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Friday, December 31, 2010

Searching For Happiness In All The Wrong Places...

St. Augustine by Philippe de Champiagne
One of my favorite quotes is by a fourth century theologian and philosopher, Augustine of Hippo, who once wrote, "Oh God, Thou has made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you."

Augustine would know this from firsthand experience since he lived a worldly life of debauchery, decadence, and self-centeredness before converting to Christianity and becoming one of the most influential and renowned  Christian writers in world history.

The thought of finding happiness, and ultimately  fulfillment, in God, as St. Augustine wrote, may sound foreign to many of us today because, we (as a society) are used to trying to seek joy outside of God, mostly through material goods and physical pleasures (although, as Augustine's own life reveals, this is not necessarily unique to modern culture).

Still, today, happiness is often confused and measured according to palpable and perceived accomplishments; be it in our career, net worth, property, or the many other possessions that indicate we have "made it.” Interestingly, even when we accomplish these societal standards for success, we have to ask ourselves, does it spell true happiness?

It always amazes me how much unhappiness, loneliness and despair there is in a time when most households generate more income, accumulate more wealth, and enjoy more leisure time than previous generations could ever imagine (Yes, we work hard today but it's nothing like working the fields, having to make and wash clothes by hand or hunting to put food on the table).

How does an otherwise sane, and probably highly intelligent, rich investor commit suicide because the stock market crashes? Or, how a professional athlete, that apparently has everything ever imaginable in life (not to mention in the life of his kids, grand kids and great grand kids), can destroy his marriage and family to seek fleeting pleasures and passions?  How about the Hollywood celebrity, who has all the fame and glory, yet continues to be arrested for drugs or alcohol?

In our search for happiness in the material and physical, we are seemingly becoming more self-destructive.

And, let me be clear, I'm not throwing stones from a glass house.  I remember a not too distant time in my life, when I thought that empty and meaningless relationships, carousing, fancy dinners at overpriced restaurants, lavish vacations, or owning a status car and multitude of possessions would make me happy. However, they never did and they were never enough (although they may appeared to have been for a short time).  I was always looking for more. What I couldn't recognize at the time was that, the "more" I was looking for, was the human longing for God.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church begins by stating, "The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for." (my emphasis)

I remember my wife often telling me that I was never happy. I never understood what she meant since I thought I was very happy. Yet, there was always a void (an emptiness) inside me that I never realized until, as St. Augustine stated, it was filled by God.

During his recent trip to London, Pope Benedict stated, “Happiness is something we all want, but one of the great tragedies in this world is that so many people never find it, because they look for it in the wrong places. The key to it is very simple – true happiness is to be found in God.”

Realizing this helped me understand what true joy and fulfillment meant and for the first time in my life, I feel my restless heart has found rest.

The ongoing human search for happiness, as explained by Christ in the Beatitudes, is the topic of the second part of Fr. Robert Barron’s documentary series, Catholicism, which will be released next year. Here’s a preview:

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fr. Barron Comments on Leaving The Church...

One of the many influences of secularism in society is the prevalence in the concept of individuality.

It's no longer about "us," as it was during the Greatest Generation, where people rallied for a cause greater than themselves and were willing to sacrifice for a common good, it's about "me."

In this "me" society, pride and self-interest have replaced humility and self-giving. What "I" think is more important than what others think; and that unfortunately includes God. Truth is distorted and molded, according to personal perspective and the individual decides right from wrong.

Of course, if you come to think of it, isn't this exactly what the Original Sin was? Humanity wanting to be like God and being able to determine good and evil and right from wrong. After all, Adam and Eve ate from the "Tree of Good and Evil" because they wanted to be like God (see Genesis 3, verse 5) and decide right from wrong.

The Pew Forum Study on Religion, which tracks religious trends each year, shows that more and more people leave the church they were raised in for another (according to how the teachings of a particular church conforms to the believer’s individual perspective).

Although, the Catholic Church continues to grow in the U.S., being the largest Christian church in the nation (67 million strong), it also is the church that loses the most followers each year.

In a recent commentary, Fr. Robert Barron addresses this phenomenon and why it is important for the faithful to remain in the Church.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Celebrating My Catholic Wedding Anniversary...

At the risk of dating myself, one of my all-time favorite songs is titled, "More than yesterday," by a one-hit-wonder band named, Spiral Starecase (yes, they spelled it wrong, I checked).

The lyrics go, "I love you more today than yesterday... but not as much as tomorrow."

I was an impressionable five-years-old when the song was first released in the same year my family arrived in this country from Cuba, in 1969, and heard it countless times on the radio (when owning a transistor radio was a big deal for a five-year-old). Through the years, the song has been performed by other bands and used in soundtracks of TV shows and movies, keeping it somewhat popular, even for younger generations.

I sometimes use the mushy line as a postscript when addressing my wife in writing because, although it can be trivialized, as the words, “I love you,” are trivialized by teenage couples, who don’t understand what love is, it defines, in my mind, what true love should be; growing and ever evolving.

The reason for the sentimentality of this line is that three years ago today, my wife and I tied the knot for a second time (you can say it was a double knot to make sure neither of us could break lose!).

Let me explain, we first got married in a civil ceremony in March 1998 by my wife’s cousin, who is a lawyer and notary public (talk about a binding and everlasting covenant, yikes!).

Unfortunately, a church wedding was not a consideration for us. First, because at the time, I had to check the “D” box under marital status in applications and second, because my wife’s father had passed away in the summer of 1997 and we wanted to keep it simple and low key.

It was a beautiful sunset wedding at the Miami Rowing Club on Biscayne Bay and, aside from the videographer missing my brother’s toast, nothing could have been planned better (which after seeing the edited version of the wedding video, we realized wouldn’t have mattered anyway since we don’t think the videographer recorded any audio throughout the entire reception. The cheesy music over people talking into the camera is a dead giveaway!).

Ten years, a reversion to my faith, an annulment and three kids later, on December 29, 2007, we renewed our wedding vows, and baptized our son, who was 20-weeks-old, during the same event, before God, family and the entire Communion of Saints in the Catholic Church (now, that’s a party!). Our daughters were part of the wedding and we received three Sacraments (Marriage, Baptism and Holy Communion) in the same ceremony.

It is appropriate for us to have waited ten years before getting married in the Church because it probably took almost that long for me to understand what sacramental love meant.

Not long ago, I wrote my wife a letter where I stated that whoever wrote the line in movie, Love Story, that became a cult favorite, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” probably never experienced love or wasn’t part of the human race. It makes a great and memorable movie line but, like The Communist Manifesto, sounds good in theory but doesn’t work in practice.

In my experience, true love means quite the opposite of the movie line. It means having to say you’re sorry over and over again because, as humans, we fail repeatedly. More often than not, those mistakes and failures hurt the people we most love, i.e., our spouse. So, to me, love is swallowing my pride and self-centeredness, and, in all sincerity and humility, asking for forgiveness from those I love (I’ve become a reluctant expert).

Now, sacramental love is that which we renew every time our two bodies become one, as scripture states. Our marriage covenant doesn’t end at the altar; it is renewed and reaffirmed every time we share in total self-giving love as husband and wife.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Ephesians 5:25, which states, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church and gave himself up for her.” In other words, sacramental self-giving love requires sacrifice. As a husband I have to be willing to give myself up for my wife (as another classic song by Nazareth says, “Love hurts, ooh, ooh, love hurts,” although it shouldn’t have to most of the time).

It’s interesting that St. Paul compares the relationship between husband and wife to the relationship between Christ and the Church because as in marriage, where two bodies become one, Christ becomes one with His Church through the Eucharist; and as marriage require sacrifice by man and wife, Christ sacrifices Himself for His Church (us), whom He loves even unto death.

So, as I reflect on three years of marriage in the Church, I go back to the Spiral Starecase song, which also says, "I thank the Lord for love like ours that grows ever stronger... Every day's a new day, every time I love you."

Happy Anniversary Mrs. Espinosa...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Coping With Death During Christmas...

It's never easy to lose someone you love. It may be even harder when that someone dies during the time of year which is supposed to be the happiest.

