Tag Archives: Family

Friends In High Places

I’d like to preface this by saying that if you’re not Catholic and/or don’t understand devotion to Mary, you should read my previous post first.

This is prayed at the end of the Rosary. It took me a while to memorize it, but I’m glad I did. It’s a comforting prayer.

“Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope; to thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious Advocate thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the Blessed Fruit of Thy womb Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary, pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

The monthly meeting of our Carmelite community was this past weekend, and our reading was very focused on Marian devotion in our Order. The first Carmelites saw Mary as a Mother, yes, but also as a Sister; someone to model in their devotion to the Lord. This is encouraged in the Church in general, but I think it’s easier said than done. Realistically, she’s not mentioned a whole lot in the Gospels, and she doesn’t say much. I think maybe that’s the point, though. She watched Jesus, and her last words in Scripture were “Do whatever he tells you.”

God is a Trinity–Three in One–oriented to and as Love. He is also an all-knowing Creator. He created humanity not because He had to, but because He wanted to. He modeled humans after Himself, which meant that we are not solitary beings; we need community. This comes in various forms, but the most natural form is that of a family. Parents and siblings are the first community anyone ever experiences. I grew up in a pretty cookie-cutter family; a mom and dad who love each other, and one brother who I get along with, and I’m really grateful for that.

Of course not every family is like that, and not all family is blood. There are plenty of men and women I call “Uncle” or “Aunt” who I’m not actually related to. At Baptism, every child is given a Godmother and Godfather who are entrusted with the spiritual nurturing of their Godchild, along with the parents. Also, at Baptism, we are made no longer orphans, but children of God. We have a Divine Father, and in Jesus, a Divine Brother. God doesn’t stop there, though. While we don’t have a Divine Mother, we do have a spiritual Mother. Because we are God’s Children, because Mary is Jesus’ mother, and because Jesus is God, she is our mother, too. Without Jesus, we are orphaned sinners, but because of Him, we have a Father, and a Mother.

Honestly, I’m totally a “daddy’s girl.” In a lot of ways I’m a more feminine clone of my dad, and devotion to Mary took some getting used to. It seemed like a distraction. Thinking about my own family, though, we’re a complete disaster without my mom. The fact of the matter is, Mary played a part in making Jesus who He is, at least on a human level. She guided His growth, learning, and maturity, and she was always involved in His life. Since our goal in life is ultimately to be like Him, and to be with Him, and since she is our spiritual Mother, she can have that motherly influence on us, spiritually. In a similar way, I am not my Godson’s natural mother, but I can help him grow and mature on a spiritual level.

I think looking to Mary as a model is helpful because simply looking to Jesus all the time can sometimes be terrifying, exhausting, and perplexing. I mean that in all sincerity. Sometimes when reading the Gospels, I find myself thinking, “Why would you do that?” Jesus does and says things that from a flawed human perspective often don’t make a whole lot of sense. Looking to Mary can be helpful because I can say to her, “What is He doing?” And as a patient mother, she says, “Just trust Him. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You don’t have to have Him figured out. Just follow Him. I’ll help you.”

Even as His mother, Mary didn’t have Him figured out. When He went missing for three days in the Temple, she asked Him, “Why would you do this?” I don’t think it was accusatory. I think she was asking the same question as me: “What are you doing?” I like the “Hail Holy Queen” prayer because sometimes Jesus’ answers to prayers is “no” when I ask for healing for myself or for someone else. Sometimes bad things happen and despite the fact that I know He can turn evil into a greater good, I don’t have the strength or the hope to stubbornly praise Him anyway. Instead, I can go to Mary and say, “I don’t have it in me, so pray for me; praise Him for me; carry me ’cause I can’t follow Him on my own.”

