Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Creed Has a Notable Omission

At Mass each Sunday, the entire congregation stands and recites the Creed. The word creed comes from the Latin credo, which means, “I believe.”

The Creed is a summary of doctrines and fundamental Christian beliefs. Most of the time we recite the Nicene Creed, which is short for its full name: the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. If we were required to refer to that creed by its full name, I suspect we would always recite the Apostles Creed instead, just to avoid that tongue-twisting phrase.
(The Apostles Creed, by the way, was developed earlier, and is acceptable to recite during Mass once in a while, especially during Lent and Easter time.)

Anyway, after reciting the Nicene Creed thousands of times during my life  while actually paying attention to the words about 5% of the time  I recently noticed something interesting about the Creed. As we are listing all the truths about who God is and what He’s done, we say this about Jesus, God’s one and only Son: “...he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became Man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate…”

Without skipping a beat, we go from Jesus being a newborn baby to Him being crucified by the Romans. The Creed completely skips 33 years of Jesus’ life, including His three-year public ministry. Doesn’t that seem kind of odd?

(The Apostles’ Creed makes a similar jump, using a mere comma instead of a new sentence: “...who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried…”)
I get it that the Nicene Creed was written to summarize the key aspects of our faith, which was very important in the early centuries of Christian history. (Come to think of it, it might be even more important nowadays.) The Creed declares: God is the Creator of all; Jesus is His only Son, who became Man; Jesus was crucified to pay the price for our sins; He rose from the dead, according to the Scriptures; He ascended into Heaven; He will come again to judge the living and the dead; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and is also adored and glorified; there is one, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic Church; there will be a resurrection of the dead; and there will be life in the world to come.

All those statements of faith are very important. They define what it means to be a believing Christian. But don’t you think they could’ve squeezed in a line or two about Jesus’ ministry years, rather than going directly from “baby in a manger” to “man dying on a cross”?

After all, if you read the gospels in the Bible (and you should), there are 12 chapters that focus on Jesus’ birth and crucifixion. That means there are 57 other chapters devoted to His earthly mission, which is almost 83-percent of the gospel writings. Now, I’m not saying that 83% of the Creed should be devoted to Jesus’ ministry years, but it would’ve been nice if they included a couple of brief items, such as, “For three years He taught people about God’s kingdom and did many miracles to prove He was divine.” 
Before you get the wrong idea, I’m not claiming I know better than the early Church Fathers who wrote the Creed. I’m just saying it probably would not have hurt for the Creed to acknowledge some of the amazing things Jesus did.

We should look at it this way: we are very lucky to have the Creed to remind us of the core doctrines of the faith. Plus, we have the Bible, where we can read about all the remarkable things Jesus did during His public ministry. 

Here are two important goals: first, let’s really pay attention to the words when we recite the Creed at Mass; and second, let’s read the gospels in our Bibles on a regular basis. After all, that’s how we’ll really get to know the Lord who loves us and saves us. 

Friday, February 16, 2024

Is Some Technology Really ‘Outdated’?

Recently, I read an article that described “outdated technology that people still use.” Some of the items were definitely outdated, such as typewriters, cameras that use actual film, floppy computer disks, rotary dial phones, and unpowered hand tools. 

For those devices, I definitely understood why they were labeled “outdated,” and why the author of the article expressed shock that anyone would use them nowadays. Some of those items require a lot more time and effort to use. And for a couple of those things, like the computer floppy disks and rotary phones, I’m not sure it’s even possible to use them anymore. I mean, who still has a computer with a floppy disk drive? And will the modern telecommunication system even recognize a rotary phone’s unique sound: “Shhhhick, tickatickatickatick. Shhhhick, tickatickatickatick”?
However, the article went on to list other items, while also expressing shock that they are still in use today. These devices included: CD and DVD disks, corded computer mice (or is it mouses? meeses?), paper road maps, wired earphones, analog wristwatches (especially ones that need to be manually wound each day), actual car keys (as opposed to key fobs with buttons and radio signal transmitters), and notepads & pencils.

Now wait one minute. Every one of those items I own, and occasionally use. Yes, I subscribe to online streaming services (far too many, actually). But I still break out the old CDs and DVDs once in a while. I have cordless computer accessories, but one of our computers at home has a corded mouse, and it works fine. Once in a while I use my wired earphones (usually when I’ve forgotten to charge my Airpods). A wristwatch I own is analog and needs to be manually wound each day. And one of our vehicles uses an old-style car key. What’s the big deal? It’s not like I’m using a first-generation computer running DOS, or have a sundial attached to my wrist (like Fred Flintstone), or drive to work in a 1932 Packard.
The item that really surprised me was the notepad & pencil. Since when has THAT become a technological fossil? 

I decided to conduct a test. I went to a Panera Bread restaurant one afternoon. Everyone in the place was busy using a laptop computer, a touchscreen tablet, or a smartphone. A few were using all three devices at the same time. I bought a coffee, then sat down at a table in the middle of the room. I opened my shoulder bag and pulled out a spiral notebook and a wooden pencil. Then I took a sip of my coffee and started to write. 

Periodically, I glanced up just in time to catch someone quickly diverting their gaze. It was clear many people were observing me, similar to National Geographic scientists observing wildlife in its natural habitat. I suspect many had never witnessed a person using a wooden pencil and notebook before.

One young man, who I’m guessing was in his early 20s, got up to retrieve his sandwich after his name was called. But instead of walking straight to the counter, he purposely took the long way around, just so he could walk past me and get a closer look. I saw him coming, so I sat back in my chair to give him a clear view. He walked by slowly, then nonchalantly looked down at my notebook.
I heard the young man audibly gasp. He then walked briskly to the counter for his sandwich. When he returned to his chair he seemed visibly upset. I think I know why. When that naive Generation Z young man looked at my notebook, this is what he saw: cursive writing! 

