Tag Archives: Confession

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.

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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.

It’s Not Really That Complicated

This morning I did what’s called an “examination of conscience.” It’s basically a self-assessment based on the ten commandments, and it’s ideally done relatively often. My family and I came back from vacation this past Sunday. I hadn’t done much of anything other than sleep, eat, and read Lord of the Rings over the course of two weeks. It was honestly a little boring, and that is my kind of vacation. Because I did nearly nothing, I began to question where I was at, spiritually.

As best I can remember, I have done an examination of conscience twice before. I’m afraid of doing it, not because I’m afraid of God’s justice, but because I don’t like looking at my sins. Before I did it this morning, I took a pen and a piece of paper, and I prayed. At the top of the paper, I wrote “I am good. I am beautiful. I belong to Jesus.” I wrote that because I thought I’d be writing a laundry list of ugly things. Then I asked Saint Faustina, who was the catalyst for the Divine Mercy devotion, to pray for me, I asked my guardian angel to be with me, and I asked the Blessed Mother to walk me through it. I also asked the Lord to be gentle with me, because He is gentle.

If you’re not Catholic, those first prayers might seem a bit weird. As Catholics we believe that we are connected to the entire Church, even after death. That means we can talk to, and even be friends with the saints in Heaven, and the righteous souls still working toward perfection in Purgatory. I won’t get into Purgatory here, partly because there’s plenty about it on the internet, and partly because it’s not the point of the post. The point is, I can ask Saint Faustina, who knows so much about God’s Mercy to pray for me, as a friend on earth might pray for me. I can ask my guardian angel to do whatever he needs to in this situation, because I don’t know exactly what that is. I can ask Mary, Jesus’ mom, and by extension, my spiritual mom (again, there’s a ton about this online) to just walk with me through it, before I even start.

A self-assessment is difficult, especially when it comes to the spiritual life. It means I have to look at what I don’t really want to see. I remember realizing for the first time that what I wanted most was to become a saint. To be a saint means attaining perfection. Part of that means looking at what I don’t want to, asking for God’s forgiveness, and letting Him help me. It means figuring out what I can do to change where I can, and mostly it means letting Him work on me, whatever that might look like. It’s hard for me to deal with the fact that He does most of the work. It’s hard to let go of control.

Recently, I realized that God’s Mercy doesn’t always look like what one might expect. I realized that often, His Mercy looks like making sure there’s a time and place for me to go to confession when I need to. I didn’t find a four-page laundry list of sins. I found four things. It’s one thing to be able to make the self-assessment and be honest with myself; it’s another to actually go to confession and state how I’ve gone wrong out loud. I know that I’m really going to Jesus, and I know that I will receive His Mercy. I just don’t like having to verbally admit that I’m not perfect.

The Lord knows that I’m as jumpy as a rabbit, but He also knows that I will go because if I’ve sinned, it means I’ve hurt my most intimate friend.  He’s been kind enough to make sure the priest I go to is gentle. Nonetheless, going to confession makes me anxious. I’m not alone in this. The last thing the priest says is “Go in peace.” The feeling after confession is amazing because sin is heavy, and it quite literally feels like that load has been taken away.

This is why not forgiving someone is such a huge problem. When we pray the “Our Father,” we ask the Lord to “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Our forgiveness and mercy is meant to be exactly like His–infinite. It doesn’t mean it has to be immediate because forgiveness is sometimes hard (when you’re not God), but it has to come around eventually. God wants to forgive, but we do have to ask for it because that’s part of a genuine relationship.

I should acknowledge that there are two different kinds of sins. Small (venial) sins can be forgiven simply if we pray for forgiveness, and if we really are sorry. More serious (mortal/deadly) sins are what we have to go to confession for, but sometimes it’s helpful to go to confession even for smaller stuff. An inevitable question is, “Why do Catholics have to go to confession at all?” The Church is the Body of Christ and we’re all spiritually connected. That means that stuff I do, even if it doesn’t obviously affect anyone, does have a spiritual effect on the whole Church, myself included, and because we are connected, it hurts the Lord, too.

As a member himself, the priest is, in this context, a representative of the Church, as well as a representative of Christ, through whom Jesus administers the sacraments. That means when I go to confession, I can acknowledge that I’ve hurt the Church, I’ve hurt myself spiritually, and I’ve hurt Jesus, and because God is Mercy, He can take the load from me. I still have to do some sort of penance, though, because I did make a mess in the first place. An analogy might be a brother and sister playing together get into an argument, so the sister breaks the brother’s toy. The sister then feels bad and says she’s sorry. The brother forgives her, but the toy is still broken, so the parents decide that the money to pay for a new one has to come from her allowance.

None of that is to say that I’m still guilty after confession. Penance should be natural if I really am sorry because out of love, I should make amends for causing hurt. Because we are God’s adopted children, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re a massive, crazy, dysfunctional family, which is seriously awesome. I have written a post before about “agape” love. It’s love that simply wills the good of the other. It’s the kind of love that, by nature, looks outward. We should be attentive to our inner spiritual lives in order to most effectively maintain this agape love.

The Problem Of “Them”

My dad and I have been re-watching the Marvel movies leading up to “End Game” and the new Spider Man movie. We found a list that goes through them in an actual timeline that starts in the 1940’s with the first Captain America movie, and ends in the present day. I love super hero movies. In fact, I pretty much like any story that involves an obvious battle between good and evil. I like to see the “good guys” win.

It’s a really simple, but enjoyable story premise. We’re presented with it over and over, starting when we’re as young as five years old. At face value, that’s fine, and even good to an extent. Good and evil do exist; they are real things. The problem is when the lines between good and evil get blurred. The problem is when this story premise gets translated into “us” and “them” in our daily lives.

As I’ve mentioned before, Last fall I joined the Carmelite community in Danvers MA as an aspirant. It means I’m a newbie. For months, when talking about things we do, I would say “they” do X, Y, or Z. I’ve consciously had to train myself to say “us” and “we.” Our other members have been fabulous in making me feel welcome, and that I am part of the community, even though, as an aspirant, I’m not yet officially a member.

Last week my family got a letter from Social Security. It was vague at best, and said  they had detected something that might affect my disability stipend. It said if we had any questions to call the number they provided. We gave them a call, and no one answered. We gave them another call today because the letter said if they didn’t hear from us, they would call us today at 10:30, but they didn’t. Finally someone answered, and said that they would call us back before 3:30, but they didn’t. I mentioned in my last post that I am prideful, and don’t like to be helped. I particularly don’t like getting a disability payment. My mom took care of the phone calls today. It’s a good thing she did because if it had been me, things would have got ugly. I don’t normally have a foul mouth, but I told my mom to “tell them to cut the shit… Gimme the phone.” She didn’t.

So I went to the next option. I posted on Facebook, “Our government is run by idiots.” A minute later, I deleted it. I realized that I fell into the problem of “us” and “them.” I used to think I wasn’t allowed to be angry when I pray. That mentality, luckily, is long gone. After deleting my post I said, “Sorry, Lord, I’m just pissed off and looking for someone to blame.” I was looking for “the bad guy.” The real problem is in the system itself. It’s a system that fosters apathy, and it’s no one’s fault in particular. On the same token, though, it’s a system that fosters the “us” vs “them” mentality. I, and I imagine many others on disability have a tendency to see those working for the social security system as “the enemy,” while those same workers see us as, in a sense, “enemies” because we’re at best, inconvenient.

No individual within this messed up system is my “enemy.” What is it that I really want? I want to be left alone. What do the people in the office likely want? Me out of their hair. I recently went to confession because I was having trouble forgiving. I know that, in confession, I’m meant to talk with the priest as if I’m talking directly to Jesus, so I said, “I’m not sure I totally get forgiveness. I feel like I can forgive, but it’s more than a feeling, right?” He said, through the priest, “Yeah, it’s about letting it go. If you feel like you can do that, you can leave it in this room.” It seemed simple, and in that moment, I was able to leave it behind. The trouble is that it’s just as easy to pick it back up. It’s easy to pick it up because blame can evolve and mutate, and it’s easy to pick someone out as “the bad guy.”

The “us” vs “them” mentality; the idea of good vs evil is built into human nature. It’s a survival instinct. We weren’t always at the top of the food chain. That’s fine. God created us to be like Him, though. He built us with a consciousness that can understand right and wrong. He knew that we would eventually get to the top of the food chain, and on a human-to-human level, we’re not supposed to have enemies. The spiritual always trumps the natural, but our survival instinct is still there, and it causes us to be jealous of colleagues or friends; it causes us to categorize people where we shouldn’t; it causes us to see people who support certain political positions, religious beliefs, or whatever else, as “the bad guy.” It can cause us to see ourselves as “outsiders,” even when this is completely irrational, only because we’re new to a community, club, group, school, job, or even family.

Normally I don’t try to write my posts really as “advice” because mostly I just think too much. I think I do have actual advice this time, though. 1) Try to use “us” and “we” more than “They” when referring to a group of people you’re involved in, whether it’s your church, your workplace, your school, or another community. 2) Figure out who you haven’t forgiven, or who you see as an “enemy,” and figure out how to “let it go.” It can help to find a place to leave it, but it’s not necessary. It can be super helpful, though not always necessary, to leave it in confession (if you’re Catholic). 3) Pray for those perceived “enemies.” It can be a bit difficult to get started, but it can eventually feel really relieving.

Identify Your Weakness

A few days ago I wrote about the difference between losing something and giving something. In particular, I wrote about how losing something can be quite scary, but giving isn’t. I wrote about this in regards to what it means to give my life to Jesus. I mentioned in my post that what bothers Him most is when people don’t appreciate His sacrifice and all He’s given us. What also really bothers Him, as He revealed to several saints is when people simply don’t trust Him. I read about this in “Consoling the Heart of Jesus,” as I mentioned in my previous post. Practically, to trust the Lord means to praise and thank Him, and to carry our crosses with Him.

What I didn’t write about in my previous post was something I realized earlier this week. Jesus said to come to Him as we are, sins and all. He loves us no matter what, and that love doesn’t waver or change. He doesn’t love us any less when we mess up, even if we seriously mess up. What I realized early this week was that I wasn’t trusting Him. I’ve been afraid of some things, and I hadn’t been willing to let Him take care of them.

My parents bought a house in Maine a couple of years ago. At first it looked like a fun project. The house was basically an empty shell, infested with rodents, and was about to fall down. Over the past two years, my parents, through my mom’s cousin, who is a contractor and carpenter, have been restoring it. Why am I afraid of it all of a sudden? My dad will be retiring in ten years or so. What if my parents want to permanently move to middle-of-nowhere Maine? I don’t drive, and the only people I know up there are some extended family members and my Godparents.

What’s more is my parents are in their fifties. What will happen when they’re too old to take care of my physical needs?

My best friend and my brother are graduating from college this year. That makes me nervous because two of my cousins, who I used to hang out with quite often, moved quite far away after graduating. I don’t want to lose my friend and my brother. I’m an introvert, and honestly, making new friends isn’t the easiest thing for me. To be clear, I have made new friends, but they’re not like the friendships I’ve had since childhood.

Just last fall I joined the Carmelite community in Danvers. I’m tied to my parents. Though we only meet once a month, I don’t want to fall into a situation where I can’t go to the meetings anymore. Sure, I might be able to keep pursuing the spirituality on my own, but I love that community.

Soon I’ll be releasing my second album. I’ve put a lot of effort, and a lot of prayer into these songs. We pray before every session, and I mean it when I say that I want my music to be for God’s glory. I think just recently, the worry has come to my mind: “what if no one hears this stuff?”

These worries started with what things might look like once the house was finished. My first mistake was not talking to God about it in the first place. It just escalated from there. I went to confession on Thursday, and talked to our priest about it. I told him that I was really sorry for not trusting Jesus, and I said, “I’m just… I’m just afraid…” He interrupted me. He said, “You’re afraid of the future. That’s normal.” He said to remember the story of the prodigal son. Normally people think about the younger brother who squandered everything, but came back repentant, or the older brother who was faithful to his father, but was resentful of his father’s love for his brother. People don’t think enough about the father. The father loved both his kids, but was especially merciful to his younger son because he was more in need of that mercy.