A lot of times, if I’m in a bad spot, I’ll ask Jesus to “be my River,” and to “carry me,” but I mean it in a different sense. In this metaphor, I imagine Jesus as the River that will get me out of said “bad spot,” and ultimately to Heaven, but Mary is a boat. I’m a good swimmer; I naturally float, but after a while, I do get tired. Obviously it’s not a perfect metaphor because when I fall, the Lord stops, cleans me up, and helps me get going again. If I’m upset about something, He’ll stop and help me through it. He’s a good friend. At the same time, He is trying to carry me Home, and sometimes, He’s not as gentle as I’d like. It may be cliche, but it’s true that the Lord loves me just as I am, but He loves me too much to let me stay this way; He’ll comfort me, but He won’t coddle me. That’s why it’s helpful sometimes to have friends in Heaven to lean on, especially a Mother.

You Are Worth Hurting For

My last post was about my clothing ceremony in our Carmelite Community last month. Being part of this community has been interesting for me. To be perfectly honest, there is still a bit of the high school rebel in me that hasn’t died. That high school rebel wanted nothing more than to go against the grain at all costs, and was wary of joining anything. This is because it wasn’t easy for me to make friends growing up, and the friendships I had were those made and matured before I was six. I made a few other friends through the years, but they weren’t the kinds of friendships that really stuck.

When I came back to the Catholic Church, I was really happy for a while, but then I could tell that God was calling me to something more. I talked to Father Patrick about it because I thought I wanted to be a consecrated virgin; a woman who vows to be “in the world” as a representative of the Church, and a bride of Christ. That sounded really cool to me, but at the time I was maybe twenty-two. Father Patrick said I would need more structure and guidance, so he pointed me to Carmel. I was skeptical, but when I went to my first meeting at our community, I knew I had found what I was looking for.

It’s really the best of both worlds. I have the freedom to work and play and, largely, to pray how I want, but I also definitely have structure. There are things that I’m supposed to do every day, and though I thought it would be a burden, it gives me a sense of purpose. I had been wary of joining a community because I wasn’t sure it would be conducive to making authentic relationships. This past weekend we had an Advent/Christmas party, and I sang, while another of our members played guitar. Many of our members have heard some of my original music, and some have read my blog. I don’t know everyone exceptionally well, but yesterday I realized that I consider these people family.

Our aforementioned guitarist had printed off the lyrics to one of my original songs and when everyone sang it, it was almost like an out-of-body experience. An entire room was singing one of my songs. We won’t see each other again until after the New Year, and that’s really what I want to talk about. Our community has been welcoming to me from the beginning, and even at the first or second meeting I attended, I felt like I had found “home” this side of Heaven. At the party, with everyone singing my song, I had that feeling again.

Recently I realized something surprising. If I were to leave, I would be missed. I say this is surprising because I’ve learned something that I don’t like to admit: I have wounds from when I was bullied as a kid that seem to only have surfaced relatively recently. Within just the past few years, first Jesus, then this community have taught me that I didn’t value myself enough, and actually, I’m pretty awesome. I don’t know how many times I have to read, or hear song lyrics, or what have you, that reiterate what Jesus silently says to me from the cross: “I died for you. You are worth dying for.” That is an objective Truth that I can’t argue with, even on the days when every fiber of my being wants to. Over the past year, whether they know it or not, my community has silently said to me in various ways, “You are worth living for,” and I can’t argue with that either.

I am part of this community, and we are living in a world that suffers. To live for anyone in this world; to have real relationships with them, tends to mean hurting for and with them, too. This has been a tough year. Members of our community have suffered greatly. We are a family, not by blood, but by choice, and that means we share that hurt. I wrote in my last post that Love carries me. I meant that God has carried me, and continues to carry me through a lot, but the love of my community really carries me, too. It has also changed my heart because to be loved has serious healing power, and makes a person more loving themselves. To be more loving means one is more able, more likely, and more willing to hurt.

I can attest to the simple fact that it’s worth it. A relationship in which all parties know they are worth hurting for is a huge relief and fosters emotional and spiritual growth and openness. I know this simply from experience. Our culture is not conducive to building these kinds of relationships. Without even getting into specific reasons, it is evident that between social media and politics, we tend to come into conversations with strangers with immediate and unwarranted skepticism. It is our impulse to find out what they are wrong about instead of looking for things we have in common. I disagree with my best friend on basically everything, but she is still my best friend because we still have a lot in common. Most importantly though, she and I have always shared each other’s hurt.

