Search This Blog

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year and New Hope for Resolutions...

"Should old acquaintances be forgot, and never brought to mind?" say the lyrics of the old New Year's Song, Auld Lang Syne

Well, in my case, as rough as 2014 may have been at times, I have no regrets or no one to have to forget! 

However, every year as the music plays in the background at Times Square, after the clock strikes midnight, and couples kiss, while confetti pours from the sky and fireworks burst in the sky and toasts are made with champagne glasses around the globe (and Cubans eat their twelve grapes and toss a bucket of water out the door!), millions of people make their New Year's resolutions, if they hadn't already made them beforehand!

It's a tradition as old as the beginning of time, when surviving the new year was a good resolution to make, and often, like most resolutions, fell short at some point, due to an unexpected bite of a Tyrannosaurus (Of course, the calendar year may have been a little different, or not existing at all!) but, in the spirit of the New Year, I will share my resolutions for 2015:

1) Continue growing in my faith, which includes working through the Old Testament every morning, which I started a couple of years ago but haven't finished, attending daily Mass, like I did for several years before my work schedule changed, and taking more time in prayer and meditation throughout my day.  I also want to continue reading and learning about the Church, as I have been doing for the past eight years.

2) Spend more quality time with my family, which includes having dinner at the dinner table, that, because of hectic schedules, we have gotten away from in 2014, adjusting our schedules to spend more time as a family, which may mean accepting less invitations to parties and events that take time away from the family, doing more proactive activities together on weekends, and despite, extra expenses for our older daughter's Confirmation, primary school graduation and starting high school, and my son's First Holy Communion, my brother's wedding in Oregon and my wife traveling to London for our niece's First Communion (which, unfortunately, we all can't afford to go unless we win the lotto!), I want to take a family vacation together.  We have four years left before our eldest daughter goes off to college and she already has her heart set on Notre Dame!

3) Spend more time dating my wife.  Now, that we have a soon-to-be 14-year-old, who is going to be entering high school by the end of the year and has proven to be a responsible babysitter in recent weeks, we are going to take advantage and leave her in charge of our little ones from time to time and go out on dates, which we haven't been doing as much lately.

4) Lose weight (Goal 50 lbs.); not for any narcissistic or vainglory reasons but because I want to be around to attend my kids' high school and college graduations, and when they go through their teens and desperately need fatherly guidance, I want to be there as well as.  I also really want to walk my daughters down the aisle, which my father-in-law wasn't able to do.  This includes eating healthier, starting a consistent exercise program, staying away from sweets and fried foods (which I love!), drinking more water and less beer (Although, I can compensate by drinking more scotch!) and stop snacking when I get home from work (Which, to me, is as hard as giving up beer!).  Yes, I know.  I've made this resolution before but new year new hope, right?

5) Streamline my life (And, I don't mean getting rid of my wife and kids); my briefcase is bursting at the seams and, to top it off, I carry around an ever-growing stack of papers to and from work everyday.  Why?  God knows why (Maybe, it's insecurities from the time I ran out of toilet paper at a  park in my teens).  I never have time to go through the papers and documents at work and probably less time at home, but the pile keeps growing and keeps going with me everywhere I go!  I want to do away with unneeded junk and distractions (I'm a bit of a pack rat) and that includes getting rid of clothes that don't fit (although, if I plan on losing 50 lbs., I may have to reconsider this one), old shoes that are worn out, and papers and items that I don't need (my side of the room is a sore spot for my wife and me!).

6) And, finally, I want to watch less Mets, Heat and Redskins games (No, I don't really mean this one but wanted to see if my wife really reads my blogs!)

Let's be honest, I don't think any of these can compete with avoiding a Tyrannosaurus (Or staying alive!), so they should be within reach, if I apply myself and show a little will power.  In any case, I'll keep you posted as the year progresses.

What are your New Year's resolutions?...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What's Love Got to Do With It?...

Brings back memories...
In her 1984 classic song, Tina Turner asked, "What's love got to do with it?  What's love, but a second hand emotion?"

In all honesty, I wasn't much of a fan of the song but it came to mind lately, as I reflected on a good friend, whose nearly 20-year-marriage is coming to an end after his wife left a note stating, "I don't love you anymore," in contrast with my brother, who, following the footsteps of George Clooney, is finally taking the plunge into respectability, while still in his 40's and before needing Celebrex to keep his body in motion, announced he is getting married next year.

If you think about it, there's a profound truth and wisdom in the Turner song.  Whether the songwriters meant it as such or not, the truth is, as I said in the toast I made for my brother and his fiancĂ© on the night they made public their intentions to a group of family and friends, love is not a feeling (although, it can be).  It's an action; a choice.  Feelings can come and go, and anyone who's been married can attest there are days, where the feelings are stronger than others (i.e., a second hand emotion!).  But, a choice to love can last forever.

One of the most popular Bible verses at weddings is from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians,  "Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."  (1 Cor 13:4-7)

If you look around today, when more than forty percent of marriages end in divorce, and it goes up to sixty percent of second marriages and seventy percent of third time marriage (You see, the grass is not always greener!), not to mention, the children of divorced parents are more likely to end up divorced themselves, there is obviously a disconnect between the words of St. Paul and what couples at the altar are hearing, or, at least, living.

Let's face it, we live in a throwaway society that tells us, moreover, reinforces at every chance, that it's all about us; looking out for number one and finding personal happiness.  And, if something is broken or damaged, forget fixing it, throw it away and get a new one!  An entire generation of best-selling books bolstering this message can be found at any local book store.

Last Sunday, I was helping my good friend remove furniture from his house and into a new apartment he was forced to move into, just days before Christmas.  I'll be honest, it was a bit heart wrenching for me to see that house, where we had shared in so many laughs, good meals, good wine and memories, be left in shambles and disarray from the emptying of book cases, consoles, closets and furniture that kept two decades of mementos.  The remnants of a marriage coming to a bitter end and whose casualties are two teenage kids, who will now be forced to live bouncing from house to house to be with their parents.  I could only imagine what my friend was feeling as he moved out of the house, where he started a life with his wife and was raising his family. 

At one point, during a short lapse in work, I told another man who was helping, "I don't know about you but this really saddens me."

He shot back in a very pragmatic tone, "It's better that it happens now then finding himself unhappy ten years from now."

Really?  Is that what marriage has come down to?  I take you so-and-so for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part or until you stop making me happy!

With that mentality, it's no wonder why marriages are failing.  Resting one's happiness and fulfillment on another person or thing, is a sure recipe for disappointment and frustration, because no one can ever live up to those expectations, no matter how hard they may try (or not try in some cases!).  Happiness and fulfillment become as elusive as the Road Runner to Wile E. Coyote, unless our priorities are grounded correctly.

St. John Paul II once wrote that our lives, "which seem like so many other lives, are in fact caught up in a great drama of sin and redemption.  In that drama, human love will yield to 'the pressure of reality' and crumble unless it is completed and perfected in being conformed to a Love that is capable of fulfilling love's longing for absolute fulfillment." 

