Busted Halo

Michael O’Loughlin looks at faith and politics.

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June 27th, 2013

A man holds a program and U.S. flag during the opening Mass for the Fortnight for Freedom observance at the Baltimore basilica. (CNS photo/Tom McCarthy Jr., Catholic Review)

A man holds a program and U.S. flag during the opening Mass for the Fortnight for Freedom observance at the Baltimore basilica. (CNS photo/Tom McCarthy Jr., Catholic Review)

This summer, Catholic bishops in this country are again devoting the 14 days prior to the Fourth of July to their “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign. These two weeks, they said, will be spent educating Americans about what they see as the government’s infringement on the freedom of religion. As such, it’s also a good time to reexamine how we, as Catholics, contribute to the public square. How do we, as disciples of Jesus, live our faith today?

The campaign, now in its second iteration, is the result of what the bishops view as government involvement into what counts, from an IRS perspective, as ministry. The bishops believe that hospitals, schools, and other church-affiliated social service industries are ministries in themselves. The government has a seemingly more narrow view of ministry, and, for tax and regulatory purposes, has deemed such institutions as ancillary to ministry.

What caused the standoff?

Framing the debate

Part of Obamacare, the term preferred by Democrats over the more sterile “health insurance reform,” includes a mandate that employers, through …

June 24th, 2013
Thoughts on bodies and liberation this swimsuit season

wade-in-the-waterThis summer marks a Kim Family first. We have a pool membership. So we go to the pool. A LOT.

All of this lathering sunblock on squirmy little bodies and finding a swimsuit that works for my nine-month pregnant body and keeping a wary eye on the aforementioned little bodies as they dare closer and closer to deep water and navigating a veritable sea of bodies in pursuit of the good spot under the big tree has got me thinking. About (surprise) bodies.

Our bodies are vulnerable. They unabashedly announce our fragility and dependence and glory all over the place. They are truth tellers. Like the slightly drunken family member at every Thanksgiving table everywhere, they tell pointedly personal stories about us. Our bodies are us. Really us. And our bodies are more than just skin and sinew and bone and fat animated by our souls. We are whole persons made part and parcel in the image of God. And we are — all of us — fearfully and wonderfully made.

As I watch our soon-to-be born daughter roll and hiccup and kick under the thin veil of my stretched skin, I am reminded that God chose to have a …

June 20th, 2013

man-of-steelFaster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound — painted from his early incarnations as an incredibly powerful savior to mankind, Superman has been compared to Jesus Christ time after time, and the case is no different in Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. In this film, there are overt references to the level of allegory present (in one scene, Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent sits in a church as the camera zooms in on his face, a gigantic stained glass window of Jesus acting almost as a mirror in the background), and then there are the bits and pieces of the allegory itself.

Clark is sent to Earth as a child by his well-meaning father (“He’ll be a god to them,” says Jor-El as he loads baby Supes into the rocket that will guide him to our planet). When he arrives on Earth he is raised by an average, rural family who knows of his power and otherworldly origin, but also are aware that he will fulfill his destiny when the time is right. He convenes with his father in spirit throughout the movie, who tells him …

June 19th, 2013

accepting-helpI swung my legs off the top bunk, but as soon as I put weight on my left foot to climb down the ladder, a pain shot up my heel into the back of my leg. Holy crap. What was that? I got down another rung and there is was again. Oh, this is not good.

It was my fifth day on the Camino de Santiago — a 500-mile pilgrimage trail through Spain. What if I can’t walk? I’ll have to stay in this tiny town all day. What will I do? How am I going to get help in a country whose language I don’t speak?

I completed my descent and looked around the room. Fourteen people slept there last night. Now, only Antoine and I were left.

“J’ai une probleme,” I told the young Frenchman I’d met just three days earlier. I searched the drawers of memory for the French word for “pain,” and was thankful when Antoine responded to my statement in English.

After explaining my ailment, Antoine suggested we get some breakfast in town and see how I feel after that.

