Little Does She Know: Change Starts Here

When I think of God’s Justice, I tend to find it intimidating. When I think of God’s Justice, I tend to think of a long stint in Purgatory that I’d really rather avoid. When I think of God’s Justice, I tend to think of punishment for sin. Then I think of he riots across the country, and I find myself praying, “Let justice be done.” I realized that Mercy alone isn’t what’s needed. Justice would mean consequences for those who have damaged people’s property. It would mean jail time for the policeman who murdered George Floyd, and consequences for those who stood by and let it happen. It would also mean tangible action taken  to solve the problems of not just racism, but all discrimination  in our country. I realized that, actually, sometimes justice is the merciful thing.

No one is in the right in this situation. Protests that started as noble, peaceful demonstrations have devolved into chaos that proves nothing. I fear, too that innocent men and women in our nation’s police force will suffer hate and violence because of the actions of a handful of bad men. To be honest, my family has had a handful of encounters with police who have been arrogant and unkind. This does not mean that all police are jerks. I prayed for justice, but I also prayed that society would have mercy on police because the many good people shouldn’t have to take the hit for the terrible few.

I think justice and mercy get confused sometimes. Mercy is defined in two ways; “love in action,” and “kindness, or leniency where it is not deserved or earned.” When I think of justice, I think of fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves, and in this sense, it seems synonymous with mercy. It also means making sure those who treat others poorly face consequences. When the riots first broke out, I was sad. It felt like I was watching a rerun. Every time something like this happens–and it happens far too frequently–there is a lot of anger and in many cases, violence. A lot of people post “Black lives matter” on Facebook and then go on with their day. There is a lot of rhetoric by police and politicians, and nothing changes.

I don’t have a solution. On occasion, I have felt the effects of able-ism. People have made assumptions about me based on the fact that I use a wheelchair without even speaking to me. Often in media, if there is a Catholic character, it is to make fun of the Catholic Church. The character is portrayed is stupid, bigoted, or hypocritical. Our world was not built for someone with multiple disabilities, and though I have a pretty easy and comfortable life, it is only because my parents are kind and relatively wealthy. Our culture is one that flees from absolutes and objective Truths, and religious liberty is something churches, Catholic service groups, and individuals often have to fight for.

Persecution and discrimination of anyone, to any extent, for any reason, is wrong. The demonstrations in city streets started because of the murder of George Floyd, but this  has become bigger than that. I saw an article someone posted on Facebook about police officers in various places standing in solidarity, and in some cases, praying with peaceful demonstrators. People need to see that, especially people who devalue others because of their skin color.

To be perfectly honest, I would have proposed a solution that involved actively and publicly shaming anyone I encountered doing or saying anything racist. It would have been easy. It wouldn’t solve the problem, though. It would only make more people angry and would probably just grow into more hatred and maybe even more violence. I was sad when this whole thing started, and to be honest, now I am a little angry. This is a problem that requires justice, but it also does require mercy. In the past several nights, people on all sides–rioters and police–have done wrong. They’re all people, though.

Whether you’re stuck inside in some small town somewhere, or you’re cooling off, reading this as someone who’s been directly involved, remember that the person you threw stuff at, or shot tear gas at, is somebody’s brother, sister, father, or mother. Remember that they’re angry and scared, just like you are. Before going out tonight, consider what Jesus said on the Cross; “Forgive them.” The ultimate injustice was that the most innocent Man ever was unjustly sentenced to death, tortured, and killed.

I’m not saying that anyone should just “take it.” I’m saying that any good solution starts with forgiveness. It also requires dialogue. This might mean being extra annoying so that you’re heard, but it doesn’t mean setting things on fire. It means listening. Too often I see posts on Facebook that say “I’m listening.” Too often I hear politicians say it on the news. Don’t just say it; do it. Shut up, and listen. Once you’ve listened, pose solutions; do something with what you’ve heard. It needs to go beyond that, though.

This is a heart problem. Everyone needs to look at the other and really see a person before them. We need to stop labeling people. A person who belongs to the republican or democratic party is not just a republican or democrat, for example. I am a white woman living in suburbia. Knowing that can lead my readers to make assumptions about me in the same way that it might lead some to make assumptions about a black blogger from somewhere closer to Boston.