After that trauma, I bet he needed some counseling. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

This A.I. Guy Is Hurting for Intelligence

The other day I received an email from LinkedIn with this subject line: “Top Job Picks for You! A.I. Integrated Marketing Director.”

If you’re not familiar with LinkedIn, just imagine Facebook for business people. Instead of photos of someone’s breakfast (plus political screeds), LinkedIn has photos of someone’s products being marketed (plus political screeds). One of the most common comments on LinkedIn is, “Hey, this is not Facebook. Post your nasty rants somewhere else!”
I assume LinkedIn generates a lot of its revenue through job recruiting, because when they’re not asking me if my company is hiring, they’re showing me job openings that would be “a perfect fit” for me. Most of the time I ignore this stuff, and move on to the photos of various products being marketed, especially the ones from our competition.

However, when I received the note informing me about the Artificial Intelligence Marketing Director position, I just had to laugh. The job opening is with Microsoft, the parent company of LinkedIn. If they actually think I might be qualified for that position, then they really need some Artificial Intelligence to run their employment recruitment office.

Since LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft, they know everything about everyone. They know I’ve been in the HVAC industry for almost four decades, and that my knowledge of computer software can be summarized by the following common workplace scenario: I push away from my desk in frustration, and shout out, “Why won’t my computer work?!” Which prompts coworkers to reply, “Maybe it’s not plugged in. Again.”

Therefore, the odds that I am even remotely qualified to be an A.I. Integrated Marketing Director are the same odds that I will be selected as the next pope.
In addition, Microsoft also knows that I was born when Eisenhower was president and the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. This means Microsoft knows my exact age and that I am actively planning to stop working soon, rather than begin a new career in A.I. marketing.

The position with Microsoft, according to the email, pays between $125,000 and $264,000 per year, and the person they hire can work remotely. I’m tempted to apply for the job. If they hire me, I’ll collect a nice paycheck for a while until they figure out I have no idea what I’m doing — you know, similar to what the most recent general manager of the Boston Red Sox did. 

I know what you’re thinking: how are you ever going to convince them to hire you, Bill?

That’s easy. For decades I’ve been paid to make stuff up (my full time job is sales, after all, plus this part time humor column gig), so at this point I’ve gotten pretty good at spinning interesting stories. I’ll tell them a wild story about my vision for marketing A.I. across the globe. 

Also, I already know the three most important things about Artificial Intelligence: 1) it’s artificial, 2) it’s intelligent, and 3) it will someday try to destroy all mankind. I know this third item because it was the plot of a famous Shakespeare play. No wait, it was a Schwartzenegger movie. I always get those two literary geniuses mixed up.
Since Microsoft is owned by Bill Gates, who has desired to be the Emperor of Earth for many years, I’ll play right into the company’s ultimate goal of world domination. If they hire me, great, I’ll collect a fat paycheck for a while. If they don’t hire me, I’ll just keep scrolling through LinkedIn posts to see what my HVAC competition is up to.

Either way, it doesn’t matter in the long run, since A.I. is going to zap us all very soon.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Ash Wednesday Is a Busy Day This Year

Ash Wednesday occurs this week. It marks the beginning of the Liturgical season of Lent. Once again this year, Ash Wednesday falls on a Wednesday, which works out well because otherwise they’d have to change its name. Call me a traditionalist, but I don’t think I’d be comfortable with, for example, Ash Saturday.

This year Ash Wednesday has to share the spotlight with two other important holidays. February 14th also is St. Valentine’s Day, a day that may or may not have religious origins, depending on which website you read. The website I stumbled across, called The Conversation, explains that a priest named Valentinus was executed in the 3rd century by Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus, during a time when persecutions against Christians were common. The priest was decapitated on or about February 14th. Many legends developed over the years about this murdered priest, and a church in Cosmedin, Italy, even displays a human skull relic, which is claimed to be the decapitated head of the original saint.

Then, over 1,000 years later, English poet Geoffrey Chaucer made the connection between birds that mate in February and the feast day of St. Valentine, and that’s all it took for February 14th to become a day devoted to lovers. Soon after, greeting card companies, chocolate manufacturers, and florists got involved, and the rest is history.

Because the origin of the St. Valentine legend is so sketchy, in 1969 the Church dropped St. Valentine’s Day from the Roman calendar of official, worldwide Catholic feast days, explaining that those special days are reserved for saints with more clear historical records. But by that point in time, the holiday was ingrained into the secular culture, and it continues unabated to this day.

The other important holiday that occurs on February 14th each year is the start of baseball Spring Training in Florida and Arizona. This holiday is not celebrated by very many people nowadays, but for those of us who are baseball nuts, it is a time to rejoice. Winter is on the wane, nice weather is coming soon, and the “Boys of Summer” are getting ready for another memorable season on the diamond. The start of Spring Training always puts a smile on my face, as it brings back nostalgic memories of childhood, when I ran around sundrenched fields of green with my classmates, playing the National Pastime. 

Now, just imagine how excited I’d be about Spring Training if the Red Sox actually had a good team this year.
So, we have three important occasions this week that all fall on February 14th. The most important of these, of course, is the start of baseball Spring Training. No wait, I’m sorry. That’s wrong. My brain just blurted that out, overcome by the desire for winter to be over. 

The most important aspect of February 14th this year is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the penitential Liturgical season of Lent. Ash Wednesday is one of only two days on the entire Church calendar that requires fasting and abstinence. If you’re confused about those two terms, as I was, here is a definition from DynamicCatholic.com: “‘Fasting’ is the word used when the amount of food eaten is limited. ‘Abstinence’ is when you completely give something up, like meat, for a set period of time. Both ‘fasting’ and ‘abstinence’ play a role during Lent.”

