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 30th, 2014

In her poem “Shrinking Women,” Lily Myers confesses that she has unknowingly accepted what society has taught her: to keep her mouth shut, neither letting words out nor calories in. Her preoccupation with carbs, her inability to ask a question in genetics class without first saying, “Sorry” — Myers blames these learned behaviors on her “shrinking” mother and the other mothers that came before her.

When I read this poem, I applauded Lily Myers. It takes a lot of courage and self-reflection to acknowledge our weaknesses. To acknowledge that we have an unhealthy relationship with food. To recognize our need to speak up for ourselves. I agree that girls from a too-early age are taught to care more about their appearance than their abilities. They are taught to be quiet and reserved while boys are encouraged to say and do whatever they want with the utmost confidence.

I am exactly that girl. In high school and college I was scared to death to say anything in class. Whether it was participating in class discussions or asking a question, I never dreamt of raising my hand. I envied those boys in class that just blurted out the first thing …

January 28th, 2014
Thoughts on sexual violence for the Feasts of Saints Agnes and Agatha

agnes1People of God, we need to pray. Hard.

With the joyous signs of Christmas packed away, we find ourselves again in the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. Today we find ourselves between the feasts of two significant early Christian martyrs, St. Agnes (January 21) and St. Agatha (February 5). These young women possessed heroic virtue. These young women laid down their lives for their faith. These young women were survivors of sexual violence.

People of God, in honor of these women, we need to pray.

St. Agnes is a 13-year-old girl born to Christian parents in Rome during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. Agnes is much sought after by suitors of noble stock. When she refuses their advances because she has promised herself — body and soul — to Jesus, they betray her as a Christian. The Roman Prefect Sempronius orders Agnes to be dragged naked through the streets of Rome to a brothel to await her trial. While imprisoned in the brothel, Agnes prays for the son of the prefect (her imprisoner) who has died and the son is brought back to life. Sempronius recuses himself from her trial and Agnes is sentenced to death and martyred by …

January 24th, 2014
A scene from the movie “Frozen” (CNS photo/Disney)

A scene from the movie “Frozen” (CNS photo/Disney)

Though the Oscar race is going to be tight this year in some categories — will Jennifer Lawrence’s Golden Globes win be echoed? 12 Years A Slave or Gravity for Best Picture? There’s one thing I’m certain we’re going to see. Frozen is going to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Why? Here are three reasons:

Music

I admit that this is more of a reason why Frozen is probably a shoe-in for the Best Original Song category (which I also suspect it’ll win, though it definitely has stronger competition there.) Still, because Frozen is a musical, it’d be unfair to divorce the film from its music. The original songs in this movie echo Broadway like nothing that has been created for the silver screen in a long time, particularly in animation, not only in tone and style but also in their sheer ability to convey the emotion and drive of the characters. This is no surprise, however, considering the team that came together to create these musical numbers.

The tracks were penned by Robert Lopez, the composer and lyricist behind award-winning Broadway hits like Avenue Q and The Book of

January 23rd, 2014
Using the framework of liberation theology to get my life in order

lovediscernact-2This year as I began to think about New Year’s resolutions, I wasn’t coming up with anything new. I want to stick to an exercise program. I want to be more organized. I want to help people more. I want to eat healthier. I want to be a more loving mother. I want to be a better wife. And I desperately want to work on my spiritual life. Nothing new. Same old, same old.

Why do I want the same things every year? Sure, I could tell myself that none of these resolutions have an end point. I can always grow. I can always be more organized. I could always eat a little better. I could always have a stronger relationship with God. Which is true, but deep down I know this isn’t my problem. My problem comes in giving up. In becoming a passive accepter of the world instead of an active member of it. Sorry, can’t exercise, polar vortex. No time to make something healthy, baby crying, stuff cookie in my mouth for breakfast. I know I need to go to confession, but the girls would never survive those lines.

As I was ticking through all …

January 21st, 2014

SuperPope-1I’ve always loved superheroes. Mostly because my dad would read old Marvel comics to my brothers and me. (We converted my mom to comic nerd-dom later on.) Then when I got older, the deluge of superhero movies began. In fact, my first Hollywood crush was Tobey Maguire from the original Spiderman movies. These movies were special to me and not just because of how dreamy I thought Spidey was. I admired Spiderman because he was so inherently good.

Out of all the superheroes, Spiderman probably has one of the worst lives. Yet, 90% of the time, he acts selflessly, always looking out for those who need his help. He even faces giving up the one he loves most (for her own safety) with courage. To me, that’s the essence of a hero. Not someone glamorous or fancy, but someone who in the face of adversity chooses to prioritize others over themselves.