I am wary of giving advice, but I think I can offer some here. Think about your relationships, in whatever form they may take. If you find that you have not been willing to share the hurt of others, think about why, and think about whether you are happy or not. Conversely, think about whether you have relationships in your life where others have been willing to share your hurt. Sharing the hurt of another doesn’t seem like it would produce happiness. It does not produce pleasure; it produces a kind of joy in knowing that you are helping. Knowing that someone is willing to share your hurt results in relief and validates that it matters, and it does matter. In either situation, if you find that either you don’t have anyone you suffer for, or you don’t have anyone who suffers for you, pray.

Know that it still gives Jesus relief when you reflect on His Passion, and know, too that you can offer your sufferings, whatever they may be to the Father, with Jesus’ suffering. Remember that He suffered, and chooses to suffer for you and with you, and know that you can complain to Him. That has been a difficult thing for me to learn. He’s not going to tell you to quit complaining. He gets it, and He knows that what you’re dealing with sucks. Don’t worry about how you say it. You can tell Him, “Lord, this sucks.” Speak to Him like you would a friend, because that’s who He is. Lastly, if you don’t have someone you suffer for, or who suffers for you, ask for some. I can tell you from experience that God will bring them into your life.

Victory And Gratitude

I wrote, recorded and released Nothing Else, a simple acoustic song, in 2015, and its message stayed with me for three years. I also wrote a song called Autumn Hero, which I never did anything with. I kept writing songs, but most of them were not very good, or outright terrible. After three years I had writer’s block and Autumn Hero hanging over my head and it started to drive me crazy.

The past two years have been weird. A lot of good and terrible things have happened. The sex abuse scandal in the Church broke out. Notre Dame in Paris was burned, but not destroyed. Family members have suffered greatly. Late term abortion has become legal in several states. My Godson was born and baptized. Next month I’ll officially be entering the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order; something I never would have expected in a billion years. I’ve grown a lot spiritually. What I intended to be a single has turned into an album.

I remember calling Ken, who has been my guitar teacher, audio-engineer, producer, spiritual older brother, prayer partner, and friend over the years and saying something like, “Hey, I have a song. I have no idea what to do with it. I think I just want to come in and record it.” That was in September of 2018. The truth is I had been thinking about the concept of A Song To Sing In The Dark for three years or so since I wrote Nothing Else. I had been watching the news too much, which meant I had been being buried in misery. At the same time, I had been questioning, to some extent, where God was, or at least what He was doing, though I don’t remember exactly why.

Often, lyrics to my songs become prayers, and that was definitely the case with Nothing Else. The Chorus is: “This is a song to sing in the dark/ This is enough, a spark to start a fire/ This is a prayer you answer with love/ ‘Cause you are God and you are with us.” Lyrics such as this come to me when I feel I’m “in the dark,” so to speak, and I had been toying with this concept for an album for a while.

Somewhere between recording and editing Autumn Hero, the lines to Heart of Love were seemingly handed to me. I was excited because I actually had another good song to work with, and I figured we’d work on that, too. It was a little later that heard about the crisis in the Church, which got me thinking too much, crying, continuously blogging, and finally writing the song King Over The Flood, which was partly inspired by psalm 29. The past year has been chaotic. As I said, I had not intended to write ten original songs, arrange a rock version of Nothing Else, arrange my own version of How Great Thou Art, and compose an original instrumental tune. I certainly had not intended to look into a religious order. The album and my spiritual journey, however, have coalesced and coincided with the chaos, though, per the usual, and here I am.

It always happens this way. The Boston Marathon, and the burning of Notre Dame happened on my birthday this past year, and those two events came together in the song Lament For Notre Dame. Though most of the songs on the album don’t refer to specific events, Just An Honest Prayer, for example, was inspired by a specific checkpoint, if you will, in my spiritual journey. That was a hard song to write because, as the title suggests, it’s a really honest song. I wrote it because I was dealing with some doubt; not doubt that God exists, or that I was saved, or that the Lord was merciful, but doubt that I was worth saving; that I was worth His mercy. When I finished writing; before we had even started recording, I prayed. I said, “I want to write a song that has nothing to do with me. I want to write about You, and how awesome You are.” Ergo, Victory was not hard to write, and it’s my favorite song on the album.

