Busted Halo

As the world’s greatest athletes compete in the Olympics, here at Busted Halo® we’ll take a look at some of the spiritual greats — gold medal winners in their own right! We’ll examine what we learn from them and share tips for staying fit on your own spiritual journey.

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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 …

August 7th, 2012

Country: United States
Born: March 24, 1820
Died: February 12, 1915
Religion: Methodist
Fanny Crosby was a prominent American lyricist, composer, poet, and advocate for the urban poor. She wrote approximately 8,000 sacred songs and is considered one of the mothers of American gospel music.

I started my journey into Christianity through the door of Pentecostalism. It was the first door opened to me in the great hall of Christian community. I entered gratefully and with an open mind and heart. My Pentecostal friends taught me about what it means to praise God. They taught me to sing, clap and sway. They taught me to reach out — physically reach out with both arms raised in the way a small child reaches for her mother — when you need God to draw near. They taught me that praying doesn’t have to mean sitting quietly with your hands folded neatly in your lap. Praying is about a full-bodied expression of hope, vulnerability, trust and longing. In my very first community of faith, praying often took the form of song.

Fanny Crosby was a woman who expressed her faith, her politics and her social concerns in the hymns and popular songs …

August 6th, 2012

Country: United States
Born: January 31, 1915
Died: December 10, 1968
Religion: Roman Catholic
Writer, poet, anti-war activist and Trappist monk Thomas Merton helped make Catholicism relevant for a new generation and introduced many to contemplation.  

Thomas Merton — or more specifically, his best-known work, The Seven Storey Mountain — played a key role in the spiritual development of many postwar Catholics. This memoir eloquently related the struggles of a modern American on the spiritual journey. Published in 1948, it captured the imagination of a generation seeking new answers to a soundtrack of jazz and beat poetry. Seeing the faith through the fresh eyes of this convert (his mother was Quaker, his father Anglican; both were artists) many were able to identify a Catholicism that made sense to them. Many then paralleled Merton’s Catholic journey into greater liberalism and universalism, exploration of Eastern faiths, and standing against the Vietnam War based on Christian nonviolence.

Merton’s most engaging quality was his honesty about his own imperfection. Through the memoir form we, as readers, are invited into his head — his egotism, petty rivalries, fears and joys laid bare for us to recognize in ourselves and then join him for the …

August 3rd, 2012

Country: United States
Born: December 29, 1937
Died: March 30, 1990
Religion: Roman Catholic, Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration
Sister Thea Bowman was an esteemed educator, talented singer, gifted leader, powerful preacher, and a passionate bridge-builder across racial divides within the Christian community.

As a religious, a scholar and a teacher, Sister Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A., was engaged in sharing her experience as an African-American woman coming of age in Mississippi in the 1940s. She persisted in telling her story because it was the story of millions of other people — people who generally did not have the opportunity to tell their own stories. She wanted folks from all walks of life to understand where she was coming from. She wanted them to see where she was headed. She was the granddaughter of slaves. She was a convert to Catholicism at the age of 12. She was the first African-American member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. She was a respected, lettered, preeminent scholar of William Faulkner. She was an artist whose dramatic command of language and beautiful voice endeared her to people and allowed them to imagine themselves as part of the narrative of African-American culture, spirituality, celebration and …

August 2nd, 2012

Country: England
Born: June 17, 1703
Died: March 2, 1791
Religion: Methodist
Anglican minister John Wesley founded the Methodist Movement. He emphasized the need for both personal piety and social justice; that there was “no holiness, but social holiness” and that our faith could not be lived in isolation.

During Lent one year when I was in college, a group of us began to meet in the chapel early in the morning with the hope of creating a more disciplined life. We sought to experience the sense of accountability nurtured by John Wesley and others of the Holy Club, a group he and his brother and others participated in, seeking to grow in their faith and serve God fully. We too hoped to live a life of practicing our faith more fully. We met early, sought to pray, study scriptures, hold ourselves accountable, serve the poor, and exercise. We sought to be both spiritually and physically fit.

Wesley had an understanding of God’s grace and salvation that was centered in a lifetime journey of growing closer to God and one another as sisters and brothers in faith. When Wesley looked around, he saw that those who claimed to have …

August 1st, 2012

The second I got off the bus I realized that I had no idea where I was going. I was somewhere in Southern Poland — mountains to my right, Slovakia to my left — with a duffel bag slung over my shoulder. No idea where I was sleeping that night, phone dead, entirely by myself. I took a deep breath and started walking. I never was one to travel like this. I always had a plan. But today all I had was a picture and a mission.

