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Monday, January 30, 2012

My Son's Painful Lesson on Life and Charity...

Things were looking good...
He was finally getting the hang of it.

After struggling to pedal his brand new Tony Hawk BMX bike for several laps, during his school’s annual pre-k trike-a-thon to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, where it appeared his little legs were not strong enough to keep the wheels going and several times needed to be pushed by teachers when he got stuck, my 4-year-old son was finally pedaling smoothly, as his older sister and her first grade class cheered and chanted his name.

It’s funny, being the youngest and one of the smallest boys in his class, it reminded me of the last scene of the movie, Rudy, where the crowd at Notre Dame Stadium was chanting for the pint-sized hero, “Ru-dy, Ru-dy, Ru-dy.”

Only in this case, the pint-sized hero was my son and the crowd was nothing more then a class of first graders and about two dozen parents.

As he came around the make-shift bicycle course, he kept looking over at his cheering fans and pedaling faster. At this point, he was probably feeling pretty good about himself.

However, as he whizzed by them and came around to the first turn (whizzed being relative since a toddler’s bike with training wheels is not exactly going to shatter any speed record), he appeared to have trouble negotiating the curve and turned the handlebars too sharply.

He ended up falling over his bike and landing on his hands and knees.

Unfortunately, as he hit the pavement, several other classmates were trailing close behind and as he looked up, another girl’s front tire plowed directly into this face.

For me, it was a bit surreal. I stood there frozen for a brief instance, before realizing it was my son who had been run over (and I should go help!).

All hell broke loose. My son started crying hysterically. Other parents and teachers rushed to help and some of the other kids stopped to watch the commotion.

By the time I got there, a teacher was already holding my son, as blood poured out of his lip and, apparently, from above his left eyelid. I also noticed the well defined tire mark on his face; talk about sacrificing for charity!

I grabbed him and started trying to comfort him.

I’ll be honest, in six years of St. Jude’s pre-k trike-a-thons for my two daughters, and son last year; I had never seen a spill like this one.

As another father grabbed my son’s bike, the teacher that had picked up my son originally led me to the nurse’s office.

He was still crying when I sat him on the school nurse’s examination table but finally calmed down, after the nurse cleaned him up.

We noticed that the eyelid blood was apparently from having rubbed it with his hands.

His upper lip was swollen but the cut appeared to be superficial and, after washing his hands, the nurse gave him an icepack, which he promptly placed over his mouth; crisis resolved.  He was good.

When I carried him back out, he noticed the event was over and started crying again, saying that he wanted to keep riding his bike; so much for long lasting effect!   

After telling him he could ride when he got home and taking him to his classroom, where most of the other kids were already sitting at their desks, I gave him a kiss and went to work.

While driving with a blood stain on my shoulder, I couldn't help but think about how much our daily lives are but a microcosm of our relationship with God.

In other words, how many times have I've been in my son's shoes; struggling with a problem, and after working through it, and finally getting into a rhythm and starting to feel confident, out of nowhere, I find myself on the pavement with the tire track of life on my face and God the Father having to pick me back up and console me?

Only, in my son's case, his consolation came wrapped in the arms of his dad, which, as a father, is one of the finest ways of showing God's love to my children.    

While it may have been a painful lesson for him to learn, about working through a challenge, getting overconfident, losing focus, and falling flat on his face (OK, maybe I'm being optimistic about his takeaway!), at least, he ended up being carried off the field like Rudy…

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Actor Mark Wahlberg Walking in the Footsteps of St. Paul...

St. Paul the Apostle once wrote, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me."

It is a contradiction in today's culture, that seems to be more interested in promoting and prolonging adolescence and immature behavior (especially in men), in the likes of The Hangover, than of growing up and taking responsibility.  

Mark Wahlberg
Yet, it may explain the metamorphosis in the life of one time bad boy turned mega movie star, Mark Wahlberg. 

Alright, so he may not have been able to stop the terrorists from crashing planes into the World Trade Center, but Wahlberg, who is 40, is a devout Catholic and says to be uncompromising on his beliefs, which affect every aspect of his life (another reason for me to love The Italian Job, besides the high speed car and boat chases, the plot, great cast and beautiful Italian scenery!).

