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Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Day in the Life; Like Mike, Well Almost...

Real Gatorade or beer?
A popular Gatorade commercial in the 90's highlighted NBA legend Michael Jordan, as a catchy song played in the background, while images interlaced of Jordan and kids frolicking on a basketball court, that said, "Like Mike.  If I could be like Mike. I want to be like Mike."

Well, my seven-year-old son has never seen that commercial and doesn't even know who Michael Jordan is (Sad, isn't it?).  So, last weekend, he announced at a Hooter's restaurant, where we had gone to lunch so I could catch a little of the Redskins game (I know they suck but I still root for the sorry saps!), while my wife and daughters went for a quick stop at a beauty salon in the same mall, that he wanted to be... get this, not like Mike, but like Dad (aka, me!).  However, instead of having the moves and playing like arguably the greatest basketball player that ever lived, he was talking about drinking beer and whiskey!  No kidding, he said that. 

Of course, we all laughed but seconds later, the waitress shows up to take our drink orders and he orders a beer!  We all started laughing again but he wasn't kidding.  The waitress played along.  "What kind would you like?" she asked him.  He responded, "What kind do you have?" as if he had done this before!  She went on the say several beers and he answered, "I'll have a Corona Light."  He was serious!

In fact, about as serious as the time last week when he asked me for wine, as I was pouring a glass for myself at home, and gave it to him and saying, "This is for you."  He said with a surprised look on his face, "Really?" and took the wine glass, went to the living room and told his mom and sisters that Dad had given him wine, as he proceeded to take a small sip before I took it away from him.  He was like, "Why did you take it away?"  He really thought it was his.

In any case, going back to the Hooter's story, he was very disappointed when the waitress brought him lemonade and I said it was a Corona Extra Light.  He wasn't amused!

I may have to rethink the example I'm setting and, maybe even, have to have that man to man talk with him soon...


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Words of Wisdom from Fulton Sheen...

“There are 10,000 times 10,000 roads down which you may travel during life. But at the end of all of these roads, you will see one or the other of two faces: the merciful face of Christ or the miserable face of Satan.”

-- Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, priest, author and one of the first and greatest televangelists in U.S. history.  Sheen hosted a prime time television show called, Life is Worth Living in the 1950's and The Fulton Sheen Program in the 1960's.  His cause for canonization was officially opened in 2002 and, earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI recognized him as "Venerable Servant of God," for a life of heroic virtue...

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Screwtape, Distraction and a Weekend with the Boys...

It is commonly suggested within Christian circles that the Devil will not attack humanity with horns, a pitchfork and flames burning within and around him (outside of Tim Curry in the Hollywood flop, Legend).  Instead, he attacks in the temptations we are prone to covet and in the subtleties and distractions that keep our focus away from God and on the mundane and quotidian. 

C.S. Lewis' fictional character Screwtape, the senior demon writing to his apprentice and nephew Wormwood, in The Screwtape Letters, got it right when he wrote, “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”  

Not to belabor the point, but, as I wrote in my last blog, the last few months have been a bit hectic for me, to say the least.  At times, I've felt like I've been treading water, just trying to keep my head afloat, with the day-to-day grind of work, the stress and anxieties that come with the demands of a rigorous work schedule, and, thus, the distractions that ensue.

In other words, my mind has been more preoccupied with the temporal, mundane and quotidian than the eternal.

Unfortunately, it couldn't have come at a less opportune time (Then again, it all depends on what side of the opportunity you're on!).

Several months ago, I was selected to lead a spiritual retreat to help bring men closer to God at my parish.  At about the same time, I took on a new role at work and, let's just say, work won!  I let my job consume me,  affecting, not only my spiritual life, but my home life in the process.

Yet, to be honest, I didn't see it until a few weeks ago, as we were fast approaching the retreat weekend and I was telling a good friend about how busy I had been and how difficult it was for me to concentrate on preparing the topics for discussion for the men and even praying. 

In 2009, when I led the same retreat, I was in a zone.  I was reading the Bible every morning, praying from almost the time I woke up until I went to bed (Not continuously, but in an open-ended conversation with God), going to Confession every two to three weeks, reflecting and giving thought to the meeting topics and partaking and receiving the Eucharist on a daily basis.

This time around, it was a challenge.

