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Thursday, May 23, 2013

My Calgon Moment at the Funeral Mass...

They may be smart but owners aren't always!..
One of the things that most annoys me, aside from my wife’s condescending tone when she asks me to do something and I forget, is when, at the most inopportune and solemn point of a Mass, just as I am immersed in silence, peace and reverence; praying and focusing on our Almighty God, a cell phone goes off.  It totally kills the moment!

In fact, that’s why I usually leave my cell phone in my car when I go into Mass (just in case).

Unfortunately, I broke my own unwritten rule Wednesday, and I got a taste of my own contempt in the process.

I was at a funeral Mass in Coconut Grove. The church packed to the extent that the doors had to stay open to accommodate the huge crowd that did not fit into the sanctuary.

As in any funeral Mass, it was a very somber and sobering affair.  Anytime death afflicts a family it is difficult but when it involves the unexpected death of a 29-year-old man, it may be even harder.  He was the son of a very well known and well liked public figure, who happens to be my wife's boss.

As the liturgy concluded, and before the priest’s final blessing, the father got up to say a few words of gratitude for the outpouring of support and to remember his son’s memory. All of a sudden, as he begins to speak, I hear a phone start to ring.

Are you kidding?  I thought.  It rang once. It rang twice. I rang three times. By now, I think most people standing in my area in the back of the church were starting to get uncomfortable.  I'm not sure if the father heard the phone ringing but he continued speaking without disruption.

It rang four times. What’s going on here?  Why doesn’t that person turn it off?  I started glancing back over my shoulder.  It rang a fifth time.  Seriously people, what’s happening? Turn off that darn phone!  We’re in God's presence for Christ sake!

I was starting to get upset.  It rang a sixth time. This is getting ridiculous.  The man is pouring his heart out and he's being interrupted by someone's ringing phone! 

Then I noticed another man looking at me. What? You've got to be kidding! I specifically remember putting my phone on vibrate before going into the church. But, at that point, just to be safe, I stick my hand in my back pocket and, suddenly feel the vibration.  Oh!

It was my alarm!  I felt like I was in one of those Calgon commercials, where the person in the middle of an embarrassing situation looks at the camera and says, "Calgon, take me away!"  Only there was no camera and I had so many people around me that I couldn't go anywhere!

It just so happens that I set an alarm for noon everyday to remind me to take a moment to pray the Angelus (or the Regina Caeli during the Easter season). But, since the ring tone is different from my regular cell phone ring, I didn't recognize it!  As soon as I realized what it was, I quickly pushed the off button at the top of the phone.  And, there was peace again.  The tension around us subsided; at least temporarily!

About 10 minutes later, as now the younger brother of the deceased started speaking, I hear the ring start again. Fortunately, this time, I had put the phone in my front pant pocket and kept my hand near it just in case, and was able to shut it off on the first ring. Whew! I guess I had only hit the snooze button first time but, now I also realized that I didn't know how to turn off the alarm!

I started sweating.  I began trying some preemptive button pushing to avoid the annoying alarm from going off again.  Luckily, while I stood there avoiding eye contact with anyone around me, the Mass ended and the casket was wheeled off for a final blessing before exiting the parish.

What a relief!  Listen, I’m still new to this iPhone thing.  I had no idea that when you put the phone on vibrate, the alarm will still ring.  Moreover, as I found out after talking to some of my co-workers after the fact, I didn't even know you could shut off the phone completely!  I thought it had a life of its own and was always on!

I guess you can say that, like the old United Negro College Fund commercial used to say about the mind, technology is a terrible thing to waste!

In any case, I was foiled by my own piety.  Fortunately, I was standing in the back of the church, and blended into the standing room crowd. Hopefully, nobody in the front, not even my wife who was several rows of people standing in front of me, noticed who the culprit was; at least until now...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

May Feelings, Elvis and the Battle of Lepanto...

“Give me an army saying the Rosary and I will conquer the world.” -- Blessed Pope Pius IX.

I love that video.  It was first posted on YouTube in 2009 but every time I watch it, I get inspired.

It was the brainchild of a 23-year-old Spanish filmmaker, Santiago Requejo, who says he was just sitting around with some friends listening to Elvis Presley one day, when a song came on called, "The Miracle of the Rosary."

They were shocked, not only because there was a song dedicated to the Rosary and the Blessed Mother, but because Elvis was a Protestant!  Yet, there he was singing about the Rosary.  It made them think.  If Elvis who was Protestant was honoring the Virgin Mary, then they had to do something too.