There’s a literary device when the author is writing in the third-person omniscient; “Little did he know.” This is used when the narrator knows something the protagonist of the story doesn’t. I think it is useful to apply this to ourselves when looking at other people. We must see the other as good, beautiful, and unique; an opportunity to discover, to learn, and hopefully, to form a new relationship. We can’t just stop at the label. We can’t just stop at “democrat,” “republican,” “black,” or “white.” Imagine looking at this through God’s eyes; the Author of every person’s story.  Meet a new person, and imagine the Author of your story saying, “Little does she know.” It can be humbling to keep in mind our ignorance, and that humility is important. Change starts with humility, hope, admitting one’s culpability, and forgiveness offered and accepted.

Study Notes 1 (June 2020)

Blessed are those who hunter and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied
Excerpted in part from the writings of Sr. Patricia of Mary Magdalene

Historical context: The Jews hungered for liberation from Roman rule and a restoration of the Davidic kingdom
-they wanted a savior who would liberate them

There is still injustice in the world, and the innocent and vulnerable still hunger for a “savior”

Justice is one of God’s attributes, along with Mercy, Love, Beauty, Compassion, Goodness, etc
-humans are made in the image and likeness of God with free will to distort these attributes

“As contemplatives, it is our ideal and goal to ‘feed the hungry’ through our prayer, to ‘quench thirst’ through our meditation, and to appease justice through penance and sacrifice.”

The hunger for justice builds/strengthens the virtue of patience

“Our first and primary model for this virtue is Jesus Himself. The ultimate example of injustice was this loving and forgiving Savior being slapped, spat upon and nailed to the cross by the very people He came to save. Yet, the richest example of patience was His silent humility as He accepted the insults and physical blows to His most precious cheeks. If ever there had been a time for the vengeance and justice of God, it was then.”

“…patience is the main intermediary between justice and mercy.”

“If justice is thought of in its good or proper aspect, it will lead us to the hunger and thirst spoken of in the beatitude: a hunger and thirst that desires to feed the starving, assist the downtrodden, bring freedom to the oppressed, instill peace where there is strife, establish unity and fellowship among all peoples.”

“As contemplatives, our “action” is prayer. As contemplatives, our prayer should be
continuous, night and day, without ceasing. We, like St. Therese, should be missionaries of justice by our example of honesty, integrity, morality, and spirituality in a world hungry for all of these.”

“Being just doesn’t only mean being severe in punishing the guilty, it also
means recognizing good intentions and rewarding virtue.” St Therese

 

