Tag Archives: Christianity

God Says “No” And He Knows It Hurts

Recently I wrote a poem about a fish and a dragonfly. They both start their life in a fishbowl, but the dragonfly will eventually fly away. The fish, on the other hand, is a little stuck. The fish says, “somehow I will find a river.” Since writing this poem, my prayer has often been, “Jesus, be my river.” He has since said to me, “Let me be your river.” I want Him to carry me to freedom, and He will, but sometimes, His idea of freedom, and mine aren’t the same.

Freedom, to the average American woman my age probably looks like a decent paycheck, a livable apartment, a reliable car, and the ability to go where she wants, when she wants. A few days ago in prayer, the Lord brought to my mind when He says, “You have to lose your life for My sake to find it.” I’ve had this idea in my head that I never had much of a life to lose in the first place; I never had many choices to begin with.

Last week was tough for me. I’ve been struggling with this, but on Monday, He reminded me that I chose Carmel. I have obligations because of that, and I could have said “no.” I could have decided these obligations were too much. Even before that, I could have chosen to leave the Catholic Church when I heard about the abuse crisis. He reminded me that I chose to stay for Him. Before that, I could have chosen not to chase Him in the first place. I could have chosen to stay a rebel. I could have decided that His morals and rules were not worth what He offered.

When I asked Him to be my river, I was asking Him to get me out of my boring daily routine. I was asking Him to help me find a way to experience more. He agreed to be my river; He agreed to help me find freedom. I finished my morning prayer today, and looked out the bathroom window at a Blue Diamond Sky, and somehow it just came to me. Freedom isn’t experiencing everything. Freedom is the willingness of a heart to listen, know His voice, know His will, and do it.

As a Secular Carmelite, I’m expected to pray Morning and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s part of the official Liturgy of the Church. At the end of each, there are written-in intercessions, but when I’m doing it on my own, I can add my own, and I always pray for the wisdom, courage, and desire to always know and do God’s will. That might not sound like freedom, but it occurred to me that if I’m not serving God, I, or anyone else, is serving someone, or something else. That’s just a fact. That something else might simply be one’s own cravings, but in the end, they won’t lead to happiness. The things we want on a strictly human level, even if those things are good, are limited. If we serve our desire to have an adrenaline rush, for example, we’ll never be satisfied because there are only so many crazy things to do, we only have so much money in our accounts, and only so much time.

God, on the other hand, can satisfy because He is not limited, and the things He wants us to do are good for us, even if they’re not always especially interesting. That’s the thing; sometimes the things God asks of us aren’t especially exciting. I don’t always especially want to pray the Rosary, but I do because He asked me to. Last night I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries again, and it hit me: Jesus knows what it feels like when God says “no.” I’ve asked Him to at least take away my epilepsy, and He’s refused. In Gethsemane, Jesus said, “If it be your will, take this cup from me.” His Father; my Father said, “no.”

God the Father didn’t want Jesus to suffer and die. He let it happen, but that doesn’t mean He didn’t care. He allowed it to happen because He knew He could bring about a greater good, namely, human redemption and salvation. I’ve written about this before, but when God created the universe, He created things like physics and thermodynamics. He voluntarily gave up His power over some things, and because of sin, things like bad genes came into the mix. I got some of those bad genes. He could just miraculously “fix” it, but He’s chosen not to.

My river to freedom won’t take me to city living, a nice apartment, singing in a band, and volunteering a lot. The river is taking me somewhere else. I was reminded last night that some of the people I admire most are nuns, and by most estimates, they are not “free.” They actually did give up their lives. My freedom is still in choices; my freedom is in choosing what to do with what I’m stuck with and what I’ve been given.

God says “No,” and He knows it hurts. Jesus said that He would not leave us orphans. He said He would be with us until the end of the world. He doesn’t abandon anyone. He knows how to comfort every single person, and for me, that meant making sure I’d hear the song “One Eyed Cat” yesterday.

Friends In High Places

I’d like to preface this by saying that if you’re not Catholic and/or don’t understand devotion to Mary, you should read my previous post first.

This is prayed at the end of the Rosary. It took me a while to memorize it, but I’m glad I did. It’s a comforting prayer.

“Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope; to thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious Advocate thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the Blessed Fruit of Thy womb Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary, pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

The monthly meeting of our Carmelite community was this past weekend, and our reading was very focused on Marian devotion in our Order. The first Carmelites saw Mary as a Mother, yes, but also as a Sister; someone to model in their devotion to the Lord. This is encouraged in the Church in general, but I think it’s easier said than done. Realistically, she’s not mentioned a whole lot in the Gospels, and she doesn’t say much. I think maybe that’s the point, though. She watched Jesus, and her last words in Scripture were “Do whatever he tells you.”

God is a Trinity–Three in One–oriented to and as Love. He is also an all-knowing Creator. He created humanity not because He had to, but because He wanted to. He modeled humans after Himself, which meant that we are not solitary beings; we need community. This comes in various forms, but the most natural form is that of a family. Parents and siblings are the first community anyone ever experiences. I grew up in a pretty cookie-cutter family; a mom and dad who love each other, and one brother who I get along with, and I’m really grateful for that.

Of course not every family is like that, and not all family is blood. There are plenty of men and women I call “Uncle” or “Aunt” who I’m not actually related to. At Baptism, every child is given a Godmother and Godfather who are entrusted with the spiritual nurturing of their Godchild, along with the parents. Also, at Baptism, we are made no longer orphans, but children of God. We have a Divine Father, and in Jesus, a Divine Brother. God doesn’t stop there, though. While we don’t have a Divine Mother, we do have a spiritual Mother. Because we are God’s Children, because Mary is Jesus’ mother, and because Jesus is God, she is our mother, too. Without Jesus, we are orphaned sinners, but because of Him, we have a Father, and a Mother.

Honestly, I’m totally a “daddy’s girl.” In a lot of ways I’m a more feminine clone of my dad, and devotion to Mary took some getting used to. It seemed like a distraction. Thinking about my own family, though, we’re a complete disaster without my mom. The fact of the matter is, Mary played a part in making Jesus who He is, at least on a human level. She guided His growth, learning, and maturity, and she was always involved in His life. Since our goal in life is ultimately to be like Him, and to be with Him, and since she is our spiritual Mother, she can have that motherly influence on us, spiritually. In a similar way, I am not my Godson’s natural mother, but I can help him grow and mature on a spiritual level.

I think looking to Mary as a model is helpful because simply looking to Jesus all the time can sometimes be terrifying, exhausting, and perplexing. I mean that in all sincerity. Sometimes when reading the Gospels, I find myself thinking, “Why would you do that?” Jesus does and says things that from a flawed human perspective often don’t make a whole lot of sense. Looking to Mary can be helpful because I can say to her, “What is He doing?” And as a patient mother, she says, “Just trust Him. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You don’t have to have Him figured out. Just follow Him. I’ll help you.”

Even as His mother, Mary didn’t have Him figured out. When He went missing for three days in the Temple, she asked Him, “Why would you do this?” I don’t think it was accusatory. I think she was asking the same question as me: “What are you doing?” I like the “Hail Holy Queen” prayer because sometimes Jesus’ answers to prayers is “no” when I ask for healing for myself or for someone else. Sometimes bad things happen and despite the fact that I know He can turn evil into a greater good, I don’t have the strength or the hope to stubbornly praise Him anyway. Instead, I can go to Mary and say, “I don’t have it in me, so pray for me; praise Him for me; carry me ’cause I can’t follow Him on my own.”

A lot of times, if I’m in a bad spot, I’ll ask Jesus to “be my River,” and to “carry me,” but I mean it in a different sense. In this metaphor, I imagine Jesus as the River that will get me out of said “bad spot,” and ultimately to Heaven, but Mary is a boat. I’m a good swimmer; I naturally float, but after a while, I do get tired. Obviously it’s not a perfect metaphor because when I fall, the Lord stops, cleans me up, and helps me get going again. If I’m upset about something, He’ll stop and help me through it. He’s a good friend. At the same time, He is trying to carry me Home, and sometimes, He’s not as gentle as I’d like. It may be cliche, but it’s true that the Lord loves me just as I am, but He loves me too much to let me stay this way; He’ll comfort me, but He won’t coddle me. That’s why it’s helpful sometimes to have friends in Heaven to lean on, especially a Mother.

