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Román
4/24/2012

I must admit that I didn’t care for Bishop Agustín Román at first. I was fourteen years old and in the eighth grade at St. Timothy Catholic School and was preparing for my confirmation. Because of the large number of kids receiving the sacrament that year Sr. Mary Carolyn, O.P. informed us that there would be two groups. One group of students would be confirmed by then Archbishop Edward McCarthy and the other by the auxiliary bishop. I, of course, wanted the Archbishop.

Who wouldn’t? If I had to choose between “the guy in charge” and his “assistant,” why not choose “the guy in charge.” Why not choose the one whose pointy hat was bigger and whiter than the other guy. So, you can imagine my disappointment when I was informed that I would be in the group with the auxiliary bishop.

When I expressed my opposition to Sr. Carolyn she stopped me cold. Knowing exactly where I was coming from and where I was going, she told me that Bishop Román was a great and holy man. She insisted that it was my pride that yearned for the Archbishop and that my expressed discontent was even more reason to keep me with Román. And so it was.

Seventeen years later I had to make a decision. Who was going to be the bishop that would ordain me a priest? After eleven years of studies and prayer in seminaries around the world that helped prepare me for the most important moment of my life, who would be the man with the shepherd’s staff that would stand in the place of Christ and bestow upon me the sacrament of priestly ordination? The choice was undoubtedly clear… Auxiliary Bishop Agustín Román.

The fact is that those seventeen years of growing up and maturation helped me to realize that what is essential in life has nothing to do with position or authority, but everything to do with holy and complete service to others. And no one should live this essentiality more than the priest.

This clarity of vision about the purpose of human existence and this clarity of vision about the purpose of a priestly vocation has been made known to me thanks to the presence of extraordinary priests in my life who understood it and lived it. And among these men, none has been greater than Auxiliary Bishop Agustín Román. His was a life surrendered for the service of others. No matter when or where, no matter who or what, Bishop Román served.

It is no surprise then that on September 2, 2000 after having been ordained I made my way down to the basement of Gesu Catholic Church in downtown Miami for a reception to celebrate my ordination. As the various priests present at the ceremony came to congratulate me, I turned to find Bishop Román kneeling before me with his head bowed asking for my blessing. I was humbled by his request and with unworthy hands placed them on his head and bestowed on him my first priestly blessing.

While the image of that humble cleric has never left me, it was the words that he said to me that most touched my heart. Holding my hands in his he said, “Willie, nunca dejes que se seque el aceite que ha ungido estas manos.” He then kissed my hands and as he stood said, “y pensar que el Señor me ha permitido estar contigo en los dos momentos más importantes de tu vida.” If only he knew.

God bless,
Fr. Willie '87

Words to the Class of 2012
4/2/2012

I would imagine that most of you, like me, were to some degree focused on the recent trip of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba. You don’t have to be Cuban or of Cuban decent to have been caught up in one way or another with the pontiff’s visit to the beaten and battered island that lies just 90 miles south of us. The fact is that most, if not all of us who sit here tonight are here because at one point, for one reason or another, we or are parents or grandparents were forced out of our homeland and had to make our way to the shores of this great nation and create a new life through much toil and struggle.

I have no problem in admitting to you that Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to my parents’ birthplace aroused in me mixed feelings that to this day and for days to come I will have to pray about and deal with. I also have no problem in admitting to you that I had mixed feelings about the thousands of pilgrims that traveled from Miami to Cuba for this great event. When two of my brothers told me that they were going on this experience and asked if I would think about going, I hesitated and thought about what the implications of my going to Cuba would be. So long has my hesitation lasted that it has been several days since the pope left Cuba and I’m still thinking.

But I do want to share with you tonight one particular feeling that I experienced most of all from the pope’s pilgrimage. I share it with you because I think that it may help you, the Belen senior class of 2012, as you draw ever nearer to graduating and leaving this place that for the past seven, six, five or four years has been your home away from home.

It is the feeling of hope.

Hope came to me as I sat at home and watched the octogenarian pontiff kneel before the image of Our Lady Queen of Charity, patroness of Cuba, in Cobre just outside the city of Santiago. As I saw him praying I thought about the person that image he was looking at tries to capture. I thought of Mary and how 2000 years ago she carried within her young womb the blessed hope of a world that was battered and bruised by sin and death. It was that baby that she would give birth to that would one day be nailed to a cross, rise from the dead, and through his resurrection unleash upon the world a wave of glorious hope that to this day warms our very bones and the bones of all men and women who await one day to be liberated from whatever chains that bind them.

Whether it be archaic ideological dictatorships, addiction, fear or death… the love expressed by Christ on the cross and his glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven fills the world with hope.

This is the same exact hope that fifty years ago encouraged a small handful of battered and bruised Jesuit priests and brothers to make their way to an unknown land and raise from the ashes of despair a school that refused to lie down. From that first day in October 1961 when a small band of brothers walked into the fourth floor of the Gesu building in downtown Miami to begin their Belen Jesuit education to the present day when a small band of brothers gather in their high school gym to end theirs, it is the same blessed hope that allowed them and will allow us to overcome such incredible odds and to reach such incredible heights.

It is the very same blessed hope that I will take with me in August when I leave Belen and make my way to a new mission in the Dominica Republic.

This evening I look out into the crowd and see the faces of 200 hopeful young men who for several years have worked hard to get to this point in their lives and find themselves at the threshold of what can potentially be a great and blessed future. It is to you that I say: never lose hope.

In a world that is plagued by poverty and misery… never lose hope. In a country at war that is all too often led away from the path of what is right and just…never lose hope. And in a community of sadness and pain… never lose hope. Never lose hope because you, class of 2012, are its hope. Gentlemen, every single one of you has been endowed with two very powerful gifts: a Belen education and the hope that will help you sustain it and live it. Rest assured that with these two gifts you will never despair and the future of our world is filled with hope.

No matter how bad it can possibly get, remember the words of American author Robert Fulghum: “I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”

As we draw ever closer to the day when these young men will leave the safety of Belen’s arms and make their way into the collegiate world, we pray that in their hearts there will always shine brightly that great beacon of hope that will ignite in them the courage and determination to overcome anything and fill the world with blessed hope.

To the class of 2012, a simple reminder but important reminder… although in a few short months you will soon become Gators or Hurricanes, Seminoles or Bulldogs, Cardinal or Rams, always remember that you were first and always will be Wolverines.

God bless,
Fr. Willie '87

The Price is Wrong
3/27/2012

I don’t think four day weekends are a good idea. The problem is that when we eventually get back to school we seem more tired than ever before. Why is that? You would think that after four days of lounging around, a full 96 hours of blessed relief from classes, we would come back invigorated. But we don’t.

I can tell just by standing at the front of the school as I welcome the walking dead into the building. For some reason their handshakes are weak, their heads are down, and their eyes barely open. They want to say “good morning,” but what rolls out of their mouths instead is more like a whimper that makes them sound more like an orphaned puppy than Belen students.

Are you telling me that four days of lying on the couch watching the Price is Right does not put a spring in your step anymore? I’m telling you that’s what did it for me in my day. There was nothing like watching Bob Barker on television holding on to that elongated microphone hanging out with those beautiful models. They would always call up some poor schmuck from Wichita to play Plinko, a game that requires no skill whatsoever. The guy would win a couple of bucks only to go down losing because in the big wheel he went over the $1 mark.

An overdose of a game show like that should put a smile on any young man’s face. But it doesn’t anymore. I don’t know if it’s the absence of Bob Barker or the presence of Drew Carey or more sophisticated games hat require too much thinking. Instead our boys come back looking worse than what they did when the long break started.

And don’t look now, but Easter break is just around the corner. Now we’re talking about ten days of Plinko, Cliff Hangers, Hi Lo, and Line ‘Em Up. I hate to think what they are going to look like on April 16th when they come back. At that time we may be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus but they’re going to look like they’ve just been crucified.

It’s what leads me to believe that maybe we should cut out these litanies of free days. Maybe we should just have more school days and not less. I know the guys would kill me if they read this, but maybe as adults we know better than they do and should limit breaks to the standard weekends.

Actually, maybe we should try the Japanese style of education that has six school days in a week and eleven months of classes instead of the American version of five days and ten months. The Japanese may not be able to come within a thousand bucks of a final showcase, but at least they don’t carry scowls on their faces when they walk into school (probably because they never leave it).

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Goodbye Yankees
3/21/2012

When I was a little kid the only baseball teams you could watch on television were the New York Yankees and whoever was playing against them. I think there were two reasons for that. First, Miami had no major league baseball team of its own and second, the tens of thousands of pinstriped snow birds that had made their way down from the Big Apple to the hot and humid beaches of the south assured the local networks satisfactory television ratings.

As if it were yesterday, I can still hear sports announcer Phil “the Scooter” Rizzuto scream out “Holy Cow!” as Thurman Munson clobbered a homerun and jogged lazily around the bases, liting the Bronx Bombers to another win. I watched the games with my mother’s aunt, Tia Trini, who had lived for several years in New York after having left Cuba in 1961 and had become a devoted fan. She really loved the Yankees.

Tia Trini’s ritual was to sit in front of the television set with a beer in one hand and a fan in the other. She drank the beer because she insisted that it helped her remember all the players’ names and positions. The fan she held in the other hand was because my father’s open-the-windows-if-you’re-hot policy (a penny-pinching scheme if I ever saw one) kept the house muggy and constantly reminded us that we lived in south Florida.   

In those days my father had just installed the central air conditioning system in our house. It was a huge decision for our family because with the old individual air conditioner units my father would turn them on or off depending on the use of the room. These units were more affordable than having central air that when turned on would have to keep the whole house cool.

For this reason we were not allowed to turn on the central air until the temperature outside reached 97 degrees or more than two family members passed out, whichever came first. Eventually, several heat strokes and three dead parakeets later, my father conceded and the central air was kept running almost all the time.

But my days of watching the Yankees dramatically changed on April 5, 1993 when knuckleballer Charlie Hough pitched the first strike for the newly formed Florida Marlins. Even though I should have been teaching a theology class at Belen to 150 seniors that afternoon, I sat in the stands of Joe Robbie Stadium (or was it Pro Player or Dolphins or Sun Life) wearing dark sunglasses and a baseball cap that covered my face.

I know that skipping school that afternoon to watch the game may have seemed somewhat irresponsible on my part, but I realized the choice was a good one when at the game I ran into 145 of the seniors that should have been at school as well. To this day that historic opening game against the Los Angeles Dodgers sits on my top-ten-list of most important events in my life (it currently holds the ninth spot right after the central air installation).

These were the thoughts that came to me as I watched the Belen baseball team beat Mater Academy in a district game yesterday afternoon. As if watching the Wolverines win was not good enough, I watched the game sitting next to one of my favorite ballplayers, Cookie Rojas. He’s been coming a lot to our practices and games.

Let me tell you, you’ll never meet a sweeter gentleman, a truer sportsman, a classier act. It’s no wonder my grandfather and dad always spoke so highly about him and expressed their pride in having a Cuban like him in the majors. The only down side to the whole experience yesterday was how hot it was. You can’t imagine how scorched you get while sitting on those metal bleachers behind home plate. I could have used a beer and a fan myself or maybe just some central air-conditioning.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

I'm Back
3/19/2012

You can’t imagine the amount of people who have complained to me about my blog absence. They believe it to be unfair that I would write consistently about random thoughts and experiences and then, almost from one day to the next, quit cold turkey.

I agree that there has been some level of unfairness on my part. I agree that maybe a small injustice has been committed. Definitely not to the same degree that we foolishly loyal Dolfans have experienced throughout the post-Marino years where we are consistently promised a star quarterback to man our floundering team to help raise it to the prestigious levels it once was (and it seems that this next season will be another tilt against us in the scales of Lady Justice), but an injustice nonetheless.

I also agree that maybe the transition to writing less should have been a little more gradual, a weaning of sorts. Maybe in the same manner my mother got me off the bottle (I mean baby bottle) or the infamous “tete” (pacifier). I had been told that the latter was a struggle. Even the old Cuban tactic of dipping it occasionally in vodka or some other hard liquor to repulse my sensitive infant taste seemed to have only the opposite effect.

The fact is that the regular rat race of the principalship, along with the regular rat race of life, along with the regular rat race of time constraints has gotten the best of me. But I knew a restart had to occur when last Saturday night at the Noche Campestre, the annual fundraiser for the Belen Youth Missions, a gentleman stopped by the table where volume two of A Blog for All Seasons was being sold and said that volume three was going to be pretty thin if I didn’t get back to writing.

So I have sharpened my pencil. Actually, I have tapped my keys and have gotten to work. I will tell you this, I will not make the same grave mistake I committed when I abandoned so blatantly and apprehensively the blog for too long a time. No sir, I will restart the blog series slowly in order to build back the reader’s confidence that I have so shamefully lost. Like my father always said, “trust is something that is difficult to build and yet so easy to tear down.”

Thus consider this to be the first initial installment of the blog series meant more than anything to whet the appetite. I promise to make once again the concerted effort to write more frequently and more faithfully.

Until next month… I mean next time.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Belen Jesuit Affirms
2/28/2012

I have recently published some articles for El Nuevo Herald that I thought you may enjoy reading. The one I post here was a couple of weeks ago. I hope you enjoy it.

A quick review of history clearly demonstrates that it isn’t the first time something like this happens. A century before the year of our Lord, Emperor Antiochus forced thousands of Jews to betray their faith by having them desecrate their own temples and eat impure foods. In the sixteenth century, Thomas Moore was forced to go against his religious beliefs and betray his own conscience by signing the annulment of King Henry VIII’s marriage. In both cases the victims refused and in both cases they paid the ultimate price.

The recent attempt of the Obama administration to force Catholic institutions such as schools and hospitals to include coverage of contraception, pharmacological abortions, and sterilization procedures sounds eerily similar. The ObamaCare policy is not simply an attack on the pro-life teachings of the Catholic Church, but a direct assault on the religious liberties of any and all religious institutions.

Fifty years ago Belen Jesuit Preparatory School and the Jesuits who taught there were expelled from Cuba by a tyrannical regime because the Castro government did not want Catholic beliefs and principles to be taught on the island. Fifty years ago Belen refused to allow the mandates of an atheistic and ideological government to be imposed on its students, faculty, and their families.  And fifty years ago Belen sought religious asylum in this country so that its right to be Catholic could be safeguarded.

Belen embraces wholeheartedly and unconditionally its Catholic identity and is squarely aligned with the teachings and doctrines of the Church. On behalf of my school and Catholics everywhere I would like to applaud our bishops and other religious leaders who have valiantly stood up to what is unprecedented step towards the violation of our constitutional rights.

For the record, if the current White House administration insists on denying us the exercise of our religious rights so adamantly ensured in the first amendment of this great nation’s constitution, then Belen Jesuit Preparatory School will respectfully refuse to comply. And if that “defiance” comes with a price, then that price we will be willing to pay.

I know that most recent articles in the media have cited several polls that indicate that the majority of people seem to agree with the practice of artificial birth control, sterilization, and even abortion. But it is important to understand that the religious convictions and doctrines of the Catholic Church have never been formulated by popular or public opinion, but by divine revelation. The Church clearly takes her cue from her founder who just over 2000 years ago due to public opinion paid the ultimate price in order to remain faithful to divine revelation.

The Belen Jesuit Catholic community encourages its United States Representatives to co-sponsor and support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179, S. 1467). It is only by supporting this Act that we can continue to secure the right to exercise our religious beliefs in a country whose liberty and freedom has been preserved by so many who paid the ultimate price.

