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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Advice for My Daughter as She Goes Off to College...

I suppose this is the time I should give you advice.  I never had any myself except once from your cousin Alfred.  Do you know, in the summer before I was going up, your cousin Alfred rode over to Boughton especially to give me a piece of advice?  And do you know what that advice was?  'Ned," he said, 'there's one thing I must beg of you.  Always wear a tall hat on Sundays during term.  It is by that, more than anything, that a man is judged.'  And do you know," continued my father, snuffling, "I always did.  Some men did, some didn't.  I never saw any difference between them or heard it commented on, but I always wore mine.  It only shows what effect judicious advice can have, properly delivered at the right moment.  I wish I had some for you, but I haven't...

When advice was readily received... 
The words of wisdom the protagonist and narrator of Brideshead Revisited, Charles Ryder,  got from his father before going off to college,  which wasn't much.

If you read my last blog, you already know that my wife and I are getting ready for our oldest daughter to go off to school.

As with most parents, it's a bittersweet time.  Bitter, in the sense that we're really going to miss her.  She's our firstborn, the one who made us want to be better persons and, to a lesser extent, our family soundtrack, who constantly breaks into song at a drop of a hat.

And, sweet, in that, we realize we have done the best we can.  She is growing up, has blossomed into a beautiful and smart young lady and is becoming her own woman.  (Although I'll be honest, the sweet, as much as I want to convince myself, taste more like Minnie's famous chocolate poop pie in The Help!) 

In any case, as I brace for her departure, inspired by a book I read several years ago by one of my favorite authors, Peter Kreeft, titled, Before I Go; Letters to Our Children About What Really Matters and, hoping to avoid sounding like Charles Ryder's father and giving her some "judicious advice," delivered at the right time, I put some thoughts together to pass along.

Some are things I have told her through the years.  Others are things I want to make sure she knows before she leaves home.

In no particular order, my advice for her is:        

  • Go out and change the world, don't let the world change you.
  • Don't ever compromise who you are to be what people want you to be.
  • You are not defined by what you do in life or how many accomplishments you attain, but by who you are.  Always be true to yourself. 
  • The moment you change what you believe, even if only for public consumption because of popularity, is the moment you compromise who you are.
  • What matters most in life are relationships; not career, accomplishments or things.
  • Don't ever be too busy for your family (or true friends).
  • Men are not your enemies.
  • Love is not a feeling, it's a choice; an action you take to put someone else's needs before your own.
  • Never be afraid of swimming against the tide, even when you get criticized.
  • Don't look for the easy way out.  Look for the righteous way.
  • Your dreams and what you think is important today may not be as important in the future.
  • Be humble.  Pride is the downfall of many.
  • You don't know it all and that's OK.  Never stop learning. 
  • Truth is One.  Error many.
  • Always go to Mass on Sunday.  No exception.
  • When you sin, repent and go to Confession.  Remember, there is no sin that is greater than God's love for you.
  • Work to live.  Don't live to work.  Nobody on their deathbed says they wished they had gotten that promotion, made more money or spent more time at the office.
  • Avoid becoming complacent.  Complacency is where dreams and passion die.
  • Real friends are those who tell you the truth no matter how harsh it may sound, not those that tell you what you want to hear.  Seek real friends.
  • Don't give up on what you want because of setbacks.  Setbacks are part of life.  They make you stronger so you can try harder.
  • Just because something is popular, doesn't make it right.  And, just because something is rejected by most, doesn't make it wrong.  Know the difference.
  • Don't try to be everything to everyone.  Be yourself to those you love.
  • Never be overconfident.  Overconfidence leads to silly mistakes.
  • A man who doesn't respect you now, will never respect you.
  • If a man really loves you, he's not going to force you to go against what you believe. 
  • Before you say "yes," ask yourself, 'Is this the man who is going to lead me and my children to heaven?'  If not, you're wasting your time.
  • Feelings are fleeting.  Love lasts forever.  Always choose to love before your feelings.  
  • Success is not born.  It takes hard work.    
  • When you feel like giving up; don't.  Things always get better, even when they feel like they're getting worse.  
  • You can't hide from God so don't even try.
  • Don't waste you life waiting for "the right time." The right time is now.    
  • True love is a reflection Christ's love; sacrificial, self-giving and life-giving.
  • Test everything you hear from your college professors.  As smart and authoritative as they may seem, not everything they'll teach you is right or objective.  To quote Fr. Robert Valle at your high school graduation Mass, "Be careful what you accept into your minds and hearts."
  • When something is really troubling you, you're under stress or don't know where to turn, find an Adoration Chapel and spend time before the Blessed Sacrament.  You'll find no greater peace, consolation and clarity.    
  • Don't lower your moral bar because everyone else lowers theirs, or because the culture says it's OK.  Sadly, in the throes of human nature, people want others to fail so they can feel better about their own inadequacies.  The lower the bar, the easier for everyone to feel the same.
  • Excuses are for those who fail to accomplish what they set out to do.  
  • Never put your career ahead of your family.
  • Pray every night before you go to sleep.  As we did every night while you were here, your sister, brother and I will be praying for you.
  • If you dress like a piece of meat, you're going to be treated like a piece of meat. 
  • Don't follow the crowd.  Lead your own.
  • At the end of the day, you will not be measured by your career, how much money you made or how popular you are.  You will be measured by the love you gave.  Give it freely.
  • You deserve nothing.  Earn it.
  • Mom and I are always here for you if you need anything. 
Now, I'm sure I can come up with A LOT more but these will suffice for now.