The Church says all Catholics should fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday – with many age and health exceptions allowed. On those two days, our food intake should be the equivalent of one-and-a-half full meals spread out over the day, with no snacking in between. (Wow, my stomach started grumbling just from typing that sentence.)

For abstinence during Lent, the Church instructs us to avoid meat on Fridays. In addition, many people will give up something for Lent, such as alcohol, candy, or donuts.

This year’s convergence of multiple important days on February 14th presents a quandary for those folks who love to celebrate St. Valentine's Day with chocolate, but who usually give up chocolate for Lent. In my opinion, I think if you sprinkle ashes into your candy-filled, heart-shaped box, you should be OK. (The chocolate candies might not taste so great anymore, though.)
The important thing about Lent is to take it seriously (unlike this essay), and to understand that it’s preparing us for the pinnacle of the Liturgical year: the Passion, death, and Resurrection of Our Lord.

As St. Valentine so eloquently put it each year when Ash Wednesday arrived: “Play ball!”

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Pay Attention to the Homilies

The homilies I hear at Sunday Mass are generally very good. You can tell the priests and deacons put a lot of time and effort into preparing their sermons. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to come up with something each and every week. 

Oh, wait. Maybe I can imagine that, since I write these Merry Catholic essays every week. What I meant to say is: I can’t imagine how hard it must be to come up with something INTERESTING each and every week.
Personally, I really like it when the homilist at Mass has his sermon written down. There are some priests and deacons who memorize their presentation, and while I admire and envy that skill, it often causes one of two problems. First, sometimes he forgets a key point, and so the homily isn’t nearly as effective as it could’ve been. The second problem is that he forgets that most people can’t pay attention for more than seven minutes, and when he drones on and on, sharing every random thought that pops into his head, half the congregation keeps glancing at their watches and muttering, “I can’t believe he’s been talking for 20 minutes! What are we, Baptists?!”

Maybe the main reason why I like it when the homilist at Mass has his sermon written down, is the fact that if I were up there talking, I would be so nervous I would forget all my key points, and then I’d fill the time by sharing every random thought and every personal story that popped into my head. No doubt my awkward, rambling, far-too-long performance would guarantee that half the congregation goes home after Mass and investigates other church denominations to join. (“Let’s try this church next week, Louise. I know they’re Baptist, but at least their ministers PREPARE their sermons in advance.”)

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, I have been hearing some very good homilies at Mass lately. And I appreciate how much hard work goes into composing an essay that explains one or more important theological points — and in a manner that people of varying ages and educational levels can understand — all-the-while being based on that day’s Scripture readings. That is not an easy thing to do. Especially considering there is an acute priest shortage nowadays, and the priests we do have rarely have adequate time during the week to fine-tune and rehearse their compositions. 
I’ve noticed something in recent years. Depending on the parish, the ordained permanent deacon may only have an opportunity to preach once per month. When the weekend rolls around when it’s his turn to give the homily at each Mass, the deacon is usually very, very prepared. I’ve known many deacons over the years, and one told me he often begins to work on his homilies three weeks in advance. I’m sure very few parish priests have this luxury, since their schedules are way too busy. Plus it’s tough to think about a sermon topic three weeks from now when you haven’t prepared anything for three HOURS from now.

We all should be listening attentively to the homily at Mass. After all, the homily is supposed to explain and build upon the divine message contained in that day’s Scripture readings. And of course, the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God. So, the homilist has been given the solemn responsibility of preaching and teaching the Good News of the Gospel; that is, the awesome story of God offering salvation to a sinful world. It really is, as the old movie title declared, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”

Please pay attention during the homily, especially when it’s the deacon’s turn to preach. Don’t lose sight of how difficult it is to write something inspiring and then present it in front of a crowd. And when you hear words that help you grow in your faith, don’t hesitate to tell the priest or deacon that you appreciate his efforts. You have no idea how much that will mean to him. 

Friday, February 2, 2024

Quit TV? That’s a Novel Idea

Recently, I was cleaning up some files on the hard drive of my computer and I found a folder titled “Manuscript ideas.” I created this folder about 15 years ago, back when I genuinely thought I had enough spare time to write some books. However, the last decade and a half turned out to be devoid of spare time, so my hope now is that maybe I’ll find time to write a book or two after I retire.
Anyway, in that long lost computer folder, I found a document labeled “Television,” which contained an outline for a book idea. Frankly, I don’t remember creating that document, nor do I have any recollection of thinking it would be a good idea to write a book about television.

I started reading through the outline, curious to discover what I had in mind back then. The first few chapters would describe my life-long love affair with TV, beginning when I was just a baby. I’m the first-born in my family, and my younger brother came along when I was 10 months old. We were born in different calendar years, but I'm pretty sure we meet the classic definition of “Irish twins.” My mom was kind of preoccupied, so according to family lore, the television was my babysitter.

Mom would push my playpen right up against the TV. This was back when televisions were heavy pieces of furniture, sitting right on the floor. I would stand up in the playpen, holding on to the bars like a baby jailbird, and put my face about six inches away from the flickering black-and-white screen. I’m told that I would just stare at that screen for hours on end, giving my mom time to take care of my brother. Throughout my entire childhood and beyond, I’ve pretty much watched TV whenever possible for as long as possible.
In the document I found on my computer, one of the book chapters would discuss how I’ve learned more about life from TV characters such as Hawkeye Pierce, the Fonz, and Bugs Bunny than I ever learned from my parents, teachers, or catechism instructors.

As I read through the old outline, I thought, “This is kind of weird, but it might make a good book, if I ever get some spare time.”

About halfway through the document, it discussed what the second half of the book would cover. Here is the entry I read: “These final chapters will describe what it was like to go one full year without watching television – the health benefits, better sleep, financial savings, more free time, etc.”

