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I Attended Catholic Mass Every Day For a Month: Here’s What I Learned

I attended Catholic Mass every morning for a month. I’m a non-religious, non-practicing Catholic. Here’s what I learned:

I was baptized and technically raised catholic through my teens, religion was never a consistent part of my life growing up.

Why attend Mass every day?

I thought about doing this after an extended trip to China at the beginning of the year. China’s history, culture, and traditions go back thousands of years. One of the aspects of Chinese culture I found most fascinating was the connection Chinese people feel to their history and traditions.

When I returned to the US, I asked myself, “what do we have in the US that’s thousands of years old?” Most countries in the world don’t have histories that go back to before Jesus was around. Then the idea popped into my head: “JESUS!” I decided I would try to go to church to see if I could try to engage with history and tradition in my own culture.

I attended daily Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for four straight weeks. Here’s what I learned:

The Good

  • Attending Mass in the morning before going to the office was surprisingly uplifting. Mass became my meditation time.
  • The interior of the churches and cathedrals are stunning. As well as spiritually and physically soothing.
  • With an open mind, the church teachings are cathartic and are spiritually nurturing.
  • The Mass brings people together to share in a collective spirit.
  • Even if you don’t fully agree with Church doctrine, taking in the principles you learn allows you to contrast them with your own beliefs and re-evaluate yourself.
  • The teachings are spiritually cathartic, and you can sense how strengthening your faith could help you fill a void in your life.

The Less Good

  • The Catholic church is highly conservative and can be quite rigid in terms of how you should be conducting your faith.
  • You spend so much time focused on cleansing yourself of Sin or “bad thoughts or actions”. It doesn’t feel like you have a lot of room to focus on having positive thoughts or carrying out good deeds.
  • You’re always aware of the ultimate punishment: banishment to Hell when you die. Catholic doctrine makes you realize that most people are destined to go to Hell, and there’s a good chance you’ll end up there too if you’re not careful. Sounds fun.
  • You start to feel intellectually stunted. Any time you encounter a complicated question that doesn’t have a good answer, you can simply default to “well, that’s for God to figure out.”

Conclusion

Catholicism is like a one-size-fits-all spiritual philosophy. You have to take all the bad along with all the good it offers.  

Attending Mass allows me to feel connected to myself on so many levels. Still, it’s hard to put Jesus in the center of my life as the church requires. There are so many logical discrepancies in Catholic teachings that it feels tough to take that leap of faith. But maybe that’s the point.

Three Countries, Three Ways to Manage Coronavirus

Three regions, three distinct monetary authorities, three methods for managing political and economic risk surrounding a growing Coronavirus pandemic. Let us review the economic and political responses of three of the world’s largest economies set to be hit hardest by COVID-19: China, The United States, and The European Union.

Circumstances surrounding the Coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it is formally known, are still unclear. In the short-term, markets have felt a sharp decline in global equity prices. On March 3, 2020, the United States Federal Reserve, in response to a greater than 10% decline in US stock prices, reduced the short-term lending rate by 50 basis points to ease any pandemic-related concerns. Typically markets move higher after such rate cuts. However, this time around stocks continued to decline by nearly 3% during the March 3 trading session. The world has yet to price in the potential economic damage of a global pandemic.

Economic policy is only as effective as the policymakers. From a strategic standpoint, how have governments fared in handling such a “black swan event”? Let us focus on the world’s three leading economic regions: China, The United States, and the European Union.

China

One of the few things we do know about COVID-19 is that China is undeniably the source country, and therefore we have more information about China’s handling of this pandemic than parts of the world where the contagion is less pronounced. Predictably, China initially attempted to cover up and downplay the severity of COVID-19. Oddly, Chinese president Xi Jinping did not even seem to be aware of the existence of a growing pandemic in Wuhan until days after the initial quarantines in Wuhan went into effect. We should not be surprised, as poor upward flow of information to senior leadership is a classic staple of authoritarian regimes. However, authoritarian regimes do have the advantage of being able to rapidly and unilaterally implement country-wide quarantines and travel restrictions.

United States

Despite having the opportunity to observe China’s struggles with the pandemic throughout January and February of 2020, The United States has been slow to acknowledge the severity of COVID-19. In the face of clear evidence that COVID-19 is spreading within the continental United States, the Federal government has yet to implement any form of quarantine or even the most basic testing protocols (as of March 3, 2020). The US government believes any pandemic can be fought with monetary policy, as evidenced by the Federal Reserve’s 50 basis point rate cut along with messaging from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin with the not-so-subtle reminder of the existence “circuit breakers” designed to halt trading if stocks should drop too heavily. Monetary intervention will need to serve as the best treatment for now.

European Union

On an individual country basis, Italy has been hit hardest in the early stages of this pandemic. In terms of the broader economic policy of the European Union, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde, on March 2, 2020, indicated the ECB’s willingness to take “appropriate and targeted measures” to counter the potential economic impact of Coronavirus on the EU economy. This interventionalist monetary policy statement falls in line with that of the United States. The EU’s response has been arguably the most predictable, rational, and disciplined of the three regimes we have discussed here.

Conclusion

China and the EU have behaved most predictably in managing domestic and political risks. China has centered its handling of the pandemic around bolstering the strength and control of the Chinese Communist Party. The European Central Bank is firmly committed to a policy of monetary intervention. Meanwhile, the United States is seeking to actively downplay the potential severity of a COVID-19 pandemic in order to avoid sparking a panic in the US stock market. The Federal Reserve has already intervened in cutting short-term lending rates, and we are likely to see expanded and unprecedented coordination between the US Federal government and the Fed.

