Busted Halo

Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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January 13th, 2011

matriarch-flashI cannot believe that Christmas and New Year’s is over.  It passed by in such a blur.  This year the holidays were very different for me than before.  This year I became the matriarch.  This year I was in charge.  And let me tell you, I don’t know how much I like this role change.  To be in charge of Christmas, that is a lot of pressure.

As I am sure many other couples do, we alternate holidays between the Kraft family and the Gonzalez family.  Whenever it is the Gonzalez’s turn, we pack up and head to El Paso to see La Lupe. This year Brandon’s mother and brother (and brother’s dog) all came down to Austin and spent a week with us.  It was great.  We don’t get to see them much and Olivia loved having them here.  I am lucky to have married into a family that is so laid back and easygoing.  Add to that my parents who came into town for a few days around Christmas.  It was a full house and it was great…except that since I am the wife and mother of the house, I was in charge…of everything: cooking, Christmas activities, fun, …

January 11th, 2011

monica-eatprayloveSo, recently, I’ve been trying out this new thing called bubble baths which I hear are great for relaxation. I make a warm bath, get in, and read a good book for about a half hour or so. For the past week, during these baths, I’ve been rereading Eat, Pray, Love (which I had forgotten how G-d heavy the book is). And here it was, after all this time of not praying, author Elizabeth Gilbert reminding me how to begin.

If you’ve never read her book, you must. It’s all about leaving behind the things that do not fulfill us (in her case, her marriage) to discover the things in life that do. And at her lowest points, when she did not know what to do, Elizabeth would cry on her bathroom floor to G-d and He would say to her, “Go back to bed, Liz.” G-d has a plan.

So in this sort of holy soul-searching story, Elizabeth Gilbert seeks to find balance between worldly pleasures and godly presence. She begins to pray in an unusual way. Instead of crying on bathroom floors again, she writes a letter to herself, in a stream of consciousness, to see what writes …

January 7th, 2011

While I adore the parish at which I am serving this year, I sometimes wonder if it is run by Quakers rather than Catholics.  Because at the beginning of Daily Masses at my Church, only the priest seems to have an assigned role.

Of course roles are much more defined during the Sunday services, but for whatever reason the role of lector and Eucharistic minister at my church is left to whomever the Spirit moves during the week; daily Masses are usually characterized by the assembled faithful giving each other looks that communicate after the Opening Prayer is finished, “Are you going to do it? Do you want me to go up?  Are you sure?”

Partially because I like to read and also partially because I am the seminarian, I usually walk up if other people have not suggested (verbally or non-verbally) that they would like to read.  Except this past Monday another wrench was thrown into the service after I approached the altar; when I walked up to the lectern, the book was not put out.

And it’s not as if this was necessarily a national disaster—the 5:20 evening crowd tends to be a laid-back bunch who don’t freak …

January 5th, 2011

2010 has been one of the most fun, invigorating, stressful, emotional and satisfying years yet. I never dreamed my passion  for music would evolve into my becoming a music journalist and that I’d actually make money from doing what I love — attending concerts and interviewing some of my favorite bands.

I couldn’t be more blessed and grateful to have finally jumped completely out of my comfort zone last year. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God that Monica convinced me to move from Jersey to Brooklyn in August. Moving out was a  major transition and I quickly found out living with Monica and Farrah would be a learning experience like none other.

When Monica first told us the idea of this blog I was intrigued, yet skeptical. What did I have to offer my two Jewish roommates and a Website of spiritual seekers when my visits to church mostly consisted of weddings and Christmas Eve mass? Farrah goes to services weekly and prays daily when I could barely remember the last time I stepped foot in a church.

I expressed my concern to Monica to which she said matter-of-factly, “music is your religion.” And, right then …

January 1st, 2011

no-yarmulke-largeThey say opposites attract.  For example, in the play “Can I Really Date a Guy Who Wears a Yarmulke?” the protagonists are two people with very different religious views.  According to the play’s website “Eleanor is a smart, savvy, New Yorker, whose secular brand of Judaism might include the occasional latke but definitely does not include God. Aaron is Dr. Right – he’s got the brains, the looks, the wit…but wait! He’s also got a serious case of religion. Can Eleanor see past his yarmulke to find love?”