Queen Mother

This past summer, I did a personal retreat in preparation to consecrate myself to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. If you’re not Catholic, that will probably have sounded like gibberish. The Virgin Mary has a lot of titles in the Catholic Church. One of those is “Our Lady of Mount Carmel.” The first Carmelites put themselves under Her protection, along with, it goes without saying, the protection of the Lord. The Carmelite Order originated in the Middle Ages in the context of a European feudal system. The way a feudal system worked was that a person would put himself under the patronage of a lord or lady. The man would serve his lord or lady and the patron or patroness would protect his or her servant.

During the crusades, when warriors went east from Europe, doctors and spiritual leaders went with them as support. a group of men decided to stay in the Holy Land and settle on Mount Carmel, living largely as hermits. Eventually, due to invasion by Arabic groups, they were forced to leave the Holy Land and return to Europe where they continued their way of life under the Rule of Saint Albert, who was the Bishop of Jerusalem at the time the Order got started in the mid 13th Century. While looking at the date, one might wonder when devotion to Mary got started. Mention of Mary in Christian worship started as early as the 3rd Century, just about 100 years after the Gospels were written

It should be noted that in ancient times, in various cultures, including ancient Israel, the queen was not the wife of the king: she was his mother. Often, the queen-mother would be sort of an advocate for the people to the king. In the Catholic Church, Mary is seen as this Queen Mother, and our Advocate. If Jesus is the King of the Universe, it makes sense, given His culture, that His Mother would be our Queen. A lot of people outside the Catholic Church ask why we pray to Mary and the Saints. We believe that our life on this Earth is a journey and a sort of challenge to authentically grow a loving relationship with God. We don’t come into the world perfect. We’re tainted by original sin, so we have to, with His help, strive for perfection. To be clear, it’s the Lord who gets us to Heaven, but our striving matters because it makes us truly His.

Our striving may end when we get to Heaven, but our life doesn’t. We’re still ourselves, and we still have relationships with people who are still on the journey. When we pray to Mary or Saint Peter or Paul, or someone else, we’re just talking. Often, when we pray to someone in Heaven, it’s to ask them to pray for us. It’s no different than asking a living friend or family member, except that we know the Saints in Heaven to be very holy people; we know that they are close to God. Being His Mother, we know that Mary is very close to God.

Still, many wonder if Catholic devotion to Mary is a little “over the top.” I get it; I thought this way for a long time. There is, however, Scriptural support for devotion to Mary. First, consider the wedding at Cana. The party ran out of wine. Mary noticed, and mentioned it to Jesus. Given that Jesus Himself was devoted to His mother, He changed the water into wine. If you need more evidence that Jesus was devoted to His mother, however, just consider the incident when He got lost in the Temple in Jerusalem. After He was found, He went home with His parents and, as Scripture says, “was obedient to them.” Even as He is dying on the cross, He makes sure that His mother would be cared for by John. He also makes a point to say that she is meant to be John’s Mother. John does not use his name in the way he writes his Gospel. He uses the name “the beloved disciple.” in the Catholic Church, this is interpreted to mean anyone who follows the Lord. Therefore, it is understood that, at the cross, Jesus had me in mind as His beloved disciple, and gave his mother, not only to John, but also to me, and the whole Church. This makes sense because the Church is the Body of Christ.

There are also references to Mary in the Old Testament, and elsewhere in the New Testament. By way of a few examples, Mary is prefigured by several Old Testament women. First, Mary is considered the new Eve, as Jesus is considered the new Adam. Eve is considered the mother of all the living, and she was unfaithful to God. Mary is considered our spiritual mother in God’s New Covenant, which He established through Jesus’ sacrifice, and she is faithful and trusting. Next, God promises descendants, and ultimately, a dynasty to Abraham. While He makes this promise to Abraham, it can only come to fruition through Sarah. Similarly, Jesus cannot come to live and die for us as a Man, except through a human mother, so while God’s promise of salvation isn’t achieved by Mary, she does participate in it. Finally, Bathsheba, the mother of the wise king Solomon is an advocate for him, and also rules alongside him as queen-mother, mirroring Mary’s role as she rules alongside her Son. There are many more examples, some more obvious than others, including the woman described in the book of Revelation.

