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Friday, September 27, 2013

More Catholic Than the Pope?...

Shaking things up?...
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," begins the Charles Dickens' classic, A Tale of Two Cities, and that may be the way many Catholic faithful are feeling during the past several weeks, as they try to asses recent media reports, suggesting Pope Francis is softening the Church's moral stance on marriage, divorce, sexuality and abortion.

In case you missed it, during an extensive three-meeting interview and consequent ten thousand word essay by Fr. Antonio Spadaro in La Civilta Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal, on Pope Francis the man, the Pontiff was quoted as saying, "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptives methods.  This is not possible.  I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that.  But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.  The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."

Then, he added, "We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards."

The press had a field day, "liberal" Catholics, as if there is such a thing, since you're either Catholic and believe in the tenets of the Church or you're not, thought they saw and heard the heavens part and the choir of angels sing, anti-Catholic and secularist groups went into the "Gangnam Style" dance and many devout Roman Catholics, Christians, pro-life and traditional marriage advocates were left scratching their heads.  In fact, some even reacted with harsh criticism, as if to be more Catholic than the pope!

Even among my own men's group at our parish, there were mixed reactions, as an article circulated on whether Francis was our first Episcopalian Pope!  Fr. Alberto Cutie, the former Catholic celebrity priest who was caught making out with his girlfriend on the beach, renounced the priesthood, only to become an Episcopalian, write a book and get a TV talk show deal, must have a huge grin on his face!

However, despite an obvious overzealous attempt by some members of the mainstream media to pit Pope Francis against his predecessor and the Church, and draw a wedge between so called "conservative" and "liberal" Catholics, as if faith was politics, and the celebrations in certain sectors, such as the Nancy Pelosi Catholic Fan Club, I wouldn't start sending out invitations to a "gay wedding," pulling the plug on any anti-abortion rallies or refilling prescriptions to artificial birth control drugs as of yet. 

Nothing the Holy Father said in the interview, or in recent weeks, where he talked about not being the judge of homosexuals who are trying to live their faith, contradicts the Church's teachings in any way.  Although, as well known theologian, Fr. Robert Barron pointed out this week, during a press conference with Cardinal Timothy Dolan outside of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, this may be a "new pastoral strategy."  (see You Tube video)

While, Pope Francis appears to be less measured in what he says than Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who had the experience of serving under Bl. Pope John Paul II in the Church's hierarchy before becoming pope, ever was, which is endearingly refreshing to millions but concerning to some Catholic apologists, who are having to explain what he meant to say to non-believers and critics, this is precisely what it seems to be; a new approach.

In the same interview, the Holy Father says, "I see the church as a field hospital after battle.  It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars!  You have to heal his wounds.  Then we can talk about everything else.  Heal the wounds, heal the wounds... And you have to start from the ground up."

He goes on to say, "This is also the great benefit of confession as a sacrament:  evaluating case by case and discerning what is the best thing to do for a person who seeks God and grace.  The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord's mercy motivates us to do better."

To me, that is at the crux of what the Pope is preaching.  He is reminding us of Jesus Christ's love for the poor, the sick, the marginalized and the sinners, which Francis humbly admits to be the best description of himself, "A sinner."  Jesus showed them compassion, drew them in with love and they believed and converted.  Unfortunately, that seems to be a message that some of us, including myself, have forgotten from time to time in our zeal to be loyal to the faith.
So, it is not a revolution in the classic sense, as in Tale of Two Cities, since it is more about focus than substance.  But, it is, as NY Daily News, Michael Coren, points out, about reshaping the Church's conversation with the world and saying yes before it says no.

Although, let's be clear, this was only a newspaper interview on personal perspective and does not reflect any authoritative pronouncement.

Notwithstanding, Francis did make a point to emphasize that he is a son of the Church and, as its Supreme Shepherd, he would never lead God's flock astray.  Nevertheless, he is calling the Church, as the Body of Christ, from the laity all the way up to the Bishops and Cardinals, to rethink the way the faith is lived and proclaimed, and in the Lord's spirit of love, mercy and compassion, to go after those that do...

Words of Wisdom from St. Thomas Aquinas...


"To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary.  To one without faith, no explanation is possible."

