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Monday, February 28, 2011

Prayers, Joe Mantegna and My Brother...

My brother is a professional actor (No, really.  That's how he earns a living). After earning a degree from Yale Graduate School of Drama (recognized as one of the best in the world), he has spent the last couple of decades making guest appearances on films and television shows, and performing lead and supporting roles in regional theatres throughout the U.S., including a stint in Broadway and a plethora (my favorite word from The Three Amigos) of Shakespearean productions.  Not bad for a Cuban kid from Hialeah, if I say so myself.

Therefore, for me, wanting only the best for my kid brother (at 42, I'm using the term kid loosely) and that he stay on the right path, it is always refreshing to read stories of movie or television celebrities that, despite success, have learned to put life into perspective; with God and family at the top, even if they take a roundabout route to get to that point. 

Let’s face it, it’s not easy to stay grounded in the Hollywood acting scene. There is a fine line that celebrities walk (And, I'm not referring to the one police officers make them take while touching their noses when they get pulled over on the I-10).  It is an industry that highly exalts looks, image, money, power and extravagant lifestyles. Consequently, for those who succeed, it is simple to get caught up in themselves and slip into the malaise of thinking they, and their causes for righteousness, are the center of the universe.

Pride and its offspring, ego, have led many astray (just see Charlie Sheen, he of "I know my own truth" and "I'm on drugs.  It's called Charlie Sheen" fame, and Lindsay Lohan). Some eventually find their way but others unfortunately get totally lost in their own self-absorbtion.

Last week, I came across a blog on veteran actor Joe Mantegna, most recently of Criminal Minds, that peaked my interest.

In an article written by Tony Rossi, Mantegna shared some insight on faith, fatherhood and answered prayers, whether they were what he initially hoped for or not.
Twenty-one years ago when Joe's wife Arlene was pregnant with their first child, all had been going well until one Friday afternoon when she became concerned; the baby hadn't been moving much. Arlene had received a good prognosis only the day before so her doctor wasn't sure if he needed to see her again. Luckily the nurse said, "Since it's Friday, come in otherwise you're not going to feel right all weekend."
A half-hour later, Joe got the call to rush to St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank, California. The doctor had discovered the baby was in distress and needed to be delivered instantly or she would die. While Arlene was getting an emergency Cesarean section, Joe headed to the chapel.
On the radio program "Personally Speaking" with Monsignor Jim Lisante, Joe recalled, "I went to the chapel. There was nobody else in there. I knelt and—I haven't been the most devout Catholic in my life, I'll be the first to admit, but we all tap into that which we know. And that is my spiritual connection to God, that's the channel it runs through—Catholicism. But I went in there and said, 'Look, I know I'm not on the A Team. I'm not one of the starters; I've been on the bench for a while. But please, if there's something that can be done for this child to live, I'm prepared to do whatever I must do.'"
Mantegna’s daughter Mia was born three months prematurely, weighing only 1 pound and 13 ounces. She spent several months in intensive care but survived. The joy turned into concern three short years later when they diagnosed Mia with autism.
Recalling that period, Joe says, "I think everybody goes through shock and anger—it's human nature to go through that, but the trick is you have to move past it because you're not doing anybody any good by staying in a state of anger. There's nothing productive about that. So rather than yell at the wind, you try to use the wind you have to fill a sail . . . [my] prayer was granted, but there were obviously some stipulations that came with it. And you know what—it's okay. I look around me and I look at the world and at the suffering that goes on, and I think, 'Why not me?' If this is that thing that we as a family have to deal with, we'll do it. I still feel blessed that we're able to deal with it as best as we can. So I think back on that moment of prayer and I'm convinced that it worked."
As Mantegna says, bad news is often received with anger and sometimes even a backlash against God because of our own pride (the granddaddy of all sin, starting in the Garden of Eden). We take it personal. How can God do this to me? Unfortunately, at times it takes wallowing in that self-pity, distress and anguish that can make us humble ourselves to the point where we completely surrender to God's Will. And when we do, our situation may not get any easier or less painful, but our acceptance of it does.

Mia is now twenty-two years old, and, while autistic, is considered “fairly high functioning.” The Mantegnas have been married since 1975 (a cause for celebration in today's society but even more so in his industry) and have another daughter, named Gia, who is a 20-year-old actress.

So, as I pray for my brother's success in Hollywood, and truly hope he can one day reach his objectives in life, I also pray that he is able to walk that fine line, where he is able to put God's Will ahead of his own. You cannot serve two masters. Either you serve money, fame, power, self, sin or any host of other idols, or you serve God.

Knowing my brother's competitive nature on the baseball diamond, while Mantegna may have started on the bench on God's B-Team, he would want to hit third and start in center field on God's A-Team. 

I can only pray...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Victims of Samali Pirates Were Distributing Bibles...

Scott and Jean Adam
The California couple, who along with two others, were held hostage and then shot dead by Somali pirates, was trying to make a difference in the world by distributing Bibles to remote areas around the globe, their pastor told the Catholic News Agency.

Scott and Jean Adam, of Marina del Rey, California, and friends, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Seattle, were hijacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Oman, when their 58-foot yacht, the Quest, got separated from a fleet traveling from Australia to the Mediterranean.

U.S. naval warships were tailing the vessel as Navy officials tried to negotiate with the captors when gunfire broke out aboard the Quest Tuesday morning.

Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson, the pastor of St. Monica Catholic Community Church, where the Adams were parishioners, said the couple was involved in an evangelization ministry that would distribute Bibles.

“Our community believes in helping to form loving disciples who will transform this world,” he explained. Sharing Bibles was the Adams’ way of doing that during the sailing trip they began in 2004.

Msgr. Torgerson said the Adams’ deaths made him feel “great great, loss” and “great pain.”

