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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ongoing Battle v. Evil Gets Hollywood's Attention in The Rite...

Anthony Hopkins as Fr. Lucas in The Rite
When my wife and I first got married, we often enjoyed going to the movies or renting a film at Blockbusters, ordering pizza and opening a bottle of wine. We were up to date with the latest Hollywood movies, news, and celebrities on the scene.

However, thirteen years and three kids later, our movie watching has been relegated to animated Disney, Dreamworks and Pixar films, with the exception of the Chronicles of Narnia series. To be sure, we are more current on the careers of "Woody" and "Princess Fiona" than James Franco or Scarlett O'Hara (Ooops.  Several hours after posting this, my wife pointed out that it's Johansson not O'Hara, infamous character of Gone With the Wind fame).

So movies come in and out of theatres without us ever going to see them, unless they are kid-friendly (Two weeks ago, we finally watched Avatar and The Book of Eli without the kids, after getting ATT U-Verse installed in our home).

However, a recent film has peaked our interest.

I'll be honest, when I first saw a preview of The Rite, which opens in theatres this weekend, I was cautiously optimist about its release.

The movie seems like a sure blockbuster, starring Anthony Hopkins as a veteran Catholic exorcist, a role Hopkins recently described as his best movie role since playing Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lamb, one of my all-time favorite movies.

The Rite is inspired by true events described in a book by journalist Matt Baglio on the experiences of Father Gary Thomas, who served as technical advisor for the film.

However, considering Hollywood's often negative portrayal of the Roman Catholic Church, I was a bit hesitant in embracing the film wholeheartedly.

My concerns were put to rest after reading a review on Catholic Online.
The producers contacted Michael Petroni, who was one of the writers for "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" to write the screenplay. Petroni, a practicing Catholic, coordinated the development of his screenplay with Baglio, who was writing the book at about the same time.

"I wanted to make the script as accurate as possible," Petroni said, but "I was often ratcheting back many of the stories" regarding the exorcism accounts.

Director Mikael Håfström ("1408," "Evil") accepted the invitation to direct, intrigued by the fact that he would be working from facts, not just someone's imagination. While the film is focused on exorcism, he also believes that "this story is about a young man finding himself and finding his way."

In preparation for the film, Håfström attended some exorcisms in Rome. He was not actually in the room but stayed in the waiting room and could hear what was taking place.

This kind of first-hand experience endowed the director with the ability to create a true-to-life texture in the film regarding the surroundings and environment found where exorcisms are held.
According to the review, Anthony Hopkins is outstanding as Father Lucas and Colin O'Donoghue, who is making his Hollywood film debut by playing seminarian Michael Kovak, holds his own.

The Rite is not a horror film in the traditional sense of the term but more a psychological thriller. Moreover, it deals with a subject matter that is foreign to most in today's culture; the true existence of evil in the world and God's ultimate victory over its influences.

I'm definitely planning a date night with my wife to go see this one...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sleepless Nights and Parental Bliss...

I love being a dad.  In fact, apart from God and my wife, there is nothing greater in my life than my children (I'm sure not unique to most dads).  To think that God created three lives through the marital union between my wife and me is pretty profound. 

However, as most fathers and mothers will tell you, parenting takes a toll; and one of its casualties is sleep.

For the last five years or so, our bedroom probably gets more incoming overnight traffic than Grand Central Station.

Some nights, it's my three-year-old son who wakes up in the middle of the night and makes his way into our bed.

Other times it's my six-year-old daughter who manages to interrupt our sleep by climbing between my wife and me.

Sometimes, it's both (although, we usually send our six-year-old back with her tail between her legs if her brother beats her to our bed). However, on more than one occasion, when she arrives first, we have made an exception and squeezed in when the boy enters the picture (I know, she probably thinks that life is unfair, and it is!).

One night, our six-year-old refused to leave and instead, curled up below our feet sideways in order to stay on our bed. I didn’t even realize she was there until I woke up to go to the gym.

Therefore, sleeping with my wife over the last several years sometimes feels like a kickboxing match; slaps and elbows to the head, punches in the face, kicks to the kidney, and the ever so gentle, but just as effective, head butts.

In my case, since I sleep in the Bermuda Triangle side of the bed, where you get in and have a hard trouble getting out because of the sink hole (we've been meaning to buy a new mattress for years and it doesn’t matter how many times we rotate it), a part of a little body is regularly encrusted under my right shoulder, forcing me to either lift my arm, which eventually causes my arm to fall asleep, or deal with the discomfort. I usually hold it for as long as I can and then just shove whatever kid is responsible towards their mom (hey, it’s sleepless nights survival of the fittest!).

I know, what you are thinking; I would never let my child take over my bed. Yeah, right. That worked for our first child. We were in our 30s and had not been worn down by the sleepless nights for the previous half decade. Our poor first child never got a chance to sleep in our bed like her siblings, at least not as much or as long. We would kick her away (mostly my wife because I didn’t mind; especially considering that it entailed getting up from bed and going to lie down with her until she went back to sleep).

By the time, our second daughter was born and she was old enough to get up in the night and walk to our room, we started getting more lapsed in our bed restriction. We were tired. Parenthood makes you tired.  Then if you consider full time jobs and house chores (my wife more than me), you’re worn down and beat up. You’re even more tired if, like me, you’re in your 40’s.

