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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I Must be in the Front Row... No, Really!...

Good seats, hey buddy? 
In the well known 1980’s Miller Lite commercial (maybe I’m dating myself), Bob Uecker was informed by a stadium usher that he was sitting in the wrong seats and Uecker tells the viewers, “I must be in the front row.”

Well, Saturday afternoon, I felt like Uecker when I took my 7-year-old daughter to our first game at the new Marlins Stadium in Little Havana (although, instead of being escorted to the nose bleed section, where I usually sit, like Uecker in the commercial, I was actually sitting in the front row!)

In fact, as the row numbers started waning down, as we walked down the steps in the section that we were in, I realized we were beyond the numbers; we were in the letters section below.

We kept going down a second set of steps and when I asked the usher where our seats were, he said, they were directly behind the third base dugout, where the Marlins sit, and promptly asked that we please not place anything on top of the dugout (because "they" don't like anything on the dugout.  Hmmm... Can the players actually feel if a bag of peanuts is laying on top of the dugout?).

Anyway, needless to say; wow! What a way to introduce my daughter to baseball.

The tickets were given to me by my mother-in-law (who I happen to love!).  Her boss was going out of town for Memorial Weekend and was not going to use them, so he gave them to her and she, in turn, gave them to me to take my four-year-old son.  Ironically, I had just asked my son on Friday morning if he wanted me to take him to a baseball game.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I thought that it wasn't fair to my seven-year-old daughter.

Last November, I took my oldest daughter on a daddy "date" to see Taylor Swift. Furthermore, being the baby of the family, my son gets a lot of attention from my wife and me (and toys that daddy wishes he had gotten as a kid!) and sometimes, my middle child seems to feel like… well, the middle child; the one who gets left out or lost in the commotion.  

As much as I wanted to take my son, I decided to make it a "date night" with our seven-year-old daughter instead. God willing, there will be plenty of other opportunities to take my son.

It turned out to be a great decision.  Although, my son balked at first (pardon the pun), he got over it quickly when my wife told him he was going to go on a date with her, my oldest daughter and his grandma (my mother-in-law).

The tickets were so good that a good friend of mine, who is a partner in a prominent law firm, and shares season tickets with his partners, texted me a message shortly after we sat down that we had just walked by them.  He said he was about 15 rows back to my right and when I turned around, he stood up and waved.  Nice!

It was almost too good to be true.  As a matter of fact, the same usher came up to us in the fourth inning, after we had returned to our seats, after making a food run (my daughter was soooo hungry that she started asking for dinner as we sat down for the four o'clock game!), and told me in a firm tone, "Sir, you have to go sit in your assigned seat," Say what? Was this going to turn into the Miller Lite commercial?

"These are our assigned seats," I insisted. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said very apologetically.  "I know the guy that usually sits here and thought you might have sat in his seats by mistake. I’m really sorry."

By mistake? Really? Do I really look like I can't afford these seats?  Ok., don't answer that last one.  The fact that I didn't have enough cash to buy cotton candy (or a beer) may have been a giveaway.  But, who noticed?  Oh well, no harm done, I thought.  My daughter didn't seem to care.

She had front row seats, ate overpriced chicken nuggets and ballpark peanuts, drank soda (which she is usually not allowed to drink!), saw the Marlins win a close game against the San Francisco Giants (although she hardly noticed) and got to spend some quality one-on-one time with dad, who explained some of the intricacies of the game, like having to pay attention when a lefthanded hitter was up, in case a foul ball was hit at us!

If not for my getting too caught up in my explanations and telling her the story of the father that died trying to go after a ball tossed by Josh Hamilton in Texas last year (which, as the words came out of my mouth, I quickly regretted), and all the boys around us hogging the balls that Logan Morrison and other players would toss into the stands after every inning, it was perfect.

In fact, she can't wait until we go back. Unfortunately, the next time, we might be sitting in the real Uecker seats and, unfortunately, unless my mother-in-law's boss goes out of town again, that won't mean the front row!...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Powerful Images of the Church Militant...

This photo montage and accompanying musical score powerfully capture the many faces, beauty, diversity, reverence and grandeur of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, as seen through the work of its shepherds and the eyes of the faithful, from priests offering Mass on the battlefields of Afghanistan, to seminarians, to the pinnacle of our faith; the Holy Eucharist…

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Taking a Stand Against Obama's Tread on Religion...