“They were faith-filled people, people of the Scripture, people of the Eucharist. They were great people of our community,” he told CNA.

Jean, who was a retired dentist and a mother of two, sang in the church choir.

The priest cited St. Paul’s words in the daily readings about receiving the “unfaded crown of glory.”

“They won the crown. I believe with all my heart they are with God today,” he continued, calling eternal life “the gift and blessing of faithful people.”

“I hope that the four of them find that great peace,” he added, urging an end to violence.

In their 2011 travels, the Adams visited Phuket, Thailand; Galle, Sri Lanka; and Cochin, India. They passed out Catholic Bibles from the American Bible Society and New International Version Bibles from the International Bible Society.

On their website they spoke of finding “homes” for their Bibles as a part of “friendship evangelism.”
Two pirates were killed during a shootout with U.S. forces and 17 others were captured.

The St. Monica parish has held several Masses for the dead and their families and will continue throughout the week.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Trying to Pull the Reins On the Kissing Game Parade...

In the not-too-distant future, our six-year-old daughter may be the one that finally makes my entire hair go grey (not that it's going to take much to get me there but still).

She is sweet, affectionate, beautiful, full of personality and charisma, and very kind but she also has a bit of J-Lo (circa In Living Color) "fly girl" within her that surfaces from time to time.

This is the same social little girl who is already wearing a training bra with nothing to train, just because her ten-year-old sister wears one. And, at times dances around the house like she's auditioning for Beyonce's Single Ladies video (fortunately, sanz the stiletto high heels).

Last week, my wife gets a call from a friend, who is part of her women's church group and the mother of a boy at our daughters’ school, to tell her that our sweet and innocent kindergartner has been playing what we would later find out is called "The Kissing Game."

In it, girls chase down boys and restrain them, so they could forcibly (in a playful and gentle sense of the term) kiss them during recess. Say what? My little girl?

The call was not to alarm us, or to make a stink of the little playground fun, but just to inform us because they can get into a lot of trouble if they are caught. I don't think the Carmelite Sisters that run the school would take kindly to kindergarten girls rough housing with boys and kissing them (not that I take too kindly to it myself!).

Later that night, the "victim" boy's mother, who is also a friend, called to say that it was not a big deal for her or her son but just wanted to touch base with us so that we are all on the same page and avoid our kids getting into needless trouble. 

Ok, so how do we handle this? My initial response is to call our little Princess Fiona, who looks like the day version but apparently acts like the night-time ogre in the schoolyard, and ask her in my very gentle and politically correct tone, "What's wrong with you girl?" However, my wife suggests we take a more cautious approach and not make an issue of it (Ok, I'll go along).

We sit her down at our dinner table and ask her what happened. Immediately, she says it wasn’t her (sounds like a lawyer in the making). What she meant to say is that the "other girls" were the ones holding the boy she likes down (and much to my chagrin, calls her "boyfriend"). All she did was kiss him.

So, let's get this straight. The other girls helped her hunt down the boy she likes, wrestled him to the ground, pinned him down, to the point of sitting on him, and all she did was kiss him (Whew! As a father, I feel so much better). 

I don't know what is worse, the time my older daughter, at about the same age my younger daughter is now, was bitten by a boy, who was unsure of how to express his affection, or my younger daughter and her posse rounding up the boys to kiss them.

"No, more playing that game!" I blurt out sternly. "Do you understand? I don't want you or any other girl playing that game anymore. And, no more talk about boyfriends; six-year-olds don't have boyfriends or go around kissing boys!" (Of course, I was making an issue of it; what do you expect from a dad?) She nods, as she looks down trying to avoid eye contact with me.

Part of the problem is that she wants to act older because of her sister and, although our ten-year-old is still quite naive, she is already getting into boy conversations with her friends, which our little one overhears and wants to emulate (not that Hannah Montana and other teenybopper Disney shows help any. I know, our bad as parents. Remember, when Disney stood for family values?).

"How about if the other girls want to play the game?" she asks timidly.

"No more playing that game! You tell them your dad doesn't want you to play it again. Got it?"

"Yes, dad," she says reluctantly.

I'm sure she doesn't understand my reasoning but, despite her playful and gregarious nature, she is very obedient; much more so than our older daughter. In fact, despite her tender age, she is also more spiritually inclined and prayerful then her older sibling, who is quiet and shy (Come to think of it, my older daughter is quiet, shy, less obedient and less prayerful. Maybe, she's the one I should be concerned about putting me over the edge in the Steve Martin hair look!).

Oh well, hopefully, it seems for now, we put the reins on our daughter participating in the kissing game (for now, being the operative phrase).

It's going to be a rough upcoming couple of decades…

Monday, February 21, 2011

Is iPhone App on Confession a Blessing?...

The new iPhone application for preparing Catholics for Confession, named Confession: A Roman Catholic App, is getting a lot of press lately. Some reports have called it a change of times for the Church or mistakenly reported it as a new way of confessing sins in the comfort and privacy of the home.

However, the application is nothing more than an examination of conscious, which has for years been in use and available to the laity. Albeit, possibly not at the same level of dissemination potential as the iPhone, which gives the Church a way of reaching younger generations that may have fallen out of the practice of regularly visiting the confessional.

According to its Indiana-based producers, Little iApps LLC, the program is meant to give a "personalized examination of conscience for each user, password protected profiles, and a step-by-step guide to the sacrament" but the Vatican warned it is not a substitute for the real deal.

In his latest commentary, Fr. Robert Barron states that after the second Vatican Council, almost overnight, there was a drastic drop in the number of Catholics that took advantage of the sacrament of healing and reconciliation. However, confession didn’t go away. Instead, it went out of the confessional and into society at large. 

Hopefully, the new app can lead fallen away Catholics back to the sacrament...  

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Moment in Time with My Son and St. Joe...

