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Friday, December 8, 2017

Preserved for the Good of the World...

"We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Ominipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful."

-- Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854...


Is Science the Only Proof of Reality?...

"Some people think science is the only tool we should use to investigate the world and we shouldn't believe anything that can't be proven scientifically.  This attitude is called scientism, and it's self-refuting because there is no scientific experiment that proves the only reliable form of knowledge is science... science can tell us how the world is, but it can't tell us how the world ought to be."  

Trent Horn, Why We're Catholic.  Horn holds a Master's Degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville and has quickly risen in the ranks among Catholic circles as an author, public speaker and Catholic apologist (defender of  the faith).  When he's not writing (he's written or contributed to 9 books since 2013), he serves as staff apologist for Catholic Answers.  Among the titles he has written are: Answering Atheism, Persuasive Pro-Life, Hard Sayings: A Catholic Approach to Answering Bible Difficulties and is currently working on The Case for Catholicism...

Monday, December 4, 2017

Truth, Reality and Human Nature...

He who seeks finds...
"Being born in a time or place that is far from the truth doesn't disprove the existence of truth.  When it comes to believing in a religion or any other basic truth about reality (like the shape of the earth), we all think that we're right and that those who disagree with us are wrong.  Even people who ignore religion think they're right that religion should be ignored.  They also think that those people who tell them they should convert are wrong.  This isn't a sign of arrogance; it's a sign of genuine desire to find the truth....  The loving thing to do is not leave someone in ignorance, but to help him find the truth."

Trent Horn, in Why We're Catholic.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The CD and Man Who Set My Faith On Fire...

Dr. Scott Hahn and me in 2013... 
Those that know me know that I am passionate about my faith.  I study it.  I defend it.  I believe it wholeheartedly and I live it to the best of my abilities (Sometimes better than other).

But, one of the pivotal sparks in my fervor for the faith, aside from attending a men's retreat that changed my perspective on life, was listening to a CD I got soon after the retreat of the conversion of a well-respected Protestant Minister, named Dr. Scott Hahn.

Hahn's journey was a painful and humiliating odyssey, where everything he had ever known and believed in from the time he turned his life over to Christ, was pulled out from under him and everything he thought was corrupt and defiled ended up making too much sense to ignore.

He calls it a conversion in stages; from a detective story, to a horror story and finally a love story.

His passion for the Bible, his incessant search for Truth and earnest scholarly approach led him, most unwillingly, into the arms of the Catholic Church; a church that since his days at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary he ardently opposed, to the point of calling it the anti-Christ.

It was at Gordon-Conwell that he first started questioning his Presbyterian convictions.  A highly regarded professor from a well known seminary nearby was teaching that we are not saved by faith alone, one of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation called Sola Fide, in the strict sense that most non-Catholic Christians understand it.  And, because of this teaching, the professor was being forced out of the school.

Hahn delved into the controversy; reading, studying and debating with many professors and fellow students until coming to the unexpected conclusion that the ousted professor was right.  It was a watershed moment for Hahn and he never recovered, no matter how hard he tried to shake it off and how many friends and family, including his wife, tried to dissuade him from coming home to Rome.

Eventually, several years later, questions arose about the second plank upon which the Protestant Reform stands on; scripture alone, or Sola Scriptura, and that's where the paradigm shift, already developing in his mind and heart took hold.  Yet despite this, he continued to resist (mostly out of respect for his wife who was having a difficult time with his conversion, being the daughter of a Protestant Minister, the sister of a Protestant Minister and having married a Protestant Minister!); that is until he stepped foot into a Catholic Church and heard Mass for the first time.  The rest as they say is history.   

I remember the first time I heard of Scott Hahn.  It was on this CD while driving with my wife and kids on a road trip to North Carolina.

His delivery, sincerity and profundity were so captivating and endearing that it stirred within me a burning appetite to learn my faith; even as I realized how little I actually knew!

Shortly afterwards, I began reading some of Dr. Hahn's books; Reasons to BelieveThe Lamb's SupperRome Sweet Home, and my personal favorite, First Comes Love, as well as some of the book recommendations on the CD; most notably, Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating (where I discovered Catholic Answers, an apologetic apostolate that I listen to daily on podcast till this day).

Hahn, is now considered among the best contemporary biblical scholars and theologians in the United States and one of the most coveted Catholic speakers in the country.  He is a professor and scholar, who taught future priests at St. Vincent Seminary in Pennsylvania, where he held the Pope Benedict XVI's Chair of Biblical Theology for years, as well as students at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, where he has been teaching since 1990.  As if that weren't enough, he is the founder of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and author of over twenty books.

The CD, which is considered the most widely distributed Catholic CD ever, and became the precursor to the book on his conversion that he wrote with his wife Kimberly, Rome Sweet Home, has influenced thousands of former Protestants and marginal Catholics, like me, to embrace the Church fully.  It even prompted many of his classmates at Gordon-Conwell, who had themselves become Protestant Ministers, including Marcus Grodi, Steve Woods and his best friend in seminary, Gerry Matatics, who tried to keep Hahn from converting and ended up converting himself, into the Catholic Church.

I've had the privileged to hear Dr. Hahn speak on a couple of occasions, including one at the Archdiocese of Miami Men's Conference at St. Mark's Catholic Church in Southwest Ranches where the picture above was taken.  His wealth, depth and love of the faith always shine through in his talks, which is why he remains so popular.

Although, my desire to learn my faith was also spurned by an old friend who challenged it, and have since broadened my horizons with the works of St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Peter Kreeft, Fulton Sheen, Bishop Robert Barron and several others, I will always have an affinity for Dr. Hahn.

I came across "the CD" on You Tube recently and, since this year marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I thought I would share it (Below).  Also, if you want to read more details on his conversion, you can find it here...

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Jesus and the Power to Bind and Loose...

"Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels.  It was said to them: 'Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed.' Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding ; but they can only bind the body.  Priests, in contrast, can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself and transcends the very heavens.  Did [God] not give them all the powers in heaven?... What greater power is there than this?  The Father has given all judgement to the Son.  And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men. They are raised to this dignity as if they were already gathered up to heaven."
- St. John Chrysostom (349-407), Bishop of Constantinople was one of the most prolific early Christian writers in history, second only to St. Augustine of Hippo in number of surviving writings preserved. Known as a great preacher and public speaker, St. John is said to have memorized the Bible by heart.  He lived as a hermit for many years and practiced extreme asceticism.  Because of his self-restraint, he suffered health issues throughout his life, especially in the latter part of it.  Considered as one of the prominent among the Early Church Fathers, he is also recognized as a Doctor of the Church by the Roman Catholic Church.  St. John is also honored as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox and Anglican churches.  His Feast Day is September 13th...    

