Busted Halo

Our writers invite you along on their journeys through Lent. Follow the play-by-play of their personal spiritual practices and share your own.

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April 2nd, 2014
Lenten Facebook Fast

typing-296047_1920I’ve always admired people who read books on buses. I’m an avid window gazer, so I’m often lost in my thoughts, staring at the scenery going by. And, to be honest, I’ve never been much of a reader. When I see someone reading on a bus, I often think: I should be doing that. There’s something about their apparent habit that is committed to self-growth. Instead of doing nothing, they’re doing something. Something worthwhile.

Earlier this week, I stopped by our IT department for a one-on-one software help session. After the session, the IT employee and I began to make small talk about Macs versus PCs and where we think the future of technology is going. He talked about how he remembers when having a laptop was cutting-edge, and now, laptops are becoming obsolete. Obsolete?! I was surprised by how quickly I became protective of my laptop. “Everything is becoming phones and tablets,” he said. “But what about typing?” I demanded. “People are more interested in consuming these days, not producing,” he replied.

The phenomenon he was referring to is that we have become avid consumers of online … anything: Candy Crush, Farmville, iTunes, surfing the web, viral Youtube videos, …

March 27th, 2014
President Obama’s trip to the Vatican is a coming home of sorts

President Obama shakes hands with Pope Francis at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani, pool)

President Obama shakes hands with Pope Francis at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani, pool)

As President Obama and Pope Francis lock eyes for the first time, I imagine that the pope’s pastoral presence has brought back many memories for our country’s Commander in Chief.

What most people don’t know is that while the president is not a Catholic in terms of religious denomination, he was certainly steeped in the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching in his early days as a community organizer in Chicago. Those days shaped most of his political social thought as well as his religious outlook. Take this quote from President Obama’s commencement address to graduates at Notre Dame in 2009:

And something else happened during the time I spent in those neighborhoods. Perhaps because the church folks I worked with were so welcoming and understanding; perhaps because they invited me to their services and sang with me from their hymnals; perhaps because I witnessed all of the good works their faith inspired them to perform, I found myself drawn — not just to work with the church, but to be in the church. It was through this service that I was brought to Christ.

This all …

March 26th, 2014
Lenten Facebook Fast
The College Church on Saint Louis University's campus, where my love for Jesuit spirituality developed.

The College Church on Saint Louis University’s campus, where my love for Jesuit spirituality developed.

I love the Jesuits. I’m quite outspoken about this love, in fact. I often refer to myself as a “Jesuette,” a Jesuit cheerleader.

I’ve always liked the idea of taking something on during Lent (in addition to giving something up), and this year, I decided to both give up Facebook and take on deepening my relationship with God. Given my deep love for the Jesuits, it comes as no surprise that when I decided to work on my relationship with God during Lent, I turned to a dear friend, who is a Jesuit. After hearing where I’m at with God and where I’d like to be, my friend lent me his copy of the Spiritual Exercises. To be honest, I was quite touched. For a Jesuit to lend his personal copy of the Spiritual Exercises — that’s a pretty big deal, at least to me. I know he did it because he’s my friend, but still.

I’ve been working through the exercises each day, and in a way, I feel as if I’m going through them with my friend, too. His notes in the margins, …

March 25th, 2014

caitlin-doorknobLast Wednesday was the Feast of St. Joseph. Truth be told, St. Joseph is a favorite of mine. As the priest who lovingly shepherded me into the Church is fond of saying, “St. Joseph’s wife was conceived without sin, his adopted son was, well, God … and then there’s good ‘ol Joe.” In the light of the aforementioned company, he seems terribly ordinary. Even unimportant. And this is why I love him.

St. Joseph gets zero spoken lines in the entire Gospel. Zippo. We never hear his voice. He does not get a Magnificat. He is a manual laborer — an “average Joe” with an extraordinary family. He is visited by angelic messengers but only in his dreams and only to receive marching orders from on high. His death comes and goes without mention. He has a supporting role in the narrative of salvation.

This year we marked his feast by papering the fridge with coloring pages of Joseph with the child Jesus perched on his work bench. We made him a small altar in the dining room. My husband had to work late for the second evening in a row and the hours passed rather uneventfully. As …

March 20th, 2014

It seems as though the old adage is true and actions do indeed speak louder than words. Pope Francis’s deed of washing, drying and kissing the feet of 12 inmates last year on Holy Thursday has edged out his famous “Who am I to judge?” quote to become the official winner of Francis Madness. Thanks for participating. If you still feel a little Francis fever, feel free to continue down memory lane by clicking here to review the first round of Francis Madness that includes a short description of each of these wonderful words and works.

And to see the results and stats of all the match-ups, just scroll below here under the bracket to see how the quotes, acts and deeds all fared against each other…

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francismadness-round6-flash-aOn Holy Thursday when Pope Francis washed, dried and kissed the feet of 12 inmates (2 Muslim, 2 women) at Casal del Marmo jail, a juvenile detention center.

