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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Despite Controversy, Pope Brings Hope to Cuba From Within...

When Jesus first appeared on the scene in the early part of the First Century, many Jews were waiting for a Messiah that would liberate them from the control of the Roman Empire and restore the Davidic kingdom; through what they envisioned would be armed conflict.

Instead, what they got was not the savior they expected, but a poor and humble carpenter from Galilee, who preached a freedom, not from the binds that tied them to this world, but from the sin, hate and rancor that bound their souls from the next. It was an internal and transcendent freedom centered on love.

As if that weren't unsettling enough to some, He told them to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies, to pray for those that persecuted them and told slaves to obey their masters.

Is it too late for repentance?...
This week, Pope Benedict XVI concluded a three-day pilgrimage to Cuba, where he traveled for the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image of Our Lady of Charity (La Virgen de la Caridad) to three fishermen in the Bay of Nipe in 1612.

While most in the Catholic world embraced the trip as an opportunity to bring the gospel to one of the last bastions of communism in the world, some in the Cuban exile community criticized it because they believed it gave legitimacy to the longstanding abusive regime and served as another public relations coup for the dictatorship.

It is a never-ending struggle amidst a community that was betrayed by Fidel Castro, who promised democracy and, instead, turned to communism, then were forced to leave everything they knew and loved and go into exile, which has lasted over fifty years and, during that time, has been repeatedly maligned, provoked, scorned and ridiculed by the Cuban leadership.

Having lived the exile experience for the past forty-two years of my life, and never growing up knowing the place I was born, the place my parents met or lived, my paternal grandparents, who passed away without me ever knowing them, and many of my aunts, uncles and cousins, who I have never met, I can understand the pain and longing; albeit through the eyes of my parents, grandparents and relatives.

We came claiming political asylum in 1969, since my father had been involved in the counter-revolution and government agents came looking for him shortly after we had left.  My brother and I would have grown up, like many exile children, without a father, because they were locked up in Castro's prisons (including many who were psychologically and physically tortured or executed). 

So, last year, when the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI was traveling to Mexico and Cuba, many in Miami's exiles community were skeptical.

Let’s face it, anything that even remotely resembles a step towards the brutal dictatorship is received with mistrust in the exile community (And, I don't mean this as a jab. It is the reality of the many years of suffering the separation from their homeland and loved ones and their antagonistic relationship with the communist rulers).

However, after realizing it was going to happen, with or without their approval, they started hoping the pope would boldly criticize and challenge the Cuban government for its atrocious human rights record against dissenters, and would meet with dissident groups, some of which, had asked to meet with him.

Like the Jews in the First Century, they wanted a warrior to take on the powers that be.

Instead, the leader of the Universal Church went as a humble and loving theologian, who, like the Church's founder, was more willing to proclaim a hope from within the human heart then from the chains without.

And, to make things worse, rather than meeting with dissidents, he met with their greatest nemesis Fidel Castro himself and, as the Church has always done, criticized the U.S. embargo on Cuba, which many exiles support.

Although, his homilies were laced with powerful calls for freedoms, albeit through Jesus Christ, they were not the line-in-the-sand sermons that some exiles hoped to hear.

Like a co-worker told me, "I was very disillusioned. Even Jesus said to give Cesar what is due to Cesar and overturned tables and whipped the Jews at the temple!"

What could I say? He was absolutely right. But, first things first; you cannot give what you don't have and the second part of that Cesar verse says and to God the things that are God's. If someone doesn't know God, he doesn't know what to give God.

In a country, where an entire generation has grown up without God, the focus of Pope Benedict, like that of Bl. Pope John Paul II, who visited the island in 1998, was to bring the "good news" of the gospel to a people thirsty for the Truth of Jesus Christ.  It was to bring them hope.

As for ruckus at the temple, Jesus was upset precisely because the Pharisees and scribes were not giving God the respect due to Him and were making a mockery out of the House of God. It follows the same principal as  the Cesar statement.

In fact, Jesus rarely (and I don’t recall an instance) spoke against the Roman regime. He was more focused on saving the Jews' souls and attacking those that misled them spiritually.

This leads to another point of contention for many Cuban exiles; the apparent silence and weakness of the Cuban Catholic Church in lieu of the ramped abuse by the government against its people, including a group of Catholic women, who walk each week to and from their parish demanding freedom and the release of political prisoners.

