Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!!

To all my blogger friends:
Happy New Year !!!

Stay safe and don't drink too much.

My friends are dragging me to the Las Vegas Strip to ring in the New Year, but I'm having second thoughts about going. It's sheer madness out there.

God bless you all and have a prosperous and blessed 2008 !!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ecce Agnus Dei (for Cathy)

This is one of my favorite paintings of all time. It moves me unlike any other. The seventeenth century Potuguese painter Josefa de Ayala (often referred to as Josefa de Obidos) masterfully created this image over three hundred years ago during a time that was dominated exclusively by male artists. It is entitled Ecce Agnus Dei (Behold The Lamb of God).

The color and shadows of this piece are striking, and the textured wool of the Lamb seems somatic even when observed in mere paint.

When I listen to Barder's Agnus Dei (which you can listen to by clicking on it at the sidebar), Ayala's painting is the image that I see: The Lamb, motionless, sacrificed, and life draining from His body. Josefa - who has many other exquisitely painted religious works - died in 1684 and is buried in the Church of Saint Peter of Óbidos.

The Cheese Nun

Ever heard of this video? I saw it a long time ago, so the details are somewhat sketchy. Sister Noella Marcellino is a Benedictine nun with an aptitude for making cheese. If memory serves right, she is armed with a PhD. in micro-biology, and has growing, intercontinental reputation as an established expert of cheese-manufacturing. Sister Marcellino applies her knowledge towards advancing the skills of inexperienced American cheese manufacturers.

One thing I vividly recall from the video is the abbey Sister Marcellino was from. These weren't your typical nuns from the Sound of Music. Some of them drove tractors on monastery grounds, and yet another nun was an arborist and was responsible for maintaining the trees. This nun repelled from them!

Friday, December 28, 2007

After Christmas Temperature Check

Your Mood is a 4

You're feeling a little down, but not totally bummed out. Your mood is on the low side of average.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Into Great Silence

On Christmas Day I completed watching the award winning documentary Into Great Silence. German film maker Philip Gröning spent six months in the Grande Chartreuse Monastery located deep inside the French Alps, and chronicled the daily routine of Carthusian Monks. Almost a thousand years old, and one of the most austere monasteries in the world, the monastic idiosyncrasies of Grande Chartreuse left me speechless. The prayer life of these monks is fascinating.

Check out the trailer to this documentary.

This is the synopsis of the film as posted on the Zeitgeist Films website:

Nestled deep in the postcard-perfect French Alps, the Grande Chartreuse is considered one of the world’s most austere monasteries. In 1984, German filmmaker Philip Gröning wrote to the Carthusian order for permission to make a documentary about them. They said they would get back to him. Sixteen years later, they were ready. Gröning, sans crew or artificial lighting, lived in the monks’ quarters for six months—filming their daily prayers, tasks, rituals and rare outdoor excursions. This transcendent, closely observed film seeks to embody a monastery, rather than simply depict one—it has no score, no voice over and no archival footage. What remains is stunningly elemental: time, space and light. One of the most mesmerizing and poetic chronicles of spirituality ever created, INTO GREAT SILENCE dissolves the border between screen and audience with a total immersion into the hush of monastic life. More meditation than documentary, it’s a rare, transformative theatrical experience for all.

Into Great Silence is a documentary that is distinctive and unconventional, quite appropriate given the unique and extraordinary charism of the Carthusian tradition. In this film you will find none of the traditional elements that go into film-making. As the Zeitgesit synopsis mentions, there is no score, no narration, no computer graphics, nothing that can take attention away from the palpable silence of the monastic environment. What you will see and hear is the great silence of the monastery, and the perpetual presence of God. You will see these men pray, work, take care of their sick and elderly, as well as maintain and sustain their monastery. On the second disc of the DVD there is a segment that focuses on the Carthusian manufacture of Chartreuse, a liquor made by the monks and named after the monastery (recipe is a secret).

Carthusian monks live at the speed of the present. They are in no rush to get anywhere.

One of the most memorable scenes in the documentary comes when an elderly, blind monk is interviewed. He speaks as someone of unshakable faith as he expresses no fear of death, disappointment over an irreligious world, and gratitude for the loss of his vision - which he sees as God's handiwork towards the unfolding of his salvation. There is a certain inner-beauty that flows gracefully from him as he breaks his monastic silence and speaks during this interview. An extended version of this exchange can be found in the second disc of the DVD.