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March 19th, 2014
40 notes to 40 people in 40 days

lenten-oppositionAt the two-week mark I’m facing the toughest “opposition” to my Lenten challenge of writing 40 notes to 40 people in 40 days. It’s me v. the clock. In other words, my opposition is time.

Work. Volunteering. Writing — three pages every day, I hope. Church. Social life. Pilates. Being a wife, daughter, sister, “aunt”/godparent, and friend. Housework — yes, that most thankless of tasks, but definitely takes up time. Cooking/meal prep — because it’s healthier if I make my own meals and skip take-out, right? Maybe a little more work or volunteering or church.

These things all take time. And there’s not a whole lot more time left when they are all done. So, you can see how sending handwritten notes might quickly (or in two weeks) turn from spiritual practice into “chore.”

I was hovering somewhere between those two after waking up Monday morning with some serious jet lag from travel to the West Coast. The chore mentality was creeping in.

Then, I began another spiritual practice to avoid the complete and total demise of what I want to be a meaningful Lenten discipline. I took a deep breath. I started breathing — really breathing and noticing my …

March 16th, 2014
St. Patrick depicted in a stained-glass window at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

St. Patrick depicted in a stained-glass window at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

This is not a myth. My story is not legend. In fact, it is a cold hard fact that is backed up with unassailable proof in the form of a YouTube video. What I am about to share may shock you — in fact, some may think this story living proof of the dogged spirit of St. Patrick alive and well in Celtic New England. Before I get ahead of myself and explain exactly what happened, let’s first review our St. Patrick history.

We all know St. Patrick was from Ireland. He was a bishop, carried a staff, and according to many pictures, he wore green. Aside from being a popular Catholic saint across the world, legend has it that he was a talented exterminator. Yes, our beloved bishop banished all snakes from Ireland. According to the legend of Wikipedia, “St. Patrick [chased] them into the sea after they attacked him during a 40-day fast he was undertaking on top of a hill.”

Here’s where I come in. As a child of Irish Americans growing up in a largely …

March 14th, 2014

ireland4Having graduated from Notre Dame, I’ve spent years sporting shirts that say: Go Irish! I have proudly flown their flag, I love Irish dance, and I appreciate a stout Irish ale. I don’t know much, though, about real Irish culture. One year, I took a bus with a friend to Chicago. We arrived to find the city packed with people who were covered head to toe in green. It was St. Patrick’s Day.

If you’ve never seen the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day parade, it is something to behold. People are decked out in green wigs, green beads, green face paint, green everything. They even dye the Chicago River green for the occasion. My friend and I ducked into a pub to enjoy a nice green beer as we sat and watched people stumble toward the parade route. I am sure that the parade-goers we were watching had started their day at 7 a.m. with a power hour, toasting each drink to St. Patrick.

This year, I finally decided to get an answer to the question: How do the Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Our friend Martin Fogarty was kind enough to let me interrogate him about Irish customs. …

March 12th, 2014
Lenten Facebook Fast

Birthday CakeAs I mentioned earlier, this is my second time giving up Facebook for Lent. The first time, it was to prove to myself that I could do it (at all), and this time, I’ve decided to ask deeper questions. One moment that helped me to realize that my work with giving up Facebook was not done happened a few weeks ago, when a met a friend for dinner before class.

We met in the campus food court, and we had a lovely conversation about everything that was going on in our lives, where we hoped to go in the future, and other various topics. I hadn’t seen her for a while, and upon realizing that we both have the same dinner hour, we hugged, parted ways, and promised to get together for dinner again soon.

That night, I got back to my room and went on Facebook. Much to my surprise, there, in the right hand column of my screen, was a notification that today had been her birthday. I was so surprised. I had just seen her hours before. I wrote happy birthday on her wall and sheepishly apologized for spending a good hour or so with her without …

March 11th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

Serenity's drawing

Serenity’s drawing

I am beginning to see a recurring theme in my Lenten meditations and reflections: interruption.

Steve pounding on the door could be seen as an interruption. So could a friend arriving at my home and calling my name as I prepared to begin my meditation yesterday.

Disturbances of the peace have happened in a number of small ways. As I indicated in a previous post, I do not take kindly to intrusion. In the past, I have been “that guy” who sends rude social cues to express a desire to leave a conversation I did not want to enter in the first place. Watch out if someone tries to talk to me while I am trying to read, even if I am in a public place where conversing is part and parcel of the territory.

The more I think about it, the more I see how self-centered a way this is of seeing the world and my role in it, as though the most pressing priority for everyone in my vicinity should be to adhere to my very specific and totally subjective rules about proper social etiquette.

