Busted Halo

Rebecca Gallo is trying to put into practice the lessons she learned while walking The Camino. Follow along as she continues her spiritual journey — whatever that might mean.

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December 12th, 2012

The Belief-o-matic. It sounded like a new-fangled kitchen appliance I would have seen advertised on late night TV — back in 1985. I could see the greasy haired salesman on my screen telling me how simple it was to use: “Insert beliefs and in no time at all, you’ll have the perfect religion!”

But this wasn’t a Home Shopping Network sales pitch — it was a website. As a woman who has struggled with her Catholic faith for a while — so much so that she took off on a 480 mile pilgrimage walk to see what she could discover — the whole process intrigued me. Answer 20 questions and be presented with your perfect religion. No need to call the 800 number on my screen. I could simply insert my name and e-mail address and get started. So I did.

If only it was that easy.

Question 1: What is the number and nature of the deity (God, gods, higher power)?

As I read through the seven answer choices I realized I should have followed the advice I give my students preparing for the SAT: read the question, think about what your answer would be, and only then …

December 5th, 2012

I punched a zip code into the labyrinth locater. Jackpot! The search returned two labyrinths in Asheville, North Carolina. The first was at a Catholic church, but I wasn’t ready to step foot in one of those at this point in my life. The second was an outdoor labyrinth at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. It was a mere one-and-a-half mile walk from my temporary home. The next morning, I headed out in search of this circle of stones, eager to walk the labyrinth and hear what it had to tell me.

My body fills with a comfort upon seeing a labyrinth. For those that have never walked one, know that it is not a maze. There are no wrong turns in a labyrinth. There’s a definitive starting point with just one path to follow — and that path is guaranteed to lead you to the center. If only life were so simple.

Instructions for “how” to walk a labyrinth vary. I tend to use the method I learned the first time I was introduced to these circular paths:…

I pause at the start to think of the question into which I’d like some insight.

November 29th, 2012

We’re just weeks out from the last bruising election, but speculation about the next presidential contest has already begun. But as tempting as it is for a politics junky to look ahead a few years, Catholics should consider the lessons from 2012.

What worked?
Catholic voices helped defeat a proposed assisted-suicide ballot question in Massachusetts and advance DREAM Act legislation in Maryland.

Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley led Catholic leaders who contributed to a broad coalition of religious and secular leaders who opposed the measure. Together, they made a moral, ethical, and legal case as to why voters should reject the law and they succeeded, albeit rather narrowly.

In Maryland, voters passed a law that will grant in-state tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants. Again, the church added a moral dimension to this important issue and campaigned on behalf of the law.

What didn’t?
While never explicitly endorsing Mitt Romney, many Catholic leaders, including several prominent bishops, expressed either support for his policy proposals or unease with President Obama’s. Yet Romney lost the election, and the Catholic vote. Obama captured 51% of the overall Catholic vote, 75% of the Hispanic Catholic vote, though lost the white Catholic vote, 56%-43%.

Catholic …

November 19th, 2012

On the eve of our daughter’s third birthday, she and I spent hours in the kitchen baking bread. We mixed. We kneaded. We waited. We shaped the dough. We carefully opened the oven door just enough to fill ourselves up with the smell of baking bread. We got flour in our hair. We made a mess of epic proportions. It was beautiful — her little hands and my not-so-little hands working and playing and creating something good and wholesome together. It was almost prayer.

I have always found bread making to be an intensely spiritual endeavor. Somehow flour, water, yeast and salt — the most common and mundane of ingredients — are combined to make something warm and hearty and magical. A miracle. A little “ex nihilo” creation right in my kitchen. It is sensual. It requires creativity and attention and patience and hope. It yields something good and wholesome. It has the ability to nourish, to comfort, to provide a moment of reprieve from all of the coldness and harshness that bombards us out there in the world. I love bread. A lot. And what I love about bread is not so different from what I love …

November 1st, 2012

New York women embrace after looking through remains of homes destroyed by Hurricane Sandy (CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters)

As I write this post, much of the East Coast is suffering through what CNN is now calling Superstorm Sandy. More than two feet of snow is burying West Virginia. Maryland, New Jersey, and New York are flooded. Nearly 10 million people are without power from Maine to Virginia. Damage will run into the tens of billions of dollars, and people will suffer over the coming weeks as they try to repair their homes, cars, and finances.

If you have been watching cable news, checking Facebook and Twitter, or logging on to Google news, you might forget that we’re less than a week away from the presidential election. President Obama canceled rallies to return to the White House to monitor the storm, and Governor Mitt Romney suspended campaigning for a few days. And while politics was somewhat absent over the past few days, government was not.