Hopefully, my advice is more substantive than the one Charles Ryder got from his father or his father got from Cousin Alfred.  Although, wearing a tall hat on Sundays is hard to top...   


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Proms, Graduations and Losing Control...

The Scream of Edvard Munch...
"Acting? That's a life of constant rejection!"

"Criminal Law?  That's one of the most dangerous professions ever.  Most criminals want to kill their lawyers or whoever they blame for sending them to jail!"

"A driver's license?  Our insurance is going to go through the roof!"

Those are just some of my greatest hits quotes on the homefront in recent weeks, as my oldest daughter prepares to graduate from high school and considers options for college.  And, then I wonder why she's set on leaving home!

I can't help it.  There are just too many things going on in my life right now.  We have two graduations this week, aside from our oldest, our second daughter is also crossing the threshold from middle to high school.  We have proms, three in total since my middle schooler was invited to another school's 8th Grade dance.  We have graduation dinners, Masses, parents' breakfasts, post-graduation celebrations, and the usual end-of-year parties.  And, I won't even mention, the many outside school activities that our girls and son have!

Then, there's work.  My station recently launched three additional half-hour newscasts and, during the past 6-months, we have been overwhelmed with planning, hirings, adjusting schedules and staff roles, rehearsals, consultants and corporate scrutiny, audience analysis research, and a never-ending avalanche of meetings, meetings, and more meetings. 

To top it off, our high school senior finally decided to get her driver's license and started driving on her own!

The last several weeks have felt like I landed on the planet Morag, where Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, goes to steal the orb in Guardians of the Galaxy, surrounded by those freakish looking rats and Ronan's forces coming to get me.  Except I don't have the high-tech helmet to help me fly or the double-barrelled guns, or the great cassette-player music playing in the background.  Do you think Ronan would fall for another dance off?  In any case, it's not what you think.  As Matchbox 20 would say, "I'm not crazy.  I'm just a little unwell."   

So, yes, I've been a bit edgy.  Anxiety.  Concern.  Apprehension.  They've permeated me like the urge a teenager gets to check their cell phone for acknowledgment, after posting on social media; they can't help it!

I realize it all stems from fear and fear is the true measure of a man's faith since, if you don't trust God, how real is your faith?  Unfortunately, despite thinking my faith never waivers, at least since my return to the Church thirteen years ago, anxiety often gets the best of me, especially when it involves my children.  It's the sense of losing control.

I can lose control and place it in God's hands when it comes to me.  As the saying goes, when you have nowhere else to turn, you turn to God.  But, with my children, I'm used to being the one in control; where they go to school, when they go to bed, when they go to Mass, whether they go out with friends or not, etc., etc.

Now, with my oldest daughter, I'm having to face the fact that soon, I won't be in control.  And, it terrifies the heck out of me!

As I admitted to some friends recently, my fear and insecurities are mostly based on the thought of having failed as a father; of not having passed on my faith to her correctly, of not instilling in her a proper moral foundation that will help her stave off challenges and of not having imparted a sincere desire for righteousness and holiness.

Shortly, she will be exposed to a world that is totally opposed to God and, especially the Catholic Church and all that she stands for, a culture that is totally opposed to absolute truth, since it claims truth is relevant, and a society that is totally opposed to traditional family values and conservative principles, where her sheltered Catholic school life will be challenged in a sea of opposing points of view.  The fact that I may not have more time to recover from my parental shortcomings is weighing heavily in my heart.

