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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

First Days of School Blues…

Child crying...
It’s not easy watching your 3-year-old son break down hysterically in tears; the kind of tears that come from deep within his soul and is accompanied by a look of desperation, a “why are you doing this?” in his eye. It’s even harder when he is looking to you to comfort him from his grief and you have to ignore his pleas; only adding to his pain and anguish.

This has been a rough beginning of the school year for my little buddy, Nico. He likes it when I call him that, only lately he doesn’t want to be my little buddy (If this is how you treat friends…).

He’s attending school for the first time and hasn’t taken to it very well.

Fortunately, his sisters were the opposite. My wife shed a few tears when she dropped off our older daughter in school for the first time and my daughter didn’t even flinch. She wanted to go to school and play with new friends. She was only 2 and ½-years-old at the time and never once cried.

Our second daughter was almost 4-years-old when she attended school for the first time, which makes a huge difference developmentally.  She too couldn’t wait to go to school and never cried either.

But for Nico, it’s been a struggle. He never pined about going to school and was quite happy going to my parents’ house every day. It was even more of a treat during the summer when his sisters went with him to Abuelo and Abuela’s house.

It’s funny; we were talking to our Pastor after Mass on Sunday and he asked about Nico (who many of the regular morning Mass goers have gotten used to seeing frequently). We told him that Nico was having trouble adjusting in his first week of school. Our Pastor is a teacher and has studied early childhood development. “Don’t worry,” he told us, “Most boys are much more attached to mommy and daddy than girls. He’ll grow out of it… probably by the time he graduates from high school.” (Great, something to hang our hat on)

His first day of school was great. My wife, our younger daughter and I dropped him off. We took pictures. He was excited with all the commotion of parents, new toys and kids in his class. When we left him, he was happy camper.  

But, it went downhill from there.

On his second day of school, as we approached his classroom (just the two of us), he started saying, “Papi, tu no te vas. Tu no te vas!” (or “Daddy, you’re not leaving, you’re not leaving!”). He latched onto my leg as I signed in.  As I started prodding him towards his table and seat, he started to push against me (kind of like the illustrations of the Bible story of Samson pushing down the temple pillars, except with shorter hair). He was trying to push me towards the door and began to cry.  But, it wasn’t a normal, “I just got hit with something and it hurts!” It was a penetrating wail from deep within, “Papi, tu no te vas. Tu no te vas!” The assistant teacher immediately grabbed him away from me and wrapped her arms around him, as she carried him. He attempted to break free from her and as he continued wailing.

I was a bit caught offguard by his reaction and tried to comfort him by telling him it was going to be alright but the teacher asked me to leave by saying, “it would be better if you left as soon as possible.” (Ok lady, I get the picture!)

So I left but could hear him screaming from afar.

The rest of that first week did not get any better. Before we would get to school, he already started, “Papi, tu no te vas. Tu no te vas” (It was not a suggestion. It was a demand; an order). As we approached his classroom (with me carrying him to make sure he did not start to run away), he would wrap himself around my neck. As I placed him down, he would start crying and pushing me out (ala Samson), and again the assistant teacher would take him away and I would continue to hear his screams as I turned the corner down the hall.

This week, the situation has improved slightly.

On Monday, I was able to distract him with a couple of photos he had to bring to school of himself and of our family. I handed him the photos, as I put him down, and told him to give them to his teacher. As he went to hand them to her, I left.  Silence... good.

Tuesday, he was still telling me not to leave as we approached the school and cried a little bit saying he wanted to go to his grandparents’ house but as I placed him down inside his class, he reluctantly resigned himself to the inevitable and, with droopy shoulders, walked towards his teacher (Sort of like “I really don’t want to be here but, what choice do I have? My Dad will just leave me anyway”).

As I describe this, a thought comes to mind. Often people who are going through a difficult time (an illness, a divorce, a loss of a business or job, a death in the family), may question God the Father; like a child that thinks his father doesn’t care or is abandoning him at school. Often we too kick, scream and wail from the depths of our soul asking, "Why God?"  “Why are you putting me through this?” We don't and can't understand why we have to go through the hardship.

Yet, the hardships are what make us stronger, help us grow and may be the only time we turn to God on our knees with total abandon.  I recall a saying that goes, "When we got nowhere else to turn, we turn to God."  It's in overcoming these difficult times, that we appreciate our blessings most and gain humility, obedience and endurance.

Without a doubt, like all children who go through these first days of school blues, my son will grow out of it and, like we who overcome obstacles in life, will come out stronger in the process.  Hopefully, with God's help, and for my sake, it will be very soon...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Tossing The Biological Clock?...

Not long ago, I overheard a co-worker of mine, who is a mother of two, give some advice to another co-worker, who is single, about waiting to have kids until later in life.

The mom told the single co-worker, “Girl, you wait and have as much fun as you can, before having children. Travel, see the world, enjoy your marriage and don’t have kids until your mid or late 30’s.”

Thursday night, while driving home from Duffy’s Tavern in West Miami, where my men’s church group gathers after our bi-monthly meetings (we talk a little about God, we bond, we break bread together and well, we enjoy a few spirits), I was listening to a guest host on a nationally-syndicated radio program, The Mark Levin Show. The host was talking to a caller, who was discussing the U.S. economy and mentioned that he and his wife were very concerned because they were trying to have a baby.

Without a hitch, the host interrupted by asking him, “How old are you?”

The caller said 35. The host said, “You are much too young to have or even be thinking about having a baby.”

Really?... It’s funny, in today’s society that seems to be the prevailing thought.

People are waiting longer to get married and thus waiting longer to have children. I am a prime example.

However, just a short generation ago, that was not the case (my parents got married when my Dad was 25 and a year later, I was born).

Although I agree with my co-worker's assessment on enjoying marriage, which my wife and I have always made a point to put first (after God), since without which, we have no family, I vehemently disagree with her advice to wait for children.

Many people reason their way into waiting, “We can’t afford it now.” “We’re not ready.” “We want to establish our career first.” Meanwhile, we wait longer and longer and longer…

Yanik and I had our first daughter when I was 37-years-old and by the time our son (our 3rd) was born, I was 43.

Did I have the same energy level at 37 as I did when I was 27?

I know people say that 30’s are the new 20’s and 40’s are the new 30’s but, as good a shape as you may try to keep your body in, the older you get the more worn your body gets and the harder it is to recover.  I don't know about you but, the older I get, the more tired I am and the less energy I seem to have. 

I was probably in the best shape of my life at 33. It was a “me” time in my life (although my wife would argue it still is) when all my focus was on working out and looking as good as possible (thus it was when I met my wife). As Al Pacino says in the last line of The Devil's Advocate, "Vanity, definitely my favorite sin." 

Even so, I knew that my reflexes were not the same as they were when I was 21.  This became evident to me in my baseball skills; having played for most of my life.

You can see it in professional athletes. No, matter how good they maintain themselves, their bodies start deteriorating with age. Sure, you have a few freaks of nature that play well into their early 40’s but most athletes are forced to end their careers when their bodies start declining physically by their mid to late 30’s.

So, is that the best time to start having a family? Shouldn’t the most important purpose of our life (raising our children) deserve our optimum capacity?

Not to mention that the older we get, the more trouble we have conceiving. My wife and I tried for several years before conceiving our first (and if any of you have experience difficulty getting pregnant, you understand the stress and pressure involved) and we also had trouble conceiving our second. Our third was an unexpected gift from God.

Given my experience, I would argue against waiting to have children.

I have friends who are in their mid-40’s like me, who have children in college or high school. By the time they hit their mid-50’s, their children will be starting their careers, and they can start relaxing and enjoying their marriages without the pressures of the kids.

Meanwhile, by the time my son is out of college (hopefully, 18 years from now), I will be 64, ouch!! And, if that weren't daunting enough, if my youngest daughter gets married at 26 (20 years from now), I will be considered a senior citizen as I walk her down the aisle (and hopefully she will not wait untill her early 30’s to get married or I may not even be around!).

My wife and I have often discussed that if we had met earlier in life and started to have children younger, we may have had five kids by now. However, at this stage in our life, that seems highly improbable.

It may be true that children take a big toll on marriages in terms of time, finances, and stress, but they are also marriages greatest gift and God-given calling. Pope John Paul II once wrote that the closest man could even slightly approach (in a finite way) God's (infinite) self-giving love is through the intimate relationship between husband and wife, where we actively partake in God's Creation of life.

We are all wired to want children. Some may suppress it but it is there. Just like a will to live and a longing for Truth (God), it is ingrained in our humanity.  You can call it a survival instinct, you can call it an innate longing for immortality, or you can call it God having written it into our heart.

Even at my age, with my deteriorating and worn down body, I enjoy fatherhood tremendously and still hold onto the hope of convincing my wife to partake in God's Creation, ONE more time...  Although, my wife would say, "Not a chance!" I will leave that in God's hands. 

But, returning to the advice offered by my co-worker and the radio host (which reflect an overriding sentiment today), I will instead counsel my children differently. I will recommend, if God places the right person in their life to marry, to have children younger (in mid to late 20’s) rather than waiting until they're older and, with God's Grace, they can enjoy His greatest gift a lot sooner and a lot longer.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fr. Barron comments on The Lord's Prayer

A couple of years ago, I was invited by the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) instructor of my parish to make a presentation for the catechumens and their sponsors on the Lord’s Prayer (also known as the Our Father). This is no simple task since it takes the Catechism of the Catholic Church about 25 pages to explain (see here, here, here and here).

St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, "The Lord's Prayer is the most perfect of prayers... In it we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them."

It was a great exercise for me to delve deeper into the Lord’s Prayer and better understand it so that I could explain it. I was able to surmise the prayer (in cliff note form) to about 40 minutes.

Here is Fr. Robert Barron's summary in slightly over 8 minutes...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Image of God, Terrorism and Conversions...

Having the time to read a complete book is not always easy in the agitated life most people live today.

Although finding the time is hard enough for me with a fulltime career and as a husband and a father of three young kids, it is even harder for my wife, Yanik, who aside from a fulltime job as a Press Secretary for a U.S. Congressman, has a busy and burgeoning real estate business, runs her own translations company and, if that weren’t enough, she just started selling Avon products (she’s a workhorse!).

I recall one time during a night out at dinner with my wife’s cousin, Rey, his wife, Dulce, and another couple, Rey asked me, “How is it that our wives (Dulce and the wife of the other friend) stay at home all day (both are stay-home-moms) while your wife has three jobs?” He asked this facetiously (and everyone got a laugh out of it) but, giving it some thought, that’s a REAL good question.

Adding to my wife’s hectic workload, she then gets home, supervises the girls’ homework, runs around after our energetic 3-yr-old son, works out (a video exercise program called Insanity, which is apropos for its intensity and the lunacy it takes to do it daily), bathes the kids, does the laundry, cooks dinner and prepares the next day lunch for the kids and herself. Not to minimize the fact that she often also schedules real estate appointments, negotiates contracts, writes press releases and schedules interviews for her boss before settling down for the night. Needless to say, when she winds down after her long day, she doesn’t have an incline to pick up a book.

So, while my wife endures a frenzied and unselfish lifestyle for the sake of our family, let me tell you about all the books I read over the summer...

Fortunately for me, I have my sanctuary, where I retreat to when things get a bit dicey  or when the kids have settled in for the night (I have made definite strides since last school year but, as most things in my life, I am a work in progress).

During the past several months, I had the chance to read four books (plus a children's book with my daughter) and recently started a couple of others. I guess you can say that I might have a slightly lighter workload than Yanik; but I work very hard at it!

I wanted to share some thoughts on these books for your consideration. Let me start by mentioning a book by one of my favorite authors, Scott Hahn, titled First Comes Love, which I actually began earlier in the year but finally finished it in early July; since I read two other books in between. I have a tendency of reading more than one book at a time.

I have read several of Hahn’s books, among them; Reasons To Believe, Rome Sweet Home, The Lamb’s Supper and have listened to many of his tapes. As much as I have enjoyed all of them, First Comes Love, may well have been my favorite. As one of the most highly regarded theologians and Bible experts in the country, he can get very intense and deep into a subject. Like most of Hahn’s books, because of the profundity of the subject matter, as soon as I finished First Comes Love, I wanted to re-read it. It’s not that his style is hard to understand but, for me, the theological material that he so passionately explains leaves me wanting to delve in deeper.

First Comes Love, basically explains how we are created in God’s Image, by using examples from Sacred Scripture, Papal writings, the Church Fathers (the book is littered with quotes from St. Augustine and St. Ambrose among others) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. However, Hahn demonstrates that God’s Image is not just reflected in individual human beings, as most of us understand, but also in family because God Himself is Family; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Hahn describes how from the beginning, starting in Genesis, God created man and woman in His Image of family. Just as God is Father (Lover), Son (Beloved) and Holy Spirit (Love), He created man (lover), woman (beloved) and child (fruit of their love).

The closest we, as humans can imitate God, is through the relationship between husband and wife, when two flesh become one and through that union, we become three (family); an active participation in God’s Creation.

While reading First Comes Love, I picked up a couple of other books. First a book edited by Patrick Madrid, a well known Catholic Apologist, titled Surprised By The Truth 2, and then a novel by Piers Paul Read, named Death of a Pope. It was the first novel I read in more than four years.

Read is a well known author and may be best known for writing Alive, the story of the Uruguayan rugby team, whose plane went down over the Andes and the survivors had to eat the flesh of the dead, in order to live (you might remember the Hollywood remake several years ago). I bought the book because it was advertised in one of my favorite internet sites, National Catholic Register and it peaked my interest.

For me, Death of a Pope, was a bit disheartening, in the sense that it falls into secular ideas of the pope’s authority within the Church and the Church’s role in society. I guess the frustration stems from the fact that it was advertised on NCR’s site and I expected more orthodoxy.  

It is set on the backdrop of the final days of Pope John Paul II’s life, his death, and eventual conclave to select a new pope. The premise in the book is that a new pontiff would be able to modernize and change course of Church’s teachings, specifically relating to the ordination of women, homosexual marriages and artificial birth control among others. The dialogue exchanges between the main characters have a liberal slant and indicate, in my opinion, a deficient understanding of the Church.

There is actually an interesting plot; a conspiracy that would lead to a terrorist attack against the Vatican in the midst of the conclave with millions of faithful and the Church Magesterium in danger. There is a group determined to start a new crusade against Islam. Secret service agents from Great Britain, Italy, Spain, France and U.S. trying to figure out what the plot is and a love affair (there’s always a love affair), or what appears to be, between a former priest turned freedom fighter and a journalist.

Despite my discouragement in some of the views expressed in the book, the overall storyline was intriguing and the suspense Read builds was effective and kept me on edge until the end. But, the premise that a former Catholic priest and a Cardinal, one-step away from becoming the next pope, could somehow conspire to lead the Church in an entirely new direction from its two thousand year history, dampened my overall appreciation for the novel.

I guess if you read it as, what it is, fiction and not overanalyze the details (which I often fail to do); it is an interesting read. And, if you consider the way it ends, where God ultimately protects the Church, despite the odds, it is more acceptable. But, my concern is that some, who are not as learned on the Catholic faith, can be misled (ala The Da Vinci Code). So, the book left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth, although it did revive an interest in fiction literature, which I had ignored for years.

Surprised by the Truth 2, was a simple read on fifteen conversion stories; Fundamentalists, both ministers and laity, a Mormon, a New Ager/Pagan, etc., who in their search for truth find their way into the Catholic Church. I enjoy conversion stories because they help reinforce and strengthen my faith. However, while the book includes Madrid’s own re-version (he was always Catholic but, like many of us, drifted), and the conversions of well known writers, Fr. Ray Ryland, Thomas Howard and Tim Drake, it wasn’t as powerful as Surprised by the Truth. I read the original a few years ago and it featured the stories of some heavy weight converts; Steve Wood, Stephen Ray, Tim Staples, Marcus Grodi, Jimmy Akins, Paul Thigpen and several others.

Since Death of a Pope re-ignited my dormant interest for fiction, I then picked up a book in my shelf by Marcus Grodi, the host of my favorite television show, EWTN’s The Journey Home.

Grodi’s book titled, How Firm a Foundation, is loosely based on his own conversion from Protestant Minister to Catholicism. Grodi was actually influenced by good friend and seminary classmate, Scott Hahn, who converted several years before him.

For me, How Firm a Foundation, was a fascinating read. Here too there is a conspiracy plot by a radical Christian zealot, who fervently comes to believe the Catholic Church is The Whore of Babylon described in the Bible and the Pope is Satan. He is convinced that Catholic priests have infiltrated Protestant churches and that the main character in the story is one. It so happens that the minister’s son falls in love with the zealot guy’s daughter, prompting him to take matters into his hand, according to what he feels God is telling him to do.

It could get a bit technical in parts because of the subject matter (trying to describe the internal turmoil and anguish of a man who was raised and believed one thing his whole life, only to start doubting what he believes is not an easy task). The toll this discernment takes on his family life, the spiritual, emotional and financial uncertainty, and the rejection by some friends and family is vividly described since Grodi experienced this firsthand. It is a long book but I enjoyed every page of it.

I recently started reading, Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton, which is considered among the greatest Christian books ever written, and am halfway through a book my boss gave me to read (and should have finished by now), Live.Local.Broken News by AR&D Senior Strategists, a consulting firm that advices local news departments how to improve their product in today's technologically developing environment.

So, while it may seem that I have a lot of time in my hands, don't be fooled.  I may have a bit more than my wife has (that's obvious) but I truly am passionate about studying and learning everything possible about my faith and make the time whenever and wherever I can.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Let The Mayhem Begin...

Friday night, while having dinner with my wife, Yanik, I mentioned that I couldn't wait for the kids to go back to school so that we can return to normalcy. She started laughing (not exactly the words of agreement I expected)...

“What do you mean normalcy?” she asked dismissively. “What have you been doing all summer?”

What I meant is that now that the girls will be back at school, she (my wife) will start taking them every morning. Since the girls have to be at school by 7:40am, they usually leave the house by 7:30am. That gives me about twenty minutes to get ready peacefully before getting my son ready (usually in about five minutes) and rushing out in time to make it to morning Mass at 8:00am (my son starts school for the first time this year but doesn't have to be there until 8:50am). That is what I mean by normalcy!

I explain that to my wife in less descriptive terms.

“Oh, so it’s all about you?” she asked in a condescending tone.

Hell, yes! I thought… “No,” I said, but then reconsidered, “… well yes, I guess.” (If you want to look at it that way!)

During the summer, my parents took care of the kids, meaning I had to keep all three of them every morning and drive them to their house on my way to work. For me that meant picking out their clothes, waking them up, which is never easy, making sure the girls made their beds, got dressed, put on their shoes, brushed their teeth and brushed their hair. In the meantime, I made our bed, got our 3-yr-old son and myself ready.  We would never leave the house before 8:30am, sometimes not until about 8:45am. Forget about morning Mass.

Now come to think of it, going back to my wife’s response during dinner, our school day mornings are anything but normal (Depending on interpretation).

On many days, our house more resembles the first week of boot camp than the orderly and well-oiled machine we aim for. In fact, my wife often turns into Louis Gosset Jr.’s character in An Officer and A Gentleman (Sgt. Foley) barking commands to get those weak cadets in line. Only the cadets act more like Wayne and Garth from Wayne’s World than professional naval officer wannabes.

And believe me, my wife can be tough.  When Sgt. Foley starts yelling out commands in the morning, there have been many times that I could identify with Richard Gere's Zach Mayo character when he breaks down crying, "I got nowhere else to go... I got nowhere else to go.”

It’s funny, last year at about this time, I was preparing to lead an Emmaus Retreat and had resolved to read through the New Testament, as part of my daily spiritual exercises.

Every morning, I got up at 5:45am, went to the gym and got back before 7:00am (the time my wife started waking up the girls at the beginning of last school year, before being forced to change the time to 6:30am, because of how long it took the girls to get ready).

When I got back from the gym, I would duck my head to avoid the incoming projectiles and rushed into my sanctuary, better known as the bathroom (I didn’t look back, hoping not to get noticed) to read the Bible. The bathroom is the one room in the house, I can usually get some peace and quite. Only it wasn’t that peaceful on most school day mornings.

Instead, it was chaos. My wife yelling, the girls fighting and knocking on the door of the bathroom every few minutes (I like to read in their bathroom because it has better lighting) to retrieve their toothbrushes, hairbrushes and hair bands or clips. It was a constant interruption.

I would start getting upset, thinking, “What is going on out there?” “I'm trying to read in here! Can’t they give me a little peace?” “Why is Yanik screaming so much?”

It never occurred to me until several months into this morning mayhem that I was not helping in any way. In fact, I hadn't even offered to help and it wasn’t until my wife and I attended a marriage retreat, that it dawned on me that I could ease her morning stress (not to mention bring some serenity to our household) by helping her out with girls.

Well, as it turns out, shortly after that, Sgt. Foley got a helper. I became Drill Sergeant II, The Sequel (I soon found out getting our girls ready is NOT an easy task!). Now, instead of my wife, I took over the morning screaming (Days in paradise at the Espinosa house).  Our neighbors, who at one time could be heard elevating their voices with their daughters (who are now grown up), must be reminiscing the times past.

Therefore, now, as I consider the end of my summer routine, which often times got ugly since I was alone and Wayne and Garth (aka my daughters) use every means in their power to procrastinate, I can rest assured that when the first bell rings Monday morning, Sgt. Foley and helper will be ready for combat. It may take several weeks but WE WILL break them down.

Lord, give us patience! .... And, let this be a healthy and safe school year for all...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Jennifer's Ill-Conceived Comments on Motherhood (sans Dad)…

Last week, while promoting her upcoming movie, “Switch,” Jennifer Aniston made some questionable remarks on the necessity of fathers in today's changing world.  She stated that, unlike previous generations, women now don't have to "fidle" or "settle with a man to have a child."

The comments gained national attention when Fox’s Bill O’Reilly blasted the Hollywood actress on his show.

And, earlier this week, Aniston had to clarify her comments.

Taking the prudency of her remarks aside, Aniston's point makes clear an underlined and growing confusion in society, mostly generated by celebrities and trend-setters, that is disintegrating the traditional understanding of "family."  Consider what she went on to say:

“The point of the movie is: what is that which defines family? It isn’t necessarily the traditional mother, father, two children and a dog named Spot.  Love is love and family is what is around you and who is in your immediate sphere. That is what I love about this movie. It is saying it is not the traditional sort of stereotype of what we have been taught as a society of what family is.”

Unfortunately, although still a minority in the heartland of America, Aniston is not alone in this redefinition of family.  Tinseltown is leading the way. 

Just this past April, another Jennifer (Lopez) starred in "The Back-up Plan," a similar story about a woman that can't find the right man but wants to have a baby anyway and goes to a sperm bank to get artificially inseminated.  In a typical Hollywood fashion, she ends up meeting Mr. Right, after finding out she's pregnant.

So, is there anything wrong with this picture?

A non-Christian friend of mine, who believes in the same God of Abraham, recently asked me, "What is wrong with humanity using the technology that God gave us (i.e. artificial insemination)?"

Well, the moral answer to that question is not easy, but as most monotheists would acknowledge, there but One Creator, who as such is solely responsible for determining when life begins and when it ends. Moreover, that One Creator chose to create life through the relationship between a man and a woman. 

Going back to Aniston's assessment, if men (fathers) are taken out of the equation and not needed to conceive a child, then they are not needed to raise them. And, if the family is no longer a man, woman and child, then it can be anything WE decide it to be (whether it agrees with God's plan or not).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Skateboarding Priest...

Very funny video...

A Hungarian Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Zoltan Lendvai, has become a YouTube sensation.

Check out his moves, as he entertains local kids.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Baseball, God and Family (Jumbling Priorities)...

I’m a huge NY Mets fan. I can tell you about their active players, their 40-man-roster, their injured reserve list, their top minor league prospects, their history and many other tidbits that most people don't care about. I have been following the team through thick and thin since getting interested in baseball in 1971. For decades, I have studied them METiculously. It was and, to a great extent, continues to be a passion for me.

My wife sometimes tells me I love the Mets more then I love her and the kids (a sad commentary, albeit, I could understand why she may sometimes feel that way). Considering the hours spent at work, reading and studying my faith and the limited time I have for leisure with the family, I probably spend more time on the Mets then I should.

When my wife and I were first married, we used to spend a lot of time at our favorite watering-hole, Duffy’s Tavern in West Miami. Since the sports bar/grill has satellite television and shows most professional baseball games, it was a great place for me to enjoy what I loved most in life (at the time); my wife and the Mets.

We would go about three, sometimes four, times a week. We ate bar food (another of my favorites), conversed and enjoyed some beverages, while we watched the ballgame. What better way to spend a night out, I thought.

However, when my wife got pregnant with our first child, we had to stop going because, back then, smoking was allowed and it could get pretty smoky.

To give you a sense of my warped fervor for the Mets, many parents start talking to their baby while inside the womb so that the baby starts recognizing familial voices. Aside from talking to our baby, I used to recite the entire Mets starting lineup (circa 2000) to our baby on a regular basis. I wanted to make sure my child was a Mets fan too!

I even convinced my wife that if we had a boy, he would be named Hundley (as in Todd Hundley, a short-lived Mets star catcher who ended up getting traded after the team got Mike Piazza before our DAUGHTER was born). Thanks be to God! Hundley Espinosa, would have spent his life explaining his dad’s over enthusiasm for a baseball team. (It’s a wonder why my wife now shuns baseball completely!).

When we stopped going to Duffy’s, I started watching them at home by subscribing to the Major League Baseball package on Comcast. The MLB package carries every game televised of all 30 big league teams.

Since then, I became a fixture on our living room couch in front of our HD flat screen TV; spending endless hours there at the expense of my family (talk about misguided priorities!).

Up until, rediscovering my faith and reevaluating my perspective on life, I didn’t think watching the Mets every night was a big deal. In my mind, I justified it by reasoning that I was not out cheating on my wife or hanging out with friends all night. I didn't gamble. I wasn't an alcoholic or drug addict. What is wrong with me enjoying what made me happy? I never considered the time it took away from my family, the selfishness involved or the fact that I was putting “something,” other than God, ahead of the ones I love most.

I am a husband. I am a father of three kids. I need to set an example.

Is the example I’m setting that a man’s role is to come home from work and sit in front of the TV all night without tending to the needs of his family? I definitely don’t want my daughters to marry a man like that and I don’t want my son to be that man either.

So, I have slowly been trying to wean myself from this vice (sports and TV may not be carousing about town, gambling or chemical additions, but, for many men, like me, it's still an unhealthy distraction). My wife would tell you I haven’t come around fast enough.

Last year, I took the first step by not subscribing to the MLB package (for those that know me, it was a big deal). Instead I signed up for the internet version (baby steps!). It helped. Since I could no longer lounge on my comfortable couch, it forced me to watch games on a wooden chair on our computer. I ended up watching less games (but considering the Mets probably had their worst season in recent history, it wasn’t a great feat).

This year, at the start of the baseball season, I decided to take a bigger step and avoid the temptation that most keeps me away from doing what God wants me to do; love my wife and kids. So, I decide against subscribing to the MLB package altogether. I went cold turkey. No TV (except for the games televised nationally) and no computer. Finito. I was done. Instead, I’ll spend more time playing with my daughters and son (I told myself).

Well, it didn't quite work out that way.

The Mets started playing well. They were winning. They climbed into first place before dropping to second place and four games out of the National League Eastern Division lead by the All-Star break and in second place and just one game behind in the Wild Card race.

Their pitching was exceeding expectations and their defense and hitting were solid. They were doing this without their best player, Carlos Beltran, who was injured during the first half, and a sub-par season by their biggest off-season addition, Jason Bay. Both were expected to bounce back for the second half so there was reason to believe the Mets would be in the race until the end.

I was chomping at the bit.

During our annual summer vacation in July, I got a chance to spend time and talk Mets baseball with my younger brother, who was visiting from NY with his fiancé. He is also a Mets' junkie and watches every game. I wanted to WATCH too!

Two weeks ago, the Mets had a huge road trip against their top two division rivals and, although they had started to sputter, their season hung in the balance. My wife had gone for a run…

I started thinking. Would it make a difference in my family life, if I started watching the Mets again? My kids would be starting school soon and would be going to bed early. Would they care? My wife watches Housewives of wherever, Top Chef, Ace of Cakes, etc. Would she really mind?

Hey, how about... if I RECORD the games and watch them when everyone settles in to bed? That was the clincher…

Before my wife got back, I called up Comcast and subscribed (so she wouldn’t see me doing it).

As fate has it, since then, the Mets took a nose dive and have plummeted to third place and ten games behind in the NL East and sixth place and eight games behind in the Wild Card race.

You think God is trying to tell me something?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fr. Barron comments on Anne Rice leaving Christianity...

As some of you may have read, Anne Rice the best selling author of the Lestat Vampire series, recently announced on her Facebook page that she is leaving Christianity (see story here) because, among other things, she disagrees with Christianity's view on homosexual marriages, as well as the Catholic Church's teachings on artificial birth control and priest sex scandal.

As more and more Americans reject organized religion, the story has prompted a whirlwind of controversy in the media and on blogs.

What strikes me most about this story is the sense of self-governed righteousness. We, as Americans, have become so ingrained with a mentality of individualism that we "choose" to believe and be part of faith, according to our personal perspective.

It’s not a matter of what God wants; faith today has become a matter of what I want. I choose what is right and wrong, according to my conscience.

Putting aside what the correct formation of conscience is, I would argue that the root cause of this evolving “I believe in God in my own way” phenomenon (of which I myself was part of) is a distorted understanding of the authority of God.

God has become whatever we want Him to be.

This is a great commentary by Fr. Robert Baron giving his perspective on Rice’s defection.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Archbishop Wenski and me...

Photo of new Archbishop of Miami, Thomas Wenski, and me taken this morning during a visit to the Noticias 23 News Room...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Maintaining God’s Temple…

One of the ongoing struggles I face as a Christian is practicing temperance.

The Bible says our bodies are God’s Temple and should be treated as such physically, mentally and spiritually. We should maintain them to maximum capability so as to allow God to work within us.

Unfortunately, my struggle with temperance begins with my, possibly, abnormal passion for food. I am a passionate person in most everything I do and food is no exception. I love food and am not very particular to what type. I love them all; Cuban, Mexican, French, Italian, Chinese, American, Creole, Contemporary, Eclectic, Thai, etc., etc. (you get the point).

God the creator of all things obviously blessed us with delicious food and gave some the skills and ability to prepare delectable and mouth watering dishes, of which just thinking about, makes me hungry.

The problem occurs when I take my passion for food to an extreme. It’s not just about being satisfied, as most people do. For me, it’s about to eating to the point of being full and, at times, to the point of nearly exploding. I can’t see food left on my plate (for that matter, I can’t see food on my kids’ plates either!). I am known to my family as the human vacuum cleaner (not something to be proud about).

I remember attending a St. Ignatius silent retreat two years ago. During meals, we would eat in silence while one of the men would read to the group for contemplation. Most of the participants were older gentlemen in their late 50’s and older, who attend the retreat yearly. I was among a smaller group of younger retreatants in our 30’s and 40’s.

While everyone sat very peacefully, I noticed my friend Ernie, who invited me to the retreat, get up for seconds during our first meal, Saturday morning. That was all the prompting and example I needed. From that point onward, I got up for seconds at every meal. Hey, since I wasn’t talking, I had more time for eating!

On the last day of the retreat, when the silence was broken and everyone got to share in conversation during our last meal together, the first thing one of the older men said to me was, “tienes buen apetito” (“you have a good appetite”). Yep, that’s me, the one with the good appetite.

Not exactly the self-control, measure, and temperance that Jesus Christ exemplified and expects from His Disciples.

Towards the end of last year, my friend and fellow blogger, Jorge Costales (check out his page), and I agreed to start the New Year by dieting and getting in good shape (as good as two fast-approaching-50-yrs-olds can get) in time for the summer bikini season and my annual family trip to Sanibel Island in late July.

Knowing that we were going to start dieting, I decided to beef up during the Christmas Holiday Season and weighed in at a robust 250 lbs (my heaviest weight ever) by the time we started. Fortunately, I’m 6-feet-tall, but still, not pretty.

I set a goal to drop about 35-40 lbs (when I met my wife 13 years ago, I was at my single playing weight of 185 lbs) and Jorge resolved to lose somewhere in the same range. It was not about dieting, we told ourselves, mutual friends and our wives; it was about changing our “lifestyles” (not as in alternative but as in healthy).

As an added incentive, we decided to keep track of our calories and email each other what we ate, workout routine and calorie-count in hopes of embarrassing each other into controlling ourselves. It worked!

Each day, at some point, I emailed Jorge my previous day’s meals, a calculation of the calorie consumption for each food item and workout routine (sounds a bit dorky, no?). Jorge would respond with his list and sometimes we would exchange comments like, “Hey it got a little ugly at about midnight, didn't it?” or “Bud, you gotta cut down on those oreo cookies!" or "It was a tiny piece!"

I started making progress, losing 17 pounds by April. I was running or working out with weights 3 to 5 times per week as well. I dropped 2 pants sizes. Jorge was also doing well and had dropped close to 20 lbs. We were gaining confidence. We could do this! It’s not that bad.

Then, when everything was going good… I slipped.

It’s not like we were extremely disciplined every single day during those months but we were, at least, pretty good during the week and would give ourselves some leeway during the weekends. Some weeks were better than others but consciously keeping track of every single piece of food we ingested gave us an effective means for losing weight.

When I stated that I slipped, it was by taking a week off from "reporting" to Jorge during a vacation I took with my family. That week dragged into two weeks and shortly thereafter, we stopped sending each other our lists altogether.

But, hey, I had this under control. I could do this on my own.

It wasn’t long before I reverted to previous habits of eating until it hurt, without keeping track of calories. I kept exercising and mentally would make deals with myself to allow me to eat certain foods by exercising more. It never worked that way. I also started slacking in my running. The change in routine led to a slow escalation in poundage. Weights without diet and sufficient cardiovascular exercise lead to bulkiness.

By the time the summer bikini season came and went, I had regained most of the weight I had lost. I was forced to wear my fat shorts in Sanibel.

Last week, I weighed in at 245 lbs.

Like overindulgence, vanity is also a cross to bear for Christians, since it comes from pride, considered the most serious of the Seven Deadly Sins.

But, wanting to stay healthy for the sake of God’s Temple and, at 46, wanting to be there for my children as they grow up is something I can aim for. My wife’s father died at 53 from a heart attack, as did a good friend and high school baseball teammate on Fathers’ Day of this year. Both were overweight.

Take two. My name is Carlos Espinosa and I am a foodaholic.

I am starting to keep track AGAIN of my calories and logging my exercise routine this week.

Lord, help me!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Disciplining Our Children...

“Manuela!!! You’re sandals are in the living room again!!!”

“Emilia!!! Pick up the mess in the room!!!”

“Nico!!! Stop taking off your clothes!!!”

It seems these are unending reprimands that my wife and I have to continuously give our children along with: “brush your teeth,” “stop bothering your sister,” “sit up straight at dinner,” “don’t take that toy from your brother,” etc., etc., etc.

Our life with three small children is challenging and wearing on our patience.

Why do we have to keep reprimanding our kids for the same things over and over?

I was contemplating this during prayer before going to sleep one night; asking God to help me be a better husband and father so that I can get through to them. Why can’t they get it? Why are they not listening to my wife and me? What are we doing wrong? Are we failing them?

Then, it dawned on me.

I had just gone to Confession a few days before and my sins were very similar to the sins I had confessed three weeks before, which were similar to the ones the month before. While I may add and subtract here and there from Confession to Confession, and hopefully improve in certain areas, I repeatedly fall into similar patterns and faults.

Wow… Does God get tired of saying, “Carlos!!! How many times do I have to tell you to stop being lazy and attend to the needs of your family?” “Carlos!!! You’re being selfish again!!!” “Carlos!!! Stop eating, you’re full!!!” “Carlos!!! Patience!!! Those little angels I put in your care are mine!!!”

The thought sent chills down the back of my spine and gave me some perspective on the faults I continuously have to ride my children about.  Are they any worse than mine?

Fortunately, God doesn’t lose His patience like me….

Friday, August 6, 2010

Catholics Come Home

Catholics Come Home: "Coming home has never been easier. We are family. Welcome home."

This is a great site for discovering or rediscovering the Catholic faith.  I particularly like the videos, which have run with much success in different diocese around the U.S.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Live and Let Live?...

No wait; It's not Live and Let Die!...
“Live and let live,” a motto I proclaimed for most of my life…

How idealistic that sounds especially when we are young with no responsibilities except for having fun and living for the moment. Yet now in my mid-40’s, with a wife and three kids, I see how insufficient and distorted that motto really is.

As I look around at the world I am leaving my children, I notice things that I never considered while living by that ill-fated motto. I see a society that is lapsing into a moral morass, with marriages failing mightily, fathers’ roles being devalued by a more and more anti-institution and anti-Christian culture, children growing up in single parent homes, exposed to a violent, self absorbed, sex-and-material-driven and secular world with no sense of “Truth” and families being redefined.

I fear for their future in a society where the moral values that made this country what it is today, are slowly being pushed off a cliff.

And, if we object to the “acceptable” standards of this new “progressive” society, we are accused of being ignorant bigots… Tolerance is a double edged sword…

How sad that morality has been relegated to personal emotions; “if it feels good, do it!” Then again, isn’t that just more of the “me-first” "live and let live" mentality that we are continually sold by the pundits and celebrities on television, books and magazines?

As for me, my life is not about “live and let live” any more. It’s about “live and change the world”… (To the best of my ability!).