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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."...   

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Love of the Father, A Baseball Player's Tale...

Mike Sweeney... 
There are few baseball players that I learned to admire more after their careers were over than during.  Former Kansas City Royals' great Mike Sweeney is one of those players.
Not to say that his 16-year MLB career did not stand out in it of itself, with a .297 lifetime batting average, 215 home runs and 909 runs batted in, but the way he has carried his life during and after his playing days stand out even more.  
Sweeney was highlighted in the Knights of Columbus' "Everyday Heroes" videos for living a life of values, centered on faith and family (see below).

In the video, the 5-time All-Star and Royals Hall-of-Famer says his life was modeled after his father, who, as a promising minor league baseball player, left the game when his wife got pregnant to go drive a beer truck and raise a family, since he couldn't afford to do so on his minor league salary at the time.

A year and a half after the the birth of their first child, Mike was born.  Yet, the doctors told his parents that he may not make it through the night.  He was born two months prematurely.

Mike says his dad went out with his rosary in hand and prayed all night for a miracle.  His prayers were answered.  His parents went on to have six more kids after Mike.    

His dad was his hero.  He wanted to grow up to be like his father.  In fact, he admits he played baseball because he got to spend time with his dad and, in the process, he learned to love the game.

In the video, he relates his bond with his father to his faith, "As Catholics, we should be so in love with the father that we want to take on the name of the son." 

He tells an anecdote about his 8-year-old son Donovan, who told him recently that when he makes it to the big leagues, he wants to change his name to Michael John, just like his dad.  Sweeney says it made him cry.     

"I was placed on this earth to get my wife and my children to heaven and as many other people as I can with me," he says and that is the focus of his life.

Sweeney retired in 2011, after playing for the Royals, Oakland A's, Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies, where he got his only taste of the post-season in 2010.  

Currently, Sweeney is a special assistance for the Kansas City Royals and is a public speaker and evangelist for his Catholic faith.

"Some of the most miserable men I've met are millionaires.  Some of the most miserable men that I've been around are Hall-of-Fame baseball players because they are trying to fill their hearts with the things of this world.  St. Augustine said that our hearts are created by God and only in God will our hearts find rest."

He goes on, "As men, God calls us to holiness and holiness is not perfection.  Holiness means to be set apart.  So we were not called to blend in.  We were called to stand out and we were put on his earth to be holy and we were put on this earth to be saints."

A standout player on the field but an even greater standout off!...  Check out the video below.  Also, I first wrote about Sweeney in 2010, you can read it here... 

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: