Busted Halo

Paulist seminarian Tom Gibbons reflects on his formation experience and his life as a seminarian right now. Along the way, some questions will be will be answered, and a lot more will come up.

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January 31st, 2013

At long last, the final post for Kicking and Screaming.  Thanks for reading everybody!

As I begin to write this last post of “Kicking and Screaming,” I am flying back to my permanent ministry assignment after having said the last of my “official” Masses of Thanksgiving in Austin, Texas. After ordination it is customary for many new priests to celebrate Masses at the parishes that had a significant role in their formation and spiritual journey. Indeed, in following weeks after ordination I went on what some of my friends referred to as “the tour,” celebrating Masses along the eastern seaboard at various churches that had held major roles in the previous forty years of my life. (T-Shirts from this tour are still forthcoming.)

But if January sounds a little late after a May ordination to still be celebrating these Masses, the Lone-Star “leg” of that tour was originally scheduled for the third week in June. Then my oncologist scheduled the radiation treatment for that week with a required quarantine for the next three days.

It was probably well and good that I had to put off the Austin trip. My treatment required me to go on a low-iodine diet for …

January 25th, 2013

The following is the homily I gave for the Masses I celebrated this past weekend in Horeshoe Bay and Austin, Texas… hence the Longhorn bias included therein.  

Whenever I go on an extended trip, I have the habit of making a CD mix in order to capture the “je ne sais quoi” of the place to where I’m going.  So in preparation of the big Austin trip, three super-cool mixes were made based heavily on the music I was listening to when I lived out there three years ago.  On one of the songs, Lone Star local Bob Schneider was singing about all of these people he wanted to be in life.

Want to be like Captain Kirk – get up each morning and love to go to work…
Want to be like Cassius Clay – change my name and go all the way…

He continued down the list.  But then something interesting happened by the time he got to Jesus.

Want to be like Jesus Christ.  Keep the party moving giving good advice.  

At first, I thought that Mr. Schneider’s theology might be a little limited.  But then, when reading the gospel about the Wedding at Cana, I began …

January 17th, 2013

The following continues a series that will serve as the conclusion of the Kicking and Screaming blog.

I may have felt a little nervous on the morning of my ordination but the next morning, I was in a PANIC.  After all, during the ordination service I didn’t really have to do a lot.  Stand up.  Sit down.  Stand up.  Kneel.  Say “Yes” a few times.  Go out to Kennedy’s for a steak with the folks afterwards.  I have done all of those things before.  (Actually, MOST of those things, but let’s not quibble.)  But the next day?  There was a Mass that I had to celebrate, which meant that I had to do… stuff.  LITURGY stuff to be exact.

As my Paulist brothers will tell you, liturgy is not one of those things that makes me one of Jesus’ special little snowflakes.  Actually, any kind of organized movement on my behalf does not end well; most Macarenas and Electric Slides I have participated in have usually resulted in some kind of injury to myself or others.  But twenty-four hours into my priesthood I was going to have to display organized movements in front of 300 people.  No pressure.

The fact …

December 24th, 2012

This morning, I had some pre-Christmas errands to run and I found myself on the corner of Bloor and Bay, for those of you who know the “ritzy” part of Toronto.  They have some great displays in the stores and I had already checked most of the items off of my list, so I decided to go for a Christmas Eve walk, Egg Nog Latte in hand.  Along the way, I stumbled upon this sign in the middle of the sidewalk that said, “Give JOY.”  I got very excited—“JOY!”—so I went into the store and there was a clerk at the front door who said “welcome.”  So of course, I asked the clerk where I could find THE JOY and the man pointed me over to the shelf.  As I started perusing some of the items on the shelf, I began to realize that JOY in this part of town is very expensive.

In fact, I would venture to say that most people in this church would say that Christmas itself is very expensive, no matter what part of town you are in.  There are all of the presents.  The special foods.  Travel costs.  Etc.  Etc.  Elton John has this …

December 6th, 2012

This weekend we celebrate the first weekend of Advent… and I am already tired of Christmas. Yes, I too got excited when I walked into Starbucks November 1 and saw that sales of Egg Nog Lattes had begun. Yes, a broad smile came to my face when I heard the piano keys and jangling bells of Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” come over the radio. And I have to confess that I got a kick when I noticed the “Mistletoe Kissing Station” located in front of the CIBC on Bloor. But after the fifth playing of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” on a particular day, Christmas begins to feel like a politician that is trying too hard to be liked. By mid-November, all I want for Christmas is for Mariah Carey to leave me alone.

