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Friday, December 8, 2017

Preserved for the Good of the World...

"We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Ominipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful."

-- Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854...


Monday, December 4, 2017

Truth, Reality and Human Nature...

He who seeks finds...
"Being born in a time or place that is far from the truth doesn't disprove the existence of truth.  When it comes to believing in a religion or any other basic truth about reality (like the shape of the earth), we all think that we're right and that those who disagree with us are wrong.  Even people who ignore religion think they're right that religion should be ignored.  They also think that those people who tell them they should convert are wrong.  This isn't a sign of arrogance; it's a sign of genuine desire to find the truth....  The loving thing to do is not leave someone in ignorance, but to help him find the truth."

Trent Horn, in Why We're Catholic.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The CD and Man Who Set My Faith On Fire...

Dr. Scott Hahn and me in 2013... 
Those that know me know that I am passionate about my faith.  I study it.  I defend it.  I believe it wholeheartedly and I live it to the best of my abilities (Sometimes better than other).

But, one of the pivotal sparks in my fervor for the faith, aside from attending a men's retreat that changed my perspective on life, was listening to a CD I got soon after the retreat of the conversion of a well-respected Protestant Minister, named Dr. Scott Hahn.

Hahn's journey was a painful and humiliating odyssey, where everything he had ever known and believed in from the time he turned his life over to Christ, was pulled out from under him and everything he thought was corrupt and defiled ended up making too much sense to ignore.

He calls it a conversion in stages; from a detective story, to a horror story and finally a love story.

His passion for the Bible, his incessant search for Truth and earnest scholarly approach led him, most unwillingly, into the arms of the Catholic Church; a church that since his days at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary he ardently opposed, to the point of calling it the anti-Christ.

It was at Gordon-Conwell that he first started questioning his Presbyterian convictions.  A highly regarded professor from a well known seminary nearby was teaching that we are not saved by faith alone, one of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation called Sola Fide, in the strict sense that most non-Catholic Christians understand it.  And, because of this teaching, the professor was being forced out of the school.

Hahn delved into the controversy; reading, studying and debating with many professors and fellow students until coming to the unexpected conclusion that the ousted professor was right.  It was a watershed moment for Hahn and he never recovered, no matter how hard he tried to shake it off and how many friends and family, including his wife, tried to dissuade him from coming home to Rome.

Eventually, several years later, questions arose about the second plank upon which the Protestant Reform stands on; scripture alone, or Sola Scriptura, and that's where the paradigm shift, already developing in his mind and heart took hold.  Yet despite this, he continued to resist (mostly out of respect for his wife who was having a difficult time with his conversion, being the daughter of a Protestant Minister, the sister of a Protestant Minister and having married a Protestant Minister!); that is until he stepped foot into a Catholic Church and heard Mass for the first time.  The rest as they say is history.   

I remember the first time I heard of Scott Hahn.  It was on this CD while driving with my wife and kids on a road trip to North Carolina.

His delivery, sincerity and profundity were so captivating and endearing that it stirred within me a burning appetite to learn my faith; even as I realized how little I actually knew!

Shortly afterwards, I began reading some of Dr. Hahn's books; Reasons to BelieveThe Lamb's SupperRome Sweet Home, and my personal favorite, First Comes Love, as well as some of the book recommendations on the CD; most notably, Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating (where I discovered Catholic Answers, an apologetic apostolate that I listen to daily on podcast till this day).

Hahn, is now considered among the best contemporary biblical scholars and theologians in the United States and one of the most coveted Catholic speakers in the country.  He is a professor and scholar, who taught future priests at St. Vincent Seminary in Pennsylvania, where he held the Pope Benedict XVI's Chair of Biblical Theology for years, as well as students at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, where he has been teaching since 1990.  As if that weren't enough, he is the founder of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and author of over twenty books.

The CD, which is considered the most widely distributed Catholic CD ever, and became the precursor to the book on his conversion that he wrote with his wife Kimberly, Rome Sweet Home, has influenced thousands of former Protestants and marginal Catholics, like me, to embrace the Church fully.  It even prompted many of his classmates at Gordon-Conwell, who had themselves become Protestant Ministers, including Marcus Grodi, Steve Woods and his best friend in seminary, Gerry Matatics, who tried to keep Hahn from converting and ended up converting himself, into the Catholic Church.

