Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Holy Family Retreat

Bill Dunn

SPIRITUAL FITNESS

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?

The Merry Catholic

by Bill Dunn

Well, December is here and you’re starting to stress out, aren’t you? I can feel the stress coming right through your eyeballs as you read this.

The Christmas season, which officially began the day after Halloween, is now kicking into high gear, and with it comes the inevitable stress of trying to cram 10 pounds of ho-ho-ho into a five-pound stocking. To paraphrase an Andy Williams holiday classic, “It’s the most STRE-ESS-FUL time … of the year!”

As Catholics, we have the added stress of trying to incorporate a little of the religious origins of this holy day into our holiday festivities. But things are so hectic, that seems to be practically impossible, doesn’t it?

Nowadays, the Christmas season is kind of like being swept away by a raging flood. Every year, we tell ourselves that we’re not going to get caught up in all the holiday nonsense, but then the season comes rolling in and even though we try to hold our ground, we eventually lose our balance and get washed downstream in a foaming maelstrom of too much food, too much drink, too much shopping, too much decorating, too much seeing ugly Christmas sweaters, too much cookie-baking, too much wrapping, too much of watching Christmas specials on TV and too much of “Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer.” It’s just, well, too much.

The more hectic the Christmas season becomes, the less the “reason for the season” is present, both in our lives and in the culture. For example, in response to the threat of frivolous lawsuits a decade or so ago, school choruses stopped singing religious carols during the annual Christmas concert. But now they’re not even allowed to call it a Christmas concert; it’s a “winter” concert. And now they can’t even sing non-religious holiday songs, like Rudolph and Frosty, because apparently the lawyers for various atheist groups noticed that the Nativity passages in Luke’s Gospel are just teeming with red-nosed reindeer and talking snowmen.

The less Christ is present in Christmas, the more our culture fills the void with stress-inducing holiday season nonsense.

When Jesus was stressed-out and exhausted, he went up to the hills for some peace and quiet and prayer. When we’re about to be swept away by a flood (either real or metaphorical), we, too, need to head for the hills. We need to make some time for peace and quiet and prayer.

Oh sure, easy to say, but how do we make time when there already isn’t enough time to do all the holiday things everyone expects? Aha! Martha, Martha, you are worried and anxious about many things, but only one thing is needed. (Recognize that line? Someone pretty important said it a long time ago.)

The key to finding some peaceful time, which will allow us to keep Christ in Christmas, is to change the expectations. Make it clear to your friends and loved ones that you’re not playing the game this year. Tell them you are refusing to get swept away by the raging current of non-religious folderol that has become such a part of the modern, secular Christmas season.

Now, I’m not advising that you go all Scrooge on everybody. Go ahead and put up a tree, buy some presents, eat a few cookies, and play the Bing Crosby CD. But simply make it clear that faith and prayer – you know, keeping Christ in Christmas – are the most important aspects of this season. You just might be surprised at how many of your friends and loved ones want to join you on the quiet and prayerful high ground, away from the flood.

Bill Dunn is a freelance writer who resides in Torrington. His most recent book is titled The Gospel According to Morty. He can be contacted via his blog at MerryCatholic.blogspot.com.

The Merry Catholic

Sunday Mass was coming to a close, and the children’s choir belted out the recessional hymn in fine style. When the last note concluded, most of the folks still left in the pews offered up heartfelt applause for the musical tykes. As the clapping subsided, a woman in the pew behind me muttered, “There should never be clapping at Mass! It’s offensive to God.”

Wait. What? Did she really say that? Letting the children’s choir know that we appreciate their hard work is offensive to God?

Later that day, out of curiosity, I did a Google search and typed in the phrase, “Is it OK to clap at Mass?” Wow, I didn’t realize this was such a volatile topic. There were over 3.8 million search results. Many of the links brought me to website articles with titles such as, “Flawed Applause,” “Wrap the Clap!” and “Confessions of a Conflicted Catholic Clapper.”

Is it possible that God is offended when parishioners express thanks to a group of youngsters who worked hard to prepare the music for Mass? After all, the Bible clearly says, “All you peoples, clap your hands; shout to God with joyful cries” (Psalm 41:7). It doesn’t seem that there’s anything wrong with clapping.

However, there is a strong sentiment in the church that frowns on clapping during Mass. And the person cited most often by these folks is Pope Benedict XVI. Before he became pope, back when he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he said, “Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.”