Ronald Reagan once said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
That may never be more prevalent for faithful Catholics in America, at least as far as their freedom to practice their faith in accordance with the teachings of the Church, than the recent fight over the Obama Administration’s new Health and Human Services mandate that requires employers, including religious entities, to provide free contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization, as part of their health insurance plans, even if it goes against their religious beliefs.

Although, it has become a political hot-button issue, and primarily focused in the media on artificial birth control, which the administration has used to attack the Republican objection as a “war on women,” for the Catholic Church it goes beyond politics. It goes to the heart of the deposit of faith that the Church believes it was entrusted to protect by the Apostles.

Regardless of anyone’s stance on artificial contraceptives (and sterilization), which despite popular opinion polls, the Church has and will always reject because they interfere with God’s natural procreative process, and the morning after pills (which act as chemical agents of abortion, if an egg is fertilized), the issue is not about contraceptives. 

The issue is whether the government has the right to force otherwise faithful citizens to act against their consciences at the risk of facing civil consequences. It’s the old give unto Cesar what belongs to Cesar and to God what belongs to God debate.  

Since there seems to be no way around the imposed rule, contrary to the Obama administration's alleged "compromise" (which, in all reality, how much of a compromise was it when they didn't consult with the U.S. Catholic bishops but did with officials in the country's leading abortion provider, Planned Parenthood?), many groups are deciding to take a stand.

On Monday, forty-three Catholic dioceses, hospitals, institutions and schools filed a dozen separate federal lawsuits against HHS and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, ironically a Catholic herself, for violation of their First Amendment Right to freedom of religion.

In a statement released this week, Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski put it into perspective: 
The “separation of Church and State” was intended to keep the state from intruding into the Church’s – or any religious organization’s – territory. The Dept. of HHS is attempting to do just this through its healthcare mandate which creates a slippery slope.

The Catholic Church is not attempting to force its views on the rest of the country; it is the other way around. The federal government of the United States is trying to force its views on the Church. Individuals are free to buy contraceptives – the Supreme Court settled that question a long time ago. Employers are free to cover it in the health insurance they sponsor, and insurers are free to write policies covering it. This has long been the case and is not in dispute.

The issue here is whether the government can force the Church to furnish its own employees with coverage it considers morally and religiously objectionable.
Up until now, religious groups and entities were exempt from having to violate their right of conscience.  Unfortunately, under Obama's health care reform, that appears to be changing.

First U.S. flag carried into battle
Among those filing the suits are the Archdiocese of New York, Washington and St. Louis; the Diocese of Dallas, Ft. Worth, Pittsburgh and Springfield; the University of Notre Dame and Catholic University of America and Our Sunday Visitor.

The suits will be added to a growing list of lawsuits (eleven others were filed by other Catholic and evangelical groups in recent weeks) challenging the HHS rule, which is expected to take effect in August of 2013.

To use another Reagan quote, “Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.”

Instead, it seems the efforts of this administration is to quash that religious vibrancy and opt for a more European-like socialist Utopia, where the line between Cesar and God is rubbed away and the federal government becomes the end all, be all in place of God (which isn't working out too well for Europe!). 

And, so like the early Continental Marines, whose slogan was, “Don’t tread on me,” faithful Catholics must fight and take a stand for the freedom against government intervention on religion that our founders came to America looking for, so that our children can one day hand it down to their children before it becomes extinct...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Father's Mothers' Day Pickle...

LeBron made me do it?
Anyone who knows me would say that I'm not one to complain about sports on TV.

However, I would like to know whose hair brain idea was it to schedule my favorite baseball team (NY Mets) and the first game of the Miami Heat’s second-round playoffs against Indiana on Mother’s Day?

My wife always tells me that I lack self-control. I have no discipline. And, she’s right!

Putting the Mets and Heat on TV (and the Washington Redskins, UM and Notre Dame football for that matter!) is like putting Bill Clinton at the Tu Candela bar in Cartagena (sans the party animal Hillary).  I was bound to be tempted. I was bound to fall from my wife’s grace. And ultimately, I did.