That is a transcendent love that can only come from God.  A marriage without God centering it, is always at risk to the pressures of society.

I think we, as a culture, with all the destination and "venue" weddings, have lost that sense of "till death do us part" because marriage has been devalued and relegated to a piece of paper; a contract (like a business partnership) in a civil ceremony rather than a covenant before God in a church or place of worship.  That's not to say that taking wedding vows in a church guarantees success, unless God is a prominent part of the marriage. 

Still, a contract can be dissolved for any just reason at any time, although in states with "no-fault" divorces, no reason, aside from "I'm not happy," is needed.

However, a covenant in ancient times was how a person, who was not a blood relative, became part of another family.  It was and is a commitment usually sworn before God, is sacramental, since it is self-offering and sacrificial, and meant to last forever. 

Last May, my parents celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary.  Fifty years!  Like an old Cuban grandmother would say, "Que Aguante!" or loosely translated, "What patience!"  Fifty years of good times and many happy memories, as well as, plenty of sacrifices and hardships.  No marriage can ever be measured by just the good times but how it overcomes the tough ones.

In my parents' case, like most couples, I'm sure there were many ups and downs in how they felt about each other at different times in their life but they never gave up.  They chose to love like St. Paul described it; a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.

I cannot thank them enough for their example of perseverance and true love, not just to one another but, just as importantly, to God and to their family; my brother and me, because marriage is not just about the couple but about the good of the family, and the good of society, if you want to take it a step deeper.

As St. John Paul II also stated, "Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family - a domestic church." And, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

A marriage is not easy.  It takes hard work, sacrifice and a will to endure.  I pray my parents serve to encourage my brother to choose to love through rough times, which are inevitable in any  matrimony.  Although, let's not get any illusions of grandeur.  For my brother to make it to his 50th Wedding Anniversary, it would mean he would have to live to nearly 100!  Yikes! 

After experiencing the somberness of having to move my good friend from his house earlier this week, I see how easily a failure to choose to love and putting God in the center of a marriage can lead to the lyrics of another '80's song, this one by Luther Vandross, "A room is a still a room, even when there's nothin' there but gloom.  But a room is not a house and a house is not a home, when the two of us are far apart and one of us has a broken heart."

May God bless my brother's marriage and heal my good friend's and his children's' broken hearts...


Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Day in the Life; Like Mike, Well Almost...

Real Gatorade or beer?
A popular Gatorade commercial in the 90's highlighted NBA legend Michael Jordan, as a catchy song played in the background, while images interlaced of Jordan and kids frolicking on a basketball court, that said, "Like Mike.  If I could be like Mike. I want to be like Mike."

Well, my seven-year-old son has never seen that commercial and doesn't even know who Michael Jordan is (Sad, isn't it?).  So, last weekend, he announced at a Hooter's restaurant, where we had gone to lunch so I could catch a little of the Redskins game (I know they suck but I still root for the sorry saps!), while my wife and daughters went for a quick stop at a beauty salon in the same mall, that he wanted to be... get this, not like Mike, but like Dad (aka, me!).  However, instead of having the moves and playing like arguably the greatest basketball player that ever lived, he was talking about drinking beer and whiskey!  No kidding, he said that. 

Of course, we all laughed but seconds later, the waitress shows up to take our drink orders and he orders a beer!  We all started laughing again but he wasn't kidding.  The waitress played along.  "What kind would you like?" she asked him.  He responded, "What kind do you have?" as if he had done this before!  She went on the say several beers and he answered, "I'll have a Corona Light."  He was serious!

In fact, about as serious as the time last week when he asked me for wine, as I was pouring a glass for myself at home, and gave it to him and saying, "This is for you."  He said with a surprised look on his face, "Really?" and took the wine glass, went to the living room and told his mom and sisters that Dad had given him wine, as he proceeded to take a small sip before I took it away from him.  He was like, "Why did you take it away?"  He really thought it was his.

In any case, going back to the Hooter's story, he was very disappointed when the waitress brought him lemonade and I said it was a Corona Extra Light.  He wasn't amused!

I may have to rethink the example I'm setting and, maybe even, have to have that man to man talk with him soon...


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Words of Wisdom from Fulton Sheen...

“There are 10,000 times 10,000 roads down which you may travel during life. But at the end of all of these roads, you will see one or the other of two faces: the merciful face of Christ or the miserable face of Satan.”

-- 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, December 9, 2014

Screwtape, Distraction and a Weekend with the Boys...

It is commonly suggested within Christian circles that the Devil will not attack humanity with horns, a pitchfork and flames burning within and around him (outside of Tim Curry in the Hollywood flop, Legend).  Instead, he attacks in the temptations we are prone to covet and in the subtleties and distractions that keep our focus away from God and on the mundane and quotidian. 

C.S. Lewis' fictional character Screwtape, the senior demon writing to his apprentice and nephew Wormwood, in The Screwtape Letters, got it right when he wrote, “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”  

Not to belabor the point, but, as I wrote in my last blog, the last few months have been a bit hectic for me, to say the least.  At times, I've felt like I've been treading water, just trying to keep my head afloat, with the day-to-day grind of work, the stress and anxieties that come with the demands of a rigorous work schedule, and, thus, the distractions that ensue.

In other words, my mind has been more preoccupied with the temporal, mundane and quotidian than the eternal.

Unfortunately, it couldn't have come at a less opportune time (Then again, it all depends on what side of the opportunity you're on!).

Several months ago, I was selected to lead a spiritual retreat to help bring men closer to God at my parish.  At about the same time, I took on a new role at work and, let's just say, work won!  I let my job consume me,  affecting, not only my spiritual life, but my home life in the process.

Yet, to be honest, I didn't see it until a few weeks ago, as we were fast approaching the retreat weekend and I was telling a good friend about how busy I had been and how difficult it was for me to concentrate on preparing the topics for discussion for the men and even praying. 

In 2009, when I led the same retreat, I was in a zone.  I was reading the Bible every morning, praying from almost the time I woke up until I went to bed (Not continuously, but in an open-ended conversation with God), going to Confession every two to three weeks, reflecting and giving thought to the meeting topics and partaking and receiving the Eucharist on a daily basis.

This time around, it was a challenge.

I was so absorbed with my job that, while I was praying every day, it was not as deep or with the same intensity as I was doing the first time around.  I wasn't reading scriptures on a daily basis.  I went extended periods, at times eight to ten weeks, without going to Confession, and aside from Sundays and Fridays (when I lector), I was finding it difficult to make it to daily Mass.  Moreover, there were many weeks (if not most!) when our meeting topics were decided on the morning of! 

It was a bit discouraging because I felt like I was failing the men, who entrusted me to lead the retreat. 

In any case, before I carried on about all the things that were happening at work, my feelings of dejection and hints of fear and anxiety that were enveloping me (And, to think, he was only calling to say he couldn't make it to an upcoming meeting and asked how I was doing!), my friend stopped me in my tracks and said, "Carlos, you know you are under attack, right?" 

Say, what? I thought.