We met a few other pilgrims and headed to the nearest café. Rémy gave me …

June 18th, 2013

Pope Francis greets a child after celebrating Mass in St. Peter's Square. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Pope Francis greets a child after celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

The other day while we were eating together, one of the sisters in my community began a conversation regarding the exponential growth in the number of people attending papal functions in Rome since the election of Pope Francis. She expressed her surprise and disappointment that the same amount of people did not turn out during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI. Those who come to Rome to see the new pope, she said, are motivated by what is “unessential” — his personality, the hope that he will bless and kiss their babies or comfort those with disabilities — rather than by the desire to hear the Word of God and strengthen their lives as disciples of Christ.

This discussion prompted me to reflect: To what can we attribute the reaction of so many — Catholic and non-Catholic — to Pope Francis? Can we categorize this reaction as “papolatry,” as one journalist called it?

Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis come from two very different cultures, and have two very different personalities. Pope Benedict came from a verbal culture; …

June 13th, 2013
Working with others to do good.

Ad promotes Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CNS photo/courtesy of CCHD)

Ad promotes Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CNS photo/courtesy of CCHD)

Pope Francis was the fifth most discussed topic on Reddit a few weeks ago. Reddit is the online cool-kids-table, where it seems that everything we find entertaining online originates. BuzzFeed is described as last week’s Reddit. Reddit users tend to be trendy Millennials, who have a penchant for finding content that will go viral, paying particular attention to progressive issues. Oh, and most are agnostic or atheist.

So what was the pope doing there?

Francis had made headlines for an off-the-cuff homily in which he gave a shout-out to atheists:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone,” the pope told worshipers at morning Mass on Wednesday. “‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”

Francis continued, “We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

Some interpreted the pope’s remarks as opening the gates of heaven to all, including atheists. Others pushed back, suggesting that the pope was simply reaffirming Catholic teaching that all people have the potential to …

June 11th, 2013

after-earth-1“Danger is real. Fear is a choice.” Plastered everywhere on posters bearing the faces of the father-son duo Will and Jaden Smith, this phrase casts an ominous tone over their latest film After Earth. Yet while the tagline may initially seem foreboding, promising some “real danger” in the film, its second half also sends an uplifting message that rings just as true throughout the movie: “fear is a choice.”

After Earth is the tale of Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith), a young cadet-in-training, and the father in whose footsteps he aspires to follow, General Cypher Raige (Will Smith). A thousand years after humanity’s destruction of Earth because of disrespect for the environment and mistreatment of resources, Cypher and Kitai are among the human population settled on a distant planet called Nova Prime, locked in combat with alien life forms that prey on humanity and can literally smell fear (through the pheromones that people secrete when frightened). The only two survivors of a spaceship crash that strands them on a post-apocalyptic Earth, Cypher and Kitai must develop their relationship (as Cypher was absent through much of Kitai’s life because of his military status), learn to trust in each other, and put fear …

June 3rd, 2013
Swollen Feet and the Kingdom of God

already-and-not-yetLast Friday, amidst early morning preparations to get The Dude (i.e. our 5-year-old son who, to this point, has been known to Convert-sation readers as Sassy McSasspants) ready for preschool, it occurred to me that I couldn’t tie my shoes.

OK. That’s not completely accurate. It occurred to me that tying my shoes would involve balancing my enormously pregnant self against the footboard of the bed and hoisting my legs onto the bookshelf all while making a series of loud and unbecoming noises. I glanced at my sandals knowing full well that succumbing to their beaded and completely impractical siren song would cause my feet to swell beyond recognition. I glanced at my sleeping husband knowing full well that this was the first day off the hardest working man in theology (which is kind of like being the hardest working man in show business … you know, except with significantly less sweating and significantly more Latin) had been able to take in months.

So I woke him up.

