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.

My Christmas

Yesterday was pretty sweet. My cousin from Montreal was home for Christmas, and my grandmother got me a super competitive board game called Cathedral. The point is to place more buildings on the game board than your opponent by strategically blocking off territory. I love games like this because for whatever reason, I’m obnoxiously competitive. We also played a game called Password. We decided that we would do sibling teams because we knew it would end badly. It was my two cousins against my brother and me. My two cousins think nothing alike, and my brother and I think nothing alike, so it was hilarious. I got a lot of great presents from my family, but I’m most excited about my new bass guitar, and my copy Saint Faustina’s diary.

I realized something rather embarrassing when everyone had left, though. I had gone to Mass the night before, but I had not had a particularly Christ-centered Christmas Day. In my defense, my grandmother had stayed overnight and we had had company all day, so I didn’t exactly have much time to sneak off and do much. I had some, though, and I should have recognized and used it. I started reading Saint Faustina’s Diary today, and she wrote something that I think is helpful. I don’t remember the exact quote, but basically she wrote that the future scared her and that she realized the past is unchangeable and not really worth thinking too much about. I empathized with her being a little freaked out by the future, and I’ve realized over time that I have a tendency to dwell on the past. It used to drive me crazy, but it has died down quite a bit. When I went to bed last night I prayed through the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, and then I crashed. My mistake bothered me last night, but that was last night, and I can’t do anything about it now.

One really cool thing was that my cousin (not either of the cousins I played Password with) told my mom that he really liked the Christmas Mass because our Priest’s homily was basically a history lesson. Apparently there has been preserved, what is believed to be, the wood from the manger that Jesus was placed in as a baby. My cousin asked my mom why they didn’t teach that kind of stuff in history class at school because, he said, it might convince more people to believe, even just a little bit. I’m my cousin’s Confirmation sponsor, and unfortunately, I’ve never really been able to figure out what he believes or how much he believes. This sounds to me like he at least wants to believe. I’m going to start being more of a pest, I think. By “pest” I pretty much mean Catholic nerd.

Anyway, I’ve had an otherwise pretty relaxing day today. I was going to work on my book, but I’ve decided to take a little vacation. As I said, I started reading Saint Faustina’s Diary, but I also wrote a little in my own “Honesty Journal,” which I will be sharing with no one, and I started teaching myself the bass part of “Man On The Moon” by R.E.M. I may not have it exactly the same as the original, but I’ve figured out a fair amount of it primarily by ear, which has been great fun. It took me forever, though. I was using a pick instead of finger picking because I’m just used to that, but it actually sounds right, and at least for now, I might stick with that style, just for goofing around. I haven’t just sat in my room and played music for several hours in a long time. The crazy thing is, it seems like I almost forgot how much fun it is. Ironically, I’m wondering if I’ve accidentally become a bit of a workaholic, and in some ways, a perfectionist. I think taking a break will be good.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

When The Sky Does Fall

My last post was about how I didn’t lose my book and my sky did not fall. I believe that my sky didn’t fall because I trusted in God. But what if I had lost my book? I had made the choice to trust God before I knew what was going to happen. I had chosen to trust him even if the worst did happen. Trusting God and losing a book would have been one thing. It would have sucked, but I would have been able to recover from it. God wants our trust. He wants to be our family, and that’s what family is about. We entrust the most important parts of our lives to our God, and sometimes we do so because there’s no one else we can trust.

I saw an absolutely terrible thing on the news a couple of days ago. it was about the orphaned and neglected children left without resources or comfort or love in the aftermath of the war in Syria. I haven’t forgotten about them. I’ve made sure to include those kids in my prayers because they need someone to take care of them, and I don’t know how many people changed the channel because they didn’t want to hear or see the sad story. I am trusting God with the lives of those kids who aren’t even mine, but they need help. Still, there’s only so much that can be done, and some of those kids will die. In that sense, the sky will fall. Blue diamonds will be lost. I would just like to ask that anyone who might be reading this to join me in praying for those blue diamonds.

