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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Return of Prodigal Son a Profound Journey of Introspection...

Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son
After several years of lingering in obscurity among dozens of unread books on my bookshelf (one of my many weaknesses is buying more books than my reading can keep up with), I finally picked up and read Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by late Dutch priest Henri J.M. Nouwen.

I'm sorry for letting it sit there for so long. What an amazingly powerful and profound little book (only 139 pages plus notes).

Return of the Prodigal Son was actually given to me as a gift by my wife, who bought it after hearing rave reviews on it by a young priest who gave a talk at a women's retreat she attended. I think all the husbands in our group of friends received a copy shortly thereafter.  Granted, it may have taken me longer to read than most of my friends.

The book is based on the 17th century Rembrandt masterpiece painting, Return of the Prodigal Son, considered among the greatest and most famous artworks in world history and hangs in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Nouwen was captivated by a poster depiction of the painting that he saw in a colleague’s office.  The happenstance led him on a life-changing journey and in-depth study of the painting, which is based on the third parable of redemption told by Jesus to the Pharisees (who were questioning Him for eating and hanging with “sinners”) in the Gospel of Luke. (The Lost Sheep and Coin being the previous two)

In the book, Fr. Nouwen writes about his encounter and experience with the painting (which unexpectedly led him to Russia to see it and study it firsthand), its history and Rembrandt’s roller coaster life, which ended shortly after finishing the work.  But, most of all, Nouwen writes of his years of spiritual growth, exploration and reflection on the characters in the painting and parable.

As you may recall, there are three main characters in the story. The younger son, who demands that his father gives him his share of the inheritance, leaves home, blows all his wealth on debauchery and good living, goes broke, and hits rock bottom when he finds himself starving and working in a pigsty.  The ingrate son repents and humbly returns home to ask his father for forgiveness.

The second main character is the elder brother, who loyally stays at home and works in his father’s field.  But, when his younger brother returns, and gets a hero's welcome from the father, the older sibling feels jealous, insulted, and unappreciated. Even more, he gets angry at the father and refuses to join the celebration for his brother.

Finally, there’s the father, who willingly gives his younger son the inheritance, which at the time was the biggest insult any son, could have rendered upon his father, which basically amounted to saying, “I want you dead.”  Regardless of the pain his son must have caused him, when he sees his younger son returning from afar, he doesn’t wait. Instead, he runs towards him and meets him on the way, embraces him, dresses him in fine clothes and jewelry and throws him a feast saying, “This son of mine was dead and has come back to life.” Then, after realizing his older son was outside feeling hurt, he goes out to meet him too and tries to convince him to join the festivities.  

While examining each character, Fr. Nouwen invites readers to ponder them in relationship to their own lives and delve deeper into their relationship with God.

In my case, the prodigal son was easy to identify. I was the prodigal son, when I drifted from my faith in high school and it wasn't until my early forties that I returned.  During that time, I was lost in my own self-centeredness and lust for what the world told me was my reward; career, materialism and physicality.  But despite attaining many of the accomplishments that society sets as the standards for happiness, I never found true happiness. I was always seeking more. That more came about five years ago, when I finally realized the happiness I sought could only be found in God.

Then there is the elder son, which Nouwen, like me, found harder to discern.  Sure, there was the obvious similarities to my own family upbringing, since I stayed home, while my younger brother left to seek fame and fortune.  I was the George Bailey of the Espinosa clan (without having to save my brother's life, or the family business, or the entire town, and let me tell you, Hialeah would have been a challenge). But, while at some point, there may have been tinges of regret for not having gone off to explore the “world” (more for pleasure seeking then nobleness), it was a choice I made (and part of God’s perfect plan for me).  Now, after finding true happiness, I realize, like George Bailey did; it is a wonderful life.

However, the elder brother inside me is more subtle and evident only when I consider my everyday life. It surfaces in my selfishness, resentment and petty jealousies, or in my ego, pride, and anger (which the book explains is a characteristic of pride because anger is usually the result of someone not doing what you want them to do), and, like the older sibling, in my sense of entitlement.  While they are not always present in my life, they are constant reminders of my human frailty.