What this Lent and some of the disruptions that have come …

March 11th, 2014

Pope Francis prays during his general audience in St. Peter's Square. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

Pope Francis prays during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

“A Jesuit named Francis … a little something for everyone,” I texted my colleague who works at a Franciscan University.

I watched as Pope Francis emerged on the balcony last March and bowed his head, asking the crowd to pray for him. I was taken aback at the new Holy Father’s humble gesture. Not only could you hear a pin drop in St. Peter’s Square at that moment, but many of my students were captivated by the event, many of whom aren’t even Catholic.

“I love this ceremony,” said a Jewish student standing near me. “Does the new pope do this every time?”

“We could only hope,” I joked. “No, this is new. Maybe this guy will surprise all of us.”

It indeed has been a whirlwind year since the election of Pope Francis and right out of the gate this new pontiff was full of surprises. Busted Halo® looks back at Pope Francis’ first year and highlights some of the surprises he had in store for the world.

#1 The First Francis 

Never before has there been a pope with the name Francis. Some …

March 10th, 2014

A scene along the Camino.

A scene along the Camino.

It is hard to walk a 500-mile pilgrimage trail without thinking about religion. In 2012 (the year I walked the Camino) 93% of pilgrims who arrived in Santiago reported that their reason for walking was, at least in part, religious.

I was part of that 93%. Having been born Catholic, I knew it would always be part of my past, but I had long been wondering: would it be part of my future?

I realized when I got to the start of the Camino why I was there: to see if exploring faiths other than Catholicism was okay by God. Along The Way, while some non-Catholic pilgrims I met came to appreciate and understand the faith a bit more, I was still unsure of its role in my life. I had many conversations with God. (Some call it prayer. Some call it crazy. Whatever you want to call it doesn’t matter to me.) I was reminded me that he loves all of us, no matter what building we choose to go to (or not) on Sundays. No matter which words we utter repeatedly whether in prayer or song. No matter what we do …

March 6th, 2014

The U.S. Capitol (CNS photo/James Lawler Duggan, Reuters)

The U.S. Capitol (CNS photo/James Lawler Duggan, Reuters)

This week in 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated as president, the last time the event was held in March. It was the first of four inaugurations for FDR, the one during which he uttered the now famous “The only thing we have to fear is … fear itself” line.
The next day, he declared a four-day banking holiday to prevent people from cashing out their accounts and convened a special session of Congress and launched the New Deal.

Eventually, New Deal legislation would unleash the bulk of the modern social safety net in the United States. The Works Progress Administration gave jobs to unemployed Americans to build post offices, bridges, parks, and schools. The National Labor Relations Board was established to give workers a voice in the halls of power. And the Social Security Act ensured Americans would not be destitute in their old age and provided unemployment insurance to those without jobs. Today, half of all Americans over 65 would live in poverty without Social Security.

The New Deal legacy endures today, but its core is under attack from all sides.

Rep. Paul Ryan introduced the GOP House budget this …

March 4th, 2014

Pope Francis blesses a child during a meeting with members of the Italian Federation of Spiritual Exercises at the Vatican. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis blesses a child during a meeting with members of the Italian Federation of Spiritual Exercises at the Vatican. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis wrote a letter to all of us, that is, each family — asking for prayers for October’s Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The synod (group of church leaders) is being convened to discuss “pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization.”

In short, this will be a large meeting where Catholic bishops from all over the world will gather to discuss matters relating to families. As the pope put it in his letter, “This Synodal Assembly is dedicated in a special way to you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society; to the challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children; and the role of the family in the life of the Church.” [emphasis added]

The issues discussed in October may be weighty. Specifically the Synod may have much to say about being more pastorally present to those who are divorced and remarried and wish to remain Catholic but feel unwelcome in the Church. Annulment proceedings …

March 3rd, 2014

Are you stumped / confused / intimidated / flat out terrified by Lent? Have no fear! Your favorite convert comes to the rescue with the basics for Lenten newbies and some words of comfort for the journey. If this is your first time observing Lent in the Catholic tradition, it can be tricky. Believe me. I’ve been there. But don’t be intimidated! Lent is about making a good faith effort to be contrite (i.e. truly sorry for your sins) and to be more like Jesus (i.e. loving, just, merciful, willing to give of yourself for others) in anticipation of our celebration of the Resurrection (i.e. Easter). Do your best. Don’t be discouraged if you mess up. It happens. Pick yourself up and try again. After all, our God is the God of second chances.

Lent (just the facts, ma’am)

Lent is a 40-day period of repentance and fasting in preparation for Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday (March 5) and ends on Holy Thursday (April 17). (Yes, sticklers for mathematical accuracy, this adds up to 44 days. Sundays aren’t technically part of Lent.) Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday are referred to as the Easter Triduum.