Sometimes our skies fall much closer to home. Relatives or pets die. We get sick or injured. Students end up not having enough money to finish a degree. Relationships end badly. Trusting God is a choice, and we have to trust him with these issues before the sky falling is even a possibility; before it even crosses our minds that something bad could ever happen. Reading this here will not help anyone do that. Writing it down doesn’t make it any easier for me to do it. The ultimate question is, what do we do when the sky does fall? Do we continue to trust?

Think about this: Jesus’ whole life was a series of falling skies, both for his friends, but mainly for his mother. When the angel Gabriel came to Mary and asked her if she would be the mother of the Messiah, it was up to her. She had to make that choice. She had to trust God that this would turn out okay. She knew that the Messiah would save Israel, but she didn’t know exactly how he was going to do that. She chose to trust. Then again, when she went to the temple to present Jesus to Simeon, she was told that because of her son, a sword would pierce through her own soul. She didn’t know what that meant, but it couldn’t have sounded good, and again, she chose to trust. Jump ahead a few decades, and she trusted Jesus all the way to the cross. The sky fell hard, and still she trusted. Most of his friends couldn’t handle it, but she trusted, and luckily, John trusted, too. Three days later, everything turned out okay. We know how the story goes.

We have to make the same choice. We have to choose to trust God, and in a way, it’s harder for us. Mary was born without sin, so it was easier for her to know and to trust God. On top of that, she had some inclination of how things were going to turn out in the end. In our lives, that often doesn’t happen so much. We still have free will, though, and trust is a choice we have to make in the end. We know the story of Jesus’ life on earth. We know what he’s done in our own lives. We know he can do anything, so before anything happens, good or bad, choose to trust. Choose to hope. Choose faith. Choose love. Choose peace, and know that the God of all that is good loves you, wanted you to exist, wants what is good for you, wants the best for you, and is coming back in the end. The sky might fall. The sky might have already fallen for you, but know that Jesus can take a fallen sky and make a blue diamond.

I wish you all countless blue diamonds in the coming year, and a very merry Christmas.

-Katie

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Advent Reflection Notes (Week Three And Four)

I decided to lump these since there is only one video for the fourth week of Advent and it’s actually just all the speakers praying through the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary together. These videos aren’t really all that long, so I’ve been trying to watch them all in one go so I have the ideas fresh in my mind for the blog posts. Anyway, here are my notes.

1: God is a mountain mover, but he moves mountains under two conditions: a) it has to be his will, and b) it has to be for my good. Furthermore, what we perceive as mountains are sometimes only things we put in our own way, and sometimes we only need to change our perspective.

2: God is our Father. A Father provides and protects, and we are always God’s children.
-I woke up around 5:00 yesterday morning after having the most terrifying nightmare of my life. I am not exaggerating. For a little while I just prayed like a crazy person, but I was so freaked out that it just wasn’t helping, so I went through the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary, but that didn’t help either, so I prayed like I normally do again. I was starting to calm down a little at that point, but by then almost an hour had gone by, and I actually felt like calling my dad to lay in bed with me for a bit like a little kid would. I didn’t because It was insanely early and it would have been kind of weird, but what I really wanted was to feel like I wasn’t alone. Last night I was still actually afraid I was going to have trouble getting to sleep, so I went to bed with the necklace I designed that symbolizes God’s love in a special way for me. I had got it blessed by my priest, so it made me feel safer, kind of like a security blanket.

3: Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Peace in this sense is a “sense of harmony brought about by restoration of relationship with God.”
-I’m going to play with this idea of harmony. I’m a very musically minded person, and harmony is just amazing to me. I love to sing, and harmony makes everything better, in my opinion.
-What exactly is harmony between a person and God? I think it has to do with a number of things, but for this I’ll stick with the music analogy. Harmony would be like a great songwriter/composer taking the foundation of something, and letting a student play with it. God picks the key and the chord progression and the words, and the overall structure of a song, and gives me a guitar, and tells me to put something on top of it. It can be whatever I want. I can choose to play something in the key he’s playing in, that stylistically makes sense, or I can just yuck it up because I want to play my own thing. Our free will choices essentially create or allow for harmony or disharmony.

