change of heart, puts his faith in God, apologizes to everyone he’s offended, and drastically alters his behavior. It is possible to genuinely want the best for Fred without being fond of him. And if you are able to change your attitude toward Fred and pray that God will bless him, you are following Jesus’ command to love him. And nothing says you have to like him.

Isn’t that liberating?

When I first heard about this concept, I thought of all the people that I simply did not like. It took a while, but I reached a point where I honestly could say that I wanted the best for them. For many of these people, just as with our fictitious Fred, the “best” meant they needed to turn to God, repent for some lousy behavior, and start treating people differently in the future. I began to pray that God would bless them.

And you know what? The more I prayed for them, the less I disliked them. Also, the more I prayed for these people, the more I realized that I was not exactly Little Miss Sunshine in the way I treated others.
Liking someone is based on feelings, which we can’t control. But loving someone — true Christian agape love — is an act of the will.

So give this liberating concept a try. It may help you cope with all the Freds in your life. Or better yet, it may help you stop being such a Fred yourself.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

The 3 Goals of Senior Citizens

According to a recent study, here are the three biggest goals of senior citizens: 1) lose weight, 2) write a book, and 3) take a long trip.

To be honest, I heard this on the radio the other day, and I wasn’t really paying attention until the very end of the report. I definitely got those top three goals right (because, always on the alert for an interesting essay topic, I wrote them down with a pencil while driving — something I suppose I should not do, or at least not admit). 
When I heard that report on the radio, I thought to myself, “I’m a senior citizen, and those are not my top three goals.” 

We have to remember that there are multiple stages of senior citizenship. I suspect the survey was focused on seniors who have just recently retired. Those three goals sound like something a newly retired person might want to do: lose weight so a heart attack doesn’t cause your retirement to last only six months; write a book, because we all have an interesting story to tell but no time to sit down and write it out; and take a long trip, since you’re no longer constrained by the two-week maximum vacation rule of the corporate world.

For seniors like myself who still work, our goals are not major “bucket list” items. Instead, they are simpler and modest. For example, my three biggest goals are: 1) get a good night’s sleep, which is never guaranteed anymore these days. Goal #1 ties in with my second goal: 2) don’t nod off during the mid-afternoon sales meeting, because it prompts the 40-something whippersnappers to giggle, “Nighty-night, boomer.” And my final goal is: 3) refrain from making Beatles or Crosby, Stills and Nash references during the sales meeting, since it causes those same 40-somethings to roll their eyes and mutter, “OK, boomer.” Many of the recent hires at our firm don’t even know my name, thinking “Boomer” is on my birth certificate.
Another stage of senior citizenship are those folks who have been retired for a long time. If they’ve lived well into their 80s, they probably were not overweight, and at this point getting too skinny is often more of a concern. They’ve already taken their “bucket list” long trip (back when walking wasn’t so difficult), and if they ever wanted to write out a book-length manuscript, they’ve either done it by now or decided it was a silly goal in the first place.

People in this age range also have goals more simple and modest, such as: 1) don’t fall down, 2) don’t forget to take your pills, and 3) don’t forget to put on pants before going out to get the mail.

Once I finally retire, my goals surely will change — and don’t call me Shirley. (“Really, boomer? A corny ‘Airplane’ movie reference? That was 43 years ago! You old guys have got to stop!”)
I suppose my goals at that time will align more closely to the report I heard on the radio. Back during Covid I joyfully put on the “Quarantine 15,” and haven’t done anything since to drop those pounds. I do have a bunch of ideas that would make great novels, and maybe then I’ll finally have time to sit down and write. And it would be nice to go on a long trip without worrying about all the work piling up at the office.

On the other hand, by the time I can afford to retire, I’ll probably go straight to the don’t fall, don’t forget your pills, and don’t forget your pants stage of life. Either way I’ll be fine, as long as whippersnappers stop saying, “OK, boomer.” 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

‘Mentanyl’ Can Make You Mental

 There’s yet another drug that is decimating our nation. It’s called mentanyl. Just like fentanyl, mentanyl is highly addictive and it can ruin your life. 

Have you ever tried to look up something simple on your smartphone, and then a half hour later you realize you never looked up the thing you originally wanted? But you have spent the last 30 minutes chasing silly click-bait content, such as trivia websites, celebrity “top 20 secrets!” lists, Tik Tok videos, Facebook and Instagram posts, and a dozen other enticing digital distractions. This is known as “mentanyl,” and it truly makes people mental.
By the way, I searched all over the internet trying to see if anyone has ever used the term “mentanyl” in this context, and I couldn’t find anything. So, until proven otherwise, I’m going to take credit for inventing this word.

