Tag Archives: culture

Dress Code

Earlier today I listened to an episode of a podcast that was about how to dress appropriately for Mass. Whenever this comes up it really gets on my nerves. This is partly because, from my perspective, it’s largely a matter of opinion. Obviously there are things that are distasteful or inappropriate for such an occasion, but I’m not talking about that. It bugs me when people are criticized for wearing “casual attire.”

I take issue with this for a few reasons. The Lord said, “Come as you are.” I dislike getting dressed up, so my thinking is that if I had to do so far Mass, I’m not actually presenting myself to the Lord “as I am.” It’s not part of my personality to worry about what I’m wearing. It would be like presenting a version of myself that isn’t the true one. That’s important because a huge part of the Mass is about communion, both with each other, and with Christ.

Some would argue that one gets “dressed up” out of respect for the other. In many circumstances, this is the case because it’s culturally expected. I got more dressed up for my Godson’s baptism than I otherwise would. One has to keep in mind the center of attention. We had Mass before his baptism, and at Mass, Jesus is the center of attention, but the focus shifted a bit afterwards. At the baptism, the focus was still on the Lord, yes, but it was also largely on Max, his parents, and my brother and me (his Godparents). In that instance, to some degree, I was the center of attention.

As I said, in many circumstances, it’s culturally expected to get “dressed up” out of respect for the other. I don’t for Mass, however, partly because the Lord is beyond cultural expectations, and my thinking is that He already knows I respect Him. I don’t have to prove it to Him, and I shouldn’t have to prove it to anyone else. Furthermore, the Mass itself isn’t like a wedding or a baptism, or any secular event. While baptism and marriage are sacraments, and miracles do happen in those circumstances, human attention tends to focus on the humans involved.

An “ordinary” Mass (for lack of a better word) is different because the focus is (ideally) entirely on Jesus. He alone is the center of attention. Because of this, part of my thinking is that I shouldn’t do anything out of the ordinary in terms of my outfit because from a strictly human perspective, what is happening at Mass has almost nothing to do with me as an individual. Mass is about communion. In other words, it’s about sharing of one’s self with other members of the Church and with God, and about the Church sharing of Herself as a collective with God. This means presenting one’s self honestly.

It’s also important to remember that at literally every Mass a miracle is happening. I sometimes have a realization at the Consecration of the gifts that translates in my mind to, “This is literally the weirdest, coolest, most amazing thing ever.” The word “weird” tends to have a negative connotation, but what I mean is that it is the most out-of-the-ordinary thing. It’s always new. If it becomes routine, then I would argue that appreciation for what is really happening has been lost. It’s something that has to be taken on faith, and it’s a huge act of trust and vulnerability to receive the Eucharist.

Personally, I don’t think there needs to be a dress code for that.

The Hard Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back In Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s The Real Goal?

I just read a post about how (supposedly) Christians are killing Christianity. The post largely claimed that it is due to the hypocrisy of many people who claim the Christian title, but do not live Christian lives. The ultimate problem with the article is that it suggested that Christianity has been, at various times, a respected belief system and moral philosophy, and is no longer. It went on to suggest things Christians can do in order to make Christianity a respected belief system again. I do not disagree with the claim that many Christians do not live according to Christian teachings, and this is part of the problem. The problem I have with the article is actually that its writer is missing an important point. Jesus never said that, as His followers, we would be respected. In fact, He said we should expect to be discredited, mocked, and persecuted for our belief.

I do, however, agree with much of what the writer of the article suggested. His suggestions were as follows:

1: “Stop focusing on your position in life, and concern yourself with Christ’s position in your life.”

I would absolutely agree with this point, and I have had to relearn it many times. However, I have never thought of it in terms of making Christianity, or the Church more respected. The point is to make sure Jesus Christ is respected, and respect for His Church will follow.

2: “Realize that Christ is distinct from any other cultural influence or person.”

He goes on to explain that Christ, and therefore Christian philosophy, is outside of any cultural influence, whether that be popular media, politics, local, or the life of one’s particular church/parish. I’m not entirely sure I agree. Jesus inserted Himself into a particular culture in a particular place and time. He promised before His ascension that He would always be with us. That means that He is always involved in our culture in our place and time. He is not attached to it, and He is not influenced by it, but He is aware of it, and He does use it because He is directly involved in each of our lives. Furthermore, it’s a simple fact that there are distinct aspects of our culture that are in line with Christian philosophy, and distinct aspects that are opposed to it. I would agree that Christ is distinct from all of it in that He, and by extension, we can use all of these aspects to complete His work.

