Songs And Silver Things

Yesterday I tried at writing a song, but writing what’s on my mind and in my heart as lyrics is difficult. Last night I listened to an episode of a podcast by Father Mike Schmitz that was released around Christmas time. It was about the events surrounding Mary and Jesus’ early childhood. She had agreed to be the mother of the Messiah, but had been given no details about what would ensue following his birth. Joseph initially thought she had been unfaithful; when Jesus was to be born, they had no comfortable place to deliver Him; they had to flee into Egypt because Herod wanted Him killed; when they presented Him in the temple, Mary was told that a sword would pierce her heart, and that her Son would be a sign of contradiction; when He was twelve, he was lost for three days.

Father Mike noted that these last two events are two of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary because we know what they mean in retrospect, but it wouldn’t have been joyful for Mary and Joseph at the time they were living through it. Fr Mike said that as humans, we like certainty. We like telling stories about past Christmases or birthdays or camping trips because they will not and cannot change. They are certain. Within the past few years I’ve had to really internalize the Lord’s teaching: let tomorrow worry about itself. Tomorrow is not certain, but two things are: the past, and God.

Yesterday I tried writing lyrics about giving your heart away and how that can be dangerous. Everyone gives their heart to someone or some thing. We are created in God’s likeness. God is love and love is always given. We can’t help it. Who or what we love is important, but that could be a topic for entirely different blog post. I realized yesterday that even giving your heart to God is dangerous. A few days ago, I realized that I was tempted to stop caring; to stop caring about other peoples’ suffering, and to stop caring that I can’t receive the Sacraments. If I did that, if I let my heart get hard, it wouldn’t hurt any more.

The week before Mass was suspended everywhere, I named the sky “Faithfulness” because God is faithful. Last night I saw an amazing sunset through our kitchen window. I hadn’t payed attention to the sky in quite a while since it’s been cold here and I haven’t left the house except for a handful of times. As when I prayed on Easter Sunday and Jesus really seemed to hold my hand, that sky seemed to say to me, “I’m still here.”

As silly as it is, I’ve adopted one of Columbus’s rules from Zombie Land: Enjoy the little things. These days we can’t take anything for granted. My mom has started ordering groceries for delivery. The problem is, so has everyone else, and trying to get an order through is incredibly time consuming. Within the past two weeks I’ve started eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There’s nothing extraordinary about that except that I hadn’t eaten a PBJ probably since elementary school, and I have a renewed appreciation for melting chunky peanut butter on a piece of toast.

It’s the little things–the way my bird smells, the taste of strawberries, that irrefutable sunset–that remind me that God is still here, if I pay attention. I had online formation with two members of my Carmelite community this past weekend, and we talked about Saint John of the Cross’s Dark Night. Our formation leader said that the darkness is sometimes how we experience God’s presence because what we usually consider “light” is what we understand, while the “dark,” is what we don’t. Sometimes God draws very near and since there’s so much of Him that we don’t understand, it can feel like an experience of “darkness.” Scripture attests to the fact that the Lord is close to those who suffer: “Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted.” This is one of many examples.

For the most part, my friends and family have been unaffected by the Corona virus, at least when it comes to our physical health. That was until very recently and members of my Carmelite community started requesting prayers for people they knew. That was actually a little bit scary because it started seeming a little more “personal.” I worry for those who don’t know the Lord and who are very sick, and I worry for those who have to go to the hospital for some other reason and end up getting the virus.

Honestly, I worry a lot for people who don’t know the Lord, partly for their souls, but also simply because knowing Jesus makes any kind of suffering so much easier. He truly is the Light of the World; He is the Light of Hope. Without even considering “final destinations,” He’s someone to look to when things are scary. Even if He doesn’t immediately get rid of the problem, He is faithful, patient, and compassionate, He comforts me, and He makes it worth it. Trusting Him through the chaos makes us stronger and deepens our love, for Him and for each other.

While it was going on, Mary didn’t understand why things were happening the way they were, but she trusted. She trusted all the way to Calvary, and despite the heartache of her Son’s death, she still trusted. Her trust was rewarded on the first Easter. It can be tempting to stop caring, but don’t. Trust the Lord. He knows heartache. He saw the suffering of people around Him and did something about it because it affected Him. That was precisely why He performed His miracles. He saw the death of His friend Lazarus and He knew He could and would bring him back, but the death of a friend still caused Him to weep. In Gethsemane He took on our own heartache because He didn’t want us to go through it alone.

Jesus is not bound by the Sacraments, and He can work miracles and mercy however He wants. Part of why He gave us the Sacraments is so we can experience His presence through our senses. This is a difficult time because right now we can’t do that. We still have things like music and Sacramentals, though.

When I’m desperate I can listen to a man sing “God when you choose to leave mountains unmovable/ Give me the strength to be able to sing it is well with my soul,” and know that I’m not alone. When I’m desperate I look at the things I wear around my neck that remind me of who He is and who I am. Among those things is a small silver Crucifix. That, maybe more than anything silently says to me, “I’m still here.”

What We Say In Silence

I didn’t write over the Triduum this year. Normally I do, but I was an emotional train wreck. I cried for most of the Easter Vigil Mass. I had taken a nap earlier on Saturday, so I wasn’t exactly tired. At 12:30, then, my dad and I started one of the Harry Potter movies and went to bed around 3:00.

Normally for us, Easter looks like getting up and having a feast with a bunch of relatives from New Hampshire and Maine. We had our book club on Friday, and planned to meet online for a bit. We talked about food and boredom and pets. Instead of our usual pile of food to feed an army, we got an order from Buffalo Wild Wing, and my mom ordered a chocolate cake and a carrot cake. After we chatted online, my dad and I watched the next Harry Potter movie. Then I went to pray.

It seemed like the Lord was asking, so I said, “I’m not angry with you. I just don’t know why this is happening, and I don’t know what you’re doing, and it’s kind of freaking me out.” That day I had Joy Of The Lord by Rend Collective stuck in my head despite not having listened to it in a while. The Chorus ends with, “In the darkness I’ll dance, in the shadows I’ll sing/ The joy of the Lord is my strength.” I thought about the first Easter. The disciples were together behind locked doors, afraid and uncertain about what even the next hour might bring. That felt familiar.

I imagined myself in that room with them. Most of them had fled and abandoned the Lord; all of them thought He was dead and that the previous three years of their lives had been a waste. They all knew that they were in very real danger. I imagined sitting there, and suddenly Jesus walks through the closed and locked door. Chairs are knocked over; people shout, but He raises His hand in blessing and says, “Peace.” In His language, though, it would have been “Shalom.” For some reason every fiber of my being hyper-focused on that “Shalom.” I wasn’t simply imagining this anymore; I was praying it.

In my meditation, He walked over to me, got down to my level (because I was sitting in a chair, sort of stunned), and showed me His hand. Instinctively, I took it, and it was like everything disappeared, even time. It was like He was silently saying, “I’m still here.” I waited for Him to do something; I was letting Him drive the bus at this point. I thought the scene would continue and He would show His scars to His disciples because that’s just what would happen next, but nothing else happened. For a moment, I thought about letting go so things could progress like they do in the “story,” but it was almost like He silently said, “You don’t have to,” so I didn’t.

When I finally opened my eyes and looked at my phone, I was surprised to see how much time had passed. I told Him that it feels like the world got pulled out from under me. Then I realized that His world had got pulled out from under Him, albeit in a different, and much more painful way, but He knows what it feels like to be thrown into all-of-a-sudden chaos. I also realized that He came back with scars.

I don’t think anyone is going to come out of this unscathed. Those who don’t contract the virus are still worried about their kids’ education, their financial situation, the health of their loved ones, their own mental health, their spiritual well being, or simply what the future as a whole will look like. For better or worse, this is changing us. The first thing Jesus said when He came back to His disciples was “Shalom.” For some reason that felt like I had found a point of gravity and I suddenly wasn’t just spinning off in space, bouncing off of asteroids. It felt like I had found a star and could rest there. Even though it wasn’t a physical touch, He held my hand and silently said, “I’m still here.”

