Why must things go bump in the night?

1377-1244933977c4kRPerhaps I suffer from selective memory, but I’m convinced that there are certain challenging events that only occur between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m.

Cases in point:

  • A pregnant wife decides it is time to go the hospital to deliver the baby. It can come earlier in the night if the husband already is asleep.
  • Raccoons knock over garbage cans.
  • Babies cry really loudly. Yes, they cry at other times, but during this time they make much more noise.
  • Airplanes fly lower and more directly over the house.
  • The muffler falls off the car driven home late by the neighbor’s teenage son. In some cases, the muffler doesn’t have to fall off because the kid is driving a motorcycle.
  • There is a huge storm with thunder and lightning.
  • A leak in the roof starts to drip and makes a really loud plop. Drips are pretty much silent during the day.
  • After you visit the bathroom and flush the toilet, the handle sticks and the water continues to run. This never happens at noon.
  • A wrong number calls.
  • The dog and cat renew their mutual mistrust.

You may think these things can happen during daylight.  Maybe they can happen to you when the sun is up. But not to me. I always get bumped in the night.


If it bleeds, it leads

The axiom in local news coverage is that if it bleeds it leads.

This truth is stated with ironic humor, but it really is a truth.  As a small point of evidence, I offer the top eight headlines in the Chicago Tribune’s July 5, 2018, issue:

  1. Two hit by lightning along lakefront as storms send holiday crowds running for cover
  2. 2 dead after branch from 100-year-old tree falls on crowd at fireworks show in Quad Cities
  3. Chicago police officer shoots dog while chasing suspect on West Side
  4. 7 wounded in Fourth of July shootings in Chicago, including 2 teens
  5. Former fire captain gets 36-year prison term for raping probationary employee near Champaign
  6. Woman found dead along Chicago River in Goose Island
  7. Divers search for man who went into Fox River during fireworks show
  8. ‘Sexy’ steal of home by Javier Baez energizes Cubs during 6th straight win

The first seven articles are by any definition “bad” news, some involving the literal shedding of blood.

The eighth story is positive, I think.  I assume it is good that Baez had a “sexy” steal, although I don’t know what makes a steal sexy. Perhaps it means his pants fell down. I don’t know; I’m a White Sox fan and we keep our pants on in public.

I understand the basic criteria for news. News is what has the most effect on the lives of people, what is emotional, what is unusual. It isn’t news when the vast majority of airplanes land safely; it is news when a plane crashes. It is really big news if a plane crashes and someone famous was on the flight.

I’m not so naïve as to think the leading headlines in Chicago Tribune will ever be something like this:

  1. Record turnout for Sunday Mass in area Catholic churches
  2. Emergency response workers bored by lack of action
  3. Young nun wins national spiritual poetry contest
  4. Priest leads march to thank taxpayers for making social programs possible

But as a Catholic, I do need to keep my eyes, ears, and heart focused on the positive – and what I can do to minimize the negative.  I can’t help but feel empathy for two people hit by lightning during a July 4 event. But I can be thankful that hundreds of thousands of people were not injured.

The headlines are often distressing.  However, behind those negative events are millions of positive events.  And perhaps the most positive news of all is the negatives are such a small part of reality.

God’s blessings will always outshine the bleeding leads.

Sometimes Stupid

heavensThis is about the Heavenly Bodies exhibit and the MET Gala.

But first…a recollection of my father. He was really smart and lacked the virtue of patience.  (Relax, this isn’t the blog where I go into my complicated analysis of my relationship with dad.)

As a result of the volatile combination of intelligence and impatience, when my dad encountered something he believed was terribly wrong and didn’t want to take time to explain why, he would call it “stupid.”  When making this declaration he usually exhibited a dramatic flair that could include adding multiple adjectives before the word “stupid,” words I won’t reproduce here.

And now we get back to the MET and its gala. No, I’m not going to call the MET or its gala stupid. I’m going to suggest that the way some folks showed up dressed for the gala reflected stupid decisions on their part.

