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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...

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fox's Baier on Faith, Family and a Special Heart...

Shock, anxiety, fear and confusion were only part of the whirlwind of emotions racing through Fox News anchor Bret Baier as he ran alongside doctors and nurses, holding his wife Amy's hand, while she was being rushed down the hallway on a gurney at the emergency room of the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC.

Seconds before, Amy had collapsed after an apparent nervous breakdown, combined with exhaustion, only hours after being told the couple's newborn son, Paulie, who was only a day old, needed emergency surgery immediately to correct several congenital heart defects, or he wouldn't make it past two weeks. 

It had been a wild turn of events for the Baiers, only a day removed from what the anchorman  describes as one of the happiest 24-hour periods in their lives.  They had just spent a blissful night as a new family.  They cuddled.  They caressed and kissed.  They held their baby in their arms and stared longingly at him and they dreamed.

He, like most fathers, was already envisioning his firstborn, a masculine child to boot, that would have made Godfather henchman Luca Brasi proud, play in the U.S. Open Golf Championship, sporting the winner's green jacket in the Masters Tournament or leading his NFL team to victory in the Super Bowl.

Instead, it had come to this; the emergency room of Children's National, where Paulie had been transported in a haste, his wife was having a meltdown, becoming the oldest patient in the hospital, his son's life hanging in the balance and all his fanciful dreams were caving in. 

And, it was there, at what appeared to be the low point in their life, amidst despair, with their world spinning out of control and feelings of helplessness overwhelming them, that Baier looked into his wife's eyes, after she was wheeled into a room and a curtain was drawn around them, and, through the tears, uncertainty and pain, they had a moment of clarity and began to pray.

And, it was there, at that moment, with tears rolling down their cheeks, fear wrapping every inch of their being, like a wet blanket, and as they held and try to comfort each other, that they made a pact; to be the parents their newborn son needed them to be; whether he was going to live or die.  They vowed to take each day at a time, love him unconditionally, never lose hope and trust in God to get them through it.

Seven years, three open heart surgeries, a stomach operation and seven angioplasties later, it appears their prayers were answered.  Paulie, who now wants to be called Paul, is healthy and doing fine; living the life of an average and active second grader.  The family expanded.  They now have another son, Daniel.  And, they have never felt closer to each other, to their faith and to God because of it.

Theirs is a story of perseverance through faith, love and hope, which became part of the title of Baier's book on the odyssey, Special Heart, A Journey of Faith, Hope, Courage and Love, of which he is donating all the proceeds to various non-profit pediatric heart causes.

After reading the book, I had a chance to interview the veteran TV journalist, and anchor of Fox's Special Report for the past five years, about the ordeal, his family and his faith.  And, it was in asking him to describe his faith growing up where I started.

"It was important to my family.  I went to Catholic school all my life; St. Jude's for elementary and then Marist (High) School in Atlanta... My faith was part of growing up.  I was an altar boy and my family was a family that went to church every Sunday... In college, I kind of drifted away and immediately after college, as I bounced around in small market TV, I'll be honest, I was a part-time Catholic.  I went to church and to Mass with my family, but it was not a priority."

One of the marking points of Baier's life growing up was the separation and eventual divorce of his parents and the consequent estrangement from his father.  I asked how this may have affected him and his faith.

"It was tough.  It was really difficult.  You know, there were trust issues and I didn't talk to him (father) for a long time.  And, that, I'm sure affected my faith.  Growing up it (faith) was kind of a family thing and when my parents got divorced, or annulled, it affected that unit and it was tough for my brother (as well)... But, we reconciled with my marriage to Amy.  He came to the wedding and then began a process of reconciliation.  And, it was after the birth of our son and then 2nd son, that it was important that he know our family.  And, we established a relationship and have done so since."

I questioned whether becoming a parent made faith more important to him.

"It's like a compass.  It seems to put you on the right direction.  Even if you're not over the top into it every day; going to Mass every day, but you at least go every week and you go to Confession every once in a while, it's something that feels like home.  It feels like when I grew up.  And, so I think, trying to instill that with my family is something that I am trying to do."   

Then we got into that day, June 30, 2007, when a nurse, who was filling in for the regular shift nurse, who was forced to leave due to health issues, noticed Paulie's color wasn't right.  She took him in to run some tests, thinking it might be a bacterial infection, but called a cardiologist to take a look at him to be safe.

It just so happens that the doctor on call, was the head of the cardiology department at Children's National nearby, who was driving by on the way to another call.  After checking Paulie and finding five congenital heart defects, he went into the Baier's room and told them, "You're baby has heart disease... Paulie's heart is built wrong... If your son doesn't have surgery within the next two weeks, he's not going to make it."      

"As you know, it's the highest of highs, especially for your first child.  And, to go through the birthing process with your wife and see this human that you form... it's just... you know, you can't really put words to it.  And, it will draw tears even from the biggest tough guy there is...  So, we had this blissful 24-hours with Paul in the hospital... So, it was sort of like a nuclear bomb of emotions; from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.  And, my first instinct was really anger.  Who are you to say this?... I want another opinion.  Why didn't I know this up until now?  He had been given a clean bill of health. And, it was all happening very quickly.  But, at the same time, it was like time stood still, which is why I describe it as a nuclear bomb... And, then came the sorrow; why is this happening to us?  Why did God let this happen to us?  And, the pity; why should we have to deal with this?"

Shortly afterwards, emergency medics arrived and Paulie was hooked up to all sorts of IV's, wires and monitors and transferred via ambulance to Children National's cardiac center.  Baier and his father-in-law followed in a car and not long after, Amy showed up at the hospital as well, but that is when it all hit her.  She collapsed and had to be rushed to the emergency room.  And, that was when they broke down and prayed.

"And, that's I think, you know, from growing up.  That was the instinct I had; to say a prayer... And, I think she had the same thing.  And, after that, we somehow had this idea, this strength, that we needed to be the parents that Paul needed us to be... That we needed to create this environment that was positive; that was looking to the future; that we were going to rely on God and family and trust in the doctors.  And, we had this mantra at the end of every day, 'We're one day closer to getting Paul home,' and that became kind of our blueprint."

Still, there were many long days and nights ahead.  To pass the time, as they waited for a highly skilled surgeon to return from a foreign trip to perform the surgery on Paulie, the Baiers often found themselves praying in the hospital chapel; sometimes as a couple, sometimes individually.  There was a Bible on a stand in the room and Baier writes that he often opened it and played Bible bingo, in hopes of finding encouragement and solace.  One time, the Bible was already opened and someone had marked Hebrews 11 verse 1: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen."  The words moved him because, he felt, that was what he and Amy were clinging to.

"You know, everybody has something; something that's in their life that they have to deal with.  Obviously, there's different levels of something but there's always something.  And, how you get through that something, I think really defines you and we relied heavily on prayer.  And, we believe that that is a big part of why we were successful with Paul.  And, that power of prayer lifted us up and enabled us to have that thought; the light at the end of the tunnel, was going to be possible."

One of the first things they decided to do was to get Paulie Baptized as soon as possible.  And, four days after being born, in the cardiac unit of the hospital, family and friends huddled around for the sacrament.

"From that point, when Amy was in the emergency room, I think it really jump started that want and need to have that rekindled relationship; even supercharged relationship with God.  So it was really important that we get Paul baptized in the hospital; not only because, one, we didn't know, frankly, whether he was going to make it and we wanted him to be a part of our faith; a window into the Church, as Catholics look at it.  But, two, we wanted him, as I wrote in the book, on God's scoreboard; not that God wasn't looking over him but it was important for us to have that ceremony; to acknowledge everything that we had been talking about in our prayers privately." 

They found a priest from Kenya, who was at the hospital visiting patients, got a special "dispensation" from the head nurse in the unit, closed the curtains around Paulie's basinet and extended the wires and tubes so that Amy could hold him.

"With our family around us and tears flowing, it might have well have been at St. Peter's Basilica because it was just beautiful.  We all said our prayers that came from the heart and then we did the traditional baptism."

Prayers were a big part of what carried them through this trial in life.  They were getting prayers from around the country.

"I sent out these emails, and they were really the genesis of the book, to family and friends and they would be sharing those emails with other family and friends and, literally, it became viral in the email chains.  And, I would be getting a three-bank shot relationship from somebody emailing me with a prayer... And, a Southern Baptist Pastor, who watched the show, heard about this and he emailed and sent beautiful prayers that I read to Amy... And, these prayers lifted us up.  You can't really describe it but, this feeling of walking on a different plateau; a different place because you knew all these people were praying for you.  And, we felt it.... We suddenly believed that Paul was going to make it.  We suddenly had strength to get through the day.  You know, we were exhausted but it was, I don't know, empowering."