It’s not often that a Hollywood star opens up about their faith. However, while promoting his new movie, Contraband, during a recent interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan (see below), Wahlberg was not shy about discussing his religious beliefs, the role of those beliefs in his life and what attending church every day gives him.

“A very clear focus of what’s important, expressing my gratitude for all the blessings that have been bestowed upon me and a reminder every day of what I need to do and what I need to focus on and what I need to stay away from.”

The one time original member of the boy band, New Kids On The Block, with his older brother Donnie, before going on his own as Marky Mark and becoming a Calvin Klein underwear model, comes from a rough and tumble upbringing. You can say he’s from the wrong side of the tracks.

The actor is one of nine children, whose parents divorced when he was eleven, and grew up in a poor neighborhood near south Boston.  The streets became his playground.

Being young and rebellious, he looked up to some of the neighborhood guys and ended up addicted to crack cocaine in his early teens, got involved with gangs, dropped out of high school at sixteen (although he later earned his GED) and ended up in prison, after a series of minor felonies, a year later.  

The experience left a mark on him (pun intended).  He knew he needed to change his ways because he never wanted to be locked up again.  A parish priest from his childhood helped guide him and Wahlberg quit the gang and turned his back on crime. 

“I had to make a choice. I decided to concentrate on my faith and my faith has allowed me to overcome a lot of things, (that) and hard work. Nothing comes easy, especially when you have your back against the wall and you have a lot against you.”

Despite his early struggles, Wahlberg has never blamed his upbringing or considered himself a victim of his environment. He takes full responsibility for his actions.

Now, he says his faith and his family are the most important parts of his life.  Wahlberg married longtime girlfriend, model Rhea Durham, in 2009, with whom he has four children.  

During the interview, Morgan asked him what he prayed for.

“I pray to be a good servant to God, a father, a husband, a son, a friend, brother and uncle. A good neighbor, a good leader to those who look up to me and a good follower to those who are serving God and doing the right thing and people that I look up to and try to emulate.”

In 2001, Wahlberg established a foundation, the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, to help inner city kids try to avoid the many traps that he fell into during his youth. He says he feels an obligation to give back for all the blessings he has received.

His purging of his old self includes the painful removal of his tattoos (including a rosary that was inked around his neck with a crucifix and the words, "In God I Trust" that rested on his heart ), which he described on The David Letterman Show akin to someone flicking grease on him over and over again.

The actor says he is removing them because he wants to set a good example for his kids. In fact, he takes the two older ones with him so they could see how much they hurt to remove. He hopes it'll keep them from wanting tattoos.

The young neighborhood kid became a man.   

Although, he will forever walk the fine line between the temptations of Hollywood stardom and his convictions, Wahlberg’s conversion and attempt to live according to his faith, are a testament to how God can change a person’s life; no matter where it begins.

Of course, if one considers the Christian experience, it is not that uncommon.

If you recall, St. Paul’s own background was a bit questionable, to say the least.  He was a Christian bounty hunter (sans the leather and tattoos).  He tracked them down, arrested them and led them to their certain deaths; not exactly altar boy material.

As Mick Jagger sings, "St. Paul the persecutor was a cruel and sinful man.  Jesus hit him with a blinding light and then his life began."

It seems, instead of the road to Damascus, Wahlberg's blinding light came in a prison cell.

As someone in the national spotlight, with probably millions of fans, after putting aside his childish ways, it appears Wahlberg has a chance to follow in St. Paul's footsteps by witnessing his faith and, hopefully, influencing many...

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Fruit of Evil in a Loveless Heart; A Year Later...

A year ago today, two Miami-Dade police officers, Roger Castillo, a 41-year-old husband and father of three sons, and Amanda Haworth, a 44-year-old single mother of a teenage boy, were out serving an arrest warrant on a bright sunny morning.

It was a day like any other day in their illustrious twenty plus year careers.  They went out with a specialized team of officers to arrest a wanted fugitive.  They both loved their jobs.

Only this day wasn't like any other.  The two were ambushed and gunned down in cold blood by a 22-year-old career criminal in front of a Liberty City duplex before another officer on the team shot the suspect dead.

The incident destroyed two innocent families and sent shock waves through the law enforcement and South Florida communities.  