Therefore, in an involuntary defense mechanism, which I know drives her farther away instead of drawing her closer, I get bitter.  I challenge her interests in becoming an actress, even though my brother and his wife, have been successfully acting professionally for over 20 years, or becoming a criminal attorney, even though I know several highly successful criminal defense lawyers, or even getting her driver's license, because everything she proposes sounds like steps away from me; and away from my control.

In a deeper sense, I guess, it comes down to love.  The reason parents put rules on our children (use control) is because we love them and want them to grow up healthy, happy and safe.  Let's face it, left to their own devices, kids can easily bring harm on themselves and others, whether intentionally or not; unless they use temperance and restraint.  As parents, we don't want them to make the same mistakes we made.  Therefore, we try to protect them from themselves.     

St. Theresa of Avila once said, "Let nothing disturb you, nothing cause you fear.  All things pass; God is unchanging.  Patience obtains all. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices."  

It's time for me to show a little more patience and a lot more faith.

I was serving at a men's retreat this past weekend, in the midst of my internal turmoil, and God spoke to me.  Again, not crazy just a little unwell but it was clear as day.  It came in the form of a drawing and bible quote from an unnamed 5th grader at my kids' school.

Profound message from a 5th grader; or God!...
It was a version of the passage from the Gospel of Matthew that states, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."  (Matt 6:33)

It's a popular verse, which I have read and heard many times before but what struck me, in the context of my insecurities, was the drawing the little girl had made.

It was a drawing of a girl standing next to a church.

As I studied it closer, chills came over me and my eyes watered.  Of course!  Seek first the kingdom of God.  To seek first the kingdom means to believe in His Rein.  And, to believe in His Rein means to accept His control, not mine!  He was telling me to trust Him!

The drawing put it all together.  It represented my older daughter, who happens to have black hair like the girl in the picture, standing next to a church.  As if to say, if I sought first God's Kingdom, believed in His control and trusted Him, my daughter would never be far from the Church!
As hard as it seems to let go, with all the distractions and pressures of life trying to consume me, like the freakish rats in Morag and Ronan's envoys, sans the great background soundtrack, in the bottom of my heart, I realize my daughter doesn't belong to me.  She belongs to God.  And, His love for her is greater than I can ever imagine. 

Therefore, I need to ask for strength as the father of the boy possessed by a spirit says to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, "Lord, I do believe.  Help my unbelief."  (Mk 9:24)

Lord, into your hands I commend your daughter...

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Battle Ready Behind Enemy Lines...

Doug Barry; Battle Ready... 
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Calvin Graham enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

He went to boot camp in San Diego, more than 1,400 miles away from his home in Texas, and, after the 6-week training, was sent to Pearl Harbor and assigned to the USS South Dakota.

A month later, Graham saw his first action in combat in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, where he and his shipmates earned a Navy Unit Commendation for their involvement.

About 2 weeks later, Graham was injured by shrapnel during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal but, despite the injury, he helped pull other wounded soldiers to safety aboard the ship.  He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart medals and he and the entire crew of the USS South Dakota were awarded another Navy Unit Commendation.

Graham was 12-years-old!  After having served for two years, the military learned that he had lied about his age to enlist and he was immediately discharged.  He re-enlisted in the Marines Corp in 1948.  He was 17.

"There used to be a fighting spirit in America," Speaker Doug Barry told a group of about 250 participants at the Archdiocese of Miami's 9th Annual Men's Conference, which I attended recently at Nativity Catholic Church in Hollywood, Fl.

"Men wanted to enlist. They wanted to fight for what they believed and they were willing to die to protect what they loved back home."

Men have come a long way since those days.  Unfortunately, not always in a good way.

Today, about the only fighting many men are willing to enlist for may be on social media, where the enemy is kept at a distance and the engagement impersonal.  And, as far as service?  Well, if you consider going by the drive-through window to pick up dinner for the family on the way home from work, maybe.  Many men are sleep-walking through existence, too distracted to live up to their full potential and too defeated by life and the culture to take up arms and fight the good fight.

Calvin Graham... 
Yet, now more than ever, Barry stressed, there is a dire need for righteous men to be ready for battle, "Men, your families are under attack and you're the first line of defense."

The former co-host of EWTN's Life on the Rock and current host of Battle Ready continued, "The attack is coming from the world, from the flesh, and from the Devil.  We need to be battle ready!"

It's a battle for the soul, he says; for our salvation and for the soul and salvation of our family.

And for many, the battle may not come at them so fiercely as in pornography on the internet, a happy hour with buddies that leads to a night of carousing at a strip bar, or a new young secretary at work.