Some potential flaws viewers may find with this documentary is the fact that there is no narration whatsoever. Director Philip Gröning wanted to preserve the silence and the stillness of the monastic environment, so a narrator was omitted from the film - which could have facilitated understanding of the monk's daily routine. There are also sustained facial close-ups of some of the monks. I'm not sure the purpose behind these close-ups, but I'm guessing Gröning wanted to the viewer to study the faces of the monks as a way of getting to know them.

Overall, Into great Silence is a fantastic recapitulation of the austere monasticism of Carthusian monks. It delves deeply into the daily routines of contemplatives blessed with a unique and exceptional vocation. If you are interested in the contemplative practices of Catholic monks, you will enjoy this film immensely.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

I couldn't resist the cliched practice of posting an image of the Nativity this Christmas. After all, we are celebrating Emmanuel, and His presence and brief time on earth changed the coarse of history unlike any other human being that ever lived.

My friends, God bless ALL of you: Your husbands and wives; sons and daughters; friends, pets, grandmas and grandpas! Those who live alone and those away from home. Don't forget the reason for the season.

You know, I think it was Tolkien who constructed the word "eucatastrophe" and applied it to the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Eucatastrophe is a word that means "good conclusion." Tolkien said that the birth of Jesus Christ was the eucatastrophe of the history of man, and that the Resurrection was the eucatastrophy of the Incarnation. This is so true. On Christmas we celebrate our eucatastrophe, when the Sovereign Lord of History - by dwelling among us - destroyed death and gave us life in Him. A conviction that mystics have written about and exemplified with courageous sacrifices time and time again.

Blessings upon you and those closes to you.

May Christ be born in you.


"When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?" ~G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Well, after completing my trip to the confessional I feel blessed, and I feel forgiven. As if that wasn't enough, Auntie Adreienne - trying to keep this boy busy and out of trouble - sent me a blessing of her own. I have included the image symbolizing this blessing in this post, and I have also added it to the sidebar of my blog with thanks to Auntie Adrienne. In return, I am to choose three individuals and send them my blessings.

These are my choices:

1) Tara at Loved Sinner

2) Tracy at Tracy's Simple Life

3) Jaime at Season of Singing

To learn more about the spreading of the blessings, click here.


I feel relieved that I was able to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation today. The priest, Father Cruz, was kind, compassionate, and did not make me feel uncomfortable in anyway. One thing I must mention, due to the hyperactivity of my NERVES, the wording of my confession never came out the way I had planned. Not that I failed to disclose anything I could remember, but rather the planned wording of my confession "tripped" over my jitters. But I know the solution to this problem. Rather than remembering how to disclose the sin, I'll just remember the sin itself.

May Christ Be Born in You,


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Confession (gulp!)

Last weekend I made a promise on Terry's blog that I would attend confession this upcoming Saturday. I have every intention of keeping that promise despite the jitters that intensify as the day approaches. Quite frankly I NEED to go to confession. It has been a while.

I'm somewhat apprehensive about the whole thing. But why? I've been a Catholic all my life and I've been to confessions many times before and more than likely many times again.

The cowardly part of me looks back on that promise as a kick in the rear-end bearing my own shoe print. But the better part of me reveals that it should not have taken a public promise of any kind to drive me into the confessional to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.

A long time ago I attended confession and went through the process with a very kind priest. When the time came to say the act of contrition, I was so nervous I completely froze up. I can't even remember what came out of my mouth.

Anyway, don't feel sorry for me. This is good for the soul...literally. So there I shall be this Saturday.

Please, no cameras.


Monday, December 17, 2007

This is the sweetest, most loving, kindest, gentlest human being I've been blessed to love. If you cry, she will cry with you. If you want someone to show you compassion, compassion she will give. If you have wronged her, she will forgive you. She isn't capable of hurting of hating; and she has shown me how kindness can bring out the best in people you come in contact with. Her example is difficult to follow because it means completely abandoning the worst of human nature. This is my grandmother.

On Monday night she scared the crap out of me. As you can see she enjoys playing her poker machine, so once in a while I take her to a local casino here in Las Vegas so she can do just that. She has difficulty walking long distances because of a heart condition (defective heart valve). She runs out of breath quickly and has to stop in order to regain it. The cardiologist told me that it was healthy for her to walk otherwise she would loose the ability.

Unfortunately, she doesn't walk nearly enough as she should. Monday night when I took her out to play her machines she nearly couldn't make it back to the car, which was parked at a short distance from the entrance of the casino. I nearly freaked out thinking something was going to happen to her. Fortunately she did make it, but had to rest against the car before getting in. It broke my heart.

She is feeling better now but I'm going to take her to the doctor as soon as possible to report the incident and have her examined. I have to ask if it is healthy for her to continue walking, or if I should purchase a wheelchair for activities such as the one on Monday night. Please keep her in your prayers.

