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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September 9th, 2010

Machete_posterWe often talk about the need positive role models in the media today, but we rarely talk about the need for priests as role models; they are largely absent from today’s modern media landscape. And when they do happen to be included in a television show or a movie, they are frequently presented as older gentlemen spaced out on God who insists on calling everyone he meets “my child” and who inhabit a world few if any of us could reach… and might not want to if we could. Characterizations that on some visceral gut level has the opposite effect of being inspiring.

Which is one of the many reasons I am grateful for the release of the new Robert Rodriguez film Machete. In the interests of full disclosure, films by Robert Rodriguez have been guilty pleasures of mine for a very long time. But when I first saw the trailer for Machete with Cheech Marin as a vigilante cleric…

Priest: “I took a vow of peace… and now you want me to kill all of these men?”

Machete: “Yes bro… I mean, Padre.”

Priest (shrugging): “I’ll see what I can do.”

That’s right, this priest does not only …

August 27th, 2010

The big thing in the news right now is the debate on the Islamic center in lower Manhattan.  I have to say that I’ve been struggling for a few days with what to say on this topic, but too much has been going on to not say anything.  After all, if I write a blog for an online magazine for spiritual seekers, it’s kind of hard not to comment on an issue that focuses so much on faith.

I do have to say that my first response to this issue was not as of a spiritual seeker, not as someone who is devoting his life to religious life, but as someone who is an American.  It was hard for me to not see this as a freedom of religion issue.  While I do understand the arguments by some who are against this project—those of course who are not obviously using the issue to stoke fear for their own political gain by calling us down to our lowest common denominator instead of up to our highest values—I would still have to argue that the Bill of Rights does not exist because it assumed that people of different faith traditions would usually …

August 16th, 2010

One of the exciting ministries of my community, the Paulist Fathers, is the film production studio in Los Angeles. In 1960 Fr. Ellwood “Bud” Kieser founded Paulist Productions and over the course of fifty years, created projects that have featured such stars as Raul Julia, Martin Sheen, Carol Burnett, Patty Duke, John Amos, Carroll O’Connor, Walter Matthau, Ed Asner, Blair Underwood, Jane Seymour, Tim Matheson, and Ron Howard.

Kevin_BaconLast week while at our community’s house in Lake George, some of us decided to go see a movie and one of the people in our group was one of the former presidents of Paulist Productions. And as I sat next to him while the previews flashed across the screen, something occurred to me; this person had met a lot of people in Hollywood… which made me realize that I potentially had the opportunity to move up a VERY important list. So I asked him the question.

“So… did you ever meet Kevin Bacon?”

“Uhhh, no. Our paths never crossed.”

Rats.  I’m still five degrees away.…

August 11th, 2010

Part of our Catholic tradition involves a concept known as “natural law,” a term used to describe a “right” ordering to the universe.  As a life-long Yankees fan I had never had any trouble understanding that concept, especially during the late nineties, where World Championships were like Christmas… they happened every year.  It was a “right ordering” of the universe that had never really been challenged: some teams are usually up, some teams are usually down, and no matter how good the Boston Red Sox ever get, they will always play second fiddle to the greatest sports franchise in world history (Manchester United be damned).

So you can imagine my… my… what’s the word… “shock” and “surprise” just seem too soft to describe the experience of having one’s entire universe re-ordered… abject horror when, in 2004 the Boston Red Sox overcame a three game deficit—something NO TEAM had ever done in either baseball or basketball—to win the American League Championship Series (ALCS) against my beloved Bronx Bombers.

Fenway_CrowdBut it didn’t make sense to me…. in years past it seemed as though that the Lord Almighty always intervened to ensure that His favorite team on the planet would end up …

August 9th, 2010

KS_EatPrayAustinI had exactly seven days left in Austin and I had not yet eaten the second greatest burger in Texas according to Texas Monthly Magazine.  Why I thought I would have room in my stomach for the second greatest burger in Texas I do not know… the last few weeks had been a gastrointestinal marathon of good-bye lunches, dinners, and breakfasts with the good parishioners of St. Austin Parish.  Not that I was an unwilling participant in all of restaurant hopping, mind you.

