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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Words of Wisdom on Doing Nothing...

“Those who do nothing run the risk of losing the little they have.  In other words, it is possible to lose our souls by doing nothing.  We lose our souls not only by the evil we do, but also by the good we leave undone.”  
--Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, priest, author and one of the first and greatest televangelists in U.S. history.  Sheen hosted a prime time television show called, Life is Worth Living in the 1950's and The Fulton Sheen Program in the 1960's.  His cause for canonization was officially opened in 2002 and, earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI recognized him as "Venerable Servant of God," for a life of heroic virtue...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Lesson in Humility Amidst Another Man's Treasure...

Not far from what I found...
They say that one man's trash is another man's treasure. However, it wasn't until recently that I was able to really crystallize the meaning of the phrase, while helping an elderly man move out of his apartment.

Let me start at the beginning. For the past few years, I have been trying to sell a commercial/ residential building, just north of Miami International Airport in Miami Springs. The property has four business spaces on the ground floor and three one-bedroom apartments on the second. (Yes, for those that don't know, aside from being a husband, father, TV news editorial manager and part-time blogger, I'm also a part-time Realtor; which is not saying much compared to the amount of hats my wife wears!)

In any event, while the building is attractively located and has tremendous potential, it is what Realtors would call a "fixer upper" or, better yet, would describe as needing "some TLC" (otherwise known as some tender loving care).

Unfortunately, because of that reason, a couple of contracts had fallen through after the inspections.

To make a long story short (which is not easy for me!), after much haggling, breakdowns in negotiations, taking the property off the market and more negotiations, we finally reached a deal with a buyer willing to take on the workload at a price the seller was willing to accept.

There was one condition; the top floor, where two tenants had been living since the 1970's, would have to be evacuated, so that the new owner could gut and restore it before putting it up for rent again.

That is where my story gets interesting.

Obviously, the tenants were not exactly thrilled about having to move. One because, despite the conditions that he kept his apartment in, and you can just imagine in what condition an unmarried man in his fifty's, who has been living in the same tiny apartment for about thirty years with no aspirations of moving on up, like George and Weezy, would keep it in, I guess because it was home to him and he had grown comfortable (even with the leaky roof, mold on the bear walls with no drywall and a part of the floor that was ready to give in!).

However, probably the hardest sell to relocate was of the elderly man in the front apartment, who had moved out several years before, but had so much "stuff" in the unit, that he preferred to keep paying for it as storage then having to move his things. In fact, every time, I went to show the apartment, he said he was going to get around to it one day.

To top it off, he had just had open-heart surgery in February and wasn't in any condition to move his things (or so he said, which I doubted until he showed me his scar on his chest the minute we both arrived at the apartment. I guess, trying to prove that he couldn’t lift anything!).  In fact to move up and down the stairs was a task for him and caused him shortness of breath.

He wanted a month to clear his apartment, which considering that he had been meaning to get around to it for over five years, I was sure would take even longer. But, the longer he took, the longer it was going to take to close the sale.

Therefore, being “Mr. Nice Guy,” and knowing my commission depended on my clearing the units as soon as possible (unfortunately, even when I'm being "nice," my motives are not always noble!), and considering the seller lives in upstate Florida, I volunteered to help the tenant with the move; figuring, how much could it take to clear a one-bedroom apartment (a couple of days of work?).

Well, to my surprise; a lot more than I expected! Have you ever watched one of those hoarder shows on TV? You know the ones where people are living under mounds of junk, half-eaten pizzas, delivery food boxes, clothes, books, magazines, files, and knickknacks?

It was worse; sans the half-eaten food. Not only was there an overwhelming smell of some dead animal (probably a rat), which permeated the entire apartment and slapped you in the face, like Moe hitting Larry and Curly, the moment he opened the door, but there were layers upon layers of dust and a never-ending amount of all sorts of stuff; from books, to a rock collection, to documents from the 1970's signed by environmentalist and activist, Marjory Stoneman-Douglas, and then-Governor Bob Graham, to hundreds of books, encyclopedia, a boat anchor and ropes, termite spray, walkie-talkies (that still worked, according to him!), CB radio antennas (I didn't know they still existed!), car wash items (that he was going to get around to using it one day) and much, much more.

To put it into perspective, a moving company that I hired to come in several days later to finish the work I started refused to take the job, saying it was too disgusting and they couldn't work under those deplorable conditions! (This really ticked me off!)

I was left in shock and awe, probably like Saddam Hussein after the U.S. invaded Iraq, but said a prayer, asking for strength and offering my work to God, took a deep breath and, despite feeling like I needed a hazardous materials suit before going in, I started putting books into boxes. I figured I would eventually get used to the smell. I didn’t!

Anyway, if that wasn't bad enough, he was attached to most of his things, and wanted to keep everything that I found (and he didn't even remember he had!). He kept saying, "That would sell well on E-bay," or  "That has a lot of value!" Or, the topper, “You can’t find these anymore!” No kidding! Who would want them, I thought!

