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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two weekends ago, we had another amazing retreat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

Archdiocese of Miami Sues Feds Over HHS Mandate...

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Prayer for America...

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

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

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

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

This beautiful video produced by CatholicVote.org is a prayer for America.

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

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


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Miami Archbishop Instructs Catholic Voters...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Thursday, October 4, 2012

Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi...


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

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

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

Amen

Charity, Faith and Forgetting My Kids…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, my weekend memory lapses got better.

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

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

Do they prescribe Ritalin for adults?...