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Monday, February 27, 2017

The Measure of Love...

The Gentleman Saint...
"The measure of love is to love without measure." 

 -- St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622),  17th Century Bishop of Geneva, and Doctor of the Church, who as a priest was known for his patience and gentle approach to quell religious division after the Protestant Reformation.  He was a lawyer by trade and, after convincing his father to allow him to enter the priesthood, he was just as successful in sharing the Catholic faith and converting Calvinists in Geneva.  He would preach to them and hand out pamphlets that he would write himself.  St. Francis is said to have returned tens of thousands back into the Catholic fold.  The "brilliant apologist," as some have described, was known for practicing his axiom, "A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar."  Well recognized for his book, Introduction to the Devout Life, which is hailed by Catholics and many Prostestants alike, he also wrote, A Treatise on the Love of God, and hundreds of pamphlets, which were later assembled as, The Catholic Controversy, and letters addressed to the laity.  Along with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, he founded the women's Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.  He was canonized in 1665 by Pope Pius IX 43 years after his death.  His feast day is celebrated by the Church on January 24th...   

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Marriage, Love and Shattered Glass...

"At least you didn't break the wine bottles," my wife said in an irritated tone.

"Well, I guess, I did something right," I answered coyly, after shattering a glass punch bowl with the seat of our car when I slid it back to get behind the wheel.  The four bottles of wine next to it were not touched!

"No," she shot back, "You just didn't do more wrong!"

I love my wife.  She's very pragmatic and, as you can see, isn't afraid to tell me how she feels. Whether I want to hear it or not!

In this case, it was probably not an apropos way to begin a marriage retreat that we were leading but such is the reality of married life.  You take the good with the bad, although, for the most part, at least among the couples we are friends with, the good far outweighs the bad.

The great English writer and philosopher, G.K. Chesterton put it into perspective when he wrote, "Marriage is an adventure, like going to war."

I'm sure he meant its complexities; sometimes you're head over heels in love.  Sometimes you're at each other's throats.  Other times, you're side-by-side in the trenches fighting enemies from abroad, like your children!  While, occasionally, there's a little bit of both.  And, when you get two people with strong characters, like my wife and me together, you never know.

Nobody says marriage is easy (at least nobody who has ever been married!), but it's the most rewarding gift that God gave man and woman; a chance to participate in His creation and love through bonds of family.

A young couple from our parish recently lost twin babies at birth.  Certainly, there's nothing more difficult for a parent to have to endure than the loss of a child, and these two were the couple's first children, which had been long awaited.

The infants just lived long enough for a priest to Baptize them after an emergency Cesarean Section. It was a surreal scene, according to those who witnessed it.  

Pain and anguish are difficult to get through but having faith and a loving spouse by your side makes it almost bearable.

In a recent social media post, the husband and father wrote, "There's a unique peace - and dare I say joy - from the certain knowledge that my children never knew evil; that sin, pain and suffering will always be foreign to them; that they will spend eternity in the company of angels and saints, with our Lord and Blessed Mother for best friends...."

That wisdom and certainty derives from faith.  A faith that can move mountains and is centered on love, which fosters hope.  And, hope, as Chesterton also wrote, "means hoping when everything seems hopeless."

I'm sure their spiritual foundation and reliance on each other, will help them overcome their grief and move towards their next adventure.

Then, there's our neighbors across the street.  A young couple who months before their first baby was born was hit with a Dwight "Doc" Gooden curve ball, a.k.a. Uncle Charlie, in life.

The husband went to ride his bike one morning and hours later, police showed up at the expectant mother's doorstep to tell her he had been involved in an accident and was in a coma.

He survived but, for the past eleven months, she has been dealing with a newborn baby daughter and a husband who, until a few weeks ago, was totally immobile.  How's that to start your married life?

The husband is now getting up and learning to walk again but they have a long road ahead.

It's easier to love when things are going smoothly but much more challenging when rough times come our way.  But, rough times are part of marriage and you can go with the culture and take the easy way out, saying "I didn't sign up for this," or you can tighten your belt strap and say, "bring it on."