After the dust had settled that day, I reflected with heavy heart upon the tragedy I had seen unfold on the TV monitors in the newsroom I work at and wrote this blog.  

In memory of Roger and Amanda, I would like to share it with you again...

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

For the past 20 years or so, I have covered stories of human anguish and pain, sadness and grief, desolation and despair. 

However, as callous as my skin has gotten, because of the disconnection of experiencing feelings of hardship through the separation of a camera lens, there are some stories that deeply touch my heart, as a father, husband, and member of society. 

Experiencing the death of a loved one is difficult under any circumstance. I can only imagine what losing someone close, in what appears to be under senseless and sudden circumstances, where the person goes to work one minute and the next minute is no longer alive. 

For the family of someone that dies in a fatal car crash, the victim of a crime, a freak accident, or in the case of two Miami-Dade police officers, shot to death doing something that they had been doing for over twenty years, it has to be surreal and indescribably difficult.

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

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

Debbie Castillo is herself a police officer and knows the risk the job entails. Maybe, she even considered that this moment could someday come. 

Now, when her actual worst nightmare became a reality, what does she tell her 14, 11 and 9 year old sons, who are left to grow up without their father? 

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

Castillo, 41, a twenty one year veteran of the police force, went to serve an arrest warrant, along with partners, Amanda Haworth, Oscar Plasencia and Deidra Beecher. 

It was part of their job. They served in a fugitive task force that would hunt down violent suspects.

Thursday morning, they knocked on the door of career criminal Johnny Simms' mother. Simms was wanted in connection with the murder of a man in October and police had been tracking him down for several months. 

The 22-year-old man had been in and out of jail and living a life of crime since he was 14-years-old. By the time he was an adult, he had been arrested eleven times and the cycle continued until police confronted him that morning. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can never imagine or understand what it means to grow up without hope, without the love of both parents, and without faith in God, where the only expression of pent up fear and frustration is aggression and violence and the only thing that resonates and dominates actions is survival of the fittest. 

A world without God is a world without love and a world without love doesn't hold much value.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Despite the Loss, Tebow Keeps Eye on Big Picture...

Rough Night  in Foxborough
It was bound to happen.

Despite an emotional and stirring locker room pep talk Saturday morning, where his teammates gave him a standing ovation, David could not defeat Goliath.

Tim Tebow and the overachieving Denver Broncos could not withstand the offensive barrage and defensive prowess of one of the best teams in pro football; the New England Patriots.

The lesser team was slaughtered by a 45 to 10 margin.

And, thus the Cinderella dream was shattered, and, with it, the hopes were dashed of millions of fans, who rooted for the underdog leader of the underdog team.

And thus, the Bill Mahers of the world, and all the doubters and the I-told-you-so wannabe experts could begin to gloat and celebrate (although you can argue, they started in the second quarter!).

As I watched Tebow's press conference in the early morning hours on Sunday, after his Broncos' futile effort against the obviously superior Patriots team, he was asked something about what this beating meant for his faith.

In typical Tebow fashion, he said his faith was not dependent on winning and losing; that wasn’t that important.  For him, the important thing is whether in winning or losing he gave God the glory. 

The kid always seems to say the right thing, which, unfortunately, is one of the reasons he is despised by many. He was looking at the big picture.

As I thought about the game and his post game commentary, I couldn't help but think of a recent discussion I had with friends.

Last week, during our men's group meeting, we talked about the failures and turning points in life, which sometimes appear to be monumental in scope on the surface, and many times, as we look back, turn out to be blessings.

There's a song that one of my friends introduced to many of us several months ago, titled This, by Darius Rucker, better known as Hootie (of Hootie & the Blowfish fame), who by the way, is now a Country Music star, that puts it into perspective.

The song is about a guy who wakes up with his baby daughter in his bed and the woman he loves in his arms and he gives thanks for all the twists and turns, rejections, heartbreaks, all the plans that didn't come true, all the fights, tears and heartaches that he suffered, that led him to this moment in time.

The point is that through our skewed and limited perspective, we usually can’t understand the pain, trials and challenges that we have to occasionally endure because we can’t see the big picture.

It's like the Israelite in the Old Testament reading from last week. They were getting pummeled by the Philistines, who massacred about four thousand men on the battlefield.