Besides smartphones, people also get addicted to mentanyl using computers and televisions. For example, many people get all their information about the world from the biased cable news channel of their choice. This is why there are well-meaning folks in our country who sincerely believe that Matt Gaetz is a hero, while other people are certain that drag queens doing sexually suggestive dances for second graders is beneficial for society. Otherwise normal people would never cling to these twisted beliefs unless they were under the influence of mentanyl.

(Just so you know, I have no problem with drag shows for adults. I have no interest in attending, but I really don’t care what consenting adults do behind closed doors. In the same vein, I’m not going to try to prevent anyone from setting up a shrine to their messiah, Representative Gaetz. But please, not in public, OK? I mean, those “evil Bond villain” eyebrows are gonna scare the children.)
The primary feature of most addictive substances is that they make users feel good for a little while, but then compel them to consume far too much. I know a fellow who used to abuse alcohol many years ago (I see this guy every time I look in a mirror). After one drink he started to relax. After two drinks he would offer fairly hilarious comments for his drinking buddies. After three drinks, he became insane. And he never stopped at two drinks.

Mentanyl is the same. Two minutes are spent reading an interesting Facebook post about Taylor Swift. But then there are a series of compelling TikTok videos about Madonna, Kevin Spacey, and Donald Trump, which require 30 minutes of the person’s time. The next thing they know, they have been staring at a flickering screen for six-and-a-half hours while barely blinking. The person has become disheveled, confused, and rather smelly. And their brain is slowly but surely turning into guacamole. When they finally break their gaze away from the screen, they walk across the room (stiffly, since their muscles have atrophied) and look out the window. They are genuinely surprised to see that it’s pitch black outside, when they thought it was only two o’clock in the afternoon.

This is what happens when a person is addicted to mentanyl. Their mental abilities at first get impaired, and then eventually cease to function altogether. 
There is no doubt fentanyl is the most dangerous drug of all. It can kill a person’s body in minutes. But mentanyl is quite bad, too. It can kill a person’s mind and soul within a few months. 

If things weren’t bad enough, now Artificial Intelligence software can create completely fake videos that are even more addictive. Whatever you do, stay away from the new fake video showing Representative Gaetz doing a drag queen performance. Or maybe it’s not fake.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

It’s Time to Ask the Master of the Harvest

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the new Vocations Director for the Hartford Archdiocese, Fr. Anthony Federico. I noted that he is a fellow baseball nut, so as a Catholic priest and a baseball fan, he is a man after my own heart. (And I say that without even knowing whether he’s a Yankees fan!)

Soon after Fr. Anthony gave the homily at the Archdiocese’s “Faith and Family Night” Mass at Dunkin Park in Hartford, I saw him again at the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference. The theme of the conference was “The Priesthood: God’s Gift and Our Responsibility.” Fr. Anthony gave a brief talk, and the first thing he said was, “I don’t want your money.” Then he added with a smile, “When’s the last time you heard a priest say that?”
What Fr. Anthony wanted from the conference attendees was much more valuable than money. He wanted them to become prayer warriors who will pray and fast regularly for priestly vocations. You see, Fr. Anthony has a modest goal for the Archdiocese: he wants 1,000 new priests here.

Now, some folks might roll their eyes and mutter, “We’re lucky to get 10 new priests, let alone a thousand!” (Full disclosure: that’s exactly what I did and said when Fr. Anthony made his announcement.)

But then the energetic priest started to explain what gave him this idea. “Jesus tells us how to get the priests the Church needs,” he began. Then he quoted Our Lord from Matthew’s gospel: “‘Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for His harvest.’ The priests we need are out there. God has not stopped calling. We have to ask.”

Fr. Anthony continued, “Our God is so lavish and excessive in His kindness. Asking for a thousand new priests is more befitting His grandeur and generosity. We have to be bold. Let’s have confidence in the power of the Living God.”

Anyone who wants to help Fr. Anthony meet this audacious goal can sign up to be a prayer warrior at the Vocations website: www.hartfordpriest.com .
There are no fees, dues, or meetings to attend – just a pledge to do two things:
  1. Pray for priestly vocation every day.