3: “Do not try to fit Christ into your culture. Make Christ your culture.”

Christians have literally never done this. It is impossible. This implies that it is possible to live entirely outside of one’s culture. What is most important is to make Christ the center of one’s life, and to structure everything else around that center. For example, Christian poets have used pagan imagery (like the phoenix) to express Christ’s beauty and greatness. Furthermore, Jesus Himself did not live outside of His culture. It was His mission to be a part of the lives of sinners in order to redeem them. That meant doing the things that “normal” people do. As Christ’s witnesses, it is our job to bring Jesus into our culture to transform it; it is not our job to take ourselves out of it.

4: “Stop looking at how “church” can better other people’s lives and look at how your life does not line up in obedience to Christ and repent.  Scripture is not a window you use to look out at other people and judge them, Scripture is a mirror showing us how God wants to transform us into the image of his Son.”

I’m not sure how much I need to expand on this because I think it really says all it needs to. I think I would just add that, particularly from a Catholic standpoint, we simply don’t spend enough time studying Scripture or actually listening rather than talking when we pray. I would also say that it’s important to keep in mind that your pastor or priest really isn’t the ultimate authority, and it’s important to know the Scriptures, but it’s also important to know Church history and tradition.

5: “We need to model our lives after Christ, not the cultural expectations of other influences.”

I would also agree with this, but it’s easier said than done. It inherently means we will be seen as strange because Jesus was seen as strange in His own place and time. It does often mean going against popular opinion. It means forgiving the unforgivable. It means giving and expecting nothing in return. It means praying for those who have offended you. It means making and staying friends with people you vehemently disagree with. It means being patient with frustrating people. It means praying for people who don’t deserve even that. People see that and are often perplexed because they have never experienced God’s mercy. This is how we live it. It doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect at it, but we have to try.

6: I am paraphrasing here, but his final point was that we need to make sure that we are following the true Christ, and not a skewed version of Him.

Jesus makes plain who He is in the Gospels, but also through the witness of the prophets, the various writers of the Old Testament, the Apostles, the Saints throughout history, and His faithful followers today. By “faithful” I here mean those who are committed to an authentic relationship with Him as their Friend, Savior, Lord, and God. To sustain this relationship we must read Scripture, we must pray, and again, as I am writing as a Catholic, we must take part in the sacraments that He has given to us.

As I said, I mostly agree with what the original writer said. The flaw, however, is that he is putting forth these points in order to make Christianity a respected mode of living. It doesn’t matter if our faith is respected. It likely never will be. As I have mentioned many times before, there are parts in the world where it puts one’s life in jeopardy to be Christian. In many cases in our own country we face, at best, rolling eyes, and at worst, scorn and ridicule, and occasionally, violence. Our purpose is not to make our way of living appear respectable. The Church is God’s Church no matter what, and though its members are flawed, the Church itself is holy because Christ the Head is holy. Our only goal is to help people come to know God’s love for them personally, and to work on ourselves to become the holy people God wants us to be so we can, with His help, make it home to Heaven.

American Idols

I never watched the show “American Idol.” When “The Voice” came out, which was basically the same thing, I watched some of that. I do like to see people’s talents. I had an interesting conversation with my producer recently about my talents and his. I’ve said it before, but I can confidently say that I’m a good songwriter, and my talents have improved over time. I’m an okay singer, and again, I’ve got better over time. My producer is likewise, amazing at what he does. He can take the bare bones of something I’ve written, so melody, lyrics, and harmony if I’ve planned it ahead of time, and turn it into a ridiculously awesome song.

When I was in middle and high school I would probably say that, in some ways, I worshiped various musicians. I think humans are naturally inclined to worship something, and if it’s not God, it’s a band, a sports team, money, the leader of their political party, or maybe a pantheon of these things. I’ve come to realize that something people idolize these days is time. Personal time is a high priority for people. I get it. if I had all the time in the world and no relationships or consequences to think about, I would spend eons playing video games and reading fantasy books.

As it is, I do have relationships and consequences to think about, so I don’t do what I am naturally inclined to do. What or who we worship is a choice, and choices have consequences. What’s frustrating is that none of the CCD students I teach attend Mass. They are all completely obsessed with whatever sports team they’re on, and of course, practice is on Sunday. I’m not frustrated with the kids. Their parents have made a game into an idol. They really had no choice. I’m frustrated with the parents, though, because they have chosen their idols, and they are passing those idols onto their children, and that’s dangerous.

Today I taught the kids about Ash Wednesday. It’s early, but the lessons kind of jump around all over the place. I explained to them that God loves us enough to die for us. He made His choice. No matter what, we are worth that to Him. I explained to the kids that the ashes are a sign of acknowledging our sinfulness, but they’re in the sign of a cross because God claims us as His, sins and all. I don’t know how to get that to sink in, but I’m trying.

Still, I know that soccer is more important to them than God is. I was the same way as a kid. The trouble is, you can’t just tell someone that God loves them and they’ll magically believe it. You have to choose to believe something, and even then, we’re meant to have a relationship with God. To these kids, God is a stranger, and the thing is, he’s not intrusive. He waits for our invitation. I only offered an invitation when I had nowhere else to turn. Misery was what it took for me. I don’t want these kids to have to go there.

I started rereading the book of Jeremiah. I wrote a post about this a long time ago, but Jeremiah was speaking on God’s behalf at a time when Israel had turned to many idols. It was also a warning. God said that the Babylonians would come and take them as captives if they didn’t repent, particularly of their idolatry. God allowed their defeat and exile because they didn’t acknowledge Him as their God. If they had asked and said they were sorry, God would have somehow helped. My guess is that might have looked like another nation allying themselves with Israel or something.

Some might construe this as God being petty. Actually, it’s as if you completely ignored your best friend right in front of them, even as they’re speaking to you, and instead, made conversation to a napkin. Your friend would certainly be offended. Because they loved you, they would try to get your attention, try to repair the relationship, and try to get you to see their hurt and get you to apologize, but eventually, that friendship would break. That’s what happens when we find or create idols.

No one likes to talk about Hell. I don’t like to talk about Hell. Sometimes as Christians, we have to. What people don’t realize is that Hell is a choice. We have so much freedom as human beings, and not enough people realize it. The difference between Heaven and Hell probably isn’t what a lot of people think. The difference is, eternal life with perfect happiness and love, or eternal life without it. God is Love. To choose to worship something else is to choose a loveless life.

Don’t get me wrong, leisure is important. If we don’t take time to relax, or do something enjoyable, we’ll lose it. That’s a given. All I’m really trying to say is, remember who loves you most, and make Him your number one priority. It’s not that hard. One thing I think people get hung up on is, they think about prayer as one more thing to get to. Prayer is just an ongoing conversation. You can talk to God when you’re watching a funny movie, for example. Comment about it to Him; laugh with Him. Talk to Him at work like you talk to your coworkers.

Idolatry is probably the easiest sin to commit. I think most people have the misconception that God is loud and scary. He’s not; at least not usually. On the other hand, the idols of the world clamor for our attention, and it’s easy to get sucked in. Luckily, our God is merciful, and we have the sacrament of penance. We can go to our Father and say “I’m sorry,” and He forgives us. There’s a misconception about this, however. Many wonder why we have to go to a priest. First of all, we can and should say we’re sorry to God right away. We go to a priest because he forgives us on behalf of God, but also on behalf of the Church.

The Church is the mystical body of Christ, so when an individual sins, we’ve not only hurt our own souls, but we’ve hurt the whole Church. A good analogy is to think of sin as an injury. A venial, or what we might think of as a “small” sin, is like a small cut that we can put a bandaid on and it’ll heal on its own (as long as we apologize to God). A “bigger,” or mortal sin is like if you got a bigger cut and needed to get stitches, so you go to a doctor. That’s what the priest does in a sense. He gives you stitches for your soul.

We’re not on our own. We are responsible for our own souls, but also the wellbeing of the Church in general. Many Christians don’t realize this, and I think that’s part of the reason the Church suffers. No two Christians are truly strangers, even if they’ve never met. A forty-year-old Christian man in Africa is my brother, despite the fact that I don’t know his name or anything about him, because we have the same Heavenly Father. I think that’s what I love so much about the Church, and what makes idolatry so dangerous. God unites us. Idols divide.