Three regimes, three monetary authorities, three methods for managing political and economic risk surrounding a growing COVID-19 pandemic. Keep in mind, it is still far too early to make judgments on whether or not any of these regimes have handled the problem well. There is no way of knowing the true extent of the political and economic fallout of this pandemic until the dust settles, which could be months from now. For the time being, we can only objectively observe the policies enacted by Federal/Central governments and central monetary authorities. Let’s wait and see. (And wash our hands frequently.)

Daily Writing 02/11/2020

The primary headlines still center around the spreading novel coronavirus which originated in Wuhan, China.[1]  A World Health Organization senior medical advisor indicated that coronavirus infections should be over by April.[2]

Overall, the broader economic impact of the viral outbreak is still unclear, both domestically in China and globally.  Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio believes the market impact of Coronavirus is “exaggerated.”[3]

An interesting knock-on effect of the novel coronavirus: the viral outbreak has started to drive demand for China’s online grocers.[4]

Related to China, Federal prosecutors announced charges Monday against four Chinese intelligence officers for hacking the credit-reporting giant Equifax in one of the largest data breaches in history. [5]

It was a pretty big deal when the Chinese yuan fell above 7.00 USD/CNY.  Now that USD/CNY has risen below 7.00 it could be worth following throughout the coming weeks and months.

 

Sources

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-02-10/death-toll-tops-1-000-mortality-estimate-at-1-virus-update?srnd=premium

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-health/coronavirus-may-be-over-soon-in-china-expert-says-as-who-warns-of-global-threat-idUSKBN20504Y

[3] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-02-11/ray-dalio-says-market-impact-of-coronavirus-is-exaggerated

[4] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-02-10/coronavirus-outbreak-drives-demand-for-china-s-online-grocers

[5] https://www.politico.com/news/2020/02/10/us-charges-chinese-spies-with-massive-equifax-hack-113129

Reconnecting

I feel excited to begin to reconnect with the world.  I in and out of periods of strong high-self-esteem and periods of self-loathing.  The more open I am to the world the better it makes me feel.  I have nothing to hide.  I hope to become a source of light for anyone lost in the darkness.  I will not hide from the darkness.  There is nothing to fear.

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Daily Writing 10/03/2019

My goal is to write every day.  I am going to do things that are outside of my comfort zone.  Writing this blog forces me to be accountable.  I will put myself out there even if it’s not perfect.  I will do everything I can to be open to the world so that I can make mistakes and then learn from them.  Writing should be fun and enjoyable for both the reader and the writer.

I’m not organized enough to structure my blog in any meaningful way, but at least I am practicing how to write different things.  I won’t be afraid to put myself out there because I am trying my best.  Taking action is the most crucial step.  I will not take criticism or feedback personally.  I will work to hone my skills as a writer and a communicator.

Market Observations 10/02/2019

The overall economic environment in China does not look stable. 

Our outlook for 2020 continues to deteriorate. We believe political risk presents a significant challenge as Chinese president Xi Jinping continues to consolidate his grip over an increasingly totalitarian Chinese state.

Hong Kong retail sector struggles

Struggles in Hong Kong’s retail sector are set to continue as prolonged protests impact tourism and local spending. This weakening comes at a time when momentum was already weak from China’s slowdown and trade war.

Retail sales have declined 23% year on year in August after the consensus was for a 14% drop.

Early indicators point to waning economic momentum in China.

According to Bloomberg Economics, “a range of early indicators continued to point to a lack of momentum in China’s economy in September, as the U.S. imposed additional tariffs on about $110 billion of Chinese imports.”

Furthermore, business surveys how continued weakness, particularly in SMEs.

National Day, Shadow Banking, and Pork Prices

The start of a new month brings with it some new ideas.  Here’s what I’m thinking about:

The 70th Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the people’s republic of China.  It’s interesting to note that western reporting of Hong Kong protests is overshadowing reporting of the National Day festivities underway in Beijing.

This has been an event the Chinese leadership has been focused on for quite some time.  Many China analysts speculated that the lead up to this significant event influenced top leadership’s decision making, particularly concerning the repeal of the profoundly unpopular Hong Kong extradition bill.

 

Shadow Banking in China

Over the past several weeks, I have focused my attention on domestic capital flows in Mainland China.  Nearly all lines of inquiry into the subject refer to the importance of shadow banking activity for China’s overall economy.

Andrew Collier, the author of “Shadow Banking and the Rise of Capitalism in China” and Managing Director of Orient Capital Research, presents four key metrics economists have used to understand the risks of China’s shadow banking sector.  Enumerated and summarized below are these metrics:

  • The private sector credit-to-GDP ratio
  • The growth of real credit per capita
  • The real credit growth gap
  • The debt service ratio

Most compelling is Mr. Collier’s assertion that “none of these measures of credit suggest China is in good shape.”

 

Pork Prices in China

Unrelated to the story surrounding the senior UBS economist and his controversial remarks in June, over the past few weeks pork prices in China have been the Wholesale pork prices in China have nearly doubled since the end of last year due to a proliferation of African swine flu.

 

CNPORKWH Index (China Agricultur 2019-09-03 08-33-50_cropped_2
China wholesale pork spot price (RMB/kg) Source: Bloomberg

 

Why does this matter?

Unstable commodity prices breed unstable societies. Especially when you consider that China is the largest consumer of pork in the world.  Officials in all levels of government are openly acknowledging a slowing of China’s economy for reasons distinct to consumer commodity prices.  If we start to see too downward economic forces converging then, this could lead to Hong Kong-style unrest in Mainland cities.  Food for thought.