  2. Select a day of the week to attend Eucharistic adoration, if possible; pray the Rosary; and fast with the intention of asking the Lord to send new, holy, zealous priests for the Archdiocese.
Another interesting comment was made at the Men’s Conference by one of the keynote speakers, Fr. Larry Richards. He said that during his 34 years of being a priest, 19 of his friends have left the priesthood. Then he explained that not a single one of these men left because of a scandal. All of them left the priesthood because of loneliness, which was exacerbated by an absence of support and encouragement from the parishioners.

So, those of us in the laity have a lot of work to do. We have to pray and fast fervently that the “master of the harvest” will send the Archdiocese an overwhelming number of new priests. At the same time, we have to be much more supportive and encouraging toward the priests we already have.

Nowadays, people often say, “Thank you for your service” to members of the military – and rightfully so. Well, it’s time we started saying the same thing to our priests. After all, these guys sacrifice a great deal to serve others.
As numerous speakers at the Conference pointed out: “No priests, no Eucharist. No priests, no forgiveness” (meaning no sacrament of Confession).

The Lord Himself instituted the priesthood and the sacraments as His way of bringing supernatural grace to the whole world. It’s time for a revival in our Church. Let’s all do our part to make this happen. Let’s sign up to be prayer warriors on Fr. Anthony’s website. And let’s tell our priests, “Thank you for your service.” 

Saturday, October 7, 2023

God Shows No Favorites – We’re All the Same 

In this week’s gospel reading, Jesus once again verbally jousted with the religious leaders in Jerusalem. He told them a parable about a king who invites people to his son’s wedding, but when the invited guests refuse to show up, he instead declares that everyone and anyone could now attend the feast.

Jesus’ message to the religious leaders was clear: the chosen people, the Israelites, rejected God’s invitation when they rejected the Messiah. Because of this rejection, the invitation was offered to the Gentiles. 
Needless to say, the religious leaders were incensed to be told that the lowly Gentiles were now being viewed favorably by God. In their view, the Israelites were God’s chosen people (true). They also thought this meant God ignored all the other pagan people (untrue). Their problem was a limited, self-centered understanding of God’s love and mercy. They just couldn’t imagine that God would want to save the very people that they hated. 

This parable — along with a few others in the Gospels — has been used by some people over the years as evidence that God completely rejected the Jews and now favors the Christians. But these people are making the exact same self-centered, prideful mistake the religious leaders of Jerusalem made.

Let’s review: As part of God’s remarkable plan of history, He selected a tiny group of people through whom He would reveal Himself to the world. He chose Israel (hence the expression, “The Chosen People”). God did this not because of how wonderful they were, but more likely because of how obscure they were. This way, whatever notoriety and success they achieved would be attributed to God rather than to their own abilities. 

The religious leaders in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago thought their status as “God’s Chosen People” meant the Gentiles were hated by God. But they conveniently forgot such Scripture passages as, “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him” (Genesis 18:18), and, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). 
In the same way, far too many Christians during more recent centuries have condemned Jews as being out of favor with God. Again, sinful pride is the root cause of this behavior, which, if we were talking about children, would be along the lines of, “Nyah, nyah! We’re special, and you’re not! Nyah, nyah!” But since we are talking about adults, the results instead have been more along the lines of the Inquisition, the Third Reich, and present-day anti-Semitic skinheads. 

These so-called Christians conveniently forgot such Scripture passages as, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), and, “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25-26). 

The apostle Paul explained it best in the tenth chapter of his letter to the Romans: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile — the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.” 

God is not into denominations, ethnicity, or any of the petty things that bog sinful human beings down. Instead, He is into love and mercy. That’s what Jesus was trying to explain to the Jewish leaders. It’s what Jesus was trying to explain when He spoke the most famous verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). 
The love of God is offered to everyone. The invitation to the heavenly banquet is not limited to those folks born into the proper lineage. We’re all invited. All we need to do is accept this glorious offer by faith.

Does Loud Noise Cause Heart Problems?

Recently, I read an article that claimed loud noise is linked to heart disease. A study found that traffic noise raises a person’s risk of heart disease by 8 percent for every 10 decibels of noise.