I paused when I read that, completely stunned. I said to the 2008 me: “Wait a minute, Bill. Are you really serious? Did you actually think you could go without TV for a full year and then write a book about it? Wow, I don’t even know you anymore.”

It goes without saying that over the past 15 years, the timespan since I wrote that outline, I did not go an entire year without watching TV. I’m pretty sure I did not make it through an entire DAY without gazing at my beloved television.
I should write a book about how deluded I was back then to think I could go a full year without television. But the only way I’ll have enough spare time to write the manuscript would be to make a major change in my usual routine, such as, um, giving up television for a year. Yeah, fat chance.

Well, don’t look for any publications from me in a bookstore anytime soon. After all, a UConn basketball game is about to begin, and watching without playpen bars in front of my face is a beautiful sight. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Focus on the Lord, Not the Lunkheads

During the last few decades, I’ve met countless people who have stopped going to Mass or have outright left the Church. There are many reasons for their decision: the clergy sex abuse scandal, the hypocritical behavior of Church leaders, the inefficient and inept bureaucracy of the Church, the Church’s seemingly harsh and heartless stance on certain social issues, etc.

Here’s a question you can ask any Catholic — current or former — and you’ll be guaranteed to get a “yes” answer: Has a priest ever said or done something to offend you?

The point I’m trying to make is that even though I take my Catholic faith seriously, I totally get why someone would leave the Church. It’s an undeniable fact that the Catholic Church and the people in the Church have done some pretty terrible things over the years.

I suspect when Jesus founded His Church with these words, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,” in the back of His mind the Lord was thinking: “Well, the Church is necessary to spread the Gospel all over the world for countless generations, but it’s gonna be a bumpy ride because I’m entrusting this divine message to a bunch of lunkheads.”
The Church was never meant to be perfect. If it were, then folks would be tempted to worship the Church rather than God. So, in His infinite wisdom, God delivered His perfect message of forgiveness and salvation to a group of sinful people. He knew this would be the best method for preaching the Good News far and wide and over centuries of time, but He surely understood it was a risky proposition. Just as giving human beings free will was risky, God knew that giving His divine message to a bunch of, well, lunkheads, was risky, too. But it was a risk He was willing to take.

For people who are angry with the Church in general, or offended by a Church leader in particular, I think the problem might be that they are focusing only on the Church’s bureaucracy or on certain members of that bureaucracy. They may have lost sight of Who founded the Church in the first place: Christ the Lord.

For me personally, the more I focus on Christ rather than bureaucratic Church wranglings, the more peace I have. And when I ask myself, “What would be a better method of spreading the Good News throughout the centuries instead of a large, centralized organization?” I come up blank. If at the very beginning the Gospel message was spread and shared by zillions of small groups — with no central authority — the basic doctrines of the faith would’ve been so corrupted and diluted, they would have been unrecognizable by the third century, let alone in our day and age. 
So yes, the Church can be rigid and bureaucratic, and leaders of the Church are sinners, just like you and me. They are tempted by the allure of pride and power, along with being susceptible at times to discouragement and cynicism. But the Church is still the most effective way of spreading the life-changing news of Jesus Christ to a hurting world over the span of multiple millennia.

I’ve spent quite a few paragraphs so far bad-mouthing the Church and its leadership. But the fact is, no worldwide organization has done more to help people in need than the Catholic Church. In the U.S., no organization, except for the government, spends more money helping the poor than the Catholic Church. And the Church does it all with freely donated funds, not tax dollars coerced from people with the threat of arrest and imprisonment if they don’t comply.

And let’s not forget one of the most fascinating aspects of the Church: her saints, both those who are widely recognized and the countless ones who fly under the radar. There is something about Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor as yourself” that inspires millions of people to sacrifice for others. It’s a beautiful thing.

In conclusion, if you are currently struggling with the Church, I completely understand. It’s almost as if the Vatican has an official Department of Honking People Off. (I was going to use a different word, but this is a family-friendly forum, so I’ll go with honking.)
Try instead to focus on the founder of the Church: Jesus, the all-merciful Lord. As that ad campaign says, “He gets us.” Jesus knows our struggles, and His message is what counts the most. The Church is merely the vehicle to spread that message.

If you keep your eyes on the Lord, everything else pales by comparison, even all the lunkheads. 

Saturday, January 27, 2024

A New Kind of Varsity Team

A couple of months ago, I discussed attending a college football game and being subjected to loud rap music over the PA system during halftime. In that essay, I wasn’t trying to rap rap. I was just explaining that as an old Baby Boomer, my preferred music is known as “classic rock,” which typically contains such archaic things as notes, a melody, chords, etc. During that football game, as the rap music thumped along, I suggested out loud that the PA system should play some Beatles. A couple of college students turned and stared at me as if I had two heads. At that moment, I felt very, very ancient.

Another incident occurred more recently, which also reminded me that I am definitely not a spring chicken — unless a time machine takes us back, say, to the spring of 1967.
One of my engineering clients sent me a link to an article he co-authored, which described his firm’s expertise in a burgeoning aspect of higher education known as esports. At first I thought the word was Spanish, possibly pronounced “ess-sporss.” But then I discovered the word is pronounced “EE-sports.” It refers to video game competition. Here is a sentence from the article: “Over 200 universities currently offer varsity esports programs with coaching staff and scholarships.” The article also noted that Syracuse University now offers a degree in “esports communications and management.”

Please understand, just like with the rap music I heard (and felt, and needed time to recover from), I’m not trying to be judgmental. I get it that things change and evolve over time. It would be silly for me to expect college life to be the same as what I experienced in the mid-70s. (For one thing, I experienced tuition, room, and board totaling $4200 my freshman year at the fancy school on the hill in Lewisburg, PA. Compare that to today’s current rate of $81,000 per year.)

