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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Glory to God in the Highest...

Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled (Lk 1:45).

For today, in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord (Lk 8:11).

May the hope, love and joy brought forth by the birth of baby Jesus, in the silence and stillness of the night in a manger, and held in the warmth and loving arms of His Blessed Mother, rest upon you and your family on this Holy and Glorious day.

Merry Christmas....

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Baseball Practice and a Dad's Cup Runneth Over...

Stretching those hamstrings...
Last weekend, my five-year-old son went to his first baseball practice and, as any proud dad, who once had big league dreams, albeit short lived due to a lack of talent, I sat in the stands and watched intently as he went through warm-up drills, practiced fielding (if you want to call it that), base running and hit off a tee (and a lot of horse playing with the other four and five-year-olds in between).

If that wasn’t enough, after the three-hour camp ended, he wanted to continue practicing and had me throw balls for him to hit.

Needless to say, I was beside myself; as Bill Cosby would say in his old comedy routine, “Yes, that’s my son!”

Not that I don’t take great pride in my daughters too but they like dancing, dolls and make up, which, no matter how much I enjoy watching them, and going to the Manuel Artime Theatre on given Sunday afternoons, I’m not as partial to. My younger daughter plays soccer (but, let’s be honest, despite the guys with the long locks and hair ribbons running around the fields on TV during the World Cup , to me, it’s more of a workout than a sport!).

This was baseball! The game I grew up playing and wanted to do more than anything in the world. The game I would spend all week looking forward to playing and spent hours upon hours practicing and trying to improve my skills.  In fact, I even went to college wanting to become a sportscaster because, since I didn’t have the talent to play, at the least, that way, I could stay involved in the game (Although, I decided to get into TV news instead).

Before my son's practice, I went and got him a pair of baseball pants and his first peewee protective cup, which he got really excited about.

And, so there I was, after practice, lobbing whiffle balls at him, which after several swings and misses, he got the hang of and started hitting every toss.

On the way home, we were both beaming; me because, as the Psalm states, "my cup runneth over" with joy and pride (not that he was my son but the I was his dad) and him, possibly the same; but from slightly a different perspective. When I turned around and asked him if he had fun and he said yes indeed, because he was wearing his “beautiful little cup.” Ok, so maybe, his peewee protective cup will not be overflowing, for a while but, at least, he was excited about baseball…

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Glimmer of Hope Amidst Despair and Broken Hearts...

Parents were heard crying out hysterically, "Why?... Why?"  Nobody seemed to have an answer.

Others were inconsolable and seen hugging their children or one another through wails and tears.

Even veteran law enforcers, who are used to seeing some of the most gruesome crime scenes ever imaginable, were distraught and some evidently overwhelmed.

This was not just a crime scene but a massacre, and not just a massacre, if that could be minimized in any way, but the massacre of innocent children; six and seven-year-olds, as well as several teachers and administrators.  The bloody scene was so disturbing that surviving students, who were escorted out of the school by police and teachers, were told to close their eyes and hold on to the person in front of them.  

After the dust had settled at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut on a cool sunny winter's day Friday morning, twenty kids were dead and so were eight adults, including six at the school, the shooter and his mother at her home.

As one parent, who was able to pick up her child from a makeshift command post at a nearby fire station, said in a television interview, "Twenty parents were told their children were dead.  It was awful."

Awful may not begin to describe the raw emotions and despair.  And, that's not including the husbands, wives, and children of the slain adults, and the siblings, relatives and close friends of both.

According to reports, the 20-year-old shooter, Adam Lanza, got up that morning, killed his mother at their house a few miles from the school.  He then drove to the elementary with three weapons, two handguns and a semi-automatic riffle, that belonged to his mother, who was a kindergarten teacher at Sandy Hook, and, dress in dark military-like fatigues and body armor, broke his way into the building shortly after the doors were locked down and classes had started. 

Witnesses say they heard screaming and then a barrage of shots.  The victims never had a chance.

While we have seen it before in Columbine, Aurora and Virginia Tech (to name a few), you have to think about what state of mind can someone be in to see helpless, in this case, six-year-old, children and adults crying and screaming in desperation, some probably begging for their lives, and be so cold hearted as to pull the trigger, which certainly prompted more screams of terror and moans of pain, only to continue pulling the trigger and taking out three, four, six, ten children, possibly scrambling for their lives (or unable to move in their terror), and then twelve, fifteen, twenty and six adults, before turning one of the guns on himself?

Was it a mind that had lost all sense of value for life, like the Aztec civilization in Mexico, who would sacrifice tens of thousands of victims by ripping out their hearts and eating their flesh without much concern for their victims' lives? (Although, at least they thought they were offering sacrifices to a god; albeit the god of darkness)  Was there no hope in Lanza's life that he saw this as a way out?  Was there nothing to live for?  Perhaps, he saw this as a way of making a name for himself?  And, then the natural follow up question; what fault did the children have?  Was it revenge because the cold hearted killer felt slighted by his mother?

There is information that he was suffering from a mental disorder that the family didn't know how to deal with but, regardless of his motive or mental condition, as Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy stated so poignantly, "Evil visited this community today."

And, for anyone who believes in God, evil has a name. 

On my way home from work, after spending most of the morning and afternoon glued to the news, since I work in a TV newsroom, I heard a caller on the radio make an interesting observation.  He said, "We live in a godless society that has removed God from schools and is trying to remove God from every aspect of public life.  Can we be surprised by the results?"

Although the societal deterioration of American youth, which have become more and more atheistic and agnostic, according to polls in recent decades, may be an argument best left for another day, the fact is that where there is no faith, there is no hope.  And, where there is no hope, despair reigns; despair that can lead to indifference about life and death.

Nevertheless, as a parent of a kindergarten and second grade children myself, I couldn't help but be moved to tears several times during the day, as I watched the story unfold, and again during my drive home. 

I thought about how many of those parents, who sent their kids off to school that morning, and would never see them alive again (at least in this world), were looking forward to waking up Saturday morning and taking their child to a soccer game, or, as in my son's case, his first baseball practice?  How many of them had already gotten their kid's Christmas presents and were anxiously looking forward to seeing their face on Christmas morning?  Or, were trying to come up with a mischief for their child's Christmas elf that night?

The radio host put it bluntly, "Instead of wrapping Christmas gifts, they will be making funeral arrangements for their children."

How painfully sad and disheartening it must be.  It's hard for me to imagine.

Even President Barack Obama appeared moved during his afternoon press conference.  He said, "I know there's not a parent in America, who doesn't feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.  The majority of those who died were children.  Beautiful little kids between the ages of five and ten-years-old."

He was forced to pause, as he held back tears, and then continued, "They had their entire lives ahead of them; birthdays, graduations, wedding, kids of their own...  Our hearts are broken today for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of those little children and for the families of the adults who were lost.  Our hearts are also broken for the parents of the survivors as well... May God bless the memory of the victims and, in the words of Scripture, Heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds. " 

And, Friday night, as investigators continued to comb through the carnage left by the killer and the parents and relatives of the victims waited to see their bodies, about a thousand faithful crowded into and outside of St. Rosa Lima Catholic Church, seeking solace, a shoulder to cry on, and a chance to worship, pray for the victims and their families, and, amidst apparent despair, ask for strength, healing and hope.

During the emotional service, where most of the congregation held hands during the Lord's Prayer, sang and candles lit for each of the victims, a letter by Pope Benedict XVI was read to the parish, promising prayers to help ease their grief, and, after a long and heart wrenching day full of pain, emotions and angst, they found a brief moment of peace.

There are no words or easy answers to explain the lingering question of why the gunman walked into that school to carry out his deranged plan and we may never know.  But, as in all tragedies, in due time, the questions start subsiding and the healing begins (although, I couldn't imagine getting through something like this without faith and the love of others).  

