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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Glory to God in the Highest...

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

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

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

Merry Christmas....

Thursday, December 20, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 15, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 10, 2012

Words of Wisdom by Thomas Merton...

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

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

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Before Santa, He was just Bishop Nicholas...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Day in the Life...

Something to look forward to...

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