Practice Abstinence

From …

February 27th, 2014

The nine films competing this Sunday for the Best Picture Oscar are some of the best of the year and very worth your while to check out if you haven’t seen them yet. But if you don’t have time in the next few days, just check out our short synopsis for each of them below with some links to some more in depths looks at the spiritual components of the films, because at A Spiritual Side of Cinema we like to discuss and review the more transcendent qualities of the movies, and we’ve done so this year with the two big frontrunners of the Oscar race, 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, as well as many others…

12 Years a Slave, (click here to read our review): This film hurt. Emotionally, sometimes even close to physically, it was painful to watch … and that’s putting it mildly. The film pulled no punches when dealing with the harsh realities of America’s slave trade and the evil acted out by those who took part in it.

Gravity, (click here to read our review): A tense walk with Sandra Bullock through the worst space trip since 1979, presents itself as a sci-fi …

February 27th, 2014

Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in “12 Years a Slave.”

Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave.”

12 Years A Slave hurt. Emotionally, sometimes even close to physically, it was painful to watch … and that’s putting it mildly. The film pulled no punches when dealing with the harsh realities of America’s slave trade and the evil acted out by those who took part in it. The movie tells the story of Solomon Northup (Chiwitel Ejiofor), a free African-American from Saratoga, New York, who is drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in 1841 by men he thought he could trust. Solomon witnesses firsthand the malice of slave traders as he is passed from master to master as a piece of commerce, experiencing treatment unlike any he had ever received in his life.

Showcasing such horrors as rape, murder, brutal whippings, and lynching, the film doesn’t shy away from the cruelty slaves endured. Rather, it thrusts such cruelty into the forefront, forcing the audience to behold just how dreadful and terrifying life could be for slaves. 12 Years confronts its audience boldly and does not let up. It was a movie (easily “Best Picture” quality) that left me speechless as I stared at the credits, blown away …

February 27th, 2014
Judi Dench and Steve Coogan star in a scene from the movie "Philomena." (CNS photo/Weinstein)

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan star in a scene from the movie “Philomena.” (CNS photo/Weinstein)

We’ve seen some moving tales as part of this year’s Oscar race, from the heartbreaking journey of Solomon Northup in 12 Years A Slave to the harrowing story of Dr. Ryan Stone’s struggle to survive outer space in Gravity. A standout among them, though, is Philomena, which chronicles a woman’s search for the son she had as a teenager and lost to forced adoption. The story goes as such: Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) had a child as an unwed teenager, and as a result was shamed, cast out from her family, and sent to live in a convent where she was punished for her perceived sin. The nuns there gave her no medication during childbirth, one of them even going so far as to say that “the pain is her penance.” After her son was born, he was put up for adoption and taken away from Philomena without warning. Fifty years later, after hiding the pain of her loss for much of her life, Philomena decides to make an attempt at tracking her son down, recruiting the aid of journalist Martin Sixsmith …

February 26th, 2014
The Lenten themes in a movie about survival

all-is-lostSurvival is a natural instinct, no matter what environment a person is stuck in.

This adage is confirmed by the new movie All Is Lost. The film’s sole character, known simply as Our Man (Robert Redford, giving an Oscar-worthy performance) is sailing on the Pacific Ocean when some debris makes a hole in his vessel. He patches it up, and all seems well until a storm hits. He makes an SOS call, but nobody answers and so Our Man must fend for himself. The storm ravages his boat and his spirits as he struggles to survive, alone on the open ocean.

Our Man never gives any outward sign of being a religious person. However, his saga has strong echoes of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, a touchstone of the Gospels. Jesus’ adversary is the Devil, who tempts him to make stones into bread, throw himself off the temple so as to be saved, and worship Satan to gain power. Though struggling, Jesus resists these temptations and is motivated by his desire to please God. In the process, he is rewarded by the angels. This story of adversity followed by rebirth has a distinctively Lenten bent.

As …

February 25th, 2014
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in a scene from the movie "Gravity." (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in a scene from the movie “Gravity.” (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

I’ve got a bone to pick with Gravity, or with its marketing scheme at the very least. The film, a tense walk with Sandra Bullock through the worst space trip since 1979, presents itself as a sci-fi survivalist nightmare (think Open Water in orbit) wherein rookie astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) and veteran spacewalker Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, absolutely stealing the show) are stranded among the stars and have to struggle to survive and make their way home to Earth. I was expecting a cut-and-dry, “How do we get out of this?” thriller with a sense of imminent peril throughout — a notion only emphasized by the posters, previews, and propaganda with the phrase “Don’t let go.” You can almost hear Bullock’s desperate and terrified Dr. Stone pleading the line, as though it’s the only thing between her and certain death. As the debris flew at Stone and Kowalski at the beginning of the film, sending them spinning off into the black void, I was ecstatic — this was the movie I was ready to see.

What I got for the next 90 minutes …

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