While the two characters struggle, ultimately they go for the happily ever after. That’s all well and good for fiction, but what about real life? I’m, for all intents and purposes, an observant modern Orthodox Jew (a Neo-Chassid, if you will). But my boyfriend (yes, boyfriend) is an atheist. So maybe opposites really do attract. I have a strong belief in G-d and he’s a science guy. I have faith in a higher power, and he says that he is jealous of those who do but he wasn’t raised with the notion of G-d.

We’ve been together for almost 3 months. From the start of our courtship it has …

December 28th, 2010

In October, I wrote about a difficult week when three close friends and family members were admitted to the hospital. Last Saturday I found out the worst news when I was told my cousin Silvia would never make it home. After eight weeks of battling an infection, pneumonia and what they eventually found to be an extremely rare form of cancer, she passed away at the age of 56.

While I know no one is fond of death, wakes or funerals, this was especially hard and I, like many at times like these, started questioning my faith and God’s existence. Silvia was like an aunt to me and was even my confirmation sponsor back in high school. She was selfless and loved nothing more than spending time with her family. My heart broke for my two cousins, her daughters, only in college, who will have to go on without a mother.

What is the reasoning behind this?

Why would God allow such a thing?

I really don’t know. The answers never get easier. Even when I was on the alter reading from the New Testament’s letter of Timothy about fighting “the good fight” and having “kept the faith” at her …

December 24th, 2010

factsoffaith-romanmartyrologyFr. Larry explains to Fr. Dave how the Church fixes the approximate date of Christ’s birth and His incarnation breaking into human history.…

December 23rd, 2010

saying-yes-flashThe other day I was scooting down the stairs with Olivia when I was struck with such a strong feeling of gratitude for her that I immediately began crying and clutched her to my chest.  I know it seems rote to say, but having a child is one of the greatest gifts that God can give.  I almost cannot contain the love that I feel for her sometimes.  There is not a single day that passes that I don’t feel thankful for being a mother.

Don’t get me wrong.  Being a parent, while more wonderful than I imagined, is also way harder than I ever imagined it being.  It isn’t always rainbows and puppies.  Olivia’s sleeping was a nightmare for a while.  I (thankfully) did not have postpartum depression but around O’s 8 month mark I definitely sunk into some kind of depression.  I just couldn’t quite adjust to my role of being home all the time.  Our marriage has definitely borne its share of neglect because of focusing too much on Olivia and our separate jobs.  Point is: it hasn’t been a cakewalk, but, like most things that are hard, it has been worth it.

During a Catholic wedding …

December 22nd, 2010

I realize that in my last post, I might have come off as kind of a grump… exams and papers will do that to you.  Not that I take back anything that I said regarding the importance of Advent or the true awfulness of the song “Last Christmas,” but when I hit the “Send” button on my last paper of the semester this past Saturday, the holidays began for me!

Still, after my last post I do feel the need to prove that I am not a total Mr. Potter.  In fact, it’s because I like Christmas music so much that I can’t stand when it is co-opted in order to give second-rate musical artists a shot towards achieving some “American Idol” style mediocrity.  So with that in mind, I would like to offer what I will be playing on my iPhone this holiday season!

Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGVNzgUxE-g
Made me proud to be Gen X!  Modern, fun, and reverent… not an easy hat trick but the Canadian artists pull it off.

Jack Skelington: What’s This?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuWD-mSUtrU

“This children are throwing snowballs… instead of throwing heads!  There’s frost in every window, …

December 16th, 2010

facts_of_faith-alternative_gifts-largeFr. Larry Rice and Fr. Dave Dwyer offer suggestions on gifts for the holidays that keep on giving: fair trade products, shares in Catholic Relief Services and other options worlds better than ugly sweaters.

A few of the organizations Fr. Larry mentions:

Heifer International

Advent Conspiracy

Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade

Ten Thousand Villages

Global Exchange

December 16th, 2010

La-Virgencita-flashSunday was the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  In our household, the day came and went without any special celebration.  Honestly, I would have completely forgotten that it was her feast day except that it was also La Lupe’s birthday.  No church in our diocese was allowed to celebrate an Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass because this feast day is trumped by the celebration of the third Sunday in Advent.

On a typical feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe there is a whole lot of hoopla and celebration.  You wake up super early and go to church at 5am to hear mariachis sing Las Mañanitas.  Then, later in the day, you arrive at church to see a crowd of children dressed up as San Juan Diego with his tilma carrying roses.  There are matachines dancing and drumming.  There are more mariachis.  The church is usually wall to wall with people.  Lots of colorful banners, lots of music, lots of movement.  It is such a show of love for La Virgen.