I feel not a little hypocritical in admitting my yuletide exhaustion. It was not too long ago when I would roll my eyes whenever someone from the Church would lambast the insanity of a society gone mad every December, when I would roll my eyes at a priest criticizing a pop-culture that insisted on taking the “Christ out of Christmas.” …

November 2nd, 2012

Ironically, I had started writing the article before the images of floods and disaster in my home state of New Jersey and of New York City covered the airways.
The following continues a series that will serve as the conclusion of the Kicking and Screaming blog.

In 1975, Billy Joel decided that it was time to return to New York. His time in Los Angeles had been fruitful — he released his first two albums under Columbia Records and had garnered some of his first hits, including his signature song Piano Man — so the move might have been a surprise for many. It was a dark time for the Big Apple. The city had lost much of the romanticism it had enjoyed in the previous decades, many of its urban areas were beginning to decay because of white flight, and there was real concern that New York would find itself in default. The mood of this era is probably best reflected in the infamous (and misquoted) Daily News headline, “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.”

It is against this background that Billy Joel recorded his third album, Turnstiles. “If New York’s going to go down the tubes, …

October 20th, 2012

The following continues a series that will serve as the conclusion of the Kicking and Screaming blog.

In her most recent book Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert — in the midst of dealing with her own existential apprehension — talked about the role of ritual in our lives. “Ceremony and ritual march us carefully right through the center of our deepest fears about change, much in the same way that a stable boy can lead a blindfolded horse right through the center of a fire, whispering ‘Don’t overthink this buddy, okay? Just put one hoof in front of the other and you’ll come out on the other side just fine.’”

That seemed to line up with my experience when the day of my ordination finally arrived. For the last number of years in the midst of joys, doubts, victories, setbacks, and answers that only seemed to beget more questions, I had simply adopted the policy of just looking down and putting one foot in front of the other. Then one morning, after loosing track of just how many steps I had taken and how many days had passed, I had arrived at May 19. So I simply did what I had …

October 1st, 2012

This homily was given for the Sunday Readings located here.

Today’s Gospel, the one where Jesus is appears to be telling his followers to cut off indiscriminate body parts, is actually not as bad as it sounds.   Jesus often spoke in allegorical terms and there is no reason to think that he is not speaking allegorically here.  After all, you would think that if anyone were to follow this teaching after Jesus gave it it would be the disciples.  And yet, as archeologists tell us, there is absolutely no record of the disciples having to spend the remainder of their days being forced to limp across the dessert with one foot, unable to “high five” each other because of past sins committed.

On the one hand, we can breathe a sigh of relief that being a follower of Christ will not necessarily entail any scenes from the movie series Saw... that living out our faith in Christ will not necessarily entail a trip to the Home Depot.  But if we spend some additional time with the point at which Jesus was actually trying to arrive, it might actually be worse.

Jesus is definitely drawing a line in the …

September 10th, 2012

Sorry I was away for a few weeks. The following continues a series that will serve as the conclusion of the Kicking and Screaming blog.

During the many years I spent fighting my sense of call — to refer to it as discerning would have suggested that I wanted to know God’s will — it was the prospect of being alone that I struggled with the most. Having worked in the “vineyards of the Lord” during other times in my life, I was all too aware of the dangers of living a life of service, dangers that included an overflowing emotional “out” box with a corresponding “in” box that had room to spare. However any honest assessment of my own history of sometimes mixed motivations of helping others not only included altruistic impulses but also misguided attempts to avoid my own … “stuff.” Add the institutionalized loneliness that usually marks the Roman Catholic priesthood and, well … you get a better understanding of why the blog was named “Kicking and Screaming.”

The majority of my six years of priestly formation were spent facing these concerns on some level; being open to and finding real connection in the midst of what …

August 8th, 2012

The following continues a series that will serve as the conclusion of the Kicking and Screaming blog.

“No one ever wants cancer … but if you have to have cancer, THIS is the one you want.”

Thus pronounced my ear, nose, and throat doctor four days after the surgery that removed my thyroid. Before the surgery, I was told that there was a 5-10% chance that my inflamed thyroid was cancerous. My reaction was somewhat of an exhale. After all, 5-10% is a good number. It’s not ZERO, but it’s a good number.

