The Adulation of Hypocrisy

Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here! – From the classic scene in Casablanca, made in 1942

Bill Clinton speaking (2015)Twenty years ago – January 17, 1998, news broke on Drudge that then-president Bill Clinton had “relations” with a young intern in the White House.

That was the moment when I thought our nation had lost discretion and decorum.  It wasn’t only that I was disappointed (hardly shocked) that the leader of the free world might engage in illicit sex.  No, it was the explicit nature of how the media described the “affair.” And following that came the hypocritical outcries from politicians and press suggesting they had no idea such things ever happened.

Last year we witnessed the Weinstein scandal in Hollywood.  Goodness…a movie director asking pretty girls for favors in exchange for stardom.  Everyone in the movie industry was shocked – the same people who are churning out movies and television shows filled with violence, profanity, nudity and explicit sex.

And in the past week, politicians and political pundits are protesting the profane pronouncements of our apparently potty-mouthed president.  My goodness, a president using disrespectful language.  The language was so awful, but newspapers reprinted it in headlines and critical politicians repeated the words while lambasting the president for using it.

Having spent time in newspaper offices and public-relations agencies, I can testify that President Trump could not utter any word that a large percentage of reporters, senators, congressmen, corporate executives, teachers, police officers, firefighters, soldiers and, yes, sailors, utter on a regular basis.

Matthew_Getting_Mouth_Washed_Out_With_SoapI am not endorsing or excusing foul language.  But even a cursory examination of history would suggest swearing has been a problem for a long time.

In 1738, Edmund Gibson, Lord Bishop of London, published “An Admonition against Profane and Common Swearing.” He hoped to save an increasingly coarse culture from further descent.

On August 3, 1776, General George Washington ordered that there be no swearing by the soldiers under his command. I guess his ears were ringing.

And as a Christian, I’m aware of the Second Commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

I’m also aware that the Gospel isn’t gentle with hypocrites.

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” – Romans 2:1

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” – Luke 6:41

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” – Matthew 23:27

How sad it is that people of power and influence behave badly.  But the hypocrisy permeating our culture is horrifying.  Most of us are behaving badly and we need to start behaving like Christians. We need Jesus as our role model, not Captain Renault.

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Lessons from the Flu

fluI have the flu. It hurts.

I’m saying that not because I’m looking for sympathy. I’m just one of a few million people who have the flu.

I mention it to put everyday life in perspective.

Most of us have dreams: places we want to visit, career levels to achieve, a book to write, a hit song, getting all the kids through college.  Sometimes our dreams are practical and materialistic: a new house, a fancy car, mink coat, a bass boat.

If you have one or more of these dreams, you probably don’t let them dominate your every waking thought, but they pop up now and again.

The flu changes all that. Over the past 24 hours, goals and objectives that seemed to important faded behind the immediate desires to have joints that don’t ache, a stomach that holds solid food and eyes that can focus.

Today the old saying “if you have your health you have everything” ran through my mind a few times.  Simply feeling OK seems much more important than having a bulging savings account or a redecorated dining room.

The flu certainly can’t be seen as a force for good in the world.  It kills people, although I believe all it will do is make me miserable for a few days.  But the flu has brought me back to the basics of focusing on the present and having an ongoing conversation with God, asking for his comfort and patience.

Ravioli – the Next Generation

1227171934aThe moment had been creeping up on me for more than a quarter-century, but I didn’t see it coming.

Not the time. Not the place. Not the circumstances.

I sat in my kitchen, just a couple days past Christmas 2017. Four other people bustled about the kitchen rolling dough into pasta, mixing cheese and spices, putting together dozens and dozens of ravioli made from scratch. The task required patience and attention to detail and the love of good cooking I recall from my grandma’s kitchen and the kitchen of my wife’s grandmother.

But these ravioli makers were young: my daughter (half Italian on her mother’s side), her husband (plain old American like me), my son (half Italian on her mother’s side), his wife (pure Irish). All four are within a couple years pre or post thirty.