Flash forward to the popular superhero movies of today. Obviously, they’re having a big moment in pop culture. The movies are a little different from a few years ago. Okay, totally different. They’re slick. They’re glamorous. The heroes may have “problems,” but they’re usually glossed over. Why save the …

January 16th, 2014
Fifty years ago, LBJ challenged us to end poverty. Are we any closer?

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s State of the Union address in which he declared “unconditional war on poverty in America.” He challenged Americans to end the great injustice:

It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it. One thousand dollars invested in salvaging an unemployable youth today can return $40,000 or more in his lifetime.

Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support. But this attack, to be effective, must also be organized at the state and the local level and must be supported and directed by state and local efforts.

For the war against poverty will not be won here in Washington. It must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office, from the courthouse to the White House.

To mark the anniversary, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami and Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, penned a letter to Congress “to consider closely any legislation that begins to heal our broken …

January 7th, 2014

hipsterssaints1My love affair with mystical saints began when I was a little girl, and I’m still drawn to their reckless abandon, blessed foolishness, and sheer audacity to win God’s heart. I used to romanticize these holy men and women, but now I recognize not only their resiliency, but also their potential to radically alter our lives.

Saints like St. Rose of Lima, who wore a silver crown studded with thorns, or St. Pio of Pietrelcina, who bore the wounds of Christ, are often scorned for their fanaticism. Most teenagers think of a party drug when they hear the word “ecstasy,” not St. Teresa of Avila levitating after receiving the Eucharist.

The message of our society is loud — buy this, distract yourself with that, look at her, work harder — but the message of the saints is louder. The message of consumerism is fleeting, but the message of the saints is timeless.

Unfortunately, those of us in our twenties and thirties grew up in the swirl of rapidly increasing technology, globalization, terrorism, materialism … and this caused an innate restlessness. It’s not shocking, then, that most of our résumés resemble treasure hunts; but what is it we are …

January 6th, 2014
Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter's Square after leading an evening prayer service in St. Peter's Basilica. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter’s Square after leading an evening prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

At the beginning of a New Year, we can turn to the words of Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) for inspiration as we tighten up our commitments, forge into new territory, and pray together for lives filled with joy — of all kinds — in 2014.

Resolution #1: Be Joyful

Obviously this is at the heart of the papal message in Evangelii Gaudium, and something Pope Francis professes himself. It’s not always easy to be joyful, especially when we are in physical pain or when someone hurts our feelings. But Francis reminds us that:

The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.

And he furthers this point powerfully later in his apostolic exhortation:

There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great …

December 21st, 2013

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There we have it ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 Christmas Songology winner…Josh Groban’s O Holy Night.

Thanks for participating. We wish you a continued happy Advent, a merry Christmas and an upcoming great new year!

December 17th, 2013
Add your comments to our virtual card for the Holy Father

Today is Pope Francis’ 77th birthday, and even though we weren’t the only ones with this idea, we thought it’d be fun to write our thoughts down for him and ask you to share yours as well.

To open our card and see what we’ve written to Pope Francis, just click on the card. Then, add your own blessings, well wishes and birthday greetings to the Holy Father in the comments section below.

December 12th, 2013
People dressed as Mary and Joseph walk down a Chicago street during a celebration of Las Posadas. (CNS/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

People dressed as Mary and Joseph walk down a Chicago street during a celebration of Las Posadas. (CNS/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

While La Lupe did teach us to love Nuestra Virgen de Guadalupe, the celebration of Las Posadas was never something she passed down. Over the years I have attended several Posadas celebrations, and they were awesome. Las Posadas (Spanish word for the shelters or the inns) happens from December 16-24. It is a novena leading up to Christmas. (A novena consists of prayers repeated every day for nine days.) And for someone like me who always gets caught off guard by Advent, at this point in December, I have warmed up and am ready to joyfully anticipate Christ’s birth.

Every night during these days, family and friends gather at different homes to reenact the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Someone dresses up like an angel and leads two others dressed up as Mary and Joseph with everyone else following behind them. Mary and Joseph knock and ask for shelter at three different places around the home. Each time they are rejected by the family whose home it is and sent away. Then they return …

December 11th, 2013

Young women carry a crib containing the Christ child to the creche at Daley Plaza in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

Young women carry a crib containing the Christ child to thecreche at Daley Plaza in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

Just before Advent, Mom sent me and my siblings out to the field next to our house to pick bunches of the straw that grew there. In the summertime, we would imitate Laura Ingles Wilder in the opening credits of “Little House on the Prairie,” running through the field, falling down and laughing, clutching our bunches of straw. In the cold of December, we were a bit quicker in our task.