Every Catholic pundit I know has commented on whether the Vatican ought to partner with the MET, especially on the gala (which is different than the actual exhibit). The reactions spread far and wide:

  • What a glorious celebration of diversity and inclusiveness.
  • This really shows how art and the faith can share in God’s joy.
  • Maybe this will jolt the Church into the modern world.
  • Whoever in the Vatican approved this should be burned at the stake.

The actual exhibit really isn’t so controversial: beautiful vestments and fashions.

It was the gala that people praised or condemned and caused me to become for a moment, my father.  There were many things about the gala that I’m sure were wonderful…fascinating people…fancy clothes…lots of scrumptious food.

But there were some really, well, stupid things.  For instance, when a female pop star shows up dressed up like a Pope in hot pants, I turn into my father.  There is probably a long explanation of why such attire is blasphemous, tasteless, sacrilegious, and so forth.

But to me, it is just plain stupid.  And if someone shows up to an event like this in attire is just plain stupid, I don’t blame the MET, the Vatican, Cardinal Dolan, the Sisters of Mercy, the Anglican, the Norwegians or anyone other than the person who decided to dress in a way that was, say it: stupid.

Advice for Graduation Speakers

university-student-1872810_960_720Here we are in the most challenging time of the year for high school and college administrators.

Yes, we’re in graduation season, the time of year when there is a real danger that a student giving a graduation speech will utter a forbidden word. No, I’m not talking about George Carlin’s Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV. (Don’t let the kids click on the link…really.)

I’m talking about those seven insidious words that threaten the political correctness that lies at the heart of American education in 2018:  God, Jesus, Christ, Christian, Virgin, Mary, and Madonna (unless referring to a pop singer who needs more clothes). These are the prohibited words.

Students across the country are plotting ways to sneak these words into their speeches. I hear one creative graduating senior thought he could cite his role model as a Jewish Carpenter (since he dare not say “Jesus”) but school authorities ruled that Jewish was a near-violation of the prohibited words and could not be tolerated. After all, there is a clear connection between Jews and Christians.

Another sneaky speaker tried to work a line from the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” into her speech.  She was expelled and denied graduation because school officials feared some people attending graduation ceremonies could be offended by a reference to someone with the same name as the Mother of God.

Lest I be labeled as cynical and negative, let me point out the seven approved for use by enlightened educations across the nation: atheist, gay, lesbian, bisexual, choice, misogyny, and bathroom.

Under some circumstances, the use of a word from the approved list will sanction the use of a word from the prohibited list. For example: “God wants me to be gay” or “Mary was bisexual”.

If America’s educators successful preserve the integrity of this year’s graduation speeches, it will be another step forward in the grand and glorious object to produce faithless youth who aren’t sure of their gender.

Alfie Reminds us to Remember the Revolution

hammer-802301_1280In 1776, a struggle broke out between the mighty British Empire and the upstart American colonies.

The colonies rebelled for many reasons, including freedom from excessive taxes, freedom from unreasonable government intervention and infringement on religious freedom.  But at the heart of the matter was something more fundamental, something that continues to be at the heart of left and right debate in the great American experiment.

Choose one:

  1. Government holds the rights and power of society and determines what will be granted to people based on what it believes is best for them and to preserve the control of the government
  2. God grants inalienable rights to people, who form a government to protect those rights.

Just to remove any mystery from this discussion, I am a total proponent of choice B.  Choice A leads to enslavement.  Read Orwell’s “1984” to understand where choice A leads.  If you don’t want to read the book, watch the movie.  It is nearly as terrifying.

Read any newspaper or watch any television news program on any day of the week and you will see this struggle between government control and freedom playing out in the public square.  We often forget that what is at stake – no matter the good intentions of the people promoting choice A – is the life or death of God in our society.

