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November 11th, 2011

In response to a Massachusetts ballot question that would legalize physician-assisted suicide, Boston’s Cardinal Seán O’Malley has encouraged the Catholic legal community to uphold a “gospel of life.” In the past month, Cardinal O’Malley’s remarks have sparked discussion of this issue among laypeople. Some of this discussion has caught my attention, and it’s pretty clear that there are some serious widespread misconceptions — some of which I once held myself — both about physician-assisted suicide and about the nuances of the Catholic Church’s position.
In the minds of lay people, physician-assisted suicide often becomes…

November 10th, 2011

We are told it is natural to thirst for fulfillment in aligning our life with God’s plan for us and to thirst for the kingdom of heaven on earth to be made manifest around us. So how is this compatible with the idea of accepting everything exactly as it is? This tension is expressed in the Serenity Prayer, which I’ve written about here before. In one line we ask for the courage to change what we can; in another the serenity to accept what we can’t. The prayer’s author then adds a request for the wisdom to know the difference. Well, that’s easier said than done, isn’t it?
Usually in this column, I at least take a stab at giving some advice. But here all I can do is acknowledge the tension.…

November 9th, 2011
Churches aren't one-size-fits-all and it can take time to find the right one

I’ve been church shopping for more than three years now. I’m not much of a shopper so it’s getting tiring, but I’m not about to give up. I’m choosey: I want good music, a diverse and accepting community, a priest who consistently gives relevant and challenging homilies, and a church culture that embraces social justice. I’ve found churches that have some of the things on my list, but finding all of them in one place has proven to be a challenge.
My church shopping began in August of 2008 when I moved from Maine to North Carolina to transfer to Salem College. At first I rode with friends to a Mass on another college campus. I liked the priest, but student Masses have always seemed…

November 8th, 2011
Therapy dogs help a range of people in nursing homes, schools, and even a Barnes & Noble bookstore

Therapy, it seems, has gone to the dogs.
Therapy dogs that visit and attend to patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and other places offer comfort and support to people.
What these dogs provide is as varied as each patient, according to Deanna Klingel, who lives in Sapphire, North Carolina, and has therapy dogs named Lily and Jessie.
“For many patients, seeing the dog, petting the dog, awakens memories,” she said. “For patients who lack motivation, ‘walking’ the dog, exercising with the dog, is needed motivation for mobility.”
Klingel, who suffered from Lyme disease, was assisted in her own healing by her golden retriever and wanted to share her experience with others.…

November 4th, 2011
Dealing with the shortening days and the end of daylight-saving time

Every year, at the beginning of warm weather, I encourage everyone to get out in the sun and experience nature, but it’s important to respect the rhythms of nature and our body in cold weather too. This weekend, in the wee hours of Sunday November 6, daylight-saving time (DST) ends for the year. Though winter doesn’t technically begin for another month and a half, this always feels to me like the point where things change.
So I want to talk to you about two things: SAD and DST.
First, let’s clear up one thing about “seasonal affective disorder,” or SAD. Everyone is affected by the seasons…. That’s not a disorder. That’s being human.
Unless you live near the equator, the

November 4th, 2011

As Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests continue across the country, Busted Halo® went to visit the protest in Zuccotti Park in New York City to see what role people of faith are playing in the movement. While some say the OWS movement lacks a clear message, the message Christians standing with the movement share is straight from the Bible: God wants all of God’s children to have enough.
Faith Leaders at Multi-Faith Service
Each Sunday afternoon at 3:30 in Zuccotti Park, New York City faith leaders come together to bring a worship service to OWS. Speakers use a “human microphone” to share their message, shouting “Mic check,” and speaking in short sentences that are repeated by the…

November 3rd, 2011

Growing up, I always knew Dad’s side of the family was Polish. I knew we had a special affinity for sausages and cabbage, that we called my grandma Busha and that we had thrown a party bigger than any Arrowhead Road had ever seen when I made my First Communion.
But I never knew much more than that until we lost her.
Memories from the day of Busha’s funeral resound so powerfully in my memory. Images of my towering dad and four uncles, some of the toughest men I know, sitting in wooden pews with clasped hands, bent heads, and red-rimmed eyes flash through my mind. A Polish priest crossing the air above her body, sounds of a Polish prayer that none of us but Busha could understand.
I felt something in our family change that day.…

October 28th, 2011
Learning to love, not fear, the people in the stained glass windows

Lately, I’ve been considering teaching my son Matthew about the saints. At the big-boy age of 5, he’s surely old enough to become captivated by their stories. But then I realized that when you talk about the lives of the saints, you also have to talk about their deaths.