I was so absorbed with my job that, while I was praying every day, it was not as deep or with the same intensity as I was doing the first time around.  I wasn't reading scriptures on a daily basis.  I went extended periods, at times eight to ten weeks, without going to Confession, and aside from Sundays and Fridays (when I lector), I was finding it difficult to make it to daily Mass.  Moreover, there were many weeks (if not most!) when our meeting topics were decided on the morning of! 

It was a bit discouraging because I felt like I was failing the men, who entrusted me to lead the retreat. 

In any case, before I carried on about all the things that were happening at work, my feelings of dejection and hints of fear and anxiety that were enveloping me (And, to think, he was only calling to say he couldn't make it to an upcoming meeting and asked how I was doing!), my friend stopped me in my tracks and said, "Carlos, you know you are under attack, right?" 

Say, what? I thought.

"You're leading this retreat and the Devil knows it," he went on.  "Remember, when I led?  I had a fire and flood at my house!"  How could I forget?  Some of the guys joked that the locust and frogs weren't far behind! 

His words resonated within me.  It was like the heavens opened and the choir of angels sang.  I hadn't even realized it.  In fact, I was too engrossed to realize it!  It all suddenly made sense; the busyness, the stress and sleepless nights, the constant turmoil at work (and sometimes at home).  They were all distractions!  I was being led astray without even knowing it.

As C.S. Lewis' Screwtape would write, “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” 

Sin separates us from God, as another friend pointed out the first night of the retreat, and when we're not focused on God, it is easy to fall into sin.  We are sitting ducks to the temptations of life, just waiting to be shot down. Now, fortunately for us, there is no sin that is greater than God's love.

As I told a friend on the way to the retreat house, "It's amazing how every time I go to Confession; no matter what I do, no matter how many times repeat the same sins and no matter how I feel, the priest always forgives me!" (As long as I'm repentant!)

In a nutshell, that's the message we conveyed to the seventeen men that attended the retreat for the first time. 

It's the story of The Prodigal Son, who betrays his father by asking for his inheritance before his father's death, moves to a foreign land and blows it on a life of debauchery, only to find himself in a famine and working in pig slop.  He comes to his senses, repents and heads back home to ask for forgiveness.  If you think about it, it's the story of every one of us at one point or another.

His father, not only forgives him but, throws a huge celebration upon his return because, "This son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found."

After the conversation with my two-Egyptian-plague friend, by the time the retreat came around, I was finally in that spiritual zone that had eluded me for months.  Our team of over twenty-five men came together, as we always do, and we had a wonderful weekend of bonding, camaraderie and goodwill.  In the full sense, it was a true demonstration of loving God through loving our neighbor.

Author and Boston College Professor, Peter Kreeft once wrote, “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.”

While, most of the men on the team would balk at being called heroes, heroic is what they do every six months at the retreats.  With God's help, they have changed lives, including mine and most of the men who are involved year after year.  They have saved marriages and restored families. 

But, it all starts with each man, who at times, like me, may not be "feeling it" because of distractions, or, may even, be feeling the full weight of his own cross, but grinds it out and is obedient and faithful to God, in spite of it.

As Screwtape acknowledged, “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy (God)'s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”...

Monday, December 1, 2014

Busy, Busy, Busy but it Could be Worse!...

We live extremely busy lives.  In fact, too busy if you ask me!

In my case, the last several months have been a blur.  I was promoted to a new role at work, and while I'm still doing most of the things I was already doing, since July of last year, I've gotten more piled on my plate.  Let's just say, at times, I feel like Wonder Mike from The Sugarhill Gang's Rapper's Delight.  And, so I digress. 

In any case, in recent months, I've been busy planning and coordinating special stories for "sweeps," the TV ratings period in November.  I've been busy with staff scheduling, which is a bear of a task, especially heading into "sweeps," with reporters and photographers doing special assignments, everybody overworked and realizing if they don't use their sick days before the end of the year, they will lose them, and heading into vacation season.  I've been busy overseeing and contributing to our day-to-day editorial content.  I've been busy organizing and supervising special stories for a sales campaign that lasts until the beginning of the year.  I've been busy attending editorial meetings, scheduling meetings, promotions meetings, personnel meetings, budget meetings (by the way, did I mention meetings? Sometimes 5 in one day!), interviewing candidates for open positions, and, if that weren't enough, our news department is relocating to a new building next month and I have been busy with meetings about the move, coordinating the training schedules, and scheduling freelancers to fill in during the training.  Even when I get home at 7:30p or 8:00p at night, I am constantly checking emails and putting out fires.  It's been a bit hectic!

