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Friday, July 25, 2014

Jesse Romero: Fighting for Souls...

A right cross to the chin...
Jesse Romero is a fighter.

He was raised in the tough, and often violent, streets near Los Angeles, where yellow police tape and crime were part of the daily landscape.  He was an undefeated amateur mixed martial arts competitor and boxer with over 60 matches under his belt, and he served as an LA Sheriff Deputy, arresting thugs and gang members for over 15 years.  And now, he's fighting for souls.

The first-generation Mexican-American Catholic speaker, apologist and radio host, whose passion, zeal and enthusiasm for the faith would rival the most fervent in-your-face televangelist you might see on the Christian Broadcasting Network or Trinity Broadcasting (Come to think of it, he reminds me of the old Robert Conrad Eveready commercial, where he put a battery on his shoulder and said, "Go ahead.  I dare you to knock it off," and you wouldn't even want to try), is on a crusade to energize and inspire Catholics, former Catholics and other Christians to know and love God, the Bible and the Church that Christ founded upon Peter the Rock.

His enthusiasm is so contagious and moving that several years ago, while listening to the first CD of his I heard, called Church Beliefs, I remember wanting to jump up, like the theater audience at the original Rocky movie, and start yelling, "Get 'em, Jesse!"

In any case, this is from a man who readily admits that, while culturally Catholic in his upbringing and having attended Catholic school, he was a secular humanist, who thought Catholicism was a religion for women and who considered martial arts his pseudo-religion growing up.

"Fighting was my life," he says. "I simply loved the thrill of competition and contact sports."

He had a conversion experience in his mid 20's, several years after getting married and starting his law enforcement career, at the prompting of an evangelical Christian officer, who challenged his faith, and a parish priest.

He was also deeply influenced, at around the same time, by his parents' "reversion" after attending a Cursillo retreat to help their marriage and his father's subsequent abrupt turn from alcohol and to his faith (Up until that point, Romero says his dad, who was a construction worker, and his mom, who cleaned houses, were un-engaged Catholics, who didn't practice their faith much, outside of going through the motions).

Romero has been on a mission to save the world ever since and, after a hip injury forced him into early retirement as a police officer (at the age of 37), he went back to school and got a Bachelor's Degree and then a Masters Degree in Catholic Theology from Franciscan University in Steubenville.

Several months ago, I had a chance to listen to him speak in person at a Catholic men's conference at St. Mark's in Southwest Ranches.

In one of his talks, on the battle of David and Goliath, he was discussing courage and told a poignant story of his childhood that may have shaped the man he is today.

All cleaned up...
He said that one Sunday when he was about seven or eight, after his family had gone to Mass, and as customary for them, gone to lunch at a local restaurant, they were walking to their car through a back alley and they came across a man trying to rape a woman in another car.

He says the woman was screaming hysterically and, although people must have heard her calls for help, nobody seemed to want to get involved.

It was a violent and terrifying scene for any child to witness but what left a profound impression on him, even at his young age, was watching his father take off his shirt, tell his mother to take him and his four siblings to safety and to call police and then go into the car to take the bigger and muscular man off of the woman, as punches flew, and restrained him until police arrived.

He pointed out that the Bibles states "Do not be afraid" (St. John Paul II's motto) over 360 times and, paraphrasing Shakespeare's Julius Cesar, said, "A coward dies a thousand deaths but a man of courage dies but once."

That example of mettle and standing up for the victimized by his father may have planted a seed in Romero to take up martial arts in his teens (Although, he would say watching Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon played a role as well!) and later to become a law enforcer and defender of the weak and marginalized.

During one of the discussions, he also said something that really struck me.  While speaking off-the-cuff about living in Los Angeles and how the city was morally deteriorating around him, he asked rhetorically, "I don't know why I still live there?" Then, pausing briefly, he answered, "Yes, I do.  It's because I'm the lone conservative voice on Spanish language media and the only one the media turns to for a different Latino perspective on moral issues."

Immediately John the Baptist came to mind; the voice crying in the wilderness.

Working in Spanish TV news myself, I could relate to what he was saying.  In more than twenty-five years in the industry, I've seen how Spanish language media has slowly influenced the traditionally conservative Hispanic culture, which was generationally devout, family oriented and pro-life, to being more and more skeptical about their faith and, in the process, socially indifferent or, worse, permissive.  As Romero puts it, many are "drinking the cool aid."

It gave me an idea for this blog and, during a break, I introduced myself and asked if he was willing to explore the topic further at a later time.  "Absolutely," he said and graciously gave me his personal cell number to call him for an interview.

A couple of days later we talked and, because of busy schedules and time differences, arranged a written interview.

Yours truly with Jesse Romero...
Aside from a little background on him, I started by asking about something I heard him say in one of his CDs, which is really telling of the type of person he strives to be.  

In the talk, he said he would often go before the Blessed Sacrament at the end of his shift to fill out his reports to make sure everything he wrote was honest and benevolent.  

Romero: "I had a conversion experience in 1988; I fell in love with Jesus... It totally changed the way I related to people.  I was formerly just a law and order type of cop... When I opened my heart to Jesus, I now had empathy and compassion for people.  I realized how dark life is without Jesus." 

I asked him how he got involved in public speaking and evangelizing.

Romero:  "I began teaching at my parish once I got fired up about Jesus.  My parish priest told me that I had a gift for teaching and preaching.  He told some other priests about me... I began getting invites to speak at other parishes... and the Lord just kept opening bigger doors."

Then, I got into the crux of the interview and asked about his comments regarding being the lone conservative voice in the Spanish media in his area and why he thought there was such a liberal slant in the mainstream media.

Romero:  "Because the devil runs the world (1 John 5:19).  He uses "lukewarmness", "sloth", "indifferent-ism", "liberalism" as his weapon to put people under a coma... Most Latinos are socially conservative, however, as Latinos go to government schools, they become quite secular after one generation... In addition, all the Latino media outlets are leftist and liberal.  There is no conservative voice in secular media.  Latinos get a constant diet of moral relativism and secular humanism from Spanish media."

As you see, he doesn't pull any punches.  I then asked him about Pope Francis and how some in the media have attempted to take backdoor jabs at Pope Emeritus Benedict (and the Church) by contrasting him with Francis.

Romero:  "This media is trying to coop this pope and make it appear as if he is going to change the moral teachings of the Church and catch up with modernity.  The media is trying to confuse Catholics by trying to pose a false dichotomy by saying Benedict was a bad pope; he was too conservative.  Francis is a good pope; he is more liberal.  This is a narrative that the media wants all Catholics to believe."

Did he ever get discouraged?  I asked.

Romero:  "Well, the forecast for the near future doesn't look good.  However, the forecast for the long term looks great - Jesus wins; complete wipe-out.  We just have to trust in Jesus everyday, one step at a time... St. Dominic Savio said that at the end of time, the Church would be attacked through propaganda of print and media - it's happening right now."

At the end of my questions, I asked if there was anything else he might like to add.

Romero:  "Let's not forget, we are the Class of 33 A.D. and our 'Class Reunion' is coming soon. Catholicism is 2000 years of Christian Tradition and still under the same management... In the end, we have the certainty that Truth will triumph over lies, light over darkness and good over evil.  So stand firm Catholics and rush to the battle lines with Jesus in your heart, a rosary in one hand and a Bible in the other.  No matter what happens, no matter how this battle turns out, we know that Christ the King wins the war - Alleluia!"

Now, with odds like that, it's no wonder why Romero keeps fighting, this time however, it's not against flesh and blood, as St. Paul writes, but "against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness." (Eph 6:12)  

You can say (in keeping with the following verse in Ephesians), he has put on the "armor of God" and is trying his best to get all Catholics to join him in the public arena.  Therefore, to use the words of famous fight announcer Michael Buffer, "Let's get ready to rumble."...

For video and more on Jesse Romero, check him out at On Fire Evangelization.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Despite Buffeting Waves, Stay the Course...

"In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life's different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship but to keep her on her course." 

-St. Boniface was an 8th Century Benedictine monk and evangelist, who is called the "Apostle to Germany," for his tireless work in spreading Christianity and converting pagan Germanic tribes.  Known for his orthodoxy and fidelity to the pope, he became a bishop and reformer of the Catholic Church in Germany, establishing hundreds of churches and monasteries in the process. 

Boniface took pagan superstitions head on and a legendary story of his prowess was when struck down a pagan sacred oak tree with an ax in the presense of a tense crowd on Mount Gudenburg.  Donar's tree was split into four pieces.  The people were shocked and waited for the gods to strike Boniface dead but soon realized their gods were powerless and eventually nonexistent.  He used planks from the tree to build a chapel.

He was martyred on June 5th, 754, along with over 50 companions, who were massacred in Dokkum, Frisia.


Friday, July 4, 2014

Let True Freedom Ring...

If you ask people today what freedom means, most would probably say that it's the ability to do what we want, when we want.

But is that true freedom?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes freedom as, "The power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility."  ("On one's own responsibility" being the operative words here!)

It's funny because, despite having free will, and making bad choices at times, we are inclined towards doing good from the time we are very young; from my son saving centipedes and spiders he finds in our house (which he wants to rescue and set free outside), to being moved by pity and empathy to help a suffering soul, as we get older.  We are naturally geared for doing the will of God because we are made in His image and likeness and what God creates is good.

The Catechism states that, "The more one does good, the freer one becomes... The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to the slavery of sin."

I recently heard former Atheist turned Catholic author and speaker, Matt Fradd, make a poignant point on the radio.  He said, "Freedom is not a destination.  It's a daily choice."  Fradd should know about the slavery of sin.  He openly admits to suffering from an addiction to pornography for most of his life.

Consequently, when we do good, we usually feel good.  And, when we do bad, there's usually guilt or restlessness involved.

That is our conscience; that inner voice of reason, which God put in our hearts.  Of course, we can distort our consciences through bad behavior.  The more we do bad, the less bad we feel.

However, true freedom in the biblical sense of the word, is what Fr. Robert Barron describes in his Catholicism series as "the freedom for excellence."  He says, "It's the discipline of the will to make achievements, first possible and then effortless.

That is why football players hold two or three-a-day practices and watch endless hours of film, as they get ready for the start of a new season, or why baseball players take batting practice and fielding drills for hours, and basketball players work on foul shots, jump shots and layups day after day.

The more disciplined they are, the more effortless their skills become, and the freer they are to fulfill their potential.

Through habit and hard work, they train their bodies, just as we train our souls by doing good works, forming our consciences and following the will of God, which is to love.

That is true freedom.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, "Freedom is not the right to do what we want but the right to do what we should."