The Mass that we went to was pretty much the opposite of this.  Because of our schedule on Sunday, we ended up needing to go to Mass …

December 10th, 2010

Fear-and-Pregnancy-in-AdventI’m 30 weeks pregnant now, 40 weeks is the due date, and I cannot ignore the inevitable.  Up until this point I haven’t really had to come to grips with giving birth to my second child.  I’ve been able to avoid thinking about it because of how far off it seemed but now I have to face it.  Physically, there is no way for me to avoid the fast-approaching day when this baby (God willing) will enter this world.  I’ve been clipping corners in my house and hitting my belly with the refrigerator door because it is getting that much in the way now.  I even have to take an extra step back when I open drawers and have to consciously position the seatbelt and seat when I’m driving.

I think that God purposefully made pregnancy last so long because by the end of it fear is replaced by the sheer readiness to no longer be pregnant.  Replaced by almost exasperation to get this baby out just so your body doesn’t have to bear the weight and waddling anymore.  But I’m not there yet.  I can’t help but feel this looming fear.  When I really think about it, I know, …

December 10th, 2010

mba-oath-flashBack in the spring, Nitin Nohria, 48, was named dean of the Harvard Business School. At a time when MBA has come to stand for “masters of the business apocalypse” this is an important show of support for an ethics-focused approach to capitalism. Nohria, a professor of business administration, has been a proponent of the MBA Oath, a voluntary pledge for graduating MBAs and business leaders to return to old-fashioned business ethics and core virtues like stewardship and responsibility.

It was also good timing for Max Anderson and Peter Escher, whose book, The MBA Oath: Setting a Higher Standard for Business Leaders, came out around then. But the messages of the MBA Oath are timeless:

Anderson and Escher are recent Harvard MBAs who, along with the help of Prof. Nohria and others, created this businessperson’s Hippocratic oath in the months leading up to their 2009 graduation. Read the full oath here. In essence, it calls on business leaders to be “stewards of a trust to create value responsibly” – while also making money.

Business schools contribute to the Great Forgetfulness of who you are and what you stand for, the authors worry. And while the …

December 9th, 2010

carolyn-hanukkah-5-fiddler

Days Six and Seven of Hanukkah

Author Yaakov Astor states,

“Chanukah ideally is meant to instill in us an image of what we can be — no matter how far from that image we may begin.”

I thought back to high school, a time when all I wanted to be was an actor.

I have a confession to make. (Another reason to love Judaism: no confession, and thus — no penance!) The summer I was 16, I had my first job working the concession stand at “Live at the Lakehouse,” an outdoor summer stage that featured free musical theater six nights a week. Confession #2: I saw the play Fiddler on the Roof 36 times as a result. Let me repeat this: I saw Fiddler on the Roof thirty-six times. If there is such a thing as a “born-again Jewish experience” I had it, circa 1988. Though the concession stand closed after intermission, I always stayed. I broke my ten-thirty curfew and climbed up the hill in Washington Park to find a spot under the stars to watch Act Two.

By the end of July, I knew the lyrics to all of the songs and volunteered to help backstage. I …

December 8th, 2010

MenorahsIn my pre-Chanukah post, I discussed (or rambled on about) how Chanukah is the Festival of Lights, but also the time when Jews all over the world celebrate, and meditate upon, miracles.  But what kind of miracles exactly?  Well, we have the basic Chanukah story where the Hashmonaim found a small amount of oil that lasted eight days and nights to burn the menorah.  Now let’s go even further than that.

I recently heard a beautiful thought on Chanukah miracles.  The miracle wasn’t so much that the Hashmonaim found a small bit of oil that lasted 8 days, but that they believed in themselves enough to search!  The Jews – the Hashmonaim – could have just given up on themselves, but instead they believed in themselves and in their search – not just for any kind of oil, but for pure oil so that the menorah should be lit.  And that is the miracle of Chanukah – to believe in our true potential and to believe in ourselves.  We put so many physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual limitations on ourselves that it’s so easy to actually believe that we are incapable of doing all of the wonderful and unique work …

December 5th, 2010

For almost every Mass on the first Sunday of December I can remember, a (visibly angry) priest would climb to the pulpit and offer a predictable lament.  The lament was that “society” had, once again, started the celebration of Christmas four weeks too early; we as faithful Catholics were strongly encouraged not to take part in this abomination.