Today I was thinking about constants and how valuable they are. My stupid bird still sleeps under my ear and screeches at the kids playing in the yard next door. I still play the same stupid video game with my dad. We can still watch Harry Potter. The water is still running. The lights still work. I can’t see my friend, I can’t go to the studio, I can’t go to Mass, and that stuff is scary. Most importantly, though, Jesus, the God and King of everything is still here. It’s a lot easier to listen to the chaos because it’s all over the news and social media and even in our heads and it can drive us crazy.

Yesterday, I started my meditation not really knowing what to expect. Early on, when things started shutting down, I was nervous, but said, “Okay, Lord, you got this,” but of course I’ve been listening to the chaos. Last night, in my meditation, the Lord stopped everything and said, “Shalom.” He’s done it before; He can calm the storm, and He can catch us when we’re sinking. It might still rage around us, but we can find His peace in our souls. Hold onto that Easter moment. Let Him hold your hand, and let Him be your star.

Gethsemane 2020

Thursday marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum. We’ll celebrate the institution of the first Eucharist and the Lord’s entry into Gethsemane. For many, this time of quarantine feels a bit like our own Gethsemane. We’re cut off from what we’re used to. The news is overwhelmingly bad. The number of cases continue to grow by the thousands. In Gethsemane, Jesus was left alone to take on the weight of the world.

In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for hours. I live in New England where we have the world’s best doctor’s and hospitals. Medicine and medical research will eventually get a handle on this disease, but prayer will help those doctors and researchers, whether they know it or not, and it will carry us through this.

The Fathers at the Shrine of the Divine Mercy have been putting a lot of encouragement on Facebook. Something that I’ve had to have drilled into my head by them, as well as Pope Francis himself is that God is merciful and understand the circumstances. Before Mass was suspended and churches were closed, I realized I had to go to confession. Then I couldn’t. God had to use several voices to convince me that I was forgiven because I really am sorry and intend to go to confession As soon as I can.

When I first joined the Carmelites, I was naturally curious, and I already knew a little about Saint Therese of Liseux, so last year, my mom and I listened to her autobiography in the car. After that it was like she wouldn’t leave me alone. She kept dropping quotes on my Facebook page, or I would accidentally find references to her in searches of completely different topics. At my clothing ceremony, the congratulation cards my community members gave me all had her picture on them.

In some ways, Saint Therese reminds me of myself. She’s playful and innocent, but also stubborn in her faith. On Saturday I came across another quote. She said that it is obviously grace when we receive the sacraments, but it can also be a source of grace when we can’t. I’ve had to think about it, but I think she’s right. Not being able to receive the sacraments means having to trust the Lord more, and to appreciate the sacraments more. You can’t miss what you’ve always had easy access to.

God doesn’t let bad things happen for no reason. When bad things happen, it’s usually because He can bring some greater good(s) out of them. I wondered what good(s) could possibly come from a pandemic. That had me stumped. Bishop Robert Barron had some insight into this. It’s hard to know if there’s an “umbrella” good for all of humanity in this, and if there is, it might be unrecognizable for a while. It is easier to see personal goods that have come of this. For me, the goods aren’t even difficult to see. There are really several goods that have come of this for me.

1. I’ve learned that God’s mercy and love are even deeper than I previously understood or believed.

2. Since I gave up shows and movies for Lent, I’ve had a lot more time to read. Granted, I’m reading a ridiculous fantasy story, but I enjoy reading, and I often lament that I don’t have enough time to. Really I do, but I end up watching Netflix instead.

3. I’ve come to better appreciate things I took for granted before: my health, takeout, going to the studio, Saturday night Netflix party with my friend, etc.

4. I know more clearly what I really want. When Mass got suspended, I said to the Lord, “I don’t even want Heaven; I just want You.” It seemed weird saying that, and I second-guessed myself. I’ve been praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy with the priests at the National Shrine at 3:00 every day, and they have the Eucharist exposed. I realized that for half an hour every day, I can at least see Him, and I realized that this in itself is His Mercy. Yesterday, it came to me again, and I realized that if Heaven was an empty room with just Him in it, then that is sincerely what I want.

5. I’ve actually been able to talk to my extended family more than I did before. Since we started our virtual book club, I’ve been talking to my aunt, two cousins, and my grandmother once a week, and because we’re using Zoom, I can actually see their faces instead of just reading texts.

6. I’ve been seeing people use social media to connect with each other and make each other laugh instead of pointing fingers and spewing political nonsense.