If there is any consolation for those of us who are parents, and may have to address the incident with our children in the near future, if we haven't already done so, it's that tragedies like this make us realize, albeit reluctantly, just how fragile and precious life really is.  Therefore, although easier said than done, we should live our lives and love our spouses, children and family as if each day was our last...

[pic credit: Justin Lane/ EPA; Shannon Hicks/ Newtown Bee; and Reuters]

Monday, December 10, 2012

Words of Wisdom by Thomas Merton...

"The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them."

-- Thomas Merton, world traveling intellectual and man-of-the-world turned Trappist Monk, mystic and social activist, who became one of the most influential Christian authors of the 20th Century.  He wrote over 70 books, including his best selling autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Before Santa, He was just Bishop Nicholas...

St. Nicholas of Myra...
Without a doubt, one of the most beloved and well known saints of all time is fourth century Catholic Bishop, St. Nicholas of Myra, who is better known during the past two hundred years, as Santa Claus.

For our family, St. Nicholas holds a special place because, not only is he the patron saint of children, and our two younger ones look forward every year to his arrival on Christmas Eve, and even track him on NORAD, but he is also the patron saint of my five-year-old son, whose middle name is Nicolas; better known as "Nico."

Since it falls during Advent, where our family lights the wreath, prays and reads about a saint each night before and after dinner, every year, we get a small cake, our son blows out candles and we read his story, to celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas, which the Catholic Church observes on December 6th. 

In fact, we make a big enough deal that my son asked me earlier this week if he had to go to school on his saint's day.  Sorry, dude!

Anyway, by now, most Christians know the legend of St. Nicholas, who is known, among other things, for having saved three young destitute girls from a life of slavery (and/or prostitution), since they could not get married because their widowed father could not afford a dowry for them.  Nicholas is said to have secretly thrown bags of gold coins through their open window in the cover of night, which, according to the story, ended up landing in the stockings and shoes that were placed near the fire place; thus the legend of Santa Claus was born.

St. Nicholas, who, despite being born to wealthy parents, was orphaned early in life due to his parents' death from an epidemic, and was raised by an abbot uncle, became known for his generosity and acts of mercy, especially towards kids.  He sold off his inheritance to assist the needy and sick and dedicated his life to serving God; becoming a bishop at an early age.

During the ruthless persecution of Christians, in the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Bishop Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned. 

Although disputed, legends say that after his release, he attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, of The Davinci Code fame, which was actually spearheaded by the Roman Emperor Constantine, and sought to resolve the Arian controversy (named after a priest named Arius of Alexandria) that put into question the divinity of Christ.  Arianism was drawing dozens of priests and, even some, bishops into the line of thinking, and disputes were heated.  Constantine feared it would prompt civil unrest and asked the bishops to hold a council to address the matter.  Nicholas joined Bishops Athanasius, Alexander, and a great majority of others, in denouncing the heresy and establishing the Nicene Creed, which is still recited in Catholic Masses.     

Soon after his death, several years later, Nicholas' popularity grew.

Churches started being built in his honor and his tomb in Myra became a place for pilgrimages, although because of war, his relics were moved to a seaport village in Italy in the early eleventh century.

Eventually, St. Nicholas became known as Father Christmas in Europe and Santa Claus in America in the 19th century.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

The fact that Bishop Nicholas stood firm to his faith despite the persecution and hardships of his time.  And, despite it, was able to give himself entirely for the good of others by sharing all he had and living as a true example of Christian virtue, St. Nicholas' memory has endured for about 1600 years and he continues to be loved and influence millions of people, especially kids around the world, who, although partially through legend, have learned the gift of giving to those in need and, as importantly, the joys of Christmas morning.

So tonight, the Espinosas will celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas and remember a life dedicated to loving God and neighbor; the greatest all commandments...

For more on St. Nick, check out the St. Nicholas Center here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Another Weekend of Rides, Food and Chasing Kids...

Yep; fun times...
When my wife's cousin's husband (try to follow me here) told me after our third child was born that now the fun was really going to begin for us, since we were no longer playing one-on-one but zone defense, I shrugged it off and laughed. 

Being a father of three kids himself, he meant it both as a joke and a warning.

I would soon find out firsthand what he meant, especially in more recent years, where we (mostly my wife on weekdays) have to juggle a hectic schedule of soccer practices, games, ballet rehearsals, recitals, kid parties, and, now, not-so-kid parties for our soon-to-be twelve-year-old, school, work and parish activities.

Yet, despite our whirlwind and non-stop itineraries, the comments rang deafeningly loud this past weekend during the much anticipated (for our kids) and dreaded (for us) annual school and parish fair, which is an exhaustive weekend of rides, games, food, friends and endless hours of standing and walking (a gazillion times) around the school's field and playground, as we chase our little ones around and around, while they go on the same rides, fun house and giant slide over and over again (on the last day, my eight-year-old and her friends rode the same ride, "The Alibaba," at least ten times in a row before the attendant said they were closing!).

And, let's be honest, at my age (48), my body is not cut out to be walking or standing for so many hours; five to six a night, except Saturday, where we cut it to about three and a half, since some of our younger daughter's soccer parents had a post-Vigil Mass "happy hour" before venturing into the monotony of never ending fun.  Yippee! (It actually made the fair quite bearable!)

My run before Friday's first night of amusement was not well advised.  About two hours after getting there, my lower back was aching terribly, like an old man after mowing the lawn, my thighs were burning and my feet were sore and sensitive (250 lbs on the hard pavement takes a lot out of you!).  I had to keep shifting my weight from side to side to try to ease the discomfort.  And, neither was our Sunday morning boot camp; as some of you may know, my wife and I are training for a Super Spartan Race early next year (although, you might say she's training just a wee bit harder than me but who's counting).

To make matters worst this year, unlike previously, our five-year-old kindergartner now has his own group of buddies that he wanted to hang out with, as does our second grader (her soccer teammates and classmates), which left my wife and me stretched a little thin when it came to our older daughter, who is now hanging out with a group of girls and boys; Yikes! 

Therefore, we had to play the zone defense my wife's cousin's husband talked about and chase our little ones, leaving the One Direction-loving/boy-talking/suddenly lipstick-wearing (her lips were chapped) sixth grader unguarded; unless you count the hundreds of parental units, who keep close watch on all the kids, as we walk around, as well as a male cousin, who is her age, and I pulled aside, and in a serious and stern tone, said to him, "Keep an eye on your cousin!"  At which, while shaking my hand, like Barack Obama on the campaign trail, he answered, "I will, sir!" (Nothing like putting a little fear and responsibility on a boy's back, I say!).

Yet, I remember when I was in sixth grade, for the entire year, I had a huge crush on the prettiest girl in my class, who by the way, looked great in gabardine pants.  But, I was always too shy and insecure to approach her beyond trivial talk.  I can still remember her name; Martha (I won't write her last name so it doesn't come back to haunt me).  As fate would have it, I never saw her after that year, as we headed off to different junior high schools (remember them?).  I can only hope sixth graders today are as shy and self-conscience as I was.

Anyway, to get back to the fair, as Pat Riley, or any great defensive coach, would argue, you can't let possibly the best scorer on the opposing team beat you (And, I mean "scorer" in the analogical sense of the word!).  So, I had to trust her cousin and count on other parents to help us out, which they did.

Still, after all is said and done, despite my apparent objections and complaints, the yearly event is always a lot of fun.  I get to spend time with my family, many of our closest friends, enjoy good food (despite the popular churrasco steak with congri and sweet plantains, I opted for a pan con bistec two of the nights and a cheeseburger on Sunday) and helped raise some money for the school and parish in the process (meaning lower tuition!). 

I even got to ride "The Drop," which is a circle of seats facing outward around a long post that goes about 50 feet in the air and then drops you, with my five-year-old son, who after doing it twice with his friends the night before, despite many older kids being afraid of it, wanted to ride it with me on Sunday.