In an effort to turn the tide against the more powerful army, the Israelites make the call to the bullpen (well, sort of).  They decide to have the Ark of the Covenant, which was commissioned by God and contained the tablets with the Ten Commandments, lead them into battle.

With God in their midst, they would overcome their adversaries, or so they thought.

In fact, upon hearing that the ark was in the Israelite camp, the Philistines were frightened, and so they were more resolved as they  braced for the fierce battle.  

When the two armies re-converged in the battlefield, not only did the Philistines proved victorious and slaughtered thirty thousand Israeli soldiers but they captured the Ark of God.

When the smoke had clear, there was much despair, pain and sorrow. The brutal bloodbath had dashed the hopes of the Israeli army. Questions, uncertainty and doubt arose, as some lost faith. Did God abandon them? Why would he allow his chosen people to suffer such a great defeat? From their limited vantage, they couldn’t see the big picture. They were too busy wallowing in their sorrow.

It is only in subsequent pages (and many years later), that we read about Israel's rally behind David, the Goliath slayer, to ultimately defeat the Philistines. The big picture was finally revealed.

I have always lived a blessed life. Aside from my divorce and my wife’s miscarriage of our third child, as a friend of mine used to say, "The worst thing to happen to me, happened to people close to me."

But, like all trials that God puts us through, they are very difficult at the time.

Yet, if it wasn’t for my divorce, and several months later my wife’s wedding being called off, we probably wouldn’t have met on that random Saturday night, in that random place, where I was randomly with a former co-worker that knew my wife, and we wouldn’t have said hello, and wouldn’t have fallen in love or had our three kids.  Only now do we know nothing was random.

And, if it wasn’t for the miscarriage of our third child, we may have never had our fourth, who is now our four-year-old son and the apple of my wife, our daughters and my eyes. The big picture is being slowly revealed.

The Christian story is one of apparent defeat, suffering, death and despair. Yet, it is through that pain that we are drawn into the depths of the human condition only to rise again from the bowels of hopelessness to the glory and victory of our faith.

As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday.”

Tim Tebow said it well.  In the end, it's not about the Broncos and Patriots. It's not about winning and losing on or off the field. It’s about enduring through faith; the good days and bad, the rainy days and the sunny ones, because it's about the big picture.  It's about finishing the ultimate race.

Although, the full image is not yet revealed in our life, and we'll never see what the future holds, no matter how many fortune tellers we give our money to (and this is just a joke, I'm not advocating that anyone seek a fortune teller!), we can hope, in the certainty that only faith provides, that the big picture will be greater than we could ever imagine.  And, it usually is...

[pic credit:  Adam Hunger/Reuters]

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Mormon Minister's Son's Journey Home...

A few nights ago, after putting my kids to bed, I went to the living room to watch one of my favorite television shows, The Journey Home, where men and women share their testimonies about how they unexpectedly, and sometimes reluctantly, found their way into the Catholic Church (I realize for many people, including my wife, it’s not must see TV, but I really enjoy conversion stories).

Anyway, as I’m fast forwarding through the show’s opening and get to the establishing two-shot of the host and guest on the set, I see that a friend of mine is the guest.

At the risk of sounding like Chris Mathews when describing Barack Obama, I got a thrill down my leg. (In a manly sort of way!)

I actually paused the show and went in to tell my wife.  (Ok, you can hit me now)

Albert Holder was a member of my parish and part of our men's group.  His kids went to the same Catholic school as ours, until moving with his family to Ann Arbor, Michigan in the summer of 2010.

In fact, two years ago, he took me to see, and actually introduced me to, one of my favorite authors, Dr. Scott Hahn (of Rome Sweet Home, The Lamb’s Supper and Hail Holy Queen fame), at Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church in Parkland.

Albert is a former Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints faithful, whose father was an ordained minister, missionary and church leader.

During the interview (see below), and before getting into his own conversion, Albert gave a brief explanation of the history of the Mormon faith, which was founded by Joseph Smith in the early 1800’s in New York, after claiming that Jesus Christ appeared to him and told him to restore the church He founded in the 1st century (which, according to Smith’s prophesy, had fallen into apostasy).