It takes a lot of effort to make your child go back to bed. There may be crying involved, which could wake up the other siblings, or worse, they could want you to go to their bed, which as someone that sleeps with a C-PAP machine (sleep apnea), really interrupts your entire night’s sleep.

Needless to say, our middle child got used to coming into our bed on a semi-regular basis. She didn’t do it every night but about two or three nights a week.

Now, you can imagine, by the time our son was born, three years ago, forget about being tired. We’re beyond being tired; we’re down right exhausted. So, he got free reign, and would join us about four nights out of the week.

Isn’t it wonderful how when you first get married, you have all this energy to make babies and practice making babies then God blesses you with them and your bed energy drops to almost flat line levels? Forget about renewing our marriage vows, we want to sleep!

After years of dealing with it, we finally decided that enough was enough. We announced about two weeks ago, “That’s it. We’ve had it. No more sleeping in mommy and daddy’s bed! We’re tired and we want to sleep all night without anyone coming to interrupt our sleep (except maybe each other… hopefully a less than subtle hint to my wife). Do you understand?”

The little culprits looked at us in a daze and nodded. Apparently, we got through.

Ok, well almost. We did have a relapse with our son, who came over twice. One night, he stayed. The next night, I took him back when I woke up to go to the gym. Maybe, waking up in his own bed made him think he slept there all night.

Three nights ago, he had an accident in his bed; a rarity but it happens. He came into our bedroom to my side and woke me up saying, “pipi.” I felt his pajama and it was soaked. I took his clothes off and left him naked on our bed while I went to retrieve a clean pajama. I changed him and put him on our bed, thinking we were making an exception, AGAIN; not a good after our big announcement but if not, I would have to go change his bed sheets, and at that point, I preferred the consequences and getting back to sleep as soon as possible (you don't think straight when you're exhausted).

Instead, he got off our bed and started walking to his room and, as I followed, he started crawling into his own bed. “Wait,” I said. Great, he picked a nice time to decide to obey our new Espinosa house rules. Now, at this point, it’s not like I could tell him, “it’s ok to sleep with mommy and daddy tonight,” so I changed his sheets and he got back in bed and, amazingly, he fell asleep right away.

So, for the past two weeks, with the aforementioned exceptions, we have finally reclaimed our bed. Let's see how long it lasts...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fr. Barron Comments on Alarming Statistics of Abortions in the Big Apple...

It always strikes me as ironic how some of us are so deeply concerned about animal rights (case in point Michael Vick was vilified as a monster), yet we turn a blind eye to a catastrophic problem that has wiped out an entire generation of Americans since 1973.

I am referring, of course, to the legalization of abortion in the Roe v. Wade decision, which became the law of the land thirty eight years ago last Saturday. Since then, fifty million lives have been "terminated" for the sake of women’s “rights.” It is a silent genocide that most would rather sweep under the rug than actually discuss or even think about.

It reminds me of a quote by English-Irish writer and philosopher, Edmund Burke, who wrote, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing.”

A story that didn’t get much attention in the mainstream media was a recent study by the New York City Department of Health, which shows that in NYC, 41% of all pregnancies end in abortion; at an average of about 90,000 per year. That is staggering. Moreover, if that were not horrific enough, 60% of all black women’s pregnancies end in abortion.

This means that abortion is not the option of last resort, as some would argue, but a resort of convenience and a “choice” for after the fact birth control.

Fr. Robert Barron’s commentary sheds some perspective on this issue that has been plaguing our society for far too long:

An American Idol Worth Rooting For...

I’m not much into pop culture.

In fact, I avoid watching sitcoms, TV dramas (unless my brother or his fiancé are making an appearance) and particularly the awards shows. I guess it’s all the anti-God, anti-family, anti-Christian and, most particularly, anti-Catholic messages spewed on network TV on a regular basis. Maybe, in my mid-40’s, I have become a “fuddy-duddy.”

The point is that my normal TV viewing consists of sports, Catholic programs, news, selected cable programs, and, because of my wife, cooking and food shows (lots and lots of cooking and food shows).

However, despite my efforts to stay clear of the pop culture, there is one show that I can’t seem to shake every year; American Idol.

It seems they always reel me in with a feel good story that makes me root for a contestant and by the time the contestant gets eliminated, with the exception of Danny Gokey that made it into the final three, I'm already hooked (a sucker is born every day).

This season is no exception. Although, I have yet to watch last week’s first two shows, Fallible Blogma, found someone that makes me want to watch this year’s rendition of the reality talent show.

Her name is Paris Tassin, a Louisiana native who got pregnant at 18, a pregnancy she obviously wasn’t ready for. But, despite doctors telling her that the child she was carrying had an illness and her chances of surviving were poor and encouraged the young mother to have an abortion, Tussin had the strength to decide to keep her baby.

Today, with the exception of a hearing defect, her daughter is healthy and is her young mother’s inspiration.

"She's the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life and I'm very proud of her and I'm singing for her," an emotional Tassin says.

Tassin has some talent.  During her audition, she made judge Jennifer Lopez cry.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Fruit of Evil in a Loveless Heart...

Probably the worst aspect of working in the television news industry is that the longer I work in the business, the more desensitized I become to human suffering.

For the past 20 years or so, I have covered stories of human anguish and pain, sadness and grief, desolation and despair. However, as callous as my skin has gotten, because of the disconnection of experiencing feelings of hardship through the separation of a camera lens, there are some stories that deeply touch my heart, as a father, husband, and member of society.