The fact that it was four days before May, the month the Church honors the Blessed Mother and asks Catholics to pray the Rosary, prompted them to produce an earlier video using 50 friends who said why they liked to pray the Rosary.  This music video came a year later and they have produced a couple of others.  

The Rosary is a powerful prayer that, for me, led me to a thirst for the Bible.  Since the mysteries are based on Bible passages, I started wanting to learn more about the circumstances in the passages that I was praying about.  Before long, I got hooked, not only on praying the Rosary, but on reading the Bible.

At any rate, while Bl. Pope Pius' quote at the beginning of this blog may sound a little strange, it may not be far from the truth.

Even though, Europe today is being conquered by what some have referred as the "Silent Jihad," where Muslim families are having eight children for every one that a European family has, and studies indicate that, unless this changes, Muslims will be a majority in Europe during the next 50 years, the continent would have already been under Muslim control since, as early as, the 16th Century, if not for the Rosary.

Battle of Lepanto...
It was at the Battle of Lepanto, where a comprised fleet, organized by Pope Pius V (a popular papal name,
if you haven't noticed), which included ships from the Holy See, Venice, Genoa and Spain, held off the main fleet of the Ottoman Empire, which was steam rolling through the region conquering everything in its path and had not lost a major naval battle since the 15th century.

As the powerful forces approached the small port town of Lepanto, which was strategically situated for the Ottoman Empire's push into Europe, and threatened Christianity in the entire area, the Pope implored Catholics to pray the Rosary and ask for the Virgin Mary's intersession.

In five hours, the superior Ottoman Empire was defeated and forced to retreat.  The Pope was so elated that the date was declared as the feast day of Our Lady of Victory, which later became the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (read more here)....

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Behold Your Mother...

"All generations will call me blessed"
Yes, I realize Mother’s Day was Sunday but since May is the month of the Blessed Mother, i.e. the mother of all mothers, I’m still within the Mother’s Day time frame for this blog.

Dr. Scott Hahn, who happens to be one of my favorite authors, once wrote that at the foot of the cross, Jesus’ home became our home. His Father became our father and His mother became our mother.

Sadly, many non-Catholics have as much aversion to Mary's motherhood as humility has to a Rick Sanchez radio show (I’m sorry, did I just write that out loud?).

In fact, I recall someone near and dear to me, who left the Catholic Church, once telling me, "She's not my mother!" when the topic of Mary came up in a discussion about our faith.

I'll be honest, as a freshly-minted revert at the time, I didn't have much to offer on the subject but, thankfully, the exchange left a lasting impression and prompted me to dig deeper into what the Church believes.  It wasn't long before I discovered that, according to the Bible, which all Christians hold as the infallible Word of God, Mary is the mother of all who believe in her son (and not just the Catholic ones!).

"Then the dragon was angry at the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus."  (Rev 12:17) 
As I'm sure most of us would attest, a mother's love is immeasurable.  I love my mom and, as a parent, I know she loves me more than I can ever love her.  In fact, in all of humanity, there is probably no greater love than the love of a mother for her children, although, as a father, I might argue that a dad's love is close behind.

Still, after watching, learning and experiencing motherhood from a different perspective as a husband, I have to admit that, with rare exceptions, there is no closer bond than that of a mother and her child.

Of course, I'm not making any novel observation.  As most of us know, moms form a unique connection with their children from the time they are expecting.  Not only do they carry the baby for forty weeks (give or take, according to the pregnancy), but, during that time, their blood intermingles and nourishment flows from the mother to the baby; creating a total and absolute dependency, that no father could ever match (not even Jim Anderson or Mike Brady!).

Then, after months of sleepless nights, back aches, indigestion, gas and swelling up like the Puffer Fish in Finding Nemo, they finally give birth, which in my wife's case, couldn't come fast enough and looked excruciatingly painful, to the point where, seeing my usually tough-as-nails marathon running wife whimper during the birth of our second daughter, I inadvertently told her to "suck it up," which I have yet to live down.

And, for those moms that opt to try to lessen the blow, or because of some complication, have to go with the other option, which requires surgery, the throes of childbirth aren't much better.  My son, my brother and I were born through C-section, which only makes the recovery even more agonizing!  In other words, the operative word, as "Clubber" Lang said when asked to give a prediction about his fight against Rocky Balboa, in Rocky III, is "Pain!"

The bond continues to grow after the baby is born.  They feed their child from their own body (although my wife bottle fed and the one time she did try to breast feed, it was too painful for me to watch!), cuddle and comfort them when they are crying and nurture them when they are sick.  