Unfortunately, we live in a throwaway society, where people throw things away instead of trying to fix it.

Notwithstanding, marriage is not something you throw away because it's broken.  It wasn't made to be.  God said, "It is not good that man be alone," and so He made man a helper in life and, when a man leaves his father and mother, he clings to his wife and the two become one flesh and are bound spiritually forever.    

I've heard it said that there's a part of you in every intimate relationship you've ever had because the union of a man and woman was always meant to be eternal.

Moreover, as I often tell my children, love is not a feeling.  It's a choice; a commitment.  Feelings come and go. A commitment endures forever.

Man and woman are made to complement and complete each other. All you have to do is look at our bodies to see that reality.  However, in that complement and completion, we are also made very different; not just physically but in the way we think, the way we handle problems, the way we approach situation, and often those differences lead to strife.

But, strife is not insurmountable, as long as there is love, a.k.a. commitment, just as the young couple in our parish and our neighbors across the street apparently have.  And love, as St. Paul writes, "Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,."  including shattered glass...

Monday, January 23, 2017

When Truth is Subject to Opinion...

"Relativism means everything is up for grabs; who's to say?... When there isn't common core values and truths that we all agree on and look to, you start to find that the one who wins the day is the one who shouts the loudest, has the biggest megaphone, has the most power, (or) is the richest... It's a struggle for power rather than, let's reason and think what's best for the human person."  

Msgr. Charles Pope; priest, teacher, retreat leader, spiritual director, blogger and published writer.  He is a dean and pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC., where he conducts weekly Bible studies in the U.S. Congress and the White House and writes a weekly column for Our Sunday Visitor.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Bad Reading, Mets Baseball and Mass Appeal...

Somewhere during the priest's mind-numbing rendition of an unemployed third-rate actor reading the obituaries from a local newspaper, I started to wonder, "What is he doing? When is he going to stop reading and get on with his homily?"

Gotta find a spot for Jose Reyes... 
Then, my mind started drifting even further, "What are the Mets going to do with Jose Reyes if David Wright plays third, Asdrubal Cabrera plays short and Neil Walker plays second?  Then again, what are they going to do with Michael Conforto with Cespedes, Bruce, Lagares and Granderson in the same outfield? Did I forget to give my son his medication this morning?  No, I remembered."

The priest continued, "In the second reading, St. Paul writes...."  At that point, I realized he was not going to stop.  That was his homily!

The poor clergyman, probably in his late 50's, was obviously not comfortable speaking freely in English.  His pronunciation was not bad but he probably felt he was doing the parishioners a favor.  It failed miserably, at least to me.

It wasn't that his writing lacked substance, it was just that he was reading!  It had no life, no color, no anecdotes and nothing to make it relatable.  It was as dryly delivered as a Steven Wright comedy routine, sans the humor!

It's hard to remember the last time I felt that type of disconnect during a homily; probably, before my re-version to the faith over ten years ago, when I would spend way too many masses thinking about the Mets' lineup, what I was going to have for lunch or the crying baby in the back of the church. Why doesn't his mom shut him up, already! I'm trying to figure out the trade or recall options the Mets' have in their minor league system! 

We were on a field trip to St. Augustine with my son's 4th Grade class.  A few of us snuck away from the tour itinerary to catch the early Sunday morning Mass.

I love to visit different Catholic parishes when I travel.  It's mind-boggling to think that the same Mass celebrated at any given city is the same Mass that my wife and daughters would partake in at home that day, my sister-in-law and her family would experience in London or anywhere else around the globe.  It is truly what first century bishop, St. Ignatius of Antioch, meant when he referred to the Church as "Catholic," which means universal.

Learning about history and life...
I also like to teach my kids that no matter where we are, our obligation to God continues, even on vacation.  There's no vacation from God!