God bless,
Fr. Willie '87

Las Papeletas
2/5/2012

Once again we have started the dreaded sale of Tombola raffle tickets. Every year we go through this ordeal of having to insist that our students sell their tickets. We give them the spiel of how 27% of the student body is on financial aid, how if it wasn’t for financial aid some of your friends and classmates would not be here, how this year alone we have distributed 1.9 million dollars worth of financial assistance, how in today’s difficult economy, etc., etc., etc.

I often times think I must sound like a broken record with the various speeches I have to give to grades and homerooms. I walk into the classes or stand in the auditorium and try hard to muster up the energy to encourage and enthuse the young masses and rouse them up to action. I try to create a selling frenzy for the sake of those who are right under our noses and are in need. But for as much as I try to be creative in relating the message there are only so many ways that you can say it: “please sell your tickets;” “your tickets, please sell them;” “tickets, sell, please.”

I know that there is some relief on the horizon that some parents may not like very much. Because the selling of those blasted raffle tickets is so important, the administration has decided that next year they will be included in the students’ activity fees. This way we can make sure that the important money that helps feed our financial aid coffers will have its necessary resources. The good thing about this is that when Tombola rolls around in February of 2013, students will still receive the raffle tickets to sell, but what they sell will make up for what their parents already put in at the beginning of the academic year.

While I agree that this is a solution to the whole raffle ticket sale ordeal, I must admit that I don’t find it to be the ideal solution. The reason being that raffle ticket sales is one of the ways that we get our students to take ownership of the school, their education, and, more importantly, the education of their fellow classmates.

When I was a student at Belen back in the 80s my father received financial assistance. It was the only way he was going to get his six boys through Belen. I was totally unaware at the time that I was on financial aid, but when ticket sales came around my father made sure that I sold each and every single one of them. And in those days my father wouldn’t simply make out a check for $120 to cover the costs of the tickets. No sir, my father would drop me off at Publix on a Saturday morning and pick me up at noon for a quick sandwich (at home mind you) only to drop me off again in the early afternoon until I sold every single ticket.

Like most Cuban Americans back then, I thankfully had the great-aunt that was better off than everyone else who lived in New York and would conveniently visit Miami in early February. She was a beacon of hope because I knew I could easily count on selling her ten tickets. But other than that, it was Publix, Grand Union, Futuro Supermarket, and a couple of trips around the block.

Throughout my four years of selling raffle tickets for Belen I always wondered why I had to sell them satisfied that the answer was simply because my father said so. But little did I know that I was not only helping my own cause, but the cause of so many others who not only graduated with me, but are still to this day my closest friends and now some of Belen’s most generous benefactors.

So parents, please have your sons sell them. Students, please sell them. And anyone else reading this blog entry that does not have a son at Belen or attends the school, please buy them.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

The Happenings
1/30/2012

I read last week that because Fidel Castro has recently started writing his weekly articles in the Granma they were able to confirm that he is still alive. I figured that I better write something today for the blog before rumors start spreading that I have kicked the proverbial bucket or have finally landed my dream job of beach ministry on the island of Maui or have been hired by the Miami Dolphins as their new tight ends coach making me the only recent hire that does not come from Green Bay.

I admit that my blog entries have been few and far between, but the activities and responsibilities at Belen have also recently escalated. Between the preparation for the launching of the iPads in August, the reaccreditation process that we began last semester, and the various sports and extracurricular activities there isn’t enough time to visit my mother much less write a blog.

Don’t get me wrong, I miss writing. I miss sharing with the unlucky few who stumble across the academics tab on our website and run into the random thoughts of a Jesuit priest who writes about his childhood, father, and Belen. I miss sharing those positive experiences that got me where I am and those negative experiences that also got me where I am. I miss reminiscing about the days when a Coke only cost me a quarter at the U-Totem and Santa’s Enchanted Forest was located in the North Pole and not Westchester. I miss telling stories of the days when we never wondered who our quarterback was going to be because Dan Marino was at the helm and even though we never got back to the Super Bowl we were convinced every year that it was possible.

So here we are, about to end the month of January and enter the month that signals the leap year. The few weeks since we’ve gotten back from Christmas break have been hectic but good. Last week our middle school celebrated excellence. Ms. Jimenez summarized the accomplishments of the semester and singled out those students who held the banner high. There were a lot of them. We have some very promising kids that are coming up the ranks. The high school will definitely be in good hands.

Athletically we are as solid as ever moving surely into the baseball and track season with lacrosse and water polo right on our heels. Basketball is slowly coming to a close and soccer is making a run for another possible visit to the state tournament. The masters of Latin ball seem to be confident about their chances and are focused on their big game tomorrow in Ft. Lauderdale. Let’s keep our fingers and shin guards crossed.

A quick word about the seniors. Soon we will be making our way into the various events that mark the end of their lives at Belen. Everything from prom to Gradbash to baccalaureate mass makes its way into our calendars this second semester. And if that wasn’t enough, the onslaught of college acceptances begins to make their way into the hearts of students and parents alike. In other words, fasten your seatbelts it's going to be a bumpy ride.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

In Vino Veritas
1/21/2012

I heard it once said that an apple stolen from your neighbor’s tree tastes better than the one bought at the market. I don’t know if this is true because I never had a neighbor with an apple tree. I did have a neighbor with an avocado tree and his avocados tasted great. What I can say for sure is that some of the best ideas are stolen from someone else. This being the case, I want to steal an idea that was shared at our mass yesterday with the middle school kids.

Yesterday we celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Belen, patroness of our school. Newly ordained Fr. Christian Saenz, S.J. presided over the mass and he preached about this special day to our middle school students. They gospel was taken from John 2:1-11, the famous wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus performs his first miracle. Remember? There was a wedding reception and the wine ran out so Mary asks her Son to do something about this embarrassing situation. A little reluctantly, Jesus turns the water in six stone jars into the best wine of the night.

Fr. Saenz started his homily by reminding us that water, while a very necessary element for human existence, is pretty bland. Water is tasteless, colorless, and odorless. Water doesn’t cost anything. Yeah, you can buy a bottle of water and they charge you for it, but you can really just get it out of any faucet or water fountain without having to pay for it. It’s pretty common stuff. At Belen there is several water fountains and we even have a swimming pool filled with the stuff.

But wine, on the other hand, is special. It is loaded with taste, has a beautiful color, and smells delicious. Wine can be expensive. Yeah, you can buy a cheap bottle of Robert Mondavi wine at Publix, but the really good wine costs a bit of money. I mean, you never go out with friends to a nice restaurant and after looking over the wine list ask the waiter to bring you their cheapest bottle of Muscatel.

And this is what the miracle at Cana is about. Everything is better with Jesus. Our ordinary, bland, and seemingly senseless lives take on new meaning with Jesus in it. His powerful presence can transform our existence into one of flavor, color, and awesome aromas. Like good wine, our lives with Jesus can be savored and appreciated, taken to a whole new level. And like good wine, the more time we spend with Him, the better it gets.

This is why Mary is so important. She is the one who introduces Jesus into the world. She is the one who was able to drag the first miracle out of Him, the miracle that John says got His disciples to start believing in Him. She is the one who to this day takes on the role of interceding for us so that we can come in contact with her Son and experience that life changing transformation that can take our plain old existence and give it taste, color, and smell.

Our Lady of Belen… pray for us.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Arroyo Caña
1/15/2012

Dominican Republic to work with the poor. Our work consists of manual labor constructing schoolhouses, bridges, aqueducts, and even creating infrastructures that will help bring electricity to their homes. It is very rewarding work that not only benefits the poor villagers, but provides my students with an opportunity to serve and grow.

In order to prepare this summer experience I travel to the Dominican Republic in March to scout several potential villages. I remember in 2004 visiting a very poor village called Arroyo Caña. It was located close to the border with Haiti, tucked away behind a beautiful mountain range that kept it virtually isolated from the rest of the world.

As it always happens, the key members of the small community gathered in a house where I was to meet with them and allow them to convince me why their village should be chosen for our summer mission. The small shack with wooden walls, a roof of tin, and a dirt floor was filled with people anxious to meet the priest who would possibly provide for them what they needed and yearned for most.

I began the meeting by informing them that I was a Jesuit from the United States, that great and powerful empire to the north. I explained that in the summer I would be returning to their island with several students carrying picks in one hand and shovels in other. With these tools we were prepared to build for them what they wanted, all they needed was ask.

After my animated introduction, a little old man who sat at the front of the room stood up and made his way towards me. He wore an old and battered guayabera. His face was wrinkled and burnt from decades of working out in the sun. As he approached he respectfully removed his straw hat and proceeded to inform me that the people of Arroyo Caña had agreed they wanted a chapel.

I admit the request surprised me. These were people who had no running water and I could build for them an aqueduct. They lived on dirt roads and I could pave them. They had no bridge to cross the river when it swelled during the rainy season and I could build it. Why would they want a chapel when they obviously needed so many other things?

As gently as I could I informed the villagers that while a chapel was nice, I felt that other things made more sense because they were more necessary. I insisted that their lives would be easier and their community better. It was at this point that the old man interrupted. The people of Arroyo Caña, he said, knew all too well that they needed water, roads, and a bridge, but they also knew that what they needed first was God.

The old man expressed that they needed a place where they could gather for prayer and grow in their faith. They needed a place where they could celebrate their masses, baptize their babies, and marry their couples. And, he added, they were all convinced that if they had this place it was only then that their community would have the strength to build their aqueduct, pave their roads, and construct their bridge themselves.

I was humbled and greatly impressed. Here I was, a priest with several years of Catholic formation, studies in philosophy and theology, principal of an important school in Miami and I was being schooled by a poor Dominican farmer who didn’t have more than a second grade education. So, in the summer of 2004, 63 students and one wiser Jesuit priest descended upon Arroyo Caña and built the chapel of Christ the King.

Five years later, in the month of March, I was once again scouting through the mountains of the Dominican Republic. I noticed that the area was close to Arroyo Caña and asked the driver to take me to visit the people that we had worked with years ago. As we made our way to the village we drove over a bridge and on to a paved road that went right through the village. And when I walked into the home of the little old man with the battered guayabera and straw hat, he happily invited me to a cup of coffee made with the water that ran from his faucet.

The old man was right. And I often think of him when I feel overwhelmed by the expectations of those who surround me or when a task seems too great. God can empower me. Arroyo Caña may still be poor but I assure you it is rich in faith and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you can do all things through Him who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13).

God bless,
Fr. Willie '87

Quaker
1/6/2012

We concluded our meetings here in the Dominican Republic today with a mass of thanksgiving. Technically, every mass is a mass of thanksgiving because the Eucharist is a celebration of our faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The word “Eucharist” itself is Greek for thanksgiving. Imagine if the pilgrims that came to America were not English fleeing religious persecution but actually Greeks fleeing philosophy and bad feta cheese. The last Thursday of November would be known as Eucharist Day.

If I were to sit here and write about the highlights of my time here in the DR I would have to bore you with a long list of moments when I experienced the presence of God. It is awesome to spend some quality time with fellow Jesuits discussing the future plans of our province all with the same desire to make sure it is done for the greater glory of God (AMDG).

But the one highlight I would point out occurred at 5:25 a.m. Wednesday morning. I was already up and getting myself ready for a quick visit to the chapel and then breakfast when I heard the little night table by my bed begin to bang against the wall. The noise startled me and as I took the first couple of steps to see why the commotion I noticed that the room began to sway. I admit that I had drank a couple glasses of wine with dinner the night before, but the long night sleep and the early morning shower had zapped any remnants of alcohol from my system. It was then when I realized that we were in the middle of an earthquake.

The tremor was strong and to be honest a bit scary. You don’t really appreciate the sense of security the ground under your feet offers you until it begins to sway uncontrollably. My experience in Chile (where I lived through two strong and long tremors) had taught me that the best place to hide in moments like these is under the bed if a quake catches you indoors.

As I started to dive for the safer confines of the space under the bed the ground ceased to shake. Thank God! And not only because the stabilization of the ground returned to me a sense of security, but because there was definitely no way that I was going to fit under the bed. News of the quake reached Miami. I know because I got a few calls asking if I was all right.

Mom and Dad… I’m all right.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Welcome Back... Even Though I'm Not There
1/4/2012

A welcome back entry should have been posted yesterday when we truly hustled back to the regular grind of life at Belen. The problem is that while I had the opportunity to see the kids at the beginning of the day and even celebrate homeroom mass, I had to scamper off to Miami International Airport to catch a flight to the Dominican Republic. Not my idea of starting off the semester, but duty called me to the Caribbean nation for meetings and as a good and faithful Jesuit I answered the call.

The airport was nightmarish. I guess all those people who were lucky enough to spend their Christmas and New Year in the land of sun and fun decided to return to their burrows on Tuesday. The place was packed and after standing in a line for 45 minutes waiting to take off my shoes, belt, and empty my pockets I was informed that my gate was closer to Hialeah than it was to the security point.

No problem, with whatever holiday cheer was left in me I convinced myself that walking miles to reach my gate was a great way to get some much needed exercise. Not only that, it also gave me the opportunity to try out the new Sky Train that runs through the expansive airport.

Have you ever used it? It’s great. Not only do you have to climb two flights of stairs because for some reason the escalators don’t work, but it conveniently leaves you three miles away from your destination. In other words, the only thing Sky Train does is pass you over the Wendy’s and McDonald’s, the only two things that make the whole walk to your gate bearable.

And to show you that God truly has a sense of humor and that His holiday cheer is well intact and in full swing, after arriving at the gate I was informed that there was a change and that now American Airlines flight 786 to Santo Domingo was departing from the gate closest to Kendall. Fortunately, I had more than enough time to make my flight and even stop to have a small Frosty on the way.

So why am I here? Why am I not at school like everyone else getting the new semester off the ground? Why am I not in the senior section dealing with the severe bouts of senioritis that at this time are probably starting to run rampant through our hallowed halls? Well, every few years the Jesuit provinces around the world hold what they call “province congregations.” At these meetings there is an evaluation of the state of the province and planning for the future. The 128 members of the Antilles Province vote for 40 members to take part in the meeting.

I’ll give you one guess at who got nabbed.

So here I am, enjoying the company of my Jesuit brothers from the Dominican Republic and Cuba. God willing, I will be back home in Miami on Sunday and standing at the front gate of Belen on Monday. If not, it’s probably because I’m at Miami International Airport trying to get off the plane.

God bless,
Fr. Willie

Fr. Christian Saenz's First Mass - Part II
12/24/2011

Do you know that in the last two weeks I have received 27 Christmas cards, and of those 27 cards only six of them have the image of Jesus on the front. All the other cards have pictures of my family and friends, cute dogs and cats wearing antlers or bright red noses, or candy canes and missile toe.

Let’s be clear. Christmas is not about family; it’s not about showing off how big your kids have gotten or how cozy the family looks around the living room fireplace. Christmas is about Jesus. It’s about announcing and celebrating the unconditional love of God who humbled himself by becoming a man for the sole purpose of revealing himself to the world and saving us from ourselves.

And this is what advent is about. It’s about ushering in this Christmas celebration as an opportunity to prepare our hearts and minds to welcome Christ. To understand how much we need him and how much we need our lives to be transformed by him. Like John the Baptist, the purpose of Advent is to announce the birth of the One whose sandal straps we are unworthy to unfasten.
 
And this is what Fr. Christian Saenz’s priesthood is about. It’s about surrendering his whole existence to Jesus and serving his Church tirelessly. Like John the Baptist he shares the prophetic vocation to “go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” His vocation and priesthood is not about him, but about Jesus.

This is why the priesthood is so strange. To have a young man surrender his life for Christ and for his church makes little sense to a world that is not willing to surrender anything to anyone. To live forever a life of chastity in a world that is so lustful, a life of poverty in a world that is so greedy, and a life of obedience in a world that is so disobedient is a very strange thing indeed. What makes more worldly sense would be to live your life for yourself and not for a soon-to-come-again Jesus.

