A message for the NON-Holy Friday Retreat

I know I am not the person you were expecting to hear from this morning. I am not attempting either to fill the shoes of he who is absent. Fr. Vega as you know has been on a slow path to recovery after being afflicted by a coincidence of maladies that befell him along with the chikungunya. We gathered around him when he turned 80 this past October and I, for one, saw the path to recovery quicken after the gathering. He was on his road to recovery when his heart became heavy with the departure of his dear friend, Dr. Payne. With time, Fr. Vega has come around again and was slowly easing back into teaching and giving mass. But he is not here with us today because just 2 days ago he was informed he had been transferred away from the Jesuit Residence to the St. Teresa de Jornet home that serves the destitute elderly population. This sudden change has left him shaken and speechless.

Just this past Sunday Father Vega had anticipated he would be talking to us about the words of Pope Francis. As I anticipated hearing his “Readers Digest” of Pope Francis and how he would tie it to the way of the cross, I found myself an observer in someone else’s pain and isolation. In this holiest of weeks the events of the past 72 hours made me reflect on how at different moments in life we may be called to or accidentally, unwittingly .play different roles in someone’s agony.

Please do not take my words as an exposition of theology, but as an invitation to reflect. I am not equating Christ’s passion to our own, his sacrifice won us the Heavens. But in the lower plain of mere ever sinning humans striving to live according to our faith? Have you ever witnessed someone be crucified for doing what they thought was right? Maybe they were fired from a job for tattling or standing up for what they thought was right. Maybe you know someone who was evicted because their medical bills they chose to pay saved a life and cost them their home. Maybe you know someone who has lived serving others and when the tides changed and it was not convenient they who were cherished were denounced, ignored, betrayed and left alone. I have lived perhaps half a life, but I can see faces for each one of those stories. I see people carrying crosses and being crucified publicly for sport and then it hits me…. when I see those walking alone carrying the cross. Who am I?

Am I Simon Cirene? Was I thrust, ordered to help the outcast? Is Simon’s help bearing the cross less meaningful because he was ordered? Or was his act gallant and kind, though not initially his choice? Am I like the women who when they were able to, they sneaked in between the crowd and gave Christ some comfort and let him know in his darkest hours they were solidary. Am I crying following in silence showing up in private when the deed is done, to bear witness and make my love be known. Where am I? Am I the centurian who like Vonn shared in his reflection, the centurian that followed protocol, thinking he was righteous, and did not see til it was too late that Jesus was the Son of God. Are my convictions turned inside out upon bearing witness to someone else’s cross. Or perhaps the cross has been your own, and you can find the comfort of knowing that before you he walked and like you knows the loneliness and sting of betrayal, and through the Grace of the Holy Spirit also hold fast to the joys of love resurrected.

Up to now I have mentioned crosses like crossroads, moments, actions, choices that had dramatic repercussions. But what if the cross were not a choice, but the result of the natural course of life and modernity. It would be a cross you could not refuse and one we would hopefully all meet in old age.

Quoting Pope Francis “the future of society is rooted in the elderly and young people. The latter, because they have the strength and are of the age to be able to bring the story forward. The former, because they are the living memory. A people that does not take of its elderly and children and youth has no future, because it abuses both its memory and its promise.” Pope Francis on Thursday sent a message for the participants of the 47th Social Week for Italian Catholics, which will be held from September 12 – 15, 2013 in Turin, Italy.

A month later, Pope Francis speaking at the 21 plenary meeting of the Pontifical Council for the Family said, “Children and the elderly represent the two poles of life and also the most vulnerable, the most often forgotten… A society that abandons children and that marginalizes the elderly will sever its roots and dark future,” he said.

More recently, just last month he added, “A society where the elderly are discarded carries within it the virus of death”.

In short, it seems to me that the timeless truths in the Passion of Christ still echo in our modern experience. Sometimes we hear echoes of the crucifixion in an unjust turn of events, or in the alienation and desperation of another human being, and then there is the inevitable challenge of old age and the Pope’s invitation to not abandon them when they are vulnerable.

The story may not be repeated note by note, but there is a glimpse here and there that serves as an invitation to remember, reflect and choose to make your story, your choice informed by faith.

