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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December 26th, 2009

Fifteen years ago I was living in Phoenix Arizona and my mother—someone who was born in Brooklyn New York and has only thee times in her life crossed the Mississippi River—wanted to know what “IT” would be like.

“IT” was, of course, Christmas… and I knew exactly what she was talking about. The ninety-degree December in Arizona did not square with holiday landscapes created by the Frosty The Snowman, Jingle Bells, and Marshmallow World. Rather, the countryside described by Bing Crosby in White Christmas closely resembled the small New Jersey town I knew as a child. Where I grew up, there really was a danger of grandma getting run over by a reindeer. And if that wasn’t enough, the place where all of the cool holiday moves seemed to take place—New York City—was a mere ninety minutes away; Rockefeller Center and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade were considered to be next door neighbors.

So it was that year in the Phoenix desert when I had to come face-to-face with the expectations I had about Christmas as opposed to the reality of Christmas…
 my expectations of what Christmas was supposed to be and what it really was.

Granted, that year the …

December 14th, 2009

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.”
- Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Almost Famous

After the road trip ended in September 2006 and we arrived back at St. Paul’s College in Washington, DC, I began to see what one of my bigger struggles would be during my time here: my Inner Fonzie.

My Inner Fonzie is that part of myself that should have been left behind when I accepted my High School diploma. But just when I think of myself as a mature adult, there’s the Fonz, hanging around my psyche like toilet paper stuck to the bottom of my shoe. Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t all bad – he makes sure I stay up to date on the latest Bon Jovi albums and still employ the phrase “jiggy with it” as much as possible to maintain my street cred. (I know what you’re thinking, but I said “Inner Fonzie,” not “Inner George Clooney.”) But he’s also the guy who tells whispers in my ear to, no matter what, stay cool… even though he hasn’t always proved to be the counsel.

I mention this because it was just beginning …

December 14th, 2009

This continues a series of entries that describes the time when I first entered seminary in the Fall of 2006.

Leaving Chicago, I am in a bit of a mood. Learning that Fr. John left the community served as a reminder that my reasons for resisting priesthood all of these years extended well beyond prohibitions against kissing Marie again, let alone anyone else. This is a hard time to become a priest; the ten years I spent in putting off this decision give testimony that I am all too aware of this fact. I had been able to put the issue of declining vocation numbers out of my head after a few days of this trip, but hearing about some of the stretchers being carried off the same battlefield I am about to march onto has brought those concerns to the fore once again.

So before hopping into the van, I grab a USA Today. Yes, I know the USA Today is the journalistic equivalent of McDonald’s, but given that the primary source of nutrition along the highways we have been traveling consists of the golden arches, it seems vaguely appropriate. Besides, my head is tired and needs a break… …

December 9th, 2009

Today I am going to do something out of the ordinary and talk about a Gospel Reading that we didn’t read today.  In the gospel of Luke, we read:  And to another [Jesus] said, ‘Follow me.’  But [the man] replied, ‘(Lord,) let me go first and bury my father.’  But [Jesus} answered him, ‘Let the dead bury their dead.  But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a light burden to me.

When this is the daily reading the person in my position has to—at some point—get up here and say that we shouldn’t take Jesus literally.  And I have to confess, whenever I’ve been the person sitting in the pews and I’ve heard, “No, Jesus didn’t mean it that way,” I sometimes wonder if the priest is just trying to soften things up so as to not upset too many people.  I wonder if the path of Jesus IS AS rigid as it sounds and if there really is little room for error.   I’ve wondered if the yoke really is easy and the burden light… but then I encountered a story which has shown me why this is …

December 5th, 2009

This continues a series of entries that describes the time when I first entered seminary in the Fall of 2006.

I’m thinking that my earlier college analogy doesn’t feel quite right; this time of my life feels more reminiscent of the years I spent after college as a full time volunteer. The adventure of meeting new people, having a fairly open schedule, being able to do work that directly matters, and seeing new places… for some reason, the times in my life when I have had the least amount of money have also been the times when I have seen more of the world; this new chapter in my life is proving to be no exception.