John the Baptist, Advent, Fr. Christian Saenz, all of it, all of us, are about Jesus.

And Fr. Saenz , remember always who your priesthood belongs to. Every mass you celebrate, every confession you hear, brings the people of our Church that much closer to Jesus. Prepare the way of the Lord in the hearts of men. And remember that just as you can't spell Christmas without Christ, you can't spell Christian without it either.

God bless,
Fr. Willie '87

Fr. Christian Saenz's First Mass - Part I
12/22/2011

Just recently one of our alumni, Christian Saenz, S.J. ’95, was ordained a priest in a beautiful ceremony that took place at the Gesù Church in downtown Miami. The day after his ordination Fr. Saenz presided over his first mass at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church. With all his Jesuit brothers there to celebrate with him, the newly ordained priest exercised his function at the altar of God.

Traditionally, a newbie priest asks another Jesuit to preach at his first mass. Fr. Saenz asked me and I was honored. What follows here in two parts is that homily. In case you are wondering, that Sunday was the third of Advent and the gospel told the story of John the Baptist and his public ministry in the Judean desert.

Here it goes:  

What an amazing figure this John the Baptist was. Listen to his repertoire:

He was born to a Jewish family in Israel in an insignificant village just outside of Jerusalem. His birth was announced by the angel Gabriel and his mother, a woman who for all intents and purposes should not have conceived him, did so miraculously. He was deeply religious and when he began his public ministry he was out in the desert. He had disciples and others who followed and admired him, and the spirit of God was with and upon him. Because he spoke the truth he was persecuted by the religious and civil authorities of his time and was eventually killed violently for remaining obedient to God’s will.

Does it sound familiar? It should because it curiously mirrors the life of another individual. Also Jewish, also announced by the angel Gabriel, conceived miraculously, with a public ministry, bouts in the desert, disciples, and violent death.  The big difference though is that this other Jew was Jesus, the Son of God, and John the Baptist was at his service.

See, from the moment that John was conceived in the womb of his mother Elizabeth he was called by God to announce the good news of the coming of the Son of Man. His vocation had already been determined from birth to be the herald of the Lord, his forerunner, his “chauffer” if you will.

Listen to the words of his father Zechariah, the great priest of the Temple of Jerusalem. After having spent nine months without being able to speak as punishment for his doubt, Zechariah cradles his newborn baby in his arms and sings a song. But the song is not for his first-born. The song is for another child. One who although not yet been born, was quietly nestled away in the Virgin Mary’s womb just a few yards away.

He says:

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty savior, born of the house of his servant David.

Through his holy prophets he promised of old that he would save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us.

He promised to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant.

This was the oath he swore to out father Abraham: to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break up on us to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

These words are strange because they don’t sound like the words of a first time father who after awaiting the birth of his son for so long holds him in his arms. What makes more worldly sense would be to hear Zechariah gloat over his baby, to focus his attention on John and not the soon-to-be-born Jesus.

I mean, isn’t it like that now. Don’t we live in a society where so much of the focus of the world’s attention is not on Jesus, but on the self, on the “me,” on the “I”. The fact is that the world is hostile towards Jesus and unlike Zechariah would rather sing songs to John or Jane or Jim or Jack.

Want proof? You don’t have to go much farther than the very feast we draw closer and closer to celebrating on December 25th. Why is that it seems that every year the focus of Christmas seems to shift farther and farther away from Jesus and more and more towards anything else. Why is it that more and more people are willing to put up with the secularization of a holiday whose very purpose for existing is the birth of the Divine?

God bless,
Fr. Willie '87

Rejoice!
12/12/2011

This past Sunday was the third of Advent and the Church celebrated what is called Gaudete Sunday. The name comes from the Latin for rejoice and refers to the opening antiphon at mass where worshippers are called to “rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4-6). Because we are half way through the Advent season and Christmas is right around the corner, Christians have to start getting excited about the birth of our Lord and Savior.

It’s a beautiful idea but I have one slight problem with it. After two weeks of wearing purple vestments at mass, Gaudete Sunday requires that the priest wear pink. You read correctly, pink! They actually refer to the liturgical color as “rose,” but as Shakespeare once said, a rose by any other name is still pink! Supposedly pink (or rose) is the color of rejoicing. Personally, I think it’s the color of my sister’s lip-gloss or my niece’s bedroom walls, but not the color of rejoicing. When I wore the pink (or rose) vestments I didn’t feel like rejoicing. What I felt like was a big bottle of Pepto-Bismol.

So, because I am sure that I am not the only priest who feels this way about the color pink (or rose), I thought I would help the Church by thinking of another color that we can use for rejoicing.

Orange. This is a nice color. If I’m not mistaken it is the bringing together of red and yellow. Maybe there is something significantly theological about that and worth exploring. When I think of the color orange I think of my favorite Gatorade flavor and also my favorite Jell-O. I also think of juice and how every morning I take a big swig of it in order to get the necessary Vitamin C into my system to battle the nasty cold germs that so abundantly flow in educational institutions, including Belen.

But then I think of the Orange Bowl and how sad it is that it’s no longer there. I then think of the Miami Dolphins and how terrible they are and how for a few Sundays they had me dreaming of the impossible. And then I think about how they were so terrible against the Eagles and my dreams come to a shattering halt. All this makes me very sad and I realize that if I wore orange vestments at mass I wouldn’t rejoice at all.

So maybe the color should be blue. Of course, blue! I love blue cheese and how happy eating a wedge salad with lots of blue cheese dressing makes me feel. Blue is also one of Belen’s colors and I always associate that color to our beautiful alma mater and that also makes me happy.

But then I think of all those old Bobby Vinton songs like Blue Velvet, I’m Mr. Blue, and Blue On Blue and how my father would play them in his car when he drove me to school in the morning. They were very sad ballads about losing a first love or not being able to be with the girl you loved.

I then remember that blue is also the color of those paper test booklets they use in college for final exams. I remember how much I had to study and rack my brains preparing for those eternally long essay questions. I remember the all-nighters and gallons of Cuban coffee my friends and I would drink to stay awake as we prepared to face the infamous “blue books.” Forget it, I don’t think that wearing blue vestments would cause me to rejoice at all.

How about yellow? Yellow is a happy color. It’s vibrant, flashy, and definitely exciting. There’s got to be a reason why the Vatican chose it as one of its colors. I think yellow is the symbol of hope and is linked to the Resurrection. If that’s true then I think yellow may be the right choice and worth running the risk of people getting Easter and Christmas mixed up.

Then again, when I think of yellow I think of that old Disney movie about that "yellow" dog (Golden Labrador I believe) that gets rabies while trying to defend his owners from a ferocious wolf. The whole movie focuses on having the viewer understand that there is a real loving relationship between this dog and his young owner, but then he has to shoot Old Yeller because he’s infected.

Wow, I remember I cried for weeks when I saw that movie and kept sobbing the name of poor Yeller over and over again, even in my sleep. I swore never to see another Disney movie again unless I was assured that no faithful-defend the family-bark if Timmy falls down a well dog got killed. You know, on second thought, maybe it’s better to use yellow for Good Friday because I don’t think I would feel much like rejoicing if I wore yellow.

I’ve run out of colors. Purple, green, red, and white are already being used liturgically so I can't really suggest them. Maybe pink (or rose) is the right color. Maybe I can get use to it. I mean, it’s only one day of the year and besides that, my mother says I look "pretty in pink" (actually, handsome in rose).

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Uncomfortable
12/6/2011

I was recently in New York for the annual meeting of Jesuit high school principals. I flew up a few days early so that I could spend some time with the various Belen alumni who study and work in the city. I had made plans to meet with a group of them on a Tuesday afternoon for lunch at a local deli. After the waitress brought our food we paused with the plates in from of us sharing an awkward moment of silence where we were all wondering if we were going to say grace before we began to eat.

As a priest I always experience that uncomfortable moment before eating a meal with others that is brought about by the insecurity of whether we should say a prayer or not. It’s uncomfortable because I don’t want others to feel awkward having to bow their heads and make the sign of the cross in a public place, especially a place like New York City.

So there we sat, awkwardly waiting in silence for someone to make the first move. Unable to bear the discomfort much longer I boldly decided to act. I looked down at my hot pastrami sandwich and took a bite. Immediately the tension was relaxed. The others at the table proceeded to pick up their sandwiches and gorge on the deli delights brought to us by the culinary expertise of New Yorkers.

Later that day as we walked the busy streets of the city one of the students called my attention to a peculiar sight. Over to the side, on the very sidewalk we were walking, an old gentleman had paused in the middle of the crowd. He had a long white beard and was wearing a white knitted skullcap. Under his arm he carried a small rug that he proceeded to place on the sidewalk. Kneeling down he began to do his afternoon prayers facing East in the middle of the hustle and bustle of New York. It was clear from his expression that he was pausing as the sun set to thank God for the blessings of the day.

And then I was uncomfortable again.

There were hundreds of people walking the sidewalk on that busy weekday afternoon who paused to watch this little old man as he offered his prayer in the heart of the city. Some of them were probably angered at his public display of faith, some of them probably thought he was a fanatic like the ones who flew airplanes into buildings just a few blocks away, and some of them probably just laughed.

But I was uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because just a few minutes earlier I had allowed an awkward moment determine how and if I expressed my conviction of faith. Uncomfortable because I had failed to thank God for the meal I had received, because I had failed to teach a lesson to the alumni, and because I was too worried about my own comfort and not worried enough about my faith. Uncomfortable because I recognized that my courage didn’t measure up to the courage of this little old man in the skullcap.

What a lesson I learned. A life of faith is not about comfort and ease, but about conviction and courage. It is a call to give witness to all people, at all time, no matter what the circumstance, no matter where the place. Even in New York City.

God bless,
Fr. Willie '87

And With Your Spirit - Part III
12/1/2011

When I was doing my postgraduate work in philosophy at Fordham University I had a classmate who entered the Jesuits of the California Province. He and I became close friends because a couple of days after the first school semester started he came down to breakfast wearing a Miami Dolphins sweatshirt.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not simply because he was a Californian wearing aqua and teal, but because he wasn’t wearing an Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, or San Diego Chargers sweatshirt. In addition, he was wearing Fin garb in New York City. This guy became my hero.

I soon found out that the reason for his allegiance to the Dolphins was because he happened to fall passionately in love with the sacred game of football in the 70s when the boys from Miami reigned supreme. Little did he know back then how such an allegiance would eventually lead to so much sorrow and pain.

But there was something else that was very special about this guy. I noticed that he had an uncanny familiarity with the Bible. I mean “uncanny familiarity” because for a Catholic this guy knew too much. Whenever I needed a passage from Scripture for a reflection or prayer that I was preparing, all I needed to do was ask him and he would give me book, chapter, and verse. Trust me, for a Catholic this is out of the ordinary.

The fact is that most Catholics think Genesis is a rock band of the 80s and not the first book of the Bible and Catholics are quicker to recognize Luke as one of the Dukes of Hazzard and not the author of the third gospel. But this guy knew it all and was able to recite whole passages with a single bound. So shocked was I by his biblical talent that at one point I had to ask him where it came from. The answer made sense. The Californian with the Dolphin sweatshirt was originally a Baptist who converted to Catholicism. I knew there was something fishy there.

This brings us to the third and final installment of this blog series. The reason why the new translation of the Roman missal is such a good idea is because it is much more faithful to the biblical texts that inspired its prayers and responses.

Let me give you an example. Before receiving communion the Catholic would prayerfully express to God: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Now, in order to be more faithful to the scriptural text from where these words are inspired, the Catholic will pray, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

I know, I know, you’re probably wondering, “roof,” what “roof” are you talking about? Is it the roof of my mouth because that’s the only place the Eucharist is going? But the fact is that those very special and sacred words are inspired from Scripture. They find their origin in the Gospel of St. Matthew (8:8) when the Roman centurion responds to Jesus’ offer to go to his house to cure his servant by saying that he was not worthy to have him, “under his roof.” Now, the translation is not only inspired, but literal or what experts refer to as a “formal translation.” We are repeating more faithfully the words of the one whom Jesus claimed had the most faith in all of Israel (Mt. 8:10).

Let me give one more example. At the end of the preface, that beautiful prayer said by the priest right before the words of consecration, the congregation prays the Holy, Holy, Holy. For the most part this prayer remains the same with the exception of two words that will be replaced by one. The original referred to a God of “power and might.” In the new translation, we will refer to a God of “hosts.” Why? Well, because it is more biblical.

The prayer is taken from the prophet Isaiah (6:3) when he speaks of a vision of God sitting on a throne surrounded by a “host” of angels. It is the prophet who refers to God as the God of “hosts” and not of “power and might” (which of course He is, but just not in this passage from Isaiah). Now the prayer that we will say is purely and stupendously biblical.

I’m telling you, this new translation was an awesome idea and the fact that our Church is drawing us always closer to our biblical roots is significant and way overdue. No more can we Catholics be accused of not knowing the Sacred Scriptures. If you go to mass, you will have the Bible around you on all sides. Who knows, maybe one day you will be able to recite extensive passages from memory like a former Baptist.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

And With Your Spirit - Part II
11/30/2011

Because I’m 42 years old it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that I am a product of a Church upbringing that had already gone through the motions of the Second Vatican Council. That monumental gathering in Rome of bishops, priests, and laity from all over the planet responded to the invitation of Pope John XXIII to “open the windows of the Church and let in some fresh air.”

How do you not respond to that call? I mean, if the Pope sends out an invitation for anything you better not waste your time checking your calendar to see if you have the days available. One way or the other, no matter what’s penciled in, you’re on a flight to the Eternal City ready for whatever. And if the invite is to go over best Church practices in order to make them “bester” (or is it “better”) for the sake of bringing Catholicism into the modern world for the sake of the modern world, you better be there.

A lot happened at the meeting and some of the greatest minds that the Church had to offer were there. Actually, the greatest minds that a lot of different religions had to offer were there because unlike any other religious meeting in the history of organized religion, the Second Vatican Council had participants from all faiths and walks of life. It was something that John XXIII insisted on and it was truly revolutionary and definitely modern.

Of the various changes that came about from Rome in those days and is most important for this three-part blog series was that the Council fathers agreed that while the original and standard language for the celebration of the mass was Latin, the various regions around the world could celebrate the Eucharist in their native tongue. This of course meant that the mass prayers and responses had to be translated from Latin to all languages that the Catholic Church spoke (in other words, all languages).

It was at this time that the a decision was made to translate the Latin text to English using a style referred to as “dynamic equivalent.” What this means is that the translation was done using words and expressions that came very close to what was intended in Latin, but not a literal translation. This decision made sense. If the desire of the Council fathers was to make the liturgy more accessible to everyone, then not only did the mass have to be translated, but the translation had to resound with the words and expressions of the English-speaking world.

I liken this form of translation and the logic behind it to trying to translate some common Cuban phrases to English. For example, when a Cuban wants to state that he is wasting his time he will claim that, “me estoy comiendo un cable.” If we were to give the literal translation of this phrase we would have to state that the Cuban is “eating a cable.” Now, Cubans are fond of eating many things and in very large quantities, but cables do not necessarily make the menu. For this reason a “dynamic equivalent” translation (“I’m wasting my time”) would be more appropriate.

But that was over forty years ago. Now the Church sees fit that we need to move towards a truer, more literal translation of the Roman missal in order to more faithfully express the theological and scriptural significance of the mass. It is for this reason that when the priest now says “the Lord be with you,” the congregation will respond, “and with your spirit.” Anyone born before the 1960s will remember the opening chant at every mass: “Dominus vobiscum,” which means “the Lord be with you.” Whether you knew what you were saying or not, if you were in that Church, you would chant in return: “et cum spíritu túo.” This means “and with your spirit” and not “and also with you.”