As for the father, I'm, what you might call, a work in progress.  Ten years after my first child was born, I’m still growing into the role. While, I’d like to think that I can show compassion and mercy for my children, many times, my love is not exactly unconditional. I often expect them to behave certain ways or do certain things. And, when they fall short, I regress to the anger of the elder son.  It's a struggle.

Nouwen describes the three characters in the parable as stages in our spiritual maturity.
Though I am both the younger son and the elder son, I am not to remain them, but to become the Father.  No father or mother ever became father or mother without having been son or daughter, but every son and daughter has to consciously choose to step beyond their childhood and become father and mother for others.
Moreover, the author notes, Jesus is the prototype for all three.
Jesus, the Beloved of the Father, leaves his Father’s home to take on the sins of God’s wayward children and bring them home. But, while leaving, he stays close to the Father and through total obedience offers healing to his resentful brothers and sisters. Thus, for my sake, Jesus becomes the younger son as well as the elder son in order to show me how to become the Father. Through him I can become a true son again and, as a true son, I finally can grow to become compassionate as our heavenly Father is.
As any great spiritual book, Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, may require a second, or third, reading to capture its full impact and profundity, but I would highly recommend it to anyone who has ever traveled off to a foreign land and is seeking a way back home or, like me, the George Baileys of the world, who loyally stayed behind but, just as our younger sibling, are searching for the same true happiness in life...

  

Fr. Henri J.M. Nouwen was a professor at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard, wrote over 40 books, experienced monastic life with Trappist Monks in Genesee, and missionary work in Latin America, before finding a home as the pastor of a community for mentally handicapped people.  He was known for his writings on spirituality and spiritual life.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Friars Lift the Lord's Name (and Body) Up High...

Talk about soapbox street corner preaching…

You may be familiar with flash mob videos of people unexpectedly breaking into song and dance in public shopping centers, streets and parks. But, this one has a different twist.

In a video that is making its rounds through cyberspace since being introduced on You Tube last week, a group of Capuchin Franciscan Monks in Lancashire, United Kingdom, hit the public square to, what they called "lift the city," with the ultimate flash mob; the Body of Christ!

After the initial shock and confusion, some busy shoppers decide to kneel and join in the adoration, while others continue about their way and regular routine.

By the end, participants and many spectators break into applause…





Kudos to Creative Minority Report for catching this.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Beloved Hero of the Church Leaves Priesthood...

Several months ago, I wrote a blog about the plight of Fr. John Corapi, one of the most revered Catholic televangelists of our time, who was suspended after being accused by a former employee of sexual misconduct.

As an admirer and fan of Fr. Corapi, whose testimony profoundly touched me because of his tumultuous life, which went from a humble upbringing, to multimillionaire realtor that ran in the fast lane with the Hollywood crowd, to cocaine addiction, homelessness, and mental breakdown, before pulling his life back together through faith, I was disheartened by the story of the charges against him and subsequent suspension.

Now, I'm sure skeptics might say that a leopard never changes his spots, but those of us that have experienced, and continue to experience, conversion understand, while the sin within us remains strong, the choice to remain faithful with the help of God is even stronger.

Still, what made the disappointment more frustrating, is that it became a case of he said, she said, or better stated, she said, he said, with the truth proving elusive to determine and the circumstances questionable, to say the least. I thought his reputation, as one of the most dynamic and staunch defenders of the Catholic Church, would be stained forever.

Even so, I wrote that regardless of Fr. Corapi's innocence or guilt, I did not believe in the Church because of the priests, the pope, a creed, or the religious service, but because I believed the Catholic Church was established by Christ upon the rock of Peter and the Apostles, who were given the authority that Christ received from God the Father. Peter and the Apostles, as written in scripture, preserved Christ’s teachings, proclaiming them to all corners of the earth and handing them down to bishops and presbyters (priests), who continue to pass them forward from generation to generation, despite their many faults and weaknesses.

The reason for my regression is that last Saturday, while on vacation with my family at a hotel pool in Ponte Vedra, Fl., my wife shows me an article on her cell phone that put a little damper on my day.  It was an article stating that Fr. Corapi was resigning his public ministry as a priest on Sunday, the day marking his 20th year anniversary in the priesthood, which was also Fathers’ Day.