If universities truly believe they need varsity video game teams, with coaching staffs, scholarships, and high-tech facilities with areas so spectators can watch, I’m not going to say anything against it. I might, however, quietly roll my eyes and shrug my shoulders — not in judgment of them, but just to express an idea that’s become fairly commonplace with me nowadays: I don’t get it.

That’s what it all boils down to: I. Just. Don’t. Get it.
Coincidentally, on the same day that I read the esports article, I heard a news story on the radio describing a rash of armed car-jackings in Washington DC. Law enforcement officials noted that the technique used by the, um, young entrepreneurs, closely mirrors the behavior displayed in the popular video game “Grand Theft Auto.” 

Again, I’m not judging. Just a mild eye-roll and a shrug. I’ve never played video games. Well, not including “Pong” once or twice a zillion years ago. But I do consider myself a longtime TV connoisseur, and I know firsthand that staring at a flickering video screen for hours on end isn’t the healthiest thing a person can do.
So, colleges now have varsity video game teams, with coaching staffs and scholarships. This gives my engineering client the opportunity to get some work designing the mechanical and electrical systems needed for the high-tech facilities. But I suppose the colleges save some money since they don't have to build brand new weight rooms for these particular athletes. 

Who knows? The competition between schools might be pretty exciting. After all, most of the new college gaming facilities include room for spectators. It must be an interesting event. Maybe I’ll attend one of these days to see what it’s all about. Well, as long as they don’t play rap music during halftime.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

A Relic Wonders About Relics

I consider myself a faithful Catholic. But there are many aspects of Church doctrine, traditions, and practices I really don't understand. For example: relics. And by “relics,” I don’t mean all the gray haired folks in the pews at Mass, especially since I’m now one of them. I totally understand why my fellow relics and I go to Mass a lot. After years of being worn down by this cold, cruel world, we know how important it is to have a relationship with the Almighty Lord who created us  especially as we’re drawing nearer and nearer to that inevitable face-to-face encounter with the Lord moments after our time here on earth is done.

Anyway, by “relics,” I mean the Church’s tradition of venerating pieces of the bodies of various holy saints. 
The website of the Catholic Education Resource Center says this: “The word relic comes from the Latin relinquo, literally meaning I leave, or I abandon. A relic is a piece of the body of a saint, an item owned or used by the saint, or an object which has been touched to the tomb of a saint. Traditionally, a piece of the body of a saint, especially that of a martyr, may be with the permission of the local ecclesiastical authority used in solemn processions recalling the specific holy person.”

The website also explains, “Some people think the Catholic Church abandoned her teaching on relics after Vatican II. However, a quick glance at the Code of Canon Law, published by authority of Pope John Paul II in 1983, reveals that the Church very much considers sacred relics to be important and significant in the life of the Church (cf. canons 1281-89).”

I’ve known for years, in a vague sort of way, that the Church had a lot of body parts of famous saints on display in various churches and cathedrals around the world. But I never gave it much thought. And when I did give it any thought, it struck me as a bit creepy and macabre. I mean, let the saint rest in peace, right? Don’t cut chunks off his or her corpse and send them to churches around the world. It just seems ghoulish, to be honest.
Then last fall, at the terrific Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference, there was a large assortment of relics on display. I was impressed by the reverence shown by many of the men in attendance toward the relics. It was explained that the point of relics is to honor the faith and perseverance of the particular saint. 

As Catholics, we believe God created the natural, physical world, and then He declared it good. Yes, sin corrupted the world, but we do not believe that only the spiritual world is good while the physical world is all bad. The relics of saints are physical reminders of the holy lives they lived, and can inspire us to emulate them. 

As the SimplyCatholic.com website put it: “Relics are physical, tangible, concrete reminders that heaven is obtainable for us — so long as we recognize what made the saints holy and work to apply those qualities to our lives.”
When it comes to relics, I still don’t really get it. But there have been so many issues over the years where I first thought a particular Church doctrine or practice seemed foolish, and I made a big deal of saying so. Then, over time, I came to realize the wisdom in the Church’s point of view. So, with relics, even though I don’t yet feel comfortable with the overall concept, I’m going to hold my criticism. 

Maybe because I am one of those gray haired relics you see in church on Sunday mornings, I will start to understand the importance of holy relics one of these days. And if I don’t, when my inevitable face-to-face encounter with the Lord occurs moments after my time here on earth is done, I’ll just ask Him about. It will be number 64,398 on my list of things I don’t understand. 

Friday, January 19, 2024

So I Got That Goin’ for Me — Which Is Nice

Last week I discussed the recent announcement I made regarding my full time job. I told all my clients and customers that I am now looking to hire my replacement, train him or her, and then retire in about two years. 

I was surprised to discover that after making this announcement, there was a very interesting psychological side effect: peace of mind.
You see, telling everyone that I will retire in two years means that I have determined I have the financial wherewithal to live comfortably without a steady paycheck. Well, I mean, theoretically that’s what it’s supposed to mean. In reality, I have no clue if that’s true, since the last time I checked, I am not in charge of how well the stock market performs nor the rate of inflation — either one of which could have me enjoying my final years in a quaint retirement villa: a cardboard box under a bridge. 

However, just telling people that I am going to retire makes them think I must have my financial act together. So, I keep telling myself, “Hmm, if all those people think I can afford to retire, then it must be true!” 

It’s good to have this knowledge that I am financially prepared to retire. (If you’d rather substitute the word “delusion” for the word “knowledge,” you’re probably not wrong.) Actually, I have a secret weapon: my retirement nest egg is about to get a major boost, because I am quite certain that any week now I am due to win the PowerBall jackpot. To quote Carl Spackler, “So, I got that goin’ for me. Which is nice.”  
For the first time in 44 years, I go to work each morning with this thought in my head: “I don’t really need this job.” It is a very liberating feeling. (Although, to be perfectly honest, somewhere a little deeper in my head, another thought says to me, “Well, actually you do need this job, pal, at least for a little while longer. So, don’t do anything stupid.”) 