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Halloween, Harvey Weinstein and Playboy Magazine...

I often tell my daughters, "If you dress like a piece of meat, you're going to be treated like a piece of meat."

Still, when the culture is constantly bombarding girls with the message that they have to dress sexy to get a guy's attention and everything from TV commercials to prime time television shows to movies and magazines apparently are on the same page in disseminating that message, and selling self-expression more than self-respect, not to mention, social media, where friends are trying to outdo one another about how good they look and how much fun their lives are as a result, it's hard for some to decipher what's appropriate and what's not.

It's worse when they have a parent trying to relive their youth by dressing in skimpy fashion, which, fortunately, is not our case since I started wearing boxer shorts instead of speedos and polos instead of tight sleeveless muscle shirts when I hit the big 5-0! (Despite my wife's insistence, no more guns displayed at our house!)

In any case, it never seems to amaze me how many girls and young (and sometimes not-so-young) women objectify themselves every year during Halloween by dressing like porn stars; whether a sexy nurse, vampire, playboy bunny, pirate or anything else imaginable.

I guess it shouldn't surprise me because of what I just mentioned but it still leaves me shaking my head.

When I was in my 20's and out in the "meat market," it was fantastic but then came Monday morning, did they expect the same respect at the office?

Hugh Hefner...
Which brings me to Harvey Weinstein and Hugh Hefner; two men cut from the same mold, users of women for carnal pleasure without conscience or consideration for their souls, and both byproducts of the sexual revolution culture, which Hefner actively helped usher in.

Playboy Magazine's centerfolds became every man's fantasy of the ideal woman.  And, by making it mainstream, with Playboy came the burgeoning and wide acceptance of the pornography industry, which is said to make more money today than the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL combined and, in the process, is wreaking havoc on the family and the moral fabric of society as a whole. 

Weinstein and Hefner, like many powerful men in other industries, preyed on women who wanted fame, fortune and glory or were vulnerable because of necessity.

In the mid-to-late 1960's, there was a waging cultural war in society; the country was at war in Vietnam, the American Civil Rights Movement in full swing, the woman's movement, which started as a stance for justice in the workplace and was later hijacked by an aggressive pro-sexual freedom movement (See the writings for former Cosmopolitan Magazine reporter, Sue Ellen Browder) was in motion and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut making "The Pill" legal in marriages.     

Amidst the turmoil and controversy over the pill, in 1968, Pope Paul VI released his much maligned encyclical Humanae Vitae, condemning artificial birth control and prophetically stating what its widespread use would lead to; moral decay.

The Pope wrote, "Let them consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.  Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings -- and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation -- need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.  Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires..."   HV:17 

By separating marital sex from it's primary function of procreation, and thus, making sex "free" with no strings attached among consenting adults and "as long as nobody gets hurt," which we know is a lie because someone always gets hurt, infidelity increased dramatically, divorce rates skyrocketed, the porn industry took a hold of the culture, which it has yet to let go, making women objects to be used by men, and leading to the legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973 (Because, if contraception fails, what do you do with all the unwanted pregnancies from infidelity?), and eventually paving the way to the redefinition of marriage between a man and a woman (Because once marital relations are about pleasure and no longer about fertility and the raising of kids, shouldn't anyone get married?). 

The ruling, cushioned in the context of an aggressive women's movement and the explosion of  pornography spearheaded in part by Playboy, opened the door for the sexual revolution where "make love not war" became the anthem and we are still feeling the effects today.

Harvey Weinstein...
"Free" love is not so free when women are getting raped and abused by powerful men and the list of implicated men from the Weinstein fallout continues to grow everyday, the legacy that Hefner left in his wake.

Sure, women were victimized before the sexual revolution but it worsened exponentially with the legalization of the pill, when women became easy targets with no consequences involved.

Interestingly, all Christian denomination condemned artificial birth control until 1930, when the Episcopal Church succumbed to cultural pressures, allowing it within marriage (see the Lambeth Conference).  Soon afterwards, most Protestant denominations followed suit.  The only one left standing, and is still standing, is the Catholic Church, which is one of the reasons (asides from its teachings on abortion, cohabitation and marriage) that it remains in the crosshairs of today's progressive movement.     

Anyhow, now the damage is done.  To reverse this degenerative spiral we're on as a culture is going to take a monumental effort.

In an Twitter exchange with a loved one, she suggested where it needs to start, "It gets flushed out with our sons."

Fundamentally, there's something to be said about raising boys to be honorable and righteous, which may be, at least, a partial solution for sexually abusive men.  But, I think it's a two-way street.  I truly believe promiscuity is something to discourage not encourage.

In fact, I want to raise my children to be chaste until their wedding day because without self-dominion, there can never be control over actions towards others.

I know it sounds old-fashioned and may seem improbable in today's sex-crazed society but I still like to think it isn't and I know young people and even celebrities, who are embracing chastity.  It's a matter of understanding and reinforcing the true meaning of love, which lasts forever, as opposed to an imitation, which is driven by libido and is fleeting.  

Despite what they may teach in public schools, teens are more than uncontrolled hormones waiting to explode and human beings are not like animals, driven solely by desires and instincts.  Men and women have minds, which can be used for reason, logic and self-restraint, as well as hearts that long for authenticity and true love (which is a longing for happiness that can only be filled by God).

While lustful boys can become lustful men, and I am going to teach my son about respecting women, it must begin with women respecting themselves.

Venerable Fulton Sheen once said, "When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her.  The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women."

Just as I'm hoping to teach my son to hold women in the highest esteem, I'm also hoping to teach my daughters that they are not pieces of meat and shouldn't degrade themselves by dressing like one for Halloween, or any other day for that matter, reinforcing an image that was long ago established for men's pleasures...  

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Wake Me Up When September Ends...