Like the past year, there is light and darkness on the album. It’s called A Song To Sing In The Dark because it doesn’t deny that there is darkness and suffering in the world, but with the conclusion of Victory, it’s meant to remind the world that we are still fighting battles, but the Lord has won the war. I think this is an album of defiance. With Victory, I say, “I know hell will fight You with all he’s got left/ But the first word was Yours, and so is the last.” I released a sneak peak of the album with Autumn Hero last year, and since Victory is completely finished, I decided that needed to be heard early, too, so here you go!

https://katiecurtis.bandcamp.com/track/victory

A lot of work and prayer has gone into this. It’s not completely finished yet, but we just started recording the final song, and now we’re on the home stretch. It’ll be out this winter. With that in mind I want to thank a bunch of people. First I want to thank God because if He hadn’t dropped Heart Of  Love on me in the first place, none of this likely would have happened. I also want to thank Father Patrick for pointing me to the Carmelites and being my spiritual director. I want to thank mom and dad for funding this insane project. I want to thank Uncle Gary for talking me through some crazy stuff (he knows what I mean). I also want to thank Ken for doing nearly all the instrumentation for the album and putting up with me crying at the studio. I want to thank my Carmelite brothers and sisters because I think they’ve helped in some way none of us will know until we get to Heaven. Lastly I want to thank my family, friends, and fans who’ve supported my stuff.

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.

It’s Not Really That Complicated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love That Chooses Hurt

Last weekend while I was praying, I was thinking about the story of the prodigal son. The kid wronged his father, and left. The father was more than ready to forgive his son when he came back, acknowledged his fault and apologized. I’m realizing now just how painful the waiting and the hoping must have been for the father. The story is a metaphor for God’s mercy, but the primary focus is on the actions and decisions of the son. Not much time is spent on the interior feelings or actions of the father.

Last week I had to write a letter to someone I love because she has been being abusive to other family members. I told her that I still love her, and I really do, but unless she changes her behavior, I can’t have a relationship with her. It kills me because if she was willing to change and asked for my forgiveness, I would grant it. I hate tough love, meaning I hate having to do it. The father in the story of the prodigal son wanted to forgive his kid. He wanted to love him.

Recently, I talked to my parish priest about being overly scrupulous. Scrupulosity has been described as “Catholic guilt on steroids.” I tend to be afraid of my own human weakness, I often think things are sinful when they’re not, and sometimes if I commit a venial sin, I think it’s much worse than it is. I’ve been told on multiple occasions to let God love me. He wants to love, and he wants to forgive. Often, we just don’t let him. I think I better understand, at least to some extent, what that feels like.

I watched a talk about when Jesus was teaching about the Eucharist in John 6. Literally thousands of people left Him because of that teaching. He knows what it feels like to lose friends. He also knows what it’s like to offer love that people won’t accept. This is what sin does. I imagine love is like a ball that gets passed back and forth between two people playing catch. Each person “offers” it, and each person “receives” it. Sin is like a barrier that gets set between them. Love can still be offered, but it can’t, or in many cases, simply won’t be received. Letting God love us is often about admitting our faults and letting Him forgive us.

I’m realizing as I work through this that admitting our fault has to be preceded by accepting our fault. I already intuitively knew this, but I haven’t been able to articulate it until now. I know this person whom I love, and I don’t think she’ll accept that she’s at fault. I can’t claim that I don’t feel angry with her, but I wish her no ill will. That’s what hurts. She’s put up the barrier that’s broken up our game, and I’m left holding the ball. It’s not a perfect analogy because you can’t throw the same ball to more than one person. Every relationship has a different ball.

There was a definitive breaking point, and since then I’ve been praying for her. Often, prayer can feel like a desperate monologue. On occasion though, either by reading Scripture or sincerely listening with my heart as best I can, I get a clear answer. I know that Jesus suffers. He chose to be with us, and He chooses to continue to suffer with us even though He doesn’t have to. Jesus suffered a lot in His own lifetime here on earth. Last weekend I asked Him, “Lord, why do you choose to suffer this with me? You shouldn’t have to suffer.” He said, “I don’t want you to suffer alone.”