"You're leading this retreat and the Devil knows it," he went on.  "Remember, when I led?  I had a fire and flood at my house!"  How could I forget?  Some of the guys joked that the locust and frogs weren't far behind! 

His words resonated within me.  It was like the heavens opened and the choir of angels sang.  I hadn't even realized it.  In fact, I was too engrossed to realize it!  It all suddenly made sense; the busyness, the stress and sleepless nights, the constant turmoil at work (and sometimes at home).  They were all distractions!  I was being led astray without even knowing it.

As C.S. Lewis' Screwtape would write, “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” 

Sin separates us from God, as another friend pointed out the first night of the retreat, and when we're not focused on God, it is easy to fall into sin.  We are sitting ducks to the temptations of life, just waiting to be shot down. Now, fortunately for us, there is no sin that is greater than God's love.

As I told a friend on the way to the retreat house, "It's amazing how every time I go to Confession; no matter what I do, no matter how many times repeat the same sins and no matter how I feel, the priest always forgives me!" (As long as I'm repentant!)

In a nutshell, that's the message we conveyed to the seventeen men that attended the retreat for the first time. 

It's the story of The Prodigal Son, who betrays his father by asking for his inheritance before his father's death, moves to a foreign land and blows it on a life of debauchery, only to find himself in a famine and working in pig slop.  He comes to his senses, repents and heads back home to ask for forgiveness.  If you think about it, it's the story of every one of us at one point or another.

His father, not only forgives him but, throws a huge celebration upon his return because, "This son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found."

After the conversation with my two-Egyptian-plagued friend, by the time the retreat came around, I was finally in that spiritual zone that had eluded me for months.  Our team of over twenty-five men came together, as we always do, and we had a wonderful weekend of bonding, camaraderie and goodwill.  In the full sense, it was a true demonstration of loving God through loving our neighbor.

Author and Boston College Professor, Peter Kreeft once wrote, “Our culture has filled our heads but emptied our hearts, stuffed our wallets but starved our wonder. It has fed our thirst for facts but not for meaning or mystery. It produces "nice" people, not heroes.”

While, most of the men on the team would balk at being called heroes, heroic is what they do every six months at the retreats.  With God's help, they have changed lives, including mine and most of the men who are involved year after year.  They have saved marriages and restored families. 

But, it all starts with each man, who at times, like me, may not be "feeling it" because of distractions, or, may even, be feeling the full weight of his own cross, but grinds it out and is obedient and faithful to God, in spite of it.

As Screwtape acknowledged, “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy (God)'s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”...

Monday, December 1, 2014

Busy, Busy, Busy but it Could be Worse!...

We live extremely busy lives.  In fact, too busy if you ask me!

In my case, the last several months have been a blur.  I was promoted to a new role at work, and while I'm still doing most of the things I was already doing, since July of last year, I've gotten more piled on my plate.  Let's just say, at times, I feel like Wonder Mike from The Sugarhill Gang's Rapper's Delight.  And, so I digress. 

In any case, in recent months, I've been busy planning and coordinating special stories for "sweeps," the TV ratings period in November.  I've been busy with staff scheduling, which is a bear of a task, especially heading into "sweeps," with reporters and photographers doing special assignments, everybody overworked and realizing if they don't use their sick days before the end of the year, they will lose them, and heading into vacation season.  I've been busy overseeing and contributing to our day-to-day editorial content.  I've been busy organizing and supervising special stories for a sales campaign that lasts until the beginning of the year.  I've been busy attending editorial meetings, scheduling meetings, promotions meetings, personnel meetings, budget meetings (by the way, did I mention meetings? Sometimes 5 in one day!), interviewing candidates for open positions, and, if that weren't enough, our news department is relocating to a new building next month and I have been busy with meetings about the move, coordinating the training schedules, and scheduling freelancers to fill in during the training.  Even when I get home at 7:30p or 8:00p at night, I am constantly checking emails and putting out fires.  It's been a bit hectic!

But wait, as the infomercials on TV say, that's not all!  In my spare time, I recently made a presentation for the adult catechesis class at my parish on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ (A monster topic, which required a lot of time and study) and I was preparing my men's group for a spiritual retreat and had to come up with weekly topics for discussion.

As a co-worker acutely pointed out one day, "You really like to take on a lot don't you?  I don't know how you do it!"  Well, to be fair, I don't know either!

I tell you, several times a week, I found myself awake at 5:00a, 4:30a or even 3:00a (And not just to go to the bathroom!), thinking about work and all the other things that needed to get done, which is a sure sign of anxiety; the antithesis to faith and trust in God.  It's been overwhelming.

It came to a point where, twice in the past month, I felt an uncomfortable pressure in my chest and had to go check it out.  Aside from my blood pressure shooting up to the stratosphere, it seems, the pressure was most likely stress related but I was referred to a cardiologist, just in case.   

Fortunately, sweeps are done and so is the retreat I was preparing for.  Now, I see a light at the end of the tunnel; only the tunnel is deep and dark and still requires some steady maneuvering through the myriad of goblins, sick days, a monumental move and Smaug the fire-breathing dragon.  Where's Bilbo Baggins and his magic ring when you need him?   

At the end of the day, as Igor says to Dr. Frankenstein, while digging up a grave, in one of my all-time favorite movie lines, in Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein, "It could be worse.  It could be raining." Of course, no sooner had he said that, than a monsoon comes over them.

Lord, give me strength!...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

And Thus Began Thanksgiving...

In the midst of the Civil War, in 1863, as the nation was enveloped in grief, division and despair, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving. 

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

And, thus began the tradition we know today as Thanksgiving, albeit, prior to this, each state had its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states.

Happy Thanksgiving...


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Day in the Life; Conversations with My Son...

On my way home from work one night this week, I call home and my seven-year-old son answers the phone.  After a short greeting, we have this exchange.
"What are you doing, buddy?"  
"Playing on the computer."
"Mommy let you play on the computer again?" I ask. 
"Mommy let's you play on the computer a lot doesn't she?"
"Yes.  She's a LETer."
"A what?"
"A LET-er," he said slowly.
I start laughing, "A LETer?  And, how about Daddy?  What am I?"
Without skipping a beat, he answers, "You're a Not-So-LETer!"
What more could I say?  I couldn't stop laughing all the way home...

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Rembrandt and the Hands of God the Father...


"The true center of Rembrandt's painting (Return of the Prodigal Son) is the hands of the father... gradually over the years, I have come to know those hands.  They have held me from the hour of my conception, they welcomed me at my birth, held me close to my mother's breast, fed me, and kept me warm.  They have protected me in times of danger and consoled me in times of grief.  They have waved me good-bye and always welcomed me back.  Those hands are God's hands.  They are also the hands of my parents, teachers, friends, healers, and all those whom God has given me to remind me how safely I am held."

From The Return of The Prodigal Son; A Story of Homecoming by Fr. Henri Nouwen. 

I love that description of God's merciful and loving hands.  Although, I didn't read the book until several years later, it reminds me of my prayer for my son before he was born.