Hmm, it seems it all depends on why we’re clapping. The verse from Psalm 41 clearly indicated the clapping is directed toward God. Clapping and shouting to God is rarely done in suburban parishes in the United States, but in many Catholic communities clapping and shouting are quite common expressions of praise and worship. But this clapping is not “applause,” in the sense of offering approval to other people.

“Catholic Answers” is a terrific website with information about all things Catholic (www.catholic.com). The following question was sent in: “When is it appropriate to applaud at Mass?”

Here is the answer they offered:

“There is no church document specifying applause as an appropriate liturgical response to music, singing, homilies or announcements of gratitude by the presider.

“Although the church does not explicitly state that applause is inappropriate at Mass, that may be because such a stricture used to be enforced by Western society. As a matter of traditional Western etiquette, it used to be severely frowned upon to applaud in church because church services are worship offered up to God and not entertainment to be critiqued by the assembly.

“Now that society has generally lost the sense that applause is inappropriate in church, I suspect that the church may soon have to speak on the matter before people take the idea to its logical conclusion and begin to boo when they are insufficiently entertained at Mass.”

Well, that’s interesting, isn’t it? It never dawned on me that people might boo something they don’t like at Mass. But the way our culture is going nowadays, with college students being encouraged to throw hissy fits whenever they hear an idea they don’t agree with, I suppose booing at Mass could happen.

So I’m not quite sure what to think about clapping at Mass. All I know is, those kids worked really hard and sounded so nice when they sang. And I suspect if Jesus were sitting in the pews that Sunday morning, Jesus would’ve clapped heartily, no matter what was muttered by the lady in the pew behind him.

Bill Dunn is a freelance writer who resides in Torrington. His most recent book is titled The Gospel According to Morty. He can be contacted via his blog at MerryCatholic.

BDunn 4C 75x75Column name: The Merry Catholic

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

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

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

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

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

Some people commit gross violations, such as waiting until they return to the pew before consuming the host, or even worse, breaking it in pieces and sharing it with young children who have not had their first Communion yet.

But it’s really not so much a problem of irreverence. It’s a problem of ignorance. Receiving Communion has become a rote ritual for many Catholics, similar to a trip to the DMV, because we’ve forgotten what is present in the Eucharist – or rather, who is present.

Most of us haven’t heard a detailed explanation of the church’s doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist since CCD class in the fourth grade. And I don’t know about you, but when I was in the fourth grade, I had the attention span of a cocker spaniel puppy. (Actually, that’s an insult to cocker spaniel puppies – my attention span was much worse.)

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

How can this happen, you ask. Well, it’s a divine, supernatural miracle. If we’re Catholic, we already believe in miracles: the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Red Sox winning the World Series, etc. We believe miraculous things are possible when God causes them to happen. Just look in the mirror. Your very existence is a supernatural miracle. Of course, some folks look rather super, while the rest of us look a little too natural.

We believe the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Jesus. Now, we don’t believe this because it sounds nice, or because some church leader tells us it’s true. We believe it because Jesus himself clearly taught that it’s true. It really makes all the difference in the world.

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

The Merry Catholic by Bill Dunn

There’s a fascinating Catholic doctrine called the communion of saints. It states that all the believers who have gone before us are not isolated away in some far corner of heaven. Instead, they are aware of our activities here on earth and they can intercede on our behalf. Pretty cool, huh?

Now, don’t misunderstand; the communion of saints is not superstitious folklore, like those scary movies about ghosts and séances. The communion of saints is a genuine doctrine, clearly taught in Scripture. When Jesus was being harassed by the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, he said to them, “Have you not read in the Book of Moses … how God told him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead but of the living” (Mark 12:26-27).

So the souls and spirits of those who have died in faith are still very much alive. They are now in Purgatory or in a more glorious state of being, and are able to know what we’re doing down here. The epistle to the Hebrews clearly teaches this. In chapter 12, immediately following a list of many saints in heaven, it says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses … let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

What this means is, the saints in heaven can see us and are actually cheering us on as we struggle in this difficult and often painful world. Those of us still on earth, fighting the good fight of faith, are like athletes in a stadium, and the saints are like the spectators in the stands, yelling and cheering and eating hot dogs. (Okay, maybe they don’t have hot dogs – but on the other hand, if heaven is the place of perfect joy, I will be very sad if there are no hot dogs.)