Blessings and Merry Christmas,

Yes, she likes to drink frappuccinos. I couldn't say no to her.

Demented Yultide

Okay, here's how to envision the setting of this poem. A guy is out in his front yard minding his own business when the unthinkable happens - as Santa has to go potty in between stops.

Christmas Phooey

Those weren’t snowflakes
That struck your head
As Santa’s reindeers flew overhead
The reindeers giggled at the scene below
Their target dazed by the mighty blow
“Where did it come from?
What on Earth hit me?
I came outside just to play some frisbee.
Hey, you there, Mister!
You across the street!
Did you throw me your car battery?”
The stenchy smell that clouded his senses
Was much more foul than previous offenses
Lightheaded just before he passed out
He saw one last image before he blacked out:
The pesky reindeers towing a sleigh
With tiny hooves whisking Santa away
In the night sky they looked like tiny ants
He could see St. Nick pulling up his pants.

By Naughty-I-Ain't-Getting-Nutt'n-For-Christmas-Tom

This classic was slightly altered from its original version, but the gist of the poem remains intact.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Party (With a brief insight)

I have two groups of friends. One group is made up of about five single guys and three married men. This group can be pretty notorious. They like to drink, they curse (a lot), and like to attend local dance clubs located inside the hotel and casinos here in Las Vegas. They are not a bad bunch of guys, but sometimes they get a little too rowdy and too loud, especially when liquor is involved. They keep trying to hook me up with people I don't care to date. One such effort was made a few weeks ago when my friend Steve arranged a date between myself and this (I must admit) very lovely woman. Everything about her was perfect except one thing: MAJOR SMOKER. Not to be offensive to anyone who smokes, but I simply cannot handle the toxic fumes. After I told Steve about my weighty objection, he blew it off and told me to continue seeing her and to "have fun and move on when you're tired of putting up with it." You'd think these guys would know me by now. I've known some of them since sixth grade and they know I don't work that way.

Then there is the other camp. This group of friends are the ones I attend services with and various other Church related functions. This is the group that I want to emphasize at this particular point in my life. They are typically older than I am, involved substantially in Church activities, and are committed to God and to practicing the faith. We are like one big family. In previous years we have lost some friends to cancer and to a number of other things and have suffered these losses together - as a family. Tonight, after attending a Christmas party that was put together by one of these friends, I took time out to reminded myself just how lucky I am to have them. Here are a few pics from the celebration.

Here is a picture of Father Phil and Jerri. Father Phil and I were in the same Discernment Group that was created by the Diocese of Las Vegas for serious candidates to the priesthood. I don't have to tell you which one of us had a change of heart.

Bob and Marilyn told me it took them two hours to put up this Christmas tree. It was quite beautiful, and if you can see how much stuff is on this tree they must have assembled it at breakneck speeds. It would have taken me probably a whole day (maybe more cuz I'm lazy) to complete it!

This was the dessert table. Oh, wonderful calories, who could resist thee? Not I...not I...

I did have a wine spritzer that one of my friends at the party made. I had a buzz that lasted almost three hours and could barely stand up straight. I'm such a wimp!

Let me finalize this post by saying that the first group of guys are not that bad. It's just that sometimes they can get a little too wild for my taste. One thing I do appreciate about them that I can never get away with the second group is their twisted senses of humor. I'm as bad as they are (if not worse). LOL!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas Tag (A short one)

"Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb..."*

1) This is my favorite time of year. I absolutely love Christmas and all its meaning, even though it's highly commercialized and secularist and irreligionist forces try desperately to commandeer it.

2) Like most of you I despise "Happy Holiday" greetings. It's a cowardly way of wishing someone a Merry Christmas.

3) Unlike most of you - probably because you've never heard it before - I prefer the expression "May Christ be born in you." This prayer/ blessing is spoken by monks during Advent at an Abbey whose name, regrettably, I have forgotten.

4) I struggle with science and faith as often as I think of God, which leads me to number 5

5) I think about God and His existence constantly, around the clock, while driving, while walking, while reading, while working, while listening to music. I contemplate different ways of finding Him; perhaps looking at something or at some thought from a different angle might yield a greater understanding into who He is and how I can live comfortably with that understanding. Perhaps during the times I toiled I was looking too deeply or not deep enough or I thought I understood my own struggles to believe when in actuality I didn't. Even doubts are sometimes difficult to understand.

6) During Christmas, I reflect on the words of Teilhard de Chardin and his assertion that Jesus Christ was the most perfectly evolved human being that ever lived. In Jesus Christ, Chardin saw "both matter and the spirit of God definitely combined", as well as our ultimate destiny. Be careful how you interpret this. Chardin was a Catholic priest and NOT a pantheist.