I had just come off a week in Krakow, traveling to Poland on spring break from a nine-month study abroad stint in Berlin, Germany. The trip had already drastically exceeded my expectations. I found myself reconnecting with the Poland of my family’s past, and at the same time finding a new one for myself, complete with both the traditional values of the old and the invincible spirit of the new. I could go to Mass in the morning and party with people my own age at night.

I just wasn’t ready to let go of something so precious yet. So instead of hopping on Air Berlin flight 131, I negotiated a three-day delay …

August 1st, 2012

Country: Germany
Born: 1098
Died: September 17, 1179
Religion: Roman Catholic
Beloved by both Pope Benedict XVI and feminist theologians, found in the lists of both Catholic saints and New Age heroes, Hildegard of Bingen transcends categories.  

My cat named Bingen passed away last year. There was nothing about her that recalled Saint Hildegard of Bingen, O.S.B., but I was moved 15 years earlier to honor Hildegard in this silly way. Long before Pope Benedict elevated her to sainthood this May, Hildegard elicited this kind of admiration from a wide range of devotees. Feminists love her strength and the boldness with which she forced her way on the church patriarchy of her time. Alternative health advocates are drawn to her study of herbal medicine and botany and her insistence on recording this female wisdom in print. Mystics are moved by her visions, which she recorded in three volumes. Lovers of sacred choral music and liturgical drama are swept up by her compositions, including what is considered the first morality play, Ordo Virtutum, from 1151.

Though Hildegard was one of the first people beatified when that process was formalized in the Middle Ages, her canonization process stalled four times, in …

July 31st, 2012

I feel grumpy. And I mean truly grumpy. I can hear the tone of my voice when I talk. I listen as pointed comments slip out of my mouth with the intent of making others feel bad or criticizing them. And I can’t just blame it on being pregnant — have I mentioned that I’m pregnant? For a while I have not been able to shake this cloud that has been hanging over my head. I have been blaming it on being pregnant, which might have a little to do with it. But I’ve finally owned up to the fact that I am feeling pretty joyless right now because I haven’t seriously prayed in a long time. I mean I’ve gone to Mass every Sunday and said prayers with the girls but I have not purposely sat down to pray or do anything devotional in about a year.

I work at a Catholic school. There is no reason for this. I drive by the Blessed Sacrament Chapel that is open 24 hours a day at least twice a day. I could take a one-minute walk at lunch and be at a Marian grotto. Heck, our school is covered in images …

July 31st, 2012

Country: Germany
Born: February 4, 1906
Died: April 9, 1945
Religion: Lutheran
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran pastor and theologian, was outspoken in opposition to the Nazi regime and its practice of genocide. He was arrested for crimes of sedition and executed at Flossenbürg concentration camp.

I am the wife of a moral theologian. As I type, there are approximately 4,000 books on the topic of moral theology poised to cascade from bookshelves, milk crates and piles in our small office. Many, if not all, of these books address the Holocaust to some extent. This systemic manifestation of evil calls into question everything we thought we knew about ourselves as human beings and about our God as good and sovereign. It is a hot and festering scar across human history that demands tending. So far, in all of these volumes looming around me, no one theologian has been able to come up with a satisfactory response to the horror and devastation this scar signifies. Perhaps no one ever will.

What I find infinitely more hopeful are the lives of real people of faith who lived in the midst of this moral chaos… who fought against it with all of their hearts …

July 30th, 2012

Country: United States
Born: January 3, 1793
Died: November 11, 1880
Religion: Quaker
An influential abolitionist and suffragist, Lucretia Mott spoke out at a time when she was forbidden to do so, inspiring generations of leaders through her commitment and love demonstrated in action.

In 1849, Lucretia Coffin Mott spoke in front of a gathering of medical students at the Cherry Street Meeting House in Philadelphia. As a center of medical education, Philadelphia attracted students from all over the country, including the South. By speaking openly against slavery in such an environment, Mott certainly knew that her words would fall on some unsympathetic ears. Indeed, as is noted in the published transcript of the sermon, when Mott began speaking openly against slavery, “Here a few persons, irritated by this reference to the question of slavery, left the meeting.”

But this gathering was not her first tough crowd. Mott was already an established anti-slavery activist, a Quaker minister who traveled and preached extensively and, with her husband, founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. In 1840, Mott attended the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London, where although she was an invited participant, she and the other women at the conference were …

July 27th, 2012

Country: United States
Born: December 18, 1819
Died: December 22, 1888
Religion: Roman Catholic
Isaac Thomas Hecker was a 19th century writer, mystic, theologian and priest who saw a perfect spiritual combination in the Catholic focus on community and the American focus on individuality.