Anyway, the thing is, the owner of the company where I work, plus all of my coworkers, think that I can take it or leave it. As a result, they’ve been saying things to me like, “Hey Bill, can you give me a hand with this — if you have a chance?” instead of what I’ve been hearing for the past quarter century: “Hey Dunn, get over here and fix this mess. Now!”

I might be embellishing both the words and tone of voice for that quotation. My coworkers are usually very friendly and polite — although regularly stressed-out, which is the nature of our business. 

The main point I’m trying to make is that I perceive work to be less stressful these days, now that I have an exit strategy. It’s not that I’m taking a “Hey, it’s not my problem anymore, so I don’t give a damn,” attitude. It’s just that I now seem to have a, “Don’t worry, it’ll all work out,” attitude. 
It’s a really nice feeling to work hard, get things done, and not stress out about it. With these conditions, I could probably work another eight or 10 years. No wait, if I no longer have a short range exit strategy, then I’ll start stressing out again. Hmm, a classic Catch-22.

I guess I’ll just enjoy this unexpected peace of mind for the next 24 months. When my retirement date arrives, I’ll review the stock market and inflation situation, and either join other carefree retirees, or run into my boss’s office and say, “How about two more years?”

Either scenario is OK with me. So, I got that goin’ for me. Which is nice. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

What Will Our ‘Glorified Bodies’ Be Like?

What Will Our ‘Glorified Bodies’ Be Like?

The Bible mentions, and the Church teaches, that all people who enter into Heaven for eternity will receive glorified bodies. We will not be pure spirits in Heaven. (I am, of course, using the word “we” in the interest of making the previous sentence flow a little smoother. I wish the Evangelical doctrine of “name it and claim it” were true, and that I could declare with certainty that I am definitely going to Heaven just because I sincerely said one prayer at one time many decades ago. But Scripture and the words of Jesus Himself make it quite clear that salvation through faith is a lifelong journey, not a one time event. So, the use of “we,” “us,” and “our” in the remainder of this essay is not meant to imply that I have arrogantly determined that I am a lock for Heaven. It’s more about my well-known obsession for employing goodly composition and grammarizing skills. [Yeah, sure!])

Anyway, getting back to glorified bodies in Heaven, the Bible says we will have them, but then does not offer very many details. 
The Catholic Answers website explains: “Those who die in the friendship of Christ will also triumph over sin and death, attaining a glorified body as we reign in eternal glory with the Lord (1 Cor. 15:35-57). As Jesus promises, his Father’s heavenly home has many rooms, and he has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us (John 14:2).” (Emphasis added.)

Most religious scholars say that Jesus’ glorified body after the Resurrection is a good indication of what our glorified bodies will be like. When He interacted with His disciples, it seems some changes had occurred. First, the Lord just appeared suddenly in the room, even though the door was locked. So, maybe the ability to walk right through walls is an aspect of glorified bodies. Next, the disciples did not quite recognize Jesus at first, indicating that His appearance was somewhat different than what He looked like before the Resurrection.

Just to make sure the disciples did not think He was only a spiritual apparition, that is, a ghost, Jesus ate some food and had all the guys touch Him. His glorified body definitely was physical.

For those of us who make it to Heaven — those of us who persevere in running the race of faith to the very end — what will our glorified bodies be like? The first thing that occurs to me is: I sure hope aching knees, near-sightedness, and insomnia are not part of the deal. Wouldn’t that be nice if the chronic aches and pains, plus all the sagging, drooping, and wrinkling effects of aging, suddenly disappeared when we receive our glorified bodies?

Another question: what age will our glorified bodies be? When Jesus rose from the dead and received His glorified body, He was 33 years old. In Heaven, will everyone appear the way they did at age 33? That’s not a bad age, mind you. Right now, I’d love to have the same knees, hair, and skin tautness I had when I was 33. But if we have the opportunity to choose, I’d prefer age 22. That was before a decade of sitting at a desk started to turn me into a near-sighted, beer-bellied Weeble Wobble by my 30s.
I’m pretty sure all the things that pop into my head right now when I ponder the possibility of receiving a new, glorified body, are the exact things that God is not interested in. All of my thoughts revolve around vanity, pride, and self-centeredness. In Heaven, those sinful attitudes are not present at all. (However, those attitudes are the dominant features of Hell. Just sayin’.)

So, in Heaven we will receive perfect, glorified bodies for all eternity. Our bodies will be indescribably more wonderful than anything we’ve ever experienced on earth. And in yet another Christian paradox, we will not care one bit about how wonderful our glorified bodies are, because all of our attention will be directed outward, in praise and worship toward God Almighty. None of our attention will be directed inward, toward ourselves.  

If we make it to Heaven, we definitely will receive glorified bodies. And we won’t really care about the details, since we’ll be too busy loving and praising God. But I do hope my glorified body has healthy, pain-free knees — but only, of course, so I can kneel before the Lord. (Yeah, sure!)

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Major Announcement is Not a Moot Point

It is now official. I recently devoted an entire newsletter to the major announcement that I am now actively searching to hire my replacement, train him or her, and then retire in two years. (By the way, I’m referring to my full time job in the HVAC business, not this weekly newspaper column. I have no intention of retiring from this sweet gig, unless I no longer feel like investing 60 minutes every Saturday morning — 30, if I decide not to proofread — typing out 600 semi-random words.)
It’s an interesting phenomenon announcing your retirement two years in advance. On the one hand, it’s kind of like that old expression, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.” This was exemplified by one of my co-workers, who said to me, “How do you know you’ll even be alive in two years?”  