7) In Church tradition the Holy Spirit is often described as the Love shared between the Father and the Son. This is one of the most beautiful thoughts that can enter my feeble mind. That God would Love so incomprehensibly and place the fullness of Himself behind that Love is an idea that can move any unbeliever with an open mind.

8) Even during the times I struggle with believing in God, I think faith in Him is a magnificent and beautiful gift to mankind. I'm seized by the impression that faith in the Creator will someday yield a good conclusion.

May Christ be born in you.

*Taken from John Donne's poem Nativity.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree...

This past weekend I went to the Bellagio to check out their yearly Christmas display. It was quite beautiful and OVERSIZED. I must admit, this is the biggest Christmas tree I have ever seen in my life. And until someone decides to throw some lights and garland on a Giant Sequoia, it will more than likely stay that way.

The following two pictures capture the dramatic re-enactment of what penguins do every year at the North Pole. Yes, these guys do move. Look at the penguin on the ladder. What amazing equilibrium!

Of coarse, what would Christmas be without reindeers. This lovely pic shows Santa's reindeers begining to ascend with their rear-ends pointed at me.

And finally, how would you like to hang these bad boys from your Christmas tree? The tree in the first picture was flanked by two colossal ornaments like the ones featured here. Makes you wonder how much the Bellagio - an upscale hotel and casino - spent to lavish their guests with this vista?

I apologize for the way some of the pictures turned out...too grainy. It was rather dark in the "greenhouse" or nursery or whatever you call the area where this display was set up.


Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Monks I Love

I believe that one of humanities most benevolent and expressive desires for God comes in the life of a Catholic monk. A life that is essentially based on work and prayer (actually, one might say mostly on prayer since contemplatives consider the work they do a form of prayer) this unique vocation demonstrates the validity of the tested Christian tradition, especially in a Catholic context. To willfully inundate yourself in an environment that focuses internally on the perpetual search for God speaks volumes of those blessed with such a vocation.

Following the rule of St. Benedict, Cistercian monks begin their day very early with morning Vigils; continue on to mass, after which comes the morning work session. They pause for lunch, continue to a brief prayer moment and begin the afternoon work session. In the evening comes Vespers and another prayer service before retiring. Each monastery has its own specific schedule, but most follow a daily routine similar to the one just explained.

For me, monks prove that God exists. Could lunatics and megalomaniacs, unrepentant objectifiers and double-crossing tricksters pursue such a life? I think not. These individuals have found something profound (or "Something" has found them) that they feel more complete living as a monk in a monastery than as anything else.

You have seen the imagery a thousand times before. Those black and white tunics accompanied by scowls that make contemplation the focus of the monk, amid fields of grass, sky, and sunlight. I can't put my finger on it, but there is something about a monk and the simplicity of nature that go very well together.

In this account, I must also mention the cloistered and Benedictine nuns. They, too, exhibit the same sanctifying characteristics as their bretheren monks, and are no less vocationally gifted.

Terry has a great post on a wonderful monk with a profound spirituality. I had not heard of him until I read the post which focused on him. How on earth did I miss this guy? Give it a read. You wont be sorry.

Also, visit A Day in the Life of a Trappist Monk. This beautifully constructed website covers just about every aspect of Trappist life, as well as the history of the abbey these monks maintain.


**Picture of silhouetted monk from Self Knowledge

**Monk in the fields from A Day in the Life of a Trappist Monk

**Picture of cloistered nuns taken from The Catholic Sun's Photostream

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Mystic Monk Coffee

Mystic Monk Coffee. Have you ever heard of these guys? Well, apparently there is a group of Carmelite Monks in Wyoming whose "monastic industry" is the production of roasted coffee. I've never heard of them before, and even though I'm not a big coffee drinker I'll support them by purchasing for a few friends who do enjoy the taste.

If you know them or have purchased from them before, leave me a comment and let me know what it was like. Maybe make a few specific recommendations about what is good!

God bless,

Thursday, December 6, 2007

You + Movie + Christmas

Your Christmas is Most Like: The Muppet Christmas Carol

You tend to reflect on Christmas past, present, and future...
And you also do a little singing.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Tagged- I'm it!

I have been tagged by Auntie Adrienne and it's time to play. Here are the rules as they appear on her blog.

Each tagged person must post 8 random facts or habits about themselves on their blog. At the end of the post, choose 8 people to be tagged and list their names. Don't forget to leave a comment telling them that they are tagged and to read your blog. Have fun!

