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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Bishop Barron on the Homer Simpson Effect...

The simple man... 
In my last blog, on my kids and the gender divide, I wrote about the growing antagonistic male-female relationship being championed by some feminists and social groups and how, using the media and Hollywood, the "gender war" is chipping away at the moral fabric of our society by deteriorating masculinity, to the point of irrelevance. 

Well, I came across a video commentary by Bishop Robert Barron recently on the Homer Simpsonization of men in the culture, where he makes a similar observation.   

In his commentary, Bishop Barron says the father/male role in shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy and many others, such as Married with Children, is often portrayed as dumb, childish, selfish and irresponsible.  While the mother/female role is usually shown to be the opposite; smart, honest, selfless and responsible.  This appears to be, at least to some, part of a concerted effort to devalue fatherhood and masculinity in the culture. 

It also is a common theme in many Hollywood movies, where an underestimated woman becomes the heroin and saves the day.  Or, the ever so popular, we-don't-need-men story line, that Disney and other moviemakers are advancing.

Now, while recognizing that women were discriminated against for decades in Hollywood, and the new industry feminist movement is an attempt to correct years of wrongdoing, Bishop Barron fears the pendulum may be swinging too far.

The relationship between the sexes should never be likened to a Nietzschean power play, the clergyman says, where the strong defeats the weak in a zero sum game but more of an Aristotlean-like symbiosis, where the success of one, believe it or not, is good for the other.

And, that's the way God intended the genders to be; complimentary and completing...   

Check out his comments here:

Saturday, June 16, 2018

My Daughters, My Son and the Gender Divide...

While getting a haircut a few weeks ago, I overheard one of the hairdressers tell another, "Men are all the same.  They treat you well in front of your face but you never know what they're doing behind your back.  That's why I don't care about any man.  I put my needs first."

It is a sad commentary on the state of male and female affairs, not only for her apparent tainted perspective, which no doubt involved a gallivanting husband or boyfriend, and the mere fact that I was the only man in the salon at that time made me wonder if she was directing her comments at me, but for inward-turning solution.

She decided to look out for number one, a common theme repeated in hundreds of self-help books.  But, is self-centeredness the answer to happiness?

I get it.  Someone going through a heartbreak is bound to lash out at the opposite sex.

Yet, the hairstylist's remarks appear, at least to me, to follow a widespread contraceptive mentality that turns love and sex inward instead of out, where the opposite gender becomes a means to an end instead of the end itself and self-gratification, promiscuity and selfishness take prominence over self-giving, fidelity and selflessness. 

Sadly, it's the culture we live in; partly the blame of men, acting like the adult adolescents that Hollywood movies and TV shows regularly portray or those who abuse their power and influence over women like the Harvey Weinsteins of the world.

It's ironic.  In the midst of the sexual revolution, Pope Pius VI foresaw this coming.  In his much-maligned 1968 encyclical on artificial birth control, Humanae Vitae, which celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year, the Pope wrote, "A man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires..."   HV:17 

It's the use and be used product of artificial birth control which sparked the sexual revolution by promising to liberate women, only to make them slaves and objects of men's desires.

However, aside from cheating, immature and abusive men, there seems to be another underlying level of antagonism inciting division currently; angry feminist and social movements that pit women against men, organize marches, promote sexual licentiousness as freedom and claim an ongoing "war on women," as if the sexes were adversaries instead of compliments.  It's like men need to be mastered for women to succeed.

Well, to paraphrase the great Michael Jackson in The Girl is Mine,  we are meant to be lovers not fighters.  Our relationship as male and female, made in the image and likeness of God, is not about war but love.  But, that means true love, which  involves sacrifice, self-giving for the sake of another, service, faithfulness and obedience (a term abhorrent in the modern vocabulary).
After reflecting on the subject for several days, I went into my teenage daughters' room and told them outright, "Men are not your enemies.  And, furthermore, you don't have to be like men to be successful women."  I repeated both points deliberately, "Did you hear me?  Men are not your enemies and you don't have to be like men to be successful women!"

They kind of looked at me dumbfounded, wondering where I was coming from, and my older daughter finally responded, as she crinkled her eyebrow, one higher than the other, "O-kaaay," as if to say, "What the heck are you talking about, Dad?"

