How often do you come across a theologian who is as funny and mischievous as he is smart? I’m no scholar, but I know a good thinker when I see one, and the first time I read a sample section of James Alison’s catechetical course online I laughed out loud, and then I immediately read it again—twice. His analogy of the Church as a restaurant is so perfect, so true, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. More...
Reading this article by Frances Robles in the New York Times about Americans rushing to Cuba, I’m reminded of a heartbreaking moment when I returned to Cuba nearly fifty years after immigrating to the U.S.
My government-approved trip began with a few nights' stay at the iconic Habana Libre hotel. At breakfast the first morning, I poured myself a cup of coffee but could not find milk on the buffet table or anywhere in the grand dining hall. I eventually realized a single waitress was making the rounds, pouring milk from a pitcher for guests who requested it. When she reached my table, I held out my cup. She smiled and poured out a scant teaspoon of milk. I looked up, thinking she was teasing me; but she'd already turned away and was moving on to another table. Cup in hand, I was about to slip out of my chair to follow her when my breakfast companion, a frequent traveler to Cuba, clamped a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t,” she whispered. “You don’t know what it cost her to pour you that much.” She explained that this woman, who appeared to be in her late twenties, likely did not have enough milk at home for her young children due to acute shortages in Cuba.
So when I read in the New York Times that the crush of tourists is "wiping out the stores" Cubans rely on to fill their pantries — not to mention their children's bellies — I can't help but recall this moment and other troubling moments from my own trip to Cuba. I won't visit Cuba again until there's enough food for tourists and for ordinary Cubans.
I don’t always say it out loud, but I think it every once in a while. “Why me? What did I do to deserve __________ ?” You can fill in the blank with your own particular burden. Funny thing: even though it looks like a question, it’s not really a question. It’s a lament, an existential moan. I don’t expect an answer. What I want is sympathy; someone to wallow with me in my gushing well of self-pity.
Imagine my shock, then, when shortly after I’d muttered these words one day, a total stranger looks me in the eye and says, “Seriously? Get over yourself, Alicia.” More here...
After my mind-blowing encounter with Palestinians and Israelis on a 2010 trip to the Holy Land, I have kept abreast of news from the region. Never has it been so painful as it is now. Sparked by the brutal murders of one Palestinian teen and three Israeli teens, the conflict seems to intensify every hour.
I study photographs of the boys—Mohammed, Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal—all gangly growth and goofy smiles, smooth cheeks and pimply foreheads, then fix my gaze on their beautiful, blameless eyes. I want to scream. Why, God? Why? More here...
Sometimes, you know what you have to do before you know why you should do it, before you have thoughts or words. For several months, I’ve been thinking about how to relate to my 38-year-old former pastor. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison this year, after admitting that he had child pornography on his computer and cellphone. Before he was arrested, I had a warm relationship with my pastor. He had done much good for the parish. We were on the school board together. We chatted after Mass. He has sent me letters from prison, but I have not responded; not yet. I don’t know what to say. More here...
Jim Olson, a pediatric oncologist, was interviewed on National Public Radio earlier this year. The program was about science, not religion, which only makes his story more striking.
Dr. Olsen explained on the program, “A child who is going to die from their cancer isn't mourning the high school prom that they're not going to get to go to. They're not mourning the fact that they won't drive their first car. For a child, it's about, Am I happy? Are my parents happy? Is a cute dog going to come in and visit me at 2 o'clock in the afternoon? It's all about that moment, that day.” More here...
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary. This is surprising, because I’ve never been “into” Mary. Or rather, I’m just not into traditional Marian piety. The Marian virtues hailed throughout my childhood annoyed me, and she looks so weak and pasty in most of those old holy cards. Even the celebrated paintings of Mary, weeping and fainting at the foot of the cross, fail to move me. I feel sorry for Mary, yes; but I never cottoned to her like I did to Jesus.
Then, last week, I read a passage in Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s new book, Sacred Fire, that forced me to revise my image of Mary. Rolheiser tells us that many great artists got the crucifixion scene wrong. The gospel writers clearly tell us that Mary “stood” close to the cross, indicating a position of strength and power. They never describe Mary as prostrate or keening. More here...
I’ve always loved the poetic “O Antiphons” we say each year to close the Advent season. I can’t seem to get enough of them, and I’ve occasionally created a few extras to pray on my own.
Just before Lent this year, while reading the Billy Collins poem “Aimless Love,” it occurred to me that I could start a parallel Lenten tradition. This Lent, I am creating and praying my very own “Ah” Antiphons; that is, verses that mark a moment of insight, awe, or appreciation. I’m also doing the traditional Lenten things, like fasting and service, but I have a feeling that writing an Ah Antiphon each day might end up being the practice with the most punch. More here...
I have never visited Africa, but a friend lived there for many years, teaching school children, and a story she told me twenty years ago thrums in memory.
One summer, Sister Anne Marie said, a team of biblical scholars and linguists came to her remote village. It was not their first visit. They were working with the tribe’s members to prepare a new translation of the gospels in the local language. Matthew, Mark and Luke were nearly finished, but the Gospel of John had proved daunting. Over and over, the experts tried to translate the first verse, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Each time they ran their translations by the village elders, the elders frowned or politely shook their heads, “No.” The translators were losing heart. More here...
How would you fill in the blank in the sentence below?
“_______________ has been my salvation.”
I asked myself this question today after watching an eleven-minute film called, “Still.” The mesmerizing film features 72-year-old Hawaiian free-diver Carlos Eyles floating through coral reefs, frolicking with dolphins, and stroking giant sea turtles.
Carlos Eyles is lucky, and he knows it. A childhood experience opened his eyes to the beauty and wonder of the ocean, and he never looked back. Everything in his life—his marriage, his career, his philosophical musings—reflect his unwavering passion. More here...
One of the highlights of my year was interviewing Jean Vanier, the 85-year-old founder of L’Arche, a worldwide community of homes for people with intellectual disabilities. We met in Jean’s home in Trosly-Breuil, France. Our visit was memorable for many reasons, but what remains most strongly with me is a simple story he told me.
Many years ago, Jean lived with a L’Arche core member named Andrew. One day, Andrew went to see a cardiologist. That evening, making small talk at the supper table, Jean asked Andrew what had happened at the doctor’s office. More here...