Anyhow, it was a beautiful and, apparently, affluent parish (their bulletin had fourteen full-color pages!) with a visibly active bilingual congregation, three priests, three deacons and almost 50 ministries (They were holding a ministries fair on the day of our visit), but their Spanish-speaking priest was celebrating the English Mass and it didn't translate well, pardon the pun.

While, I wouldn't say the homily was a total disaster, it did remind me of a conversation I had with my brother a few years ago.  He said that some priests were so uninspiring that it made him think twice about going to Mass sometimes.    

It's one of the reasons so many Protestant megachurches are filled to the brim; people looking for entertainment, fellowship and excitement.  They want to feel part of something but want to be attracted by charismatic preaching (many times that appeal to their taste in theology and philosophy of life!), lively music and vibrant social opportunities.

However, to me, as one of our parish priests put it recently, "Church is not about me and what I can get.  It's about Him and what I can give."  Let's face it, the least we can do is give God an hour a week of our time!

The Bread of  Life...
And, yet, we do receive more than we can ever imagine at Mass.  We receive the Eucharist; the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ; the same Christ who walked the earth two thousand years ago, performing miracles and dying for our sins; the same Christ who we call God and pray to; and the same Christ, and God of the Universe, who humbles Himself to feed his flock through the Bread of Life, otherwise known as "Daily Bread" we pray for in the Lord's Prayer.

Moreover, during the liturgy, we are actually drawn to the foot of the cross in first century Palestine to partake in the "once and for all" sacrifice of the Son to the Father.

As one of my favorite authors, Dr. Scott Hahn, writes in his book, The Lamb's Supper, the Mass is the where heaven and earth meet.  It is the closest we'll get to heaven this side of the grave.  It is where the entire Communion of Saints; those in heaven, including our loved ones, those on the way to heaven and those existing on the planet come together (in the Eucharist).

Hence, as I sat there in the pew that Sunday morning, being lulled by the arid reading, in a strange but all too familiar surrounding and thinking of Reyes' and Conforto's plights in the New York Mets' lineup, as I kept my son from laying his head on my lap, I regathered my thoughts and was able to focus on who and what I was there for...

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Peter Kreeft: More Heroes Needed...

"Our culture has filled our heads but emptied our hearts, stuffed our wallets but starved our wonder.  It has fed our thirst for facts but not for meaning or mystery.  It produces "nice" people, not heroes."

-- Peter Kreeft from Jesus-Shock.  Kreeft is a philosophy professor at Boston College and The King's College in New York.  He has authored over 75 books, is a husband (one wife), father of four, grandfather of five, and public speaker.  He was a Calvinist, who regarded the Catholic Church "with the upmost suspicion" but when asked by a professor to investigate the claims of the Church to be the one founded by Jesus Christ, he was persuaded by the writings of the early Christians.  He applied to the Church the C.S. Lewis trilemma on Jesus, either He was a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord (either the Church was "the most arrogant, blasphemous and wicked claim imaginable, if it is not true, or else that she is just what she claims to be.") and was convinced by the latter.  He converted in the late '90's, well after being established as one of the most respected Christian writers of modern times.

Check out his conversion story here.

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016: Tears, Terror and the Times of Our Lives...

What a year...
For better or worse, depending on your perspective, 2016 was one of the most remarkable years, at least, in recent memory.

It was the year the Chicago Cubs won the World Series after a 108-year drought.

The year that Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro finally died (at the age of ninety, mind you!), in probably the most anticipated deaths in history, especially among Miami's Cuban exiles community, which I am a part of.  It took fifty-seven years for it to happen!

And, it was the year, the least-likely presidential candidate, Donald Trump, a man with no political experience ever, was elected President of the United States; after polls showed him trailing by double figures as late as a month before the election. No presidential candidate had ever overcome that type of deficit in U.S. history.  And, that was all in November!

As a TV news professional, for me, it was an exhausting month; long hours at work, lots of logistical and special coverage planning, continuous live coverage and far too many meals in the newsroom. In fact, the elections, its fallout and death of Castro, which carried us into December felt like a real-life version of Pulp Fiction, only we didn't have Harvey Keitel to clean up the mess!