Although fathers are also irreplaceable in the development of their kids, mothers often set the tone and rules around the house.  They teach their kids right from wrong, guide and instruct them about life and discipline them when needed (up until I was too old for her to control, my mom was the disciplinarian in our house).

So, a mother's love and devotion to her children are boundless, which reminds me of the many times my kids go to my wife to kiss their boo-boos when they get hurt because, as everyone knows, a mother's kiss has magical healing powers!

My mom is so supportive that on my first day of high school (10th grade back then), I was so distraught about going to this big school, where I didn't know anyone (I wasn't sure), and wasn't remotely familiar with, that, since she was a Miami-Dade public school teacher, at the time, and had been to my high school before, she showed me around the building and walked me to my homeroom classroom (I'm sure by now my wife is thinking, "That explains a lot!").

In any case, this brings me back to Mary.

If I, who am very flawed, selfish and self-centered (and you can ask my wife and children if you have any questions), can love my mom unconditionally, or at least as close to unconditionally as humanly possible, as most children love their mother (despite the occasional Adam Lanza in the group), how much more can the One who is Love, is perfectly self-giving and chose the woman that would carry, raise and be with Him until his dying day, love her?

Powerful little book...
Something I read in a book recently really gave me a fresh perspective on the Blessed Virgin, who I already held dear to my heart.

In his popular book, 33 Days to Morning Glory, which is based on the Marian writings of St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Bl. Pope John Paul II, Fr. Michael Gaitley points out something I had never considered before. He wrote that the first person to entrust his life to Mary was none other than God himself.

That's a very poignant taught.  Consider that she was to be the mother of His Son. Her human blood would mix with His Divine Blood. She would feed Him from her own bosom, love him, teach him, protect him and raise him (with the help of St. Joseph, let's give some credit the father here!) to be the man that he was meant to be.

And, make no mistake; Jesus was fully man. He experienced the love of his mother and for his mother, as all of us experience, only their bond is even deeper because, as great as a mother's love for her child can be, and being a parent, I would say that my children can never love me as much as I love them, she could never love Him more than He loves her. It is love taken to its infinite degree (literally speaking, since we're talking about God and His Kingdom!).

Moreover, as a devout Jew, Jesus was also faithful to the Law of Moses, i.e. the Ten Commandments, among which state, "Honor Your Father and Mother." Therefore, Jesus, who we believe is Lord of Lord and King of Kings, always honored his mother.

Hence, as Catholics, we are only imitating Christ! We can never love or give Mary more honor than she hasn't already been given by Jesus himself.

In fact, her role in Salvation History is intricately grafted to her son's role. He, in his humanity, was part of her (probably even looking like her) and she a part of Him. And accordingly, she is the only constant in His life from birth to death.

Therefore, at the foot of the cross, when every breath He took was excruciatingly painful, after having suffered hours of torture and knowing the end was near, we read in John's Gospel, "When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold your son.'  Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother.'  And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home."  (John 19:26-27)

We are that beloved disciple and, as such, despite what some may think, Mary is our mother too and our  response, as Fr. Gaitley suggests in his book, should be to take her into our home and make her our own as well...

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Tears of Joy at Our Daughter's First Communion...

I am the Bread of Life...
I couldn’t help myself. As soon as I saw the children walking down the aisle in their beautiful white gowns and ill-fitting suits, my eyes started watering.

This is the future of the Church, I thought; the next generation of faithful.  I wondered if there was a future priest or nun in the group and I prayed that they would be profoundly touched by Christ on that day.

By the time the first boys and girls got up after the consecration and bowed before receiving the Body and Blood of Christ for the first time, I felt tears involuntarily running down each of my cheeks.

And to think, my daughter was still a couple of pews behind. I was concerned that by the time it was her turn to receive the Eucharist; I might be slobbering like John Boehner talking about the fading “American Dream” on 60 Minutes.

And, if that wasn’t bad enough, I was afraid of looking at my wife, who was kneeling next to me, because, either we might start crying even harder, or, worse, she would start laughing at me (which isn’t uncommon!).

In any event, I couldn’t contain my tears.  And, to be honest, why would I?  This was the Blessed Sacrament that she was about to receive; the “source and summit,” as the Catechism states, of everything we believe in as Catholics; the Bread of Life, the Daily Bread that we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer and the sustenance of our soul.

To think of the humility of our God to offer Himself as bread to feed His disciples is so profound, that it could only be understood in faith through the perspective of a God, creator of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen, who took on human flesh, and was willing to suffer and die, for our salvation.