This Christmas Eve morning, my uncle died unexpectedly of heart failure. Although his health had been deteriorating over the last several months, when he went to the hospital complaining of trouble breathing, it was thought to be just another in a revolving door of recent hospital visits.

He apparently was having a heart attack and after being stabilized, suffered another massive bout and died.  He was 77.

Therefore, on the day millions around the world celebrate one of the most anticipated nights of the year (the eve before the birth of Christ) with family reunions, food, music and drink, my cousins were dealing with funeral arrangements for their father.  While on Christmas Day, they were coping with the grief. 

Even, as family members get older and their health begins to suffer, death is not something most people handle well, even when we think we are prepared. It is especially difficult for spouses and children, but may be just as hard for siblings. Aside from husband and wife and parent and child, there may not be a closer familial relationship than that of siblings. Depending on the age difference, the bond shared between brothers and sisters is usually very special. My uncle was my dad’s older brother.

I never had an older brother but know from having a younger one that older brothers usually protect and mentor their kid brothers and younger ones usually look up to and try to imitate the older; however dysfunctional the relationship may be.  My dad is the middle of three brothers and they had four sisters as well.  My uncle is the second of the seven siblings to die.

Two things stick out about my uncle are his propensity for hard work and his colorful perspective on life, which he was never shy about sharing with others. He arrived in New York with his wife and three young children (He had another daughter from a previous marriage) not long after my parents, brother and me had arrived from Cuba. My dad helped them get settled but my uncle was always a go-getter and soon paved the way to South Florida for his family. He was a man passionately focused on succeeding, and, like in his personal life, as two failed marriages indicate, he experienced many successes and failures along the way.  He also experienced hardships in the deaths of his second wife (many years after their divorce but still the mother of three of his children), and his third wife, who left him widowed.

I remember one time when I was a kid, he was trying to convince my dad to go into partnership with him on a gas/auto repair shop. It was at a difficult time in my father's life, who came to this country, like my uncle and countless other Cubans through the years, with a young family and the clothes on his back. After five years in New York, we relocated in Miami (Hialeah to be precise). However, despite the lure of the financial rewards of owning a business, my dad considered the time it would take away from his family and chose to get a job instead. I don't remember a baseball game he missed while my brother and I were growing up (at least not many).

In life, we make choices and those choices shape who we are and who we want to be.

As anyone of faith can attest, although we believe that life on earth is but a fleeting moment in time and we should celebrate our loved ones passing into eternity, it is never easy. Living in the faith and hope we will be reunited one day, doesn’t take away the pain we experience because we miss their physical body.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul writes, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the certainty of things not seen."

After a loved one dies, we often hear consoling words like, “They are in a better place,” or “They are finally resting.” But, only in faith can that alleviate our grief. After all, as St. Paul says, faith is based on hope; a confident hope that gives us surety, as certain as the sun rising every morning, but hope nonetheless.

We are not the final arbiter and can only hope that our judgment, and the judgment of our loved ones, is based on faith and the love we shared with others and not on our failures, which in my case far outweigh my successes.

Even with faith, we are not immune to pain, grief, suffering, and, at times, feelings of desolation. Just ask Mother Theresa of Calcutta and, even more poignantly, our Lord, who we are called to imitate and while dying on the Cross asks, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in possibly the ultimate example of His Humanity.  But then, shortly before taking His final breathe, says, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Faith, like love, is a choice and not a feeling. We choose to love and we choose to believe. A feeling may go away. A choice, which we commit in our heart, doesn’t.

Goodnight, Tio Nando. May we meet again someday...

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Song That Always Chokes Me Up...

As most people that know me understand, I can be a bit emotional, especially when it comes to my faith and my family (You can say I'm passionate). 

As a husband and father, there are few songs that touch my heart more than Christmas Shoes by New Song.

It seems like no matter how many times I hear the song, if I concentrate on the lyrics, I start choking up (as it did on my way to work this morning... and it wasn't just because I was heading to work on Christmas Eve).

In fact, as for the raw emotions it solicits within me, it comes almost as close as I can Only Imagine by MercyMe.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Preparing For Christmas and Making Memories Along the Way...

Somehow, the idea of gathering the family around the Advent wreath to light the candles every night for four weeks appears easier said than done. It’s even more challenging when you throw an energetic toddler and a disinterested kindergartner into the mix.

For the second time in the last four years, my family and I attempted to partake in the Advent wreath lighting tradition to prepare for Christmas Day.

It is a beautiful custom that many families we know share in and the Catholic Church encourages, as a way of putting aside the hectic days of the season and concentrating on what should be our focus; God and family.

The lighting of the Advent wreath actually began in Germany about five centuries ago but has recently gained popularity and become a staple of Christian preparation for the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  While, there is no set way of doing it, for the most part, it entails gathering the family around the wreath, reading from the Bible, lighting the candles, sharing with one another and praying. It could be as long or as short as the family chooses. Each Sunday, leading up to Christmas, one additional candle is lit, until all four are lit during the week prior to Christmas.

It was never part of my Christmas memories growing up (not that I know any Cuban family that did it during my youth), but I want to make it part of my children’s.

Unfortunately, for a second time, our attempt at establishing the tradition failed miserably and was extinguished, almost as fast as a candle in the breeze, before we got to the third week (Hey, we're making progress.  On our last try, we barely got past the second candle). 

The good news, however, is that despite the failure, the exercise of gathering as a family nightly, actually served, to a greater extent, as an impetus for spending more quality time together in other ways.

Like most parents in today's society, my wife and I work hard, sometimes maybe too hard (and I can say, without reservations, especially my wife). With our busy schedule, the girls' ballet classes, baths, dinner, clean-up (which with a messy three-year-old and two not-so-enthusiastic sisters to help, clean-up can take up a chunk of time) and getting ready for bedtime, there doesn't seem to leave much for family quality time (aside from dinner).

So, starting at the beginning of Advent (the last Sunday in November), I resolved to unite my family (as the spiritual leader God calls me to be) to remember the true meaning of the Christmas (whether they wanted to or not!).

Not everyone was on the same page on this and the excitement of having to stop what they were doing to light the candles and pray started wearing thin by the second week (with the exception of my older daughter, who would read the daily Gospel each night and loved being the center of attention). My wife says I make religion and the faith too serious for the kids. But, as most people that know me understand, I take most things seriously, what would make me turn religion into a comedy routine? (I'm not suggesting that my wife doesn't know me well)

I knew we were in trouble one night, as we tried to light the Advent wreath candles.  My son was thrown on the floor repeatedly singing the few words he knows from the first verse of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” our younger daughter was yawning, making “I’m-so-tired” faces, and trying to talk to mommy in the middle of the Gospel reading, and even my wife appeared distracted, after arriving late from putting away the laundry. 

My own enthusiasm started dwindling somewhere along the many Christmas parties and activities that made it difficult to gather as a family each night (in other words, I let the celebrations leading up “The” celebration weigh me down in fulfilling my primary responsibility; my family).

After coming to the realization that continuing the Advent wreath was not going  to happen, and feeling a bit discouraged, I decided to try a different approach. 

Instead, of gathering my young family in a regimented and, apparently forced way, I decided to take my wife's advice (shhh... let's keep this between us).  We started gathering and preparing more subtly and in a less structured atmosphere.

We pray before every meal we eat together, but we started praying for our hearts to be open to receive the Lord on Christmas Day.  We celebrated St. Nicholas Day, who we chose as my son's patron saint, as I told my kids the story of the real Santa Claus and our son blew out candles on a cake. I took my oldest daughter to the blessing of the baby Jesus, at our parish, where she sang in the children's choir, while we prayed a living Rosary. We watched Christmas movies together like; It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th St., A Christmas Carol and we spend almost every minute in the car listening to and singing Christmas carols (the von Trapp family have nothing on us!). Even my wife and I got to spend some quality time on our own (after the kids went to bed, of course).

So, while we may not be ready for the Advent wreath tradition yet, I hope our efforts this year serve as building blocks for making our own customs and memories the children will cherish throughout their lifetime.  And, who knows, maybe next year, we can make it to the third candle.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Preview to Documentary on Catholicism; Who Is Jesus?...