That’s how God is. I was seriously sorry for not trusting Him, in light of what I have recently learned. I also know that, in confession, the priest is acting and speaking for Jesus. He told me to look up the “serenity prayer.” Most people know part of it. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” There’s a whole other part, though.

The serenity prayer in its entirety goes as follows: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference; living one day at a time, enjoying each moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He (Jesus) did, this sinful world, as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right, if I surrender to His will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.”

He told me to look this up when I left confession. He also said, “You’re wearing Mary’s medal. Ask your Mother for help.” Mary is Jesus’ mom, but she’s also my spiritual mom. I forget that sometimes. Most of the time, I pray to my Brother. Jesus is my Brother because, through baptism, I am God’s daughter. I also usually pray to Jesus, however, because He knows what being human is like. He knows what it feels like to lose friends. He knows what it feels like to be scared.

After confession, I lurked in the church for a bit since, during Lent, Adoration is available at my home parish, and there were some people there praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, so I did that with them. Then I went to the Studio since my studio time is always on Thursday nights. I was still in a bad mood on the way there, and I was planning on just working on editing. We have to get it done at some point, anyway. That’s not what we ended up doing. We pray to start our sessions, and I ended up spilling the beans. I mentioned inadvertently that I had been in a bad mood on the way there, and because he’s nice, he asked, and I couldn’t really help telling Ken why. Then I somehow figured something out. I said, “I think the Devil is screwing with me.” We prayed about that, too, but instead of spending the time editing, we started working on something else.

On my new album there will be a remix of a single I released a few years ago. The chorus goes as follows, “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.” The original is about as simple as you can get: acoustic guitar, bass, and shaker for percussion. The remix will be a full-on ’90’s style rock version. I was planning on just working on editing because I was feeling deflated; defeated that night. God had other plans. He gave me a song to sing in the dark. Ken played guitar loudly, and even though my voice was kind of dead, I belted the words I had written years prior. “You let us know you’re listening/ So we sing for joy/ Because you are good, Lord/ We sing.”

I’ve recently become more acquainted with the psalms as I’ve been praying a handful of them every day for several months. Though I had not been thinking of it when I wrote the song, Psalm 139 comes to mind; in particular, verses 11-12 go as follows. “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me and the light around me become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Nothing can hide us from God’s love. I repented, and He renewed my song to sing in the dark. He made it louder.

What I’ve learned from this is that it’s important to identify our weaknesses and give them to God, because if we don’t give them to God, the Devil can exploit them. Admitting we have weaknesses is not fun. I’m the kind of person who likes to be a hero. I like to pretend I’m invincible. Then, when it turns out I’m not, two things can happen. Either, I can let God have my weakness and take care of it, or I can try to take control of something I have no control over, and when I fail, beat myself up about it, or worse, let the Devil beat me up about it.

What are my weaknesses? To start, physical stuff: what most call “disabilities.” Fear of failure, and fear of the future are two big ones for me. Fear of isolation pops up sometimes. Confidence, or lack-there-of is also sometimes an issue. Jesus said that to be his disciples, we had to carry our crosses. Nobody’s crosses look exactly the same. Jesus had Simon to help carry His cross. We have Jesus Himself to help carry ours. In the Stations of the Cross, we reflect that Jesus fell three times. He actually couldn’t carry the cross entirely on His own. If He couldn’t, we certainly can’t. That’s where trust comes in.

Fear of the future, or maybe just “the unknown” is probably my heaviest load, and it’s probably the thing I have the most trouble letting Him help with. The craziest thing is, God often doesn’t help unless we give Him permission. He wants to help, but sometimes we don’t let Him. A lot of times we don’t let Him. I try to remember in our prayer at the studio to say, “Lord, where we need to get out of the way and let you do the work, just get us out of the way.” This Thursday, I was intending to wallow in what I thought was defeat and just do the boring but necessary work of audio editing. That wasn’t what was immediately necessary. What was apparently necessary at the moment was a song to sing in the dark. God got me out of the way and gave me that. Maybe it’s just a spark, but God can start a fire with just a spark.