Moreover (which always gets me), since God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit cannot be divided; while three separate persons, there is but one God, and where one is all are, and since the Church, as St. Paul writes, is the Body of Christ, then in that Holy Host, that we believe to be Jesus Christ himself, as instituted during the Last Supper, is contained the entirety of the Church; the saints in heaven, those on the way to heaven and those of us that comprise the Body here on earth; a true communion!  It’s mind boggling!

St. Therese of Little Flower, whose mother died before her First Holy Communion, later wrote of that day, “As all heaven entered my soul when I received Jesus, my mother came to me as well… we were closer than ever. It was joy alone, deep ineffable joy that filled my heart.”

In other words, it's personal!  You wanna talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, as our separated brothers in Christ always talk about?  Nothing could be more intimate than the Lord living and transforming us from within.  In fact, it's so personal that St. Paul compares the relationship between Jesus and the Church with that of a husband and a wife; where two flesh become one.

Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote, “All love craves unity. As the highest peak of love in the human order is the unity of husband and wife in the flesh, so the highest unity in the Divine order is the unity of the soul and Christ in communion.”

Needless to say, I am absolutely in love with the Eucharist. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the main reasons that I send my children to Catholic school; to learn to love the Eucharist and their faith.

Therefore, I'll never forget when I overheard another father at my older daughter’s First Communion four years ago say, “I don’t know what’s the big deal is. It’s just the First Communion!” How sad, I thought; how little understanding about his faith. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon, which is, without a doubt, the greatest reason so many Catholics stray away from the Church, as I once did.

Nevertheless, as I sat there kneeling and feeling a bit self-conscious, especially after holding another man's hand in prayer, whom, by the way, I hardly knew but felt a sudden kinship to since our kids were being united with us and God in the most profound way through the Blessed Sacrament, with tears running down my cheeks, my daughter finally went up to receive Him for the first time.  I mustered the courage to glance over at my wife, who looked at me with tears in her eyes as well and smiled.  We quickly turned our gaze back to our daughter.  How proud we both were and how grateful to God for that moment tears and all.

Anyway, while living a sacramental life can be emotional for us, and, to think, we still have our son's First Holy Communion and their Confirmations to look forward to, the true test of our Boehneresque imitation, as far as our daughters are concerned, may be on the day I walk them down the aisle on their wedding day (Then again, let's just hope nobody is watching us when our son gets married!)...

Friday, May 3, 2013

Weekend with the Guys Making Ham Omelets...

During a recent homily at a Mass for our men’s group, our Pastor told a funny story comparing commitment and involvement with the difference between a pig and a chicken in making a ham omelet. He said, “The chicken is involved. The pig is committed!” We all burst out laughing.

Point well made. Christ told his disciples (us) to love one another as He loved them, and for those who may have made the sound that Scooby-Doo does when he’s confused, He went on to say, “there is no greater love than to give our life for a friend.” You wanna talk about commitment! I mean giving up my life for my wife and children? I can see it (although in my wife’s case, it might depend on the day! Just kidding, honey!) However, I got some pretty shady friends!

Unfortunately, the point is that, as Christians, our level of commitment shouldn’t waver, since our salvation may be determined by what we do for the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned and lonely (and that doesn’t just mean in physical terms) and the least in the Kingdom of God (whether we liked them or not!).

Last weekend, I got another chance to attend a men’s retreat with some of my closest friends; many of whom, despite their many flaws (and boy can I tell you stories!), are the type of guys who would volunteer to make the ham omelet, even if they were the pig (although some may be more inclined to make pan con lechon instead!).

It’s rare in today’s culture to see men giving up their comfort and leisure time with their families on a weekend to help other men grow closer to God. But, as one of them pointed out, if we don’t do it, who will? And if men of good will don’t stand up for righteousness, who will take care and guide our children, if we’re gone?

As Edmund Burke once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Unfortunately, we’ve become a culture of doing nothing. We have the easy life from microwave ovens to smart phones (because we have to think less) to plastic surgery instead of working out. We have grown so accustomed to the good life that we even try to mold God into what we want Him to be, instead of adjusting our lifestyle into what He wants us to be.

It’s the reason there are more than 35,000 Christian denominations in the world, all claiming to be inspired by the same Bible, and why many people are rejecting religion altogether. We’re not losing our religion as some polls suggest. We’re becoming more self-centered!

Regrettably, as the saying goes; at the center of sin is I. Anytime, I put myself ahead of God, there is sin.