Well, that’s a good question, Mr. Morbid. You are right, there certainly is no guarantee that I’ll be alive in two years. For example, the next glazed cruller I eat might be the one that causes a heart artery to implode and effectively make my announcement a moot point. (I believe the correct definition of the word “moot” is: “that which causes a heart artery to implode.”)

However, I have to make plans with the assumption that nothing will moot me anytime during the next 24 months. It would be really awkward to reach New Year’s Day, 2026, and exclaim, “Oh man, I thought I woulda been mooted by now, but I’m still alive. What should I do?!” 

Many people in the industry saw my announcement and made comments, some of which were along the lines of, “Retire? But you’re too young!” These comments made me feel good, even though I knew the people were lying through their teeth.
Other comments were more like, “Hmm, it’s about time, Gramps.” These comments made me want to whack them in the kneecaps with a wooden cane (which I don’t need — yet), even though I knew the people were being 100% truthful.

In the newsletter I sent to clients and other industry movers and shakers announcing my two-year retirement game plan (is there a dumber expression in the entire business world than “movers and shakers”? I think not), I said that if I’m not successful in hiring a replacement and training him or her, then I will not be allowed to retire.

I thought it was pretty obvious that this was a silly, humorous comment. Certainly my employer cannot force me to continue working. (The only thing that can force me to keep working is the status of my 401k account, which in recent years seems as if someone has been trying to moot it.) But after I sent out that newsletter, many people said to me, with a quite serious tone of voice, “You know, they can’t MAKE you stay. You can leave whenever you want!”

“Yes, Einstein, I know. The 13th amendment is still in effect.” That’s what I was tempted to say, but instead I offered the same reply I’ve written to countless people over the years who emailed me about something I wrote in a newspaper column: “Relax, it was just a joke.” 

I’ve now reached the 29th minute (and I’m definitely not in the mood to do any proofreading this morning), so it’s time to wrap this up. There were a few other observations about retirement that I wanted to make, but we’ve run out of room for this week’s column. Maybe I’ll mention those ideas next week — if I don’t get mooted in the meantime. But right now, I’ve got a couple of glazed crullers that need my full attention.  

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The Gift that Keeps on Giving: Weekly Homework Assignments

For Christmas last month, my two daughters gave me a very interesting gift. They bought me a one-year subscription to a service called Storyworth. “Everyone has a story worth sharing,” is the motto of Storyworth, Inc. The service helps people compile stories about their lives, and then at the end of the 12-month period, they print a high quality hardcover book with all your stories. You can order more copies for an additional fee. 

The idea is to put your life’s adventures — hopes, dreams, experiences, etc. — in writing, as a way to share your stories with your loved ones and have something tangible to pass along to your descendants. 
When you subscribe, Storyworth sets up a unique webpage, where all of your stories are compiled throughout the year. The key to the service is this: each week they send a personal email with a question prompt; that is, a suggested topic about which to write.

Here are some sample question prompts: “How would you describe your grandparents?” “What’s one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever been?” “What’s one of your earliest childhood memories?” “If you could go back in time and start a new career, what would it be?” What’s your favorite holiday tradition?” “What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?” “What is the most scared you’ve ever been?” “What was it like when you got your first cell phone?” “What’s one thing you wish you’d known before going to college?”

So, as you can see, these questions are designed to make people ponder personal topics they don’t usually think about, and then put those thoughts in writing. Each week when the service sends out a new email, you’re supposed to give the question prompt some thought, and then sit down at your computer and type away. When that week’s rough draft is complete — whether it’s one sentence, one paragraph, or 10 pages — you then upload the text to your personal Storyworth webpage.

When my daughters gave me this gift, they said, “Dad, what we got you for Christmas is basically a homework assignment every week for the next 12 months.”
And that’s exactly right. Plus, what they didn’t mention is the fact they plan to keep the two copies of the finished product they paid for. In other words, I do all the work, and at the end of the year they each will own a copy of the hardcover book. 

My daughters know that I enjoy writing, even though I’m always whining about not having enough free time to do it. (Gee, Bill, do you think watching sports on TV for at least 25 hours each week might have something to do with that?)

I read some reviews online about the Storyworth subscription service, and a few warned that it’s not a good gift for everyone. Some people may not like to write at all, and others may not be comfortable writing about their personal lives. For these people, the gift could cause a lot of resentment and stress.

For me, the only concern I see is my genetic predisposition to engage in blarney. If you’re not familiar with the term, blarney is an Irish tradition that states: “It is far better to tell an interesting story than an accurate story.” I’d like to leave a collection of my personal experiences for my descendants, but I probably should keep the fiction to a minimum.

You’ve probably already figured out what I plan to give my two lovely daughters for Christmas next year. That’s right, the gift of homework. They each will be receiving a 12-month Storyworth subscription. And at the end of the year, I’m keeping the books. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

It’s Time to Love our Neighbors As Ourselves

Recently I read an article with this headline: “Love your social media target as yourself.”

Obviously, this was a play on the biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

In our modern world, our digital neighbor can be 10,000 miles away physically, but nasty and insulting comments online can hurt just as much as a hard slap in the face from two feet away. (Actually, many people would say that a slap in the face is less painful. After all, your face will heal in a day or two. But especially vicious online comments can wound a person’s soul for years.)

Social media and other internet-based forms of communication seem to make people much nastier than they otherwise would be. And when the topic is politics, religion, or the latest cultural flash point, whoa, the needle on the Nasty Meter spikes past the red line. (There actually is not a device called the Nasty Meter, but maybe someone should invent one. On the other hand, it’s probably not necessary, since reading the first sentence or two usually lets you know how toxic the comments are.)
There is a phenomenon known as the “online disinhibition effect.” The National Institute of Health explains that while on the internet, “some people self-disclose or act out more frequently or intensely than they would in person.” The NIH claims the causes of this behavior are “dissociative anonymity” and “invisibility.” In other words, people can comment online anonymously, which removes the usual social guardrails on a person’s behavior. 