The day started off promising enough, by the time I got back from Walgreen's, where I had to gone to get the gift bags to wrap my wife’s and mom’s gifts (I knew I was forgetting something!), our two daughters had already wished my wife a happy mommy's day.

My four-year-old son, on the other hand, had to be coaxed into bringing my wife her gift, when I got home, because he said he was “too cold” (and preferred being under his covers in the living room watching The Avengers cartoon!).

After the gift opening (the tissue paper I wrapped it in said, "Happy Birthday," Oops) and thank you kisses, we got ready for church and after Mass, went to a Mother's Day brunch at my wife’s cousin’s house, where we go almost every year and are treated to an amazing spread of food, mimosas and familial bonding (So far, so good).

Since my parents couldn’t make it to the brunch, we had made plans to meet for a late lunch with them and my mother-in-law at a little French restaurant in Coral Gables (although, after my morning gorge, I could have held out till dinner!).

Meanwhile, in between food fests, my wife wanted to go home and exercise (she’s pretty obsessed; not even a break on Mom's Day!).  Everything is still going good.

In fact, while my wife exercised, I got a chance to watch the Mets. Yes, I di-id. Hey, I know it was Mother's Day but my wife was doing what she wanted to do. It's not my fault, if in the process, I got to do what I wanted too!

We had a great lunch, although, I just ordered lobster bisque (there's nothing like trying to maintain my svelte figure by having a creamy French bisque with heavy butter and chunks of lobster!) and had everyone’s leftover pomme frites (sounds less fattening than the American version!).

The Heat game had started and was playing on a TV in the restaurant but since it was my wife's special day (and I was recording the game at home), all my attention was on my wife and family.  Scoring points and I hoped the Heat were too!

However, after getting home from lunch, things started getting a bit dicey.

It all started with my wife. That’s right, I'm blaming her! When we got home, she wanted to go for a run (after her early afternoon Brooklyn Bridge Boot Camp). Perfect! You go girl!

After all, it was Mother's Day, right? This is what she wanted to do.

Since the Heat game was being recorded, I finished watching the Mets’ game. I should have known it was foreboding when the Mets collapsed in the final two innings and ended up losing on a walk-off grand slam (a couple of my friends, who are Marlins' fans, had a little fun texting me lovely messages)

But, after getting back from her run, my wife went to take a shower and by that time, it was early evening and I was already watching the Heat game.

I lost all consciousness. Outside of quickly bathing my son, making a frozen pizza for the kids (my wife wasn't going to cook!), picking up the dishes and putting the kids to bed (all the time hitting the pause button on the remote so as to not miss a single play), I spent the rest of Mother's Day, watching the Heat beat the Pacers.

Let's see; gluttony, sloth, greed.  What other deadly sin could I have committed that day?

Somewhere after the kids had gone to bed, as I was merrily watching the fourth quarter and having a beer (wasn’t it Mother's Day?), I looked at my wife, who had just come in from our garage, where she had gone to get the kids’ school uniform from the laundry (which she hates doing!), and she looked at me and I swear I saw her sigh, as if to ask, “What did I do to deserve this?.”  At that point, I thought, “Oh, boy. I'm in the dog house tonight.”

I'm telling you, it was like Bill being put with the Secret Service guys at Tu Candela. As St. Paul would say, "The mind is willing but the flesh is weak."  It just wasn’t fair.

I  have a lot of making up to do.  Then again, my wife may thank me one day.  Being married to me may be like going through Purgatory.  In the end, she may go straight to the penthouse...

[pic credit: Mike Ehrmann/ Getty Images]

Monday, May 14, 2012

St. Matthias, the Original Apostolic Successor...

St. Matthias by Peter Paul Rubens
“What is it with you and dates?” a friend once asked me during a men’s parish meeting, after I had rattled off a series of dates in Catholic Church history. Many of my friends started laughing.

I hadn’t even realized I had done it until he called my attention to it.

I can’t help it. One of the many aspects that fascinate me about the Church is its historicity and direct link to Jesus Christ.

In fact, today is a great example. The Church celebrates the Feast of St. Matthias, the first man selected by the Apostles to succeed Judas Iscariot, who committed suicide after his betrayal of Christ. In other words, he was the first apostolic successor.