If you haven't noticed by now, one of my favorite "go-to" sites is Word on Fire, that is headed by Fr. Robert Barron of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Fr. Barron has gained national and international recognition, not only as one of the most highly regarded and recognized theologians, public speakers and authors, but for his video ministry on You Tube, which, as the early Christians, attempts to engage the culture in its own environment.

For several years, Fr. Robert Barron has been working arduously on a long anticipated ten-part documentary series, titled Catholicism, which will explore all aspects of the living culture of the Catholic Church and is expected to be released in 2011.

This is an excerpt from Part One of the series, focusing on who Jesus Christ is, since only in knowing Jesus can we know and understand the Church.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dogs, Death and Thoughts of a Three-year-old...

One recent morning, there was a video on PBS, between episodes of Curious George, that showed a boy playing with his Golden Retriever.

I tell my son, "Look, the dog looks like Shakespeare."

Our fifteen-and-a-half-year-old Golden Retriever, named Shakespeare, passed away this past summer and I guess, the video and my comment got him thinking.

I left him watching TV, while I finished getting ready and, as we were getting ready to leave the house, he comes up to me and says, "Daddy, Garbo won't die." 

"What?" I asked, not understanding what he was trying to tell me.  He repeated, "Garbo won't die."

Garbo is our Rottweiler, who will be eleven next month.

Without much thought, I tell him, "We all die, buddy... (pausing briefly and noticing what I had just said)... but, it's OK, because we go to be with God in heaven." (as I tried to remove the foot from my mouth)

Several minutes later, when I had already forgotten the conversation, and was pulling up to his school, my son says, "Garbo won't die, Daddy.  Garbo won't die."  He said this with conviction but obviously concerned.  It sounded like the thought had been churning in his little brain during the five minutes or so it took to drive to school (Is it too early to think he's a budding philosopher, contemplating life, death and its meaning?).

"No, buddy, Garbo won't die," I reassured him, a bit surprised by the way this appeared to be weighing on his mind.
Less than a minute later, he was laughing and playing with a toy.

So much for deep thoughts (or mental scars)...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Keeping the Cheer While Taking the Christmas Card Photo...

While a picture may be worth a thousand words, our family Christmas photograph this year falls short of telling the whole story.

Sunday night, after getting home from a busy day, which started with morning Mass, the ballet (No, we’re not that fancy, at least not me. It was my girls’ Christmas ballet recital, party, and more importantly, fund raiser), and picking up some gifts for our kids' teachers and groceries at Costco, we decided to take the family picture for our Christmas cards. We realize, we’re running a bit behind but there's been a flurry of activities over the past several weeks and, since everyone was dressed up, we wanted to take advantage (nothing like sending Christmas cards, the week before Christmas, I say).

So, after unloading the car, I wanted to take the photo as soon as possible before the kids started taking off their clothes and playing. I also knew the younger two were tired (my son having drifted off to sleep about 5 minutes before we pulled into our driveway) and our time was limited before the meltdown began. Our son already got a jump start on his meltdown after having to wake up when we got home. However, we told him if he wanted to watch Star Wars (which he had been asking to watch), he had to stop and, it worked like a charm (nothing like a little coercion to stop the tears).

Now, is when the fun begins.

While, my wife finished putting away the groceries (she doesn’t let me near the groceries because I don’t put things away in the “right” places), I started rounding up the troops and getting them organized in front of the Christmas tree.

My 6-year-old daughter had already taken off the pigtails she had to wear for the show and her hair needed to be re-pigtailed.  Meanwhile, my son had taken off his sports coat jacket, his shirt was untucked and his hair disheveled.

I decided to get my son ready, since I am pigtail-challenged. I tucked in his shirt, put on his sports coat (which he inherited from an older cousin and is at least a size too big) and combed his hair. One down.

While, my daughters went into the master bathroom to fix up their hair with my wife, I start setting up the shot. I don’t have a tripod but since it is the Christmas season, there are several boxes that have yet to be put away that were perfect for setting the camera on. I set the shot; ready to go!

I look at my son and he has taken off the jacket, his shirt was undone and his hair was a mess. Here we go again. I tuck in his shirt, put on his jacket, and comb his hair.

Meanwhile, we are still waiting for the girls (and my wife).

I set up a small step ladder to serve as a seat for my wife and go back to check the shot; framing is still good.  Unlike the past several years, this year, we wanted to include the entire family in the Christmas picture.  Everything is ready; except, of course, the models.

I start getting antsy. “Let’s go!”  My tone starting to reveal my anxiety.  

I look at my son again, he’s jacket-less, uncombed and his shirt untucked.  NOT AGAIN!  I reprimand him, as I get him ready for the third time.

The girls come out… We’re almost ready. I start putting them in their places.

I re-set the camera shot. The camera’s set. They’re set but... still no mom.

“Let’s go!” I repeat, as I hear her walking into the kids’ bedroom. She starts reprimanding our older daughter for leaving her costumes thrown around and makes her go and pick up her mess.

That's it. By this time, I lost my patience.

“We’ll just send generic Christmas cards this year,” I blurt out, practically pouting, as I take off my jacket, sit on the couch and turn on the football game (As I was doing this, I realized how childish my reaction was but I had to put my foot down.  This of lack of interest was ridiculous!).

My wife comes out. “It doesn’t feel good does it?” she asks sarcastically. “That’s what you do every time I ask you to do something and have to wait for it to be done on YOUR time.” (What can I say? I usually get around to things, just not at the precise moment my wife asks me to)

OK., this can go one of two ways; either I throw a tantrum like my 3-year-old, hold to my principles and get into an argument, which would definitely ruin the moment that I was hoping for, or I could act like a responsible husband and father, swallow my pride, put on my jacket and make this a Merry Christmas experience. I chose the latter.

When talking about marriage, a good friend of mine regularly uses an old cliché, which says, "Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?” The answer is obvious.

So, instead of an ugly end to a long but family-oriented day, we took the family photos and had a pleasant time together watching Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (I’m old school.  So much so, in fact, that we took the family pictures on a 35mm Canon Rebel S camera, circa 1991, before Andre Agassi's Brooke and drug problems).

And, to put icing on the cake, after developing the roll last night, my wife vetoed the family shots because she didn't like the way they came out, so, we will be sending yet another Christmas card with photos of just the kids!  Nice.

God certainly has a good sense of humor.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Narnia's Aslan; a Representation of Mohammed or Buddha?...

You have got to be kidding.

In what can only be described as political correctness gone awray, actor Liam Neeson compared C.S. Lewis' Christ-like lion character, Aslan, in the Chronicles of Narnia series, to Mohammed or Buddha.

Neeson, who plays the voice of Aslan in the upcoming Narnia movie, made the comments during a publicity tour for the film.   

story on CNA states:
Speaking ahead of the upcoming release of the Narnia movie “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” Neeson said: “Aslan symbolizes a Christ-like figure but he also symbolizes for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries.
“That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids – that’s what he means for me.”

The 58-year-old Neeson is a practicing Catholic who grew up in Northern Ireland and was named after his parish priest, the Daily Telegraph reports. The actor has also collaborated with American Catholic priests to produce a CD of Lenten spiritual meditations.

Walter Hooper, Lewis’ former secretary and a trustee of his estate, said that C.S. Lewis would have been outraged by the claim.

“It is nothing whatever to do with Islam,” Hooper told the Telegraph. “Lewis would have simply denied that. He wrote that the ‘whole Narnian story is about Christ.’ Lewis could not have been clearer.”

He attributed Neeson’s remarks to political correctness and a desire to be “very multicultural.”

Correct me if I'm wrong, but did either Muhammed or Buddha rise from the dead? 

As the CNA article states, Lewis himself described Aslan as what Christ would look like in a world like Narnia. 

Interestingly, Lewis began his writing career as an atheist professor at Oxford University in England.  He converted to Christianity in his early 30's with the help of good friend, Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien, of The Lord of the Rings fame.  Lewis became one of the best known and beloved Christian authors of all times.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is expected to hit theatres this weekend. 