That’s what real love is. The person whom I love has hurt a lot of people. I could have told those people to keep it to themselves, or between them and a priest or a therapist, or God. That wouldn’t be real love, though. Real love doesn’t abandon ship when the seas get rough. Real love is love that sticks around to help clean up after the earthquake. Real love is love that chooses to suffer for the good of the other. Real love is willing to share the hurt.

Pray Without Ceasing

I mentioned in a recent post that many Christians, myself included, sometimes view prayer as another thing to check off the “to do” list. Many people have specific times every day that we pray, whether it’s when we get up in the morning and when we go to bed, when we have our meals, or at specific prescribed hours. Some use specific methods, formulae, or scripts. Some don’t. However, the Lord asks us, through Saint Paul, to “pray without ceasing.” As I said, many of us make the mistake of allowing prayer to be something to check off the list. This inevitably makes it feel tedious when it should be a real, genuine conversation with the Lord.

As I mentioned in my post about idolatry, prayer doesn’t necessarily have to be done in any specific way. We can laugh with the Lord while watching a funny movie, or cry with Him when we hear some bad news. Lately, I find myself asking for small favors, and because He grants them so readily, I remember to thank Him. It doesn’t even have to involve words. When we’re lost for words for whatever reason, sometimes all we can do is acknowledge that He’s there, and that He’s God, and we’re not. Sometimes that feels really good, and sometimes it feels scary, but sometimes that’s what needs to happen, and sometimes it’s all we can manage.

I don’t think I’ve reached the point to where I literally pray without ceasing, but I can say I pray a lot, largely in small ways, and I thought it would be helpful since we are nearing Lent to share some of my prayer habits.

1: Say “Good morning,” and “Good night.”

This is really easy, and can actually sometimes be really hard. I don’t remember exactly when I came up with this prayer, but it’s short, sweet and to the point: “Good morning, Lord. It’s a good morning because it’s one that You made.” Sometimes that can be hard to say because either, the previous day was crappy, and it’s still on my mind, or I’m anticipating something I don’t want to deal with on the day that I’m waking up into. Regardless, Good is good, anything He makes is good, and therefore, regardless of my own circumstances, the day I’m waking up into is good. Similarly, I say “Good night,” to God because it’s my way of leaving everything to Him. It also just makes sense. If I say “good night” to my parents, then obviously, I’m going to say it to my Heavenly Father.

2: Along with that, have other prescribed times.

These don’t have to be specific (e.g. at 7:00 PM). For example, after I say “Good morning,” I sometimes go straight to the Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. Other times, I’ll let my mind wander for a bit. I don’t wake up at the same time, every day, so sometimes this is done at 6:00 AM. Other times, it’s done at 2:00 PM. It just depends on when I went to bed the night before, and when I woke up, and sometimes, if I had insomnia or not (the plight of being an artist). I also do Evening Prayer from the Liturgy when I finish whatever it is I finish work for a given day. Sometimes that’s at 6:00 PM, and sometimes it’s at 9:00 PM. Sometimes I don’t have time for this prayer until right before I go to bed, which on Thursdays isn’t until Midnight or after. I also pray before meals, and when I’m in the shower.

3: Unscripted prayers should be short, personal, honest, and to the point.

I’ve had to have several priests tell me this, but it’s okay to be angry at God, and it’s okay to use your own vocabulary. When I’m pissed off about something, I just tell Him. I’m the kind of person who thinks too much. I know that. Because of that, I can sometimes be a bit of a melancholic. I have to refrain from watching the news a lot of times because it can get me into a really bad place emotionally. When something really bad is happening, and I’m kind of stuck in it, sometimes my most meaningful, honest prayer is, “This sucks, Lord.”

4: When you don’t have the words, but you want to pray, just start with what you’ve been given.