-- St. Thomas Aquinas, 13th Century Dominican priest, monk, philosopher, theologian, university professor and Doctor of the Church.  St. Thomas is considered by many one of the greatest scholars in Catholic Church history.  He was an ardent seeker of truth and the foremost proponent of natural theology, which conforms faith and reason.  He was so influential that, eight centuries after his death, his writings and contributions, known as "Thomism," are still studied in seminaries across the world today.  He is best known for his Summa Theologiae, which is an comprehensive and systematic explanation of Catholic theology, that he never finished.  He died in his late 40's in 1274.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Here's to the Life We Live Today...

While commenting on my last post about the frailty of life, a friend wrote me that she recently decided to open a bottle of expensive wine that they were saving for a special occasion with her husband, after hearing that a mutual friend suffered a stroke and nearly died.

She said to her husband, "Today, is as special as any," and they enjoyed a few glasses together and then finished the bottle with another couple the next day.

I answered her, "We always think about saving an expensive bottle of wine for a great occasion but, as you alluded to, every breath we take is a great occasion!"

So, uncork that bottle you've been saving and pour yourself a tall glass because life is short and we never know if tomorrow will ever come...

[pic credit: Getty Images]

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Chase, a Crash and the Brevity of Life...

As I walked into our newsroom Wednesday morning, the sense of urgency was palpable.  Police scanners were blaring higher than normal.  Our Assignment Editor was barking instructions to a photographer to rush to a nearby hospital as quickly as possible, after an air rescue call was dispatched to a reported double shooting in SW Miami-Dade. 

I hardly had a chance to sit down and log into my computer before we heard that a vehicle fitting the description of the suspect's SUV was spotted not far from the shooting scene and, as police tried to approach it, the driver took off.  A chase ensued.  I remember looking at my co-worker and knowing and feeling the truth of what he was about to say, "This isn't going to end well."    

The black SUV Mercedes raced up Krome Avenue, a two-lane road at the far west edge of the county.  The road borders the Florida Everglades and, because of its remoteness, has been plagued with fatal accidents over the years. 

We started sending crews in the direction of the chase, not knowing where it would end but wanting to be as close as possible whenever it did.  Soon media helicopters were hovering over the scene and broadcasting live images of the chase on TV. 

The fleeing driver got off Krome Avenue on Okeechobee Road, nearly losing control as he maneuvered around the exit ramp and continued heading northwest into Broward County.  We re-routed a couple of more crews, who were already in the northern county, towards the chase.

Despite the tension, whirlwind of activity and frenzy around me, as everyone in the newsroom was mobilized, I was mesmerized watching the speeding SUV, which was traveling at speeds reported to be upwards of 100-miles-per-hour.  The suspect, Antonio Feliu, was driving erratically, flying by cars on the road and weaving in and out of traffic.  At one point, he went into the grassy median and plowed over a traffic sign to avoid other cars and then, out of nowhere, another black Mercedes came into its path.

It was a violent and horrifying crash that sent debris, mangled car parts, glass and smoke flying everywhere, as the two vehicles spun out of control and finally stopped in the median.

All I could muster to say was, "Oh, my goodness.  No!"  I was stunned.  It was as if time briefly stood still.  I felt as if the air had been sucked out of me, knowing well that there was no way the other motorist, who was broadsided on the driver's side, could have survived. 

And, just like that, in a split second, with no time to react and possibly without ever even seeing the charging vehicle heading towards her, the life of a woman came to a shocking and unexpected end.  An innocent driver was killed, being flung from her car in the cataclysmic collision.     

I must say that aside from watching the second plane hit the World Trade Center and the two towers collapse shortly afterwards in 2001, it was probably one of the ugliest images I have ever seen on live TV in my 25 years in the news industry.

Moreover, the abrupt manner the victim's life was quashed was unsettling.  Because, let's face it, as brutal as the death of Vivian Gallego, 51, and her daughter Anabel Benitez, 27, the victims shot in the original scene, were; at least they knew their killer.  There was a history, a soured relationship and a passionate devolution that led to the crime.  Their deaths, while just as underserving and disheartening, were not as ill-fated as that of the innocent driver, Maritza Medina, who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Maritza Medina...
I think, for many of us in the newsroom, it was a poignant reminder of just how fleeting and volatile our life really is.  In fact, another co-worker posted on her Facebook later that day, "Kiss your family and tell them how much you love them every day... You never know what tomorrow may bring."

Meanwhile, Feliu took his own life shortly after the crash. 