It was shortly after my wife and I were told that his chances for surviving were not very good because of an injury my wife suffered after miscarrying our third child (we had two daughters at the time) and the post-miscarriage surgical procedure.  She was schedule to have an operation to heal the injuries but, that's when our son came into the picture; a pleasant and unexpected surprise!

I remember praying over and over for the Lord to take our son into His hands, protect him and let him be born healthy and safe and, despite several scary and tenuous moments, God answered our prayers.  Our son was born healthy and safe, albeit prematurely, over seven years ago.

The passage also reminds me how God works through people; people who come in and out of our lives from the time we are born, sometimes drawing little attention and becoming but fleeting thoughts in our memories, while others are constants, like family and friends.  God uses some of these people to show us His love, mercy and forgiveness along the way...

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fox's Baier on Faith, Family and a Special Heart...

Shock, anxiety, fear and confusion were only part of the whirlwind of emotions racing through Fox News anchor Bret Baier as he ran alongside doctors and nurses, holding his wife Amy's hand, while she was being rushed down the hallway on a gurney at the emergency room of the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC.

Seconds before, Amy had collapsed after an apparent nervous breakdown, combined with exhaustion, only hours after being told the couple's newborn son, Paulie, who was only a day old, needed emergency surgery immediately to correct several congenital heart defects, or he wouldn't make it past two weeks. 

It had been a wild turn of events for the Baiers, only a day removed from what the anchorman  describes as one of the happiest 24-hour periods in their lives.  They had just spent a blissful night as a new family.  They cuddled.  They caressed and kissed.  They held their baby in their arms and stared longingly at him and they dreamed.

He, like most fathers, was already envisioning his firstborn, a masculine child to boot, that would have made Godfather henchman Luca Brasi proud, play in the U.S. Open Golf Championship, sporting the winner's green jacket in the Masters Tournament or leading his NFL team to victory in the Super Bowl.

Instead, it had come to this; the emergency room of Children's National, where Paulie had been transported in a haste, his wife was having a meltdown, becoming the oldest patient in the hospital, his son's life hanging in the balance and all his fanciful dreams were caving in. 

And, it was there, at what appeared to be the low point in their life, amidst despair, with their world spinning out of control and feelings of helplessness overwhelming them, that Baier looked into his wife's eyes, after she was wheeled into a room and a curtain was drawn around them, and, through the tears, uncertainty and pain, they had a moment of clarity and began to pray.

And, it was there, at that moment, with tears rolling down their cheeks, fear wrapping every inch of their being, like a wet blanket, and as they held and try to comfort each other, that they made a pact; to be the parents their newborn son needed them to be; whether he was going to live or die.  They vowed to take each day at a time, love him unconditionally, never lose hope and trust in God to get them through it.

Seven years, three open heart surgeries, a stomach operation and seven angioplasties later, it appears their prayers were answered.  Paulie, who now wants to be called Paul, is healthy and doing fine; living the life of an average and active second grader.  The family expanded.  They now have another son, Daniel.  And, they have never felt closer to each other, to their faith and to God because of it.

Theirs is a story of perseverance through faith, love and hope, which became part of the title of Baier's book on the odyssey, Special Heart, A Journey of Faith, Hope, Courage and Love, of which he is donating all the proceeds to various non-profit pediatric heart causes.

After reading the book, I had a chance to interview the veteran TV journalist, and anchor of Fox's Special Report for the past five years, about the ordeal, his family and his faith.  And, it was in asking him to describe his faith growing up where I started.

"It was important to my family.  I went to Catholic school all my life; St. Jude's for elementary and then Marist (High) School in Atlanta... My faith was part of growing up.  I was an altar boy and my family was a family that went to church every Sunday... In college, I kind of drifted away and immediately after college, as I bounced around in small market TV, I'll be honest, I was a part-time Catholic.  I went to church and to Mass with my family, but it was not a priority."

One of the marking points of Baier's life growing up was the separation and eventual divorce of his parents and the consequent estrangement from his father.  I asked how this may have affected him and his faith.

"It was tough.  It was really difficult.  You know, there were trust issues and I didn't talk to him (father) for a long time.  And, that, I'm sure affected my faith.  Growing up it (faith) was kind of a family thing and when my parents got divorced, or annulled, it affected that unit and it was tough for my brother (as well)... But, we reconciled with my marriage to Amy.  He came to the wedding and then began a process of reconciliation.  And, it was after the birth of our son and then 2nd son, that it was important that he know our family.  And, we established a relationship and have done so since."

I questioned whether becoming a parent made faith more important to him.

"It's like a compass.  It seems to put you on the right direction.  Even if you're not over the top into it every day; going to Mass every day, but you at least go every week and you go to Confession every once in a while, it's something that feels like home.  It feels like when I grew up.  And, so I think, trying to instill that with my family is something that I am trying to do."   

Then we got into that day, June 30, 2007, when a nurse, who was filling in for the regular shift nurse, who was forced to leave due to health issues, noticed Paulie's color wasn't right.  She took him in to run some tests, thinking it might be a bacterial infection, but called a cardiologist to take a look at him to be safe.

It just so happens that the doctor on call, was the head of the cardiology department at Children's National nearby, who was driving by on the way to another call.  After checking Paulie and finding five congenital heart defects, he went into the Baier's room and told them, "You're baby has heart disease... Paulie's heart is built wrong... If your son doesn't have surgery within the next two weeks, he's not going to make it."      

"As you know, it's the highest of highs, especially for your first child.  And, to go through the birthing process with your wife and see this human that you form... it's just... you know, you can't really put words to it.  And, it will draw tears even from the biggest tough guy there is...  So, we had this blissful 24-hours with Paul in the hospital... So, it was sort of like a nuclear bomb of emotions; from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.  And, my first instinct was really anger.  Who are you to say this?... I want another opinion.  Why didn't I know this up until now?  He had been given a clean bill of health. And, it was all happening very quickly.  But, at the same time, it was like time stood still, which is why I describe it as a nuclear bomb... And, then came the sorrow; why is this happening to us?  Why did God let this happen to us?  And, the pity; why should we have to deal with this?"

Shortly afterwards, emergency medics arrived and Paulie was hooked up to all sorts of IV's, wires and monitors and transferred via ambulance to Children National's cardiac center.  Baier and his father-in-law followed in a car and not long after, Amy showed up at the hospital as well, but that is when it all hit her.  She collapsed and had to be rushed to the emergency room.  And, that was when they broke down and prayed.

"And, that's I think, you know, from growing up.  That was the instinct I had; to say a prayer... And, I think she had the same thing.  And, after that, we somehow had this idea, this strength, that we needed to be the parents that Paul needed us to be... That we needed to create this environment that was positive; that was looking to the future; that we were going to rely on God and family and trust in the doctors.  And, we had this mantra at the end of every day, 'We're one day closer to getting Paul home,' and that became kind of our blueprint."