Write It Down

Two months ago, when the state closed down and Mass was suspended, I prayed. I said to the Lord, “This will be the hardest thing you will have got us through.” Last week I got an email from my church that said confession would now be available by appointment, so on Saturday I went. I went to sleep happy on Friday because it wasn’t the Eucharist, but I would receive the grace of the Sacrament, and I would be fulfilling a promise I made to the Lord. I had promised Him that I would go back to the Sacrament as soon as possible, because I did need to. It felt good to be able to make good on a promise.
Then the Lord (via the priest) did something I wasn’t expecting. Masses are starting again this coming weekend, but on Saturday the priest gave me communion a week early. I don’t remember his exact words, but he said something like, “Let the Lord’s love carry you.” I thought the only people who received communion outside of Mass were the dying.
The truth is, for two months, I had been truly aching. I had been “social distancing” from my friends, and everyone outside my immediate family, but really, my Lord as well. We could talk, obviously; He could answer my prayers; He could help me write; but we couldn’t touch. On Saturday, though, Love touched me. Actually, Love embraced me. The hardest thing for me has been surviving without that.
I don’t know why Jesus did that for me. It wasn’t for everyone; it was for me. It was personal. I didn’t deserve it, and I have done nothing to earn such a gift. It felt like my exodus–my journey through the desert–was over, and I’d reached the Promised Land.  In the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen on the news that churches in some places were re-opening. I thought Boston would be a while, mainly because it’s a big diocese, and various towns are more highly populated.
In Return of the King (movie), the third installment of the Lord of the Rings series, Aragorn, a ranger, and initially reluctant king, says to Elrond, a leader of the elves, “I give hope to men; I keep none for myself.” In a sense, I have felt like this; I have been praying for everyone, and have forgotten myself. In some sense, I’ve got through this unscathed; my dad’s job is secure, my immediate family are all healthy, and nearly everyone we’re close to has been untouched, at least from a health perspective. I could spiritually reach out to those who have needed my prayers, and some people I do know, and many I don’t, have really needed them.
On Thursday, I had gone to the church thinking, “I may not be able to receive Him, but I can at least be in the same room with Him.” I sat by the altar, as close to the tabernacle as I could get, and for once, I did pray for myself. The Lord heard me, and two days later, He did probably the most loving, and the most personal thing He could have for me. Still, this isn’t over. We still have to be careful, we have to remember those who are still suffering, and we have to keep praying. I wanted to share this, though, because Saturday gave me an explosion of hope.
I was going to write this down in my private journal because no matter what, I want it to be remembered that on May 23rd, 2020 after two months of cold, worry, and waiting, Jesus gave me rest for my soul. He gave me the sacraments. I want it to be remembered that neither coronavirus, nor economic trouble, nor anything else, can get in the way of God’s love. I want it to be remembered that He saw my ache for Him; He saw my hurt, and did something about it. I don’t want that to sit in a diary that will most likely be lost once I’m gone. If I write about it for people to read now, at least it might be remembered, and at least this way it might lead people to pray more and trust Him more.
At the beginning of Morning Prayer every day, I pray Psalm 100. When you pray the same psalm every morning, it can sometimes run the risk of turning into mindless recitation, rather than prayer, but the end of it has particularly stuck in my head and really turned to a personal prayer: “Indeed how good is the Lord/ eternal His merciful love/ He is faithful/ from age to age.” For two months I have stubbornly prayed this psalm, and particularly focused on His merciful love. On Sunday, it was the last two lines that really stuck out to me, though. He is faithful from age to age.
It feels like I’ve found my center of gravity again. I know there might be people reading this who, on top of not being able to go to church or receive the Sacraments, might be worrying about paying the bills, or buying groceries, taking care of a sick spouse, kid, sibling, or parent. Maybe you’ve lost somebody. Maybe you yourself are sick. Maybe you’re a doctor or a nurse and have seen far too much suffering. God knows. He sees that. He cares, and He doesn’t want you to hurt. My prayer had largely boiled down to “Fix it!” He knows what that means. This probably is the hardest thing He will have got us through, at least in this lifetime. Trust Him through it. He is with us through the worst. Maybe you’re not seeing the light yet, but you will. He is faithful from age to age.

Remember And Sing

Late last night I read yesterday’s Mass readings. The first was Acts 16: 22-34. It’s about when Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi. Verses 25-26 say, “about midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose.” I remembered that this had been the Scripture that initially inspired my song Nothing Else.

While Paul and Silas were hoping, questing, and teaching people about Jesus, they were imprisoned. In the middle of the night, though, they still prayed, and they still sang songs; they worshiped Him. I don’t remember what the “bad thing” was that compelled me to write this song. Lately I’ve had writer’s block. I tried for a few minutes, then just sang a few lines from the prayer I wrote five years ago.

You let us know you’re listening;
let us know you’re listening.
This is why we sing;
we sing.

You let us know you’re listening;
let us know you’re listening,
so in the dark we sing;
we sing to you.

You let us know you’re listening,
so we sing for joy.
Because you are good, Lord,
we sing.

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.

I haven’t actually listened to a whole lot of Christian music lately. I’ve been trying to write my own original music, or blog posts, and I often find music distracting. The rest of Nothing Else is about wanting to be alone with God, especially when everything is falling apart, or at least seems like it is.

Paul and Silas were in a pretty bad situation, but at midnight, they sang; they hoped, and there was an earthquake. Acts continues the story and tells of how the jailer and his family were converted to Christianity after speaking to Paul and Silas.

This past Monday, the Governor of Massachusetts announced that we will start phase 1 of re-opening the state. Cardinal Sean O’Malley also announced that churches in the Archdiocese of Boston will begin re-opening. Around a year ago, I wrote my song Victory. The chorus goes: “You are my new dawn/ so here’s my hallelujah/ I sing your victory song/ the King of Heaven Come.” The news of churches re-opening, and Masses starting again really feels like I’m seeing the pale light just before dawn.

Being able to go back to church, for a lot of people, is going to feel like the end of “war.” For a lot of people, it isn’t. A lot of people are still sick, jobless, worrying about a family member, worrying about keeping their business afloat, or worse. We still have to be “social distancing.” This isn’t over. Remember that. Remember them. Remember too, though, that there are things to celebrate. Find that song to sing in the dark, look for the light just before the dawn, and sing “Hallelujah.”

