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Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Celebrity Priest, Pride and Prejudice...

Alberto Cutie...
In 2009, Fr. Alberto Cutie was a rising star within the Catholic Church.  He was a young, articulate, charismatic and good-looking priest, whose warm and charming personality made him popular among the young and old alike.

Having hosted an Oprah-style TV show, that reached millions in the United States, Canada and Spain, he was a media favorite; the go-to guy for anything having to do with Catholic Christianity.

He was making speaking and emceeing engagements, rubbing elbows with celebrities and the movers and shakers of South Florida and had amassed a faithful and loyal following.

In his day job, he was also the pastor of a growing parish in Miami Beach, the President and General Director of Miami's Catholic radio station and was a published author.  In effect, whether intentionally or not, he had become a "celebrity priest," despite the oxymoron.

Moreover, he was a staunch defender and promoter of Catholic orthodoxy.

Although, still young, his future was bright and a bishopric in some distant future would not have been out of the question.

Then came the fall.  Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he ate from the forbidden fruit; getting caught in compromising photos with a woman on the beach.

It was a scandal of seismic proportions that made national and international headlines on the heels of the priest sex scandal that had rocked the Church leadership to its core.

Soon more photos and videos surfaced, showing the priest frolicking late into the night at South Beach bars and restaurants with his love interest, Ruhama Buni Canellis, as the Church hierarchy scrambled frantically to figure out how to deal with this public relations nightmare.  The once shooting star came crashing down hard.

And, then, it got worse.

Instead of opting out, as many had done before him (albeit most of lesser notoriety than Cutie), and gracefully stepping down from his ordained vocation to get married and continue to practice his faith as a layman, like a husband who cheats on his wife and then blames her for doing it, he doubled down and went on the offensive against the Church.

Breaking away...
He denounced the Church's discipline of priestly celibacy and, in a carefully orchestrated media event, apropos for a man who apparently relished the public limelight, he publicly and defiantly joined the Episcopal Church, saying afterwards that he would continue to serve as a priest for Christ in the Anglican fold, and a month later marrying Canellis.  (It is ironic, or maybe not so, that he would choose the U.S. arm of the Church of England, since it was a faith started by a man, King Henry VIII, who also wanted to make his own rules when it came to marriage!)

In any event, today, almost seven years later, Alberto Cutie is now an Episcopalian priest and Rector, serving a small parish, St. Benedict's (named after a Roman Catholic monk known for his "rules" for spiritual balance and moderation), which is several miles north from St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, where he once pastored. But, more than that, he is a husband and father.  And, despite the distance from his past, the wounds from his life in the Catholic Church, where he was raised and formed, apparently haven't completely healed.

Cutie was recently featured in a series of reports on the local TV station I work at and, even though he was visibly happy as a priest and family man, claiming he was living the "abundant life," his prejudice and antagonism against the Church, he once strongly defended, was evident.

Aside from blasting Pope Francis for visiting Fidel Castro and calling Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski a liar, he compared the Catholic Church with Cuba's repressive government, "People make decisions. My parents left Cuba because they couldn't live in a communist dictatorship.  And, I was living in a spiritual dictatorship because that is what the Catholic Church is; a spiritual dictatorship, where they tell you, it has to be done like this or you're out."  He added, "I have many friends and love many people in the Catholic Church but I lived within a dictatorship, where there was no freedom to do things that are part of humanity."

To me, it's ironic (There's that word again!).  Nobody, not the Pope, not the Church, not anyone, forces or coerces a man to become a priest. He does so because he feels a calling by God and responds under his own free will.

It takes about nine or ten years to discern a vocation to the priesthood (4 years of college followed by 5-6 years of seminary), where the men have to ask themselves over and over again in prayer, if this is really what God wants for them and whether they are willing to make the sacrifice and commitment it takes for the rest of their life.  Many are called but few are chosen.  Some leave along the way.

So, I wonder, at what point did it become a dictatorship for Cutie?  Was it in the third year of seminary? Was it during the fifth year? Was it after ordination, or two, five or ten years into the priesthood?

The family guy...
He was a Catholic priest for almost fourteen years!  Couldn't he have figured it out somewhere along, let's just say, in the first five to ten years or so, that the priesthood and all that it required, was not for him?  But, I guess, it's easy for me to throw stones from the outside.  Maybe, and I don't mean this as a jab, he was too caught up in his own celebrity to want to step down.

Anyhow, now, or actually sometime before he left, he decided to change the Church.

