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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:

Saturday, June 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 8, 2018

Dorothy Day on Sex and Licentiousness...

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

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