Why You Should Read Books

When I was a kid I hated reading. It was largely because I hated the books our school was making us read. While parents and kids are kind of losing their minds over the homeschooling situation, and this quarantine in general, I think this is actually an opportunity. Reading is obviously important. Books are our window into history, science, mythology, philosophy, and speculation, not to mention God’s revealed Truth, in a way that things like movies, documentaries, and YouTube can’t be.

As I said, I hated the books we were reading in school. All through elementary and at least through middle school, we read something every year about slavery in America. While it was unjust and cruel, by the time I was ten I just didn’t care any more. Homeschooling, I think, is an opportunity to teach kids once that slavery happened in America, but more importantly, it still happens all over the world. Use this as an opportunity to read together about different countries, different religious, and different cultures.

For history class, download some books on your computers, tablets or whatever, and read historical fiction about stuff your kids actually find interesting. For English class, read a couple of books, and have your kids compare stuff they actually enjoy reading to a piece written in the 1920’s that might be in the same or a similar genre. Have them write about what it might be like to have lived in the year 1020, or to live in 3020. Obviously scale these ideas to what is age appropriate.

I think, though, that traditional forms of teaching just won’t work. If your kid doesn’t like reading, but he/she is super interested in mythology or black holes, read books about mythology or black holes. I suggest all of this because I love to read, and I love stories, yes, but also because I think right now, reading and learning together is a good way to keep everyone a little closer together and a little more sane. I honestly do think that book club has been great for my family. I hated Pride and Prejudice, but I love seeing my extended family once a week, discussing the book for ten minutes (which was what happened, at least with the last book), and then complaining and joking for an hour.

I think it also gave us a sense of having a task to complete. We knew that it would take us six weeks to complete Pride, so we could think about those six weeks in terms of finishing a book instead of an indefinite abyss of “what’s next?” This summer, even when the official school year ends, I’d pick out two or three books, or one longer one, just for fun, that will be the kids’ summer reading, but will also be a time keeper. If you and your kids really honestly dislike reading, though, I saw that Harry Potter is on Spotify to listen to, and you can’t go wrong with that.

Study Notes 3 (May 2020)

Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth
Excerpted in part from the writings of Sr. Patricia of Mary Magdalene

“In Webster’s Dictionary, the word ‘meek’ is described as ‘mild of temper; patient under injuries; long-suffering; gentle and kind.’ This surely describes Jesus’ life and how He wants us to imitate Him. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, ‘Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.’

“Because meekness and humility are almost always tied together, the virtue of humility should be the one to be developed under this beatitude.”

“We all have a temperament…. We constantly struggle through this beatitude, attempting to meekly and humbly temper our attitudes towards ourselves and others.”

“Physically, when there is the pain of an illness or an operation, or even a recurring health problem, we must humbly pray asking for the grace to bear our cross, not running away from it or regarding it as an evil thing or something to be avoided at all cost…. it must be stressed that it is not suggested or implied that one should not accept any form of relief”

The same pertains to emotional/psychological suffering; it should not be sought out, but it should be humbly accepted and dealt with as much as possible.

“What now is meant by ‘long-suffering?’ This is going even further than the first two
phrases, as it may require indefinite or extended or permanent suffering. This too can be physical or psychological.”

“Psychological ‘long-suffering’ may include the spiritual pain of seeing loved ones no longer practicing their faith, or emotionally supporting an alcoholic… To be ‘long-
suffering’ requires a high degree of humility, because often the very things that qualify under ‘long-suffering’ are problems we can do nothing about…”

“Gentleness clothes herself in patience and tenderness, while Kindness adorns herself in humility and affection.”

Regarding Saint Therese: “Her ‘Little Way’ consists almost entirely of being meek and humble of heart. She realized and accepted her littleness and humbly accepted God’s love in spite of any unworthiness. She was patient and kind under injuries, long-suffering both physically, because of tuberculosis, and psychologically due to the ridicule and insults often placed upon her by a certain superior and other sisters of her community.”

“Others, in becoming aware of their own imperfections, grow angry with themselves in an unhumble impatience. So impatient are they about these imperfections that they would want to become saints in a day. They do not have the patience to wait until God gives them what they need when He so desires.”
Saint John of the Cross

– Speak as little as possible of oneself.
– Mind one’s own business.
– Avoid curiosity.
– Do not want to manage other people’s affairs.
– Accept contradiction and correction cheerfully.
– Pass over the mistakes of others.
– Accept blame when innocent.
– Yield to the will of others.
– Accept insults and injuries.
– Accept being slighted, forgotten, and disliked.
– Be kind and gentle even under provocation.
– Do not seek to be specially loved and admired.
– Never stand on one’s dignity.
– Yield in discussion even though one if right.
– Choose always the hardest.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s suggestions of how to be humble

Study Notes 2 (May 2020)

Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted
excerpted from the writing of Sr. Patrician of Mary Magdalene

Question: Why is mourning included with Mercy, Justice, Purity of Heart, and Meekness?

Immediate thought: It is tied to compassion

This type of mourning is sorrow for our sins and what they cost Jesus
-self awareness, and love for the Lord

Conscious or unconscious longing for God
-longing for something permanent, perfect, and good

The Holy spirit is the Comforter

This longing/mourning builds the virtue of Hope

“And to those whom He gives here below the kingdom we ask for, He gives pledges so that through these they may have great hope of going to enjoy perpetually what here on earth is given only in sips.” Saint Teresa of Avila

Thought: The more He gives, the more I want

“We have given proof that a soul must renounce all possession of the memory in order to reach union with God in hope. The soul, therefore, must live in the nakedness and forgetfulness, …so as not to impede union of the memory with God through perfect hope.” Saint John of the Cross

“Only a soul that is naked and forgetful of its worthiness can have the perfect hope that leads to union with its Comforter. By renouncing the memory of all previous graces and consolations, the memory becomes naked and open to the hope of perfect union.” Sr. Patricia

Hope is tied to detachment:
-If we long/mourn/hope for something/someone “else,” we care less about things immediately available

Study Notes 1 (May 2020)

I’ll be having online formation on Saturday with two members of our Carmelite Community. I was going to take notes on a regular text document, but then I decided to share my notes on my blog for two reasons. The first is that I’m the most disorganized human alive and thought they might be easier to find if I put them on here. The second is that others might find them useful, or at least interesting.

This month (May 2020) we’re studying the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

The Beatitudes can be split into 3 groups according to the Purgative, Illuminative, and Unitive Way (spiritual growth, Saint John of the Cross)

Purgative:
1: blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted
2: Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied
3: Blessed are they who suffer for justice’s sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven

Illuminative:
4: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy
5: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth
6: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God

Unitive:
7:Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven
8: Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God

Carmelites promise to be spiritually poor so that nothing stands between us and God
-To do this one must practice the virtue of detachment
-detachment = “holy indifference” to goods as an end in themselves
-this can mean monetary, or worldly goods (money, entertainment, food, etc), or spiritual goods (friendship, consolations in prayer, etc)

We must not put pride or importance on the good we do, but focus on the good we must learn to do

To be poor in spirit means to have all and disregard it for the sake of another (surrender)

No one owes me anything (paraphrased from St Therese)

Keep in mind why you do the things you do
-scrupulosity is bad
-don’t follow rules for the sake of following rules

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.

Weakness

We don’t like weakness. We especially don’t like our own weaknesses. We pray that God will take them away, and sometimes he does, but a lot of times, he says “I have something better in mind.” Saint Paul begged God to take away the thorn in his side, whatever that might have been, and God told him, “My grace is enough.” So often we find ourselves asking God, “Can’t you just make this easier?” Maybe when we don’t get a clear response it’s because his answer is the same in the twenty-first century as it was in the first.

God chooses the weak and the messy. Think about his twelve apostles. They weren’t perfect by any standards. Ten abandoned him when he needed them most. One sold him out altogether. Only one stood by him at the cross (and there’s a theory that this may have been Lazarus, and not John the apostle). Later, he chased down Saul, a nasty persecutor of Christians, and asked him–didn’t make him, but asked him–to be his apostle to the Gentiles. If it weren’t for Saint Paul, we wouldn’t have most of the New Testament. He consistently chooses the least likely people to do his work.

He consistently chooses the uneducated, the humble, the simple, the sorrowful, the weak, to show the world that his ways are not our ways. That actually kind of freaks me out. What does that actually mean for me? I want to be a saint. I don’t say that lightly. I really do. That means really figuring out my weaknesses. I know what some of them are, and I don’t like them. The fact of the matter is, though that saints embrace their weaknesses. Jesus embraced human weakness. The fact that God decided to take on a human body that could get sick, and feel sorrow, and get hurt, and die, is insane. Still, he embraced that human weakness out of love.

Not many people know this about me, but I flipped upside-down before I was born. My mom was carrying me around so my head was upright. They were going to have to do surgery, but somehow I “miraculously” flipped back around so I could come out naturally. When I was about a year old, around the time I should have been learning to walk, I wasn’t, so a tiny piece of muscle was taken from my leg, and they figured out that I have MD. I wasn’t supposed to live passed the age of five. In fact, the likelihood of my even existing were very slim. Both of my parents somehow had the same defective gene that meant my body would be “weird.”

At times I have celebrated it, and at times, I have resented it. Had my body been “normal,” I probably would have played sports. I probably would have had very different friends and different interests. I also probably wouldn’t have figured out how to play guitar upside-down. I probably wouldn’t paint abstract pictures or make abstract mosaics. I probably wouldn’t have become an author, and I probably wouldn’t have come very close to God. I probably would have gone to a secular school half way across the country to get away from the boring suburban town I live in, and I may have lost my faith altogether. Instead, I went to Gordon, a small Christian school within driving distance of my house, so my mom could get me to my classes and then home. It was there that I learned that, not only does God notice my existence, but he loves me. It was also there that I learned nearly everything I know about writing. God’s love, reading, time, and failures have taught me the rest.

Yesterday’s post was about trust. I wrote about how God chooses to trust untrustworthy people. He’s made it quite clear to me that he loves me. Trusting someone with your love is a pretty big deal. Both of the priests at my church know that I think God is calling me to religious life. I asked one of them: “Why does God choose who he does? I mean, why would he choose me? There’s nothing special about me.” He effectively said, “I don’t know.” I know my weaknesses. I also know my strengths. I have physical weaknesses and I’m a sinner. I also deal with a few leftover insecurities from when I was a kid, but I know how to manage that stuff. I’m not just a writer; I’m a good writer, and I know that. I’m loyal. I know how to prioritize, and how to manage my time, even though I fail to do this as I should sometimes. The point is, I’m human, and so are you. For the remainder of Holy Week, this is my advice, from one messy human to the next: look at your weaknesses, and try to see them as God sees them; let him use them for his glory. Write about it, sing about it, cry about it, scream about it, and especially, pray about it because sometimes our weaknesses end up being our strengths.

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.