It may come in subtleties.

I constantly have to battle selfishness and self-centeredness.  I constantly have to battle complacency and laziness.  I constantly have to battle judging people who are not like me, and even those who are.  I constantly have to battle taking my wife and kids for granted.

I can spend three hours watching a baseball game on TV but then complain I didn't have time to clear the dishwaters and put the dirty ones in the washer at night.  It's a constant battle with myself; my own sinful tendencies.

As C.S. Lewis puts so eloquently in The Screwtape Letters, "Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one -- the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts..."

"There is a battle with an enemy," Barry says in the first episode of Battle Ready, "that seeks to destroy our souls for all eternity.  The reality of this enemy is that it doesn't eat.  It doesn't sleep.  And, for thousands of years, this enemy has been watching mankind; looking at our weaknesses, our tendencies and how easily we get distracted and lose sight of the reality of the battle."

In his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul writes, "Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.  Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground." (Eph. 6:12)

Faith is where it needs to begin.  Faith brings forth hope.  Hope, conviction.  Conviction, courage and courage, readiness.

I sometimes tell my son, "Courage is when you do what is right even when you're afraid."

There is no shame in fear.  The only shame is in allowing fear to keep you from doing what you should.

I love the scene in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, when King Theoden and his men approach the siege at the stone city of Minas Tirith, where Mordor's dark forces sit on the brink of destroying the entire city.

Theoden rides in front his numerous but outnumbered Riders of Rohan, who stand side-by-side on their horses, bracing for the battle against their behemoth foe.  Theoden yells out, as he rides his horse in front of the warriors, "Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden!  Spear shall be shaken, shield shall be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!"

The Riders of Rohan; Battle Ready!...  
Then he turns back the other way and continues, "Ride now... Ride for the ruin and the world's ending!... Death!"  They show the hobbit Merry Brandybuck and Theoden's daughter, who disguised herself as a knight to fight, gulp in fear.  "Death!" Theoden yells a second time, as his troops gather themselves to begin their charge despite the odds against them.  And, when the King yells a third time, his entire army, including the fearful Brandybuck and his daughter yell out in unison, "Death!" And the cavalry charges into the sea of Easterlings, Haradrim, and Orcs.  They were the last hope for Middle Earth.

Barry told the men in the audience, "One of the favorite verses in the Bible for many men, which I hear as I speak to men across the country, is Ephesians 5, where it states, 'Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church.' (Eph. 5:22-23)  Christ died for the Church!  Every day of our lives, we should look at the Crucifix and see what it means to be the head of our wife."

In the Book of Revelation, we read that when war broke out in Heaven, the dragon, Satan, and his fallen angels were hurled down, not to Hell but to earth!

Battle readiness, Barry argues, means being aware that we are behind enemy lines.  We are in a spiritual war.  We need to be prepared to protect and defend and get engaged.

"We have been entrusted with the lives of our families and we have to be ready to fight for them... Wives want their husbands to engage in the fight not to stand back and watch."

That doesn't mean getting into fisticuffs with an Atheist at the supermarket,  It means Christian men need to learn their faith, live their faith, defend their faith and pass it to their children.  Men need to, as Barry says, "own it."

Also, readiness doesn't just apply to mind and soul.  It means the physical body as well, "If you want to be there for your wife and children, take care of your health... You're only ready to fight to the degree that you train."

The 54-year-old father of five (plus 2 in Heaven) from Lincoln, Nebraska, who has been married for 29 years, says that one day, his wife approached him while he was doing some housework and she said, "You know, God is going to judge you on a much stricter scale than He's ever going to judge me."  She left the room momentarily as Barry babbled to himself trying to figure out why she meant.

She reappeared shortly and continued, "Because you, as a husband and father, will be judged by how well you tried to lead me and the kids to heaven.  While, I as your wife, will be judged by how well I let you lead our family to heaven."

Edmund Burke once wrote, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."  Failure is not an option.  Like the Riders of Rohan, we are the last hope.

"I am my family's defender and protector.  I'm never going to relinquish that role.  It's never going to happen.  Not on my watch."

So like Calvin Graham and King Theoden, it's time to heed way to the dying advice of King David to his son Solomon, "Take courage and be a man."

Of course, King Theoden dies on the battlefield and so did Jesus on the Cross but, in the end, Christ's Resurrection ensures that good triumphs over evil and so will we, if we are battle ready, prepare and engage...

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Santa, Disappointment and Raising Kids...