When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, He asked His Father, “Take this cup from me.” I’ve been asking the Lord for the same thing. God could have sent lightning bolts from heaven and zapped all of Jesus’ enemies so He wouldn’t have to endure the Cross. Jesus Himself said He could summon an army of angels to defend Him. Instead, the Father allowed the Jewish authorities and the Roman soldiers to exercise their free will, and Jesus allowed them to do this to Him so that humanity could be returned to right-relationship with God.

This is our Gethsemane, and probably for a multitude of reasons, the Lord is allowing it. That is not a reason to stop praying. Prayer keeps us connected to our God, and while it might not bring an immediate end to the pandemic, it can help individuals, it can help us in smaller, personal ways, and it will bring this to an eventual end. I’m convinced of that.

Jesus said that to be His, we would have to take up our crosses and follow Him. Easter couldn’t have happened without The Agony in the Garden. In Gethsemane, Jesus was scared, He was lonely, and He was terribly sad. To varying degrees, I think these are things we’re all feeling right now. This Sunday, Easter will still liturgically be celebrated, and we have to find ways to celebrate at home because Jesus is still risen. We don’t know exactly how long our Gethsemane will last, whether it’s weeks or months, but at the end of this, we will go back to the studio, back to the gym, back to the salon for a much needed haircut, back to school, back to work, back to each others’ houses, back to the movies, and we will go back to church.

I think Saint Therese is right in saying that there is a grace in this. In Gethsemane, an angel came to comfort Jesus. We’re not alone because He’s still here to comfort us. He doesn’t abandon His friends. Trust Him, and use this time. Slow down, pray, and look for greater goods. I’ll leave you with this:

A Beggar At Home

A few nights ago I had a nightmare. I don’t usually have them, but within the past couple of weeks I’ve had two. Boredom, bad news, and an over-active imagination are a bad combination. Saturday morning, I had a hilarious dream. The dream was that it was all over. We were done with the “plague.” My friend had an even bigger music studio, and as Barnes and Noble has Starbucks in the store, the studio had a Burger King, so I was eating chicken nuggets at the music studio.

My mom has invented what I call Apocalypse Pizza. To make Apocalypse pizza you use Naan bread, olive oil, mozzarella cheese, and whatever other toppings you like. For me, it’s peppers and onions. It’s really easy to make and everyone in my family likes it. The problem? We’ve been eating almost nothing but Apocalypse Pizza for several days, or maybe a week. When I finished doing my Morning Prayer yesterday, and went to the kitchen, she said, “Do you want pizza?” I couldn’t forget my dream, so we went to the Burger King drive through.

Since I ate lunch in the car, we took a little drive to see if anyone was out, what was still open, etc. There’s a small lake close to where I live in Massachusetts. It’s a little weird because it’s in the middle of the town and is surrounded by pavement and business. It’s a very popular place for people to take a walk. It’s so popular that the Mayor asked people to refrain from “walking the lake.” When we went over there yesterday, it was packed.

We are creatures of habit, and as Americans, we don’t like being told what to do. Furthermore, humans are social animals, and “social distancing” and “quarantining” can be downright stressful. We’ve been asked to make sacrifices. No one likes sacrificing because it means discomfort. What’s more is that there are many cases when one has Covid-19 and has no symptoms. In these cases, one might assume they are perfectly healthy, visit a friend, young nephew or niece, grandparent, or whoever who is vulnerable that person ends up getting it, and getting it bad. It is better to assume one has it.

I’m really bored. I can’t do a really significant part of my work because I can’t go to the studio. I sympathize with those who absolutely have to go out to go to work, but to those who see this as an accidental vacation, please; as of yesterday, we have 304,826 confirmed cases of this in the United States. Please don’t walk the lake. Please don’t bring your kids to the playground. Please don’t go to the beach. We’ve been asked to stay at home until the end of April. We will likely be asked to stay at home for longer than that. This “plague” will die out sooner than later if everyone would just stay home.

