I Am Yours And You Are Mine

This year, although it was His birthday, Jesus gave me two gifts for Christmas. He reminded me of something He said to Saint Faustina, who was a Polish nun and mystic just before World War II. He appeared to her many times and explained much to her about His mercy. Before going to the vigil Mass on Christmas Eve, He reminded me of one revelation in particular. He had said to her, and by extension, to me, “My mercy is greater than your sins and those of the whole world.” This meant a lot because I have a tendency to sometimes get a little crazy, over analyze everything I do, think, and say, and assume I’m doomed. To me what He really seemed to be saying was, “I love you. Don’t be afraid. Just come to me.”

For most of Christmas Day, we hung out with family, ate junk food, and generally had a good time. That night, however, I turned my focus back to the Lord. I knew I should meditate on the incarnation, and I realized that it tends to be something I pass over. It’s a necessary part of the story, but realistically, it’s a strange one. Usually, in mythology, when the “gods” interact with humans, they don’t present themselves like our God does; they don’t present themselves as small, helpless, and vulnerable. I realized that I’m kind of uncomfortable with the whole thing. It occurred to me that I could ask for help, and I prayed to Our Lady, Jesus’ mom since she understands it better than anyone else can.

Oddly, she seemed to ask a question: What is intimacy? The first thing that came to mind was more what intimacy–at least a kind of intimacy–does; two people come together and life is created. Then she seemed to ask, “what would spiritual intimacy be, then?” I figured it would be when two souls came together. She seemed to follow with, “where does that happen?” Then it hit me: the Eucharist. The Eucharist is literally the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. In John 6, Jesus says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him,” and also, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Before His Passion, Jesus prays that He would have the same kind of closeness with His followers (friends) as He does with His Father. It’s the Eucharist that allows for this kind of closeness, and without the Incarnation, this wouldn’t be possible; we wouldn’t have Him.

I receive the Eucharist at Mass every week, occasionally more than once a week, and I never fully understood that what my Lord wants is intimacy with me. I looked up a dictionary definition for the word, and “intimacy” is actually close familiarity or friendship, and does not necessarily imply any kind of sexual relationship. I finally had time to read and think this past weekend, and I found a podcast called Understanding the Scriptures, which is based on a book written by Dr. Scott Hahn.

Frequently, the teacher, Carson Weber came back to the concept of a Covenant. A Covenant, in a Biblical sense, is much deeper than how one might understand a contract. A covenant is a sacred, familial bond that makes the members of the covenant intrinsically one: I am yours and you are mine. In a contract, the members are making promises to exchange goods or services and are pledging to fulfill those promises on their word alone. A covenant invokes the name of God as one’s witness. A contract is breakable and eventually ends when the promises have been met. A covenant cannot be broken, but it can be violated, which only hurts the people involved, and it has no expiration date.

In the Creation narrative, it says that God rested on the seventh day. What this really means is that He made this day holy, and covenanted, or bound Himself to His creation, and particularly His people. It was, and is a sacred bond of love. This is why marriage is a sacrament; it makes a man and a woman one; not just on a physical level, but also on a spiritual level. Marriage between a man and a woman also mirrors the spiritual marriage of God and His people: “They will be my people, and I will be their God.” While a contract and a covenant are quite different, they are similar in that they both have terms. The difference is that the terms of a contract are negotiable, while the terms of a covenant are not. This is where the “rules” that people tend not to like come from. God sets the terms of the covenant, and what He is doing is telling us how we are to love Him and love each other. Ultimately, if we are faithful to these “rules,” it will be for our good, and results in interior peace, but it takes practice.

At the Last Supper, Jesus says, “this is the cup of my Blood, the Blood of the new and everlasting Covenant…” What He is doing is renewing the Covenant with His people that was violated, and is still violated over and over. God first made a covenant with Adam who only really had two tasks, to take care of and protect the Garden, and Eve. When God Covenanted Himself to Adam, He made him in His image and likeness. This is the most important detail because it is this “likeness” that intrinsically changes Adam: it makes him not just a creature, but a son of God. When he and Eve violated the Covenant, they effectively forfeited their kinship with God. Adam initially failed when he did not protect Eve from the devil’s temptation, and then, when he did not defend her when God questioned her. Instead, he stayed quiet and then blamed her. Jesus undid this when He sacrificed Himself for us.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, he takes onto Himself all our sins, weaknesses, and failures, and in His innocence, takes our place to face God’s Judgment. As He is dying, He defends us and prays, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” Adam failed to take care of and defend Eve, his bride, while Jesus, on the other hand, heals, teaches, and redeems His bride: the Church. In the New Covenant, He essentially gives us two commands, as Adam had his two: “Love one another as I have loved you,” (John 13:34), and also, after His Resurrection, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

The Lord teaches many things in Scripture and through the Church, but probably the most important thing is His teaching on the Eucharist. Because of this teaching, literally thousands of people left Him because, as it says in John 6, people thought this was a difficult teaching to understand or accept. After His Resurrection, though, those who did accept it received an amazing promise: Jesus will always be faithful to us. While we partake of the Eucharist communally as a Church, we also partake of it individually. Before we do, we have to ask ourselves two questions: have I loved like Jesus loves? Have I lived my faith so others see it and hear about it?