Therein lies the problem.

Not every saint had a gruesome death, of course, but quite a few of them did. And for a kid whose imaginative diet consists of nothing more sinister than the dragon that Harold draws with his magic purple crayon, I can hardly fathom telling him about St. Agnes, whose head was cut off, or St. Lawrence, who was literally grilled alive. My child already has an innate fear of the dark; I don’t need to tell him stories that will encourage it.

October 26th, 2011
Is Halloween really the holiday from Hell?

From my high school students this time of year I often get a lot of questions like this:
“Mr. H., why are we celebrating Halloween? I mean, isn’t it a pagan/demonic/commercial holiday anyway?”
Well, let’s look at a tiny bit of the history of this ghoulish night of witches and goblins. Or is it a gleeful night for saints and angels? Let’s go way back to the 8th century, when a chapel dedicated to the memory of all the holy martyrs in Rome was declared. This feast, which happened to coincide with other pagan festivals — such as the Irish samhain… (pronounced “souwain”) celebrating the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter with a touch of playful remembrance

October 20th, 2011
Now available on DVD

The Way, written and directed by Emilio Estevez (Bobby) and starring his father, Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now, The West Wing, The Departed), is rather obviously about the spiritual journey. The Camino de Santiago, called “The Way,” is a literal spiritual journey, a 1,000-year-old 500-mile pilgrimage route across the Pyrenees. The lead character Tom (Sheen) takes a physical journey to Spain and eventually on the Camino while also taking a spiritual journey starting with word that his son (Estevez) has died. Many of the other characters Tom meets along the way are on their own spiritual journeys, whether they are Camino pilgrims or not. 

Despite being built around a religious pilgrimage, however, The Way is not a “faith-based” film; rather, it is a movie about a human story, and the human story. There is no preaching; there are no soppy scenes meant to tug at the spiritual heartstrings. Estevez’s writing reveals a sophisticated understanding of the beautiful brokenness of people, the glorious absurdity of it all. One of the overarching themes is how Tom gets thrown together with other pilgrims. Not only was it his intent to travel alone, but if he were to travel with others, these are definitely not the others he would choose. But it is precisely through struggling with each other’s imperfections that we are challenged, pushed outside our comfort zone, and, sometimes, forced to grow spiritually whether we like it or not.

October 19th, 2011
Getting over the stress of praying the right way and simply talking with God

Last week, I paused to look out the front window of my apartment just long enough to see a middle-aged woman briskly get in her car, make the Sign of the Cross, and turn over the engine.
I felt somewhat comforted knowing someone else prays before driving. I never used to pray in the car, until I came to Chicago. Something about driving here reminds me daily of my mortality. I sometimes wonder how I arrive back home without an insurance claim. This all occurs in a car that is adorned by religious medals that my very-Catholic mother sneaks into it in the same manner she tries to hide $20 in my purse.
As much as I could talk at length about Chicago drivers, what stayed with me about that morning is that someone else prayed the same…

October 18th, 2011
One woman joins an artists' community organized by an unlikely character

I remember the first time I met Fr. Frank Sabatté. It was my junior year at the School Of Visual Arts and I was participating in a group show with two other artists. Me (the photographer) and two painters. The one thing we three had in common was that our work “explored the complexities of the erotic.” So imagine my surprise when a man walked up to me and announced he’s a priest. I found myself struggling to articulate that I was exploring the notion of sexual attraction. Fr. Frank listened with consideration, and before he left we exchanged cards. I thought for sure that was that.
A few weeks later I received an e-mail from Fr. Frank, a Paulist priest, inviting me to a group discussion on art and…

October 13th, 2011
How a recent grad survived joblessness and found direction from a friend

After graduation, mascara barely dry from losing the remaining ties to my old life, I joined my former professor’s weekly networking group. I had been working a freelance job designing a website for the summer, but that had ended, and I’d just had my first job interview since graduation. They offered and I accepted without thinking. Before I knew it, I was sitting at a desk in an office caked with dust, repeating the copy/paste function for nine hours a day.
I sat in a local café, beer in hand, and explained the first days of work to the group. I tried so hard to sound excited. “How much are they paying you?” everyone asked. My answer left them cold. I tried to tell myself that they didn’t know how…