A crude, but possibly effective analogy is the Coca-Cola phenomenon of the 1980s. After hundreds of years of enjoying the great and refreshing taste of Coca-Cola, the soda chemists in Atlanta brought about a different formula for the carbonated refreshment and called it “New Coke.” Sure people were excited with the novelty, bought it, and drank it, but after a while there was a desire to return to the old formula, people wanted the original, they thirst for “Classic Coke.”

Returning to the prayers and responses that were originally intended by the early Church is a coming home and reliving the powerful and beautiful tradition of a faith that for centuries has helped move mountains. This new translation is truly a classic.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

And With Your Spirit - Part I
11/29/2011

Today was the first day that I celebrated mass in English since the Church moved to its new translation of the Roman Missal. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, this Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, the English-speaking Catholic world celebrated mass with new prayers and responses at mass. That’s right, after approximately 45 years of celebrating mass with prayers such as the “Holy, Holy” and responses like “and also with you,” Anglophone Catholics found a significant change in their liturgical practice.

So in honor of this religious nuance, I would like to launch with this blog entry a three part series on why I think the changes are significant and how they contribute to a better, more profound experience of the mass.

I first found about the changes over a year ago and admit that at the time I whined like a spoiled brat about having to memorize a whole new set of prayers and responses. I thought, just when I mastered the ability to rattle off the prayers at mass without even thinking too much about them, the Church throws a curve ball and changes things up.

I actually got so good at the rattling that if I wanted to I could go through a whole mass without actually looking at the book. Yes, the big red text that is laid on the altar as the priest presides over the celebration of the mass has all the prayers and canons that have to be said for mass to be legit, but after several years one can easily fall prey to using it only as a guideline. A priest can mistakenly refer to it as a safety net that he can depend on when he loses track of where he is in mass. 

This is when I realized how good and necessary the change would be.

What I eventually realized was that it’s good that we change it up a little so that we can revisit our liturgical practices and take the time to reflect on the significance of the words we are saying. We wouldn’t want the prayers at mass to become mechanical. I once heard Joseph Cardinal O’Connor, the late Archbishop of New York, tell the story of how one Sunday morning he stood in front of the congregation gathered for mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and realized the microphones were not working. He tapped on the mike and speaking into it asked if it was working to which the congregation responded, “And also with you.”

Having both the congregation who attends mass and the priest who celebrates it use different words and prayers means that for a long while we are going to have to concentrate, really focus on what we are saying and doing. The new text will un-rattle the rattling that too often takes place in mass. Sure it will seem a bit awkward at first, but the newness of what we say can help generate greater interest in what we pray.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Exercise
11/21/2011

Belen Jesuit boasts one of the best high school cross-country teams in the nation. Ranked sixth in the country and first in the state, this group of athletes is a force to be reckoned with. They run like a well-oiled machine. They know each other's style of running, each other's strengths and weaknesses, and what each other are capable of. The reason why they are so successful is because they know their potential and are relentless in their pursuit of reaching it. 

There is no question that potential motivates them to work hard. They practice every morning and afternoon, every weekend and holiday, whether the sun is shining or the rain is falling. Oftentimes I see them pass in front of my kitchen window right before the sun comes up running across the campus on their way to a ten-mile trot through the back roads of unincorporated Dade.

I admit they make me feel very guilty. There they are exercising their legs burning hundreds of calories in the heat and humidity of Miami and there I am exercising my mouth as I add hundreds of calories with a doughnut and a cup of coffee over the comfort of my kitchen sink.

Could you imagine me joining them for a run? It would be unrealistic and even foolish for me to think for one second that I could keep up with them for even a few yards much less ten miles! If I don't exercise, don't practice, and don’t watch what I eat, I would never come close to accomplishing what they do so well. Forget it, there should be no expectation whatsoever for me to run like they run.

The same is true in our spiritual life. My experience has been that we have this misconception that a relationship with God should be automatic, that God should be jumping at the opportunity to speak to us and that we can afford to be passive, receptive agents of God’s love and grace. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The fact is that our relationship with God is only possible when we focus our time and effort on developing it. If you ask me, it’s a smug attitude to think that God should come to us and not us to Him.

But smug we are. Many times I have people, especially my students, complain to me that they don't feel God? They complain that God doesn't listen to them, that God is nowhere near, not interested. I always respond to this complaint by asking them how often they pray, how often they go to Church or step into the chapel for a visit, or how often they sit at home and read the Bible or do charitable work for those who are needy.

The potential for a deep and satisfying relationship with God exists. We know of millions of people who throughout history have had these very powerful, very profound relationships with God. But I assure you that every one of them worked at it, that every one of them practiced and exercised with long sessions of prayer and service. They all knew the potential a relationship with God had and worked hard at making that potential, actual.

Unquestionably this is a lot of work. It requires a lot of prayer every morning and afternoon, every weekend and holiday, whether the sun is shining or the rain falling. Isn’t it unrealistic and even foolish for anyone to think for a moment that they can keep up with those who truly work at prayer to experience and feel God in their lives for even a few hours much less days, weeks, or years! Why should they? If they don't exercise, don't practice, and don’t watch what they do, they will never come close to God.

God bless,
Fr. Willie '87

The Real Big Apple
11/16/2011

I’ve been gone from Belen for a long time. Almost two weeks even though it feels like a month. The news from back home is that things are running smoothly, hunky-dory, and peachy. This is news that only confirms that the place is like a well-oiled machine that doesn’t require constant looking after. And news that confirms that Fr. Willie misses Belen more than Belen misses Fr. Willie. That’s good news.

If you follow the blog you would already know that I was in New York last week for the principals’ meeting. Well now I’m in California. That’s right, far out west hanging ten with my gnarly surfer friends, catching some waves off the coast on my long board, and taking the curves on the Santa Monica Freeway in my T-Bird that my daddy hasn’t taken away.

Actually I’m in Cupertino where I’ve been visiting Apple headquarters.

This place is a high tech wonderland. It’s the Mecca of technology, the Holy Land of innovative thinking, the Vatican of creativity. I’ve heard it been said that Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was the Walt Disney of our time. Well, from the looks of things around here, I wouldn’t deny it one bit. Actually, at my age and after having been to Disney World a thousand times and having ridden Space Mountain three times each of those thousand times, I would say that this guy was Walt on steroids.

The address to Apple headquarters is 1 Infinite Loop. What a great name. Fitting, actually, because what they prove to you is that the possibilities of what you can do are limitless. As you drive up you feel as if you were approaching the Magic Kingdom. I was expecting Cinderella’s castle to pop up at any moment. They refer to the collection of sleekly designed buildings as “the campus” emphasizing the fact that everyone who works and visits there is a learner.

Everything is thought out, every detail is measured and designed. Nothing is in its place without having been studied and engineered to make sure that it is in the right place. But what amazes me the most is the simplicity. No fancy colors or designs, no complicated buttons or dials, just clean and sleek.

Actually, that’s the word that kept coming to me throughout my whole time here… sleek. Every time I went into the conference room I thought sleek, every time I went into the elevator I thought sleek, every time I went to the gift shop I thought sleek. Even the bathroom was sleek (and clean).

So why am I here? Was it simply to confirm what I already knew as an Apple user myself or to confirm what Mr. DQ has been telling me for years? No, I’m here to deepen my understanding of the product that we are going to implement for next year at Belen. I wanted to meet with Apple’s educational experts, their engineers, and their techies to speak with them about how Belen can take full advantage of the iPad.

If we made the decision to move to this new technology that not only will revolutionize the way our students learn but also the way our teachers teach, then we have to cover every possible angle. If we made the decision to move to this new technology in order to benefit our students and to enhance their learning experience, then we have to make sure we take full advantage of everything Apple has to offer. And I got to tell you, they have a lot to offer.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Anything Goes
11/9/2011

Greetings from the Big Apple! I’m up here in the city that never sleeps for the annual meeting of Jesuit high school principals. Every time we have this meeting they always vote at the end of the event on the city that will host the meeting the following year. You can't imagine the amount of propaganda I do to keep the meeting from coming down to Miami. The reason, I know Miami pretty well, I was born and raised there. I’d much rather get a chance to visit a city that I don’t know so well. And even though I lived here in New York for three years during my studies at Fordham University, New York is New York.

Last night a group of Belen alumni and I went to see a Broadway show. Let me tell you, if you have the opportunity to be in New York and could do only one thing while you are here, that thing has to be Broadway. Forget about the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park, or even the museums. If you’ve done a show on Broadway, you’ve done New York.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park, and I definitely love the museums, but Broadway is special. I don’t think anything reeks of New York like that area around Time Square. The area with all its theaters and shows embodies the talent and pizzazz of such an entertaining and talented city.

We went to see a show called Anything Goes. It made its debut on Broadway in the 1930s and is now enjoying another very successful run in the Steven Sondheim Theater. The music and story were written by famed musician Cole Porter and tells the story of a group of characters on an ocean liner that get into all kinds of shenanigans. The premise makes for a good and funny story.

But what impressed me the most about watching this show was how the alumni that went with me last night actually knew many of the songs even though they were written over 75 years ago. How’s that possible? With all the modern music they listen to, all the options and genres out there, how do they know music written and composed for their great-grandparents?

The answer is Frank Sinatra.

That’s right, old Blue Eyes is the reason why the lyrics to You’re the Top and I Get a Kick Out of You were familiar and even hummed during the show by these young college students. They have no idea who Bing Crosby is, no clue who Nat King Cole is, and they haven’t even heard of Andy Williams, Bobby Darin, or Engelbert Humperdinck (with that name who would), but they definitely know Frank Sinatra. And because of him they know the music of Cole Porter who wrote so many of the songs that made the Chairman of the Board the towering musical figure that has been able to span across generations.

Yes sir, Frank Sinatra is not simply that singer who soothed the ears and hearts of a World War II generation so it could better deal with the threat of Nazism and then sang the nation towards its prosperity march and into the cold war. He’s not simply an old time crooner who wooed your grandmother to sleep at night when she was a teenager as she listened to him off an old vinyl record played on her father’s phonograph turntable. Sinatra is the epitome of cool and real “cool” knows no limitations to era.

Not even death has quieted his melodious voice. I can just picture the heavenly scene. Frank Sinatra standing on a stage holding the base of an old RCA microphone while a band of angels conducted by Tommy Dorsey plays I’ve Got You Under My Skin.  In the audience is the whole glorious court of saints and martyrs sipping on their virgin martinis and cocktails. And at the front of the room singing along to every word and lyric sits God, the real Chairman of the Board.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Thank You Coach
11/7/2011

I have included here a letter that Richard Stuart, Belen's varsity football coach, received last week from a former student and player. I was so moved by the content of this letter that I asked both the Coach and the alumnus for permission to include it in my blog. Enjoy!

"Dear Coach Stuart,

After so many years – 20 to be exact – it is quite possible that you no longer remember who I am. Nevertheless, I am writing to you to thank you for something that you did to me that ended up changing my life in a very positive way.

I was recently participating in a leadership roundtable at Merrill Lynch when I was asked what the most inspiring or life changing moment in my life was.  I thought about it for a while and I responded that it was my junior year of high school when I was thrown off the football team for being irresponsible, amongst other things.

I will quickly rewind the clock and refresh your memory on what happened in 1990: We had played Gulliver a week earlier in the kickoff jamboree when I twisted my ankle on a kickoff coverage play. I was unable to practice for a few days but I used the injury as an excuse not to practice for a few more days (God knows I needed it because I was not the greatest DB in the world) and instead decided to play sandlot football at Tamiami Park that weekend in which we did not have a game. 

On that day I ended up splitting my face by an elbow that I inadvertently suffered causing me to go the ER and receive 22 stitches. The next Tuesday, after inexcusably missing Monday’s practice again, I remember being in Pichardo’s chemistry class when you knocked on the door and demanded to see me. Somehow the news of what happened to me got back to you and not only did you let me have it but you told me to hand in my gear by the end of the day for breaking the commitment to my team.

Initially, my attitude was one of rebellion and acted as if I did not care. I was furious with the stark punishment that you had chosen for me and upset at you until I graduated. However, it rattled me so much that it changed my attitude forever. It was the ultimate lesson in not taking something that you are passionate about for granted, respecting all commitments that are made to others and taking advantage of every opportunity that you are given in life because it can be taken away from you if you do not give your best effort. 

This attitude translated to my academic work when I got to college as I went from being a mediocre student at Belen to graduating with honors from UF (undergrad) and UM (grad school). In my professional life it continues to be my engrained inspiration behind my relentless dedication to my clients and my firm. Most importantly, it changed my personality in many ways and has been a constant reminder of the consequences that can occur for my actions in the relationships that I maintain with my family and friends.

I have never had the opportunity to thank you for something that hurt me so much at the moment. It ultimately taught me some of life’s greatest lessons and was probably the most memorable experience that I had at Belen. It was truly the one instance that forced me to mature and accept responsibility for my doings for the first time in my life. 

So after 20 years Coach I humbly express my appreciation for what you did for me. I hope that you continue to instill these same principles in your current and future players. I wish you continued success at the school that all graduates still consider home and hope that you are personally doing great.

Go Wolverines!!!!"

Need I say anything?

God bless,
Fr. Willie '87

Cooling Off
11/3/2011

I was able to sneak out of school today about half an hour before the final bell rang. The reason for my escapade was that the Belen varsity cross-country team was racing for the district title at Larry and Penny Thompson Park. I hadn’t been to a race all season and wanted to be sure that I was there this time when the guys clinched their sixth consecutive district title.

Imagine that, six consecutive district titles! It’s a record in Miami-Dade County sports. I can't do six consecutive push-ups, much less run like the wind for over three miles at a steady pace without keeling over and showing the world what I had for lunch and breakfast. I don’t think that the racing world has ever seen such a machine like the Belen cross-country team.

I say machine because that’s how they run. Even though there are different parts to the team each with their own style of running, their own quirks, and speeds, they run like one body. They look as if they ran out of the womb together because they give everyone the impression that they’ve been doing it since birth.

Take team captain and leader Elliot Clemente ‘12. Hundreds of college coaches are salivating over the possibility of having this gazelle on their roster next year. I understand now why in our hallways at Belen he walks around so leisurely and without any sense of urgency. The young man has to save up his energy. He can't waste muscle strain trying to get from one class to the next. He can't afford to exhaust his mojo sprinting to the lunch line in the cafeteria; for what, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? No sir, he has to get to the starting line with a full tank of gas.

Or how about Michael Magoulas ’14? So much stamina in a sophomore that it leads me to believe that the future of Belen cross-country is very bright. From now on I am will have to think twice about asking this guy to cut his hair. Who knows if his power is found there? Who knows if the strength of his heart and legs is drawn from the golden strands that circle his noggin? Am I going to interfere in the continued perfection of this golden battalion as it strives in the future for seven, eight, or even nine district titles (when it comes to their grooming the answer is obviously “yes”)?

As I stood at the finish line only seventeen minutes after the race had begun I congratulated each of our runners as they came in claiming the top seven spots in the race; one after the other. Each of them was able to carry on a conversation with me without so much as a heavy pant or hands to the knees. Are you kidding me? You’d have to hold my hand as I was being carted into the ambulance on a stretcher and ask me to quiet the whimper that would cause the animals at Metro Zoo to stampede in defense of what they would think was a maimed water buffalo.

But here’s the best part. After they gathered briefly for a couple of hugs and congratulatory remarks, Clemente ordered them to the side so they could begin their “cooling off” exercise. I learned that this “cooling off” exercise entails another run through the park for an extra fifteen minutes.