He gazed at me with a look of contempt that pierced through me from across the dinner table; sort of like the look that Superman gives Batman when he realizes The Caped Crusader is gunning for him in Superman vs. Batman, before he tosses him around like a ragdoll.

"You ruined my imagination, Dad!" he exclaimed disgustingly, as a child who came to grips with a reality that he was already suspecting but wasn't ready to accept.

"What are you talking about?" I asked perplexed.  Everyone at the table, my wife, daughters, brother and sister-in-law, took notice.

"The text!" he said looking at me disapprovingly.

"What text?" I honestly didn't know what he was referring to.

"The text you sent Mommy!"

Then everyone realized.  My wife said to me, "He grabbed my phone."  As if there wasn't anything she could do.  Really?  He's sitting next to you.  He grabbed your phone and you just let him?  C'mon, woman!   

It was a text that I had sent my brother and his wife while heading to dinner warning them that our son still believed in Santa Claus so they wouldn't say anything that would raise his suspicion.

Oh, no!  I wasn't ready for him finding out, especially not like this!

Granted, he's 11-years-old and in 6th Grade.  It was bound to happen.  Still, it was the last gasp of childhood innocence that my wife and I clung onto.  The girls are both teens and have long since had their belief in Santa shattered, albeit not as publicly or confrontationally as our son!

"I don't know what you're talking about," I pretended, in an attempt at diversion.  "What are you doing looking at Mommy's cell phone texts?" Another attempt at putting the onus on him!  "You shouldn't be looking at things that are not meant for you!"

The damage was done.  The cat was out of the box.  So, I turned the conversation to something else and we all got on with the night, having dinner and meeting our one-year-old niece who was visiting for the first time from Oregon.

Later that night, when we got back home and sat on the couch to watch some TV, he looked at me and repeated those haunting words with a look of dejection on his face, "Dad, you ruined my imagination."

Ruined his imagination?  Where was he getting that from?  I guess it's something the teacher at school must have told her students so that the kids who knew didn't blow it for the ones who don't.

It's an honorable gesture that I greatly appreciate, unlike my 5th Grade teacher who, during a lecture,  nonchalantly dropped the bomb to the entire class, "Now, I hope none of you still believe in Santa Claus!  He's not real.  There's no such thing.  It's your mom and dad!"

Really?  Did I really just hear that from a teacher?  What was she thinking?  Did parents giver her permission to do that?  She definitely ruined my imagination!

Up until that point, I was a believer.  And, I'm not talking about your garden variety Father Christmas believer.  I mean, I was convinced.  Why?

Well, in the mid-'70s, when I was in about 3rd Grade, my family went on a trip to Chicago to see our extended family for the holidays and when we got back, Santa had left gifts!

In other words, when we left our apartment in New York, no gifts.  When we got back, gifts!  Now, how could that have happened if there was no Santa Claus?  I'm telling you, for me, that was a defining moment and I didn't care how many friends said there was no such thing.  I knew Kris Kringle was real!

That day in 5th Grade my world was rocked.  That female dog!  To top it off, she wasn't even our regular teacher.  She taught social studies or something.  For the rest of the class, I was in a daze.  I kept asking myself, how can that be?  How about Chicago?

That night, I approached my mother before dinner and said, "Mom, I know about Santa Claus.  I know it's you and dad."

I'll be honest, I was hoping she would say, "Are you kidding?  Of course, he's real!"  If she had, at that very moment, I would still believe in him today.  My wife would've been having to get gifts for the kids and me and wrapping them in secret, while I left cookies and carrots for the old man with the white beard and his gang of raindeers.     

Instead, Mom gave me a hug and a kiss, "I knew you would find out soon."

Find out soon?  Find out soon?  Noooo.  Say it ain't so, Joe.  Say it ain't so! 

I asked her about the Christmas gifts under the tree when we got back from Chicago and she confessed that when everyone was packed in the car ready to leave, she told my Dad that she forgot something (a planned excuse!) and they both ran in, as everyone waited in the car, and they put the gifts under the tree before getting back in the car and leaving.  Ingenious!  We never suspected a thing.

Of course, as soon as I found out the truth, I wasn't like my daughters who went out of their way to protect their little brother's "imagination."  I went straight to my younger brother, who was about 8 at the time, and broke it to him!  I don't think he will ever let me live that down, and well he shouldn't!  I was the Grinch who stole his Christmas!

I'm sure there are those who argue that letting kids believe in Santa Claus is lying to them and will only lead to disappointment.