What struck me about his decision was that despite being a fervent defender of the Apostolic succession of the bishops for two decades, he was taking such a drastic step instead of following the footsteps of other wrongfully maligned priests, like Pio of Pietrelcina, who humbly submitted to the authority of the Church and carried his cross, until he was exonerated and eventually venerated a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

In his resignation letter, Fr. Corapi, who called himself, The Black Sheep Dog, said that his autobiography, with the same title, would soon be released, and insisted that he loved the Church and accepted what had transpired. However, his tone was less than accepting. In fact, it was somewhat disconcerting and abrasive.
I did not start this process, the Bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas ordered my superiors, against their will and better judgment, to do it. He in fact threatened to release a reprehensible and libelous letter to all of the bishops if they did not suspend me. He has a perfect right to do so, and I defend that right. Bishops aren’t bound by civil laws and procedures in internal Church matters. I agree with that, and would defend to the death the Church’s right to proceed as they see fit. He is the bishop and he has the right to govern as he sees fit.
A follow up voice commentary a few days later, called The Black Sheep Dog: Unleashed was just as critical.  This time he also took aim at his accuser, who he called an alcoholic looking for a payday (although he said he forgave her!).

National Catholic Register's, Jimmy Akins writes that both the name of his new ministry, The Black Sheep Dog, and his voice commentary, "Unleash," have very renegade connotations and makes one wonder if he will turn on the Church and lead his sheep away from the flock.

Fr. Corapi denies any ill intent on a recent commentary and dispels any notion that he was leaving the Church or going to opposed it in any way. In fact, he said that despite leaving the public ministry, like all ordained priests, he was a priest forever.
Once a man is ordained a priest he remains a priest for all eternity. Holy Orders is one of the three sacraments that imprints an indelible mark on the soul. What the Church can give or remove is “faculties”, which authorizes the person to publicly administer the sacraments. I always cringe when I hear “he’s not a priest anymore.” If he ever was, he still is. What they mean is that he is not functioning in the normal way most priests function, that is, publicly administering the sacraments. Most folks’ contact with priests is the parish priest. They come in contact with him primarily when he administers the sacraments.

A priest is ordained primarily to confect the Eucharist. A validly ordained priest can do this in the normal setting of a parish or community celebration of the holy Eucharist, or in private, as I have done for twenty years. It has the same power. The power is not from how many people are present, it is from the same sacrifice of Calvary made present in time and space. The celebration of the sacraments is a monumentally noble, holy, and powerful thing. Please don’t misunderstand me and think I believe anything less than that. Each of us is called to a unique way of serving God and society. Certainly I was called to be a priest, but not as a parish priest, and that is not out of character with the history and tradition of the Church. St. Paul was a mission preacher basically. He traveled widely and preached.
The unfolding drama is dejecting for everyone involved but also for the millions of people, like me, that have followed Fr. Corapi through the years. However, there is solace. Fr. Chris Martin makes a good point in the St. Louis Today web site:
For those who feel disheartened or lost when a very charismatic individual falls from grace or is hidden from the limelight, another scripture passage comes to mind. “Put no trust in princes, in mere mortals powerless to save” (Ps 146:3). Whereas it is good and holy for us to acknowledge the good gifts that God has placed within individuals, we always remember that it is God who is the source of those gifts.
I still want to believe the charges against Fr. Corapi are not true but disagree with his decision, as some might argue, to take the easy way out and quit instead of enduring as our faith calls for. He never came across as a quitter and this will only lead to more speculation and doubt. Of course, that is easier said than done and let's face it, he is not getting any younger and may feel he has limited time to continue his mission.  As he says in his recent post, we don't know all the facts involved but because of his abrupt exit, we may never know them (unless exposed in a best selling book!).

I only hope and pray he can continue to proclaim the Faith, faithfully and that wisdom, faith and charity prevail...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Long Drives, Laughs and Lasting Memories...

Challenging Mountainside Roads
If not for a speeding ticket in Northern Georgia on our way back, our family vacation to North Carolina last week couldn’t have gone smoother or been more enjoyable.

Sure, there were the occasional flare ups in the minivan over a toy, book, pillow or blanket, and my wife had to pinch and poke me from time to time to make sure I was awake, but overall, our drive was a lot of fun and, more importantly, gave us plenty of family bonding time.