In any event, my weekend with the guys is called the Emmaus Retreat, which I have written about before (see here and here) and have been a part of for the past seven years. It is a wonderful opportunity to disconnect from all the noise, stress and distractions in life and concentrate on introspective, praying, bonding with other men and focusing on our relationship with God. We laugh. We cry at times (especially me) and eat well (too well, if you ask me, since I always end up putting on a few pounds).

But, most of all, we help other men, eighteen in this case, from a wide spectrum of spiritual backgrounds, from those that have no concept of God to those who are very devout and are well formed in their faith, to grow closer to God by experiencing the love of their fellowman.

Over the years, we have made an impact, however small; marriages have been saved (including those of many of the men, who have become close friends), families have been restored and hundreds of lives have been turned around for the better (including mine).

We always say that if we reach one man, all the hours of preparation, the time away from our families, the expense required and effort involved were all worth it (Of course, it would be better if we touch three or four men!). Since, when we touch one man, we don’t just affect the person, but also his family, loved ones and friends. It has an organic effect that grows and flourishes and may even pay dividends generations down the line.

Our priest once told us a story about a pious couple that had five children. They prayed fervently that one of their kids would have a vocation and become a priest or a nun. Well, the first child fell in love and got married, the second child fell in love and got married and then the third fell in love and got married. They kept praying. Then the fourth child fell in love and got married and they were down to their final hope. They kept praying.

As fate would have it, the fifth child also fell in love and got married and the couple, although a bit disheartened, accepted God’s Will and trusted in Him. It turns out that the first child had a son and that son became a priest. The priest was talking about his grandparents.

Ironically, during the retreat, I was asked to talk about trusting God. I shared the story of my son, who the doctor told us might never been born due to an injury my wife suffered during a previous miscarriage. By that time, I had already attended my first retreat and truly put God at the center of my life. Like the pious couple in the priest’s story, I kept praying and putting my trust in God.

To make a long story short, not only did I keep praying but I asked for intercessory prayers from my friends, family, the Blessed Mother and every-and-any saint I could think of.

We had several scary moments, including during a trip to England for our niece’s Baptism, where my wife started bleeding, but through it all I trusted; and not that anything bad could happen, since sometimes no matter how much faith a person has, bad things will happen, but that I would be strengthen and be able to accept God’s Will.

Well, five (and a half, as my son would say) years ago, our son was born healthy and safe.

Anyway, as I stated previously, the idea is that through a weekend of love and fellowship, the men start experiencing the love of God.

In the first letter of John, the beloved disciple writes, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

As our pastor pointed out, it’s about commitment; commitment to God, commitment to our faith, which includes learning, practicing and passing it on to our children, and commitment to trying to make our world better place.  In other words, its about pigs willing to sacrifice to make ham omelets.

Maybe, we are not giving up our lives, as the early Christians had to. But, we are not standing idly by and doing nothing, and, at the end of the day (literally speaking), it is all about the love we share, as Jesus told His disciples and as St. Paul wrote that the entire law can be summed up in one command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

When I got home on Sunday, my youngest daughter came up to me and gave me a couple of gifts that she bought with her own First Holy Communion gift money. They were bookmarks because, as she said, “you have so many books!”

One of them stated, "Keep Calm and Pray."  The other said, "Keep Calm and Trust in God."  It's amazing how God communicates with us, even by using the gentlest little messengers to get His point across...

Thursday, May 2, 2013

St. Athanasius Champion of Christianity...

Today, the Church Universal celebrates St. Athanasius, a 4th century Bishop of Alexandria, who was one of the greatest and most influential figures in the early Church and champion of the Holy Trinity against the Arianism; the heresy that rejected the divinity of Jesus Christ, which gripped a sector of Christianity during his time and resurfaced several times in the subsequent centuries.

St. Athanasius is said to have written the Athanasius Creed, which is the most profound explanation of the Church’s teaching on the Holy Trinity. It states:
And the Catholic Faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost is all One, the Glory Equal, the Majesty Co-Eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father Uncreate, the Son Uncreate, and the Holy Ghost Uncreate. The Father Incomprehensible, the Son Incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost Incomprehensible. The Father Eternal, the Son Eternal, and the Holy Ghost Eternal and yet they are not Three Eternals but One Eternal.  Read more here.
St. Athanasius died in 373 and was declared a Doctor of the Church.

St Gregory Nazianzen, a contemporary and fellow Doctor of the Church, once wrote of him, "When I praise Athanasius, virtue itself is my theme: for I name every virtue as often as I mention him who was possessed of all virtues. He was the true pillar of the Church. His life and conduct were the rule of bishops, and his doctrine the rule of the orthodox faith."

St. Athanasius of Alexandria pray for us…