Signs of Fall...
Summer has come and passed, the innocent can never last.  Wake me up when September ends.  Ring out the bells again, like we did when spring began.  Wake me up when September ends.  -- Green Day

Alright, so it actually started in late August and has continued into early October but, in more than twenty-eight years of working in TV news, I can't recall a 6-week period that has been more frenetic, tumultuous and tragic than the latest one; not that my memory is great but just saying!

Obviously, I'm not comparing it to the ravishes and destruction of wars or certain terror attacks, including September 11th, but the continuous succession of incidents in the last few weeks has been mind boggling and, frankly, exhausting.

It began with Hurricane Harvey flooding Houston.  Then the monstrous Hurricane Irma, which threatened South Florida and had us scrambling days before, pounded the Caribbeans before ferociously hitting the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida, killing 124 in the process.

Then came the earthquake in Mexico City that left over 360 known deaths so far.

Afterwards, while peoples' heads were still reeling and Harvey benefit drives were replaced by Irma drives, which were replaced by earthquake drives, Hurricane Maria hit and devastated Puerto Rico, killing at least 34 and leaving the island's infrastructure paralyzed, to the point where power may not be restored in some areas for months!

And, then, as if that wasn't enough, there was Las Vegas, where evil was personified in the face of a cold blooded killer, who randomly shot over 500 people at a country music concert, killing nearly 60 in the process before shooting himself.  It became the deadliest mass shooting in American history.  (I'm not even going to think about Hurricane Nate, which may be another threat very soon!)

All this amidst the growing nuclear tit-for-tat, which fortunately has taken second stage, between Le Grande Orange and Little Rocket Man, in possibly the worst political climate and government stagnation in American history.

It's surreal.  As the Green Day song says, "Wake me up when September (or October, or the way we're going, 2017) ends, please!"

The gangs all here...
It's like a J.R.R. Tolkien novel where the panorama appears to worsen by the paragraph, only without the hobbit, the elf and the dwarf to save the day!  Superman where are you now?

This week, my daughter underwent a surgical procedure, where they had to put her under general anesthesia.  In all honesty, I didn't think much about the surgery because of everything that was happening at work.  In other words, I was sleepwalking through my personal life because of the chaos in my professional life; distracted, as our priest says, by the 'cacophony of noise' that surrounded me.  Until I finally got around to thinking about it, the day before the surgery!  Then, I realized the gravity; not that anything was going to go wrong but that anything could go wrong.  I'm sometimes amazed by my own denseness.

In any case, the night before the surgery, I gathered the family together to pray a Rosary for my daughter.  It is something they started doing with my Mother-in-Law (while I was at work), in the days leading up to Hurricane Irma, when it looked like Miami was in the storm's direct path.

The next morning, I planned on going to work like normal but, after my wife headed to the doctor's office with our daughter, I started growing more anxious.  So, I called the office to say I would be late.

By the time I got to the doctor's, our daughter was already inside.  My wife suggested I go get some Cuban coffee and as I walked out to the street, I started praying the Rosary again.  It had a calming effect.  It always does.

It's like Pope Francis recently tweeted, "Only in the silence of prayer can you learn to listen to the voice of God."  

It's difficult to understand why God allows hardship and strife in our life.  But, in seeking His help, we often find peace; like the Apostles found on the boat in the midst of the storm when Jesus calmed the wind and sea.

Good Samaritans at work...
It's like the passage from First Kings about looking for God but not finding him in the powerful wind that tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks, or in the earthquake, or in the fire but in the gentle whisper; the quite within the storm.

I think of that waitress that held a stranger's hand as he bled to death in Las Vegas and, after answering his cellphone and telling first his girlfriend and then his mother that the man had not made it, waited over five hours with the corpse, so that the body would not be lost in the mayhem.

Or the many volunteers who rushed into the rubble to pull out victims in Mexico City.  Or the priest who went on a kayak looking for food and supplies for his poor parishioners, who had lost their homes and belongings in Houston.

God is in the whispers; in the unsung heroes, who become the hobbit, the elf and the dwarf when others most need it.

As a survivor recovering in his hospital bed said in Las Vegas, "I witnessed the worse from one person but I witnessed the best from thirty thousand people."

I'd like to think that trials and tribulations, suffering and even staring death in the face at times, is God's way of waking us up from our slumber; getting us out of ourselves and focusing on others. Because, only when we get out of ourselves do we truly stop thinking of our needs and reflect God's love in the world.

It was St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrated this week, who once said, "Lord, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console, to be understood, as to understand, to be loved, as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

Therefore, wake me up, wake us all up from our slumber when September, or today, ends...

[pic credit: Getty Images]

Friday, September 29, 2017

Meant to Fly...

When ducks fly...
During a homily several months ago, our parish priest told a story that got everyone's attention, including my kids.

It's a parable written by a 19th century Danish theologian and philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, about a town where only ducks lived.

He said that every Sunday, the ducks waddled out of their duck homes and down to their duck church.

They waddled into their pews, as the duck choir sang and the duck pastor read from the duck sacred scriptures.

The duck pastor told them, "Ducks, God has given you wings!  With these wings you can fly! With these wings you can rise up and soar like eagles!  No walls can confine you, no fences can hold you. You have wings and you can fly like birds!"

The duck parishioners were moved and stirred in their pews, some even shouting, "Amen!"

As the service ended, they thanked the duck priest for his inspiring words, greeted their duck friends and waddled back to their duck homes.

Our priest pointed out that, like the ducks in the story, we are all given gifts by God.  They may be special athletic abilities, artistic talents or special skills.  They may be resources or time but, we all have them.

However, in failing to use our God-given gifts, we misuse them.  We fail, not only ourselves by failing to reach our full potential, but we also fail God.

And, woe, our priest said, to those that misuse their God-given gifts; to those who waddle when they should be flying...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Faith, Hurricanes and Friendship...

We made it through the storm... 
The Beatles once sang, "What would you think if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?... What do I do when my love is away?  Does it worry you to be alone?... No, I get by with a little help from my friends."

Yet, friends are hard to come by (And, I'm not talking about acquaintances or superficial relationships most of us have!).  And, good friends even harder, especially for men, who tend to be less open about letting others in. More so in a culture that prioritizes independence and self-reliance and considers dependence a deficiency.

For me, a friend is not just someone you can party with, like Hollywood's version of The Hangover or Old School, where male bonding and friendship is reduced to nothing more than grown adolescent pranks and debauchery.  Although, there's something to be said about sharing a good meal, a glass of wine and good times.