Yes, despite the stigma, I love driving our Honda Odyssey and, although my wife’s initial reaction to owning a minivan was unfavorable (to say the least), after our third child and hectic soccer and ballet schedules, the once I’ll-never-be-caught-dead-driving-a-minivan hipster mom now loves to drive it too. In fact, I drive a Honda Accord, so we’re a two-Honda family (that’s a direct/indirect plug for a close friend who owns Brickell Honda on SW 8th Street, just blocks from Downtown Miami. Tell them Carlos sent you).

Our Trusted Steed
After the short commercial break, let's get back to our vacation. Two years ago, we went on the same trip to Hayesville, North Carolina to a cabin owned by friends and had probably our best family vacation ever. However, this time, it was even more amazing because our kids are older (our son was just 18 months old on our first trip) and we planned more activities.

We went tubing down the Chattahoochee River, visited one of the biggest Civil War battlefields in the nation (Chickamauga, where over 4,000 Americans soldiers died, and 23,000 more injured, in a two-day battle that was the Confederate Army's last major triumph). We also drove through scenic, albeit somewhat scary, mountainside roads of Tennessee, had lunch and briefly walked around Chattanooga, which was very quaint and made us want to go back, and toured the Cherokee Indian Reservation on the foothills of the Smoky Mountains.

By far, probably the highlight of the trip for our kids was going down the Chattahoochee on inner tubes, especially considering the comic relief I provided.

About 25 minutes into our two and a half hour run down the river, my six-year-old daughter’s cord unlatched from my inner tube. I had to chase her down in about knee-deep water, while battling the current, carrying my tube, a waterproof camera and a bag of water bottles (which ended up spilling and floating away). I chased her for about 50 yards.  It seemed as if the more I ran, the farther the current took her before finally reaching her.  Meanwhile, my wife, older daughter, and son were in hysterical laughter about 100 yards ahead of us. Good thing that this year we went prepared with water shoes. Two years ago, when my older daughter fell and couldn’t get back on her tube, I was barefoot. I had to go after her, slipping and sliding on the smooth and slick river rocks and tearing up my feet, chins, and knees in the process. I was hurting!

Kicking back before "the fall"
 Later on, about halfway down the river, my older daughter, who switched with her younger sister after our “incident” and latched on to my inner tube, was going down one of the many short waterfalls with me. I was backwards as we approached the fall and as my inner tube went down, it hit a large rock and came to a complete halt.  Needless to say, the jolt tossed me, flipping me in the air legs over head, like a back flip, into the cold water. Another moment of pure joy and bliss for my family. In fact, several other people on inner tubes around us had a good laugh as well. You can just imagine what a chunky guy in the Hawaiian shorts flopping around in the air and landing in the water may look like.

The kids loved the adventure so much, that I went back with the girls another day on a shorter run, since my son was feeling sick and had to stay with my wife in the cabin. The shorter run was not as eventful, since I kept twirling in my inner tube to keep facing forward and the only spill we had was when my older daughter flipped three quarters of the way down the run.  

Nevertheless, as I stated earlier, for me, the most important and fulfilling part of our trip was the quality time spent with my family.

As a man, husband and father, there is nothing more important in my life than my wife and children (and despite what they may tell you, that includes the Mets!). Even so, I don't show it as often as I should because of my constant bouts with selfishness, self-centeredness, and laziness.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family.”

I wholeheartedly agree. The best part of our vacation was spent, not in seeing new places and doing things we don’t usually do. It was in little moments with my wife and kids.

Our home away from home
It was in teaching and playing ping-pong with my oldest daughter in the North Carolina cabin, or playing catch with her in the hotel pool on our way back to Miami. It was in wrestling and making my younger daughter fly in our hotel room or pushing her on the swings set on the hotel grounds. It was in playing dribble-less Nerf-basketball with my son and tickling him on the floor. It was in hearing them laugh with wild abandon, as only children can laugh, or my son making everyone laugh with his unceasing antics, faces and booty-shaking dances (he loves to be the center of attention!).

It was also in having my older daughter cuddle up next to me on the couch to watch American Pickers one night, my younger daughter coming up to kiss me on the cheek without me having to ask for it, and my son climbing on top of me to kiss and hug me.

It was in sharing a laugh with my wife, while having drinks (she a sauvignon blanc and me a Glenlivet 15) and lounging around, or holding her, as we watched The Next Food Network Star, the first part of Ken Burn’s Civil War documentary, or suffering through the Miami Heat’s collapse in game six of the NBA Finals (fortunately, it didn't damper our mood).