Still, there were many long days and nights ahead.  To pass the time, as they waited for a highly skilled surgeon to return from a foreign trip to perform the surgery on Paulie, the Baiers often found themselves praying in the hospital chapel; sometimes as a couple, sometimes individually.  There was a Bible on a stand in the room and Baier writes that he often opened it and played Bible bingo, in hopes of finding encouragement and solace.  One time, the Bible was already opened and someone had marked Hebrews 11 verse 1: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen."  The words moved him because, he felt, that was what he and Amy were clinging to.

"You know, everybody has something; something that's in their life that they have to deal with.  Obviously, there's different levels of something but there's always something.  And, how you get through that something, I think really defines you and we relied heavily on prayer.  And, we believe that that is a big part of why we were successful with Paul.  And, that power of prayer lifted us up and enabled us to have that thought; the light at the end of the tunnel, was going to be possible."

One of the first things they decided to do was to get Paulie Baptized as soon as possible.  And, four days after being born, in the cardiac unit of the hospital, family and friends huddled around for the sacrament.

"From that point, when Amy was in the emergency room, I think it really jump started that want and need to have that rekindled relationship; even supercharged relationship with God.  So it was really important that we get Paul baptized in the hospital; not only because, one, we didn't know, frankly, whether he was going to make it and we wanted him to be a part of our faith; a window into the Church, as Catholics look at it.  But, two, we wanted him, as I wrote in the book, on God's scoreboard; not that God wasn't looking over him but it was important for us to have that ceremony; to acknowledge everything that we had been talking about in our prayers privately." 

They found a priest from Kenya, who was at the hospital visiting patients, got a special "dispensation" from the head nurse in the unit, closed the curtains around Paulie's basinet and extended the wires and tubes so that Amy could hold him.

"With our family around us and tears flowing, it might have well have been at St. Peter's Basilica because it was just beautiful.  We all said our prayers that came from the heart and then we did the traditional baptism."

Prayers were a big part of what carried them through this trial in life.  They were getting prayers from around the country.

"I sent out these emails, and they were really the genesis of the book, to family and friends and they would be sharing those emails with other family and friends and, literally, it became viral in the email chains.  And, I would be getting a three-bank shot relationship from somebody emailing me with a prayer... And, a Southern Baptist Pastor, who watched the show, heard about this and he emailed and sent beautiful prayers that I read to Amy... And, these prayers lifted us up.  You can't really describe it but, this feeling of walking on a different plateau; a different place because you knew all these people were praying for you.  And, we felt it.... We suddenly believed that Paul was going to make it.  We suddenly had strength to get through the day.  You know, we were exhausted but it was, I don't know, empowering."

The Southern Baptist Pastor had his congregation pray for them.  They got prayers from family, friends, colleagues, even from President George W. Bush, in fact, he writes about missing the President's call one time.  They got prayers from a priest at the Vatican and from former White House Press Secretary and friend Tony Snow, who later lost his battle with cancer.

"Tony was one of the first people who emailed and sent prayers up in his email when I sent out the first email about Paul.  And, little did I know, at the time, he was going through his own difficult situation in chemotherapy.  And, after Paul's surgery, he welcomed me back to the White House.  I was the Chief White House Correspondent at the time and it was really heart felt and he was the one that set up the relationship with President Bush... and inviting us to his office before Paul's second open heart surgery because President Bush wanted to meet him... But, the fact that he, in the middle of his own trials and tribulations, was reaching out to me and to us meant a lot and his passing hit hard.  I think it gave (me) this sense that you affect your life by how you handle yourself."

I inquired how he balances his busy career with family and faith and what a typical day is like for him.

"My time with my kids is in the morning usually.  So, we do breakfast and that sort of thing; get them going for whatever they're doing; summer camp or school.  I usually have some radio interviews with stations around the country after that.  I squeeze in a workout there and I'm in the office by 9:30a or 10 o'clock.  My day is busy, packed and we have the show from 6 to 7.  I have a kind of post-mortem.  I do emails and social media a little bit and then get home at about 8:00pm... Daniel is usually in bed.  But, I usually am able to put Paul to bed and that's a big deal because we, every night, pray and he now leads the prayers.  And, since he's been able to, he's taken that over and, every night, he prays for other kids at the hospital who are facing surgery the next day... As far as my faith, I go to a local parish, Little Flower in Bethesda, the pastor is a good friend and a really great spiritual advisor... and he's a big proponent of Confession.  So, I never used to do it, but I'm meeting with him at least once every two weeks and we have Confession and then we talk.  And, then, we try to go every Sunday to Mass and, if we're traveling, I try to go online and find a church that's nearby."

I asked what he prays for.

"I often pray for strength, for our family and to get through the hurdles of whatever lies ahead.  And, for Paul; that his heart is healed and that we can live a normal life with the family.  We've been trying to focus on that in between these events (surgeries and angioplasties) and he's probably due for another angioplasty in about a year and another open heart surgery probably when he's, hopefully, 14 or 15, and hopefully that's the last one.  I try to pray for happiness and peace in those times between hurdles.

In the book,  Baier writes that he knows God saved Paulie's life because He has a plan for him.  I asked what he thought that plan was.

"I don't know what it is but I know it's something special because he's already changing lives and has changed lives.  I felt compelled to write this book and speak about it and we've raised a lot of money for Children's National Medical Center and for other pediatric heart research and treatment centers around the country... So, he's already impacted, I think, a lot of people.  I think he has amazing things left to do in his life and there is a purpose.  It's just what I believe and what I've told him and I think there's a blueprint some place."

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

Without a doubt, in the Baiers' case, it's not only the measure of a man, but of a woman and a little boy, who, amidst their challenge and inconvenience, decided to embrace it and stand faithfully with God...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Priest Dance-Off a You Tube Sensation...

A pair of American priests have become a You Tube sensation, after their tap/Irish dance-off in Rome, earlier this year was captured on video and posted by EWTN's Joan Lewis.  

Rev. David Rider, 29, of Hyde Park, New York, and Rev. John Gibson, 28, of Milwaukee, were in seminary, studying to become priests at the time, and took the stage to entertain the crowd at a fundraising dinner for the North American College, an American seminary, just a stone's throw away from the Vatican.

The video has gone viral and gotten over 700 thousand views.

Fr. Rider, who is now a priest with the Archdiocese of New York and was featured in a Catholic News Agency story several years ago, see story below, started dancing at the age of two and once toured professionally with the Broadway show 42nd Street.  He says he was inspired to become a priest, after some discernment, while watching the funeral of St. John Paul II, who chose the priesthood over his passion for acting.

When he realized the millions of people that were affected by the late Pope's decision, he decided to trade in his dancing shoes for a Roman collar.  He has never looked back since.

Meanwhile, Fr. John Gibson, who was ordained in Milwaukee last May, was a former dancer with the Cashel Dennehy School of Irish Dance and started dancing at the age of 12. 

As expected, not all the comments on You Tube have been favorable but Fr. Rider answers, "We would just refer them to the Bible, where the Lord tells us to live with joy."