This is true, but there are many people who are NOT anonymous, and are much nastier online than they’d ever be in person. This is one of the main reasons I deleted my Facebook account five or six years ago. At first, it was nice to reconnect with old high school and college friends I hadn’t seen in years. But after a while, I noticed I was making the same observations repeatedly, such as: “Wow, I didn’t realize he was a psycho,” or, “Man, she really hates EVERYBODY.” 

Full disclosure: before I deleted my Facebook account, I went back and reviewed some of the comments I had posted. To be honest, I wasn’t very proud of the nastiness I often displayed. 
Since I’ve been writing a published weekly humor column for about a quarter century now, I think I’ve developed the ability to deftly employ the “Four S’s”: sarcasm, satire, snarkiness, and cynicism. (OK, I know the last one begins with a “C.” But it sounds like an “S” when you say it out loud, and in our “spelling-and-grammar-don’t-matter-anymore” culture, a lot of people probably think the word is spelled “sinnasizzum” anyway.)

I try to tone down the harshness in my essays, and if I make a deprecating comment, half the time I make it about myself. However, what I noticed about many of my old Facebook comments was that they were often just plain ol’ mean. The whole social media universe is kind of like wrestling in a pigsty. You’re already getting dirty, so you might as well start throwing mud at everybody. 

(Now that I think about it, some of my old high school friends probably read my Facebook posts years ago and thought, “Wow, I didn’t realize he was a psycho.”)

So, you very likely can make the case that this current essay is a classic “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” situation. OK, guilty as charged. When I was on social media I definitely typed out comments I never would have spoken in-person and face-to-face. (And I’m sure many folks have been offended when my published attempts to deftly employ the “Four S’s” fell short of the mark.)

Well, this brings us back to Jesus’ words, quoted at the beginning: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you watch the news at all, you know that very few people nowadays are following this divine command. This would be a good time for all of us to commit to taking the Lord’s words to heart. Whether the neighbor in question is actually in the house next door, or 10,000 miles away online, we need to bring some love back into our world. If not, we surely will self-destruct. If that happens, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

News Flash: It’s STILL Christmas Season!

OK, I know what you’re thinking: the holidays are over. After four or five weeks of anticipating the Christmas/New Year’s festivities — four or five weeks of non-stop blinking lights and Christmas music and shopping — boom! It all came and went in a heartbeat. And now it’s over. 

In many people’s minds, this current moment, during the first days of the new year, can be somewhat anticlimactic and even a little depressing. The big build-up, which began at Thanksgiving (or on Labor Day, if you’re in the retail business) and culminated on Christmas Day morning, arrived and then disappeared into history before we knew it. It makes a lot of folks feel kind of empty.
Well, have I got good news for you! The Christmas season is NOT over yet. No matter what our modern culture tells us, Christmas has not ended. 

You see, the way it works — as determined by the people who brought the world Christmas in the first place, the Catholic Church — the liturgical season of Christmas does not even begin until the evening of December 24th. The four-week period before Christmas Day, which the culture calls the “holiday season,” is a completely different liturgical season on the Church calendar known as Advent. 

So, the Christmas season begins on Christmas. Then it continues for the next 12 days. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase: “The 12 Days of Christmas”? It’s an actual liturgical season, not just an annoying and never-ending holiday song about pipers and drummers and golden rings and birds in a pear tree.

Even though our culture tells us that the holiday season is long gone (and Valentine’s Day must be right around the corner, based on what’s on the store shelves now), please don’t believe it. We are still in the middle of the Christmas season, and we will be until January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany.

Therefore, enjoy Christmas! The season is still with us! Whatever you do, do not take down your tree yet. (We used to live in a neighborhood where some of our neighbors would deposit the sad remains of their stripped Christmas tree out on the curb for the trashman — on the morning of December 26th! Just when the Christmas season was getting started! How sad.)
Keep your Christmas lights plugged in and blinking. Drink some eggnog. Have some figgy pudding (if you’re into British fruitcake). Listen to Christmas music, especially the religious carols. Keep your creche prominently displayed in your home, and say some prayers in front of it. Best of all, you can do these little things to keep the Christmas season alive, and not have to worry about buying gifts. 

Speaking of buying gifts, since we’re still in the Christmas season but no one at the mall knows it, this is a terrific time to do a little shopping. The atmosphere in the stores is not nearly as crazy as it was during December. And items like Christmas decorations are usually on sale, marked down anywhere from 50% to 80%. Why not stock up on strings of lights, artificial trees, ornaments, creche displays, or any other holiday decoration you might want to display next year?

Or maybe you can use the gift cards you received on Christmas Day, before you forget you even have them. Did you know approximately 47% of all Americans have gift cards they’ve never used or which still have a balance on them? What a waste of money.

If you don’t want to stock up on Christmas trinkets for next year, or if you have no need to buy something on sale for yourself, this would be a great time to make a donation to an organization like a homeless shelter, food kitchen, or pregnancy care center. 
There are a lot of things you can do to keep the Christmas spirit alive, especially since we still are in the Christmas season. Most of all, what we all ought to do during the remaining days of the liturgical season of Christmas is to remember the “reason for the season.” Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation, that unique, miraculous moment in history when the Son of God took on human flesh. He did it to provide a way for sinful mankind to be reconciled with our Creator.

So, continue to enjoy the Christmas season. And each day until January 6th, don’t hesitate to greet people with a joyful “Merry Christmas!”