Broken Heart

On Thursday I went to Adoration like I usually do, and I went to confession like I often have to. I confessed that I’ve been struggling with a certain temptation, and I sometimes give into it, but I don’t think I’ve given in lately. I also confessed that a very long time ago, when I first came back to God, I didn’t understand the sacraments and that I felt like I sort of misused them because of that, but that this was something that I just hadn’t confessed because I keep forgetting to. I also confessed that sometimes, after I know God has forgiven me for something, I have trouble forgiving myself. The priest absolved me, and told me that I’m a holy woman.

A lot of people have been telling me that lately. My best friend has told me that several times. I sort of wrote it off because she’s agnostic. Then another friend who I don’t really see very often told me the same thing at her aunt’s wake. My mom has told me that I’m a holy person, but I kind of thought she was joking. My godfather has implied it. Now my priest is saying it. I don’t think I’m a holy person. I’m working at it.

I recently read a horribly depressing article. It was about what crucifixion actually does to the human body, and how people who were crucified actually died from asphyxiation after horribly long periods of time. It said that Jesus most likely did not die in this way because Biblical and scientific evidence suggest that he most likely died from heart failure. The really horrible part came next. It explained that heart failure can be the result of deep longing, loss, and/or rejection. This is especially common among elderly people who have lost a partner they have loved and been with for a very long time. In other words, people can die of a broken heart. In other words, Jesus died of a broken heart.

Jesus died for sins I haven’t even committed yet. When he was on the cross, he knew I was going to leave him. He knew I wasn’t going to care for several years. I don’t care that I was seventeen. My instinct is to say that I’m sorry. The thing is, I’ve said I’m sorry more times than I know, and I know he’s forgiven me. Peter rejected him three times; pretended he didn’t know him, and Jesus made him the first Pope. Last night I had a thought. “I’ve said I’m sorry, and he’s forgiven me. What do you say when someone’s forgiven you?” Then it hit me. It was stupid, really. “You say, ‘Thank you.'”

The Third Option

On Thursday night I went to confession. At the beginning of this week I gave in to the temptation I had mentioned in my post about the Bleak, but I also had a few other things to confess. The fact that I failed sucked, the fact that I had to wait to go to confession for several days sucked, and having to confess several things sucked. The priest I usually confess to is really great, though. He’s really encouraging, and when I got through my confession (which involved tears), I felt so much better. I was in an annoyingly good mood by the time I got home to harass my dad into playing with me.

I also finished writing the Bleak yesterday, and thank God for that because that was the most depressing piece of fiction I’ve ever had to write. I’ve written not-fun things before, but they’ve either been for school, or they’ve simply been tedious. The thing about my mythology is that sometimes I can write things in whatever order I want, and sometimes it simply makes sense to write things in a specific order. I’m at a point, once again, where I can finally pick whichever story I want to write next. I’m going to write the story of one of my human characters next because I’ve spent a lot of time in the other Realms of the Abyss, and it’s getting to be a bit of a head trip. A little normalcy, or familiarity at least, will do me good.

I’m working on a new song as well. I started it a while ago, but it takes me a lot longer to write songs than it does to write stories. Songs have to say more in fewer words. It’s called “Autumn Hero.” The idea for it just sort of popped into my head a few weeks ago when my mom opened the door to our deck to check on something outside and I could hear the crickets that seem to only come out, or come out more in late summer.

The first verse goes like this:

I can hear the late summer sounds
Late at night with the lights turned low
The Ghost of Beauty sings in my bones
And I can breathe I am free

This whole week, until today at least, I’ve been kind of a lunatic because I’ve felt so badly about the stuff I had to confess. After my confession I felt so free, though, and on Friday I found that I couldn’t find the words to pray. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, and in fact, I think I was sort of praying, but this whole week I realized I’ve been doing all the talking. I finally found I could just sit because everything was okay again. I know I don’t have to earn God’s forgiveness, but at the same time, I can’t help myself. His love isn’t fair, so when I mess up, I feel really bad about it. I really want to make up for it even though I can’t.

Early this morning I had a dream that involved a pretty horrible choice. First I need to mention that I was born and raised Catholic, but I didn’t really care about being Christian, nor did I realize that I needed God until about six years ago. It wasn’t until a few months later that I embraced Catholicism for real, and it was until fairly recently that I began to understand devotion to Mary.

All that being said, the choice in the dream was a very difficult one. Jesus and his mother were about to fall to their death. I could save one, but the other would not live. I had time to think about it in the dream, but I had to choose. I finally decided to save Mary because that’s what I thought Jesus would have had me do. When I woke up, I remembered this decision, and it didn’t quite sit right with me. I’m realizing there might have been a third option that simply wasn’t obvious to me in the dream. I might have been able to take the fall myself and save them both. Whether or not I’d have the courage to do something like that in “real life,” I don’t know, but it makes me wonder.

I Stayed

I recently read a blog post by someone who used to be Catholic and is no more. She said that many aspects of Catholicism were a hindrance to her faith. She learned many things about the Catholic Church through sermons and other things, and never enough about Jesus. This post is in defense of Catholicism. I’m writing this because there was a time when I was in the same boat. I was very close to leaving the Catholic Church for almost the same reason. Ultimately, I did the exact opposite. I jumped right in, and this is why.

Initially, I stayed for convenience. I went to CCD (Sunday School) and grew up in a Catholic Church just a mile from my house. It’s extremely easy to walk or drive to, and it’s right next to the elementary school I attended. Many of my friends went there, and my dad actually taught our CCD class when we were really young. Sometimes, because three of the kids, including myself, lived in the same neighborhood, we would have class at my house. Later, I kept going to CCD and I kept going to Mass because A) my parents made me, and B) because it had become a habit by then. At the time, as far as I can remember, I really didn’t get much, if anything out of it, at least not consciously. The truth of the matter, which I didn’t realize at the time, is that, when it comes to faith, particularly Catholic faith, you have to put in effort to get anything real out of it. I think that’s true of any relationship.

What didn’t matter until some time later is that most of my extended Family is at least culturally Catholic. Many of them don’t practice, but the particulars of Catholicism matter to the ones who do, and that made me hesitant to leave once faith actually started to matter to me. I thought about leaving because, at the time, I was attending a Christian college, and Jesus seemed so much more alive there than at my church. Even during class, people would talk about their personal experiences of God’s love, and I wanted that. During worship services, fellow students would play contemporary worship music, instead of the boring hymns we sang on the weekends. At the time, that mattered. The music at school moved me. The music at church did not.

Two things Christians of other denominations often take issue with are the Sacrament of Reconciliation (i.e. confession to a priest), and the matter of transubstantiation (whether or not, and if so, how Jesus is actually present in the Eucharist). I intentionally went to confession for the first time during Lent this year. The first time I went, I was six or seven. This was before I took my first communion. The second time was about ten years later when I was confirmed. The third time was when I was acting as my brother’s Confirmation sponsor, three years after that. I didn’t want to. I went several months ago because there was something on my mind, and even though I had talked about it with God, and asked for forgiveness, it still bothered me. According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, the priesthood and the hierarchy as a whole, is directly descended from the first priests (the twelve Apostles) not by blood, obviously, but by appointment. Jesus gave them the right to act in his name on this Earth–to teach and to forgive sins. They do not act as God. They act for him. It’s an important distinction. When Jesus sends his disciples to do his work, he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” So clearly, they have the right to do this, but it’s important to remember that it’s really God who forgives.

