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2017 Year in Review: Our favorite stories

New year 2017

Yana Paskova/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP

Elizabeth Scalia - published on 12/30/17

Before we ring in 2018, a look back at some favorite Aleteia pieces, and some worthies you may have missed.

Each year, before turning the calendar page to the near year, our Aleteia team likes to take a look back at some of our “personal favorites” — stories that might not have been “big news” but that touched us, informed us, or made us smile even as we were putting them together.

Sometimes the stories we liked best were overshadowed by breaking news and didn’t get the eyes-on-page that they really deserved, and so this Year in Review gives us a chance to serve them up to you one more time.

Here, in no particular order, are some of our favorite pieces — some were newsy, some were personal reflections on society, while others were the “small stories” that spoke constructively to our hearts.

Who sings prays twice

Let’s start with something fun and frankly amazing: the Samoan “Hotshot Firefighters” singing a hymn as they worked together.

hotshot shot

Referred to as the “Special Forces” of firefighters, this particular team from American Samoa worked on the wildfires that ravaged the Northern California countryside through so much of 2017. J-P Mauro wrote:

While coming down from Shasta-Trinity Forest, after a long day of work, these men were in high spirits and decided to sing the Samoan hymn “Fa’afetai i le Atua,” which translates to “Thanks Unto God” and is sung to the tune of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

Courageous men, ending a stressful day by praising God. And sounding like monks as they do it. A nice moment in a tough year.

Peace, it’s wonderful!

WEB3-MOTHER-DAUGHTER-CHILD-TANTRUM-UPSET-CALMING-DOWN-KISS-Shutterstock
Shutterstock

Especially when you can nip a child’s temper-tantrum in the bud as shared in this wildly popular (and helpful and wise) piece, which came to us from our Portuguese edition and told us How to diffuse a child’s tantrum with one question:

When a tantrum starts — either because the doll’s arm came off, or because it’s time to go to bed, or because the homework did not come out the way she wanted, or because he did not want to do a chore — whatever the reason, we can ask them the following question, looking into their eyes and in a calm voice:

Read the rest. It is, frankly, a great question to stave off adult tantrums, too.

People can disagree and still be decent people.

And we have two stories here that endorse that point. First, we really loved this story about a pro-choice woman who nevertheless walked the March for Life with these Dominican sisters.

marci-sisters-1-e1485281824581

Marci Velando accompanied the Sisters of Mary during the West Coast March for Life in order to shield them from aggressors, and also to support their first amendment right to free expression:

I initially joined my religious friends to protect them from past assailants, like the one who ran up, pulled off a Sister’s veil, and then fled during their peaceful protest. That was NOT okay in my book, nor should it be in anyone’s.

Were you nervous to take such a stand, and to make that Walk?

I’ll tell the truth, as the walk date drew closer my anxiety grew, but I told myself, “I am marching for freedom of speech.” Regardless of what I believe in, my religious friends — and all people — have the right to stand up for what they believe in, and I must support that.

Who knows where this friendship will lead, in God’s good time? People talking together, respecting each other even through their differences can provide all sorts of openings with which the Holy Spirit can work.

We see this also in this story about how — understanding that the march had not provided enough restrooms for the demonstrators — friars from the Dominican House of Studies opened their facilities up for participants in the “Women’s March” in Washington, DC.

women’s march verybusypeople-cc
verybusypeople-cc

As Brother Martin Davis, OP tells it:

Not only was a large crowd descending on the priory, but with the people came many disagreeable signs, shirts, and hats, some of which had messages that were anti-Catholic, pro-abortion, vulgar, or even pornographic. Nevertheless, those carrying or wearing these things had the courtesy to cover them up. The fervor that may have animated the large crowd did not go so deep as to make people oblivious or rude to flesh-and-blood humans.

The friars and the marchers were able to engage in respectful and constructive dialogue, even finding common ground in the Church’s teachings on the dignity of women, laborers and the poor.

Surprisingly, a few marchers spontaneously started collecting money for the church. It started with their passing around a hat. (I was told not to look at the text on the front, and I didn’t.) Over the course of about two hours hundreds of dollars were donated to the church without any prompting by the friars.

If you find yourself feeling like the country is so divided that any attempt at dialogue is pointless, you’ll really want to read both of these heartening pieces.

All are welcome!

2017 was undeniably a year full of discussion regarding same sex attraction, gender issues and more. For Catholics that meant finding ways to insure that “all are welcome” within the Church, despite the perceptions of some.

WEB3 DOROTHY DAY PORTRAIT Jim Forest CC 8273989772_d3db41706e_o
JIM FOREST | CC

Charles Beard gave us a thoughtful look at how to fundamentally make that welcome real through the example of Dorothy Day in his piece, Homosexuality and Catholic evangelization, the Dorothy Day way:

She begins by noting that love, as the most powerful force in the universe, must be bridled and directed, lest it run wild: “How great a thing is love, how great a force, a tidal wave, a Niagara, which can utterly destroy, or, harnessed, can supply us with light and warmth and indeed life itself.”

All human love must be shaped by reason and grace. Without the grace of God, Dorothy notes, even the love of man and woman — “natural love” in her words — becomes “delectation in temptation.”

Indeed, the need to perfect our loving makes demands on all of us. Whatever a person’s sexual attractions, the call to conversion in this regard is universal.

Yet Day knew she must go deeper.

It’s a peaceful piece that starts at the very beginning. A very fine place to start.

The strengths and gifts of women

2017 was also a year to talk about women — overwhelmingly, in the last quarter, in terms of sexual aggressions made against them by powerful men, but throughout the year in terms of leadership and ability.

the-mystic-marriage-of-st-catherine-1587

Women in art made for a memorable addition to Elizabeth Lev’s outstanding series on Catholic art during the Counter-reformation. We loved her exposition on how we countered the reformation with “Images of women, painted by women”:

The Catholic Church had the advantage of centuries of Marian veneration and a liturgical calendar filled with heroic, holy women, and also knew, much like advertisers today, that nothing sells better than a beautiful woman. Women in the Church found a new impetus in the Counter-Reformation, especially in the extraordinary lives of people like St. Teresa of Avila, who reformed the Carmelite religious and wrote powerfully about her experiences, or the extraordinary Vicaress Pernette de Montluel of the Poor Clares, who courageously contested the reformers in Geneva as recorded in Jeanne de Jussie’s The Short Chronicle.

Depictions of women — created by women — flourished in this age, not only as heroines, but also showing women new ways that they could use their unique gifts to spread the Gospel.

Enlightening and beautiful, as is the whole series, which is well-worth reviewing, as is this piece on The story behind the Mass of Saint Basil painting.

Saints, saints, and series of saints

Another series worth reading was Meg Hunter-Kilmer’s ongoing examination of lesser known saints and holy men and women whose lives are fascinating and inspiring. We are inspired by saints like Pier Giorgio Frassati and Elizabeth of the Trinity, (and we did an entire, year-long series on Saints from here in the United States, but how enriching to learn about this “Wartime nurse, jungle surgeon, evangelist nun or this “Little Terror” who wanted to be a saint, and how inspiring to learn about Bartolo Longo, the satanic priest who became a saint:

BARTOLO LONGO
Wikipedia | Domena publiczna

Bartolo began attending séances, experimented with drugs, and even got involved in orgies. He lured people away from the Catholic faith, publicly ridiculing the Church of his childhood. Before long, the newly minted lawyer was “ordained” a priest of Satan. As a Satanic bishop intoned blasphemous words, the walls of the room shook and disembodied screams terrified those in attendance.

Before long, Bartolo found himself paranoid and miserable, on the brink of a nervous breakdown. And as he clung to his Satanic practices, his family prayed.

As happened with Augustine, the faithful prayers of Bartolo’s family finally broke down the wall of anger and sin that Bartolo had built around himself. One night, he heard the voice of his dead father crying out to him, “Return to God!”

All of Meg’s pieces are similarly enthralling.

Racism: The sin still stains

It was a sad reality of 2017 that racism continues to be a force in America. As Deacon Greg Kandra wrote in homily addressing the issue:

As a church, we have been very effective at mobilizing people to pray for an end to one of the great scourges of our time, abortion. … Well, consider this another life issue. Racism is inherently anti-life. It mocks the creator. It defiles his creation. And it inflicts more wounds on the Body of Christ. We need to bring the same kind of energy and zeal that we used to battle abortion—in politics, in prayer, in personal reflection and personal courage—to battle racism.

To begin with, that means zero tolerance.

Or, as Father Fr. John Markoe, S.J. said so memorably, “Racism is a God-damned thing!”

WHITNEY PLANTATION
Photo Courtesy of Emily Stimpson Chapman

Pondering the problem while on Facebook, Emily Stimpson Chapman drew upon the country’s still-unfinished business on the nation’s “original sin” of slavery. Having recently visited two former plantations that used slaves, Houmas House Plantation and Gardens and Nottoway Plantation, she further fleshed-out her thoughts for us in this piece On Slavery: A Time for Atonement:

Ever since the Charlottesville riots, my husband and I have been wrestling with what happened, trying to understand it and struggling with how to respond. Our weekend in Louisiana only compounded that struggle, helping both of us see with new clarity that in some quarters of our country (and not just the South), the full horror of slavery and its after-effects has been shoved under the rug, like a murderous old uncle everyone wants to pretend doesn’t exist.

Too sad, too right.

Marriage: One flesh, stretched thin

In 2017, Aleteia took a look at a wide variety of marriage and marital issues, the who-does-what problems, and communications solutions, the weird trend of women (not men) “marrying themselves,” the ever-popular crying bride, and we even featured a story about married saints.

One personal reflection, though, by Tom Hoopes, really spoke to us about the human continuum that abides in marriage, in a most beautiful way. Writing on his daughter’s first wedding anniversary, his own 25th, and his parent’s 50th, he got us thinking about Paper, silver and gold: The refinery effect of marriage:

Do you know how paper, silver and gold are made? I looked it up.

To make paper, you take raw materials — bits and pieces of rag or wood — and chop them to bits and beat them to a pulp for hours. Throw in some unexpected materials to add interest and beauty. Then soak it, flatten it, squash it and dry it until it’s rough and unkempt but united into one thing that will last.

Then you stretch it thin.

This is how the first year of marriage works, too. You take your strength and your mess, add it to her strength and mess, beat it together with the hard reality of a shared life, use the unexpected to add character, soak it in happy times, flatten it with exhaustion at the end of each week, and mush the two into one thing.

Then you stretch it thin.

Silver is harder to make.

This is a splendid and insightful read. Don’t miss it.

Still haven’t found what they’re looking for? Some have! 

Millennials were a focal point of 2017, particularly when it came to stories about so-called “Vanishing Catholics” of the West, who seem to be more engaged with the culture than with the faith. It’s unsettling, especially as we consider how, in another part of the world, this Iraqi archbishop is trying to save persecuted Christians.

buddy-jesus-whos-awesome

We did feature a piece by one Millennial eager to share his ideas about how to turn that problem around.

We don’t need the Church to give us access to what is “cool.” We have more access to that than we can consume. We want what is true. We want what is beautiful. We want access to it in consistent terms which we may not understand, but can learn through practice. We want access to meaning that goes beyond what is cool, or what’s trending.

We want what is eternal and if churches can’t give us that — if the Church can’t give us a break from the world because it has assimilated too much of the worldly — then what’s the point?

This is why millennials aren’t in the pews.

Well … why many aren’t. On the other side of the grille, however …

OP_Monastics_Buffalo_Supplied_4
Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, Buffalo, NY

We also got the perspective of Millennials — these being three cloistered Dominican nuns — who wished to speak to their generation about the counter-cultural, downright radical, life of prayer within the Church:

“Think about it this way: Outward conformity to a litany of commands doesn’t make people happy. It is transformation of our spirit that we desire—harmony within ourselves, harmony with each other, harmony with God.” How is that done? How, she puts forward, can we achieve lasting peace with our neighbors, much less friendship with One who is so totally “other”? “The answer is simple: We can’t! God, however, can, and that is what He does, sending His Son and His Spirit to draw us to Himself.