Look, I realize there is a perception, deserving or not, among some exiles that the Cuban Church is a puppet of the state and led by Pharisees-like clergy, especially the highest ranking Catholic on the island, Cardinal Jaime Ortega. But, it’s easy to criticize from the outside. I don't know what’s going on internally; the conversations, the negotiations and agreements.

Wenski at La Catedral de la Habana...
The closest outsider, to the internal workings of the Cuban Church, may be Archdiocese of Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who for many years led Caritas, a charity that provides necessities for the poorest of the poor on the island, and he continuously defends and exalts the good work being carried out by his Cuban counterparts.

And, for those that don't know him, Wenski is not one to mince words.

The archbishop got his own share of flack from some in the exile community for leading a pilgrimage of over 300 Catholics to Cuba for the papal visit. But redeemed himself when, during a homily in Havana’s Cathedral on Tuesday, he criticized Marxist ideology and urged Cubans “to be the protagonists of their own future,” which prompted a standing ovation from the  faithful.

Wenski says he was only repeating the message of the Successor of Peter, Pope Benedict XVI, who on his way to Mexico last week said, "It is evident today that Marxist ideology as it had been conceived no longer responds to reality... New models must be found, though with patience."

As for me, when it comes to choosing between faith and country (although I must admit I feel more American than Cuban), I will always choose as St. Thomas More, who once said, "I am the king's good servant, but God's first," when asked to choose between his loyalty to King Henry VIII and the Catholic Church.

The Church's ultimate goal is to save souls and what I see from the outside indicates that for the first time, since the Cuban Revolution took power in 1959, the seeds planted may be bearing fruit.  A Catholic seminary to cultivate priests was constructed outside of Havana (the first time the Church was allowed to construct in over 50 years).  Over the past year, there was a jubilee procession of a replica of La Virgen de la Caridad that worked its way across the country, allowing millions access to their patron saint, and over the past several years the Cuban Catholic Church has been growing by leaps and bounds.

During his homily in Havana, the pope said:
“The Church lives to make others sharers in the one thing she possesses, which is none other than Christ, our hope of glory. To carry out this duty, she must count on basic religious freedom, which consists in her being able to proclaim and to celebrate her faith also in public, bringing to others the message of love, reconciliation and peace which Jesus brought to the world… When the Church upholds this human right, she is not claiming any special privileges for herself. She wishes only to be faithful to the command of her divine founder, conscious that, where Christ is present, mankind becomes more human and founds its consistency. This is why the Church seeks to give witness by her preaching and teaching, both in catechises and in schools and universities. It is greatly to be hoped that the moment will soon arrive when, here too, the Church can bring to the arenas of knowledge the benefits of the mission which the Lord entrusted to her and which she can never neglect.”
Aside from the open air masses attended by hundreds of thousands of Cubans and the pope's visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Charity to pray, one of the most memorable moments of the TV coverage for me (and like most of the journalists from Miami that applied to cover the papal trip, I was denied access by the Cuban government) was an interview with a college-age girl in Havana, who told a news reporter, “I am proud to be Catholic. I know that God exists and I want to scream it out to the world.” This was shot during a prayer vigil organized by Cuban youth for Pope Benedict.

In a society marked by its communist government’s self proclaimed atheism in years past and, that shortly after taking power, forced most Catholic priests and religious to leave, seized parishes and Church property, closed schools, and harassed, marginalized and persecuted believers, it is astonishing how far of a stretch that young girl’s statement to the media represents.

In fact, it may have even been a difficult comment to pronounce just fourteen years ago when Bl. Pope John Paul II visited the island at a time when Cuba was much more closed to religion and consumed by its own focus on self preservation, less than a decade after the fall of Communism in Russia (That's not to say, they are not consumed with the same preoccupation today).

It prompted the late pontiff to proclaim, “May Cuba, with all its magnificent potential, open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba.”

After the historic Mass last Wednesday, as another co-worker pointed out to me, under the same obelisk in La Plaza de la Revolucion, where for decades Fidel Castro spewed hate, division and scorn, Pope Benedict talked about truth, love and hope.  He said, “Cuba and the world need change, but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth and chooses the way of love, sowing reconciliation and fraternity.”