Without getting into all the details of the explanation that Albert shared to set up his own conversion, it is sufficient to say that after Smith’s death, there was a division among his followers; most of which, led by Brigham Young, headed west to Utah, and another smaller group, which included Smith’s family and 14-year-old son, who Smith had designated through a prophetic utterance as the next leader of the church, headed back east.

When the son was 26, he started what became known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which became a rival sect of the more established Mormon Church in Utah.

In fact, the new church proclaimed to be the true church founded by Smith, since they had claims to Smith’s bloodline and divinely inspired designation.

It is in this latter (no pun intended) smaller church that Albert was raised.

For much of his early life, his family was transient; moving every couple of years to follow the missionary work of Albert's father, who was sent to different parts of the world and U.S. to establish missions for the Reorganized Church.

Albert’s conversion begins with the conversion of his father.

In the early 1980’s, his father began to have reservations about the Mormon Gospel and started growing disenchanted with the leadership of the church.

Albert said his dad was an avid reader and, by that time, was reading C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and others. He began opening his mind to the possibility of a truth outside of his small church community.

Even so, after thirty years of ministry for a faith that he loved, believed to be true, and had committed his whole life to, it wasn’t easy.

As many ministers of other faiths do, he read his way into the Catholic Church and, after much internal turmoil and discernment for almost five years, enrolled in the RCIA program and entered the Church in 1989.

His mother, who was raised Catholic but had left the church to marry his father, returned with little reservation.

Nevertheless, his dad's conversion was scandalous to friends, family, and Reformed Church leaders, some of whom, Albert says, advised his mother to divorce and shun him, in hopes of reawakening him, because he obviously had been influenced by an evil spirit.

It was a devastating time for Albert as well. At 13, it was so traumatizing that he says when told that his father was becoming Catholic, he broke down and cried hysterically.

He was devoted to his faith and, although he loved his dad, felt a sense of betrayal.

It worsened when eventually, during the next several years, his siblings also converted,  leaving him as the lone holdout in his family.

He was so frustrated and disappointed that he decided to take a relativist, and, unfortunately, contemporary approach to  religion and God.

He says, “So, at this point, I make the decision that God is bigger than all religion. No one religion is right. All religions have something good. So, the best approach to this whole subject is not to be a member of any church and pick and choose from all the things that I read that I like. I would be enlightened and live happy. But, I wasn’t happy because, as we all know, happiness comes from giving your life to God.”

Through God’s grace and providence, he said, it took a medieval poetry class at Kansas University, which was taught by a professor working on a dissertation on one of the most well known Catholic converts in recent history, Cardinal John Henry Newman, to stir something within him and spark a desire to learn more about philosophy and theology.

He says, “That course was like a door to grace because it wasn’t apologetics. It wasn’t overtly trying to convince me of Catholicism. But, it was opening my mind again to the beauty and goodness of God.”

The professor suggested that if he was serious about studying philosophy, medieval thought and theology, he needed to transfer to a small liberal arts private college, where he would get a more balanced and unbiased education on the subject.

At his father’s suggestion, they visited Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, where renowned Catholic convert and author Dr. Scott Hahn heads the Theology Department.

Again, by God’s providence and grace, the only professor not on vacation, when Albert went to visit the campus, was Dr. Hahn, who Albert knew absolutely nothing about, although, his father, was already familiar with his writings.

They ended up going to visit Dr. Hahn at his home to discuss the possibility of Albert enrolling at the school and the meeting played a huge role in Albert’s eventual conversion because Hahn told him that if he attended  Franciscan, he would not just do well, but he would "thrive" (which was key in helping him decide).

After several years studying philosophy and theology at the school, endless debates with his father, and countless questions swirling in his mind for years, it all came to a head at a Mass on the Feast of St. Francis in October 1992.

He says, “I was sitting in mass and say to myself, (it was) just one of those times where you realize God is here. It became so clear to me and (if) I could ask one question and get one answer. So, I was like, what do I need an answer to?  And, so I looked up and saw the Blessed Sacrament being distributed and asked, Jesus is that really you? And it was in my heart; a real conviction that this was the Lord.”

Shortly thereafter, he enrolled in RCIA and not long afterwards converted.

At the end of the show, Albert said probably the most profound comment of the entire show.