The scary thing is that in the Eucharist, Jesus makes Himself as vulnerable, if not more vulnerable than an infant. He offers me His everything; He gives me His Heart, and that means I can hurt Him if I haven’t been faithful. This is why I freak out, and why He offers me mercy in so many ways, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession), so that when He says “I am yours,” I can say, “I am Yours,” and really mean it.

Never Left Behind

On the way to the studio this past week I realized something. A little over a year ago, on a Wednesday night, I picked up my phone to look at Facebook or something equally as pointless, and the words and melody to my song “Heart Of Love” popped into my head. I remember it was a Wednesday because my studio sessions are usually on Thursdays. We were about halfway done working on what I expected to be a single when I came in with my new song, knowing it was good, and knowing we had to do something with it.

Twelve songs later, I have an album, but I wouldn’t have it if God hadn’t dropped “Heart Of Love” on my head. Something every Christian prays at some point in their life in one way or another is, “Lord have mercy on me.” What I didn’t realize was that this album is an answer to that prayer. I realized this because unfortunately, our society has a few specific marks that one generally must have by about their mid twenties that qualify them as a “real” adult. What I mean by this is that our society has determined that every person has a base value, and depending on what “marks” one has by a certain age, one is determined to be more or less valuable; more or less “real.” These marks tend to be 1) if one has earned a degree and has at least a relatively well-paying job 2) one is confident and chaste as a single person (oddly enough for our culture), or they are in a steady, healthy relationship 3) one has their own apartment, or one is paying rent to their parents with the expectation and prospect of eventually moving out.

Given my circumstances, I have none of these “marks.” While it’s true that I am confident and chaste as a single woman, because it is not entirely by choice, by the estimates of our society, it seems not to “count.” This leaves me with a dilemma. I know my worth as a child of God. I have also internalized my perception of how the world sees me as a disabled woman. I know that I will not move out of my parents’ house, at least in the near future. Because my art and my skill at writing doesn’t make a tangible profit, I don’t have what society considers to be a “real” job. There have been times when it seems I have been regarded with pity or condescension. I know that this is how I have perceived things, and my perception can be faulty. Nonetheless, this gets internalized; I look at how I don’t have these “marks,” and I see myself as less “real;” less valuable than the friends and acquaintances who have these “marks.”

About three weeks ago, I got started working on an article that I initially did not want to write. I started the writing and research, nonetheless, because I felt that the Lord wanted me to write it (it’s still in the works). On Friday, I was hit once again by the fact that  because I don’t have a paying job, in the eyes of society, my work, despite the fact that it is work, doesn’t really “matter.” It’s “cool” that I write music, but because I’m not a well known songwriter or a touring artist, the compliments are sometimes perceived to come with a note of pity or condescension, whether it’s meant or not. I wrote in my last post about how our culture fosters a tendency to regard others with skepticism, and I admit, my perception is that of a skeptic.

I prayed about this before going to the studio, and it hit me that the world may not see my work for what it’s worth, and I may not see it for what it’s worth, but the Lord does. The Lord said to me, almost audibly, “What you write matters to me.” I recently wrote about the Let It Go Box, which I’ve decided to rename the Redemption Box. In short, you hand something over to God, and let Him take control of it and redeem it.

I realize that over time, though we never really talked about it, I gave Him the blog a long time ago. While working on what I thought would be a single, my friend and I prayed; we handed it over, though the Box wasn’t a concept at the time, and that single became an album. Over the past year, I’ve wondered often why God chose me to work on what I know is really His project. I realized that this project didn’t need to exist; He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t need my blog or my music to save the world. He gave me things to write because that is what I’m capable of doing, because I’m good at it, and because He cares about me. He gave me something to do because He knows I love Him in a way that only I can, and because I want to help.

This is His mercy. Mercy is when someone sees another suffering, and does something about it. He sees when others devalue me, or when I devalue myself, and  He asks me to write something, or helps me write a song, and in doing so, He reminds me that what I have to say matters. He reminds me that He is my God, He loves me, and He will never leave me behind.

You Are Worth Hurting For

My last post was about my clothing ceremony in our Carmelite Community last month. Being part of this community has been interesting for me. To be perfectly honest, there is still a bit of the high school rebel in me that hasn’t died. That high school rebel wanted nothing more than to go against the grain at all costs, and was wary of joining anything. This is because it wasn’t easy for me to make friends growing up, and the friendships I had were those made and matured before I was six. I made a few other friends through the years, but they weren’t the kinds of friendships that really stuck.

When I came back to the Catholic Church, I was really happy for a while, but then I could tell that God was calling me to something more. I talked to Father Patrick about it because I thought I wanted to be a consecrated virgin; a woman who vows to be “in the world” as a representative of the Church, and a bride of Christ. That sounded really cool to me, but at the time I was maybe twenty-two. Father Patrick said I would need more structure and guidance, so he pointed me to Carmel. I was skeptical, but when I went to my first meeting at our community, I knew I had found what I was looking for.