Yes, the Cuban government may have used the visit for politics and, at every opportunity, used the international press to spew its rhetoric, while rounding up and arresting over 200 dissidents during the three-day period and preventing others from attending the papal masses, but this trip was not about the Cuban government.  It was about the Cuban people, the oppressed and the not so oppressed, and the freedom and hope that is ignited, fanned and burns from within their spirits.

As another young Cuban girl stated so eloquently, “We need to ask for unity. We need to ask for change but the kind of change that starts from within each of us.”…

Friday, March 23, 2012

Contraceptives, a Newsroom Fracas and Wisdom from St. Peter…

If there is one lesson I learned shortly after my “reversion” to the faith six years ago is to avoid arguing about faith and morality with co-workers who hold different opinions than me in a public setting (i.e. our newsroom), especially before having my morning coffee!

Unfortunately, in the passion of a given moment, I can get a bit emotional, as I was several years ago, when I argued more out of pure fervor for my new found faith than understanding or knowledge, amidst several newsroom colleagues, who, aside from the person engaged in the argument with me, mostly kept their heads down to avoid getting hit by flying mortar.  

In fact, although, I am now far better informed and can express my faith more eloquently, I still suffer from that same tendency.

My wife often warns me that I’ll never win an argument with people if I get too emotional. Unfortunately, I lose a lot of arguments because I can’t help but get emotional (and animated), even when I'm trying to remain calm!

Last week was a perfect example.

The same co-worker that I had had the brouhaha with many years ago, who despite our different views on politics and faith, I regard highly because of her sincere (albeit confused) intentions, was unabashedly lauding President Obama's new 17-minute political ad on his accomplishments to a couple of male interns (although she was talking loud enough for the few of us in the newsroom to hear).

Birth Control Pills
However, as she discussed the video (and I tried to keep my head down to avoid getting hit by flying mortar, which I felt was directed at me), my co-worker started talking about the controversy over the Department of Health and Human Services mandate, which forces Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives, morning after abortion pills and sterilization to employees as part of their health insurance coverage, despite being morally objectionable to the very tenets of the faith.

She then said something along the lines of, "I can't understand why Catholic bishops are so opposed to contraceptives when most Catholic women use contraceptives anyway."

Alright, so at this point, I couln't contain myself any longer. I had to jump in, regardless of who may have been listening, which turned out to be the two interns, who apparently agreed with her, and two other female co-workers, who under their breath, were agreeing with me.

As my voice cracked, like a teenager going through puberty, and I felt the muscles in my chest and arms trembling from my emotion (I really needed coffee!), I stood up and argued across the room that the issue was not about contraceptives, despite what the administration, the left and the mainstream media were trying to make it out to be. The issue was about freedom of religion, which is protected by the First Amendment and was being trampled on by this decision.

She dug in her heals and quickly shot back that it definitely was about contraceptives. She said it was about women's rights to have access to birth control regardless of where they work; whether a Catholic institution or not.

This argument fails to hold water in my book, since no woman was being denied access to birth control before the mandate. There is a CVS, Walgreens, or Planned Parenthood clinic on almost every street corner.

Besides, since when did birth control become a woman's right? When did it become a health issue for that matter?

I can see where a flu vaccine may be covered under a health insurance plan since it helps one avoid getting the flu. What illness does birth control avoid, pregnancy?

I'm sure there are many population control advocates in the current administration (and overpopulation was one of the arguments my co-worker made reference to during our debate, which I flat out reject as a bogus claim) but does the government now consider pregnancy an illness? It's not like the flu that you can just catch. (Oh wait, I may be stepping into Rush Limbaugh territory here, let me step back!)

Then my co-worker brought up a straw man's argument, as if to say that the government has to protect its citizens regardless of religious beliefs, by asking, "How about those faiths that don't believe in blood transfusions, should people be allowed to die because they refuse a transfusion or does the government have a right to step in and determine what is right?"

First of all, I don't know how the government handles these cases but is this really the same thing? How many women have died because they can't get free contraceptives?

Look, although most polls indicate that a great majority of Catholic women (over 90%) use or have used contraceptives at some point of their life, even though the rates are lower among practicing Catholics, despite efforts to discredit and force dissent among Church rank and file over the centuries, Truth is not determined by public opinion polls.

Truth is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Church can't change the Truth. It can only serve to protect and defend it, as it has done for the past two thousand years.

As GK Chesterton eloquently put, "Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashionable."

