The National Catholic Review

Faith in Focus

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  • I was driving home from church after my fourth Mass of the day, and the dark night hung like a nightmare, closing in and pressing down. My thoughts, churning like rapids, ventured deeper and deeper into the pit of despair.

    My marriage had just ended. For several weeks I put up a strong front, not betraying the growing depression that was overcoming me. Eventually, it hit with the ferocity of a tsunami, making me...

  • December 5-12, 2016

    In 1986, as a 24-year-old recent graduate of New York University, excited by life’s possibilities and just engaged to be married, I was searching for ways to be more aware of and responsive to God’s call. I was seeking deeper meaning in my life, a way to tap into God’s life force (“The Empire Strikes Back” was an influence here) and a way to make my faith life come alive in my daily life.

    My then-fiancé, now-husband...

  • November 28, 2016

    I am standing in the middle pew, far left side, at Mass. We choose this pew when possible for the light pouring and puddling through the stained-glass windows. The late-morning Mass is best because the sun finally makes it over the castlements of the vast hospital up the hill, and the sun has a direct, irresistible shot at the windows, and as my twin sons used to say, the sun loooves jumping through the windows and does so with the headlong...

  • November 21, 2016

    For the past four months I have lived next door to a holy shrine, a chapel built into a medieval gatehouse. The structure is the last surviving gate in the defensive wall that once ringed the city of Vilnius, Lithuania. An icon of the Virgin Mary hangs within, facing the Old Town through a large arched window over the gateway. The painting has been adorned in a protective casement of golden-hued silver that makes her resplendent at all hours, but...

  • November 14, 2016

    In 1992 I was a 17-year-old college student studying at Phoenix College. Two years later I began a different sort of education, this time at “convict college.” I was serving a sentence for possession of drug paraphernalia, which turned out to be only an introduction to many years—and advanced degrees—of criminal behavior.

    That same year, in an attempt to boost voter approval and cut government spending, President...

  • November 7, 2016

    I never imagined that I would end up in prison. I was in Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution as part of a year-long volunteer program with the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry. I tutored in adult basic education and taught creative writing.

    Before working at Baylor, I was a little scared of inmates. I thought, Will I meet a murderer? Teach a murderer? It seemed so foreign, so far beyond my capacity for understanding. When I started volunteering, I discovered that while I knew which...

  • October 31, 2016

    The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola center on the nitty-gritty process of making decisions—“elections” in Ignatian-speak—actions carried out under the influence of a gracious God. St. Ignatius suggests three possible intellectual and emotional “times” of one’s life “in any of which a sound and good election can be made.” I have, over my 59 years as a Jesuit, made elections in all three of these times. But St. Ignatius’ guidance is not a preserve just for Jesuits. All human beings...

  • October 24, 2016

    In the 10 years since My Life With the Saints was first published, I hope that I have gained a bit more wisdom on the Christian life. This has come as the result of some hard knocks, some retreats, some conversations with insightful friends, some experiences in prayer and some counsel from spiritual directors, mentors and even psychologists. For me, this wisdom comes mainly in the form of insights. I see an aspect of the Christian life more clearly...

  • October 3, 2016

    The Yale University Art Gallery and Center for British Art face each other across Chapel Street in New Haven, Conn. They are the closest thing on campus to church, including churches, though I rarely think of anything so lofty when I walk by. It’s where Bill Clinton crossed a picket line to pick up a girl. My own church was News Haven, the newsstand where I spent hours poring over journals.

    Dr. John McLaughlin was my patron.

    I am at the youngest end of the viewership for “The...

  • September 19, 2016

    As children, my older sister and I staged elaborate Barbie doll games. Whenever we played, my sister’s dolls would go off to work, go on dates and generally engage in the adult world as we encountered it. Her dolls would eventually marry one of our two Ken dolls in an extravagant Barbie wedding. My dolls, on the other hand, were always married the moment we began and procreated at an unrealistic pace soon thereafter. Often we would have to draft...