According to the Gospel, after Jesus ascended into heaven, the first order of business, during the first Church Council, was to decide who would replace Judas as a member of the twelve (the original bishops chosen by the Lord).

In the Acts of the Apostles, it states that Peter, who was the first among the Apostles, stood among a group of about a hundred and twenty disciples in the Upper Room and said:
"My brothers, the scripture had to be fulfilled which the holy Spirit spoke beforehand through the mouth of David, concerning Judas, who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus.

He was numbered among us and was allotted a share in this ministry.

For it is written in the Book of Psalms: 'Let his encampment become desolate, and may no one dwell in it.' And: 'May another take his office.'

Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection."

So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.

Then they prayed, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place."

Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:16-17.20-26)
Through the laying of hands, Matthias was elevated to his role as an Apostle and the Church has had an unbroken line of succession through the same laying of hands from the twelve until today.

And, in case, you like dates, Matthias is said to have been martyred in the year 80 AD...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Daughter and the Socialite who Became a Nun…

Sister John Mary
While picking up the dishes after dinner one recent night (yes, underneath this tough man’s man exterior is a soft and gentle interior that is afraid of my wife!), my eleven-year-old daughter and wife got into a conversation at the dinner table about her friends and boys in her fifth grade class.

After listening to stories about how many of her friends are going to the One Direction concert (hint hint), who likes who, pranks the boys play and coed dance parties that will be starting next year, I couldn’t help but asking my daughter from across the room, “Do any of your friends talk about wanting to be nuns?”

All right, maybe, I could have been more tactful but, we are sending our kids to Catholic school, for goodness sake!  It would be nice to know (at least for me!) that my soon-to-be "tween-age" daughter, who is blossoming faster than Impatiens on Miracle Gro, was hanging out with, at least, with a couple of friends who want to be nuns, wouldn't it?

“They’re too young,” my wife yells back, “That usually happens later.” I quickly pointed out that St. Therese of Lisieux always wanted to be a nun and joined the convent by the age of fifteen. (Of course, she made a personal appeal to Pope Leo XIII for permission to do so but that wasn’t the point!)

“But, she is a saint!” my wife shot back. I hate it when she makes more sense than I do, which unfortunately, in our household, happens way too often.

Anyway, since God is bigger than the boogieman, as my son often sings, and has a great way of making a point, the next day, as I was sifting through some Catholic blogs, one caught my eye, “PM Former Girlfriend Becomes a Cloistered Nun."

Excuse me?

Laura Adshead
It was the story of Laura Adshead, a former girlfriend of British Prime Minister David Cameron and Press Secretary to Prime Minister John Major (in other words, well connected), who came from a privileged background, was educated at Oxford University and the exclusive Cheltenham Ladies’ College, was an English socialite and political insider (and to top it off, an attractive blond), who decided to leave behind her worldly ambitions to become Sister John Mary, a Benedictine cloistered nun at the Abbey of Regina Laudis Convent in Connecticut.

Talk about drastic change!  Now, instead of attending charity balls with the Prince of Monaco (as she had), vacationing in The Hamptons and attending polo matches, Sister John Mary is dedicated to prayer and worship, mopping the chapel floors and tending cattle in the abbey grounds.

I'll be honest, that takes more faith, love, commitment and sacrifice than I can even begin to imagine.  I mean, one thing is becoming a nun, or religious, and another is choosing a monastic life, where you completely shut yourself off from the outside world.

Then again, I guess it’s all about perspective. In his classic autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton calls the monastery, where he was to spend the rest of his life on earth, “enclosed in the four walls of new freedom,” because it was where he found the peace and freedom from all the distractions that kept him from God.

Dolores Hart with Elvis
Anyway, although Adshead became a novice nun at Abbey of Regina several years ago, her story hit the British press more recently, after she was featured in a documentary, titled God is Bigger Than Elvis (my son would agree), which has been airing on cable movie channels. 

The film is about a former Hollywood movie star, Dolores Hart, who also left her up-and-coming Tinseltown career, which included a co-starring role in her movie debut, Loving You with Elvis Presley, to become a cloistered nun (which I just so happened to have watched several weeks ago with my 11-year-old daughter).