But, you know what?  Life is full of disappointments.  Learning to live with them is part of life.  It's what helps us grow stronger; disappointment and setbacks.  Yet, despite the many times I have experienced disappointment in life, I wouldn't change my belief in Santa for a minute.

For me, the tradition brings back beautiful memories of innocent times, as those invoked by Debussy's Claire du Lune.  I love that musical piece!  And, I loved waking up on Christmas mornings to see what gifts were under the tree.  It was the greatest fantasy my parents ever bestowed on me and my brother.  I wanted the same for my kids.  Fortunately, after a recent conversation with our daughters, following the text mishap with our son, they expressed feeling the same way and plan to pass on the tradition to their kids.

In any case, getting back to my son.  When we were alone that night on the couch after his repeated"lost imagination" comment, I told him that although Santa Claus may not be real, he represents someone who is; St. Nicholas (my son's patron saint).  I told him that the real gift of Christmas is Jesus and that Santa Claus and St. Nick point to the birth of our Lord.  Christmas is not about Santa Claus.  It's about Jesus.

I don't know to what extent he understood, or just pretended to, but, at least, he wasn't mad anymore.  Then again, his anger may have dissipated when we walked to get ice cream after dinner!

After that fateful night, the rest of the Christmas season was much like any previous one, although there was a sobering cloud of lost innocence hanging over my wife and me when it came to our son.

While still small in stature, we realized, he's not a little boy anymore.  And, while he never brought it up again, and actually told my wife that he was going to still believe in Santa, we know that the fantasy of our kids' Christmas will never be the same.

Superman got beaten by the reality of kryptonite and, despite his superhuman strength, he'll never feel invisible again...



Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Not My Little Girl Anymore...

Saying our goodbyes and taking pictures.. 
It might not be as heart-wrenching as I imagine leaving her at school for the first time will be next year, but dropping off my oldest daughter at the airport for her first trip to New York City alone was a bit of a dress rehearsal from an emotional standpoint (to put it in theater terms since that was the reason for her school trip!).

Granted, for me, that's not saying much since I'm the guy who choked up recently during an introduction speech with the new company president of affiliate news - which actually prompted a round of applause from many of the managers sitting around the conference table - and the same guy who tears up at weddings, watching Father of the Bride, sappy TV commercials or listening to The Christmas Shoes by NewSong on the car radio.

Yet, leaving my daughter at the United Airlines terminal at six o'clock in the morning with about thirty other classmates and a few teachers, and driving back home in the dark on a chilly South Florida morning (upper sixties!) on the mostly empty roadways, made me a bit melancholy.  No, I didn't actually shed tears but it did make me reflect.

This year, we have two graduations pending; our oldest daughter from high school and our middle child from middle school (8th Grade).  So, as one goes off the college, the other begins high school.  And, time keeps ticking by.  It seems it was only yesterday when our oldest started high school and, now, she's a semester away from graduating.

Last week my brother and his wife were in town for an extended Thanksgiving holiday and to introduce their just-turned one-year-old daughter to our family.  Seeing my little niece taking her first steps while being held and making baby sounds reminded me of how awestruck I was when I first became a father of our daughter, then another daughter and finally a son!

I love it too... 
Now, looking back at how our big girl took her first steps alone during her first birthday party almost eighteen years ago, where she stood herself up and started walking, juxtapose that chilly morning at Miami International Airport where she was taking her first steps away from home, even if only for a few days (I'm not going to count her school trips to Disney with the choir or her yearly retreats since they were only bus trips away), and it left a sense of emptiness in my heart and a knot in my throat.  My little girl is not so little anymore.  Very soon, she'll be going away although, hopefully, it's not forever!

I know I have to trust God that my wife and I have done a good job raising her with strong faith, a great moral character and a love and passion for her family but it still doesn't make it any easier, especially when her first text later that day was, "I can't wait to live here!"

"Let go and let God," I hear people say, but, that's easier said than done.  Yet, I realize our children don't belong to us.  They belong to God. We get the privilege of taking care for them to get a glimpse of God's love for us.  Unfortunately, sometimes love hurts.  We only have to look to Jesus to see that.

For now, our daughter will be gone for a few days and, in January, she leaves again with her classmates to Washington, DC for the March for Life.  It must be God's way of preparing me for the big departure late next year.

Still, even before she goes off to school, I'm already setting the stage (to use more theater terminology) in our kids minds for her ultimate return.  All three of our kids sleep in the same room, the girls in beds and our son in a trundle between them.  I keep telling them that when our oldest goes away, and our middle one goes to high school, my son will get one of the beds.  Then, when my oldest comes back home, and my middle one goes away, my son gets to keep a bed for another two years before it's time for him to leave!  Now, the question remains, will he want to come back to his trundle afterwards?  I guess we'll have to hope and pray for a callback...