To his credit, he was not cranky. He tied my shoes just the way I like, gave me a kiss on the belly, and cuddled back up to our 2-year-old and …

May 31st, 2013

Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms in a scene from the movie "The Hangover Part III." CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms in a scene from the movie “The Hangover Part III.” CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Love and marriage loom large in the Hangover series. After all, the core premise of these films is to jokingly illustrate the confusion that follows a night of drinking and partying, particularly a bachelor party, the typical wild night before the wedding for the groom. The original Hangover showed us the Las Vegas bachelor party of Doug (Justin Bartha) and the struggles that it caused his friends as they tried to find him in time to get married. The Hangover Part II followed a similar vein, depicting a bachelor party gone awry in Thailand for Stu (Ed Helms), and the wild search for his brother-in-law-to-be in the foreign city of Bangkok. However, for The Hangover Part III, gone are the bachelor parties, and gone are the half-remembered drunken escapades to be figured out. Instead, we get a funeral, an intervention, and a promise to fix parts of the lifestyle that led to the extreme events of the first two movies.

The Hangover Part III is surprisingly … mature. Not “mature” in the way that some people use the word as …

May 30th, 2013
Given recent violence, does the death penalty make sense?

People protest outside Georgia Capitol in support of death-row inmate Troy Davis before his Sept. 21, 2011 execution. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

People protest outside Georgia Capitol in support of death-row inmate Troy Davis before his Sept. 21, 2011 execution. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

I was talking to a friend last week when I asked, “You’re opposed to the death penalty right?” It was less of an inquiry than a way to transition to the next portion of our conversation. After all, she is in her 20s, Catholic, a Democrat, and more to the left of many issues than me. I began to tell the story I had in mind without really considering her answer when she interrupted me.

“Oh, not necessarily,” she said. “In some cases, I’m against it, sure, but sometimes it just seems fair.”

I was taken aback, surprised really. I decided to ask some more friends over the next few days. Again, almost all were in their 20s, shared a generally liberal outlook on politics, and were from faith traditions that oppose capital punishment. And yet, in nearly every instance, I heard the same answer: they were against seeking the death penalty in some cases, but they found it justified in others.

Earlier this month, Maryland abolished the death penalty through legislative action, joining 17 other states …

May 29th, 2013

helpthankswowIt’s a very tiny book. It’s so small, in fact, that twice I went to the library to check it out, twice the library computers said it was there, and twice neither I nor the librarians could find it. ”It’s a small book,” they told me. ”This has happened before…”

On the third try I did indeed get myself a copy. A small book, with a small title. Three words, one syllable each: Help, Thanks, Wow. Author Anne Lamott subtitles it “The Three Essential Prayers.”

“This is a good one,” the librarian told me. “You’ll be reading it and then something just hits you.” I took her word for it and slipped the thin book into my purse.

I love simple, and Anne Lamott has done just that. She doesn’t profess to “know it all” about prayer. But she’s been on her own spiritual search for a while — having documented her journey in numerous books. In all her seeking, she’s learned a few things and I’m happy she’s decided to jot them down for the rest of us to ponder. In this book, she’s boiled prayer down to three one-word essentials.

I reflected on how I use (or don’t …

May 28th, 2013
Pope Francis reminds us that Christ’s sacrifice is not just for Catholics

Atheists and nonbelievers gather for the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. (CNS photo/Tyrone Turner courtesy of Religion News Service)

Atheists and nonbelievers gather for the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. (CNS photo/Tyrone Turner courtesy of Religion News Service)

It’s often that religious people adopt a “holier than thou” attitude that professes that they have all the answers and that their particular religion is the wing nut that holds God together for the rest of the planet. (“If they’d only join OUR religion, all would be well with the world.”)

And while I’m sure that Pope Francis would hope that most people would in fact, see the beauty of Catholicism, last week he reminded all of us that “doing good” surpasses any affirmation of a particular faith tradition:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if …

May 23rd, 2013

popefrancispentecost-xAs reforms begin at the Vatican Bank, more officially known as the Institute for the Works of Religion, Pope Francis has also taken on global, personal, and spiritual financial matters in his papacy. Last week while speaking to new Vatican ambassadors he highlighted that “the majority of the men and women of our time continue to live daily in situations of insecurity, with dire consequences… People have to struggle to live and, frequently, to live in an undignified way.”