St. Joseph with the infant Jesus by Guido Reni
On a recent Saturday morning, I woke up earlier than the rest of my family (not unusual) and went to the computer to do some reading (also not uncommon).

About an hour after being there, my 3-yr-old son comes around behind me without saying a word and cuddles up next to me and gestures with his arms so that I pick him up. I do so and sit him on my lap.

I wrapped my arms around him and held him in silence (he was still half asleep). As I sat there holding him, a thought crossed my mind about St. Joseph; the man entrusted by God to raise His Son. I realize, it may not be the thought that would cross most men. However, my thoughts were about how many times this humble and pious carpenter must have tenderly held Jesus in his arms as a child like I was holding my son?

Just being there...

I often beat myself up for failing to hold up my end as a husband and father. Several months ago, I was having a conversation with a good friend who told me, "Carlos, sometimes you can be a bit hard on yourself. Being a good father, at times, means just being there; day in and day out.  It's your wife and kids knowing that you are there and available whenever they need you."

As we sat there in silence, my son began to play with the crucifix around my neck.  Nothing was said. It was a moment in time of bonding between father and son.

Finally, he looked at me and smiled, "Do I have school today?"

"No," I answered, and his grin grew wider.

Yes... Just being there like St. Joseph, without the responsibility of raising the Son of God, but with the responsibility of raising a godly son.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

JP II International Film Festival Set to Begin...

From a former porn star turned Christian evangelist to Pope John Paul II's role in the fall of communism in Poland, the second JP II International Film Festival, starting tomorrow in Miami, promises something of interest for the entire family.

This year’s event, themed “Mystery of Love,” will feature seventeen full length films and documentaries, as well as ten short films from the United States, Europe, South America and India.

Among the lineup of faith-based films are: Rust, starring Corbin Bernsen as a former pastor who comes to the aid of a childhood friend accused of a crime; a free showing of Ramona and Beezus, based on the Beverly Cleary book series and starring Selena Gomez; and Oscar’s Cuba, the story of Cuban dissident, political prisoner and pro-life Christian, Dr. Oscar Biscet, who is serving a 25-year sentence for promoting human rights.

Festival organizers say they got the idea for the festival from the late Pope, who in his “Letter to Artists” in 1999 encouraged Catholic participation in the arts and challenged artists to respond to the world’s hunger for Truth, Love and Peace through the use of their God-given craft.  A recent article in the Archdiocese of Miami  website describes how the concept was born. 

“People don’t normally think that faith-based films equal art, but our festival proves just that,” said Laura Alvarado, the festival coordinator. “Our festival’s mission is to prove that these incredible stories and high caliber films have an audience, and we encourage them to step up and be counted.”

Rafael Anrrich, co-founder of the festival, is a mental and behavioral health therapist in Miami. Born to Catholic parents, he turned away from the faith in his late 20s but said he felt a strong call to return to the Church after John Paul II’s death.

In early 2009, he met Alvarado and Frank Brennan while leading a retreat, named Mystery Love, for the Jubilee Youth Group of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Miami. Anrrich shared with them the idea of starting a film festival named after the late pope, and it came into fruition in 2009 with the theme “Faith through the Storm.”

Alvarado is a trained actress, singer and graduate of the New World School of the Arts in Miami. She and Brennan founded 7eventhDay Films, where she has acted in and produced three independent films. Brennan, the film coordinator, is a screenwriter, film editor and aspiring independent film director. The two were married in August 2010.

As Alvarado and Brennan began marriage preparations last year, they said they began to see how hungry the world was for true love.

“The team began to really delve into John Paul II’s teaching on Theology of the Body and the festival’s theme became more than a tribute, it became our mission,” said Alvarado. “We set out to find films of incredible caliber that could best decipher the meaning of love.”
The festival kicks-off with an opening night reception at the Coral Gables Art Cinema (tomorrow, February 17), followed by world premiere documentary, Out of the Darkness, directed by Sean Finnegan. The film is about the true story of Shelley Lubben, who went from pornographic film actress to Christianity and now is committed to evangelizing her former industry.

Closing night (Saturday, February 26) will also include a gala and awards ceremony at Florida International University’s Diaz-Balart Hall and the showing of Nine Days that Changed the World, a documentary directed by Kevin Knoblock and produced by former U.S. Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich and his wife, about the impact of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Poland in 1979 and the subsequent collapse of communism there.

For the full lineup of films, times, ticket information and venues see the festival's official web site.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Locked in My Car and No Way Out!...

Brings back memories...
Last February, way before I started blogging, I experienced one of the funniest and most surreal circumstances in my life (and that's saying a lot), which I took the time to put on paper (pardon me, on computer) to share with friends and family.  Since it is Valentine's Day, I thought I would share the romantic tale of a man and his car (I should say in his car)...

In my life, I have been involved and experienced many awkward and funny situations but I think today’s predicament was one of my finest. In fact, it was so surreal, comical and, at the same time, nerve racking, that I had to share it.

Chalk up another chapter in the misadventures of Carlos Espinosa. 

The rainy South Florida morning started off sluggishly for me. I ran late getting my son ready and couldn’t make it to morning Mass. I was also in a bit somber mood since I had to attend the burial of an uncle, who died at the young age of 61.

After the burial, I drove off to work and that’s where my story gets interesting.

After leaving the cemetery in Opa-locka, as I came to a stop at red light, my car appeared to lose power briefly but then the power surged right back. I thought it was odd but was already late for work and was hoping to make it to the office before the car died on me. So, I kept going (a usual response on my part; worry about it later!).

As I approached the traffic light coming off the expressway exit, I came to a complete stop and my car totally shut off. I'm talking absolutely no power; the radio, the air conditioner, the ignition. Everything was eerily turned off. But worst of all, I couldn’t open the windows, doors or, even, sunroof for that matter. I was trapped inside my car (with no way out!).