Of course, over half of the congregation had already accepted party invitations, had presents purchased during Black Friday stashed throughout the house, and had already set up a tree.  No matter!!!  The priest would challenge the community not to use the “C-word” (Christmas) until December 24.  Because Advent is a SERIOUS time!  A QUIET time!  A time to PREPARE!

Of course when the priest said this I thought to myself, “Of course it’s a time to prepare; that’s what all of the sales are for!”

This attitude did not change much when I arrived at seminary.  One December for a prayer service, I led a silent mediation with George Winston’s “December” album playing in the background, a somewhat obscure collection of piano tunes that have never been featured in any Rankin/Bass production.  Yet after the service, one of the other students came …

December 2nd, 2010

lalupe-advent-conspiracyI don’t know what possessed me to buy it.  I was in a store and I saw this kind of rolodex that cataloged all the Native Americans of North America.  It contained the Pima Indians which is a tribe that Brandon and I worked with for many years.  I saw it and bought it thinking that it was a perfect Christmas gift for Brandon.  Had I put more thought into it, I would have realized that he had absolutely no use for American Indian flashcards.  We had just started dating at the time so he had to act really excited to receive the gift but, as the years have passed, we laugh about how off my gift-giving skills were with this purchase.

We’re all guilty of it: buying gifts for others that we should probably have put more thought into.

I always find myself feeling a little irked when I receive a gift that is going to go directly to the give-away box.  I just hate the thought of someone wasting their time and money buying something for me that I will never use.  Like a candle or some flowery smelling body spray.  I cannot appreciate gifts such as these.  …

November 22nd, 2010

How much pain does it take to feel G-d? The people of Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, worry about their kids and gangs, about drugs and homicide. They have the projects and they have their churches. But mostly, they have G-d.

The residents in this neighborhood hold more collective faith than any one community. You can just feel it. Every night, the churches host something for the community – anything – from youth programs to keep kids off the streets, to housing and foreclosure help to free HIV testing.

IMG_0144

The residents here speak in gospel, and laugh with you like you are their good friend. I am a white, Jewish girl who spends a lot of time in this neighborhood on assignment as a writer. It blows my mind how much love the people have for others and how much G-d they have in their hearts.

A New York Times article this Saturday titled “A Long Road From ‘Come By Here’ to ‘Kumbaya’” is about the song we all know for camp fires and strum guitars, but once was and still is a song about a Black people’s despair. The song lyrics call on heaven to help in a time of pain, …

November 19th, 2010

Thank you all so much for your prayers and heartfelt comments on my post “Questioning God.” While the holidays will definitely be a difficult time for my family, I’m confident we’ll make it through.

The evening of the funeral I stayed up late to watch the video premiere of Lady Antebellum’s music video for “Hello World,” which managed to put life back into perspective.

Not one to cry, the moving video brought tears to my eyes and made me realize that life is way too short to spend so much time grieving or taking things so seriously.

Instead, I wanted to make a difference.

Back in September, I donated 10 inches of my hair to Locks of Love, a non-profit that makes wigs for children suffering hair loss from any medical diagnosis. In my head I thought doing a good deed would result in good karma with the certainty that my cousin would get better. When she didn’t, I decided to put together a benefit concert in celebration of my website redesign and donate the proceeds to the American Cancer Society. The day Silvia passed away I was angry that good karma didn’t seem to exist for …

November 19th, 2010

thrivinggap-flashIt’s nearly impossible for most Americans to separate out what they need from what they want. Why? Because our wants are turned into needs by advertising, the desire to “keep up with the Joneses” and a constantly changing consumer culture. But in their Well-Being survey, the good folks at Gallup attempt to separate the two – asking Americans if they feel they have enough money for the things they need, for the things that they want to do, and then cross-tabulating those responses with a question asking the respondent to rate his or her current and future life on a 0-to-10 scale, with higher satisfaction reports categorized as descriptions of “thriving.”

Some 60% of Americans who say they have enough money for their needs rate their lives well enough to be considered “thriving.” By contrast, 27% of those who can’t meet their needs are thriving. Obviously, that’s a concerning gap.

Gallup concludes:

The data suggest the contentment that comes from being able to pay one’s bills, buy groceries, put gas in the car, and possibly have a few dollars leftover…

This would certainly make sense, but even if the pollsters outline their definition of needs vs. …

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