Now you have to be kidding me. Is that a runner’s idea of “cooling off?” I always thought that “cooling off” after anything strenuous required a bowl of ice cream, a recliner, and a television set. Athletic Director Carlos Barquín tried to explain to me that the extra running cools you off because it rids the body of the accumulated lactic acid. I could have sworn that I once read in a chemistry textbook that there was nothing better to rid the body of lactic acid than air conditioning and a sudden increase in calorie intake. I guess I read the book wrong.

The boys from Belen have always given me reason to be proud and today was no exception. It’s amazing to see how all other schools recognize the prowess of the Belen cross-country team. The way our team performed today proves that we are correctly ranked first in the state and sixth in the nation. Next up are the regional race, then the state championship race, and then… nationals. And from what I saw today, these guys are nowhere near to “cooling off.”

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Barbasol
10/28/2011

Isn’t life funny? When you’re young you can’t wait to grow up and then when you’re grown up you wish you were young again. It seems that we’re never satisfied with what we have or where we are. Who knows, maybe that’s a good thing? Maybe that’s what keeps us moving forward, keeps us trying to do better, to be more. Maybe our dissatisfaction is what motivates us to go the extra mile or take the extra step.

When I was a kid I remember wanting to be my dad’s age and do some of the things my dad did. I remember how I would daydream about the day when I could wake up in the morning and go to work. I was convinced that it had to be much better than waking up in the morning and having to go to school. I also remember how I would sit in the car and daydream about the day I was going to be able to drive myself; to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

There were some of those things that I would daydream about that I actually got to experience early. I remember sneaking into my parents’ bathroom and opening the cabinet where my father kept his shaving supplies. I would shake the can of Barbasol and empty half of the contents in my hands. I would then apply a thick, Santa Claus-like layer of shaving cream around my face. Realizing the awesome potential that half a can of shaving cream still had, I would design happy faces and clouds on the bathroom mirrors and shower doors. I was the Michelangelo of lavatory art.

The best part of the shaving adventure was the taking-off process. I was smart enough at the time to know that it wouldn’t be a good idea to use a razor so I opted for a small, blunt butter knife my mother had in the kitchen. This instrument posed absolutely no danger because I had remembered once trying to cut my brother with it and got no blood, I didn’t even break the skin. They could have easily called this embarrassing culinary item the “I can’t believe it’s a knife” butter knife.

I would prop myself up on my tippy toes to see my reflection in the mirror as I passed the blade across my face. I would think of my dad and the way he would work against the grain in order to get the smoothest possible result. I imitated his every move, his every smirk, his every facial expression. The only thing missing from my experience was the cigarette he would smoke while going through this morning routine. Those were definitely different times but you had to admire the agility required to smoke and shave at the same time.

That was a lot of fun when I was 10, but I hate it now. I hate having to shave every morning. I hate running the risk of getting nicked and cut, having to use that little septic pen to plug the bloody holes that arise from old razors or hurried strokes. As I stand in front of the mirror I think about the extra eight minutes I could have invested in sleeping that I instead have to use to remove annoying hair from my face.

That’s why I really feel for our Belen kids whenever they come to school in the morning with beards and mustaches that have to be removed. On any given day the Belen faculty sends scores of high school (and, believe it or not, a couple of middle school) kids to the Wolverine Den to pick up a dollar’s worth of shaving gel and a BIC in order to comply with the school’s expectation that all students be “clean-shaven.”

I know shaving is a hassle, I know it’s a struggle. Trust me; I face that exercise every a.m. when I stare in my bathroom mirror. But the fact is that there’s always a small price to pay for proper decorum and presentation. There’s always an inconveniencing and a sacrifice when doing the right thing is expected. That’s actually why in this world so many people don’t do the right thing. They don’t do it precisely because there’s a price, an inconvenience, a sacrifice.

But believe me when I tell you that for us at Belen, even the shaving is important.

I’ve always heard it said that you should never judge a book by its cover and I agree, but the fact is that a nice cover sometimes gets you to start reading the book in the first place. Getting a great job at an important and successful corporation may depend more on your skill and knowledge than on the
way you look, but it’s the way you look that can determine whether you get offered an interview in the first place.

Don’t believe me? An article in the USA Today last month cited a study that demonstrated that 55% of another person’s perception of you is based on how you look. The article then went on to state that the same study showed how job applicants who dressed better for their job interviews fared better. While personal appearance may not be the only thing, it’s definitely something.

Now I know these kids are not job hunting yet, but they’re already learning here the skills and acquiring the knowledge necessary to nail that future interview and land that future job. In other words, it’s never too early to incorporate the discipline and exercise the sacrifice that can determine our kids’ future success in life. Wow, all that from a little can of Barbasol.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

The Silent Majority
10/26/2011

I don’t know if you read Time, but the title of the October 24, 2011 issue struck a chord with me. Time’s magazine covers do that to me. The cover titles and images of that publication always call out to me. I think it has to do with the fact that when I was a junior here at Belen, Mr. Patrick Collins, my American Government teacher, started the year by informing his students that we needed to subscribe to a news magazine.

Can you imagine that, a 15 year old kid subscribing to a news magazine? I never really read magazines or had any interest to read them. I admit they weren’t a reading priority in my life at the time. I also admit that reading wasn’t a priority period. I think the only subscription that ever saw the inside the mailbox of my house was my mother’s Hola which was second only to the Bible in most important works of literature to ever make it into the García-Tuñón household.

But now I love to read and lament I hadn’t started sooner. And while picking up this week’s issue of Time I was struck by the title: “The Return of the Silent Majority.” I found it amazing because that very morning it happened to be the topic of conversation with my assistant principals while standing in the central patio.

We had begun the conversation because while some of the kids were walking by I was inspired to comment that I was convinced that the majority of our Belen kids are good. I know we oftentimes get caught up with the difficult cases, the troublesome behavior, and the unfortunate incidents, but the majority of these guys are good.

Because I’ve seen it and experienced it, I know they’re smart, spiritual, courteous, they know the difference between right and wrong and work hard to choose the former over the latter, they are open to growth, and are sincerely appreciative of being at Belen and buy into the culture we work to create here. But I also notice that they have to be more vocal.

This majority has to drown out the voice of the very small minority that is making poor decisions. They have to stand up to the mean, the disrespectful, the cheaters, and the ones that don’t appreciate what they have. This silent majority has to rise up against those that express indifference towards what we try to do around here and put the minority in their place.

My whole life I’ve heard about the evils of peer pressure. I picture scenes in my mind of that one kid who is with a group of friends and gets pressured at a party or at a friend’s house to smoke pot, or drink beer, or cheat on a test. But why not turn that around? Why not use peer pressure to our advantage? Because the majority are not smoking, drinking, or cheating why not surround the few who are and put the pressure on them? Why not have them stand in the middle of the group and experience the uncomfortable pressure of doing what is right? Why not turn the tables on them?

I imagine that a lot of it has to do with fear. Fear of being the only one. But the fact is that the majority is good, the majority knows what’s right and wants to do it. I say it’s time that the good stand up and put peer pressure on the not-so-good. It’s time for the majority to speak up for what is right. It’s time to make the minority feel uncomfortable, have them squirm. It’s time to pressure them into choosing what is right. It’s time for the majority to break their silence.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Expectations
10/22/2011

Jesuits are not known for their liturgical prowess. In Church circles jokes abound about how we don’t celebrate the sacraments in a liturgically correct manner. Just recently Archbishop Thomas Wenski quipped that if you want to know the definition of confusion, just look at a Jesuit during Holy Week services. Of course, Jesuits can quickly quip in return by asking what the difference is between a terrorist and a liturgist… you can negotiate with terrorists.

So yesterday when the Belen varsity football team gathered for mass in the Belen chapel before their district game against Northwestern, I held strong to my Jesuit tradition and broke what I think is a liturgical norm. Instead of using the first reading for the Friday of the twenty-ninth week in ordinary time, I felt inspired to read from the fist book of Samuel.

In chapter 17, the author recounts the story of the shepherd David confronting the giant Philistine, Goliath. I can picture the scene as if I had been there. Standing in an open field with a cowering Israeli army behind him, little David looks across the expanse and sees the massive figure of his opponent. The giant Goliath, his armor glistening in the sunlight and his sword raised over his mammoth head, begins to seethe over this little pipsqueak who comes to waste his time.

Our man David, with only staff in hand and five smooth stones in his shepherd’s bag, closes his eyes and mouths a quick prayer confident that God would listen to his plea. Well, we know how the story ends.  And while the outcome of the story may be obvious material for a powerful homily preached at the threshold of an important football game, the focus was not on David’s victory, it was on his expectation.

See, everyone expected the little shepherd boy from Bethlehem to lose. Goliath expected David to lose, the Philistines expected David to lose, Kind Saul expected David to lose, and even the people of Israel expected David to lose. Everyone expected David to lose except David. Even though the odds were against him because he faced a giant that had always been victorious every time he took the field of battle, David expected to win… and he did.

That is what I told the kids. Everyone out there expects you to lose. Northwestern expects you to lose, their coaches expect you to lose, the referees and the Northwestern fans expect you to lose, the Miami Herald expects you to lose, and even the five teams that have lost to the Bulls expect you to lose. But what do you expect? Because when push comes to shove the only expectations that should dictate our performance are the ones that we set. The expectations that we have as members of the Belen football team should be the expectations of Belen. And those expectations are always the same: no matter what the odds… succeed.

Isn’t this the Belen story? Who would have expected a small group of Cuban refugees to succeed in reestablishing a school after a giant dictator ripped it unjustly from their hands? We did. Who would have expected that after starting off on the fourth floor of a building in downtown Miami that doesn’t even exist anymore that the school would be flourishing on a 34 acre plot of land? We did. Who would have expected that this little Catholic school in Miami would be graduating doctors, lawyers, priests, mayors, and community leaders? We did.

And as we celebrated at halftime the members of the first football team in Belen history (1971), who would have expected that almost forty years later their successors would be rallying back from a 21 point deficit to beat the Northwestern giants (I mean Bulls)? Well, we did… and we did.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

"ito"
10/20/2011

Cubans are notorious for doing this. I know because I’m Cuban (actually, made in America but with Cuban parts). The phenomenon occurred in my house all the time. I would hear it especially from my grandmother and mother, but even occasionally from my father and uncles. For some reason there is an incessant need to add the “ito” suffix to everything. Just like the need of adding salt to any meal without having even tried the food or the need to lament a Dolphin's loss even before they've started playing, there is a need to “ito-ize” every noun.

For those of you who don’t know, the “ito” suffix is used as the diminutive of anything. For Cubans there is no such thing as a “perro” (dog), only “perrito.” The animal could weigh 300 pounds and resemble a small horse rather than a domesticated canine, but he will still be a “perrito.” For Cubans there is no such thing as a “casa” (house), only “casita.” They can live on a 37 acre plot of land in Gables by the Sea and have more square footage than Monaco and still refer to their home as my “casita.” I don’t know about you, but where I’m from that’s not a “casita,” that’s a “casona.”

Let me give you an example of a typical conversation between two Cubans (more specifically, two Cuban mothers):

Mother #1: “El muchachito se comió un pedacito de pan y un poquito de leche.”
Mother #2: “El pobrecito. ¿Con eso solito en la barriguita se tuvo que ir a la camita?”

I want to be sure to include here the translation so you can understand what the problem is:

“The little kid ate a little piece of bread and a little bit of milk.”
“Poor little one. With that little bit in his little stomach he had to go to his little bed.”

I don’t think that anyone speaks like this in English. If they did, anyone hearing the conversation would think that the speakers were from Lilliput and were living in tiny houses, shopping at tiny grocery stores. They would ask if their house (“casona”) had just fallen from the sky and were suddenly surrounded by munchkins. They would swear they were no longer in Kansas. And they wouldn’t be. They would be in Cuba or at least in Miami at a Cubans home.

Personally I have no problem with the diminutive. I’ve heard it my whole life. But there is one word that is often times expressed with the “ito” that I can’t stand. The word is “pobrecito” (little-poor-one). I hear the word spoken occasionally at Belen, mostly by parents who refer to their son as “pobrecito.” The word is oftentimes said with the word “pero” (but) before it. Let me give you an example…

Fr. Willie: “Mr. and Mrs. So and So, your son was caught cheating on the history test.”
Mr. or Mrs. So and So: “He shouldn’t have cheated, ‘pero el pobrecito’ he had so much homework he probably panicked.”

I don’t like it and I think it’s my father’s fault. While at home my parents used the diminutive of a lot of words, but “pobrecito” was not allowed. It is a word that is used to describe the individual who has no control over a situation or is deprived of things and therefore cannot be expected to give or do much. Expectations for those who are “pobrecito” have to necessarily be lowered because of their bad luck or unfortunate circumstances.

I am convinced that my father didn’t allow the word because it undermined my parents’ vocation of forming us to be responsible, conscientious young men and women. Their children always had parents who loved them, a roof over their heads, and food on their plates. They studied in the best Catholic educational institutions that Miami had to offer and were given every opportunity to succeed. There were definitely no “pobrecitos” in my house. And to refer to any one of us as “pobrecito” would have been an insult not only to us, but especially to my parents.

That being said I would like to officially launch the “No Pobrecito” campaign at Belen. While Breast Cancer Awareness and the Red Ribbon campaign only last one week, this crusade will be year round. We will raise awareness of the evils of this word and fight tirelessly until it is stricken from the Belen
vocabulary. We shall battle until the word is no longer issued from the mouths of parents, faculty, or administration. And we shall triumph… “que los angelitos nos ayuden.”

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

I Do
10/18/2011

I celebrate a lot of weddings. Mostly they’re weddings of alumni who after several years of having graduated from Belen they come back to the Jesuit priests and ask us to be a part of the momentous occasion. How can you say “no?” They want you to be part of the most important day of their lives, to share with their fiancé and family. To a very large extent it is a validation of the work we do around here.

Of course, the biggest challenge is that there are a lot of alumni and they all seem to be getting married. This means that at Belen we’re not only busy on weekdays with classes and all that Belen life entails, but we are also busy on weekends. These weddings also mean that you get a chance to visit every church in the city and even some churches outside of the greater Miami area. For example, in November I have a wedding in St. Augustine. Not the parish next to the University of Miami, but the city in northern Florida. You know, the first city founded in the country that boasts the oldest schoolhouse, the oldest church, and the oldest golfers in the United States.

After a few years of witnessing these joyous occasions in the lives of our alumni and traveling the church circuit, I’ve noticed that there are some churches that are way more popular for weddings than others.

Below you can find a list of the top five and why I think they make the grade.

1. St. Jude. There is nothing like the mystique of this quaint little church that sits on Brickell Avenue. It belongs to the Catholic fathers of the Melkite Rite, but she is just as Catholic as St. Peter’s in Rome. This beauty was originally the chapel for the all-girls Catholic school called Assumption Academy. It happens to be the school that my mother graduated from. The decor is actually very simple and plain, but it adds to its charm and attraction. It’s only inconvenience is that because the priest celebrates Sunday mass with his back to the people; they have to roll out a little wooden altar for us Latin Rite guys.

2. St. Hugh. Nestled behind 300 year old trees in Coconut Grove, this pretty church reminds me of the wooden chapels you oftentimes find up north tucked away in a forest where you least expect to find a church. It’s done in the typical style of churches built in the 60s just after the Second Vatican Council. No marble, altar rails, or remnants of old altars up against a wall. If I had a nickel for every time I have been told by a couple that they were married there I would have enough money to build a cathedral the size of Vermont.

