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January 24th, 2011
On loving books in a digital age

In the last week, two different people have asked me if I have any interest in owning a Kindle. My answer both times was a slightly softer version of “when hell freezes over.”
It’s not that I’m morally opposed to e‑readers. I don’t see them as the spawn of Satan, or anything like that. It’s a style thing; if you like to read that way, more power to you. I just happen to be pretty nuts about yesterday’s style: old-fashioned, paper-and-cloth books that you can pick up and hold in your hand.
Why? For one thing, reading is an imaginative and mental experience, but it’s also a sensual one. Think of people who love the smell of new cars and you know how I feel about books.…

January 20th, 2011
Readers respond to the Church's definition of "single as a vocation"

Is being single a vocation within the Catholic Church? Can one be called to a single life — not the Sacrament of Marriage, not the Sacrament of Holy Orders — as a vocation in and of itself? Last month I wrote a piece asking and answering these questions, and Busted Halo readers had a lot to say.
Click here to read the original piece, but in short, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, being single is a state in life, not a vocation. Being single can be support for your vocation to follow God’s call to you to help others, to do good works, etc., but it is not a vocation in and of itself.
That blunt answer stung a lot of singles, and perhaps rightly so.
“‘Singleness’…

January 19th, 2011
(1936 - 2010)

It is fitting that the first film Dennis Hopper appeared in was Rebel Without A Cause, yet it is even more appropriate that he was not cast in the titular role. That iconic leather jacket was, of course, worn by James Dean who would subsequently co-star with Hopper in the film Giant, where once again Hopper played second fiddle to Dean’s leading man.
The reality is that Hopper was the authentic “rebel without a cause” in lowercase. He appeared in some of the most significant films of the past half century — including the paean to the 1960s countercultural movement Easy Rider…, which he also co-wrote and directed — but he was always overshadowed by his more affable co-stars, such as Dean,

January 14th, 2011
A Jesuit comedian looks at reactions to the infamous Doritos ad

Sitting at the dinner table after Mass one evening in those incredibly dewy and pious days of Jesuit novitiate, my novice brother Gary mentioned through a mouthful of broccoli that he thought the best way to give the Church a better understanding of the divinity of the Eucharist would be by replacing the standard host with Krispy Kreme doughnuts, the incredibly glazed, sweet and greasy breakfast pastry that has become a symbol for excessive dietary habits in the U.S. The six of us seated at table with Gary concurred — all the while laughing at the absurdity of the suggestion — then went back to eating our broccoli.
Our Christian ancestors were eaten by lions; surely we can look a 30-second advertisement…

January 14th, 2011
Ex-L.A. gang members carry a message of hope to a small Alabama town

For over 20 years, Homeboy Industries has offered a way out of gang life for thousands of young people in Los Angeles. Established by Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, in 1988, Homeboy has garnered national recognition and become a model across the country for helping people transition out of gang life. Their many programs include job training and placement assistance as well as small businesses — including a café, bakery, catering service, merchandise, landscaping service and maintenance service — where the most difficult to place individuals are given transitional jobs, thus providing a safe, supportive environment in which to learn both concrete and soft job skills and to build their resume.
In 2007,…

January 11th, 2011
On the anniversary on the Haiti earthquake, a reflection on the devastation and the hard road back

While putting away the Christmas decorations, I came across my daughter’s letter to Santa. Most of her list contained items typical for a 6-year-old: bike (check), dollhouse (check), The Polar Express… DVD (check). But the last item gave me pause. A month ago, when she was writing her letter, she asked me how to spell “hotel.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I want to ask Santa to build a new hotel in Haiti.”
In 2006, I left New York City and my job as an attorney at a law firm and moved to Haiti to teach for a semester, hoping to find fulfillment in a new career. Just as quickly as I learned that teaching was not my passion, I found another unexpected calling. I fell in love with an orphaned

January 11th, 2011
(1930-2010)