And as we ponder the story of the death on the cross of our Savior, I wish to remind you to relive your youth and reclaim your actions, because we are called to be a people of hope, hope as it is embodied in our young, hope that love will triumph. Please do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Do not let hope be stolen! What ever you choose to do, be a vessel for love, be a messenger of hope and God willing we will see each other on Easter Sunday.

Un café ciego, tostadas con queso y la tertulia mañanera del cafetín

Tal y como me lo describió Tito, el simpático dueño del negocio, son las 7:30 de la mañana y el colmadito-cafetín contiguo a la plaza comienza a llenarse de los personajes de todos los días. Se reúnen a desayunar como si fuera un baile espontáneo y a su vez todos conocen los pasos en la coreografía. Entre los que están se tiran burlas, se ofenden, comparten sus comentarios no solicitados, y entre cosa y cosa, intercambian noticias, contestan preguntas, desayunan y se van.

Una mujer joven entra con su niño de camino a la escuela. Tito pregunta: “¿Cual quieres?” La joven madre le acababa de hacer un gesto indicando que quería un periódico pero al recibir la pregunta se distrae, y pregunta de vuelta a Tito “¿qué hora es?” Tito le responde, con otra pregunta “¿La hora? Son como las 7:30am.” Nuevamente, lista retoma su pedido: “dame un nuevo día y media libra de pan.”

Antes de ir a pagar, gira rápidamente a su derecha, alcanza unas lascas de queso de bola y procede a la otra esquina del mostrador donde está la caja registradora. La caja registradora, el abanico que sopla detrás del mostrador, dejan entrever que la última renovación del lugar fue para los 1980.

Sale la joven madre con su hijo, y entra Don Vito, el billetero de la esquina, un señor ya mayor vistiendo una guayabera blanca ligera de manga corta y pantalones de vestir marrón oscuro.

“Una avena y un café, si me hace el favor” le dice a Tito.

Al ratito entran dos miembros del gimnasio que queda más abajo en la misma calle. Están en su ropa deportiva que deja al aire libre los molleros de sus corpulentos brazos. Uno le dice a Tito: “Me tienen a dieta hoy.” Tito interpreta esto como una orden de desayuno y le responde “¿quieres un café ciego?” El café del colmado-cafetín al igual que los pastelillos estaba listo desde temprano esperando a los clientes. “¿Quieres dieta o regular?” le pregunta Tito antes de entregar el café. La contestación sobre el endulzador del café se pierde porque el lugar se queda preñado de expectativa ante la llegada de Doña Zuly.

Doña Zuly es una señora retirada de unos 80 años, jocosa y de difícil carácter que a menudo viene buscando pelea y la encuentre o no, siempre entretiene. Hoy su compañera en el tango mañanero no ha llegado a tiempo, y es que Doña Zuly es estadista y Doña Cuca es popular, ambas de clavo pasa’o o del corazón del rollo, lo que es decir con pasión y locura. Viste una falda azul y una blusa colorida, que no disimulan su sobrepeso.

Entra Doña Zuly a toda boca, hablándole a las personas reunidas en el colmadito para desayunar: “Mira, ayer éste (señala a Jimmy) ese mismo estaba en el mismo medio y la gente tocando”

Jimmy, le contesta la queja en broma, “Pa eso soy popular!”

Don Vito, con todo manso le aclara a Doña Zuly: “Ay mami, son populares ahora, no vengas con eso ahora.”

Doña Zuly, rápido recoge la puya dejada por Jimmy y Don Vito y comienza una pequeña descarga contra los populares pero no sin antes aclarar los detalles de la celebración pública que se avecina.

“Una cosa,” comienza a decir Doña Zuly, Continue reading Un café ciego, tostadas con queso y la tertulia mañanera del cafetín

Angels in the night

Today we had a wonderfully exciting day. It is usually I who have the crazy long, complicated projects but this time it was Daddy.  Jim cut what we call a “weed tree” that was in the abandoned lot behind our land and dropping seeds and casting shade on our garden.  The feat of cutting down the tree and chopping it into fire logs and kindle was slow and arduous, taking several weeks to accommodate the occasional bad weather and work. The weed tree is a tree that is considered an invasive and problematic species because it is a haven for termites, breaks off easily and reproduces like… weeds.