Therefore, since I have eight years of fair to go before my son graduates, as an alcoholic in a Mormon business convention might say, I better make the best of it.  Although, considering that seventh grade is where things started getting a little more intense in the love department among some kids, when I was a kid (although, I was a much later bloomer), and my about-to-turn  tween-aged daughter is prettier than the girl in gabardine pants in my sixth grade class, I may need to hire a couple of ringers to help my wife and I play tighter defense next year!...

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Day in the Life...

Something to look forward to...

You know you're getting old when your five-year-old son is hugging you and looking at you closely says, from the depths of his heart, "Dad, you have to shave your ears."...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My Son's Affection and The Loving Father...

Rembrandt's Loving Father... 
“I love you, Daddy,” he said as he hugged my arm and buried his head on my chest, while I was kneeling during my eight-year-old daughter’s First Holy Communion Commitment Mass last week.

I can think of nothing more rewarding for a parent to hear than those words with sincerity from their child. 

It makes you almost forget the sleepless nights of having to get up to change the bed sheets after an overnight "accident," the aggravations of the occasional bedroom (or worse, living room) battle scenes played with every single toy within reach, and the irritations of having to repeat the same things over and over, like to pick up shoes thrown everywhere around the house, or our daughters' dirty clothes and towels on the bathroom floor (Or my pet peeve; using less toilet paper, for Christ's sake!  I think I'm developing back problems from having to plunge the toilet so many times.  Then again, it could be just my age!).    

At any point, those four words, "I love you, Daddy" sweetly offered unsolicited from the depths of the soul, as only an innocent child could express with unconditional love and earnest dependence, is probably the most poignant argument against John Calvin’s predestination doctrine. 

In other words, as a child loves his father, so we love God; not because we have to but because we want to (free will).  It wouldn't be true love unless we chose to love freely; which is what God and all loving parents want from their children.

But, less I digress, that's not where I'm heading with this blog.  Although, if you haven't noticed by now, I have a tendency to stray from the story line from time to time, which is why when I was in college, my brother's high school friends used to call me “The Governor,” for the character in the old TV show Benson.  Governor Eugene Gatlin would often go off on tangents while telling stories and make a short tale a little bit longer than intended. But now, I'm just dating myself. (see my point!)

Anyway, to get back to my son at Mass, the fact that I had just heard him attempt to sing the Lamb of God Prayer (including the parts in Latin!), before expressing his sentiments to me, my younger daughter had just made a public commitment to Jesus and to working hard in preparation for her First Communion next April, and my wife and I had just reaffirmed our commitment to raise our children in the Catholic faith and help our second grader prepare to receive the pinnacle of everything we believe in; the Holy Eucharist; I couldn't help but feel a great sense of joy and peace, and, in all honesty, a true sense that God was sending me a clear message.  (Not to mention, our older daughter was singing in the children's choir, after several months of saying she didn't want to do it anymore)

In fact, for, at least, that brief moment, and at the risk of sounding full of myself (which isn’t that hard for me), I felt God was telling me, or actually showing me, what He said at the Baptism of Jesus, "This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased."

It is a powerful statement and image to contemplate, which is why I once had a priest tell me after my Confession to go home and reflect on Jesus' baptismal narrative, and how, in our baptism, we are united with Christ's Baptism and become part of God's family; His beloved children.

Therefore, as I sat there at church with my family, joyfully pondering the many blessings God has bestowed upon me, including in that particular place and time, my son's love and affection, I could feel a sense of fatherly pride and the thought crossed my mind that, despite my many faults and deficiencies, God was patting me on the back and telling me that it was going to be ok.  I was fulfilling my most important responsibility as a parent; raising Godly children.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “When a child is given to his parents, a crown is made for that child in Heaven, and woe to the parents who raise a child without consciousness of that eternal crown!”

I once heard a comment by Catholic radio host, clinical psychologist, author and father of ten, Dr. Ray Guarendi, that has always resonated within me.  He said, "I am more interested in my children getting into Heaven than getting into Harvard."  (Although, it wouldn't be bad if they got into both!)    

Still, I must admit, I often doubt myself as a father, husband and spiritual leader of my family.

As my wife often points out (probably more than I want to hear), in her own motivational way (to knock me off my high horse!), I sometimes sound better on paper than I do in person, especially when I'm betrayed by my own actions.

I probably spend more time chastising, reprimanding and correcting my kids than I do serving as an example of God's love, mercy and forgiveness.

But, if, as the saying goes, "All saints are sinners who just keep trying," and since there is only one perfect Father, then all we can do, as fathers (and mothers, for that matter), is to keep trying and doing the best we can.

In my case, it often bears fruit.  Despite my occasional cantankerous or self-centered behavior, I think my kids know I love them; not because I tell them but because I show them affection.  I think they also recognize my sincere commitment to God, to the Church and to our family through example.

They see me trying to be a good husband (and trying being the operative word for any husband), father and son.  They see me praying (often with them), taking them to Mass every week, going to Confession regularly (which, if not humility, at least shows them their old man is a big time sinner that needs constant forgiveness!), and studying my faith.

A close friend once told me, "Life is God's gift to us and what we do with our life is our gift to God." I'm not sure whether it was original but it certainly was profound; to the point where, many months later, the statement continues to linger in my mind.

Although, I'm still working on my gift to God (probably until the day I die!), He is constantly giving me; not just with my life, and the fact that I get up every morning, but through the lives that He has put in my care.  And, in spite of myself, like that recent Sunday morning at Mass, through the affection of my son and the faith of my wife and daughters, He uses them to show me His love, mercy and loyalty, as a true loving father often does...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Words of Wisdom from Archbishop Fulton Sheen...

“When a child is given to his parents, a crown is made for that child in Heaven, and woe to the parents who raise a child without consciousness of that eternal crown!”

-- Archbishop Fulton Sheen, priest, author and one of the first and greatest televangelists in U.S. history.  Sheen hosted a prime time television show called, Life is Worth Living in the 1950's and The Fulton Sheen Program in the 1960's.  His cause for canonization was officially opened in 2002 and, earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI recognized him as "Venerable Servant of God," for a life of heroic virtue...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Traditions Past and Present...

"Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done” (1 Chronicles 16:8).

When I think about Thanksgiving, I can't help but think of one of my favorite Norman Rockwell paintings.  It's the one that depicts a father and mother setting a Thanksgiving turkey on the table before, what appears to be, their children and extended family (or friends). 

That is what I think about when I think of this day; the memories of growing up in my grandparents' old home in Hialeah. 

I think about my grandmother cooking, as she always seemed to do, my mom helping and setting the table, my dad and grandfather running errands, helping carry things or sitting with my brother and me to watch football (my favorite team, the Washington Redskins, usually played their arch rivals, the Dallas Cowboys), as we waited for other relatives to arrive (although my grandfather was never too fond of that game for "animals" that we called sport!  But, would watch and laugh, especially during rainy games, where players were slipping and sliding on the field).

It was a quaint little home, probably no more than 1500 square feet, which included three bedrooms, one bath, a small kitchen, which only really had room for one cook, although at times, there were two or three tightly squeezed in, a dining room, and, like many Hialeah homes, an illegal addition in the back of the house, which served as a small family room, and connected to a laundry room, where we put a toilet and sink.  But, it was home. 

For really big celebrations, during Noche Buena and New Year's Eve, where not only cousins and uncles, but great uncles, aunts, second and third cousins would come from as far as Chicago, Orlando and  Caracas, Venezuela, we would set up a ping-pong table and several other tables in the car port and drive way area so that we could have dinner together.

However, on most Thanksgivings, it was just contained to the dining room table.  We would turn off the TV, and gather around the table, pray, talk and eat.  And, I loved to eat!  (and still do)  My grandmother was a great cook.  While she mostly kept the meal traditional; turkey, home made gravy, cranberry sauce, corn and yams, there was always a little Latin flair, like black beans and rice, Cuban bread and flan, arroz con leche or pudin de pan for desert.