It’s really the best of both worlds. I have the freedom to work and play and, largely, to pray how I want, but I also definitely have structure. There are things that I’m supposed to do every day, and though I thought it would be a burden, it gives me a sense of purpose. I had been wary of joining a community because I wasn’t sure it would be conducive to making authentic relationships. This past weekend we had an Advent/Christmas party, and I sang, while another of our members played guitar. Many of our members have heard some of my original music, and some have read my blog. I don’t know everyone exceptionally well, but yesterday I realized that I consider these people family.

Our aforementioned guitarist had printed off the lyrics to one of my original songs and when everyone sang it, it was almost like an out-of-body experience. An entire room was singing one of my songs. We won’t see each other again until after the New Year, and that’s really what I want to talk about. Our community has been welcoming to me from the beginning, and even at the first or second meeting I attended, I felt like I had found “home” this side of Heaven. At the party, with everyone singing my song, I had that feeling again.

Recently I realized something surprising. If I were to leave, I would be missed. I say this is surprising because I’ve learned something that I don’t like to admit: I have wounds from when I was bullied as a kid that seem to only have surfaced relatively recently. Within just the past few years, first Jesus, then this community have taught me that I didn’t value myself enough, and actually, I’m pretty awesome. I don’t know how many times I have to read, or hear song lyrics, or what have you, that reiterate what Jesus silently says to me from the cross: “I died for you. You are worth dying for.” That is an objective Truth that I can’t argue with, even on the days when every fiber of my being wants to. Over the past year, whether they know it or not, my community has silently said to me in various ways, “You are worth living for,” and I can’t argue with that either.

I am part of this community, and we are living in a world that suffers. To live for anyone in this world; to have real relationships with them, tends to mean hurting for and with them, too. This has been a tough year. Members of our community have suffered greatly. We are a family, not by blood, but by choice, and that means we share that hurt. I wrote in my last post that Love carries me. I meant that God has carried me, and continues to carry me through a lot, but the love of my community really carries me, too. It has also changed my heart because to be loved has serious healing power, and makes a person more loving themselves. To be more loving means one is more able, more likely, and more willing to hurt.

I can attest to the simple fact that it’s worth it. A relationship in which all parties know they are worth hurting for is a huge relief and fosters emotional and spiritual growth and openness. I know this simply from experience. Our culture is not conducive to building these kinds of relationships. Without even getting into specific reasons, it is evident that between social media and politics, we tend to come into conversations with strangers with immediate and unwarranted skepticism. It is our impulse to find out what they are wrong about instead of looking for things we have in common. I disagree with my best friend on basically everything, but she is still my best friend because we still have a lot in common. Most importantly though, she and I have always shared each other’s hurt.

I am wary of giving advice, but I think I can offer some here. Think about your relationships, in whatever form they may take. If you find that you have not been willing to share the hurt of others, think about why, and think about whether you are happy or not. Conversely, think about whether you have relationships in your life where others have been willing to share your hurt. Sharing the hurt of another doesn’t seem like it would produce happiness. It does not produce pleasure; it produces a kind of joy in knowing that you are helping. Knowing that someone is willing to share your hurt results in relief and validates that it matters, and it does matter. In either situation, if you find that either you don’t have anyone you suffer for, or you don’t have anyone who suffers for you, pray.

Know that it still gives Jesus relief when you reflect on His Passion, and know, too that you can offer your sufferings, whatever they may be to the Father, with Jesus’ suffering. Remember that He suffered, and chooses to suffer for you and with you, and know that you can complain to Him. That has been a difficult thing for me to learn. He’s not going to tell you to quit complaining. He gets it, and He knows that what you’re dealing with sucks. Don’t worry about how you say it. You can tell Him, “Lord, this sucks.” Speak to Him like you would a friend, because that’s who He is. Lastly, if you don’t have someone you suffer for, or who suffers for you, ask for some. I can tell you from experience that God will bring them into your life.

Love Carries Me

On Saturday, the Lord made a mark on me that can’t be unmade. Saturday was the monthly meeting of our Carmelite Community, but it wasn’t like any other we’ve had this year. On Saturday I received the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and was officially admitted into formation. This signifies that I am officially part of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, I am consecrated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel (and through her, in a particular way, Our Lord), and I am dedicated to imitating Mary in humility, chastity, and prayer; contemplating our Lord. On Saturday, the Lord made me more His own than I already was.

Last week was a little chaotic. Nothing especially crazy happened, at least on a basic level; I was just busy, so I didn’t get to my reading for Saturday’s formation until Friday. Along with the reading were some reflection questions, and one of those questions was simple and to the point; why do you want to be a Carmelite? I knew my answer almost immediately; I want to know Him more, and be more His.

With mixed emotions I sometimes remember when I daydreamed about what my wedding might have looked like. For various reasons, I know that marriage is not in the cards for me. The Lord has other plans, and that’s just fine. After my clothing ceremony on Saturday, which I had with one other woman, several others made their First Promises (which for nuns/friars would be like temporary vows), and one made his Final Promises (which would be like perpetual vows), and I found myself thinking about that like a wedding ceremony.