Isaac Thomas Hecker believed that every human being was by nature a “seeker,” created for something greater, for the Divine. He believed this because he had lived his own life as a spiritual quest. Baptized as a Methodist, he spent his youth visiting churches and hearing preachers of many denominations, including Episcopalians, Mormons and Unitarians. Eventually, his brothers recognized that he was not suited for the family baking business, and they gave him leave to live and work among the restless individualists of the Transcendentalist movement in and around Boston. There he befriended Henry David Thoreau (of Walden fame and who had spent the night in jail rather than pay taxes to fund the Mexican War), and he was mentored by the greatest American thinker of the time, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nevertheless, Hecker did not find what he was looking for among the Transcendentalists. Instead he made his way steadily toward the Roman Catholic Church, …

July 26th, 2012

A man works on an anti-gun mural in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

Have you ever shot a gun?

I went to college in New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state where conservatives and libertarians preach limited government and personal freedoms, among them lax gun laws that would make the state feel more at home in the South than in New England. So my junior year, some friends and I decided to explore some of these freedoms, and we headed to a gun range a few miles from campus. I had never held a gun before so one of my friends helped me choose my weapon for the day (luckily he decided on a handgun over the grenade launcher). I put on the red earmuffs, walked to my lane, wheeled out the target, and took aim. I fired off a few shots and glanced down at the silhouette to see if any of the bullets had hit it. I wasn’t bad.

That day remains the only time I’ve ever shot a gun, but I vividly remember being blown away by how simple it was to load the bullets and pull the trigger. It was a bit of …

July 18th, 2012

I was very interested in one of the latest questions from the Busted Halo Question Box. The question was whether or not the person writing in should report a priest for yelling at him/her during confession.

This is an interesting question. I truly believe in the amazing healing power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In order for a person to even step into the confessional, that person has to overcome so much ego, so many excuses. Showing up for confession requires a huge amount of vulnerability and humility on that person’s part. Obviously, any person stepping into the confessional should not be taken lightly. We never know the battles this person is fighting or how life changing this moment can be for them. We all walk into the confessional broken, wanting the grace to change, wanting to be made whole by God’s love.

But I’m not convinced that God’s love always has to be conveyed through sweet, unreproaching words. As I’ve written before, I’m horrible at confession. So I have had my fair share of “bad” confessions. With total certainty, though, I can tell you about my best confession. Not the confession that made me feel my best, but the …

July 17th, 2012

It was three in the morning when my eager mother knocked on our hotel room door. Needless to say, my teenage brother, sister and I were not thrilled about waking up early during our vacation, but according to my mother’s guidebook, this experience was essential. Eyelids drooping, we piled into the back of our rental minivan and hit the road.

My mother had a plan. We were going to admire the sunrise from the top of Mount Haleakala, the tallest peak on Maui standing at more than 10,000 feet above sea level. Then we might take a hike on the active volcano, soak in the sunshine, and photograph the exotic vegetation. My siblings and I had a slightly different agenda. Our only goal was to get back to our hotel in time for our complementary breakfast buffet. (The endless amounts of pastries and pineapple were too good to miss.)

It was a long car ride, but my reliable mom had rented a GPS for tourists that recited facts and stories about our destination. We learned that Haleakala means “house of the sun” in Hawaiian. Ancient Hawaiian culture says that Maui, a demigod, stood at the summit of Haleakala and lassoed …

July 12th, 2012

Washington was ablaze last week with temperatures soaring into triple digits and the intense humidity adding an extra level of misery to one of the hottest cities in the nation. That’s what my friends told me anyway. I was lucky to have escaped for the week, heading up to New Hampshire for the July 4th holiday on the seacoast with family and friends. I don’t think I was alone. It seemed that the campaigns were on hiatus for a bit and not much news emerged from either camp, though vacationing itself was a subject of some considerable media attention.

Mitt Romney was photographed atop a jet ski being driven by his wife, Anne. One commentator suggested the photo may be Romney’s John-Kerry-windsurfing moment, though conceded that the gasoline powered jet ski might make Romney appear somewhat more relatable than the aloof Kerry.