The Southern Baptist Pastor had his congregation pray for them.  They got prayers from family, friends, colleagues, even from President George W. Bush, in fact, he writes about missing the President's call one time.  They got prayers from a priest at the Vatican and from former White House Press Secretary and friend Tony Snow, who later lost his battle with cancer.

"Tony was one of the first people who emailed and sent prayers up in his email when I sent out the first email about Paul.  And, little did I know, at the time, he was going through his own difficult situation in chemotherapy.  And, after Paul's surgery, he welcomed me back to the White House.  I was the Chief White House Correspondent at the time and it was really heart felt and he was the one that set up the relationship with President Bush... and inviting us to his office before Paul's second open heart surgery because President Bush wanted to meet him... But, the fact that he, in the middle of his own trials and tribulations, was reaching out to me and to us meant a lot and his passing hit hard.  I think it gave (me) this sense that you affect your life by how you handle yourself."

I inquired how he balances his busy career with family and faith and what a typical day is like for him.

"My time with my kids is in the morning usually.  So, we do breakfast and that sort of thing; get them going for whatever they're doing; summer camp or school.  I usually have some radio interviews with stations around the country after that.  I squeeze in a workout there and I'm in the office by 9:30a or 10 o'clock.  My day is busy, packed and we have the show from 6 to 7.  I have a kind of post-mortem.  I do emails and social media a little bit and then get home at about 8:00pm... Daniel is usually in bed.  But, I usually am able to put Paul to bed and that's a big deal because we, every night, pray and he now leads the prayers.  And, since he's been able to, he's taken that over and, every night, he prays for other kids at the hospital who are facing surgery the next day... As far as my faith, I go to a local parish, Little Flower in Bethesda, the pastor is a good friend and a really great spiritual advisor... and he's a big proponent of Confession.  So, I never used to do it, but I'm meeting with him at least once every two weeks and we have Confession and then we talk.  And, then, we try to go every Sunday to Mass and, if we're traveling, I try to go online and find a church that's nearby."

I asked what he prays for.

"I often pray for strength, for our family and to get through the hurdles of whatever lies ahead.  And, for Paul; that his heart is healed and that we can live a normal life with the family.  We've been trying to focus on that in between these events (surgeries and angioplasties) and he's probably due for another angioplasty in about a year and another open heart surgery probably when he's, hopefully, 14 or 15, and hopefully that's the last one.  I try to pray for happiness and peace in those times between hurdles.

In the book,  Baier writes that he knows God saved Paulie's life because He has a plan for him.  I asked what he thought that plan was.

"I don't know what it is but I know it's something special because he's already changing lives and has changed lives.  I felt compelled to write this book and speak about it and we've raised a lot of money for Children's National Medical Center and for other pediatric heart research and treatment centers around the country... So, he's already impacted, I think, a lot of people.  I think he has amazing things left to do in his life and there is a purpose.  It's just what I believe and what I've told him and I think there's a blueprint some place."

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

Without a doubt, in the Baiers' case, it's not only the measure of a man, but of a woman and a little boy, who, amidst their challenge and inconvenience, decided to embrace it and stand faithfully with God...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Priest Dance-Off a You Tube Sensation...

A pair of American priests have become a You Tube sensation, after their tap/Irish dance-off in Rome, earlier this year was captured on video and posted by EWTN's Joan Lewis.  

Rev. David Rider, 29, of Hyde Park, New York, and Rev. John Gibson, 28, of Milwaukee, were in seminary, studying to become priests at the time, and took the stage to entertain the crowd at a fundraising dinner for the North American College, an American seminary, just a stone's throw away from the Vatican.

The video has gone viral and gotten over 700 thousand views.

Fr. Rider, who is now a priest with the Archdiocese of New York and was featured in a Catholic News Agency story several years ago, see story below, started dancing at the age of two and once toured professionally with the Broadway show 42nd Street.  He says he was inspired to become a priest, after some discernment, while watching the funeral of St. John Paul II, who chose the priesthood over his passion for acting.

When he realized the millions of people that were affected by the late Pope's decision, he decided to trade in his dancing shoes for a Roman collar.  He has never looked back since.

Meanwhile, Fr. John Gibson, who was ordained in Milwaukee last May, was a former dancer with the Cashel Dennehy School of Irish Dance and started dancing at the age of 12. 