A true friend is someone who, when you're at your lowest point in life or in dire need, is there for you; whether emotionally, spiritually or physically.

As it states in the Letter of James, "If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,' but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?  So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (James 2:15-17)

I always knew I had great friends.  I've seen them in action over the years.  But, it wasn't until recently that I appreciated just how special they truly are.

As some of you know, I work in television news.  The last week has been incredibly busy. First, planning our coverage for the threat of Hurricane Irma, then being locked down at the station as we began our continuous coverage, which lasted almost 130 hours straight.  It was exhausting and at the same time exhilarating.

As the storm approached, when it looked more and more like South Florida was in the direct path of possibly the most alarming hurricane to ever threaten our area, being much bigger and more powerful than Hurricane Andrew which devastated a good part of South Dade 25 years ago, I started getting worried.  And, I'll be honest, I usually don't.

Most computer models had it hitting Miami dead on.  So, I convinced my wife to take herself, our kids, mother-in-law and dogs to my parents house to wait out the storm.

My reason was twofold.  First, I thought they would be together in a safe place.  My parents have hurricane shutters, which my house didn't have and they just got a new roof.  Secondly, I felt safe knowing that my Dad would be there in case anything happened.

Despite the time we had to prepare for this monster of a storm (which was a category 5 for a good part of it's trajectory) because of the long hours I was putting in at work, I never had much time to prepare my house.  Then again, I never do.  But this one was scary!

Moreover, as the hurricane got closer, people went into a frenzy.  Gas stations, supermarkets and hardware store lines were blocks long.

For those without hurricane shutters, like me, lines for plywood at Home Depot or other lumber stores, were never ending and, even when people waited, there was no guarantee they would have wood by the time your turn came.

Needless to say, I wasn't able to wait in line for hours on end.  Not to mention, if I did, I had no clue how to install plywood on my windows.  I'm not exactly the most handy man with a hammer and a drill!  As I tell friends, I'm much better writing checks.

To make things worse, one of our front windows was cracked, which I feared would be the first to go with the first gust of wind and cause havoc and destruction inside, when the hurricane force winds finally hit.

I spent many sleepless nights praying for the safety of my wife and kids, first and foremost, but the protection of my property as well.  Not that I was doing much about it.  I had accepted the fact that my property may not be standing after the storm, thinking all the while that material things can be replaced, but it stilled weighed heavily on my mind.

Then, two days before Irma was scheduled to impact South Florida, I was scheduled, like I am every Friday, to lector at morning Mass.  I'll be honest, I debated whether going, since they were expecting me early at work, and our new News Director, who flew in from Dallas early to join us, was waiting to meet with me to discuss the coverage plan.

Still, I thought, I can't renege on my commitment to God and, if my new boss can't understand, well I guess I would be looking for a job in the not too distant future.  I texted him and our Vice President of Local News that I would be several minutes late to the morning editorial meeting because I was going to lector at Mass and pray for all our safety.  My News Director actually encouraged me to pray for us all!

As I arrived at the church the anxiety over the possible destruction of my house and cracked window was overwhelming my thoughts.  I focused on getting ready to read, knowing that anxiety is a lack of trust in God but I couldn't help it.

As we gathered to pray with the priests before Mass began, on the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and the threat of Irma was mentioned, the Deacon, who is a personal friend, stated that, by now, besides prayers, everyone should have installed their hurricane shutters.  Yikes, I thought 

I mentioned that I had no shutters and was concerned about my house.  Then the unexpected happened.  One of the Extraordinary Eucharist Ministers, who regularly serves with me on Fridays, and is part of our men's group, but that particular day was about to leave because we had too many other EEMs serving on the Feast Day, turned to me and said, "Do you need plywood?"

"I need everything," I answered with a knot in my throat, "I haven't had time to go get anything because we've been working long hours." (I didn't mention the part that I would be useless if I did have the materials needed!)

"I can get you plywood and put them up for you.  Just give me your address and after I get done with my house I'll go by and put up yours."

Really?  You would do that for me? 

With that, we had to start the Mass.  As liturgy began, I started to think about his offer.  Would I let it go by and not accept it because of pride?  Or stand pat, hoping for the best and God's Mercy, even though I knew that God helps those who help themselves?

Or be like the guy, in the parable, whose boat sinks and is stranded on a desert island.  He prays and prays for God to save him, envisioning the hand of God reaching down from the sky and taking him from his precarious situation.

Then, as he prayed, a helicopter flies by offering help and the man said, "No thank you. God will save me," and he continues praying.  Then a boat comes by and he says, "Thanks, but no thanks, I have faith. God will save me," and continues praying.  Then a Coast Guard Cutter comes by and the man once again says, "No.  I have faith God will help me," and he keeps praying.

Then he dies.  When he gets to heaven, he asks, "God I had the faith to move mountains.  I prayed incessantly, as St. Paul calls us to do.  You promised that whoever knocks, the door will be opened. Why didn't you listen to my prayers?  Why didn't you help me?"

God responds, "My son; whatever do you mean?  I sent you a helicopter.  I sent you a boat.  I sent you a Coast Guard cutter and you rejected them."

Believe it or not, that's what was going through my mind.  I didn't want to be that guy.  Here was God answering my prayers, offering me help through a friend, and on the Feast Day of the Blessed Mother no less, who I had also invoked for help!  I couldn't say no.  I had to swallow my pride (men hate to ask for help) and admit that I needed assistance.

My eyes watered, not from having to ask for a hand, but because I had been praying so hard for God to protect my family and property and the thought that I almost didn't go to church that morning. Then, He sends me a helicopter!

God works through people and many times, if we are open, He puts people in our lives when we most need them.  This was one of those moments for me.

After Mass, I told him I would take him up on his offer and how hard I had been praying for God to protect my property and here he was offering to help.  I said, "It was an answer to my prayers," as my voice cracked and my eyes watered.  Another friend, who was also serving, was apparently moved and volunteered to help.

The friend with the plywood tells me the story of how God works.  He says he was in line at Home Depot for hours and they were running out of wood, so they were only selling ten sheets of plywood per customer.

A couple of people before he gets to the front of the line, they run out of wood.  Everyone got upset and disappointed and before they started going on their way, a truck pulls up with more plywood. This time the employees said, they can sell as much wood as customers needed.