Let's remember that every Christian church rejected chemical contraceptives up until 1930, when the Episcopal Church, in a highly contestant decision made by the Lambeth Commission, allowed their faithful to use them within married couples.

As a matter of fact, a Washington Post editorial, title Forgetting Religion, published in March 1931, blasted the Commission for doing so:
Carried to its logical conclusion, the Lambeth committee's report, if carried into effect, would sound the death knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalized contraception would be 'careful and restrained' is preposterous.
Soon other Christian faiths started buckling under public pressure and, not long thereafter, there was widespread acceptance of contraception among most Christian denominations, with the exception of the Catholic Church, which like its founder, Jesus Christ, must always stand as a sign of contradiction in society.

In his controversial and much maligned encyclical in 1968, Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI prophetically warned about the dangers of artificial birth control on society.
Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
The legacy left by the 1965 legalization of artificial birth control in the United States is hard to argue with.  It led to the sexual revolution, ramped infidelity, divorce rates skyrocketed, and a boom in children born out of wedlock. The porn industry exploded. Because contraceptives are not foolproof, it also led to the legalization of abortion. The American family suffered greatly and, as a result, society fell into moral decay.

HHS Mandate Announcement
Still, as I stated earlier, the HHS mandate goes beyond contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization, it is an unprecedented encroachment on the moral conscience of people to practice their faith the way they believe. In fact, it imposes secular moral standards on the tenets of a faith and would force a faithful Catholic to go against their beliefs in order to abide by the government requirement.

Interestingly, while recently reading Archbishop Charles Chaput’s book, Render Unto Cesar, I came across a quote by President John F. Kennedy that he delivered during his famous 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, where, in order to quell anti-Catholic sentiment at the time, he basically made faith a private matter and told the ministers that his faith would never interfere with his decisions if elected president.

Ironically, this is the same separation of private and public faith used by President Obama when he announced the “compromise” (which if you didn’t know was made without the Catholic bishops’ input), where he stated that it would give people the “freedom to worship” as they see fit while still providing women the right to access contraceptives.

In the 1960 speech, then presidential candidate Kennedy stated: “If the time should ever come, and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible, when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.”

As I read somewhere recently, there is a fundamental difference between freedom to worship, as President Obama called it, and freedom of religion. Freedom to worship is what Kennedy referred to, a private matter that may be contained to about an hour a week in a house of worship. Freedom of religion is the ability to practice one’s faith 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week.

In other words, being faithful to our religion is not about what we do, it is about who we are.

Anyway, going back to our newsroom quarrel, after several minutes of passionate exchange, my co-worker decided she had had enough and said she was leaving and walked out, leaving one of the interns to try to continue her argument for a short time.

She wasn’t going to convince me and, unfortunately, I did nothing to convince her. It was as my wife points out; an exercise in futility with no winner or loser.

After reflecting on the episode, I was reminded once again of St. Peter’s First Letter, where he writes, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.”

The first part I may have down pat. Although, I’ll never know enough or have enough wisdom, for the most part, I am relatively prepared and can give an explanation for my hope. It’s the second part that I am still working on and have a long way to go…

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick: A True Cause for Celebration...

There are few saints whose feast day elicit more enthusiasm than St. Patrick’s Day.

Unfortunately, instead of remembering and celebrating the life of the 5th Century Catholic Bishop, called the Apostle of Ireland for almost single-handedly helping convert the nation to Christianity, the day is more commonly known for parades, shamrocks (the symbol he is believed to have used to explain the Holy Trinity), green clothing (gotta wear green or get pinched), leprechauns (Irish folklore), and green beer, lots and lots of beer.

An old Irish saying states, “In heaven there is no beer… That’s why we drink ours here!”

Therefore, St. Patrick's Day, like Cinco de Mayo, is infamously known for partying and reveling, especially in the United States.

In fact, the day of the patron saint of Ireland, is one of the biggest days for alcohol consumption in the U.S. and one of the busiest days of the year for bars and restaurants. And, you thought Fat Tuesday was the last day to party until Easter!

It seems almost every restaurant and bar has St. Patty's Day decorations, food and drink specials and activities.

One of my favorite “establishments,” Duffy's Tavern in West Miami, sets up tents outdoors to handle the overflow of patrons tonight and another restaurant/bar nearby, John Martin's Irish Pub in Coral Gables, hosts a yearly bash that includes street closures and usually a U2 cover band (which is appropriate considering that many of their lyrics have Christian undertones).