Two other people shared the kitchen with us: my daughter’s three-month-old twin daughters.  They weren’t much help with the actual making of the ravioli, but I expect they will be someday.

My wife learned to make ravioli from her mother, her mother learned from her mother, who I assumed learned from her mother.  My wife taught my daughter, who will someday teach her twin daughters.  This particular day, she was teaching her husband, her brother and his Irish wife, who proved to be most skilled in the practice of raviolian arts.

An aside: I never have learned the ravioli part of marrying into a large Italian family, but I learned how to make pizza dough from my wife’s grandmother and I’m pretty good at it (for a non-Italian).

But as you might expect, this isn’t really about making ravioli or pizza, but a generational changing of the guard. A few years ago, my wife and her mom would make the ravioli…now it is my daughter.

It seems like only yesterday that my wife and I were young marrieds heading off to Christmas Eve dinner at her grandma’s house.  This year, we went to my daughter’s house. The menu featured the same pasta with sauce made from garlic and oil.  Just like grandma made – really.

As I sat in the kitchen watching the ravioli parade forming, I found my mind bouncing from various times and places.  The times and places blended together and told me that despite all the squabbles and sacrifices, family topped everything else.

I was a young man at my wife’s grandma’s house for the holidays.  I was a little boy waiting for Christmas morning.  I was a young father wrapping presents for my children and getting ready for midnight Mass. I was in Ohio, New Jersey, Illinois, and Indiana, all the places the family had at some point called home.

My grandma’s cookies were glorious and her mashed potatoes never had lumps.  Same with my mom.

Now, home and family were these wonderful young people making food in our kitchen. Their laughter, joking, sharing, coaching, and teasing were beautiful to observe.  Maybe this was the moment my life was prepared to receive.

Resolved to be Unresolved

resolutionsAs the end of 2017 looms, talk turns to the making of resolutions for the new year. In this, I am a non-participant, perhaps even an anti-new-year-resolutionist.

My reason for eschewing New Year’s Resolutions is simple; if there is something that I should change about my behavior, I should start right now, not on some “special” date.  And to be frank, the only things special about January 1 are it being a Holy Day and it is time to put a new parish calendar on my office wall.

Most resolutions I hear people tour have to do with behavior, either physical or spiritual.

The physical resolutions: lose weight, eat more vegetables, give up chocolate, exercise more, run the Boston Marathon, learn to play the piano.

The spiritual resolutions: be kinder to others, be more patient never miss Mass, don’t swear, start each day with a meditation, don’t shop on Sunday.

Of course, some people make particular and practical resolutions:  finally clean the garage, paint the porch, keep the garden weeded.  But these practical resolutions have no connection to the first of the year.

Come to think of it, neither do physical or spiritual resolutions. If something is worthy of a resolution, it is worthy to address right now.

If I think I need to be more patient, why wait until January 1 – or if I forget on January 1, 2018, wait until January 1, 2019. I should not be patient about making a resolution to be more patient.

Of course, if someone makes a resolution that will improve their life and they stick to it, more power to them.  It probably works for some folks.

Based on the history of the world the past couple centuries, I hope world leaders will have enough sense to resolve a few things:

  • Don’t get involved in a land war in Asia.
  • Don’t invade Russia (especially in winter).
  • Promote peace and justice.
  • Stop corruption and greed.
  • Feed and clothe those in need.
  • Protect human life.
  • Find a path to peace in the Middle East.
  • End religious persecution.

I know, I know, I sound like a contestant in a beauty contest.  But I really do want world peace.

Dangerous Expectations

expectationsA priest I’ve known for many years always wishes me a “Blessed” Christmas this time of year.  Never a “Merry” Christmas.  Never a “Happy Christmas.”  And most certainly, never “have a good one.”

After he had done this a couple times, I overcame my natural shyness and asked why he doesn’t say “Merry” like everyone else.  He smiled (with a smile a little like the Cheshire cat) and explained that Christmas isn’t really about being Merry, but about receiving the greatest gift God could give us: His only son.