Back inside, those of us that were old enough to handle scissors cut the straw to a length that could fit nicely into a shoe box, which was left uncovered in a place we could all reach. Whenever we did something good, our reward was to take one piece of the straw and place it inside the barn that sat empty on the sill of the bay window.

Mary and Joseph were miles away on a coffee table in the living room making their way to Bethlehem. Mary knelt on bended knee, Joseph stood stick-straight holding his staff, both of them staring at the empty space between …

December 10th, 2013

long-walk-to-freedomMandela: Long Walk to Freedom chronicles the life of political leader and revolutionary Nelson Mandela, particularly his struggle to put an end to apartheid in South Africa and reunite the nation peacefully. The film wowed at every turn, exquisitely showcasing the triumphs and hardships of Mandela’s life, and successfully imparting the wisdom and dedication he held in regard to the cause he fought and sacrificed so much for. Long Walk to Freedom treads important ground on the issues of race and power relations, much like another film of this year (and a potential opponent for Best Picture) 12 Years A Slave. What gripped me most about the movie is Mandela’s mantra in regard to power and community. Several times throughout Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela and those associated with him through the African National Congress describe their group by using a clever metaphor — that of a fist.

“Alone, we have no power,” Mandela says, holding up his fingers one by one. Then, he pulls them into a fist, adding: “but together, we have the power to change the world.”

It really got me thinking about how true this principle can be in our lives today, and how it comes …

December 5th, 2013

Pope Francis waves as he arrives for his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis waves as he arrives for his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square at Vatican. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis rocked the media again last week with the release of Evangelii Gaudium,” (The Joy of the Gospel) an apostolic exhortation laying out his vision for a well-run, joyful church and a more just world. America magazine’s James Martin, SJ, wrote that he was unable to “remember a papal document that was so thought-provoking, surprising, and invigorating. Frankly, reading it thrilled me.”

New York magazine’s Dan Amira had some fun with the document, publishing a quiz called, “It’s Time to Play ‘Bill de Blasio or the Pope?,’” in which he asks readers to guess if quotes are attributed to Francis or the ultra-liberal, populist mayor-elect of New York.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper wrote that Evangelli Gaudium “was a serendipitous Chanukah gift, that brought joy to the Jewish world.”

If you haven’t read the full text, a whopping 224-page PDF, you should. It’s accessible, inspiring, and thought provoking. The gist of it says that Christian joy can capture the imagination of the world, revitalize the Church, and compel Jesus’ followers to question the idolatry of the free market …

December 4th, 2013

jerk-for-christmasLike it or not, we are entering the gift-giving season. I personally am really bad at receiving gifts. Of course, I’m gracious and say “thank you” and do all the other things we would hope our kids do when someone gives them a gift, but what I usually want to do is repeatedly bang my head against the closest hard surface.

I have written before about how irked I get when someone gives me a bad gift. It really does make me upset. I hate the idea of the person wasting money on me, adding to the consumerism surrounding Christmas, and I hate having the burden of another thing lying around our house that will not get any use.

But recently I read The Happiness Project. In it, the author spoke of accepting gifts in the spirit in which they were given. She gave the example of the time she told her husband that she wanted a ring for her birthday. Instead he gave her a bracelet. Immediately she was very angry.

This would have probably been my inner dialogue: He never listens to me. How much clearer can I get? Do I have to do all the work? …

December 2nd, 2013

A Ukrainian-made angel adorns the Christmas tree in St. Peter's Square. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A Ukrainian-made angel adorns the Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Having emerged from your tryptophan-induced stupor, you awoke on Friday to the triumphant proclamation that it is Christmas. The TV says so. Every big box retailer in your neighborhood says so. The lights and wreathes and inflatable Santas that appeared like magic overnight say so. To this I say, bah. Humbug!

Ok, here’s the deal: I love Christmas. I love everything about Christmas. But it’s not Christmas yet! It’s Advent. Advent is the liturgical season of preparation that proceeds Christmas. New to observing Advent? Your favorite convert gives you the basics to this beautiful season of hope.