I do feel more “plugged in” than I have felt for, well, nine years. When I moved back to Baltimore nine years ago to resume a “normal life” after the challenges of full time ministry had burned me to a pretty fine crisp, I felt that it was important to unplug from activities involving religion and saving the world. I’m very glad that I did, both for the experiences I’ve had in the worlds of working, dating, and mortgages as well as because that …

November 30th, 2009

There are many days when I lament celibacy.  Valentine’s Day is one of those days.  The release of the SI Swimsuit Issue is another day.  But while watching holiday movies Thanksgiving night and being subjected to commercial after commercial about husbands and boyfriends buying their significant others jewelry that’s ON SALE for $5,000, a deep wave of satisfaction covers my being.  On this Thanksgiving, I am grateful to be single.

Seriously, what family sits sits around the dinner table and comments “He went to Jareds!”  Dude, if you ever visit your woman’s family and they know what jewelry store you went to, saw that ring off of her finger and get out while you can.  If I ever do change my mind about this priesthood gig, I am going to do my ring shopping somewhere else, just so people around the holiday table can look at my fiancee’s ring and say, “He went to Costco!”

ShoppingNot that I myself have not been swept up by the spirit of the season.  The Pope is coming to Washington, DC in April and if our paths do cross, I have a question for him: Why do we call the day our Lord and …

November 27th, 2009

In the interests of being topic, this post describes one of the first Thanksgivings I spent with the Paulists and the very special day that came after it.

I’m kind of a four trick pony in the kitchen. As it happens, three of those tricks revolve around Thanksgiving Day, so I volunteered to cook again this year for the big Thanksgiving feast along with another student. We were the same duo that cooked the feast last year and we compliment each other well. I make the turkey, sweet potato casserole, and homemade cornbread stuffing; he makes the greens, mac and cheese, oatmeal cookies, corn pudding, and spiral ham. If you have been taking notes, you will notice that all of the food items listed are brown; even the inconvenient color of the “greens” is rectified by cooking them in grease and stirring in large quantities of ham.

Because dinner is at noon, we have to get up at 4:30 in order to put the turkeys in the oven. It has been tradition of mine to listen to Frank Sinatra during Thanksgiving prep, so after the turkeys are in the oven I put on the “Franks Thanks” playlist on my iPod …

November 26th, 2009

Sorry it has been so long in between posts – the pastor at the church in which I am currently stationed passed away suddenly this week.  Please keep the soul of Fr. Jim Wiesner in your prayers.

This continues a series of entries that describes the time when I first entered seminary in the Fall of 2006.

From Oak Ridge, NJ we head for Columbus, Ohio on the second part of our Northeast Road Trip. This is my first time to Ohio – looks about the same as Pennsylvania. We did drive alongside a big pile of coal along side Route 80 outside of Youngstown. As a tribute, I put on the Bruce Springsteen song “Youngstown” about the miners who lived there—man, Bruce just travels everywhere.  We are now driving under a road sign for Lodi, which brings to mind the Credence Clearwater Revival song “Lodi.” When I first heard it I thought they were referring to New Jersey; now I’m struck with the reality that maybe that’s not the case. Add that to the list of areas in which my faith is being challenged.

What I know of Ohio is mostly from the 2004 election.  I know that I …

November 17th, 2009

This continues a series of entries that describes the time when I first entered seminary in the Fall of 2006.


I know that this is going to sound dumb to some, but one of the things I had an issue with when I went to seminary is that I would be going back to a twin bed.  I’m 34 years old and downgrading to a twin bed – it might be YEARS before I ever sleep in at least a full size mattress again, to live again like that group of people commonly referred to as “grown-ups.”

There may be some people out there thinking, “Why would YOU need a double bed? (heh heh heh)”  Well, I know people who have no hope of scoring in this decade and yet have at least a full size bed, so shut up.

After I finished my years of volunteering out west a few years ago, I was sleeping in the same bed I grew up in: a twin.  Because that’s the time I had started wrestling with feelings about religious life, I felt my life was in a kind of limbo and I was reluctant to make any big purchases I would …

November 15th, 2009

This continues a series of entries that describes the time when I first entered seminary in the Fall of 2006.

It’s probably appropriate that when I crawled downstairs during the early morning hours of Good Friday in April 2006, Jerry MacGuire was on.  I’ve never known how quite to describe preceding two hours; some people might call it “metanoia” (a word I had never even heard before until recently), others just a straight conversion experience.  For me, the only language I have been able to come up with to describe what was going on within me is taking the decision of Tom Cruise’s character to write a mission statement, Kevin Costner’s hearing of a voice in the cornfield, and then pressing the “puree.”  Except at the end of this movie, I realized that the time had come to finally join the priesthood.  This was opposed to shacking up with Renee Zellweger or building a baseball field, two options that actually would have ranked higher on my list.

As with all things in life, this particular evening did not happen in a vacuum; I had been experiencing taps on the shoulder about religious life for roughly ten years before my sleepless …

November 12th, 2009

This is the first in a series of entries that describes the time when I first entered seminary in September of 2006.

“Now I know that rose trees never grow in New York City…”

Central_ParkI find myself standing in front of the Carousel in Central Park in part because of a sleepless night six months ago; it was a sleepless night in which I heard THE VOICE OF GOD telling me that it was (finally) time to enter seminary. I know, I know; some of you might be asking how I knew that it really was THE VOICE OF GOD telling me that it was time to quit my job as a web developer, sell my house, and eventually have a very complicated conversation with Marie. Even if the fact that this night happened on Holy Thursday is merely a coincidence, I just ask you to assume right now that THE VOICE OF GOD was indeed speaking to me… and in return I promise not to suggest that unless one million dollars is raised for my university, I will be “called home.” Because what is more important than any personal need for head ware made out of Reynolds Wrap is …

November 11th, 2009

From time to time, I will be including homilies I am currently giving at my pastoral assignment in Austin.  Below is the one I gave today to commemorate the Feast Day of Martin of Tours as well as Veterans Day.

91 years ago in 1918, on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” a cessation of hostilities was signed between the Allies of the Western front and Germany, thus ending World War One. The War at the time, was known as the “War to end All Wars” because it was one of the deadliest conflicts in history… it was so bad that the citizens of the world said at the time that war was such an atrocity that it could not ever be allowed to happen again.

Perhaps coincidentally, November 11 is also the day we celebrate the Feast of Martin of Tours.   Born in the early 300s, his father was a Roman Soldier and he was named after Mars, the God of War.   He eventually became a soldier as well, but then early in life he had a conversation experience in which he maintains that he encountered Christ in the appearance of a beggar.  Soon …

November 9th, 2009

36674004_CROPI have never technically been a New Yorker.  Even though my parents both grew up in Brooklyn and I grew up in Northern New Jersey—the half of the Garden State that roots for the Yankees and knew Al Roker long before he moved downstairs to the Today Show—full membership into the Big Apple was always for me a distant beacon that loomed past the horizon… much like Karl Rahner’s description of the experience of God.  For me, it was not until I would be required to memorize subway routes in order to plan a regular morning commute could ever I hope to become a part of the club that understood Seinfeld on a deeper level.

But on a sunny morning this past May, I woke up to car horns and the magical smells of the breakfast cart five stories below… yes, I find ham and egg sandwiches magical.  Later in the day I asked three different guys which place in the neighborhood had the best thin-crust pizza… and got five different answers.  On the way to suggestion number four, I passed by a bar in which the Yankees were playing.  Do you have any idea how long it has been …

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