It was his little way of reminding people that Christmas isn’t really about sugar plum fairies, trips to the mall or a reindeer with a red nose.

Christmas is about the arrival of the Word made flesh, mankind’s ultimate get out of jail free card.  I may have original sin and am not worthy for Him to enter under my roof, but Christ was born to give me a simple (perhaps not easy) path to eternal life.

The importance of that path tends to get lost amid the unrealistic expectations of the season:

  • Everyone who really matters to me will send me a card and come to visit.
  • I’ll send out hundreds of cards and decorate my home to look like a scene from the Nutcracker Suite.
  • I will get exactly the gifts I want.
  • Every gift I give will be the best gift the person receiving it will get.
  • The entire family will gather around the table for Christmas with a perfectly prepared turkey in the center and a photographer from Hallmark present to record the moment.
  • The cookies I bake will be even better than the ones grandma made from the same recipe in the old days.
  • There will be snow for Christmas, but only 3-4 inches and the temperature will be such that it sticks on the lawns and trees and the roads remain clear.
  • The Church service will start on time, the choir will be exquisite, all the children in the congregation will be well-behaved and the service will conclude in under an hour.

Reality will likely fall well short of expectations.  I’ll be lucky to get an email out, I’ll burn the turkey and grandma would be ashamed of my baking.

That is where the “dangerous” part of expectations kicks in.  There can be a wide gap between what we picture in our minds as the perfect Christmas and what actually occurs.

This may be disappointing. For some folks, it can be depressing – I mean medically so.  To unmet expectations add exhaustion, sleep deprivation, last-minute gift panic and too much eggnog and you have a recipe for misery.

And if I’m heading in that direct – even a little bit – I need to remind myself of my Father friend’s wish for my “Blessed” Christmas.  Even if I get a clip-on tie with lighted Santa nose and the gingerbread men are the consistency of hockey pucks, Christmas is a greatest blessed I can ever receive.

And being so blessed, well, makes me feel Merry and Happy.

 

Frankenstein vs. the Pope

frank2Frankenstein has been the subject of many movies, some campy classics and some rather awful.

Frankenstein with Boris Karloff (1931, is likely THE Frankenstein flick, although there were earlier versions – and a couple dozen later ones.

I admit my favorite in the genre is Bride of Frankenstein (1935). There is something about Elsa Lanchester’s piercing eyes and frizzy hair that touched my taste for the terrifying.

frank3There is a Frankenstein movie for nearly every taste:

  • Son of Frankenstein (1939)
  • The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
  • Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
  • House of Frankenstein (1944)
  • Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
  • I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957)
  • Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965)
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein (1999)
  • Lady Frankenstein (1971)
  • Young Frankenstein (1974)

Just to be clear, I’m not recommending you go out and watch any of these.  And in that this is but a fraction of the “Frankies” that have been made, you may think it odd that I believe we need one more.

I’m talking about the yet-to-be-made Frankenstein vs. the Pope.

Frankly, this show won’t have a Frankenstein, but a Canavero.

Sergio Canavero is an Italian doctor who says he will perform the first human head transplant.  He plans to do this in China, the medical authorities in the United States and Europe being understandingly opposed.  He claims to be on the road to medical history, having successfully transplanted heads and bodies of animals and human cadavers.

The doctor says the operation that is supposed to put a living head on a living body not its own requires a couple dozen surgeons, will last 24 hours and cost $100 million.

Leonard_Nimoy_William_Shatner_Spock's_Brain_Star_Trek_1968The closest anyone has ever come to doing something like this was on the original Star Trek, when Dr. McCoy had to restore Spock’s brain after it was stolen by aliens. Wait…that was a television show. It wasn’t real. It was science fiction.

But rather than looking for inspiration from fictional characters or space aliens, I look to Pope Francis.  He recently gave a talk on how we should face the challenges of technical advances in medicine.