Here are my 8 abnormalities:

1) Originally, I was born in Cuba and came to the United States when I was six years old (fled religious and political persecution, that kind of stuff). My family has maintained a presence in the U.S. since the early 1950's.

2) I sport a goatee (well trimmed)

3) I was once in dialogue with the Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas for entry into the seminary.

4) Even though I have mixed emotions about marriage, I think family is one of the most important relationships a man can strive for. I have friends who push me towards marriage (they, of coarse, are married).

5) When I sleep I can sometimes hear music I've never heard before set to full orchestral arrangement. I have no way of writing down what I heard because I have forgotten most of what I learned from my piano and violin lessons.

6) My dream is to flee from Las Vegas and live in a New England village with lots of trees, hills, and narrow, cobblestone streets.

7) I feel that if I had started early enough either in my late teens or early twenties, that I would have made a semi-decent comedy writer.

8) I believe that a relationship should be 50/50. I find it curious how some men feel they should be calling the shots on everything.

I 'm tagging:

1) The Mad Race for Macey

2) Tracy's Simple Life

3) The Recovering Dissident Catholic

4) Abbey Roads

5) everyday life as lyric poetry

6) To China and Back

7) The Catholic Path

8) Catholic Vision


I have written about Thomas Merton - the monk, author, poet, and social activist - on previous postings that briefly covered his life and his gravitation to a Catholic contemplative committal. I have always thought of him as someone enamored of God and passionate about His existence; and our obligation to love each other as instructed by Jesus Christ. In other blogs, however, I read a description of Thomas Merton that is vastly different from the perception I have of him. No exact details are mentioned to support their claims, but I've heard him referred to as a "heretic" and a "new age guru." Are we talking about the same Thomas Merton? I know he forged a dialogue between Catholic and Buddhist contemplatives that continues to this very day. I know he was appalled by the Vietnam War and the development, proliferation, and strategizing of nuclear weaponry. I know of his indignation over the racial inequities that plagued America during the tumultuous 1960's. But a heretic? Does his social activism and ecumenical conferencing make him a heathen? To my knowledge, Merton remained a faithful and observant Catholic throughout his stay in Gethsemane. It was not until the last few years of his life that he was given permission by his abbot to travel abroad. His works (the one's I've come across) are filled with beautiful spirituality that sees humanity as a marvellous creation, albeit fallen and oftentimes weak.

One thing I must mention, I read this derogatory characterization of Merton on a blog with an author who seems quasi-misanthropic and infuriated at anything and everything that is not to his liking. He focuses completely on what is wrong with the Church and never mentions - in a pleasant tone - some optimism over anything.

Maybe that's the problem. Merton wasn't enough of a Scrooge for this poor individual.

Let me know your thoughts on Thomas Merton. Perhaps there is something about him that I have failed to detect.

Celebrating Catholics in the Sciences

Ever heard of the Big Bang Theory? Before you ridicule this cosmological proposition as quackery or as an antithesis to religion, allow me to inform you that this theory has a Catholic historicity and contribution. Meet Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Éduard Lemaître, father of the Big Bang Theory, proposer of the "primeval atom."

Born in Belgium on July 17, 1894, Monsignor Lemaître, before becoming a priest, volunteered to serve in the Belgian army during WWI. Upon completion of his military assignment, Lemaître returned to Belgium as the recipient of the Military Cross and began a program of studies for the priesthood and doctorate in mathematics and physics. After his ordination and successful completion of his doctoral studies, in 1930 Monsignor Lemaître proposed his theory of "the Cosmic Egg exploding at the moment of creation." Fred Hoyle, a British astronomer and critical of Lemaître's theory, pejoratively referred to this exploding egg as the Big Bang.

In a nutshell: the Big Bang Theory proposes that the universe began with the incomprehensible and unimaginable explosion of an atomic nucleus that contained all the matter that comprises the universe today. Before the explosion there was nothing. During and after the explosion there was our universe. As Lemaître once described it, "A day without yesterday." In 1966, shortly after having learned of the discovery of cosmic background radiation- a detection which added validation to his cosmic theory - Monsignor Lemaître died on June 28 of that year.

Since then many discoveries has solidified the proposition made by this scientists and man of God. To this day, the "exploding primeval atom", the "day without a yesterday", stands as the most likely and scientifically supported theory of universal origins in all of cosmology. The discoveries made by the COBE and WMAP devices add more missing pieces and greater clarity to what Monsignor Lemaître proposed over seventy years ago. In his honor, there is a crater on the moon named after him, and in 2005 he was voted as one of the top 100 Belgians of all time by Flemish and French constituencies.