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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Words of Wisdom from Mother Teresa...

"But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child - a direct killing of the innocent child - murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?"

--Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, most humble servant of God, author and founder of the Missionaries of Charity, a religious order with over 4500 nuns around the world, which adhere to the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience and tending to "the poorest of the poor." For over 45 years she tended to the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta, India, won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and was considered by millions as one of the most admired people of the 20th century.  She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Conversation on the Psychic and Talking to the Dead...

I see Long Island in your future...
“I really want to believe,” she confessed with sincerity, during a kiddie party for two boys in my son's kindergarten class, after telling me she was going to see a nationally known psychic medium that night at the James L. Knight Center in Miami Beach.

Our friend admitted to being a longtime fan of the "Long Island Medium," Theresa Caputo, who has a "reality" show on TLC, and that all she was hoping for was to "get a message from her parents."

To be honest, I was a bit thrown aback. I mean, this is seemingly an otherwise well grounded woman, who from all appearances, is a joyful and loving wife and mother.  She is gregarious, witty, good natured and always seems to wear a contagious smile on her face.  Yet, apparently, there is something amiss.  Why else was she being drawn into the occult, although I doubt she saw it that way?

What possibly disturbed me most, is that she is Christian; a Catholic no less and, considering her openness, although, in all fairness, she looked around and spoke in a low voice when she told me, she probably doesn't realize the conflict between her curiosity (or genuine desire to contact her parents) and her professed faith.

Then again, the New Age movement, (which ironically is a combination of many centuries old heresies and Eastern religious practices) and its distortion of truth, where everything is OK because there is no absolute truth, and so, it's all about finding a "personal" truth, has become so widely spread in our post-Oprah, spiritual guru-loving, Deepak Chopra-influenced, yoga-meditating and watered-down Christianity culture that many people find it difficult to decipher faith from fantasy.  (Which reminds me, I really hate those Coexist bumper stickers that use the symbols of several world religions, as if it doesn't really matter what you believe, as long as you blend into the societal pot of acceptance and "tolerance.")

And, so amidst this confusion, it's no wonder that psychic mediums, fortune tellers, tarot card and palm readers and the likes, have become a multi-million dollar industry.

In fact, Caputo, who I had never heard of before that brief conversation with our female friend, has become so successful that, on her web page, she boasts having a two year waiting list of clients.

Moreover, while Caputo says she has been communicating with spirits ever since she was four, and there are some clairvoyants, who actually believe they have supernatural abilities, a great majority of these, as recent news reports have shown, are nothing more than charlatans preying on vulnerable souls, who are lost and seeking guidance.

Unfortunately, as P.T. Barnum famously coined, "There's a sucker born every minute."

In a CD series I recently listened to, Overcoming the New Age Movement, Catholic apologist and speaker, Matt Arnold, who was once deeply involved in the occult, including crystals, "channeling," and read tarot cards to make money on the side, says it's a sophisticated psychological skill, whereby the "psychic" tries to figure out what the person is seeking and, talking in roundabout ways, makes the client hear what they want to hear and think the "psychic" is actually telling their future or communicating with their loved ones.  The good ones become extremely wealthy (and maybe even get their own TV show!).

In any case, unlike the kindergarten parent friend who told me she was trying to contact her parents, some people just go to these "spiritists" for the fun of it, not realizing the potential eternal dangers of their actions.

The Catholic Church teaches that, "All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future.  Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.” (CCC 2116)

And, this is not limited to Catholics.  All Christians are called to reject the occult.  In the Book of Deuteronomy it states, “Let there not be found among you anyone who causes their son or daughter to pass through the fire, or practices divination, or is a soothsayer, augur, or sorcerer, or who casts spells, consults ghosts and spirits, or seeks oracles from the dead. Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the LORD, and because of such abominations the LORD, your God, is dispossessing them before you.” (Deut 18:10)

Listen, I understand where our friend is coming from.  I think, we all seek a connection to our lost relatives and friends; especially when they were very close, like a parent, child or spouse.  I often find myself talking to my grandparents, cousins and friends and asking for their prayers.  Sometimes, when I hear a song by Todd Rundgren, I think and pray for my cousin or the Rolling Stones remind me of a friend, who was a huge Stones fan and died several years ago.

If we believe in eternal life then it's reasonable to believe we can talk to those who have passed on through prayer, knowing and understanding that they are more alive in the presence of God than we could ever be here on earth.