Alfie Evans, the British toddler who died a few days ago, became an unintended symbol of the struggle.  His parents had the very Catholic, Christian idea that they should let God determine the child’s fate, a viewpoint strongly endorsed by Pope Francis.

Somehow it came to the hospital, backed by the British courts, to make the life or death call.  And what especially caught my attention was the remark by a senior Catholic cleric: “It’s very hard to act in a child’s best interest when this isn’t always as the parents would wish – and this is why a court must decide what’s best not for the parents, but for the child.”

I’m going to give the Cardinal the benefit of the doubt.  I assume he means well and thinks the well-intentioned and caring folks at the hospital did their best.

Unfortunately, in the battle between Godly people and Godless government he likely is playing the role of useful idiot.  He accepts the court as England’s God.

Perhaps if the courts were staffed by God-fearing souls of strong Christian formation, they could make informed decisions about matters of morality.  But today’s courts are staffed by moral relativists who worship at the high altar of tolerance.  I doubt the court that decided the fate of Alfie Evans has a better grasp on truth than Pontius Pilot.

These are intellectuals who are certain they know better than parents, the Church, and God when a child should be killed.  And if we Catholic – cleric and lay – don’t present an alternative with strength and vigor we will soon have little ability to evangelize. We may have no reason to evangelize.

If we cede God’s authority to Godless courts, what do we stand for? We must all be soldiers in Alfie’s Army.

I doubt those brave and rebellious Americans of 1776 had much faith in the wisdom of the English courts.  I doubt children or parents in England have much faith in those courts today. Sadly, I have little confidence American courts would do much better.

A Hero for Today

Waffle,_Baytree_Waffle_House,_RemertonAre heroes born or made?

It is one of those questions that is periodically asked and never adequately answered.  Like which came first: the chicken or the egg? And…why did the chicken cross the road?

The hero question usually comes up as we lament the absence of heroes in our fast-moving, self-indulgent, high-technology, indifferent society. It often seems that we just don’t have any George Washingtons or Abe Lincolns running around, let alone A John Wayne or an Audie Murphy.

But just when you think the night is darkest, up pops a hero from the counter at the Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee (near Nashville).

The hero is James Shaw, Jr. I don’t know him and don’t know much about him.  According to news reports, he is a dad and an electrician. It doesn’t appear there is anything extraordinary about the guy.

But when an evil man (who will not be named here) entered the restaurant and starting shooting people – four dead and many wounded – Shaw intervened, took away the shooter’s weapon and saved a crowd of people.

Shaw has been praised by law enforcement officials and the people of the community.  He has had his 15 minutes of fame, being interviewed on television and exhibiting nothing but humility and humanity.

Not satisfied with saving a few lives, Shaw set up a gofundme page to help the victims of the shooting.  He set a goal of $15,000 and soon had raised 10 times that amount.

Heroes do stuff like that.

Most of history’s heroes are people we have never heard of. They are simple, ordinary, people who do what has to be done when extraordinary needs arise.  I don’t think they are either born or made – they just are.

My guess is that a year from now there won’t be many people who remember the name of James Shaw, Jr.  That doesn’t matter.  The people he saved will remember.  He will remember.

Shaw, like other heroes, didn’t act for glory, attention, fame or fortune.  He did what needed doing. That’s how heroes are.

What the Hell!

About once a year Pope Francis engages in an interview with Italian “journalist” Eugenio Scalfari. Scalfari is the founder of the left-wing Italian newspaper “La Repubblica.”

I suppose in the eyes of some that makes him a journalist.  After all, he founded a newspaper and he writes.  On another hand, a 12-year-old girl who keeps a diary (or journal) could be called a journalist.

A real journalist is meticulous, accurate, takes clear notes or records conversations (with permission). If a real journalist reports on an interview they are careful to faithfully report what was said, in the context in which it was said.

In Scalfari’s case, he fails on all these points. He doesn’t record or take notes, but simply engages in a conversation and then writes his impressions and calls it an interview. It is a little like having Picasso walk through a courtroom, do a cubist work from memory and call it court reporting.