One of my favorite Paulist preachers here in Washington, DC used to be the rector of our parish in Rome.  One of the reasons I like his preaching so much is that he usually has great stories to tell, especially on the topic of saints; he almost always comes up with some interesting aspect of the saint’s life that’s not usually found in the official listing.  But it is obvious where his heart is because many of his homilies start out with the phrase, “There is this church in Rome…”  I only bring that up here because I can imagine a time in the future in which I repeatedly fall into the trap of starting most …

July 29th, 2010

Over the past few weeks, I have been on a culinary tear through the “Cheap Eats” Capital of the world: Austin, Texas .  You see, on the east Coast, cupcakes are NOT served out of a trailer.  On the east Coast, our idea of barbecue involves defrosting hot dogs in a microwave. On the East Coast, a breakfast taco is simply when you eat leftovers from Chili’s the following morning.  So I have been spending these last days in Austin frantically visiting all of my favorite places… Amy’s Ice Cream, Torchy’s Tacos, Taco Deli, Iron Works… you name it.  Someday I’m going to write a book about my experiences over these past few weeks: I’m going to call it “Eat, Pray, Austin.”

But if I stop to reflect, there’s a reason I have been so frantic about visiting all of my favorite Austin eateries.  That’s because I’m imagining a day in the not-too-distant future… when I’m back in my seminary in DC… a day in which I will be craving a jalapeno-and-cheese sausage… and it will be chicken again for dinner.  On that day, all I will be left with will be the eternal words of Mick Jagger: “You Can’t …

July 23rd, 2010

So I’ve taken up golf this past year in Austin.  I have mixed feelings about this development in my life.  Yes, I am enjoying the game… but I still can’t shake the feeling that this is somehow a natural progression of my priestly formation.  Priests and golf seem to be so synonymous that I wouldn’t be surprised if the bishop handed me a seven iron right after putting the oils on my hands during the ordination service.

This development in my life makes me wonder what will be coming next.  Seriously, it CAN’T really be wearing cardigans.  So many priests I know wear cardigans, but that can’t be allowed to happen.  Catholic teachings on the sanctity of life aside, I am really going to have to find some trusted friends who will agree to give me the business end of a Colt 45 if I ever start to wear cardigans.  (Okay, maybe I’m being  extreme, but I would would hope that someone would at least slap me.)

But in the area of golf, I suppose if the President of the United States has also taken to golf recently—someone who regularly plays basketball with pro players and had Jay-Z at his …

July 15th, 2010

If you’re like me and have been reading the news over the past couple of years, it is hard not to be concerned about the bees… or more importantly, the lack thereof.  The phenomenon of “Colony Collapse Disorder” has been going on for at least the past few years as the nation’s beekeepers have noticed a steep decline in colonies with each progressing year.

BeekeeperSo, being the student for the priesthood, I thought recently that I would do what a man in my position could do; I prayed for the return of the bees during the prayers of the faithful.  When I offered this petition to God, I did hear some giggling in the pews after offering my intention, but I did not care… these are Biblical issues we are dealing with.

After Mass at dinner, a fellow Paulist brother could not help but comment on my somewhat unconventional prayer. The main gist of the commentary was that I could have been praying for something more important, a petition for “world peace” for example.  That perspective, however, landed on a particular nerve.

“I hate praying for World Peace.  I mean, it’s kind of a BS prayer that very …

July 4th, 2010

In 1630, a ship named the Arbella left England bound for the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  On board the ship were religious dissidents who wanted to reform the Church of England by creating a new more purified community… otherwise known as Puritans.

Before the boat landed, Governor John Winthrop gave a sermon entitled “A Model of Christian Charity.”  When he gave this sermon, he wanted to remind the people on board of why they were traveling. And in so doing, he established one of the central ideas about the meaning of this new land that would be passed down for generations.  He said to these early colonists:

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.  The eyes of all people are upon us.  So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken… we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world.  We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God… We shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us… til we be consumed out of …

July 1st, 2010

As many of you know, I am from the great state of New Jersey.  And when I share that with people I have met at my current assignment in Austin, Texas, one of the things I have been frequently been told is that I don’t SOUND like I am from New Jersey.  Which I understand… in the many years I have spent living away from the land of my birth, I have come to appreciate that the window most people view my home state either has involves Tony_FrankTony Soprano or someone named Snooki (whom I have since learned is actually from Marlboro, New York).

Having grown up in a country-suburban environment, I was largely insulated from incorporating into my speech the verbal-stylings that Frank Sinatra helped make famous.  Still, there are times when my cultural origin sometimes slips out.  It happens when I’m in a Starbucks and I order a cup of CAW-fee.  It also happens when I get mad; one of the many wonderful traits that people from my home state are known for is the frequent use of… ummm… colloquialisms.  Colorful colloquialisms.  Colloquialisms that would sound inappropriate coming from someone who dresses like I do on Sundays.  Yes, …

June 21st, 2010

The following is a reflection for the Feast Day of St. Thomas More, June 22.