"I don't dance as much as I use to.  It's not possible in this vocation.  But, when I dance, I say, the biggest difference is that I dance with a different intention.  I no longer dance for myself, or even for the joy of dancing, but I dance with the desire to bring forward the Kingdom of God.  Because, now when I go, I go in a collar."

St. Catherine of Siena once said, "If you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze."  With or without their dancing shoes, that is what both priests intend to do...

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Hallucination that Keeps on Giving...

The empty tomb...
Former Atheist turned Christian, Lee Strobel, of A Case for Christ fame, wrote that people may be willing to die for something they believe is true, if they truly believe it to be, but people are not willing to die for something they know is a lie, even if they want to believe it's true.  

He was referring, of course, to the Apostles.  The men who ran for cover when Jesus was arrested and cowered behind closed doors for days, thinking they were next. 

Then, all of a sudden, from one day to the next, without having gone to see the Great Oz in the Emerald City, like the cowardly lion, they came out from the shadows and boldly and courageously proclaimed the Risen Lord, despite persecution, despite threats, despite being tortured, despite being thrown in jail and despite most of them, except for St. John, the beloved disciple, dying for what they proclaimed.

In fact, they began to promulgate that Christ had risen from the dead in the same place where it all had happened; Jerusalem, where hundreds of eye witnesses had seen Jesus be crucified, die and be buried and could easily dispel their claims as a hoax.  

In other words, if I were making up a story, would I start it where it could easily be challenged?  Or, would it make more sense to go to some far away and obscure township, where nobody knew or saw anything and I could make up a fantasy without having it contested?

And yet, thousands were converted and Christianity spread like wildfire.  And, within three hundred years of the Crucifixion, those cowardly and mostly uneducated men, and their successors after them, had converted the entire Roman Empire, not by the sword as Islam did when it conquered a region, but in spite of it. 

In one of my favorite "go-to" books on the faith, Catholic Christianity, author Peter Kreeft (Who is a Philosophy and Theology Professor at Boston College, a Catholic convert and one of the most prolific Christian writers of our time), writes, "Liars do not suffer and die for a lie as they did; nothing proves sincerity like martyrdom.  And if they were deceived rather than deceivers, they must have been hallucinating or projecting their subjective faith into objective reality. But they had touched the risen Christ.  He had eaten food.  He had had long conversations with many men at the same time.  He had been seen by all who were present, not just some.  No hallucination in history ever behaved like this.... And no hallucination ever had such power to transform lives and to give love, joy, peace, hope, and meaning to millions of men for thousands of years.  For the sake of this "hallucination" saints joyfully endured tortures, persecutions, crucifixions, and martyrdoms.  This "hallucination" changed soft, cowardly hearts into hard, courageous ones and converted the hard, cruel Roman Empire to a religion of unselfish love..."

Kreeft goes on to quote St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote, "In this faith there are truths preached which surpass every human intellect; the pleasures of the flesh are curbed; it is taught that the things of the world should be spurned.  Now for the minds of mortal men to assent to these things is the greatest of miracles... For it would be truly more wonderful than all miracles if the world had been led by simple and lowly men to believe such lofty truths, to accomplish such difficult actions and to have such high hopes."

A Pharisee in the Acts of the Apostles may have said it best when he told the Jewish Council after the Apostles were arrested and brought before them, "Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men... because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.  In that case, you may even be found fighting against God."  (Acts 5:35, 39) 

For me, it all comes down to the empty tomb.  They discovered the empty tomb, of which Fulton Sheen eloquently noted, "In the history of the world, only one tomb has ever had a rock rolled before it, and a soldier guard set to watch it to prevent the dead man within from rising... What spectacle could be more ridiculous than armed soldiers keeping their eyes on a corpse?" and they encountered the Risen Lord. 

Their "hallucination" was a reality, that even doubting Thomas had to admit was true.  A reality that they were willing to sacrifice their lives for and now, two thousand years later, despite constant attempts to dispel it, is still burgeoning and being proclaimed throughout the world...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Christian Cheer Over Wings and Beers...

A little taste of heaven...
"Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, there's always laughter and good red wine."  -- Hilaire Belloc.

I have a great group of friends.  We don't always agree on everything.  We may even have different approaches to faith, life and politics.  But, what binds us, most of all, is our sincere love of God, family and, for the most part, one another.

Over the past eight years, some of my closest friends are the guys in my men's church group.  We have become a tight-knit community that share in each other's personal lives; spending time socially with our families, as well as time serving God through our ministry and encouraging, supporting and guiding one another through difficulties.

We joke, we laugh, we even shed a few tears from time to time (me more than others) and we earnestly enjoy each other's company; usually centered around meals, wine and spirits, conversation and an occasional cigar.

Now, some Christian groups might frown upon our mixing of faith and spirits (in the alcoholic sense of the word) because they see the body as the temple of God and are against anything that may defile the body; i.e. liquor.  Fortunately for us, Catholics are not one of them!

That's not to say that the Church promotes drunkenness or overindulgence, and we all walk a fine line between social drinking and going over the edge, but, the way I look at it, God gave us physical pleasures for our enjoyment out of love, and, so, who are we to reject that love, as long as we don't distort it's intent and purposes, where we lose dominion of our senses, end up praying to the porcelain god and can't recall what we did the next morning (not that I know from personal experience!).  Therefore, sharing a few laughs with friends and with some cocktails in hand is definitely within limits!

Let's just say, my friends and I take to heart the advice of St. Paul, who, when writing to Timothy, encourages, "No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments."  Since, most of us are in our 40's and 50's, where getting out of bed to go to the bathroom in the morning is sometimes painful, boy, do we all have ailments!

One of my favorite quotes by Archbishop Fulton Sheen is a reference to Jesus at the Wedding at Cana.  He said, "You've got to love a guy, whose first miracle was to keep the party going."

Partying, celebrating and merriness are part of the Christian identity from the beginning.  In fact, for Jesus, meals, wine and good cheer were part of the human condition and served as a powerful bond among friends; think Last Supper! 

In the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord himself admonishes the Pharisees for their criticism, "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'" (Matt 11:19)

Moreover, not only did He take an occasional drink, He appeared to be a connoisseur.  He knew the difference between good and bad wine, "no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good.'" (Luke 5:39)   

In any case, Jesus is a man's man and, while wine was the drink of choice during His time on earth, I'm sure he would enjoy a good brew if he were walking around today (Maybe, like the Most Interesting Man in the World; a Dos Equis or two), as my friends and I do at our favorite watering hole every week after our meetings. (The owner reserves a table for us!)

It is there over beers, burgers and chicken wings (and an occasional lentil soup, since one friend is usually dieting) that we bond and share in friendly banter on sports, politics, life and family.  It is there, however, that we also sometimes share in the most intimate and profound conversations on faith or personal struggles; marriages on the rocks, children who have gone astray, and fears and temptations that appear to consume. 

Christianity is not always rosy; it wasn't meant to be.  Suffering, pain and loss are part of the equation.  Jesus came to teach us about suffering; the ultimate gift of one who loves ("Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.").  Maybe, that's why God gave us wine.