By this time, it was almost noon. The rain had subsided and the sun was really starting to blaze, not to mention the heat from the South Florida humidity. It must have been more than 95 degrees (at least, it felt that way inside the car).

The guy behind me started honking; I couldn’t even turn on the hazard lights. I gestured with my hands across my throat that the car was dead. The traffic was particularly congested that morning but he was able to drive around, only to have another driver pull up behind me and having to repeat the same scenario.

I started to sweat, and the first thing that crossed my mind is, “this is one fine mess I got myself into.” I chuckled internally at the absurdity of the situation. However, just as quickly I thought, “I can suffocate in here!”

As I started to get uncomfortably stuffy very quickly (probably my own nerves and mind playing tricks on me), I really began to wonder if this was how my life was going to end. I thought about my wife having to cope with her husband suffocating inside his own car. What would she tell our friends? It was actually funny to me but not really. I gathered my thoughts and came to my senses and thought there’s no way God would let me die in my car! I began to pray for strength and remembered the Divine Mercy motto, “Jesus, I trust in you,” which I started repeating in my head. 

Despite the short amount of time that had elapsed, my mind was racing with all sorts of thoughts. What I could do? Was God testing my faith? Should I kick out the windows? No, too much damage; it’s an expense I didn’t want to have to go through at this time (we just paid for the kids school registration and now have a leak in our roof). I would leave that as the last resort when I had barely any oxygen left, I thought (hopefully I would still have the strength by then).

I decided to call my wife to let her know that I was trapped inside my car (thank Heaven for cell phones, which I had been in the process of recharging when the power cut off). I just wanted her to know, in case anything were to happen (although I believed everything was going to be fine and had faith, I wanted her to know the pickle her husband was in). She started laughing. Nice. She asked me how I got locked out; I said, “No, I’m not locked out, I’m locked in. I can’t get out!” I went on to explain what had happened but as we talked, I thought that I needed to contact 9-1-1 and work. She was going to contact our friend and the owner of the dealership where I got my car.

I then called work to let them know my dilemma so they knew I was going to be later than expected. After I explained that I was locked “in” my car with no power or way out, I hung up and called 9-1-1. (I later found out that after I hung up with my co-worker, all hell broke loose at work as my other co-workers burst into uncontrollable laughter. That is, except for the one who had answered my call and had heard my explanation, probably sensing the urgency in my voice). This was funny but no joke! She started getting concerned.

I then called 9-1-1. I explained to the operator that the power in my car had completely shut off and I was locked in my car in the middle of the roadway. She said, get this, “Open the door.” If it wasn’t for the seriousness I felt, I would have laughed too. Despite my concern due to the heat and stuffiness in my car, I realized it was just too funny to be real (except it was!).

Several minutes went by. I started praying to try to calm down and not think about the sweat dripping profusely from the sides of my face. I may not have been sweating at the level of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, but I was starting to drip all over the place.

And, to top it off, unlike most days, when I wear a dress shirt and a pair of jeans, I had dressed up with a jacket, dress shirt, slacks and dress shoes for the funeral. I even wore socks!  By this point, I had already taken off the jacket but felt the sweat dripping inside my shirt. It was hot!

After what seemed to be an eternity (probably less then 5 minutes), still no cops and people were still driving up behind me and honking. At least, fish have cool water in their tanks, all I had in mine was sweat!

I decided to call 9-1-1 again. I started explaining my situation again and, before I finished, they told me an officer was already on the way (it was a different operator so my guess is that since he knew what I was referring to, all the 9-1-1 operators must have had a nice laugh after my first call). I stressed the fact that it was HOT in the car!

Shortly thereafter, the first cops (a man in his 50’s and a woman in her 30’s) drove by in a squad car and I waved them down through my closed window. They probably weren’t the ones assigned to rescue me but pulled up in front of my car anyway (they must have seen the sweat on my face).

As they were approaching, our car dealer and good friend, called me on my cell. “What happened?” he asked. I started to explain my situation. As I talked to him, more officers showed up. Through the glass, I explained that I couldn’t open the doors or windows (Marcel Marceau would have been proud).

Meanwhile, my friend told me that there was a latch in the trunk that opened the trunk and an access to the trunk through the backseat. More cops started showing up. I think there were five or six by that time.

I climbed into the back seat.  The sweat was pouring from me.  By this time, I was drenched. I opened the back seat access to the trunk while my friend tried to explain what I needed to do. Meanwhile, the cops outside were in a flurry of activity. One was trying to jimmy the driver’s side door to get me out. Another one told me to “Sir, calm down” as he saw me scurrying from the front seat to the back and trying to reach into the trunk. He must have thought I was starting to freak out. I explained what I was trying to do.

After trying without success to open the latch of the trunk (my friend kept telling me where it was but, in my anxiety, and with the amount of junk I have in the trunk, I couldn’t find it).  One of the officers suggested I try to open the hood.

I climbed back into the front of the car (I’m not exactly the most svelte guy) but this time I was more proficient, having climbed into the back just minutes before. Once I got to the front, I realized that not only could I open the hood, but I could also open the trunk from the inside (they’re not electrical).

As soon as the hood was opened, the officer noticed that the cable that connects to the battery had completely come off. He promptly reconnected it and told me to try the door again. As soon as I did, the doors clicked open.

However, probably, from playing with the lock so much, the driver’s door lock was jammed and wouldn’t open. Another officer opened the passenger door and I was able to get out. Freedom! Hallelujah! Thank you, God!

While I went around personally thanking my heroes, one of the officers tightened the lose cable with a pair of pliers.

Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, the loss of about ten pounds of sweat, and although, aside from that, showing no other sign of ill effect, except to my ego, I was able to start driving back to work.

What a day and what an adventure...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Senator Marco Rubio and Me...