Growing up, we weren’t the kind of Catholic family who prayed before meals, said the Rosary together at night, and went to church every single Sunday. I never really learned to pray anything other than the “Lord’s Prayer” until I went to college. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, my teenage years were a pretty desperate time for me, but I wasn’t using even what I had been given. If nothing else, I could just have said the “Lord’s Prayer,” and he would have known what I needed. Of course, I didn’t know that because at that point in time, I didn’t really know anything about God.

5: Be quirky.

This is sort of a small thing, but sort of a big thing, too. We’re all different people. I’m an abstract-thinking person. The other day, the phrase, “Come to me, and you will find rest,” popped into my head. I thought, “You know, I know that, Lord, but I’m not sure I understand it, really. I have an idea, though.” I got my guitar and said, “I’m just gonna play, and You use me, and I’ll just let You direct me, and show me what that ‘rest’ sounds like.” What He showed me was the inspiration for an instrumental tune that’s going to be on my upcoming album. Sometimes just letting Him play guitar through You can be a form of prayer.

6: Read stuff, and try stuff.

I was really good about praying the Rosary every single day for a long time. Now I’m not great. It takes twenty minutes, and I often simply don’t have time. Instead I try to do the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which takes about six and a half minutes, and you use Rosary beads for it. It was given to Saint Faustina in a vision by Jesus, and given my somewhat melancholic tendencies, I find a lot of hope in it. I also recently learned about the Catholic Acronym, F.I.N.C.H., which is about the message of Divine Mercy that Jesus wanted to share with everyone through Saint Faustina. (F) is the Feast of Divine Mercy, which takes place the Sunday after Easter. On this day, Jesus promised to give significant mercy to His people. This was not a one-time thing. You can check out the details online. (I) is the Image of Divine Mercy, which Jesus told to have Saint Faustina to have painted. This image is supposed to remind us of His Mercy, and of the fact that we can trust Him. (N) is the Novena of Divine Mercy. The Novena is simply that one should pray the Chaplet every day between Good Friday and the Feast of Divine Mercy. (H) is the Hour of Divine Mercy, which is at 3:00 PM when Jesus died. We are to make note of this, and, if we have time, to spend an hour with the Lord in prayer, or just to say a prayer of thanks for His sacrifice. I’m definitely a fan of the Divine Mercy stuff. If this doesn’t strike a chord with you, try something else.

I try to keep my prayer routine at a good mix of stream-of-consciousness, and scripted stuff. Both are, or at least can be meaningful. I find also, that a good time to pray is before I start my work for the day, whether that is writing a song, writing for the blog, or working on another project. I can get stuff done on my own, sure, but it’s a lot easier when I ask for help. Today I started working out how I’m going to organize a pretty big project I’ll be working on with my Godfather, and I knew that if I didn’t ask for help I’d get nowhere. I was sleepy to begin with, and really, I should never be in charge of organizing anything. With that in mind, I prayed, and it took me some time, but I figured out exactly what needed to be done for at least the first draft. When I finished, I just said “Thank you, Lord.”

That’s the last thing I want to make note of because it’s super important. Say “Thank You.” Our parents teach us to say “Please” and “Thank you,” when we’re kids, and I think anyone with good manners remembers to say this to other human beings. The crazy thing is, we ask for stuff from God, and God provides, but so many times, we just forget to say, “Thank You.” God is good, and I think we just expect to get what we ask for. I may be twenty-five, but I’m still a spoiled kid. Granted, sometimes I don’t realize until later that God has answered one of my prayers, because He can be very subtle, and there is absolute wonderful joy in that realization. Especially then, I’d say it’s important to give thanks.

To those who are really just getting started, though, keep in mind that Christianity is about love. Just start from the heart. Talk to God like you’re talking to your best friend, because that’s who He is. I’ve had to learn a lot of this by accident, but another great place to start is to go to Adoration. Find a church that offers it at a time that works for you, and just sit with Jesus. If you can’t figure out what to say, say nothing. Let Him get the conversation going, because He will. Let Him help. He loves you.

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.

Winter Light

We changed the clocks back a couple of days ago. It’s cold and windy, and it’s getting dark awfully early now. There’s no way around it; it’s November, and Winter is fast approaching. I probably do more than my fair share of griping about Winter. Because I use a wheelchair, I have relatively bad circulation in my feet, so if I’m outside for any length of time on a cold or windy day, I get cold and stay cold. If I had an idol, it probably would be the space heater in my bedroom. At least I haven’t got to the point of naming it.