It is definitely on the Espinosa family "must see" movie list.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Faith v. Politics; Either You Believe It or You Don't...

Pope Paul VI with President John F. Kennedy
Catholic blogger Patrick Archibold recently wrote an interesting article on politicians who profess to be Catholic in their personal life yet continuously vote against the moral teachings of the Church in their public and political life. 

As many pundits have pointed out, and recently Sarah Palin in her book, America by Heart, the disconnect between faith and politics may have its roots with then presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, who was Catholic and, as such, perceived suspiciously by many mainline Protestants in the U.S.  Kennedy effectively convinced a group of Protestant ministers that his religious beliefs would never influence his politics.  Many politicians have been following this line of thought ever since.

Specifically addressing an op-ed piece by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, niece of JFK, daughter of Robert, and regular critic of the Catholic Church, Archibold writes:
What the Kennedys and the Cuomos do not get is that no matter what, your faith informs your actions. All JFK and Mario (and Kerry, Pelosi, et al) confirmed is that they don’t really believe it or they don’t care.
Which is worse? A politician who gives lip service to faith but doesn’t really believe it or politician who really believes it but let’s babies die anyway? This is why I choose to believe that they don’t really believe it, the alternative is too much to contemplate.
Point is, faith informs politics always and absolutely. So does lack of faith. There is no getting around it. If politics comes first, it is only because that is what you really believe. One cannot serve two masters.
At its core JFK’s 1960 speech was a lie. One can rarely really believe something and act in a way diametrically opposed to it. You do what you believe. Always. If you believe that Jesus is who He said He was, if you believe the Church is what it says it is, you will mostly act accordingly. If you don’t, you will also mostly act accordingly.
A recent list of Catholics in the U.S. Congress and their pro-life rating, indicates that while 28% of Federal Legislators are Catholic, many deviate from Church moral teachings in their voting record on sanctity of life issues.  So, as Archibold suggests, either they don't really believe in the truth of the Catholic Church or they just don't care.

To read the transcript of JFK's speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, see here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Celebrating the Real Santa Claus...

Today, the Church celebrates the feast of one of the most revered saints in Christian history, St. Nicholas; a fourth century Bishop, whose reputation of secret gift-giving, generosity and love for children became the model for Santa Claus.

St. Nick is near and dear to me since he is the patron saint and namesake of my 3-year-old son.

According to legend, Nicholas was raised by devout Christian parents, in a time when being Christians had its risks. They were rounded up, tortured and put to death (the usual; fed to lions, beheaded, crucified, etc.). His parents died in an epidemic, when Nicholas was in his teens, and left him a large inheritance.

Nicholas decided to use his inheritance for the greater good of others.

The stories of St. Nicholas' benevolence have endured through the centuries but one of his most widely told stories is one where he kept a desperate father from having to prostitute his daughters to put food on the table.

Catholic on line writes:
A citizen of Patara had lost all his money, and had moreover to support three daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty; so the wretched man was going to give them over to prostitution. This came to the ears of Nicholas, who thereupon took a bag of gold and, under cover of darkness threw it in at the open window of the man's house. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl and she was soon duly married. At intervals Nicholas did the same for the second and third; at the last time the father was on the watch, recognized his benefactor and overwhelmed him with his gratitude.

St. Nicholas is said to be the most represented Christian saint by artists through the centuries, outside of the Blessed Mother.

Tonight, my family and I are starting a new tradition.  We will be holding a small celebration for Old St. Nick by having our son blow out candles, cutting a cake and telling our children the story of the real Santa Claus.

For more on the story of Santa Claus, see the St. Nicholas Center.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Looking Foward to a Weekend of Fun, Games and Carnival Rides...

Remember the old tootsie pop commercial, where the boy goes up to an owl to ask how many licks does it take to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop? After three licks, the owl bites the pop and says, “Three,” then an announcer repeats the boy’s question and concludes, “The world may never know.”

That may be my conclusion this weekend as to how many times I can walk around the same school yard in a three day period.

Yes, it’s that time of year; our daughters’ Catholic school’s annual fair and carnival. The biggest and most elaborate fund raiser of the year (considering that it helps keep tuition costs down, I’m a big fan, at least in the fund raising part, not in having to attend).

However, it’s not like I have much of a choice. Not only am I financially staked by having to buy the wrist bands for unlimited access to all the carnival rides, but the girls love the fair and are looking forward to it since the beginning of the school year. They plan what rides they are going to have the courage to ride on and make plans to get together with friends.

For them, it’s all good. They get to run around and, although we are usually close by, they get a false sense of freedom, as they socialize in a nighttime setting, outside of the usual birthday parties and school activities.

Meanwhile, my wife volunteers in the Kindergarten and Fourth Grade food booths (in different shifts throughout the weekend), and I get to chase down my son, who is too little to ride with the girls, but wants to anyway, and keep a watch on the girls (who are in different age groups of friends and want to do different things). It becomes a bit of a challenge.  Fortunately, we know many of the parents, who help watching each other's kids, but still.

Adding to the fatigue of having to walk around the same area all night (and all day, and all night, and all day), is having to avoid the carnival workers, who try to entice me and the kids to spend money on games, where we can win huge stuff animals (if we win many many smaller ones first), or buy their carnival food, which is not offered by the school, you know; cotton candy, popcorn, candy apples, pretzels, corn dogs and soft served ice cream.

My only reprieve is when I get to volunteer in the kitchen with my friends. Believe it or not, we work hard cooking, taking food out to the school booths, scrubbing pots and pans (which are a nightmare to clean, not to mention, play havoc on the manicure), and throwing out garbage (and there is lots and lots of garbage to throw out). But, we have a good time doing it.

However, my time with my friends has been limited in recent years since my wife is volunteering more often and I have to be chasing the kids around.

This will be our sixth year attending the event. With our 3-year-old son set to start at the school next year, I can look forward to, at least, ten more years, if I can’t convince my wife to have another child, which she usually concedes we would do if we win the lottery (“Hey, you never know”).

So, let the good times roll.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Biblical Studies In Public Schools?...

Is the Bible making a comeback in the public school education system?

As most people know, religious education and prayer were taken out of the public school system after a Supreme Court ruling in the early 60's.  However, teaching the Bible was not.

In a National Catholic Register article Janneke Pieters writes that, in recent years, studying the Bible is becoming more prevalent in American high schools.  It's not only constitutional, it is being encouraged as a way of understanding the world we live in: 
Many welcome the return of the Bible to public education. According to the Bible Literacy Project website, in a 2006 survey of English professors from Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Texas A&M, University of California-Berkeley and others, all agreed with the statement: “Regardless of a person’s faith, an educated person needs to know the Bible.” Another 2005 study showed 98% of high-school English teachers agreed Bible literacy was academically advantageous.

“The conclusions of these studies were that students do need to know about the Bible in order to be conversant about Western literature and culture,” said Sarah Jenislawksi, executive director of the Bible Literacy Project. “So many works of literature were written assuming readers would understand these [biblical] references.”

The works of Shakespeare alone contain 1,300 biblical allusions. John Milton’s works draw heavily from the Bible. Much of Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings and writings are incomprehensible without knowing the Bible, and the same could be said of many great American leaders. And the Advanced Placement English exam is rife with biblical allusions.

Christmas Village Déjà-vu...

A couple of days ago, I blogged about a Christmas Village  in Philadelphia that was removing the word Christmas and replacing it with Holiday to be more politically correct.

Well, as former NY Yankee great and stand up philosopher Yogi Berra would say, "It's like déjà-vu all over again."

Apparently, the amount of complaints to City Hall were too much for city officials to handle and they decided to bring back Christmas to the village.

After two days of controversy that grew to national proportions, Mayor Nutter announced last night that the word "Christmas" will be restored to the 15-foot-tall arch that welcomed visitors to a German-style Christmas market outside City Hall.

The word, spelled out in tiny white lights, had been removed Monday afternoon after city Managing Director Richard Negrin said he had responded to complaints from an unspecified number of city employees and visitors.

But the Daily News' story on the removal went viral and prompted a wave of negative reaction, including a protest from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and a pending resolution from City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski accusing the administration of "disrespecting Christians" in favor of political correctness.

Nutter called reporters into his office last night to say that he'd just talked with the promoter of the Christmas Village, who had agreed to reconnect the lights dismantled two days earlier.

"We'll have the full 'Christmas Village' sign back in place [today]," Nutter said. "I'm totally respectful of any of our public employees or citizens who have a complaint, whether about this or anything else. At the same time, we have any number of employees and citizens . . . who enjoy this particular kind of commercial enterprise. The Christmas Village is not a religious service."

Earlier yesterday, the Archdiocese issued a statement calling the removal "very disappointing."

"If we are to be a truly diverse and inclusive community, we must certainly be respectful of all of the various celebrations that occur during this time of year," the statement said. "Christmas deserves its rightful place among those."
However, to quote Yogi again, "It ain't over, till it's over." 

Do I hear the anti-God ACLU's feathers ruffling?  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Thought I Was Past Peer Pressure...

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” (OK, so it wasn’t exactly what Michael Corleone meant when he used these words in The Godfather Part III but that’s how I felt last week... sort of…).

It has become my friends' Thanksgivings Eve tradition. For the past several years, some of the guys (those whose wives don’t object or are unmarried) get together at the Biltmore Hotel bar for a few libations (not referring in the Jewish ritual sense of the word) to celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season.

Mind you, these are church-going Christian men, who are trying to live their faith. They are guys that over the past several years, at the risk of sounding less than manly, I have grown to love. We have become very close and socialize regularly with our wives and kids.

That night, as I started getting text messages on my cell phone asking where I was, while heading to dinner with my wife and kids, I regressed to my first day as a high school senior when my friends decided to skip homeroom to go “celebrate” our senior year.

Yes, I did want to go (as I did in high school). I would never do something just because everyone else was doing it but I also understand my role as husband and father. Still, even at 46, I was getting that I-don’t-want-to-miss-out-again feeling (having missed the previous gatherings and hearing about the great time they had).

So, I mentioned that the guys were getting together at the Biltmore for some drinks to my wife (ever so delicately) and that they wanted me to go.

“Oh, no; you’re not leaving me here alone with the kids, unless they're asleep! None of your friends have small kids,” she said (I'm the only one with a toddler amongst my friends but I don't consider it a strike against me!).

I tucked my tail between my legs and said I would rather spend the night with her and the kids anyway.

Alright, I know, at this point, why not roll on my back in total submission? But, as a husband, who enjoys and plans on remaining married, I have to pick my battles. I knew I wasn’t going to win this one (at least not going about it in a frontal caveman approach).

I go out to dinner with the family and, as we are heading back home (having put the Biltmore thing aside and planning on watching a movie), my 3-year-old son falls asleep. “He didn’t nap. He’s probably out for the night,” my wife says (My heart rejoices with unexpected excitement.... Did that just sound too gay?).

I get another text message from the guys. It simply said, “…and you?” In other words, where the heck are you?  We're still waiting.

I show it to my wife as we stopped at the grocery store to buy milk (isn't this like something Will Ferrell would say in the movie Old School?). As I park the minivan (yes), we notice, our 6-year-old daughter had also fallen asleep (Wow, two down.  God must be on my side!  Now, if only my wife was as accommodating).

Another text from the guys, “the boys say, lift up your skirt and get over here.” (Thanks a lot.  Talk about peer pressure!)

We get home. I carry both the kids into their beds and change them into their pajamas.  Our older daughter is still awake but she's old enough to take care of herself and not cause too much of a raucous with her siblings asleep.

I linger around our bedroom hoping for a signal; pretending to look busy and knowing that my wife knew exactly what I was thinking but was trying to make me suffer a little.

“Have fun,” she said.

What? Yes (I would have pumped my arm but thought it would be out of line and was trying to be discrete).

“I’ll be home early,” I answered, as I headed out as fast as I could before one of the kids woke up and she changed her mind.

It's amazing; almost 30 years out of high school and I'm still succumbing to peer pressure...

Christmas Village No More...

It seems every year, during this season, stories pop up of municipalities, businesses and organizations around the country getting so caught up with political correctness, that they remove Christ from Christmas. 

Never mind that this country was founded on Christian principals, that Thanksgiving and Santa Claus (aka St. Nicholas) are rooted in Christian tradition and that Christmas itself has been celebrated in the United States since colonial times.  

Philadelphia, "The City of Brotherly Love," birthplace of the American Revolution, which served as the nation's temporary capital, is the latest to join the growing frenzy.  A German-style Christmas Village, that has been co-sponsored by City Hall for the last couple of years, has been renamed, Holiday Village.

An article on Philly.Com states:
It's that season again, which means that for the third year in a row, the German Christmas Village has set up a cozy collection of wooden booths and tree vendors in Dilworth Plaza on the west side of City Hall.

But a few shoppers noticed something amiss yesterday on the tall metal archways signaling the entrances to the shops. The archways had just one word on top - "Village."

Sounds festive, eh?

It turns out that the letters spelling "Christmas" were removed yesterday afternoon from the archways on the north and west sides of the plaza, at the request of Managing Director Richard Negrin. They will be replaced with the word "Holiday."

Our Founding Fathers must be rolling in their graves...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks For Many Blessings...

Norman Rockwell's Thanksgiving
As we prepare for Thanksgiving, a holiday synonymous with family, food and football, it important to take the time to reflect on the purpose of the day and consider the things we are thankful for (whether acknowledging our blessings to God or coincidence).

It is interesting to note, as I learned from a friend last week, that despite Thanksgiving finding its roots in the earliest settlers in our yet-to-be-nation, it became a national tradition during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

During that time, the country was immersed in the bloodiest and most divisive experience in our history; where brother fought against brother, a generation of men lost, families destroyed and displaced and human suffering was palpable throughout the nation.

At the height of this pain, despair and grief, President Lincoln declared a national day of thanksgiving to the Almighty God in November 1863. It has been a yearly celebration since.  In the proclamation, Lincoln states:

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
And, to think, some say our nation was not founded upon Judeo-Christian values.

So what am I thankful for?

I often find myself thanking God for His many blessings but let me try to list a few:

Thank you, Lord for my faith (which I realize is a gift that not everyone has), for giving me life, for the health of my family, for my marriage and the love my wife and I share (realizing the most important relationship I have is with my spouse, without which I have no family), for our three children (who have given us more happiness and let us experience greater love than I could have ever imagined), for the health of my parents and my wife’s mother (who are a huge part of our life), for my brother, his fiancé, my wife’s sister, her husband and two children, for my grandparents (who although no longer with us, were instrumental in my upbringing through their example), and for both of our extended families.

Lord, I give you thanks for our home (despite having outgrown it and constantly having to make the repairs and maintenance required for a 1926 house, it is more than most people have), for the providing for us so that we can send our children to Catholic school (which in the secular society we live in, is very important to us), for our jobs (at a time when many people have lost theirs), for our many friends (many of whom are like family), for my co-workers (who we share more time than with our own families), and for the many hardships, trials and tribulations that have made me the man I am today.

Finally, Lord, I thank you for being raised in the United States of America, for giving us the Eucharist (the highest form of Thanksgiving, and meaning of the word), the Holy Catholic Church, your Blessed Mother, and for all the things, that I don’t even realize you give me and take for granted.

What are you thankful for?

Monday, November 22, 2010

When Hell Freezes Over....

A recent excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI's new book, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Sign of the Times, to be released tomorrow, has many in the mainstream media frothing at the mouth with headlines stating that the Pope has softened the Catholic Church's teaching on the use of condoms and artificial birth control.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The controversy was prompted by statements the pontiff made in the book in relations to the moral use of condoms to contain the spread of Aids; specifically Pope Benedict describes an "exceptional" circumstance where a male prostitute would use a condom, as a first step in realizing a moral responsibility of his actions by trying not to infect another.  Time Magazine's Howard Chua-Eoan writes:

Benedict's so-called condom concession was not a huge one. He still proscribes the use of condoms as contraception (as he does the birth control pill). His specific example, that of a male prostitute choosing to use a condom in a conscious choice to prevent HIV infection, is couched as "a first step in the direction of moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants."...
Fr. Federico Lombardi, of the Vatican Press Office puts it this way:

"... the pope takes into consideration an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality may represent a real risk to the life of another person. In such a case, the pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality, but maintains that the use of the condom to diminish the danger of infection may be "a first assumption of responsibility", "a first step in a movement toward a more human sexuality", as opposed to not using the condom and exposing the other person to a fatal risk.
"In this statement, the pope's reasoning certainly cannot be defined as a revolutionary shift
It amazes me how so many "journalists," as well as naysayers, either misunderstand the role of the pope and the Catholic Church or purposely try to impose their ideology upon a two thousand year old institution, so as to conform to their personal perspectives and/or justify their understandings of right and wrong. 

In a response to the recent press coverage, Pope John Paul II biographer George Weigel writes:

This latest example of pack journalism was a disservice in itself, and it also highlighted several false assumptions that continually bedevil coverage of the Catholic Church and the Vatican and one specific media obsession that is, to be brutally frank, lethal in its consequences.

The first false assumption beneath the latest round of media condomania is that the Church’s settled teaching on sexual morality is a policy or a position that can change, as tax rates can be changed or one’s position on whether India should be a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council can change. To be sure, the theological articulation of the Catholic ethic of sexual love has been refined over centuries... But it has not changed and it will not change because it cannot be changed. And it cannot change or be changed because the Catholic ethic of sexual love is an expression of fundamental moral truths that can be known by reason and are illuminated by revelation.

The second false assumption beneath the condom story is that all papal statements of whatever sort are equal, such that an interview is an exercise of the papal teaching magisterium... Reporters who insist on parsing every papal utterance as if each were equally authoritative — and who often do so in pursuit of a gotcha moment — do no good service to their readers.

The third false assumption was a “historic change” of Catholic teaching of the sort that was misreported to have taken place would be announced through the medium of an interview. It will perhaps come as a blow to the self-esteem of the fourth estate to recognize an elementary fact of Catholic life, but the truth of the matter is that no pope with his wits about him would use the vehicle of an interview with a journalist to discuss a new initiative, lay out a pastoral program, or explicate a development of doctrine...
Truth does not change according to modern times and man's will, nor does the Church's moral teachings.

Anything to suggest such change is, at best, wishful thinking...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

She's Nine, For Goodness Sake!...

"Look, Daddy," my 9-year-old daughter says proudly as she reaches into a shopping bag and pulls out two little brassieres (with small padded cups!).

Padded bras? “Why in the world, did you buy her padded bras?” I ask my wife (she’s only nine for goodness sake, what is going on here?).

My wife tells me they are actually lined, not padded (and the difference to me being?), and are better because they cover up any unwanted protrusions (protrusions? She’s nine!.. Can I repeat “for goodness sake” again?… Ok, she’ll be ten in late January but still).

Whether I want to admit it or not, my little girl is physically maturing faster than we expected (or I am prepared to handle) and it seems, as people always tease, payback is just around the corner. Noooooooo!!!! (as Luke Skywalker yells out when he finds out Darth Vader is his father, or, for the younger generation, when Buzz Lightyear discovers the same about Emperor Zurg).

I should have known something was up with her development when she started losing her baby teeth by the age of four (fortunately, my younger daughter is six and has yet to start losing her baby teeth).

It seems like only yesterday, I was in a birthing room at South Miami Hospital when my cone-headed and purple-colored firstborn daughter arrived in this world (like her dad, she had wrapped herself in her mom’s umbilical cord). I’ll be honest, being a first time dad, I was a bit concerned when I saw this dark little creature come forth. But soon, the nurses cleaned her up and her skin started turning pink, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

It was love at first sight. They placed her in my wife's arms and we held her together in a family embrace and cried (yes, I’m a crier and am proudly in touch with my feminine side).

I love my girls. When my wife got pregnant four years ago, I was convinced I was having another (at least I was psyching myself mentally so as to not get disillusioned if, what I thought, the inevitable happened). After the first two, I had convinced myself that I was only going to produce girls, known in Cuban language, as a “chancletero.” I have at least three friends that fit this description.  However, God gave us a boy instead.  (and yes, Cuban is a language) 

While my girls are still young, considering how fast life comes at us, before I know it, I will be dealing with teenage girls with all the phone calls, pimples, temperamental behavior during certain times of the month, and, worst of all, the “bad boy” love interests, that it implies. (even more disconcerting is knowing that I was a "good boy" that was able to charm parents into undeservedly trusting me with their daughters.  Payback is definitely a female dog!)

My oldest daughter is still more likely to do a cartwheel or break into song than talk about boys, but her body is unquestionably changing. And, soon, the boys will start noticing (if they haven't already). 

As if that wasn't concerning enough for me to deal with, my wife tells me "preparate" (brace yourself) because 4th Grade is when the boys ask girls to go with them to the school fair (Say what?  Are you kidding me?).  Our daughter apparently can't wait (But I can, couldn't we wait at least until 5th Grade?  She's nine, for goodness sake!). 

And, to think my younger daughter is learning from her older sister and already wants to wear her bikini bathing suit top underneath her shirts...    

Lord help me.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Boy Meets Great Granpa and Miscarried Sister in Heaven?...

While the recent Hollywood blockbuster Hereafter, starring Matt Damon, and directed by Clint Eastwood, shed light on the possibility of an afterlife, albeit one without God, as pointed out by Fr. Robert Barron in a recent commentary, a story on Fox News' morning show gives a different perspective.

Yesterday, Fox and Friends interviewed seven-year-old Colton Burpo and his father Todd, who has written a book, Heaven is for Real, about the boy’s afterlife experience when he was four. In the book, Colton describes, not only a Heaven with God the Father and Jesus Christ, but he also vividly describes meeting his great grandfather, who he never met, and a sister, that he never even knew about, who had died as a result of a miscarriage.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Orthodoxy Prevails in Selection of U.S. Catholic Leader...

Archbishop Timothy Dolan
This may not be white smoke coming from the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican but for U.S. Catholics, it’s an important selection nonetheless; president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  

Today, the U.S. bishops shocked many religious and secular pundits by electing New York City Archbishop Timothy Dolan as their next leader over Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson.

Kicanas was the expected choice after serving as vice president of the ecclesiastical body during the past two years.  An article on Catholic Online states:

Most pundits and ecclesial commentators strongly predicted Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson would be elected to succed Cardinal George on Tuesday, November 16, 2010. In response to what they considered a foregone conclusion, a portion of the Catholic blogosphere was preparing to respond with anything but glowing acclamation.

Then, a surprise of the Holy Spirit occurred, demonstrating, once again, who is really in charge of His Church. At 9:40 A.M. the names of the nominees were placed on the screen and an explanation followed; if a majority is attained on the first ballot, then the election is over. If not, then there would be a second ballot. Such a situation is, according to some observers, almost unprecedented.

That was until Wednesday November 16, 2010. We seem to be living in a very "unpredictable" time, on so many fronts. On the first ballot, Bishop Kicanis failed to win a majority. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York surprised many with a very strong showing.

On the second ballot, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York won, but there was a need for a run off in order to meet the necessary majority. When the excitement subsided, the results were both unexpected and simply amazing; the gregarious, dynamic, orthodox and beloved Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, was elected to the Presidency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops by 128 - 11 votes or 54 - 46%

Bishop Gerald Kicanas
This is the first time in recent history, since the 1960’s, that the vice president is passed over by the American bishops; a decision that apparently took some discernment.  There were many concerns raised about Kicanas, who was supported by many liberal-minded and dissident Catholics.  Blogger Thomas Peters writes:

Bishop Kicanas has a troubling reputation. The arch-liberal Father Thomas Reese has described Kicanas as “the leading liberal hope” among the progressive wing of the Church. And for this reason (and others noted below) I believe Bishop Kicanas is not the right choice to lead the bishops during these next two critical years.

What others have not written about but what I think is important to bring into the mix is the fact that Kicanas has a strong reputation for being a “Bernadin” bishop, in other words, a bishop in the mold of Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, famous for his close allegiance to progressive and liberal ideologies. This is not just a reputation, this is how it appears Bishop Kicanas has intentionally formed his Episcopal priorities since becoming a bishop.
Not surprisingly, the liberal Catholics at Commonweal Magazine and National Catholyc Reporter are adamant supporters of Bishop Kicanas. He is their kind of bishop, indeed probably one of the most liberal bishops in America. And all of this should set off warning alarms for those of us serious about continuing to rebuild orthodoxy in America.
Fortunately, orthodoxy prevailed.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Drano, Tylenol, Men and Instructions...

"Don't you read instructions?" my wife asked exasperated by my questioning her for having poured the entire content of the Drano (or Liquid Plumr) into the shower drain last week (Hey, how was I supposed to know? Some bottles require that you only pour half the bottle and then the other half, as needed).

Without missing a beat, I picked up the bottle from the bathroom counter, flipped it around and pointed to the pictures in the back and sarcastically said, “These are my instructions. I don’t have to read them.”

“That explains a lot!” she shot back.

It definitely does.

Several weeks before, I had poured half a bottle of Drano (or Liquid Plumr) into our toilet (remember my clogged toilet fiasco?). Afterwards, my wife tells me, “You know, you’re not supposed to use the Drano in the toilet. It says so on the instructions.” (Woops… I eventually had to call a flesh and bones plumber to fix it)

Ok, I’m not good at reading and following instructions. I think it is a default of many men; I guess you can trace it back to when God created Adam and told him to stay away from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If you recall, Eve was conned by a charming snake (sound familiar?). However, Adam was given specific instructions not to eat from the tree, and he did (it wouldn’t have mattered if God had written it down).

You would think I would have learned my lesson. I remember when my oldest daughter was sick and about 18-months-old, my wife traveled to one of her best friend's bachelorette party in New York City for the weekend (am I an understanding husband or what?). She left me very specific instructions on the amount of medicine to give her (which were on the label of the Infant Tylenol bottle!).

Since my daughter was sick, I put her to sleep with me so I could monitor if she got a fever. During the middle of the night, she woke up crying with a fever. I went to give her the Tylenol. However, in my disoriention and exhaustion, I totally forgot the right dosage to administer. To top it off, in my just-awoken-blurriness, I couldn’t read the instructions on the bottle (have you seen the size of those infant Tylenol bottles? You need Superhero vision to be able to read the tiny print in the middle of the night).

Instead of giving her the 1.6 milligrams as my wife told me, I think I gave her twice that much (it could have been dangerous). My daughter fell asleep right away (Any wonder? She was overdosed!). She slept peacefully the rest of the night. I didn’t notice I had surpassed the dosage recommended for her age and weight until morning and when I was finally able to read the label.

By the Grace of God, and despite me, nothing happened to my daughter and she awoke rested and happy.

So, following instructions has never been one of my strengths. Then again, I can always blame Adam, who by the way, got another instruction from God which he apparently fumbled; dominion over all living things, including his wife, Eve.

As we all know, that didn't go over too well for him and for most married men since.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Weekend With The Boys is Serious Business...

It was another glorious weekend with the boys.

Every six months or so, I go hang out with about 40 plus of my closest friends and 20-25 other guys, who get invited to our biannual getaway.

However, unlike the male bonding weekends promoted and seen in movies, where the purpose is getting drunk, gallivanting and debauchery or roughing it in the woods with gassy men, animals, guns and hillbillies that want you to squeal like a pig, what my friends and I experience is much more wholesome, profound, and gratifying (without having to deal with hangovers, diseases or accidental or not-so-accidental deaths).

Last weekend, I attended my parish’s Men’s Emmaus Retreat at the Archdiocese of Miami Youth Center, next to LaSalle High School in Coconut Grove. It was the eleventh time I participate in such a retreat since my first one in April 2006 (call me a glutton for punishment but I can’t get enough).

For those of you who have never attended an Emmaus Retreat, the purpose is to disconnect from cell phones, computers, I-phones, blackberries, TV, stress and all the distractions and noise of everyday life and focus on reflection, spiritual growth, camaraderie with men, from all walks of life and faith backgrounds, sharing in great meals and, more importantly, contemplating transcendental matters.

It is raw. It is real and it is powerful.

To give you a sense of just how serious we consider what we do is, on the retreat that I was a retreatant, there was a man who attended named Andrew “the Ram” Crawford. Andrew was homeless (he had been living in his car) but had been attending morning Mass at our parish for several weeks (“the Ram” is what he wrote on the team roster).

Some of the guys thought he was not too stable because he was boisterous and bordering on disruptive at Mass. He would answer and pray with much more zeal and animation than most. However, one of the men in the group decided to invite him to the retreat. If anything, he thought the guy would get a chance to clean up and eat three square meals a day.

When he got to the retreat house, he was disheveled and had the scent of someone who had not had an opportunity to bathe for a while. He also had an unhealed sore on one of his arms and seemed a bit detached.  Andrew was the kind of man who, just by looking at, you could imagine had experienced tough breaks in life.

During the talks Friday night, while everyone else was listening quietly, he would interject, “Amen” or “You’ll be ok., brother” or “God bless you” while men were speaking.  I found out later that some of the team members were concerned that he would become too disruptive.

Yet, there was something attractive about his passion and faith. It was very sincere and heartfelt.

As the weekend progressed, I made a point to talk to him, if only briefly.

When the retreat ended, you could tell that Andrew was filled with the kind of joy and contentment that he may not have felt in some time. Although already more devout than most of the retreatants (including me), he appeared as if the experience had made an impact on him.

He was picked to carry the offertory during the end-of-retreat Mass and walked up proudly, wearing his white Emmaus shirt. If there was someone that I wanted to introduce to my wife and family to, it was Andrew Crawford, I thought. There was just something about him.

When the Mass ended, it was a mob scene of people walking out. I kept running into many of my new friends and their families and introduced them to my wife and daughters (my son had yet to be conceived). There were so many men that I wanted to introduce my family to that I lost track of Andrew. When I looked for him, I couldn’t find him so I figured; I would get another chance to do so in the near future.

During that week, the men that attended morning Mass noticed that Andrew was not showing up as he had been for several weeks. On Thursday of that week, we had a follow up meeting. He wasn’t there either. Many of the guys, including myself, had been looking forward to seeing him. We were disappointed when he didn’t show up.

As fate would have it, a couple of weeks later, before our next Emmaus meeting, I get an email at work that Andrew Crawford had been killed in a car accident.

I’ll be honest; it hit me like a rock and began to cry in front of my computer. Some of my co-workers noticed and asked me what was wrong. I felt as if I had lost a longtime friend even though I had just met him.

Well, we find out that several hours after the end-of-retreat Mass, Andrew had been involved in a fatal car crash not far from the church. His sister, who lives out of state, contacted one of the men in the group when police returned some of the belongings from his car, which included the Emmaus phone list and the Bible he was given. He was wearing his Emmaus shirt when he died.

We also found out that Andrew came from a large Catholic family of about 12 kids, who had grown up in the Coral Gables area and attended our parish school. He had gone into the military and the rest of the siblings started moving away. His parents had died and most of the family had become estranged over the years.

His sister said that Andy was a man of faith, as was she. In fact, she shared that when police contacted her to give her the bad news of the accident. She immediately knew something had happened to Andy, who she had not seen in several years. Before the officer had a chance to say anything, she asked him if he was Catholic. When he said he was, she asked him to pray a Hail Mary with her before telling her what he had to tell her.

We also found out that Andrew was a carpenter by profession (an irony not lost to most of us who had commented that he looked like Jesus Christ).

We will never know why God put Andrew Crawford at that retreat but I can tell you that on a personal level, however brief my encounter with this strange man was, he has made a lasting impact on my life. I will never forget Andy “the Ram” Crawford.

Like him, through the years I have met many men, whose lives have been affected for the better by attending the retreat. Among them was a man who found out he had stage 4 prostate cancer about three weeks after attending the retreat that I led in November 2009. He was at peace and showed amazing strength and courage during his final months. Also, another man, who had battled cancer for several years and had been in remission but had a relapse and was taken from this world a couple of months after attending our May 2010 retreat.

I realize the person I am today has been deeply shaped by my experiences with the Emmaus group and men like Andy the Ram. 

Although I greatly enjoy my weekends hanging out with the guys, I realize that it is serious business. 

As my friend, Joe, put succinctly, “This is life and death stuff.  In fact, it's beyond life and death stuff."  It's about our eternal soul and the souls of those we love.

Friday, November 5, 2010

High Tech Lingo Leaves My Head Spinning...

“In what format are files usually sent to us; M.O.V., A.V.I…?” He asked me nonchalantly and waited for my answer.

Say, what? My mind started racing; what the heck is he talking about?

“I know what a computer is.” I offered.  He didn't seem too amused.

I’m not the most technically inclined person that you will meet. In fact, aside from my newly acquired blogging prowess, I usually have to refer to my wife for just about anything that has to do with technology; whether internet, cell phone or anything else.

This morning, I was called into our Executive Producer's office at the television newsroom I work in, Noticias 23/Univision. She wanted my input on something.

I jokingly did the Sign of the Cross and bid farewell to the girls that work with me on the Assignment Desk and headed off. When I went in, I saw three M.I.S. computer-types and our Chief Engineer sitting on chairs encircling our EP’s desk.  The head of our M.I.S. Department was on speaker phone (by the way, what the heck is M.I.S.?).

Luckily, I was able to provide the information they wanted.

But, one of the guys asked me for more information than I was "qualified" to provide.  In other words, it went way over my head. 

Then, over the next 15 minutes I was overwhelmed in a flurry of exchanges between the three men, where I heard: Rosetta, Drop folder, Watch folder, I.C.M., P.R.X., C.P.U., Velocity, VizRT, Harris Servers and my personal favorite, F.T.P. (which always brings warm memories of the Naughty by Nature song, “Down wit O.P.P., yeah you know me.” Hey, I can get jiggy with it).

I felt like I was dropped in an episode of the Twilight Zone or, better yet, in a bad Chinese Kung Fu movie (without the English translation!). It was surreal.

I stood there in a daze until finally the EP noticed the blank stare in my face and gave me a reprieve, telling me I could go if I wanted.

Thank you! And T.G.I.F.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What a Difference a Day Makes...

Last night, as I waited anxiously for the results of the Florida Governor's Race (way past my bedtime), Fox News cut in with new Speaker of the House John Boehner's speech on the results of the election.

I'll be honest, I didn't know much about Boehner, except that he was the House Minority Leader and that President Obama and the Democrats had aggressively come after him in recent weeks, in an attempt to motivate their voter base.

During his emotional speech, Boehner thanked his wife, his two daughters and his eleven brothers and sisters.  Say what? Eleven brothers and sisters? I told my wife, this guy has to be Catholic!

This morning, my wife was on the internet and noticed an article on Catholic Online about Boehner.

The new Speaker of the House will be John Boehner of Ohio. He is a faithful Catholic who fully understands the teaching of his Church and has earned a consistent 100% Pro-Life score from the National Right to Life Committee. Just as importantly, he has also earned a 0% score from the National Abortion Rights Action League, an organization which promotes the killing of children in the womb as a "right". John Boehner is a truly Pro-Life Catholic and a champion of children in the first home of the whole human race, their mother's womb!
As the article states, we went from one Speaker of the House, who publicly professes her catholicity, only to reject many of the moral teachings of the Church in her functions as a public policymaker, to another, who apparently wears his faith on his shirt, and is willing to fight for it.

What a difference a day makes…

Ghost of Halloween Past Leaves Haunting Memories...

Alright, call me a party pooper but I have never been big on Halloween.

No, it's not because of religious reasons, as many people know, Halloween sprouted from the Christian tradition of All Saints and All Souls Days, which the Church continues to celebrate (although it has Celtic influences as well).

The reasons for my indifference to the October 31st celebration are mostly personal.

I think I stopped dressing up for Halloween by the time I was in Junior High (with the exception of several parties as an adult along the way). I never got into the egg tossing and pranks or walking around aimlessly with other kids in hot costumes (I guess you can call me the Ebenezer Scrooge of Halloween).

Part of my lack of enthusiasm may stem from residual psychological effects of having to wear those cheap one-piece paper thin costumes with the plastic masks when I was a kid. They were always too tight for me since I was a "husky" size and would tear somewhere along the route. I don't know if the costumes were too cheap, or the one I wanted was never available in the right size, but, needless to say, I remember ending several Halloween nights walking around with a tear.

I was usually a chunky superhero, who was sweating profusely through the costumes in all the wrong places (which reminds me of the time I wore a Speedo bathing suit to the beach when I was in high school). Talk about childhood traumas! (The ghost of Halloween past was not too kind)

So obviously, whenever October rolls around and jack-o'-lanterns, witches, skeletons and ghosts start popping up around our neighborhood, I don’t exactly jump for joy in anticipation. My kids, however, are a different story.

As the month progresses, my children excitedly start planning their disguises (they actually start several months before) and prompting me to put up decorations in front of our house. I usually procrastinate but eventually my wife and I get around to putting up some pumpkins, spider webs, and, usually, a scarecrow (which was in storage and this year got left out). We put up just enough to satisfy them (which luckily, doesn't take much).

So after months of planning, this year my girls dressed as: a "pink lady" from Grease (not exactly an image I was looking for since they were the ones that made out with the boys and hung out with gang members, but I don't think my 9-yr-old even knows what a "pink lady" is since she has never seen the movie), and a 50's style girl with puffy below-the-knee skirt and a polka dotted leotard and gloves (her planned Jessie from Toy Story costume didn't fit so we went with Plan B; her older sister's dance recital outfit). My son dressed as a very funny-looking Darth Vader without the mask and a light saber bigger than him (He actually looked more like Lord Dark Helmet in Mel Brook's Spaceballs).

On a more serious note, I'll take part in Halloween for the sake of the kids and keeping a tradition as American as baseball and family reunions on Thanksgiving, but I draw the line when it comes to costumes that resemble witches, vampires, zombies or monsters. It may not be a big deal for most parents, but, that is where my faith clashes with the culture. I feel the influences society has on my young children is scary enough. I don't want them to be confused and desensitized on the occult and supernatural by making them fun (I'll get off my soap box now but it's a subject near and dear to me that my kids have reluctantly accepted; so far!).

Unlike last year, where we went to a Halloween night party, while the kids and their friends went to a haunted house at the home of one our daughters' school parents, we had an old fashioned, no frills or thrills, night of neighborhood trick-or-treating (it was Sunday).

Some good friends came over with their daughters and our children went trick-or-treating around the neighborhood for a couple of hours. In fact, the biggest excitement we had was when the dogs of one of the homes the kids went to got loose and the owners went into a frenzy trying to catch the loose dogs in the yard.

By 8:00pm, we were back home, heating leftovers for dinner (my wife refuses to cook on Sundays!) and trying to keep the kids from overeating chocolate bars and candy. It wasn't easy. Our older daughter got upset that she couldn't go to the haunted house with her friends. Meanwhile, our two younger ones got hopped-up on sugar and separately started crying for different reasons (or no reason, I forget which one). There was a lot of drama at the Espinosas.

Despite the commotion, the girls were in bed just a little past their bed time (our younger daughter complaining about a belly ache) and our son stayed up watching the World Series and drinking milk for a little while before falling asleep, which was a perfect time for me to raid their goody bags looking for Snickers, Twix and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (The ghost of Halloween present treated me well).

As I look ahead, I realize that, while All Hallows Eve brings back unfavorable and lackluster memories, the most important memories are those that are yet to come by living it through the eyes of my children.  Therefor, this year's experience gives me some optimism about the ghost of Halloween future (although I am very opposed to any form of fortune telling).

And to think, I have about another ten years of trick-or-treating to look forward to.  I can't wait till next year!