Why You Should Read Books

When I was a kid I hated reading. It was largely because I hated the books our school was making us read. While parents and kids are kind of losing their minds over the homeschooling situation, and this quarantine in general, I think this is actually an opportunity. Reading is obviously important. Books are our window into history, science, mythology, philosophy, and speculation, not to mention God’s revealed Truth, in a way that things like movies, documentaries, and YouTube can’t be.

As I said, I hated the books we were reading in school. All through elementary and at least through middle school, we read something every year about slavery in America. While it was unjust and cruel, by the time I was ten I just didn’t care any more. Homeschooling, I think, is an opportunity to teach kids once that slavery happened in America, but more importantly, it still happens all over the world. Use this as an opportunity to read together about different countries, different religious, and different cultures.

For history class, download some books on your computers, tablets or whatever, and read historical fiction about stuff your kids actually find interesting. For English class, read a couple of books, and have your kids compare stuff they actually enjoy reading to a piece written in the 1920’s that might be in the same or a similar genre. Have them write about what it might be like to have lived in the year 1020, or to live in 3020. Obviously scale these ideas to what is age appropriate.

I think, though, that traditional forms of teaching just won’t work. If your kid doesn’t like reading, but he/she is super interested in mythology or black holes, read books about mythology or black holes. I suggest all of this because I love to read, and I love stories, yes, but also because I think right now, reading and learning together is a good way to keep everyone a little closer together and a little more sane. I honestly do think that book club has been great for my family. I hated Pride and Prejudice, but I love seeing my extended family once a week, discussing the book for ten minutes (which was what happened, at least with the last book), and then complaining and joking for an hour.

I think it also gave us a sense of having a task to complete. We knew that it would take us six weeks to complete Pride, so we could think about those six weeks in terms of finishing a book instead of an indefinite abyss of “what’s next?” This summer, even when the official school year ends, I’d pick out two or three books, or one longer one, just for fun, that will be the kids’ summer reading, but will also be a time keeper. If you and your kids really honestly dislike reading, though, I saw that Harry Potter is on Spotify to listen to, and you can’t go wrong with that.

Works Of Mercy, Quarantine Edition

Lately I’ve been thinking about the Works of Mercy because of the very real circumstances people are facing due to the pandemic. The Works of Mercy are split up into two categories: Corporal, and Spiritual. As Christ’s followers, we’re meant to do these things in imitation of Him. He says in Scripture, “What you do for the least of these, you do for me,” and He speaks of many of the Works of Mercy.

The Corporal Works of Mercy are:

  1. Feed the hungry
  2. Give water to the thirsty
  3. Clothe the naked
  4. Shelter the homeless
  5. Visit the sick
  6. Visit the imprisoned or ransom the captive
  7. Bury the dead

The Spiritual Works of Mercy are:

  1. Instruct the ignorant
  2. Counsel the doubtful
  3. Admonish the sinner
  4. Bear with wrongs patiently
  5. Forgive offenses
  6. Comfort the afflicted
  7. Pray for the living and the dead

It is important to do all of these things as much as we can, but I want to focus on the Corporal works of Mercy for now. In Quarantine, we can still fairly easily do the Spiritual Works, online, in our bedrooms, in our basement, in the shower, or what have you. We can talk to friends and family online and while we’re all in uncharted territory and maybe suffering emotionally, we can comfort each other.

The other Works are often harder to do in general. I think right now, though, they are especially important. Right now, depending on where one is, it is more difficult to get resources (food, cleaning products, etc), and where many are losing their jobs, it is important to do what we can to help. This may mean, if we can, donating to food banks, for example.

As one progresses through the list, it seems that the Works get noticeably more difficult. Again, it is relatively easy to “clothe the naked” because one can donate hand-me-down clothing. To shelter the homeless is probably the most difficult, but I think, possibly the most important. I think with much more free time on our hands it is easier to become more introspective, and even selfish. Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves. This literally can, and should mean the people living next door to us. If we know they are struggling to pay the rent, for example, and we know they have quarantined for several weeks, for example, it would be merciful to either offer them a room to stay in for free, or simply offer financial assistance.

