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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fr. Barron on World Youth Day and the Church's Mission...

Up close and personal...
While many in the international press focused on off-the-cuff remarks by Pope Francis after his first papal trip last week, where he said it is not up to him to judge homosexuals, as if this was a radical departure from Church teachings, which all anyone has to do is look up the writings on the subject by the last two popes (not to mention the Catechism of the Catholic Church!), as any good journalist covering the pope should do, the real story at Rio de Janeiro's World Youth Day was Francis' message of hope, God's mercy and his call to Catholic youth to set the world ablaze with their faith, which received a fervent and enthusiastic response from his audiences, that, according to Brazilian officials numbered 3.2 million in one Mass at Copacabana Beach alone.

Yet, as Fr. Robert Barron notes in his latest commentary, it wasn't Pope Francis that the millions of young Catholics were reacting to.  Just as they reacted to Bl. Pope John Paul and to Pope Benedict XVI in previous World Youth Days, they were responding to what Pope Francis represents; the papacy itself, the Holy See, the successor of St. Peter and the authority that the institution demands.

In fact, with all due respect, Fr. Barron says, nothing Pope Francis said was actually novel.  Much of his message, just like the man, is seeped in the underlining theme of the Second Vatican Council, where the bishops called for the Church to turn outside itself and focus on its missionary purpose to proclaim the Gospel and reach out to the poor, marginalized, weak and afflicted; something it has always done but needs to be reminded of and reemphasized from time to time (two thousand years is a long time!).

Showing God's love...
In that regard, the Holy Father urged the young faithful to stir things up, to get busy and not to stay behind the walls of the Church, their parishes or institutions.  He told them to get beyond themselves and bring Christ to the world; to transform the world by engaging the culture and becoming the best examples of Catholic husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, writers, politicians, professionals, laborers or whatever role they may find themselves in life and to do it bravely, boldly and without fear.

Furthermore, Francis proved his own courage and willingness to go out of his own comfort level to show God's love to the most needy by visiting the poorest and highest crime ravaged neighborhoods in Rio, despite concerns over his safety.  It is something that has already marked his short tenure as the Bishop of Rome, where he has continuously broken protocol to be closer to the faithful, kissing and blessing kids, elderly and handicapped and riding in a more open pope mobile.

In reality, as Fr. Barron's indicates, this has been the ever-ending mission of the Church since Christ commanded His Apostles to make disciples of all nations.

Therefore, despite the media frenzy prompted by a reporter's question about homosexual priests, who are living a celibate life in the Church, and answering, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?," the true heart of Pope Francis' message in Rio is that we are all accountable for one another and, as such, need to get outside ourselves to bring the joy of Christ to the world with love, dignity and compassion...

Merton on the Search for Happiness...

"So there I was with all the liberty that I had been promising myself for so long.  The world was mine.  How did I like it?  I was doing just what I pleased, and instead of being filled with happiness and well-being, I was miserable.  The love of pleasure is destined by its very nature to defeat itself and end in frustration."

-- Thomas Merton, an intellectual world-traveling agnostic 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, from which this quote was taken.

No matter how far and wide we search, happiness can never be found in the material, or in the emotional for that matter.  We were made for something greater...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

No Matter Where I Go, I'm Never Far From Home...

Home is where the heart is...
Although reluctantly, because let's face it, outside of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, no one likes to admit to being homesick, most of us would probably agree with her that, "There's no place like home."

Oh sure, European vacations can be romantic and exciting and island getaways can be more relaxing than Tinman getting a Hawaiian Tropic massage by a Jiffy Lube Technician.

But, in all honesty, after awhile, how many more miles can you log through scenic neighborhoods, sidewalk cafes can you stop at, roofless double decker tour buses can you ride on, or old monuments and museums you can visit, before your feet start blistering? (or run out of money!)

Moreover, how many more rays of scorching tropical sun, sweet frozen rum drinks with tiny umbrellas can you consume (with calypso music playing in the background), or uncomfortable jock itch can you endure before it starts getting old? (a wet bathing suit always gets the best of me!)

Well, I don't know about you, and maybe I'm just getting old, but at some point, no matter how much fun I've had, I start longing for my own bed, getting back to my routines (even if it includes the office), seeing my friends, family and co-workers, and, let's not forget, starting my post-vacation diet!

I think it's only natural for many of us because, after all, most people like the comforts, safety and familiarity of home, our neighborhood, longtime fraternal and familial bonds and sense of belonging.  People don't call it "Home Sweet Home" for nothing!

Summer time fun under big tent...
However, no matter how far I travel, there is one place that always brings the truism of Dorothy's wisdom to life for me and that is while attending Mass with my family.

