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Features : Religion & Spirituality
June 5th, 2004
Philadelphia Catholics Moving Toward Healing with AALM

Although the horrors of slavery, Jim Crow laws and segregated facilities may no longer exist in the United States, there are other, less visible and less formalized aspects of racial prejudice that persist–even, unfortunately, within faith communities. In particular, a parish in Philadelphia with a history of racial tension is helping members of their congregation understand and deal with existing prejudices thanks to the influence of the African American Leadership Ministry (AALM).
A ministry is born
AALM was started in 1996 by a group of black members and white allies at St. Vincent de Paul parish who saw the need for black leaders in their church congregation. Black parishioners desired a voice…

June 3rd, 2004
...or how I learned to turn the other cheek to the other #%*!$ drivers I share the road with.

I’m a big fan of peace and harmony. Because of this, I generally don’t struggle much when it comes to forgiving others. Subconsciously, it feels far better than carrying an unpleasant conflict around in my heart.
But there’s one thing that I am loath to forgive. It’s embarrassing to admit to something so petty, but I can’t forgive rudeness from other drivers.
In my defense, I come by this honestly. My grandfather, an
infinitely kind and gentle man, nonetheless remembered every insult that had ever happened to him on the road. I distinctly recall his outrage when, in his words, “a chick in a Rambo truck” cut him off on the freeway. I don’t know whether to blame nature…

June 2nd, 2004
A review of Awake My Soul: Contemporary Catholics on Traditional Devotions edited by James Martin, S.J.

To an older generation of Roman Catholics, the mention of traditional devotions like the eucharistic adoration and liturgy of the hours might elicit either chilling memories of a repressive, bygone Catholic era or perhaps a sense of nostalgia for the way things used to be. What they might not expect is that these same devotions are experiencing a renaissance of sorts among a younger generation for whom these practices are new and carry less cultural baggage.
In Awake My Soul: Contemporary Catholics on Traditional Devotions editor James Martin, S.J. has gathered the reflections of a diverse group of authors—many of whom are in their thirties and forties—on their “favorite” devotions. The…

May 18th, 2004
God Places a Bet at the Kentucky Derby

Smarty Jones, your 2004 Kentucky Derby champion, is God’s Horse.
Seabiscuit for the new milleniumYou see a horse like that and a story like this maybe once in a lifetime. Twice, if you’ve seen Seabiscuit.
Smarty came to the party with a trainer, a jockey, and a couple of owners who had never been to the Kentucky Derby before. He lined up in the starting gate with seventeen other horses who cost more, were bred better, and were backed by connections who had been through this ten, twenty, fifty times before.
He won.
God’s horseKentucky Derby winners are named Secretariat… Affirmed… War Admiral. Not “Smarty Jones.” Not something that sounds like it just fell out of the comics page.…

May 16th, 2004
Saving the Sacred from the Absurd in Church

“Why is there a monkey on the tabernacle?” my friend asked herself as she walked into church one Sunday morning.
Apparently, a religious education teacher was planning a discussion on Noah’s Ark for the second grade and had placed inflatable animals all around—even on the small chamber which holds what we as Catholics believe to be the Body of Christ.
Aside from its Bizarro nature, that story struck me as being indicative of a larger problem in the modern Catholic Church.
Celebration timeSince the Catholic Church went through the changes
of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, there has been a greater emphasis on Mass as a communal celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection…

May 15th, 2004
A young woman's reflections on the journey back to her faith

Last month, I freed my rosary from hiding. We’ve had a tumultuous relationship. I never used the thing on my own, dragging it out mainly for various parochial school events. My rosary was a gift. The kind of thing my grandmother suspected I would need after my Confirmation. So far, she was wrong. But getting my rosary out now at the age of 25 sparked the start of reconciliation between me and my religion.
Though I attended a Jesuit university, I haven’t taken Communion since my freshman year. As I was sharpening my critical thinking skills, it didn’t take long for me to aim that razor toward my faith. Severing me from Catholicism were some major points: women’s role in the Church, celibacy…