October 12th, 2011

Somehow — don’t ask me how — the conversation turned to Catholic iconography. Seven or eight of us denizens of graduate school were gathered around a long wooden table in the seminar room. I sat in tense silence next to the window while the others commented on what they considered grisly religious emblems: the Sacred Heart wound with thorns and dripping blood, the body of Jesus hanging limp and emaciated upon the crucifix. One person started to laugh.
“My mother wouldn’t let me in a Catholic church when I was little,” she said, “because she thought it was so primitive….”
I said nothing; I could think of nothing to say to this little crowd of non- or ex-Catholics. But small knots of discomfort

October 11th, 2011

In one of the opening shots of Machine Gun Preacher,… a member of warlord Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) kneels a mother down before her child. He hands the child a club and screams something at him in his native language. The child, terrified, flinches every time the soldier screams at him, and keeps glancing at his mother who, with a quivering lip, nods at her child, eyes brimming with tears. The child looks back at the soldier, who lifts a gun to the child’s head and barks at him again. The child slowly lifts the club over his head, and looks for one last time into the eyes of his mother. He winds up and brings the club down with all his might. The screen goes black.
Later in the movie, viewers learn this child

October 7th, 2011

I probably should have had an obit for Steve Jobs ready to run. We had a dry run when he resigned as head of Apple a few months ago. But I didn’t, and many others have accurately chronicled the facts, so instead, for my regular personal spirituality column, I’m going to look at a few things we can learn from him.
Though I never had the pleasure of meeting the man, Steve Jobs’ work and influence affected my life often. At different times, I came close to working for both Apple and Pixar, the latter before he took it over. The first personal computer I ever bought was a Mac 512, no hard drive, for $2,600 (in 1984 money; that’s the equivalent of $5,400 today). Compared to my current MacBook, it had 1/800th…

October 6th, 2011

“We believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.” …
This summer, I spent a lot of time in a room that overlooked the graves of Sam Adams, John Hancock, and the parents of Benjamin Franklin. And also with me in that room, along with the ghosts of the American Revolution, was my new 21.5-inch iMac with the 2.5GHz Core i5 processor, the invention of another American revolutionary.
I share the processor speed because, as any Mac nerd would know, this machine is on the lowest end iMacs one can currently purchase.  But even so, it cuts through the processing of HD video like Bill Clinton would a plate of pork chops. It was in this room in Boston that I was working on my first documentary film. 

October 6th, 2011

Do you have trouble forgiving? Well, I hope I don’t shatter anyone’s image of nuns, but I do, too.
Some of the sayings connected with forgiveness don’t help. You know, sayings like Alexander Pope’s “To err is human, to forgive is divine” and Jesus’ command that we forgive 77 times (or 70 times seven times) sends the subliminal message that forgiveness is impossible. Then we have the phrase “forgive and forget” — where in the world did that come from? So many people let these words glide glibly from their tongues. It makes it seem that forgiveness is easy and adds a guilt trip besides.
Well, I was in the category of believing that forgiving was next to impossible. I sat in prayer I don’t know…

September 30th, 2011

We’re a nation captivated by coupons. We see them advertised everywhere: Facebook, e-mails, and magazines. Apple has several apps specifically meant for coupon-lovers, and Groupon has certainly become a house-/apartment-hold name.
All of this is nothing, though, compared to the coupon use seen on TLC’s “Extreme Couponing.” For those not familiar, “Extreme Couponing” is exactly what it sounds like: a show that features people who spend hours searching for, printing, organizing, and then using their coupons. These people take great pride in their massive amounts of coupons, their organization skills, and the amount of goods they purchase. It was amazing to see the hoards of products that…

September 29th, 2011

I often hear people talking about living in the present moment as if it is a struggle, some cosmic game of attempting to grasp something that is fleeting, illusory. They say things like, “the moment I have it, it’s gone.” While this is true and can be frustrating, the last thing present moment awareness is about is grabbing serenity. I have always liked the metaphor of the river (borrowed from my Christian contemplative practice of centering prayer) in talking of the flow of thoughts. Imagine the stream of consciousness as a river, with boats and debris representing thoughts. You’re sitting on the bank of the river watching it. Normal awareness has you looking at each individual boat-thought, following it down the river with your eyes — and to strain the metaphor, getting on it and opening hatches — then suddenly shifting your awareness to another boat and so on. If your mind is particularly cluttered, you can feel overwhelmed by all the boats you have to look at and it can feel like that classic I Love Lucy skit with the conveyor belt at the chocolate factory, like you’re falling behind and they start slipping by. There can be a sense of panic that a thought that’s getting past you without attention is important and you’re missing it.

Present moment awareness is simply sitting on the bank and watching the river, not the boats. Boats cross your field of vision and you do see them, but you don’t follow them with your eyes or get on them. They’re not out of focus, but you don’t focus on them.

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