It was in the many meals we shared together (my six-year-old loved a restaurant named The Rib House on our first night in Hayesville, and wanted to go back every time we would drive by it).

As many studies show, the meal is the foundation time for families; a time to gather and talk, pray, share and love, which is why Christ would often gather and talk to his disciples during meals and was known to enjoy food and drink. He told parables of great feasts and gave His Apostles, the Church, the greatest gift imaginable, the Eucharist meal, His Body and Blood, which is God's "Family Supper" and the Church has been faithfully celebrating it at every Mass (known in Biblical times as the "breaking of bread") ever since.

Playing house inside the van  
During our tip to and from Hayesville and the long hours of driving, we prayed together, talked about random things, laughed, listened to countless Country Music songs (which was on every other station along the way), stopped still to listen to the instructions of our GPS, which two years ago my kids named "Rosie," whenever we approached a change of roadway or turn, spotted Baptist churches (I'm convinced there is a Baptist church for every ten residents in the Northern Georgia/ Southern North Carolina region) and, of course, broke up fights. But, most of all, we made memories that will hopefully last a lifetime.

It was only fitting that after attending morning Mass with the family last Sunday, that I spent the rest of Fathers' Day driving back from Ponte Vedra, near Jacksonville, where we had stayed for a couple of nights, and then unpacking after finally getting home. I have to admit, it was not the most relaxing Fathers' Day I have ever spent, but it helped me get outside my "self" and reflect on the most important purpose in my life, which is to rear Godly children. And, in order to do that, I have to first and foremost serve my family in whatever little way I can (even if that means driving all day on Fathers' Day!)...

By the way, for those interested, I was clocked going 82 in a 65 MPH zone, a fine of $175 bucks, which is not as bad as I thought it would be. In my defense, I was going with the flow of traffic and the speed zones kept changing from 65 to 70 MPH every several miles (not that 82 would have been within either speed limit but unfortunately, I didn’t have the cruise control set at that particular time).  We live and learn...



Thursday, June 9, 2011

Taking the Long and Winding Holiday Road with the Family…

I have very fond memories of road trips with my family while growing up.

I remember the hour upon hour of sitting or lying in the back seat of my parents’ car with my younger brother. Sometimes we would start fighting because his leg or my leg would incidentally (or not so incidentally) touch the other’s body. However, I mostly remember us getting along and trying to entertain each other by playing games, or with toys, and celebrating every time we crossed a state line and got closer to our destination. It’s funny how it’s easier to remember good things when we reminisce.

At the time, we lived in Port Chester, NY, and would often drive to Miami for the summer or to Chicago to visit family for Christmas and New Year’s. Then again, even when we moved to Miami, we drove to Chicago several times.  

I also recall many shorter road trips to New Jersey to visit my dad’s aunt or Connecticut to a farmer’s market, which brings back memories of me riding behind the back seat of my dad’s Volkswagen Beetle; yes, the space directly above the vehicle’s engine and with no car seat or seat belt. Could you imagine that today?

As a matter of fact, when we lived in NY, just going to the beach was a road trip, since we would get up and leave early in the morning, spend the day in the rocky shores (not to mention, freezing water) and drive home in the afternoon.

The routine was usually the same regardless of where we were going. We would get up in the wee hours of the morning (usually around 4:00 or 5:00 AM). It made no sense to me to wake up while it was still dark outside but I was so excited to be going on the trip that I didn’t really mind (I’ve always been, what Cubans call a “callejero,” which loosely translates to someone that likes to be out and about.

I love being out. In fact, I spend most weekends out of our house with my family doing whatever; errands, shopping (Target is an Espinosa family favorite), breakfast, lunch, dinner, kiddy parties, or anything else. Don’t get me wrong. I could veg out at home too but I really love being out. Unfortunately, I think my kids inherited my out and about inclination.

Anyway, I don’t know how my parents felt about the road trips, but for my brother and me, they were amazing. Needless to say, even today, I still love road trips.

Two years ago, my wife, kids and I drove to a friend’s cabin in North Carolina, stopping in St. Augustine on the way up and in Ponte Vedra, near Jacksonville, on the way back, for what was our first trip as a family (just the Espinosa Five), that didn’t include Mickey Mouse. We had a spectacular time.

