Study Notes 1 (May 2020)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one owes me anything (paraphrased from St Therese)

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

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

Mercy In Boston

As soon as I finished writing my last post, I checked my email. One of the members of our Carmelite Community had sent everybody an article about a team of priests in our diocese who had volunteered to go and administer the anointing of the sick to Covid-19 patients. It had nothing to do with me, but I was grateful. Being so sick that you need that sacrament has got to be terrifying.

I have been praying for God to have mercy on us. I didn’t realize that He is. On Friday I checked the news and saw that two churches (I forget where) have decided to open back up, and now the sick have access to priests in my own diocese. The Church is the body of Christ, and what helps one, or some of the “members” helps everybody.

I wrote in my last post that sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is “No,” or “Not yet.” While that is true, it’s also true that sometimes His answer is “Yes,” but He doesn’t always do things the ways we expect. I’ve been asking for His mercy, and to me, that meant miraculously curing everyone. Before Jesus ascended to Heaven, Peter asked Him, “Are you going to bring your kingdom now?” Jesus told him that He wanted the apostles, and later, all priests (and lay people to some extent) to spread the Gospel and baptize people. Effectively, He was saying, “No, you are.” He gave them authority to do things in His stead. With that in mind, I recognized that through His priests, He is going into Boston hospitals and answering my prayer for mercy.

In the article I read, one of the priests was quoted as saying that medicine is great, but it can help only to a point. We need God in these situations, and this gave me hope. This was a concrete example of how God does not abandon anyone. I wanted to share it to give anyone who reads this a little hope, too. Keep praying for mercy, be patient, and let yourself be surprised by His love.

Say Yes To Love

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian and I do not know exactly what happens when when one dies. This is written from experience and what I have learned from others.

Yesterday I got in a debate with someone on Facebook. I know this is one of those things you’re just not supposed to do. I know absolutely nothing about the person I was debating with other than the fact that he posts things that drive me crazy. Several years ago, not long after becoming Christian, I joined a group where you can post “your truth.” The person I ended up debating with is actually almost the only person who posts there at this point.

I tend to ignore his posts because they annoy me, and often just don’t make sense. Yesterday, though, he posted something about Hell that rubbed me the wrong way. He posted a meme that said, “The whole exploitation of man depends on two things: fear of hell and greed for heaven. It is such a contradiction that all these religions go on teaching against fear, against greed, but underneath, their whole teaching is against fear of hell.” This was attributed to someone called Osho.

To be sure, Christianity teaches against fear, and against greed. It does not, however, teach that we should fear Hell. Christianity, and in particular, the Catholic Church, teaches that Hell is a choice. God does not send anyone to Hell. One chooses Hell, which is separation from God who is love, joy, goodness, etc. One is capable of making this choice because all humans are free.

Especially in today’s culture, we don’t like rules. To attain eternal happiness, I explained to my “opponent,” for lack of a better word, one must follow what are generally perceived as God’s “rules.” God, and by extension the Church, has these rules because they make for a perfectly good and loving person–they allow the person to be truly like God. Since we live in an imperfect world, there are things we can do that are immoral, things we can say that are unloving, etc. When we make these choices, we are saying “no” to Love. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we have thousands of opportunities to say “I’m sorry,” and to change our “no” to a “yes.”

God loves everyone, including those who say “no” to love all through their lives. An old man who hates God for whatever reason, was left by his wife because he abused her, cheated on his taxes, and had a drinking problem, is still loved by God because that’s who God is. That man has infinite chances to repent and say “yes” to love instead of simply saying “yes” to the things that give pleasure to the senses and the thrill of “getting away with it.” If he says “no” even at the moment of reckoning; if his “no” is definite, then he has chosen his final destination.

Further, Hell is what it is for two reasons. The first is that God is infinite, and the second is that human souls are immortal. What exactly happens when we die, we don’t exactly know. We do know, however that our souls still exist; we still exist. Because God loves and cannot do otherwise, those who have given a final “yes” enjoy His company; His love, while those who have given a final “no” suffer because they do not want Him; they do not want love.

Songs And Silver Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What We Say In Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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