3. Church of the Little Flower. Ah, the beautiful flower of Coral Gables. Even its address sounds very Coral Gables-ish, Indian Mound Trail. Not avenue or street or terrace, but trail. Isn’t that nice? The church is beyond beautiful. It reminds you of the structures you see in Europe, those religious buildings where there is no doubt that God resides. I especially love the reddish-purple marble
that adorns the columns and walls. St. Theresa Church is a pretty strong contrast to the kind of structure explained above. If St. Hugh embraced the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, St. Theresa gave the old style liturgy its last hurrah in Miami (sorry, Coral Gables).

4. St. Patrick: The crown jewel of Miami Beach. I understand why couples want to tie the knot in this church. Not because it’s a stone’s throw away from the ocean and sandy beaches, not because you can get to any reception at the snap of a finger as long as you have it at one of the three hundred hotels that line Ocean Drive, and not because it is named after the patron saint of Ireland, was founded by the Irish, and 85 years later is still run by an Irishman. No, couples want to get married here because it’s beautiful. And if you think that weddings are nice there, you should see the baptisms. St. Patrick is one of the few churches with a walk-in baptismal font. This thing is great. You walk down into a marbled well and can dunk the baby as long as the mother doesn’t go crazy.

5. Gesù: This church has gone up in popularity in recent years. I think it’s because there’s been a rediscovery of the place. Not only is it the first Catholic Church and parish of Miami, not only is it run by the Jesuits (as if that isn’t enough), but it’s been at the center of Miami life since its founding. In particular, I like to tell people about how important the church was for the Cubans when they first arrived in the 1960s. The exile community would be processed at Freedom Tower and then make their way to the church where they would receive clothes, food, and money. The structure is striking and when people walk in they are blown away by its beauty. This church is like a little gem in the middle of downtown Miami. I also think that the key to its success for Belen alumni is simply the fact that it’s Jesuit.

Now, don’t be upset if the church you were married in didn’t make the list. I have limited space here and I didn’t want this blog entry to turn into a novel. The fact is that anyone who receives such a beautiful sacrament will hold the church where it took place near and dear to their heart. Isn’t love grand?

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Smaller Britches
10/13/2011

My father got angry with me the other day. I called him on the phone to speak about something and because I was in a hurry and concerned about several other matters, I admit (now) that my words were sharp and cold. He got angry and he let me know it. Amazing! I’m 41 years old and I’m still getting my wrists slapped by my father. I haven’t lived at home since I was 19 years old. I’ve traveled the world, lived in several countries, and have studied under various masters of philosophy and theology. I have sat to dinner with professionals from all fields, discussed important topics with religious and community leaders from all over the world and I’m still being scolded.

I thought that long gone were the days when my father would raise his voice just slightly higher than mine, open his eyes wide, and shake a finger in my direction stating the obvious fact that he was my father and that he demanded respect. I thought that long gone were the days that he would remind me that because he brought me into the world he could just as easily take me out of it. I thought that long gone were the days that he would revert to guilt as a way of making me feel so bad about something I did or didn’t do causing me to do exactly what he said.

But I was wrong. He occasionally reminds me that just because I’m a priest it doesn’t mean that he isn’t my father. And he’s right. The many years and countless hours of work and dedication that he put into my formation as a man gives him the right to continue to see me as a son, as a work in progress. Even though I may have outgrown him in height and weight, I will never outgrow him in years of experience. He definitely has a leg up on me there.

And it’s not only my dad.

When I first stepped foot in the seminary I remember the priest in charge of the seminarians telling us that we were entering a religious order where we would always have a superior to answer to. For as many doctoral degrees we had, no matter what university we were running, no matter how many books we had written, a Jesuit will always have a superior that he has to answer to. Even if you are elected the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, you have to answer to someone (the Pope). And even if by some freak of nature you are elected Pope, you still have to answer to the Church and, more importantly, to God.

Forget it, a Jesuit always has a superior that can pull you to the side and point out your mistakes and insist that you get them corrected. And trust me, Jesuit superiors are great pullers. It’s a very humbling experience, but it keeps you honest. It reminds you that for as much as you say or for as much as you do, you can never get too big for your own britches. And if you ask me, if there is something the world needs now more than ever before is humility and smaller britches.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Antiques Roadshow
10/8/2011

I don’t know if I should admit it or not, but my favorite show on television is Antiques Roadshow. I never thought in a million years that my favorite show on television would be found on the public broadcasting network, but it is. Don’t get me wrong, there are good shows on PBS. Where else can you
watch ¿Que Pasa USA? or stumble across a good documentary on prohibition or the civil war or the national parks.

I admit that when I was a kid I never watched channel 2 because I thought it was lame (except for Sesame Street of course), but now in my older years I have discovered the gems that public television
puts on the tube. And while I don’t think I am ready to do a commercial for them driving my tractor through a farm and then walk into a home filled with books and cups of tea, I applaud their work and their programming.

So what is it about Antiques Roadshow that is so attractive? Why is that I scroll down the television guide with hopeful enthusiasm looking for the show and then get as happy as a child who just got a new puppy that in a month he will lose interest in and stop taking care of when I see it is playing on some public channel? I, for one, am very grateful that it is playing day or night on a channel somewhere in America, second only to Law and Order for most played television show in the history of television.

There is definitely something about Antiques Roadshow.

I know for a fact that I am not the only one who is flabbergasted when a small ceramic ashtray is lugged in by some random individual from a small town in North Carolina and you later find out that it was made during the Ming Dynasty by some honorable samurai who retired from sword fighting in order to work with jade and that this particular piece was made for Queen Victoria. I know for a fact that I am not the only one stunned that it was later given to President Lincoln as a gift by the British Ambassador on his last trip to America on the Titanic and that it sat in the Oval Office during the Civil War and then stolen by confederate soldiers who later gave it to an innkeeper in return for a hot meal on a cold night in Raleigh.

Of course, I am not the only one blown away by the pictures of all these important historical figures that accompany the piece along with a letter signed by President Lincoln thanking the ambassador for the gift, thus, catapulting the value of the ashtray to an amount comparable to the GNP of several small Latin American countries. For sure, I know that I am not the only one who feels bad for the poor nincompoop who sold the ashtray in a yard sale for $1.50 and is probably sitting at home watching the show and kicking himself in the head for having sold it and not having checked the box his great-grandfather had it in that carried the photographs and letter.

And finally, I know for a fact that I am not the only one who as quickly as you can say thank you Mark Walberg (just in case you don’t know, that’s the guy who hosts the show) would run off the stage and sell that ashtray at some auction and buy a lifetime supply of Wendy’s triples. Don’t get me wrong, I would understand the historical value of the piece and appreciate its significance as part of the world’s patrimony, but a Wendy’s triple is a Wendy’s triple.

I don’t know about you, but after having watched the show a few times I have often perused through my grandparents’ home for possible antiques that I can have appraised whenever the show comes down to Miami. I don’t know if they ever will because I don’t think there are too many antiques of significant value here in South Florida. Maybe a plastic flamingo that once decorated the front lawn of some tacky mobster in the 1920s or Henry Flagler’s false teeth that he lost when eating a hotdog at Arebetter’s after the Red Sox’s won the World Series in 1903.

Who knows, I think I’ll pick out a few pieces just in case.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Francis
10/5/2011

I didn’t have a moment to breathe yesterday much less write a blog entry for the faithful. I really wanted to but with the cultural series that launches the 50th anniversary celebrations right around the corner, various television and radio reporters descending on the campus, the senior ring ceremony, and about seven or eight sports teams playing games and matches I was unable to write anything. The only thing I did have time for was to woof down a Wendy’s triple with bacon, cheese, and onions in one minute and 32 seconds. A record time that would make Dave Thomas proud.

I wanted to write because yesterday was October 4th and the Church celebrated the feast of one of its greatest and most popular saints. And even though that great and popular saint was St. Francis Assisi and not St. Ignatius of Loyola or one of the thousands of other noteworthy Jesuit saints, the man had a very powerful impact on the Church and the world at large. Amazing how a non-Jesuit can actually do that!

Now I know you may be wondering what an S.J. is doing writing about and O.F.M. Is the world coming to an end that a son of Ignatius is going to write something that highlights the life of the founder of the Franciscan order? The answer is yes, believe it or not.

But before I do that, here’s a funny story… a Franciscan and a Jesuit are playing golf one Sunday morning at the Biltmore Golf Course in Coral Gables. They notice after a couple of holes that the foursome in front of them is terrible. They miss the ball, shank it into the tress, walk around aimlessly, and take a very long time to hit their next shot.

Frustrated with the slow play they get into their golf cart and head back to the clubhouse to complain to the manager. When they find him they insist he do something because the foursome is interrupting their game and they both have masses they have to celebrate in the afternoon.

The manager, somewhat embarrassed, tells the two priests that the golf course had started a new practice where once a month they were opening the course to the handicap. He informed them that the foursome in front of them was composed of four blind players. The Franciscan, embarrassed, went down on his knees and offered a prayer to God thanking Him for having inspired management to open their hearts to Sister Charity. The Jesuit, on the other hand, walked up to the manager and asked why the foursome couldn’t play at night.

Oh boy, obviously that story says more about the Jesuit than it does about the Franciscan. But at least the two priests were playing golf together. Why not, their orders share so much in common. Even though they were founded at different times, in different countries, for different purposes, they share a lot in common.

One of the greatest commonalities is their passion for Jesus. Francis of Assisi is the embodiment of that passion for the Lord. After his conversion he wanted to imitate Jesus down to his very sandals. Francis wanted to be poor as Jesus was poor, he wanted to be holy as Jesus was holy, he wanted to be humble as Jesus was humble, and he wanted to suffer as Jesus suffered. As a matter of fact, Francis’ passion to imitate Christ was so intense that God rewarded him with a gift that He gave to few. He gave Francis the opportunity to be wounded as Jesus was wounded. He gave Francis the stigmata. And while Francis always found that he was unworthy to carry these wounds, God thought differently and gave them to him.

It was this “other Christ” that for forty years roamed the earth and preached the love and peace that only can come from faith in Jesus Christ. This tree-hugging, animal-petting, grasshopper-eating (or was that John the Baptist) saint left such a mark on the Church that over 300 years later it would cause a stir in the life of a short Basque who recovering from his battle wounds read about his life and decided to abandon his sword and take up the cause of Christ. The rest, of course, is history.

Since then the sons of the saintly Italian and the sons of the saintly Spaniard have been working together to set the world on fire. Cities have been built, universities founded, and churches established to help spread the faith. And yes, they even find time to play a few rounds of golf together.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Sunday Bloody Sunday
10/2/2011

As I sit here on a gloomy Sunday evening still licking my wounds from yet another Dolphins defeat I am thrust into a melancholic mood that causes the philosophical gears in my brain to question what it’s all about. Why? That is the question asked over and over again. Why? There is no joy in my heart and so I have to do something to remedy the sadness, something to liven the spirit that currently finds itself dragged through the mud of incompetent, bumbling football antics by a lackluster, mediocre team that has as much hope for success as a blind squirrel has looking for a nut.

The weekend did not start this way. On the contrary, it was shaping up to be a spectacular one. Friday marked the end of our Homecoming Week and the thoughts of our students back to their uniforms on Monday saw a faint smile begin to form across my rosy cheeks. I know the guys enjoyed wearing superhero costumes and football jerseys, but there is apparent order and peace when uniformed blue and gold ties are worn around the neck and not around the head in Kimosabe-like fashion.

The cherry on top of a pleasant Friday was the varsity football team’s convincing victory over the Doral Academy Firebirds. The final score was 45-10 and our blue-clad warriors raised their helmets in joyous triumph reveling in the delight of a job well done. If that wasn’t enough there was Saturday morning when the swift-footed gazelles of the five-time state champion cross-country team were in Titusville making strides in their quest for Florida domination. Wearing their vibrant yellow uniforms this team of runners swarmed like bees through the course with passionate endurance reminding all that Belen was the team to beat and all were welcomed to challenge their sting.

But not only were champs crowned on land. Another powerhouse of Belen athletics took to the pools of the Miami Dade Youth Fair Meet wearing down the competition leaving only their wake behind them. First place was awarded to the Wolverine swimmers who once again demonstrated that the feisty creatures feared in the forested outback of North America should also be feared in the chlorinated swimming holes of the Sunshine State.

And then there was brain as well as brawn. A delegation of Belen’s finest middle schoolers flew to Vanderbilt University in Tennessee as members of the Model United Nations Team. In a competition organized mostly for high school debaters, these mini-giants of rhetoric took to the stage and spoke with an eloquence that would make the nations of the world stand up and cheer. Nine of our sixteen delegates were recognized with honors proving once again that the future of Belen and of our world in general is in good hands.

And then there was heart as well as brain and brawn. On Saturday morning I made my way to Miami Children’s Hospital to visit the grandson of one of our alumni, a future Wolverine in his own right. As I approached the front desk to inquire about the room I was welcomed by Michael Limia ‘15. “What are you doing here?” I asked with a look of joyous surprise. “I volunteer here in the hospital every Saturday morning,” he said with nonchalant certainty. Not watching cartoons on television, not jet-skiing on lakes, just manning up for others as our school motto insists.

So as I sit here and write after examining the weekend hours that have passed, the dreariness produced by a small inept band of athletic professionals gives way to the elation provided by a small courageous band of Belen brothers. It is welcomed relief after four hours of suffering. Thank God next Sunday we have a bye.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Digital Vincam
9/28/2011

Leave it to William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. They had a way of keeping me glued to the television set every Saturday morning without so much of a twitch or turn. That’s not easy for a guy like me that has lived most of his life with undiagnosed ADD. I had the attention span of a gnat and needed only a gnat to fly by for me to lose focus on whatever it was I was supposed to be doing and surrender my attention to what the gnat was doing wondering where he was going.

Hanna and Barbera were the greatest babysitters any parent could ask for. They kept me for years from jumping up and down in my parents’ bed at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning demanding to be fed whatever cereal of the month was selected from the stocked isles of the Grand Union. If only those guys did math I would have probably aced the subject that so often saw me sitting with my father the engineer for hours trying to understand what congruent angles were all about and why it mattered (does it?).

One of my favorite shows that they produced was The Jetsons. I admit that I loved seeing the quirky things came from their minds about what the future would be like. The characters were great, but I loved more the creative and imaginative ideas of what the human race could possibly look forward to. As they raced across the sky in their spaceship George Jetson would drop off his kids at school by launching out the bottom of the craft.

The funny thing is that now I am 41 years old and we are a decade into the 21st century and I realize that Hanna and Barbera were not too far off, actually visionary. Do you remember how George would call Mr. Spacely, his boss and the owner of Spacely Sprockets, when he wanted to tell him he wasn’t coming in to work? There was a little screen on his desk where you could see the person you were calling! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Skype. Do you remember how Jane would push a button and from a closet came a little round vacuum cleaner whenever she wanted to clean the carpet? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Robot Vacuum. Do you remember how Elroy would take Astro for a walk by tying him to a machine that had a moving floor? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the treadmill.

So, in the spirit of the Jetsons, today Belen Jesuit launches the first digitized version of its student newspaper, Vincam. Who would have thought decades ago when Belen students in Cuba started the Vincam publication that one day it would no longer be in print but would flash across screens of computers and tablets? For that matter, who would have thought decades ago when Belen students in Cuba started the Vincam publication that one day there would be computers?

But here it is. Right on the homepage of the Belen Jesuit website you can access the student publication and read the newspaper anywhere. The word vincam is Latin for “I will conquer” and there is no doubt that the young men of Belen have conquered the world of publication by launching this new era in Belen journalism. Not even Hanna and Barbera saw this one coming.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87



A Higher Standard
9/26/2011

It’s not the same. The expectations are higher, the responsibilities greater, the implications more
serious. For those reasons, it’s not the same. And I understand that. I was fully aware of it when I decided to become a priest, I was fully aware of it while I was studying to become a priest, and I am fully aware of it now that I am a priest.

