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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Giants Amukamara: Chaste and Sober...

Having his priorities straight...  
After winning their first game, following an 0 and six start, the New York Giants are probably feeling more like David than Goliath these days, just two years removed from a Super Bowl Championship.

Yet, if, as the saying goes, "Hope springs eternal," even as Autumn turns to Winter, at least in the hearts and minds of some of the Giants' players and coaches, and since the rest of the NFC Eastern Division is not exactly setting the world on fire, then it is especially the case for players like third-year cornerback Prince Amukamara, who have more than just the hope of optimistic fervor to play for but for one of eternal consequence.   

Amukamara is a devout Catholic who unabashedly lives his faith in the public arena.

In fact, the 24-year-old, who was on the Giants' last Super Bowl Championship team as a rookie, gained some national attention recently after admitting in a Muscle and Fitness Magazine article that he is proudly abstaining from sex until marriage and has never had a drink of alcohol in his life.

He said, “I grew up Catholic, so it just started out as one of those things. I’d think, ‘If I do this, maybe I can get to heaven,’ so I said no drinks, no sex, all the big things. As I grew up, I realized that’s not what it’s about. It’s about having a relationship with Jesus. It’s not about ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do that.’ But still, it’s just one of those things I haven’t done, and I don’t see any benefit to doing it.”

Amukamara and fiancée Pilar Davis...
The former first-round draft pick and All-American from the University of Nebraska, who is engaged to be married next February, proudly wears his faith on his sleeve and is often seen praying on one knee with his helmet by his side on the field, ala Tim Tebow, which is why some have referred to him as "The Black Tim Tebow."  It's a moniker, the defensive standout has no qualms in embracing.

“Yeah, some people call me the black Tim Tebow.  I am a virgin. I’m not ashamed to say that.”

That is a bold statement in a culture overly exposed and consumed by sexuality, where the vision of masculinity has been reduced to The Hangover levels, and physical pleasures, self-gratification and indulgence have become societal standards, not to mention, often confused with love and happiness.  It is refreshing to see a young man, at his peek professionally, physically and financially, opt for modesty, self-restraint and an earnest search for true love and happiness, which will never be attained through the material.

Let's face it, an NFL players life is not exactly the most conducive to wholesomeness. 

In the First Letter to Timothy, St. Paul writes, "the love of money is the root of all evils," which is a very provoking statement considering the multi-million dollar contracts most first-round draft choices receive, the temptations and distractions professional football players are exposed to on a regular basis, and the narcissistic environment the glamour and attention bring.  It's no wonder why so many players get caught up in destructive behavior (Just see NY Jets' Antonio Cromartie, who has 10 kids with 8 different women!).  But, there are still many good and righteous players as well.

A man of faith...
Another Giants cornerback, Jayron Hosley told the NY Post, "There's more guys out there like that than you think.  Negative publicity seems to get the headlines, but there's a lot of good guys out here doing a lot of great things."

Fortunately for Amukamara and Giants teammates, they have a Head Coach in Tom Coughlin, a devout Catholic Christian himself, who helps keeps them on the straight and narrow on and off the field.

Yet, despite his healthy and straitlaced lifestyle, Amukamara still enjoys going out dancing with his teammates but he just doesn't drink and he tells women he works in construction to avoid any unwarranted interest.  Then again, he did meet his wife on one of those nights out with the boys two years ago and they have been dating ever since.
In any case, although it still a long shot, and being a Redskins fan, who are in the same division, I am optimistic hopeful that it is, maybe, despite their rough start, the Giants can be like the young David in the Old Testament, shockingly slay the Philistine giant Goliath (in Dallas, Philadelphia or Washington) and sneak into the NFC playoffs.  Of course, as with the diminutive champion of Israel, that would require a divine intervention...

Friday, October 18, 2013

Movie Gravity, David Bowie and God...

In one of my all-time favorite songs (which is not saying much according to my 12-year-old daughter, who says every other "old" song is one of my favorites!), David Bowie’s Space Oddity, an astronaut named Major Tom is blasted into space on a wing and a prayer, sort of speak, with only some protein pills, a helmet and a “May God’s love be with you” farewell and soon finds himself “floating in a most peculiar way,” telling ground control to tell his wife he loves her and drifting into the abyss, as he realizes his precarious circumstances and admits, “And there’s nothing I can do.”

While the 1969 classic song can also be interpreted as a junkie disconnecting from the world on a drug induced coma (but let’s not go there!), the lyrics could have well inspired co-writer, producer and director Alfonso Cuaron, in the latest Hollywood blockbuster, Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

The film, which has already surpassed $132 million at the box office after just two weeks in U.S. theatres, is about a veteran astronaut (Clooney) and a scientist turned novice astronaut (Bullock), who go on a space mission to the Hubble Space Telescope and get hit by debris from a Russian missile strike. The mishap prompts a chain reaction that leads to chaos, an aborted mission and the drift into the abyss, ala Major Tom.

But, beyond all the amazing Hollywood special effects, nationally known theologian and evangelist, Fr. Robert Barron, of Catholicism fame, says there is much more.

In his latest video commentary, Barron says there is an underline message of love, hope and faith amidst despair.  In other words, whether intentionally or not, the movie points to the existence and need of a transcendent God...

Monday, October 14, 2013

It's Just a Flesh Wound...

