Busted Halo

Matt Weber seeks the sacred and the spiritual in his 20s and beyond.

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September 10th, 2013

back-to-schoolboy-2Writing as a 29-year-old adult with a full-time job, I am pleased to no longer be in school. I’ve put in my time (22 consecutive years of class), played the degree game and am happily out of it unscathed. While there is much I do miss about returning to school, I am comfortably enjoying the fruits of my labor. Tonight, I write in a carefree manner, watching my beloved Red Sox and eating Ruffles potato chips. I have no homework and fear not midterms, finals, or font size on long papers. Until I had that diploma in hand, it seemed like every hour of every day meant something was due to someone and they were going to judge me on it; and those judgments seemed like all that mattered toward happiness at the time.

Additionally, starting college, I was really confused about this new thing called a salad bar. There were too many lettuce options. What is kale? And why am I guilted into low-fat raspberry vinaigrette when a solid ranch option sits idly by? And because everything is weighed, how come I am now valuing croutons over my beloved (yet denser) cucumbers?

Yet as the product …

September 6th, 2013

world's-endEdgar Wright and Simon Pegg, the duo behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, have done it again with The World’s End. Clever and biting, the film offers up a less bland version of the “man-child stuck in the past” edge that we’ve already seen in this summer’s The Hangover Part III and Grown-Ups 2 with an excellent sci-fi twist that’s straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The World’s End starts out as a movie about a man desperate to re-live his youth by means of a 12-bar pub crawl. It morphs into a tale of robots who aren’t robots and humanity facing off against a galactic threat, but at its heart the film is always a story about humanity’s flaws and imperfections, embodied particularly in Simon Pegg’s character, Gary King.

King, in brief, is a screwup. He’s an oblivious 30-something who never moved past his “cool kid” days in high school, and still lives his life as though he’s the same rebellious teen he was then, drinking his days away with no regard for himself or anyone else. But when everything hits the wall and he suddenly comes face-to-face with just how bad his life has …

September 5th, 2013

Pope Francis caught even BuzzFeed’s attention over the weekend when expressing his views on possible foreign intervention in Syria via Twitter:

War never again! Never again war!

— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) September 2, 2013

We want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace.

— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) September 2, 2013

How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake.

— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) September 2, 2013

And to hammer home the point that the Catholic Church is against launching missiles into Syria, bishops here in the United States have launched a campaign of sorts against a possible war. In an e-mail blast, bishops implored Catholics to:

Contact your two U.S. Senators and your Representative and urge them to vote against a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria. Instead, ask them to support U.S. leadership, in collaboration with the international community, for an immediate ceasefire in Syria and serious, inclusive negotiations for peace.

So, what’s actually going in Syria?

If you have some time, check out this breakdown from the Washington Post, but here’s the gist. The ruler of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, is …

September 4th, 2013
Pope Francis asks us to fast for peace in Syria this Saturday, September 7

A Syrian Muslim girl stands at the top of Mount Qassioun, which overlooks Damascus. (CNS/Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters)

A Syrian Muslim girl stands at the top of Mount Qassioun, which overlooks Damascus. (CNS/Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters)

“I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart.” — Pope Francis

With the recent revelations that chemical weapons have been used in Syria’s civil war, the United States has been clear about how seriously it takes these human rights violations. Over the weekend, Secretary of State John Kerry reported that Syria’s government has used sarin gas against its own people.

To be clear, Pope Francis also abhors these human rights violations.

President Obama will be asking congress to authorize a military attack against the Syrian regime that will be tactical in nature. “No boots on the ground” has been the promise from the president, but rather, a narrow military strike. …

August 30th, 2013
Hang on for a roller coaster ride that will leave you blessed

let go and screamMy first ride on a roller coaster was on The Comet at Hershey Park. I think I was about 10. I remember my mother yelling worriedly at my uncle, who was riding with me, to hold on to me tightly. The experience was frightening, reckless, erratic, stomach churning and… phenomenal! It began a 35-year love affair that is as fresh now as it was then. Not so for many of my friends who had their fling with thrill-seeking rides and called it quits because of age or doubts about keeping down lunch.

So, here I am, a man of a certain age. I’ve gained more than a bit of weight and lost more than a bit of naiveté. I’ve had my first major surgery and enough health issues to remind me that I’m not as supple as I used to be. I have a wiser view of who I am. And who I am is looking better and better to me — better than the man I once thought I should be. Through it all, the experience of the roller coaster has always attracted me.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love adventurous rides about as much as …

August 29th, 2013
A boy displaced by fighting in Syria attends a class in the governorate of Idlib, Syria. (CNS photo/Muzaffa r Salman, Reuters)

A boy displaced by fighting in Syria attends a class in the governorate of Idlib, Syria. (CNS photo/Muzaffa r Salman, Reuters)

Last week as I walked to the checkout line in Whole Foods after picking up a quick lunch, I glanced at a stack of The New York Times. The picture on the front page was of a handful of people wrapped in burial shrouds. It was strange how peaceful they looked. I had to stare quite hard at it to see whether they were dead or merely asleep. But the part that really struck me was that out of the six people in the picture, there was one baby and three kids probably between four and nine years old. No blood. Not dirty. Just lifeless.