To visit the sick and imprisoned are both extremely dangerous right now, but they remain important things to do. I think in this case, it is important to use technology to offer friendship and comfort, even from a distance. Especially where hospitals and prisons are some of the most dangerous places, it is important to be a source of hope to those who are scared. Obviously this is no substitute for being there in person, but it is still necessary.

Lastly, though it’s a bit of an ugly thing to think about, it is a Work of Mercy to bury the dead. I think this means a couple of things. It means making sure a person dies with dignity, and it means making sure they are honored at their burial. To be clear, when I say that a person should “die with dignity,” I do not mean that assisted suicide should be an option. I mean they should be respected and taken care of until the moment of death. No matter what condition they are in, they are a valuable human being. When I say that they should be honored at their burial, I mean that they should have a proper funeral, regardless of how many people can attend.

Right now, the world seems a bit out of control. It can be tempting in such a world to fall into a purely survivalist mindset. It is in such a world, however, when mercy is needed most. It is extremely important to teach the faith, and to pray for people, for example, and if this is what we can do, we have even more of a responsibility to do it, but if we have the means, freedom, and ability to provide for the physical or financial needs of those less fortunate than us, it is vitally important to help. It is a sign of our own humanity, and a recognition that the life of the other is just as important as our own.

I have defined “mercy” before as “love in action.” Another definition, however, is “kindness to those who don’t deserve it.” This is God’s love for us; He didn’t owe us anything, but He came to save us; He died for us. It doesn’t matter if you “owe” anything to your friend, or even a stranger living across town. If we are to be like God; if we are to arrive at Heaven’s gate, we need to be merciful, too. I did not cover every way in which we are to do these Works of Mercy, but they need to be done. This is a time to be creative and to love each other as God loves us.

Study Notes 3 (May 2020)

Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth
Excerpted in part from the writings of Sr. Patricia of Mary Magdalene

“In Webster’s Dictionary, the word ‘meek’ is described as ‘mild of temper; patient under injuries; long-suffering; gentle and kind.’ This surely describes Jesus’ life and how He wants us to imitate Him. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, ‘Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.’

“Because meekness and humility are almost always tied together, the virtue of humility should be the one to be developed under this beatitude.”

“We all have a temperament…. We constantly struggle through this beatitude, attempting to meekly and humbly temper our attitudes towards ourselves and others.”

“Physically, when there is the pain of an illness or an operation, or even a recurring health problem, we must humbly pray asking for the grace to bear our cross, not running away from it or regarding it as an evil thing or something to be avoided at all cost…. it must be stressed that it is not suggested or implied that one should not accept any form of relief”

The same pertains to emotional/psychological suffering; it should not be sought out, but it should be humbly accepted and dealt with as much as possible.

“What now is meant by ‘long-suffering?’ This is going even further than the first two
phrases, as it may require indefinite or extended or permanent suffering. This too can be physical or psychological.”

“Psychological ‘long-suffering’ may include the spiritual pain of seeing loved ones no longer practicing their faith, or emotionally supporting an alcoholic… To be ‘long-
suffering’ requires a high degree of humility, because often the very things that qualify under ‘long-suffering’ are problems we can do nothing about…”

“Gentleness clothes herself in patience and tenderness, while Kindness adorns herself in humility and affection.”

Regarding Saint Therese: “Her ‘Little Way’ consists almost entirely of being meek and humble of heart. She realized and accepted her littleness and humbly accepted God’s love in spite of any unworthiness. She was patient and kind under injuries, long-suffering both physically, because of tuberculosis, and psychologically due to the ridicule and insults often placed upon her by a certain superior and other sisters of her community.”

“Others, in becoming aware of their own imperfections, grow angry with themselves in an unhumble impatience. So impatient are they about these imperfections that they would want to become saints in a day. They do not have the patience to wait until God gives them what they need when He so desires.”
Saint John of the Cross

– Speak as little as possible of oneself.
– Mind one’s own business.
– Avoid curiosity.
– Do not want to manage other people’s affairs.
– Accept contradiction and correction cheerfully.
– Pass over the mistakes of others.
– Accept blame when innocent.
– Yield to the will of others.
– Accept insults and injuries.
– Accept being slighted, forgotten, and disliked.
– Be kind and gentle even under provocation.
– Do not seek to be specially loved and admired.
– Never stand on one’s dignity.
– Yield in discussion even though one if right.
– Choose always the hardest.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s suggestions of how to be humble