Jim Perry of Card Sharks

This was the cosmic equivalent of game show host Jim Perry turning over the Queen of Diamonds on Card Sharks, and all I had to do was shout, “Lower!” Yet when the Game Show host Fate turned over that next card, it turned out to be the King of Spades. I was one of that 5-10%.

And even though my doctor was telling me that this was the “good” kind of cancer, whenever you hear the “C word” associated with yourself, it’s pretty hard for your brain not to turn to mush. Even though this was the good kind, the hyper-treatable kind, the “you just need to …

July 29th, 2012

The following continues a series that will serve as the conclusion of the Kicking and Screaming blog.

I began my last assignment for my Masters program in the waiting room of the Georgetown Hospital radiology department.

Ten days before, my sister and her husband were at the seminary helping me out with an assignment and as we were about to head off to lunch she said, “What’s that on your neck?” For some reason — likely because my affinity for sausage, egg, and cheese sandwiches has led to the development of an additional chin — I had completely missed the walnut-sized growth that was popping out of my neck. What I thought would be a routine exam turned out to be the beginning of a series of tests to check for cancer. So 10 days later, there I was in the radiology department waiting to hear if I was going to be someone for whom marathons would be run and bake sales would be held. With one more paper to write for my Masters degree before ordination … on the Book of Job.

But the fact that my life had become the lyric of an Alanis Morissette song was not …

July 23rd, 2012

This is the homily I gave for my first weekend at St. Peter’s Parish in Toronto in response to the shootings of the last few weeks. It is based on the readings for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

All I really know about Canada I learned from Michael Moore.

This is really my first time in Toronto. I had visited once before when I was a novice but it was such a quick trip that I didn’t really get to take it in. BUT I have been watching Michael Moore movies for years. For those of you who don’t know, Michael Moore is an American filmmaker who makes documentaries about many of the social ills that we struggle with in the United States. Health Care. The War on Terror. Capitalism. And while not everyone may agree with Moore’s politics, he does ask important questions and does so from a place that cares about his country. Quite often in his films he will compare what is going on in the United States with with a particular issue in Canada and how Canada is dealing with it. And in his view, it is usually dealing with said issue better.

The movie …

July 12th, 2012

The following continues a series that will serve as the conclusion of the Kicking and Screaming blog.

When I told people that I was going to L.A. for Spring Break, I received a deluge of advice on places that I just HAD TO VISIT. The Getty Museum, the Beverly Hills Hilton, the Die Hard building, the Santa Monica pier. And while those places are all fine and good, there was only ONE place I had been dying to visit since I was five years old. You know how in the 90s they had those commercials where someone would win the Super Bowl, the World Series, Star Search, or something like that, and an announcer would ask, “Now that you’ve just [INSERT LIFE ACCOMPLISHMENT HERE], what are you going to do next?” Yes, I know, the newly proclaimed Master of the Universe would proclaim that s/he was going to Disney World, but two months before my ordination, I wanted to go to the original.

I am not going to suggest that I led a somewhat deprived childhood because I had ONLY gotten to visit the Happiest Place in Orlando, Florida, but growing up on the East Coast there always seemed to …

July 3rd, 2012

The following is the first in a series that will serve as the conclusion of the Kicking and Screaming blog.

The story of my ordination to the priesthood begins in a Los Angeles graveyard.

At the very end of the movie Pretty Woman — as Julia Roberts for all intents and purposes begins her film career and Richard Gere essentially closes out his (zing!) — a voice wafts over the streets of Southern California and proclaims, “Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t; but keep on dreaming. This is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreaming!”

When my plane arrived in the land of dreams for Spring Break in March, it had been at least 15 years since my last visit. The Paulist formation program had decided for this year to send us to cities where the community had a parish or ministry that we had not yet visited; as it turned out, I had not yet visited any of the Paulist ministries in Los Angeles. So on my first day, I was fortunate enough to preach at all of the masses at St. …

April 5th, 2012

As many of you know, I hail for the great state of New Jersey. And when you grow up in the Garden State, there is a rich assortment of personalities that have shaped the culture and the history of New Jersey for generations. Singers, politicians, actors… a wide variety of people who have contributed to this large tapestry we know as American culture. People to look up to, people to model one’s life around. And one of my greatest heroes from my home state is… Tony Soprano.