4: Back to the basics: “Take up your cross and follow me.”
-For me this probably means learning to be more patient, first of all.
-Recently, God taught me, and my priest reemphasized to me that God can take the tiny little nuggets of what I’m capable of giving him and make them into something huge. Worded differently, I need to learn, however long it takes, to not want to be a hero.
-There’s something I need to do that I’ve been avoiding for a very long time. I don’t exactly know how to do it, and I don’t exactly know what the short term or long term consequences will be, but it’s for the good of someone I love very much. That’s a bit terrifying.

5: The Holy Spirit is the source of tradition and renewal.
-It kind of seems like the world wants to do away with tradition. We used to have crazy traditions in our neighborhood, but a lot of that has died out. At the same time, I think remnants of those traditions have held on, and new traditions have grown out of them. It seems to me that humanity needs both, especially spiritually. I think sometimes the world doesn’t like traditions, especially religious traditions because they seem like they don’t make sense, even if we do have explanations for them.

6: How did Mary experience the first Advent?
-She lived it through desire and expectancy. These feelings don’t contradict each other.
-Thirsting for God’s gifts enables us to better receive them. Impatience makes it harder to handle this thirst properly.

7: Love is sometimes chaotic and messy (my paraphrase).
-True love is sticking with the one(s) we love even when/if it’s scary.

8: We don’t always get supernatural guidance, even on really big important things.
-This is kind of confusing. Joseph didn’t have to obey the call to register for the census, but he decided this would be the most pleasing to God. Mary decided following her husband would be the most pleasing to God. I guess I sort of expect him to just tell me what to do on everything. I kind of like being told what to do.

Advent Reflection Notes (Week Two)

I’ve already watched the videos for week two, and I didn’t find them that insightful, except for one done by a priest named Father Nathan Cromly. These are a few points that were in his video that I’ll expand with my own thoughts a bit.

1: God prepares us by making us wait, and making us thirst for him.
-I think this touches on one of the points that stuck with me from last week. It reminds me of the quote from Saint Padre Pio: “I’ve been praying for something for twenty years, so I’m beginning to have hope.” Father Cromly says that it can be very tempting to despair and give up on faith in our current culture, especially if we don’t know many or any others who practice our faith. It’s easy to look at the problems in the world and wonder where God is or what he’s doing, but God wants us to dare to hope.

2: God isn’t afraid to disturb our sense of peace.
-In a recent post, I talked about how I really don’t know exactly how one would prepare for the coming of a king, let alone the King of the Universe. This point is definitely true for me because I’ve grown a lot spiritually in the past few years, and as I grow, I feel a desire to be holy very strongly, and sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to put the things I like into terms that make sense, or even to know if they’re dangerous to my spirituality. For example, I’ve been watching the show Daredevil with my dad on Netflix. The story is super interesting, but the symbol for the superhero/protagonist is the devil, and there’s a lot of problematic language in the show. Granted, the protagonist is Catholic, so I’m assuming the irony in that was meant to be simply amusing and innocent, but it still strikes me as possibly problematic. I have a harder time overlooking the language, but part of my problem is that I can’t help watching this show from a writer’s perspective, and in that sense, it’s really good. The point I’m trying to make is that figuring out how to take on the world is exceedingly complicated.

3: God comes into our lives to expand what we think is possible
-Yesterday I was still wrestling with the feeling that what I had to offer the Lord would never be enough. Again, this hearkens back to the parable of the goats and the sheep. Out of the blue, while my mom and I were in the car headed somewhere, I sort of felt him ask me, “Do you doubt what you can do or what I can do? Do you doubt my mercy?” I was speechless for a minute, then all I could manage was, “Sorry… I don’t doubt it any more.”

4: What does it mean and what does it take to unconditionally say “yes” to God like Mary did?
-This is a tough one because I know from experience that it often means being totally socially weird. For me, at least, it has meant getting used to being weird, accepting it, and celebrating it. I know that it also means doing things I don’t like sometimes, or doing things I could never initially see myself doing. When I first volunteered to teach fourth graders, I never actually thought I’d like it. Actually, I like teaching the little kids more than the high school kids. I started with high school kids, though, and even then, it was kind of on a whim, and I just went with it. If it weren’t for my epilepsy, I might consider trying to get a teaching degree and teaching theology at a Catholic school.