I’ve never had the kind of reaction to a picture as I had at that moment. All at once I was horrified at what killed those people, aghast that it was on the front page of the NYT, but mostly so grief stricken that I had to avoid reading the photo caption or title of the article because I did not want to break into tears in the middle of the store. Then a …

August 22nd, 2013

communicationfierylatina-5“OK, you two, stand up and look at each other. Vanessa, you’re a fiery Latina. Brandon, you’re WASP-y and keep everything bottled up inside. But now you’re on the same team so you have to work together.”

This is probably the one comment that has stuck with me the most six years after meeting with our priest during Pre-Cana (marriage prep required if getting married in the Catholic Church). I know I’ve talked about some ways that Brandon and I are different, but we differ tremendously in how we communicate.

Years after we went through Pre-Cana ourselves, we now facilitate a Marriage Prep Retreat for engaged couples during which I’ve heard many couples give the advice that arguments or heated discussions should be had at the right time when both spouses are open to communication. “Don’t start a conversation when either of you is tired, stressed, or already very angry,” they would say.

Sure, that makes sense when you first hear it but I’ve never been able to follow this advice. Our priest nailed it. I am fiery. When something is bothering me, I have to say something right then.

Brandon is the total opposite. He gets annoyed …

August 22nd, 2013

A destroyed Protestant church is seen in Mallawi, Egypt, August 17. (CNS photo/Reuters)

A destroyed Protestant church is seen in Mallawi, Egypt, August 17. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Rowan Williams, the erudite former Archbishop of Canterbury, lamented that some Christians in the United Kingdom, the United States, and other Western nations claim “persecution” whenever they don’t get their way.

At the Edinburg International Book Festival, Williams said:

Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable. I am always very uneasy when people sometimes in this country or the United States talk about persecution of Christians or rather believers. I think we are made to feel uncomfortable at times. We’re made to feel as if we’re idiots — perish the thought! But that kind of level of not being taken very seriously or being made fun of; I mean for goodness sake, grow up. You have to earn respect if you want to be taken seriously in society. But don’t confuse it with the systematic brutality and often murderous hostility which means that every morning you get up wondering if you and your children are going to make it through the day. That is different, it’s real. It’s not quite what we’re facing in Western society.

The brutality that Williams referenced is on full display …

August 14th, 2013

having-enough-3“This flight is overbooked. We’re seeking one volunteer to take a later flight. If you are interested…” I put away the book I was reading and hurriedly made my way to the ticket counter. Five minutes later, I sat with my free flight voucher, delighted at my good fortune.

However, this was the most unusual flight change I’d ever had. My new departure would be from a different airport — a one and one-half hour drive from the one in which I sat. The airline, of course, provided a cab for me.

The driver arrived, took my bags, and off we went. I have yet to meet a cab driver without a fascinating story. So, though I had a book to read, I decided to see if my driver was interested in conversation. I was in luck. And what a story he had.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Sierra Leone,” he said.

“How long have you been in this country?”

“Probably longer than you’ve been alive.” We compared numbers. He was right.

I learned he was one of seven children. But that wasn’t the whole story. His father, as is common in Sierra Leone, was a polygamist.

“So how …

August 13th, 2013

Muslim worshippers attend Friday prayers during Ramadan at mosque in Pakistan. (CNS photo/Mohsin Raza, Reuters)

Muslim worshippers attend Friday prayers during Ramadan at mosque in Pakistan. (CNS photo/Mohsin Raza, Reuters)

When Pope Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy earlier this year, I wrote about the ways in which the new pope could bridge the gap between the Muslim and Catholic worlds. This is not to embellish that these two enormous masses of people are antithetically aligned toward one another. That is certainly not the case. But over the years the Muslim world has seen Church leadership as an antagonizing force that does not respect it. For example, the most recent episode took place in 2006. Pope Benedict XVI angered Muslims worldwide when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who linked Islam and violence in a lecture at the University of Regensburg, Germany. The speech came just a year after the Danish cartoon controversy that sparked violent demonstrations throughout the Muslim world. And although the pontiff later apologized and even made a visit to Turkey, the damage had already been done.

So, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis, Muslims around the world waited for a fresh start. And a fresh start has been initiated with a message of respect for Muslims during this holy time. Last …

August 8th, 2013
Women pray during a service at the New Life Word Center Church in Sanford, Fla., after the George Zimmerman murder trial. (CNS photo/Steve Nesius, Reuters)

Women pray during a service at the New Life Word Center Church in Sanford, Fla., after the George Zimmerman murder trial. (CNS photo/Steve Nesius, Reuters)

I am not outraged (as some have responded here) that President Obama addressed the nation after the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. He absolutely needed to say something. He cannot pretend that he’s not African-American nor can he pretend that the experience of Trayvon Martin did not resonate with him. The notion that he cannot comment is asking Obama to not be human. We should welcome that the President, who comes from a different background from every other president in history, can offer the country a keen insight into what it is like to grow up as a black man in America.

That said, President Obama spoke of some scenarios I’ve heard before:

“And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and …

August 8th, 2013

traintracksBack in 2009 I took a cross-country train from Boston to San Diego just because it had always been a dream of mine. This summer, I fulfilled the dream again with a trip by rail to the Northwest via the Empire Builder. Like most travel for me, it was spiritual — not a pilgrimage, but a more “focused realness” of God’s presence on my journey. I was not going to a sacred place. The journey itself was what was sacred.

My favorite image of God is “God the Traveller.” He’s the God of accompaniment, the one who journeyed with the 16th and 17th Century missionaries into uncharted lands, meeting strange new people, learning of God’s might and God’s personal love for each person they encountered. He’s the God journeying with pilgrims to World Youth Day, to Lourdes, France, and to the Holy Land. But the Traveller is also on family car trips to grandma’s and in the trucker’s passenger seat on a long haul across the country. Indeed, God was with me on my two summer rail journeys, four years apart.

My discovery of this God-image first happened on one of my rail legs in 2009 when my sleeping car …

August 7th, 2013

Walking along the Camino in the morning fog.

Walking along the Camino in the morning fog.

Not only is it tourist season here in Asheville, North Carolina, but this past weekend was also Bele Chere, a large outdoor music festival that takes over the city for three days. Wanting a reprieve from the crowds, I stepped into the quiet oasis of the Ariel Gallery and headed toward the ceramic piece that brings me the most joy.

I first saw the piece a few months ago. A ceramic church rested on a grassy knoll, a dirt path led to its front door. The whole scene sat inside a journey boat. It captivated me; somehow it reminded me of my Camino: of the paths I walked, the old churches I entered or passed, the peacefulness of being “in the moment” for such an extended period of time. I stared at it, taking it all in. Then I saw the little white card beside the boat. The name of the piece? “The Pilgrimage.”

Beside it sat a similar scene: another boat, but inside this one was a house, a dirt path beside it. It’s title? “The Journey Home.”

I felt like I’d just found my recent life depicted before me. After …

August 7th, 2013

cosmic coke machineNothing thrills quite like finding out that you’ve been acting like a crazy person. I had that experience two summers ago, when I spent eight days at the Manresa House of Retreats in Convent, Louisiana. Manresa is a cluster of old white buildings right beside the Mississippi River. I went there in June. White crepe myrtles snowed blossoms all over the winding garden pathways, and in every chapel doorway were spindly spiders I could consider fascinating from a distance. Most striking of all were the oak trees, mile-high and dripping with Spanish moss. But Manresa wasn’t remarkable for me just because of its beauty, just because it gave me the first hummingbird I had seen all summer and the first red velvet ants I’d seen, well, ever. I’ll always remember the eight days I spent at Manresa as the time I learned where to find my self-worth.

Not that I went to the retreat house expressly for that reason. I’d never done a retreat before, and when my Jesuit friend suggested that we try it out, I expected I would spend the eight days of prayer and contemplation figuring out where my life was headed and invigorating my perfunctory spiritual …

August 6th, 2013

crowds and concreteI harbor not-so-subtle feelings of dislike for nature. Because I cannot plug my hair straightener into a tree nor can I convince any surrounding wildlife to wax my eyebrows, I think nature is best left to admire. From afar. As in, I would love to look at the photos from your 40-mile hike but no, I will not be accompanying you on your next insane, nature-filled funfest. I have fossil fuels to burn through.

All this being said, I have realized that the places where I find God are not where many people find him. While I understand the immense beauty of a sunset or a waterfall, I have trouble finding spirituality in them. For me, I see God in much different places. I see him in the face of the homeless man I pass on my way to work, and on the dirty streets of New York City. I realize that my idea of beauty is vastly different from those around me. But I love crowds and concrete.