Aside from President Obama's visit to Cuba in March, which was a big deal for all the local stations, especially mine, which caters to a Spanish-speaking and mostly Cuban-American audience, and this marked the first time an American President set foot on the island nation since 1928, the latter half of the year was when it really got busy.

It started with the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando in June, followed by shocking death of Marlins baseball star Jose Fernandez in a boating accident in September, then Hurricane Matthew threatened South Florida.  Finally, there was November, which, while the Cubs were not something we covered extensively, Castro's death and Trump's win were.

By the time mid-December came around, we were running on fumes.

Winston in black.  Dante in gold...
On a personal level, we had a banner year at the Espinosa home-front.  We made an addition to the family in March; adopting an energetic terrier mix, who we named Dante, fitting for this high strung ball of fur that drove me crazy during his first several months with us.  He couldn't control his bowels and bladder.  But, he grew into probably the most lovable and affectionate member of our family.

We also took several trips this year; our annual family vacation to Sanibel Island in July, which has been an ongoing week-long getaway for my wife's family for the past forty years, give or take a few, and includes extended family and lifelong friends.

My wife and I also took the kids to New Orleans to celebrate our younger daughter's twelfth birthday in September.  We had taken our oldest daughter to New York City in 2013. Now, our nine-year-old son wants to go to San Francisco or Honolulu for his 12th!  We're going to need to start saving for that one!

We also traveled to Orlando for the girls' national dance competition in July, which after years of succeeding, took a turn for the worse this time, after several of the studio's top dancers broke off to start their own studio.  Let's just say, I lived the Dance Moms drama with my wife and daughters every night in the flesh!

Another highlight, albeit a bit melancholy, was our oldest daughter singing the National Anthem with her school choir at a Miami Marlins v. New York Mets game in September.  The New Yorkers are her, my son and my favorite team.  However, it happened to fall on the same night the Marlins were playing their first game after the Fernandez tragedy!  The girls were visibly shaken after singing by the emotionally charged pre-game ceremony.

Still, some lows included the deaths of a good friend due to cancer, which consumed him in three short months, and of our station's longtime anchorman (over thirty-five years to be exact), who was a beloved and respected figure by most of the staff, and I had the privilege of working with for eighteen years.  He was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis just months after retiring in late 2015 and died in November.

Yet, amidst the sorrows, joy, loss and celebrations, 2016 without a doubt will be a memorable year for me; a year much like Green Day's song, Good Riddance (Time of Your Life); replete with contradiction.

"Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road.  Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go.  So make the best of this test, and don't ask why.  It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time. It's something unpredictable but in the end it's right.  I hope you had the time of your life."

As another year goes by, our kids grow older and the memories we made soon begin to fade, I realize that we have to enjoy the moment for these are the times of our lives.

May 2017 be as memorable...

[photo credit: AP Photo/ Matt Slocum]

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Finding Purpose and Setting the World on Fire...

Setting the world on fire...
St. Catherine of Siena once said, "If you are who God meant you to be, you will set the world on fire."

It was the quote used by the Bishop of London during his sermon at Prince William and Catherine's royal wedding.

For many of us, trying to figure out who we are meant to be can take a lifetime; a lifelong search for purpose.

I remember a time in the early stages of my life, when I thought my purpose was to be a cowboy, before the Ed Bruce song advised moms against it, and after thinking I wanted to be a trapeze artist, inspired by Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis in the movie, Trapeze. Somewhere between cowboy and my illusions of grandeur on a high wire, I also considered the priesthood.  Talk about confusion!

Then, later in my childhood, I thought my purpose was to play professional baseball, only to realize, when I got to high school, that I wasn't going to be setting the world on fire in that role, which coincided with my short endeavor into acting in Mrs. Jones' drama class (which by the way, inspired my younger brother to become an actor, which became what he was meant to be.  He's been acting professionally since 1995!).

