Tag Archives: Christian

Fences

Catholic or not, you may know that our tradition is notorious for interesting, odd, and inspiring devotions. One that I am fond of is a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was inspired by a revelation of Jesus to Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque. He wanted her to let the world know that what He really wanted was to grant his mercy, but that so many people simply were indifferent to Him and would not receive it. The devotion itself is really quite simple. One has to go to Mass on the first Friday of the month for nine consecutive months in a state of grace, and receive communion with the implicit intention of doing some kind of reparation for humanity’s indifference to His sacrifice.

Last Friday I went to Mass because I’ve been doing this devotion for five or six months. After church, I ran an errand and got lunch with my mom. While in the car, I turned on Spotify, because tunes, and I was in a spectacularly good mood. I found myself thinking about really random things. Because I was curious, I looked up what percentage of people are left handed, because I’m left handed. So no one reading this has to look it up, it’s about ten percent. I found myself wondering whether Jesus was left or right handed, and I wondered how many people actually take the time to consider that kind of thing. My dad later explained that it’s hard to learn to write with one’s non-dominant hand, but it’s not so hard to learn to do other things so, being a carpenter, Jesus may have been at least somewhat ambidextrous, which I thought was interesting.

As we drove from place to place, I started realizing just how many fences there were. Fences are such a staple part of suburban life that they almost escape our notice, but today, I found myself marveling at the barriers people had constructed between houses and businesses, and along roads. I actually found myself laughing at how territorial it was. It was exactly like dogs marking their territory to me. I just found myself thinking that it seemed a bit primitive in a way. Obviously fences are for our own protection and the protection of others. We have a fence around our yard so a neighbor kid won’t fall into our pool or something, but I think too often, we use them to lock ourselves in and lock others out.

Still, I found myself thinking that people spend too much time building fences, and not enough time breaking down walls. We’re supposed to break down walls. Jesus spent nearly His entire three-year ministry doing that, and He broke down the most impassible wall between humanity and God when He went to the cross. Jesus explained to saint Margaret Mary that when we participate in the First Friday devotion, we’re doing the same thing. He said we stand in the gap between God and those who are indifferent or even scornful toward Him. God chooses us no matter what, but He can’t make us choose Him.

We’re so used to fences, though, that we build walls between ourselves and our Savior. It’s easy to believe that the gap between us and God can’t be breached because He’s perfect, and we’re not, and in this life, never can be. It’s easy to forget that Jesus can do the impossible. It’s sometimes hard to believe that Jesus died for me, and it’s easy to ask the question, now what? It’s easy to ask, am I worth that? It’s easy to doubt it when, in our hearts, we know the answer is, “Yes;” when His answer is, “Yes.” Jesus doesn’t build walls. He breaks them down. He does this in his stories, and in His actions, He doesn’t stop anyone from coming to Him, and He wants us, as He did, to love the least of these.

We have to stand in the gap. We have to love our enemies. We have to have mercy. We have to heal where we can. Jesus is alive in His Church, and standing in the gap isn’t just a metaphor. We can be little bridges. Jesus works miracles in our world today. Maybe we should spend less time agonizing about property lines, and more time actually loving our neighbors.

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Fluent In Goodness

This past Friday I was up in Maine again with my parents. They were talking to my mom’s cousin (our contractor) about some issues with the house, which ended up all being okay, and about progress in general. While they did that, I went down to the river across the street, and sat on a platform and went through a bunch of my ordinary daily prayers. When I finished most of the structured stuff, I just started talking.

I realized that I talk to God about things I worry about, or things I need, or what have you, but I almost never talk to Him about “normal” stuff. In my last post, I talked about how I hear God’s glory in thunder. Friday in Naples Maine was hot, sunny, and breezy, and I absolutely love that. People were headed down to the lake in their boats while I was sitting on the platform, and they were having a grand time. Eventually an epic squirt gun battle broke out.

The first Creation story in Genesis is written in a poetic, systematic form. The world is constructed in six days, and after each thing God created, He saw that it was good. I looked at the shiny golden rocks at the bottom of the shallow river, the clear blue sky, the emerald shine of the sun in the trees, and it reminded me of the intrinsic goodness of everything. I was also anticipating hanging out with my godfather later that day, which is always a good time. We went to the same little gas station pub we usually go to and descended upon a horrifyingly large pile of chicken wings and french fries. We ate most of it. It seemed to me that there was something intrinsically good about that, too–not just the food, but simply being way too excited about it with my godfather. I saw God’s glory in all of what happened on Friday.