Although, I for one, am planning on doing something peaceful with my family on Saturday night, which will include a discussion of St. Patrick, for the benefit of those who will be going out tonight, let's remember why the Irish have been celebrating the day for over a thousand years.

Although, there are many legends about St. Patrick, according to the saint's own Confessions, which is one of his writings authenticated by scholars, he was actually born in Scotland, and considered himself a Roman-Briton. At the age of sixteen, he was captured along with some of his father's workers and taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep. He was kept in deplorable conditions in captivity for about six years, where he experienced many hardships, including hunger.

During that time, he turned to God. After many months of prayer and fasting, he felt the Lord telling him to return home. He continued growing spiritually, through continuous prayer and focusing on God. Finally, one day, Patrick was able to escape and fled to the coast, where he found sailors willing to take him back to Britain.

St. Patrick writes that after returning home, he had a dream where he heard the voices of Irish children, including in their mothers' wombs' calling out to him to rescue them. He became a priest and later ordained Bishop of Auxerre by St. Germanus, who was his mentor for many years, before being sent to take the Gospel to Ireland.

St. Patrick spent about 30 years going to one end of the country to another, preaching, converting, baptizing, and ordaining priests along the way. Although, he met resistance, and there are stories of his life being threatened, he successfully converted the country's pagan nobility and their families, which served as an impetus to spread Christianity to the masses. He also laid the groundwork for hundreds of monasteries, schools and churches that later spread throughout Ireland.

For St. Patrick, everything he did, everything he was and every part of his being pointed to the Lord.

In a prayer that is credited to him, and contained in his breastplate, it states: “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me.”

He died on March 17, 461.

The Irish started observing his feast day, as a religious holiday, several centuries later. Families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon.

Because the feast day falls during Lent, restrictions on the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink and feast on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage (the post effect of the alcohol and cabbage must not have been pretty!).

The tradition was brought to the United States before the Revolutionary War. And the first St. Patrick's Day Parade was held in Boston, then in New York and other U.S. cities before becoming a tradition in Ireland.

So, before taking that first sip Saturday night, think about St. Patrick and ask him to help convert your heart as he helped convert Ireland.


And, remember, although not known for the same type of celebration, St. Joseph’s Feast Day is March 19th…

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Burberry Suit, a Beautiful Bride and Life was Never the Same…

Gorgeous bride and a nice suit
As the sun set over the Miami Rowing Club in Key Biscayne, on a cool spring evening fourteen years ago, I stood at the far end of a swimming pool near a waterway that led to Biscayne Bay, wondering what was taking so long.

In reality, the delay wasn’t that long but, as I stood there with my brother to my left and my wife’s cousin, who was officiating the ceremony to my right, and nearly two hundred and fifty of our closest friends and family huddled around us, under the makeshift pavilion, staring at us and waiting, I felt my nerves getting the best of me and wanted to get the ceremony underway already!

It’s funny how we got to that point. Our lives took many twists and turns to get there.

When we first met fifteen months earlier, we were both recovering from difficult times in our lives; she from a wedding that had been called off two days before the ceremony, and me from a failed one.

But, we fell in love anyway. In fact, it didn’t take long. I openly admit that I fell head-over-heels in love with her on our first date.

Everything clicked that night. We went to dinner at my favorite restaurant at the time, Monty’s on Biscayne Bay in Coconut Grove, where I had taken many first dates in the past.

But, from the start, I knew this wasn’t just another date. We had amazing chemistry and our conversation flowed effortlessly. We had many of the same interests and moral and family values. She laughed at my jokes (which in retrospect may not be saying much). To top it off, she was drop dead gorgeous, although at the time, I thought I needed to take her out to a few more dinners to beef her up a little (she was a size zero!). It was just too natural.

In fact, we talked about all the taboo topics that people say shouldn't be discussed on a first date; past relationships, marriage, kids and family.

I was so enamored that the following night, I broke my two-day-wait before calling rule (although, I knew I had to temper my enthusiasm so as to not scare her away by looking too desperate!).

Shortly after starting to date, my grandmother passed away from health complications and during the funeral, my then girlfriend practically met my entire family in one fell swoop (everybody loved her! In fact, I got several side comments about how beautiful and smart she was; hint, hint, she’s a keeper!).