Experiencing the death of a loved one is difficult under any circumstance. I can only imagine what losing someone close, in what appears to be under senseless and sudden circumstances, where the person goes to work one minute and the next minute is no longer alive. For the family of someone that dies in a fatal car crash, the victim of a crime, a freak accident, or in the case of two Miami-Dade police officers, shot to death doing something that they had been doing for over twenty years, it has to be surreal and indescribably difficult.

Questions will naturally arise. Why? Why would God allow this to happen?

In fact, that is what reportedly neighbors heard Roger Castillo's widow crying out loudly Thursday afternoon, as friends, family and well-wishers flocked to her home in Davie to share in her grief and try to console her pain, after finding out her husband of 16 years had been slain in the line of duty.

Debbie Castillo is herself a police officer and knows the risk the job entails. Maybe, she even considered that this moment could someday come. Now, when her actual worst nightmare became a reality, what does she tell her 14, 11 and 9 year old sons, who are left to grow up without their father?

Just like any other day, Roger left for work that morning but, unlike other days, as the news broke shortly before midday, Debbie knew, he would never be coming home again.

Castillo, 41, a twenty one year veteran of the police force, went to serve an arrest warrant, along with partners, Amanda Haworth, Oscar Plasencia and Deidra Beecher. It was part of their job. They served in a fugitive task force that would hunt down violent suspects.

Thursday morning, they knocked on the door of career criminal Johnny Simms' mother. Simms was wanted in connection with the murder of a man in October and police had been tracking him down for several months. The 22-year-old man had been in and out of jail and living a life of crime since he was 14-years-old. By the time he was an adult, he had been arrested eleven times and the cycle continued until police confronted him that morning.

When the officers knocked on the door, Simms is said to have told his mother to open the door, as Haworth walked into the Liberty City duplex, Simms jumped out of one of the bedrooms and started firing, shooting Haworth in the head before the officer had a chance to react. He continued outside, where he shot Castillo before Plasencia shot him and he collapsed on the pavement.

In a matter of split seconds, three bodies were sprawled on the ground. Two lives would end right there; Castillo and Simms. Another would end in the operating room a couple of hours later; Haworth. Moreover, an entire police force and community would be left in disbelief and shock by the senselessness.

A visibly emotional and outright distraught Miami-Dade Police Director, James Loftus, said when he took over the force about a year ago, this was his worst nightmare. He said he was hoping he could bide his time as head of the force until his retirement without having to the face the death of one on his officers.

"I'm supposed to stand up here and say, we are all children of God and things happen. That God was here today and sees good and evil. That guy was evil. He murdered two of my people today."

Loftus, who himself experienced the death of his father due to cancer when he was just 14-years-old, understands the agony and effect this will have on his officers' children. Because of the bloody rampage, four boys will have to grow up without a parent. There was also the difficulty of addressing Haworth's father.

"I don't know. I'm not good enough. I'm not smart enough. I'm not theological enough. Having a conversation with a member of the family last night at Jackson Ryder Center and I said, 'what can I do for you going forward? What can this police department, what can this county do to help you because there is nothing I wouldn't do to assist you and your family.’ Do you know what this person (Haworth's father) did? That person turned around. He looked at me and said, 'Bring my daughter back.'"

Haworth, who was 44, was a twenty-three year veteran. She was a single mother of a 13-year-old son, who was her life. She dreamt of seeing him grow up to be a Major League baseball player and never missed one of his games. Neighbors say she would often be seen playing catch with him in her front yard.

One of Haworth's closest friends, Sgt. Rosie Diaz released a statement to the press which stated, "When the days are long, the nights are dark, I will find comfort in knowing that she will be forevermore a shining star up above. I will always love her."

Then there is Simms, possibly a product of his environment; not to excuse his inexcusable actions because many people grow up in similarly perilous conditions and choose a different path. Simms grew up in a world where violence, death, and suffering are part of the human condition, where numbing oneself with drugs, alcohol, or the power of being the inflictor instead of victim, may appear as the only option of escape from reality.

I can never imagine or understand what it means to grow up without hope, without the love of both parents, and without faith in God, where the only expression of pent up fear and frustration is aggression and violence and the only thing that resonates and dominates actions is survival of the fittest. A world without God is a world without love and a world without love doesn't hold much value.

What kind of despair and emptiness must there be in a heart to be willing to take a human life?

I'm taking liberties in writing this because I don't believe that someone with love, which is God, in their heart can ever commit such atrocities.  Then again, I won't pretend to be the ultimate judge as to the fate of Simms' eternal soul. 

Simms' mother, Lorraine was by her son's side as he took his last breath, something that Haworth and Castillo's parents or his wife never got a chance to do.

"I am sorry for the officers that were killed. I lost my son too. He was not an evil man."

Despite the grief, it will be hard for the officers' family, friends, and community in general to accept Lorraine Simms' assessment of her son's nature. It may be even more difficult to forgive. God did not will this to happen, Johnny Simms did.

In an ironic twist to the story, four years to the day of the fatal shootout, Roger Castillo had arrested Johnny Simms for a probation violation.

Simms may not have been an evil man but he chose a life of evil and because of it, four boys will grow up without their parent, a wife will have to bury her husband, parents will mourn the death of a child, which is not suppose to be, and an entire community will have to overcome the horror of knowing that if police officers aren’t safe, then who is?

