Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut
Monday, July 24, 2017

Bill Dunn

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?

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.