 When Marco Rubio announced his intentions to run for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Mel Martinez in the summer of 2009, not many people, including me, gave him much of a chance to beat then popular Governor Charlie Crist for the GOP nomination.

I remember a conversation with a co-worker, where we asked ourselves, "What is he doing?"    

To be fair, Rubio wasn't totally unknown, considering he served as Speaker of the Florida State House of Representatives, but he wasn't exactly a household name to most Floridians, as was the Governor.

In fact, the rumor up to that point was that he would make a run for Governor to replace Crist.   

Boy were we wrong.

Rubio not only won the Republican nomination but his lead over Crist was so wide before the primaries that Crist decided to run as an Independent in hopes of swaying Democratic votes in the General Elections. 

Crist's plan failed miserably.  With the help of the Tea Party, and disenfranchised voters upset at the Democratic leadership in Washington, Rubio swept into victory over his former GOP rival, turned Independent, and Democratic challenger Kendrick Meek last November.

After his first trip abroad to Afghanistan and Pakistan right after his swear-in, the freshman Senator visited  the Noticias 23 Univision Newsroom in Doral, where I make my living as the Assignment Manager. Our newsroom is not unfamiliar to Rubio, who served as a Noticias 23 political analyst before his decision to run for the federal seat.   

The 39-year-old Cuban-American from West Miami is a rising star in the Republican Party and considered a future presidential candidate.  Some political pundits are already mentioning him as a potential VP candidate, as early as the 2012 race. 

Rubio is a pro-life Catholic, who was a member of my parish community before launching his run for the Senate.  Several years ago, as part of a parish lecture series, he was invited by our pastor to give a talk about living his faith in the political arena.

Keep your eye on Rubio in the coming years.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Till Death Do Us Part; A Love Story From God...

Abraham Lincoln once wrote, “Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory.”

As funny as this statement may sound, there is some profound truth to it.

Think about it. What is purgatory? According to the Catholic faith, it is where we are put “through the fire” and, although, we will feel the greatest joy that we, as humans, have ever felt, we will also experience the greatest anguish that we have ever experienced.

Now, doesn’t that sound like marriage?

Last weekend, my wife and I served at a Marriage Covenant Retreat, meant for couples trying to improve their odds in today’s world, where more than half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. The retreat gives the participants an opportunity to take time away from their kids and all the distractions of their daily life and refocus on each other and their relationship.

A good friend of mine always promotes the retreat by saying that the most meaningful conversation he had with his wife in the first ten years of his marriage was during the Marriage Covenant Retreat several years ago. My friend is a huge talker (the kind that when a meeting is dragging and everyone is ready to go, starts giving his input and asking questions), so if his wife was able to survive a weekend of total focus and conversation, and they came out stronger from it, their marriage is meant to last.

Although my wife and my experience wasn’t as radical when we first attended it last year, the retreat afforded us an opportunity to discuss things that we don’t usually talk about, unless the feces is hitting the fan (to avoid using the word that I really meant to use). It was quality time at its best (we even had time to shoot some hoops).

This time around, we were asked to give a talk about our marriage; the good, the bad and the ugly. Although, I must say, the good far outweighs the bad and the ugly in our marriage (at least, for me; you may want to ask my wife when I’m watching the Heat and she’s doing the laundry).

Since Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, allow me to share some of our love story and thoughts on marriage.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, next month, my wife and I will be celebrating out 13th Wedding Anniversary. Although, there’s a caveat; we actually got married twice. Our second marriage was three years ago in the Catholic Church; so I like to say that we tied a double knot to make sure neither of us could break lose.

We first met while we were both working at a local television station. My wife was working for a network show and I was working for the local newsroom (I’ve been in the news business a long time!).  However, I was married at the time (to someone else).

She was a beautiful girl, just out of college, that all the guys at the station would swoon over but, though I found her attractive, I didn’t pay much attention to her.

In fact, she tells people that she thought I was a jerk because she worked for the network’s top show and everyone bended over backwards to help her, except for me. (At the time, I had a tendency of being a bit intense and very wrapped up in my work. I didn’t want to be bothered; no matter how good looking she was!)

Nevertheless, it’s not like she was beating down my door anyway. She was just interested having fun, like a normal 20 something year old. But shortly after we met, she got a job as the Press Secretary of a U.S. Congressman and moved to Washington, D.C., where she lived for about five years, fell in love and got engaged to be married.

She actually moved back to Miami when her fiancé got transferred here just before they were to get married.

Well, as fate has it, the other "love interest" called off the wedding two days before the big day (talk about cold feet!); leaving my wife, over 300 guests, many from out of the country, all dressed up with no place to go.  (In other words, everything was paid for; the church, the hall, the dress, music, flowers, video, photographer, rings, honeymoon, etc., etc.).

Now, you can say poor girl but, hey, that’s where I stepped in! (Call me Shaquille O’Neal in his prime or Dennis Rodman without the wedding dress and tattoos)

You can say it was fate, or you can say it was faith. In the summer before starting high school (and entering the heathen years of my life), I remember praying to God to meet a girl like Sandy, Olivia Newton-John's character in the movie, Greese (Sound too much like a teenage girl?  I guess, I have always been in touch with my feminine side). And, I believe, many, many years and twists and turns later, my wife was the answer to those prayers.

About a month after her called off wedding, and six months after my divorce, we ran into each other at a South Beach nightclub, called Polyester’s (which no longer exists). I noticed her right away and just happened to be with a friend who had worked with us at the TV station and knew her better than I did. After getting him to go say hello, I also went to say hello (yes, remember me; the jerk?).

Several minutes later, we ran into each other in the hallway near the bathrooms. I was coming out of the men’s room and she was heading into the women’s. I was convinced she was following me so I struck up a conversation.

We hit it off right away and the conversation lasted about an hour before her friends came to tell her that they were leaving.