When the dust had settled following the afternoon of live coverage of the deadly incident, one of my co-workers, obviously shaken by the story herself, said to several of us in our newsroom, “This is why we need to tell the people we love that we love them everyday and every time we leave them, because we never know if we will ever see them again.”

Thursday, January 20, 2011

From America's Top Model to Role Model For Chastity...

Few things concern me more as a father than the external influences my children will have to deal with while growing up. Despite the moral values and standards that I hope to instill in them, society and the culture will many times draw them away (or at least tempt them) from what they learn at home.

So, when I read stories of young people who transcend the influences of today's world, albeit after experiencing its seduction firsthand, it gives me hope for my children's future.

That is the case of Leah Darrow. Darrow could have continued her rising high fashion modeling career in New York City. However, after living the fast paced lifestyle, including a stint as a finalist on America's Next Top Model, Darrow decided that the cost of success in the industry was just too high.

She was immersed in a world that was very different from her upbringing; an Oklahoma farm girl from a devout Catholic family of six children that went to Mass on Sundays and prayed the Rosary daily. The family moved to St. Louis, and Darrow began modeling in college.

She was drawn by the glamour and limelight. However, soon after moving to New York City, she started being disenchanted with the business, which she describes as dehumanizing at times.

Although Darrow says not all modeling is bad, in her case, it came to the point where she felt she was losing her soul.

Darrow's story was recently told on National Catholic Register.  In it, she describes the moment of lucidity that made her realize the high fashion modeling industry was not where she wanted to be.

She met with the photographer and was given a particularly skimpy outfit to wear. She was embarrassed to put it on, but went ahead, telling herself it was just a job and she had to do it.

As the shoot was nearly complete, she had a mystical experience of sorts, which she called a moment of grace. She pictured herself before God after her death and had nothing to show for her life.

“I knew that the way I was living, I wasn’t being authentic to my faith,” she said.

She quit on the spot and went home crying.

“I called my dad and said, ‘If you don’t come and get me, I’m going to lose my soul,’” she recalled. “He said, ‘Sure, baby’ and drove all the way from St. Louis to New York City to get me.”

Since returning to St. Louis, Darrow has become a full-time speaker, delivering as many as eight talks each month. She addresses all age groups, but most presentations are before high-school and college audiences. Modesty has become a favorite topic.

For Darrow, modesty includes not gossiping or saying bad things about others. It includes chaste dating relationships with men, which has made dating for her much easier. In fact, for her personally, she has resolved that the only romantic kiss she will share with a man will be with her future husband.
Not easy standards to live by, especially in a society that rejects chastity as a viable option.  However, I have to admire any young person that tries to swim against the tide and refuses to submit to the pressures of the culture.  I can only pray my own children grow up with the same independence, strength of mind and resolve.

Darrow is currently working on a Master of Arts degree in pastoral theology from Ave Maria University.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Anglican Bishops Become Catholic Priests...

The first Anglican bishops to accept Pope Benedict XVI's invitation, to come into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, were ordained in London this weekend.

Former Church of England bishops, Keith Newton, John Broadhurst and Andrew Burnham, were ordained at Westminster Cathedral as part of the new "ordinariate" set up by Pope Benedict to allow disenfranchised Anglicans, and their U.S. counterpart Episcopalians, to join the Catholic Church.

From The Irish Times:

The Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham follows the Anglicanorum coetibus document issued by Pope Benedict on November 4th, 2009, and which will enable such people to preserve within the Catholic Church elements of Anglican prayer, liturgy and pastoral practice which are in accordance with Catholic teaching.

It was set up by Rome to accommodate those Anglicans and their clergy who wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church and who have become disaffected with their own Communion or Church over issues such as the ordination of women, female bishops, homosexual clergy and the recognition of same-sex unions.

Last summer the Church of England voted to go ahead with legislation to consecrate women bishops. As many as 50 Anglican clergy are expected to join the new ordinariate as well as two retired Church of England bishops.

What makes this even more historic is that it signifies a return home for many Anglicans. The Church of England was founded in the 16th Century when King Henry VIII broke away from Rome after a fallout with Pope over the annulment to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and a power struggle over the sovereignty of bishops.

Under the new directive, married ex-Anglican clergy cannot be ordained as Catholic bishops "for doctrinal reasons" while, "under certain conditions," they can be ordained Catholic priests.

[pic credit: Mazur/]

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Something Didn't Seem Right...

So there I was at shelter three. 

We were fashionably twenty minutes late, since I had been waiting in the wrong side of the park before noticing I was at the wrong shelter.  Yet something wasn't right.

As I walked towards the party holding the hand of my son and daughter on either side of me, I noticed a kiddie blow up slide, that seemed to be more for my three-year-old son than my six-year-old daughter, who was the birthday girl's contemporary.  I also noticed Mickey Mouse Club House decorations.  Hmmm?

"Don't tell me it's Donald Duck," my daughter said with an attitude.

"What do you mean?" I asked.  "Donald Duck is for babies," she answered.  There's nothing like a six-year-old who thinks she's a big girl.

"No it's not.  Donald Duck is for everyone," I countered.     

We kept walking.  I didn't recognize anyone but, then again, these were girls from my daughter's ballet class and I don't really know most of the parents.  But, they did seem a bit young; most of them in their mid-20's. 