He made three key points:

  1. The first is the centrality of the human person, which must be considered an end and not a means.
  2. The second principle it is necessary to remember is that of the universal destination of goods, which also regards those of knowledge and technology.
  3. The principle remains that not all that is technically possible or feasible is therefore ethically acceptable.

I don’t think Frankenstein – I mean Canavero – responds favorably to any of the three points.  But he falls especially short on the third.

Maybe this diabolical doctor really can perform a human head transplant. I seriously doubt it.  And even he admits that if “successful” the resulting being probably wouldn’t live very long.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume he can do it. Could there be any greater example of something that shouldn’t be done just because it could be done?

The one consistent theme in all the old Frankenstein flicks is that Frankenstein – the doctor — ends up in disgrace. Frankenstein vs. the Pope will end the same way.

Easy Love/Tough Love

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When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22: 34-40

The Gospel from the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time has been rambling around in my brain for the past couple days.  It started Sunday when I read the Holy Father’s address at the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square on the “Great Commandment.”

Then I went to Mass, quietly minding my own business, and the priest told me how challenging this commandment is and how I couldn’t always trust my feelings and my mind started working overtime and I realized that I live in a world that is terribly misinformed in matters of love.  Which isn’t to suggest I’m an expert.

What does it mean to love?  What is love?  Loving God seems like a no-brainer.  After all, how could I not love the source of all that is good?

But part B of this commandment is the tricky one.  How am I supposed to love so many people I encounter who, frankly, don’t seem all that loveable?  The commandment suggests I can – and I must.

How?  By finding love?

Our culture generally defines love in three ways, which often do not overlap.

Definition one:  Love is cute and cuddly, warm and fuzzy, makes you feel happy.

Definition two:  Love is all about the interaction of male and female hormones, meeting someone attractive who can satisfy every carnal passion.

Definition three:  Love is suffering and sacrifice, making oneself miserable for the sake of another, risking death by slaying a dragon to save a damsel in distress.

Each of these definitions depends on the “attractiveness” of the one I love:  A warm puppy, the love of my life, someone so wonderful I would die for them.

But the commandment says to love others as myself. Not just some others.  Not just others who are nice to me.  Not necessarily people I like.

Yes, I’m called to love people I don’t like.  And this turns our cultural perceptions upside down.

As anyone who watches prime-time television can tell you, liking someone precedes loving something.  You like first and if that goes well, you progress to love.  (This requires very little time in some television shows and movies.) But the commandment requires me to love my neighbor and there isn’t any mention of the neighbor’s likeability or fairness or honesty or beauty.

Can I love someone I don’t like?  Absolutely…and it may not be easy, pleasant, warm and fuzzy.  It may be downright unpleasant at times.

A nurse bathing a cranky old patient is showing love for the other; it is hardly a “good time.”

A parent demanding a child eat his green beans and finish his homework is showing love – but likely doesn’t like the child in the midst of the tug and pull of parenting.

A wife may not be feeling warm and fuzzy toward the husband who shows up an hour late for dinner – but still loves him.

I have never accepted the contention of some spiritual directors that feelings don’t matter and can’t be trusted.  Feelings can be unreliable, but they are real to the extent that they can spur actions or freeze us in inaction.

But I have come to believe that love transcends feelings.  I can demonstrate love even when my feelings, my emotions can’t like and tell me to flee something uncomfortable.

I must love. Sometimes that means doing what is best for someone I don’t like and by any objective measure is unlikeable.  Frankly, there are some rather unlikeable people in my life – even in my extended family.  But I have come to love them just the same.

 

The Pet Report

1028171524cIn Chicago, local television news has gone to the dogs – and various other animals.

I discovered this strange fact one recent night when I watched the local Fox affiliate (not to be confused by Fox News or Fox Business).

Most local television news in Chicago starts at 10 p.m. and lasts for 30 minutes.  The Fox folks start at 9 p.m. and continue for a full hour.