I wanted to make the two points because the second one derives from the first.  And, another reason for telling them is that I have a younger son as well.

Too often girls are being told that boys are their competitors as far as achieving success in school, careers and even relationships.

It could be one of the reasons marriage has declined precipitously in recent decades, to the point where, for the first time in American history, there are more single people than there are married ones.

There appears to be an increasing animosity between the genders, which, in my opinion, is partly due to an overall erosion of male and female roles in lieu of gender-neutrality, which is being spirited in the culture.

Yet, I heard an interesting comment from a priest on a radio show recently.  He stated that the concept of making women more like men is rooted in distorted prejudice.  Its grounded on the notion that women are lesser than men and therefore need to be like men to be worthy.

It made me think.  Women are being told to be more aggressive sexually, like men, to be more independent, like men, to be stronger, like men, to be less emotional, like men, and, most of all, to give up the very essence of womanhood, which is to be mothers, which no man can ever be, no matter how hard they may try, so they can serve men's sexual desires indiscriminately, work longer, climb the corporate ladder and not have any strings weighing them down, such as a husband or kids.  It's sad.

Meanwhile, boys are failing miserably.  Less men are entering college, graduating from college and, while women are climbing the corporate ranks, many men are stagnating in their careers.

I see the shifts in my own industry; TV news.  It was male dominated through the 70's and now, at least sixty percent of our staff is female.  Moreover, two thirds of our job applicants are women.

In this downward trend, men have forgotten what it means to be men; to be heads of their households, to be assertive and decisive, to be the spiritual leaders of their families, to be protectors and consolers.  It's the climate we live in.  I too find myself failing in various aspects of my manhood at times.

Men have been emasculated by a culture, where gender-neutrality reigns the day and masculinity is devalued, possibly as a consequence of skyrocketing divorce rates, single motherhood and countless children being raised without a father in the home.  And, partly the result of agenda driven social movements or men's own self-inflicted wounds.

Regardless of the reason, it's not good for society as a whole.  Failing men means failing husbands and fathers.  Failing husbands and fathers means failing families.  Failing families means a failing society.

I want my daughters to be successful.  I want them to have big dreams and accomplish them.  But, I also want their dreams to include a family of their own because, unless one has a vocation to holy orders, there is nothing greater, nothing more fulfilling or rewarding and nothing more important that we can do in life than to be spouses and parents.  And, between career and family in the grand scale of joy and fulfillment, there is no comparison.

It's the same thing I want for my son.  I want him to be successful, have big dreams and achieve them but also, hopefully through my example, to love and respect women.  I want him to have a large family (which I also want for my daughters), to  learn what it means to sacrifice, to have self-restraint and be selfless.  I want him to be faithful, courageous, to provide and protect his family and be obedient to God.   

Women aren't meant to be men anymore than men meant to be women.  We compliment and complete each other in the image and likeness of God, who is family.  We are all equal in God's eyes but different. 

Therefore, happiness in life is not about turning inwards as the hairdresser suggested.  It's about getting outside ourselves to serve one another, most importantly the ones we love; in my case, my wife...

Friday, June 8, 2018

Dorothy Day on Sex and Licentiousness...

"When sex is treated lightly, as a means of pleasure... it takes on the quality of the demonic, and to descend into this blackness is to have a foretaste of hell... There is no such thing as how far one can go without being caught, or how far one can go without committing mortal sin."

-- Dorothy Day (1897-1980), an American journalist, author and social activist, who went from Anarchism and Communist to Catholic conversion, becoming one of the most prominent advocates and defenders of the poor and downtrodden of her time.  She set up numerous shelters and soup kitchens for the destitute, some even comparing her work for the poor in the United States with that of Mother Teresa in India.  In fact, she traveled to Calcutta in 1970 and spent time with the saintly nun.  Day was a radical pacifist.  She co-founded the Catholic Workers Movement and subsequently the Catholic Worker newspaper in the 1930's, where she served as editor until her death.  Day's conversion was profound.  She went from a bohemian and secular lifestyle, including a common-law marriage, an abortion and child out of wedlock to being considered for the sainthood.  She was mentioned by Pope Francis during his address to Congress in 2015, as an "exemplary American," along with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thomas Merton.  The Church has opened a case for her canonization and she has been designated as a "Servant of God."