This Winter is feeling different than most, though. For the past few years, there has always been a new episode of Star Wars out around Christmas. As awesome as that is, I can only get so excited about a movie series. The reason I’m actually pretty stoked about this Winter, is that it will usher in a new member of our family. My godson is due to be born in January. I got him all kinds of Star Wars themed baby clothes because his parents are just as nerdy as I am.

What I’m really excited about, though, is his baptism. The baby clothes were more a gift for his parents, but I got him a personal gift from me. I was driving myself crazy trying to think of a good gift to give to a baby that would make sense and mean something to him when he’s older. Finally I gave up–sort of. Lately, it’s seemed like God has been letting me get stuck on purpose so I have to ask for help. As my mom and I were driving home from running errands, I said, “Lord, I am seriously out of ideas. Can you give me something?” It came instantly.

I got him a stuffed animal sparrow that makes little chirps when you squeeze it, and I’m going to have my dad make a nest for it. The idea is from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said that God cares for all His creation. He cares very much, even for each individual sparrow. Therefore, He said, there’s no reason for anyone to be afraid because a human being is worth much more than a multitude of sparrows. I’m going to write my godson a letter to put in the sparrow’s nest explaining it. I don’t know his name yet because I thought his parents were sold on Max, but they’ve decided they also like Luke, so they want to see him, and then they’ll decide. I like both.

Usually I associate Winter with darkness and boredom. Usually I see Winter as something to endure. This Winter is going t o be different. Jesus said that we are the light of the world. I don’t know his name yet, but I’ve been praying that my godson becomes a saint. I just know he can set the world on fire. God knows us and loves us even before we exist. I usually didn’t give this a whole lot of thought until I found out my godchild was a boy. For some reason, seeing the sonogram, and knowing his gender made me fall in love. This Winter is different because unlike most Winters, I see light on the horizon. I know that little light will drool, and poop, and cry, and otherwise be an annoying baby, but he’ll still be a bright and beautiful annoying baby.

I’ll Stick Around To Remind You

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. I’ve been busy loving a teenage boy from where, I don’t know, praying, working on my book, and working on music in the studio. I just finished up the second song, “Heart Of Love.” I don’t know where it’ll be on the album, but I’m just overjoyed at how good it sounds. A lot of love went into this song, on my end, for sure, but I’m convinced, from heaven as well. Ken and I pray before every session, and both of us have been convinced that we’ve had very little to do with this song. Even when the work was barely started, we couldn’t stop ourselves from laughing at how good it sounded.

Last week we finished “Heart Of Love” and started work on a song called “Sunset Sparrow,” which is partly dedicated to my new friend, but also to anyone who is suffering from loneliness or any kind of mental health issue. The first verse ends with a question: “Sunset Sparrow, can you see the city lights, and in the sky beyond, can you see the stars?” The Chorus goes like this: “If your answer’s ‘no,’ I’ll stick around to remind you, the night can’t last forever, and the morning’ll break through.”

A couple of weeks ago, my friend and I decided to watch “The Hunger Games.” There’s an interesting conversation in the first movie between President Snow and the guy who designed the game/arena. President Snow questions, “You like an underdog?” The guy responds by saying, “Everyone likes an underdog,” to which the president responds, “I don’t.” My friend reflected, “People don’t actually like underdogs. People like underdog stories.” Truthfully I haven’t thought about it a whole lot, but at the time, she seemed to be right, and I think she probably is.

I have also heard over and over that we live in a cut-throat, survival-of-the-fittest society. Though I have seen beautiful exceptions, I think, for the most part, this is overwhelmingly true, too. This leaves people afraid to reach out to one another in kindness because it leaves them vulnerable. Any show of weakness could mean defeat. I am reminded of the “Good Samaritan” story. Two of the three people who pass the wounded man–the underdog–pass him by. They are more interested in their own survival; the task at hand.