New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie, an ardent Romney supporter, explained that the President had called him to ensure the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was serving Garden State residents well. Christie told him that FEMA …

October 29th, 2012
A convert's guide to an eerily Catholic Halloween

Growing up most of the kids I knew from Christian families weren’t allowed to celebrate Halloween. Here are a few thoughts on the meaning of this Catholic celebration (yes, really!) and why it matters.

H — Holy. That’s right, folks. Halloween is a derivation of “All Hallows’ Eve” aka “All Saints’ Eve” aka “the vigil of All Saints’ Day”… a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholic Christians. All Saints’ Day is a celebration of the holy saints in heaven who were exemplars of Christ’s love in life and now enjoy the eternal reward of heaven. The saints are our sisters and brothers in faith who pray for us. Let’s feast them well! Why not try making it to a vigil mass this year before the festivities begin?

A — Ancient. The traditions of Halloween date back to the beginning of the Church. In fact, many of them pre-date the birth of Christ. The pagan and pre-Christian traditions of many cultures have been woven into the tapestry of the Catholic faith. This, by far, is one of my favorite things about being Catholic. It is not necessary for a culture to be obliterated or brought into conformity with any universal set …

October 28th, 2012

Fr. Jack Collins, CSP, hits the streets of New York City’s scary Greenwich Village, asking young adults what they know about the origins of Halloween — how it began, why people wear costumes, and the two Catholic holidays surrounding All Hallow’s Eve.

Music: Kevin MacLeod

October 21st, 2012

My dad is the king of Sunday morning. When I was growing up, Sunday was a day of ritual and beauty. Also, it should be noted that it had nothing to do with church or putting on fussy clothes or being anywhere at any particular time. It was about waking up to the smell of eggs cooking on the stove. (And not just eggs – dad eggs. These involved throwing random things from the refrigerator and freezer into the skillet to create awesomeness. I have tried this. Apparently it’s dad-specific magic.) It was about padding down to the living room in my jammies to find John Wayne or Judy Garland waiting to take me on some new adventure as I snuggled up on the couch and was issued a bowlful of eggs as provisions for my journey. It was about my dad taking his place in his big green chair to serve as my trusty guide. It was about family and digging in your heels to make time pass a little slower for just one day and enjoying each other… really and intentionally enjoying each other. It was Shabbat Shalom par excellence.

Now I have a family of my …

October 18th, 2012
Injecting a little humor into the 2012 presidential election

We all know there’s a presidential election going on, right? And presidential elections are serious affairs with serious candidates running for a serious job with serious consequences. But with campaigns running effectively nonstop for years (Mitt Romney started running in 2007 and hasn’t really stopped since), all that seriousness gets very tiring. Maybe it’s time for some laughs — a little humor to go with all of the speeches, campaign rallies, candidate e-mails, and election TV commercials that we have been reading, watching, and even avoiding for the past many, many months.

There are, thankfully, some good laughs to be had on the campaign trail. If you’re a fan of Obama, there wasn’t much funny in the first presidential debate. But the VP debate a week later had Joe Biden laughing and provided plenty of material for The New York Times to create songified debate highlights. There was a repeat performance based on this week’s presidential debate (above).

Saturday Night Live had a lot of fun with Joe Biden’s smirks in the VP debate:

Then there’s this Epic Rap Battle between Obama and Romney:

Though he may have recovered a bit, Romney was a gaffe prone candidate earlier in the …

October 15th, 2012

Both of my parents believe in God. I can’t say much more about what they believe because religious beliefs are so idiosyncratic and personal and tangled up in who a person is deep down in their marrow it seems presumptuous to try to articulate any but one’s own. Also, to be perfectly frank, my parents very seldom shared these beliefs with me. We did not go to church. We did not pray as a family. We did not read the Bible. I had the freedom to discover God on my own. And even though there were times when I wanted to go to church and I wanted to learn more about the Christian God cryptically entwined in the pages of the Bible my mother had received as a child, I am thankful for this. I am thankful for the freedom to feel that God is mine to know… mine to discover.

And then high school happened. Like any self-respecting American teenager, I set out to rebel against the mores of my parents… my once-hippie, liberal parents. I started attending a Pentecostal church with a friend. I joined an Evangelical Bible study club at school. It made my mother crazy. To …

October 4th, 2012

Last night’s debate between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney was a slugfest focusing on taxes and the economy. Romney came out swinging, commanded the stage, and set the agenda. Obama seemed listless, tired, and resigned. Both candidates appealed to middle class voters, the unemployed, and those concerned that they pay too much in taxes. But what about another type of voter…?

