Unbreakable

A few days ago, my dad and I re-watched the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. We’ve been going through all the trilogies and series of movies we enjoy, mainly to kill plague time. I was thinking about the scene when Will and Elizabeth get married on the deck of a pirate ship, in the middle of a battle, during a dark, nasty storm, in a maelstrom. For comedic effect, Elizabeth says, “Do you take me to be your wife, in sickness and in health–health being the less likely?”

I made the mistake of listening to an episode of a podcast about preparing for death. Death is on a lot of peoples’ minds these days. The priests in this episode mentioned how important it is to trust in God’s promises, but at the same time, many don’t know what those promises are. I realized that I couldn’t immediately list off many  Scriptural promises. I did remember the words “You will be my people, and I will be your God.” (Jeremiah 30:22) Variations of these words are repeated throughout the Old Testament. Also throughout The Old and New Testaments are variations of “Don’t be afraid. I’m here, I’m powerful, and I’m taking care of you.”

In the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Precious Blood is referred to as the “Blood of the New and Everlasting Covenant.” I was just absentmindedly thinking about the scene from Pirates, and I was curious, so I looked up Catholic wedding vows. In the U.S., they can take this form: “I, (name), take you, (name), for my lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” I found, too, that in the Catholic Church, marriage is explicitly called a Covenant. Marriage between a man and a woman is meant to mirror humanity’s right relationship with God.

My dad and I have been watching and participating in Sunday Mass as much as we can online in my basement. It would be a lie to say that it isn’t weird. A while ago I wrote about the incident when Jesus slept on the boat while His disciples bailed to try and stop from sinking. The point was, if He was asleep, there was no way they actually were going to sink. If they had just kept bailing, they would have been fine. Quarantine has been emotionally taxing. This weekend, my friend came over, and we talked about how hard it is not to be able to give or receive physical affection.

This time of shut-down and isolation has felt like that time on the boat. Nothing is happening, but it feels like chaos. I meditated about this two separate times. In my first meditation, I just imagined myself as one of the disciples with the storm raging around me, and the Lord was asleep. In my imagination, I didn’t wake Him up; I kissed His face, and for some reason, just knowing He was there was okay, even if the storm was still scary. The other time I imagined the same boat and the same storm, but He wasn’t asleep. I had a bucket, and He had a bucket, and we were both bailing out the boat. He could make the storm go away, but He didn’t; He was just there with me in it.

Sometimes I have a funny realization when I consider some of the things I do, like when I pray Evening prayer after dinner, and I think, “How did I get here?” Ten years ago, I was agnostic, and now I’m part of a religious order. Last night I prayed, not in any particularly deep, formal, or meditative way, but I just “talked” to the Lord while I waited for my dad to come and watch a movie with me, and I had a similar feeling. I had been in my room, just playing a simple puzzle game, but while I played, I just told the Lord what was on my mind. It wasn’t really anything serious; just “random” things I had been thinking about. When I got downstairs, I had the realization, “You’re still here.” After another moment I said, “I’m still here, too.” Our boat hasn’t sunk.

Adapting hasn’t been the easiest thing, but as I told my mom yesterday, I think one thing that has made it easier are the things I do, plague or no plague. When I joined the Carmelites, I agreed to pray Morning and Evening Prayer, do some kind of meditation or mental prayer for at least half an hour every day, do some kind of study into our faith, the lives of the saints, or perhaps our Church’s history, and to go to daily Mass if I can. Since I usually can’t physically go to daily Mass, I’ve been participating online during the week since long before there was a plague. I joked to my mom a few weeks into the shut-down that the only reason I know what day of the week it is, is because my breviary tells me.

I mention all of this because I’ve never stopped praying, but because these things are so routine; because even prayer can become routine, I think it can become too formal, and less relational. Last night I just talked to the Lord about “normal” stuff while I played my dumb game, and it was silly and easy. I did have some more serious stuff on my mind, and I told Him about that, too, but it was conversational.

I had devoted time earlier in the day to nothing but prayer, setting aside any distraction, and that is important, but I find that it’s important to talk to Him while eating lunch, or playing a dumb game, or what have you because in those “nothing else” times, I tend to talk to Him about deeper, more serious, and lately, scarier things. I’ve realized lately that it’s important to talk to the Lord about “stupid” stuff. The friend that came over the other night is like a sister; we met in Kindergarten. We talk about serious stuff, but we also talk about music, movies, and stupid things because that’s what friends do. Jesus is our God, our Lord, and our Savior, but He’s also our Friend, so it’s important to speak to Him in this way.

There are friendships that last a few years, there are friendships that last longer, but just peter out for one reason or another, and then there are friendships that last no matter what. Friendship with the Lord is truly unbreakable, as long as a person wants that friendship. He is the kind of friend who says, “I am yours and you are mine; plague or no plague; storm or no storm, and as long as you’re still here, I’m still here.”