All of this really is to say that Mary matters. St. Louis De Montfort makes the bold claim that devotion to Mary is the “surest, easiest, shortest, and most perfect” way of becoming a saint; in other words, of getting to Heaven and being close to the Lord. This is because if we let her do what a mother does–take care of Her children–she can teach us and help us to be like Jesus. She doesn’t do anything on her own. She is just as human as I am. Anything miraculous she does, she does by the power of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t completely unexpected since Jesus’ disciples performed miracles in the Gospels. When she asked the angel Gabriel how she was to conceive Jesus since she was a virgin, he explained to her that the Holy Spirit would “overshadow” her. This was a marital act, and Mary is considered to be the spouse of the Holy Spirit, so by her faith, and by His grace, she’s able to do a lot.

This leads me back to my first point. Back in July I consecrated myself to Mary. This hearkens back to the idea of putting myself under her protection as the first Carmelites did in the context of a feudal system. I dedicated myself to her because she can walk with me and guide me as I walk with Jesus, and chase Him to Heaven. I wrote out my consecration as follows:

I, Katie Curtis, a repentant sinner and servant of my Lord, Jesus Christ, entrust myself to you, Mary, my Lady of Mount Carmel. I ratify in your hands my baptismal vows, and resolve, with your help, to follow Jesus more closely and perfectly than ever before. I give you my heart. Keep me in your heart, and help me be attentive to Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls. Help me to love Him with your purity, and the crazy love that He deserves.

I give you my everything; my body, my soul, my goods, both interior and exterior, the value of my good actions; whatever you ask of me, that I may be brought closer to my Love, and my Lord. Help me to always trust Him, and always know and do His will. I entrust myself to you, as Jesus did, and I give you permission to do your work in, through, and around me, to make me a saint.

The simple version of that is, “Mom, I’m gonna trust you to teach me how to be like my Divine Brother.” I can trust her with that because she raised Him, and when He got older, she observed everything He said and did, and “pondered it in her heart.”

Just a couple of weeks ago, I took up the Rosary again. I had picked it up a few years ago for a few reasons, but then my devotion petered out. I picked it up again simply because I felt prompted to by the Holy Spirit. The Rosary might seem like a mindless recitation of repetitive prayers, and done wrong, it can be. Done right, though, the repetition of the “Hail Mary” isn’t the point. The point is to focus on the mysteries. I was prompted to focus on the “Sorrowful” mysteries that day, which walk you through the Lord’s Passion: The Agony in the Garden, the Whipping at the Pillar, The Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, and the Lord’s Death on the Cross. The Rosary’s repetitive prayers themselves are mostly there as a time keeper, but the Rosary itself helps one view the Mysteries of the Lord’s life through a Mother, or at least a beloved family member’s eyes.

In fact, the “Hail Mary” prayer is Scriptural. The angel Gabriel, on his appearance to Mary says, “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you!” and when Mary appears to Elizabeth, Elizabeth says, “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The complete Hail Mary prayer is this: “Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” What we’re saying by praying this is, “Mary, you’re a holy woman; you’re the mother of Jesus. Please pray for me.” By praying the full Rosary, I’m saying, “Jesus really matters to me. You were there; you witnessed His life. Help me to understand His life and how to love Him best.”

Some might argue that focusing on Mary takes the focus away from Jesus. In some sense, yeah, that’s kind of true. In the same way, however, you could say that admiring, talking to, hanging out with, and seeking advice or prayers from your friend, pastor, or whoever, who you think is a very holy person takes your focus away from Jesus. Ultimately, however, if you’re trying to be a holy person, in modeling yourself after someone you admire (a friend, a church leader, a canonized saint, or Mary), you’re still focusing on Jesus because you’re still trying to be like Him and get closer to Him, as they are.

I Am Yours And You Are Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Carries Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victory And Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I Think About Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

The Hard Choices

I’ve written a few things lately that I’d like to explain more deeply. Recently I wrote a post on why Catholics go to confession with a priest. I’ll summarize by saying that it’s also called the sacrament of Reconciliation, and essentially a person is speaking to Christ Himself in the sacrament, but we also speak to the priest who represents the Church, who we also need to be reconciled with.

