Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut
Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Bill Dunn

Over the years, when people asked me to pray for them, I usually would, but within a few days I’d forget about it until the next time I saw them. And then, of course, I’d feel guilty about forgetting. So last year I finally decided to start a prayer notebook. I write down a person’s name and the reason he or she needs prayer. The vast majority of people in my notebook need prayer for healing. When you get to be my age, there is no shortage of friends and loved ones with health issues. I’m soon going to need a second notebook.

Anyway, the other day as I was praying for the people listed in my notebook, I realized many of my prayers have changed from healing requests to “repose of the soul” requests, because, sadly, they have died. Some of the people I’ve prayed for were healed, while others were not. This got me pondering once again an age-old question: Why bother to pray?

One view of prayer is portrayed in the movie “Shadowlands,” a biography of the famous Christian author C.S. Lewis. During a crisis in his life, Lewis explained to a friend why he was praying so fervently. He said, “I don’t pray for God to do my will; I pray that I do His will.”

When you think about it, God is indeed sovereign and omniscient; he is outside of time; he already knows every single event of our lives — past, present and future. Which means, I suppose, it would be futile for us to beg God to do one thing when he’s already ordained that something else is going to happen.

But is that the only purpose of prayer, to ask for the strength to accept our inevitable fate? In the Gospels, Jesus makes it clear that we should ask God for what we desire, and that our prayers can change God’s mind.

For example, a Canaanite woman came to Jesus in desperation, begging him to heal her daughter. At first, Jesus completely ignored her. But she would not take no for an answer. Finally, Jesus exclaimed, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And he healed her daughter.

And don’t forget the famous episode during the wedding feast at Cana. When the party ran out of wine, Jesus’ mother Mary went to him and explained the embarrassing situation. Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”

Mary just smiled at Jesus, like only a mother can. Jesus finally relented and performed the miracle of changing water into wine. It’s very clear that Jesus had no intention of performing his first miracle at that wedding feast, but because of a sincere request, Jesus changed his mind.

So, is God sovereign and omniscient? Yes. Does God already know every single event of our live — even our future? Yes. Therefore, is it futile to try to change God’s mind with prayer? Definitely no!

Jesus tells us we must have childlike faith. God is our father and we are his children. We should approach God as a child approaches a loving parent, filled with trust. Maybe our prayers should have two components: We should ask for the grace to handle the trials and tribulations of life; but even if every prayer is not answered to our liking, we should continue to pray for what we desire, knowing that God delights in answering our persistent, sincere and faithful prayers. And whichever way things turn out, we should rejoice knowing it is God’s will for our lives.

Bill Dunn is a recovering atheist who resides in Torrington. He loves Jesus, his wife and kids and the Red Sox (usually in that order). He can be reached at MerryCatholic@gmail.com.

In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he explains how the Spirit of God can transform us. “You are not in the flesh,” he writes, “on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.”

In many of Paul’s other epistles, he discusses the difference between living by the Spirit and living by the flesh. For example, in his letter to the Colossians, he writes: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust ... greed ... anger ... slander, and filthy language from your lips.” (Uh, oh. I hope Paul didn’t hear me recently when the Red Sox blew a lead late in the game.)

Paul’s list of no-no’s seems downright impossible to avoid, especially nowadays, when our secular culture encourages that behavior. Many of us are convinced it’s so difficult to avoid sin, we really don’t try very hard.

But here’s something most people don’t realize: Living a life of sin requires much more effort than living a life of virtue. I once read about a young woman in New York City who was into the wild nightlife scene. Each evening she would find herself involved in drinking, drugs and casual sexual encounters. It was wearing her out, both physically and mentally.

Finally, she sought help from a therapist, who said to her, “You know, you don’t have to keep doing that stuff.” The young woman was stunned. “You mean I don’t have to do what I WANT to do?” she asked. It was a surprising revelation and a major relief for her. Just because she had the opportunity to live a wild life, she didn’t have to do it.

Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest ... For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” When Jesus calls us to follow him and live a life of virtue, he doesn’t call us to DO a lot of painful, difficult churchy-type things. He simply calls us to break free from our slavery to sin.