It does mean making at least some of your own food instead of getting takeout all the time. It means finding more ways to entertain yourself and your kids because you can only watch so much Netflix. It might mean making your own coffee instead of going to Starbucks. I get that it’s inconvenient. I completely get that it’s a little lonely. I’m not asking this of you from the outside. I am asking this of you as somebody who is doing these things, too. I am asking this of you as somebody who can’t see her friend, and can’t fully celebrate the most important holiday of her faith.

Sacrificing and discomfort does suck. Being told what to do sucks. You might not be a man or woman of faith, and you might believe that this life is all there is. I won’t try to persuade you otherwise here. Still, you are being forced to sacrifice; your gym is probably closed, the restaurants you like are probably closed, and you are probably working from home. For me, I can stay home and stay inside because I can offer that as a sacrifice to my God. If you don’t know, or don’t believe that God exists, I’m begging you to make that same sacrifice simply for the good of the rest of the world, or even just to make your life more enjoyable.

Please, consider the beggar.

Thanks.

On Purpose

Yesterday my eyes decided to misbehave. Because of my medication, sometimes when I’m hungry, my eyes get “bouncy.” I was trying to read, but nature had other plans. I sat in my room with my eyes closed for at least half an hour and prayed because there wasn’t much else I could do. There were some things on my mind, so I laid it out for the Lord, and I said, “Take my hunger and my bouncy eyes and my boredom for an end to the pandemic.” Do I think my little suffering can singlehandedly end a pandemic? Of course not. I can, on the other hand, unite my little suffering to that of Christ’s on the Cross to help, in at least a small way, and I know that others are doing the same.

Next week is Holy Week, and it’s the first time I won’t be celebrating it in a church. My life is a little easier than it might be for a lot of people because I actually do some liturgical prayer every day. This year will be weird for me, though because I very much look forward to the Easter Triduum; Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night. I don’t want these three days to feel like any other three days at the end of any given week.

I mentioned in my last post that my plans for Lent got pretty screwed up. I hadn’t intended to, but because my dad did, I gave up movies and shows. I’ve been aimlessly poking around Facebook more than necessary, and I just finished reading the first installment of a really strange fantasy story and purchased the sequel on my Kindle. Instead of reading The Way of Perfection, I started reading Ascent of Mount Carmel by Saint John of the cross and started a virtual book club with my mom, aunt, grandmother, and cousins in which we’re reading Pride and Prejudice.

This Sunday is what’s usually called “Palm Sunday” in the Catholic Church. This is because the Gospel reading mentions that people came to greet Jesus carrying palm branches. This is only mentioned in one of the three Gospel readings, though. The Church’s liturgy runs on a three-year cycle, and the other two readings that are used mention branches, but not specifically palm branches. The point is that the people came to present themselves to Jesus. So on Sunday, I’ll get a branch from a bush in my yard, watch Mass online, and make a spiritual communion, like I have been.

I miss going to the church and seeing it decorated for a specific liturgical season. I miss the liturgical music, even if it isn’t performed well all the time. I miss the sign of peace. I miss what I now realize has been the Church’s guidance on what to do and when to do it and how on a given day. I miss the Sacraments, and I miss Adoration. I know I’m not alone in this. I think there are some things we can do to make Holy Week resemble something of what it should be, and I have a few suggestions.

  1. look online to see how you can live-stream Palm Sunday, Good Friday, The Easter Vigil, etc.
  2. For Palm Sunday, get a branch from your yard; make it as close to a “normal” Palm Sunday as possible.
  3. For Holy Thursday, Jesus said, “Couldn’t you sit with me for an hour?” Find a live stream perpetual adoration and sit with Him for an hour. I said it before; a computer screen doesn’t stop Him from doing what He does.
  4. Make Good Friday suck on purpose. I’m gonna cut myself off from social media, coffee, and maybe even music. I’m also going to watch the Passion of the Christ. Make it real. It was definitely real for Him, so make some sacrifice(s) and unite your sacrifice(s) to His.
  5. Find a live stream Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday Mass, and find some way to really celebrate. If you gave up movies for Lent, watch one you’ve been wanting to for a long time. More than that, though, praise and thank the Lord, ’cause He beat sin and death and saved your soul. Totally rock that. If you play, grab a guitar and make some noise. If you don’t, make a playlist for Him.

These are just some ideas. I hope this helps, and I hope we get back to normal soon. Stay inside, stay healthy, and have an epic Holy Week.