Meanwhile, the President wanted folks to know that he won’t be enjoying his traditional vacation this summer. For the past three years, President Obama took his family to Martha’s Vineyard for a working vacation. Perhaps not wanting photos surfacing of him enjoying himself on the elite Massachusetts island while the economy sputters, the President canceled his trip. He …

July 10th, 2012

I’m not one of those really proud annoying Texans who thinks Texas is better than every other state. But I am one of those annoying Texans that doesn’t know much about the rest of the country because I’ve lived in this huge state for so darn long. So when I think of New York City, most of my stereotypical assumptions come from either Friends or Seinfeld. That being said, you can imagine what I was anticipating when Brandon and I scheduled a vacation to New York City when Olivia was just six months old.

Brandon had a conference to attend all week and Olivia and I were staying with my best friend from high school who lived in the city. I was so nervous. If you know me at all, you know that I am pretty much the opposite of New York City. New York is big bright lights, fast-paced, hard-nosed. I am pretty much the slowest walker that you’ve ever met, laid-back, and definitely not a “tough guy.” Especially with Olivia in tow, I was dreading how rude people were going to be because I was going to be moving extra slow. Even with all the anxiety, after six …

July 3rd, 2012

A puddle along the Camino.

Early in my Camino, I had a dream I was pregnant. In the dream, I was surprisingly okay with the idea. I say “surprisingly” because for most of my life I have not wanted to have children.

“Maybe it’s a sign of a new self that you’re birthing,” Mona, a fellow pilgrim, told me. “When you dream about birth, or death actually, they say it can be a sign of a big change — part of your old life dying and something new being born.”

Rain that Christens

That new life got its christening two days before I entered Santiago. It had been raining on and off the entire day, but not heavily enough to warrant me pulling out and pulling on my rain pants. Mona, Julie, and I sat in a cafe looking at our maps. We determined we had just about an hour to our destination for the day — a hotel. With real sheets. And fluffy towels. And maybe, if we were lucky, a hair dryer. We headed out again and it started to pour. I wasn’t going to put rain pants on over my already-soaked pants, so I just kept going. …

June 28th, 2012

With anti-Vietnam War protests raging, and the nation bitterly divided, Democrats in Massachusetts searched for a candidate to challenge the pro-war incumbent for the third Congressional district. Recognizing the power of religious leaders in the movement, they turned to the Jesuit priest and professor Robert Drinan. As a priest and academic, Drinan worried that he was not as effective as he could be in advancing Catholic social thought. In an interview with Look magazine in 1970, Drinan said, “I’ve written books and I’m a professor, but who reads books? Who listens to professors? It’s Congress that turns it around, and I should be there.”

Convinced by party bosses to enter the contest, Drinan won the nomination and narrowly took the general election in 1970. Pope Paul VI and the local hierarchy, including his Jesuit supervisors, permitted him, a staunch liberal, to serve in office. He used his new platform to champion civil rights, fight the war, and further Catholic social teaching. But the intense partisanism of the time and his support for issues at odds with Catholic teaching made Drinan’s presence in Congress difficult. And in 1980, addressing both Drinan and leftist priests with government power in Central America, Pope …

June 26th, 2012

At Notre Dame, I was lucky enough to take some art classes. I love art and these were some of my favorite classes. In fact, I loved these art classes so much you would have thought that I should have been an art major. But I was too scared to put that side of me on display. After we finished each assignment, we would go student by student and critique one another’s work. Even though people were only commenting on my drawing of some fruit, on the inside I felt like they were critiquing how I looked in a swimsuit. I was dying on the inside. I couldn’t handle any kind of criticism of my art. I felt too naked, too vulnerable.

I couldn’t even handle it when my professor was offering individual advice as we worked. I loved painting so much but since I couldn’t get over my insecurity and self-consciousness, I couldn’t learn from our really talented professors. Every piece of advice felt like they were telling me I was awful and should give up. To try and cope with these feelings, I would put on my best shy smile and hope that the professor would cut me …

June 15th, 2012

Rebecca Gallo on the Camino.

I am due to arrive in Santiago on Saturday — a full three days ahead of schedule. I’m eager to get to my destination, but more excited about my early arrival because it means I can spend two nights at Casa do Raposito — a place of reflection for pilgrims who have just finished their Camino.

When I started the Camino 35 days ago, I didn’t know such a place even existed. I heard about it only thanks to someone I met on what I thought would be a terrible day.

I had stayed the previous night at a parish hostel in Berciamos. Sixty people sat at a long line of tables to share a community meal. After dinner, pilgrims from each country sang a song from their homeland. This took nearly an hour as we had 14 countries represented. Twenty pilgrims opted to join in the blessing and prayer offered in the meditation room before we went to bed. While there, we passed around a candle that had been through the hands of thousands of pilgrims before us. When it came to us, we could say whatever we wanted in whatever language, or say …

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