Busted Halo
Features : Religion & Spirituality
December 30th, 2003
Prayer and Crowd Control at Mother Teresa's Beatification

The Vatican is the smallest country in the world. Until recently, I always thought of that fact as a neat bit of trivia and nothing more—kind of a, “Take that, Luxembourg!” A few weeks ago, as I stood shoulder-to-shoulder in St. Peter’s Square with 300,000 other people, I felt like I was indeed in a very small country.
I felt honored to be in attendance as our Pope, a man I consider a living saint, sent a woman who had been a living saint in our lifetime—Mother Teresa—on the road to official sainthood. It was a sacred event.
… which is why I really could not understand why a little Polish woman was elbowing me in the gut.
300,000′s a crowdThe crowd’s actions that day surprised…

December 28th, 2003

I remember building a snowman in my backyard with my older sister when I was about 5 years old. It was there that snow became the great equalizer. While she piled together the bottom third of our snowman, I took the opportunity to plot my big moment of revenge for all the times I was too little to be noticed.
I packed together a small mound of snow in my tiny five-year-old fingers and slowly approached the victim prowler-like, slowly and deliberately. With her back turned away, in the perfect kneeling position, she was now exactly my height—and busily packing the snow. I quickly arrived at the glorious summit of Mt. Kathy and (WHOMPF) smushed the snowball right in her face, a direct hit! A blow for the munchkins! I screamed…

December 17th, 2003
A Job Search That Wouldn't Come to Term

Countless rejection letters… I started losing hope, and gaining weight.
For several years I had worked as a campus minister at the University of Oregon in Eugene. The college town was the right size and pace for me. The Newman Center community was life-giving and filled me with energy. Great job, great location… but time goes by and a change is necessary. This would mean relocation, and I had known it would take some time to make it happen. But this long?
Preparation time
It had been a challenge preparing for an eventual departure whose time was kept hidden (even to me). I had worked to enable volunteers to handle my responsibilities, made provisions for different possibilities, shared resources.
I even…

December 12th, 2003
J.R.R. Tolkien's Work and his Catholic Faith

When he was eight, his mother had to go back to work to support her children when an Anglican relative withheld financial support because of her conversion to Catholicism. (The establishment in England at this time was prejudiced against “popery” to an extent scarcely conceivable today.)
The martyrFour years later, his mother—overworked and worn out from poverty and the emotional pressures of family members who continued to criticize her conversion—lapsed into a diabetic coma and died in six days.
The boy was left in the care of Fr. Francis Morgan, a priest appointed by the mother to act as guardian.
This orphan: J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Two obsessions…

December 8th, 2003
Whoever She Is, Mary Magdalene Still Matters

I have learned the six magic words that will wake up any high school religion class:
“Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute.”
Every year I get the same strong reaction from my students to this simple truth.

“But wasn’t she the woman caught in adultery?”
“My religion teacher said she was the sinner who washed Jesus’ feet with perfume.”
“How can you say that when the movies portray her as a prostitute?”

It seems that popular culture has more authority than the Bible.
Mary Magdalene in the BibleWhen I point out that Scripture says nothing about Mary Magdalene being a sinner, invariably a student will claim that I can’t prove that she wasn’t…

December 1st, 2003
My Love-Hate Affair with the Winter

I am standing at my kitchen sink, gazing out the window as the afternoon sun dissolves into the sky. I am supposed to be peeling potatoes for supper but I can’t stop watching the sunset—or the way there is no sunset, really, but only a dreary washing out of color, daylight fading into grayness. So why am I transfixed?
It seems it’s been this way for months, dark at five p.m., the ground covered in a tired layer of snow, though it’s only November.
F.S.C.S.—Future Snowbirds of Canada SocietyI have no patience for winter anymore. I’m so tired of slipping on sidewalks, of bundling kids into parkas and listening to weather forecasters go on about how exposed skin will freeze in thirty seconds.…

November 29th, 2003
A 1980's AIDS Volunteer and Activist on Angels in America

Separating life from art can be impossible in some cases; Angels in America is the most painful instance I know.
Now that the award-winning Broadway play has been superbly translated to TV by the playwright, Tony Kushner, and director Michael Nichols, that work of separation has become even more difficult for me, and will be for others. (Angels is running on HBO in two
parts: Sunday, December 7 and the following Sunday, December 14.) I recommend it heartily to viewers, not only as a great work of art but as an introduction to a time just passed in which people fought for survival and for justice on the streets and in the places in which now another generation lives—sometimes unaware of what went on there not so long…

November 29th, 2003
A Stowaway Computer and the Mellower Me

My computer died, taking my last article—a tirade on the prevalence of thongs and stilettos in everyday women’s wear—with it.
The PC that came to dinnerIt’s a good thing I’ve been storing a friend’s computer and stand in my apartment for almost the past year. It wasn’t supposed to be for that long but one month led to two, then to four and six and now eleven.
It sits in the bedroom of my crowded Manhattan apartment, and I alternatively forget it’s there and then notice it, cursing it’s owner for dumping it on me with a year’s worth of promises of its eventual removal. Finally it’s come in handy.
But I’m still pissed off that it’s here at all.…

November 29th, 2003
Depression and Its Bleak, Sometimes Even Suicidal Perspectives

During September and October of 2003 three different NYU students committed suicide, all by jumping from upper floors. Here in Bangalore in November, a fifteen year-old girl killed herself.
Most of us probably know someone who’s taken his or her own life. And we’ve all heard of high-profile artists and performers committing suicide, people like the rocker Kurt Cobain or the American poet Sylvia Plath.
Why would anyone want to take their own life? It’s a difficult question to answer. Yet maybe you would too, if you felt compelled to end the unbearable pain and anguish you were suffering. These feelings (pain, anguish, and despair) in unbearable proportions are usually associated with people…

November 2nd, 2003
Nagging Doubts about Latin America's Famous Revolutionary

Does Cuba’s revolutionary and pop icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara truly inspire those of us working for peace and justice in the 21st century?
A recent photo exhibit in East Los Angeles suggests yes, but I’ve got nagging doubts.
The photos depict moments from those historic heady days when Fidel Castro, Che, and a small army of Cuban revolutionaries overthrew corrupt (and U.S.-backed) dictator Fulgencio Batista and installed Cuban-style communism on the tiny island.
The Argentine Robin Hood
For many Latinos in North and South America guerilla leader Che is a symbol of fighting Yanqui Imperialism and winning. He represents Latin America’s Robin Hood, overthrowing the rich to…

October 18th, 2003
Mother Teresa's Visit to Phoenix

“Build my children a house”February 2, 1989. Her skin was tanned and wrinkled. Her hands were large and rough. Despite her short stature, Mother Teresa managed to hush an arena of 15,000 by simply standing up and preparing herself to speak. “Governor,” she said plainly, with authority, ” I want you to build my children a house.”
The only shelter the Missionaries of Charity offered at that time was a gutted gymnasium with folding tables and metal chairs that singed your skin when you sat on them in the 110-degree Arizona summer. Everything in that shelter was either broken or in poor condition. Mother’s children
Her “children” were my “sisters”…

October 18th, 2003
God Hears Us Whererever We Are

I’ve never tried it, but I don’t think I can pray at a rock concert or in a crowded bar. Maybe it’s possible if you have good powers of concentration. For me, it’s tough because there are too many distractions.
In a church or chapel though, the atmosphere and silence is calming and makes me feel peaceful inside. There are no distractions, so it’s easier to pray.
The ironic thing is that this isn’t the case, with most shrines I’ve visited. In my experience, the more famous a shrine, the more difficult it is to pray there. And on the feast days (or special days)—as they say in New York, fuggetaboutit.
Do these things really matter? Does it matter if you’ve not visited…

October 11th, 2003
Mass with Pope John Paul in His Private Chapel

Sitting prominently on a shelf in my office is a picture of myself and John Paul II. Its proof of the day I met someone who has given his entire life to faith…and made me think about my own commitment to faith (or relative lack thereof).
And whenever my friend Bill sees the
picture, he always reminds me: “I bet the pope doesn’t have that picture in his office.”
Probably not. But it’s still a day I’ll always remember. Why, I remember it like it was just yesterday…[cue harp music, begin dream sequence].
Woke up, it was a Vatican morningIt’s
7:00am, and I’m walking up to the big Bronze Door of the Vatican. The Swiss guards are standing there, glaring at me like I’m trying…