The average city street during rush hour can be approximately 30 to 40 decibels louder than sitting in your living room at home. So, according to the study, this means strolling down the sidewalk at 5 p.m. rather than being at home can increase your risk of heart disease anywhere from 26 to 36 percent. 
Hmm, I’m not buying that at all. First, if you’re walking on the sidewalk downtown, you are getting some exercise, which is good for your heart. But if you’re sitting on the couch in your living room — at least if you’re an American — you are most likely watching TV and scarfing down a bag of chocolate-covered pork rinds, or some other tasty snack. Despite being a life-long tasty snack connoisseur (emphasis on “sewer”), I acknowledge that scarfing down junk food on a regular basis is not exactly what most heart surgeons advise their patients to do — unless those doctors happen to be behind in their Mercedes payments. 

There must be something else besides loud traffic noise that increases heart disease. Maybe it’s the fact that if you’re out on a noisy city street during rush hour, you also are breathing in a bunch of exhaust fumes. This might be a factor.

However, because of pollution regulations and technological advancements in the auto industry, the amount of unhealthy vehicle fumes these days has been greatly reduced. Does anyone remember growing up in the 1960s? Back then virtually every car had a plume of black smoke billowing from the tailpipe. And the bigger and blacker the cloud of smoke behind a car, the cooler we thought that car was.
Of course, this is not to say that doing deep-breathing exercises with your mouth a foot away from a modern car’s tailpipe is risk free. For example, the driver could put the car into reverse and back right over you — which, I think I can safely say even though I never went to med school, is bad for your health.

OK, so the main point is this: I still have 250 more words to go to finish this column, and therefore I need to think up a few more inane comments about city streets, noise, heart disease, and chocolate-covered pork rinds. Here goes:

I’m very skeptical about the alleged connection between loud noise and heart disease. If that really were true, I would’ve dropped dead a half century ago. You see, when I was in my teens and 20s, I enjoyed sticking my head inside of column speakers. I didn’t just want to hear John Bonham and Keith Moon’s drumming, I wanted to feel it to the point that my bones oscillated and the gray matter in my skull vibrated like a bowl of Jell-O during an earthquake. I’m not saying what I did back in my college days was smart; it was in fact rather dopey. (Emphasis on “dope,” if you get my drift.)
If there really is a connection between loud noises and heart disease, then I guess it’s not a good idea to stroll down the sidewalk during the 5 p.m. rush hour. You’d be better off going for a walk downtown when it’s much quieter, say, at midnight. (By the way, I don’t know if the researchers included the sound of gunshots in their study.)

And to maintain good heart health, make sure that every time you sit on your couch and scarf down a bag of chocolate-covered pork rinds, you turn the TV volume down. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

My Favorite Double-Play: Jesus and Baseball

Last month I attended Mass at a very interesting location. The Archdiocese of Hartford had a “Faith and Family” event at Dunkin Park, the home of the Hartford Yard Goats professional baseball team. “The Dunk,” as the facility is affectionately known, is one of the most beautiful minor league ballparks in America.

The Yard Goats’ Saturday evening game was scheduled to begin shortly after 6 p.m., but before then, at 4 o’clock, a Catholic Mass was held, celebrated by Archbishop Leonard Blair. The Archbishop was going to be either on the field or on top of one of the dugout roofs (I heard different stories, so I’m not sure which location was correct). But that day, the weather was ominous, so it was decided to set up the altar in a room inside the building and use a video camera to display the Mass on the jumbo screen in left field.

Fortunately, the rain held off until the Mass was over. Unfortunately, when the rain began around 5:30, it never stopped. After a couple of hours the scheduled ballgame was postponed. However, in the “count your blessings” department, all the hot dog stands were open for business!

As someone who immensely enjoys being inside a baseball stadium — even if no game is taking place — I had a delightful time. We had an inspiring Mass, then hot dogs and popcorn, and then some wonderful conversation with friends as we sat in the stands (under an overhang, out of the rain), while looking out at one of the prettiest sights in all the world: an emerald green baseball field. I know many people were disappointed the game never took place, but all in all, I had a terrific evening.
The Mass itself was very interesting. Since it began two hours before the game was supposed to begin, most of the people present at that time were there for the Mass. Because the Archbishop was on the jumbo screen rather than on the field (or on a dugout roof), there was no need for everyone to congregate in one section of the park. So, we were scattered all over, and it was fascinating to see over a thousand people standing and sitting and offering the Mass responses in unison — but from every corner of the ballpark. (By the way, there is no room to kneel with a standard stadium seat, so we all were exempt from that for this Mass, something my creaky knees really appreciated.)