My last post was a reflection on my journey back to the Catholic Church after being agnostic for quite some time. I mentioned two important points that I want to go deeper into. The first is that I didn’t know for a long time what sin is. The second is that I didn’t understand that the Eucharist literally is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.

Further, I explained recently what an examination of conscience is; that being an honest look at one’s self through the lens of the Ten Commandments. Through these commandments, as well as the beatitudes, and Jesus’ teaching in general, God, who is Truth, and Goodness itself, has revealed His will, which is by nature, always good, and always perfect. We can’t always know God’s will perfectly. Because of our own nature we are limited, but we do know what is generally good, and what is not. Sin is essentially saying, “God, I know what you want. What I want right now isn’t what You want, but I’m gonna do it anyway.” If we consciously make this choice, we are taking ourselves out of communion with God and the Church, which is why we go to confession.

When we receive the Eucharist at Mass, we call it communion. Because, as Catholics, we believe the Eucharist is literally Christ Himself, we must be in a state of Grace. In other words, we must not be in a state of mortal sin. Having any sin at all on us is obviously not good, but some sins are worse than others. For example, lying under oath in court is obviously worse than telling a “white lie” to surprise someone on their birthday. This is the difference between venial or “small” sins and mortal or “deadly” sins.

It used to be the case that confessions were much more readily available. Today it’s often the case that the only time to go is right before Mass. That doesn’t change anything about the sacrament itself, but it somewhat changes a dynamic of it. It used to be much easier and reasonable to go to confession if one knew of and felt guilty for venial sins. Now that isn’t so much the case. One can have their venial sins forgiven if he/she truly is sorry and admits their guilt directly and spiritually to God. Further, receiving the Eucharist “washes away” the guilt of venial sin. This cannot be taken for granted, and it is why we collectively acknowledge our sins at the beginning of Mass.

At this point, it should be noted that sins can only be forgiven if a person actually feels remorse for what they have done (or failed to do). Further, it must be pointed out that venial sins are not always entirely intentional, and are often the result of simple human weakness. Mortal sins are called such because three things must factor in. 1) It must be grave/serious matter, 2) it must be done with full knowledge and awareness, both of the thing being done, and the gravity of the action (decision, etc), and 3) it must be committed with deliberate and complete consent.

The ultimate point I want to make is that one should not receive communion if they know they are in a state of mortal sin. I bring this up because many choose to receive anyway. This is problematic for the Church in general for a few reasons. First, every Christian, is a member of the Church, which is the mystical Body of Christ, which means that when we sin, we’re hurting ourselves spiritually, and we’re offending our God, but we’re also hurting each other at least spiritually.

It’s also like saying “I love you” without actually meaning it. As Saint Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, we really should correct our fellow Christians. This means pointing out sinful choices and actions. Obviously this should be done with kindness. In today’s culture, it is a daunting task, even if our purpose is to lead people back to Christ.

Our culture tells us two really dangerous things. First it tells us there is no objective good; there is no black and white; anything goes. Then it tells us that everything we do matters: where we work; what we do; whether we go, or have gone to college; what we wear; what we do for fun, where we go; what we say; and we have to do it all right. Unfortunately, this leaks into our spiritual life. Sometimes it can lead us to be not entirely honest with God, or even to avoid Him at times. It can also tempt one to “get in line” to receive communion, even when one is fully aware that he/she shouldn’t.

This only matters, however, if we really believe that the Eucharist is Christ Himself. Jesus’ teaching in John 6 expresses it perfectly. He says in verse 33, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…” Then emphasizes it. He says:

48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Later, at the Last Supper, he says, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” He does not clarify to mean that the Eucharist is a symbol. He is speaking literally and emphatically.

Some take issue with the idea that the Mass is a sacrifice. It does not mean that Jesus is suffering again. It means we are being made present at His once-and-for-all sacrifice. The reason we receive the Eucharist again and again is that by this experience, Christ can offer us the Grace of His sacrifice again and again, making us spiritually stronger, and closer to Him.

He is also offering us His Love. Jesus died to redeem humanity, but He also died for each one of us individually; to save each one of us. He loves every person uniquely. Jesus is God, but He is also a man. From a perfectly human perspective, He knows what rejection feels like. We can understand this because presumably, everyone knows what rejection feels like on some level. When we choose sin, and even if we choose to receive the Eucharist indifferently, we are actually rejecting, or at least ignoring the One who deserves it least.