I've had the privileged to hear Dr. Hahn speak on a couple of occasions, including one at the Archdiocese of Miami Men's Conference at St. Mark's Catholic Church in Southwest Ranches where the picture above was taken.  His wealth, depth and love of the faith always shine through in his talks, which is why he remains so popular.

Although, my desire to learn my faith was also spurned by an old friend who challenged it, and have since broadened my horizons with the works of St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Peter Kreeft, Fulton Sheen, Bishop Robert Barron and several others, I will always have an affinity for Dr. Hahn.

I came across "the CD" on You Tube recently and, since this year marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I thought I would share it (Below).  Also, if you want to read more details on his conversion, you can find it here...

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Jesus and the Power to Bind and Loose...

"Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels.  It was said to them: 'Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed.' Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding ; but they can only bind the body.  Priests, in contrast, can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself and transcends the very heavens.  Did [God] not give them all the powers in heaven?... What greater power is there than this?  The Father has given all judgement to the Son.  And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men. They are raised to this dignity as if they were already gathered up to heaven."
- St. John Chrysostom (349-407), Bishop of Constantinople was one of the most prolific early Christian writers in history, second only to St. Augustine of Hippo in number of surviving writings preserved. Known as a great preacher and public speaker, St. John is said to have memorized the Bible by heart.  He lived as a hermit for many years and practiced extreme asceticism.  Because of his self-restraint, he suffered health issues throughout his life, especially in the latter part of it.  Considered as one of the prominent among the Early Church Fathers, he is also recognized as a Doctor of the Church by the Roman Catholic Church.  St. John is also honored as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox and Anglican churches.  His Feast Day is September 13th...    

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Halloween, Harvey Weinstein and Playboy Magazine...

I often tell my daughters, "If you dress like a piece of meat, you're going to be treated like a piece of meat."

Still, when the culture is constantly bombarding girls with the message that they have to dress sexy to get a guy's attention and everything from TV commercials to prime time television shows to movies and magazines apparently are on the same page in decimating that message, and selling self-expression more than self-respect, not to mention, social media, where friends are trying to outdo one another about how good they look and how much fun their lives are as a result, it's hard for some to decipher what's appropriate and what's not.

It's worse when they have a parent trying to relive their youth by dressing in skimpy fashion, which, fortunately, is not our case since I started wearing boxer shorts instead of speedos and polos instead of tight sleeveless muscle shirts when I hit the big 5-0! (Despite my wife's insistence, no more guns displayed at our house!)

In any case, it never seems to amaze me how many girls and young (and sometimes not-so-young) women objectify themselves every year during Halloween by dressing like porn stars; whether a sexy nurse, vampire, playboy bunny, pirate or anything else imaginable.

I guess it shouldn't surprise me because of what I just mentioned but it still leaves me shaking my head.

When I was in my 20's and out in the "meat market," it was fantastic but then came Monday morning, did they expect the same respect at the office?

Hugh Hefner...
Which brings me to Harvey Weinstein and Hugh Hefner; two men cut from the same mold, users of women for carnal pleasure without conscience or consideration for their souls, and both byproducts of the sexual revolution culture, which Hefner actively helped usher in.

Playboy Magazine's centerfolds became every man's fantasy of the ideal woman.  And, by making it mainstream, with Playboy came the burgeoning and wide acceptance of the pornography industry, which is said to make more money today than the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL combined and, in the process, is wreaking havoc on the family and the moral fabric of society as a whole. 

Weinstein and Hefner, like many powerful men in other industries, preyed on women who wanted fame, fortune and glory or were vulnerable because of necessity.

In the mid-to-late 1960's, there was a waging cultural war in society; the country was at war in Vietnam, the American Civil Rights Movement in full swing, the woman's movement, which started as a stance for justice in the workplace and was later hijacked by an aggressive pro-sexual freedom movement (See the writings for former Cosmopolitan Magazine reporter, Sue Ellen Browder) was in motion and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut making "The Pill" legal in marriages.     

Amidst the turmoil and controversy over the pill, in 1968, Pope Paul VI released his much maligned encyclical Humanae Vitae, condemning artificial birth control and prophetically stating what its widespread use would lead to; moral decay.