Perhaps I should give Scalfari a break in light of his advanced age: nearly 94.  But I think he ought to know better and be more responsible.

In his most recent interview with the Holy Father, Scalfari reported that the Pope had doubts about the existence of Hell. Despite how often the Pope has spoken of Hell and how it is a place to be avoided, social media went crazy and the Vatican had to issue an admonition not to trust what Scalfari writes.

This is nothing new. It happens every time the Pope talks to this guy. So some people wonder why Francis doesn’t find someone a little more reliable to talk with.

I don’t know for certain, but my guess is that the Pope is hoping to create a meaningful dialogue with the journalist – an adamant atheist – to come around to the faith before he kicks the bucket of printer’s ink and finds out Hell is real.

Jesus dialogued with some rather sordid souls and saved a high percentage.  Of course, none of them were reaching a large readership.

As for the existence of Hell, the Church says there is such a place and I agree.  I’m sure many people – including noted theologians – could debate its nature.  Dante wrote a bit about it. Artists have created countless images.

I don’t believe the popular idea of it being a place where a guy with a pitchfork jumps around in red long underwear. But some people believe it is personally created to fit the individual sinner.  If that is true – and with me being a frequent critic of the news media – I hope I don’t end up being interviewed for all eternity by Scalfari, with every word I speak being misquoted and presented out of context. And I dread he would be wearing red undies.

Sticker Shock

0221181149Like any other sane person, I’m saddened and shocked whenever there is a shooting at a school – or anywhere else for that matter.

Unlike many other people (or so it seems) I don’t think putting a “Gun Free Zone” sticker on the door of a school will stop the violence.  I know this will sound politically incorrect, of which I’m somewhat proud, but common sense tells me that a “Gun Free Zone” sticker might actually encourage killers.

Here is the thing. What that sticker tells a killer is they have nothing to fear if they enter the building.  Nobody has the means to fight back if they start shooting.  And since the police can’t be everywhere all the time, if a killer starts shooting, he likely will cause a good deal of death before the good guys show up.

What would a killer do if he showed up at a school and it had a stick on the door like one or more of the following?

  • All teachers armed with assault weapons.
  • Means dogs patrolling the halls.
  • Home of the national champion rifle team.
  • We Love Hunters.
  • ROTC marksman team on duty 24×7.
  • Navy Seals welcome.

Maybe these stickers wouldn’t stop a determined killer, but they make more sense than a sticker that says a killer won’t be resisted.

I wish changing the world were as simple as just putting up a little sign.  If a sign would do the trick, I would put up the following:

  • Bill Free Zone (on my house)
  • Accident Free Zone (on my car)
  • Illness Free Zone (on the hospital)
  • Fat Free Zone (on the bakery)
  • Alcohol Free Zone (on the liquor store)
  • Calorie Free Zone (on my fridge)

Unfortunately, putting up a sign really doesn’t do much other than tell the world “I really care,” as when contestants in beauty contests proclaim their desire for world peace.

I have a rather Catholic suggestion as an alternative to signs, legislation, marches, and hashtags:

  • Marry a person of the opposite sex and stay married to them through thick and thin.
  • Start have children after you get married.
  • Tell your spouse and kids you love them every day.
  • Spend no more money than you can afford.
  • Send your kids to Catholic school.
  • Get involved in your parish and go to Mass as often as possible (every Sunday being the absolute minimum).

Will my approach solve all the problems of the world? Maybe not. But it will do more good than declaring my house a gun free zone.

Death’s Déjà vu

judge1I was sauntering through the kitchen a few days ago and there was my wife reading a news story on the computer. She was shaking her head and the headline caught my eye:

UK judge rules against parents, allows hospital to turn off baby’s life support

For understandable reasons, I confused the headline with the following:

Baby’s life-support will be switched off today against parents’ wishes: judge rules

So I asked my wife why she was reading an article about Charlie Gard, the baby who died in the UK last year at the insistence of his doctors and the decree of the court and over the objections of everyone from the parents to the Pope. My wife, a bit shocked (at the story, not me) explained that it involved Isaiah Haastrup, not Charlie Gard.