I’ve mentioned before a guy by the name of Bishop Robert Barron. He has a lot of short YouTube videos on a plethora of subjects, and I highly recommend them. In at least one or two of them, he has mentioned a quote by Saint Irenaeus. “The Glory of God is man fully alive.” The obvious question is: what does it mean to be fully alive?

He associates this with freedom. Bishop Barron explains that, to most, freedom is associated with self-expression. In other words, as I tend to render it, it is “freedom to,” while a more Catholic idea of freedom, as I render it, is “freedom from.’ What I mean is, it’s freedom first, from sin, but also, freedom from fear, anxiety, and a myriad of other human annoyances. Religious practice, in a sense, is also “freedom to,” however. Bishop Barron uses the example of learning a language. The more fluent a person is, and the more expansive their vocabulary, the freer they are to use that language. In Catholic terms, this means being free to act and express oneself as a child of God.

God’s nature in itself is goodness and love. He loves his creation, and he loves humans most of all. To love someone means to desire their happiness, and want what is best for them. Since God knows everything, He knows what will make all humans happy. To achieve Heaven essentially means to achieve what will make one most happy. Obviously being free is part of being happy. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, this means practicing a certain set of objective rules, standards, or whatever one likes to call them, to become “fluent” in goodness, because God created humanity according to his own nature.

Suffering, Thunder, And Glory

Yesterday we had a pretty good thunderstorm near our house. I am twenty five, but there is still a five-year-old part of me that gets excited about thunder. My dad and I just finished watching all of what has been released of the series “Vikings.” A line that sticks out to me is when one of the main characters, Rollo, who is a viking warrior who marries a French princess, is explaining to his wife, “When you hear thunder, it’s just thunder, but when I hear thunder, I still hear Thor striking his hammer.”

Something I remembered as I watched the rain come down through my bedroom/office window yesterday was when God reveals himself to the prophet Elijah. 1 Kings 19-11-12 says, in effect, that God did not reveal himself in a great wind, or an earthquake or in a fire, but in a “still small voice.” This seems counter intuitive, but then I reflect on all the times it has seemed that God has spoken to me. As a kid, I was always looking for God in the thunder and lightning that I still love to this day. I don’t usually find him there, though.

I found myself reflecting, too on the idea the vikings had that, if there was thunder, then Thor was striking his hammer. That was just a given. The idea resonates with me. To me, as both a Christian and a fantasy writer, the idea that thunder is just thunder doesn’t quite cut it. When I hear thunder, I hear the sound of God’s glory. I can listen to a thousand worship songs, and don’t get me wrong, I love worship music. In fact, I think my favorite song is, “How Great Thou Art.” Those songs don’t compare to the thrill and joy I get when I hear thunder. I think that’s why the five-year-old in me will never grow up. What I mean is, God doesn’t necessarily speak through the thunder, but he can use it to remind people how awesome he is.

God’s glory is so obvious in his Creation that it’s easy to take it for granted. It’s evident in the sound of thunder, and the downpour falling on the roof. It’s evident in the flash of lighting, and in the dark, mighty clouds. It’s evident, too in the silence after the storm. Beyond that, though it’s evident in even the simplest things–the foods we eat, the things we smell, the colors we see, the softness of a pet’s fur or feathers–all of it.

Imagine how the world would be different if God hadn’t bothered to make color, or given us the ability to see color. Similarly, imagine if the world had been made without sound, or if humans didn’t hear sound for some reason. I acknowledge that some people don’t have the gift of sight, or of hearing. I would like to reflect on that, too.

I have been gifted with language. I have had a good education, and one thing I can confidently say I’m good at is writing, and I’m a moderately good speaker. On the other hand, I suffer from epilepsy. Epilepsy is a weird disorder, and comes in many forms. People experience it in different ways. In my case, I generally lose the ability to use and comprehend language, and in the worst cases, I lose awareness of my surroundings, but don’t exactly black out. Though it has no monetary value, language is something I personally value very highly, and it genuinely terrifies me when I lose the ability to communicate, even momentarily.