Even when my parents, brother and I moved to a townhouse several miles away, my grandparents house always was home to me.  It's days like today, that I most miss my grandparents and those memories that will live forever in my heart.

I love tradition; especially the memories that come from them.  Those are the kinds of memories I want my children to have and grow up with.

Today, like most recent Thanksgiving Days (as long as I can recall), my wife, children and I will go to my wife's cousin's house for Thanksgiving lunch (since several in the group have Thanksgiving dinner elsewhere).

They really serve a nice spread of all the traditional foods; turkey, gravy, ham, potatoes (in some form), corn casserole, cranberry sauce and much more.

Like my family and I did through the years, everyone sits together outside in their paved side yard, which has great shade trees.  It feels like home, family and tradition.  They are even gracious to invite my parents so I get to spend Thanksgiving with them as well.

My family and I usually go home and watch a movie and then eat a late snack when we get hungry but this year, I plan to start a new tradition.

For years, I have wanted to celebrate an old-fashion Thanksgiving dinner at my home.  Unfortunately, because she figures it will all fall on her shoulders, my wife has always balked (Excuse me for being nostalgic, why don't you?  Although, she might have a point!).  But, after years of pining and not doing much about it, I finally decided that this year, I will take the task upon myself and cook a small Thanksgiving dinner for my wife and kids.  (Besides, it was as good a year as ever; after a several year hiatus, the Redskins are playing the Cowboys again!)

Since it is my first attempt at this, I don't want to overextend myself (I figure it's like working out; you don't want to get injured on your first day) so instead of turkey or ham, which requires a lot more planning than I was willing to do (at least) this year, I will cook a pork loin.  Yes, pork!  I'm Cuban!  I also bought some corn on the cob, which my kids love, some Stove Top stuffing, which I love, dinner rolls and an apple pie.

My wife wants nothing to do with it so it will be up to me.  But, I'm confident I can pull it off.  Hopefully, if all goes well, I can make it a yearly custom, like the one my grandparents used to have, and can invite my parents and mother-in-law in the future.

So, I give thanks to God for my wife and kids, for our health and faith, for our parents and families and for the opportunities to begin new, and hopefully, everlasting traditions.

Wish me luck and Happy Thanksgiving!...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

General Petraeus, Marriage and the 800 Lbs Gorilla...

General David Petraeus... 
I sometimes wonder what I would do if my wife was unfaithful.

For the pop psychiatrists out there, no, it’s not due to insecurities about my robust figure and I don’t have a self-fulfilling prophesy. Moreover, it's not because she has given me any indication or, I think, would ever betray me that way. Then again, Edward Sumner, Richard Gere’s character in Unfaithful, didn’t think so either (and, let’s just say, I’m no Richard Gere; I don't like gerbils!).

But, the reason the thought has crossed my mind, aside from the fact that a couple of friends have gone through this, is that it would be a true test of my faith.

I mean, we made a commitment before God, family and friends that we were in it for the long haul; in good times and in bad until death do us part.

I realize it's a romantic notion, which considering that fifty percent of marriages end in divorce in today's society, many people have forgotten. But, after one failed marriage myself, and having learned a little about the meaning of a sacramental marriage over the past few years, I can't. (Besides what’s the limit on Church allotted annulments?)

Anyway, I think it's easier for a man to think about his own improprieties then to consider what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot but it's an unfortunate consequence of women's liberation, the economics of family life, where women are forced to work outside the home, whether they want to or not, and the permissiveness of the culture, which has accepted, if not promoted, women and men to forget commitment and seek personal gratification; both professionally and personally.

We’ve become a culture obsessed and nurtured with “looking out for number one”; or as a song my younger daughter dances to in her jazz competition team, “You know it’s all about me.” (I always tell her it's actually about God and she rolls her eyes at me and says, "I know dad!")

Although my wife is not that shallow (or selfish, for that matter), and her loyalties to our family are deeper than, she would say, mine are to the New York Mets (I know, sad; comparing a spouse with a baseball team but if you know how bad the Mets are and consider that I still root for them, you would realize how loyal I am!), I still think about the impact and upheaval infidelity would have on our lives, especially on our daughters and son, who are impressionable.

By the way, one of the first things my wife told me early into our marriage is that she would never forgive me if I cheated on her. Was it a bluff? I rather not find out!  But, as I have heard friends say, any man who is not grounded on God and family and doesn't surround himself with friends who are on the same page is a sitting duck.  (And today, possibly the same could be said about women)

In any case, I think about whether my faith would carry me through it. Would I remain faithful to my beliefs? Would I get angry at, not just my wife, but at God? Would I try to get even? Or, would I put my pain, ego and pride aside, forgive (in due time) and fight for my marriage and family?

I'd like to think that I am man enough to do the latter. (Maybe barely, although let's keep this between us.  I rather not give any ideas, just in case!)

The reason for my digression, into possibly the abyss of any marriage, is that, as most people learned last week, David Petraeus, the former Director of the CIA, a four-star general, decorated war hero, and man of discipline, respect and integrity, who most considered an exemplary husband of 38 years and father of two adult children, resigned abruptly after admitting to having had an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, who is also a married mother of two young sons, ages 6 and 4.

Did either jilted spouse suspect something was going on?  Well, despite The Eagles' famous lyrics, "There ain't no way to hide your lying eyes," only they can answer that.

But, the fact is that the sex scandal, which the media can't seem to get enough of, appears to be snowballing daily with information about threatening emails, possible access to classified information, an FBI investigation, the death of four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador, in Benghazi, the involvement of another decorated general and an FBI agent sending inappropriate emails to a socialite with connections to Petraeus, and through it all are two families who have been hit by, what probably feels like, a stealth bomb, whose casualties remain to be sorted.

Unfortunately, it's getting less uncommon.  It seems that almost every week, we hear of a sex scandal involving a married politician, sports hero, celebrity or regular Joe or Jane that was caught having an affair.  It destroys many marriages, families and lives; especially of innocent children, who never asked to be raised in a broken home because that is the easy way out for many couples.

As for Petraeus and Broadwell, getting through this will not be easy.  Once trust is broken in a marriage it takes a monumental effort to restore.  It will be incumbent on each of them to make amends with their spouse.  But, it is possible, as long as there is sincere repentance, forgiveness and time to heal, which, at least for me, despite my doubts, I couldn't imagine would be possible without God.

Hopefully, notwithstanding the occasional wonderment, I'll never have to…

What would you do?  (And, I don't mean your knee-jerk reaction)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post Mortem Election Blues…

Not meant to be...
Dejection, disheartenment, a sense of hopelessness, disillusionment and loss (and not just because my candidates lost!); waking up the morning after President Barack Obama’s resounding reelection win over Mitt Romney, was a bit sobering to say the least.

Even though, I wasn’t as submersed in this election as I was in 2008, where I lost sleep, got into constant arguments with family and friends at the drop of a hat, and was an emotional wreck for weeks leading up to election night, and tried my best to stay above the fray this time around (which I realize was a defense mechanism not to get emotionally crushed once again), I was still disappointed when Ohio’s results were announced and Obama surpassed the 270 electoral votes necessary to get reelected.

Despite trying to put on a brave face at work, it was like losing someone I knew and had grown to like a lot over the last several months.

I don’t know. Maybe, I take things too seriously. But, when I think about the direction our country is heading in, it really worries me. Our financial debt growing by the minute, which will take generations to pay off, our leaders more interested in politics, power and popularity than solving problems, and our values shifting from a focus on God, family, country and the greater good, to the marginalization of God and trampling of religious freedom, redefinition of the family, hate, division, and self-interest over the common good. And, worse of all, it seems a majority of people, including Catholics, don’t really care! (Or, at least, not as much as my circle of family, friends and I do)

I was hoping for change; of direction, of focus, of the gridlock that has plagued Washington, where everyone is pointing fingers, blaming and ostracizing the other side and, meanwhile, millions of Americans are un- or underemployed, more people are dependent on the government than ever before and Federal spending is out of control.