He says, “One of the things that I remember very clearly is the realization that I don’t own the truth. We owned the truth in my other church and it was an ever shrinking amount of truth and it was an ever shrinking (number of ) members, who even thought like you did. And, while I understand that when I became Catholic, I was embracing the fullness of that truth; I was (only) embracing it. I was serving the truth cause the truth is incarnated in Jesus Christ. It’s not something I put in my back pocket to whip out and beat someone over the head but it’s ever challenging me in my own life to better conform to it.”

Could you tell he went to graduate school to continue his theological training in Rome?

As a matter of fact, while studying in Rome, he met his wife, Michele, who was also there studying and they got married.

It's funny because during our drive to and from Mary Help of Christians, Albert told me about his conversion and conversation with Dr. Hahn. Yet, it was fascinating to hear him tell me his story again on a nationally televised show.

Albert, his wife, and three children moved to Ann Arbor, after he took a job at a law firm that helps Catholic churches and organizations in fundraising and financial buoyancy.

The Holders are also very involved in Mary’s Meals, a charitable organization that helps feed (with food and education) needy families around the globe.

It's humbling to see how God uses ordinary people, who sometimes must travel extraordinary paths, to help build His Kingdom...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tim Tebow "All He Does Is Win" Rap...

Tim Tebow continues to turn the football world (and professional sports for that matter), upside down, despite his many critics, many of whom, unfortunately, despise him not for what he has done or failed to do on the field but for what he represents.

He is a devout Christian, who not only lives the way he believes, but for the ACLU crowd, that wants to remove God from all aspects of society, he's the worse kind.  He's vocal about it.

He's definitely swimming against the cultural tide, which makes him a target for those that can't wait for him to fail.

It reminds me of a G.K. Chesterton quote, "A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

I found this funny and catchy video, titled Tim Tebow-"All He Does is Win," on a recent blog by Creative Minority Report.  It has already surpassed one million hits since being posted on You Tube last month.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Glad Tidings for Archbishops Dolan and O'Brien…

Archbishop Timothy Dolan
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, 61, and Archbishop Edwin O' Brien of Baltimore, 72, were selected as the newest U.S. members of the College of Cardinals by Pope Benedict XVI yesterday.

The two men will be officially elevated during a ceremony in Rome next month.

As members of the College of Cardinals, the cardinal-designates can be called upon by the pope to serve as advisers on church affairs and they will be among those that elect the pope’s successor.

Dolan heads the Archdiocese of New York, which traditionally has been led by a cardinal (the most recent being Cardinal Edward Egan), and is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

In his blog, The Gospel in the Digital Age, Dolan writes:
On this “Twelfth Day of Christmas” the traditional celebration of the Epiphany, I have received a gift from Pope Benedict XVI, as he announced just a couple of hours ago at the end of Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica that I would be among those to become a cardinal in Rome at the consistory of February 18th.

...This is not about privilege, change of colors, hats, new clothes, places of honor, or a different title. Jesus warned us about all that stuff.

No: this is about an affirmation of love from the Pope to a celebrated archdiocese and community, and a summons to its unworthy archbishop to serve Jesus, His Church universal, His vicar on earth, and His people better.

I’ll try to do that…but I sure need your prayers.
The Archbishop, who 60 Minutes’ Morely Safer once referred to as the “American pope,” during a feature story, was born in St. Louis and ordained a priest in 1976. He was named auxiliary bishop of St. Louis in 2001 and a year later archbishop of Milwaukee by Pope John Paul II. Pope Benedict XVI named him archbishop of New York in 2009. He holds a doctorate in church history from The Catholic University of America.

Archbishop Edwin O'Brien
Meanwhile, Edwin O’Brien, who was born in New York and ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of New York in 1965, served as a chaplain at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, and later as an Army chaplain in Vietnam. In 1996, he was named an auxiliary bishop of New York, then served as coadjutor archbishop for the Archdiocese for Military Services USA, and head of the military archdiocese. He was named archbishop of Baltimore by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 and holds a doctorate in sacred theology from the Angelicum University in Rome.

Two humble servants of God, who will now take up greater responsibilities…

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hope Springs Eternal in the New Year...

A little bubbly?
A new year is a time to let go of the past and start fresh with confidence and hope (despite what the Mayan calendar and Santeria priests in Cuba might say), or as an old Spanish TV station slogan once stated, "Borron y Cuenta Nueva," which loosely translates to “wiping the slate clean and starting anew” (which proved to be wishful thinking).