We went tubing down a river, hiking, touring the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, exploring small towns with old fashioned mom and pop country stores and, most of all, spent quality bonding time together as a family. We had so much fun, that on Friday morning, after our oldest daughter finishes her last day of school, which is before noon, we are going back.

Despite the long hours of riding mile after mile in our minivan, the kids behaved excellently (while having to be locked into their seats, unlike my brother and me). Moreover, except for an occasional, “Are we there yet?” they were little troopers. Then again, as I stated earlier, we usually only remember the good times when we search our minds for memories.

Every morning, as we rode off to our next stop, we would pray a Rosary together as a family (something we don't do often enough). And, since there was no rush, aside from the overnight stays each way, we stopped for food and bathroom breaks on a regular basis, making the trip very relaxing and pleasant.  In retrospect, knowing my kids, there was probably a fight or two along the way, but not anything significant.

The only drawback for me is the actual driving. Unlike my dad, who would often push himself to the limit to get to our destination faster, I have trouble staying awake behind the wheel.

I can’t help it. Mr. Sandman grabs a tight hold on me while driving. After the initial woo-hoo-here-we-go adrenaline wears off, I start getting drowsy. I don't mean on a long drive like North Carolina, which is about thirteen hours away. I get sleepy driving to Sanibel or Disney World, which are three or four hours away. In fact, if I were to leave at 5:00 AM like my father did when I was a kid, by 7:00 AM, I would be driving off the exit ramp fast asleep like Clark Griswold on his way to Walley World.

My wife has to stay alert and continuously ask me, “Are you falling asleep?”

At which time, after rubbing my eyes and yawing, I usually answer, “Nope” and then pull over at the next exit to get some fresh air and some coffee, which usually holds me over for another 100 miles or so.  Fortunately, God is listening to our morning prayers!  The funny thing is that if I swallow my male pride and let my wife drive for a while, I can’t fall asleep.

Sleepiness aside, we are all really looking forward to our long drive, which will start this morning shortly after loading the car, going to morning Mass with the students of my daughter's school and picking her up.  Hayesville, North Carolina, here we come.  "Road Trip!!"

As the National Lampoon's Vacation song goes, “I found out a long time ago.  It's a long way down the holiday road.  Holiday road, oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh. Holiday road oh oh oh oh oh oh”…

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Upcoming Movie Highlights Mexico's War Against the Church...

Many times in the chronicles of human history, men have risen against oppression and persecution and changed the course of events through bloodshed, valor and sheer determination, despite the odds against them.

That was the case in the late 1920’s, when a ragtag band of Christian ranchers and rebel fighters took up arms against the more highly  trained and armed Mexican government to protect the rebels' right to practice their faith in what became a bloody three year civil war.

Over 90 thousand lives were lost, including innocent women, children and clergy, who were caught in the middle of a frontal and aggressive assault by Mexican President, Plutarco Elias Calles, against the Catholic Church and the men determined to defend and protect the Church at all costs.  

In an attempt to secularize the nation and drive the influential Church out of mind and heart of society, government forces began storming churches, imprisoning and killing clergy and loyal laity, until an unlikely band of rebels, known as the Cristeros, whose battle cry was, “Viva Cristo El Rey” or “Long Live Christ the King,” started organizing and fighting back.

The war is the setting of an upcoming Hollywood epic movie, titled Cristiada, which is currently in post production and has an all-star cast that includes: Andy Garcia, Eva Longoria, Peter O'Toole, Ruben Blades, Oscar Isaac, Nestor Carbonel, Eduardo Verastegui and more.

Dean Wright, who is best known for his work in visual effects in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Titanic, is making his directorial debut.

If there was an award for best movie trailer, this one would get my  vote.  Check it out:


Monday, June 6, 2011

Catholic and Orthodox Churches Hold Talks on the Papacy...

Although schismatic groups in the East can date as far back as the fourth century, they would eventually return to conformity with the Catholic Church in Rome, until the 11th century.

In the year 1054, Christianity experienced, what is today still referred to as, the Great Schism. Church leaders in Constanopole separated from the Roman Holy See, mostly over the authority of the papacy.

