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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Women: the Heart of Men...

Norman Rockwell's Puppy Love...
“The heart is like a woman, and the head is like a man, and although man is the head of woman, woman is the heart of man, and she turns man's head because she turns his heart.”  

-- From Jesus-Shock by Peter Kreeft. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Letter to My Daughter...

On Thursday, my eldest daughter, who is a few weeks shy of her fourteenth birthday, receieved her Confirmation, the third of the sacraments of Christian initiation, along with over 90 of her classmates at our parish.  It was a beautiful and uplifting ceremony, celebrated by Bishop Peter Baldacchino, an Auxiliary Bishop of Miami, who in a very jovial and captivating sermon, sounded a little like a character in Goodfellas.  Leading up to the special day, I wrote her a letter, which she said made her laugh and cry so I thought I would share it...   

My Dearest Manu,

They say every father wants his firstborn to be a son, first, to leave a legacy and pass on the family name, second, as a reflection of himself, sort of like getting a do-over in life, while being able to impart his wisdom upon his offspring to live the unfilled dreams of his youth.  And, finally, at least in my case, a father wants a son first to watch over and keep boys away from any sister he may have in the future!
I remember when Mommy and I went to South Miami Hospital for our first sonogram exam to find out what we were having (not that we thought you were going to be a little creature, but whether you would be a boy or a girl!).  I didn’t want to know your sex and preferred waiting for a surprised like parents used to do in the times before sonograms were popular (You know me, old fashion!).  However, you know Mom; always practical and thinking of the color scheme for the room, your clothes, toys, etc.  Therefore, when the nurse asked if we wanted to know the sex, Mommy immediately said yes and I reluctantly agreed, if only, because it would be tough knowing that she knew what you were and I didn’t!

Well, I’ll be honest, yes, like most fathers, I wanted a boy and I held my breath anxiously, as I held Mommy’s hand waiting for the big announcement while the nurse glided the camera over the gel on Mommy’s stomach (I guess, sort of like, you get after sending a text message to a friend and anxiously wait for a reply!).  Obviously, my dreams were quickly dashed when the nurse said, “It’s a girl.” 
Even so, until the day you were born, although I had prepared myself mentally for being the father of a baby girl, I still held on the hope that the pipi was tucked away somewhere undetected by the camera and you would be a boy, regardless of what the nurse said! 

It’s like the old Bill Cosby joke of the first time he brought his newborn daughter home and his father, looking a bit downcast at him, said, “You know, you still have a chance to rectify this.”  “What are you talking about, Dad?” Cosby asked.  “Yes,” the older man said, “Just blow into her mouth!”  I guess he thought the pipi would pop out like a balloon!
No, despite all the baseball talk I did to you while you were in Mommy’s belly, and the many times I recited the Mets’ starting lineup to you (I actually did, you know) , you didn’t like baseball much.  You didn’t like baseball.  You didn’t like football.  You didn’t like basketball.  You didn’t like soldiers, cowboys or playing war, like I did when I was a kid. 

Instead, you liked dolls, and playing with dolls, and dressing up like a princess and watching Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and, especially, Beauty and the Beast, which you wore out from playing so much, over and over and over again.
Broke single-season HR record for Catchers in '96 (41)... 
But, you were my girl and lucky for you, you were, or else you might have been named Hundley!  Yes, Hundley Espinosa, yikes! 

Todd Hundley was my favorite player at the time but the Mets traded for Mike Piazza and Hundley got shipped to the Dodgers before you were even born.  By 2003, his career was over because of injuries and drinking problems!  God saved us both from a lot of embarrassing explanations on that one! 
I quickly adapted to having a girl and after Emilia was born, I actually enjoyed being the father of girls, in fact, by the time Nico came around, I was convinced we were going to be having another girl and I was perfectly happy and content with the prospects. 