As the great GK Chesterton once put it, "In Catholicism, the pint, the pipe and the Cross can all fit together."  And, to my friends and I, they clearly do...   

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Self-Rejection and the Truth of Our Existence...

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, 'Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.'... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned.  Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the 'Beloved.'  Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence." 

-- Fr. Henri Nouwen, internationally renowned priest, college professor and author, who wrote 40 books on the spiritual life, including one of my favorites, The Return of The Prodigal Son; A Story of Homecoming, and taught at the University of Notre Dame and the Divinity Schools of Yale and Harvard. 

The Dutch-born clergyman and scholar was heavily influenced by hospital chaplain and educator Anton Boisen, Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton, Dutch impressionist artist Vincent van Gough and philosopher, theologian and humanitarian Jean Vanier.

During the 70's, Nouwen lived and worked with the Trappist monks in the Abbey of the Genessee in New York.  In the early 80's, he lived with the poor in Peru and Bolivia.  He went on to work with mental and physically handicapped people in France and Canada before his death in 1996.

His books have sold over 7 million copies and have been published in over 30 languages.  Since his death, his popularity has increased among readers, teachers and seekers...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy and Manly Time with My Son...

It's funny, after having two daughters, I thought for sure our next child was going to be a girl.  I have three friends that have three daughters and I thought I was also destined for what Cubans call, "chancletero" status (a term which a translation could do no justice!).

Still, in all honesty, I always wanted a son.  I was hopeful my first child would be a son, so he could take care of his sisters.  Then, I was hopeful our second would be a son, so he would have his older sister's friends to chase after.  Then I was hoping it would be my third, which my oldest daughter started calling her baby brother but, unfortunately, my wife lost during her eleventh week of pregnancy.  By the time, my wife conceived our fourth, I had accepted that my destiny would be to raise girls and, in sincerity, I was happy as a clam with the prospects.

Then, my son was born.  He was unexpected and a welcomed gift from God.  I envisioned him playing Major League Baseball, growing up to be strong, just and responsible, and, of course, courageously standing up for righteousness and defending the meek.  In other words, like many fathers, I envisioned my son of becoming a superhero; a guardian of the galaxy. 

But then came the first hiccup in my vision; potty training!

We didn't know what to do.  Let's face it, a girl you sit on the toilet when she has to go.  What were we supposed to do with our boy?  How was I going to teach him to stand in front of the toilet, point and release?  It was so easy in the pamper!  He didn't want to learn.  And, when he finally did start going into the toilet, it was like we needed a raincoat and rubber boots to keep dry from his wild and out-of-control spraying (not that I'm suggesting his mini cap gun had any resemblance to a fire hose but you get my drift).  I was perplexed and thus began my novice adventure into raising a son.

Several years into the adventure (He is now seven), and although he is still mastering his aim in the bathroom, I'm learning about as much from him about love, nobleness, humility and the innocent faith of a child, as I am teaching him.  

A few weeks ago, on a random Saturday, my wife and daughters had a busy itinerary planned with dance practice, Zumba class (my wife's a teacher) and then appointments at a beauty parlor to get dolled up for the beginning of the school year.  So, I got to spend a little quality time with my boy or, as he acutely referred to it recently, he was spending time with "the big guy." (which, believe it or not, he meant affectionately in reference to my girth!)

The plan was for the girls to do what they had to do and the boys do our thing and then we would meet at home to get ready for the Vigil Mass at five, where I was scheduled to be a lector.

We all got off to an early start.  Shortly after my wife and the girls left for dance, my son asked if we could go watch the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, which I had no particular interest in watching but I told him if we did a couple of things that we needed to do in the morning, I would take him to the movie at twelve thirty.  He agreed.

Time for a hair cut...
The first stop was at the barber shop for his pre-beginning-of-school haircut.  It's a routine he and I started a couple of years ago, since we have been letting his hair grow over the summer.  During the school year, the school makes him keep it short!  

I took him to a barber shop I go to regularly that is less than 5 minutes from our house, is cheap and you're in an out in about 15 minutes (because there's usually more barbers than customers!).

I like to help the owners out, despite their little Santeria altar dedicated to St. Barbara (aka Chango) in a back corner of the shop, because it's a group of young Cuban refugees, all pretty recent arrivals, who are trying to make it on their own.  Still, in all honesty, I don't think the quality is that great.  In fact, I don't even think most of them know how to handle scissors (which is not a skill deficiency a barber should have!).  They do most of their hair cuts using an electric sheerer.

For me, it's not a big deal because I keep my hair short and tight to the scalp but my wife doesn't like it when I cut our son's hair too short.  So, I immediately had second thoughts as we walked into the place and the youngest guy in the back of the place with the pimples and peach fuzz (not even one of the regular guys I have gone to), jumped out of his chair and said, "Come this way," as he brushed some hair off his chair with a towel (It's one of those places where the barbers take turns so they all get their fair share of customers).  Well, it went downhill from there. 

Sensing he was not exactly the LeBron James of the barber shop world, I told him to just trim a little off the top, cut his bangs off his eyes and even out the rest.  A simple request right?  What could go wrong?  I figured, if it wasn't great, I could take him for another haircut in a few weeks!

Well, about five minutes into the haircut, I noticed he had sheered a beautiful 45 degree line of hair from the immediate top of my son's right eye up to the middle of his forehead over his left eye.  I pointed out the obvious discrepancy and he said he would fix it.  The rest of the haircut was a blur.  He would sheer one side, then sheer the other, then go back to the first side to try to make it even.  It was a disaster. 

He kept saying my son was moving and I would look at my son, who was as stoic as a renaissance sculpture, and trying to give the barber the benefit of the doubt, I would tell him, "Don't move, Buddy." And, he would answer in earnest, "I'm not moving!"

At the end of the exercise in futility, which left my son looking like a punk rocker, who after a night of binge drinking with his buddies, woke up half asleep and still drunk in the middle of the night and attempted to cut his own hair, the barber tried to cover up the evidence by slathering gel on my son's head.  By that point, I just wanted to get my son out and hope it would grow back fast!

It wasn't exactly the best way to start our father son day, but fortunately, my son couldn't tell.  He was as happy as Sylvester the Cat after having swallowed Tweety Bird and I wasn't about to spoil his fun!

"Can we go see Guardians of the Galaxy now?" he asked.

"Not yet," I told him.  "The movie doesn't start for several hours.  First I have to go to Confession."

"Oh, no!," he complained.  "That's boring."  Now, everything that doesn't involve him playing or being entertained is "boring."

"If you want to go to the movie, you have to go with me to Confession." What was he going to do?

We stopped for a quick breakfast at a nearby bakery and when we got to the church, there was already a line of people waiting for Confession.  I told him to sit down in one of the pews and he started playing with several toy figures that he put in his pocket before leaving the house.

It took about 40 minutes and, while it crossed my mind to confess the bad haircut given to my son that morning (which definitely was a sin, albeit maybe not mine, depending on how you look at it!), we were finally heading to the movies.