This year, unlike previous years, where my wife, kids and I have gone on road trips to North Carolina and usually stop somewhere on the way up and on the way back to South Florida, and Sundays usually catch us at a different city and parish along the way, we only went on our yearly extended-family vacation to Sanibel Island (although, my family went to Orlando  for a national dance competition for our 8-year-old without me, because I couldn't get away from work for two consecutive weeks!).

So, as I sat there at St. Isabel Catholic Church in Sanibel with our extended family, a few friends and hundreds of strangers last Sunday, I started thinking (and sometimes it does hurt!); whether we're at the St. Isabel, the modest and obscure Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Hayesville, North Carolina, where there were probably more visitors than parishioners, who all knew each other and were celebrating the homecoming of a recent college graduate by cutting a cake after Mass, or the extravagant and elaborate St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, where even well known Catholic celebrities attend in near anonymity and the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary near Disney World in Orlando, or the historic Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, Fl. and Church of the Annunciation in Chesterfield, England, aside from a variation in music arrangements on the Gloria, Agnus Dei and, sometimes, unknown procession songs, it's like being home.

And, that is what I think church is meant to be; a continuity, a familiarity, a unity, a sense of familial and fraternal bond and belonging.  It's about family; God's family; a gathering of parents, children, brothers, sisters, grandparents and distant relatives and a sharing in a family meal; a communion with those who came before us, are here with us and will follow after us.  In effect, like the college graduate in Hayesville, it's a home coming!

My home parish...
If you think about it, it's pretty remarkable to think that on any given Sunday, the same Mass that I am participating in, whether at our home parish in Coral Gables, at St. Isabel or Our Lady Star of the Sea in Ponte Vedra (near Jacksonville), is the same Mass that is being celebrated in the Vatican, in London and in the most remote parts of the world, since, it is the same Mass, as the Church teaches, that is being celebrated in heaven!

The Second Vatican Council states:
In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle.  With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord...  
In his best selling book, The Lamb's Supper, Dr. Scott Hahn writes, "To go to Mass is to go to heaven," since it is where "heaven touches earth," because of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  Moreover, since the Lord is One God, who, as such, transcends time and space, despite being Three Persons (stay with me here!), He cannot be separated from the Father and Holy Spirit.  Therefore, where One is all are.  And, since the Church is His Body, of which He is the head (C'mon just a little bit further!) and where the Head goes, so goes the Body, the entire Communion of Saints; those in heaven, those on the way to heaven and those of us on earth, at that precise time and place, are united with the Holy Trinity through the Blessed Sacrament. (It's like the AT&T commercial, where the child says the biggest number they can think of is infinity times infinity and the man in suit holds his hands up to his ears and says, "poof," while opening his hands and moving them away from his head, as if it was exploding!)

In any case, I was watching my favorite TV show, Journey Home, recently, and the guest, former Evangelical missionary Matthew Leonard, was explaining that when he received Holy Communion for the first time, upon entering the Church at the Easter Vigil at Franciscan University in 1998, and sat down to pray with the parish filled to the rafters, he noticed the thousands of people filing past him to receive the Eucharist and it was there that it hit him. He had become part of their family in a way that transcended his blood relations.  He had become part of the family of God in a new and most profound way; through the Sacraments.  

St. Patrick's Cathedral...
To paraphrase St. Paul, we, although many, are part of the One Body, the one Lord, one faith and one baptism.

As you can probably tell, I love the Mass.  In fact, during the past seven years, I think my family has only missed one Sunday Mass and it was because of a confusion on the schedule.  Actually, one of the first things I do when planning a vacation is to look up the nearest Catholic church to make sure we don't miss.

It reminds me of a column, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski wrote a couple of years ago, where he said:
As Catholics we belong to more than just our parish — we are members of a universal Church and therefore we are never strangers when we meet with other Catholics to celebrate the great Mystery of our Faith which is the Holy Mass....  If we are serious about our Christian commitment, we cannot neglect to recharge our spiritual batteries in the central act of our worship, the source and summit of all Christian life: the Mass. There can never be a vacation from our vocation.
Immaculate Heart of Mary in Hayesville, NC...
For me, depending on how my kids are behaving (and if you ask my wife, she might say regardless), it is an consuming and engulfing experience; the beauty, the reverence, the vestments, incense and candles.  The standing and praying together.  The singing and kneeling in acknowledging the God of the universe.  It's like using all our senses; we hear, we touch, we feel, we taste to encounter and experience the Living God.

St. Padre Pio once said, "It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass."