May 10th, 2004
A Grad Student's Spiritual Adventure in Brussels

A Grad Student’s Spiritual Adventure in Brusselsby Jessica M. AlampayLeaving homeSt. Mark’s University Parish in Santa Barbara was like my second home. During my time there, I invited and welcomed people to parish activities as if it actually were my own home.
I estimate eating one-third of my dinners at St. Mark’s during my sophomore year of college.
Six months ago I left St. Mark’s and California for Brussels, Belgium. I came to Brussels to complete a one-year M.A. program in International Conflict Analysis, to experience life in Europe, and to get some work experience here.
Different tableauI knew that my experience in Belgium would be different and it certainly has been. The people…

May 10th, 2004
Celibacy as Spiritual Practice

You may not envision being called into relationship with God through a classified ad.
Nevertheless, perhaps God is calling you to live the vocation of singlehood—that is, the vocation of celibacy, of intimate union with the Divine.
‘This is celibacy calling, will you accept the charges?’
Single male (at least in portraits) seeks committed relationship with a beloved. Likes music, long walks on the beach. Seeking friends first, maybe more? You: Single, young Catholic, playful, sense of humor, open to adventure.
As young Catholics we hear about the “calling”to religious life and the “calling” to marriage, but rarely do we hear about the calling to be single, or celibacy.…

May 9th, 2004
Mudslinging is not a Gospel Value

There’s been yet another casualty in the culture wars that have raged in the United States over the past decade. On August 18, 2004, Deal Hudson, publisher of the conservative Catholic journal, Crisis , resigned his position with the Bush campaign as an adviser on how to court the Catholic vote. The scandal surrounding Hudson stems from an accusation of sexual misconduct with a female student approximately ten years ago at Fordham University where he was a tenured philosophy professor.
This might not even merit a mention, considering the lurid personal tales that the American public has been treated to over the past few years (Bill Clinton, William Bennett, and James McGreevey come to mind), but Hudson’s…

May 4th, 2004
A Chicago Play Captures Boston Clergy Sex Scandal As Tragedy

The scandal of Catholic clergy sexual abuse of children is, after two years, still on the front pages of the nation’s papers. But playwright Michael Murphy, director David Zak, and the actors of Chicago’s Bailiwick Repertory Theatre have managed to give the story the feel of a classical tragedy.
SIN—A Cardinal Deposed is a two act drama distilled from transcripts of (now resigned) Boston archbishop Bernard Cardinal Law’s depositions taken between August 2002 and February 2003 in civil actions against priests of the Archdiocese of Boston. The Cardinal is portrayed (with remarkable fidelity to Law’s real-life mannerisms) by actor Jim Sherman.
SIN casts Law as a man of remarkable…

May 3rd, 2004
True tales from the pews #2

Fr. Jim Martin’s recent article recounting the worst homilies ever heard sent an all-too-familiar chill through my born and bred Catholic bones. Unfortunately, I’ve also sat in the pews many times thinking that I’d rather eat paste with kindergarten children than listen to another second of a preacher’s mindless drivel.
While I try to support my parish community as much as I can, I do so under certain conditions. I’ve determined that my family can afford to give $20 a week as our offering. (I’m a lay minister and my wife’s a teacher—you do the math.) But after sitting through countless bad sermons I decided to take matters into my own hands. Let’s face facts,…

May 3rd, 2004
Does the Almighty Bend an Ear to Prayers for Smarty Jones?

With a victory in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 5, 2004, Smarty Jones will have captured horseracing’s most elusive prize—the Triple Crown. No horse has done it since 1978.
Certainly a prayer or two is in order. So maybe it’s not surprising that Smarty was recently blessed by a Philadelphia priest.
“I asked the Lord to give Smarty Jones good health, I asked Him to protect Smarty during the Belmont Stakes, and I asked Him to give Smarty the special gift of the Triple Crown,” said Father Thomas Homa. (Smarty probably thought, “Who are you, and why aren’t you feeding me anything?”)
Is this… necessary?
Haunted hoofprintsWell, it is the track—an inherently…

April 16th, 2004

“All of us had suffered greatly to get to this moment�I had eaten little and slept not at all since leaving Camp 2, two days earlier. Every time I coughed, the pain from my torn thoracic cartilidge felt like someone was jabbing a knife beneath my ribs and brought tears to my eyes. But if I wanted a crack at the summit, I knew that I had to ignore my infirmities and climb.”
-From Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
These are the words of the reporter who went on an expedition to the summit of Mount Everest, the highest point on earth at more than 29,000 feet! To many, this mountain is affectionately called “the roof of the world.” To hear Krakauer’s account, where several people paid thousands…