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Our Innermost Desire by Blaise Pascal...

“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end... This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves...

 What is it then that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remains to him only; the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable Object, that is to say, only by God Himself.”

--Blaise Pascal (1623-1662).  Pascal was one of the greatest intellectuals of his time and arguably among the greatest in history.  He was a French philosopher, mathematician, scientist, inventor and Catholic theologian, who was a pioneer, among other things, in existentialism, the probability theory and the mechanical calculator.  He was a child prodigy and started to gain fame by the time he was 16.  Among his most notable works, is the Ponsees, or "the thoughts," which was published posthumously and has influenced generations of students, philosophers and thinkers.  It is still widely read today.  He died after a lifetime of failing health at the age of 39.          

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Catholic Church and the Sin Within...

Jesus crying... 
By now, most people have heard or read about the 18-months grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania that uncovered seventy years of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in six different diocese, dating back to the 1940's.

The investigation revealed that over 300 priests, many of whom have since died or retired, and more than a thousand victims, although the numbers could be higher with unreported cases, were involved.  For those that haven't, you can read the disheartening report here.

Some of the graphic and disturbing evidence indicate a conduct so despicable, reprehensible and outright evil, that it tarnishes the credibility of the Church, its clergy and culture, especially after the sex scandal that rocked the American institution in the early 2000's and bishops vowed to clean up (albeit, the great majority of the Keystone State cases were before 2000). 

According to the probe, Church leaders, including Washington, DC Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who led the diocese of Pittsburgh from 1988-2006 and recently came under fire for another scandal, involving his predecessor retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was using his position to sexually abuse and exploit seminarians in the 1980's, conspired to cover up evidence, transferred accused priests and did everything possible to avoid scandal.

Cardinal Wuerl tried to defend his actions during an interview on FOX 5.  However, his attempts haven't been well received in Catholic and secular circles.  Many are calling for his resignation and/or immediate removal.  And, to make matters worse, the Cardinal hired a PR firm to safeguard his reputation, which critics see as more of a corporate move than pastoral.

Granted, if the abuse went back to the 1940's and he took over in the late 1980's, there was a lot of damage already done.  He may have been trying to clean up some of the mess in his own diocese and wasn't responsible for the five other diocese named.

Still, the report concluded he was complicit.  In fact, he became embroiled in the cover up of very evil acts, including a child-porn ring and priests targeting and marking victims for abuse.  It's sickening and disturbing for anyone, let alone a man of the cloth. 

In any case, I can't defend the indefensible and won't even try.

I also won't pretend to put myself in the victims' or their family members' shoes.  The closest I've come to sexual assault was a PE teacher when I was in fifth grade, who was known for grabbing young boys' buttocks whenever he got the chance.  Every boy in school knew to stay away.  It was a running joke, which is why cases such as Congressman Jim Jordan, Penn State Coach Joe Paterno and Cardinal Wuerl, who claim ignorance, can sound a bit suspect to say the least.

Still, all I can write about is my experience with holy and heroic priests in our parish and community.

Men who have sacrificed their lives for Christ and His Church.  Men who have a true vocation for serving God and do so courageously.  Men who I've personally seen and sensed the sorrow they feel after visiting the sick and dying in the hospital, especially when the sick and dying are children and there is no consolation or words of encouragement to suffice for the parents, or consoling a husband, whose wife died after a long bout with cancer or a wife, whose husband died unexpectedly in an accident.

In our parish, we have two full-time and two part-time priests (shared with other parishes) for over three thousand registered families.  The clergymen take turns celebrating three masses each day during the week, two more on Saturdays, plus confessions, baptisms and weddings.  And, on Sundays, they celebrate five more masses.

In between, they visit hospitals, prisons and funeral homes, console grieving and/or distraught family members, counsel couples getting married or struggling in their marriages, lead catechetical instructions, organize charity drives, fund raising campaigns and special liturgical celebrations, meet with parishioners, manage staff, supervise over fifty lay ministries, field and address complaints, deal with the day-to-day problems that arise; like the church air conditioning breaking, leaky windows in the rectory, a flooded parking lot that needs repair, meeting contractors and repairmen and the financial obligations of the parish.  Not to mention, make time to read the Bible, complete their daily prayers and prepare their homilies for  masses.  And, those are just the responsibilities I know of!