Next week, for the first time in our nation’s history, two Roman Catholics, Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan, will share a stage for the vice presidential debate. This would have been unheard of only a few decades ago. When Al Smith became the first Catholic nominated for the presidency in 1928, political opponents openly and enthusiastically attacked his religion. When John F. Kennedy was nominated in 1960, he too dealt with religious hostility, famously addressing his Catholicism in a speech to Protestant ministers. He went on to win the White House in an election that some historians use to signify the movement of Catholics from an outside minority into the mainstream.

The Catholic Church has much to say about important issues facing Americans, and next week’s debate should give insight as to how these …

September 20th, 2012

A boy waits with this father for food distribution at a church in Washington, D.C (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

Last week, I realized poor people don’t matter.

I was spending some time in New York City — specifically Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I met with a friend for lunch at an Italian restaurant a few blocks from Central Park. We were in one of New York’s more posh neighborhoods, home to the wealthy who have the time and money to enjoy all that New York has to offer. After saying goodbye, I headed for the subway to travel up to the Bronx. I was off to Fordham University to attend an event on faith and humor with Stephen Colbert, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and the Jesuit author, Fr. Jim Martin.

A couple of wrong turns and I quickly realized I wasn’t in Manhattan anymore. I had never been up to Fordham’s Rose Hill campus before. (“Rose Hill” being the euphemism they use to divert attention away from “The Bronx.”) To be blunt, the Bronx is poor. It was hit hard by the recession and hasn’t recovered as quickly as other areas, and almost 28% of families there live below the poverty …

September 6th, 2012
How faith leaders are taking part in the Democratic National Convention

A view from the first day of the Democratic National Convention. (CNS photo/Jessica Rinaldi, Reuters)

The Democratic National Convention is going on in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week, a city where Evangelical legend Billy Graham’s career remains a powerful presence.

Pre-Convention activities began Sunday with a group called Charlotte 714 hosting a non-partisan prayer service that called for repentance and renewal in Charlotte and across the United States.

A group of about 200 Muslim activists also gathered for prayer in Charlotte Friday, with organizers choosing Charlotte in an attempt to highlight issues important to the Muslim minority in the United States.

Convention attendees can attend morning prayer each day, a Jewish Community Training workshop, and a panel on religious liberty for a discussion entitled, “Keeping Faith in the Democratic Party.”

Catholics will be represented by two notable individuals. Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of the left-leaning lobbying group NETWORK, who has been critical of the budget proposal crafted by GOP VP nominee Paul Ryan and who gained attention for leading the “Nuns on the Bus” tour spoke Wednesday. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose presence at the Republican National …

August 29th, 2012
A look at the role faith, actually several faiths, will play at this year’s Republican National Convention

Delegates pray during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. (CNS Photo/Reuters)

At the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, a bit of religious history will be made when Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and Paul Ryan, a Catholic, are nominated for president and vice president. This will mark the first time in history that no Protestant is on the GOP ticket. And when President Obama and Vice President Biden are re-nominated next week, it will mark the first time that no white Protestant is running for the nation’s highest offices.

Religious leaders will be featured prominently throughout the week. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, will conclude the convention with a prayer on Thursday night following Romney’s acceptance speech. Though Catholic prelates have been invited to pray at previous conventions of both parties, the selection of Dolan caused some waves in Catholic circles when it was announced last week. And it’s been confirmed that he will pray at the Democratic National Convention next week in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well.

Joining Cardinal Dolan in offering prayers at the convention in Tampa:…

Archbishop Demetrios, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of America

August 28th, 2012

I have a morbid fear of the ocean. I am not now nor have I ever been (nor, in all probability, will I ever be) a strong swimmer. Also, I am unilaterally opposed to entering any body of water the murkiness of which prevents me from seeing my own feet or the subaquatic creatures most likely poised to wreak all sorts of mischief on my unshod, obscured tootsies. I do, however, love being near the ocean. I love the sound, the smell, the vastness, the mystery, the treasures it reveals as it lifts the veil of the tide again and again. When it came time for us to embark on our first family vacation, we headed to the Delaware shore.

I will take the liberty of assuming that you have never travelled close to five hours in a four-door sedan with three children under 4 years of age. To surmount such a journey without major difficulty, meltdown or severe psychological and physical harm to any party involved requires the following: Snacks. You must have an overabundance of snacks to throw at the people in the back seat. Put even more snacks in the trunk. In prolonged car seat captivity …

August 23rd, 2012
What issues will matter to Catholic voters in this year's presidential election?

The U.S. Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom campaign is finished, but the Romney campaign hopes to capitalize on some Catholic bishops’ efforts against the Obama administration’s contraception health care mandate by recapturing Catholic votes in key states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. The magic bullet? Religious liberty. The campaign believes questions over religious liberty have united Catholics, and voters of all faiths, across the spectrum.