Fear Is A Lie

I realized something recently. When I’m working, I listen to Christian music almost exclusively. I’m talking about bands like Tenth Avenue North and Rend Collective. When I’m hanging out with my dad (my mom doesn’t really like music), we almost exclusively listen to secular music. My preferences in both categories don’t cover a hugely wide range of genres because I know what I like. When it comes to movies, I’ll watch almost anything, from romance to action to horror films, as long as the story is good. I don’t mind what some might consider vulgar language, and I don’t mind portrayals of faiths or belief systems that contrast with my own. I’m not afraid of these things.

Similarly, I am beginning to care less and less about what people think when I say that I am Christian, and I believe the Christian God to be the only true God. As I said, I am beginning to care less. As a teenager, I purposefully separated myself from others, but it was not for faith reasons. I had no faith back then. Still, I didn’t care what people thought of me. It was out of spite. Now I have faith, and my God has taught me to love, and now that I do love, I care what people think of me. It’s odd, and ironic. I care what people think because I love. I need people to understand that I believe in absolutes and in objective morality, and though I’m not perfect, I try not to judge. What I am trying to say is that I care less about my image now, and more about whether or not people can see the real me. The real me is Christian.

The world breeds fear. It’s hard to overcome it because the world is just so complicated. There are wars, there is violence, there is hunger, there is sickness, and there is a multitude of other problems, not to mention the supernatural factors. I’ve learned that fear is probably the Devil’s most powerful weapon. The most important thing to remember is that Jesus has already won. That means we’ve already won. My mom and I are listening to a story right now that’s told largely from the perspective of a seventeenth century Jewish woman living in London. At that time in London, apparently the leaders of the Jewish faith condemned theater because it was vulgar. I remember hearing that Christians had very similar sentiments about early Rock ‘n’ Roll, thinking that it was downright evil. They said the same about games such as Dungeons and Dragons when that first came out.

Such fear is nothing but a lie. Of course there are lines that need to be drawn. I don’t listen to certain bands or even just certain songs by bands that I otherwise like because they insult my Lord or my religion, for example. However, fearing something and ignoring or condemning it are two entirely different things. There are things we as Christians can ignore, tolerate, and even enjoy, even when these things are not explicitly Christian. There are also, of course, forms of entertainment or other practices that should be spoken against. Obviously this requires discretion, and I believe there are plenty of people braver and better equipped than myself to do this. My aim in this post is to speak against fear. I’m not a warrior, and I’m not a coward.

I started thinking about this recently because I’ve started getting bored of the same phrases and imagery that are used over and over in so many worship songs. I want real worship, and I want real artistry, not a bunch of lines that are copied and pasted from Scripture on top of yet another new melody. This is done because it is easy, but also because Scripture is the Word of God, and we love it. We trust his word, and it gives us comfort and hope. It is understandable, but it is also overdone. God himself is an artist. His plan and his way of doing things are totally strange, yet beautiful. We are made in his image and likeness, and as Christians, and especially as Christian artists, we should aim to mirror that. Be bold, be strange, venture into the absurd, do not be afraid to love, and above all, do not give into fear.

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!

You Are Time

Imagine you know you’re part of an army but you don’t know who your allies are. You know you’ve got enemies, but you don’t exactly know who they are. For all you know, they’re invisible. They’re often smarter than you, and they’re masters of trickery. It’s dark, you’re tired, and you know your side is losing. You start to wonder if resistance is futile. Eventually it really starts to seem that way. Then something drastically changes. Defeat seems inevitable until a new ally suddenly appears. He fights valiantly and he teaches you his ways. He heals your allies and defeats innumerable enemies.

Then, once again, something changes. He warns that it is only a matter of time before his death, but your victory. He is captured, tortured, and killed, and you are forced to fall back, but miraculously, just days later, he is alive and your enemies vanquished. He was right, and he celebrates your victory with you because now that enemy you faced is conquered for good. He eventually says that he has to go, but he will send his spirit so he can always love you and guide you and help you, and he keeps his promise.

Centuries go by until it seems that the whole world knows him, or appears to know of him. He is glorified in acts of heroism that mirror his own. He is honored in acts of love and goodness. Fantastic works of af art are created by those who love him still. You find, nonetheless, that things inevitably change. Slowly but surely, in many places he is forgotten; in many places is made into a laughing stock; even his very name is dishonored, thrown into the mire of language with unutterable words.

And you ask, “what does it matter? What is a name?” A name is how you are known. You are known by your name as a writer or a thinker or a worker or a finder, or something else that makes you who you are. He is a hero, still here, still living, and his very identity is used as a curse. His name has weight; it is precious.