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Angry Man, Truth and Me...

12 Angry Men... 
The man was visibly angry.  You could see it in his demeanor and his challenging tone towards the priest.

"What you're saying is that if someone wants to get married and agrees with their partner to avoid having children then they can't get married in the Catholic Church?"

The priest looked stoically at the man, searching for the correct words to avoid fanning the flames but conscious that other men were listening.  He deliberately uttered, "Correct."

You could feel the tension in the room rising, as everyone started shifting in their seats bracing for an eruption and trying to figure out how to stop to the runaway train, which threatened to derail our otherwise pleasant morning.

"You would be violating one of the two main principles of marriage," the priest continued, "And therefore, the Church could not marry you."

By then, the man was seething.  I think he knew the answer before asking the question but wanted a reason to justify his rage.  He wanted everyone to hear how unfair he thought the answer was.  Even so, it stung him greatly because, I think, in his heart of hearts, he knew what the priest was saying was true.

Let's face it, some people elude truth.  They'd rather not come to terms with it.  It's one of the reasons people shun learning their faith or getting closer to God, so as to not have to answer to what they know.  It's like the old saying, "Ignorance is bliss."

However, truth sometimes finds us.  It hits us in the face when we least expect it; even when we  think we're ready for it; like death, illness, or something we've been avoiding in life.

It's like when I walk my dogs, one of which is going blind.  The one with better vision usually walks in front and the seeing impaired one tails behind.  Then suddenly, the lead dog stops and raises his leg to mark his territory and the other dog comes from behind and gets a snout-full of butt; ugly, messy but real! 

Yet, for me, the exchange between the priest and the angry man went deeper than an argument over Church doctrine and the sacraments.  It was about pride, humility and will; God's will or mine?

Sometimes, the Church can't give us the answer we want to hear.  But, for many, this is unacceptable.  With a misguided sense of righteousness, they want to mold God into their image and likeness; making their own rules, serving as their own authority and determining their own truth; instead of submitting themselves to His.

It may be why some people church hop.  They look for a religion that agrees with their personal inclinations; their own perspectives on life and morality.

The great GK Chesterton once wrote, "It is a very different matter when a religion, in the real sense of a binding thing, binds men to their morality when it is not identical with their mood... It is a very different thing when charity was preached to pagans who really did not believe it; just as it is a very different thing now, when chastity is preached to new pagans who do not believe in it.  It is in those cases that we get the real grapple of religion...  It is not in merely being right when we are right... It is in having been right when we were wrong..."

That internal conflict of obedience or defiance has plagued humanity from the beginning of time; pride, ego, self-reliance, auto-determination and it continues to do so today.

After a little reflection, I realized that I identified with the angry man that day; not in his arguments against the priest but in his defiance of God; in his lack of submission and obedience.

For several days, leading up to the incident, I had been struggling with my own internal conflict; knowing what was true but wanting to make my own conclusion. 

I had been angry with people in my life.  Yet, unlike my usual response of letting things blow over, I reveled in my anger.  I refused to let it go, to the point, where I prayed for God to forgive me for not wanting to let it go.  I even avoided Confession, so I could hold on to it a little longer.

I think every man who is honest with himself, faces that internal battle from time to time; some more than others.

After his conversion to Christianity, St. Augustine of Hippo said, "Lord, make me chaste.  But, not yet."

St. Paul writes about in the Letter to the Romans, "I do not do the things I want but do the things I don't want to do." Rom 7:15.

It's the conflict of good versus evil within us; of pride versus humility, of passion versus reason, the heart versus the brain and, in a disordered sense, happiness versus truth.  Yet, happiness without truth is not true happiness and truth without happiness is incomplete.  In fact, happiness (or at least what the world tells us will make us happy, which is usually passion and materialism) without truth (reason) usually leads to misery and truth without love (the truest form of happiness) leads to despair.

In the angry man's case, his defiance was a reflection of the choice he was making.  But, what about in mine?...   


Friday, May 18, 2018

My Daughter's Probing School Project...

Like a deer in headlights... 
My 13-year-old daughter gets home from dance one night this week and says, "Dad, I need to record you on video for a project I have for school.  You need to tell me in ten seconds what it means to be a Christian."

