Tag Archives: History

Too Good To Be True

It occurred to me earlier that there was a period of time when actually, there wasn’t a song to sing in the dark. Starting on Holy Thursday night, and all through Christ’s Passion, hope waned, and as He lay in the Tomb, all through Holy Saturday, it died. After His Resurrection, many of His disciples didn’t recognize Him at first. I’ve often wondered about this, but I think it’s for two reasons. He came back in His Glory, so even though He would presumably look like the same person, there would be something different about Him. Also, though His disciples had seen Him bring people back to life (the little girl, the widow’s son, and Lazarus), the idea that He Himself could come back to life was probably just too good to be true.

That idea of “too good to be true” stuck with me. I remember hearing about the Divine Mercy message and reading some of St Faustina’s diary, and how at first it all seemed amazing, but then it started to seem “too good to be true.” How could a God of such Wisdom and Justice, which He truly is, be so Merciful? One of the promises of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, for example, is that the Lord will grant whatever a person asks for as long as it is compatible with His will. It seems, then, as long as what a person asks for is good, the Lord will grant it, even if it takes a while.

Along with this and others, He made twelve promises to anyone who had devotion to His Sacred Heart, these being:

1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state in life.
2. I will establish peace in their families.
3. I will comfort them in their trials.
4. I will be their secure refuge during life, and, above all, in death.
5. I will shed abundant blessings on all their undertakings
6. Sinners will find in My Heart an infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Lukewarm souls will become fervent.
8. Fervent souls will rapidly grow in holiness and perfection.
9. I will bless every place where an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honored.
10. I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
11. The names of those who promote this devotion will be written in My Heart, never to be blotted out.
12. I promise thee, in the excessive mercy of My Heart, that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months, the grace of final penitence; they shall not die in My disgrace nor without receiving their Sacraments; My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.

Sometimes I remind myself of these promises and am always amazed by them, but the Lord doesn’t speak idly, and He doesn’t break His promises. He made these promises to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century. During that time in France, there were problems in the Catholic Church. The Church had fallen pray to rigorism. Rigorist priests would withhold absolution (refuse to forgive sins) if it seemed to them that a person was not truly sorry, or if they were imprecise in how they gave their confession. By extension, they maintained that Communion should not often be received because they believed it was unlikely that many were in a state of Grace. At the same time, the Jansenist Heresy was also widely held, which maintained that God actively gave Grace to some, which automatically meant their salvation, and actively withheld it from others, which automatically meant their damnation.

Jesus revealed to Saint Margaret Mary that all of this led people to fear rather than love Him. He told her that this hurt His Heart greatly because He desperately wanted (and obviously still wants) a relationship with people, and to grant mercy to everyone, especially through the Sacraments. The Church endorses and promotes this devotion, as crazy as it sounds.

There were a few dark hours in our history when there was no spark, and no song to sing. Then the Lord came back and started the wildfire that still burns. In light of His Resurrection, I wondered why things often seem too good to be true. It was literally the best thing that could have ever happened. In fact, by natural understanding, it couldn’t happen, but it did, and throughout history, He’s been revealing in different ways what all of it really means. We’ve got this idea that something can be “too good,” I think because so much bad happens, and I think it’s because it’s easy to forget that the ultimate Good already did happen. Because we’re messy humans, many regard it as literally unbelievable. With that in mind, I’m not sure I think anything can really be too good–if it is intrinsically good and pure–to be true.

What’s The Real Goal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idols And Heroes

Last night, my dad and I ended up laughing at a musician we heard on a Spotify playlist who was trying to be a poignant country singer, but really just came across as whiney and corny. His lyrics were really quite terrible. Then, of course, because I’m a musician, we ended up talking about songwriters who are actually good at what they do. A songwriter I admire very much is Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam. My dad agreed that Pearl Jam was a really good, original band, but, he said, Eddie can try to hard to “be his idols” when it comes to his own side projects. I know, for example, that he “idolizes” Neil Young. I don’t know that I totally agree with my dad because I love Eddie’s music, especially the weird stuff, but I also love Neil Young, so there’s that.

Our conversation then moved to an idea my dad had for our house in Maine. He said we should have a bookshelf with work from all of our “Idols.” He started listing off people he admired, and I noticed, he stopped using the word “Idol,” and switched to “Hero.” It’s an interesting distinction. Our God commanded that we are not supposed to have idols because there is only one God, and only He is worthy of worship. Another interesting question is: when does one cross the line from admiration to worship? I have a very long list of people I admire, but I don’t worship any of them. I don’t worship them because I know my God, and I know what worship is, and how to worship. I had to be taught, though.

I think worship invariably has to be taught, whether it is worship of God, or worship of some other human or thing. Catholics, for example, have specific religious practices that are forms of worship. Perhaps worship of a certain musician, for example, would involve getting a guitar and learning to play all of their songs, playing them at open mic nights, and listening to their songs all the time, and seeing them live whenever they’re in the area.