For me, Final Promises is five years away, and I have so much to learn, but I want that. I find that the closer I get to the Lord, the more I want Him. That seems counter intuitive, but I think it makes sense given that He is infinite Love, and I’m finite. I think I’m finally beginning to understand really that He is my only satisfaction. Every good thing that exists has a limit. Every beautiful, fun, hilarious, heartbreaking, glorious story has an end; eventually the coffee in the cup runs out; my favorite songs fade to silence; one day I will have to return my bird to the Lord. God’s Goodness, and everything that comes with that; His Beauty; Mysteriousness; Faithfulness; Compassion; these have no limit, and my thirst for Him can never really be quenched.

The Scapular I received on Saturday is meant to be an outward sign of an inner change. I don’t feel different per se, but I know that I am different. I’ve changed a lot in the past year, and it wasn’t like I was hit with a lightning bolt on Saturday, but it was like hearing the Lord say, “I see the choices you’ve made for Me. Thank you.” I recently came across an explanation of what it means when Jesus says “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Me.” To deny yourself means to choose what God wants when what you want is something else. I realized that this past year, I’ve done that. I’ve changed things about my life that if the Lord hadn’t called me to Carmel, I probably would not have.

Promises, to me at least, seem very much like wedding vows. I had a thought the other day that I can love the Lord in a particular way precisely because I’m a woman. Obviously men love the Lord, too, but I imagine it’s a love of deep friendship and loyalty. Of course I have these same feelings, but I think because I’m a woman, I can love Him in a kind of romantic sense. There’s so much language in Scripture about the Lord’s relationship with His people being like that of a lover and His beloved. In fact, the Church, is often referred to with feminine language. When the Lord finally comes, there is language in Scripture of a wedding feast.

For a long time, I was wary of this kind of language. I wondered if I was allowed to love the Lord in this way. The fact of the matter is, though, I think I’m kind of supposed to. It’s not a the same as a “normal” or “usual” romance (for lack of a better word) between a man and a woman, but it is a kind of romance. Increasingly, there’s this ache in me because I want so badly to physically feel Him and audibly hear His voice. I want to sit somewhere with Him, and maybe not even talk about anything, but physically see Him with my eyes. Simply put, I want Him.

I’ve been a member of our Carmelite Community for a year now. I invited the priest who suggested I check this out in the first place (Father Patrick), and he came and concelebrated (was a copilot for) the Mass, and I invited my Godfather who came all the way from Maine. I hadn’t wanted to make a big deal of this, but my Community did. I was buried in really wonderful gifts from everyone. People didn’t just give me cards, but people had put thought into the things they gave me, and the things they wrote.

After October’s meeting I had a meeting with the leaders of our community who asked if I definitely wanted to continue my formation. I immediately said “yes” because I’ve enjoyed our meetings and I’ve been interested in what we’ve been learning about, and certainly, I’ve grown closer to the Lord through prayer. For a month, at different times I had taken it as a given that I would continue; at other times I was sincerely excited. For a week before Saturday, I had different feelings.

I had the feeling that it was wrong, and I grew increasingly nervous, but I also had the suspicion that these feelings were not natural. I ended up talking to Father Patrick on Wednesday, and he agreed with me that the devil was messing with my head. I mention this because I was incredibly nervous before the ceremony on Saturday, but I knew for sure that it was natural, and after the ceremony, I was, and still am insanely happy.

I think for the first time really, it feels like I know where I’m going. For a long time, that wasn’t the case. If life is a journey, though, I know where I want to get to, I know where I don’t want to go, and now it kind of feels like I finally have a spiritual road map. The crazy thing is, I’ve only been a Christian, let alone a Catholic for seven years or so. What the Lord can do in less than a decade is kind of insane. The beautiful thing is that I know that it’s been love that has carried me to where I am today. At times that’s been the love of learning things, at other times it’s been the blind leap of faith to chase the Lord, and at times, it has literally been Love Himself picking me up and carrying me because there have been times when I’ve needed Him to.

How To Erase The Smudge

Redemption stories are popular, but they’re usually more obvious or straight forward in fiction than in real life, and naturally, the main character is the focus. Real life redemption stories are usually much more nuanced because real life people are more complicated than they are in fiction. If a person messes up or does something that hurts them or others, it can take a lot to make things right. Furthermore, redemption doesn’t look the same for or to everyone.

More often than not, redemption is more like a web than a ladder in the sense that one doesn’t simply climb out of a mess they’ve made. It takes the assistance, and sometimes invasion of other people. From a quick Google search, I found this definition for redemption: “the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.” For a kid, this usually translates to having to say “I’m sorry” to a sibling or a friend they’ve wronged in some small way. A lot of times for adults, the thing being regained might be their reputation, or in worse cases, their freedom after committing a crime and spending some time in prison.

Sometimes, redemption looks like regaining right-standing with a specific person or group of people who have been wronged. In this case really, the focus of a person’s real life redemption story seems to actually be the person wronged. Everyone is part of a redemption story, whether it be their own or someone else’s. It is easy to assume that one’s redemption has to be earned, and to some degree, I think it does because it involves regaining a person’s trust; but redemption is only possible when forgiveness is offered. This means that it isn’t always possible, and why forgiveness is so important.

The person wronged has scars, sometimes really terrible ones, but whether they know it or not, the person in need of redemption also incurs them as a result of what they’ve done. If someone asks for forgiveness, and it isn’t granted, their wound will likely be made worse. This can often result in them doing something else that hurts them or another person, or adopting bad habits. Sometimes someone will realize they have done something wrong to a specific person or group of people, but will attempt to redeem themselves in a way that does not involve asking for forgiveness. The problem with this approach is that a particular problem (a wound) is not engaged with, and cannot be solved (healed).

Redemption is a relational matter. If a person attempts to redeem himself/herself without asking forgiveness, they are ultimately ignoring the real problem. This could be a simple matter of forgetting that they did something wrong, or they could not realize that there was a problem in the first place. In this case, it is a matter of perception. What might be a serious grievance to one person, might be trivial to another. Either way, the problem needs to be dealt with, and in that case, the person who has been hurt might need to be the one to initiate a conversation. Unfortunately, that means looking at old scars that don’t want to be looked at, and it might not mean that the person in need of forgiveness even asks for it.

Either way, forgiveness must be offered, and ultimately, regardless of whether the person in need of redemption asks for or even accepts it or not, for wounds to be healed, it needs to be granted. This is because, as already stated, redemption is a relational matter, and a person’s redemption story isn’t ultimately about them. A person’s redemption story is about the person wronged. When forgiveness is not granted, old wounds fester and remained unhealed. When it is granted, even if it takes a while, at least for the person wronged, the problem can be allowed to slip into the past, and no longer has to remain an ugly smudge on the present.

Too Good To Be True

It occurred to me earlier that there was a period of time when actually, there wasn’t a song to sing in the dark. Starting on Holy Thursday night, and all through Christ’s Passion, hope waned, and as He lay in the Tomb, all through Holy Saturday, it died. After His Resurrection, many of His disciples didn’t recognize Him at first. I’ve often wondered about this, but I think it’s for two reasons. He came back in His Glory, so even though He would presumably look like the same person, there would be something different about Him. Also, though His disciples had seen Him bring people back to life (the little girl, the widow’s son, and Lazarus), the idea that He Himself could come back to life was probably just too good to be true.

That idea of “too good to be true” stuck with me. I remember hearing about the Divine Mercy message and reading some of St Faustina’s diary, and how at first it all seemed amazing, but then it started to seem “too good to be true.” How could a God of such Wisdom and Justice, which He truly is, be so Merciful? One of the promises of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, for example, is that the Lord will grant whatever a person asks for as long as it is compatible with His will. It seems, then, as long as what a person asks for is good, the Lord will grant it, even if it takes a while.

Along with this and others, He made twelve promises to anyone who had devotion to His Sacred Heart, these being:

1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state in life.
2. I will establish peace in their families.
3. I will comfort them in their trials.
4. I will be their secure refuge during life, and, above all, in death.
5. I will shed abundant blessings on all their undertakings
6. Sinners will find in My Heart an infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Lukewarm souls will become fervent.
8. Fervent souls will rapidly grow in holiness and perfection.
9. I will bless every place where an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honored.
10. I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
11. The names of those who promote this devotion will be written in My Heart, never to be blotted out.
12. I promise thee, in the excessive mercy of My Heart, that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months, the grace of final penitence; they shall not die in My disgrace nor without receiving their Sacraments; My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.

Sometimes I remind myself of these promises and am always amazed by them, but the Lord doesn’t speak idly, and He doesn’t break His promises. He made these promises to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century. During that time in France, there were problems in the Catholic Church. The Church had fallen pray to rigorism. Rigorist priests would withhold absolution (refuse to forgive sins) if it seemed to them that a person was not truly sorry, or if they were imprecise in how they gave their confession. By extension, they maintained that Communion should not often be received because they believed it was unlikely that many were in a state of Grace. At the same time, the Jansenist Heresy was also widely held, which maintained that God actively gave Grace to some, which automatically meant their salvation, and actively withheld it from others, which automatically meant their damnation.

Jesus revealed to Saint Margaret Mary that all of this led people to fear rather than love Him. He told her that this hurt His Heart greatly because He desperately wanted (and obviously still wants) a relationship with people, and to grant mercy to everyone, especially through the Sacraments. The Church endorses and promotes this devotion, as crazy as it sounds.

There were a few dark hours in our history when there was no spark, and no song to sing. Then the Lord came back and started the wildfire that still burns. In light of His Resurrection, I wondered why things often seem too good to be true. It was literally the best thing that could have ever happened. In fact, by natural understanding, it couldn’t happen, but it did, and throughout history, He’s been revealing in different ways what all of it really means. We’ve got this idea that something can be “too good,” I think because so much bad happens, and I think it’s because it’s easy to forget that the ultimate Good already did happen. Because we’re messy humans, many regard it as literally unbelievable. With that in mind, I’m not sure I think anything can really be too good–if it is intrinsically good and pure–to be true.