"Excuse me?" I gasped, almost spilling my wine on the couch.  C'mon!  I was comfortable with a glass of Pinot Noir in my hand, my feet up, after a long day at work, and settling in to watch the Mets' game.  Now, she wants me to think!  Are you kidding me?

"Think about it for a minute and let me know when you're ready," she stated as she walked off into her room, clueless to what was running through my brain.

My mind started racing.  What do I say? What does it mean to be a Christian?  That's a huge!  In ten seconds?  Why does she always come to me?  Why not ask Mommy?  

Then, I caught myself and paused.  I should be honored.  She came to me, as she's done for other projects and I've come through.  She trusts me and, moreover, I'm supposed to be the spiritual leader of my household!  She's giving me an opportunity to lead!  Either that or my wife said to her, "Ask your Dad!" and I was the default guy.  In either case, the question remained, what do I say?

I thought for a minute and gathered myself.

About two minutes later, I yelled out, "OK., I'm ready."  I got up quickly and wrote down some notes so I wouldn't forget what I had come up with.  I'm better at remembering when I write things down (but don't tell my wife or she'll have me writing all day!).

My daughter came back into the living room with her school iPad in hand and pointed it at me.

I told her to sit in front of me and she did.  She said, "Remember, you need to say it in ten seconds."  Pausing briefly, she started rolling and then asked, "What does it mean to be a Christian?" 

"To be a Christian," I answered, "is to be children of the light.  To live in hope and in joy because, no matter what we're going through, no matter what hardship we may face, we know we'll get through it with love and faith. That's what it means to be a Christian."

I'm sure there are many other approaches I could have taken.  I was reminded later of Pope Benedict, who wrote that being a Christian is not about a book.  It's not about a creed.  It's about an encounter with a Person.  But, the children of the light route is the one that came to mind and I was able to expound upon quickly and succinctly.

"Great!" she exclaimed.  "That was perfect."

"Really?" I asked, trying to sound humble, while envisioning the choir of angels saying, "Go Carlos, Go Carlos, Go Carlos..." and my 10-year-old son dancing the floss.  I didn't even have to glance at my notes!

"Yes.  You were about 18 seconds long but you were the best one!"  (As if my ego needed any more stroking!)

Aww.  Thanks, honey.  Hopefully, my reward will be in heaven.  Then again, I may need to work on that humility thing!... 

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Crooked Legged Lady and People I Meet Around the Golf Course...

Around the golf course... 
I was beginning to wonder. Did she change her routine?  Did she move away?  Did something happen to her?  Or worse, did she die?  If so, did she have family to mourn her?  What about her dog?

For six months, I had been running into her (pun intended) every morning on my 3-mile jog around the golf course.

She was hard to miss; an elderly woman, probably in her mid-80's, with a crooked leg, a cane in her left hand and her dog on a leash in the other.

The crookedness most likely the result of a rare condition called Paget's Disease, where the tibia starts to bend (Not that I'm a doctor but I do have internet and slept in a Holiday Inn last night!).  In her case, it was a pronounced curve on the right leg between her kneecap and ankle.

Yet, even with her crooked leg, she was always out and about; walking with her white Maltese or leaning on the exterior wall of her yard enjoying the morning sun.  She was like the golf course matriarch, who people approached for conversation.  I always made a point of saying, "Good morning," as I ran by and, she always reciprocated (unlike other people who don't even look at me!  Courtesy is a lost art, but I digress).       

Then, one day, she vanished; nowhere to be seen or heard from again.

One week went by and I didn't really notice.  Two weeks went by and I thought she may have gone  to visit relatives out of town.  By the fourth week, I took notice.

It's funny how we become accustomed to the sights and sounds we experience every day.  I have been running the same route around the golf fairways and greens near my house four or five times a week for months and, each time, usually see the same people, either running or walking along my way.

Aside from the crooked-legged lady, there's the full-bosom lady with the short hair, who always smiles as she walks by; the good-looking big headed man with the square jaw and thin body, who wears sunglasses to run and looks like a life-sized emoji; the fit-looking couple in their 50's who always say hello; the Ernest Hemingway look-a-like, who sometimes walks with his wife, sometimes with a friend or sometimes with both; the strong-nosed man with the curly white hair, who always seems to be running at the same pace no matter where I run into him around the course; and, the countless men and women walking their dogs, or getting exercise on any given day, including an occasional friend or acquaintance that go by.