I’m 7 years old and the Yankees are king. It seems as if they never lose and I hate them with a passion. Their owner George Steinbrenner and manager Billy Martin argue publicly over the way the team should be run. They even take their screaming match to TV and jokingly poke fun at their rift in a light beer commercial. “Tastes great” and “less filling” are the least of their problems. Their public feud gives New Yorkers something to talk about. And it all keeps Steinbrenner on the back pages. My childhood saw more of Steinbrenner on the back pages of the local papers than I can recall.
It’s amazing how much one remembers from childhood and George Steinbrenner’s was no different.…

January 10th, 2011
Walter Parker (1939 - 2010)

When my neighbor Walter Parker passed away in October, I knew the following: he was one of the sweetest people I’d ever met; he spent a lot of time in front of our building shooting the breeze, or just enjoying it; and he had some crazy-sweet deal on his rent. That was about it. Walter was my neighbor for 15 years and occasionally we chatted, usually about the building or the weather, or something equally innocuous; often I would just nod and say “hi” and he’d do the same.
But when I attended his memorial service at Grace Church, I was startled to discover that Walter was a prominent and active member of his church community and a serious student of the Bible.
My first thought was, “Oh, what…

January 6th, 2011
(1925-2010)

“We’re like sisters!” the big ugly woman with the Bronx baritone replied caustically and I laughed. I laughed so hard I had to roll off of my 8-year-old belly so as not to hurt myself on that bleak Friday night in front of my grandmother’s old RCA television. My sense of humor, still in its embryonic stage, didn’t grasp a lot of the humor in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, but Tony Curtis in drag attempting to justify his relationship with Marilyn Monroe’s Sugar Kane was one of the funniest things I had seen in my young life.
Tony Curtis was easily the best part of my first excursion into the world of black-and-white films — or any film that pre-dates Star Wars…, for that

January 5th, 2011
Alexander McQueen (1969 - 2010), Mark Linkous (1962 - 2010) and Andrew Koenig (1968 - 2010)

These people, who had contributed much to the world; who could be gratified by the lives they had touched; who seemed to have a passion and a calling; who had more accomplishments to point at than most of us ever do — each took his own life, a heinous act of nihilism, in his 40s. This past year saw the campaign, “It gets better,” telling kids struggling with bullying to stick it out, saying that once you grow up, you can put all that in perspective and move on with your life. Well, many people struggle with depression and hopelessness as adults too…

January 5th, 2011
Encounters at the Jon Stewart - Stephen Colbert rally

Ask most any twentysomething in the United States where they get their news from these days, and one of their answers, if not the only one, will undoubtedly be The Daily Show or The Colbert Report…. The two hit satirical news programs from Comedy Central attempt to weed through the inundation of far right and far left, always opinionated, and often extreme cable news shows. Replaying one-sided and frequently ridiculous clips from Fox News, MSNBC, CNN and the big three networks, these shows attempt to bring to their viewers a filtered bit of truth (or truthiness, as Colbert would say) about politics and the media.
The goal each night for both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert is to shine a half-hour’s light of sanity

January 4th, 2011
The passing of Barbara Billingsley (1915-2010), Peter Graves (1926-2010) and Leslie Nielsen (1926-2010)

Bob Hope, at his peak, was considered one of the funniest men on the planet. But show his performances to someone from the generations who have come after him and they may not elicit a lot of laughs. It’s not because Bob Hope wasn’t a good comedian, but because his humor was so dependent upon the time, place and circumstances in which the jokes were told. Consequently, if the time, place and circumstances are removed from the equation, the humor being conveyed loses most — if not all — of its impact.
I mention this because 30 years after the film’s release, Airplane!… remains one of the funniest movies ever made. Gag after gag is packed into this film like a carry-on bag stuffed with three

January 2nd, 2011
How to know if it's time to walk down the aisle or go your separate ways

Matt, 29, and his girlfriend, Kelly, 28, have been dating for four years and living together for two. They were both raised Catholic, attend Church occasionally, and joke about “living in sin” and being “semi-married.” Kelly told me she was OK moving in with Matt because she just assumed that this was a step in the right direction — toward real marriage. But in the last few months, each time she’s brought up the future in some oblique way, Matt has dodged the issue. “I talk to his parents all the time. We spend most holidays together,” she said. “But I’m just not sure where this is going right now, and I’m beginning to get worried.”
Sound

December 31st, 2010
(1919-2010)

Holden Caulfield’s Moments of Grace
The spiritual wisdom of Salinger’s famous teen
Midway through J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye…, the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, notices a child walking along the streets of New York City. Even though Holden is in a bad way — he’s flunked out of school; he feels isolated from nearly everyone he knows — the child lifts his spirits.
“He was making out like he was walking a very straight line, the way kids do, and the whole time he kept singing and humming. I got up closer so I could hear what he was singing. He was singing that song, ‘If a body catch a body coming through the rye.’ He had a pretty little voice, too.