Throughout history, no one has ever equated being a slave with a life of luxury and leisure. Slaves are routinely worked to death at an early age. Well, it’s the same with being a slave to sin. The workload is enormous and the cost is high — both physically and mentally — and the result also is an early death.

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

If, as Jesus taught, our souls are eternal and live on forever after our bodies have died, then there is nothing more important than making sure our souls end up in heaven rather than hell. This is the primary function of the Church: to make saints and get as many souls as possible into heaven.

It’s important that our local parishes are in the business of making saints. We need to help and encourage each other to break free from the slavery of sin, and we need to spread the joyful news that God’s Spirit can dwell in us and transform our lives. Paul said this is what we must do, and Jesus said it’s easy and not a burden.

So, let’s fill our parishes with hope and joy, and let people know that it’s not a burden to become a saint. (As long as a certain someone stops swearing at the TV during Red Sox games.)

It’s now the summer vacation season, and one of the great things about being Catholic is that no matter where you go on vacation, you can attend Mass.What’s that? You don’t go to Mass while on vacation? Really? Uh-oh, that’s not good. Vacation is an opportunity to get away from work for a while, but you’re not supposed to get away from God, too. I think we need to have a little private talk, after you’ve read this

For the rest of us who do attend Mass on vacation, it’s interesting that regardless of where we are, the Mass is the same. It really reminds us that our Church is indeed universal. The basic structure of the Mass doesn’t change from region to region, or from country to country. The Mass is the same whether you are visiting such vacation spots in the United States as Miami, San Francisco or New York, or whether you are visiting an exotic foreign culture, such as Miami, San Francisco or New York. 

About a decade ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to travel to Austria. No, not the place with the kangaroos; I mean the place in Europe, with Vienna and Mozart. It’s the country where everybody speaks German, except for the shop owners in the tourist areas who speak perfect English and can instantly convert dollars to euros in their heads, and can, for example, convince a naïve bumpkin from Connecticut that paying 30 euros for a commemorative “Sound of Music” coffee mug is a real bargain. Even though Julie Andrews’s face is kind of faded now, I still use that mug. 

When we went to Mass in Vienna, we recognized all the parts of the Mass, although everything was in German. The sound system was lousy, so even if we could speak German we probably still would not have understood much — and this made us feel even more at home.

There is really no excuse for not going to Mass while on vacation. Of course, there’s no excuse for not going to Mass when we’re home either, but that doesn’t stop many Catholics from coming up with very creative excuses. The most common excuse for not going to Mass while on vacation is: “I don’t know where a church is, or when the Mass times are.” Actually, the most common excuse is: “Oh, my head! How many piña coladas did I have last night?”

But nowadays we can’t use the ol’ “I don’t know what time Mass is” excuse. There are websites that can instantly tell us the church locations and the Mass times. One website is called simply, Masstimes.org. You just type in the city and state, or the zip code, and it lists all the Catholic churches in the area and the Mass times. It even tells you what language will be used. However, the website does not describe the quality of the sound system.

So, during your summer vacation this year, take time to relax and get away from the stress of work for a while. But don’t get away from God. Make sure you go to Mass. You’ll have a chance to be in communion with the creator of the universe. You’ll also be able to thank said creator for the blessing of being able to go on vacation in the first place. After all, a lot of people can’t afford that luxury. And going to Mass still will be worthwhile even if the sound system stinks.

Bill Dunn is a recovering atheist who resides in Torrington. He loves Jesus, his wife and kids and the Red Sox (usually in that order). He can be reached at MerryCatholic@gmail.com.

dunn adoration candles may17Dear friend: We miss you at church. Yes, we really do miss you.

Life is very hectic nowadays, and often the weekend schedule is so busy there isn’t enough time to squeeze in Mass. Also, a very popular idea in our culture is that it’s OK to be “spiritual,” but not religious. If people just think about God once in a while and pray to him on their own, without going to church, that’s perfectly fine.

