Monthly Archives: June 2018

An Unpleasant Bedtime Story

I’m a writer, so naturally, I love stories. I love weaving together my own for my mythology. I love reading or watching or listening to stories I’ve gone through thousands of times or never before. Lately I’ve been listening to the Myths and Legends podcast, which I recently discovered, and highly recommend. I sometimes listen to these stories as “bedtime stories,” but I have wireless headphones and the battery ran out on them last night, so I asked God for a bedtime story.

He directed me to the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector. It didn’t take much, but I realized that lately, I’ve been acting like the pharisee in that little story. I’ve been prideful about my faith, and I’ve been judging people for not having the same faith I do. I’ve also been forgetting that nothing I can do will ever get me to Heaven. Certain things can help me live more like Jesus which is obviously what he wants, but he’s doing all the actual work. I’m just cooperating, and I forget that.

I spent a while sitting outside today sulking about all this. I feel like I’ve betrayed myself. Sometimes I think it’s actually good that I don’t have any Christian friends around because it makes it more natural to go straight to Jesus and say, “I can’t do this.” I had to say that over and over, and I’ll say it over and over from now on because my thinking has been that I can do this. I can get home. I can get to Heaven. While that may be true, it’s only because Jesus wants me there. Otherwise, it has almost nothing to do with me.

I’m writing this down because earlier I was royally pissed off at myself. I still kind of am, and again, I think it’s because I’m prideful. My thinking, of course, is, “I should be better than this. This should have been obvious. I should have seen this sooner.” Well, I didn’t. It wasn’t the kind of bedtime story I was looking for, but I needed to hear it. I’m not exactly sure where to go from here, but I can at least stop being stupid about how I think about other peoples’ faith. Otherwise, I desperately need Jesus to help me figure this out.

Let Tomorrow Worry About Itself

Yesterday the priest celebrated his last Sunday Mass at our church. My family and I usually show up a few minutes early, and I pray while we wait. For the past several weeks, at least part of my prayer has been, “I pray for Father Daren, that he’s successful and can do your will in his next assignment, and I pray for our new priest. All the same, I don’t like this. A lot is changing, and I don’t like change, and I know you know that, but I’m saying it, anyway.” We’ve known that this change was coming for a long time, and a few weeks ago, I prayed this, and while I didn’t exactly feel a sense of peace, I felt some kind of reassurance. God didn’t say anything, but I was reminded that while everything in the world might change, He doesn’t.

God is often referred to in the psalms as “my rock,”, “my refuge,” or “my shelter.” This was an abstract idea for me for a long time, until He called me to live a holier life, and on top of that, a lot of things in our church started changing. On top of that, my cousin, who I see quite often, is moving from New Hampshire to Oregon. She’ll be working on her doctorate for the next seven years or so, which means I’ll probably only see her for Christmas for the foreseeable future.

God doesn’t change. When it seems like everything is being uprooted around me; when it feels like I’m being hit with a tornado, I’m held close by the One who can’t be uprooted. In many of the psalms, it is said that God will hide his loved ones under an Eagle’s wings. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his disciples not to worry because God cares for them and sees everything they–we–deal with. He gives the example of how a sparrow is well cared for by God’s creation and doesn’t worry about anything. Sure, a bird of prey could eat that sparrow, or it could be met with some other calamity, but the sparrow doesn’t worry about it.

Sometimes I marvel at my parrot’s fearlessness. He’s not much bigger than a sparrow. Still, Seamus will play-fight with his human flock, and admittedly, sometimes win. I can pick him up and toss him, and he treats it like a game. Of course, if we go in the car, and he sees the hawk, he gets scared, but that is a legitimate fear. That hawk could eat him. My fear is not warranted because for all I know, the changes our church is going through could be good for our future. I’m not happy about my cousin moving, but for all I know, she could move back when she’s finished her degree. I will miss our priest, and I will miss my cousin, but they’re not gone for good. Jesus said to let tomorrow worry about itself, so that’s what I am choosing to do today.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Do Whatever He Tells You

At the wedding of Cana, Mary tells Jesus that the hosts have run out of wine. This is the moment when he performs his first miracle. He doesn’t do it totally on his own, though. He allows some servants to help. His mother tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” This is often easier said than done. Sometimes God asks us to do pretty crazy things. Often, I think, it’s a test of what we’re willing to do, rather than what we’re able to do.