I didn’t get her number but, I knew where she worked and planned on calling her during the week.

The week went by and I didn’t call until Friday. By then, I already had plans for the night and Saturday night so, I asked her out on Sunday.

During our first date, I fell head over heels in love. We talked about every taboo subject that you could ever want to avoid on a first date; relationships, my previous marriage, her called off wedding, our families, and kids. I think we even talked about religion and politics. It was just so natural. It was amazing.

It was so amazing that on Monday night, the night after our date, I broke my rule of waiting two days before calling a girl because, it just so happens that, my brother, who is an actor, and we had talked about during our date, was appearing on The Cosby Show. (I had to call and tell her!)

After a lunch date and another Sunday night date, I invited her out for Valentine’s Day.

However, that Valentine’s date, I thought would be our last.

I took her to dinner at a nice restaurant at the Mayfair Hotel (the only place I was able to get a last minute reservation with the help of a friend) and had a little scheme planned. I bought a bottle of champagne, hoping this might be the night (four dates into our relationship, do you think I was a bit high on myself?). I put the champagne in a cooler and a blanket in my trunk without telling her.

After dinner, we started heading to South Beach. She asked where we were going and I gave her an option; we could go have a drink at a trendy bar that I use to go to OR… (My choice), we could go to the beach and I sprung my little plan of the champagne and blanket on her. 

She shot me down like “Goose” was in Top Gun (am I dating myself?) and very coldly said, “Why don’t we just go to the bar?”

It was as if the air was punched out of my tire. I felt an immediate rush of humility flushing my face and sense of tension in the air. I thought, that’s it, I screwed this up. I might as well have a drink and then take her home.

Then, as I was trying to get the bartender’s attention to buy a couple of drinks, she said to me, “That was very nice of you to send me flowers.” I had sent a large arrangement to her work earlier in the day.

I thought, “What?” I’m back in, baby! We ended up closing the bar down at about 4am (something that seems surreal to me now since I am usually fast asleep by 10:30 pm most nights).

From that night onward, we started seeing each other every night and soon thereafter I told her that she was going to fall in love with me and we were going to get married (I told you I was full of myself).

Of course, my wife points out that several months later, she called me out on the mat on the marriage issue since I would constantly bring it up and she said to me one day, “Let’s do it!” I was a bit thrown off-guard by her assertiveness and said, “hubada-hubada-hubada” as I took a big gulp from a beer I was drinking.  

But, then I reasoned with her. She was going to get married and I got divorced the previous year. To top it off, her father passed away six months after we met. It was just too soon. We needed to wait at least until the following year. And that’s what we did. (I think fast on my feet!... but it was obvious to both of us that it would be too soon to get married)

In March 1998, we got married in a beautiful sunset wedding at the Miami Rowing Club amidst about 200 of our closest friends and family. We’ve been living in marital bliss ever since (it’s all a matter of interpretation).

At first, adjusting to marital life, especially for my wife, who had been living on her own for about five years, was very difficult (Not too much for me. I took the round-trip flight; from my parents’ house to my house with my ex-wife and back to my parents’ house. Don’t judge me, I’m Cuban).

As most people know, marriage is not easy, especially today, with both spouses working full time jobs just to make ends meet (In my case, my wife works a day job, is a realtor and has a translations company). You add house work, obligations, kids and the stress these elements put on a marriage and it starts taking a toll. Marriage takes more than just love.  It takes commitment, hard work, patience and perseverance.

In my opinion, left to our own device, it is very difficult for most marriages today to make it unless God is part of the equation.

Divorce has become way too easy, facilitated by no-fault divorce, which most states have adopted. Moreover, unlike in previous generations, it is now socially accepted to be divorced. Instead of working through problems, as our parents and grandparents did, many couples today take the easy way out or when the feeling of “love” subsides. Because, unfortunately, we are told that life is all about “me” and how “I” feel and if “I’m” not happy then I need to find someone else that makes me happy.

As the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side. What they don't say is; the grass looks greener until you get there!

I myself am a product of the society. Although not my choice, I had a failed marriage. However, I believe my first marriage was doomed from the start. God was never a part of our life. We never prayed together. We never practiced or, even, understood our faith and we only went to Mass for weddings, baptisms and holidays (In fact, our wedding was in a Catholic Church more because of tradition than faith).

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, one of the first and greatest televangelists in TV history, who had a prime time network show (if you can believe that), wrote a book titled, Three to Get Married; and as he said, the third person is not the mother-in-law. If God is not at the center of a marriage, its chances for success are drastically reduced.

That is the biggest difference in my marriage today. Despite, occasional arguments (sometimes more  occasionally then others), we know that we are in this for the long haul. God is a huge part of our married life and family; from prayer, to learning and living our faith to the best of our ability and setting an example for our children, to regularly partaking in the Sacraments.

As a family, we never miss Sunday Mass and personally, I attend daily Mass several times per week. We go to Confession on a regular basis and often take our 10-year-old daughter. We're also involved in different ministries, including the Marriage Covenant ministry. To us, divorce is not an option (As I heard a friend say recently, divorce is much less likely to occur when it's not an option).

After a reversion to my faith (I say reversion because, although I never left the Church, I was not a practicing or, even, understood my faith for almost 30 years), I finalized the annulment of my first marriage and my wife and I got married in the Catholic Church in December 2007, where during the same event, we baptized our son.

It is appropriate that God made us wait almost ten years before getting married in the Church because it probably took me that long to understand what sacramental love meant; and I’m still learning.

Sacramental love is that which we renew every time our two bodies become one flesh, as referenced in the Bible. Our marriage covenant does not end at the altar; it is renewed and reaffirmed every time we share in total self-giving love.

If you think about how profound that is, consider that God creates life through the marital union of husband and wife.