He said, he only thought he needed ten but decided to get five more in case someone else needed it. Lo and behold, someone did!  God works in mysterious ways.  

Well, as it turns out, I went to work and, on my way, I reached out to a couple of other friends, via text, who had volunteered to help me a few days before and I told them I didn't have the materials necessary to secure my house, asking if their offer was still valid. Without hesitation, they each asked at what time and they would be there!

As the day went by, I kept getting texts from the volunteers asking when they would start.  Even my wife kept texting if they were still coming.  It seems, the friend with the plywood was busy with his own house and didn't get to our house until sometime after 7:00 PM.  As soon as he did, my other friends showed up.

I tried to hurry out of work and ran to a gas station to get some beers to offer them but, by the time I got home, at almost 9, I found they had left and not only covered the window of concern but they had actually put up aluminum shutters (not plywood) on three-fourths of my house!  The only side left exposed (because they ran out of material) was the side of my neighbor, who has a two-story house that would protect us from the winds.  Again, I felt my eyes tear up.

It was unbelievable to me that grown men, who all have families and busy schedules, would go out of their way like that for me.

It's like St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, "There is nothing in this earth more to be prized than true friendship."

When I told my new boss the next day he said it said a lot about the man I was.  Again, I got choked up after he left.  Yes, I'm like Brett Favre at a retirement press conference!

The storm came and went and my house withstood without a blemish (except for losing power).   And, my family, who decided to stay, despite my advice against it, was safe and sound.

I thanked God once again for showing me His love, despite my evident lack of trust and faith in Him, and for giving me such great friends, who, as the Beatles sang, helped me get by when I most needed them (although I wouldn't want to test them with my singing prowess!)...


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Plans, Shattered Ego and Keeping the Faith...

Having a good laugh...
They say if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

Now, I'm certain, there were times in my life where God probably felt like Ray Liotta listening to Joe Pisci telling jokes in Goodfellas, waving his hand at me and saying, "Stop! You gotta stop! You're killing me!" while writing Lol! Lol! Lmao!! in my portion of The Book of Life (That is optimistically thinking that I'm even included!). Maybe, it's why the Big Guy loves me so much.  I make Him laugh.

I wonder if He calls the Blessed Mother and the Communion of Saints together to say, "You gotta hear this guy.  He really thinks he's going to do that.  What a riot!"

I'm reminded of the time I called 911 to say I was locked in my car and couldn't get out!  The operators must have laughed as hard as the company of heavenly host at that one.

In any case, there's a great line at the end of the 1972 Robert Redford film, The Candidate, that I was recently reminded of.  (Am I dating myself?)

It's the last scene of the movie, where Redford's character Bill McKay unexpectedly wins a hard fought campaign for senate against a popular incumbent rival, who appeared all but a shoe-in for reelection. The novice politician upsets the veteran senator and, as his supporters chanted his name in celebration and flocked around him, like the crowds surrounded Jesus in the First Century, and the press stepped all over themselves to record his every move and word, McKay pulls his campaign manager aside and into an empty room, before the hoarding mob figured out where they were hiding, and asks, "What do we do now?"

He never expected to win and was as shocked as the political world by his own victory.

I love that line because it captures, at least for me, the essence of how I feel sometimes when I think I want something bad enough and finally achieve it or possibly, even when I don't; despite my best effort, sleepless nights and endless prayers.

Then again, prayer is never about convincing God what we think we need but about conforming our hearts and wills to accept what He knows we need.  It's like Christ prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Not as I will, but as You will," which is something I have been continuously praying for in recent weeks.

If you haven't noticed, I haven't blogged for a while.  My focus has been tied up on one of those things that I thought I wanted bad enough and was planning as a natural progression in life, only to be disappointed in the end.

It's alright.  The funny thing is, as I told our parish priest in Confession last Saturday, I didn't even know if I really wanted it; at least not as much in my heart as I had built up wanting it in my mind. Yet, it was taking up most of my time and effort over the past month, at the expense of my family and many other responsibilities.  On Monday I was told that it wasn't meant to be.

Now, to be honest, part of me felt a sense of relief.  I could move on and stop being consumed with the overwhelming and monumental task I was planning to undertake.  I knew it was going to affect every aspect of my life, including my home life, which is something I have always tried to guard against.

Then pride crept in.  Especially, when things were said in a public setting meant to elevate someone else and, in the process, felt like indirect affronts against me.  "Oh, really?" I thought, "Is that truly what you think?  Maybe, I should take my talents to South Beach."  Not that I'm the South Beach type but just saying.  

As Dante once wrote, "Pride, envy and avarice; these are the sparks that have set on fire the heart of all men."    
I'm usually not resentful but part of me was hurt.  It's the injured ego; the pride, which is the mother of all sins.

Paying respect to the new man in charge...  
Let's be honest, instead of the Bill McKay ending in The Candidate, I was hoping it would end more like Michael Carleone in the last scene of The Godfather, with Clemenza and Rocco Lampone kissing his hand and pledging their undying loyalty to him, as the door closes on Kay.  Of course, I was picturing myself as Michael.  "Don't ever ask me about the family business!"

However, I can't be spiteful and I know everything happens for a reason.  I'm also confident and, moreover, certain that it was God's Will and for the better of my family.  My prayers were answered in an unexpected way and time will tell what's in stored for me in the future.

As The Byrds once sang, "To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven." Or was that the Old Testament?

Therefore, to answer Bill McKay's question; what do I do now?  While it wasn't in my plan, I will continue to give my best and trust that, bruised ego and the laughs I may prompt in heaven aside, my best is yet to come.  You can pot up The Crystal Method's, Keep Hope Aliveright about here....

Monday, July 10, 2017

Family, a First Communion and Feeling at Home in London...

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?  Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.  (1 Cor 10:16-17)

The pride of Austin Powers...  
I'll be honest, when my sister-in-law moved to England about a decade and a half ago, I never imagined that it was permanent; maybe still don't!  She left to get a doctoral degree in Art History and, like in most Cuban families, the expectation was that in a few years, she would come home to Miami (where all Cuban exiles belong!).

Well, as it turns out, the art degree became as unlikely as Italian Jazz musician Louis Prima showing up at Paradise, Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Segundo's (Stanley Tucci) restaurant in Big Night (if you haven't seen the movie, check it out.  It's worth your while!), possibly with as much drinking, dancing and eating in the interim (Not that I'm suggesting my sister-in-law went to party but...).