So, as I put books upon books away, and, after finding a feather duster, I dusted them off before storing and sealing them (He wanted to make sure they were sealed so they wouldn't get damaged!), he started sifted through some of his things and gave me permission to toss out a few things (Throw things away? I pounced like a cat jumping on a sofa); it was mostly a couple of chairs that were falling apart due to termites, some old clothes that he had piled in a corner (including dirty underwear!), empty boxes that he once collected (for what?), a large spool, that once belonged to a fabric store downstairs and some voodoo-looking wooden art pieces (that were probably filled with termites as well and when I put outside near the trash can someone took!).

Yet, in the hours I spent in that practically unbearable stench and going up and down the stairs clearing, what to me, appeared to be mostly junk, I got to know the old man and realized where he was coming from.

Here was a man in his mid-to-late 60's. His only family was a brother in upstate New York and a grown niece and nephew that also lived in the Northeast.

This "stuff" was everything to him. It was his identity, memories and his life's accomplishments. The value and attachment he felt for these things, was not the monetary value he would get on E-bay, as much as the worth they gave his life. It was his legacy.

I thought, let's be honest, we are probably going through the trouble of moving all this stuff into storage, and at some point, possibly in a not-too-distant future, he was going to die, and it would probably be tossed out, as probably happens to hundreds of people every day (which sadly reminded me of Eleanor Rigby from the Beatles' song).

I was humbled. Here I was complaining inwardly of having to do this filthy, tedious and arduous job by myself and feeling sorry for myself and a bit taken advantage of. And, instead, God was using me. I thought, God loves this old man, just as He loves me, and was giving me an opportunity to befriend and help him; a lonely soul, who was exposing his entire life to me and trusting that I would help.

It was as if the words Christ says in the Gospel, "Whatever you did for the least of these who are members of my family, you did for me" were hitting me over the head. I felt a sense shame but also affection for the old man. I think he realized it by the way I treated his “stuff.”

At the end of the day, after over four hours of work, which didn’t even making a dent in the pile of, until that day, disregarded items, and taking some to storage, we agreed that we would have to hire some professional movers to complete the job and he said to me, "You're a good man, Mr. Espinosa. I hope the next guys that come are a lot like you."

"Thank you," I answered, knowing exactly what he meant. He trusted me, as he would admit to me a few days later, and, as a Christian, there is no greater compliment he could have given me...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Conversation on Confession, My Daughter and Me...

"Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained." (John 20: 22-23)

“I only confess to God,” a co-worker recently told me when a conversation on Confession popped up in the days preceding the selection of Pope Francis.

I could totally understand where he was coming from since it’s something most non-Catholics would agree with, as well as most secularists, especially those who reject the notion of sin or its consequence. Others might argue that we don’t need a priest; confessing to one another is sufficient.

Let’s be honest, the idea of telling another person (a priest no less!) our most intimate transgressions and taking full responsibilities for our actions (and failures to act!) without excuses, may seem as distressing and trepidatious to some people, as if, well, the Miami Heat's Chris "Bird-Man" Andersen showed up to pick up their daughter for a date (He might be the greatest guy in the world but yikes!), which might be why the first thing Christ did, after the Resurrection was to give His Apostles the power to forgive and retain sins in His name; thereby forcing His followers to have to confess for absolution (or they wouldn't know what sins to forgive or retain!).

Yet, putting it into perspective, this wasn’t such a radical concept for first century believers. For generations preceding Jesus, Jews had to travel to the temple in Jerusalem, regardless of the hardships that it might entail, confess their sins to a priest and offer a sacrifice in atonement. In other words, it was public, it required humility and sacrifice, and it came at a cost (not to mention, the messiness involved, since they had to slaughter their own animal, gut it and clean it, before presenting it to the priest to burn).

Needless to say, Jesus streamlined (and sanitized!) the process, which considering that I get queasy when I cut myself shaving, is a great thing!

Several weeks ago, my eight-year-old daughter’s entire second grade class (3 classrooms) got their first chance to experience the healing power of God’s mercy and forgiveness in the sacrament of Confession (also known as Reconciliation), in preparation for their First Holy Communion later this month. It was truly a family affair!

As I sat there in the jam-packed parish with other second grade parents, siblings and grandparents (although, by the looks of things, possibly even some aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and neighbors!), waiting for our little ones to receive their sacrament, as I had done four years earlier with my older daughter, I couldn’t help but recall my first Confession at Holy Rosary Catholic School in Port Chester, New York many moons ago; although mine had a little less fanfare.

As I remember, after months of preparation, Sister Denise, the Salesian nun, who, in retrospect, reminds me a little of Major Benson Winifred Payne (aka Damon Wayans) in the movie Major Payne, and always seemed to catch me in compromising positions (like the time she stepped out of the classroom and several kids started throwing paper balls around the room and the minute I picked one up and tossed it, she walked back in, as the paper landed near her feet!) lined us up in two single files at each of the confessionals at the back of the chapel and tried to maintain decorum, in her Major Payne sort of way, as we took turns talking to the priests.