As of that point, the patriarch of Constanopole began leading the Eastern Byzentine Churches, later known as the Orthodox Church, which followed the original doctrine of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church established by Christ, ironically, with the exception of following the authority of Peter, who was the Rock the Lord establish His Church on, and the Magesterium (the teaching authority of the Bishops, who are the direct descendants of the Apostles by the laying of hands from generation to generation, in union with the pope).

For almost a thousand years, the two sides have never been able to fully restore the relationship.

In an ongoing attempt by the Vatican to restore Christianity to the intent of Christ, who prayed for His Disciples to be one as He and the Father were One, last week, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church leaders met to discuss the biggest stumbling block between them.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bittersweet Ending to the School Year...

When I was a little kid, I couldn’t wait for summer vacation; no more homework, no more having to wake up as early and, thus, no more bedtime curfew.  More importantly, I looked forward to seeing my cousins from Chicago, who would come visit us every year.

However, now as an adult, I don’t feel the same charge of energy at this time of year. As a matter of fact, this week, which is my son’s last week of school, I have been somewhat melancholy.

It’s not so much that I’m not looking forward to spending vacation time with my family. I am anxiously awaiting my wife, kids and I driving to North Carolina this month, as we did a couple of years ago, for what was probably our nicest vacation as a family (just the five of us), and our annual extended family vacation in Sanibel in late July, where I lounge around under a large tent drinking, eating, reading and smoking cigars, while the kids play with their cousins all day.

But, what has me a bit nostalgic in recent days is the finality of another year gone by. Listen, I’m forty-seven, years are flying by faster than the Millennium Falcon fleeing the Imperial Starfleet in The Empire Strikes Back.

Adding to my end of school year blues is the fact that this past scholastic year has been particularly special in my budding relationship with my 3-year-old son. I got to spend a lot of quality time with him every morning before dropping him off at Pre-K.

Since my girls have to be in school by 7:30am, they leave with my wife. My son’s current pre-school starts at 9:00am, giving me a chance to wake him up, get him ready and take him to morning Mass with me. After Mass, we even had time to go back home to for a quick breakfast.

It was a great time of bonding. During Mass, sometimes, he would quietly lie down on the pew next to me and drink his milk. Other times he was fussy and wanted to go to the bathroom in the most inopportune time of the liturgy, or be gassy, or, like this week, wanted to be all over me and force me to carry him the entire time. But, I loved it. It was a unique one-on-one-on-One time with my son and God. We may never have another time in life, where just the two of us attend morning Mass together (at least not on a regular basis). I will miss that.

Then there is the school. It was my son's first experience with school.  It’s funny how we, as humans, get attached to people, places and things. I guess it has to do with the fact that we were made for family; God’s family. Although we are just sojourners in this world and are made for our ultimate “home,” we have a natural inclination to seek “familiarity” with the people, places and things that make us feel like home.

Next year, my son will start going to school at my daughters’ Catholic school, meaning, not only will he have to be in school earlier, negating our chance to go to Mass together, but he will be attending “big kid” school.

Unless, I can talk my wife into having a fourth child, which at this point seems highly unlikely, although I haven’t given up hope, we will never set foot on our kids’ quaint intimate pre-school again.

For us, having our kids in Catholic school, where they will get a foundation of our faith, is extremely important (although we realize the faith begins at home, without which nothing learned at school will ever truly sink in). But, we will forever be indebted to the Methodist pre-school that all three of our kids first attended. Our oldest daughter went to the school for Pre-K2 and Pre-K3. Our second daughter and son went there for Pre-K3. They taught our kids about Jesus, prayer, the Bible, and most of all about unconditional love. The teachers and staff are true examples of Christian love. I will miss them.

Earlier this year, I wrote about my son’s teacher and her strict enforcement against pull-ups, which at the time seemed a bit harsh (although helped my son get fully potty trained quickly), and about her getting on me about my son drinking milk from a bottle, which to be honest, he still does in the morning (at Mass and before school!) and at night, but she turned out to be very loving and nurturing with our son. It will be difficult to say goodbye to her, as it will be to say farewell to many of the parents that I would see every morning dropping off their children in my son’s class, which, because life takes us on different paths, we may never see again.

So, while there is excitement in our household about the upcoming vacation, there is also a bit of somberness in my heart about the time gone by that will never be relived again...