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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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 …

February 25th, 2014
Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix star in the movie "Her." (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix star in the movie “Her.” (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

We look at screens. Eyes? Not so much. I’m hardly breaking new ground by critiquing our culture and its propensity for staring at screens, be it as minuscule as the face of the phone in our pockets or as large as the flat screen mounted on our living room wall. We look at screens.

Indeed, many studies have been done, articles written, and news programs aired focusing on the insidious effect technology has had on modern relationships. Technology has isolated us from one another, wrapping us up into cocoons of warm, fuzzy bandwidth, freeing us to present false representations of ourselves that provide barriers to any real connection or intimacy, all from the safety of our solitary rooms.

Spike Jonze’s Her takes a refreshing look at the effect technology has had on relationships by exploring what happens when a human being, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), and an intelligent computer operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), fall in love. Set in the not-too-distant future, the film doesn’t take the expected route of damning technology and its undermining of modern relationships, but instead uses technology as a means of …

February 24th, 2014

deactivated2Well, I did it. I deactivated my Facebook account.

Before I launch into my reasons for leaving, I want to make a few things clear. First, I begrudge no one their enjoyment of Facebook. In fact, for the first two years I was home with our gaggle of pickles, and my superhero husband was slaving away at three jobs while working on his comps and dissertation, Facebook allowed me to intellectually engage with other adults in a way that kept me from going, if you’ll pardon the expression, bat crap crazy. Second, I am not now nor will I ever be holier than thou. This is laughable. A real knee-slapper. Third, I don’t think technology is “evil.” I think technology is (for the most part) morally neutral. It can be used for grave evil. It can also be used for the glory of God.

OK, all that being said, I really did deactivate my Facebook page. Let me tell you, it feels AWESOME. As a pilgrim on her journey to sanctification (a journey wrought with more than its fair share of moral failures and spiritual shortcomings), this seems like the right path for me. It might not be the path …

February 21st, 2014

Ian McKellen stars in the movie "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." (CNS/courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Ian McKellen stars in the movie “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” (CNS/courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is nominated for three Oscars — Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Visual Effects — and anyone who’s seen the film can attest to the fact that it deserves at least the nominations it’s received, particularly the visual effects nod. After all, it’s nothing short of incredible what can be done visually with computer technology these days; a team like those who worked on Desolation of Smaug can create people and places that interact so seamlessly with the live actors and real environments that you’d swear they were really there. These men and women can make a dragon, and a believable one at that, who walks, talks, and spits bursts of flame without seeming the slightest bit asynchronous or removed from the action. If ever there could be magic in the world, I suspect it would look something like this.

But however blissful this “magic” may be for the audience, unfortunately it appears to not extend behind the scenes, at least not in nearly the same capacity. Though some of Desolation of Smaug’s scenes may …

February 21st, 2014

StLidwina-7A life of faith does not mean a life free of suffering. Whether through the lessons of the Cross or the hard knocks that are an inevitable part of existence, it is a given that often we must pass through dark valleys to reach green pastures.

St. Lidwina is an overwhelming example of this. Born in 1380 in Schiedam, a town in what is today the Netherlands, the Dutch saint had a Marian devotion from a young age. She often prayed before her town’s shrine to the Holy Mother for entire nights. On one such evening, she is said to have had a divine revelation of the pain that would become one of the defining characteristics of her life.

Around the time she was 15, Lidwina fell while ice skating with friends. In the process, she broke a rib that would never heal and began the long journey of severe physical hardship that would only end with her death nearly 40 years later. Her injury is the reason we recognize her today as the patron saint of ice skaters.

Her incapacitation included excruciating headaches, nausea and dehydration. Eventually, she developed gangrene, and her ailment spread throughout her entire body. …

February 20th, 2014
Takeaways for our spiritual journey from Disney’s latest animated feature

spiritual-side-of-frozenI finally gave into the hype and watched Disney’s Frozen. Not only were its music and storyline a delight on a cold winter’s day, the film offered moments of deep meaning for me, something characteristic of many Disney stories. Frozen is based loosely on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Snow Queen which, like many fairly tales, have strong spiritual themes. Frozen isn’t explicitly spiritual but it teaches us about the importance of feelings, gifts, and relationships.

The story begins by focusing on young Princess Elsa who has the strange ability to magically create ice and snow with her hands. This ability offers lots of fun for her and her younger sister Anna until Anna gets hurt in their play. Elsa’s parents, the king and queen, see little good in Elsa’s ability and have trolls erase Anna’s memory of her sister’s strange gift. The king has Elsa kept in confinement until she is able to control her ability. He even has her put on gloves. “Conceal it,” he tells her. “Don’t feel it,” she says to herself. “Don’t let it show.”

The trolls clearly see her power as a gift, one that can be used for good, but one …

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