Reflecting on the economies of the world, Pope Francis pointed out that some exist simply to make money without adequate consideration for the rising number of people living in poverty in our midst. The idea that economic growth is the answer to everything is a theory that the pope hopes to debunk. He noted:

“The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.

The worldwide financial and economic crisis seems to highlight their distortions and above all the gravely deficient human perspective, which reduces man to one of his needs alone, namely, consumption.”

Nearly two-thirds …

May 19th, 2013
A Convert’s Guide to Celebrating Pentecost … Today and Every Day

A scene from Pentecost at St. Therese of Lisieux Church in Montauk, New York. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

A scene from Pentecost at St. Therese of Lisieux Church in Montauk, New York. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

It will always be Pentecost in the church,

provided the church lets the beauty of the Holy Spirit

shine forth from her countenance.

When the church ceases to let her strength

rest on the power from above –

which Christ promised her

and which he gave her on that day –

and when the church leans rather on the weak forces

of the power or wealth of this earth,

then the church ceases to be newsworthy.


The church will be fair to see,
perennially young,

attractive in every age,

as long as she is faithful to the Spirit that floods her

and she reflects that Spirit

through her communities,

through her pastors,

through her very life.


May 14, 1978
Archbishop Oscar Romero from “The Violence of Love”

The Church is alive. We — you and me and all of us who dare to call Jesus “Lord” — are the living Body of Christ on earth. We are the hands of Christ reaching out to comfort, to heal, to feed, to sacrifice for those in bondage. We are the feet …

May 14th, 2013

Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan star in a scene from the movie The Great Gatsby. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan star in a scene from the movie The Great Gatsby. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

The Great Gatsby has been touted as many things: one of the contenders for the title of “The Great American Novel,” a flash game, and now, a summer blockbuster. But for all the things that The Great Gatsby has been, a good example certainly is not one of them. The way that the story’s characters embrace the wild lifestyle of the 1920s seems almost like a “how not to” guide for living your life. In fact, there’s a character or situation in Gatsby for practically all of the seven deadly sins that humanity is to avoid. Let’s take a look at some of those sins, the characters and actions behind them, and what we can do to avoid falling into the same snares in our own lives.

Gluttony
One of the basic facts about Jay Gatsby is that he throws amazing parties at his house every weekend. Alcohol flows, dancing abounds, and people aren’t even invited — they just show up. These partygoers, it would seem, exhibit the sin of gluttony, in that they eat and drink and dance and party to …

May 9th, 2013

ironman-3This past weekend, Marvel’s Iron Man 3 opened in theaters, earning $175 million in the United States. The story focuses on Tony Stark’s struggle to deal with the events of last year’s The Avengers as well as the new threat posed by a terrorist called the Mandarin (played by Sir Ben Kingsley). Yet below the standard hero vs. villain standoff we’ve come to expect of a summer blockbuster, Iron Man 3 offers a glimpse at not only the psyche of a superhero, but also at a core challenge that we face all too frequently in life: How can we reconcile redemption and revenge?

There are several paths of atonement and vengeance showcased throughout the film, all centered around the “demons” Tony Stark claims to have created for himself. Chief among the demons seeking their own form of justice against Stark are Aldritch Killian, a scientist whose offer of a research partnership Tony turned down coldly, and the Mandarin, who incites attack after attack on the U.S. government for reasons also tied to Stark (which I will here leave ambiguous in order to remain spoiler-free).

Initially Tony Stark is not overly concerned with the Mandarin (or Killian, for that matter), preoccupied …

May 6th, 2013
Thoughts on abortion in light of the Kermit Gosnell trial

Women’s Medical Society clinic in West Philadelphia.

Women’s Medical Society clinic in West Philadelphia.

(This post includes some graphic details from a current criminal case. It’s a bit heavier than what I usually write about for Convert-sation … but I think it’s important.)

Let’s engage in a thought experiment.