By then, not only was I used to being a father of two little girls but, I didn’t know how to father a little boy; hence the difficulty in potty training him!  A girl is easy.  You sit her on the toilet and she’ll do number one or number two eventually and gets it pretty quickly.  A boy, on the other hand, you have to figure out which one he has to do, and, if it’s number one, stand him in front of the toilet and try to coax him into doing pipi into the bowl.  Not an easy task!  Then, when he finally figures out what he’s supposed to do, he usually sprays all over the place! (For more on this, check out your brother!)
In any case, you are my girl.  You will always be my girl; my big girl, who I loved from the moment I laid eyes on your coned-headed, purple skin “little-creature-looking” self!  I fell in love and, despite, not often showing it, because I sometimes feel like you don’t want me to be all cuddly with you, and therefore, I don’t show you the affection I feel, I couldn’t be prouder and more glad that God put you in my life.      

Manu, you’re God’s special gift to Mommy and me.  You are so beautiful, loving, smart and talented.  I’m really not looking forward to you getting into high school and guys falling all over themselves for your attention and, I know they will. 
At the beginning of Father of the Bride, Steve Martin’s character, George Banks, says, “You have a little girl. An adorable little girl who looks up to you and adores you in a way you could never imagine. I remember how her little hand used to fit inside mine. How she used to sit in my lap and lean her head against my chest. She said that I was her hero. Then the day comes when she wants to get her ears pierced and she wants you to drop her off a block before the movie theater. Next thing you know she's wearing eye shadow and high heels. From that moment on, you're in a constant state of panic.”

Yet, I know you have to grow up.  You are already growing up and becoming a mature young lady.  Despite, all my defects (and you know I have many!) and, at times, my poor example and impatience, you have a great head on your shoulders.  You have a great sense of right and wrong.  You realize the importance of having God in your life.  You recognize the importance of family, although, I know you will value your brother and sister more as you get older.  And, I hope through my sometimes annoying lectures, even when they don’t make much sense, and attending a Catholic school, you realize the importance of staying close to the Sacraments, which we receive from Jesus through the Holy Catholic Church.
In a book that Boston College Philosophy Professor and speaker, Peter Kreeft, wrote to his children, entitled, Before I Go, on lessons he wanted to pass on to them before leaving this world, he wrote, “Without love, our happiness is not true happiness.  Without God, our love is not true love.  Without Jesus, our God is not the true God.  Without the Church, our Jesus is not the true Jesus.”

In the Gospel of Matthew, we read, “And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  (Matt 3:16-17)
As you know, the same Spirit of God, which we receive in Baptism, fills us in Confirmation.  We are “completed in the baptismal grace” and “more perfectly bound to the Church” as the Catechism states.

I am very proud of you and pray this profound moment in your life draws you closer to Christ and to His Church.  And, when the day comes, when you are challenged in what you believe, and you will, you are emboldened by that Spirit to stand by His side and defend your faith, regardless of the consequence.
No, you were not the son I wanted at first but you are more than I could ever have imagined.  I thank God every day for putting you in our care.  I realize now that the legacy I leave is YOU; your maturity, your wisdom, your moral makeup, your love and the love that you will share with your own family someday.  My unfilled dreams are being met in YOU, as you grow up to be, not what I want you to be, but what God wants you to be and, maybe, I would like to think, that through my diatribes during American Idol and my many unprompted break-into tedious orations on the faith, I am imparting a love and passion for the Catholic Church that you will hold close to your heart forever.  And, maybe, just maybe, I can still turn you into a ballplayer and a lover of baseball one day. 

Moreover, considering your maturity, wisdom and moral sense, I’m sure you will know how to handle the many boys that will come knocking on your own and, hopefully, help keep them away from Emilia, as well!   
May God always bless you. 

I love you more than words can ever express, 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Two Kinds of People....

"There are only two kinds of people:  sinners, who think they're saints, and saints, who know they're sinners.  There are only fools, who think they are wise, and the wise, who know they are fools."

-- Peter Kreeft, philosophy professor at Boston College and The King's College in New York, author of over 75 books, husband (one wife), father of four, grandfather of five, and public speaker.  He was a Calvinist, who regarded the Catholic Church "with the upmost suspicion" but when asked by a professor to investigate the claims of the Church to be the one founded by Jesus Christ, he was persuaded by the writings of the early Christians.  He applied to the Church the C.S. Lewis trilemma on Jesus, either He was a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord (either the Church was "the most arrogant, blasphemous and wicked claim imaginable, if it is not true, or else that she is just what she claims to be.") and was convinced by the latter.  He converted in the late '90's, well after being established as one of the most respected Christian writers of modern times.

Check out his conversion story here.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Christ Discarded Within a Missal on Christmas Day...

The Lamb of God...  
St. Maximilian Kolbe, who was martyred in a Nazi concentration camp, once said, "If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion."

And, St. Padre Pio, the great mystic and stigmatist, was just as bold in proclaiming, "It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do so without the Holy Mass."  

Unfortunately, the world doesn't accept this.

In fact, even many Catholics don't accept this, or, at least, don't fully understand it, or Catholic churches would be full to the rafters, like they are on Easter and Christmas, every day of the week; when the Eucharist is celebrated.

Let's face it, it's a hard teaching to accept, even from the lips of Jesus.  When He said, "My flesh is real food, and My blood is real drink," (John 6:55) many of His disciples balked, saying, "Who can accept this?" (John 6:60) and walked out on Him that day, even after witnessing the multiplication of loaves and fish the previous day.

Last Sunday, my wife and I experienced this rejection, or lack of understanding, firsthand, during morning Mass. 

My son was leafing through the missalette, shortly after the bread and wine were turned into the Body and Blood of Christ, and, as the congregation got up to pray the Lord's Prayer, a Blessed Host fell on the pew beside him.  My wife immediately picked it up and turned to me in horror, as if to ask, "What do I do?" while holding the Host, which had been bitten into, in her hands and extending her arms towards me.

I myself was thrown aback.  Our pastor had mentioned at a Parish Council meeting once that they occasionally find discarded Hosts in the church, but I was a bit flabbergasted by actually seeing one in front of me. 

Fortunately, I knew there was a Eucharistic Minister (who help the priests distribute the Eucharist during Mass and are trained in handling the Blessed Sacrament), who serves with me when I lector on Friday mornings, sitting behind me.  So, I asked my wife to slip it into my prayer book and drew it close to my heart, as everyone began to pray the Our Father.  I started praying for the Lord's forgiveness (in case I was doing anything wrong), and for the forgiveness of the person who, possibly unknowingly, desecrated the Body of Christ.

As soon as the congregation finished praying, my friend behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "Is that the Blessed Host?" and I confirmed that it was, as I opened my prayer book and he took it reverently into his hands and immediately headed towards the sacristy behind the altar (He later told me he dissolved it in water in a special sink that drains directly to the earth, where all the vessels of the Mass are washed, as he said his own prayer for the person who profaned the Host).

Since it was a few days after the Christmas Mass, when many non-regular church-goers, visitors and guests attend church, I would like to think it was not maliciously intended, as sinful as it may have been.  I could only imagine it was someone, who may not have ever received the Eucharist and didn't like the taste or someone that, after receiving it, felt a sense of shame and didn't know what to do.  In either case, obviously, the person did not understand the full extent of what they were doing.  As Jesus would say, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." (Lk 23:24)       

For Catholics, the Eucharist is the "pinnacle and summit" of our faith, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states. 

It is the most profound gift that Christ gave His Church (the Apostles); a source for feeding and sustaining His people until His return, like the manna from heaven fed and sustained the Israelites for forty years in the desert. 

Furthermore, like Passover, the Mass is a celebration of a family meal; a banquet for our King.  And, just as the Jews had to consume the Passover lamb, we consume the Lamb of God, who feeds us with eternal life.  In the words of our Lord, "Truly, truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you." (John 6:53) 

By His sacrificial offering to the Father, through the hands of the priest, He becomes that Daily Bread that He taught His disciples to pray for in the Our Father.    

Think of the love and humility it takes for the God of the universe to humble Himself in becoming a piece of bread and wine for His disciples.  Then again, think of the love and humility it took for the God of the universe to humble Himself in becoming man and sacrificing His life on the Cross for our redemption!

Catholics believe the Eucharist is the same Christ, the Word made Flesh, who walked the earth two thousand years ago; that is to say, like the old Coca-Cola commercials, "It's the real thing!" 

That in itself is amazing enough but, there's more.  Since God is a Trinity and you can't divide God, where One is All are, then in the Holy Host is also contained the Father and Holy Spirit. 

The Bread of Life...
But wait!  As the infomercials on TV would say, that's not all!  Since the Church is the Body of Christ and Jesus is the head, and you cannot separate the head from the body, then in the Blessed Sacrament is also contained the Church; i.e. Mary, the Saints, the hosts of Angels, our loved ones in heaven, those on the way to heaven and those of us who believe and partake in the Body of Christ here on earth as well.  Now, that is what you call Holy Communion!  In other words, the entirety of salvation history is held within that small piece of bread that we receive from the priest!

We become one with He who is God and He becomes one with us, like a bride and her bridegroom who become one flesh in marriage, which is why St. Paul compares marriage with Christ (Bridegroom) and His Church (Bride).  It's mind boggling!       

This is the reason non-Catholic Christians are asked to refrain from taking Communion when attending a Catholic Mass, since, in saying, "Amen" upon receiving the Eucharist, we are not only accepting Christ but all that the Church reveals and all that the Church is.

As I have heard said, it's like someone becoming a citizen to a country.  You can't have full faculties to vote until you swear allegiance to the flag. 

At a funeral Mass I attended recently, the priest was very gracious, since many of those  attending were non-Catholics because one of the sons of the deceased woman left the Church many years ago and his family and friends were of another Christian denomination.  The priest simply stated, "I know many of you are not Catholic and therefore can't receive Communion because it means you are in communion with the Catholic Church but take the time instead to pray for the family, who needs our prayers at this time."  Brilliant!  No theological explanation or sense of marginalization necessary!     

By the same token, Catholics should refrain from receiving communion in other Christian churches, with the exception of the Orthodox Church (under certain conditions), since they still have valid ordination and partake in the same Eucharistic celebration.  

However, for most other Christians, by their own acknowledgement, the bread and wine they offer is symbolic (usually crackers and grapefruit juice), and even for those, like that High-Church Lutherans and Anglicans/Episcopalians, who celebrate the Eucharist during their masses, there is a noticeable difference.  The bread is not Christ but "with" Christ.  Hence, taking communion anywhere other than the Church is akin to swearing allegiance to a symbol (or, bringing it back to the old Coke commercial, the "less-than-real thing").

As I reflect on the discarded Host my son and wife found on the pew last Sunday, I realize that Jesus went and still goes through much worse.  At least, the person left it in the church and didn't take it for some satanic ritual or other ulterior adverse motive (as is sometimes the case). 

Hopefully, there was no malevolence intended and, maybe, even some remorse, after the fact. 

I am always humbled by words of the priest before Communion, "Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.  Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb."

Upon hearing those words and receiving his First Communion, after his conversion, Thomas Merton wrote in The Seven Storey Mountain, "In the Temple of God that I had just become, the One Eternal and Pure Sacrifice was offered up to the God dwelling in me: the sacrifice of God to God, and me sacrificed together with God, incorporated in His Incarnation.  Christ born in me, a new Bethlehem, and sacrificed in me, His new Calvary, and risen in me: offering me to the Father, in Himself, asking the Father, my Father and His, to receive me into His infinite and special love..."

We are indeed extremely blessed and it's a shame that more people around the world, including Catholics, refuse to accept it.

I can only pray that the person who discarded and stuffed the Sacred Host within the pages of a missal on Christmas Day will one day experience the joy, love and life that the Eucharist has to offer and is transformed into a new Bethlehem, as Merton writes, where Christ, the same Christ of "Christ-Mass," is born...  

To learn more on the Eucharist see here...  


[pic credit: Yoly Torres]