"Tell me if you see her," I told my daughter hoping she would recognize the birthday girl and we could start the introductions and settle in.

At this point, we were already in the shelter, which is nothing more than a tiki-hut (without the tiki) with a slab of concrete underneath, a built-in barbecue and some picnic tables, and I sensed an uncomfortable feeling that some of the young moms were wondering who the older fat guy with the kids was.

Two couples were still putting up balloons and before we settled, I went up to one of the couples and asked, "Michelle's Party?" 

"No, Andrew's."

Oh... "We're at the wrong party," I told my daughter. 

But then thought, I was sure the invitation said shelter three.  Adding to my certainty, my wife kept reminding me before leaving on a school field trip with my older daughter for the weekend that our younger daughter had a birthday party on Saturday at noon.

I had planned my day accordingly.  I went to Confession at nine, we would go to breakfast (at I-Hop, which we never go but my daughter was asking to go have pancakes there), and then the party at noon.  I had to show a property at three, would go home to exercise and then start clearing the remainder of the Christmas decorations still in my house.  The day was planned.   

Could they have written the wrong shelter on the invitation?  It had to be the reason.

We approached the next shelter, five, but it still didn't seem like it was the right party.  "What was the theme on the invitation?" I asked my daughter. 

"My Little Pony."  Ok., so now we have a lead.  Game plane; let's just look for the My Little Pony decorations.

There was another shelter up ahead.  It had pink and black balloon.  My Little Pony?  I couldn't tell but as we got closer, I noticed it was not.  Now what?

Wait a minute, I thought.  Let's go back to the van to make sure the invitation was for today.

"Why are we leaving the party?" my young son asked as we walked through the parking lot after having walked around most of the park.

"We need to check the invitation again."

We got to our minivan and I quickly opened the door and pulled out the invitation; Sunday!  Nice...  We have to come back tomorrow...             

Friday, January 14, 2011

He Wanted to Be an Actor, Instead He May Become a Saint...

Pope John Paul II
As a child in Poland, Karol Wojtyla dreamed of becoming an actor and playwright and some could say his flare for the dramatic continued during his more than 26-year papacy, where he became one of the most influential world leaders of the 20th Century, helping to bring down Communism in his homeland, inspiring millions and  surviving an assassination attempt in the process. 

The Vatican announced that Wojtyla, better known internationally as Pope John Paul II, will be beatified this spring, putting the late pontiff one step closer to sainthood, almost six years after his death and millions shouted, "Santo Subito" (Saint Immediately) in St. Peter's Square during his funeral.

At that time, Pope Benedict XVI bypassed the normal 5-year wait after a person's death and started the beatification process immediately.

A long and tedious investigation by Vatican experts confirmed the first miracle attributed to Pope John Paul II; the healing of a French nun with Parkinson's.
Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, a member of the Congregation of Little Sisters of Catholic Maternity Wards, was confined to bed by the disease, and experienced a "complete and lasting cure," after continuous prayer, along with her community, to the late pope for his intercession.  Pope John Paul II had himself suffered from Parkinson's, one of the reasons why the sisters decided to seek his help. Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, is now Parkinson's-free and working again at a maternity hospital run by her order.

On Friday, Pope Benedict XVI certified the divine phenomenon and announced the date for his predecessor's beatification; May 1st, the Feast of the Divine Mercy, which the late pontiff had a deep devotion to because of fellow Pole Sr. Faustina Kowalska.

In an article on National Review Online, Pope John Paul II biographer George Weigel writes:

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints has certified a miraculous cure through the intercession of Pope John Paul II, thus clearing the way for the late pontiff’s beatification on May 1. Using the word “miracle” in a broad sense, however, the greatest miracle of John Paul II was to restore a sense of Christian possibility in a world that had consigned Christian conviction to the margins of history.

In 1978, no one expected that the leading figure of the last quarter of the 20th century would be a priest from Poland. Christianity was finished as a world-shaping force, according to the opinion-leaders of the time; it might endure as a vehicle for personal piety, but would play no role in shaping the world of the 21st century. Yet within six months of his election, John Paul II had demonstrated the dramatic capacity of Christianity to create a revolution of conscience that, in turn, created a new and powerful form of politics — the politics that eventually led to the Revolution of 1989 and the liberation of central and eastern Europe.

Beyond that, John Paul II made Christianity compelling and interesting in a world that imagined that humanity had outgrown its “need” for God, Christ, and faith. In virtually every part of the world, John Paul II’s courageous preaching of Jesus Christ as the answer to the question that is every human life drew a positive response, and millions of lives were changed as a result. This was simply not supposed to happen — but it did, through the miracle of conviction wedded to courage.

To make Christianity plausible, compelling, and attractive by preaching the fullness of Christian truth and demonstrating its importance to the human future — that was perhaps the greatest miracle of John Paul II, and his greatest gift to the Church and the world.
Canonization (sainthood) would follow after the confirmation of a second miracle.  Until then, starting May 1st, he will be known as Blessed John Paul II.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Trying to Overcome My Procrastinating Nature...

Does it say something about me when an hour after going to bed, my son gets up to go potty then comes into the living room, where I'm watching TV, and asks me, "Where's the tree, Daddy?" (Meaning the Christmas tree that has adorned our living room since the day after Thanksgiving until Wednesday; eighteen days after Christmas) After that long, he must have thought the tree was there to stay.