October 4th, 2003
Why Getting the Devotion Card Punched Isn't Enough

Catholics believe in the “real presence of Christ” in the Eucharist, but as a concept I think it’s short-sighted at times. Not to knock the Eucharist as something that isn’t special or important, but I think that this literal definition of Eucharist doesn’t go far enough.
When I participate in Mass or Eucharistic adoration, I focus and meditate on the Jesus that is truly present in this sacrament. But sometimes in the process I keep Jesus at arm’s length where I can sit in splendor and adore him without challenging myself to go beyond a one on one relationship with him. I end up placing Jesus in a nice tidy box where I can control him, allow him to be present only in a way that is comfortable…

September 17th, 2003
Lessons for Teacher and Student at an NYC High School for Girls

At a Catholic high school for girls in New York City, I have the amazing and demanding task of teaching 16 year old girls—who believe that they are sophisticated and much more worldly than I am—Catholic morality.
My students claim that peer pressure is not a factor in the decisions they make. Yet they all wear the same labels, listen to the same music, and buy into whatever Madison Avenue (located not far from my school) is selling teenagers that day. And they believe that their decision to have sex or to drink is completely their own.
And they definitely don’t understand that today they are choosing to be the person they will become in the future.
Who are you becoming?So it is a challenge to teach the fundamental…

September 12th, 2003

Entire wars have been fought over it, British lords beheaded, Spanish mystics incarcerated, principalities set on fire, and now it travels the internet in search of friendships to destroy.
It is religion.
And then there’s something about e-mail that sometimes erases our better judgment from our brains, we automatically copy and paste and hit send… and sometimes, just sometimes, what we have just catapulted into cyberspace could be…
even more destructive than a virus…
So forwarding an e-mail that deals with religion could forever change our relationships with those on the other end of our electronic tethers.
And in real time…So… just in case this happens to you……

September 11th, 2003
Visiting the 9/11 Memorial at Shanksville, PA

Shanksville, PA, Sept. 7, 2003—About ten miles off the Pennsylvania Turnpike (about 80 miles before you get to Pittsburgh), Shanksville is small town America incarnate. It must be the mostly unlikely place imaginable for the U.S. to come face-to-face with Al Qaeda.
But that happened here on September 11, 2001, when United Flight 93, angling down at high speed, turned and hit a field outside town with such force that there was no piece left of it larger than the cab of a pickup truck. A plume of black smoke hung over the town. Pieces of the aircraft were thrown back into the air, some landing as far away as the other side of the mountain.
Tending to the memoryLocal people told me this when I came to visit the temporary memorial…

September 7th, 2003
The Unexpected Trail to Peace

I didn’t know it would be Las Vegas—I didn’t know at the time the capital of sin would give me back my sanity.
Code ex-boyfriend blueI guess I couldn’t know this because I wasn’t personally aware my sanity was missing. I didn’t learn this until after the fact when friends assured me that yes I was going a little nutty but only to a level that was slightly amusing to them, since I’m usually the rational one of the bunch.
On their disaster threat level chart my wackiness was only a code blue since the cause of my temporary insanity was basically a man. Or more appropriately the lack of one particular man in my life and my constant wavering on whether he should be let back in…or continue…

September 3rd, 2003
I'm Staying in the Non-Profit World Because I Want To

It took me by surprise when my two very successful cousins, who both recently graduated from law school, said to me, “You’re going to have to stop doing this volunteer stuff because you’re making us look like money-loving consumer freaks.”
In a way, this statement affirmed my decision to stay another year (instead of going to grad school) at Campus for Human Development, the homeless adult day center in Nashville, TN, where I’ve worked the past year as a Jesuit Volunteer. And it put down their decision to be lawyers.
Catholic guilt?
But I think they missed the point. What I’ve come to realize this year is that it is important that we just do what we need to do to make it, try to do…

September 2nd, 2003
Nobody Drove Me to the Convent

“There I was, there I was, there I was… in the Congo .”
It was the first thing my friend Vinci blurted out after, “hello,” at our recent reunion. About ten years ago we were roommates and “There I was, there I was, there I was…” was the soundbite we picked up from some cheesy commercial.
An avalanche of images came rushing back. Words have such a power to bring up images…and ideas.
Father-what-a-waste
Like “Father-what-a-waste,”
a phrase someone I know had recently used about her boss, a Jesuit priest. I know it was only meant as a joke, but, really, you wouldn’t call your best friend’s husband, “Mr.-what-a-waste,” would you?…

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