I know it’s easy to blame the other side, especially when the values and priorities are so diametrically opposed, but the way I see it, if it’s not working, why not change it? Why not try to see if someone else, namely Romney, someone from outside Washington with great business savvy, and his running mate, Paul Ryan, a young Catholic with strong moral convictions and considered an expert on governmental budgeting, would be more capable of leading and sparking compromise?

But, maybe the moral part is the problem, especially when morality is confused with choice, as some ads and media reports made it seem.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Freedom is not the right to do what we want, but what we ought.”

Obviously, my hopes of change weren't meant to be.

This morning, on my way to work, I stopped by my parents’ house, as I usually do for some Cuban coffee, and I could tell they were downcast and dejected as well.  Then my mom said, “Now, we have to pray even more than before.  Pray that we can remain true to our beliefs and not be consumed or discouraged by the whims of the society.”  Everyday that seems to get harder.

As I drove off to work, reflecting on the wisdom my mom had shared, I realized how right she was. We cannot succumb to despair and apparent defeat. There is always hope.

This might not have worked out the way I wanted, or even prayed for with my children, but it was according to God’s plan.  It always is.  It may even be a challenge for all of us who believe in God to trust in Him more and maybe, just maybe, through our prayers of intercession, we can help touch the hearts and minds of those who lead this great nation.

God put the Israelites through 40 years in the desert; let's hope we only have to endure eight! But, regardless, we can’t give up.

In the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul writes, “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground.”

As the late 19th Century hymn once said, “Onward Christian soldiers.”…

Friday, November 2, 2012

Faithful Citizens Will Stand the Test of Fire...

“It will be revealed with fire, and the fire [itself] will test the quality of each one’s work.” (1 Cor 3: 13)

Several months ago, I received an email from an organization I subscribe to with a powerful and extremely well produced video that was meant to both inspire and challenge Catholic voters in the upcoming elections. (See below)

It starts with the image of an iron rod that was just pulled from the fire being pounded into shape by a hammer, and words fade into the picture, stating, “In generations past, the church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. This generation of Catholics must do the same.”

Then, while the moving musical score gets louder, you see an old-fashion blacksmith from behind pounding the iron with a hammer and a raging fire oven next to him; the flames and smoke shooting up as the camera moves in closer.

It is stirring. It is dramatic. And, in all honesty, I felt the hair in my arms stand up (or what MSNBC’s Chris Matthews might call getting a “thrill up my leg”). Then, as the music pulsates more words come up, “This November, Catholics across the nation will be put to the test.”

Using only images, music and writing, the three-minute video called, Test of Fire, goes on to show many of the issues that are affecting our nation; the economy, jobs, taxes, etc., as words being pulled from the flames, but, as a woman walks towards a voting booth, it states that there are issues that for Catholics are non-negotiable; life, marriage and religious freedom.

It ends with chilling statement and a question, “Your vote will affect the future and be recorded in eternity. Will you vote the values that will stand the test of fire?”

That's a pretty profound statement, which immediately made me think of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, which states, “It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation.”

It goes back to the Bible verse from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians that I used at the beginning of this blog.  At the end of our life, our works and decisions will be put to the test and judged accordingly. Which is why, as I once heard someone say, we should vote as if we were facing that final Judgement tomorrow.

In any case, not long after watching the video for the first time, I noticed it on Facebook and received it from other friends via email as well. It was spreading like wildfire, excuse the pun. In fact, the video went viral and has gotten over 2 million hits since being posted on YouTube several months ago. 

For me, as a Catholic, it is pretty simple.  It comes down to three basic questions, which I hope all Catholics ask themselves:  do I truly believe in Jesus Christ?; do I believe, as the Gospels state that Christ built a Church, which He gave the power to bind and lose on earth what would be bound and loosed in heaven and promised the Holy Spirit to guide it to all truth?;  and, am I humble enough to submit myself to that truth, or do I think I know better?...

Where There is Despair, Let There be Hope...

Amidst the rubble and destruction left by Hurricane Sandy, a statue of the Virgin Mary stood in a yard at Breezy Point, Queens, NY giving a ray of hope to the faithful.  The death toll has already surpassed 75 in NE United States and damages are estimated in the billions...

Most Blessed Virgin, in your life of glory, remember the sorrows of earth. Look with kindness on those who suffer, who struggle against difficulties, who drink of the bitterness of life.
Have pity on those who love each other and are separated.
Have pity on the lonely of heart.
Have pity on the weakness of our faith.
Have pity on the objects of our affection.
Have pity on those who weep, those who pray, those who fear.
Obtain for all hope and peace. Amen.

[pic credit: Spencer Platt, Getty Images]

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Rapping Priest's Words to Your Mother (Church)...

With few exceptions, since at least the early 60's, Catholics have helped determine the winner of the presidential elections in the United States.

In fact, with over 68 million people who identify themselves as Catholic living in the U.S., or about 25% of the electorate, and that many of the battle ground states; Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, have large Catholic populations, and others Florida, Nevada and Colorado with large Hispanic populous, which are mostly Catholic; it’s no wonder why both President Obama and Governor Romney are trying hard to woo the Catholic vote.

Although getting little play in the mainstream media, but lots of attention in parishes, diocese, archdiocese and Catholic social media across the country, is the issue of religious freedom.

The issue stems from an Obama administration mandate forcing all employers, including Catholic entities such as hospitals, universities, charities and private business owners, to provide free contraceptives, morning-after abortion pills and sterilization, as part of the new Obama health care law, even if it violates the tenets of their faith and their conscience rights, or face heavy fines and penalties.

It actually got more headlines more because of a controversy over artificial birth control, between 31-year-old Georgetown law school student and women’s rights activist, Sandra Fluke, who went before Congress asking for the right to free contraceptives as part of her Catholic university’s health care plan, and comments made by Rush Limbaugh about her, then about the Constitutional impact of the Health and Human Services (HHS) rule.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops vehemently denounced the measure and already over thirty different lawsuits have been filed by Catholic, non-Catholic and Jewish groups, who see this as a direct assault on religious freedom, against the federal government.

Several months ago, a rapping Catholic priest from Southern Indiana, Fr. Claude “Dusty” Burns, who goes by the name of Fr. Pontifex on YouTube, posted this poetic and well produced video titled, "We Hold These Truths," after the opening words in the Declaration of Independence, highlighting an issue that should be of grave importance to Catholic voters and other religious faithful…

Now, only time will tell whether religious liberty plays a role in how Catholics and other people of faith vote next week...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Faith, Discipleship and a Weekend with the Guys...

Prayers of the faithful...
In his letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul writes, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the certainty of things not seen.”

Only through the eyes of faith can the verse make sense to us, which is why, as one of my go-to sources for wisdom, St. Augustine of Hippo, once wrote, "Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand."

In other words, unless we look at life through the prism of faith, we can never truly understand its meaning.

The reason I bring up the topic is two-fold. Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI declared this the Year of Faith, where he is encouraging us to discover or rediscover our faith in God, and during the same weekend the Year of Faith began, I attended a men’s spiritual retreat, meant to deepen the faith of all of us who attended.

In his apostolic letter, Porta Fidei (Doorway to Faith), the Holy Father writes, “The door of faith is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace. To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.”  

In my case, it’s a journey I started over six years ago.

As I have mentioned before, after almost thirty years of drifting from my faith, becoming a father stirred within me an unexpected interest in raising my daughters (my son wasn’t even a thought then) in the same Catholic faith my parents raised me; albeit more for cultural reasons than for convictions, at the time.

Yet, after so many years away from the Church, I had forgotten most of what I had learned, or worse, influenced by the culture, I had distorted it into my own moral relativist version of what I understood the faith to be. In fact, I remember in my own self-righteousness, telling people that I believed in God “in my own way,” and I didn’t need the Pope, the Church or anybody else telling me how or what to believe.

Hence, when I started yearning to teach my daughters, I didn’t really know where to begin. As I realize now, God was using the grace of fatherhood and the spiritual emptiness I felt to draw me back into his fold, like the destitute and famine served to draw back the ungrateful son in the parable of the prodigal son.  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way, "The desire for God is written in the human heart... and, only in God, will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for."

Well, since God has a remarkable way of prodding and guiding us, it just so happened that, during that time of searching, I was invited to a men’s retreat, which, not only got me reacquainted with my faith and gave me a place to start with my daughters, but totally changed my perspective on what was important in life and the way I looked at faith and the Church.

I have been trying to live, grow and learn my Catholic faith, to the best of my abilities, ever since. And, through my own flawed example, doing what I can to help others, who are where I was several years ago, grow closer to God as well. What is more, I see it as a responsibility as a disciple of Christ.

In the same letter on faith, Pope Benedict continued, "Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness."

Although, I try to bear that life-giving witness in my daily life at home and at work (even though, I often fail miserably), every six months or so, I get a chance to bear that witness in a very palpable and concrete way to other men at spiritual retreats.

I can honestly say that, outside of vacations with my family, there is no time I enjoy more than my weekend getaways with the guys.

And, except for a few cigars, it’s not even why most people would think. There’s no alcohol, fishing, golfing or watching sports on television involved.

In fact, it’s a weekend of totally disconnecting from the distractions and stress of everyday life and focusing totally on God, camaraderie, personal introspection, prayer, and, for the members of the team, service to others.

In essence, as Pope Benedict calls for, it’s a weekend of discovering and rediscovering our faith.

Two weekends ago, we had another amazing retreat.

Twenty-four men, from all walks of life and faith backgrounds, including many who had been away from their faith for decades, like I was when I first attended, joined about forty team members, who shared their struggles, afflictions and many of the issues that most men face in today's society, and how having a relationship with God has made a difference in their life. 
We also broke bread together, laughed, and shed some tears and, in the process, experienced what one of the new guys called “the best weekend of my life.”

We always say that if we can reach one man, save one marriage or inspire one soul to change his life, like someone did for us during our first retreat, then it was all worth the long months of prayer, preparations and logistical effort it takes to put the weekend together.

In his book, Render Unto Cesar, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput writes, “The choices of one person, made for the love of God, can transform the lives of many others… one person can always make a difference… We’re not called to get results. We’re called to be faithful.”

Fortunately, we've experienced great results.  We have seen men’s lives, marriages and families change for the better, including most of the men who serve on the team.  And, as Christian men, we realize that it's our calling, as disciples and spiritual leaders of our households, to make a difference in the world; even if it's one person or retreat at a time.

The Holy Father writes, "Faith commits every one of us to become a living sign of the presence of the Risen Lord in the world. What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end."

As 18th Century statesman, author and political commentator, Edmund Burke, once said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Therefore, in this Year of Faith, Christians need to dig a little deeper, take our faiths more seriously and go out and make a difference.  Like we tell the men who attend our retreats, we have to learn our faiths and live it for the sake of our families, our communities, our world and, most of all, our God...

Friday, October 19, 2012

Archdiocese of Miami Sues Feds Over HHS Mandate...

Adding to a growing list of universities, hospitals, businesses and organizations that have filed legal suits against the federal government, because of the Health and Human Services mandate, that forces employers to provide free contraception, morning-after abortion pills and sterilization to female employees as part of the new Obamacare health insurance coverage law, Archdiocese of Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski announced that they too are taking the feds to court.

During a press conference on Friday, the Archbishop stated that the Archdiocese of Miami, Catholic Health Services and Catholic Hospice have filed a lawsuit in Miami federal court against secretaries Kathleen Sebelius of HHS, Hilda Solis of Labor, Timothy Geithner of Treasury and their respective departments, for violating the Religious Restoration Act and the free exercise of religion and free speech clauses of the First Amendment.

The mandate, announced by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is ironically Catholic, earlier this year, forces all employers, including religious institutions that oppose abortion, artificial birth control and sterilization, as tenets of their faith, to either comply and, go against their consciences, or face heavy fines and penalties.

For devout Catholics, who understand and believe the Church teachings that any artificial attempt to interfere or stunt the natural procreative human process is interfering with God's life-giving grace, the mandate is unacceptable.

Already, more than 100 plaintiffs, including non-Catholic Christian and Jewish groups, who understand the threat this represents to religious liberty, have filed over thirty separate lawsuits challenging the mandate...  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Prayer for America...

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25)

The words of Jesus Christ seem a bit ominous today, considering the deep-seated division within our nation.

As I see it, where you can say we were once a nation grounded on faith, family and the love of country, we have become a nation that marginalizes God, are more focused on self-interests and lost our sense of patriotism (Maybe, with the exception of the Olympics!).

Just weeks before the upcoming presidential elections, people of faith need to stand up.

This beautiful video produced by is a prayer for America.

Amidst gorgeous imagery of fireworks, a flying eagle, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, people praying, getting married, having babies and families, and interviews with people from all walks of life from around the country, a prayer is read;

“Holy Spirit Come and be with us. Guide and enlighten us. Help us this night and everyday to do your will, to be open to your inspiration and to allow our lives to be simply a reflection of your creative power.  We ask only for your inspiration to guide us and lead us, that we may spend the brief days of our lives doing your will as best we can."...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Miami Archbishop Instructs Catholic Voters...

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski doesn't appear to be someone who minces words.

Regardless of whether it may rub some the wrong way, he’s a fervent and passionate defender of the faith and is willing to take a stand for Truth to ensure the eternal life of the 1.3 million Catholics in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties that have been put in his charge.

Like a long line of bishops in the annals of time, Bishop Wenski is first and foremost a teacher, who is willing to swim against the cultural and political tide because that is his job.

In fact, just as its founder, Jesus Christ, the Church will always be a contradiction in society and, unfortunately, many times, the bishops, who have been entrusted the responsibility of guiding the faithful from the times of the Apostles, have taken the brunt of this dichotomy.

First century bishop, St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was a disciple of the Apostle John and the first to use the word Catholic (which means universal) when describing the Church, once wrote, "See that you follow the bishop, even as Christ Jesus does the Father... Wherever the bishop shall appear, let the Church also be."

Now, this was a man who knew what it meant to swim against the social and political tide. It ultimately led to his arrest and martyrdom.  Still, as a bishop of the Church and spiritual shepherd, his priority to feed and tend to his flock never wavered. 

On the way to his martyrdom in Rome (he was fed to lions), and knowing his fate, St. Ignatius wrote seven letters to the Christian communities, that still exist today, to make sure that the teachings that were entrusted to him by St. John were passed on.

That has been the mission of the Church since the Lord commanded His Apostles to make disciples of all nations and teach them all that He had taught almost two thousand years ago.

In other words, the Apostles and their descendants have been preserving the deposit of faith from one generation to the next.

The reason for my historical digression is that last Sunday, a descendant of the Apostles, Archbishop Wenski, made an important announcement which would behoove all Catholics to consider.

During each Mass, at parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Miami, a letter by the Archbishop was read regarding the upcoming presidential elections.  Aside from suggestions on a couple of Florida Amendments, the bishop wrote:
While some may resent this particular exercise of our teaching ministry, I would hope that most Catholics of good will welcome these interventions. All of us need help in making difficult decisions. As Catholics we have good counsel in our Church teachings on our civic responsibility to pursue the common good, as well as in prayer. These are important elements that help one arrive at the best prudential decision.