Another tragic turn happened six months after starting our courtship. Her father suffered a massive heart attack and died at the age of 53. It was very difficult for her and her family but it may have drawn us closer to one another and several months later we got engaged (although she would argue that I never formally proposed!).

Because of everything that had happened in that little more than a year of dating and engagement, and the fact that neither of us was practicing our faith very well (not to mention, my understanding of sacramental marriage was non-existent), we decided to get married civilly.

God has been good to me
So, there I was by the edge of the pool, nervously waiting for my bride, then, I saw her enter from the opposite side of the pool.

She was more stunning than I remembered having seen just two nights before, at our pre-wedding get together with friends.

I was truly awestruck by her beauty in her ivory Carolyn Bessette replica wedding dress (that she bought off the rack), which perfectly contoured her body, and I felt the butterflies in my stomach.

Her hair was flawlessly arranged back, away from her face. Her makeup perfectly applied by a professional. She wore full length gloves that went up past her elbows and a sheer shawl draped over her shoulders. She was carrying a small bouquet of the most vivid red roses that I can recall ever seeing in her hands and a smile that lit up the world. She was breathtaking.

Meanwhile, my brother and I were wearing matching classic navy blue Burberry suits with white shirts and silver ties.

In fact, to regress a little, the suits became a matter of contention before the wedding, since I had flown to New York to see my brother, with the sole purpose of getting matching suits several weeks earlier.

It turned into a bachelor’s weekend. Shortly after arriving on Friday night, I went out with my brother, spent all Saturday hanging out and enjoying Manhattan, going to dinner with my brother and a cousin to Smith & Wollensky that night and then continuing our celebration (and possibly having one too many martinis and cigarettes) until about 4 o’clock in the morning.

We found ourselves knocking on a strange blue door at an East Village apartment (or so it seemed) and telling the man that cracked the door open that Belinda, who we had just met about an hour earlier at a dive bar, had sent us.

The guy didn't care who had sent us and told us it was a private party, so we finally decided to go home (I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we had gone into that strange door in the condition we were both in. In hindsight, maybe it was God steering us away from danger).

Anyway, the plan was to spend Sunday looking for the suits, but we didn't get up until about three in the afternoon.

After rushing out and getting something to eat, we finally started shopping for matching navy blue suits. We stopped at a couple of stores but couldn't find one that we liked for a decent price, so we kept looking.

We ended up at Bloomingdale’s on 59th and Lexington. The sun was already setting and after looking around the men’s section for a while, I really liked a Burberry suit with very thin shiny pinstripes but, after checking the price, decided it was way too pricey. However, we soon found out that the store was about to close.

We had two options, either we worked our way through New York City traffic and went back to a previous store in hopes that it would still be open or we made our decision at Bloomingdale’s.

Knowing I was flying out in the morning and that my wife-to-be would be pretty upset if I returned to Miami empty handed, we decided on the latter.

To complicate things, as I found out later, I never activated the credit card that I had taken to pay for the suit.

After running my card through the register several times and getting rejected, the clerk warned us that his register was about to close and it would have to be the last attempt. My brother offered to lend me his card, which after paying for his suit, he wasn't sure if there was enough balance left to pay for mine. I was sweating. The clerk swiped it and it cleared!

Thus, we stood there in our Burberry suits, which were magnificent but cost three times as much as my wife's wedding dress.

My bride came walking down the side of the pool with her uncle to the tune of the Cuban classic, La Bella Cubana, as all our guests looked on.

When she finally reached me the butterflies in my stomach subsided. I couldn't help but stare into her eyes and smile. God has definitely been good to me.

It was a short ceremony. We had a couple of friends read Bible verses, said our vows and exchanged rings. In fact, it was so short that there was a pregnant pause when we were done and I had to announce, "That's it," before everyone started clapping.

We spent the rest of the night dancing, mingling with our guests, eating, drinking and enjoying each other's company.

It was perfect. Everything was perfect that night (That is except the videographer, who missed my brother's toast and didn't record audio during the reception. We noticed several months later, when we got the video and had cheesy music over our friends and family talking into the camera!) and life has never been the same since.

