Busted Halo

Whether it’s a refresher course or an introduction, each of the “Sacraments 101″ videos gives you the basics about some aspect of one of the sacraments of the Catholic Church — in just a few minutes!

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November 15th, 2011

Why do I have to get confirmed if I’m already baptized? How do I choose a sponsor as I prepare for confirmation? Why do I have the option to choose a new name?

These questions and more are answered in this edition of “Sacraments 101,” a web video series geared for those who’d like an introduction or refresher course on these important, tangible Catholic experiences of God.

Confirmation is one of the three sacraments of initiation in the Catholic Church, with baptism and Eucharist. Think of it as a personal Pentecost, when we receive the tools we need for our spiritual journey — the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

To download this video go here and click the download arrow or choose save or download.

November 15th, 2011

I’ve only kept one New Year’s resolution.

Well, maybe I’ve kept more, but the fact that I can’t remember any others I’ve made makes me think that they weren’t kept.

When I was 16 years old, on our first day back after winter break, my English teacher asked us what our New Year’s resolutions were. I remember one classmate saying that she had decided to keep a gratitude journal, an idea she heard about on the Oprah Winfrey show.

Being an Oprah fanatic, my interest was piqued.

It seems odd to admit that I love writing but hate journaling. It’s the type of feeling I get from hand writing a letter, too. My handwriting and thoughts start out all nice and beautiful, and by the end, I am scribbling indiscernibly and my fingers are throbbing.

But this was different. Instead, she was going to list everything she was thankful for each day. Lists? Oh, I love lists! I can definitely do lists.

So, I started. I found a tiny composition notebook and began writing 10 things I was grateful for as part of my nightly prayer. Everyone says don’t forget to tell God what you’re thankful for, not simply what you need, so this sounded like a good plan.

Well, here I am 10 years later, and the journals still exist. In fact, they sit in my basement, numbered, and in chronological order. They are the inanimate things I would try to grab from a burning house.
In fact, they are perhaps my biggest accomplishment in life so far.

November 15th, 2011

Why do we have to confess our sins to a priest? Can’t we just pray to God for forgiveness? If I sin but no one is affected then can I say, “no harm, no foul?”

These questions and more are answered in this edition of “Sacraments 101,” a web video series geared for those who’d like an introduction or refresher course on these important, tangible Catholic experiences of God.

The Sacrament of Penance (aka Reconciliation) is one of the healing sacraments, and celebrates the loving embrace of God when we turn toward him and away from our sins.

To download this video go here and click the download arrow or choose save or download.

November 15th, 2011

Why do we have to have a Catholic wedding? Why does it take so long to get married in the Church? Why does the Church insist we have children?

These questions and more are answered in this edition of “Sacraments 101,” a web video series geared for those who’d like an introduction or refresher course on these important, tangible Catholic experiences of God.

To download this video go here and click the download arrow or choose save or download.

November 15th, 2011

Join Fr. Dave Dwyer, CSP, as he explains what Holy Orders are, what happens at an Ordination, and what it means to say yes to God.

These questions and more are answered in this edition of “Sacraments 101,” a web video series geared for those who’d like an introduction or refresher course on these important, tangible Catholic experiences of God.

To download this video go here and click the download arrow or choose save or download.

November 15th, 2011

Who can receive the Anointing of the Sick? How often? Where is it done?

These questions and more are answered in this edition of “Sacraments 101,” a web video series geared for those who’d like an introduction or refresher course on these important, tangible Catholic experiences of God.

To download this video go here and click the download arrow or choose save or download.

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 conflated with “pulling the plug.” Because the Church is misrepresented as being opposed to “pulling the plug,” many people perceive it as heartless and unreasonable, and are needlessly and tragically alienated from her.

Make no mistake; the Church does oppose physician-assisted suicide — that is, any act “which of itself or by intention causes death, in order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated.” (National Conference of Catholic Bishops (1984). Guidelines for Legislation on Life-Sustaining Treatment, 2.) Examples of this would be the administration of a lethal drug with the intended effect of ending a life, or the withholding of food or water with the intended effect of ending a life. As with all moral issues, this one comes down to intention.

But the Church, the champion of Natural Law, does not expect individuals to go to extraordinary or disproportionate measures to preserve life. Even though we’re expected to take reasonable measures to care for ourselves (like taking medicine that will aid in recovery) we’re not obliged to rely on medical procedures that will prolong life with no hope of recovery or that cause extreme suffering. The woman unable to breathe her own need not subsist on an artificial respirator; the man with Stage IV cancer can choose to refuse chemotherapy.

Of course, such decisions should be made with the help of a doctor. Artificial respirators are sometimes necessary as a temporary treatment; cancer caught early enough is often curable.