Jim bought some big juicy steaks, potatoes, corn and broccoli. preparing for the day of the big open fire cookout in our back yard. Today after the sun had gone down, the boys jumped at the opportunity to dig a fire pit. The fire pit was then lined with ornamental concrete blocks that Jim had also done at home a while back. Then came the real challenge: getting the fire to start with wood that was chopped but not totally dry.  With 70% humidity as a norm, nothing is every perfectly dry.  Jim started the fire around 6 and by 7 we had would briquettes glowing red.  I prepared the food and Jim cooked it on the fire “cave man style” we called it… except we had aluminum foil to protect our vegetables.

To celebrate our fire, I made piña coladas – “cave men” missed out!  The fire was still going at 8:30 and we made smores. The kids said, “this is perfect for scary stories around the campfire or up in our rooms” (with the benefit of cool air conditioning).  So then the challenge was… who? Who had the best scary story? Jaimito researched online, Olaia read a Grimm’s original fairy tale and I made up this story:

Angels in the Night

Once upon a time,not too long ago, in fact I think it was just the other day, not far from here. There lived a little boy who like to play outside and jump around, explore under rocks and around tree trunks and eat chips and nuggets and messy hot dogs. He  was always the picture of contentment and mischief. So mischievous was he… that he did not like to take showers.

At 7:20pm every evening, twenty minutes after his mommy had arrived, he was called inside to dinner. “Wash your hands, Danny”, would usually melodically holler his mommy… As Danny came into view, he was usually asked with an admonishing tone. “Did you use soap?” “Yes ! Mommy Danny always protested, crossing his fingers behind his back. Continue reading Angels in the night

Gender stereotyping in the eyes of a 9 year old

Javier climbed in the car and did not wait for me to ask how his day was “Mommy, wait” he pleaded and demanded in the same breathe. He made sure his brother made it in the van and across to his seat before he continued. I turned to look at him and knew he had a story to tell, something was bubbling inside him ready to burst like that volcano he had just built for science class last year. “Yes, Javier,” I started leaving my statement inconclusive, inviting him to continue. “I had a terrible day at school.”

“I am so tired of teachers saying girls are more mature…” Javier has had a knee jerk reaction over the years to gender stereotyping. He has struggled with it, argued with girls in his class and consistently rejected it.  I can go as far back as Prekinder and him defending a boy in his class who liked the color pink. Javier told the other boys off, “pink is JUST a color, get over it!” Javier would add defiantly, “I like ALL colors”. Javier added later in the van- where most of our long conversations happen, that he had observed this boy and he thought he genuinely liked pink, but that maybe he liked pink also because the girl he liked, liked pink, and he obviously had a crush.

Javier was hearing “mature” and understanding girls were “more advanced”, somehow better students. The insinuation that was clear and present to this young boy was that girls “got it”, “they behaved better”, because that is their biology.

“It was unjust and uncalled for,” he explained, “I felt like correcting the teacher: ‘it is not in their biology to be better behaved! It is the result of other factors like what happens at home. Boys can be just as well behaved, just as good, just as smart! But I did not want to be rude to the teacher, and these were different teachers in different moments.” He may have misunderstood the subtleties of girls’ maturity but he was right on the communicative intent. He recognized the intent was to compare the genders and was intended at shaming the boys.

Later that same day the Spanish teacher insisted as she organized students to go out to the library, “boys wait and let girls go in first.” She was calling boys to be gentlemanly, which on its surface would not anger many parents, but Javier who had heard this call before from the demanding end of girls his age, had enough of it. He saw it as another unjustified gender manipulation based on notions of preference to girls.

Javier was ready to go to the principal, talk to his teachers, something had to change.  I took this moment to first agree with him and say that teachers should not be making gender based generalizations nor trying to shame a segment of the students by traits they cannot change. Then I went on to explain that girls did in general mature earlier, but that socialization outside of school and inside of school was in fact a very important part of behaviors present in the classroom. i also discussed with him the historic antecedents of statements like “girls first” and “gentlemen-like” behavior being a possitive social attribute. In the end, explaining the historical gender baggage the teachers carried did not minimize Javier’s observation. Gender roles and expectations are changing and generalizations are usually shortcuts with a cost, and he was not happy to pay it.