Back In Time

Not everyone, but a lot of people re-watch or re-read the same movies/stories again and again. I am one of those people. I wrote this story a long time ago, but I want to re-visit it. It’s a bit sensitive, so I won’t explain why. This is the story of my move away from, and back to my Catholic faith. When I wrote this story the first time, it wasn’t really focused specifically on the Catholic aspect of my faith. It was much more about how I simply didn’t think I needed Jesus, and how He proved me wrong. This will focus more specifically on why I believe the Catholic faith is the true faith. Without further adieu, I’ll start at the beginning.

I was born and baptized Catholic. I was raised loosely Catholic. I went to Catholic education classes once a week after school or on Sundays, depending on the year, and I received the Sacraments of initiation (Eucharist and Confirmation), but faith wasn’t emphasized in our family. We didn’t pray together, and even though we went to church, its significance was never really explained. My education was poor at best, so it felt like a tedious obligation that I didn’t understand.

For a long time I believed in God, and I believed in Heaven, but I didn’t know that I should or even could have a relationship with Him, I didn’t know that He loved me personally, and I didn’t really know what salvation was because I didn’t know what sin was. Despite all of that; despite not knowing who God was, at least when I was a child, I had a sense of what God was. I at least maintained the notion that God made the Universe and everything in it.

As I got older, this slowly faded away for a few different reasons. I went to public school, and because faith wasn’t emphasized at home, I never understood that faith and reason could coincide. I never understood that, for example, things like the “Big Bang” and evolution could be friends with Biblical Creation. I slowly began to reject Christian (though not specifically Catholic) ideas. I simply didn’t know what Catholic interpretations and doctrine were.

I have always been an eccentric person. I always had imaginary friends as a kid, and I have always loved stories. When I was especially young, I found the real world to be boring. I couldn’t run around like other kids, so I often projected things from my imagination into the real world. This, too, I think, led me to at least implicitly reject Christianity, so by the time I was in middle school–around the age of eleven–I was agnostic, though I didn’t have a word for it until later.

Middle school, naturally was terrible. It’s terrible for everyone, but it was more so for my friends and me for a few reasons. I was “off limits” because I was “the kid in the wheelchair,” but some of my friends were mercilessly picked on. Even though I did not know Him for several years, God made me with an empathetic heart, and this meant the bullies were chased by the kid in the four-hundred-pound wheelchair. If I caught them, I would park on their feet, and not move. Therefore, I was the recipient of less direct bullying. I was simply treated as if I did not exist.

It did not help my self-esteem that I was in the “special-education” program, even though this simply was not necessary. Through elementary and middle school, I had an “assistant” in the classroom with me even though, as I said, this was unnecessary. If I dropped a pencil, or what have you, I was fully capable of asking a fellow student for assistance. It was not until my freshman year of high school that I was taken out of the program after I personally wrote a letter explaining why their “assistance” was simply annoying.

This is an important part of the story because when we got to high school, one of my friends was getting more and more involved in sports, and therefore had less and less time to hang out, while another of my friends ended up going to a private high school. The first friend also ended up getting a girlfriend, and I realized that boys could be more than friends. I also realized almost immediately that, being “the kid in the wheelchair,” I had about zero chance of ever having a relationship beyond friendship.

My self-esteem was low, and my friends had less time for me. In middle school, we spent nearly every Friday night together. When high school began, that was not the case, and I spent many Fridays alone, and I cried a lot. I was lonely, though I didn’t want anyone to know, so I kept it in, which was obviously not healthy.

I didn’t make my Confirmation until my Junior year of high school, so I was going to Mass with my parents, but again, to me it was little more than a tedious obligation. After making my Confirmation, I still went, largely out of habit. I eventually learned the word “agnostic,” and I remember the moment when I acknowledged, in a sense, prayerfully, that I didn’t know if God existed or not, and I didn’t think there was a way to know. At the same time, I think there was a part of me that always hoped He did.