After reading Sister John Mary's story, and looking at several articles on her life and conversion, I remembered the exchange I had the previous night with my wife.

Obviously, Adshead and Hart, like many religious, including the principal of the all-girls' Catholic high school my wife attended, and Merton, who became a monk, got their calling later in life (and not in fifth grade!).

However, the more I thought about it, the more I considered the point God was trying to make to me and became somewhat apprehensive.

For all the faith and desire to serve God's Will that I profess, there is still a lot of fear and trepidation about where God is leading me and what His purpose for my children may be.

Now, in all honesty, although at this point in her life, the convent appears to be a long shot for my oldest daughter, I sometimes wonder if my seven-year-old daughter, who despite her playfulness and mischief, has an innate spirituality about her, or my four-year-old son will be drawn to a religious vocation.

Would it be easy to consider that one of them was called to religious life?  I'm not sure.  Obviously, as a father of daughters there are some built-in benefits involved and, if my son were drawn to the priesthood, I would be proud, but, depending on the religious order, what if they got sent to some remote part of the globe?  It might be just as hard to think of them living a monastic life and having limited contact with them. 

It's funny, in a previous time, where many American Catholic families were larger (and I'm thinking about the biography I'm reading on Vince Lombardi), there was an unwritten expectation that, at least, one child may be called to join a convent, seminary or monastery.

However, as families shrunk and values changed in more recent generations, parents are more reluctant (maybe, for a variety of reasons, including, like my case, a bit selfishness) to encourage their kids to pursue a religious vocation.   

In other words, it is easier for me to think that my oldest daughter is hanging out and being influenced by other girls in her school who want to be nuns, than it is to think that she is the one wanting to become a nun. 

I still have a lot of growing to do in my faith...   

So, how would you feel if your child felt a calling to religious life?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Words of Wisdom from St. Augustine...

St. Augustine of Hippo

“If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”

Monday, May 7, 2012

For Greater Glory Sheds Light on Little Known Story...

Last June, I blogged about an upcoming movie, at the time titled Cristiada, starring Andy Garcia and Eva Longoria, based on one of the ugliest and most violent periods in modern Church history; the Mexican Cristero War.

It is a little known three year civil rebellion (at least in America) that began as a blatant assault on the Roman Catholic Church by the Mexican government in the late 1920’s (1926-1929).  It led to over 90 thousands deaths, including of innocent women, children, civilians and clergy, when a ragtag band of peasant ranchers and rebels took arms against the military forces to protect the Church, their families and freedom from the persecution.

After premiering in Mexico in April, the movie, re-titled, For Greater Glory; the True Story of Cristiada, will finally hit U.S. theatres on June 1st.

It is a  classic Hollywood story of good versus evil, freedom versus oppression and overcoming apparently insurmountable odds through faith, unity and will, although, some would argue (me), the fact that a Hollywood movie would portray the Church on the side of good and freedom is overcoming insurmountable odds in itself!

It was during a time when then Mexican President, Plutarco Elias Calles (played in the film by Ruben Blades) decided to enforce anti-clerical provisions in the Mexican Constitution of 1917, meant to weaken the Church, which the government saw as a political and social threat because of the influence it had on the faithful, and give more power to the secular government.

At the behest of President Calles, government forces began storming churches, imprisoning and killing clergy and pressuring and terrorizing faithfull Catholics.

After efforts to mount a peaceful resistance to the government intrusion failed, an unlikely group of rebels, led by a retired General, named Enrique Gorostieta (Garcia), who was reluctant to join the revolt at first because he did not believe in the cause but then realized it was a fight for freedom in his homeland, became known as the Cristeros, because they claimed to be fighting for “Cristo El Rey” (Christ the King), started organizing and fighting back.

The movie has an all-star cast that, aside from Garcia, Longoria and Blades, includes Peter O'Toole, Oscar Isaac, Bruce Greenwood, Nestor Carbonel, Santiago Cabrera, and Eduardo Verastegui (of Bella fame).

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

It is ironic that the film debuts during a time in the U.S., when the Church is also under attack by the government, albeit in a more subtle but possibly as infringing on the consiences of the faithful Catholics.  Then again, that seems to be a recurring theme for the Church, at different points in the annals of its two thousand year history...

Check out the trailer: