Faith in Focus
November 30, 2015
Maria and Manuel had shrunk. As bodies usually do, theirs diminished with the passing years. Maria stood rod straight, just smaller, while Manuel stooped, first over a cane, then a walker. His once-tall frame was pulled down by gravity stronger than his spine. The only evidence of his previous height could be seen when he was stretched out in his blue recliner, as he frequently was. There he relaxed and napped, especially during soap operas, his daytime...
November 23, 2015
‘Chris, I brought you some of the material. I thought you might want to....”
“No,” I said, cutting off my sister, Liz. “I don’t want to pre-read any of the material. It’s my weekend—I’m not working.”
She asked me again a few days later: “Chris?”
“Ugh—” My grunt of negation was meant to be pre-emptive. She addressed me by name only when she was going to ask me...
November 16, 2015
In the fall of 2013, two ninth graders from the local junior high school here were killed, one in October and one in November. I didn’t know the two boys, but one of my students from the community center in La Esperanza, José, who went to the same school as the murdered ninth graders, was also threatened by a gang—possibly the same one that killed the ninth graders. José knew if he refused to collaborate with the gang, as they demanded, he would meet the...
November 2, 2015
I have stopped trying to correct people when they tell me that Pope Francis is “so much more like Jesus” than his predecessor. Every institution has a public image and, fairly or not, for the first time in a long time the whole world sees a man of the people at the church’s rudder. I admire Francis and consider him saintly. But I am also convinced that the previous man to wear the white and gold, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, is saintly as well. I have found...
October 19, 2015
My grandmother’s rosary was of amethyst-colored beads and a small silver crucifix, gray-black with tarnish. She kept it on the bureau in her bedroom near a holy card of St. Jude and a talcum powder box made of imitation satin. She’d put it in a special pouch—an old change purse, actually—when she was heading out for Mass or had a reasonably long bus ride ahead of her. When she would visit us out in the suburbs—she still lived fairly deep in the city, not all...
October 12, 2015
For decades, I have admired Ron Hansen, the gifted author of many novels, including one of my favorites, Mariette in Ecstasy, about the religious experiences of a young nun in upstate New York. “Luminous” is how one reviewer described the book, and I think of that adjective every time I read it. More than 20 years ago, I met Ron when he came to lecture on theology and fiction at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., where I was studying....
October 5, 2015
Five years after my first battle with breast cancer, a new one struck. There it was: a dime-sized tumor, spotted by my doctor even though the rest of my right colon was difficult to see. “How presumptuous of me to think that because I had cancer once there would never be another,” I thought after the initial shock. Later, after the surgery, I was concerned I would have to have another colonoscopy right away. “It’s good news,” the surgeon told me. “You don’t...
September 28, 2015
The thing I remember best about Louie is that he said he hadn’t had a peach in 30 years. Louie (not his real name) was a lifer; he was in his 50s and had been in prison for over three decades. On the day he told me this, as he was hanging out in the library where I work, a couple of landscape workers were ripping out two trees in the chapel courtyard. The trees in question had grown from saplings and had turned out to be fruit trees, suspected peach trees,...
September 28, 2015
Last winter I traveled to Florence, Ariz., to a federal detention facility one hour north of Tucson, where we celebrated a liturgy with 50 men who rarely have a chance to attend Mass and who are separated from their families and friends. We sang hymns together, prayed together and exchanged the sign of peace. I tried to follow along in Spanish.
We were unable to bring cameras or cell phones into the facility, so I will try to...
September 21, 2015
My parish is a short drive from the house. Every Sunday I see the same people at 8:30 a.m.: the older couples whose children are grown, the many young families with their children, the teenagers who came with their parents but who would rather be in bed. This is the Mass I almost always attend alone. There are a few others who are also alone, though not many.
I serve as an acolyte twice a month, and on these Sundays I sit up...