Granted, my wife doesn't want us to take down the tree until after Three Kings Day (Jan. 6), when my kids got thee more “small” gifts each, instead of the twenty (or so it seems by the mess in their room) they got for Christmas, but I could have taken the tree down during the weekend.

You probably heard of the saying, "Don't leave until tomorrow what you can do today." Unfortunately, one of my many constant battles in life is with procrastination (my wife might say it’s just plain laziness, which would not be too far off the mark).

I struggle (is that the right word?) with putting things off. Yes, the Christmas decoration boxes are still spread all over the house and the lights are still placed outside (it took hard work to install them and I feel they should be kept for an appropriate time in accordance to my effort) but, we did take the tree and the wreaths on our front door down; finally! (I guess it could be worse, one year I didn’t get rid of the Christmas tree from my backyard until August)

I do have a tendency to do things in phases; I take the Christmas tree decorations down on Sunday and our cleaning lady takes the tree outside on Wednesday. I place the dirty dishes in the sink (sometimes until the following day; oops, Ixnay on the Ishesday. This is a sore subject with the wife), then place them in the dishwasher and our cleaning lady clears out the dishes when she comes. I pick up the morning paper and put them in a stack in the kitchen, and our cleaning lady takes them out (notice the pattern here?). You might say that it’s a good thing we have a cleaning lady. Unfortunately, we can only afford her once a week.

Probably the biggest fallout I have with my wife is when she’s doing laundry and I’m sitting on the couch watching the Heat (or Mets, or SportsCenter, or EWTN’s Journey Home, or Word on Fire with Fr. Barron, or American Pickers, or Sarah Palin’s Alaska, or, well, you get the picture). She hates doing laundry! And, even worse, when I'm sitting in my boxer shorts in front of the tube while she's doing it (not that bikini briefs would make a difference).

I can usually sense the tension building. You would figure that by now, after twelve years of marriage, I would have learned my lesson and offer to help her, but that would mean interrupting my television watching (struggle two; selfishness). She usually pretends she doesn’t care, which I allow her to pretend, until she blows up (and it’s not pretty!). She has been known to come out with the basket full of laundry and dump it on top of me on the couch without saying a word. “Oh, you need help?” I ask (knowing perfectly well the gig is up). You can say getting lucky, or even suggesting it, is definitely out of the question that night.

So, procrastination, also known as acedia in the Seven Deadly Sins, and its father, sloth, also known as laziness to my wife, often get me in the dog house (Fortunately, now that my two dogs passed away, I have more room).

Seriously, if there is one thing I hope to improve upon in 2011, aside from the 40 lbs. I’m hoping to shed and to continue studying and growing in my faith, it is to be more helpful around the house (and finally getting around to preparing the budget I have been promising my wife I would do for two years).

Although, I have made some small strides, especially since becoming more aware of my role as husband and father, as many, I’m still a work in progress. I have a loooong way to go.

So, this weekend, as my wife and older daughter go on a school trip to St. Augustine, I will be taking care of my two little ones, ages six and three, and hopefully starting to overcome my procrastinating nature by taking down the Christmas lights from our front yard and putting the gazillion decoration boxes into storage (we have a lot of junk).

We'll see how that goes...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Laying Blame Where It Should Be...

Jared Loughner
As soon as I heard about the Arizona shooting and that a Democratic U.S. Congresswoman had been targeted last Saturday, without even knowing any of the facts, I turned to my wife and said, "This is going to be blamed as a case of a right wing nut job gone awry."  My wife disagreed, saying it was too soon to know. 

My intuition was right.  Shortly after we got home, I heard Pima County Sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, blame the escalation of "inflammatory rhetoric" and an environment of bigotry and hate in the country, as factors for affecting weak-minded individuals in our society, despite having only preliminary information about the suspect's motive and absolutely no proof to substantiate his claim.  And, so the finger pointing began (Dupnik later admitted that it was just his personal opinion and not based on the facts of the case).

Who is to blame for twenty-two-year-old Jared Loughner having planned the murder of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and taking the lives of six innocent people, including a 9-year-old girl, and injuring thirteen others in the process?  There had to be a reason.

It didn’t take long for some names of alleged responsible parties to begin to surface, as part of the culture of "inflammatory rhetoric," i.e. Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck; the right.

But, as some pundits look for scapegoats and try to analyze what led to this horrific massacre; politics, guns, a crack in the system, his parents, etc., and make sense of this senseless atrocity, an article in National Catholic Register by Pat Archibold today draws a very poignant conclusion.  The source of Loughner's crime is evil and something most people today refuse to acknowledge: sin. 
Almost every bit of rhetoric for the last 72 hours has been focused on who is to blame for Jared shooting so many people, yet hardly anyone blames Jared. They blame the right wing, they blame the left wing, they blame rhetoric, anybody but the sinner. When they speak of him, if they speak of him, they say was driven, he was crazy, he was inspired by this person or that person. Drivel.
Jared did it. I blame Jared.
Pretending that sin and evil no longer exist, we don’t make them go away, we unshackle them.

Nothing is more truly mine than my sin. It is the only thing that comes from me and me alone. It's mine. I own it. Grace is a gift. My sin is mine.