A — Advent wreath: Every Catholic church and many Catholic homes display an Advent wreath. This wreath consists of an evergreen wreath, three purple candles, and one rose candle. The candles are lit one by one on the Sundays of Advent and are meant to symbolize Jesus, the Light of the world, coming to dwell among us. The evergreens in a circle represent eternal life. Pine cones or other seed-bearing decorations symbolize resurrection. The purple candles represent prayer, penance, and preparatory sacrifices and the rose candle, lit on …

November 26th, 2013

catching-fireThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second in a series of four in The Hunger Games franchise, has just been released in theaters, and is a worthy follow-up to the first movie. Though I admit some bias, as Catching Fire was by far my favorite of the three novels, the theatrical adaptation truly delivers. The books, begun in 2009 by Suzanne Collins, follow a stubborn, fierce teenage heroine in her reluctant role as the lightning rod for revolution in the fictional future dystopia of Panem.

The film’s biggest success was its refreshingly realistic portrayal of the various forms of oppression in the Districts, namely socioeconomic injustice — a subject rarely explored in “teen movies.” While most of the people in the Districts are living lives of abject poverty, the Capitol of Panem is a seemingly endless font of immoderation and luxury, reaping all of its resources from the Districts that it oppresses. Such oblivious immoderation becomes all the more gruesome in light of the suffering it ignores. As the people in the Capitol attend extravagant parties and wear bizarre, over-the-top fashions (shown in imaginative, colorful visual detail) they are entirely unaware of the suffering and poverty that is daily life …

November 21st, 2013

Parents listen to their daughter during dinner in the family's home. (CNS photo illustration/Sid Hastings)

Parents listen to their daughter during dinner in the family’s home. (CNS photo illustration/Sid Hastings)

In New Hampshire this past weekend, Gov. Martin O’Malley, Democrat of Maryland, told more than 1,000 Democratic activists that pride in oneself and in one’s city is able to transform lives and communities. Speaking at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Manchester, the Catholic O’Malley recalled his tenure as mayor of Baltimore in the early 2000s, which at that time was the most violent city in the United States. He highlighted a campaign he started to drive down crime and drive up pride. It was simple, he said, once residents believed things could be better. The program was called simply, Believe.

“Belief is important. Belief drives action. Now, like Baltimore in 1999, we, as Americans, are going through a cynical time of disbelief — a time, quite frankly, with a lot more excuses and ideology than cooperation or action,” he said.

O’Malley was introduced by a gauzy black and white video that many in the room considered a marketing test for a possible 2016 run for the White House. It highlighted the reduction in crime in Baltimore, as well as more recent accomplishments, …

November 14th, 2013
Young people hold signs asking for help after Typhoon Haiyan hits the Philippines. (CNS photo/Charlie Saceda, Reuters)

Young people hold signs asking for help after Typhoon Haiyan hits the Philippines. (CNS photo/Charlie Saceda, Reuters)

I used to work for a non-profit that would give out food on a regular basis. We would get donations from the local Food Bank plus any other donations people would drop off at our doorstep. The first time I helped to prepare the food, I was taken aback. There were tables of cakes and pies and cookies and sweet breads, and any other sugary treat you could think of. I stared in awe thinking how happy some little kid was going to be when his grandma came home with a big Elmo cake.

It wasn’t until I worked there a little longer that I learned how this mountain of baked goods arrived at our door like clockwork. One day a woman was at the grocery store and saw all these bakery items getting tossed into the trash. She was horrified at the waste of food and endeavored to get a group of her friends together to go around to several grocery stores to pick up all the leftover bakery goods and bring them to us.

Wow, I marveled. This group of women …

November 7th, 2013

A man panhandling holds an American flag in San Francisco’s financial district. (CNS photo/Robert Galbraith, Reuters)

A man panhandling holds an American flag in San Francisco’s financial district. (CNS photo/Robert Galbraith, Reuters)

I had the pleasure of rereading Economic Justice for All earlier this week as I was researching another writing project. The first time I encountered this pastoral letter, written in 1986 by U.S. bishops, I was a senior in college, some time in 2007, completing an assignment for a Catholic social justice class. I remember being blown away, moved by the unequivocal words of support for the poor and middle class. This document stirred my passion for using politics for good, as a way to lift up the disenfranchised. It would not be an exaggeration to credit Economic Justice for All with inspiring me to work in the Catholic sector, seeking ways to tell the stories of those who feel left out.

The pastoral letter, written a year before I was born, was shockingly relevant to me even 20 years later. As I soaked it in again this week, it still reads like something that could be written today. On the one hand, it’s encouraging that the words have stood the test of time. Kudos to the bishops for their foresight. But in reality, …

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