December 30th, 2010
(1973-2010)

Hospice.
The word sounds ominous enough when it’s spoken in reference to an older person, but when it’s used to describe the dying months of a 37-year-old woman, it is dreadful to my ears.
One of my all-time favorite people, Elizabeth Bonwich — or “EEEEEEEEEEEEE BEEEEEEEEEE” as I would call her in my best “public address announcer” voice whenever I greeted her — spent her last few months in hospice. She died on Saturday Dec. 18th in the late evening. Elizabeth had five different kinds of cancer for nearly 20 years. Cancer robbed her of her ability to walk without a brace and a cane, caused a constant ringing in her ears and, in general, gave her lots of reasons to…

December 28th, 2010
(1934 - 2010)

After college I had to have my own apartment. Like so many other young women, I saw this independence as an exhilarating and gratifying rite of passage. But it could also be very lonely. I found that at the end of the day, I would put on the television just to have some other voices in the apartment. I really liked to fall asleep with the television on and at the end of the day Lifetime — “the network for women” — was always showing just the right thing to entertain and calm me: The Golden Girls.
The Golden Girls… originally aired on NBC from 1985 to 1992. I remember my grandmothers watching it when they came to visit my home, but I wasn’t a fan until it was in reruns. Each of the four older female

December 27th, 2010
Given the painful revelations of the sex scandal, why are Catholic churches not empty?

Every Sunday, all around the globe, a minor miracle is occurring that has gone almost unnoticed: despite continuing revelations about the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, somehow the churches aren’t empty. Despite all the terrible news about the Catholic Church sitting at the top of everyone’s RSS feed for days on end, it was still standing room only at the Holy Week events. While it is strictly anecdotal evidence, people are still coming to church even when the reports of the sex scandal are so dire. Can you imagine any other organization on earth weathering this type of negative publicity over this long a period and still being able to function?

December 26th, 2010
They block us from our full potential -- are you willing to let go of yours?

In my recent interview about the spirituality of being on time, I talked about the fact that the spiritual answer is not just to behave, but to change oneself interiorly. Of course, that’s beyond the scope of this column, but I want to talk in this column about one aspect of what needs to change: character defects.
In twelve-step recovery programs, there’s an inventory process, where the person identifies those recurring patterns or tendencies that have caused them trouble — things like dishonesty, self-seeking, and envy. (Opinions vary as to the benefits of listing specific versus broad defects.) The Sixth Step then says, “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects…

December 22nd, 2010
Convert, mystic, evangelist, American

Isaac Thomas Hecker died on December 22, 1888, at the Paulist House on 59th Street in Manhattan.
As the following biography of Hecker illustrates, being a “spiritual seeker” is not unique to the 21st century. Hecker’s own faith journey in the mid-19th century included Methodism, political activism, struggles with depression and dark nights of the soul, Transcendentalism, and, ultimately, Catholicism. It also brought Hecker into associations with such titans of 19th-century American thought as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott and Orestes Brownson.…

The harvest moon hung round and fat and orange over New York City’s East River that warm October night.

December 20th, 2010
How sincere are you when winning friends and influencing people?

Is being polite honest? Young adults aren’t quite sure. And as Christmas and New Year’s parties abound this time of year, there are lots of opportunities to ponder this question as you smile and glad-hand your way through the holidays.
We young folks are a generation raised in the therapeutic culture, readily turning inward to analyze our emotions. But we are also a generation known for blunt communication styles and a lack of fidelity to social conventions. Indeed, for many of the college students I teach, being too polite or conscious of the feelings of others is a concerning sign that you are out of touch with your core self.
Case in point: Ask a college student to define honesty and the response invariably…

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