In any case, she never did get her doctorate but, she may have gotten something better or worse (depending on your perspective)

She met an Englishman, a Roman Catholic, by the way (which make up less than 10 percent of the population in the entire country!), fell in love, got married and settled in London.

Sisters; my wife on the left...
Now, fifteen years later, they have two kids; ages ten and seven.  She got an English citizenship, uses words like "brilliant, rubbish and cheerio," drinks tea instead of coffee, sings God Save the Queen instead of My Country, Tis of Thee, and participates in countless causes and marches (Apparently, a requirement to live in London!).  So, she's a bona fide Cuban/American-Brit, who considers London her home.  

Last month, after a ten-year hiatus for me, and two years for my wife and older daughter, we crossed the pond to her hometown with the kids, my mother-in-law and her aunt and uncle for a "holiday," as they say, to attend our nephew's (their son's) First Holy Communion.
It seems like every time we're there it's to celebrate a Sacrament and that's because it's been that way!  The last time I went was for our niece's Baptism.  Two years ago, my wife and then 14-year-old daughter visited for her First Communion.  Unfortunately, our nephew was Baptized in Miami! (So, no trip abroad!)  
One of the great things about the sacramental life of the Church is that, like our Mother, She is always by our side every step of the way.  Therefore, if they stay, we can plan several more trips to London in the coming years! (I'm thinking, at least, 2 Confirmations and 2 Weddings but, then again, we can always join them for a random Confession or Communion from time to time!) And, that nurturing aspect of the Church; that sense of home, is precisely what came to mind as I sat at his First Communion Mass.   

The Fab Five at London Bridge...
But first, let me tell you about our trip.  We had an amazing time; mostly because we were spending time together, discovering new places and experiencing new adventures; like my wife and I getting lost, following the GPS on my cell phone, and walking through a rough and scary neighborhood (I won't lie, I kept looking around and hiding my neck in my shirt waiting for a guy in a turban and big knife to jump out yelling, "Death to the infidels," at any time.  Yes, fear has a bonding effect on a couple!).  We rode the London bus system and the "Tube," using our Oyster cards (like the locals).  We had tea (espresso for me, thank you, very much!) with the entire family at the British Museum.  We picked up our niece and nephew at school and took our niece to tennis practice.  We met my sister-in-law and her husband at a food and wine festival, then hit a local pub.  I led my wife and kids to a breakfast joint that looked better on paper than when we got there (I never lived it down for the rest of the trip!).  And, my wife and I jogged through one of the many forests (parks that are like forests) in the middle of London, stopping at nearby a Starbucks for an Americano afterwards.  It was great (not the Americano so much but the vacation!).

Moreover, our younger daughter got to take a dance class at the Internationally acclaimed Pineapple Dance Studio in Covent Gardens, my wife got to do a spinning class at a local gym and I smoked cigars and drank scotch, while walking the streets of our Muswell Hill Airbnb neighborhood, like Jack the Ripper in the late night hours, when everybody (including my family) was asleep.  The second night I did this I sweat like a pig.  It was hot! (We were expecting temperatures in the high 60's in the day and high 50's at night.  Instead, we got weather as hot as 86 degrees in the day and high 70's at night!  And, guess what, our Airbnb, like most English homes and apartments, didn't have air conditioning!).
The entire clan sans me (taking picture)...

We also hit many of the tourist sites; The Tower of London, The British Museum, Big Ben (which is actually the Elizabeth Tower!  Big Ben is just the nickname for the clock bell), Westminster Abbey (the once Catholic monastery, which became the main Cathedral for the Anglican Church after King Henry VIII broke away; as Mel Brooks would say, "It's good to be the king."  He wanted a divorce, was rejected by the Pope, so he started his own religion!), walked across London Bridge (It held up!), rode a ferry on the River Thames and drove by St. Paul's Cathedral, Parliament and Buckingham Palace, among other sites.   
Now, going back to my thoughts at the First Communion.  They say home is where the heart is and, regardless of whether we call Miami home or, for my sister-in-law, it's London, what never fails to amaze me, no matter where we go, is that when I go to Mass, I feel a sense of home; the familiarity, the comfort, the smells, the peace, and, of course, the family meal.  It's almost surreal that we participate in the same Mass being celebrated anywhere around the globe on any given day, including in Heaven, where Christ is the High Priest and perpetually offers His Body as the ultimate sacrifice for all. 

It's that universality that prompted St. Ignatius of Antioch to refer to the Church as "Catholic" (meaning universal) in the late 1st century.  The term stuck.

St. Joseph built in 1861...
Hence, there we were at St. Joseph's Church in Highgate Hill (They're full of hills!  You may have heard of Notting Hill, of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts fame).  It is a beautiful parish with a copper dome, covered in green patina, which dates back to the late 19th century, during a relaxation on the construction of Catholic Church buildings in the mostly Anglican nation. 

Although, the church inside has seen better days and some of the original murals are chipping off above the canopy over the high altar, you can feel the historicity of the thousands of parishioners who have undoubtedly worshiped there for the past 150 years.   

Fittingly the First Communion landed on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, which meant the readings all related to the Eucharist, including the Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John, God feeding manna to the Israelites from Deuteronomy and the First Corinthians reading, which I included above.  

During his homily, the priest told the children and congregation that "God unites his faithful through the Sacrament of the Eucharist. We become one with Him.  He becomes one with us."  

It's funny, the night before the Communion, the entire family gathered for dinner at a local restaurant and our nephew asked his mom a curious question, "Mom, how big is Jesus?"  
The man with questions... 

She was a bit perplexed, "What do you mean?"  
He answered, "Because if He feeds Himself to us every Sunday, how big can He be?"  It was laughed off as one of those questions kids ask.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I thought he needed an answer.  So, when we went outside after dinner, I took him aside and said, "Do you know how big Jesus is?  He's bigger than we can ever imagine.  He's so big that He can feed each and every one of us every day for the rest of our lives and we can never finish eating Him."  I'm not sure that it satisfied his curiosity, since he looked confused, but I didn't want his question to linger without an answer.

At the end of Big Night (spoiler alert!), after the two brothers have gotten into a blowout fight and went their own way, and having spent all their earnings on a party for a guest that never showed up, one of the brothers, Segundo (Tucci), wakes up the next day and goes to the restaurant kitchen.  We see their one employee (Marc Anthony) sleeping on a counter.  