Don't mess with Rocket...
It was a 12:30pm showing but what I didn't notice was that it was 3-D.  I'll be honest, I had never watched a 3-D movie; mostly because of the price tag involved, since it is usually five of us.  But, because the next regular showing would end about an hour later, which would complicate our plans for Mass, and since it was just the two of us, I splurged.

It was a great decision.  The movie was great.  I enjoyed it tremendously.  It was funny.  It was exciting.  It had a great soundtrack; targeting the older generation that would be taking our kids.  And, the fact that I went in with low expectations only enhanced my appreciation for the film. 

Moreover, it was a well told story of good versus evil.  A ragtag gang of misfits who band together for a greater good and are willing to sacrifice their lives, despite the overwhelming odds, to save the galaxy.  It's the tried and tested formula of Lords of the Ring, Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars and many other films but what made Guardians, very enjoyable for me, aside from the 3-D quality, is that it didn't take itself too seriously.

As we walked out of the theatre and headed towards our car in the parking lot, talking about the movie, my son turns to me and says, "Daddy, we're spending manly time together."

"Yes, we are," I told him but the comment didn't hit me until later that night.

We went home to get ready Mass and wait for the girls.

To make a long story short, the girls couldn't make it in time so I went with him and, since it was a Saturday vigil Mass, and we got to the church early because I was reading, I couldn't find anyone to leave him with so I took him to the first pew in the church and told him to sit there.

It was amazing.  The entire Mass I kept looking at him and he was sitting there quietly.  He sat when he had to sit, kneeled when he had to kneel and stood when he had to stand; all by himself without anyone to tell him.

After Mass, I couldn't be prouder.  We went home, met up with the girls and went to dinner.

Just kicking back on "the big guy"... 
As I recapped the day, later that night before going to sleep; I thought, we had gone to get a bad haircut, he had gone with me to Confession, we watched a movie and attended Mass together.  It was a wonderful day.  I then reflected on my son's comments.  We really had spent "manly time," because a true man is a man of faith, a man of love, a man of sacrifice.

A couple of days later, while watching him go to the bathroom in the morning, I thought; aside from teaching him to point correctly, what kind of legacy of truly important lessons was I leaving for my son? Was I teaching him the importance of faith, integrity and honor, to respect women and authority (not to be confused as one and the same although, sometimes at my house, it's hard to tell), to love his mother, sisters and country, to take responsibilities for his actions, help others, provide for the less fortunate and never be afraid to stand up for truth and righteousness, even, like the Guardians of the Galaxy, in the face of danger?

A few days later, the question was still lingering in my mind and I asked a group of friends, what kind of men they wanted to raise their sons be.  And, one friend, who has two girls responded, "What kind of son should you raise?  You know since you have two girls yourself, raise him to be the type of son that I can trust with my daughters."  And, that in a nutshell is probably the best answer.

And, in a culture that tries to emasculate men by making them more like women and women more like men, that is probably the best any father of a son can hope and pray for.

The fight of good and evil starts in the mundane; the daily battles within against sin and complacency.  We must fight the good fight of faith, as St. Paul urges, and take hold of the eternal life which we have been called. (1 Tim 6:12)

In the words of Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, "So here we are a thief, two thugs, an assassin and a maniac but we're not going to stand by as evil wipes out the galaxy."...

Friday, August 29, 2014

From Atheist Blogger to Catholic Evangelist...

Leah Libresco
In his classic book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, who once set out to disprove Christianity, stated, "Now that I am a Christian I do not have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable."

And, thus is the internal conflict that a lot of Atheists face on a daily basis.  It's the tension of being confronted with a reality that goes far beyond the explainable, according to the scientific method, and cuts to the deepest core of the human heart.

As former Protestant Minister turned Catholic, Ken Hensley describes it; it's like the struggle of a young boy trying to keep a beach ball submerged under water in a pool.  The ball, like the truth, always wants to pop up. 

Yet, for many, it's as St. Thomas Aquinas once stated, "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible."  Of course, this recalcitrant denial is usually rooted in pride.

It's hard to deny everything you believe, or fail to believe; just ask former pagan St. Augustine of Hippo, who once wrote, "God make me chaste, but not yet," or once Atheist St. Edith Stein, or one time Anglican Bl. John "Cardinal" Newman.  There are consequences to conversion. 

It takes humility, or as St. Paul puts it, a willingness to "die" to self.  It takes a sincere desire for truth, regardless of where it may lead.  And, it takes courage, since often it flies in the face of friends, family and sometimes even careers.

Before the so-called "New Atheists" or the self identified "Four Horsemen," comprised of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and, since deceased, Christopher Hitchens, who set out to eradicate God from society, through an aggressive campaign of books, articles, movies, lectures and public appearances, not to mention, billboards and bus ads, there was Anthony Flew.

Flew was the "pope," you might say, of modern atheism.  He was a philosopher and scholar at Oxford, Aberdeen, and several other universities.  He wrote dozens of books and articles, arguing vehemently, loudly and unabashedly against the existence of God (Unless, he would say, empirical evidence for God would surface).  Well, it turns out, Flew was a sincere searcher and his last book was titled, There is a God, which despite the outcry from atheists questioning his lucidity at 84, was affirmed several times by Flew himself and a series of letters he exchanged, and were later published, with a Christian apologist on his newfound belief in God before his death. 

All that is to lead to the story of Leah Libresco.  Several years ago, the well known Atheist blogger shocked the blogosphere with her announcement that she had converted to Catholicism.  Let's just say, in Atheists' circles, it couldn't get any worse!  (I could almost hear the words of the legendary kid who found out White Sox star Shoeless Joe Jackson was involved in the fix to throw the 1918 World Series, who said, "Say it isn't so, Joe.  Say it isn't so.")

Libresco grew up in a non-religious household with college professor parents and in an environment that was totally isolated and void of any religion.

In fact, it wasn’t until she joined the Yale philosophical and political debating society that she  realized that all Christians were not fundamentalists who believed in Creationism. 

While in college, she started dating a Catholic man and made a playful deal that she would go to Mass with him every week, if he, in turn, would go to ballroom dancing with her.  They also agreed to exchange books on religion. 

The relationship eventually ended but, by then, she started blogging, became a regular contributor to, and continued debating with her readers about religion; mostly about Christianity versus Atheism.

Like C.S. Lewis, she struggled with rejecting Christianity in its entirety and accepting Atheism as a philosophical truth.  She says, she started seeing Christianity, "a lot more plausible but not necessarily true... I thought of myself an Atheist, while I thought it was coherent, but false also."

Her belief in an objective morality proved critical.  She argues that just as mathematical rules existed before humanity, and were discovered, the rules on right from wrong, good and evil and just and unjust also existed before us.

"(Christianity had) more explanatory power to explain something I was really sure of.  I'm really sure that morality is objective, human independent; something we uncover like archeology not something we build like architects."

That breakthrough led her to explore Christianity deeper and eventually led her into the Catholic Church in 2012. 

In other words, she humbled herself or, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, "I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."  Only Libresco lives in the U.S.!

Check out an interview she did with CNN after her conversion.