The Bible also commands us to pray for one another – something all good Christians surely do. Who better to ask for intercessory prayer than those who are continually in the Lord’s presence, and who, because of their special glorified existence, can simultaneously pray fervently and eat a hot dog? That’s why the Catholic Church has a long history and tradition of asking the saints in heaven to pray for us. It’s right in the Bible (except the part about hot dogs).

It can be very comforting to know that the saints in heaven, the communion of saints, are cheering us on and can intercede on our behalf before the throne of God. That’s why people have devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary or Saint Joseph, or they ask Uncle Lenny to intercede, assuming Uncle Lenny was faithful and wise, and now most likely is in heaven.

However, the doctrine of the communion of saints can be a little disconcerting if you’ve always assumed, like the Sadducees, that those who have died don’t really exist anymore. If you’re in the habit of making snarky comments about dearly departed Aunt Shirley’s driving skills or Uncle Mike’s weight problem, and then you come to realize they are in heaven listening to your smart-aleck remarks, it can feel a little weird.

Even though the communion of saints is a fascinating Catholic doctrine, I can honestly say I’ve never once heard a homily on the subject, and I’ve been going to Mass for over 50 years. Although in fairness, I’ve only been paying attention at Mass for the last 15 years. But it would be a great topic for a sermon, first because it’s true, and second, because it helps us comprehend that this world is not all there is: Heaven is real. And I’m hopeful there will be hot dogs there.

Bill Dunn is a freelance writer who resides in Torrington. His most recent book is titled The Gospel According to Morty. He can be contacted via his blog at MerryCatholic.blogspot.com.

The Merry Catholic

In Luke’s gospel, chapter 14, Jesus offered an important teaching about pride and vanity. Jesus said: “There once was a man who set up a Facebook account. At first, the man connected with many long-lost friends from high school. Soon after, he began to type witty replies to the various postings he saw. Then he began to post his own updates, letting everyone know what was new and important in his life. Whenever someone else commented on one of his postings, the man had a surge of delight. ‘People are noticing me!’ he thought. ‘People think I’m important!’

“As time went on, the man spent more and more time on his computer. He would post updates about everything that happened in his life, including what he had for breakfast, the current weather conditions in his town and pretty much any random thought that popped into his head, especially regarding the presidential election campaign. He then would stare at the computer screen anxiously waiting for someone to reply. One day, the man posted a photo of the baloney sandwich he prepared for lunch. Someone quickly replied with this comment: ‘Hey pal! Who cares?! Get a life!’

“The man was devastated, and walked away from his computer sadly, because he had much pride and vanity.” Then Jesus concluded his teaching by saying, ‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’”

O.K., so maybe this isn’t exactly how Jesus told the story in Luke, chapter 14. But I bet that’s how Jesus would tell the story if he were here in the flesh today.

Back then, Jesus described people who had been invited to a banquet, and immediately chose “the places of honor at the table,” because they wanted to be noticed by everyone. But Jesus explained this strategy could backfire, as a more important guest might arrive, and the host would have to tell the attention-seeker to move to the least prestigious place.

Pride and vanity have always been chronic problems for mankind. It was the case back in Jesus’ day, and it’s our situation today – only 100 times worse.

Baby boomers are known as the “Me Generation,” because those of us born between 1946 and 1964 were trained from infancy to be completely self-centered. Today, people have taken that concept to the next level, and now we have the “Look-At-Me Generation.” Narcissism has been combined with exhibitionism, in the form of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and the ubiquitous “selfie.”

People are craving attention and are going to outrageous lengths to exalt themselves. Jesus clearly teaches that this attitude is wrong. The narcissism combined with exhibitionism observed on social media is rather annoying. But when you look a little deeper, it’s clear the relentless postings often are just pitiful cries for attention.

Jesus taught the importance of humility because he knows that when a person is self-absorbed and constantly in need of attention, that person will never be content. The situation is kind of a Catch-22. When we seek happiness by being self-centered and craving attention from others, we’ll never be happy. But when we stop focusing on ourselves and instead strive to follow the two great commandments – love God with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves – only then we will be happy.

So if you must dabble in Facebook to keep in touch with old friends, fine. But be aware it has the power to bring out the worst in people. Please don’t get caught up in the constant desire for attention. It will only make you miserable in the long run, and it will drive you further and further away from healthy relationships, both with the Lord and with other people.

Bill Dunn is a freelance writer who resides in Torrington. His most recent book is titled The Gospel According to Morty. He can be contacted via his blog at MerryCatholic.blogspot.com.

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