As part of my devotions every day, I read something from scripture. Sometimes I’ll just pick something out at random, sometimes I’ll use the daily Mass readings, and sometimes God will give me something to reflect on. Today I felt I needed to spend some time to reflect on the reading from today’s Morning Prayer (from the Liturgy of the Hours). It was from the book of Job. He poses the question, “If we take happiness from God’s hand, must we not take sorrow, too?” To be clear, God doesn’t want people to suffer, and he doesn’t impose suffering on people. He does allow people to suffer, and that’s hard to understand.

My dad has told me that when I’m having a seizure, or what I call “brain fuzz,” even though I don’t know I’m doing it, I sometimes repeat the word, “No” over and over. Something, maybe in my subconscious, is protesting, and I love that. I often know ahead of time when I’m going to have “brain fuzz.” My prayer used to be, “God, take this away.” When it became clear that He wasn’t going to, I changed it to, “Please let this one pass, but if you don’t, just stay with me.” Sometimes I think that, “No” is His way of saying with me that “this is not okay.”

In a way, I can appreciate what my brain fuzz does to me. I can appreciate how scary it is and how alone it makes me feel because I know that Jesus was alone through His Passion. This is very obvious when He says from the cross, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” When I lose the ability even to think words, I am sometimes tempted to feel that I have been abandoned. I believe, however, that that subconscious “No!” is His way of being with me, even if I don’t understand it. This is my choice, and in this way, I choose to view even my epilepsy, and in particular, that, “No!” as a gift.

How does any of that have to do with thunder or glory? Sometimes I reflect on things Jesus said or did, either in Scripture or in revelation to Saints, and though I love Him, He is intimidating. During the storm yesterday, I thought about how I find thunder exciting and comforting at the same time. God doesn’t need to use words to reveal Himself to us. I hear His glory in the thunder because, as the five-year-old part of me might say, He is big, and I am small, He is God, and I am not, and even when my epilepsy takes my language–my treasure–from me, He gives me that rebellious, glorious, “NO!”

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Whirlwind Weekend

I haven’t given an update on our house in Naples in quite some time. Construction is well underway at this point. Ironically, that means it’s currently very inaccessible, but that doesn’t really matter because there isn’t much to see except for the beginnings of what will eventually become rooms, and the outline of what will soon be the beginnings of a two-car garage.

We spent some time there yesterday because my dad was installing a security camera so no rotten potatoes decide to do anything stupid while we’re away. There are work people there most of the time anyway, and it’s a pretty rural area, so the chances of that happening, in my mind, at least, are slim.

We took a break from that for a little while and went to church with my godparents who live up there, then to dinner at one of our favorite places, which was once a gas station. You can still fill up your car there, too, which is kind of an interesting idea. I don’t know how often people use the station and stop for food, but if it gets the owner a little extra business, then good for him. We’ve met him a couple of times, actually. He’s nice.

After all of that, my godfather helped my dad, and my godmother and I made inane talk about music and cute animals while we waited for them to finish. It took them a while. My mom and my brother had gone with my aunt and cousin, and several of my mom’s cousins down the Saco River on tubes. apparently it was cold, and there was no flow in the river because there hadn’t been enough rain, so they had to swim quite a bit.

Tonight, my parents, brother and I are going to see Beck in Boston. Because Beck does everything under the moon, I have no idea what to expect. I slept really late today because I felt like it, and spent the remainder of the afternoon in my yard, praying, and hanging out with my bird. It was lovely.

Something I realized, which I have heard priests say, is that I actually am happiest when I’m just spending time with God. I am happy when I’m working on my book (which often involves praying, anyway), or when I’m watching a movie or show with my dad, but I actually am happiest when I’m just staring into space, talking to the Lord. I think I’ve just never taken the time to actually think about it. It’s a different kind of happiness. I think I sort of realized it, but didn’t know how to express it in words when I took communion yesterday.

There’s this phrase that comes up in a lot of Christian hymns and songs: “I am yours and you are mine.” That confused me for a long time. How could He be mine? I’m a language geek, and I find myself reflecting on the fact that, when talking about God, we rightly use the possessive pronoun, and say that he’s my God; my Father; my Savior. God made Himself known to us, and He wants a relationship with us. He’s with me while I’m praying, and if I let Him be, He’ll be with me at the show tonight, because that’s what Jesus was like. He went to the Wedding at Cana. He had dinners with sinners–so, ordinary people. He had fun, and he probably enjoyed awkward, but fun conversations. Tonight we’re going to eat burgers and enjoy very weird music.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Forgive Yourself As God Forgives You

I usually go to Mass on Saturday afternoons instead of Sunday mornings at our church. This Saturday I showed up a little bit early because I had decided to go to confession. I woke up that day with this thought in my head: “Forgive yourself as God forgives you.” I can hear over and over that God forgives without limit, but hearing it like this helped me to understand it better. Jesus told his disciples when He entrusted His mission to them to love others as he loved them.