However, turning to clairvoyants to conjure up their spirits is, at least to me, as hard to believe as, at the risk of insulting any Wiccan readers, the existence of witches and vampires, which are other occult figures popularized and promoted in today's culture.

Now, I would love to write that when the friend told me about her plans to see the psychic, I shared all this wealth of knowledge, or told her that the most profound way we communicate with our loved ones as Catholics is in Communion, when we receive the Holy Eucharist at Mass, where the one God of the universe is made present, and the totality of the Church, which makes up His Body, including those living in eternity, become one with us through the one bread, as St. Paul writes.

In fact, when St. Therese of Little Flower received her First Holy Communion, she couldn't hold back her tears and later wrote that she overheard some of the nuns commenting that maybe it was because her mother, who had died when Therese was four, was not there to see her receive the Sacrament.  In her memoirs, Story of a Soul, she explains, "As all Heaven entered my soul when I received Jesus, my mother came to me as well. Nor could I cry because you were not there, we were closer than ever before. It was joy alone, deep ineffable joy that filled my heart."

But, of course, I did not say anything like this.  Sadly, all this came to me after reflecting on the exchange over the next several days.  All I could muster at the time, was a faint smile and, as another parent approached us, quickly changed the conversation.  Another missed opportunity to evangelize!

St. Peter writes, "Always be prepared to give a reason for your hope but do it with gentleness and love" (1 Pet 3:15).  Since, the woman and her husband are parents at our childrens' school and we usually see them at school functions, hopefully, I will get another opportunity and be better prepared the next time...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Day in the Life...

Chicken doing Jerk with Shuffle?...

One recent weekend, my eight-year-old daughter comes up to me in our kitchen as I was clearing the sink and, without any prompting, she proceeds to show me the difference between the "shuffle” and the "jerk,” which is basically the shuffle with the jerking of the head, as she sang, “Party people in the house tonight. Everybody going to have a good time."

Nice; I was really wondering about that.

It's really great to know those ballet dance dollars are really paying off....

Monday, January 7, 2013

Legendary Coach Urges Catholics to Come Home...

Remember the old E.F. Hutton commercials of the 1970's and 80's?   You know, the ones where the announcer would say, "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen." 

Well, a national non-profit Catholic outreach group is hoping that former Notre Dame Football Coach, Lou Holtz, has the same effect on inactive or disenfranchised Catholics. 

Catholics Come Home.Org, which last year launched, what it called, the largest television evangelization campaign to bring Catholics back to their faith, has purchased a 30 second ad, featuring Holtz, that will air during Monday night's BCS National Championship game, between the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide and the College Football Hall of Fame coach's former team, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

In the spot, which is set in a football locker room, and delivered like a pep talk on life, Holtz encourages Catholics to return to the faith and return to Mass.

He says, "For victory in life, we've got to keep focused on the goal; and the goal is Heaven.  The key to winning is choosing to do God's Will and loving others with all you've got.  Sacrifice, discipline and prayer are essential." 

As he is speaking, images of the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio and a missionary helping a poor child pop up, before cutting back to the locker room scene, as Holtz continues, "We gain strength through God's Word.  We receive grace from the Sacraments.  And, when we fumble due to sin, and it's gonna happen, Confession puts us back on the field."

Again, images of the Bible, the Holy Eucharist and a man kneeling and praying are faded in and out of the screen, which ends with the coach on camera, "So, if you haven't been going to Mass weekly, get back in the game.  We're saving a seat on the starting bench this Sunday."  

The ESPN analyst, who is a life-long practicing Catholic, and is not shy about expressing his faith, agreed to doing the ad, or "evangomercial," as it is being called, after running into CCH President Tom Peterson, who conceived the idea, at an airport last July.

Considering that many Christians, including Catholics, have stopped practicing their faith, and, for some, faith has become more of a personal thing than an outward lifestyle, as Christ intended, the purpose of the ad is obvious.

Moreover, taking into account, that, as polls indicate, the largest Christian group, after Roman Catholics in the United States, is ex-Catholics, and the likelihood of a huge Catholic and former Catholic audience for the game is pretty high, it makes sense for Catholics Come Home to try to reach them.

In fact, I'm sure Peterson is hoping millions of them, like the people in the E.F. Hutton commercials, will stop and listen, when they see the legendary coach, who guided the Fighting Irish to an undefeated season in 1988, deliver his message.

Since I don't hold grudges against the Irish, like many other University of Miami fans, I'm hoping for another undefeated season for Notre Dame and for many Catholics to return to their faith as well...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Meeting Joe Black During Christmas...