Now And Then

Earlier today, as I went to the table to eat lunch, an odd prayer came to me. Someone I know is sick, and I don’t know yet if it’s the coronavirus or not, but I asked that Jesus would take care of her. Then I said, “This is the worst thing you will have got us through.” Then a question came to me that really seemed to come from Him. He seemed to ask, “Is this worse than before you knew me?”

I thought about how things were even just a month before I did know Him. At the time, I was lonely. I have amazing friends. I have an awesome family. The classes I was taking were really interesting, and I loved my teachers. All the same, I was lonely. I thought I needed a “soul mate.” At the time, that meant I needed a boyfriend and eventual husband. When I applied to a Christian college it was because I saw that the people there seemed weirdly happy. They seemed to have something that I didn’t that was making them happy, and I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted it with a vengeance.

Though I had gone through CCD (Christian Child Development) until I was seventeen, I didn’t know who Jesus was. I only had a vague notion that there was a god who I was “supposed to” believe in, but by my junior year of high school, I didn’t. It only took around two and a half months at a Christian college to convince me that Jesus was an actual Person who really cared about me. It followed, in my mind, that I should ask Him for what I thought I needed. I did pray, but no young man came. One night in October, I distinctly remember the words, “Please… I love you!”

For a long time I’ve tried to figure out why I said “I love you.” It was at that moment that the loneliness died. The “I love you” was really “I love you, too.” What I realize in retrospect is that I had built up some walls that had to be broken down to let His love in. Back then, He loved me, and I didn’t know it. Back then, Heaven was touching earth in the Eucharist and I didn’t know it. Back then, terrible things could happen, and before I was a Christian, I was kind of a stoic; I didn’t want anyone to see me cry, and I had no one to cry to.

While I ate lunch, I compared then to now. Now I know Heaven touches earth; God touches me when I receive the Eucharist; God speaks to me and forgives my sins through the priest when I go to confession. Now I know that He’s closer than touch because He’s not bound by the Sacraments, but I see Him every day because I watch daily Mass online, and it’s driving me crazy. Now I see what He’s doing in priests and doctors and kind people in general. Now I know that He didn’t create, nor does He want death, and I know it makes Him sad, and the fact that He’s sad makes me sad. I concluded that, yeah, now is worse than then. The thing is, I know Him now, and I know He’ll get us through this. Maybe the “us” is my family or yours, or maybe the Church, or our country, but He will.

Let me just conclude with this:

and this

What We Say In Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gethsemane 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Says “No” And He Knows It Hurts

Recently I wrote a poem about a fish and a dragonfly. They both start their life in a fishbowl, but the dragonfly will eventually fly away. The fish, on the other hand, is a little stuck. The fish says, “somehow I will find a river.” Since writing this poem, my prayer has often been, “Jesus, be my river.” He has since said to me, “Let me be your river.” I want Him to carry me to freedom, and He will, but sometimes, His idea of freedom, and mine aren’t the same.

Freedom, to the average American woman my age probably looks like a decent paycheck, a livable apartment, a reliable car, and the ability to go where she wants, when she wants. A few days ago in prayer, the Lord brought to my mind when He says, “You have to lose your life for My sake to find it.” I’ve had this idea in my head that I never had much of a life to lose in the first place; I never had many choices to begin with.

Last week was tough for me. I’ve been struggling with this, but on Monday, He reminded me that I chose Carmel. I have obligations because of that, and I could have said “no.” I could have decided these obligations were too much. Even before that, I could have chosen to leave the Catholic Church when I heard about the abuse crisis. He reminded me that I chose to stay for Him. Before that, I could have chosen not to chase Him in the first place. I could have chosen to stay a rebel. I could have decided that His morals and rules were not worth what He offered.

When I asked Him to be my river, I was asking Him to get me out of my boring daily routine. I was asking Him to help me find a way to experience more. He agreed to be my river; He agreed to help me find freedom. I finished my morning prayer today, and looked out the bathroom window at a Blue Diamond Sky, and somehow it just came to me. Freedom isn’t experiencing everything. Freedom is the willingness of a heart to listen, know His voice, know His will, and do it.

As a Secular Carmelite, I’m expected to pray Morning and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s part of the official Liturgy of the Church. At the end of each, there are written-in intercessions, but when I’m doing it on my own, I can add my own, and I always pray for the wisdom, courage, and desire to always know and do God’s will. That might not sound like freedom, but it occurred to me that if I’m not serving God, I, or anyone else, is serving someone, or something else. That’s just a fact. That something else might simply be one’s own cravings, but in the end, they won’t lead to happiness. The things we want on a strictly human level, even if those things are good, are limited. If we serve our desire to have an adrenaline rush, for example, we’ll never be satisfied because there are only so many crazy things to do, we only have so much money in our accounts, and only so much time.