For all that, they usually get criticized for saying or not saying the right thing during their homilies, accused of being rude or dismissive when someone approaches them and they can't give them their undivided attention and blasted for making unpopular decisions.  It's an unappreciated and thankless career choice; only, for them, it's not a livelihood.  It is a calling.

I have a few priests who I consider friends and have invited to the house for dinner with my family.  We've shared laughs together.  We've shared good meals, conversation and wine together.  And, we share a sense of responsibility and moral obligation to God, our parish and the Catholic faith.

Under fire; Cardinal Wuerl... 
When something like the Pennsylvania scandal breaks, it hurts everyone in the Church.  It hurts the institution, it hurts the laity, which is left dazed and confused, and it hurts the 95% of good and holy priests like the ones I know, who are left with a cloud of suspicion hanging over their heads.

Just when the Church thought it was getting past the previous crisis, where thousands of faithful abandoned ship but slowly but surely started making their way back, and seminaries were gaining momentum in the number of vocations, bam!  The Church is right back were it started 15 years ago. 

A priest, who heads one of the most prominent Catholic schools in Miami and was invited to lead our men's group in a spiritual exercise last week, said, "For the first time in more than 25 years as an educator and priest has a mother, whose son is transferring to our school this year, ever called me and said, 'Promise me that my son is not going to be molested by one of your priests'."  What a sad commentary and indictment against the Church.       

Moreover, aside from the faith crisis it creates and cloud of suspicion it raises towards the clergy, for me as a lay Catholic, who go out of my way to defend the truths of Catholicism and share it openly with family and friends who have drifted away, it's a betrayal of confidence and, in all honesty, incites anger.  I can't imagine how shameful and demoralizing it is for the priests who have chosen sacrifice and service over comfort, modesty over riches and celibacy over marriage and family.

There are some who will automatically say that celibacy is to blame but, as Fr. Anthony Sciarappa stated on his social media account, "No priest is forced into celibacy.  We chose this.  No one is forced to be a priest (It can take over 8 years of instruction and discernment to be ordained).  Not having sex does not make you want to abuse people."

Another poignant comment I read asked, "How long can you go without having sex before you want to rape a child?"  Celibacy is not the reason some priests molest children.

In fact, Jesus himself encouraged men to a life of chastity, "For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others -- and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.  The one who can accept this should accept it." (Matt:19:12).

"So why?," the priest who heads the Catholic school asked, "How can a Church that does such amazing charity work around the world, more than any other institution in history, and nurtured so many great saints; St. Ignatius of Loyola, Mother Theresa, St. Francis of Assisi to name a few, and has built so many beautiful churches and cathedrals and inspired transcending artwork and heavenly-inspired music, can commit such evil?"

St. Ignatius of Loyola...
As a Jesuit, he was invited to lead us in a meditation from St. Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises on "The Call of Christ the King," where the founder of the Jesuit order writes about the ongoing battle between two camps; good versus evil, right versus wrong and light versus darkness.  One of the camps, or flags, belongs to Christ the King and the other to Lucifer, the Devil, who tries to lure us with riches, honor and pride.  We have to choose which camp will rule us.  Yet, sometimes, even with the greatest intentions, we can find ourselves in the wrong camp without knowing it. 

"You only have to look at the gospels," the priest continued, answering his own question.  "In the Gospel of Matthew, Peter goes from speaking the words revealed by God and Jesus changing his name to "Rock" (i.e. the "rock" upon which He would build His Church) and handing him the keys to the kingdom of heaven, to being rebuked by the Lord just a few verses later and being told, "Get behind me Satan!"

Then he said something that really struck me, "You may think you are doing great things but, without realizing it, you may be dancing in the Devil's camp."

It's sin that lies within.  The sin that draws us away from God and distracts us and, if we let it, consumes us, to the point where, not only may we find ourselves in the enemy's camp, but doing the enemy's bidding.

That's the sin the Church has battled, both internally and externally, for two thousand years.  And, it's the sin it continues to battle today.

The reformers were right in one thing; the Church needs reform.  It has always needed reform and will always need reform.  But, reform has to come from within.

Ultimately, the choice, at least to me, is clear.  As Peter said to Christ when most of the followers abandoned Him after the Bread of Life discourse, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life."

You don't leave Jesus and the Church He founded upon Peter, and promised the gates of hell would never prevail against, because of Judas, three hundred Judases or three thousand.  The Church is the legacy that Christ left on earth.

As I told a man at a retreat once, "You don't let the sin of men keep you from the sacramental life that God intended for you."...