Victory And Gratitude

I wrote, recorded and released Nothing Else, a simple acoustic song, in 2015, and its message stayed with me for three years. I also wrote a song called Autumn Hero, which I never did anything with. I kept writing songs, but most of them were not very good, or outright terrible. After three years I had writer’s block and Autumn Hero hanging over my head and it started to drive me crazy.

The past two years have been weird. A lot of good and terrible things have happened. The sex abuse scandal in the Church broke out. Notre Dame in Paris was burned, but not destroyed. Family members have suffered greatly. Late term abortion has become legal in several states. My Godson was born and baptized. Next month I’ll officially be entering the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order; something I never would have expected in a billion years. I’ve grown a lot spiritually. What I intended to be a single has turned into an album.

I remember calling Ken, who has been my guitar teacher, audio-engineer, producer, spiritual older brother, prayer partner, and friend over the years and saying something like, “Hey, I have a song. I have no idea what to do with it. I think I just want to come in and record it.” That was in September of 2018. The truth is I had been thinking about the concept of A Song To Sing In The Dark for three years or so since I wrote Nothing Else. I had been watching the news too much, which meant I had been being buried in misery. At the same time, I had been questioning, to some extent, where God was, or at least what He was doing, though I don’t remember exactly why.

Often, lyrics to my songs become prayers, and that was definitely the case with Nothing Else. The Chorus is: “This is a song to sing in the dark/ This is enough, a spark to start a fire/ This is a prayer you answer with love/ ‘Cause you are God and you are with us.” Lyrics such as this come to me when I feel I’m “in the dark,” so to speak, and I had been toying with this concept for an album for a while.

Somewhere between recording and editing Autumn Hero, the lines to Heart of Love were seemingly handed to me. I was excited because I actually had another good song to work with, and I figured we’d work on that, too. It was a little later that heard about the crisis in the Church, which got me thinking too much, crying, continuously blogging, and finally writing the song King Over The Flood, which was partly inspired by psalm 29. The past year has been chaotic. As I said, I had not intended to write ten original songs, arrange a rock version of Nothing Else, arrange my own version of How Great Thou Art, and compose an original instrumental tune. I certainly had not intended to look into a religious order. The album and my spiritual journey, however, have coalesced and coincided with the chaos, though, per the usual, and here I am.

It always happens this way. The Boston Marathon, and the burning of Notre Dame happened on my birthday this past year, and those two events came together in the song Lament For Notre Dame. Though most of the songs on the album don’t refer to specific events, Just An Honest Prayer, for example, was inspired by a specific checkpoint, if you will, in my spiritual journey. That was a hard song to write because, as the title suggests, it’s a really honest song. I wrote it because I was dealing with some doubt; not doubt that God exists, or that I was saved, or that the Lord was merciful, but doubt that I was worth saving; that I was worth His mercy. When I finished writing; before we had even started recording, I prayed. I said, “I want to write a song that has nothing to do with me. I want to write about You, and how awesome You are.” Ergo, Victory was not hard to write, and it’s my favorite song on the album.

Like the past year, there is light and darkness on the album. It’s called A Song To Sing In The Dark because it doesn’t deny that there is darkness and suffering in the world, but with the conclusion of Victory, it’s meant to remind the world that we are still fighting battles, but the Lord has won the war. I think this is an album of defiance. With Victory, I say, “I know hell will fight You with all he’s got left/ But the first word was Yours, and so is the last.” I released a sneak peak of the album with Autumn Hero last year, and since Victory is completely finished, I decided that needed to be heard early, too, so here you go!

https://katiecurtis.bandcamp.com/track/victory

A lot of work and prayer has gone into this. It’s not completely finished yet, but we just started recording the final song, and now we’re on the home stretch. It’ll be out this winter. With that in mind I want to thank a bunch of people. First I want to thank God because if He hadn’t dropped Heart Of  Love on me in the first place, none of this likely would have happened. I also want to thank Father Patrick for pointing me to the Carmelites and being my spiritual director. I want to thank mom and dad for funding this insane project. I want to thank Uncle Gary for talking me through some crazy stuff (he knows what I mean). I also want to thank Ken for doing nearly all the instrumentation for the album and putting up with me crying at the studio. I want to thank my Carmelite brothers and sisters because I think they’ve helped in some way none of us will know until we get to Heaven. Lastly I want to thank my family, friends, and fans who’ve supported my stuff.

When I Think About Heaven

I think about Heaven a lot. The fact of the matter is, I am obsessed with getting there. I think it would be accurate to say that more than anything, I want to just be with Jesus. It’s also a simple fact that I like to think about the things I will do in Heaven, and the people I would like to meet. In particular, I like to think about what I call The Library of Everything. I am almost painfully curious, and if I had infinite time and money, I would go back to school and just learn about stuff.

Jesus said to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, I have to be like a child. I think I’ve got that partly figured out in that the questions “Why” and “How” are on rapid fire in my head. I won’t spend all my eternity in the Library of Everything, but I will spend a lot of it there. Obviously I won’t be alone in there. I imagine the Library of Everything is enormous. It’s easy to find what one wants in there, and there’s a cafe where one can sit, drink coffee, and read. I imagine wandering around looking for things that sound interesting, and talking to saints who are interested in the same things, or who will help me find what I’m looking for. Probably, I’ll end up talking to the saints more than reading.

I’m a songwriter. I play guitar, but I’m not the best at it, and I sing, and I’m good, but there are certainly people in the universe who are better singers than me. I want to play the drums. I want to spend a lot of eternity in the Library of Everything, and I want to join a worship band, and bang on the drums like I’m crazy. I find myself in restaurants or at home or wherever tapping out 4/4 or 6/8 time because I have to wait, or because the song that happens to be playing is catchy, or for no reason at all. I imagine Heaven, or at least parts of it are LOUD. I imagine there’s always music playing somewhere. Angels are always singing; someone is always wailing on a guitar or banging on the drums; someone is always making beautiful melodies and harmonies on a piano or violin. When someone gets tired, someone else takes up their sticks, or pick, or whatever.

There’s a third place I like to think about when I think about Heaven. It’s an empty field with trees off in the distance. It’s a hill, and I like to think of myself and Jesus lying on the hill, and sometimes we talk, and sometimes we don’t. At the bottom of the hill there’s a lake, and sometimes we just lay there and listen to the water. Sometimes I like to read, and I imagine us there, and I imagine that I’m reading to Him; usually Lord of the Rings since I’ve just started Return of the King. I especially like to think about this place.

The funny thing is that I have absolutely no idea what to expect when I get Home. Maybe there won’t be a library. Maybe I won’t be a drummer. I do know that whatever there is when I get there, it will be better than anything I can imagine, and I have a darn good imagination.

Building The Box

I don’t like to talk or write about this because it’s a sensitive thing for me, but a few people I know are dealing with some heavy stuff, and I think this could help. I’m writing it for them, but I’m posting it here because maybe it will help some others as well.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I have muscular dystrophy and epilepsy. About ninety percent of the time this is almost irrelevant unless I forget that I need my ramp to get into the mosaic store to get supplies, for example. Occasionally, because I happen to wake up “on the wrong side of the bed,” or for some other small reason, it gets to me, and though I hate to admit it, I’ll have times when I feel sorry for myself. About a month ago, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and because I couldn’t make my own coffee and had to wait, I got a little pissed off.

After sulking in my room and praying for a while–really for far too long–I snapped out of it, and I realized I needed to find a way to deal with the ten percent of the time when it is a problem. I needed something practical, so I built a box with a lock, decorated it, and made a key, which I promptly handed over to Jesus. Then I said “This is the Let It Go Box. I’m going to put stuff in here, and I’m giving you the key so that once something’s in here, I’m not allowed to touch it.”

For me, it’s not a physical box. It’s something I made in my head. I initially had the idea of getting a physical box and writing things down on pieces of paper to put in it, but I knew that I’d be too tempted to open it. I did get a physical key that I wear on my necklace chain and got it blessed. When you get something blessed, it means that thing is “set aside” for God to use. For me, having a physical key to symbolize that I handed it over has been helpful. I also wrote a list. It’s ultimately “dependence” that makes me so angry at times, and I knew I couldn’t hand that over all at once, so I broke it up. I wrote all the things that I can’t do on my own that annoy me the most, and it took me a few days, but I eventually managed to hand all of it over.

There are many instances in the Gospels when Jesus uses an unpleasant, difficult, painful, or even tragic situation to bring about some good, and to glorify His Father. One instance is when he heals a blind man. In that instance, His disciples ask, “Did this man sin, or was it his parents?” Jesus responds by saying (I’m paraphrasing), “This isn’t the product of anyone’s sin. It happened so that God may be glorified.” Then He heals the man, which indeed, brought a great good out of a bad situation, and obviously, by the miracle, glorified God. I reflected on this last week, and it occurred to me that He must somehow be doing the same thing with my situation.

Obviously I’m not perfect, and occasionally things that I can’t do, or can’t do strictly on my own start to bug me. The real key is one carefully crafted in prayer, but I wear the symbolic one to remind myself that I’m not allowed to take it back. The fact of the matter is, I have the patience of a gnat and the pride of a lion, so when I have to wait for someone to help me with X, Y, or Z, I remember the key, and offer the waiting and the fact that I need help in the first place to God to do with as He sees fit, or if there’s something pressing–if someone I know is suffering in some way–I’ll be more specific.

The key has actually taken on meaning in the weeks since I gave it away. Revelation 3:20 says, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” Yesterday I was meditating on the fact that the Mass is going on somewhere in the world at all times. Since the Eucharist is truly Christ Himself present in the world, it means He’s never really left; He’s just not here in the same way. I haven’t looked for it, but I’ve heard that images inspired by Revelation 3:20 usually depict the “door” without a handle on the outside.

The key I gave away initially went to the Let It Go Box. Since then, it’s become the key to my heart, and my door has a handle and a lock on the outside. I find myself at various points throughout the day saying, “You hold the key to my heart. Do with me what You will.” It’s been incredibly helpful.

At this point, I should probably do some explaining. In a sense, I probably did things a little backwards, or at least came to understand things in a backwards way. I gave the Lord permission to start “housecleaning,” as it were, a long time ago. Up until now, though, He’s had to “knock” when He wanted to come in. By way of advice, I’ll put it this way: if your heart is a house, then the Let It Go Box is in a room set aside as a workshop for the Lord. You have to let Him in to have access to the workshop. Since giving Him the key, for me at least, it’s like He’s become a Resident, and not a Guest. If you’re not ready for that, you can give Him the box, and permission to work in the workshop as a Guest. What I mean by this is that once something is in the Box, it’s not like it just stays there. It doesn’t lay dormant. He’s doing something with it or to it. What that is, I don’t know.

My next advice is to get a key and get it blessed by a priest. I got a piece of jewelry; it doesn’t actually open any lock, but I have it with me at all times, and it’s pretty. Maybe it would be helpful for you to get the key to your house or your car blessed because actually using it might be a good way to remind you of what it’s for. The physical key isn’t the point, though; the physical key is a symbol. The real key is one you have to carefully craft in prayer. When I say you have to be careful, I mean it. Giving this key to the Lord means whatever you put in the Box is no longer yours.

Lastly, you should be thoughtful when building the box. If having a physical box is more helpful for you, then build or buy one. Make it personal, though, regardless. If you get a physical box, decorate it in some way, and remember that you’re giving the box to the Lord along with the key, so get that blessed, too. If you don’t use a physical box; if it’s something you construct in your heart’s workshop, actually think about it: how big would it be? What would it be made of? What color would it be?

When you’re finished, prayerfully hand the box over. If it would be helpful, write something down and put that somewhere. Either way, you’re agreeing on something with the Lord, and He’ll be faithful to your agreement. Some things you won’t be ready to put in the Box right away. That’s okay. Maybe you’re like me and it’ll be helpful to break a big thing up into smaller things and start putting those smaller things in slowly.

I’ve since found the Box extremely helpful, and even small things have gone in it. Being able to spiritually put things in a container, even though mine isn’t a physical one has been a huge relief. Even though I’m not allowed to take things out, He is, and He can transform those broken things into something beautiful. I don’t know what He’s making, but that’s okay. It’s a matter of trust, and I can trust Him with the things in there. Build the box and give it to Him. You’re not obligated to put stuff in it, but I really think you should.

Dress Code

Earlier today I listened to an episode of a podcast that was about how to dress appropriately for Mass. Whenever this comes up it really gets on my nerves. This is partly because, from my perspective, it’s largely a matter of opinion. Obviously there are things that are distasteful or inappropriate for such an occasion, but I’m not talking about that. It bugs me when people are criticized for wearing “casual attire.”

I take issue with this for a few reasons. The Lord said, “Come as you are.” I dislike getting dressed up, so my thinking is that if I had to do so far Mass, I’m not actually presenting myself to the Lord “as I am.” It’s not part of my personality to worry about what I’m wearing. It would be like presenting a version of myself that isn’t the true one. That’s important because a huge part of the Mass is about communion, both with each other, and with Christ.

Some would argue that one gets “dressed up” out of respect for the other. In many circumstances, this is the case because it’s culturally expected. I got more dressed up for my Godson’s baptism than I otherwise would. One has to keep in mind the center of attention. We had Mass before his baptism, and at Mass, Jesus is the center of attention, but the focus shifted a bit afterwards. At the baptism, the focus was still on the Lord, yes, but it was also largely on Max, his parents, and my brother and me (his Godparents). In that instance, to some degree, I was the center of attention.

As I said, in many circumstances, it’s culturally expected to get “dressed up” out of respect for the other. I don’t for Mass, however, partly because the Lord is beyond cultural expectations, and my thinking is that He already knows I respect Him. I don’t have to prove it to Him, and I shouldn’t have to prove it to anyone else. Furthermore, the Mass itself isn’t like a wedding or a baptism, or any secular event. While baptism and marriage are sacraments, and miracles do happen in those circumstances, human attention tends to focus on the humans involved.

An “ordinary” Mass (for lack of a better word) is different because the focus is (ideally) entirely on Jesus. He alone is the center of attention. Because of this, part of my thinking is that I shouldn’t do anything out of the ordinary in terms of my outfit because from a strictly human perspective, what is happening at Mass has almost nothing to do with me as an individual. Mass is about communion. In other words, it’s about sharing of one’s self with other members of the Church and with God, and about the Church sharing of Herself as a collective with God. This means presenting one’s self honestly.

It’s also important to remember that at literally every Mass a miracle is happening. I sometimes have a realization at the Consecration of the gifts that translates in my mind to, “This is literally the weirdest, coolest, most amazing thing ever.” The word “weird” tends to have a negative connotation, but what I mean is that it is the most out-of-the-ordinary thing. It’s always new. If it becomes routine, then I would argue that appreciation for what is really happening has been lost. It’s something that has to be taken on faith, and it’s a huge act of trust and vulnerability to receive the Eucharist.

Personally, I don’t think there needs to be a dress code for that.