Well, Jesus never said anything like that. In fact, he did say, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53)

What exactly does that mean? For 2,000 years, Christians have understood that Jesus’ words mean we must partake of the Eucharist. By virtue of a supernatural miracle, the Eucharist truly is transformed into the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus Christ. And the Eucharist is not something we can have while at home, or while walking through the woods, or while thinking about God and being “spiritual” on our own. No, unless a person is sick or homebound, or there are some other circumstances, the Eucharist is available only in a sacred space, specifically in a church and specifically during Mass.

Jesus founded the Catholic Church when he said, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18)

It’s interesting that Jesus entrusted his perfect message with an imperfect organization. Apparently, he figured if the Church was perfect, people might be tempted to worship the Church rather than God. So, despite many instances, especially in recent years, when both Church leaders and laypeople have sinned and caused terrible scandals, the Catholic Church still is strong. Jesus is the head of the Church, and Jesus promised that not even the power of hell will destroy it.

Contrary to what is often said in our popular culture, the Church actually is a very humble organization. Catholics know that everyone sins and falls short of God’s perfect glory, and so we realize we need to take part in the sacraments on a regular basis and receive God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace.

Many people claim that Mass is very boring, the same ol’ thing every week. Well, contrary to how our popular culture views virtually every human activity, the Catholic Mass was never designed to be a wildly entertaining experience. It was designed to be sacred worship.

To be fair, quite often the homily at Mass can be very inspiring, and quite often the choir and musicians are fabulously talented. But even if Mass seems a little boring, that’s fine, because it is still the only way to receive the body and blood of Our Lord. Mass is the unique vehicle God created to allow struggling sinners (that would be us) to come into full contact with the Savior of the world. If we could only see how much the angels and saints in heaven rejoice during every single Mass — even Masses that seem boring to us — it would take our breath away.

In a spirit of humility and fellowship, we sincerely ask you to consider joining us once again. Come back to Jesus’ Church. Come back to the faith your parents and grandparents taught you. Come back to the holy sacrifice of the Mass and receive the flesh and blood of Our Savior in the Eucharist and be part of our parish community once again.
We miss you at church. Yes, we really do miss you.

Bill Dunn is a recovering atheist who resides in Torrington. He loves Jesus, his wife and kids and the Red Sox (usually in that order). He can be reached at MerryCatholic@gmail.com.

dunn resurrection web

During Jesus’ ministry, a group of Sadducees attempted to trap him with a hypothetical question. If a person had more than one spouse on earth, who would be the one true spouse in heaven?

We know their inquiry was a trap rather than sincere because the Scripture passage begins: “Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus … ”

If those guys did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, then why did they bother asking the question? It’s a moot point. If there is no life after death, then — let me see if I can phrase this properly — who cares?!

This episode reminds us that skepticism about life after death is not exclusively a modern phenomenon. It just seems that way because a small minority of secular elites has commandeered so much power and influence in our culture these days. Their views dominate many facets of society: the news media, education and the entertainment industry, just to name a few.

Once again, it’s the basic clash of world views: atheistic vs. theistic; secular vs. spiritual. Did God create mankind or did mankind create God? (That is, did mankind, during a primitive era marked by fear and ignorance, invent the concept we call “God”?)

The secular view is present even in many religious organizations. A Christian theologian, Professor Roy W. Hoover, states this view with stark clarity: “The idea of resurrection is embedded in an ancient world view that is outdated in a scientific age. The belief in a general resurrection of the dead simply cannot stand as an article of faith.”

But without it, the heart of Christianity is removed. Without a hope for resurrection, the primary purpose of the faith is gone. There is nothing left, except to ask the question the Sadducees should have asked — who cares?!

St. Paul understood the importance of belief in the resurrection. He wrote in 1 Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, and if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”

If there is no life after death, then it just doesn’t matter. Years ago, I was an atheist and a drunk. I’m not very proud of my actions back then, but given my world view, my behavior was actually quite logical and consistent. If we cease to exist at the moment of death, then life is ultimately meaningless, so why not have a well-balanced breakfast of Cocoa Puffs and vodka? No matter what we do now, in 100 years or less we’ll all be gone, so — let me see if I can phrase this properly — who cares?!