This is not to say one cannot do all these things and be an avid fan without worshiping them. A better example than Pearl Jam for me might be Tenth Avenue North. I know and love almost every one of their songs. I’m more of a singer than a guitarist, and I can harmonize on plenty of them. I recently went to see Mercy Me just because Tenth Avenue North was opening for them. I’ve seen them several times by now. Still, they’re just dudes, and I don’t worship them.

In the end, whether it comes to awesome humans or awesome things, I think everyone at one time or another needs a reality check. Everything and everyone in the world, whether it’s a black hole, or a baby has an ultimate Source, and if the effort is taken to find that Source, there’s not much that can be done but to worship Him. The uncreated God created this universe and everything in it out of love because He wanted it–wanted us–to exist.

Truthfully, I think that’s why I love mythology and I admire good fantasy writers so much. If there is any writer I aspire to be like, it’s J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and the universe it takes place in is genius. Right now I’m rereading the four books of the Inheritance Cycle, by Christopher Paolini. I admire this writer, too, not because his universe is genius, but because his style is eloquent, but easy to follow, and his story is enjoyable.

I loved my dad’s bookshelf idea because I do have heroes. I have a long list of heroes. Some of those heroes are Catholic, some are non-Catholic Christians, and many are not Christian at all. In fact, I have no idea what they believe, or believed, but they are or were admirable. There are still more whose names I don’t even know, but whom I consider heroes. With all this in mind, I submit to you all my list of heroes. These are in no particular order, and are not separated into categories. It’s also probably not exhaustive, but these are the people who come to mind as heroic.

-J.R.R. Tolkien
-Seamus Heaney
-William Wallace
-The Astronauts of the first Apollo mission
-J.K. Rowling
-C.S. Lewis
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky
-Christopher Paolini
-Eddie Vedder
-The members of U2
-The members of Tenth Avenue North
-Neil Young
-The Indigo Girls
-Any martyr of any faith
-Anyone who stands up to injustice in any way
-Saint Faustina
-Saint Dismas
-James Gallagher, the first person to fly nonstop around the world
-The crew of the HMS Challenger

NOTE: Jesus and His Mother are not on this list simply because they’re too obvious and I didn’t think I needed to put them on here.

Something Worth Doing

This morning after I did my morning prayer, I played a stupid game on my phone for a little while. I went to bed very late last night, and really, I just didn’t want to get up. I could afford to just chill for a little, but then a thought came to my mind. I couldn’t help questioning why I was playing that game. It’s not actually all that fun, and I’m so good at it by now that it’s basically mindless. I couldn’t help asking myself if it was God’s will for me to be playing that game. My ultimate conclusion was that, while it was perfectly acceptable for me to be playing a dumb game, it probably wasn’t exactly what He wanted me to be doing.

Anyone who really wants to follow Christ ultimately has to ask what God wants them to be doing. When asking this question, though, most of us, myself included, are usually wondering what God’s ultimate plan for our lives is. We’re looking at the forest, without always seeing the trees. I reflected on this, and I asked myself, “What would God want me to be doing right now? I don’t have to be ready for work for another hour or so, and it’s not like I have to go far (I would be traveling from eating lunch in the kitchen back to my bedroom which would then be my office).” I came to the conclusion that, even if I didn’t have a concrete answer, I did know that God would want me to be doing something worth doing.

That begs the question: what makes something worth doing? What gives value to an action, practice, or effort? Ultimately, what gives anything value? I recently visited a group of third order Carmelites, and am considering officially joining their order. I’ve only visited them once, and I have a lot to learn, but my visit was amazing, and the people were probably the nicest I’ve ever met. I mention this because at the end of my visit, one of the women gave me a glass tube. Contained inside was water from the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, a tiny shell from the Sea of Galilee, and some dust from Mount Carmel; a mountain in Israel where the first Carmelites created their order. Measuring the worth of that tube in terms of money makes it worthless, but I thought it was an amazing gift.

Last night I was reading about the history of the Rosary, and I read that when it started becoming incredibly popular and well known, people would make incredibly fancy ones with precious stones on gold or silver chains. Mine is made of wooden beads on a plain cord. I bought that one partly because I’m the cheapest woman alive, but partly because a fancy Rosary would not be my style. It’s value is contained in what I use it for. I think about the things I consider to be my treasures. I have some religious items that I consider treasure, and some of them actually are nice, but I also consider my ability to use the English language a kind of treasure. Technology is also a kind of treasure because the ability to communicate, learn, and quite frankly, to be entertained, is valuable.