As expected, not all the comments on You Tube have been favorable but Fr. Rider answers, "We would just refer them to the Bible, where the Lord tells us to live with joy."

"I don't dance as much as I use to.  It's not possible in this vocation.  But, when I dance, I say, the biggest difference is that I dance with a different intention.  I no longer dance for myself, or even for the joy of dancing, but I dance with the desire to bring forward the Kingdom of God.  Because, now when I go, I go in a collar."

St. Catherine of Siena once said, "If you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze."  With or without their dancing shoes, that is what both priests intend to do...

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Hallucination that Keeps on Giving...

The empty tomb...
Former Atheist turned Christian, Lee Strobel, of A Case for Christ fame, wrote that people may be willing to die for something they believe is true, if they truly believe it to be, but people are not willing to die for something they know is a lie, even if they want to believe it's true.  

He was referring, of course, to the Apostles.  The men who ran for cover when Jesus was arrested and cowered behind closed doors for days, thinking they were next. 

Then, all of a sudden, from one day to the next, without having gone to see the Great Oz in the Emerald City, like the cowardly lion, they came out from the shadows and boldly and courageously proclaimed the Risen Lord, despite persecution, despite threats, despite being tortured, despite being thrown in jail and despite most of them, except for St. John, the beloved disciple, dying for what they proclaimed.

In fact, they began to promulgate that Christ had risen from the dead in the same place where it all had happened; Jerusalem, where hundreds of eye witnesses had seen Jesus be crucified, die and be buried and could easily dispel their claims as a hoax.  

In other words, if I were making up a story, would I start it where it could easily be challenged?  Or, would it make more sense to go to some far away and obscure township, where nobody knew or saw anything and I could make up a fantasy without having it contested?

And yet, thousands were converted and Christianity spread like wildfire.  And, within three hundred years of the Crucifixion, those cowardly and mostly uneducated men, and their successors after them, had converted the entire Roman Empire, not by the sword as Islam did when it conquered a region, but in spite of it. 

In one of my favorite "go-to" books on the faith, Catholic Christianity, author Peter Kreeft (Who is a Philosophy and Theology Professor at Boston College, a Catholic convert and one of the most prolific Christian writers of our time), writes, "Liars do not suffer and die for a lie as they did; nothing proves sincerity like martyrdom.  And if they were deceived rather than deceivers, they must have been hallucinating or projecting their subjective faith into objective reality. But they had touched the risen Christ.  He had eaten food.  He had had long conversations with many men at the same time.  He had been seen by all who were present, not just some.  No hallucination in history ever behaved like this.... And no hallucination ever had such power to transform lives and to give love, joy, peace, hope, and meaning to millions of men for thousands of years.  For the sake of this "hallucination" saints joyfully endured tortures, persecutions, crucifixions, and martyrdoms.  This "hallucination" changed soft, cowardly hearts into hard, courageous ones and converted the hard, cruel Roman Empire to a religion of unselfish love..."

Kreeft goes on to quote St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote, "In this faith there are truths preached which surpass every human intellect; the pleasures of the flesh are curbed; it is taught that the things of the world should be spurned.  Now for the minds of mortal men to assent to these things is the greatest of miracles... For it would be truly more wonderful than all miracles if the world had been led by simple and lowly men to believe such lofty truths, to accomplish such difficult actions and to have such high hopes."

A Pharisee in the Acts of the Apostles may have said it best when he told the Jewish Council after the Apostles were arrested and brought before them, "Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men... because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.  In that case, you may even be found fighting against God."  (Acts 5:35, 39) 

For me, it all comes down to the empty tomb.  They discovered the empty tomb, of which Fulton Sheen eloquently noted, "In the history of the world, only one tomb has ever had a rock rolled before it, and a soldier guard set to watch it to prevent the dead man within from rising... What spectacle could be more ridiculous than armed soldiers keeping their eyes on a corpse?" and they encountered the Risen Lord. 

Their "hallucination" was a reality, that even doubting Thomas had to admit was true.  A reality that they were willing to sacrifice their lives for and now, two thousand years later, despite constant attempts to dispel it, is still burgeoning and being proclaimed throughout the world...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Christian Cheer Over Wings and Beers...

A little taste of heaven...
"Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, there's always laughter and good red wine."  -- Hilaire Belloc.

I have a great group of friends.  We don't always agree on everything.  We may even have different approaches to faith, life and politics.  But, what binds us, most of all, is our sincere love of God, family and, for the most part, one another.