Segundo goes and gets some eggs.  He turns on the stove as the employee gets up, pours some oil in a pan, cracks some eggs and starts scrambling them.  Without saying a word, he then goes to get a couple of plates and forks, as the employees goes to fetch some bread.  Segundo pours a third of the eggs on the employee's plate, another third on his plate and covers the remaining third.

They sit down and start eating.  No words are said.  As they eat their breakfast, Primo walks in. Segundo goes to the rack where the plates are, grabs one and a fork, pours the remaining eggs on the plate and places it on the seat next to him.  No words are said.

The bonding effect of sharing a meal... 
Primo sits and eats his eggs, as Segundo continues eating and the employee leaves them alone. Segundo then reaches over and puts his arm around his brother, who continues eating and puts his arm around him as well. It's a powerful ending.

Sharing a meal, especially among friends and family, has a unifying effect.

So, there we were, over four thousand miles from home, and yet we were home in the bosom of the Church, celebrating the same Mass that my parents were partaking in Miami, along with our nephew, niece, other members of my wife's family, and our British brothers and sisters; including the man with the dozen plus rings along the length of his ear and three more in his nose and the lady with the green and pink hair!

"This is the first day that you will receive the Body of Christ in your hand, on your tongue and down your throat," the clergyman told the First Communion kids, "We share in the banquet of the Lord every Sunday (And, every day, if we choose!).  It is the food that sustains our souls on our journey to heaven."

While, my sister-in-law's home is now in London, and may never again be Miami, whether it's St. Joseph, St. Isabel in Sanibel, where we vacation every year, or anywhere else, we are never far from home in the Church, where we share in God's family meal, or, as St. Paul puts it, are united in the One Bread...

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Raising Daughters, College and The Notebook...

Appropriated for a 12-year-old?... 
There's a fine balance between being a strong father and alienating your children.  It's a fine line I don't always walk too gracefully, especially, in recent weeks, according to my wife.

Raising two teenage daughter, well, one is sixteen and the other a few months shy of the teen threshold, is proving to be a bit of a challenge for me.

Maybe, not so much in the typical sense of teenage rebellion or defiance that parents brace for and expect, but in my own internal struggle of trying to cope with my girls growing up faster than I am ready for and wanting to impart to them the wisdom that has taken me a lifetime to attain, so they can circumvent the many pitfalls, missteps and confusion I experienced, especially when it comes to God, faith and morality.

My high school teen is heading into her junior year and starting to look at universities to apply to and I'm terrified at the state of academia in some of the more liberal renown schools she's been mentioning; even some of the Catholic institutions are a little suspect, with the exception of the ones that she refuses to consider (Because they are my suggestions!).

If there's something I've heard over and over in recent years is how easily Catholic kids, who are not deep-seeded in their faith, even those who attended parochial schools all their lives and Mass with their parents on Sundays, go off to college and lose their faith or end up agnostics, at best, after a heavy dose of mostly Atheist professors for four years and coed dorm roommates, who ridicule the faith, because it doesn't agree with their morally questionable lifestyles.

It's like that often-used Dostoevsky line from The Brothers Karamov, "If God does not exist, everything is permisible."

While nothing new, it's still hard for me to grasp that soon, my daughter will be in school exposed to a vicious cycle of reinforced waywardness, even more than I ever encountered because now, everything is permissible (As evident by the 58 different gender options on Facebook!), as she tries to live on her own for the first time, while still growing in the maturity needed to balance her newfound "freedom" with the responsibility that "freedom" entails, while making decisions that may be heavily influenced by her friends.  I know because I was there.  Unfortunately, I may even have been one of the bad influences that led innocent kids astray!

Of course, every student is different (and I don't just mean in gender identification sense, which is confusing enough!) and, as my own daughter says, I have to "trust the way we raised her" (I hate it when my kids make more sense than me!).  Yet, my concern is real nonetheless.

Meanwhile, my younger daughter is miss lovebird.  She has been having boyfriends practically from the time she learned to write and currently has a "romantic" interest, who comes over and she goes to his house as well.

He seems like a good kid, who comes from a good family.  Yet, the other day, I had a bit of a meltdown when she told us, nonchalantly mind you, that they watched the movie, The Notebook, together.  What?  Are you kidding me? 

Granted, some of you may say, it's a touching story about steadfast devotion that bolsters the wedding vows of, "Till death do us part," and "In sickness and in health."  But, how about all those flashbacks to hot scenes in their youth, the angry fighting that lead to hot scenes and, then, after they break up and she's engaged to another guy, they get together again and more hot scenes?  It's a hot scene fest! They can't keep their hands off each other and, worse of all, they're not even married!  In fact, the movie never really says whether their hot romance and cohabitation ever leads to marriage!  

So, there I was, making the point to my 12-year-old daughter, in my own animated way (And, I can get a bit passionate when I'm stressing something important, which at times, can be construed as anger, even though I wasn't), that if sex is the message the culture continuously tells kids is OK, then it's what kids will think is expected of them.

In other words, if making out, heavy petting and, dare I say the act that a former U.S. President called, "not having sex," is alright in movies, social media, books and TV shows, then kids have the pressure of living up to those expectations.

If it leads to sexual relations then, well, that's why some public schools systems, across the country, are passing out condoms and artificial birth control; whether the child's parents approve or disapprove, since the message is clear; teens are nothing but animals, who can't control their hormones, and having sexual intercourse is what it means to be "in love," and what it means to be an adult.  As a father of two girls and a 9-year-old boy, who is fortunately still clueless, it's a frightening prospect!
Still, my wife says she can't believe how belligerent I have been acting with the girls lately.  "If you think you're going to draw them closer to the faith in that way," she said one recent night when we were alone, "you're very mistaken.  You're going to drive them away!  Even if you were right, you're coming across like a fanatic."

It's a sobering thought and she is totally right; just don't tell her that, please! (Let's see, I have the kids and the wife sounding smarter than me.  All I need now is for the dogs to make me look bad. Then again, they usually do when I forget to walk them!)

In any case, as I thought about my abrasive advice-giving to my daughters, it became clear that all my recent anxiety and aggressive tendencies stem from fear.  I'm afraid of failing as a father, due in part to insecurities about my own inadequacies and failures.  In the meantime, I may be alienating my kids instead of fathering them.    