In a world without sin, everything that goes around, comes around. Except blame. Blame just goes around.
Maybe, it's just human nature.  By minimizing and diluting evil and sin, it makes it easier to avoid having to consider where they can lead.  Instead, we are more comfortable finding blame in everything from sanity and guns to politics.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dogs, Death and Farewell to a Member of the Family...

Garbo in the dog house
Before having kids, my wife and I watched a movie that really affected us, My Dog Skip, about the life of a boy and his Jack Russell terrier.

It is a beautiful movie (that we got in the comedy section at Blockbusters) of adventure, mischief, and very funny situations but by the end, my wife and I were crying uncontrollably like babies. Obviously, the boy grows up and goes away to college. The dog gets old and eventually dies.

As we looked at each other, we started laughing, and through the tears promised each other to never show the movie to our kids (when we eventually had them) because it was just too emotionally draining.

At the time, we had an energetic Golden Retriever male, named Shakespeare, and puppy Rottweiler female, named Garbo (as in Greta, because as a puppy she wanted to be left alone).

Since then, I never have been able to read, Marley & Me, which I have in my bookshelf (or watch the movie for that matter), or another book, which is highly recommended by a close friend, The Art of Racing in the Rain, who after reading an excerpt to us, as we remembered another friend who died of cancer, had forty grown men in tears.

Well, as much as we wanted to protect our children from the emotional drain of My Dog Skip, we couldn’t protect them from the reality of death, as both of our longtime family pets passed away during the past eight months, including my having to put Garbo to sleep on Tuesday night (1/04/11), ten days before what would have been her 11th birthday. Last May, we lost Shakespeare, who was 15-and-1/2-years-old.

The same friend who recommended the book always says that whoever says dogs don't go to heaven has never owned a dog.

I'm not sure if that's true, but I'd like to think that, as God's creations, who He gave to humanity as loyal companions and to serve as examples of the true essence of unconditional love, it has to be.

Tuesday, was a rough night for us. I had taken Garbo to the animal hospital in the morning after noticing that she wasn’t eating anything. She was never a large Rottweiler, about 80 lbs at her peak, but was always muscular and had noticeably dropped a lot of weight (turns out about 20 lbs.) over the last several months. I thought it may have been related to Shakespeare's death, but after feeding her chicken Monday night and having her cough it back up undigested, I realized that something had to be wrong.

So, before taking my son to school, we drove Garbo to the vet. My son was very excited to have Garbo next to him in the back seat. He asked where we were going and I told him that we needed to take Garbo to the doctor. “Why?” he asked. “Because she is feeling sick,” I answered.

Last month, I wrote about a conversation I had with my son about Shakespeare's death, after seeing a video of a boy playing with his Golden Retriever on TV. I inadvertently told him that Garbo was also going to die someday. He was troubled by the comment and when we got to his school, he said, “Garbo is not going to die. Daddy, Garbo is not going to die!” I tried to ease his mind by saying that she was not going to die.

Apparently, the thought lingered in his little mind, as he told my wife about a week ago, “Daddy says Garbo is going to die.”

Going back to Tuesday morning, we get to the animal hospital and the three of us were put in a room to wait for the doctor. As we waited, my son played with Garbo. He was petting her, holding her head and her leash. She was very lethargic and, as always, gentle with him.

After seeing the animal, the veterinarian said it could be worms but the drastic loss in weight was concerning. He wanted to give her a cancer screening and tests to see what was wrong. Although, I understood that Rottweilers have a life expectancy of about twelve years, I was really hoping whatever she had was treatable so we could nurse her back to health and have her put some pounds back and enjoy her final years. I was also concerned about the conversation I had had with my son and the reaction of my daughters if the diagnosis was bad. 

When we left her, my son started crying hysterically, asking why Garbo was staying. I repeated that she was sick and had to get better. I’m not sure if he understood.

When I went to pick her up after work, I was optimistic. After waiting for the vet to finish with another patient, he came into the room. He had good news; Garbo didn’t have cancer. However, the test results indicated that her liver had basically shut down, which is why she wasn’t eating since her body couldn’t process the food.

The options were slim. We could try to pump her with liquids and medicine through an IV in hopes that she would start eating but, even with the treatment, the chances for survival were minimal. The vet confessed that of all previous patients that he had administered similar treatment, not one had made it. He also said, it would be costly; not that putting a cost-to-value rate is fair to consider when discussing the life and death of part of the family but after Christmas and the many expenses my family has accrued recently, including $450 I had just spent on tests, I had no option but to take it into account.

The other options involved euthanizing her; one, I could take her home for the night and bring her back in the morning or two, I could put her to sleep that same night.  Not exactly great choices.

The dire report was overwhelming. I felt a rush of emotions inside.  The first thing that crossed my mind was my son and our conversation about the death of Shakespeare and his concern about Garbo. Then I thought about my wife and daughters. I asked for a few minutes to gather my thoughts and talk to my wife.

After talking to my wife, who left it up to me, I decided to put her to sleep that night. I thought it would be too emotional for the family to bring her home, knowing that we would be seeing her for the last time the next morning. You could make an argument that it would have given Garbo a chance to say good-bye to the entire family but I knew it was going to be too difficult, especially for me to handle.

They gave me a chance to say good-bye to her. They brought her into the room for me. Although she walked in, she couldn’t even stay up standing and had to sit. I petted her and told her I would miss her. I told her I had let her down because of the lack of attention I had given her over the last few years. In retrospect, I should have noticed something was wrong by her weight loss a lot sooner than I did.