It was a far cry from my daughters’ first Confession. There were no parents. There were no siblings or grandparents, no background organist, pastor and kids singing, balloons, flowers or cotton ball lambs. In fact, I kept waiting for a high school cheer leading team to come out of the sacristy chanting, “S-P-I-R-I-T, Spirit! Hey, let us hear it! Holy Spirit!” (I’m just kidding! I realize the idea was to make it a positive experience to establish a lifelong commitment to the sacrament)

In my day, there wasn't much emphasis on establishing a lifetime commitment. Maybe because, it was treated more like taking medicine; you do it whether you like it or not!

Therefore, my first Confession was somewhat austere; just the penitent kids, two priests and Major Payne (who actually wanted me to repeat second grade because of my conduct; not that I hold any grudges!).

In any case, although, I can’t recall what I confessed or what the priest told me, I can remember the peace and relief I felt when the priest said the words of absolution, which I have since learned are, “Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Even at that age, it was as if the weight of the world, and at eight, that world feels pretty heavy, was lifted off my shoulders (although, I didn't realize it gets heavier the older I get!) or as our pastor told my daughter’s second grade class, “It’s like taking a spiritual bath and getting nice and clean.”

I love that feeling of cleanliness and peace.  I still get it every time I leave the confessional.  But, more than a feeling, it's the knowing.  It's the certainty that through the ministry of the priesthood, Christ has truly and unequivocally forgiven my sins.

In fact, outside of the Eucharist, which is the pinnacle of the Catholic faith, and center of all other sacraments, there is no greater gift that Christ gave His Church then the sacrament of Confession, which, for the past seven years, I have tried to receive every three weeks or so.

People pay thousands of dollars for therapy to find peace.  The Church offers it for free!

Anyhow, after all the pomp and circumstance, the kids in my daughter's class started going up to receive their sacrament from one of the four priests that were stationed at different locations throughout the parish.

Soon, after waiting patiently for over an hour, our daughter finally went up to see one of the priests sitting at the front of the church, behind the altar.  Unlike my first time in a dark confessional, she went face-to-face in the open parish (obviously in a secluded enough spot, where no one could hear them).

At first, she was doing all the talking while the priest just leaned back in his chair and smiled. 

For the priests hearing the second graders confess, I could only imagine must feel like the old Archbishop Fulton Sheen joke about nuns, "Hearing nuns' confessions is like being stoned to death with popcorn." 

Then it was his turn to talk and after several minutes of telling her something (probably important), he raised his hand over her head and gave her absolution.

Afterwards, when she got done with her penance, she strolled down the aisle to where we were waiting and we headed outside.  I hugged and kissed her and told her how proud I was of her.  Then, noticing how happy she looked, I asked her how she felt.

She coyly answered, “Good.”  Oh well, hopefully, "good" is enough to lay the foundation for a lifetime of "great!"

So, I followed up by asking her, "What did the priest tell you?" 

She looked at me a bit puzzled and in all earnest said, "I don't know." Unfortunately, she confessed with our Polish priest, who has a very pronounced accent.  Now, on the positive side, at least he couldn't have said anything she didn't like!

Then without skipping a beat she added, “Can we go to eat now?” I guess first things first; there must be  something to be said about a grumbling stomach in a repentant's heart! 

In any event, going back to my friend at work, although God can forgive sins without a priest, after all He is God, He can do anything, Christ did give His Apostles (who were all imperfect!) the power to bind and loose and to forgive and retain sins for a reason.  Far be it for us to question His reasons why; although requiring humility, which counters the very essence of why sin came into the world in the first place; pride, and is needed in abundance for a person to sincerely open up their heart to a priest (along with courage), may be the answer.

Moreover, as I heard another friend once say, we can try to do it on our own without a priest, without the sacraments that Christ established or without the Church, but why would anyone want to jump off the boat without a life jacket and try to swim to shore on their own, when the Lord gave us the Bark of Peter to carry us?...

Monday, April 1, 2013

Andrea Bocelli’s Easter Sunday Flash Solo…

Andrea Bocelli
I'm sure most people today know what a flash mob is.  If you don't, it's when a group of people, usually professional, university or amateur performers, coordinate a dance or song routine and perform it unexpectedly in the middle of a public place, like a mall, park or  street. 

But, have you heard about a flash opera solo?  How about one performed in a church?

That's what thousands of Easter Sunday Mass goers at the 11am service at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Miami Beach were treated to.

But, this was no regular church soloist.  It was internally known opera tenor, Andrea Bocelli, who has sold over 80 million albums and performed for Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and unbeknownst to the congregants, got up and belted his well known version of Panis Angelicum, the powerful part of a hym drafted by 13th Century Dominican priest and Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, during Holy Communion.

So, as the faithful of the standing room-only Mass got up to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, they heard the angelic voice of the blind superstar singing in the background.

According to the Archdiocese of Miami, the 54-year-old Italian classical singer, who is a staunch pro-life advocate, and often credits God for his great gift, approached the priest before Mass and asked permission to get up and sing and afterwards, he got a round of applause.

And to think, I got excited when I saw Jon Secada at our parish carnival last year (and he didn't even sing!)...