With that much extra time, you might think Fox would do some really in-depth reporting…root out corruption…brings us scenes of crime and tragedy from around the world…reveal the ins and outs of politics.

Instead, I watched several weather segments with amazing graphics that presented very simple information in a very complicated manner.  Despite all sorts of spinning symbols, swirling arrows, flashing lights and pulsating maps, all I learned was the projected temperature, wind and precipitation for the next day.

I had always heard that the motto of local news is “if it bleeds it leads.” Instead, Fox treated me to no less than four stories about animals:

  • The Coast Guard rescued two dogs from a marooned boat. They did mention that two people were rescued, but the focus was on man’s best friends, although the rescued humans were women.
  • There was an update on a coyote pup that had been injured and now lives with a foster coyote mom and her pup, which is now his step-brother pup.
  • Apple has a fancy new store that is all glass, with trees inside and gleaming lights at night. Apple customers love it.  Unfortunately, birds keep flying into the glass and dying.  This at least was a semblance of news; I learned that there is an organization of bird lovers who go around downtown Chicago looking for dead bird who may have flown into a building.
  • A pair of intrepid police officers tracked down an escaped pet rabbit and returned it to its forlorn owner.

Animals are important, valuable and sometimes cute.  Still, this didn’t seem like news and I decided I wouldn’t watch this report again.

But I may have been rash in that decision. After all, reports must be coming about cats, rats, fish and frog.

Time to Renew…again?

karl-fredrickson-27504-768x512I have had the experience a few times.  It happens during Mass and it makes me squirm.  I might even sneak a look around to find out if people are looking at me.  And I’m willing to bet I’m now the only one who has had this particular experience:  The Catholic Creeps.

There I sit in Mass, well-behaved, quiet. The priest is giving a perfectly fine homily.  Then he warns the congregation of a particular shortcoming or temptation that plagues people and I have the sense he is talking directly to me.

Oh no!  Father knows I’m insensitive, impatient, envious…whatever.  And he is calling me out right here in front of everyone!

Of course, he isn’t doing any such thing.  He is raising legitimate concerns and my conscience makes the connection.  That darn conscience.

My pastor can instill The Catholic Creeps on only a few hundred parishioners at a time.  But think of the Pope; he can do it to the multitudes.

Pope Francis dishes out The Catholic Creeps in the best sense, challenging us to be the best versions of Catholic that we can be.  Sometimes it seems like he is talking personally to me, although I’m pretty sure he didn’t roll out of bed thinking of how his homily that day would move little old me.

Likewise, I doubt he saunters over to St. Peter’s Square for a Sunday Angelus thinking, “Hey, have I got a great message today just for Jimbo…he could use a little poke in the side.”

Just the same, that doesn’t prevent his words from having a particular resonance with me, as they seemed to have one Sunday, when the Holy Father celebrated Mass in the square and declared 35 new saints.  (By the way, of all the good things a Pope gets to do, can anything be more fun than declaring saints?)

He gave a beautiful homily based on the day’s gospel about the king and the wedding feast from Matthew 22.  It is here if you would like to read it.

A few phrases popped out that seemed aimed at our Movement:

  • Our relationship with him, then, has to be more than that of devoted subjects with their king, faithful servants with their master, or dedicated students with their teacher.
  • In other words, the Lord wants us, he goes out to seek us and he invites us.
  • For him, it is not enough that we should do our duty and obey his laws. He desires a true communion of life with us, a relationship based on dialogue, trust and forgiveness.
  • Such is the Christian life, a love story with God.
  • No one has a better seat than anyone else, for all enjoy God’s favor.
  • We can ask ourselves if at least once a day we tell the Lord that we love him; if we remember, among everything else we say, to tell him daily, “Lord, I love you; you are my life”
  • They were more interested in having something rather than in risking something, as love demands.
  • This is how love grows cold, not out of malice but out of a preference for what is our own: our security, our self-affirmation, our comfort… We settle into the easy chair of profits, pleasures, or a hobby that brings us some happiness.
  • And we end up aging badly and quickly, because we grow old inside. When our hearts do not expand, they become closed in on themselves.
  • We need to put on God’s love and to renew our choice for him daily.