But wait, as the infomercials on TV say, that's not all!  In my spare time, I recently made a presentation for the adult catechesis class at my parish on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ (A monster topic, which required a lot of time and study) and I was preparing my men's group for a spiritual retreat and had to come up with weekly topics for discussion.

As a co-worker acutely pointed out one day, "You really like to take on a lot don't you?  I don't know how you do it!"  Well, to be fair, I don't know either!

I tell you, several times a week, I found myself awake at 5:00a, 4:30a or even 3:00a (And not just to go to the bathroom!), thinking about work and all the other things that needed to get done, which is a sure sign of anxiety; the antithesis to faith and trust in God.  It's been overwhelming.

It came to a point where, twice in the past month, I felt an uncomfortable pressure in my chest and had to go check it out.  Aside from my blood pressure shooting up to the stratosphere, it seems, the pressure was most likely stress related but I was referred to a cardiologist, just in case.   

Fortunately, sweeps are done and so is the retreat I was preparing for.  Now, I see a light at the end of the tunnel; only the tunnel is deep and dark and still requires some steady maneuvering through the myriad of goblins, sick days, a monumental move and Smaug the fire-breathing dragon.  Where's Bilbo Baggins and his magic ring when you need him?   

At the end of the day, as Igor says to Dr. Frankenstein, while digging up a grave, in one of my all-time favorite movie lines, in Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein, "It could be worse.  It could be raining." Of course, no sooner had he said that, than a monsoon comes over them.

Lord, give me strength!...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

And Thus Began Thanksgiving...

In the midst of the Civil War, in 1863, as the nation was enveloped in grief, division and despair, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving. 

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

And, thus began the tradition we know today as Thanksgiving, albeit, prior to this, each state had its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states.

Happy Thanksgiving...


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Day in the Life; Conversations with My Son...

On my way home from work one night this week, I call home and my seven-year-old son answers the phone.  After a short greeting, we have this exchange.
"What are you doing, buddy?"  
"Playing on the computer."
"Mommy let you play on the computer again?" I ask. 
"Mommy let's you play on the computer a lot doesn't she?"
"Yes.  She's a LETer."
"A what?"
"A LET-er," he said slowly.
I start laughing, "A LETer?  And, how about Daddy?  What am I?"
Without skipping a beat, he answers, "You're a Not-So-LETer!"
What more could I say?  I couldn't stop laughing all the way home...

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Rembrandt and the Hands of God the Father...


"The true center of Rembrandt's painting (Return of the Prodigal Son) is the hands of the father... gradually over the years, I have come to know those hands.  They have held me from the hour of my conception, they welcomed me at my birth, held me close to my mother's breast, fed me, and kept me warm.  They have protected me in times of danger and consoled me in times of grief.  They have waved me good-bye and always welcomed me back.  Those hands are God's hands.  They are also the hands of my parents, teachers, friends, healers, and all those whom God has given me to remind me how safely I am held."

From The Return of The Prodigal Son; A Story of Homecoming by Fr. Henri Nouwen. 

I love that description of God's merciful and loving hands.  Although, I didn't read the book until several years later, it reminds me of my prayer for my son before he was born.

It was shortly after my wife and I were told that his chances for surviving were not very good because of an injury my wife suffered after miscarrying our third child (we had two daughters at the time) and the post-miscarriage surgical procedure.  She was schedule to have an operation to heal the injuries but, that's when our son came into the picture; a pleasant and unexpected surprise!

I remember praying over and over for the Lord to take our son into His hands, protect him and let him be born healthy and safe and, despite several scary and tenuous moments, God answered our prayers.  Our son was born healthy and safe, albeit prematurely, over seven years ago.

The passage also reminds me how God works through people; people who come in and out of our lives from the time we are born, sometimes drawing little attention and becoming but fleeting thoughts in our memories, while others are constants, like family and friends.  God uses some of these people to show us His love, mercy and forgiveness along the way...