“Religion is thus not a burden but a gift,” the young nun insists …

Read More here

Catholic chart toppers

As 2017 drew to a close, we had the chance to feature some other Dominicans, both the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist and some friars out of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., who call themselves “Hillbilly Thomists” and allowed us to interview them about their new, highly successful album of bluegrass music.

FATHER TANSI IBISI
Courtesy of Renewal in Motion Facebook

Earlier, though, we had covered the debut album of another friar, Father Tansi of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. In Friar on Fire: Fr. Tansi’s debut album is full of grace Matt Becklo wrote:

It took another brother – Br. Mark-Mary, the man behind CFR’s “Renewal in Motion” initiative – to connect the dots. … That included reaching out to bassist and Catholic Underground veteran Scott Mulvahill, a full-time member of Ricky Skaggs’s band Kentucky Thunder, to produce Tansi’s album. Mulvahill agreed, and in a matter of weeks, Tansi was on his way to Nashville to record his music. “With the help of Scott and his friends we recorded the album in February 2017 from a Friday to a Sunday…I felt very comfortable leaving Scott with the rest of the work, because I could see that he knew exactly what we were trying to capture with the project.”

He was right. Garden is a chilled, cozy refuge for the soul, one that stands right alongside the work of other spiritual troubadours like Josh Garrels and Trevor Hall.

Part biography, part album review, Becklo’s piece is a lyrical read.

Father Tansi, the Franciscans and the Dominicans were just some of the many Catholic musicians who created memorable music carrying messages of faith. Father Rob Galea’s single “Dominoes” was a pop-inflected statement of faith that could hold its own on any radio playlist. Rapper RabelzTheMC bridged the gap between Catholicism and hip-hop, and on the feast of St. Cecilia, we were delighted to bring readers a comprehensive list of The 30 Top Catholic Artists of 2017

And just to make you giddy, a look back on Leonardo da Vinci’s music machine, which was brought to life after 500 years.

When mental illness is the reality

Stories about mental illness and anxiety gave us pause in 2017. Anxiety is so rampant in society, that we wrote about it a lot, including spiritual anxiety.

But two stories about mental illness really stayed with us this year, because so often, people afflicted with mental illnesses are simply cast aside, their troubles ignored.

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Photo Courtesy of Lucia Odom

The first because no one had ever considered “Catching” a mental illness until this family’s story came up:

As soon as Lucia cracked open the pages of Saving Sammy, she felt like she’d found the missing puzzle piece that had been eluding her for so long: Connor’s OCD might be rooted in a simple strep infection.

The second story is a moving piece (and audio interview) from Tony Rossi, about A nun who shared a beautiful friendship with a man who suffered with schizophrenia, yet mirrored Jesus’ love for others:

She recalled that one time, Arthur was walking near a bus stop when he spotted a man fumbling around, looking for something. Arthur asked the stranger what was wrong, and he explained that he couldn’t find his Metrocard to get on the bus.

“Arthur took his card out of his pocket,” Sister Ave said, “and [told the stranger], ‘You could have mine.’ The man says, ‘Then what will you do?’ Arthur said, ‘It’ll make me happy.’ The man did take his card, and he told Arthur, ‘You’re a fine gentleman.’”

When Sister Ave asked Arthur what he did the rest of the day, he answered simply, “Oh, I took long walks.”

Be ready to wonder, and to smile, and to die

We started on a fun note, so let’s end on one, as well, by answering the question, How did these pop-culture gargoyles end up on a medieval Church in France?

Chapelle de Bethléem Saint Jean de Boiseau
ollografik | CC BY-ND 2.0

In 1993 the French government hired Jean-Louis Boistel, a stonemason who had worked on many other historic restorations, to restore the church and its 28 gargoyles. Since there was no record of what the chapel looked like other than a few drawings from the 19th century, Boistel was told to use his imagination in creating the stonework creatures.

Check out the pictures! Gargoyles are more than just “memento mori” which, come to think of it, was another favorite story trend of ours, a focus begun on social media by Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, fsp, and which she wrote about about here.  She even put together a playlist!

Keep wondering; keep smiling. Life can turn on a dime, so keep up an attitude of gratitude. Good advice as we step into the new year, actually! Happy 2018!

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Shutterstock

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