If you are reading this (and you survived this far into the article), you, like me, likely have had moments when you could stop “renewing.”  I think the Pope just gave us, and every other Christian, the only true answer to that question: never.

“We need to put on God’s love and to renew our choice for him daily.”  Each day is an opportunity to love anew…to accept God’s love…to renew.

Days of Disaster

Gioacchino_Assereto_-_Christ_healing_the_blind_manDevastating hurricanes hit the Caribbean and Southern United States.  Terrifying earthquakes strike Mexico.  For reasons unknown, a man rains terror on a concert crowd in Las Vegas, killing dozens and wounding hundreds.

What an awful summer, filled with despair and destruction.

We pray for those suffering. We send money and supplies.  People who are able, volunteer their labor.

And we look for someone or something to blame.

Perhaps the hurricanes are the result of global warming, caused by industrial emissions, created by greedy capitalists.  On the other hand, history suggests that hurricanes happen and there isn’t much (if anything) we can do to prevent them.  Of course, we can build on high ground and run away when they approach.

Perhaps earthquakes are caused by fracking to obtain natural gas.  Perhaps they are caused by loud salsa bands.  Perhaps there is volcanic activity in the earth and earthquakes simply happen.

As for mass killers, theories abound. Perhaps the Vegas killer had a miserable childhood.  Perhaps he ate too much refined white sugar.  Maybe he watched too many episodes of TV crime shows.

Or, he just might be an example of evil personified. Nothing complicated. Nobody to blame. Just pure evil.

A question since humans could think and came to believe in a power greater than themselves:  Why does God let this happen?

For primitive people, the explanation was simple, if likely inaccurate.  God was powerful and vengeful and if man did something God didn’t like, bad things would happen.  So…if there was an earthquake, someone sinned – or slacked off on sacrifices at the altar.

Some folks still think that way, assuming that this sudden spate of natural disasters is the result of unbiblical lifestyles, video games or mistreatment of farm animals.

Some brilliant, sensitive people have written on this subject.

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, tried to make sense of the suffering in German concentration camps during World War II.  Frankl survived years in the camps, his parents, wife and brother all dying.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harold S. Kushner, tried to make sense of the sorrow experienced when he learned his young son had a terrible disease and would live only a few years.

At the other end of the spectrum of elegance is the political saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”  This has been attributed to everyone from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to Winston Churchill.  The inference is that a smart politician can use a crisis to his own benefit.  A rather cynical thought.

But I have a much less cynical view, and none of my friends would accuse me of being a Pollyanna.  I believe that as terrible as a crisis (hurricane, earthquake, mass murder) may be, it will unleash God’s grace and the remarkable nobility of the human spirit.

In Houston, fishermen in their small boats cruised flooded neighborhoods, rescuing threatened homeowners and ferrying them to safety.

In Mexico, college students searched for survivors and brought relief to those in need.

During the Las Vegas shooting, a young man shielded his fiancé with his body. She was safe; he died.

Bad things have been happening ever since Adam and Eve made a mess of things in the Garden of Eden.  But every bad thing has allowed good to surface.

I’ve seen it in my own family, where the debilitating diseases of an aging parent brought distant family members together to face a common challenge to provide care.  In one instance, the family member deemed least likely to make great sacrifices, did just that.

Perhaps we’ll never stop trying to assign blame when disaster strikes.  But it could be we’re looking at this backwards.  Maybe we should be looking at the good arising from the bad.

Recall Jesus’ healing of the blind man in the ninth chapter of John.  The disciples wanted to know if the man was blind because of his own sins or the sins of his parents.

Jesus replied (I have to think he chuckled a bit in doing so) that it was neither the sins of the man nor his parents “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Yes, it has been a summer of disaster.  It also has been summer of God’s glory.