Busted Halo

Mike Hayes and guest authors give insight into the surprises of Pope Francis’ papacy, shedding light on how and why this pope is doing things a bit differently.

Click this banner to see the entire series.

July 18th, 2013
With his humble ways attracting attention from all corners, Pope Francis is a celebrity in the secular world.

Pope Francis waves from a car during his visit to Castel Gandolfo, Italy. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters).

Pope Francis waves from a car during his visit to Castel Gandolfo, Italy. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters).

“The atmosphere was almost neighborly” when he spoke to the crowd in “a more conversational tone,” like a “universal leader.”

These quotes may sound like they describe a politician angling for votes. However, they are actually about the Catholic Church’s newest celebrity: Pope Francis.

But the pope is definitely not a typical celebrity. One of the main reasons is that rather than embracing his fame like a teen starlet, he has downplayed his actions. When choosing his new Popemobile, for example, he followed his advice to priests to use “more humble” vehicles and selected a 2008 Ford Focus. This was no publicity stunt- for Francis it’s just another way to be “Pope Everyman,” standing in solidarity with many poor and middle-class Catholics.

Since his election, the pope has become universally beloved for his simple message of outreach to the poor. His embrace by religious media is not surprising — it’s the job of magazines like America and Commonweal to cover the pope. What is striking, however, is the support for him from secular media; many magazines have written glowing articles about Francis since …

July 18th, 2013
My visit to a cathedral in Toledo, Spain, didn’t inspire admiration so much as a crisis of faith.

toledocathedral-12For Americans, visiting Europe has been a rite of passage since well before even Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad. And given the number of significant old cathedrals on the continent, Eurotours inevitably include churches we visit more as museums than as places of faith.

Ten years ago, I found myself on such a tour in Toledo, Spain. At Toledo’s very center is an enormous cathedral that was once a true seat of power for the Catholic Church. Begun in 1227, it took 250 years to finish this temple of Spain’s establishment religion.

I read about it in James Michener’s 795-page Iberia and went to visit with the book in hand. I went in part as a tourist, but also as an actual (if slightly disenchanted) twentysomething Catholic.

Walking in, I felt the Spanish sunlight immediately shut off behind me. The ceiling loomed nearly 150 feet above. The far wall stretched almost 500 feet away.

The space intimidated. Its massive size figured in, but so did its contents: joyless Christian iconography, battle and conquest depictions, and marble tombs. I kneeled in a pew but found I couldn’t pray.

Michener used terms like noble, tasteful, rich, beautiful and rewarding to …
July 17th, 2013

Rebecca's writing, maps, and mementos from her walk along the Camino. Photo courtesy of Morack Studios.

Rebecca’s writing, maps, and mementos from her walk along the Camino. Photo courtesy of Morack Studios.

“Tomorrow afternoon we’re going to make journals,” my writing teacher, Elizabeth Hunter, declared. I was at the John C. Campbell Folk School taking a week-long memoir-writing class. Bookmaking had not been part of the class description but my classmates and I took great joy in having something handmade in which to write after our time together was finished.

Eight months later, I prepared to depart for the Camino. I was thinking of how best to document my journey. Store-bought, bound journals weighed quite a bit, specifically their covers. My solution? Only take the guts of a journal: the paper. And upon my return, I could sew the pages into a book, just as I’d learned in that writing class.

A year after my return from the Camino, the pages sat in a ziploc bag, covered in my thoughts and prayers but as yet unbound. Then my friend Lois sent me an e-mail. It contained just one line.

“Unfinished projects drain creative energy.”

I read it and my mouth dropped open. I jotted a quick reply: This is so true! I remembered the relief I …

July 16th, 2013
Hiking in Grand Teton National Park with all God's creatures

A view from Elizabeth's hike in Grand Teton National Park

A view from Elizabeth’s hike in Grand Teton National Park

It was never on my to-do list or my hope-to-do list, but I did it.

A friend and I visited Grand Teton National Park over Memorial Day weekend. I’d never been there before but I have to say it has some of the most beautiful views I have ever encountered. The Grand Teton mountain range stands 7,000 feet above the valley of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. A hidden waterfall was running powerfully after a snowy winter season and scenic drives allowed us to see the Grand Tetons from different angles. If you are looking for a vacation destination, I’d recommend this one.