The Pope wrote, "Let them consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.  Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings -- and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation -- need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.  Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that 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 

By separating marital sex from it's primary function of procreation, and thus, making sex "free" with no strings attached among consenting adults and "as long as nobody gets hurt," which we know is a lie because someone always gets hurt, infidelity increased dramatically, divorce rates skyrocketed, the porn industry took a hold of the culture, which it has yet to let go, making women objects to be used by men, and leading to the legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973 (Because, if contraception fails, what do you do with all the unwanted pregnancies from infidelity?), and eventually paving the way to the redefinition of marriage between a man and a woman (Because once marital relations are about pleasure and no longer about fertility and the raising of kids, shouldn't anyone get married?). 

The ruling, cushioned in the context of an aggressive women's movement and the explosion of  pornography spearheaded in part by Playboy, opened the door for the sexual revolution where "make love not war" became the anthem and we are still feeling the effects today.

Harvey Weinstein...
"Free" love is not so free when women are getting raped and abused by powerful men and the list of implicated men from the Weinstein fallout continues to grow everyday, the legacy that Hefner left in his wake.

Sure, women were victimized before the sexual revolution but it worsened exponentially with the legalization of the pill, when women became easy targets with no consequences involved.

Interestingly, all Christian denomination condemned artificial birth control until 1930, when the Episcopal Church succumbed to cultural pressures, allowing it within marriage (see the Lambeth Conference).  Soon afterwards, most Protestant denominations followed suit.  The only one left standing, and is still standing, is the Catholic Church, which is one of the reasons (asides from its teachings on abortion, cohabitation and marriage) that it remains in the crosshairs of today's progressive movement.     

Anyhow, now the damage is done.  To reverse this degenerative spiral we're on as a culture is going to take a monumental effort.

In an Twitter exchange with a loved one, she suggested where it needs to start, "It gets flushed out with our sons."

Fundamentally, there's something to be said about raising boys to be honorable and righteous, which may be, at least, a partial solution for sexually abusive men.  But, I think it's a two-way street.  I truly believe promiscuity is something to discourage not encourage.

In fact, I want to raise my children to be chaste until their wedding day because without self-dominion, there can never be control over actions towards others.

I know it sounds old-fashioned and may seem improbable in today's sex-crazed society but I still like to think it isn't and I know young people and even celebrities, who are embracing chastity.  It's a matter of understanding and reinforcing the true meaning of love, which lasts forever, as opposed to an imitation, which is driven by libido and is fleeting.  

Despite what they may teach in public schools, teens are more than uncontrolled hormones waiting to explode and human beings are not like animals, driven solely by desires and instincts.  Men and women have minds, which can be used for reason, logic and self-restraint, as well as hearts that long for authenticity and true love (which is a longing for happiness that can only be filled by God).

While lustful boys can become lustful men, and I am going to teach my son about respecting women, it must begin with women respecting themselves.

Venerable Fulton Sheen once said, "When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her.  The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women."

Just as I'm hoping to teach my son to hold women in the highest esteem, I'm also hoping to teach my daughters that they are not pieces of meat and shouldn't degrade themselves by dressing like one for Halloween, or any other day for that matter, reinforcing an image that was long ago established for men's pleasures...  

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Wake Me Up When September Ends...

Signs of Fall...
Summer has come and passed, the innocent can never last.  Wake me up when September ends.  Ring out the bells again, like we did when spring began.  Wake me up when September ends.  -- Green Day

Alright, so it actually started in late August and has continued into early October but, in more than twenty-eight years of working in TV news, I can't recall a 6-week period that has been more frenetic, tumultuous and tragic than the latest one; not that my memory is great but just saying!

Obviously, I'm not comparing it to the ravishes and destruction of wars or certain terror attacks, including September 11th, but the continuous succession of incidents in the last few weeks has been mind boggling and, frankly, exhausting.

It began with Hurricane Harvey flooding Houston.  Then the monstrous Hurricane Irma, which threatened South Florida and had us scrambling days before, pounded the Caribbeans before ferociously hitting the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida, killing 124 in the process.

Then came the earthquake in Mexico City that left over 360 known deaths so far.

Afterwards, while peoples' heads were still reeling and Harvey benefit drives were replaced by Irma drives, which were replaced by earthquake drives, Hurricane Maria hit and devastated Puerto Rico, killing at least 34 and leaving the island's infrastructure paralyzed, to the point where power may not be restored in some areas for months!

And, then, as if that wasn't enough, there was Las Vegas, where evil was personified in the face of a cold blooded killer, who randomly shot over 500 people at a country music concert, killing nearly 60 in the process before shooting himself.  It became the deadliest mass shooting in American history.  (I'm not even going to think about Hurricane Nate, which may be another threat very soon!)