In fact, Pope John Paul II said that to enter into total self-giving love with our spouse, where we give ourselves completely to each other, is to enter into the very life of the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit (a family). God is family.

Therefore, the Pope said, we partake and help complete God’s Perfect Plan of Creation in the human family; husband, wife, and child.

Jerry McGuire was right. His wife did complete him!

One of my favorite verses in sacred scripture is Ephesians 5:25, which is often used in weddings. It states: “Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church and gave himself up for her.”

Think about that. Christ died for the Church and I am called to love my wife as Christ loves the Church. Therefore, sacramental love requires sacrifice. As a husband, I have to be willing to give myself up for my wife as Christ did for the Church (and hopefully she will reciprocate!).

It is also significant that St. Paul writes about the relationship between Christ and the Church in the same breath with marriage because, just as in marriage, where two bodies become one flesh, Christ becomes One Flesh with His Bride, which the is the Church, through the Holy Eucharist.

Therefore, marital communion is sacramental, like Holy Communion.

During our wedding vows, we say, "I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life... for better, or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part."

Marriage is not a contract, as society and the culture tell us, which is why some in their naïveté and/or misguided charity are trying to redefine marriage.  It is a sacramental union; a covenant with our spouse and with God, in which we participate in the inner-most life of the Trinity, which is Love.

There is no opt-out clause.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Twelve Women, a Wife and a Husband...

My wife and I genuinely enjoy spending time together.

Aside from the time we spend with our kids, ever since we got married, we make an effort to go out alone on date nights.

So, obviously, when my wife told me that we were going to her all-girl high school Class of 1986 twenty-five year reunion, last weekend, I thought nothing of it (yes, she usually tells me what we’re doing on weekends. If left up to me, we would hang out all day on the couch watching TV).

Well, the plan for the reunion was that we would meet her classmates at the school for a cocktail reception, and then go to dinner at a restaurant in South Miami.

My wife attended a small Catholic school in Coconut Grove. When I say small, I mean her graduating class had only 26 girls. Just for some perspective, my graduating class, at a local public high school in Miami Springs, had a graduating class that surpassed 600 students. In fact, I was in the top tier of my senior class in GPA average despite graduating in the triple digits!

My wife's school is so small that they hold reunions for several classes at the same time. Last weekend, it was the reunion for the classes from the inception of the school in the 60's until 2006 in five-year intervals.  I think, all of them combined make up about a third of my senior class.

However, little did I know that I would be one of only three spouses to attend the reception (only two of which were male) and, to add insult to injury, the other husband bailed out before dinner.

I knew I was in trouble, as we walked into the school and a couple of my wife’s classmates, asked me, “Yanik made you come?” A waiter came around with a tray of champagne, and I snatched a glass and nearly drank it in one gulp.

Amidst hugs, the excitement of seeing some unexpected classmates that had shown up, from as far as Nicaragua, reminiscing of teachers and glory days, tours of the new music room, dance studio and art room and introductions (of me, because, for the first hour or so, I was the only odd ball not part of the graduating class), I started drinking.

The big stir was the school’s new hallway lockers, which were of cedar wood and look nicer than my kitchen cabinets.

Each time the gloved tuxedoed waiter came by with the tray of champagne, I grabbed one. It came to a point, where the guy would come to me first before offering his tray around the room. Ok, so champagne is not the most manly libation, but that’s what they were offering and it contains alcohol. What else was a guy to do? (Did I mention it was an all girl school?)

After about an hour of pleasantries, everyone went into the courtyard for hors d'oeuvres (and an open bar, baby!). A fleeting thought crossed my mind, what if I get ripped and throw up all over this courtyard? Maybe, on the 30-year-reunion, they would put on the invitation; no guests please!

So, after four champagne glasses and a scotch, I’m feeling pretty comfortable and, aside from chasing around the guys and gals with the food trays, was yapping to anyone and everyone that came near me.  It was as if I had been there through all those great memories in 1986.

I actually hit it off with the only other husband of one of my wife’s classmates. We were talking baseball, books and brain cancer (see my blog on Tug McGraw). Maybe, there’s a reason why he bailed out before dinner.

So, there I was at a table at Whisk in South Miami with twelve women, the wife of one of the classmates and me (I did mention it was an all-girl school!). It was actually a blast.

I can't wait till the thirtieth-year reunion.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fr. Barron on St. Paul, the Church and the Christian Mission

For those who haven't figured it out by now, one of my favorite areas of interest is theology. In fact, when my kids get a little older (if my wife gives me permission), I hope to take my private studies to a higher plateau and take some college level courses on the subject.

Meanwhile, I'll continue learning from some of my favorite theologians; Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Dr. Scott Hahn and Fr. Robert Barron.

Today, Fr. Barron gives a great commentary on the conversion of St. Paul, the mission of the Church and, thus, the role of Christians to evangelize the culture and the world.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Screwball's Odyssey with Life, Death and Tim McGraw...

Tug McGraw
There's something to be said about a biography when you know going into it how it's going to end and still get choked up while reading it (of course, for me that's not saying much since I've been known to shed a tear from time to time).

There I was sitting in my reading room (aka bathroom) after my family had gone to bed. It was around midnight and silence reigned throughout the house (not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse).  And, as I came to the last few pages of the book, I was sobbing like Brett Favre at a retirement press conference.  But, through the tears, as I thought about the situation; a near-middle-aged man crying over a book, sitting alone in his bathroom on a Friday night, I had to laugh at myself (not exactly the image I envisioned as something I would be doing when I was 21-years-old).

I just finished the memoirs of former Mets and Phillies relief pitcher, and team screwball, Tug McGraw, titled Ya Gotta Believe! My Roller-Coaster Life as a Screwball Pitcher and Part-Time Father, and My Hope-Filled Fight Against Brain Cancer, co-written by Don Yaeger. The screwball is not only a description of the man but his most lethal out pitch, which earned him a living in the big leagues for nineteen years. However, some might know Tug better as country music star Tim McGraw's dad.