"I don't think I am anyone to tell the Catholic Church what or what not to do.  I don't think that is my role or feel any responsibility whatsoever.  But, I feel shame that every single day, I get a call, a text or email from a priest telling me, 'Albert, I'm desperate'." (Meaning that they have fallen in love and are in a similar dilemma, which is the title of Cutie's tell-all book on the saga).  "When people stop giving money and get tired of giving money, then the Church will feel forced to make changes; when the laity rises up and demands that they want a priest, who is just like them, with a wife and a family and can share his life with them, when that happens, the Church will have to change."

Let's face it, blame is a natural human instinct based on pride that started from the very beginning of time.  When God asked Adam what he had done, he quickly pointed at Eve, "The woman whom you put here with me (In other words God's fault too!)- she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it."  And, Eve blamed the serpent, "The snake tricked me."

At its core, Cutie's story demonstrates the nature of humanity.  Left to our own devices, we can always find justification and reason for our actions and can convince ourselves that it's OK because God forgives us, since it's really not as bad as what other people are doing.

The problem is that the more we rationalize and justify our sin, the more we separate ourselves from reality and the easier it is to fool ourselves into believing it's alright to go farther from the Truth, which is the reason Christ established and left a Church; to safeguard the Truth.

In Cutie's case, truth, in his new "more democratic" faith, as he called it, is apparently determine by the church elders.  When asked if he believed in homosexual "marriages," the priest answered, "We here in our parish don't do it because the church leadership, which is comprised of the laity, have asked me not to do it and, out of respect to them, I adhere to it.  In my personal opinion, God does not discriminate against anyone and we still have to break those barriers; not just here but in all churches."

The series finished with the reporter asking Cutie if he was a rebel,  "I am not a rebel.  I just want to be free."

"Freedom," however, as Abraham Lincoln once said, "is not the ability to do what we want but what we ought."

I have nothing against Alberto Cutie the man.  He is still greatly loved and respected by many.  I'm glad he is now living the "abundant life" and he has a beautiful family.  In fact, I often pray for his return to the Church (as a layman).

Nevertheless, like every man, woman, priest, pope or bishop through the annals of time, and I'm sure he would agree, he is a sinner.  And, when we separate ourselves, through sin, from the Truth that Christ left the Church, we may end up making our own...

Friday, October 30, 2015

John Boehner, Faith and the Holy Spirit...

A moving experience...
It took former House Speaker, John Boehner, a devout Catholic, about twenty years to get a Pope to speak before Congress, and one day after making it happen, in what was an emotional encounter with Pope Francis at the Capitol, the Ohio Representative decided to step down as both the Speaker of the House and U.S. Congressman, a position he had held since 1991.

On his way out, before fellow Roman Catholic Paul Ryan was sworn in as his replacement, his office posted this message by Boehner on what may have moved him to make his decision...

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Watching Baseball with My Daughter Between Viagra Ads...

Golden arm and locks... 
This has been a banner week at the Espinosa household.  Win or lose on Thursday, the Mets made the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and my family, with the exception of my independent thinking 11-year-old middle daughter, who likes the home team, has jumped on the Mets' bandwagon.  And, I am reveling in it.

This has been a calculated and longstanding effort on my part. In fact, it started when my oldest daughter was still in my wife's belly.  I used to recite the Mets lineup (back then) to her almost every night.  I figured if other parents play Beethoven to their unborn children, I can recite the Amazin's starting lineup; maybe that's why she's always done so well in school!

It continued through the years with the arrival of our second daughter and son; Mets baseball talk around the house, even when nobody seemed to care, games playing on TV, spring training visits, hats, shirts, autographed photos and baseballs, etc.

Slowly but surely, it began paying off.  Today, my 14-year-old daughter is wearing Mets' gear to Spirit Week at school and has a developed a crush on rookie pitcher, Steven Matz, which I don't discourage, since what are the chances she's actually going to meet the guy before she outgrows the crush?  Meanwhile, my son is a huge Matt Harvey fan.  Not that he doesn't like Yoenis Cespedes, David Wright, Curtis Granderson, Jeurys Familia and Noah Syndegaard any less.

In any case, last Friday night was a special night.  For the first time, since before my son was born, the Mets were in a playoff game.  We ordered pizza.  My wife and I had wine (I know, metrosexual of me, but my wife has me trying to cut down on beer; meaning the beer belly!). And, we huddled around the TV to watch the start of the game.  However, the West Coast start (9:30p EST) discouraged my wife and the little ones to stick around.  After having dinner and watching the first few innings, they bolted for their rooms.