All this amidst the growing nuclear tit-for-tat, which fortunately has taken second stage, between Le Grande Orange and Little Rocket Man, in possibly the worst political climate and government stagnation in American history.

It's surreal.  As the Green Day song says, "Wake me up when September (or October, or the way we're going, 2017) ends, please!"

The gangs all here...
It's like a J.R.R. Tolkien novel where the panorama appears to worsen by the paragraph, only without the hobbit, the elf and the dwarf to save the day!  Superman where are you now?

This week, my daughter underwent a surgical procedure, where they had to put her under general anesthesia.  In all honesty, I didn't think much about the surgery because of everything that was happening at work.  In other words, I was sleepwalking through my personal life because of the chaos in my professional life; distracted, as our priest says, by the 'cacophony of noise' that surrounded me.  Until I finally got around to thinking about it, the day before the surgery!  Then, I realized the gravity; not that anything was going to go wrong but that anything could go wrong.  I'm sometimes amazed by my own denseness.

In any case, the night before the surgery, I gathered the family together to pray a Rosary for my daughter.  It is something they started doing with my Mother-in-Law (while I was at work), in the days leading up to Hurricane Irma, when it looked like Miami was in the storm's direct path.

The next morning, I planned on going to work like normal but, after my wife headed to the doctor's office with our daughter, I started growing more anxious.  So, I called the office to say I would be late.

By the time I got to the doctor's, our daughter was already inside.  My wife suggested I go get some Cuban coffee and as I walked out to the street, I started praying the Rosary again.  It had a calming effect.  It always does.

It's like Pope Francis recently tweeted, "Only in the silence of prayer can you learn to listen to the voice of God."  

It's difficult to understand why God allows hardship and strife in our life.  But, in seeking His help, we often find peace; like the Apostles found on the boat in the midst of the storm when Jesus calmed the wind and sea.

Good Samaritans at work...
It's like the passage from First Kings about looking for God but not finding him in the powerful wind that tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks, or in the earthquake, or in the fire but in the gentle whisper; the quite within the storm.

I think of that waitress that held a stranger's hand as he bled to death in Las Vegas and, after answering his cellphone and telling first his girlfriend and then his mother that the man had not made it, waited over five hours with the corpse, so that the body would not be lost in the mayhem.

Or the many volunteers who rushed into the rubble to pull out victims in Mexico City.  Or the priest who went on a kayak looking for food and supplies for his poor parishioners, who had lost their homes and belongings in Houston.

God is in the whispers; in the unsung heroes, who become the hobbit, the elf and the dwarf when others most need it.

As a survivor recovering in his hospital bed said in Las Vegas, "I witnessed the worse from one person but I witnessed the best from thirty thousand people."

I'd like to think that trials and tribulations, suffering and even staring death in the face at times, is God's way of waking us up from our slumber; getting us out of ourselves and focusing on others. Because, only when we get out of ourselves do we truly stop thinking of our needs and reflect God's love in the world.

It was St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrated this week, who once said, "Lord, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console, to be understood, as to understand, to be loved, as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

Therefore, wake me up, wake us all up from our slumber when September, or today, ends...

[pic credit: Getty Images]

Friday, September 29, 2017

Meant to Fly...

When ducks fly...
During a homily several months ago, our parish priest told a story that got everyone's attention, including my kids.

It's a parable written by a 19th century Danish theologian and philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, about a town where only ducks lived.

He said that every Sunday, the ducks waddled out of their duck homes and down to their duck church.

They waddled into their pews, as the duck choir sang and the duck pastor read from the duck sacred scriptures.

The duck pastor told them, "Ducks, God has given you wings!  With these wings you can fly! With these wings you can rise up and soar like eagles!  No walls can confine you, no fences can hold you. You have wings and you can fly like birds!"

The duck parishioners were moved and stirred in their pews, some even shouting, "Amen!"

As the service ended, they thanked the duck priest for his inspiring words, greeted their duck friends and waddled back to their duck homes.

Our priest pointed out that, like the ducks in the story, we are all given gifts by God.  They may be special athletic abilities, artistic talents or special skills.  They may be resources or time but, we all have them.

However, in failing to use our God-given gifts, we misuse them.  We fail, not only ourselves by failing to reach our full potential, but we also fail God.

And, woe, our priest said, to those that misuse their God-given gifts; to those who waddle when they should be flying...