Busted Halo

Busted Halo contributors look at the intersection of faith and politics and examine the role of the Catholic Church in contemporary society.

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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 …

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 …

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