Ironically, before being known as Faith Hill's husband, Tim, who aside from being a multi Grammy and Country Music Awards winner, is now making a name for himself in Hollywood (The Blind Side, Friday Night Lights and more), was better known for being Tug McGraw's son. The son Tug never acknowledged as his until meeting Tim in a hotel lobby at 17 and realizing the kid looked just like his old man.

Ya Gotta Believe is a surprisingly engrossing book. I say surprisingly because I got it as a gift from my brother and it sat in my bookshelf for several years before I picked it up towards the end of last year.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying my brother would give me a boring book.  I have just been more preoccupied with reading books on theology and the Catholic faith recently.

Being a lifelong Mets fan, I remember growing up watching the Mets of the early 70's almost every night with my mom, dad and younger brother while living in Port Chester, NY. My dad liked Rusty Staub. I was a big Tom Seaver and Duffy Dyer fan. My brother and mom liked Tug McGraw.

I particularly remember the 1973 season, where they came from fifth place and nine games under .500 in late August to win the division and sneak into the playoffs.

Although I knew that "Ya Gotta Believe" was McGraw's battle cry that season, in which he almost single handily willed a lackluster Mets team into contention, the playoffs and World Series, I figured, the title was also going to be indicative of a religious conversion after his diagnosis.

I started reading it thinking it might be an inspiration-filled book high on praises and thankfulness to God for all the blessings in his life. However, my presumption was quickly dashed. About 20 pages into the book, after having his first brain surgery, McGraw describes the two things he wanted to avoid:
The one thing I didn’t do during all this was pout. I made a promise to myself that I would never sit around and ask the “why me?” question. Whatever happens to me, happens to me…
The other thing I didn’t do in the days after my diagnosis was pray. I haven’t been a particularly religious guy over my lifetime, and I thought it was pretty disingenuous to reach out to God now. I’m sure there’s a day coming when I’ll make that call to God, but I wanted it to be some time other than when I was lying there staring death in the face...
Although, I think his sense of righteousness with God was misguided (none of us is ever worthy but we turn to God in times of hardship to give us strength and comfort), I admired his sincerity. McGraw was Catholic and, at that point of the story, receives the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick but says, "not last rites." He saves that for later in the book (although some would argue it's the same sacrament!).

Ya Gotta Believe is an interesting and easy read, albeit probably written more for men because of its raw, at times, locker room conversational style, baseball talk, analogies, and written in the first-person-point of view (except the epilogue), with Tugger’s own male perspectives on life. Nevertheless, his battle with cancer and up and down emotional roller coaster ride during his last year of life will appeal to anyone with a little empathy.

Like most of us, Tug McGraw was a man of many flaws. He had a weakness for wine, women, including countless extramarital affairs, fathering children from one-night-stands (i.e. Tim McGraw), and song, even before Tim appeared. However, he was also a charismatic, generous, hilarious and contagious character that most people, who knew him, loved being around.

Amidst earnest evaluations and reflections on his life, his failures as a husband (twice married, twice divorced), father (four children from three different women) and, admittedly, narcissistic and ego-driven behavior, Ya Gotta Believe draws you into the life of a man driven by a desire to succeed, having fun and making others laughs.

As a baseball fan, there is plenty of insight on his baseball career, teammates, championship seasons, and clubhouse antics. However, the baseball stories only serve as a backdrop into his colorful personal life.

Tug with son Tim McGraw
Tim McGraw is a big part of the book as well. Despite being rejected by his father for seventeen years of his life, Tim apparently never held a grudge and was the rock that kept Tug’s life from totally unraveling after his diagnosis.

In fact, it was Tim that took over his father’s affairs after he got sick. Tim got a brain cancer specialist at Duke University to see and treat his father, he paid for the experimental and costly treatment, Tug’s home, travel expenses for family and even rented a Winnebago for Tug, his brother and close friends to travel to visit family and friends across the country.

During his final days, it was Tim who slept by his father’s side holding his hand.

On the day before his death, Tug McGraw was ready to make the call to God and asked for a priest.
On the afternoon of Saturday, January 3, after Matthew (his 8-year-old son) had left, Tug requested the presence of a priest to deliver last rites... The priest arrived and offered Tug communion. He smiled weakly when the priest placed his hand over Tug’s. Tug seemed comforted by the priest’s presence.
At this point, after investing about a month reading about his life, and to be frank, falling in love with him through the pages of a book (in a manly way!), and knowing the end was near, tears are running down my face but the ending really got to me.
At about 4:40 in the afternoon, Central time (Jan 4), Tug began to have trouble breathing. Cari (daughter), Mark (Son), Tim, and Jennifer (one of Tug’s closest friends) were sitting around his bed. That morning, Faith (Hill) had asked Jennifer where Tug’s rosary beads were, and now Jennifer blurted out, “Oh, my God! The rosary!” Then she said to Cari, “Put that cross in his hand.” Cari placed the beads with the small cross on it in Tug’s right hand, and Tim placed a baseball in his left hand. Tug opened his eyes, and at 4:45 he took his last breath. At that exact moment, Hank (Tug’s older brother) walked in…
So, the man, who didn’t want to pray because it would be disingenuous, eventually accepted God’s Will, confessed his sins to a priest, received last rites and Holy Communion before taking his final breath. Just to reconcile with God alone was a great blessing but if that weren't enough, McGraw died with a rosary in his right hand and a baseball in his left, the gift that God had given him the passion and ability to enjoy throughout his life, and surrounded by his most remarkable blessings; his children and loved ones.

Tug McGraw’s brain cancer was diagnosed in March 2003 and he was given three weeks to live.  Instead, he finally succumbed to it in early January 2004. He was 59.