Bring It On

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking about when Jesus talked about building a house on a rock versus building a house on the sand. Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I see a lot of cynicism and a lot of pessimism, and I wonder what this has to do with where one chooses to build their house. I remember at the beginning of Advent, going into my church and being surprised to see the purple on the altar and the Advent wreath by the entrance, but I was also excited.

A week or two later I was asked to explain the meaning of the Advent wreath to my fourth grade class, and honestly, I had to google it. The wreath itself represents eternity. The three purple candles represent love, peace, and hope, The pink candle represents joy, and the white candle which is lit on Christmas Eve represents purity. My godmother came to visit during the first week of Advent, and she drew an advent wreath on our chalkboard. Even though it’s just a drawing, it’s been exciting each week to draw a yellow light on each of the candles.

In scripture, God is referred to as our rock, our fortress, and our refuge. He has been that for me over and over. This weekend is Christmas. All the candles will be lit. There won’t be any more darkness. Still, scrolling through Facebook, I see darkness, sadness, and bad news. I heard once from someone who went to a therapist that they were told every ship needs a sail and an anchor. Some people are sails, and some people are anchors. Some people lead to new adventures, risks to take, and experiences to delight in or learn from. Others lead home. Using that analogy, it seems to me that so many people are sailing ships with no anchors.

Last week I finished a song about the aftermath of the election. Don’t worry, this’ll be quick; I know we’re all sick of talking about it. Both Clinton supporters and Trump supporters have been unfair and unkind, and in some cases, violent. I supported neither candidate. I didn’t vote. There’s a line in my song that says “I have one king.” The chorus of the song says:

I dare you to lose
Stare down your own defeat
And defiantly believe
That it’s true you can live on hope alone

I think a lot of people have lost hope. I think Trump won because people lost faith in the government, and I think the people who didn’t support him lost hope because they still had faith in the government. Either way, everybody lost. Everybody lost if we’re only talking about the present, the immediate future, and the reality we know apart from God’s part in it. Everybody lost if we forget to hope.

Jesus is king no matter what, and he will always be king no matter what. There is no reason to lose hope at Christmas time. It’s not about whether or not one has amazing decorations, or can hold extravagant parties, or can afford the newest, greatest gifts. What matters is the reason for celebrating. Last week I spent an hour with my fourth grade class as usual. I brought my ukulele and a bag of cookies my mom made. We sang a few songs, and my assistant teacher read a couple stories to the kids. It was one of the most worshipful hours I’ve spent during Advent, and I spent it with eleven little kids.

For some, Christmas is one of the only times to get together with family. For some, it’s a good excuse to eat junk food. One of our favorite traditions is to get my parents, brother, aunt, cousin and me into the car, get some hot chocolate or coffee and drive around and look at everyone’s lights. It’s fun to make our neighborhoods look pretty, and Christmas is a good excuse. For some, however, the weeks before Christmas are not fun. While everyone else is enjoying themselves, some are simply stretching themselves too thin. Some are reminded of bad experiences connected to this time. Some go hungry. Some are cold. Some spend the holiday alone.

The first Christmas wasn’t a party. The first Christmas was dark and dangerous. Jesus’ life was in danger from the moment he was born. I don’t think he would want the world to forget that for the sake of having a good time. I think he might find it easier to identify with the people who aren’t having a good time. For those of us who are, it’s important to remember why, and to invite the Lord to have a good time with us. It can be as simple as remembering to pray before Christmas dinner, and making sure we get to church.

I’ve seen so many posts about how 2016 has been a really crappy year. Okay, in many ways I can’t disagree. Maybe it’s just been another year for me, but we’ve had political unrest in our country, and the Middle East is still in turmoil. There have been terrorist attacks in various countries all over the world, and sometimes it looks like the world is going to end. As we fight for a better life for ourselves and others, we are dished out more problems. Yes, 2016 has looked bleak in many ways. We’ve had to stare darkness in the face.

We have two options this Christmas and in the weeks to come. We can look at that darkness, often disguised in songs about snowmen and sleigh rides: candy and chaos: we can look into that darkness and see only war and death; or we can look into that darkness and defiantly say, “bring it on. I have the Light of the World inside of me. Jesus is with me, and that’s all I need.” We can live on hope alone.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!