Picture two men. Both have been convicted of a crime they did not commit. They are innocent. Can you imagine them?

The first man is stripped naked. Amidst shouts and jeers, he is dragged into a public square. An angry mob surrounds him and he is caught in a terrible and unceasing deluge of stones and bricks. After an hour, his body lies broken, bloody, and lifeless. The crowd disperses. His body is thrown into a shallow, unmarked grave. He has been executed.

The second man is given a new pair of denim pants and a new blue work shirt. He meets with a licensed physician to receive a comprehensive medical exam, to give a complete medical history, and to hear an explanation of the medical procedure involved in a lethal injection. He receives a final meal of his choosing. He is offered a Valium. He is led to a sterile chamber and strapped to a gurney. A …

May 2nd, 2013

A fan holds a sign during a Boston Bruins hockey game after the marathon bombings. (CNS photo/Jessica Rinaldi, Reuters)

A fan holds a sign during a Boston Bruins hockey game after the marathon bombings. (CNS photo/Jessica Rinaldi, Reuters)

Tomorrow marks two weeks since law enforcement officials captured suspect number two, cowering in a boat, hidden by a tarp, and bleeding from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his neck. The night prior, the suspect’s older brother was killed in a firefight with police. With the suspects identified, captured, and in custody, Bostonians and Americans breathed a sigh of relief. The terror, anxiety, and fear that had consumed so many began to subside.

The reaction over the past two weeks has run the gamut and has touched on a number of seemingly divergent issues.

Boston’s Archbishop, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, told reporters that forgiveness is essential:

“Forgiveness does not mean that we do not realize the heinousness of the crime. But in our own hearts when we are unable to forgive we make ourselves a victim of our own hatred.”

But Elad Nehorai, a Hasidic Jew writing at the Huffington Post, said that forgiveness is the prerogative only of those who were directly victimized by the suspects:

For those that think that we should forgive: that’s not your place. You know who …

April 30th, 2013

batman-3Recently, the Vatican tweeted an article entitled “Holy Switcheroo! Batman has grown bitter, more vengeful with the years.” In it, Adam Shaw discusses the increasing darkness of the character since Bob Kane and Bill Finger created him in 1939. While the Vatican has stated that the tweet was an accident, the article nonetheless remains on the Vatican Communications website and Twitter feed. It also begs the question — in the growing darkness that surrounds Batman in all media (from TV and movies to video games and comic books) is there any room for light?

The short answer, of course, is yes. Otherwise, this article would’ve been called “Batman Dances With the Devil in the Pale Moonlight” instead of “The Not-So Dark Knight.” Still, what does the Bat have to do with the Catholic Church? Let’s take a look at Bruce Wayne’s alter ego in each medium, and see how he stacks up to the Church’s teachings.

Serving others

Here at Busted Halo® we’ve already discussed Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, but one movie does not a character’s history make. Since the superhero’s debut, Batman has been the focus of at least eight feature films, as …

April 29th, 2013
Thoughts on mindfulness in the wake of tragedy

dirtydishesI hate washing dishes. H-A-T-E.

About two weeks ago, our dishwasher made a horrid gasping, gurgling sound and ceased to work. I cursed, begged, and prayed. I may have kicked it (read: I did kick it … mercilessly, I’m afraid … while my children looked on in silent bemusement. Parenting fail.). I sent the extraordinarily handy moral theologian to the hardware store for a star-shaped Allen wrench. He took it apart. He put it back together. It was a lost cause.

For the few days between the untimely incapacitation of our dishwasher and the next available service call from our local appliance repair guy, the dishes required hand washing. I know there are probably a billion people who do this every day. I know — in the grand scheme of all tasks domestic and menial –hand washing a few days’ worth of dishes is hardly the end of the world. I’m not sure why I find this task so utterly loathsome … but, in the interest of keeping it real, I must confess that I do. I really do.

Whilst scrubbing my umpteenth tiny plastic cup, I remembered something I had read for a class at seminary. Thich Nhat Hanh, …

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