Joe Black with Bill Parish...
As everyone knows, one of the certainties of life is that from the time we are born, we are on a progressive (or regressive if you prefer to call it) collision course with death.

And, as often happens, it strikes at the most inopportune time.  Take the man in the coffee shop (Brad Pitt) in one of my new favorite movies, since I saw it for the first time recently, Meet Joe Black (yes, I shed a few tears)He gets a new job, moves to a new city and just meets probably the girl of his dreams.  The next thing you know, as he is pining over her and contemplating whether to run after her, following their chance meeting, and having both admitted to liking each other very much before going their separate ways, without exchanging numbers, or even names, he gets plowed over by two cars as he is standing in the street (talk about a collision course with death!).

Yet, this abrupt finality, albeit with a less attractive Grim Reaper than Joe Black, happens every day, in different ways, in different parts of the world and different circumstances to thousands of people.  It's the end of the road, regardles of whether you're partial to all the end of the world theories or not.  As everyone knows, and to paraphrase Ben Franklin, the only sure things in life are death and taxes (and hopefully this year, not death by taxes!). 

Even so, for those of us who believe in everlasting life, death is the passing from the temporal to the eternal or, as I heard a priest once put it, it's like the birth of a child. 

He said that when a baby is born, he or she goes from the comfort and security of everything they have ever known in their mother's womb into a new, unknown and unimaginable realm.  In fact, he elaborated, going through the traumatic experience of the birth canal, may appear to a baby like they are dying and, much like us in death, they may even kick and fight the inevitable.  Instead, they are being born to a new life; a new reality.

Hence, death is not the ending, but the beginning, or as the One who sat on the throne (Christ) says in John's vision, "Behold, I make all things new."

Of course, the infinite is very difficult to fully understand with our limited minds (no matter how brilliant we may think we are!).  But, despite our deficiencies, it's something most of us seem to naturally hold on to, especially after the death of a loved one.

As many wise men have said in different ways through the ages, it's because Heaven is the fulfillment of the deepest longing within the human heart.

For my family, that inopportune time came three days before Christmas.  Two years ago, at about the same time, my father's brother passed away.  This past December, it was one of my mother's aunts who, after several months of battling various ailments and hospitalizations, finally succumbed to the eternal rest (hopefully in her case, it came in the form of Joe Black).

I take the liberty of making light, despite the damper her death put on an otherwise joyous time of the year for my family, because she lived a mostly happy and full life (and knowing her cheerful and gregarious spirit, I think she would prefer to be remembered on a happy note).  She was 82.

She leaves behind her lifelong husband, a daughter, two sons, five grand children and seven great grand children.

Now, it's difficult to lose someone we love at any time, whether we expect it or not.  But, it may be more difficult during the Christmas season, especially knowing how much my great aunt loved and cherished Noche Buena, Christmas and family reunions.
While growing up, I remember many Christmas Eve's at her townhouse in Hialeah.  She was always the life of the party; laughing, telling anecdotes of childhood mischief and family memories and making sure everyone, including the youngest ones in the family, was having a good time. 

I have wonderful memories of that small home that would get so packed with grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even friends that we would be all over each other and spread into every nook and cranny on the ground floor, the backyard, upstairs bedrooms and the front parking area.  But, despite our tight quarters, it was always an amazing time. 

In fact, reflecting on her death, after my cousins decided to hold off on her wake and memorial Mass until after Christmas, because she loved Noche Buena so much, I couldn't help but think about the wonderful Noche Buena she was going to spend in Heaven with her parents, two sons (who passed away from different illnesses), an older sister (my grandmother) and her husband (my grandad), two older brothers and a younger one, and several other relatives, including a great nephew, a sister-in-law and more.  It must have been a great celebration, akin to those we had in that small townhouse in Hialeah (although, I'd like to think that Heaven is a notch above Hialeah!).

I will always also remember my great aunt for her heart.  She had a bigger than life smile, warmth and gentleness about her and was one of the most loving and giving people I knew, sometimes to a fault.  She was the kind of woman that would always make you feel welcomed, even if you were a stranger, and would give you the clothes off her back, if you needed them; a true example of the Beatitudes.

When I was just a kid, she and my great uncle would fly down from Chicago, while the rest of her family drove down, and they would always take my younger brother and me to stay at their hotel and catered to us, while we waited for the rest of their family to arrive.  I will always cherish those memories.