I didn’t go because I didn’t feel like my sins were not forgiven. I went because I wanted to talk to someone. Talking directly to God often feels easier than talking to a person about the darkest parts of my soul. At the same time, I just needed to get it out, and I needed to hear from an external source that I was okay. I don’t like going to confession, but I go now because I can look at someone who is acting in God’s name and hear, quite conclusively, that I am, in fact, forgiven. I need that reassurance. Furthermore, going to confession does two important things: it forces me to really examine myself from an emotional and spiritual standpoint, and it cuts through my pride because it forces me to admit things I really don’t want to. Ultimately, it forces me to try a lot harder to be a better person because I don’t want to have to talk about it again. Pride stops me from doing things that I otherwise would or could. It stops me from doing things that I really want to for God because they’re uncool or weird or what have you. I’m working on this, and I’m getting better. I admit my sins to my priest because I really am sorry. It’s hard to admit that I’m not perfect. God already knows I’m not, so I think it actually matters more in a way that I’m willing to admit it to another person.

To me, the Catholic faith is actually very practical. Personally, I need this. The fact of the matter is that I’m much more willing than a lot of people to believe what sound like ridiculous things. At times I even find myself thinking, “God, that’s completely ridiculous.” It’s ridiculous to believe that Jesus could “magically” bring people back to life or heal people who had been disabled for most of their lives. It’s even more ridiculous to believe that he came back to life after dying. What’s the most ridiculous of all is that a perfect, all-powerful God loves a weird, scatter-brained, broken, sinful kid (i.e. me). He’s shown me practically, and supernaturally that he loves me to an unfathomable extent. It actually doesn’t make sense. This love is one of the reasons I need to really hear “Your sins are forgiven.”

Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, as I grow in my faith, I need practical things. For example, communion was nothing more to me than a habit for a long time. Now I need it. I can’t live without it. I didn’t feel like this until I started to actually feel a strong connection with Jesus. It wasn’t the Eucharist that got this going. It was a completely supernatural experience, and it’s been a long, complicated journey. I can honestly say that I love Jesus, and I need the Eucharist because it’s the one thing through which I can actually see and touch him. Obviously it’s not him in all his glory. Sometimes when I get even a sense of his true nature I get an impulse to hide. I definitely know what it means to fear God. Humans require physical connection and intimacy. God, who is love, makes himself actually, physically present during communion so that we can have that connection with him. I’ve heard that some people take issue with this because of the idea that it’s a sacrifice. This sacrifice is meant to be seen as a perpetual commitment. Jesus perpetually offers himself to his Father, and allows us to also make that commitment, perhaps in a similar way that when a couple is married, they are making a perpetual commitment to each other. His suffering and death  was literally once and for all. The Eucharist is a sacrifice of love.

Sometimes the Mass itself is boring. I get that. It’s very methodical, whereas I imagine the “process” in other churches is less spelled out. I could be wrong. I’ve mostly only ever gone to Catholic churches, with a few exceptions. When I was at school, I thought about exploring other options, but now I don’t just believe, I somehow know that Jesus is there during communion. Sometimes I’m just not totally “with it” during most of the Mass. Sometimes the sermon just doesn’t do anything for me. For just a few minutes, however, I know that the most important thing in the world is happening. It really is amazing to me, and at the same time, it seems so simple.

Sometimes I find that I’m baffled by God. He’s complicated, and sometimes I find myself thinking that he’s so human. That’s actually backwards. God made humans in his image, so actually, we’re like him. I don’t think it’s wrong to equate humanity with goodness. To be human–to be as we really should be–is to be like God: to love, to forgive, to be helpful, to be together, and to be happy. Jesus says, “If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you are one with me, and I am one with you.” (John 6:56). He means this literally. He offers himself to us in this way so that we can not only be like him, but so that we can be with him.

I learned these things partly because I stayed, but now I stay because of what I know. I also want to say that not all Catholic churches are alike. Perhaps the church my fellow blogger attended was too hung up on details and really did forget about why they were there in the first place. God loved us first, and he wants us to love him back, both individually, and as a community. If we forget about love at church, then we’re missing the point. Honestly, I hear so much more about God’s love these days because I’m actually paying attention. The truth is that it’s everywhere. It’s kind of overwhelming, and yeah, some of it is found in the “details.”

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Something I Never Do

Last Saturday I went to confession. This is something I almost never do, and when I say almost never, I mean I haven’t gone in several years. For the longest time I shared the belief with many that one could confess their sins directly to God. I’m starting to feel a little differently about that. In part, however, I just needed to talk to someone, so I figured I would go to my priest.