Then, when I was ready, the vet came back in and we placed her on the table lying down and I held her head and petted her gently as the vet injected her with the lethal chemicals that snuffed out her life. It wasn't easy but it was peaceful. She looked as if she had fallen asleep. And, so she had.

It's hard to lose something you love that has been part of your life for almost eleven years. My wife and I got Garbo a year before our first daughter was born. She was our first baby together, or so we thought at the time, until our real baby came along.

In fact, like a child, my wife had to protect her from a Rottweiler that attacked them and Shakespeare as they were on a walk in our neighborhood one time.  The other Rottweiler was a beast, probably in the 120 lbs plus range.  He broke loose from his leash and came aggressively at my wife, Garbo and Shakespeare.  Garbo was only a couple of months old and my wife quickly pulled her into her arms, as she tried to control Shakespeare, who was preparing to face the beast. 

The attacker came around, as Shakespeare tried to twirl to keep him in front, almost knocking my wife down, as she got tangled on the leash, and bit our dog in the hind quarter.  Shakespeare was able to free himself and twirl again, getting into fighting position on his two hind legs to defend my wife, Garbo and himself.  By that time, the owner of the other dog was able to grab a hold of the beast and break them apart.  Shakespeare suffered a puncture in his hind quarter and a gash in his ear but was otherwise fine.  Garbo was untouched, thanks to my wife.

As she grew older, Garbo grew strong, lean and athletic and soon became too powerful for my wife to control on a leash.  But despite her strength, intimidating look and menacing bark, she was nothing but a "fraidy cat" except when someone knocked on the front door or she heard noise outside.  She always made me feel safe whenever I left our family alone with her. 

When I called with the bad news Tuesday, my wife said, my son and her cried.  It was very hard on my daughters as well. They cried on and off for most of the night, my older daughter kept asking, “Why did she have to die?”

As I prayed with the girls that night, I thanked God for having put Garbo in our life and all the joy she brought to our family through the years. I said that if dogs go to heaven, I knew Garbo and Shakespeare were there together running and playing once again. We all cried.

Wednesday morning the emotions came pouring back, when I was putting my son in his car seat to take him to school and he asked, “Where’s Garbo?”  I was a wreck for the rest of the day at work.

I suppose dogs are God’s way of teaching us about love, faithfulness, death and detachment from this life.

In The Art of Racing in the Rain, my friend says the protagonist of the story, a dog named Enzo, who tells the story in the first person point of view, has been sick for many years, is finally released from his pain and suffering and is running freely and playing in an open field. The wind is in his hair and the sun on his face, Enzo runs faster and faster in total joy and happiness. 

The thought of Shakespeare and Garbo running and frolicking in an open field, without pain or restrictions in total joy and happiness is very comforting.

Farewell, my sweet and gentle guardian.  You taught us more about loyalty and love than you will ever know.  We will miss you.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year; Here I Go Again...

Welcoming 2011
Yankee Hall-of-Famer and, to barrow a line from Mel Brooks, “stand-up philosopher” Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

As we start 2011, Yogi’s malapropism (see definition below) appears to be ringing true for me; not that I believe in reincarnation.

At this same time last year, I had beefed up to a whopping 250 lbs., knowing that I was going to start a diet and exercise program for the new year (2010).

It was meant to be a lifestyle change. I was going to eat healthier foods, live more actively, look better and the result is that I would feel better, have more energy and be more productive in all aspects of life. At least, that was the idea. I think the idea came to me from a TV infomercial one night after eating five Oreo cookies and a couple of pastelitos de guayava (just kidding... but not about the Oreos or pastelitos).

This morning, after running three miles (and doing some bathroom reading), I weighed in at a svelte 247.2 lbs. (And, it’s really starting to show!).  Temperance is definitely not one of my strong suits.

Needless to say, my battle with the bulge will be one of my 2011 priorities AGAIN!  Couldn’t I pick an easier objective, as I did a couple of years ago when I decided to read the New Testament from beginning to end?

Last year, my goals were to lose about forty pounds and delve deeper into my faith (I justified the egocentrism involved by telling myself that I was losing weight for noble reasons, i.e. my health, as in maintaining God’s temple; and NOT my own vanity).

I was partially successful in both resolutions. By April, I lost almost 20 lbs. and was involved in a men’s formation group that met once a month to study Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter, Christifideles Laici.

However, sometime around Holy Week, I took a week off from counting calories. The week became two weeks and quickly snowballed until I stopped keeping track of my food intake altogether. And, while I continued to exercise (somewhat), it was very erratic.  As you can tell by the final tally on the scale this morning, I barely managed to keep over 2.5 lbs off throughout the year (Jenny Craig will not be beating down my door to put me in a commercial any time soon).

But, as any true Met fan would say at the start of a new baseball season, "hope springs eternal." New year, new beginning and new hope.  And, where there is hope, there is optimism and something to strive for (The Rocky theme song would sound good right about now). 

Albeit forty pounds (Or better said, 37.5) by the summer bikini season may seem like another lofty goal to set but hey, as they say, if I don't set the bar high enough, I might get hit in the head. 

Maybe 2011 will finally be the year that I finally embrace a little discipline and a lot of self-control.

Malapropism: the usually unintentionally humorous misuse or distortion of a word or phrase; especially : the use of a word sounding somewhat like the one intended but ludicrously wrong in the context.