Busted Halo

As the world’s greatest athletes compete in the Olympics, here at Busted Halo® we’ll take a look at some of the spiritual greats — gold medal winners in their own right! We’ll examine what we learn from them and share tips for staying fit on your own spiritual journey.

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February 21st, 2014

StLidwina-7A life of faith does not mean a life free of suffering. Whether through the lessons of the Cross or the hard knocks that are an inevitable part of existence, it is a given that often we must pass through dark valleys to reach green pastures.

St. Lidwina is an overwhelming example of this. Born in 1380 in Schiedam, a town in what is today the Netherlands, the Dutch saint had a Marian devotion from a young age. She often prayed before her town’s shrine to the Holy Mother for entire nights. On one such evening, she is said to have had a divine revelation of the pain that would become one of the defining characteristics of her life.

Around the time she was 15, Lidwina fell while ice skating with friends. In the process, she broke a rib that would never heal and began the long journey of severe physical hardship that would only end with her death nearly 40 years later. Her injury is the reason we recognize her today as the patron saint of ice skaters.

Her incapacitation included excruciating headaches, nausea and dehydration. Eventually, she developed gangrene, and her ailment spread throughout her entire body. …

February 20th, 2014

One of my favorite movies as a kid was a story set in the Alps. I remember being delighted watching St. Bernard dogs and their owners rescuing people who had gotten into trouble on the treacherous snow-covered heights.

This breed of dog is named after St. Bernard of Montjoux (c. 923 – c. 1008). His family origin is disputed — but his work in the Alps is not. For 40 years, St. Bernard founded schools and churches in the Diocese of Aosta, a region of Italy that borders France and Switzerland. As vicar general of the diocese, he traveled not only throughout the diocese, but as far as Geneva and Novara. He is primarily remembered for establishing two facilities on an ancient path through the Alps, which is perpetually snow-covered. Located at 7,076 and 8,000 feet above sea level these facilities provided shelter and food for Rome-bound French and German pilgrims. Through the centuries, the monks who eventually staffed these two hospices have continued to provide hospitality and, along with their highly-trained dogs, operate search and rescue missions. Pope Pius XI proclaimed St. Bernard the patron saint of skiers and mountain climbers in 1923.

I love watching people ski. Watching …

February 19th, 2014
St. Thérèse is a patroness of Russia, where the 2014 Winter Olympics are taking place in Sochi.

St. Thérèse is a patroness of Russia, where the 2014 Winter Olympics are taking place in Sochi.

When I returned to the Catholic Church after a long time away, I made a general confession and started fresh with a clean slate. Confession of sins to a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is truly good for the soul. Of course, committed Christians should do our best to avoid offending God. Unfortunately, some of us can go too far with vigilant concern for sin in a way that is spiritually and psychologically unhealthy.

I’m referring to the age-old problem of scrupulosity. The OCD Foundation describes this as “a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involving religious or moral obsessions. Scrupulous individuals are overly concerned that something they thought or did might be a sin or other violation of religious or moral doctrine.”

It’s like being a moral hypochondriac. In Catholics, this problem manifests in people going to confession too frequently. There are also irrational fears that, somehow, one’s confession wasn’t really valid or the Sacrament didn’t quite count because of some imagined technicality. People with Scrup/OCD worry excessively about sinning — whether by having “bad thoughts” or through other human imperfections …

February 18th, 2014

StJulianNorwich-4I’m not a sports fan, but I’m a sucker for the Olympic Games. Except for the artistic events like ice-skating and gymnastics, the Olympics themselves are not thrilling to me; what excites me, instead, is the camaraderie.

On any given day, the media delivers conflict, turmoil and scandal into our homes, but the Olympics offer us something radically different: diversity, overcoming the odds and friendly competition. And wherever we are while watching the Games, we know that folks around the world are sharing a similarly uplifting experience.

So what does this have to do with an obscure mystic from the 14th century? Not much, but it has everything to do with that obscure mystic’s vision.

Julian of Norwich, as we call her, lived as a hermit at St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England. We actually don’t know her real name or anything about her early years. What we do know of her comes from the tome she penned, Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love, which is said to be the first book in the English language by a woman published.

February 17th, 2014

A medal carrying the name and image of Michael the Archangel. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

A medal carrying the name and image of Michael the Archangel. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

The Winter Olympics Games put a spotlight on Sochi, Russia, as the host city. The media has largely focused on the venues of events, unfinished hotels, and one athlete using his strength to escape a bathroom in the Olympic Village. If you take a closer look at the city of Sochi itself, you will make the unique discovery of the presence of a particular saint — St. Michael the Archangel.

There are two landmarks carrying the image of Michael, most notably the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel. It’s the oldest Orthodox church in Sochi and was restored at the beginning of the post-Soviet era in the 1990s. (Sochi’s Wikipedia page identifies Michael as the Patron Saint of Sochi.) Another attraction devoted to St. Michael is an Archangel Column built in memory of Russian soldiers who died in Sochi during the Caucasian War. A bronze statue of Michael the Archangel stands at the top of the column.

St. Michael is traditionally regarded as the defender of the faithful and safeguard and protector from forces of evil. Michael is mentioned throughout scripture and …

August 10th, 2012

Country: Italy
Born: 1181/1182
Died: October 3, 1226
Religion: Roman Catholic
St. Francis was the founder of the Franciscan Order and is the Patron Saint of Ecology. Following the example of Christ, he lived in poverty and preached the Gospel to all around him.

For California natives, such as myself, St. Francis is automatically associated with the 21 missions built by Franciscans in the Golden State. These missions trace back the Spanish heritage of California, as well as the Catholic influence that came along with it. As a young child, I looked in awe at the architecture and beauty of the missions with their adobe bricks and Spanish-style roofs.

But the life of St. Francis is about more than good design. He lived a life of poverty but was actually born into a wealthy family where he spent his youth in riches and spoil. Known as the troublemaker of the town, Francis’ life would change following his time as a soldier in the Italian Army when during a battle between Assisi and Perugia, Francis was captured and imprisoned for a year. During his time in prison, Francis’ visions and experiences (like an encounter with a leper) pointed him in a …

August 9th, 2012

Country: United States/Brazil
Born: July 7, 1931
Died: February 12, 2005
Religion: Catholic, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
Sr. Dorothy Stang worked tirelessly for poor farmers’ rights and preservation of the Brazilian rainforest. Confronted by assassins on a deserted road, she opened her Bible and read the Beatitudes to them. She was shot six times.

Courage is not always a grand thing. Courage is not always a knight with sword drawn charging into battle or a firefighter running into a burning building. Sometimes courage is a bespectacled, gray-haired nun alone on a dusty road reading words about justice to her soon-to-be assassins. Sometimes courage looks a lot like Sr. Dorothy Stang.

It is hard to imagine that Sister Dorothy would be the target of hired gunmen. She was a 74-year-old nun who dedicated her life to advocating for the rights of the poor and the protection of the rainforest in Brazil. But, in an interview with The New York Times, her brother David remarked that she had become a nun not to retreat from the world, but to give her whole self in service to its poor and marginalized. ”None of this ooey-gooey little nun bit,” he said. “She …

August 8th, 2012

Country: South Africa
Born: October 7, 1931
Religion: Anglican
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, Desmond Tutu helped end apartheid and heal the wounds it left behind. His peace and reconciliation work is deeply rooted in his faith and daily spiritual practices.

Desmond Tutu is perhaps one of the most famous prelates of the 20th century. His elevation to the position as the first black Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, in 1986 placed him directly on center stage in the fight against apartheid, a fight he had been involved with for more than a decade. Once Apartheid was defeated, South Africa’s first democratically elected black president, Nelson Mandela, selected Desmond Tutu to head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As president of this commission, Desmond Tutu’s life-work of promoting the rights of the disenfranchised according to the Christian values he embraced reached its apex. What prepared and sustained this great religious leader spiritually for the task that providence prepared for him?

One secret was revealed by Egil Aarvik when he presented Tutu with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. Aavik said: “‘One day,’ says Tutu, ‘I was standing in the street with my mother …

August 7th, 2012

Country: United States
Born: March 24, 1820
Died: February 12, 1915
Religion: Methodist
Fanny Crosby was a prominent American lyricist, composer, poet, and advocate for the urban poor. She wrote approximately 8,000 sacred songs and is considered one of the mothers of American gospel music.

I started my journey into Christianity through the door of Pentecostalism. It was the first door opened to me in the great hall of Christian community. I entered gratefully and with an open mind and heart. My Pentecostal friends taught me about what it means to praise God. They taught me to sing, clap and sway. They taught me to reach out — physically reach out with both arms raised in the way a small child reaches for her mother — when you need God to draw near. They taught me that praying doesn’t have to mean sitting quietly with your hands folded neatly in your lap. Praying is about a full-bodied expression of hope, vulnerability, trust and longing. In my very first community of faith, praying often took the form of song.

Fanny Crosby was a woman who expressed her faith, her politics and her social concerns in the hymns and popular songs …

August 6th, 2012

Country: United States
Born: January 31, 1915
Died: December 10, 1968
Religion: Roman Catholic
Writer, poet, anti-war activist and Trappist monk Thomas Merton helped make Catholicism relevant for a new generation and introduced many to contemplation.  

Thomas Merton — or more specifically, his best-known work, The Seven Storey Mountain — played a key role in the spiritual development of many postwar Catholics. This memoir eloquently related the struggles of a modern American on the spiritual journey. Published in 1948, it captured the imagination of a generation seeking new answers to a soundtrack of jazz and beat poetry. Seeing the faith through the fresh eyes of this convert (his mother was Quaker, his father Anglican; both were artists) many were able to identify a Catholicism that made sense to them. Many then paralleled Merton’s Catholic journey into greater liberalism and universalism, exploration of Eastern faiths, and standing against the Vietnam War based on Christian nonviolence.

Merton’s most engaging quality was his honesty about his own imperfection. Through the memoir form we, as readers, are invited into his head — his egotism, petty rivalries, fears and joys laid bare for us to recognize in ourselves and then join him for the …

August 3rd, 2012

Country: United States
Born: December 29, 1937
Died: March 30, 1990
Religion: Roman Catholic, Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration
Sister Thea Bowman was an esteemed educator, talented singer, gifted leader, powerful preacher, and a passionate bridge-builder across racial divides within the Christian community.

As a religious, a scholar and a teacher, Sister Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A., was engaged in sharing her experience as an African-American woman coming of age in Mississippi in the 1940s. She persisted in telling her story because it was the story of millions of other people — people who generally did not have the opportunity to tell their own stories. She wanted folks from all walks of life to understand where she was coming from. She wanted them to see where she was headed. She was the granddaughter of slaves. She was a convert to Catholicism at the age of 12. She was the first African-American member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. She was a respected, lettered, preeminent scholar of William Faulkner. She was an artist whose dramatic command of language and beautiful voice endeared her to people and allowed them to imagine themselves as part of the narrative of African-American culture, spirituality, celebration and …

August 2nd, 2012

Country: England
Born: June 17, 1703
Died: March 2, 1791
Religion: Methodist
Anglican minister John Wesley founded the Methodist Movement. He emphasized the need for both personal piety and social justice; that there was “no holiness, but social holiness” and that our faith could not be lived in isolation.

During Lent one year when I was in college, a group of us began to meet in the chapel early in the morning with the hope of creating a more disciplined life. We sought to experience the sense of accountability nurtured by John Wesley and others of the Holy Club, a group he and his brother and others participated in, seeking to grow in their faith and serve God fully. We too hoped to live a life of practicing our faith more fully. We met early, sought to pray, study scriptures, hold ourselves accountable, serve the poor, and exercise. We sought to be both spiritually and physically fit.