Jesus uses that story in a particular context as a teaching device, but I wonder what the wounded man–the underdog–would have been thinking. I had a very strange conversation with my new friend just a couple of days after we made contact. I asked him how his weekend had gone. His response was not a positive one. I spent two hours trying to convince him that he was lovable, that he was loved, that I don’t abandon my friends, and that I wasn’t going to abandon him. He countered by saying that he was very good at pushing people away, and that we couldn’t possibly really be friends because we had only known each other for two days, and then, it was only over the internet.

I spent the whole two hours inwardly hoping he wouldn’t ask me why I loved him because if he asked me, I don’t think I could have explained. The fact of the matter is, though, that, though I only really know his name and his age and the bare minimum of his personality, I love this kid, even if I can’t articulate a reason. Pope Benedict XVI said, “Only when God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively, it is good that I exist.” Saint Paul said that we can know God loves us because, and I am not quoting directly, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” I’ve recently come up with a prayer that I find exceedingly helpful when, in a sense, I have to remind myself of what I believe. “Lord, I’m a mess, but I’m your mess.”

For too long I tried to figure out why God loves me. Of course I know that God is Love, so I can infer that, in some sense, he has to love me. He kind of can’t help it. At the same time, I personally don’t have to exist. He wanted me with all my quirks and talents, and preferences, and what not, to exist. He created me knowing I’d be a mess, but he loves me too much not to have made me. Accepting my own messiness has not been easy. It probably never will be. By messiness, I don’t only mean sinfulness. I’m talking about other things, too, like the leftover insecurity that still occasionally tries to rear its head from when I was a teenager, or even my medical weirdness.

Acknowledging the mess is important, but if anyone only looks at their mess, they’re left with not much more than a bad mood. That’s why the second part of the prayer is important. By saying that I’m His mess, I am reminding myself that I belong to Him. It’s my pledge of loyalty, but also a way to say, “I know you love me, and I love you, too.” In a world where we’re convinced we have to do everything on our own, it’s easy to make the mistake of either not asking for help when we need it, or ignoring those who do need our help.

From talking with my new friend, I’ve discovered a new sense of the idea of tough love: “I’m going to love you whether you like it or not because you need it.” Sometimes unconditional love is uncomfortable. It can sometimes seem entirely idealistic and unrealistic, when, in fact, the opposite is true. The God of the universe who can literally do anything, and never changes, loves each person literally no matter what, even if our actions or words are sometimes not to His liking.

Last night I reflected on the fact that, while praying, I usually call God, “Lord.” That should be no surprise, except that, when Jesus instructed his disciples (i.e. us) to pray, he told us to address God as “Father.” That’s the whole point. God is the most perfect Father we could ever have. Even when we’re being “the actual worst,” He loves us. Sometimes when our loved ones are going through something particularly hard, or they do something particularly detrimental to themselves, another person, or our relationship, it’s tempting to decide, “I can’t deal with you right now,” and then “right now” lasts a long time. God, on the other hand, doesn’t think like that. Unlike humans, God can handle any mess, no matter how big, and nothing we do, and no matter how we feel, we are unconditionally loved.

I wrote “Sunset Sparrow” initially as a promise to my friend from my personal perspective. However, on further reflection, I’ve realized two things. The first is that I have never encountered the kind of deep darkness I’m finding in his soul. Maybe he’s being an overly dramatic teenager, but I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt. Secondly, though, I think the chorus of the song can be addressed to anyone. “I’ll stick around to remind you. The night can’t last forever, and the morning’ll break through.”

My upcoming album is a worship album, but I wanted the songs on it to be a bit less conventional than the usual fare of worship songs. The fact of the matter is, after a while, truth can only be said the same way so many times before it starts sounding like white noise. I hadn’t intended to write a song to reflect God’s faithfulness directly. On the other hand, I have asked Him to give me some words from His perspective that He wanted me to address to someone in particular, or the world in general. I had hoped He would give me something new to say, but no spectacular divine revelation came. Instead, He gave me new words to convey an ancient message: “I am faithful;” in other words, “I’ll stick around to remind you. The night can’t last forever, and the morning’ll break through.”