I also discovered something late last night. The value or worth of anything must be determined by something greater than itself. I often find myself marveling at the fact that the God of the universe wants anything to do with me. I am one in literally several billion people, but my Heavenly Father literally loves the hell out of me. Making sense of that love is confusing at best, and last night I found myself thinking, “Lord, you knew I’d never be able to walk. You knew I’d have epilepsy. You knew I’d be just as messy as anyone else. You knew I’d give up on you, and give up on myself for a while. You made me anyway, and you still chased me down. I just don’t get it. I’m not even important.” At that moment something stopped me. I think He stopped me because my next thought was, “Actually, you think I’m pretty important. If you say I’m important, then I’m important.” That thought made me happy.

I don’t know what God’s ultimate plan is for my life, but I do know some things. I call my godparents “Aunt” and “Uncle,” but we’re not actually related. A few months ago, I learned that their daughter, so my kind-of cousin, is going to have a baby this winter. Even before I knew this, though, I realized that I had a growing desire to be a godmother. I thought it was kind of weird desire, but I prayed about it a handful of times. This past weekend, it was decided that I would be my “cousin’s” child’s godmother. I have an amazing relationship with both of my godparents, and I hope to have the same kind of relationship with my godchild.

I often listen to Christian playlists on Spotify while I’m working. There’s a song that sometimes comes on that I kind of hate because it’s about how Christians spend too much time singing empty words and twiddling our thumbs while the outside world suffers. This song kills me because I am a sympathetic person, and I hate to see people suffer, but because of my physical impediments, I can’t go out and actively do much about it. I didn’t mention the song specifically, but I mentioned my trepidation about it to my godfather. He told me that my prayers are more effective and heard more readily because I can’t go out and precisely because I want to help. Despite the fact that I’ve witnessed the truth of it, I’ve had to have it hammered into me time and again that prayer is powerful.

I’ve learned that prayer takes faith, and prayer takes patience. It is absolutely true that God often works in ways we don’t expect, and He often takes His time. Sometimes I realize that God has answered me months or even years after I prayed for or about something. Conversely, sometimes He’ll answer my prayers within thirty seconds of me praying. It takes perseverance, and it takes practice. I’ve been praying the Rosary every night for, I think, nearly a year now, and I still get distracted. Sometimes I get a lot out of it, and sometimes I don’t. The point isn’t what I can get out of it, though. The point is what it can do.

I want to focus mainly on the Rosary because numerous significant miracles have been attributed to it. In 1214 the Rosary was presented to St. Dominic by the Blessed Mother to defeat the Albigensian heresy, which taught that the spirit was good, but the body was evil. Thus, they taught that suicide was a commendable practice. The Rosary, while essentially viewed through the eyes of Mary, so to speak, focuses deeply on the life and humanity of Christ, especially since the Luminous Mysteries–those that focuss on his miracles weren’t included until later.

The devotion of people faithfully praying the Rosary is attributed to nonviolent resistance to, and ultimate defeat of Communism in Brazil in the 1960’s. It was attributed to the healing of Father Patrick Peyton, an Irish immigrant to the U.S. who was diagnosed with Tuberculosis, which in the 1930’s, when he was alive, was incurable. In 1945, when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, eight Jesuit priests were together praying the Rosary less than a mile from ground zero. They miraculously survived, and suffered no radiation poisoning. Though not a miracle, I can certainly say that praying the Rosary has helped me to grow closer to Jesus and develop a relationship with Mary that I previously didn’t have.

The prayers of individuals can work miracles. That is absolutely true. I strongly believe, and I think I’m supported by history, though, that a bunch of people praying for the same thing can more readily move mountains. Even from a human perspective, it’s the difference between one kid pestering Mom or Dad for something, or two, or three, or maybe even six kids, if they have friends with them, all asking for the same thing. If you’re like me, you don’t always have people around to pray with you. That’s why getting to know the Blessed Mother, and maybe a handful of Saints is important. They may not be physically here, but they can and do pray with you and for you.

All of this is meant as encouragement to my readers, but also as a reminder to myself. If you don’t have the time, the money, or the physical ability to “go out” and volunteer or donate to charity, and that is a sincere desire of your heart, then pray. Do what you can, and don’t worry about what you can’t. Every day I can read, I can write, I can edit, and I can pray. When school starts back up for the kids, I’ll be teaching CCD. If you focus only on what you can’t do, you will ultimately do nothing, and that helps no one. Pray for the people doing the things you want to do because in this way, you are helping them, and vicariously helping the people they are helping.

I have focused mainly on praying for others, but I would like to emphasize that it’s just as important to pray for yourself. I would argue that it’s just as important to pray about nothing. We are meant to be holy and have a relationship with God. To have a relationship with anyone, you have to talk to them. I recently went to see Beck live, and I had a ton of fun. I had a ton of fun with Jesus because I prayed through the whole thing. I just said stuff like, “I’m having an awesome time. Thank you for this.” Pray when something is bothering you. Pray when you need something. Pray when you’re late to church and need a parking spot. He’s usually quick to help with that one. Pray when you find something weird or funny, and share the weirdness or the humor with Him.