Faith in resurrection and hope for life after death are the heart of Christianity. It’s why we celebrate Easter, which is the answer to the skeptic’s question, “Who cares?” Jesus cares. He cares a lot! And Jesus offered his life to ensure that we can live forever.

BILL DUNN is a recovering atheist who resides in Torrington. He loves Jesus, his wife and kids and the Red Sox (usually in that order). He can be reached at MerryCatholic@gmail.com.

SPIRITUAL FITNESS

dunn co workers

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 a person without necessarily liking him or her.

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 people who are total jerks and cause me so much trouble?”

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

The problem is that 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 the verb form of 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 Department, and Fred is obnoxious and rude. He gossips about people behind their backs, and lies to their faces in person. No one knows why he hasn’t been fired for sexual harassment because of all the lewd things he says. Most co-workers would not shed a tear if something terrible happened to Fred.

Everybody dislikes Fred, including you. But instead of just grumbling about Fred and secretly daydreaming that he gets fired, try this instead: Truly wish the best for Fred. In his case, it means he needs to have a total change of heart, put his faith in God, apologize to those he’s offended and drastically alter his behavior. It is possible to genuinely want the best for Fred without being fond of him. And if you’re 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 the people I really didn’t care for. 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.

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.

BILL DUNN is a recovering atheist who resides in Torrington. He loves Jesus, his wife and kids and the Red Sox (usually in that order). He can be reached at MerryCatholic@gmail.com.

Calculator casioOne day, Saint Peter said to the other disciples, “You know how Jesus is always talking about forgiveness? Well, I’m gonna ask him a question that will earn me some major brownie points!”

So, Peter approached Jesus and said, “Master, if my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive him, up to seven times?” Peter glanced back at the other disciples and winked. Forgive someone seven times? Surely, even Jesus will say, “No, no, that’s way too many. Two or three times, max.” Peter hoped Jesus also would add, “But that’s very generous of you, Peter, to offer to forgive someone seven times! Good for you.”

However, Jesus stared at Peter for a few moments, then said, “I tell you, not seven times, but 70 times seven!”

Stunned, Peter walked back to the disciples and muttered, “Not only did Jesus say we have to forgive, but now we have to do math problems!”

People often say the most powerful three words in the universe are, “I love you.” And that’s probably correct. But three other words are a close second: “I forgive you.” 

The words “I love you” are wonderful, and they take a good situation and make it even better. But the words “I forgive you” can be even more powerful because they take a bad situation and turn it around to make it good.

Jesus was well aware the disciples were not good at math (except Matthew the tax collector, who passed the CPA exam). When Jesus said to forgive others 70 times seven, he wasn’t offering a specific number, as if we have to forgive someone exactly 490 times, but on the 491st time, oh boy, that’s it, no mercy!

No, by giving the disciples a math problem, Jesus meant we have to forgive endlessly. No matter how many times someone sins against us, we must be ready and willing to offer forgiveness.

I’m Irish. Have you ever heard of “Irish Alzheimer’s”? That’s where you forget everything except the grudges. I hear it’s common with other ethnic groups, too. In many families, there are people who haven’t spoken to each other in decades, and no one even re-members what caused the feud in the first place. But neither party has any interest in being the first one to say, “I’m sorry,” and offer forgiveness.

Speaking of the words, “I’m sorry,” there is a stunning aspect of Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness. Jesus says we must forgive others always, but then doesn’t qualify his teaching with: “ … as soon as they apologize and ask for forgiveness.” Whoa, you mean we’re supposed to forgive even if the other person doesn’t ask for forgiveness?

Now, obviously, if the other person sincerely says, “I’m sorry,” and asks for forgiveness, and then we do indeed forgive him, that is pure joy. That is a complete and glorious reconciliation.

However, even if the other person does not ask for forgiveness, Jesus says we must for-give, anyway. Since that won’t end the feud, why should we bother? Because when we forgive others who sin against us, it keeps us from becoming bitter. It keeps up from sinning.

The most perfect example of this is Jesus’ words from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” If Jesus could forgive the people who murdered him, don’t you think we can forgive others who did far less to us?