This year has brought a lot of firsts to my life. June 1 marked the first anniversary of my mom’s death. I walked in my first ever half-marathon. Walking 13.1 miles, for someone who is not so physically active, was a challenge but I finished in just under four hours. (My original goal was to be standing after I crossed the finish line — I was!)

I have never been too keen on the idea of getting up close and personal with God’s beautiful creatures (especially bears). Given …
July 11th, 2013

Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer star in a scene from the movie "The Lone Ranger." (CNS photo/Disney)

Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer star in a scene from the movie “The Lone Ranger.” (CNS photo/Disney)

“There come a time, when good man must wear mask.” These words, uttered by Native American guide, friend, and partner Tonto as the introduction to The Lone Ranger, cut straight to the core of the film. In The Lone Ranger, Texas Ranger John Reid responds to the death of his brother by trying to bring the men who killed him to justice. Tonto, however, in favor of protecting not only Reid, but the people he cares about, suggests that in order to do this, he put on a mask, and adopt a new identity — that of the Lone Ranger.

However, by the end of the film, these are not the only reasons that John acts as the Lone Ranger. John is given the choice between accepting a life of fame and prosperity if he removes his mask and renounces the Lone Ranger identity or remaining the Ranger and standing for justice in his own way. Naturally, he chooses to continue with his life as the Lone Ranger. Why leave a charmed life behind, though, to stay a vigilante? And how can we …

July 11th, 2013

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate Mass in Lampedusa, Italy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate Mass in Lampedusa, Italy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Well, it’s official. Pope Francis is a hit.

Esquire magazine, not exactly an outlet that praises the Catholic Church on a regular basis, highlighted some of the reasons why Francis is so “awesome”:

”He has said that he believes priests should be ‘shepherds with the smell of the sheep’ and he is living that way. He has, pointedly, not moved into the papal apartments, remaining at a cheap hotel where reportedly he eats breakfast with ordinary people. He refuses to take the papal limousine, traveling by minibus instead. More significantly, on Holy Thursday this year, Pope Francis became the first Pope in history to wash the feet of a woman. Not only did he wash the feet of a woman, but that woman was a Muslim. Not only was she a Muslim woman, she was a female inmate at a local prison. He has become famous in Rome as the ‘chatty’ Pope, stopping to embrace children with disabilities.”

Just yesterday, the Italian edition of Vanity Fair chose Francis as its person of the year, noting his humility and authenticity. If that isn’t surprising …

July 9th, 2013
He's not headed to the usual papal vacation destination, but Pope Francis will still make time to chill this summer

francis-staycation-2-finalDespite the stifling Roman heat, Pope Francis is remaining in Vatican City this summer instead of escaping to the usual papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo, a favorite place of his predecessor, Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis also recently said that he resides in his present apartment in the Domus Santa Marta for “psychiatric reasons,” prompting many to laugh at the thought that the climate of the Vatican bureaucracy may drive the pope insane.

But the heart of the matter here is what a vacation or time away provides for us. How do we refresh and renew ourselves? Pope Francis has said repeatedly that he needs to be around people and can find himself growing lonely in the grandness of a huge job like the papacy. So, staying nearby with his housemates and friends is in fact how he relaxes best.

And perhaps on our own career-driven paths, we too should think about how we renew ourselves. Is it really necessary to take a lavish vacation to the South of France or a tropical island resort? What do those comforts really provide? Perhaps in the drive to overwork, we also tend to “overplay” in order to trick ourselves into …

July 2nd, 2013
Four Ways to Freedom this Fourth of July

caitlin-freedomHamburgers, hot dogs, sparklers, fireworks, fun with family and friends … that’s what the Fourth of July is all about, right? Well … kind of.

July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. This document declared the independence of a fledgling democracy from imperial rule. It declared that the people living on this continent were claiming the freedom to forge their own destiny as a sovereign nation. Every year Americans gather in backyards, national parks, and other places throughout the country to barbecue, watch fireworks, and celebrate this freedom anew.

In the Catholic Church we have a pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world called Gaudium et Spes. This document, like the great American document we celebrate July 4, declares the necessity of freedom. All human persons must have freedom. Freedom from oppression, slavery, war, poverty, sexism, and all forms of discrimination. In addition to all of the evils from which we must have freedom, the great theological, pastoral, and philosophical thinkers at the helm of the Church advocated that we also must have freedom for excellence — meaning we need to be free (really free) to choose the good with ease and pleasure. …

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 …

powered by the Paulists