Wesley had an understanding of God’s grace and salvation that was centered in a lifetime journey of growing closer to God and one another as sisters and brothers in faith. When Wesley looked around, he saw that those who claimed to have …

August 1st, 2012

Country: Germany
Born: 1098
Died: September 17, 1179
Religion: Roman Catholic
Beloved by both Pope Benedict XVI and feminist theologians, found in the lists of both Catholic saints and New Age heroes, Hildegard of Bingen transcends categories.  

My cat named Bingen passed away last year. There was nothing about her that recalled Saint Hildegard of Bingen, O.S.B., but I was moved 15 years earlier to honor Hildegard in this silly way. Long before Pope Benedict elevated her to sainthood this May, Hildegard elicited this kind of admiration from a wide range of devotees. Feminists love her strength and the boldness with which she forced her way on the church patriarchy of her time. Alternative health advocates are drawn to her study of herbal medicine and botany and her insistence on recording this female wisdom in print. Mystics are moved by her visions, which she recorded in three volumes. Lovers of sacred choral music and liturgical drama are swept up by her compositions, including what is considered the first morality play, Ordo Virtutum, from 1151.

Though Hildegard was one of the first people beatified when that process was formalized in the Middle Ages, her canonization process stalled four times, in …

July 31st, 2012

Country: Germany
Born: February 4, 1906
Died: April 9, 1945
Religion: Lutheran
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran pastor and theologian, was outspoken in opposition to the Nazi regime and its practice of genocide. He was arrested for crimes of sedition and executed at Flossenbürg concentration camp.

I am the wife of a moral theologian. As I type, there are approximately 4,000 books on the topic of moral theology poised to cascade from bookshelves, milk crates and piles in our small office. Many, if not all, of these books address the Holocaust to some extent. This systemic manifestation of evil calls into question everything we thought we knew about ourselves as human beings and about our God as good and sovereign. It is a hot and festering scar across human history that demands tending. So far, in all of these volumes looming around me, no one theologian has been able to come up with a satisfactory response to the horror and devastation this scar signifies. Perhaps no one ever will.

What I find infinitely more hopeful are the lives of real people of faith who lived in the midst of this moral chaos… who fought against it with all of their hearts …

July 30th, 2012

Country: United States
Born: January 3, 1793
Died: November 11, 1880
Religion: Quaker
An influential abolitionist and suffragist, Lucretia Mott spoke out at a time when she was forbidden to do so, inspiring generations of leaders through her commitment and love demonstrated in action.

In 1849, Lucretia Coffin Mott spoke in front of a gathering of medical students at the Cherry Street Meeting House in Philadelphia. As a center of medical education, Philadelphia attracted students from all over the country, including the South. By speaking openly against slavery in such an environment, Mott certainly knew that her words would fall on some unsympathetic ears. Indeed, as is noted in the published transcript of the sermon, when Mott began speaking openly against slavery, “Here a few persons, irritated by this reference to the question of slavery, left the meeting.”

But this gathering was not her first tough crowd. Mott was already an established anti-slavery activist, a Quaker minister who traveled and preached extensively and, with her husband, founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. In 1840, Mott attended the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London, where although she was an invited participant, she and the other women at the conference were …

July 27th, 2012

Country: United States
Born: December 18, 1819
Died: December 22, 1888
Religion: Roman Catholic
Isaac Thomas Hecker was a 19th century writer, mystic, theologian and priest who saw a perfect spiritual combination in the Catholic focus on community and the American focus on individuality.


Isaac Thomas Hecker believed that every human being was by nature a “seeker,” created for something greater, for the Divine. He believed this because he had lived his own life as a spiritual quest. Baptized as a Methodist, he spent his youth visiting churches and hearing preachers of many denominations, including Episcopalians, Mormons and Unitarians. Eventually, his brothers recognized that he was not suited for the family baking business, and they gave him leave to live and work among the restless individualists of the Transcendentalist movement in and around Boston. There he befriended Henry David Thoreau (of Walden fame and who had spent the night in jail rather than pay taxes to fund the Mexican War), and he was mentored by the greatest American thinker of the time, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nevertheless, Hecker did not find what he was looking for among the Transcendentalists. Instead he made his way steadily toward the Roman Catholic Church, …

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