St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, "Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take over us, it drives compassion right out of our hearts."

I guess it comes down to a lack of faith, which is a consequence of my lack of trust; in, as my older daughter in her astuteness pointed out, the way we raised them (although, we're not raising the boys that will come knocking at the door, but I'll put that aside for now!), in their own judgement, as smart and independent thinkers, and, most of all, in God.  I'm not trusting God and, by now, I should know better.

I think, for me, it is easier to trust in God when it pertains to me and my wife because I've accepted that we are not in control.  My faith is, for the most part, unwavering.  Yet, when it comes to my children, the difficulty I'm finding is that I've gotten so used to being in control and I forget that, eventually, I'll have to let go and place them in God's hands too.  The question is knowing when (albeit not yet!).

It's remarkable how when you think you are starting to understand the intricacies of God, he humbles you by showing you just how little you really know.

The proverb  writer stated it best, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make straight your path." (Prov 3:5-6)...   


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Faith, Reason and Man's Search for Truth...

"Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth - in a word himself - so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves."

-- St. John Paul II (1920-2005), also known as St. John Paul the Great was a Pope, Theologian, Author and one of the most influential and inspiring figures in modern world history.  In his youth, Karol Wojtyla was an actor, poet and writer, before feeling the call to the priesthood.  As a young priest, Fr. Wojtyla, was a university professor in Poland, who attracted students because of his profundity, communication skills and warm and candid personality.  Many of those college students became lifelong friends, who he helped through marriages, family and vocations.  He experienced firsthand the wrath of Nazism, followed by Communism in his homeland.  Ironically, he later helped bring down Communism in Poland without a single shot being fired.  He was elected pope in 1978 and served in that capacity until his death in 2005.  His passion for marriage and the family grew stronger during his papacy, as he developed the Theology of the Body, which started gaining form while he was still a university professor.  He wanted to be known as the pope of the family.  On April 27, 2014, Pope Francis canonized him, along with Pope John XXIII, as saint.  His feast day is October 22nd...      

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Road to Jericho and What We Fail To Do...

Notice the two in the background...
"I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned; in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do..." (Penitential Act)

It's funny, alright, maybe not in the ha-ha amusing way but in an interesting sense nonetheless, we pray that prayer every Sunday at Mass but, when most of us think of sin, we think of things we have done and not what we have not done.  It's the obvious that jars our consciences.

However, the subtleties of sin, lie in our failures; that beggar we avoid at the red light so as to avoid giving him a buck, the friend who asks us for a favor and we come up with a lame excuse because we don't want to be bothered or the leaving of something we could have done to our spouse of because of, well, laziness (In my case; guilty, guilty, guilty!).

Last Tuesday, I found myself on that road to Jericho in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  However, instead of being the Samaritan, I was more like the priest and Levite, who saw the victim dying by the side of the road and crossed to the other side to avoid him.

Let me start from the beginning.  There's an eccentric French lady that lives near my house, who for some strange reason started showing up unannounced at our house for us to give her rides to meetings at our parish, if you can imagine that!  This could have been on a random Tuesday or Wednesday night, or on a night there was a special event that we were attending.  It didn't matter.  Not wanting to be rude and thinking it was our Christian duty, we took her several times.

She's a widow, as I found out, during one of our conversations to and from our destination and she moved to Miami after her husband's death.  Her children are already grown and living on their own in other parts of the country so she moved to the States to be closer to them but was living on her own in South Florida (with her dog).

In recent months, we haven't seen much of her much after, one time, she showed up for a ride at an inopportune time and I told her, possibly a bit curt, if not outright rude, that I couldn't give her a ride. In all honesty, I was getting a bit perturbed that she kept showing up asking and expecting a ride!  In hindsight, I feel terrible about my lack of charity; maybe it's my Catholic guilt!

In any case, on Tuesday, as I was rushing to the market to pick up dinner because I noticed that the meat I was planning on cooking was going to take way too long to prepare and I needed a Plan B, there she was walking by herself on the sidewalk, pushing a cart in the direction of the market I was heading to.  For a minute, I thought about pulling over and taking her the rest of the way.

However, as I got closer, I started thinking of whether this was going to start the cycle going again and I really didn't want it to.  So, I turned left at the corner before reaching her.

Yes, just two days removed from a spiritual retreat, where I came out feeling inspired to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the strangers, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the imprisoned, I found myself avoiding a woman, like the Jehovah's Witnesses knocking at the door, because I didn't want to go through the trouble.  

But, wait, the story gets worse.  As I am driving away in turmoil about what I am doing, I decide to turn back and take her.  It's like I have the angel and the demon battling over my shoulder; one saying to pick her up because it's the Christian thing to do.  The other saying, "You're in a hurry, she's already almost there.  So what if it rains?  She must be used to walking in the rain in France! Besides, for all you can tell, she's not hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick or imprisoned."

I came around with my car to the street she was still walking on and the demon was saying, "Look, she's even closer now and if you pick her up, then the right thing to do would be to wait for her to finish shopping to take her back home.  Your family will get upset that dinner is going to be late because you were waiting for her to finish shopping!  And, look, she's all sweaty.  She's going to stink up your car." Son of a bi#$%!  The demon won!  I rode right past her and pretended not to recognize her.

Wow!  After ten years of walking in the Light of Christ, and having gone out of my way on many occasions for others, I still revert to my base!  And so deliberately!  What a fine example of loving my neighbor.  Sad.

Yet, the struggle between doing what is right and doing what is convenient is real.  It's a choice that every Christian is forced to make with regularity.  While, there's no doubt part of me wanted to help, I didn't and the more I don't the easier it gets.  

It reminded of a line C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, "The more often he (man) feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel."    

Sin is sin, whether obvious or sublime.  It separates us from God.  At the center of sin is I.  Any time, I put "I" at the center of my actions, more than likely, there is sin.  In fact, the more obscure, the more dangerous they can be.

Again from Screwtape, "It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.  Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.  Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one -- the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."

The key then is getting to the point, where we recognize when stumble, repenting and seeking God's forgiveness. I've been asking for forgiveness ever since and will be taking it to the Confessional as soon as I can.

In the meantime, I'm hopeful, God will give me another opportunity to be the Good Samaritan and whether it's with our French neighbor, or someone else He puts in my path, I will not fail to do again...