None shall pass here...
Or so said the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, after getting his arms cut off and blood was squirting everywhere, and that could well have been my motto a couple of weeks ago during morning Mass, as I sat there bleeding uncontrollably, next to the altar, after cutting myself shaving!

But, this wasn't your average garden variety flesh wound, as I am used to (I am what you may call the Edward Scissor hands of shaving!), it wouldn't stop bleeding!

It all started on another whirlwind morning at the Espinosas; the girls dragging their feet, my wife running around making breakfast, getting herself ready and counting down the minutes like the announcer at the Miami Heat games, "Two minutes!  Twoooo minutes!," and me dressing my son as he slept and trying to get out of the way so as to not get hit by the incoming shrapnel.

After all the chaos, breakfast, teeth and hair brushing, I practically had to push them out the door, so I could get ready in time for Mass, since I have been serving as the lector every Friday for the past several weeks.     

However, that particular day, I was running later than usual, which is not saying much, considering I have about 15 minutes to take a shower, shave and finish getting ready in time to make it to the church on time, as David Bowie would say (I'm supposed to be there 15 minutes before the liturgy), so, in my haste, I cut a small gash below my lower lip while shaving.

The solution?  The time tested go-to remedy for most men; a small piece of toilet paper!  However, it was really gushing out and it took several pieces before it finally clotted up.

I continued my mad scurry and as I finished, I noticed the embarrassing dried red spot near my chin (an omen of things to come!) and, unfortunately, pealed it off carelessly.  That's when the flood gates opened up!

Realizing time was against me, I grabbed a sheet of toilet paper, patted the cut, threw on my jacket, picked up my brief case and ran out the door.  I was hoping it would dry on my way to the parish.

But, as I drove, I soon realized, it was not going to be easy.  I kept dabbing it, in fear that the blood was going to drip on my shirt but, every time I patted it dry, it would well up again in a matter of seconds.  And, if I didn't dab it for a little while, in hopes that it would coagulate, it started running down my chin.

When I came to a stop at a red light, already feeling the anxiety of being late and having to read at Mass, which I am still getting used to, and, to top it off, the concern about blood dripping on my shirt, I tried to apply pressure on the cut and held it tight for a little while.  But instead of stopping the bleeding, I think it got worse.

I guess it was like the Lamaze classes my wife and I took before our first daughter was born.  When I tried to put it into practice during labor, my wife just looked at me, as if to say, "You have got to be kidding!" and that was the end of our Lamaze experience.  I had about as much success applying pressure on my cut that morning.

In any case, by then, the sheet of toilet paper I was using was totally soaked.  There wasn't a single white spot anywhere on the sheet.

I parked my car with only five minutes left before the start of the Mass.  I rushed into the church, dipping my finger in Holy Water and doing the sign of the cross, as I hurried up the side aisle, pausing briefly to bow before the tabernacle and continuing into the sacristy.  Everyone was ready and were just waiting to begin.  I didn't even get much of a chance to read the scriptures before having to walk in with the procession around the altar and unto my seat next to the pulpit.   

It just so happened to be the Feast of St. Francis, meaning the reading I had practiced at home before the frenzy was changed!

I was sweating.  My adrenaline was pumping.  And, I felt my heart pumping out of my chest.  I started praying to try to settle down and get focused, and in all honesty, started feeling a bit faint.  To make things worse, I was still bleeding! 

So, there I was.  The priest greeted the congregation, led us in the opening prayer and then sat down, as did the rest of the faithful to listen to the First Reading (me!).  I was up.

As I stepped up to the ambo, I still felt the blood running down my chin, and with a small piece of paper towel I got in the sacristy, I kept patting it.  I paused briefly to adjust the microphone, dabbed the bleeding once more and began to read.

As I read, I was afraid I was going to drip on the lectionary and kept patting the wound with my left hand every so often, as I tried to stay focus and sound as eloquent and passionate as possible, despite the distraction.  A friend later admitted she was wondering whether I was slobbering!  Nice. 

I held my own during the First Reading but the Responsorial Psalm was longer than usual.  It just kept going and going.  I thought it was never going to end!  Somewhere towards the end, between the unfamiliarity of the text, my concern with bleeding on the lectionary, and my adrenaline and faintness, I thought I was going to collapse. 

I thought, "Great!  We were in for a treat; a public bludgeoning like the early Christian martyrs!" (Not that I'm comparing myself to a martyr but you get my drift!) 

Fortunately, I was able to regain my composure and finish before leading the congregation in the Alleluia, and stepping aside for the Gospel.  Whew!  It could have gotten ugly! 

Although I continued bleeding during the rest of the Mass, at least, I was not the center of attention any more and was able to bleed in obscurity.

On a positive note, I was scheduled to have blood work done that morning, so I figured instead of sticking me with a needle, I was going to suggest they draw the blood from lower lip!

I really should revisit that electric shaver I bought several years ago...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Words of Wisdom from Pope Benedict...


"The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort.  You were made for greatness."

-- Pope Benedict XVI, considered by many as the greatest theologian of our time and among the greatest theologians in Catholic Church history.  Served as Roman Pontiff from 2005 to 2013, when he surprised the world by announcing his retirement as successor of St. Peter due to health reasons.  As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he served as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Bl. Pope John Paul II from 1981 to 2005.  A prolific author of over 60 books, three Encyclicals and three Apostolic Exhortations, he is currently living a life of prayer and meditation in the Vatican grounds, as the Pope Emeritus...