April 12th, 2004
A young mid-westerner reflects on his summer in India

Calling it a “vacation” might be a bit of a stretch, but through his correspondence with friends back in the United States, 29-year-old, Minneapolis native Paul Lickteig offers up a refreshing variation on the old elementary school essay chestnut “what I did this summer.”
Lickteig, who is studying to become a Jesuit priest, recently returned from India where he worked and traveled from mid-June until the beginning of August. During that time he stayed in contact with friends through a series of emails in which he recounted his impressions of life there. Like a 21st century explorer’s email travelogue, Lickteig’s observations have the quality of urgent dispatches…

April 10th, 2004
Leaving home

St. Mark’s University Parish in Santa Barbara was like my second home. During my time there, I invited and welcomed people to parish activities as if it actually were my own home.
I estimate eating one-third of my dinners at St. Mark’s during my sophomore year of college.
Six months ago I left St. Mark’s and California for Brussels, Belgium. I came to Brussels to complete a one-year M.A. program in International Conflict Analysis, to experience life in Europe, and to get some work experience here.
Different tableauI knew that my experience in Belgium would be different and it certainly has been. The people are different, the attitudes towards religion are different—especially coming from…

April 9th, 2004
What Happens When Teachers of Faith Don't Know?

The small, white-haired woman leading the discussion hesitated.
She coughed and bit her lip but managed to read the information on the paper clutched in her shaking hand. She spoke of the Church and Catholic beliefs and, sitting in a semi-circle before her, the members of her parish’s RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) group leaned in to listen.
For many of the class members—unbaptized and baptized non-Catholics—the information she shared was new, neat knowledge about a faith they sought to join. For me—a Catholic theology student and neutral observer placed in the parish by my school—the information was wrong.
Just the facts, ma’am…
The facts, I thought, were important. The

April 3rd, 2004
I would do anything for love (but I won't do that)

“I can definitely see you as a priest,” my friend told me.“Thanks,” I said. This was a helpful insight, since I’d like to be a priest. “But the thing is,” he said, “I just can’t see you being celibate.”This was a less helpful insight since, as I understand it, Catholic priests tend to be celibate.
I actually would have agreed with my friend a year ago. If you would have asked me why I wanted to be a priest, I could have told you about how I wanted to serve others or how I felt preaching was a great way to use my talents. I could even talk about my deep passion for the Eucharist and the desire to share it with those around me. I’ve thought about being a priest…

April 2nd, 2004
Children Are Always Surprising

“It’s a boy,” my brother-in-law said with great shock as he stood before a roomful of nail-biting family members and friends. The stunned pandemonium that followed shook the desk clerk, the cleaning service, and the poor woman who just wanted to use the maternity ward bathroom.
We’d been expecting a girl.
Right from the moment he was born, my nephew was teaching. And surprising.
Good morning!
The birth of a baby jolts everyone and everything within earshot. My structured sister is now awake around the clock, her accountant’s schedule at the whim of a nine-pound bundle of spit-up and pee.
Her voice is the same but her life has completely changed focus. There is still Sportscenter,…

April 2nd, 2004
Fasting for Contemporary People

At Thurman’s , in Columbus (Ohio), the meat in the burger is so succulent it almost melts in your mouth. It’s the best (and the biggest) burger I’ve ever eaten.
It’s been four years since I tasted it, and yet my mouth still waters when I think about it.
Ever noticed that when you give up something you like (even for a little while), you appreciate it even more than you used to? That if you’ve skipped a meal, the food at the next meal tastes really good, even it’s a simple meal?
Maybe it’s time to take another look at the practice of fasting.
Fasting and your health
The Catholic Minimum on Fasting
Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good…

March 28th, 2004
No Regrets About Joining the Mobile Phone Culture

I’m still surprised by the cell phone invasion into United States culture—the same way I am surprised by pickled pork rinds or couples making out in public —I’m not used to them yet.
The evidence of evilI shouldn’t be astonished when I stumble into a woman blocking aisle 8 in the grocery store deliberating with her husband over mustard, or when a man calls his wife with 100 yards of a marathon left to run; but I am astonished.
And there I am walking home from the coffee shop on a beautiful, spring afternoon; answering my phone calls, oblivious to the warmth of the sun, the colors of the flowers, and the cracks in the sidewalk.
A love-hate relationshipBut the truth is that this same technology that…

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