God, on the other hand, can satisfy because He is not limited, and the things He wants us to do are good for us, even if they’re not always especially interesting. That’s the thing; sometimes the things God asks of us aren’t especially exciting. I don’t always especially want to pray the Rosary, but I do because He asked me to. Last night I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries again, and it hit me: Jesus knows what it feels like when God says “no.” I’ve asked Him to at least take away my epilepsy, and He’s refused. In Gethsemane, Jesus said, “If it be your will, take this cup from me.” His Father; my Father said, “no.”

God the Father didn’t want Jesus to suffer and die. He let it happen, but that doesn’t mean He didn’t care. He allowed it to happen because He knew He could bring about a greater good, namely, human redemption and salvation. I’ve written about this before, but when God created the universe, He created things like physics and thermodynamics. He voluntarily gave up His power over some things, and because of sin, things like bad genes came into the mix. I got some of those bad genes. He could just miraculously “fix” it, but He’s chosen not to.

My river to freedom won’t take me to city living, a nice apartment, singing in a band, and volunteering a lot. The river is taking me somewhere else. I was reminded last night that some of the people I admire most are nuns, and by most estimates, they are not “free.” They actually did give up their lives. My freedom is still in choices; my freedom is in choosing what to do with what I’m stuck with and what I’ve been given.

God says “No,” and He knows it hurts. Jesus said that He would not leave us orphans. He said He would be with us until the end of the world. He doesn’t abandon anyone. He knows how to comfort every single person, and for me, that meant making sure I’d hear the song “One Eyed Cat” yesterday.

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.

Queen Mother

This past summer, I did a personal retreat in preparation to consecrate myself to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. If you’re not Catholic, that will probably have sounded like gibberish. The Virgin Mary has a lot of titles in the Catholic Church. One of those is “Our Lady of Mount Carmel.” The first Carmelites put themselves under Her protection, along with, it goes without saying, the protection of the Lord. The Carmelite Order originated in the Middle Ages in the context of a European feudal system. The way a feudal system worked was that a person would put himself under the patronage of a lord or lady. The man would serve his lord or lady and the patron or patroness would protect his or her servant.

During the crusades, when warriors went east from Europe, doctors and spiritual leaders went with them as support. a group of men decided to stay in the Holy Land and settle on Mount Carmel, living largely as hermits. Eventually, due to invasion by Arabic groups, they were forced to leave the Holy Land and return to Europe where they continued their way of life under the Rule of Saint Albert, who was the Bishop of Jerusalem at the time the Order got started in the mid 13th Century. While looking at the date, one might wonder when devotion to Mary got started. Mention of Mary in Christian worship started as early as the 3rd Century, just about 100 years after the Gospels were written

It should be noted that in ancient times, in various cultures, including ancient Israel, the queen was not the wife of the king: she was his mother. Often, the queen-mother would be sort of an advocate for the people to the king. In the Catholic Church, Mary is seen as this Queen Mother, and our Advocate. If Jesus is the King of the Universe, it makes sense, given His culture, that His Mother would be our Queen. A lot of people outside the Catholic Church ask why we pray to Mary and the Saints. We believe that our life on this Earth is a journey and a sort of challenge to authentically grow a loving relationship with God. We don’t come into the world perfect. We’re tainted by original sin, so we have to, with His help, strive for perfection. To be clear, it’s the Lord who gets us to Heaven, but our striving matters because it makes us truly His.

Our striving may end when we get to Heaven, but our life doesn’t. We’re still ourselves, and we still have relationships with people who are still on the journey. When we pray to Mary or Saint Peter or Paul, or someone else, we’re just talking. Often, when we pray to someone in Heaven, it’s to ask them to pray for us. It’s no different than asking a living friend or family member, except that we know the Saints in Heaven to be very holy people; we know that they are close to God. Being His Mother, we know that Mary is very close to God.

Still, many wonder if Catholic devotion to Mary is a little “over the top.” I get it; I thought this way for a long time. There is, however, Scriptural support for devotion to Mary. First, consider the wedding at Cana. The party ran out of wine. Mary noticed, and mentioned it to Jesus. Given that Jesus Himself was devoted to His mother, He changed the water into wine. If you need more evidence that Jesus was devoted to His mother, however, just consider the incident when He got lost in the Temple in Jerusalem. After He was found, He went home with His parents and, as Scripture says, “was obedient to them.” Even as He is dying on the cross, He makes sure that His mother would be cared for by John. He also makes a point to say that she is meant to be John’s Mother. John does not use his name in the way he writes his Gospel. He uses the name “the beloved disciple.” in the Catholic Church, this is interpreted to mean anyone who follows the Lord. Therefore, it is understood that, at the cross, Jesus had me in mind as His beloved disciple, and gave his mother, not only to John, but also to me, and the whole Church. This makes sense because the Church is the Body of Christ.