I was just finishing up my morning prayer before we headed up to Maine yesterday, and a scripture reading from that was when Paul says, “…it is when I am weak that I am strong,” talking about how God uses our weaknesses to accomplish his plans. This reminded me of the opening of the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is called by the Lord to be his prophet, but he protests, saying that he couldn’t possibly because he is too young and doesn’t really know how to speak well.

Before Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, he tells his disciples two things. He tells them to go and spread the Gospel, and he promises that he will always be with them. I imagine that the prospect of trying to get this message out to the world was a bit intimidating. Without knowing how things would turn out, it would seem as if Jesus picked the first twelve Apostles out at random. They got the message out, though, and two thousand years later, I’m writing about it halfway across the world.

They didn’t have internet. They didn’t have the printing press. They had their feet, their love for Jesus, and word of mouth. On top of those difficulties, they certainly didn’t have the freedom of religion that we enjoy in most first world countries. Countless Christians died for their faith, and still do die for their faith.

Yesterday I had a conversation with my godfather. I asked him why it might be that it’s taking so long to find a way for me to be formally consecrated to Jesus. He told me something I hadn’t really thought about. I’ve written about how I still have some insecurities. I thought my hangup was that I’ve been too nervous. My prayer lately has been, “Lord, yeah, this does freak me out a little, but just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”

My godfather told me that this wasn’t my issue. My issue was that, for one thing, I was being impatient, and for another, I was too invested in one corner of the world. In other words, my priest had told me to look into carmelite spirituality, so I’ve been exclusively looking into that. I realized one other thing before I got up today, too. I’m not very good at listening. I live a noisy life. I’m constantly listening to music, or trash talking with my dad, or yapping with my mom, or playing D&D and laughing with my brother and friends. When I do pray, I talk a lot, and forget to listen.

Luckily God is adaptable, and he uses song lyrics and random one-liners to tell me what I need to hear a lot of times. I woke up with the chorus of “Grace Got You” by Mercy Me stuck in my head today. In my head, that translated to, “I am still here, and I’m listening.” Still, I know I need to find our silence. Maybe then I’ll be able to figure out exactly where I need to go and what I need to do.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Who’s Right?

My dad and I have been watching this show on Amazon. I think Bishop Barron’s thoughts on it are really right.

The thing is, I like absolutes. I don’t like gray areas. It does matter who is right. If Christianity is not true, we are wasting a lot of time. If Christianity is wrong, I am wasting at least seven hours every week, but probably more. That’s just between structured prayer time and weekly Mass. If I factor in random mental prayer and “curiosity quests,” my faith is at least a part-time job.

In the show, Ragnar and Athelstan really struggle with this question. At one point, Athelstan says to another character, “I love Odin, and I love Jesus Christ.” It bothers him. At another time, he says, “I couldn’t help seeing some similarities between our God and their gods.” There are some similarities between the gods of myths and other religions, and the Christian God. This is the case because God wants his Truth to be known and accessible to all people. These similarities are simply a starting point, though.

Our relativistic culture likes gray areas. The fact of the matter is, we don’t like to be told that we’re wrong. I don’t like being told when I’m wrong. I don’t like conflict, and taking a stand about absolute Truth often causes conflict. This matters too much, though. I am taking a stand. I am not a crusader. What one chooses to believe is their business, but I believe that there is only one, absolute Truth, and only one true God.

 

Nothing Into Something

Although I generally think abstractly and look at the big picture, when it comes to certain important issues, I can be at least reasonable, if not totally logical. The reason I say this is that I’ve been anxious lately. This is mainly because I’m impatient and I’ve had difficulty getting a meeting with my priest to discuss some things. I really want to figure out where I’m going or what I’m supposed to be doing or who I’m supposed to be talking to in terms of my next step in my spiritual life. While I’m waiting for my priest to call or email me, I’ve started doing some of my own research. He has suggested some things to me, so I’m not totally flying blind at this point.