Harmony lost and found

Once upon a time there lived in the woods a humble family that was poor by many standards but rich in love. The father was a woodsman. He made a living cutting down trees to sell as lumber and make into rustic furniture.  The mother tended to the forest and made sure to plant new trees, especially fast growing evergreens, flowers and things to eat.  They had a son,  John who seemed from birth to be tapping and humming tunes.  Not even his cries were shrill, he whined melodically it seemed.  It was apparent to all who met John that he had a gift of music.

John’s first instrument was not really an instrument at all, it was a couple of round and polished sticks  that were going to be used to join together the legs of stool!  But John found them first. And though he was only 3 years old he walked around the house singing made up songs to the beating rhythm of his two sticks.   For his 4th birthday his mother asked him what single thing he would like to have given to him as a gift. She  expected him to want a wagon or  tree house but to her surprise he said, “a guitar.” She did not argue but waited  a day and asked again. Again he replied “a guitar”. Continue reading Harmony lost and found

“I am the Black Scorpion”

As most every night I sit on my bed to catch up with some work, work I did not get around to doing because I spend a couple of hours on the road driving kids to their activities.  This is not me venting. I love hanging out with my kids in the middle of the day. Asking them about their school day, reviewing who they played with and plans for the days ahead. If we are not talking we are listening to music, singing and laughing. Mostly talking or laughing. Those couple of hours are therapeutic. But, those hours come at the cost of a couple of hours sometimes at night or on the weekends.  C’est la vie. So there I was, sitting and working. My bedroom door is always open so I can listen to what goes on out there. And often, what is out there spills into the room as it did that night.


I heard the little pitter patter of rapid movement. Feet chasing, nervous laughs, the occasional “no!!! that is mine!” And then, the chaos burst into my room. Three boys ran in, one sang “When the bad guys are on the run, na na nana, nanana.  tu tu tutu, tu, tututu”. “Mom, look! I am …. the Black Scorpion! He is a character I made up” explained Javier, proud and excited as can be. Continue reading “I am the Black Scorpion”

The Black Scorpion: From the desert to the streets of LA

Stevenson woke up with a jolt at the sound of the alarms.  All he heard was that somebody locked his door. Stevenson hid under his bed and waited for the alarm to be turned off. He could hear the adults running around and things breaking.  He waited for his parents to sneak in and tell him what to do and what was happening. But that never happened. He never saw his parents again. Continue reading The Black Scorpion: From the desert to the streets of LA



Javier wanted desperately to be an altar server (monaguillo) or “mono-guillo” as we teasingly call the in our “tribu de monos”. He wanted to follow in his brother’s foot steps.

Jaimito had been altar serving since he was 9 years old. He trained while he was only eight, before his first communion. Then turned nine and celebrated his first communion. The very next day he served at the altar for the first time. It was also his cousin’s first communion. The pride and excitement Jaimito felt was evident to all and must have left a mark on Javier.

But rules changde and Javier would have to wait another 2 years for his first communion. Javier felt held back, oppressed like an eight year old would, because the rules of the game were changed.

He felt he was big enough and responsible enough… quoting a famous song we sing “anything he can do, I can do better!” In our tribu de monos the “one man upmanship” is de rigeur, a fact of life that often reminds younger brothers that they are not there yet and builds in them a thirst to be “ready”.

Javier tried to understand. He logically argued that  the reason for changing the age requirement was sound, but was convinced the rule should not apply to him, or at least, not limit him from serving at the altar.  He was old enough and mature enough to do the job (he was in fact a year younger than his brother at the start, but these are my monos).

Continue reading “Monoguillos”

La Vuelta

Tonight was a night that invited quiet reflection. From my car, in the traffic bottleneck (tapón) I took the opportunity to blog using voice to text on my cell phone…. ahh technology.  Here it is:
Olaia had a party, she also had a funeral mass. I tried to accommodate both in one night: the highs and lows of being alive.

She sang beautifully like an angel the words remembering a life were moving.  She let me know she was touched and sad, but found she could not cry when she saw such faith strength and peace in her friends’ family.  So many inspired words were said, dripping in religious imagery combining faith and memories in every sentence. It was sad. A friend her age lost her father. It was unbearable. I cried like a baby myself. But Olaia, along with her choir mates and her friend who also is in the choir, sang and their harmonies filled this church that fit easily 200 people. Continue reading La Vuelta