There are also references to Mary in the Old Testament, and elsewhere in the New Testament. By way of a few examples, Mary is prefigured by several Old Testament women. First, Mary is considered the new Eve, as Jesus is considered the new Adam. Eve is considered the mother of all the living, and she was unfaithful to God. Mary is considered our spiritual mother in God’s New Covenant, which He established through Jesus’ sacrifice, and she is faithful and trusting. Next, God promises descendants, and ultimately, a dynasty to Abraham. While He makes this promise to Abraham, it can only come to fruition through Sarah. Similarly, Jesus cannot come to live and die for us as a Man, except through a human mother, so while God’s promise of salvation isn’t achieved by Mary, she does participate in it. Finally, Bathsheba, the mother of the wise king Solomon is an advocate for him, and also rules alongside him as queen-mother, mirroring Mary’s role as she rules alongside her Son. There are many more examples, some more obvious than others, including the woman described in the book of Revelation.

All of this really is to say that Mary matters. St. Louis De Montfort makes the bold claim that devotion to Mary is the “surest, easiest, shortest, and most perfect” way of becoming a saint; in other words, of getting to Heaven and being close to the Lord. This is because if we let her do what a mother does–take care of Her children–she can teach us and help us to be like Jesus. She doesn’t do anything on her own. She is just as human as I am. Anything miraculous she does, she does by the power of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t completely unexpected since Jesus’ disciples performed miracles in the Gospels. When she asked the angel Gabriel how she was to conceive Jesus since she was a virgin, he explained to her that the Holy Spirit would “overshadow” her. This was a marital act, and Mary is considered to be the spouse of the Holy Spirit, so by her faith, and by His grace, she’s able to do a lot.

This leads me back to my first point. Back in July I consecrated myself to Mary. This hearkens back to the idea of putting myself under her protection as the first Carmelites did in the context of a feudal system. I dedicated myself to her because she can walk with me and guide me as I walk with Jesus, and chase Him to Heaven. I wrote out my consecration as follows:

I, Katie Curtis, a repentant sinner and servant of my Lord, Jesus Christ, entrust myself to you, Mary, my Lady of Mount Carmel. I ratify in your hands my baptismal vows, and resolve, with your help, to follow Jesus more closely and perfectly than ever before. I give you my heart. Keep me in your heart, and help me be attentive to Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls. Help me to love Him with your purity, and the crazy love that He deserves.

I give you my everything; my body, my soul, my goods, both interior and exterior, the value of my good actions; whatever you ask of me, that I may be brought closer to my Love, and my Lord. Help me to always trust Him, and always know and do His will. I entrust myself to you, as Jesus did, and I give you permission to do your work in, through, and around me, to make me a saint.

The simple version of that is, “Mom, I’m gonna trust you to teach me how to be like my Divine Brother.” I can trust her with that because she raised Him, and when He got older, she observed everything He said and did, and “pondered it in her heart.”

Just a couple of weeks ago, I took up the Rosary again. I had picked it up a few years ago for a few reasons, but then my devotion petered out. I picked it up again simply because I felt prompted to by the Holy Spirit. The Rosary might seem like a mindless recitation of repetitive prayers, and done wrong, it can be. Done right, though, the repetition of the “Hail Mary” isn’t the point. The point is to focus on the mysteries. I was prompted to focus on the “Sorrowful” mysteries that day, which walk you through the Lord’s Passion: The Agony in the Garden, the Whipping at the Pillar, The Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, and the Lord’s Death on the Cross. The Rosary’s repetitive prayers themselves are mostly there as a time keeper, but the Rosary itself helps one view the Mysteries of the Lord’s life through a Mother, or at least a beloved family member’s eyes.

In fact, the “Hail Mary” prayer is Scriptural. The angel Gabriel, on his appearance to Mary says, “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you!” and when Mary appears to Elizabeth, Elizabeth says, “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The complete Hail Mary prayer is this: “Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” What we’re saying by praying this is, “Mary, you’re a holy woman; you’re the mother of Jesus. Please pray for me.” By praying the full Rosary, I’m saying, “Jesus really matters to me. You were there; you witnessed His life. Help me to understand His life and how to love Him best.”

Some might argue that focusing on Mary takes the focus away from Jesus. In some sense, yeah, that’s kind of true. In the same way, however, you could say that admiring, talking to, hanging out with, and seeking advice or prayers from your friend, pastor, or whoever, who you think is a very holy person takes your focus away from Jesus. Ultimately, however, if you’re trying to be a holy person, in modeling yourself after someone you admire (a friend, a church leader, a canonized saint, or Mary), you’re still focusing on Jesus because you’re still trying to be like Him and get closer to Him, as they are.