In doing so, I’ve realized some things. The first is something I absolutely can handle and fix easily. I need to approach prayer better. In other words, I need to approach it less as an extra to-do list, and more as a structured activity that I’m doing with my God and Friend. The second thing is that I see myself as too broken for this. That is not an easy fix. When I say “broken,” I don’t necessarily mean sinful. I know that I’m spiritually messy like anyone else.

The fact of the matter is, I still have insecurities from when I was younger. Before college, I was one of the most unpopular kids in school. I was not actively picked on. Instead, kids acted like I didn’t exist. They ignored me. This made me feel like a waste of time and space. That makes it hard to accept that the God of the Universe might want me to be his in a particularly special way.

This, however, is tied to my other fear. I was treated the way I was for two reasons. The first was that I was friends with kids who were actively picked on, and I stood up for them. The second, however, is likely because I am disabled, and therefore, odd by default to any elementary or middle school kid. I question why God would want someone to intimately follow and serve him who is physically incapable of doing quite a lot of things.

I’ve probably explained this before, but my book started as a thought experiment. I was working on another project and hit an impassible wall. I said, “Well, I can’t stop writing,” so I just started writing off the top of my head. I ended up writing a very strange creation story. I thought it was interesting, so wrote another story. Two stories turned into four, so I wrote a list of ideas for more stories. I wrote some more and resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t a list. It was a table of contents. I wrote some more, and shortly after I had written a few more stories, I prayed. “Lord, this is complicated. If this is going to be a book, I’m going to need your help. It’s yours if you want it.” Apparently he wants it, because he keeps helping.

Jesus died for me, so I have to live for him. I owe him my life, but I owe him more than that, and I don’t know what I can really give him. That’s ultimately what scares me. When it comes down to it, though, the truth is that love scares me. His love scares me. What’s really scary is that I can say, “No.” I’m not going to, but the choice scares me. The fact that I had a choice scares me. The fact that I ignored the choice for too long annoys me. The fact of the matter is, I started down this road when I was twenty one, but I didn’t know where I was going. Now I know a little better. I’m saying, “Yes.”

I have to remind myself that Jesus doesn’t always choose the most capable, exciting, influential people. His first followers, and many of the saints were basically nobody’s in the beginning. One of my favorite saints, Saint Faustina, started as a poor farm kid. She had trouble finding a convent that would accept her because in the early twentieth century in Poland, where she lived, a nun had to have a dowry. She didn’t, but finally the mother of a convent said she would let her in if she could pay for a habit. It took her a while, but finally she saved enough to pay for it. Through Saint Faustina, Jesus conveyed, in new and really amazing ways, his message of mercy that we will always need. She was a nobody, and now, just about a century later, she is super well known. This is just one example of what God can do, and I trust that.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

P.S. I may be renaming the blog in the near-ish future, but don’t worry, I’m still here, and I’ll still be writing largely the same stuff.

A Thief Saint

I would like to preface this by saying that until this story’s conclusion, it is almost entirely fictional, and is written from the perspective of someone who says almost nothing in scripture and who there is only minimal historical background on. I wanted to write a story about the Penitent Thief who, in the Catholic Church, is known as Saint Dismas. He is a saint because he repented of his sins and, right before he died, Christ granted him salvation and promised him Paradise. I felt like he deserved a story, fictional or not, for a few reasons.

I hadn’t given Dismas much thought until a priest came to a church one town over from where I live. He brought with him a bunch of relics. These are objects considered sacred by the Catholic Church for various reasons; usually because they have some miracle associated with them. My dad and I went to Mass, and after Mass, we were allowed to go into a room connected to the main part of the church and look at, and even pick up some of the relics. One thing I remembered as I went in was that the priest had said to expect one of the saints to connect with us in some way. I went looking for something from Saint Faustina because I know things about her and I think she’s fantastic. I couldn’t even tell you what her relic was.

When I came across Saint Dismas’ relic, I felt a real connection. It just felt like he understood me somehow. His relic was an actual piece of the cross he was crucified on. I’ve done cursory research about him, and all that’s known is that he seamed to be a loner, and robbed, and even killed people that happened to cross his path. On Good Friday, though, he recognized that Jesus was innocent and he was not. More importantly, he was willing to acknowledge it publicly, and ask for forgiveness. What really compelled me to write this story, though was something I came across just a few nights ago. He was the only person who spoke up in Jesus’ defense. People mourned him, and his Mother and Saint John followed him to the cross, but even they were silent. It was a condemned criminal who actually said, out loud, that Jesus was innocent.

So without further ado, here is my rendition of how he got there.

He had a rough start. That’s no excuse for the things he did. Still, his life was not easy. Dismas was the son of a very poor farmer. His family managed, barely, until he was about thirteen, but then his father got sick. He did not suffer long. That was his only consolation. Death took him quickly, and he was followed soon after by two of his sons. It was just Dismas, his mother, and a young sister now. Dismas knew it was his duty to take care of his family, but he was young and had no real skills. He was afraid and felt he had only one option.

He waited until everyone had gone to bed one night, then left the house in a hurry. There was a small village nearby. That was where he would do it. Near the town was the house of a carpenter, and next to the house was a shed where he kept his tools. Dismas would test his ability here before he did anything drastic. He pulled out a knife he had brought with him, and picked the lock on the shed, a bit noisily, but with relative ease. He would get better at this over time. He crept into the shed and, though it was dark, took what he could find. He left in a hurry, leaving the door unlocked behind him, and making far too much noise as he ran back to his house, cursing every mistake he made. He hid what he had stolen under a pile of hey, and quietly made his way back to bed.

The following day, Dismas and his family worked the fields as best they could, but with just the three of them, they didn’t get much done. Plus his sister was still quite young, and was easily distracted and slow. That night was uneventful, but Dismas got up much earlier the next day, took the stolen things into the market as quickly as he could, and returned to his farm. His mother and sister had already started work, and his mother was suspicious. She asked where he had gone, and in the end, he told her the truth. She was indignant. How could he do such a thing? Instead of feeling shame, however, Dismas was angry. What other options did they have? His mother made him promise not to steal again, and for a while, he did not.

Dismas worked as hard as he could, and perhaps harder, to keep his family afloat, but eventually there was nothing for it. Their only options were theft or slavery. Dismas could not allow his mother to make that choice. He would not see his mother become a slave, and he would not let his sister be used, which was all too likely. Once again, he waited until his loved ones had gone to bed. Then he took a knife, and silently killed them both. Neither had time to react. He was precise. In fact, his own precision surprised him. Between sobs he said to each, “I’m sorry. I love you.”

His heart felt like led as he gathered some provisions and headed for the desert. He was homeless now, and would likely have to remain homeless. The first few times he robbed, he felt a bit guilty, but the feeling subsided, or at least became numb over time, especially as he became better at what he did. The first few times he killed, it hurt; it deeply hurt, but his heart darkened, and something strange seamed to grow in him, as though it fed on the blood. He both loved and hated the monster, and increasingly so as he realized that it was his only friend.

What he didn’t know, was that his reputation was growing. When it finally did come to his attention, it seamed that he was out of practice. He wasn’t used to having to evade people. He wasn’t used to people looking for him. Usually people were just trying to survive out here. Finally he realized that the smart thing to do would be to sneak back to a town in the middle of the night, strategically sell what he had on him, and disguise himself. Maybe he could just wait this out.

For some time, his plan worked–mostly. He was occasionally recognized and he was forced to move around quite a lot. This ultimately forced him to be more violent, and his reputation continued to grow. He tried to justify it all to himself, saying that it was all in self defense, but really, no one could justify the things he did. It was hopeless. There was no going back–not that there was anything to go back to. The memory of the night he had killed his family was fresh in his mind nearly twenty five years after the blood had been spilled.