I can write about it here now because what I discussed with him isn’t exactly a big secret. In fact I’ve talked–or whined about it here before, but in a slightly different way.

I confessed to my priest that I worry about the world. That there are things in the world that scare me; that I want to change, but I don’t do anything about them because I don’t know how or don’t have the resources or ability to. What was bothering me–what has been bothering me off and on for a long time–is that I don’t try and figure out new ways in which I can help. I just give up before I even try.

My priest seemed to think this was a strange thing to be confessing at first, but then he started asking me questions:

do you feel like you have a strong relationship with God?

I think so…

Can you pray?

Yeah…

Do you pray about the stuff that scares you and that you want to change?

Yeah…

Well prayer is super powerful. Really amazing things happen because people pray. Don’t underestimate it.

Okay.

But what else are you doing now? How’s school going?

I just graduated.

Oh, congrats! What’s your next step?

I’m writing a novel.

Great! What’s your novel about?

It’s science fiction… but I plan to use some of the proceeds to donate to charity and stuff.

Well, great. God has given you a gift. You can write and you’re committed to it. Can you use that gift in other ways?

I have a blog…

You can kind of figure out where the conversation went from there. I was hoping to be told what to do differently. I was hoping he would give me some brilliant insight or tell me about a new charity that needed a social media manager. Instead he told me that I should basically be doing more of what I have been doing: pray more and write more; be more intentional about it; Plan blog posts; read scripture; do the rosary or at least make an effort to pray every day. It was actually the most encouraging thing he could have told me.

There were other things I confessed to, but they were more concrete, and not things I want to talk about here. I’m working on those things. I think overall, going to confession was very good for me. Ironically, it’s comforting to know that someone else knows my dirty little secrets, and I can trust him to keep them. I also feel like since he knows them I’m more accountable and I have more responsibility to work on them. In my mind it doesn’t make sense. It feels like these things should only be between me and God. I honestly don’t know much about penance from a spiritual standpoint. Once again I have to do some research.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Something You Should Know

I’ve written a few posts recently that have made it sound like I know Jesus super well and I know exactly how to run my life. Neither of those things are true. Most of the time I’m fairly self-centered, and a lot of the time, I forget about spiritual things until I go to bed. I pray before I go to sleep every night, but to be completely honest, a lot of the time it’s only out of superstition and habit. I pray during the day when I’m worried or nervous about something, but a lot of the time, I find that my prayers are selfish. The fact of the matter is, I think I am selfish. I want to be kind and helpful to people, but I’m distracted by video games and homework and friends and classes and commuting and relaxing.

Don’t get me wrong, I know I am blessed to have been born in the U.S. to a fairly wealthy middle class family. I don’t deserve what I have, but I am exceptionally thankful for it. I can’t begin to fathom how lucky I am. I’ve never seen war or extreme poverty or terrible sickness–not first hand, anyway. The point is that I get so wrapped up in my own life to remember those who are less fortunate than me.

I also know that I’m hard on myself about this stuff. I have done good things for other people, and honestly, I think I’ve made a real difference in some cases. I was part of creating an advocacy program for young adults with disabilities, and I’ve seen it make a big difference. I raided around $400 and did the Walk for Hunger last year. I know my music has inspired some people here and there. I just wish I could do more. I go through periods where I feel like I’m being lazy and I have too much free time. The trouble is, I don’t feel like I’ve made a difference where I want to.

Two things that I feel passionate about are mental illness and war. I can’t fix either of those problems, but I can pray about them, and I know I don’t do nearly enough of that. My other problem is that I am ridiculously disorganized. I’m not good at setting up fundraisers or demonstrations or even little prayer groups. I’m not a good leader.

However, I can do this: I have around 250 followers on this blog, and I can ask all of you, in whatever way feels right, to pray for the victims of any kind of violence: that they would be safe, that they would find places to go to or ways of defending themselves, and that the people causing this violence would change.

I also ask that you would pray for anyone suffering from mental illness, that they would find healthy ways of dealing with it, and that they would find support in loved ones.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!