Playing Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple, was a revelation.  The attention and undeserved accolades I got in the hallways was like the hypnotizing visible smell of cheese that got Jerry into trouble with Tom in the TV show I would put on in the background, as I napped, after getting home from school before baseball games.  It was only reaffirmed with my roles as Bert Jefferson in The Man Who Came to Dinner, the Chief in Get Smart, Jonathan Harker in Dracula and Earthquake McGoon in Li'l Abner, our end-of-year musical.

So, I decided to combine the best of both worlds (my love of baseball and love for the attention of acting) and become a sportscaster! It changed to newscaster by the time I got to college, fearing that, as a sportscaster, I would get labeled as an ex-jock who failed at making it as a player (which was true but why admit it?).

Thus started my career as a news reporter, with hopes of becoming a network news anchor someday. It soon evolved into newsroom editorial management and I have been working in various editorial roles in television news ever since.

Yet, I realize, as my priorities changed with time, that my true vocation and who I am meant to be is beyond whatever I can ever achieve professionally.

Some people identify themselves by what they do in life or what they want to be and, if they stop doing it, or their goals are frustrated, sometimes due to circumstances beyond their control, they feel empty, depressed, resentful or, even, worthless.

Thomas Merton once wrote, "We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being.  As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have - for their usefulness."

It's the reason some men, and lately more and more women, have midlife crisis.  They reach a point in their life when they haven't accomplished what they set out to do and so, they try to fill the void in their souls with material things or by having intimate relationships outside of marriage.

Some even try to go back in time by having their hair dyed, wearing an earring (men) or getting a tattoo.  It never works.  Aside from looking as ridiculous, and met with as much enthusiasm from friends and loved ones, as Frank Ricard (Will Ferrell's character) streaking down the middle of town in Old School, the emptiness continues; the hole doesn't diminish.

Moreover, what we are is often not who we are or are meant to be.  I remember a friend once telling me that he had achieved everything he wanted in life; he had a very successful career, a beautiful wife, healthy kids, a waterfront property with an infinity pool and 35-foot boat on a dock in the back. Yet, one evening, as he sat in his backyard smoking a cigar and drinking a scotch, overlooking the pool, lake and boat, as the sun was setting, he asked himself, "Is this all there is?"

You see, despite popular opinion, our purpose is never what we do, how many toys we have in the end, how much power, vainglory or sexual partners we have had.  As the old saying goes, we came into this world naked and naked we will leave it!

Finding true joy, fulfillment and peace surpasses all the empty promises.  It comes down to love; feeling loved and loving others; getting outside ourselves, and the never-ending search for happiness in our heads, and serving others.

St. Teresa of Calcutta (aka Mother Teresa) once said, "The fruit of silence is prayer.  The fruit of prayer is faith.  The fruit of faith is love.  The fruit of love is service.  The fruit of service is peace."

It's like the first line of Rick Warren's best selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, which states, "It's not about you."

Of course, in the self-absorbed culture we live in today, where selfies have become a validation of the happy and fulfilled lives people want us to see, and where we are constantly told to look-out-for-number-one and that we control our own destiny, if we think right, eat right, live right and look right, Warren's line may sound as foreign to some as the second line of Manfred Mann's Blinded by the Light.  (I've had this ongoing argument with my family.  Doesn't he say, "wrapped up like a douche in the middle of the night?")

In any case, I am not defined by what I do but who I am, as St. Catherine stated.  And, who I am is not the cowboy, trapeze artist, baseball player or TV star that I wanted to be or my profession as a television news managing editor, but a child of God. We are all children of God.  And, if children, as St. Paul points out, then heirs.

As heirs, therefore, our purpose is to lift up the Kingdom of God by serving others; reflecting Christ's love in this world and, in our own small way, setting a spark that spreads into raging flames and draws people to the consuming fire of God's love, which is the only place anyone can find real happiness.

Then we can say, as Jesus once did, "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!" (Luke 12:49)...