On the bright side, her wake was bitter sweet.  It gave our family, including cousins, aunts and uncles, from as far as Chicago, and my brother, who happened to be visiting, a chance to be reunited like we used to, despite the somber occasion, before jobs, families, distance and responsibilities got in the way. 

The older generation made a lot more effort to keep the family ties together, but times like these make us remember how it used to be and how it should be.  I'm sure my great aunt was smiling in Heaven to see us together.

As the priest stated during her funeral Mass, as the Church, which is the mystical Body of Christ, those on earth, those in Heaven and those on the way, we are all united in communion, through the Eucharist, and when we pray at Mass, especially the Lord's Prayer, after the consecration, we can be sure that our loved ones, including my aunt, are praying with and for us at that same moment.  It was a comforting thought amidst the sorrow during her final farewell.

One of my cousins from Chicago was heartbroken when he heard her eldest son describe her passing.  He said that as she took her final breath, as both he and his sister approached her hospital bed, my aunt closed her eyes for the last time and a single tear ran down her cheek.

As Bill Parish tells Joe Black at the end of the movie, as both men looked at the celebration underway and knew their time had come to leave this world, "It's hard to let go isn't it?  Well, that's life.  What can I tell you?"

I'm sure it's hard to leave, but, while, until we are reunited again, we will never know whether my aunt's tear was from attachment or shear joy, I'm sure the loss is always harder for those of us who stay behind.

If a person is measured by the love they give, the lives they influence and the people who will forever hold them deep in their hearts, long after they are gone, then I know my great aunt has already heard the words that we all long to hear one day, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Farewell, Tia Chela; until we meet again...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Salve Regina, Mother of God...

Mary Mother of God...
So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (Rv. 12:17)

I remember an exchange I once had with a cousin, who had left the faith of her childhood for a non-denominational Christian tradition, vividly. She said to me, “Mary is not my mother.”

For me, a freshly minted revert, at the time, who, in my fervor, was trying to evangelize the world (this was years before starting to blog, and, believe me, for your sake, thank goodness because, as little as I know now, I knew less then!), it was disheartening.

Not my mother? Just the thought was too foreign for me to wrap my mind around. I mean, being raised Catholic, like the rest of our family, albeit, in my case, more for cultural reasons than convictions, loving the Blessed Mother; the new Eve, who accepted God’s plan willingly and, from the beginning, God promised to put enmity between her and the devil, and his offspring and hers; was as natural as the air I breathe. I had never come across an objection of her motherhood and from my own cousin?

As you can see, it made a lasting impression.

Today, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary; Mother of God, as Elizabeth said, "Mother of my Lord."

It is a Holy Day of obligation and despite going to sleep in the wee hours of the morning, after celebrating New Year’s with my family and friends, I enthusiastically (ok, maybe sluggishly was more like it) got up early enough to make it to 8am Mass, since I couldn't go later with my family because I had to work (one of the benefits of working in TV News!).

But, as a son of Mary, as it states in the verse I started this blog with, who, like every one of us, is in a spiritual war against the forces of evil and trying desperately to keep the commandments and holding fast to the testimony of Jesus (as best as I could), is it too much to ask?

I don’t think any loving son (with possible exception of Adam Lanza) would deprive their mother, including the greatest Son of all, which is why Catholics love Mary. We aspire to imitate Christ!  As I heard once said, we can never love or revere her as much as Christ does.

If you think about it, Mary was the human tabernacle that carried the salvation of humanity to term within her womb; whose blood intermingled with His Royal Blood, whose breasts provided nourishment, once born, and who consoled Him when He was crying and held Him tight when He needed comforting.

As the early 5th century Council of Ephesus established, "If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is God in truth, and therefore that the holy virgin is the mother of God (for she bore in a fleshly way the Word of God become flesh), let him be anathema." (no disrespect to my cousin intended!)

In Mary, all mothers are raised up in the dignity bestowed upon them as child bearers, nurturers, spiritual guides and teachers.

Moreover, in a deeper sense, as Mother of the Lord, who’s Body, according to the Gospel, is the Church, she is our mother too. Hence, as she herself prophesied “From this day, all generations will call me blessed.”

Therefore, despite my cousin’s unintentional misunderstanding, as one of my favorite authors and former Presbyterian Minister, Dr. Scott Hahn, once wrote, “At the foot of the cross, Jesus’ Home became our home. His Father became our father. And, His Mother became our Mother.”

Hail full of grace, the Lord is with thee…