But, my teenage daughter stayed up with me.  Ah, the good life.  Me and my girl just sitting on the couch watching Mets ace, Jacob deGrom, and his long locks of hair, face off against three-time National League Cy Young winner and 2014 NL Most Valuable Player, Clayton Kershaw, with a glass of wine (me) and having Chocolate Mint ice cream (Don't tell my wife).  Life couldn't get any better.

That is until I started noticing a disturbing trend.

Every time there was a commercial break, a beautiful woman in a football jersey came on talking about Viagra and erectile dysfunction, opening a ceiling-to-floor length curtain, with all sorts of subliminal meaning, and an announcer telling viewers to ask their doctor if their heart is healthy enough for sex.

I was aghast!  I started changing the channel every time I saw the Viagra woman with the football in her hand but it got ridiculous.  When it wasn't Viagra, it was Cialis, another erectile dysfunction drug.

It came to a point, where it was obvious I was turning the channel and, as the night dragged on, and I started getting sleepy (and my reactions got slower to change the remote), we got a good dose of masculine impotence issues.  It was embarrassing.  My poor girl!

Apparently, I wasn't the only one complaining.  St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, Adam Wainwright (Yes, the same Adam Wainwright who struck out Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran with the their bats on their shoulders and the winning run on base the last time the Mets made the playoffs), tweeted:

What have we come to as a culture?  In the old days, it was beer and cars they would target at men. Now, it's about keeping an erection?  On a nationally televised game with millions of boys, staying up with their dads to watch, especially in the West Coast, where the game was three hours earlier?

Here I am trying to promote chastity to my kids.  I send them to Catholic school to reinforce the message and the culture undermines it at every turn, by selling sex, even in the most wholesome of sports; America's game!  I was upset.

I realized most kids may have gone to bed in the East Coast but I'm sure many were watching, including my daughter.

As a matter of fact, at one point, when the Mets loaded the bases and David Wright was coming up to hit, I dozed off (Don't judge me.  I wake up early!) and must have snored because my daughter asked, "Are you awake?"  I said, "No," and just as my vision cleared from my slumber, Wright hit a line drive up the middle, driving in two runs.  Thank you, for waking me up!

At the end of the night, the Mets won 3 to 1, my daughter and I gave each other a high five and went to bed, having spent a great night of bonding watching our favorite team, me having a glass of wine (or two) and watching a plethora of Viagra commercials.

On a positive note, I guess, after a night full of erectile dysfunction ads, she shouldn't be getting any funky thoughts of mom and dad in the bedroom...



Friday, October 9, 2015

Fox Analyst: I'm Becoming Catholic...

Leap of faith...
Fox Political Analyst Kirsten Powers announced she was converting to the Catholic faith during The Five on Friday.

In her final thoughts, as the show was ending, the Democratic Contributor, who once worked for the Clinton Administration, said, "I have a little news. Tomorrow night at 7 o'clock, I'm becoming Catholic."

"Oh my God that's fantastic," Kimberly Guilfoyle blurted out as she gave Powers a high five, along with fellow host, Eric Bolling, "A Republican is next," Guilfoyle continued, as they laughed.

"I don't know about that," Powers answered, "But, for ten years I have been an Evangelical.  About ten years ago, I came to faith and it's been a wonderful journey.  And, I'm looking forward to the next step."

"God bless you," Guilfoyle offered, as she did the sign of the cross and the show ended.

For Powers, it has truly been a journey.  She was brought up in an Episcopalian household but somewhere along the line became an Atheist, until meeting a man a decade ago, who led her to Christianity.

In an article on her conversion, she wrote of the moment it all became real, "I'll never forget standing outside that apartment on the Upper East Side and saying to myself, 'It's true.  It's completely true.' The world looked entirely different, like a veil had been lifted off it.  I had not an iota of doubt.  I was filled with indescribable joy."

Since then, it appears, her search has continued.

It takes courage to profess your faith on national television, especially coming from where Powers comes from.  Furthermore, conversion in the Catholic Church is not something taken lightly.  It is usually preceded by a six-month (or more) discernment process, where a candidate is introduced to every aspect of Church teaching to make sure there is a sincere commitment and desire to be part of the Church.  The fact that she endured, and made it public, says a lot about her passion for the faith.

Welcome home Kirsten Powers.  May the Lord continue to work in your heart and draw you closer to Him each and every day, and, as you receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist on a regular basis, you are transformed...