Our system of checks and balances built into our governing structures by our founding fathers reflected an understanding of the human person founded in our Judeo-Christian tradition.

And whether as citizens or as elected officials, if we are to be faithful to the truth about the human person, we must oppose uncompromisingly policies and laws that undermine the common good precisely because they originate in a defective understanding of the human person.

For this reason, the Church -clergy and laity- while agreeing to disagree on other matters of prudential judgement cannot but oppose the evils of abortion, euthanasia, fetal stem cell research, human cloning and so called same sex "marriage." In these areas, there can be no other legitimate Catholic position.

Beyond these fundamental issues, and closely related to them, is the issue of religious liberty which must be defended from current attempts to undermine it by limiting people of faith's freedom to serve in ways congruent to their faith and morals.
For those of us who profess to "believe in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church," on Sundays, this should resonate within our souls.

The Church is clear that when it comes to abortion and other life issues, there is no grey area.  Moreover, not all issues, whether the economy, jobs, the national debt, the environment, education, foreign policy, providing for the poor, etc., carry the same weight.

In his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), the Bishop of Rome, Bl. Pope John Paul II, wrote about abortion, "The failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the "rightness" of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community."

Therefore, as Archbishop Wenski stated, we can agree to disagree on certain measures for achieving social justice, but despite what some politicians and public figures may argue or do, we cannot deviate from the issues the Church considers non-negotiable and still purport to remain within her fold.

The argument that one opposes an issue personally but cannot impose it on others does not hold water.  We either live what we believe, or we don't.

At least to me, any attempt to try to justify voting against the teachings of our faith would be disingenuous to our Church, our community and our selves...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi...

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


Charity, Faith and Forgetting My Kids…

My brain is fried; over medium... 
The old United Negro College Fund commercial stated, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

While I’m sure they weren’t intending it at me, it sure looked that way last weekend.

I’ll be honest, I have a tendency of forgetting things; my wallet, my cell phone (not a good thing when I’m the manager on call!), the nightly empty glass of water or beer can on the living room coffee table, paying my bills on time and balancing my check book and, my wife’s favorite, leaving dirty dishes in the kitchen sink (not that she has learned to appreciate the empty beer can or unpaid bills but who’s counting?).

On the occasional days where I have to go pick up my kids from my parents house on my way home from work, I have been known to drive all the way home, only to realize I forgot them and have to drive all the way back.

Maybe, it's all the brain cells I killed in high school, college and after college, or maybe, as friends who are in the TV news business call it, it's newsheimers, which is an unofficial industry term used for the over-taxation of the human brain with a constant flow of facts, decisions and information that causes eventual burn out, like the egg on drugs commercial.  However, my wife just calls it a lack of concentration, or worse, a lack of interest, in the things that are not as important to me (which really stings).

Anytime the things I most cherish in life; my faith and family; are put into question, it hurts. But, I can see where my own actions often betray my sentiments.

In fact, for me, living my faith and loving my family on a daily basis is often like dancing the Mambo; I take one or two step forward and one or two steps back (albeit with less hip gyration!).

Last weekend was a perfect example. I was involved in a charity golf tournament for our kids’ school, volunteered to paint the convent for the Carmelite sisters from the parish, but then topped it off by forgetting to pick up my kids and my parents’ birthday get-together.

It all started Friday.  I took a few days off last week, as compensation for having worked during Hurricane Isaac, which turned out to be, as William Shakespeare would say, “Much Ado about Nothing” (or as the classic Facebook posting of a friend that showed a plastic outdoor table and chairs with one chair down and stated, "Hurricane Isaac 2012; Never Forget!"), to get some errands done and prepare for a couple of presentations I have to make to various groups at our parish.

However, when a good friend found out that I was off, he invited me to play in the annual golf tournament to benefit the school, which, because of work, and my playing prowess, I have never been able to participate in.

Now, what I mean by my playing prowess is that I am to golf what Roseanne Bar is to opera; both as a singer or as a patron.

Before last Friday, I had played a total of one time; with my brother and his friends, who were more concerned about not spilling their libations as we rode around the course in our golf cart than actually playing the game, more than 10 years ago.

So, needless to say, my game needs a little work.

Despite that, we had a lot of fun.  We enjoyed some male bonding, adult beverages, food, I had a cigar (actually half because it flew off the cart while I was eating a hot dog), and even got in some playful banter with our church pastor, who was playing a hole ahead of us.  Moreover, I got to drive a Porshe 911 Turbo S convertible, that my friend’s car dealership, Brickell Motors (plug, plug) had on display as one of the main sponsors of the tournament and gala. 

In any case, we were cruising along merrily in the golf cart, about two hours into the game, me hacking away at the balls and occasionally stinging one wide right (no matter how much I tried aiming left, the ball would drift right!), while enjoying the afternoon sun when reality set in.

At about 3:15pm, I get a call from an unknown number and, when I answered, I hear my oldest daughter’s voice, “Dad, you forgot to pick us up!”

OMG, my kids! Since I had taken a few days off, I had told my parents that I was picking them up from school for the rest of the week and was supposed to be at the school by 3pm!

The puzzled look of someone trying to remember...
It was like The Hangover moment; sans Mike Tyson’s tiger, a chicken, drugs and alcohol, a tooth pulled or tattoos (although, maybe just a little alcohol by that point).

The first thing that crossed my mind was, not the safety of my kids, since they were in school and were going to be fine, or the ten dollars I was going to have to shell out for each for after-school care, but that my wife was going to kill me! (Is fear for your life a good or bad thing in marriage?) It was as if time stood still.

“I forgot to pick up my kids!” I told my friends in horror.

They started laughing but, immediately, the friend that had invited me sprang into action and started calling his wife to bail me out.

As he was doing that, another voice came on the phone, “Carlos.  Carlos, listen to me.  Don’t worry,” it was a teacher friend of ours, “I’ll take them with me to the play ground. If they take them to the cafeteria, you’ll get charged for after-school care but I have to be here until 6pm, anyway. Pick them up as soon as you can.” (It’s good to have friends in high places)

Whew!  I felt a sense of relief.  Crisis averted!  I could get back to the game, cigar and beers and pick them up when we finished, I thought.  It would stay between our teacher friend and me and everything would be fine.  

But, then, another thought crossed my mind. I wasn’t out of the woods yet. I know my kids. They love to tell my wife when daddy messes up.  And, unfortunately, that's pretty often!  My wife was sure to find out about my latest gaff.

If I had had a split personality, which I often think I do, since I unfortunately adhere to, as St. Paul states in his Letter to the Romans, sometimes doing what I shouldn’t do and not doing what I should, I would have said to myself, using the famous Laurel and Hardy line, “Well, here’s another fine mess you gotten me into.”

My mind started racing.  We still had about ten holes left in the game.  Should I just go and leave my friends?  I checked my watch and noticed it was already 3:20pm. My wife usually gets out of work in about ten minutes. I might as well fess up and ask her to pick up the kids.  She was going to find out anyway!

So, I called her and gave her the great news. I needed her to go pick up the kids because I was playing golf and forgot them. Nice. 

It actually went better than I thought. Maybe, after 14 years, she’s finally getting used to my misadventures!

She picked them up, my friends and I finished the game and that night we had a great time at the post-tournament gala and silent auction.

But, my weekend memory lapses got better.

On Sunday, my parents had invited us to a family get-together to celebrate both of their birthdays, which were in September, and I told them we couldn't make it until after the evening Mass, since, as I have mentioned in a previous blog, we are now doing boot camp training for a super spartan race in February on Sunday mornings.

That night, we were sitting at The Ale House, where we sometimes have dinner after Mass, when my dad calls.  As I answered he asked, "Carlos, are you almost here?  We're waiting for you."  My uncles, cousins, their kids and my parents' best friends were all waiting for us for dinner!  I got The Hangover feeling again! I really suck.