“When people of faith feel like their freedom of religion is being trampled upon, that is something that unites people of all faiths,” said Peter Flaherty, a Catholic and longtime Romney advisor who is credited with coordinating the public endorsement of five former ambassadors to the Holy See. “Religious liberty is an issue that we continue to talk to leaders in the faith community about that continues to resonate every day, and it’s not letting up at all. The energy around it is absolutely incredible.”

But John Gehring, Catholic program director for the liberal advocacy group Faith in Public Life, said that broader social justice concerns and the economy may dwarf the issue of religious liberty.

“I have a hard time believing what’s keeping most Catholics up at night is whether or not a working …

August 15th, 2012

At the beginning of the summer I took a one-week cruise with my family to Bermuda. There’s nothing like it. Not only are your meals, entertainment and accommodations included in the deal; you get to see other parts of the world. Holland America Line, the cruise line we were sailing with, always has a priest on board, which meant my brother and I had the chance to go to daily Mass. Priests are scheduled through the Apostleship of the Sea, an official ministry of the Church. They enjoy free passage but act as the on-board chaplain, leading both Catholic and non-denominational services and providing the sacraments to the passengers.

It was nice to find the comfort of the ritual of Mass in the middle of the ocean. Each day Mass had about 25 people and had the feel of a typical parish daily Mass. It was like I was back home! Our cruise ended on a Sunday so the ship offered a Saturday evening vigil, which was attended by more than 100 passengers. My brother and I were asked by the priest to be Eucharistic ministers. It was a privilege for me to bring Jesus to people who still desired …

August 10th, 2012

Country: Italy
Born: 1181/1182
Died: October 3, 1226
Religion: Roman Catholic
St. Francis was the founder of the Franciscan Order and is the Patron Saint of Ecology. Following the example of Christ, he lived in poverty and preached the Gospel to all around him.

For California natives, such as myself, St. Francis is automatically associated with the 21 missions built by Franciscans in the Golden State. These missions trace back the Spanish heritage of California, as well as the Catholic influence that came along with it. As a young child, I looked in awe at the architecture and beauty of the missions with their adobe bricks and Spanish-style roofs.

But the life of St. Francis is about more than good design. He lived a life of poverty but was actually born into a wealthy family where he spent his youth in riches and spoil. Known as the troublemaker of the town, Francis’ life would change following his time as a soldier in the Italian Army when during a battle between Assisi and Perugia, Francis was captured and imprisoned for a year. During his time in prison, Francis’ visions and experiences (like an encounter with a leper) pointed him in a …

August 9th, 2012

Country: United States/Brazil
Born: July 7, 1931
Died: February 12, 2005
Religion: Catholic, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
Sr. Dorothy Stang worked tirelessly for poor farmers’ rights and preservation of the Brazilian rainforest. Confronted by assassins on a deserted road, she opened her Bible and read the Beatitudes to them. She was shot six times.

Courage is not always a grand thing. Courage is not always a knight with sword drawn charging into battle or a firefighter running into a burning building. Sometimes courage is a bespectacled, gray-haired nun alone on a dusty road reading words about justice to her soon-to-be assassins. Sometimes courage looks a lot like Sr. Dorothy Stang.

It is hard to imagine that Sister Dorothy would be the target of hired gunmen. She was a 74-year-old nun who dedicated her life to advocating for the rights of the poor and the protection of the rainforest in Brazil. But, in an interview with The New York Times, her brother David remarked that she had become a nun not to retreat from the world, but to give her whole self in service to its poor and marginalized. ”None of this ooey-gooey little nun bit,” he said. “She …

August 8th, 2012

Country: South Africa
Born: October 7, 1931
Religion: Anglican
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, Desmond Tutu helped end apartheid and heal the wounds it left behind. His peace and reconciliation work is deeply rooted in his faith and daily spiritual practices.

Desmond Tutu is perhaps one of the most famous prelates of the 20th century. His elevation to the position as the first black Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, in 1986 placed him directly on center stage in the fight against apartheid, a fight he had been involved with for more than a decade. Once Apartheid was defeated, South Africa’s first democratically elected black president, Nelson Mandela, selected Desmond Tutu to head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As president of this commission, Desmond Tutu’s life-work of promoting the rights of the disenfranchised according to the Christian values he embraced reached its apex. What prepared and sustained this great religious leader spiritually for the task that providence prepared for him?

One secret was revealed by Egil Aarvik when he presented Tutu with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. Aavik said: “‘One day,’ says Tutu, ‘I was standing in the street with my mother …

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