Lastly, I just want to say that It’s perfectly okay to waste some time. I did a little while ago because, quite frankly, my brain was a bit fried. It’s important to make note of the things we do and the reasons why we do them. In the end, I felt that writing this was what God would have me do today, and I certainly feel that it was something worth doing.

Who’s Right?

My dad and I have been watching this show on Amazon. I think Bishop Barron’s thoughts on it are really right.

The thing is, I like absolutes. I don’t like gray areas. It does matter who is right. If Christianity is not true, we are wasting a lot of time. If Christianity is wrong, I am wasting at least seven hours every week, but probably more. That’s just between structured prayer time and weekly Mass. If I factor in random mental prayer and “curiosity quests,” my faith is at least a part-time job.

In the show, Ragnar and Athelstan really struggle with this question. At one point, Athelstan says to another character, “I love Odin, and I love Jesus Christ.” It bothers him. At another time, he says, “I couldn’t help seeing some similarities between our God and their gods.” There are some similarities between the gods of myths and other religions, and the Christian God. This is the case because God wants his Truth to be known and accessible to all people. These similarities are simply a starting point, though.

Our relativistic culture likes gray areas. The fact of the matter is, we don’t like to be told that we’re wrong. I don’t like being told when I’m wrong. I don’t like conflict, and taking a stand about absolute Truth often causes conflict. This matters too much, though. I am taking a stand. I am not a crusader. What one chooses to believe is their business, but I believe that there is only one, absolute Truth, and only one true God.

 

Nothing Into Something

Although I generally think abstractly and look at the big picture, when it comes to certain important issues, I can be at least reasonable, if not totally logical. The reason I say this is that I’ve been anxious lately. This is mainly because I’m impatient and I’ve had difficulty getting a meeting with my priest to discuss some things. I really want to figure out where I’m going or what I’m supposed to be doing or who I’m supposed to be talking to in terms of my next step in my spiritual life. While I’m waiting for my priest to call or email me, I’ve started doing some of my own research. He has suggested some things to me, so I’m not totally flying blind at this point.

In doing so, I’ve realized some things. The first is something I absolutely can handle and fix easily. I need to approach prayer better. In other words, I need to approach it less as an extra to-do list, and more as a structured activity that I’m doing with my God and Friend. The second thing is that I see myself as too broken for this. That is not an easy fix. When I say “broken,” I don’t necessarily mean sinful. I know that I’m spiritually messy like anyone else.

The fact of the matter is, I still have insecurities from when I was younger. Before college, I was one of the most unpopular kids in school. I was not actively picked on. Instead, kids acted like I didn’t exist. They ignored me. This made me feel like a waste of time and space. That makes it hard to accept that the God of the Universe might want me to be his in a particularly special way.

This, however, is tied to my other fear. I was treated the way I was for two reasons. The first was that I was friends with kids who were actively picked on, and I stood up for them. The second, however, is likely because I am disabled, and therefore, odd by default to any elementary or middle school kid. I question why God would want someone to intimately follow and serve him who is physically incapable of doing quite a lot of things.

I’ve probably explained this before, but my book started as a thought experiment. I was working on another project and hit an impassible wall. I said, “Well, I can’t stop writing,” so I just started writing off the top of my head. I ended up writing a very strange creation story. I thought it was interesting, so wrote another story. Two stories turned into four, so I wrote a list of ideas for more stories. I wrote some more and resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t a list. It was a table of contents. I wrote some more, and shortly after I had written a few more stories, I prayed. “Lord, this is complicated. If this is going to be a book, I’m going to need your help. It’s yours if you want it.” Apparently he wants it, because he keeps helping.

Jesus died for me, so I have to live for him. I owe him my life, but I owe him more than that, and I don’t know what I can really give him. That’s ultimately what scares me. When it comes down to it, though, the truth is that love scares me. His love scares me. What’s really scary is that I can say, “No.” I’m not going to, but the choice scares me. The fact that I had a choice scares me. The fact that I ignored the choice for too long annoys me. The fact of the matter is, I started down this road when I was twenty one, but I didn’t know where I was going. Now I know a little better. I’m saying, “Yes.”

I have to remind myself that Jesus doesn’t always choose the most capable, exciting, influential people. His first followers, and many of the saints were basically nobody’s in the beginning. One of my favorite saints, Saint Faustina, started as a poor farm kid. She had trouble finding a convent that would accept her because in the early twentieth century in Poland, where she lived, a nun had to have a dowry. She didn’t, but finally the mother of a convent said she would let her in if she could pay for a habit. It took her a while, but finally she saved enough to pay for it. