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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Episcopal Parish Coming Home to Rome...

An Episcopal parish in Baltimore, Maryland is in the process of coming into "full communion" with the Roman Catholic Church (see article here)

In a letter to parishioners, the rector of Mount Calvary Episcopal Church, Reverend Jason Cantania, announced that parish leaders voted unanimously to leave The Episcopal Church (TEC) and become an Anglican Use parish, which would allow them join Rome, under recent provisions announced by Pope Benedict XVI in his apostolic letter, Anglicorum Coetibus.

The move is part of an ongoing and growing trend of non-Catholic Christians, who are "Crossing the Tiber," (converting to Catholicism), in the last few decades. 

For years, groups of conservative Anglicans petitioned the Vatican to allow them to enter the Roman Catholic Church, while keeping some of their traditional faith practices (which do not deviate from Catholic teachings).  Last year, Pope Benedict accepted their petitions and set the conditions necessary to allow parishes and individual Anglicans, and Episcopalians, to enter the Church.

In his apostolic letter, Pope Benedict stressed the unity that Christ wants for His Disciples:

The Church, a people gathered into the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, was instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, as “a sacrament – a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all people.” Every division among the baptized in Jesus Christ wounds that which the Church is and that for which the Church exists; in fact, “such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages that most holy cause, the preaching the Gospel to every creature.” Precisely for this reason, before shedding his blood for the salvation of the world, the Lord Jesus prayed to the Father for the unity of his disciples.
Meanwhile, in his letter to the parish, Mount Calvary's Reverand Catania states:

This is not about rejecting our past and our heritage, but rather fulfilling it. We have before us the opportunity to carry with us the richness of the Anglican tradition into full communion with the wider Catholic Church. I therefore ask that each of you pray that God's will be done in this place which we all love so dearly as we approach this momentous decision.
Godspeed on your journey home.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Phills' Sweeney Pedals Faith to the Playoff...

Alright, as a NY Mets fan, I am not inclined to root for the Philadelphia Phillies by any stretch of the imagination. They are probably the team I would least root for.
However, as a Catholic man and Christian, I gotta root for Mike Sweeney who is going to the playoffs for the first time in his illustrious 17-year Major League career.

As this article in Catholic Online points out, early in his playing career, Sweeney was told he had zero chance of ever making it to the big leagues.

Downcast and dejected one day at Mass, he noticed a sticker in his Bible of a tandem bicycle (the kind made for two people). It had been given to him at a retreat and had a powerful symbolic message: the person in the front steers and controls the speed, the person in the back simply pedals and trusts the one in the front.

That day, Sweeney decided to pedal as hard as he could and let God sit in the front seat and steer his career.

Not only did he make it to the Major Leagues, he became one of the best pure hitters in professional baseball, hitting as high as .340 in 2002 and .333, with 29 home runs and 144 runs batted in in 2000 (for those who are "baseball challenged," anything above .300 is an outstanding batting average). Sweeney also made the American League All-Star team five times.

Unfortunately, he played most of his career with the "financially challenged" Kansas City Royals and never made it to the playoffs. Now in the twilight of his career, at 37-years-old, he is part of the National League East leading Phillies (last year’s NL Champs) and poised to make it deep into the post season for the first time in his playing career.

But, looking back at the obstacles he overcame, Sweeney says his faith is all the reward he needs and the passion worth living for: 

"As a married man and father of three children, I realize that if I spent only an hour a week in communication with my wife or my kids, our relationship would suffer," he said. "I want to share the depths of my heart with my wife daily, I want to hug my daughter when she cries after scraping her knee and I want to embrace my son after hitting a home run."

"God feels the same way about us," he said." He doesn't desire to spend 45 minutes to an hour a week with us at Mass. He wants it all! He wants us to cry out to him and share our highs and lows with him. He wants us to read His word, spend time in prayer, embrace Him in the Sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. I am very excited about the opportunity to play in the playoffs, but my true joy has always and will always come from Jesus Christ!"
Therefore, when the playoffs begin in a couple of weeks, I'll be rooting for Mike Sweeney (and the Phillies?)... It's still a hard pill to swallow since my Mets wounds are fresh and deep but hey, if Christ took one for the team (His Church, aka His Body), I can take one for an upstanding and loyal member...

Go Phills!!!  (Unless they leave him off the 25-man-roster, then all bets and sentimentalities are off)...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Clean Up on Aisle Seven...

Watch your step...
Ok, so what do you do when your toddler has urinated in the middle of an aisle at a toy store while you were too busy looking at Star Wars action figures to have noticed? I was faced with that dilemma Sunday afternoon, just seconds after my son came up to me saying, “Pee-pee, pee- pee.”

Great, I thought, he is making progress, let me rush him to the bathroom quickly. However, just as fast as the thought crossed my mind, I saw the puddle in the middle of the aisle, between the Spiderman action figures on one side and Woody and the rest of the Toy Story gang on the other.

“Nico…,” I said dejected. “What happened?”

He looked at me with a look that said, “I don’t know.”

As I contemplated what to do next, another customer, a man with a shopping cart, quickly turned into the aisle we were in and rolled over my son’s territory marking on the floor. The man didn’t even notice and, at that point, I was hesitant about offering a confession of what had just happened. He just kept going and turned into the next aisle.

Our son is still potty training. He's making great strides. He usually tells us he has to go to the bathroom before it is too late. However, we were trying something new; going without pull-ups for the first time for an extended period.

Last week, we got a note from his school stating that we (not just us but all parents of Pre-K 3's) need to be weaning them off pull-ups and getting them use to wearing underwear.

After another hectic Saturday of soccer, real estate and his sister’s sixth birthday party, we decided on Sunday to experiment with underwear. Since, he is so good with the pull-ups (number one and number two), and goes most nights without a single drop on his diaper; we thought it would be a cinch.

Well, after attending morning Mass at 9:00am and going to breakfast, we headed to Toys-R-Us to use a couple of gift cards given to my daughter, and to my son (his birthday was last month). So, he actually held out pretty long; until the early afternoon.

Fortunately, we had a change of clothes in the car "just in case,"which turned out to be the first of several clothing changes he needed that day.

The next incident came at the supermarket. Unlike last week, when I went grocery shopping for the entire family on my own (with my eldest daughter and son), this week, it was a family affair: all five of us (more importantly, Mom included!).

We never noticed he had wet his shorts until I lifted him to put him into his car seat (somewhere in Winn Dixie, he left an undetected puddle, which maybe other customers rolled through as well).

Now, I know what you may be thinking. Perhaps, my son is a burgeoning community activist trying to make a statement against big box stores. However, the third and final mishap came that evening at home in the middle of our living room.

So, what did we learn from the experience? Well, first, that it might take longer then we expected to put him strictly on underwear. Second, that a little boy who is potty training and wearing underwear for the first time, will not take the time to leave a store full of toys to go to the bathroom and third, that the floors in supermarkets and department stores, may not be as hygienic as they seem.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Peter Hitchens and "The Rage Against God"

British political writer and commentator Peter Hitchens once followed his older brother’s example, renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens (who along with Richard Dawkins, is part of the “new atheists” group determined to take God out of modern society, with special emphasis on Europe and the United States).

However, somewhere along the line, as Fr. Robert Barron explains in the following commentary (see below), Peter Hitchens understood the realities of a God-less society while covering the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union. There, Hitchens came to the realization that what the Communists had put into practice, by rooting out religion from every aspect of society, and its consequential effects on morality, is similar to the arguments offered by the “new atheists.”

Today, Peter Hitchens is not only Christian (an active member of the Church of England), but is a moral and social conservative that often uses his weekly column, to blast political correctness and the degradation of religion and morality.

His latest book, The Rage Against God, is the topic of this week’s Fr. Barron commentary.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Learning A Lesson, While Teaching My Daughter...

“Dad-dy,” she said with great enthusiasm as I walked in the door from work.

It actually caught me by surprise. My 9-yr-old daughter is not often so affectionate with me.

However, Wednesday night, as soon as I walked through the door, she came up to me and gave me a great big hug; probably the longest, and most heart-felt, embrace she has given me in recent months.

I immediately realized that we were having a rare and special moment.

“Thank you for this, Lord,” I prayed in my head as I held her tightly in my arms.

As a father, there is nothing more rewarding then the acknowledgement of love from my children. It is the validation of a job well done as a parent, who, along with my wife, is the primary teacher of my children.

“I got a 100 on my tests,” she told me proudly.

On Tuesday night, I helped her study for her religion and social studies tests. We went over her notes and workbooks, as I shared some insights and explanations on the subjects (Bible basics and Florida geography).  After reviewing each subject, I asked her several questions, which she answered correctly. I then told her to brush her teeth and go to bed. That was it. That is all I did. It took about 25-30 minutes.

Yet, based on the reaction, I must have done more than that in her eyes. I paid attention to her. I gave her one-on-one time that, with two younger siblings, is hard to come by on a daily basis. I shared with her the greatest commodity I have, love.

I will cherish that moment of unadulterated love locked in my daughter's arms.

However, not more than two hours later, I was reprimanding her because, after dinner, she was waiting for me to start studying for another test.

“Oh, no!" I told her as I raised my voice more then I intended to,"You are not going to wait for me to study every night. When you go off to high school and college, Daddy is not going to be there to study with you! You have to learn to study on your own!”

She was downcast by my outburst.

Thursday night, during a discussion with friends, I was able to reflect on this incident. Sure, in the realities of this competitive "dog-eat-dog" world we live in, I may be right in my assessment of her study habits but, just after having made a welcomed progression in our relationship, I should have handled it with more sensitivity and grace. I took one-step forward and took three steps back.

Perhaps the reason for such rare moments, like the embrace we shared upon my arrival, is not my daughter's lack of affection; as it is her reflection of my standoffishness.

The teaching lesson with my daughter became a learning one for me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Changing Our Perspective on Prayer...

Last week, Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski wrote a powerful article on prayer; a topic near and dear to me since slightly over four years ago, prayer served as the catalyst for my reversion to faith.

But for some, prayer can be intimidating and often difficult, especially if they feel their prayers in the past were offered in vain. In this sense, instead of bringing them closer to God, it can lead to estrangement.

That is exactly what the Archbishop addresses. He states that often, we try to impose our will on God and convince Him that what we are asking for is what we need:

Too often, however, we fall into a “Pagan way” of prayer: negotiating with God, we seek to “bribe” him by making promises we know that we cannot or will not fulfill; or we seek to wear him down with our insistent pleadings. How many times do we come across a person who has lost faith because of a prayer that apparently went unanswered? More likely, prayers were answered but not the way the person wanted them answered. If we pray: “My will be done”, the Lord who knows better than us what we truly need, might answer: “No”. And such a “no” does not mean that God doesn’t love us or that he has abandoned us. As any parent knows, “No” many times is the more loving response even when a child wants to hear “Yes”.
A Christian’s prayer is like trying to bring a boat into dock. When a boat gets close to the dock or pier, someone throws out a rope (or a line, as those who are familiar with boating would insist.) The line is thrown out on to the dock and is tied to a piling. Then, the man in the boat pulls on the line – and in pulling the line, the boat comes up alongside the dock. Pulling the line does not move the dock, it moves the boat. And pulling on that line more often than not requires great effort and perseverance – especially if the waters are particularly choppy.
That, the Archbishop argues, is the key to prayer; helping us nurture our relationship with God and understanding His Will not ours. It’s not about changing God, it’s about changing us.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Missteps of First Time Grocery Shopping...

I nudged my 9-year-old daughter with my elbow as I noticed the final tally on the cash register: $161.57 (Yikes! That’s before I handed the cashier the coupons my wife had given me, which brought down the total to $159.27… woo-hoo!).

My daughter looked at the digital numbers on the register and just opened her eyes and mouth in a look of horror, that, while she didn’t say it, meant, "Mommy is going to kill us!”

Yesterday was my first venture into grocery shopping for my family.

Sure, I often go get milk, dog food, pampers and all the “honey, can you pick up…” items on the way home from work (toilet paper comes to mind), but I never had undertaken the entire week’s groceries for the family.

I actually volunteered (or, in retrospect, may have been volunteered… I’m not sure).

One night during dinner last week, my wife was expressing her frustration about all the chores she has to continuously do on a daily basis (laundry, cooking, picking up after the kids, supervising homework, baths, etc.). She volunteered, not for the first time, that her father used to do the weekly grocery shopping at her house when she was growing up to help out her mother (while the thought of going to the market didn’t exactly thrill me, the thought of coming home with some of the “goodies” I like did). So, I inadvertently blurted out, “I can do that…” (Did I have a choice?)

But, I didn’t expect to be thrown in the game so quickly. On Sunday, our younger daughter (the social butterfly) had yet another party to attend. It was a “spa” party. So, my wife took her and I stayed with our older daughter and son.

My wife suggested I go grocery shopping while she was out (mind you, I’m not a Dolphins fan but the party coincided with the game, and the Mets game, which on another day would have been a great opportunity for me to lounge around on my couch, and have the kids go play in their room).

But hey, I’m trying to be a better husband and father that sets an example for my kids (nobody said the Christian walk was an easy one). “Sure.” I said.

My wife proceeded to go on the internet, look up all the weekly specials at Publix, and hand me an elaborate list of all the things we needed (including quantities, details and the buy-1-get-1-free specials). I gave the list to my daughter, who placed it on a clipboard and we were off (I never actually looked at the list).

We worked our way through the aisles, with my daughter looking at the clipboard diligently and scratching off whenever we placed an item in the cart (a little trooper given a mission) and telling me what we needed to get next, while I looked for things that I caught my interest; like Jell-o chocolate pudding, which we haven’t had in ages. (She was actually very good at keeping me focused on the things we needed. Obviously she’s been shopping with Mom before because she knew where most things on the list were).

I’ll admit, about halfway through the supermarket, I started to get antsy and wanted to finish up as quickly as possible. “Is that it?” I kept asking.  “No, we still have to finish the second and third page.” (Second and third page? How much stuff am I getting? I usually come in for the basics, and maybe wine, and finish in 10-15 minutes!). Patience, I thought. I did volunteer, didn't I? (not to mention, that I have been praying to be less self centered)

It actually gave me a chance to spend some time with my daughter without the distractions of others, TV or the computer. Fortunately, my son was sleepy and didn’t complain about being in the shopping cart, which is often the case. The worse he did was poking his finger into the meat several times and wanting to grab things along the way.

Over an hour and a cart full of groceries later, we were checking out. We completed the list, with a couple of substitutions and additions (although the substitutions did not sit too well with my wife. She wanted ground turkey, not ground beef and American cheese instead of Cheddar!).

When my wife does the groceries, we usually hover somewhere in the $100-$120 range so apparently the few deviations from the list augmented the bill slightly.

Oh well, live and learn; I’ll do better next time.

Let's hope shopping at Publix is still a pleasure next time around...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It Takes Faith to be an Atheist...

What a sad state of mind, it must be, to live without hope; with no God to turn to or aspiration after death. 

Fr. Robert Barron's latest commentary deals with yet another book on atheism that is being released this weekend to coincide with Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to England (see video below).

The commentary reminds me of a discussion I led on the subject last year and the themes that made it one of the most interesting and livelier meetings of our men's group.

Without God, is there a meaning of life?

Think about it. We, who believe, aspire to an afterlife and a union with our Creator in Heaven. Life for us is not about this world; although we are called to do our part here on earth. Our life is based on faith in a next world. In the Gospel, St. Paul states, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the certainty of things not seen."

But, if we are just matter and all that is real is what we see, as atheists believe, then, we are born, we live our life for 70-80 years (if we're lucky).  We work for most of those years so that we can buy things; a house, a status car, fancy dinners and vacations with friends, a flat screen high definition TV, an iPhone, a computer and all the material items we think will bring us fulfillment.  We get married (or not), we have kids (or not), and then we die (a given!). That's it. What is our purpose? (to buy things?)  What is our worth? (the things we own when we die?)

Would there be a reason for morality? (We're going to die anyway, right?  Let's throw caution to the wind and fulfill bodily pleasures, stepping on anyone we can along the way because it doesn't really matter in any way) Yet, most of those who at one time or another live that way, as I did, realize the emptiness this leaves within us (unless our conscious has been violated and distorted over and over to the point where we no longer have one).  Happiness is never found through materialism or bodily pleasures no matter how hard we try.  So, we keep searching for more.  It's a condition of humanity.

If all I am living for is here and now until I'm six feet under and eaten by worms, what would be the sense of loving? (Why risk getting hurt?) Of helping the poor and sick? (Survival of the fittest, baby!) Of caring for the elderly? (They had their turn, now it's mine) Of teaching our children to right from wrong? (Then again, if there is no God, is there a right and wrong? What would be the measuring stick of right and wrong?)

Wouldn't right and wrong be irrelevant?

Think about the consequence of that. (You might already know people that think this way.)

Our moral and societal laws are based on common understanding of right and wrong. That common understanding derives from natural law, which is based on God (think of the Ten Commandments; murder, theft, perjury).

In an atheist’s mind, there are no absolutes. Everything is relevant to the individual. Therefore, right and wrong depends on the interpretation and perception of that particular individual.  

Yet we, as a society, agree on certain right and wrong.  We agree that Adolf Hitler was wrong to kill 6 million Jews (not to mention the tens of millions more because of WW2). We agree that it was wrong for Joseph Stalin to starve about 20 million in Russia and for Mao Tse Tung to starve more than 40 million in China. (Some accuse religion of being a main cause of death and war in world history yet the most prominent and brutal annihilation of humanity has come from those devoid of God).

Then, let us also consider that science, which is the only "reality" atheists believe in, contradicts their own philosophy. The First Law of Thermodynamics states that nothing begets nothing. Matter and energy do not create themselves. In other words, it can never be proven that our world was spontaneously created from nothing (unless there was a First Cause).

Now, the Second Law of Thermodynamics is the law of entropy.  It states that the world, like all life forms in it, is slowly deteriorating from the time it came to being (birth) until the time it ends (death).  In other words our world had a finite beginning and will have a finite end.  So, if the world had a beginning and it did not come from nothing, where did it come from?

Add to this the fact that the Theory of Evolution has never been proven beyond a theory (yet kids in public school are taught it as if it were fact).  The thought of the complexities (such as the human eye) and orginality of the human body developing over millions of years through genetic mutations, starting from a primordial soup takes a lot of faith (even if it were ever proven, science could never prove how the world came into being from nothing, it's unscientific!).

And, that's not even considering the complexity and order of the universe, the galaxy, our solar system and nature. Maybe it’s just me but it’s hard to understand those who believe that randomness played any part in this universal design.

Therefore, it is more reasonable to believe in a Creator (God), then it is to believe there is none.

Today, more people profess a rejection of God because it is a convenient way to live without restrictions and partake in immoral behavior. But, as the saying goes, “there is no such thing as an atheist in a fox hole or in a plane going down.”

A 17th Century French philosopher, Blaise Pascal once said (Pascal's wager):

“If we live like there is a God and there isn’t; we have lost nothing. If we live like there is no God and there is; we have lost everything.”

I'll choose losing nothing over losing everything any time.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Assassination of Pope Foiled?...

Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command agents arrested five men in what London's Telegraph is reporting to be an apparent Islamic terrorist assassination plot against Pope Benedict XVI.

The men were working as street cleaners in London, about of mile from a location the Pope was expected to appear, when taken into custody at about 5:45am.

Pope Benedict's security was reviewed and his itinerary will continue as planned.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Convictions Over Party Politics...

I have been accused by a couple of co-workers of being sooo Republican.

I argue that I’m not so Republican; I’m pro-life and believe in traditional family values.

Now, given that the Democratic Party has made pro-choice (otherwise known as pro-abortion) a fundamental issue of their politics, then that would make me a Republican. (I was once a Democrat, which is not surprising considering the liberal indoctrination that students get from professors in universities, from the media and from the culture.  But as I tell people, I eventually grew out of it.)

However, I am disgusted and outraged with the GOP leadership today.

It appears party politics trumps the conservative values that the party says it represents.

In Delaware, the GOP leadership backed a “moderate” Republican. Michael Castle, a veteran politician, backs cap and trade and is pro-abortion. But, the Republican establishment backed him because they consider he was “more electable.”

Christine O'Donnell, a social conservative, shocked the political establishment with the biggest surprise of the night on Tuesday by defeating Castle with a grassroots campaign that got the support of the Tea Party Express, Sarah Palin and pro-life groups, among others.

The message was clear. Conservative voters are tired of the "more of the same" party politics and are looking to ruffle some feathers and get back to more conservative values that the Republican Party has been drifting away from in recent years.

However, not only did the Republican leadership back Castle and ran an aggressive campaign to discredit O'Donnell, now, to make matters worse, after she pulled off the stunning victory, they are refusing to help her campaign because they don’t think she can win. It’s like a child that didn’t get to do what they wanted to do and would rather throw a tantrum and spoil the fun for the other kids than do what they want to do.

But then again, these are the same GOP leaders, who originally backed Governor Charlie Crist, over the more conservative Marco Rubio, because they thought Crist was more electable (now the latest polls show Rubio ahead of Crist by as much as 16% and as low as 11% with 48 days before the general election).

Is that what party politics has come down to? Is it strictly about gaining or retaining power, regardless of whether a candidate believes in the values that the party promotes?

I’m a purist. I support orthodoxy in the Church and social conservatism in my party candidates.  

I would rather lose an election and stand by my convictions than win and have to compromise what I stand for. Am I being too idealistic?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Losing Our Sense of Reverence...

“This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Happy are those who are called to His Supper.”

“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

Silence… Peace… Solemnity…

I go deeper into prayer…


Conga?… “C’mon shake your body baby do the conga, I know you can't control yourself any longer.  Feel the rythm of the music getting stronger... " Fortunately, it didn’t get to the instrumentals…

A cell phone in Mass!

Disrupting the serenity of prayer as the faithful prepared to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in the Eucharist!

Is there anything sacred anymore?

In today’s society where everyone has to be “plugged in” to their cell phones, laptops, desktops, Blackberries, iPhones, on emails, text, Facebook, Twitter, the internet, etc., and where more people are willing to stand in line overnight for a chance to buy the latest technological gadget than attend church on Sunday, many of us appear to have lost our sense of reverence.

Is it too much to ask to turn off our cell phones for the twenty to thirty minutes it takes for a weekday morning Mass? Or better yet, could we, please, leave our cell phone in the car?

Now, I know I am being a bit unfair to the individual who interrupted my prayer one recent morning. The fact that the person was attending a weekday Mass before work is an indication that they take their faith seriously. But, it was so inopportune that, before the final blessing, our parish priest took the time to make a passionate appeal for restraint from cell phones at church. He said, “at least have the courtesy to put it on vibrate mode.”

Although, by the Grace of God, it is still rare in our parish, occasionally you will hear a cell phone ringing during Mass. Or, you notice someone texting a message.  On extreme occasions, I have even seen people actually answering their calls and talking, albeit briefly.

A couple of years ago, I remember a time while the priest was delivering his homily, a loud cell phone went off towards the front of the church. The priest paused. The phone kept ringing. The priest waited for the ring to stop. Everyone in the church started looking in the direction of the ringing. Apparently, the person who was getting the call felt embarrassed and didn’t want to admit the cell phone belonged to them, so the phone kept ringing unanswered. Ring… Ring… Ring… It appeared to go on endlessly. When it finally stopped, the priest said something to the effect of “the things you see in Mass these days…” and he shook his head.


Why have we lost our sense of reverence? Why have kids lost respect for elders? Why have people lost faith and respect for authority?

Is it the constant criticism reported in the news? Is it that we parents are so busy with our own lives that our children grow up without discipline or respect; even for God?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weekend with the Kids; While Mom is Away...

There are few things I enjoy more than the one on three time I spend with my kids whenever my wife goes on a spiritual retreat (three times a year).

This past weekend was one of those weekends.

Sure, they can be very hectic weekends and, at times, a bit stressful but, as the commercial says, the rewards are priceless.

On Saturday, we had a very busy and tight schedule. My older daughter had jazz dance class from 11:00am to 2pm.  My younger daughter had a birthday party from 1:00pm to 3pm (as I mentioned last week, my kindergartener has a very busy social calendar this month). I had to show a property in Kendall at noon (although real estate is not my main line of work, I use my license to help my wife whenever she's tied up). And finally, we had a get-together with some of the husbands, whose wives were at the retreat, and their kids, to watch the University of Miami game against Ohio State at 3:30pm (while the kids went in the pool).

I was able to coordinate everything well and dropped off, picked up and were at the right places at the right time.

Watching the game however was a bit stressful for me, not only because the Hurricanes were giving it away, but because I had to keep a close watch on my 3-year-old son. He took swimming lessons over the summer and thinks he can swim with the big kids (he's fearless), but still barely stays afloat and swallows more water than I would prefer. Fortunately, our host had a couple of arm floaters and, after putting them on him, he was fine.  Even so, there was never a comfortable moment for me.  All I needed was to have a mishap with my son while my wife was away. I have never lived down the time I let my older daughter roll off our bed, where I had left her to throw out some papers, when she was 6 months old, which scared us so much that we had to call the rescue. Or the time, when my son was a couple of months older and rolled off our bed while I was sound asleep next to him (They both were fine.  Babies are resilient but the reminders have been haunting me ever since).

Anyway, the two cigars and case of beer we drank, took some of the edge off (but never fully).

All right, so I’ll admit, when my wife is away, I don't have the discipline that she does (come to think of it, when she is around, I still don't have the discipline that she does). Both Friday and Saturday nights, we did not have dinner until after 9:00pm and they did not bathe until Sunday morning (before Mommy got home!). Hey, they were swimming in a pool for about three or four hours on Saturday, doesn’t that count?

But, there is nothing more satisfying than when my girls are fighting over who gets to sleep in Daddy’s bed (that my son was sleeping with me was a given but the girls took turns one night each). Or, when the four of us were lying in bed together Sunday morning, as my son and older daughter jousted for space on my chest and stomach to cuddle up closer to me and my son exasperatedly barked at her, "Manu, Papi es mio."

It is in living these moments, where their attention is, by default if nothing else, focused entirely on me and mine, maybe also by default, is focused entirely on them, that God gives me one of the greatest opportunities to imitate His Fatherhood by showing them unconditional love and being the shepherd that I was meant to be.

Thank you, Lord...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

Keep the Dream Alive... has launched its latest commercial urging voters to mobolize this November.

The commercial is the first of a series of videos the organization will be introducing over the next six weeks.

Group members say their purpose to BE, as their name suggest, the Catholic vote by educating, inspiring and mobilizing millions of Catholics across America (68 million), and around the world (1 billion), to work collectively and help renew political institutions and the culture.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fr. Barron comments on "Eat Pray Love"

I haven't read the book, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and, considering it's a chick-flick and my wife and I are relegated to watching Rated G movies with our kids, I probably won't see the movie, staring Julia Roberts, any time soon either.

However, Fr. Barron makes the point that all of us are searching for spiritual truth, whether we know it or not, and that truth will never be found until we detach ourselves from the material and center ourselves on God.

Misguided Expression Against Radical Islam...

There has been a tremendous amount of news coverage in recent days on the Gainesville Pastor that is planning to burn the Quran on the ninth anniversary of the September 11th terror attack on the U.S., as a protest against Radical Islamic Extremists.  

The public outcry has been overwhelming coming from celebrities, to world leaders, to religious leaders from all faiths, the mainstream media and let's not forget the religion-embracing Black Panther Party.  The White House, the Pentagon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and General David Petraeus have all condemned the planned destruction of the Muslim holy book. 

On Wednesday, Pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center (with a congregation of about 50 members) said that despite the pressure and criticism, he has no intention of backing down.  He also stated that he has received many messages of encouragement and support, including one from a U.S. soldier, who according to the Pastor, said the military was behind him.

While I may disagree with the provocative and highly polarizing expression of defiance, I also feel the issue is more complex than meets the eye and leaves me a bit queasy about the attention it has garnered.

I remember a couple of years ago, when a University of Minnesota professor carried out his threat to desecrate the Holy Eucharist, who Catholics believe is the Body and Blood of Christ, and encouraged others to do the same without much fanfare, with the exception of Catholic blogs and publications. 

Is that comparable to American lives being at risk?  I'm not suggesting that however, I believe Pastor Jones is getting more publicity than he deserves.  I also see somewhat of a double standard in this controvery and the one generated by the New York City Ground Zero mosque. 

On one hand, you have those who are insulted by the views expressed by Jones because they are offensive to many in our society (let's put aside the threat to the soldiers for a minute since the controversy began before General Petraeus made any comment).

On the other, you have an Imam in New York that, while he may not be offending the 71% of the nation that opposes the mosque, he certainly is provoking and, at the very least, offending some of the families of the victims of the Twin Towers attack.  His plan is to build a mega-mosque at Ground Zero, but the passionate outcry from celebrities, the media, the White House and other high ranking U.S. Government officials has been less obvious (to put it mildly).

Is it because one deals with, what may be viewed, as a right-wing extremist, while the other a liberal one?  Or, is it because we are told that the Quran burning could endanger Americans around the world?

Are we afraid of Islam?  Should we be, considering the protests the news on the Quran burning sparked in streets in several Muslim countries in the Middle East, where they called for "Death to America" and burned effigies of Pastor Jones and President Obama?  Are there more radical extremists around the world then we care to admit?   

The questions are worth pondering because, while I oppose Pastor Jones' method and prefer him to not go through with his plan, for the sake of our military men and women who risk their lives everyday protecting our country, and for the sake of decency and the love that Christians should demonstrate and embrace, we do live in a nation where freedom of expression and freedom of religion should never be compromised... And we should never submit or be ruled by fear...

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Mouthful of Fish Tacos and Earful of Philosophy...

It was another crazy day of running around; we woke up in a haste on Saturday morning to make it to church in time for 9:00a Confession. My wife had a couple of real estate showings starting at 10:00a, before driving to a rental listing in Kendall to take photos and leave a lockbox.

Meanwhile, I took the girls to breakfast, dropped off our friends’ daughter, who slept over our house, and then drove to Miami Springs to pick up our son. (He stayed overnight at my parents’ house Friday so that my wife and I could have a date night, while the girls attended a Camp Rock II watch party with friends.)

The kids and I met up with my wife at about noon and, after a short stop at a bookstore, we headed to another sales listing before going to a birthday party for one of my 6-year-old daughter’s classmates at 2:30p (the first of a month-long hectic social calendar for our kindergartener).

Since we didn’t have much time, we decided to stop for a quick bite at a small Mexican restaurant on our way to the party. The restaurant is a quaint quasi fast-food place; the kind where you order at the counter and they bring the food out to you while you find a table, which are not always readily available.

Fortunately, we went kind of late for the Saturday lunch crowd, which had waned more than usual. We found a table in the back of the place, near the condiments counter and the soda dispenser, right next to another table where a couple sat with two other women and a toddler.

Before our meals arrived and we pounced on the complimentary nacho chips (since we were all hungry), we paused for a brief prayer, which we accustom to do, whenever we eat together as a family.

Shortly, after we finished, we were unavoidably privy to a very spirited conversation at the table next to us, which afterwards my wife and I wondered if it had been prompted by our Sign of the Cross and subsequent prayer.  It's not like we were trying to hear what they were saying but, because of our proximity and their loud voices, we really couldn't help but to hear.

The older woman in the group (probably in her early 50’s) was talking to the younger women (I want to say early 40’s) about the state of our society; making the argument that we have lost our way in America. However, not in the sense that I would describe our waywardness, instead, she insisted that we are becoming a nation of intolerance (she used the term “white supremacists”), where people are constantly interfering with others’ rights to live life the way they choose. (The old “live and let live” perspective that I wholeheartedly disagree with (see here) and which is commonly reinforced in various forms in the media.

The older woman said, “Things are so much better in Europe. Everyone respects one another and allows others to live the way they want to live.” (Funny she would mention that, because Europe is suffering through one of the greatest sociocultural crisis in recent history, where the nurturing of secularism and relativism and the minimization of Christian principals, is leading to a decay in moral standards, a devaluation of the family, and a dwindling population, which experts are very concerned about.) (see here and here)

Somewhere, the conversation deviated to the raising of boys.

The vocal one in the group began to rant about how our culture indoctrinates men from the time they are two years old against crying and they grow up to be callus and insensitive men who never show emotions because "men don't cry." “What’s wrong with men crying,” she asks, “but we train them from childhood that they can’t express their feelings.”

Look, anybody that knows me understands that I’m probably as emotional as any man and in certain situations am not afraid to show my emotions and leave myself vulnerable.  But, having that said, I’m definitely not going to encourage my 3-year-old son to be crying all the time because I might suppress his “feelings.” I sure don’t want to raise a sissy boy who will get more grief for crying while growing up than from controlling his tears over silliness.

As my wife and I are working through our fish tacos (which, by the way, were excellent), the older woman continued, “Just like I tell my sons, all religions are the same. Some kneel, some stand, some sit, some sing, some have more rules, some have less but they are all the same. It really doesn’t matter from one religion to another.” (Was that meant for us to hear? It was certainly loud enough for most of the tables around us to hear).

Ok., (these are fighting words) I was biting my lip at that point (although trying to concentrate on the tasty tacos, refried beans and rice and ignore the unsavory conversation at the table next to us). I briefly considered jumping into the discussion (although it sounded more like a monologue since the younger women were basically listening and agreeing and the man was totally staying out of it) but then thought better than to get into an argument about religion with a total stranger at a restaurant in front of my children (who were oblivious to the entire conversation).

I can get a bit passionate and animated and no doubt, this woman would not have taken lightly to my objection (it is funny how progressive-minded people call social conservatives intolerant but try to disagree with their views and see how tolerant and open-minded they really are to opposing views. Only they are right and we, the “narrow-minded,” are wrong.)

Her argument on religion strikes at the heart of what I feel is one of the ills that most maligns our society; truth has been pushed, distorted, and diluted to such a point that, for many, it is unrecognizable. Morality, which is based on truth, becomes a matter of personal preference, according to its acceptance by the culture.

The problem with this argument, known as moral relativism, which claims there is no absolute truth, is that if there is no absolute truth then the person arguing for it, is probably wrong.

His truth becomes his. My truth becomes mine and there is no right and wrong. Then it becomes an argument of which truth is truer; an exercise in futility.

However, when we look at the world in which we live, there are truths that we all agree with, such as injustices against oppressed sectors of society. Today, racism and slavery are universally rejected as wrong. However, at one time in early American history, they were accepted and endorsed. So, because they were accepted, were they right?

Because the Taliban don't think women should get an education and that is tolerated by certain segments of their culture, is it right for them to poison girls in schools in Afghanistan?  Wouldn’t that, according to the moral relativist, be subjective to their understanding of truth and what their society accepts?

So, you see, there is right and wrong and there is an Absolute Truth (which I call God); not a God that is in every living thing, as some believe, who confuse a love for creation as a love for the Creator.  God can't be molded to our preferences and personal whims.  He is an immovable constant and stands for an absolute right and wrong.  We adjust to God.  God does not adjust to us.

Abraham Lincoln once stated, "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right."

At the end of the day, we can never convince someone that is already convinced in their “absolute” truth, nor can we debate and force our beliefs on those who don’t want to hear it.

All we can do is to serve as examples of the right by the way we live our lives and fight against the wrong to the best of our ability.

Hopefully, with God’s help, our Europe-society-loving, sensitive man and any-religion-will-do lunch neighbor will eventually see the light.

As, we finished our meals, and got ready to leave, the man, who had been quite through the entire conversation, turned to us and said, “Your children are very well behaved.”

Yes, they are well behaved, I thought, because we teach them right from wrong and to believe in an Absolute Truth.

“Most of the time,” my wife said, as we got up and left.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Living the Faith on a High Wire...

A month ago, I started writing this faith blog, which I named, Living the Faith on a High Wire but I never explained why.

The imagery actually comes, believe it or not, from a 19th Century Atheist German Philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, who among others, is said to have influenced Adolf Hitler.

Nietzsche used the high wire image in a metaphor, where he describes Christianity as a man walking on a high wire. During his story, a clown appears and jumps on the high wire, making the man lose his balance and shudder in fear. The clown continues teasing and challenging the man until he falls and dies. Nietzsche used the metaphor to demonstrate the uncertainty of those who believe in God and that in the end, we would realize, He doesn’t exist. Nietzsche became famous for proclaiming the “death" of God. (Let’s put aside that fact that Nietzsche had a mental break down and died in an insane asylum.)

While disagreeing with his conclusion, I do see an interesting truth in Nietzsche’s metaphor. Today’s Christian walk of faith is much like that of a man walking on high wire, in a society determined to make us lose our balance and fall; thus the high wire concept for the blog was born.

But, as I thought of what I could contribute to a “faith” blog, I realized that I’m not a theologian. I’m not an expert, or scholar, or clergy or have a Master’s Degree in philosophy. All I am is a lay Catholic, with an interest in learning and living the faith to the best of my ability.

That is what this blog will be mostly about. I will write about my own struggles, perspective, observations and attempts at living the faith as a husband, father, son, brother and Christian that, while born into the Catholic faith, didn’t really know what that meant until slightly over four years ago. Since then, I have been passionately and devotedly studying, learning and, with God’s help, growing in faith.

Though still a novice, I like to think of myself as a student of the Church; its teachings, its defense, its logic, its history and its beauty.

So, my attempt at living the faith will serve as a big part of what this blog will address.

As I mentioned before, living the faith in today’s society is not easy and requires a great deal of equilibrium to keep from falling flat on our face.

God-fearing people of faith are often marginalized and maligned by a, more and more, secular and, at times, outright anti-Judeo-Christian culture. All you have to do is turn on the TV, go to a movie, or pick up a newspaper and you will hear and read blatant attacks on Christianity, religion and God.

Other multi-media sources, in a more subtle, but just as damaging way, attempt to be “politically correct” and inoffensive to the point where Truth is diluted to the point of confusion. As a result, many believers have lost perspective on what is true and even what truth IS.

So, God and organized religion, with claims of an “Absolute Truth”, is shunned, sneered at and kept at a distance. Instead of a unifying source of hope and love, God is often portrayed as a dividing force, a taboo topic to avoid and easily ridicule.

The separation of God from society begins with our children. Prayer, and anything associated with God, which was part of the American fabric until the early 1960's, has been rooted out from public schools. In its stead, kids learn a non-religious worldview, where God has nothing to do with reality and only science and materialism matter.

In doing this, our children learn a skewed perspective of humanity. They learn about the physical world but not the spiritual; the body but not the soul, which, according to those of us who believe, is what separates us from animals. If you think about it, in public schools, our kids are learning basic atheist doctrine since they are taught that humanity is nothing more than evolved animals.

Meanwhile, pop-culture icons and celebrities on TV, movies and the music industry continuously take pot shots and mock sacred symbols, God and religion; showing a special disdain for the Catholic Church, the largest Christian institution, with over 1 billion faithful around the world. Is it a wonder why many kids stop practicing their faith by the time they get to high school?

And, schools are not the only place where God has been removed from society. Anti-religious groups file lawsuits to remove a cross in the desert, prayer from military services, the Ten Commandments from courthouses, references to God in our currency and any part of public life in the name of “freedom”.

In the meantime, while God is being extricated from American society, the family is suffering a slow and painful death with divorce rate surpassing 50%, including among Christians. As marriages dissolve, the family is being redefined and left vulnerable to the influences of society.

Pope John Paul II once wrote, "As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live”.

Still some wonder why morality, commitment, and faith have deteriorated and our children are growing up in a materialistic, self-centered and hardened world. Self-restraint, love, and sacrifice, virtues which made this country what it is today, have given way to self-pleasure, indifference and selfishness and the almighty dollar has gained more relevance then the Almighty God.

So those of us who openly profess, live, and defend our faith are sometimes labeled "religious fanatics" and walk on a spiritual high wire; balancing what society accepts and promotes as normal behavior with what Judeo-Christian morality and ethics accept and teach. Living the faith today is often counter-cultural and leaves one open to criticism and scorn.

One of the greatest Christian writers and philosophers in modern times, G.K. Chesterton, once wrote, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

This blog will attempt to go against the stream. While my perspective will be aligned with Catholic teachings, I hope people of good will and other faith backgrounds can identify with the issues and struggles that I face and can appreciate my observations, perspective, and comments. Aside from my thoughts, I will also use links to writings, videos and other sources that may be of interest.

In God’s Glory, let’s proceed…

[photo credit]

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mass Communion...

Catholic blogger Matthew Warner makes a great point in one of his recent blogs (see here).

He indicates that there are 350,000 Catholic Masses celebrated each day around the world.

That means that there are 4 priests consecrating the Eucharist every second of every day. 

And, on a deeper level, if you consider that we, who believe in the Real Presence of Jesus, are united though the Eucharist Meal, not only with Christ, His Father and Holy Spirit (where One is present, all are) but with His Body (the Church), including those living here on earth, the millions of souls who have already been united with God through the ages and are now living in Heaven and those who are being processed "through fire," you're talking about one big time love fest.

Now, that is Mass Communion...