Then there are the people that come and go, who I never see again; like the older man with the powder blue sweat suit opened just enough to reveal his chest hair and herringbone gold chain.  To cap off his caricature look, I noticed him holding a cigarette in one of those long plastic holders like Cruella De Vil in his hand.  He looked like a character in Steve Martin's My Blue Heaven!  He obviously left an impression.  I only saw him once (Hopefully, he's not swimming with the fishes!).

Despite not knowing these people and not even uttering a word to them beyond a greeting, as we cross paths, they become a familiar part of my day; the landscape that comforts and keeps me company through the punishing 35-minute runs that take an obvious toll on my svelte 230 lbs. frame.  Needless to say, when they're not where they're supposed to be, I feel their absence.

To some extent, it might be due to the fact that we are social beings.  Yet, in the frenzy of life, and with new technology which has made the world smaller but humanity grow farther, it's the brief contact with others, outside of work and family, we sorely miss.  Many people don't even know their neighbors!  Hence, the people we see regularly fulfill our need for connection.     

GK Chesterton once wrote, “The modern world is a crowd of very rapid racing cars all brought to a standstill and stuck in a block of traffic.”  Everybody is in a hurry to get somewhere but we sometimes find ourselves stuck going nowhere and turning inward instead of outward.  The key to happiness is getting outside our car doors, walking around and meeting other drivers.    

I don't know what it was about the crooked-legged lady.  Maybe, it's the fact that she reminded me of my great grandmother, who had leg issues as well, or because, despite her obvious disability, she was still very active.  Maybe, it was the aura of warmth about her or the feeling that she, like others that cross my path, are there for a reason; like palettes of an artist bringing color to my life.  But, I missed seeing her.

Then one recent morning, I was coming around the corner where I usually turn unto the golf course  and, in the distance, saw a woman walking a white Maltese.  Her slow deliberate gait was familiar but her legs were perfectly straight.  Is it?  Could it be?  About two months had gone by since I had last seen her.

As I came around and got closer, I realized, she looked much younger but it was her!  She was crooked-legged no more!  There was joy in Mudville and in my morning runs once again.  I have been seeing her four or five times per week again ever since...


Friday, May 4, 2018

A Ballad to Mary by Eric Clapton...

August is Clapton's biggest-selling album... 
It's amazing the things you learn on social media.  While scrolling through my Twitter feed recently, I came across a post on an Eric Clapton song, named Holy Mother, that I had never heard of.   

Not that I'm familiar with every Clapton song but the Blessed Mother is not a subject usually reflected in rock-and-roll music, save maybe U2's Magnificent.

Holy Mother was part of his August album in 1986.

In doing a little research, I found that it was written shortly after Clapton's life hit rock-bottom from drugs and alcohol addiction.

He reached a point of great despair, when the rocker wrote in his memoirs, Clapton: An Autobiography, he was in his room one night, got on his hands and knees and, in tears, started begging, someone, anyone (he didn't know who) for help.

The lyrics came to him shortly afterwards and he openly admits, since then, not letting a day go by without praying for help in the morning and expressing gratitude at night.

Since May is the month of Mary, I wanted to share the words he wrote on my blog.  Below, you will also find his performance of the song with opera great Luciano Pavarotti during a benefit concert for Bosnia in 1996... 

Holy Mother, where are you?
Tonight I feel broken in two.
I've seen the stars fall from the sky.
Holy mother, can't keep from crying.
Oh I need your help this time,
Get me through this lonely night.
Tell me please which way to turn
To find myself again.
Holy mother, hear my prayer,
Somehow I know you're still there.
Send me please some peace of mind;
Take away this pain.
I can't wait, I can't wait, I can't wait any longer.
I can't wait, I can't wait, I can't wait for you.
Holy mother, hear my cry,
I've cursed your name a thousand times.
I've felt the anger running through my soul;
All I need is a hand to hold.
Oh I feel the end has come,
No longer my legs will run.
You know I would rather be
In your arms tonight.
When my hands no longer play,
My voice is still, I fade away.
Holy mother, then I'll be
Lying in, safe within your arms.