In other words, it was another case of a hospital in the UK deciding to remove a child from life support, the parents wanting to keep him alive and the court assuming the role of God.  The first headline above is about Isaiah, the second about Charlie.

Charlie’s parents lost all their appeals, Great Ormond Street Hospital pulled the plug and he died. This despite the raising of huge sums of money to continue his treatment.

Isaiah’s parents are still appealing and have a court hearing later this month, but it seems that King’s College Hospital is just itching to pull his plug. I have serious doubts that a UK appeals court will be struck with a random case of sincere Catholic moral conscience.

My wife stared at the screen; I stared at the screen.  It was like a terrible, recurrent nightmare.  I felt a cold, emptiness in my stomach.

Am I alone in seeing the irony that in sophisticated medical institutions, in one of the world’s “great” cities, there is such a disconnect between the caring image presented, the compassion claimed, and reality.

The stated mission of Great Ormond Street Hospital is “The child first and always.” Apparently, Charlie Gard existed somewhere beyond “always.”

King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust remains rated as “Requires Improvement” by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). I expect Isaiah’s parents would agree with that assessment.

Hospitals, courts, government leaders, social-service agencies are all quick to promote how caring they are, how much they want to do the right thing. But none has the wisdom to decide the time of death.  That is God’s alone.

When I wrote of Charlie Gard’s death last July, I had an eerie sense I would be writing of something similar in the future. I have the same feeling now.

Beads over Birds

467Once upon a time, there was a Chicago radio host who tried to help nervous air travelers by loaning them his rubber chicken. The idea was that if you took the chicken with you on the plane you would have no fear – or at least your fears would be greatly diminished.

The rubber chicken was an early foreshadowing of what has become a real pain for airlines and their customers: the emotional support animal. There is a big difference in that the rubber chicken was, well, a rubber chicken as opposed to a live bird.

This came to mind a couple days ago when United Airlines denied a woman’s request to bring her emotional support animal on a flight. In this case, it was a real, live bird – a peacock.

Let me be clear; I like birds. In point of fact, I have a bird who has been living in my home for the past 18 years and is a beloved member of the family: Conrad the green-cheek conure. The green-cheek is a small parrot that hails from the forests of South America.

peacockDespite being a cute, friendly and emotionally supportive bird, Conrad never has and never will accompany me on an airline flight. It would be silly and potentially annoying to other passengers.  Conrad tends to screech during times of stress, which being locked in a metal tube with dozens of strangers would certainly constitute.

A peacock would be much more disruptive.  It is larger and could generate considerably more bird waste. It is hard for me to imagine why anyone would think it is appropriate to bring a peacock on a plane.

But I admit that I don’t know why anyone – other than a blind person with a service dog – thinks they should bring an animal on a plane.  The right to animals on a plane is not in the constitution nor bill of rights.

But in our me-first culture, many people seem to believe they have a right to bring their little poochy-woochy wherever they go. Frankly, being stuck on a plane beside a woman (sorry, but I’ve never encountered this behavior in a man) on a plane with her “purse dog” is discomforting. A non-purse peacock is absurd.

I have friends from South Africa. They never ask to bring an emotional support elephant on a plane.

I have friends from Canada. They never ask to bring an emotional support moose on a flight.

RosaryBut my friends – and I – do have something for emotional support.  It also works for spiritual support.

Prayer: quiet, easy, portable, can be done in any place under any circumstances. A useful tool for prayer is the rosary (as in beads), which is helpful for praying the rosary (prayer).

Unlike dogs, peacocks, elephants or moose, the rosary does not have to be walked, fed or cleaned up after. And when it comes to emotional support, I’ll take my rosary over any 10 pesky peacocks.