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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...

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