The call to a vocation in the priesthood is a privilege that has been given to me by God through His Church. And I know that I have to fight every day to live up to it. With all the years of study, all the hours of prayer, all the masses, and amazing opportunities to be with God and experience Him, I should live up to it. I also know that because of it, because people are looking up to me, because
people depend on me, because people expect things from me, I have to be held to a higher standard. Why not? I hold myself to it; I certainly expect others to hold me to it as well.

It is for this reason that when I (or we), a priest, makes a mistake the implications are greater and more serious. You can open up the newspaper and read a disturbing article about an individual who does some serious harm to another man, woman, or child and be angered by it. But if you open up the newspaper and read a disturbing article about a priest who does some serious harm to another man, woman, or child the anger is greater. Rightfully so; you should expect more from him (or me). There is nothing wrong with holding me (or us) to a higher standard.

I have the same opinion about Belen and our students.

The expectations here are higher, the responsibilities greater, the implications more serious. An education at Belen is a privilege that has been given to us by God through our parents. And a Belen student has to fight every day to live up to it. With all the years of studies, all the hours of prayers, all the masses, and amazing opportunities to be with God and experience Him, the Belen student
should live up to it. I also know that because of it, because people are looking up to us, because people depend on us, because people expect things from us, we have to be held to a higher standard. Why not? We hold ourselves to it; we should certainly expect others to hold us to it as well.

Again, if you open up The Miami Herald and they are telling you some story about an individual who has made some kind of a mistake or caused some kind of harm, rarely do they every mention the high
school he went to unless that high school happens to be Belen Jesuit. Why? Well, because the expectations are greater.

I have the same opinion about our school leaders.

Take the athletes for example. These young men wear their school jerseys through the hallways of Belen and are looked up to by the rest of the student body. They represent Belen on every field, diamond, court, and pool. Because of this the expectations are higher, the responsibilities greater, the implications more serious. Their role as athletes is a privilege that has been given to them by God
through our school. And they have to fight every day to live up to it.

With all the years of practice, all the hours of prayer, all the masses, and amazing opportunities to be with God and experience Him, they should live up to it. They should also know that because of it, because Belen looks up to them, Belen depends on them, because Belen expects things from them, they have to be held to a higher standard. Why not? They should hold themselves to it; they should certainly expect others to hold them to it as well.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Riley
9/22/2011

I admit that I was like a little kid who is standing in line waiting to sit on Santa’s lap at the mall. Let me be more specific. Before there was Santa’s Enchanted Forest (or “disenchanted” if you live anywhere near Bird Road and the Palmetto and you’re trying to get home after a long day’s work and the streets are all backed up because of a thousand low-riding, souped-up, black-tinted Honda accords that are blaring music you definitely do not recognize and make your chest vibrate even though you are a considerable distance away) there was Merrick Park.

On the west side of Miracle Mile there was, and still is, a little park when during Christmas the Coral Gables elves transform it into a scene from the North Pole. Decked with candy canes and artificial snow, they plant Santa’s house in the middle of the park and sit jolly ole’ St. Nick on a red velvet
throne. He greets the little kids that stand in line for hours and patiently listens to all their requests.

I remember how excited I would be in line. I couldn’t contain myself. I was in awe thinking about the fact that I was going to meet the guy who made my Decembers so happy. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jesus and understood even back then that he was the true reason for the season, but it was Santa that roused the most excitement.

How could this fat man singlehandedly prize ever child from Tokyo to London on a single night? As I stood in line waiting I was excited, but mostly nervous. I would rehearse my petition over and over again making sure I didn’t say anything stupid or miss out on any of the goodies that I had wanted for 11 months, the goodies that my parents obviously could not get me.

Well, that’s how nervous I was on Tuesday when Coach Pat Riley, head coach of five championship NBA teams, three time coach of the year, and member of the NBA Hall of Fame came to our school to speak to the students and faculty. His scheduled arrival time was just before 9:30 a.m., the time that the assembly was going to be held in the gym. You could imagine my face when I received a call at
8:55 a.m. from the receptionist telling me that a really tall guy with slicked back hair was in the administration office looking for me.

I ran like a power forward to my office to make sure everything was in order. I combed my hair, straightened the white tab on my clerical shirt, and chewed on two very old tic tacs I happened to find at the bottom of my drawer. I walked down slowly and in control even though my heart was beating hard and my brain kept reminding me not to say anything stupid.

He greeted me with a strong shake of the hand (as expected) and expressed his happiness to be at a school he had often heard about. He told me he was a little nervous about talking to such a large number of kids. Nervous…Pat Riley nervous? Are you kidding me? This guy has to stand up in front of very large athletes, in front of crowds that number the tens of thousands, in front of international
television audiences, and a small group of teenagers makes him nervous. Well, if only he knew how I felt at the time.

We made our way into the gym where the kids gave him a standing ovation. He spoke to them about not becoming “extinct.” How it was important to make a difference in the world and that their presence in it should not be insignificant. He told them that it was fear that many times kept us from doing what we had to do, from doing what we were called to do. He told them several stories about his
dad and the way he was raised. How his dad taught him lessons that he has never forgotten and were the secret to his success as a coach and as a man. And then he reminded them that being at Belen meant that they had a huge opportunity in life and that they should take advantage of it. That living up to Belen’s motto of being a “man for others” is the key to measuring true success.

At the end of his speech, after a rousing applause from everyone present, we gave him the greatest gift that the Belen community could give. We all prayed for him and placed him in the hands of the Blessed Mother. We said a Hail Mary and offered the Belemite battle cry: “Our Lady of Belen… pray for us.” Santa, eat your heart out.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Rainy Days and Mondays
9/19/2011

My father just called me and asked if I saw myself on the 5 o’clock news. I didn’t. I was at the school watching the middle school Wolverines take on the St. Timothy Trojans in a volleyball match at the gym. They won which made not seeing myself on the news at 5 o’clock worth it. I would much rather have our boys claim victory on the court than have to watch myself on television. The problem with television is that it makes you look like you’ve put on a few extra pounds. That’s the last thing I need. I can put on the extra pounds myself without the help of television, thank you.

Have you asked yourself why I was on the news yet? Well, in case you haven’t I will tell you. I was on the news today because we ceremoniously opened the gates to Belen at 6 a.m. this morning remembering that 19th of September 50 years ago when those few Jesuit priests and small handful of students opened Belen in Miami. We had a nice gathering of students, faculty, alumni, and parents with sleep in their eyes standing outside the gate waiting for Fr. Pedro Suarez, S.J. ’58 to swing open the gate. And swing he did.

We planned for a mass in the new and improved central patio to commemorate the momentous occasion just after the large delegation made their way into the school. As I vested for mass I was pulled away to speak to a reporter from channel 6 who wanted to ask me a few questions. “Why is this such a big deal?” she asked. Why is this such a big deal!? That question is like having Joe DiMaggio at bat at Yankee Stadium with runners in scoring position and the game on the line and hanging a 75 mph fastball over the middle of the plate. It’s easy peasy.

Just think about the significance of being thrown out of your own country where you had been for over 100 years by the very person you helped raise and then land in a foreign country where you know very few people and have to get busy working almost as if nothing had happened. If there is anything that personifies the American dream I assure you that this is it. They should make a movie about this. You know the kind of flick that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, or the skin on your arms pimple, or the eyes in your face water. You can't write stuff like this.

And you want to know the best part? Right in the middle of the mass in that beautiful new central patio it began to rain. That’s right, rain. So without skipping a beat the congregation got up and with the help of the maintenance crew of the school we took down the altar and the chairs and the cross and we moved indoors. No joke, in less time that it would take you to sing the Cuban national anthem we were set up in the cafeteria and continuing with the mass.

What do you think, that after 50 years of exile, hardships and tribulations we were going to let a little rain get in the way of celebrating the success of our American dream? I don’t think so. Belen is a school that has been on the move from the moment it was founded back in 1854. We don’t sit idly by and let things or people or governments or ideologies run over us. The Belen story is a story of a people on the move, a people who by the grace of God have made things happen. It is a tenacious spirit that has fought and will continue to fight. We actually welcome the rain.

God was good to us today and the rain was His gift, the magic touch. There is much more to look forward to this year, many more events to be had that will commemorate the 50 years of Belen and I assure you that neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will keep us from celebrating any of them.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Lo Bueno Cuesta Trabajo
9/17/2011

This has been a tough week at Belen. Not that any week at Belen is a walk through the park, but this week the walk was like Central Park in the 70s at 1 a.m. during a blackout. I understand that being involved in the administration of such an amazing school by definition cannot be easy. The faculty is well educated so when addressing them you have to know your stuff. The parents are professionals and involved in their son’s education so when addressing them you have to know your stuff. And the kids, well, they are very smart and insist they know it all so when addressing them you have to know your stuff.

But I admit that I am glad for the difficult weeks. It is proof that what my grandmother would tell me when I was a kid was right, “lo bueno cuesta trabajo” (“what is good requires hard work”). In other words, Belen is not only good… it’s darn good. So yesterday afternoon at 3:50 p.m. when I was gathered in the warehouse behind the Belen theater with the varsity football team ready to give them my pregame speech and lead them in prayer, I told them that because it had been a tough week it would be a great blessing if we finished it off with a victory over the Gulliver Raiders.

Thank God they listened. We won the game in overtime 45-38. I don’t know why it couldn’t have been easier, why the transition from the week to the weekend couldn’t have been a little less stressful, a little less nerve-racking. I had planned to get to my next gig by 7 p.m. thinking that by that time the Wolverines would have reigned victorious over their opponents. But I was wrong.

See, I figured that four hours would have been more than enough time to go in, hike the ball, score seventeen touchdowns, and get the job done. I would then stroll back to the house for a pause, albeit brief, before my 7:30 p.m. event. Instead I was torn between the game headed into overtime and the academic award ceremony that was about to commence. I guess once again the words of my grandmother ring true, “lo bueno cuesta trabajo.”

And then there was the academic award ceremony. Both Thursday night and Friday night saw the Ignatian Center for the Arts filled with academically strong Belen students awaiting to hear their names called out as they received gold and silver medals for the various subjects they had mastered. The seats were filled with proud parents and grandparents who focused their attention on their boy as he stood in the limelight and walked across the stage. Some of those kids even used wheelbarrows to cart off their medals.

One of the awards given out on Thursday was the Benjamin Matza Award. This award is given to the Belen eighth grader who scored an “A” in every subject, every semester, every year he was in middle school. There were seven recipients that night. Do you know what that means? It means that those kids will probably one day own the company that you will work for. It means that those kids will probably one day discover the cure for the illness that you may get. It means that those kids will probably one day run the city or state or country that you live in. But what it means for sure is that those kids worked very hard to achieve that great distinction. It means that once again the words of my grandmother ring true, “lo bueno cuesta trabajo.”

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Golden Hearts
9/13/2011

On September 8th the whole Church celebrated the feast of the birth of Mary. That’s right, Mary turned about 2000 years old, give or take a few years. I would imagine that when you get to be that old you don’t mind them tacking on or shaving off a few years. Mind you, I’m just guessing at her age because I would never in a million years ask her. I learned long ago never to ask a woman how old she is. I’ve been slapped by a female seven times in my life. And while most of them rightfully came from my mother, a couple came as a response to the imprudent question of age.

And while the whole Church celebrated the birth of Mary, the Cubans also celebrated the feast of their patroness, Our Lady Queen of Charity. You’ve seen the image before I am sure. A beautiful lady dressed in blue with the baby Jesus in her hands. At her feet there is a little boat with three fishermen, “los tres Juanes” as they are referred to.

Here’s a cute story: Our Lady Queen of Charity is walking along the boardwalk (el malecón) in Havana with St. Barbara. As they walk along Mary says to Barbara, “After everything we’ve suffered in this country because of communism why do you still wear that red cloak around your shoulders?” St. Barbara respectively responds, “And after everything we’ve suffered in this country because of communism, if you who have that little boat at your feet why haven’t you taken off to Miami?”

The fact is that while the Blessed Mother has not left Cuba she has also come to Miami with her children in exile. This year’s mass at the Bank United Center at the University of Miami was extra special because the image of Our Lady Queen of Charity is celebrating 50 years in Miami. Like Belen, this image came here in 1961 and has been a part of the Miami community through thick and thin. It
is for this reason that Belen this year sent 120 of its students and several teachers to represent our school at the mass.

We share a common history and a common story. We are the product of exile and through thick and thin we have tried to remain faithful to what we know is our sacred duty. It’s interesting that today on September 13th we celebrate the feast of an amazing saint. John Chrysostom lived in the 4th century and was known for his eloquent speech. He was nicknamed “golden mouth” and never stood down when he needed to preach a fiery sermon that denounced social injustice or religious heresy. Because of his conviction and the pulpit he used to express it he was exiled several times and died far from his
homeland.

Sound familiar? It should because it happens to be similar to what the majority of the Miami community is all about. Today’s gospel at mass is taken from St. Mark and relates Jesus’ parable of the sower who went out to sow the seed. Some of that seed landed on rocky ground, some on dry land, and some among the thorns. It produced no fruit. But some landed on rich soil and produced a lot
of fruit.

That gospel and St. John Chrysostom got me thinking. It is very important that one speak well and with passionate conviction even at the expense of being exiled, tortured, stoned, and martyred. But the words that are spoken also need to be received with an attentive ear, with an open mind. If not the seed is wasted and no fruit is bore. We need not only a “golden mouth,” but a golden heart as well.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

3 for 1 Special
9/8/2011

Tomorrow the whole Belen community will gather in the Roberto Goizueta gym at 9:30 a.m. to take part in a special, one time, never before seen 3 for 1 offer. That’s right! You read correctly, a 3 for 1 offer. No need to adjust your computer screen. Tomorrow and tomorrow alone we will be celebrating three extraordinary events.

First we celebrate the mass of the Holy Spirit. Traditionally, every Catholic educational institution begins the year with a mass dedicated to the Holy Spirit. It’s a great idea. When you have a school filled with teenagers and you’re trying to corral them into classrooms and get them to study you need the power of the Holy Spirit to get it done right. Actually, it wouldn’t hurt to throw in the intercession of a few saints and add a couple of lit candles for good measure. The fact is that begging the Holy Spirit to descend on our campus like He did on the apostles 2000 years ago is something that I often times find myself asking when I occasionally throw my hands up in the air and repeat the words of my Cuban grandmother, “¡ay Divino Espiritu Santo!”

Second we celebrate the feast of St. Peter Claver. In the Society of Jesus, and the whole Church for that matter, celebrates the feast of one of its great saints. St. Peter Claver was a Spaniard who dedicated his life to working with the African slaves in Cartagena, Colombia. The guy was a certified missionary stud. Stories are told of how he lived in a little house on the coast close to the docks looking out to sea waiting for the Spanish cargo ships to make their way to shore. He would sprint out of his house and not even wait for the slaves to be unloaded. He insisted on going down into the hull to minister to the thousands of poor men, women, and children. He would bandage their wounds, feed
them, bring them medicine, and try to console them in their time of need. He died of a fever he contracted while on one of the ships.

And third we celebrate the pronouncing of first vows of Julio Minsal-Ruiz, n.S.J. Julio graduated from Belen in 2005 and after finishing his studies at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio he entered the Jesuit order to begin his formation for the priesthood. After two years he is called by the Society of Jesus to pronounce his first vows. Tomorrow, in front of all our students, faculty, family, and friends, Julio will take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. It’s a lot like getting married because you are poor (you give all your money to your spouse) and are obedient (you have to do everything she says). We pray that Julio’s example will inspire more of our guys to do the same in the future.