Over the past eight years, some of my closest friends are the guys in my men's church group.  We have become a tight-knit community that share in each other's personal lives; spending time socially with our families, as well as time serving God through our ministry and encouraging, supporting and guiding one another through difficulties.

We joke, we laugh, we even shed a few tears from time to time (me more than others) and we earnestly enjoy each other's company; usually centered around meals, wine and spirits, conversation and an occasional cigar.

Now, some Christian groups might frown upon our mixing of faith and spirits (in the alcoholic sense of the word) because they see the body as the temple of God and are against anything that may defile the body; i.e. liquor.  Fortunately for us, Catholics are not one of them!

That's not to say that the Church promotes drunkenness or overindulgence, and we all walk a fine line between social drinking and going over the edge, but, the way I look at it, God gave us physical pleasures for our enjoyment out of love, and, so, who are we to reject that love, as long as we don't distort it's intent and purposes, where we lose dominion of our senses, end up praying to the porcelain god and can't recall what we did the next morning (not that I know from personal experience!).  Therefore, sharing a few laughs with friends and with some cocktails in hand is definitely within limits!

Let's just say, my friends and I take to heart the advice of St. Paul, who, when writing to Timothy, encourages, "No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments."  Since, most of us are in our 40's and 50's, where getting out of bed to go to the bathroom in the morning is sometimes painful, boy, do we all have ailments!

One of my favorite quotes by Archbishop Fulton Sheen is a reference to Jesus at the Wedding at Cana.  He said, "You've got to love a guy, whose first miracle was to keep the party going."

Partying, celebrating and merriness are part of the Christian identity from the beginning.  In fact, for Jesus, meals, wine and good cheer were part of the human condition and served as a powerful bond among friends; think Last Supper! 

In the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord himself admonishes the Pharisees for their criticism, "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'" (Matt 11:19)

Moreover, not only did He take an occasional drink, He appeared to be a connoisseur.  He knew the difference between good and bad wine, "no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good.'" (Luke 5:39)   

In any case, Jesus is a man's man and, while wine was the drink of choice during His time on earth, I'm sure he would enjoy a good brew if he were walking around today (Maybe, like the Most Interesting Man in the World; a Dos Equis or two), as my friends and I do at our favorite watering hole every week after our meetings. (The owner reserves a table for us!)

It is there over beers, burgers and chicken wings (and an occasional lentil soup, since one friend is usually dieting) that we bond and share in friendly banter on sports, politics, life and family.  It is there, however, that we also sometimes share in the most intimate and profound conversations on faith or personal struggles; marriages on the rocks, children who have gone astray, and fears and temptations that appear to consume. 

Christianity is not always rosy; it wasn't meant to be.  Suffering, pain and loss are part of the equation.  Jesus came to teach us about suffering; the ultimate gift of one who loves ("Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.").  Maybe, that's why God gave us wine.

As the great GK Chesterton once put it, "In Catholicism, the pint, the pipe and the Cross can all fit together."  And, to my friends and I, they clearly do...   

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Self-Rejection and the Truth of Our Existence...

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, 'Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.'... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned.  Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the 'Beloved.'  Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence." 

-- Fr. Henri Nouwen, internationally renowned priest, college professor and author, who wrote 40 books on the spiritual life, including one of my favorites, The Return of The Prodigal Son; A Story of Homecoming, and taught at the University of Notre Dame and the Divinity Schools of Yale and Harvard. 

The Dutch-born clergyman and scholar was heavily influenced by hospital chaplain and educator Anton Boisen, Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton, Dutch impressionist artist Vincent van Gough and philosopher, theologian and humanitarian Jean Vanier.

During the 70's, Nouwen lived and worked with the Trappist monks in the Abbey of the Genessee in New York.  In the early 80's, he lived with the poor in Peru and Bolivia.  He went on to work with mental and physically handicapped people in France and Canada before his death in 1996.

His books have sold over 7 million copies and have been published in over 30 languages.  Since his death, his popularity has increased among readers, teachers and seekers...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy and Manly Time with My Son...

It's funny, after having two daughters, I thought for sure our next child was going to be a girl.  I have three friends that have three daughters and I thought I was also destined for what Cubans call, "chancletero" status (a term which a translation could do no justice!).