There were other people present during Mass — food vendors, ushers, grounds crew personnel, and members of the media. I noticed some puzzled looks when more than one thousand people stood and began reciting the Lord’s Prayer together. I suspect the word had not circulated to everyone that a Catholic Mass was going to take place inside the ballpark. It was quite an impressive opportunity to witness to folks who either had not been to Mass in years or were unfamiliar with the Catholic Liturgy.

The best part of the event was the homily by Fr. Anthony Federico, who is also the vocation director for the Archdiocese. He gave a very nice message about the Gospel reading, but before that, he talked about his journey to the priesthood. Before answering God’s call to become a priest, Fr. Anthony was a sports writer for ESPN in Bristol. He attended all kinds of major sporting events and wrote about them, but his favorite sport by far is baseball. Father waxed eloquently about the beauty and grace of the game, plus the unique symphony of sounds heard inside a ballpark. As he passionately spoke, I thought to myself, “I’ve always considered myself a baseball nut, but this guy puts me to shame. He is REALLY into this game!”
So, obviously, a Catholic priest who is also a big, big fan of baseball is without a doubt a man after my own heart. 

It was a great evening despite the rainy weather, because it involved two of my most favorite things: worshiping God and baseball. (And sometimes during a heated pennant race, I might not list those things in that order.) I can’t wait until next year’s Faith and Family night at The Dunk.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Why Are People Walking Billboards?

A friend sent me a note recently, asking if I knew why people now wear articles of clothing that display various messages in large letters. While visiting the mall, she saw people proclaiming the following important statements in big print on their garments: “Italians make better lovers,” “She who must be obeyed,” and, “It’s weird being the same age as old people.”

First, I’m not sure if this is a new phenomenon. I think people have been wearing large messages on their clothes for at least a couple of decades now. However, when I was a kid in the 1970s, it definitely was not common. I remember in high school I bought a tee shirt that had the word “Adidas” displayed across the chest. My dad took one look and said, “Is that company paying you to be a walking billboard?”
In my dad’s mind, there was no reason to promote a particular brand name unless that company compensated me. The idea of putting any words on a garment made no sense to him. But in my mind, I wanted to associate myself with a top-of-the-line sporting goods manufacturer. The fact that I was also wearing beat-up old Converse All-Star canvas sneakers – since I couldn’t afford Adidas’ expensive leather basketball shoes – sent kind of a mixed message. If they were going to compensate me for being a walking billboard, I would’ve preferred new basketball shoes instead of a check.

Going back a half-century or so, words were on clothing for two reasons: one, to promote the brand that made the clothes, a marketing ploy used by firms such as Adidas, Levi Strauss, and Nike; and two, to declare the wearer’s favorite team or school. Back when I was young, plenty of people had shirts and jackets adorned with the words “Red Sox,” “Yankees,” or “Mets.” While others proudly proclaimed “UConn,” “Yale,” or my alma mater, “Eddie Jablonsky’s School of Automotive Maintenance and Ball Room Dancing.” 

And as we all know, the star of the greatest film of all time, John Belushi in “Animal House,” wore a sweatshirt inscribed with the most important thing in his life: “COLLEGE.”

I think what my friend was referring to is the fact that these writings no longer just declare the name of the clothing brand or the person’s favorite team or school. Now, the words on clothing send a specific message, and oftentimes those messages are either political or sarcastic or offensive (and quite often all three).

A few years ago, New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attended the Met Gala wearing a gown with the words “Tax the Rich” spelled out in big red letters. It was kind of an awkward situation, since only gazillionaires could afford to attend that ritzy party. (Average admission price: $35,000 per person, or the awesome discounted price of $300,000 per table.)
If you do a Google search for the phrase “snarky tee shirts,” you’ll see dozens of clever choices, amid the hundreds and hundreds of really offensive shirts that I can’t even begin to hint at in a family newspaper. 
Here are some tee shirt messages I thought were somewhat amusing:
  • My favorite childhood memory is my back not hurting

  • I LOVE MY WIFE. (Yes, she bought me this shirt.)

  • I BROKE UP WITH MY GYM. We just weren’t working out.

  • I HAD MY PATIENCE TESTED. I’m negative.
Even though they’re somewhat clever and not offensive, I still wouldn’t wear one in public. Like my friend, I just don’t get it. I have no interest in being a walking political lawn sign or an internet meme.

Maybe I’ll get a custom-made garment that declares in large letters: “NO MESSAGE. It’s just a shirt.”