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Mark Wahlberg's Public Confession to the Pope...

"That right there was truly the voice of an angel.  But then he whispered in my ear that he loved the movie, Ted.  I told him that was not appropriate for a boy of his age.  Holy Father, please forgive me. I've always hoped that the good Lord has a sense of humor when it comes and pertains to many of the movies that I've made."

Mark Wahlberg's unscripted and earnest confession to Pope Francis (and the world), that left everyone chuckling, after his brief exchange with 14-year-old Bobby Hill at Festival of Families in Philadelphia, was a vivid reminder of the struggle Christians face trying to reconcile sin and faith.

In an article on National Catholic Register, Sussie Lloyd writes:  
"He gave the world a momentary glimpse into his conscience, a Catholic conscience.
Walhberg showed that even when sin is paying off, even in the midst of it, we're not entirely fooled.  All of us have our attachments to wrong things that we justify to ourselves, but we know that these things don't stand up in the light of our faith.  And it matters." 
Marky Mark, as he was once known, has come a long way.  I blogged about him several years ago. Despite his rough edges (like most of us), Wahlberg takes his faith seriously and, in that brief moment of levity, as Lloyd pointed out, his humility shed light on a truth we all live with...

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Jeb Bush on how the Catholic Faith Changed His Life...

It's rare in today's politically divisive environment to find a politician, who openly professes his faith and is not afraid of living it, especially when it conflicts with the popular culture.

It's easy in politics to keep religious views personal, considering we are constantly hearing about the “separation of church and state,” regardless of whether the Founding Fathers failed to mention it in the Constitution or whether the gist of Thomas Jefferson’s use of the phrase was meant to say that the government would never infringe on religious expression or conscience.      

It was fifty-five-years ago this month (September 1960) that Catholic presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy, who was raising concerns because of his religion, made a promise to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, a group of Protestant ministers, which said, “I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affairs,” and that he would never be influenced by his faith in determining public policy, setting the precedent by which every presidential candidate since has followed. 

So, it was refreshing, when a friend sent me an article published this morning on CNN’s web page, to see that former Florida Governor, GOP Presidential Candidate and current parishioner at our church in Coral Gables, Jeb Bush, was proclaiming his faith proudly.

On the eve of Pope Francis' visit to the United States, which will include stops in Washington, New York and Philadelphia, Bush writes about how the Catholic faith changed his life
"After I lost my first campaign for governor of Florida in 1994, I took stock of my life and my beliefs, and I decided to fully embrace the faith that had been guiding my family and me for many years. I attended Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes. I gained a deeper appreciation for the sacraments of the church and the grace they impart. I studied Catholic Church doctrine, and how it is renewed in every age. The more I learned, the more I appreciated the rich history of the church and its teachings, and my heart was changed by God's hand.
In the 20 years since my conversion, the church has given me the faith and hope to cope with life's many challenges." 
He continues: 
"I have witnessed the power of God, through his church, to touch lives and transform the world -- both on the world stage and in my own heart. The church has grounded me and my beliefs in a deep way of thinking about mercy, penance and the dignity and potential of every life, young and old, rich and poor, born and not yet born.
The power of that Catholic faith can be seen today, not only in the crowds that will greet Pope Francis in the coming days, but in the millions of men and women who heal the sick, comfort the lonely, work for peace and feed the hungry. It is a faith that touches heart and mind, and it brings comfort to all who listen to its message of hope. And it is a faith that I am proud to call my own."

Not long ago, one of our parish priests told me that Mr. Bush asked for a private meeting with our church's three priests to have them explain Pope Francis' latest encyclical, Laudato Si, which has been hailed by some but criticized by others, including many Catholics.

Regardless of where one stands politically, to me, that shows a man who takes his faith seriously; whose faith is part of who he is and not a private social group he belongs to.  It also demonstrates a strong desire to lead by his convictions and not be influenced by opinion polls or the popular culture...

Monday, September 21, 2015

As We Pray in the Rosary...

Showing God's Mercy...
"Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Thy Mercy."

I know to many of my Cuban friends and family, who, like me, have lived and experienced life in exile; the separation of family, from our homeland, the loss of relatives who died without us being there, or were imprisoned or executed or died trying to flee the repressive regime, it may be difficult, if not abhorring, to understand.  But, Jesus did not come to liberate His people from the oppression and enslavement of the Romans but from sin and death.

God forgives the unforgivable, if they repent.  And, since none of us can judge another man's heart, I'm hoping Fidel Castro does repent and is forgiven in the end...