Still, in all honesty, I always wanted a son.  I was hopeful my first child would be a son, so he could take care of his sisters.  Then, I was hopeful our second would be a son, so he would have his older sister's friends to chase after.  Then I was hoping it would be my third, which my oldest daughter started calling her baby brother but, unfortunately, my wife lost during her eleventh week of pregnancy.  By the time, my wife conceived our fourth, I had accepted that my destiny would be to raise girls and, in sincerity, I was happy as a clam with the prospects.

Then, my son was born.  He was unexpected and a welcomed gift from God.  I envisioned him playing Major League Baseball, growing up to be strong, just and responsible, and, of course, courageously standing up for righteousness and defending the meek.  In other words, like many fathers, I envisioned my son of becoming a superhero; a guardian of the galaxy. 

But then came the first hiccup in my vision; potty training!

We didn't know what to do.  Let's face it, a girl you sit on the toilet when she has to go.  What were we supposed to do with our boy?  How was I going to teach him to stand in front of the toilet, point and release?  It was so easy in the pamper!  He didn't want to learn.  And, when he finally did start going into the toilet, it was like we needed a raincoat and rubber boots to keep dry from his wild and out-of-control spraying (not that I'm suggesting his mini cap gun had any resemblance to a fire hose but you get my drift).  I was perplexed and thus began my novice adventure into raising a son.

Several years into the adventure (He is now seven), and although he is still mastering his aim in the bathroom, I'm learning about as much from him about love, nobleness, humility and the innocent faith of a child, as I am teaching him.  

A few weeks ago, on a random Saturday, my wife and daughters had a busy itinerary planned with dance practice, Zumba class (my wife's a teacher) and then appointments at a beauty parlor to get dolled up for the beginning of the school year.  So, I got to spend a little quality time with my boy or, as he acutely referred to it recently, he was spending time with "the big guy." (which, believe it or not, he meant affectionately in reference to my girth!)

The plan was for the girls to do what they had to do and the boys do our thing and then we would meet at home to get ready for the Vigil Mass at five, where I was scheduled to be a lector.

We all got off to an early start.  Shortly after my wife and the girls left for dance, my son asked if we could go watch the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, which I had no particular interest in watching but I told him if we did a couple of things that we needed to do in the morning, I would take him to the movie at twelve thirty.  He agreed.

Time for a hair cut...
The first stop was at the barber shop for his pre-beginning-of-school haircut.  It's a routine he and I started a couple of years ago, since we have been letting his hair grow over the summer.  During the school year, the school makes him keep it short!  

I took him to a barber shop I go to regularly that is less than 5 minutes from our house, is cheap and you're in an out in about 15 minutes (because there's usually more barbers than customers!).

I like to help the owners out, despite their little Santeria altar dedicated to St. Barbara (aka Chango) in a back corner of the shop, because it's a group of young Cuban refugees, all pretty recent arrivals, who are trying to make it on their own.  Still, in all honesty, I don't think the quality is that great.  In fact, I don't even think most of them know how to handle scissors (which is not a skill deficiency a barber should have!).  They do most of their hair cuts using an electric sheerer.

For me, it's not a big deal because I keep my hair short and tight to the scalp but my wife doesn't like it when I cut our son's hair too short.  So, I immediately had second thoughts as we walked into the place and the youngest guy in the back of the place with the pimples and peach fuzz (not even one of the regular guys I have gone to), jumped out of his chair and said, "Come this way," as he brushed some hair off his chair with a towel (It's one of those places where the barbers take turns so they all get their fair share of customers).  Well, it went downhill from there. 

Sensing he was not exactly the LeBron James of the barber shop world, I told him to just trim a little off the top, cut his bangs off his eyes and even out the rest.  A simple request right?  What could go wrong?  I figured, if it wasn't great, I could take him for another haircut in a few weeks!

Well, about five minutes into the haircut, I noticed he had sheered a beautiful 45 degree line of hair from the immediate top of my son's right eye up to the middle of his forehead over his left eye.  I pointed out the obvious discrepancy and he said he would fix it.  The rest of the haircut was a blur.  He would sheer one side, then sheer the other, then go back to the first side to try to make it even.  It was a disaster. 

He kept saying my son was moving and I would look at my son, who was as stoic as a renaissance sculpture, and trying to give the barber the benefit of the doubt, I would tell him, "Don't move, Buddy." And, he would answer in earnest, "I'm not moving!"