Celebrate Anyway

Last night my dad and I watched The Giant Mechanical Man. It was a cute, simple romance about two quirky people who fall in love working at the zoo. As it started, I smiled and I realized something. I told my dad, “This is the first time I’ve smiled in, like three days.” I haven’t left my house in a week, and I didn’t realize how hard that would be. It’s hard not to watch the news when you’re stuck inside with not much else to do. The news is never hopeful, so at dinner time I go to the kitchen where my mom has the TV on and hear about more cases and more deaths because of of the Corona virus.

My plan for this Lent was to give up a game I play on my phone and read The Way of Perfection by Saint Teresa of Avila. Then my dad decided to give up shows and movies. Since he’s my movie buddy, I did, too (we watched one last night because it was a feast day in the Church). Then the Virus got serious and we quarantined ourselves. I’m a very picky eater. My mom has been pretty creative about food, and I have to give her serious credit. Still, I very much miss takeout.

This past weekend was the first in a very long time that I didn’t receive the Eucharist. I’ve been telling myself that this waiting will make receiving Him for the first time once this is all over that much sweeter. I had planned on at least going to Adoration and praying with my friend at the studio, but everything has been shut down. The priests at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy have been streaming the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3:00 every day, and I’ve made a commitment to do it with them. My Lenten plans got seriously messed up, but I’m doing the best I can.

I prayed a lot last weekend wondering, since I couldn’t go to Mass, what I should do. A strange idea came to mind, and I think it was from the Lord. The Mass is, among other things, a celebration, and I got the sense that I was supposed to “celebrate anyway.” I struggled with this. I reminded myself that priests are still celebrating the Mass with or without the people there. I tried. I thought, “What do you need to celebrate…? Usually when you’re celebrating something, you need food and people.” I ate a cookie. I was not in a celebratory mood.

This thought that I should celebrate anyway has stuck with me, though. When things started getting really serious, I realized that we wouldn’t be celebrating Easter–at least not at our parish. Ultimately, that doesn’t change facts. At the Easter Vigil, which I’ll watch online, I’ll still say, “Christ is risen,” and it’ll still be true. My mom will probably make cookies, but it’ll just be the four of us–my parents and my brother and me; no aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, or grandparents. I’ll make a spiritual communion, and eat a couple of cookies.

I won’t feel like celebrating. That isn’t the point, though. The point is to honor and worship the Lord; our God who beat death and who can certainly beat this stupid virus. I think there’s more to this, though. When things like this happen, the question is bound to arise: why does a good God let bad things happen? I have wondered that myself in the past. This time, though, it just isn’t a factor for me. I know that a) He doesn’t want our suffering b) He’s with us through it, and c) He can bring about some greater good(s).

When Boston and then Portland suspended Mass in their dioceses I was, and still am upset. Then I remembered a book that sits on my desk. I pray Morning and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the official public prayer of the Catholic Church, every day. I’m not cut off from the Church–the Body of Christ. This especially feels like a lifeline. My personal prayer lately has been, “As long as You’re here, I’m here,” because I know He is faithful. In a way, it’s more of a promise to myself than to Him. He is faithful to me, so I have to be faithful to Him. He’ll be with me–with all of us–through it, but we have to go through it.

I think this is an opportunity, albeit an unpleasant one, for us to really do some self-evaluation, spiritually speaking. I worried when I heard Mass was being suspended. Unfortunately, I think there will be some with “lukewarm” faith who will just “drop out,” and won’t come back. I decided that I would do the opposite. I decided that I would “lean in,” and intensify my prayer. I have to since I can’t receive the Eucharist. I discovered a live stream of perpetual Adoration on YouTube. It seemed too weird, or not “authentic” at first, and then I thought, “A computer screen isn’t going to stop You from doing what You do,” so I’ve gone to internet-Adoration a couple of times this week.

Several saints have written about consolation and desolation; in other words, when God seems very present and seems to be “love-bombing” you, and when you can’t exactly “feel” Him, or when you just don’t get any warm-fuzzies when you pray. The latter can happen particularly when external things aren’t going well. They ask this question: do you love the “gits” more than the Giver? I think He might be using this time when we’re cut off from the Eucharist to ask that question.