I would also just like to mention something I read the other day. Jesus appeared to Saint Faustina several times, and in one of these apparitions, he gave her a prayer that would greatly help in the salvation and conversion of souls. The prayer is, “O blood and water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a font of mercy for us, I trust in you.” I’ve been praying for a few people for around four or five years at least. Ultimately, I guess that’s not really a very long time, but sometimes it feels like forever. Still, this revelation to Saint Faustina kind of reminds me of Saint Padre Pio’s quote. I like to tell people that I can swim a mile. After the first half mile, I’m exhausted, but I make it the second half because I’m more stubborn than I am strong.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Not Just Waiting

I miss something I’ve never actually had. It’s kind of a confusing feeling, but I’m used to it by now. I attend Mass primarily with people around my grandmother’s age, and I’m one of about seven people who attend weekly Adoration. When we sing, I’m one of the only people who sings loudly, and I don’t sing nearly as loudly as I want to. At the Easter Mass, when the priest says, “He is risen,” and we’re supposed to repeat it triumphantly, he just repeats himself because no one says anything. We’re so used to the fact that Christ is risen that it sounds like old news. It’s not old news.

I miss the joy and triumph I know people once had. I think to a lot of people, church feels like an annoying obligation. If that weren’t the case, and if people really believed what we say we believe, we’d be louder, and Reading would be a much more Christian town. Yesterday I was teaching the kids about Advent. I had watched a video done by Bishop Robert Barron about the kingship of Jesus, and about how Advent should be about preparing for the King. I asked the kids how we might prepare for a king. They didn’t really have a concrete answer, and I realized, neither did I. I call Jesus my King, but I’m realizing that I might not exactly know what that means.

I’ve fairly recently started praying the Rosary daily. I learned how to do it a while ago, but I’ve only started to get serious about doing it within the past couple of weeks. That was when I learned that demons don’t like it one bit, and that it was just a very powerful prayer in general. At first, I have to admit, it did feel a bit mechanical. Now, I can do it really without even thinking so much about what I’m actually saying, and just focus on each of the mysteries. Just within the past few days, the Lord has given me some good stuff to think about. I’ve just been doing them in circular order, so last night I did the Sorrowful Mysteries. I hate it, but last night I realized that Jesus hurts with us when we hurt and I have no way of repaying him. As I write this, though, I’m realizing that maybe praying through his Passion is my way of hurting with him.

Yesterday I read a post entitled “Love Hurts.” It makes you vulnerable, and if you’re willing to be vulnerable, you have to be willing to let your heart be broken. I wrote in one of my stories that a broken heart has to be given away to be fixed. Two or three weeks ago, the Gospel reading at church was about when the king separates the “goats” from the “sheep,” in other words, the unrighteous from the righteous. He says to the righteous that they took care of him when he was alone, or sick, or lonely, or in need, and they say they have no idea what he’s talking about, and he says that if they did it for any of the “little guys,” they did it for him. Likewise, he says that if the unrighteous didn’t do these things, they didn’t do it for him. I hate this parable because there’s not a whole lot of practical stuff I can do to help the “little guys.”

I sulked for a day, thinking I was going to Hell for sure, and then I don’t remember what brought me to this conclusion, but I read something, or saw a video, or something, that basically led me to realize that Jesus expects us to give him what we can, not what we can’t. To tie all of this back to Advent, we have to understand that Christ is the risen King. That should be freaking us out because it’s kind of awesome. Advent isn’t just about his first coming. It’s about preparing for his second coming, too, and about recognizing his Kingship in our lives now. Jesus is a fair and loving King. He also happens to be the God of the Universe, who came into our world as a baby. As a man, and through his witnesses, he says to every single person, “I want you to do and/or believe ‘X,’ but I love you too much to make you.” We should be seriously freaking out about this. All I have to give him is my writing talents, my prayers, and my time.

Yesterday, on my break between my CCD classes, I went into the church and just hung out for half an hour or so. Since no one else was in there, I sang a song for Jesus, and then felt sort of awkward about it. I’m not very good at being quiet. Maybe that’s something I need to work on to prepare for the King this Advent. Maybe I need to turn some of the music and movies, and everything else I love off just a bit, so I can hear his voice a bit more clearly. Maybe all he needs is a little more room.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!