Do they prescribe Ritalin for adults?...

Friday, September 28, 2012

Catholics, the Ryan Plan and Our Brother's Keeper...

Ever since Paul Ryan was chosen by Mitt Romney to be his vice presidential running mate, there's been an onslaught of scrutiny, and outright criticism, by some Catholics, especially from a group of nuns that have gone on a bus tour campaigning against him, as to whether Ryan, a self described practicing Catholic, is being true to his faith in his controversial budget plan. (although to be fair, Nancy Pelosi refers to herself as a practicing Catholic too, while openly rejecting the teachings of the Church on abortion, artificial contraception, and the definition of marriage, just to name a few)

Ryan takes the heat because, unlike the current vice president, Joe Biden, who is also Catholic but prefers to keep his faith personal and not bring it into the public square, as if a person of faith can separate one from the other, he is open about his beliefs and is willing to walk the uncomfortable line between faith and politics. 

Therefore, for months, as Romney's choice (and even before), Ryan has been hammered by Liberal Catholics, who, in an effort to discredit him among unengaged Catholic voters (and sadly, considering only 25% of Catholics go to Mass on Sundays, there are many of us!), say his plan betrays the Church's teachings on providing for the poor and needy.

I recently came across this very well produced and simple explanation of "Ryanism" and its relation to Catholic social teachings, which Ryan himself says formed the basis for his budget plan.

The point is that we are all morally responsible for one another, as President Obama so often points out (in reference to the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible), we are our "brothers keepers."  But, the false assumption is that it's the government's responsibility.

There is a difference between a "preferential option for the poor," which the Church teaches protects the dignity of a person by helping lift him or herself out of poverty, and the "preferential option for the State," which could create dependency and may deprive a person of their dignity by becoming a ward of the state.

Besides, what virtue is there for a government or someone else to do what I should do myself?

The problem, as Catholic blogger Matthew Warner points out, is that unfortunately we, because of human nature, are often looking for an easy way out.
It doesn't take much to convince us that hard problems are somebody else's responsibility. So when we are faced with really tough problems in our communities, it's easy to convince us that a higher order of the social structure should probably handle this. And that may be true in some cases. But I fear too often this really means a particular problem is "inconvenient for us and we'd rather not do this ourselves." Let's let the government fix this for us so we don't have to be so inconvenienced and get our hands dirty.
And, so we vote, pay taxes and empower an ill-equipped government to do *our* job for us so we can slap ourselves on the back and sleep well at night knowing that we are "standing up for the least among us." Meanwhile, the problems don't get fixed and the poor are not treated with the dignity they deserve. That is not Solidarity or Subsidiarity. It's laziness and irresponsibility.
That's not to say that the federal government (or higher levels of government or social structure in general) shouldn't be involved in helping to solve some of these problems. But the key part that we miss is that such involvement from government does not replace our own personal involvement in helping to solve such problems. Government involvement depends upon our personal involvement. It's there to assist our involvement (when we truly need it), not to replace it.
But in the final analysis, as the video suggests, for me, as a Catholic voter, I will have to decide whether to cast my vote for candidates who openly support policies that I know the Church considers "intrinsic evils," like abortion, or candidates, who I may agree or disagree with on certain "prudential judgement" matters, like budget cuts and entitlements, but agree with on the Church's "non-negotiable" issues.

At least for me, the choice is clear...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Words of Wisdom from St. Ignatius of Loyola...

"Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you."

-- St. Ignatius of Loyala, 16th Century soldier turned priest, scholar and theologian, and founder of the Society of Jesus (aka Jesuits); an order referred to as "God's Marines," for accepting to live in extreme conditions anywhere in the world for the sake of the Kingdom of God...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Marriage, a Spartan Race and The Lord of the Rings...

Stretching after a rigorous workout...
Sunday morning, as I wiped the sweat beads off my forehead with the broadside of my thumb, like a wiper across a windshield, I took a quick look at my watch and noticed we were only halfway through the hour-long boot camp training session we had started. 

It was a typical humid and sticky 90-degrees-weather day in South Florida and I was drenched. Sweat was pouring out of me like, I  imagine, it poured out from Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane just before He got arrested.  And I thought with dread, we still had another half an hour left!

It had been a grueling first half hour of burpees (which until recently, I thought was just the gas build up my children got after drinking Similac as babies or what I get while having beer!), sprints, jumps, squats, leg lunges and one of those agility ladders that gets placed on the ground and you have to take two steps in each square as you work your way forward and sideways on the way back.

We had finished one time through the six-station circuit and were catching our breaths before running a couple of laps and starting a second time around and I was already hurting. One of the guys in our group had already dropped out and I was trying mightily to keep from joining him.

I should have known we were going to be in for a treacherous workout, when the trainer, who trained soldiers for ultimate cage fighting at Ft. Hood, showed up looking like Captain America, but built more like Thor, sans the golden shoulder length locks on his head, in The Avengers movie.

In fact, as I stood there huffing and puffing in mid-workout, I remembered the distress in my seven-year-old daughter’s face, when my wife showed her a You Tube video of the Super Spartan Race we had signed up to run in February. She started crying in horror, “Daddy is going to die!,” a haunting thought that, as I started thinking about the second half of the workout, I was hoping would not be prophetic.

My wife kept asking me, “How are you doing?” and then added, “Stop if you don’t feel well.” Sure, show concern after getting me into this pickle, I thought.

“Fine,” I answered unconvincingly.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, my wife is in amazing shape. For years, she has been trying to get me to join her in marathons, half-marathons and triathlons that she has participated in.  "Maintain God's Temple," she often tells me; only to have me sneer and and blow off the suggestion as too ridiculous to even consider.    

So, when she talked to me about the Super Spartan Race, which she had been talking to a friend of mine about doing as a team and is basically an 8-mile obstacle course of running, climbing over walls, going through water, crawling under nets and through tunnels, and burpees, lots and lots of burpees, in February (4 days before my 49th birthday), I almost laughed.

However, wouldn't you know it.  When she approached me, I was in the middle of writing a blog (and ignoring my family!) and, after giving her my typical response, I noticed the dejection on her face as she walked away.

I was overcome with Catholic guilt, one, because I was already treading water for ignoring my kids that night, and two, because I have never given her the satisfaction of having me join her (with the exception of a 5k charity run, which is more up my alley) in a competition that she assured me would be “fun.”

So, as I sat there thinking about what she had asked, and keep in mind that to my daughter (and sometimes my wife) I’m known as “Mr. No,” which tends to be my immediate response to anything, I thought, what’s the worst thing that can happen, I make a fool of myself? I’m already an expert in that.

Frodo couldn't shake him...
Then I thought, did she say February? I have plenty of time! In fact, it may give me a goal to shoot for and finally lose those stubborn last 50 lbs that I have been meaning to lose. First? Last? Who’s counting? Those suckers cling onto me like Gollum, aka Smeagol, clung onto Frodo Baggins to get the Ring of Power in The Lord of the Rings. It seems every time, I shed a few pounds, they come right back!
So, with a sense of mission and misguided generosity, I marched into the bedroom, where my wife and kids were watching TV, and announced, “I will do it. Sign me up!”

On Sunday, as we ended our workout, besides feeling like Sam Gamgee after carrying Frodo up the volcano to destroy the ring, I was having more second thoughts than Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen has with Heath Bell on the mound closing games and perfectly understood my daughter’s tears and comment when she saw the You Tube video.

But probably even worse was the pain I felt trying to get out of bed over the next few days.  It was so bad that the bottom of my feet hurt. (The trainer told me to make sure my shoes had a good arch and were not older than 6 months old. I told him they were just a tad older; I bought them when my 11-year-old daughter was 4!)  Not good.

And, to think, this was just our first workout.  I still have five more months to look forward to.  The things we do to keep a happy marriage.

Lord help me!…