It’s a great motto for a new year, especially for those who had a rough one in 2011.

As a longstanding suffering New York Mets fan, a new year brings a new outlook for the upcoming season; albeit faint.

As a long-suffering Washington Redskins fan, it’s an opportunity to put aside another lousy season, which fortunately ended last weekend. (Hey, at least I root for the Heat; although that didn't work out too well last year, did it?)

But, sports teams’ futility aside, and despite my last blog about forgetting my wedding anniversary, last year was wonderful year for my family and me.

Yes, we lost our eleven-year-old Rottweiler, Garbo, in January, and our mischievous kids caused havoc on our plumbing system in March, but outside of that, there was little, if any, adversity.

Moreover, there was an abundance of blessings. After eighteen years as the Press Secretary for a local U.S. Congressman, my wife started a new job (as the Personal Assistant, aka Girl Friday, to the now retired U.S. Congressman), we had an amazing summer, with trips to North Carolina and Sanibel, our 4-year-old son started school with his sisters in the Fall, and despite the bad economy, we have not lacked for anything and were blessed with good health, love, faith and peace of mind; thanks be to God.

As for my New Year’s resolution for 2012, after failing to lose weight as I resolved during the past two years, usually losing weight up until May then gaining it all back by December (or sooner), I decided to make some adjustments.

I will try to eat better and exercise more but I’m not going to make it a resolution. I’m pulling a Roberto Duran here. I’m tired of getting my butt handed to me by the escalating scale needle and saying, “No Mas.” (Mrs. Vickie's Jalapeno chips aren't that bad, right?)

Instead, I am resolving to continue to grow (hopefully, spiritually and not in girth), by attending daily Mass (so far, four for four), continuing to read and study my faith, especially the Bible, as I did every morning a few years ago and Church documents, which I don’t read enough, and, more importantly, going out of my way for others, although, my wife would say, losing weight is going out of my way for others; her and our kids. What can I say? She loves me (or doesn’t want to raise three kids on her own!).

I am also resolving to be a less self-centered and lazy at home and more helpful, attentive and loving with my wife and children (although, aside from the loving part, this second tier of goals may be harder than trying to make it to Mass every day!).  Am I being too ambitious?

Eighteenth Century English poet, Alexander Pope, once wrote, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” And with every New Year, there is new hope in our hearts and the optimism and yearning to fulfill that hope.

Nevertheless, as Pope Benedict XVI points out, "Hope is practiced through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure…” And unfortunately, failure is where most New Year's resolutions end up.

But, it's the first week of the year. Let's be optimistic!

Of course, you can disregard, if the Earth collides with Nibiru on December 21, 2012. Then again, wasn’t the world going to end in Y2K, or was that last year?

Happy and Blessed New Year…

Monday, January 2, 2012

An Inauspicious Ending to 2011...

Alright, so one of the drawbacks about having two wedding anniversaries each year (civil and Catholic) is that keeping track is not always easy (at least for me!).

In the midst of Advent, Christmas, my brother’s visit and New Year’s, I totally forgot my Fourth Catholic Wedding Anniversary (Dec. 29th).

For those that don’t know, my wife and I got married in a civil wedding in March 1998 but, after my reversion to the faith (I never left, I just wandered for several decades!), we decided to convalidate our marriage vows in full communion with the Church in December 2007, which was also the day that our son was baptized.

Anyway, after getting up early and while busy blogging Thursday morning, my wife sneaks up on me with a hug, a kiss and hands me a gift, "Happy Anniversary."

All I had for her was a return hug and kiss. I had completely forgotten; to the extent that it hadn't even crossed my mind.  Ouch!

"Happy Anniversary," I offered.  Then, as one of my children would say when asked if they brushed their teeth before going to bed, I admitted, "I totally forgot."  

Fortunately, she took it well (at least externally).  I am married to a very loving and understanding wife (compliments for her to read intended!).

Considering that for a second year in a row, I got her medium sizes instead of small for Christmas, let's just say, 2011 didn't end on a roaring note.

Then again, from a glass half full perspective, since I have two wedding anniversaries, there's another chance to make it up to her in three months.  I'll keep you posted..