(Okay, Bruce Springsteen is REALLY my hero from New Jersey. Tony just works better for the direction I’m heading, so just go with me for a bit…)

And I don’t know about you, but I often have times in my life when I don’t always feel like the strongest person in the world. Many of us have probably had the experience when we feel downright weak. But that’s what makes Tony seem so appealing for me… NO ONE messes with Tony. And sure, sometimes Tony’s methods might be morally questionable… but hey, you can’t deny that the guy gets the job done. And addition to his efficiency, his strength, his ability to control …

February 27th, 2012

When we think of Lent, David Bowie is probably not the first person that comes to mind. But in 1977 he released a song called “Heroes.” Granted there was no duet with Bing Crosby involved, but there was a bold proclamation: “We could be heroes! Just for one day!” At first glance, this sentiment may not seem to have a lot to do with Jesus. After all, we think of Jesus as all of these different things: Messiah, Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity … but we often don’t take the time to consider him to be a hero.

Why not? After all, a hero is defined (according to Wikipedia) as “someone who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, displays courage and the will for self sacrifice for some greater good of all humanity.” That sounds like Jesus to me. But maybe we don’t think of Jesus as a hero because no one is simply born a hero … you become a hero by making some grand gesture at expense to oneself for the betterment of the whole. Jesus may have been born the Son of God, he still had to …

February 22nd, 2012

Did you know that Ash Wednesday is the busiest church day of the year? I was surprised to hear that! I thought it might be Easter, but then someone explained to me that chocolate hangovers might affect attendance. So, I thought the busiest day must surely be Christmas, but then I remembered all of the big movies that are released on Christmas Day, and it made a little bit more sense. But Ash Wednesday? I guess on the one hand, there’s no chocolate around because people have given it up for Lent. And then on the other hand, everyone knows that Hollywood waits for the dead of winter to release all of its bad movies because the Oscar nominations have already come out and it’s too cold to leave the house anyway.

But if it’s too cold to leave the house, why does Ash Wednesday continue to be so popular? Maybe it’s because there are giveaways on Ash Wednesday. When you go to a trade show and walk through all of the booths, the most popular booths are the ones with the best giveaways. Like the company giving away mouse pads and the USB drives. On Ash Wednesday, we receive …

January 23rd, 2012

People gather at the annual Vigil for Life at the National Shrine. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

You know, I probably shouldn’t say this, but on this Pro Life weekend, I really didn’t know what to say today. Every time I started to write one thing about the March For Life, two other concerns came to the fore. This was an issue that I used to look at in very black and white terms when I was younger. Then I got to a point where I could only see it in terms in gray. Now I guess I am at a point where I look at it in terms of black and white…and gray.

At first glance it’s a black and white issue, an open and shut case, there’s really not much more to discuss. And I have to say that this past October, I was given the amazing gift of two nieces — each from my two sisters — and I even got to be in the room for the birth of one of them.  During Christmas I got to hold each one of them in my arms and during that moment, the sacredness and holiness of each life could …

January 12th, 2012

When you study to be a priest, attending Mass is as much of a part of one’s routine as brushing your teeth and applying deodorant. It may not happen EVERY single day, but it usually happens every day.

Anyway I mention this because I consider myself to be a pretty connected person in terms of news events; what I do not learn through my iPhone, I typically pick up during church. When you go to a Mass in which most in attendance feel free to vocalize the thoughts, concerns, and groanings in their souls, it can serve as a regular RSS feed on what is going on in the world. And, ironically, it was in this manner that I learned that the famed-atheist Christopher Hitchens had passed.

I struggled to write this reflection for a while; I was actually asked to do it two weeks ago. On the one hand I cannot claim to have read much of Hitchens’ material, so it seemed unfair to comment on the life of someone of whom I was only tangentially familiar. I had seen him on Bill Maher a few times and while I may not have always agreed with his conclusions — …

December 24th, 2011

My wonderful five-year-old nephew has been asking questions about a certain topic the past few months.  He has been talking with all of these boys at school and my sister—his mother—decided that he was ready.  And I have to say that I am flattered that both her and her husband decided that I would be the best person to shepherd him across this very important Rite of Passage.  And so this Christmas break, I will be introducing my nephew to the Star Wars movies.

This is not a responsibility I take lightly. There are many questions.  For example, do I start like I started, with original Star Wars (now known as “Episode 4”)… or do I start him with the prequels?  If I do start him with the original trilogy, do I show him the Special Editions or do get the original versions?  You know, the one where Gredo doesn’t shoot first?  Do I try to avoid the whole Jar Jar Binks thing?  I know that I’m only talking to about half of the people out there right now but these are tough questions.  It’s during these moments that I really empathize with all of the parents out there and …

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