In 1952, director Fred Zinnemann released a film that was eventually selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”  The movie was called High Noon, and it starred Gary Cooper as a retired lawman who was being hunted down by a criminal he once brought to justice.  In the film, Gary Cooper had to make the decision whether or not to stand up to this criminal and his posse… or leave town.  While everyone in the town begged him to do the “smart” thing and leave, Gary Cooper decided to stay and face the bad guys in a gun battle to the death.

MFASNow, why am I talking about a 50s western?  Because in 1966, the same director released a movie that would not only win him an Oscar for Best Director, it would win Best Picture.  The film was called A Man For All Seasons and it was based on the life on the saint whose feast we celebrate today: Thomas More.  Much like Gary Cooper’s character in High

June 13th, 2010

I usually make a CD mix for long trips that attempt to capture the “theme” for the particular vacation. On a road trip through Arizona and Mexico, the mix featured “South of the Border,” “Rosalita,” with some Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers thrown in; the “Big Apple” mix for the 2006 weekend in New York was loaded with Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel, and George Gershwin. So as last year’s Spring Break trip to Berkeley, California approached, the iTunes was fired up and yet another digital heirloom was created.

Because this vacation was partially an exercise in nostalgia, the songs selected leaned heavily on music I was listening to during my Lenten apostolate two years ago. Near the top of the list was “Beautiful World” by Colin Hay, a song that had been played over the airplane speakers during my first flight to Berkeley. It’s a fairly obscure number, but I had been listening to it a lot during my first year in seminary and hearing it over the cabin speakers at that particular moment served as one of the many reminders that year that I was not as alone as I had been fearing.

The original intent for this trip, …

June 2nd, 2010

Last year for spring break, I headed back to Northern California. I know, Berkeley is not exactly Daytona; there are no houses rented by MTV featuring free shows by Snoop Dogg and the tie-dyed culture seems somehow incompatible with wet T-Shirt contests. But the Cal Newman Center was the location of my Lenten apostolate two years ago and a part of me wanted to head back to the place where this life was newer than it is now, a time when I was still just wading into this pool called religious life… with both hands gripping the railing. And upon arriving in Northern California Peet’s Coffee was the first item on the checklist.

The checklist was an exercise in nostalgia: a list of the things I used to do, food I used to eat, and places I used to visit during that time when my only responsibility in life was to discern a life of priesthood in Northern California over an In N’ Out cheeseburger. But upon waking up on my first jet-lagged morning in Berkeley, it became obvious that I needed certain forgotten toiletries before coffee, so I made my way to the Long’s Pharmacy on Shattuck Ave. Yes, …

May 26th, 2010

Icon-PentecostI was working on my homily that I would be giving on Pentecost Sunday and doing what I usually do when I am preparing homilies… procrastinating on the Internet.  So while browsing Busted Halo’s offerings, I noticed that fellow blogger Monica Rozenfeld posted something on the Jewish festival of Shavuot.

As I’ve mentioned before, this past summer I worked as a chaplain in a New York hospital along side two rabbinical students.  Having that experience gave me an even deeper appreciation for just how Jewish our Christian faith really is, especially the Catholic faith.  All of this makes sense if you think about it… but, truth be told, until my theological studies and my experience this summer, I hadn’t really thought about it.

For example, our Eucharistic celebration is a direct outgrowth of the temple sacrifices performed at the Jerusalem temple in ancient Israel.  The baldacchino seen in many pre-Vatican II churches (most notably in St. Peter’s Basilica) is a direct tie to the tent the ancient Israelites used to carry around the Ark of the Covenant.  And when the Greeks wanted to translate the festival of Shavuot into their language, they called it Pentecost.

Shavuot is a festival …

May 18th, 2010

The word “saint” is a pretty loaded term in our lexicon.  For many, they conjure up images of those who have reached spiritual heights the rest of us could never hope to attain.  For others, they conjure up images of marble statues, figures ensconced in stony forms that seem to highlight some of the more inflexible aspects of our Catholic tradition.  Of course the most common understanding of the word is the definition of a person who always, always, ALWAYS does the right thing… sort of a holy Dudley Do-Right.  The term even caused modern day “Servant of God” Dorothy Day to remark, “Don’t call me a saint… I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”

I have to confess, even as a lifelong Catholic I could not always admit to understanding the “saint thing” either.  It was not until I was at a conference held a number of years ago that discussed the similarities between culture and faith that I managed to gain a foothold on understanding how they fit into our lives… and why I sometimes struggled with this concept.  Because in our American culture, we tend not to believe in ancestral spirits.  We tend to believe that …

May 3rd, 2010

You know, when I decided to become a priest, there was one big thing I was really struggling with… one thing that I was really going to miss.  Because in my past life, there was something that I really liked to do… and when I looked at the job description of a priest, I realized that my days of doing this one thing were over.

Watching Meet The Press on Sunday mornings.

Seriously… there was nothing better than waking up late on a Sunday morning, grabbing a cup of coffee and a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich from Dunkin Donuts, and sitting down to watch the weekly political boxing match. And of course, I was usually far from being a passive watcher of the program.  I have been known to hold my fair share of political opinions from time to time (ahem)… and when someone on the screen would say something that I disagreed with, I would never hesitate to express those opinions to the television in a manner so that the people inside the television set could hear me.  Probably in the same way most of the Texas fans in this room would scream at the television when Oklahoma …

April 29th, 2010

This homily was given on Wednesday, April 28 and was based on the daily readings that can be viewed here.  What can I say?  It’s what happen when I get “homilist block” while surfing movie trailers on iTunes.

I love summer movies… and I got very very excited when I saw what one of the movies coming out this summer. One of my favorite TV shows growing up is going to be a major Hollywood motion picture… The A-Team! Seriously!!! For those of you who were too distracted by such “higher quality” shows such as Hill Street Blues in the Eighties and never got the chance to watch Mr. T strut his stuff, The A-Team is about these four soldiers who were convicted for a crime they didn’t commit. So they escaped from army custody and now travel the country as outlaws, looking to help those who cannot help themselves against bad people… very bad people.

The leader of the group is called Hannibal, famously played by George Peppard of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” fame. And his famous line in the TV show—after the A-Team beat whatever evil person they were challenging that week—was, “I love it when a plan …

April 29th, 2010


Fans of Leonard Nimoy have Star Trek Conventions.  Baseball historians have trading card conventions.  White people who don’t like paying taxes have tea parties.  And hipsters from Generations X-through-Y have South By Southwest.

As I prepare to leave my thirties, as I continue towards a horizon that is increasingly influenced by the artist-formerly-known-as Joseph Ratzinger and less so by Quentin Tarantino… and as I find myself wondering just how much the Venn Diagrams intersect the worlds of secular society and faith overlap, I decided to try an experiment: I would wear my clerics at South By Southwest film and music festival.

Before arriving in Austin to spend my pastoral year, I had to come up with a list of goals for my time here.  Among those on the list: the Austin City Limits music festival (check!), Mexican food (check!), and a University of Texas football tailgate party (check! check! check!).  But the other goal that I held for myself—a goal that was a little more consistent with my religious formation—was to more strongly develop my priestly identity.  So I figured that there would be few better places to explore what that would mean for me than at one of the …

April 6th, 2010

The following is the homily that I gave on Easter Sunday at St. Austin’s.  Since we are just beginning the Easter Season, I thought it still might be appropriate.

We have been telling and re-telling the story we just heard in the Gospel for 2,000 years. And with all stories that we know, there’s a certain comfort in familiarity.  No matter how much fear creeps into the Agony in the Garden, no matter how brutal Good Friday becomes, we all know how the story ends.

But because we are so familiar with the story, it can get easy to forget one simple thing; after the death of Jesus, the people in today’s reading did not know how the story was going to end.  In fact that Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene, Peter, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and everybody else at that time not only did not know how the story was going to end, they thought the story had already ended… badly.

A lot of us can probably relate to that… we don’t know how our individual stories are going to end.  Some of us might be looking for a job, and we do not know if we are going …

March 30th, 2010

This homily was given on the Tuesday of Holy Week based on the Gospel reading for the day: Peter’s Denial of Jesus. The text can be read here.

A few days ago, I was talking on the phone with somebody who had told me once that a Catholic priest had abused him when he was a child.  He had just begun to get some peace about it, but all of the new allegations over the past few weeks in Ireland and Germany really kicked up these feelings again… because for him it wasn’t just the abuse, it was the cover up that happened at a larger level.  All of his anger and frustration at the Church came roaring back.  And as he spoke I was reminded of today’s Gospel reading.

Betrayal_PeterPeter’s denial of Jesus is a story that is contained in all four Gospels; scholars estimate that the Gospels were written sometime between 30 to 60 years after the death of Jesus.  But what is fascinating is that none of the gospels cover up this humongous failure of one of their leaders.  In fact, this flaw is brought to the forefront of the Gospels for all of the world …

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