As I reflected on the day's event on my way home from work that night, I couldn't help but think of the lyrics of the James Taylor song, Fire and Rain, about the unexpected loss of a childhood friend, where he says, "Oh, I've seen fire and I've seen rain.  I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end.  I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend.  But, I always thought that I'd see you again."

The thought of the many times I take the life of my wife and kids for granted was haunting.  Every morning, I help my wife by getting my son ready for school and everyone out the door to make it on time, sometimes without even taking a moment to kiss them goodbye or telling them how much I love them because everybody is rushing.  I confide, without much contemplation, that I will see them later in the day but is that a given?

Like she had done every other weekday, Medina had just dropped off her teenage daughter at school that morning.  The 47-year old homemaker, mother of two and wife of twenty five years, was heading home when she crossed into the intersection of Griffin and Okeechobee Roads, less then a half-mile away from her Pembroke Pines home.  She never made it.  Instead, she met her unexpected demise.

When asked if she told her mother that she loved her after being dropped off, her teary-eyed daughter said, "No.  I said 'goodbye, mom.'  You never really know when you are going to see her for the last time."

What a profound and honest answer.  You never really know.  One minute you're dropping off your daughter at school, like millions of parents across America, and the next minute a maniac plows into you and snuffs out your life in the blink of an eye.  And, with it are dashed, the many hopes and dreams of loved ones and friends, who suffer the loss.   

Medina's teenage daughter will not have her mom at her graduation next year or help her pick a prom dress, give her advice on boys, attend her college commencement ceremony or help plan her wedding one day.  Her older sister, who is already married, will never be able to seek her mom's counsel in raising her family and her children will never enjoy the blessing of growing up with their grandmother by their side.  Likewise, Medina's husband will never hold her hand again, get a chance to grow old together, celebrate anniversaries, retirement, family reunions, grandchildren or share in any of the quotidian moments and events in life that many of us, unfortunately, take for granted.  It's sad.    

Taylor puts it well in his song, "Been walking my mind to an easy time, my back turned towards the sun.  Lord knows when the cold wind blows, it'll turn your head around.  Well, there's hours of times on the telephone line to talk about things to come.  Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground."

In the end, no matter how much we worry, plan, save and attain, life can cease in an instant, as it did for Maritza Medina.  Therefore, it's not about our accomplishments, fame or fortune, it's about the legacy of memories and feelings we leave behind; especially to our family and friends, who will cherish the times and love we shared long after we are gone...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Of Lice and Men (Women and Children!)...

First published in 1937... 
In his classic novel, Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck wrote a story about friendship, mental illness and broken dreams, which were shattered with an unexpected turn of events that spun his characters' world upside down and ended in tragedy.

I realize trying to fit my story line into this plot is a bit of a stretch but, in an effort to use the play on words in my title, I could say that, while my tale doesn't have a grievous ending, at the risk of sounding a bit melodramatic (which may not be that out of character for me!), it does include an unforeseen turn of events that also had a topsy-turvy effect on my family (if only for a couple of weeks!).

Of course, it wasn't murder.  It was just a case of head lice!

Say what?  Ah yes, I thought the same thing.  As we shockingly discovered, even in the friendly confines of suburban Coral Gables, among the tree lined streets, well kept lawns, imported cars and yuppie well groomed families, the nagging parasites can strike.  And, strike they did!

Not only did they affect my children but my wife as well!

It all started on an otherwise lovely day with a mid-morning call from my wife.  Without giving me much of a chance to talk, she quickly blurted out, "Carlos, we have to pick up Nico (our six-year-old son) at school. They called to say they found lice in his hair!"

What?  My boy?  The chip off the old block and apple of his father's eye?  How?  Where did he get them? Obviously, I immediately imagined that it had to have come from another classmate!  Where else could he have gotten them?  We keep him clean.  I bathe and wash his hair almost every night.  What other explanation could there be?

Still flabbergasted by the news, I quickly call my Dad after hanging up with my wife.  My Mom and Dad pick up the kids at school for us and watch them until my wife gets home.  After breaking the news to my Mom, I asked my Dad if he could pick up my son a little earlier since they had him in the nurse's office at school.

Well, it didn't end there.  To my chagrin, the story gets better.

Shortly, after calling my Dad, my wife calls me back saying, "Forget it.  I have to go pick them up.  They all have lice!" You gotta be kidding, right?  But of course, she wasn't.  She told me she had to go get some lice treatments at the drug store and the chances were good that we all had lice.