Wow, talk about spiritual overload. If you happen to be in the neighborhood and can spare an hour or two, come to the mass and celebrate with us.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

Little Giant
9/6/2011

A few years ago I went to Rome for the first time. I had always wanted to visit the Eternal City and walk through the same streets that saw greats like Peter and Paul preach the gospel and legends like John Paul II and John XXIII live it. Of particular interest was the Gesù Church, the spiritual seat of the Society of Jesus where the body of St. Ignatius of Loyola, our founder, has been laid to rest. Next to this beautiful renaissance building is the building that houses the little room where Ignatius lived the last 10 years of his life.

I was so excited to visit this place. In the words of John Denver, it was “coming home to a place he’d never been before.” My whole life I have read and heard about the great St. Ignatius of Loyola. My ties to this famous Basque go back for generations. My ancestors have all been educated in the great schools run by the religious order that he founded in 1541. The same religious order that helped the Church launch a counter to the Protestant Reformation, that brought the gospel to places like China and Japan, that confessed the sins of European kings and princes, and whose members have shed their blood in defense of the Church.

These great men over the years have lived their vocation with passion because they have all desired to imitate the greatness of Ignatius of Loyola. Raised in the court of the Spanish empire’s treasurer, a young Ignatius learned to use his sword to defend his king and kingdom whenever necessary. But God had other plans for him. While fighting the French in the city of Pamplona he was severely injured by a cannonball and sent to mend his wounds in the castle of his family. It was there that he encountered Jesus and decided to lay down his sword and become his disciple. The passion Ignatius felt for Spain he know felt for God.

As I walked up the narrow stairs to the room where he lived I was filled with excitement. What great things I will see, what awesome relics left behind of this giant man will help confirm my own conviction to follow in his footsteps as a member of the Society of Jesus. I was captivated by the thought that it was in that very place where I was going that the solider saint surrendered his soul on the 31st of July, 1556. If permitted and if no one was looking I would take the opportunity to maybe lie gently on the bed that held his saintly body.

And as the wooden door opened before me and I made my way into the room I was made aware of the true greatness of this man. On a little wooden bed, with a little wooden desk, and a little wooden chair slept and worked the little Basque saint. Why little? Well, a statute of Ignatius located right there in the room explains that the man from Loyola was 5’ 2” small. A little man with a giant legacy.

God bless,
Fr. Willie '87

Broken
8/31/2011

As I stood this morning at the front of the school greeting the guys as they walked in I noticed an unusually large number of crutches, braces, casts, and bandages. I mean, when you work with as many boys as we do you grow accustomed to seeing the occasional broken bone or sprained ankle. But this morning at one point I had to remind myself that I was at Belen and not Miami Children’s Hospital.

What’s going on? Was the summer that rough? Has the first week of school been that strenuous that it has not only affected the mind but also the body? If you put candles in their hands and play soft Gregorian chant in the background you would swear that you were at the procession of the sick at Lourdes in France. I think our students’ community service hours can be fulfilled simply by standing
at the main gate of the school and offering to carry book bags of the wounded. Or maybe we can start a new club that services the needs of the injured. We can call it “El Club de San Lazaro” and focus especially on those who have crutches.

If you ask me the real problem is not that our boys are living more hectic or active lives. It’s definitely not that they are engaging in sports that are more dangerous or violent. Football has always been football and I would even contest that in our day it was worse than it is today. In my day we didn’t wear pads or cleats and threw around a large stone (I sound like my father). Nowadays they have extra padding, scientifically designed helmets, and trainers.

No, if you ask me I think it has more to do with what we are feeding our kids or what we are not feeding them. Modern society’s obsession with “eating right” may have gone overboard and it has possibly generated weaker bones. Look at calcium for example. It is the key to strong, healthy bones, but I contest that our boys aren’t getting enough of it. They drink too much fat-free, 2%, organic, skim
milk. How about feeding them the old fashion, whole grade, straight from the cow milk?

Personally, I’m not much of a milk drinker, never really liked the taste of it. But my mother understood the importance of calcium and since she didn’t have time to run to the hospital for every dislocated pinky or fractured radius because she was raising nine children, she made sure that I got enough of it. The secret was disguising the milk. That’s why Nestle Quick, both chocolate and
strawberry, was a main staple in my house. Likewise, there were all kinds of cereals that magically turned your milk into a variety of yummy flavors. And, of course, there was the greatest source of calcium: ice cream. How many times did we run to “La Vaquita” (the Cuban Farm Stores) for chocolate chip or plain vanilla (with a little shot Hershey’s syrup of course)?

Who knows, I’m no doctor, but I think I may be on to something here. For my part I will continue to stock the Belen cafeteria with the chocolate milk that all the guys say is second to none. And I will continue to bring out the ice cream for dessert at the last possible moment before the bell rings in order to avoid a stampede… all in the name of strong, healthy bones (and the greater glory of
God of course).

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

The House I Lived In
8/29/2011

I grew up in a house that was located in South Miami. It was my “hood.” It was through those suburban streets that I would ride my bike looking for fallen mangos and avocados that I would collect to sell to neighbors for a quarter. I know a quarter doesn’t buy much anymore, but when I was in my early teens a quarter paid for several things. With a quarter you could play Space Invaders or Donkey Kong at the entrance of your local Publix while your mother shopped for groceries or you could buy a packet of baseball cards and chew on the stale powdered bubble gum strip that came with it.

It was through those suburban streets that I would drag my lawnmower knocking on doors asking people to let me mow their lawn for $10, $15 if they wanted their weeds eaten. I remember how more often than not I did a terrible job but people would pay me anyway because they were nice in the 80s and figured that effort was greater than result.

It was also through those suburban streets that I would toss footballs and baseballs, kick soccer balls, and hit tennis balls with my friends until the sun set. It was then that I would hear my mother screaming from the front door of my house telling me to come in and finish my homework or get ready for dinner.

And then there was my house. That too was on those suburban streets. I have fond memories of it. It was there that a couple of my brothers and sister were brought to from the hospital after coming into the world. It was there where I organized my first party and held my breath wondering if my friends would come. And it was there where I would sit in front of the television set on Saturday mornings watching Skipper Chuck, Captain Kangaroo, and Thunder Cats with a bowl of cornflakes and condensed milk for breakfast.

From my perspective it was a huge mansion of a house where I could hide all kinds of things. I knew every nook and cranny and every nook and cranny was filled with plastic toy soldiers, Hot Wheel race cars, and Star Wars action figures. The place was my playground, my realm, it was my home and I remember how sad I was when I finally moved out of it. It was for a good reason. I was 19 and had been accepted into the Jesuit seminary. I had to move out in order to follow what I knew was God’s will for me. It was a good move, a necessary move.

Over 25 years have gone by since then and just the other day I was in the neighborhood and decided to stop by. The suburban streets look pretty much the same but the house is different. They’ve changed the color, paved the front yard, and placed a fence around the property. The giant paper tree that served as my fort for several summers and was my father’s biggest headache because of how much the bark shed has been cut down. The carport has been closed and turned into a study or guestroom or den. The house looks smaller, it doesn’t look the same; but then again, neither do I.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

7
8/25/2011

Do you remember that song by Chicago called Hard to Say I’m Sorry? It was written by Peter Cetera and claimed that, “everybody needs a little time away.” Peter was right; everybody needs some time away from the hectic, busy, congested routine of our daily lives. But I discovered this summer that if you do want to get away whatever you do don’t go to North Carolina. That’s where I spent seven days with my family over the summer to recharge my batteries and gather strength to dive into another academic year.

The problem is that I ran into half of Miami there.

I had an idea that I was in trouble when I noticed that every car that zoomed by us on the road heading had a tag with an orange in the center, green numbers, and letters. For a while I thought that maybe we hadn’t left the state of Florida yet. I mean, it had been 13 hours since we had gotten on the Turnpike from the 8 street ramp and I was almost positive that we had made our way into another state, but the Floridians kept stalking us.

Florida is a very long state and offers an extraordinary panoramic experience as you drive north (please note the strong sense of sarcasm). Unfortunately, the Sunshine State is as flat as a surfboard for as far as the eye can bear to see. I refer to a surfboard because not only are they flat and offer an appropriate analogy, but also because they are the subject of every other billboard from Ft. Lauderdale to Cocoa Beach.

My father has a cabin in Deep Gap, just a few miles outside of Boone. It’s a beautiful place overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are 15 other cabins that dot the landscape and I will give you one guess as to where the 14 other owners make their permanent residence during the regular season. If you said Miami you just won a dinner for two at Cracker Barrel, the ultimate road trip restaurant.

But it’s not only the roads to the First in Flight state, but the towns and villages. The strip that makes up the main street in the little city of Blowing Rock just outside of Boone is sprinkled with little shops and restaurants that cater to the summer and winter tourists. These shops are anomalies to Miamians because they sell things like quilts, muskets, and gas lamps, items that are not found in shops south of Stuart. They feed you biscuits, okra, and rock candy, cuisine foreign to the Hispanic diet.

In these shops I’ve noticed they love to sell little wooden items that are designed to entice all those out-of-towners who build cabins there. Plaques and signs whittled by barefoot craftsmen in overalls and engraved with slogans normally labeled “cute” by women and “corny” by men. Poetic gems like, “Memories Made Here,” or “If you’re lucky enough to be in the mountains, you’re lucky enough,” or the proverbial classic “God bless this cabin.”

As you take a stroll (in Miami we don’t stroll, we drive) down the quaint (in Miami we don’t use the word “quaint” because nothing is really quaintly) little town you can make out Cuban accents as far as the ear can hear. You walk into Kilwin’s Ice Cream Shop and hear Cubans asking for flavors like dulce de leche or mamey and wonder if the coffee ice cream is made with Pilón. But these North Carolinians are smart. They know of the Cuban invasion and wisely choose to reap its benefits. Right there next to the rum raisin and nutmeg ice cream is a quart of the stuff that only a south Floridian can love.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved my week off in the mountains. The best thing about a cabin lost in the wilderness is that the phone reception is bad and calls were not coming in very well or often. It’s one of the few times in my life that seeing one solitary bar on the top left corner of my cell phone brought a smile of joy instead of a word of blasphemy to my lips. If you need some time to get away, then a cabin in Boone may be just what the doctor ordered. Just make your reservations early because I heard the Venezuelans are on their way.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

2
8/23/2011

You should have seen the surprised faces on these guys when they walked into the central patio this morning and realized that it had been revamped. Day two of the school year and the day that found the whole student body converging on the school like a swarm of locust hungry for learning. But I don’t think they expected the drastic change in scenery. It was kind of like waking up one morning and realizing that Wachovia was now Wells Fargo. They had no idea it was going to happen.

Let me be clear, the makeover was not simply for esthetics. The demolition of that space was intended to help repair the constant flooding that was occurring every time Mother Nature chose to unleash her liquid fury on South Florida. The central patio became the ultimate Slip ‘n Slide and tempted students of all ages to rush across the wetland and use their Penny Loafers as wakeboards. I think I even saw the occasional Jesuit make his way across and pretend that he was walking on water.

But esthetics did play an important part in the reconstruction. I figured that if the central patio is at the heart of the school where so much activity takes place, why not spoof it up so that it looks nice. Just think, when you walk into the building it’s the first thing you see. Wouldn’t it be better that “the first thing” be nice to look at it, appealing and attractive. It is now.

I must admit that when the demolition began at the beginning of the summer I was saddened to see the old structure disappear. The place holds a lot of meaning for me. It was there that I stood surrounded by giants when I was a little ninth grader and walked into Belen for the first time. It was there that I played soda can hokey with my classmates. It was there that I danced to I Melt With You by Modern English and Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham! It was there that I had my ring ceremony. So to see the bricks and concrete knocked down was a little sad. But was taken its place is awesome.

There is no doubt that future generations of Belen students will also forge memories in this new space and will move ever closer to becoming men there. We are grateful to the Garrido family (Tony ’46, Junior ’72, and José ’99) who generously donated the means to make this renovation possible and to Jorge Hernández ’74 who so lovingly and diligently designed it. So let’s close the books on day two and rest up because tomorrow is day three.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

50
8/22/2011

50’s a big deal.

Actually, let me stop right here before I go off on why it is a big deal and express a hearty welcome and welcome back to our Belen kids and their families. The summer was great, but the days of toned down exhilaration are gone. The guys have been missed so we are excited that between today and tomorrow we will hear the pitter patter of their brown shoes on the newly paved central patio.

Have you seen the new pavers? If not, get off sometime this week and take a look at the patio. I refer to it as the outward expression of Belen’s jubilation of 50 years in the Magic City. If you ask me, celebrating 50 years of anything is a big deal. A deal so big that it makes you want to get up on your feet, throw your hands up in the air, and celebrate.

So big a deal that it even makes Mariachi music sound like a great idea. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something fun about it. And I don’t mean that I would buy a CD of the music to play in my car or download it from iTunes and put it in my iPod. It is the soul of 50 years of anything.

Sure enough, when my father turned 50 there had to be a mariachi band playing. You can just imagine the textbook scenario. Well adorned tables and chairs on a backyard patio with little candles floating in water as centerpieces, great food from some familiar caterer, and hundreds of voices talking and laughing. And then, from the side of the house, unexpectedly come the sound of the trumpet and the yelping of Mexican voices.

Of course, everyone turns in stunned surprise even though they all knew deep down inside that if the old man was turning 50 there had to be mariachis singing Rancho Grande at one point. It’s amazing, music that you normally would never listen to sounds almost angelic when you turn 50 year.

I remember when my grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. I wasn’t there actually. I was living in Brazil at the time studying theology and was unable to attend. But I remember the pictures. Fr. Eddy Alvarez, S.J. ’62 and Fr. Juan Manuel Dorta-Duque, S.J. ’40, my grandfather’s classmate, celebrated the mass. Surrounded by their children, grandchildren (except for me of course), and great-grandchildren they renewed the same vows they had professed to each other in the chapel at Belen in Havana, Cuba.

Think about the 50th burger sold by McDonalds or the 50 millionths; what a momentous event that must have been. Now their sign says, “over 100 billion sold.” I’m sure that when Ray Kroc bought the little hamburger stand in San Bernardino, California in the 1950s he had no idea that it would become the fast food monster that it is now. Can you imagine over 1 billion double quarter pounders with cheese? Have I died and gone to heaven? I bet you Mr. Kroc remembers the 50th burger sold, or the 50th store opened, or the 50th anniversary.

So yeah, “50” is a big deal. Belen this year celebrates its 50th anniversary in Miami. In 1961 on the fourth floor of a school building in downtown Miami that doesn’t even exist anymore was forged the American dream for a small team of Jesuits and a handful of refugee kids. Just months before these Jesuits were being dragged away at gunpoint from the most successful educational institution in Cuba, loaded onto a ship, and exiled to foreign shores. And there was no moping, no whining, no cursing (well, maybe some cursing). They simply picked themselves up off the ground, dusted off their cassocks, rolled up their sleeves, and started teaching again.

The foreign Jesuits didn’t know the American educational system, they didn’t have school colors or a mascot, they didn’t own textbooks, and they didn’t even know where their next meal was coming from. But they knew what the Spirit wanted and they weren’t going to allow a treacherous, bearded demagogue get in the way of their calling.

And now, 50 years later and a little farther west, Belen celebrates its golden jubilee. Thousands of men have graduated from here and have gone on to prove that what the Jesuits were able to do was well worth it and that the Belen spirit could not be stymied. This is the joyous spirit with which we begin this academic year. And we are grateful to God that He has afforded us one more year to continue our work for His greater glory.

God bless,
Fr. Willie ‘87

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