Now fourteen years later, as I reflect on our wedding day, I can see that my wife, not only was the single most important reason for my return to the faith, and because of that, we were able to get married in the Catholic Church ten years later, but that even after all this time, I still get that same restless feeling I had when I was standing there with my brother waiting for her on that cool spring day, whenever she's not around...

Friday, March 9, 2012

Fun Times Praying the Rosary with my Kids...

My kids were off from school on Friday (something about a floating holiday) and as we rush out the door to make it to morning Mass, after the tempest of getting them ready in twenty minutes because, since they were off, we didn't get up at our normal time, we came upon another tempest; a sudden downpour as we stepped outside.

In the short time it took to get from our front door to the car, which was in the driveway, we were totally soaked (no, we don’t have any umbrellas. They have all vanished into the Espinosa umbrella wasteland, where they go whenever we most need one).

Nevertheless, drenched, as my back was after having buckled my son into his car seat in the near monsoon, I decide to drive to our parish in hopes the weather would clear up.

Needless to say, the five minute drive to the church didn't make much of a difference, in fact, if anything, the rain was coming down harder.

My options looked bleak.  Either I quickly built an ark and we ventured into open water, a la George Clooney going after the dream catch in The Perfect Storm, or I miss my first daily Mass since the beginning of the year.  Considering my son has been coughing up a lung for the past several days, I opted for the latter. 

So, as I drove past the church, feeling a bit downcast and defeated, I got one of my brilliant ideas.  Since we couldn't get out of the car, why not pray a Rosary with the kids on our way to my parents’ house, where they were spending the day?

I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by their receptive reaction.  Maybe it was the fact that they were just happy I wasn't going to force them to get out of the car in the heavy rain, but they didn’t complain a bit and actually did the sign of the cross and started praying with me (with the exception of my 4-yr-old son, who was in his own little world).

Remembering that as a child, praying the Rosary with my parents was akin to watching paint dry on a humid day, I wanted to try to peak their interest and make it more exciting for them.  Therefore, I started describing and elaborating on each of the Sorrowful mysteries that we were praying; the Agony in the Garden, the Scourging at the Pillar, the Crowing with Thorns, and so on, so that they would have something to think about while we prayed the corresponding Hail Mary's (which in effect is the purpose of praying the Rosary).

Jesus Mocked by Philippe de Champaigne
As I got to the Carrying of the Cross, and began talking and thinking about Christ carrying the heavy weight of the cross to the place where He was going to be crucified, after having endured a severe and brutal scourging, where his body was torn to shreds, and being beaten and taunted by Roman guards, who embedded a crown of thorns into his head, and being spat at, mocked and scorned by the crowds along the way, I felt a rush of emotions come over me. In fact, I had to pause to gather myself, as my voice cracked and I tried desperately to keep myself from totally losing it.

As luck would have it, it was at this point (we were at a red light), that a man passing out advertisement fliers approached the car.  Turning my head slightly, so as to avoid him seeing the distress on my face, all I could do was wave him off with my hands.

I regained my composure and kept praying.  However, as I got to the explanation of the last mystery, the Crucifixion, I started reflecting on the nails being driven into Jesus' hands and feet, of Him hanging on the cross, in excruciating pain and gasping for air (for three hours!), and then, looking at His mother and the beloved disciple (who represents each of us) at the foot of the cross, gave His last command to him to take her into his care, before commanding His Spirit to God the Father and dying, I was practically whimpering.

My seven and eleven year old daughters kept looking at me like saying, “What is wrong with this man?” (Actually, they think my wife and I are emotional wrecks that cry at the drop of a hat, and moments like this don’t help change that perception!) My son was too busy looking and commenting on something he saw through his window to notice.  

Nothing like seeing the old man break up during morning prayer, I say. Yeah, fun times…

After dropping them off, as I drove to work and reflected upon my emotional display in front of the kids, I realized something (I always do!).

As a father, if there is one thing that I want to pass on to my children, it’s my faith. I want them to see me on my knees praying and worshiping the One True God of the universe, in hopes that, one day, they will follow my footsteps.

Therefore, if my shedding a few tears while praying the Rosary helps ingrain into their psyche the importance of taking their faith seriously, then it was well worth the minor embarrassment.

Pope John XXIII, once wrote, “It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father.”

I want to be a real father to my children, and it starts with teaching them about our Heavenly Father, who set the bar high for all fathers, by giving up His only Son for the sake of love…