I was stunned.  But, moreover, my head immediately started itching.  Then I remembered my son had been sneaking into our bed in the middle of the night!

That's a lot of hair... 
I didn't know the first thing about lice but, let's face it, the word has negative connotations.  I would expect them to be more prevalent in the backwoods of the Robertson land in Louisiana on Duck Dynasty than in the classrooms of a Catholic school in Coral Gables.  I mean, not to throw stones but have you seen Si and Phil Robertson?  I love the show but you gotta admit, their scruffy beards and unkempt hair would be a louse's paradise.

I couldn't help but think about the time I was in high school, and my dog Candy (a medium size poodle that slept under my bed) was hit by a car during flea season and the vet put her leg in a sling and we couldn't take her to the groomers for several weeks.  Well, it wasn't long before she got fleas and our entire townhouse in Hialeah, which was wall-to-wall carpet inside, got infested!  It took us about a month to finally get rid of the irritating insects, which left more red welts on my body than an allergic man with food poisoning during a dust storm in Death Valley on a blistering day.

For some reason, I have always had a propensity to attract critters.  In fact, I remember one time several years ago, when our oldest daughter was still a toddler that I met my wife after work at a property she was showing with an empty field next door.  While my wife showed the house to the potential buyers, I tried to keep my daughter entertained and we walked around the neighborhood for a while and ended up in the vacant lot.

Out of nowhere, I started feeling this tingling sensation up my leg (unlike Chris Matthews during an Obama speech) near my ankle, which freaked the heck out of me.  I started slapping my pant leg and stumping my foot on the ground hoping to jar whatever had gone inside my pants lose.  After frantically beating the tar out of my leg, while my daughter played, in hopes of killing whatever was moving in my pants, I didn't feel it anymore.

My wife finished the showing and we agreed to go to a nearby pizza joint and got into our respective cars and drove away. As we approached the restaurant, the tingling sensation was back.  Now, it really startled me and I started slapping my leg like Kurt Russel (Wyatt Earp) bitch slapping Billy Bob Thornton in the saloon scene in Tombstone, while still trying to keep my other hand on the steering wheel.  Between slaps and pounding my foot on the floor, my leg started feeling numb.

It wasn't ants in my pants!...
I walked out of my car and again felt the tingling sensation.  Whatever was in there was not dead. In fact, by now, it was crawling up my leg into my inner thigh.  I walked as fast as I could into the restaurant, and as my wife and daughter sat down, I ran into the bathroom and tore my pants off.  A lizard landed on the floor, making me jump like a school girl in my underwear!  Fortunately, no one came into the bathroom at that moment.  It would have been a tough one to explain!

In any case, my wife and the kids went to a lice clinic (I didn't know they existed) in Kendall and had all the parasites removed.  It seems they are quite common in our area and, every year, my wife says there are usually a couple of kids that get them at our kids' school.  Just not our kids (until now!).

So, it was a long week of washing and drying bed sheets, pillow cases and blankets for my wife, and me being forced to wait for her to finish so we could make our bed to go to sleep late every night!  We had to put every single cloth decorative pillow, stuffed animal and such into garbage bags for two weeks, where the doctors say they die without human blood to feed on (there are piles of black garbage bags throughout our living room, bedroom and the kids' closet!). We've had to make sure no one is sharing hair brushes, wash our hair with a preventative shampoo and thoroughly clean our area rugs (I finally got the Dyson I've been wanting to get!). Nobody has been allowed to sleep on the same bed, although our son continues to sneak unto our bed in the middle of the night!  In other words, the disruption has been felt by everyone in the family.

On a positive note, unlike fleas, lice don't jump or fly, they basically spread through close contact, like sleeping in the same bed, using the same hair brush, lying on the same pillow, blanket or stuffed animal, clothing, etc. It seems my younger daughter may have been the carrier since she had the most and it was possibly from when she attended a dance competition and shared brushes with some of the other girls.

After my kids fought to treat and inspect my hair when I got home that first night, no louse was found.  Upon another inspection and treatment several days later, still no lice.  It may be because my hair is short and I wear hair gel every day, which the doctor said keeps the lice from being able to latch on.

So, while, unlike Steinback's novel, the only tragedy was to the lice and no one had to die for love, or because of it, the best laid plans of mice and men went out the door the day the lice came in and we have yet to get our lives back in sync ever since...