That year, I also started looking for colleges. I didn’t really want to go to college but that was just “what you did.” I had been playing guitar and writing (mostly terrible) songs for two years at that point, and although deep down I knew it was unrealistic, I wanted to be a touring artist. Luckily, the realistic part of me won, so I looked. I knew I’d have to commute, so I looked at places nearby. I immediately hated several of the places we visited. I can’t even explain why. Then we ended up at Gordon college.

Gordon was a Christian school, which made me a little nervous, but there were students there, and they all seemed weirdly happy. The faculty we met were also weirdly happy and weirdly nice. It was like they had something that I didn’t, and I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted it, so I applied. I got in, and because of my GPA, I got a scholarship.

Nothing about the “Christian-ness” of the school was off-putting, though I initially thought it was “weird.” We were required to go to “chapel” three times a week, which was fine, and eventually, I came to look forward to it. It was there that I discovered actually “good” Christian music. The only Christian music I had ever encountered was liturgical music, which was, at least at our parish, uninteresting and poorly “performed.” I eventually became a fan of a handful of Christian artists. I also learned to pray. My thinking rather quickly became, “If all these people believe, then maybe (eventually ‘probably’) God does exist.” My thinking also quickly became, “If God answers prayers, then I should pray for a boyfriend.”

That was my desperate prayer from August to mid-October. Despite this, I still didn’t actually know who God was. One night in October 2011, I was at a really desperate place. I was very lonely, and I was praying, as usual, that God would help me find love. It seemed like a prayer from me to Him because the words came very clearly, and seemingly from my own mind, but for the first time in prayer, the words “I love you” came to mind. I think, actually that He used my thoughts to say that to me because after that I felt a sense of peace that I had never felt before. That was the moment when I definitively became Christian.

That “I love you” was what I had been looking for all along. I was able to see clearly that I had empty spaces that only God’s love could fill, as cliche as it sounds. As I said, that was the definitive moment when I became Christian, but it took some time to decide what kind of Christian I was. I began “curiosity questing” on YouTube. I eventually came across a talk by Father Mike Schmitz entitled “The Hour That Will Change Your Life.”

That talk convinced me of two things: first, God quite literally loves the Hell out of me, and second, that the Eucharist quite literally is the body and blood of Christ, and if I receive the Eucharist, I am receiving God Himself into my very being. That meant I was definitely Catholic. It also meant I had a lot of learning to do, so I did more “questing,” and paid more attention at Mass. Our priest kept mentioning “Adoration,” and I eventually became too curious to resist, so I went one Thursday night, and was hooked. I had no idea what was happening, so I just sat there for an hour.

Confession was also available at the time, but I didn’t go for several weeks, or more likely, months. I still didn’t entirely understand what sin was, but I was beginning to learn what things were sinful, and I at least understood that sin was offensive to God. One night in Adoration, I was in a bad mood. I had learned at this point that Adoration was simply a time to sit and talk, or simply be with Jesus. I don’t remember why I was in a bad mood, but seemingly on an impulse, I asked, “Who am I to You?” His response came to me as a thought in my own head. He said, firmly but kindly, “My daughter.” If I remember correctly, I think that was the first time I went back to confession, and really the first time I had ever gone completely voluntarily. The relief I got from that was inexplicable. It was after that that I began to live my faith as my own person.

Looking back on this journey is strange because sometimes I feel like I’ve gone nowhere. When I look back, it’s relieving to see actually how much I’ve changed. In a song I wrote earlier this year I express this in the line: “I never thought I could fall this far.” I mean I never thought I could fall this far in love. In another song, a backing line expresses the idea that you have to fall to fly. I like Saint Therese’s “Little Way” because it’s largely about falling trustingly and letting God catch you.

The Dance Of Sorrow

The Dance of Sorrow

I find you
in that place we like to go,
where there’s no one else;
just us and nothing else.

I see your silhouette
there in the dark;
in the silence and the dark,
and you move
in the silence of the dark.

You say my name;
Your voice is music.
In the silence
and the dark
your beauty sings.

You are the light
in the silence and the dark,
and somehow I’m empty.

You ask me to stay
in the silence and the dark,
and I whisper;
I scream out your name.

I see you move;
you dance
in the dance of sorrow,
and you whisper.

“Will you look?”
You say
“Will you look and see
my heart that hurts;
that loves so much
and is so little loved?”

I see your beauty;
your dance:
the dance of sorrow.