At the end of the exercise in futility, which left my son looking like a punk rocker, who after a night of binge drinking with his buddies, woke up half asleep and still drunk in the middle of the night and attempted to cut his own hair, the barber tried to cover up the evidence by slathering gel on my son's head.  By that point, I just wanted to get my son out and hope it would grow back fast!

It wasn't exactly the best way to start our father son day, but fortunately, my son couldn't tell.  He was as happy as Sylvester the Cat after having swallowed Tweety Bird and I wasn't about to spoil his fun!

"Can we go see Guardians of the Galaxy now?" he asked.

"Not yet," I told him.  "The movie doesn't start for several hours.  First I have to go to Confession."

"Oh, no!," he complained.  "That's boring."  Now, everything that doesn't involve him playing or being entertained is "boring."

"If you want to go to the movie, you have to go with me to Confession." What was he going to do?

We stopped for a quick breakfast at a nearby bakery and when we got to the church, there was already a line of people waiting for Confession.  I told him to sit down in one of the pews and he started playing with several toy figures that he put in his pocket before leaving the house.

It took about 40 minutes and, while it crossed my mind to confess the bad haircut given to my son that morning (which definitely was a sin, albeit maybe not mine, depending on how you look at it!), we were finally heading to the movies.

Don't mess with Rocket...
It was a 12:30pm showing but what I didn't notice was that it was 3-D.  I'll be honest, I had never watched a 3-D movie; mostly because of the price tag involved, since it is usually five of us.  But, because the next regular showing would end about an hour later, which would complicate our plans for Mass, and since it was just the two of us, I splurged.

It was a great decision.  The movie was great.  I enjoyed it tremendously.  It was funny.  It was exciting.  It had a great soundtrack; targeting the older generation that would be taking our kids.  And, the fact that I went in with low expectations only enhanced my appreciation for the film. 

Moreover, it was a well told story of good versus evil.  A ragtag gang of misfits who band together for a greater good and are willing to sacrifice their lives, despite the overwhelming odds, to save the galaxy.  It's the tried and tested formula of Lords of the Ring, Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars and many other films but what made Guardians, very enjoyable for me, aside from the 3-D quality, is that it didn't take itself too seriously.

As we walked out of the theatre and headed towards our car in the parking lot, talking about the movie, my son turns to me and says, "Daddy, we're spending manly time together."

"Yes, we are," I told him but the comment didn't hit me until later that night.

We went home to get ready Mass and wait for the girls.

To make a long story short, the girls couldn't make it in time so I went with him and, since it was a Saturday vigil Mass, and we got to the church early because I was reading, I couldn't find anyone to leave him with so I took him to the first pew in the church and told him to sit there.

It was amazing.  The entire Mass I kept looking at him and he was sitting there quietly.  He sat when he had to sit, kneeled when he had to kneel and stood when he had to stand; all by himself without anyone to tell him.

After Mass, I couldn't be prouder.  We went home, met up with the girls and went to dinner.

Just kicking back on "the big guy"... 
As I recapped the day, later that night before going to sleep; I thought, we had gone to get a bad haircut, he had gone with me to Confession, we watched a movie and attended Mass together.  It was a wonderful day.  I then reflected on my son's comments.  We really had spent "manly time," because a true man is a man of faith, a man of love, a man of sacrifice.

A couple of days later, while watching him go to the bathroom in the morning, I thought; aside from teaching him to point correctly, what kind of legacy of truly important lessons was I leaving for my son? Was I teaching him the importance of faith, integrity and honor, to respect women and authority (not to be confused as one and the same although, sometimes at my house, it's hard to tell), to love his mother, sisters and country, to take responsibilities for his actions, help others, provide for the less fortunate and never be afraid to stand up for truth and righteousness, even, like the Guardians of the Galaxy, in the face of danger?

A few days later, the question was still lingering in my mind and I asked a group of friends, what kind of men they wanted to raise their sons be.  And, one friend, who has two girls responded, "What kind of son should you raise?  You know since you have two girls yourself, raise him to be the type of son that I can trust with my daughters."  And, that in a nutshell is probably the best answer.

And, in a culture that tries to emasculate men by making them more like women and women more like men, that is probably the best any father of a son can hope and pray for.

The fight of good and evil starts in the mundane; the daily battles within against sin and complacency.  We must fight the good fight of faith, as St. Paul urges, and take hold of the eternal life which we have been called. (1 Tim 6:12)

In the words of Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, "So here we are a thief, two thugs, an assassin and a maniac but we're not going to stand by as evil wipes out the galaxy."...