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. For myself, I focus on acceptance. Because that’s what I need to emphasize. Whether it’s my maleness, my intellectual temperament, my upbringing, the culture I live in, or something less easily label-able, I was primed in life to want to figure things out, fix them, have answers. So, balance is restored when I lean towards acceptance — when I stop trying to control things and just let them be — when I accept reality in the present moment exactly as it is.

Most of us, most of the time, need this side of the scale emphasized as a counterbalance to the modern world. Someone whose M.O. has always been inaction may need to emphasize willingness to change, though, to restore their balance.

I was primed in life to want to figure things out, fix them, have answers. So, balance is restored when I lean towards acceptance… But it’s not that simple, because I also have a history of standing at the crossroads of big life decisions and being frozen in fear, resulting in the “choice” of no action.

When working to embrace acceptance, it’s also useful to limit exposure to things we are powerless to change. This is why I have always advocated avoiding the news except

November 9th, 2011

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 to be missing something for me. For one thing: They’re almost always without families. Maybe I like being distracted by the antics of children, but I also enjoy seeing families celebrating Mass together. Another complaint I have about student Masses is that sometimes — though definitely not always — the priest tries too hard to connect with college students in his homily and fails to challenge students on anything outside college life.

I didn’t have a car my first year at Salem, so I looked up churches I could walk to. There was only one, and Mass was at 8:30 a.m., which any college student knows is almost impossible to go to (I only managed it twice). Sometimes I went to the Moravian church on campus and occasionally I got rides to other Catholic churches, but never consistently enough to get used to one.

Growing in faith

At one point when I wasn’t able to get a ride to church for more than two months I realized something: If I didn’t have a church to go to or a church that was “home,” I had to put more conscious effort into my relationship with God outside of the structured Mass I was so used to. I started going to the chapel on campus a few times

November 8th, 2011

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.

“I decided if I ever got well enough to do so, we would train, and I’d share her with others who could benefit from the warmth of her presence,” she said.

Klingel is a member St. Jude Parish in Sapphire and said her faith played a role in her ministry.

“I initially took communion to the housebound, hospitalized, and people in nursing homes. My dog came with me,” she said. “I went directly following weekday morning Mass and she attended Mass with me for years.”

November 4th, 2011

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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 length of days changes drastically during the year. In my hometown of New York, they peak at around 15 hours in June and shorten to 9+ hours in December. (In LA, it only ranges from 14-1/2 to 10, while in northern Scotland, the source of my genetic stock, the swing is from 18 to 6-1/2.)

Some people, without question, are debilitated by seasonal affective disorder; the reduced sunlight triggers their predisposition to depression in an extreme way and they suffer. For them, it’s entirely appropriate to look to mitigate the issue with light therapy and other focused treatments.

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 crowd. On a particular Sunday, one United Methodist pastor shared a short homily:

“There’s just one occupation, according to the Bible. What should occupy your heart? What should occupy your soul? What should occupy your mind? Nothing by love!

“Next time someone asks me to write ‘occupation above,’ I’ll know what to write, I’m gonna write love! Gonna love my God by loving my neighbors. When it comes down to it, that’s what we’re here for!

“So we’re standing here with the 99% whose money’s all spent, who can’t pay the rent, whose spirits are bent, whose last check got sent, who don’t know where it went. But they don’t have a cent. So we’re at this event to raise our voices in dissent, to tell the people in charge that it’s time to repent. We join this occupation because we care about this nation. We want a transformation for this whole situation.”


Peter Lenz, Brooklyn, New York

Peter lives in Brooklyn, moving back to New York City after losing his job with the National Park Service seven months ago. He is still looking for a job. “I could spend my time at home looking for work but come here in the morning and leave in the evening. It’s my job now.” Peter volunteers at the OWS Comfort Station, which collects (except food) for OWS — primarily

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. Gone was not only my grandma but also the living link to our family’s past. I suddenly cared so much, felt so deeply the heavy weight of unanswered questions and untold stories.

I wanted to know why Busha’s mom had come to the United States from Poland. I wondered what it was like knowing that half of the family was trapped in a war-torn country; the other half doing their best just to scrape by in the new world. My heritage suddenly mattered like it never had before.

Reconnecting
My freshman year at Stanford I lived in an African-American ethnic theme dorm where it seemed like everyone but me had such a tight grip on their ethnic identity. I remember feeling left out, caged into an ambiguous ethnic category of “White” where I felt I didn’t belong.

I wasn’t just White, I remember thinking defensively. I come from a strong family, from a land of proud people. Realizing that at one of the top academic institutions in the country random interests were mine for the studying, later that day I signed up for Polish language classes.