During my sophomore year of high school I went on a trip with my drama club to see The 39 Steps (which is utterly fantastic by the way) on Broadway. After …

August 5th, 2013

backseat12I’m sitting in the back seat… again. It’s been a while since I’ve sat back here, looking on over miles and hours at the moving portraits of pine trees, cherry orchards and clear water. I haven’t gone on a vacation with my parents since I was 17, which was a weeks-long trek to Disney World via minivan. I was on the brink of college then and, like any self-respecting adolescent, brimming with impatience and disdain.

Back then my parents seemed almost rooted to their positions in the front of our Dodge Caravan. My dad, firmly secured in the driver’s seat, my mom entrenched at his side, in command of the radio dial to say nothing of our lives. My two sisters losing the unwinnable battle of sitting next to their big brother and his dual obsessions: music and getting into the college of his choice — with little to no interest in the forthcoming sojourn to the “happiest place on earth.” We would intermittently fight over Travel Yahtzee and the last of the Sour Patch Kids as my mother made half-hearted attempts from her perch to divert us from our combat with the license plate game, a contest consisting of …

August 4th, 2013

Yes, World Youth Day Rio has ended, but we shot so much footage it’s still coming in, in a big way. One of my favorite memories from WYD, was our trip to Corcovado. Atop this lush mountain, is an iconic statue of Jesus – “Christ the Redeemer”. Standing tall for nearly a century, this statue represents the man who claimed he was God incarnate.

As we ascended Corcovado in a compact tourist van, which I do believe was driven by a crazy man, I began to think, many people thought that Jesus was pretty crazy, right? He was even put to death by folks who thought his messianic claims had gone too far. And what about today? Is there still a need for Jesus, or for his teachings, or the need to know him? In our present culture is Jesus relevant? So, as we waited in line to see the very big statue of Jesus, I began to ask World Youth Day Pilgrims their thoughts on the real Jesus. And although it was an overcast and rainy day, I do believe the truth shined through clear, tall, and firm. My Spanish is another story……

August 2nd, 2013

nyc-busy-streetsMy old faithful hunter green suitcase trailed behind me as I emerged from the terminal at LaGuardia Airport in New York City in April.

Although I had been planning my first trip to the Big Apple for months, my excitement completely disappeared when I ascended from the terminal to be greeted by scowling, impatient faces and noise that buzzed in my eardrums.

My sister met me as I exited the baggage claim area and escorted me to the bus that would take me to the chic Harlem apartment I’d be staying in with a friend.

Instead of being thrilled and excited, waiting for the skyline to appear as I rode the bus for nearly two hours, I concentrated on the frigid air that tickled my feet, whizzed up my legs, and enveloped my upper body.

I was cold. And if anything, the freezing temperatures (unintentionally) acted as a barometer for my overall experience of the city I’d always imagined I’d escape to in order to live out my Carrie Bradshaw dreams — just like every other writing woman with an obsession for Sex and the City.

My weekend in New York was a blur of catching trains named with …

August 1st, 2013

waiting in line 1Warmer temperatures and longer days mean that summer exploration possibilities are endless. Adventure abounds each weekend with local festivals, picnics and trips to the lake. My inner child fondly recalls trips to the amusement park during the summer months. These particular adventures were rewards for good grades, or volunteering as a crossing guard or altar server all school year long.

As a teenager, my friends and I would get dropped off at the park and spend the entire day slurping down sugary drinks and riding rides. We would run from one ride to the next not thinking about the hours we waited in line to get our 90-second adrenaline fix. At the end of the day we would be exhausted, and our parents would ferry us home only to have us recount our adventures at high volume.

Fast-forward 15 years and that same trip to the amusement park looks a bit different. A recent visit to Disneyland brought back some of the aforementioned childhood memories, but the waiting-in-line part took on a different quality. Now, as an over-scheduled young adult, these lines tested my patience.

The adult version of me remembers what it was like experiencing the rush of roller …

July 31st, 2013

london7“Anger is seldom without reason, but never a good one.” — Benjamin Franklin

The lights of Piccadilly Circus whirled by at a steady pace as I led the small group of choir students down the side streets of a post-midnight London. I was appointed leader out of everyone in the group since I had already lived in the city for six months. Because the choir was only there for a few days, I thought that a low-key evening of clubbing would be a nice way to get exposure to a more accurate picture of London, beyond postcards of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. While we had fun over the course of the night, there was one major problem.

One of the members of the group was particularly convinced that his prowess exceeded mine, despite the fact that he had only visited for a few weeks a few years ago.

“That cab’s available, you know,” he squawked as an empty cab passed by.

“Jack, the yellow light’s off — he’s off duty,” I replied.

“Oh.” He ardently searched for some way home as I led the small battalion through the web of fluorescent-lit streets.

During the next 45 minutes, he …

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