When all is said and done, just like Dorothy and Toto in the Land of Oz, we are sojourners in this life, trying to make our way back home.  In our case, our eternal home.  And, while it may not be as easy as following the yellow brick road or clicking our heels three times, we can always find comfort and a sense of dwelling, that there is no place like, no matter how wide and far we are, at a local Catholic parish on any given Sunday...

Monday, July 8, 2013

Teaching my Daughter to Ride Bike, a Tiring Task...

Getting her bearings...
I did it!

After getting another crack at making up for previous paternal failures, I finally taught my younger daughter to ride a bike.

Now, for those that don’t know me, you probably can’t imagine the weight I have carried as a father for the past several years, after having failed to teach my older daughter to ride a bicycle, because I was always “too busy,” which, in loose terms, means I was too lazy! (My dad had to teach her)

So, after living with this burden on my conscience for some time, and at my wife’s insistence last Sunday (obviously, the weight was keeping me pinned to the couch on most days!), I finally decided to do what dads across America (and the world) have been doing since the late 1800’s. (It always takes me a while to get around to doing things!)

Well, I have to say, it definitely wasn't as easy as it looks on TV commercials.

To begin with, I lost my patience even before my 8-year-old ever got on the bike!  She started crying and going on about being afraid, and in my usual loving fatherly way, I scolded her, ridiculed her and proceeded to put her bike away, as she went off crying even harder (to use the words tweeted by A.J. Clemente, the North Dakota anchorman, whose first word on air was the F-bomb, before getting fired that same night, "things couldn't have gone much worse!").

Maybe, that’s another reason I never taught my older daughter to ride.  Patience has never been one of my virtues.  Not to mention, that when I learned to ride, my uncle came home with the bicycle for my 4th or 5th birthday, removed the training wheels and told me to get on.  I started pedaling and crashed into the wall of our front porch.  It went uphill from there (literally speaking since we lived on a hill in Cuba and I would pedal up the hill and then coast down as fast as I could).  I learned to ride through lots of falls, bumps, scrapes and minor pain! 

I keep forgetting that I am raising two girls who aren't as fearless as I was as a kid. Although, when I took the training wheels off my son's bike recently, he started crying and saying he was scared too!

Anyway, after my daughter’s breakdown, I then turned my attention to my 12-year-old daughter who wanted to play catch in the front yard.
I am always haunted by a story a friend once told me about his daughter trying out for her high school softball team.  When he got to the tryout, all excited about his daughter's initiative and desire to play a sport he loved, he realized she was the only one on the field that was throwing like a girl.  Moreover, she got hit by balls thrown at her!  And, then it hit him.  He had never taken the time to teach her how to play catch.  He was embarrassed for her and for his own failure as a father.  Therefore, anytime my kids want to play catch, especially my daughters, I jump at the chance (that is, as my wife would say, unless the Mets are playing on TV!).

About 15 minutes later, my younger daughter comes out wearing a helmet and her soccer shin guards (as if that was going to help) and pushing her bike next to her.

“I’m ready to learn,” she said.

Despite my poor desire to oblige on a very hot and humid Sunday afternoon (it's been raining for so long in South Florida that it feels like we're swimming in soup any time we're outside), I knew my wife was coming home from the gym soon, where she went after insisting that I teach my daughter to ride, and would be expecting at least some progress (fear is probably the most effective motivation for most husbands!).

About an hour later, exhausted from having to run from one side of the street to another a gazillion times, while holding the back of her bicycle seat to keep her balanced, as she wobbled and zigzagged her handle bars from side to side, and sweating like Albert Brooks anchoring the newscast in Broadcast News, in the process (at least he didn't drop the F-bomb!), she finally started getting the hang of it and was pedaling away by herself after a short push, as I trailed closely behind.

By the time my wife got back, I was huffing and puffing like a chain smoker climbing up the Statue of Liberty and, of course, she was ready to show off.

“Mommy, watch me,” she said, which I knew was my cue to do some more running.

Aside from one mishap, where she lost control and, in trying to catch her, I actually pushed her down and, fortunately, was able to leap over her before my 250-lbs “big-boned” body landed on top of her, which I thought was going to scare the heck out of her and make her want to stop riding but, instead, she laughed it off, along with my wife and older daughter, it was smooth sailing (or riding in this case).

She didn't quite get the hang of turning or pushing off on her own until this week, and, one time went across the busy street in front of our house because she couldn't stop (luckily there were no cars coming), but overall, she learned to ride and, despite the unplanned work I was forced into, it was a great experience on every level.  

As some of you may have read, A.J. recently landed a bartending job in Delaware. My wife was happy I finally got off the couch and taught my daughter how to ride.  I fulfilled my fatherly duty and can put to rest the guilt (at least for a while) and I lost about 10 pounds in the process!

Now, to see what I do about my son...