Finally he decided to head for Jerusalem. He had heard talk of this zealot called Jesus. Some people called him a prophet. Others called him a heretic. Some said he was just crazy. What was important to Dismas was that this guy was causing mayhem, and he could use that mayhem to cover his own tracks. What was even more advantageous was that it was nearing the Passover, and the city was totally crowded. He could easily hide here. For several weeks he did so, and he heard a lot about the antics of this Jesus guy. He sounded weird, and kind of interesting, if nothing else. Then he apparently went berserk in the temple, why Dismas didn’t know, nor did he care. The authorities were on high alert after that, though, and Dismas knew he had to get out.

It was too late, though. More guards were brought in after that to keep the peace until the Passover was over, and Dismas could not hide. He had to do whatever it took to escape. There were people everywhere, and he spent several days simply getting lost, and occasionally doing what he did best–killing, stealing, or inciting violence among others. On Thursday, he was imprisoned and simply left to rot. Despite his own reputation, the authorities were more interested in this weird zealot. Dismas didn’t understand religious people. His family had not exactly been devout.

Almost before dawn the next morning he was wrenched from sleep and dragged to Pilate. This was it. He was doomed. He was surprised to see the crowd there. Then he realized that the zealot had been caught, along with another criminal. He and the other criminal were almost immediately sentenced to death. No surprise there. Then they were forced to watch this lengthy trial against Jesus. It was downright weird. Pilate pronounced him innocent three times, but because of the crowd, he was sentenced to death anyway. What was weirder still was that the crowd wanted some murderer called Barabbas released instead.

Then the three of them were taken away to endure everything these people had to throw at them–or hit them with. They shouted insults, and he shouted back. When the three of them were sent to be beaten by the Roman soldiers, he did everything he could to fight back, despite having his hands and feet bound. Yet eventually he noticed that, not only was Jesus putting up with it without a fight, he seamed to be asking for all they could hit him with. They were more than willing to hit him with it, and it felt to Dismas as though that monster inside of him was changing. It was as though the monster could see something that he himself could not.

He, Jesus and the other criminal, whose name he had learned was Gestas, were then led away, but not before some soldiers made a crown of thorns, placed it on Jesus’ head and mocked him as a crazy man and as a false king. Dismas and Gestas even joined in, though, for some reason, this made Dismas feel slightly uncomfortable. Then crosses were laid on the three of them, and they were told to march. Jesus had said nothing through this whole ordeal, and as the three of them marched toward Calvary, he noticed that people wept for the guy. No one wept for him. No one would.

When they reached the place where they would die, the three of them were nailed to their crosses. There was, of course screaming, but Dismas was astonished at the words that came from Jesus’ mouth: “Forgive them, Father. They don’t know what they’re doing.” The monster hated those words. The monster, Dismas realized slowly, and between waves of agony, was afraid of those words. The crowd and even Gestas continued to mock Jesus, who hung there, with his eyes fixed on heaven, and occasionally turning back towards a man and an older woman at the foot of the cross.

Slowly, it dawned on him. It was making him angry that Gestas was mocking this man who was dying. Gestas said through labored breaths, “If you are the son of God… get us down!” Dismas shot back, “Do you not fear God…? Jesus… remember me… when you come into your kingdom.” It was desperate, yes, but Jesus was who he said he was. Dismas knew that none of them were getting out of this, and he knew that he deserved to rot. All he could ask was that this King–the King of the Universe–remember him. If he couldn’t ask forgiveness from any of the people he had wronged, he could at least ask Jesus. In fact, Jesus had been beaten the worst of the three of them. He was bleeding and dying quickly, but he said, “Truly I tell you… today you’ll be with me in Paradise.” With that the monster died.

Dismas wanted to say, “Thank you.” He wanted to say, “I love you.” It had been years since any semblance of love had come anywhere near his heart, but Jesus had loved him. He had forgiven the unforgivable. Dismas could barely breath, and Jesus died before he could say anything, so he waited. Eventually the crowd dissipated and he was left alone with nothing but the sound of his own dying breaths. He was almost relieved to see soldiers coming.