I’ll never forget that first day of Polish class. …

October 28th, 2011

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

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 of the dead — ultimately became a universal Catholic celebration. The evening before a holy day is typically referred to as the “eve” of that day. In Catholic liturgy, solemnities or major feasts are considered to begin at sundown on the night before. Since the evening of October 31 would therefore be All Saints Evening or All Hallows Eve this has been shortened to Hallow e’en or Halloween. So there’s the simplest explanation of the “why” of Halloween. You take a noble cause — celebrating all the saints and martyrs — place it near a pagan holiday and extend the celebration to the night before and certain elements of that pagan day are bound to crossover to the religious day.

Our modern practice of sending the little ones begging for candy has a connection to the celebration of the saints. There was, in the Middle Ages, a custom of “souling” in which the poor would go through neighborhoods begging for food in exchange for prayers for the dead. This souling took place November 1, and the prayers would be offered on the following day, All Souls Day, which is a day of remembrance and prayers for all the faithful departed. For some customs, there seems to be no general consensus as to when or how the practice of dressing in

October 20th, 2011

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

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 way I did. You see, I’ve been on a life-long quest to get prayer right.
It wasn’t until college when I was told that there is no right way to pray. Sr. Margaret Ann, my first grade teacher who I was deeply afraid of, would not like this at all.

For the majority of my life, I was almost compulsive and superstitious about prayer. I made lists upon lists of what to say and in what order. Ten Hail Mary’s, three Our Father’s, a Glory Be…I truly thought that if I slacked off or didn’t choose the right combination, something terrible would happen. If I didn’t pray, Catholic guilt would overcome me, and I was subsequently sure that something terrible would happen. Notice a pattern?

I’ve tried meditation, Taizé, praying the Rosary, singing, and reading the Bible (I’ve committed to reading the entire Bible at least four times in my life — no comment on the end result). And my favorite, numerous crying and arguing scenes in vacant churches or chapels. I’ve experienced many episodes of what I like to call Prayer Block, a close relative of Writer’s Block. Many people tell me to just “listen” to God and “He’ll speak …

October 18th, 2011

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 spirituality. To say I was apprehensive about this invitation is putting it mildly. I mean, in all honestly, I just didn’t see myself being that involved with a church. Don’t get me wrong. I was raised Catholic and though I’m not from a family who went to church every Sunday, I did make my first holy communion. In addition, as an adult there have been moments where I’ve felt I’ve needed to go to mass as a way to find peace from the chaos in my life. But this was taking it to a new level. This wasn’t about me being anonymous at church, which is what I’ve often preferred. This was meeting people in a church setting and having a dialogue. I don’t recall how many polite excuses I made for not attending the discussions, and though I was hesitant I was also curious. After all, if priests were making an effort to engage the community in dialogue I felt compelled to keep an open mind.  

Art and faith

Looking back, I realize it took nearly three years before I agreed to submit a proposal to

October 13th, 2011

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 bad it really was out there. I had tried for months just to get this one interview. I didn’t know what to do. The next morning I stood in the shower asking God why I was there and if I should stay. Like the Grinch, I felt hardened somehow. I couldn’t think of one reason to go back. I stood in my towel, still dripping, and wrote my first-ever letter of resignation.

Tough choices
By the end of the month, I had lived with two different sets of friends. By October I was working retail, the one thing I had promised myself not to do, and was living with a church parishioner. I did everything to stay in touch with my support networks, now making a habit of buying groceries on credit. I went to our weekly design chats knowing someone would buy me a drink and for a few hours I would feel like a person, not just a piece of paper. I lost my retail job the same day I was offered another short-term contract doing design work for a local ad agency. I took it as a sign that things were picking up and called my mom to tell her.

“That’s so great!” she trilled, by now practiced …

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 twisted in my chest and stomach. Although I had never really considered the question before, I knew instinctively that the crucifix was not to be dismissed as some relic of barbarity.

Pleasure leads to gratitude and God
It’s a cultural commonplace that the Church saddles its adherents with an inhibiting guilt for every time they feel good. Maybe the Gulf Coast brand of Catholicism I grew up with is different from the Catholicism practiced in other places, but I’ve never thought that I should feel guilty for having experienced pleasure. Quite the opposite, in fact. One of the things I like most about Catholicism is the affirmation it grants to pleasure and sensory experience, its recognition that the everyday joys we encounter via sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste can be not only morally permissible, but also active spiritual goods: conduits to God.

Back in my early teens, long before I knew that St. Ignatius Loyola sought God “in all things,” I sought God in ordinary pleasure. God was in the aroma of black coffee, the fringed petals of the crepe myrtles I saw on the way to school, and …

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