The fact of the matter is, there are times when I feel like I shouldn’t be forgiven for one reason or another. I’ve messed up one too many times, or I’ve done something that must be beyond redemption. I know I am forgiven, but it often seems downright ridiculous. I’ve said before that I’m really hard on myself. I’ve been told multiple times that I’m too hard on myself. That in itself is problematic.

Forgiveness involves two people. God offers forgiveness, and I have a choice. I can accept His forgiveness, or I can continue being overly scrupulous and feeling sorry for myself. Accepting His forgiveness inherently involves forgiving myself because I’m His. If I’m going to live like Him, I have to forgive like Him, and because I’m messy, it means forgiving myself, and seeing who I am past the mess.

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.

 

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.

No Normal

I’m starting work (meaning working on my book) late today for two reasons. I had to take care of some other stuff, which is now done, and because my dad is traveling for work this week, which my schedule is more adjustable, anyway. I wasn’t intending to write a blog post, but in the course of doing my things that needed to get done, I came across this quote:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Last night I came to the conclusion that while there is stability sometimes, there is no “normal.” In the past year, I’ve had to adjust to a “new normal” several times. This concept really solidified in my mind after Vermont’s funeral. At the time I had a desperate, but hopeful thought that eventually things would go “back to normal.” Then it hit me that they wouldn’t. Our family would have to adjust to a new normal. On a happier note, my brother is finishing his Bachelor’s degree this year, and will be commuting to school to get his Master’s (because he’s actually a genius). Finally all of our friends will be at home, generally at the same time. It will almost be like when we were kids. It will almost be like going back to what was normal for so many years.

Except it won’t. I still don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I’ve been trying to get in touch with a Secular Institute, which is a kind of religious organization that, in this particular case, helps people with disabilities, like myself, consecrate themselves entirely to God. I can’t entirely truthfully say that I don’t care about the consequences. I’m going to pursue this no matter the cost, but I don’t know how my friends will react. I want them to know that I’m still a total nerd and weirdo who will continue to play fantasy games with them. The only difference is that I’m officially making an unbreakable commitment to God. That will be a new normal for everyone to get used to, including myself.

I brought up the quote at the beginning of this post because I decided to do my “spiritual stuff” before work instead of after work today. Part of that “spiritual stuff” is just making sure I read something from Scripture. I had an idea of what I was going to read, but when I went to the website I usually use to read the Bible, this was the “verse of the day,” and for some reason, it sunk in deep, and it seemed like I just needed to leave it at that and think about it.

I do pray a lot. It’s often just conversational. The first part, “Rejoice always,” however, is difficult for me. It’s not about an emotional kind of joy. It’s about knowing, and being satisfied with the fact that Jesus saved us. That is always worth celebrating, even if whatever “new normal” we’re in is complicated, or weird, or even painful. The Gospel reading for this weekend was about when Jesus says to his apostles, “I no longer call you slaves, I call you friends.” Our priest explained that he said this to prepare them for what was about to happen. Before we are saved, we are slaves to sin. Jesus bought our freedom at a price.

At first, As I got to know Jesus, whenever I thought about that steep price, my response was always, “I’m sorry.” He’s had to teach me that I’m worth that to him, and because I’m worth that to him, I am objectively worth it. With his help, my response has changed to, “Thank you.” The fact of the matter is, my God intimidates me. The idea that anyone would go that far for me is insane, but the idea that the God of the Universe would go that far is both baffling and kind of scary.

I have to remind myself that God’s power is in his love. Jesus says in the Gospel that he is gentle and humble of heart. Saint Paul says that love is tender and kind. Sometimes the “new normal” sucks, but God is faithful. He is only ever good. If there is nothing else to be thankful for, remember that you’re still breathing; remember that you’re heart is till beating; remember that you’re alive; remember that the God of the universe wants to know you. That is something to be thankful for.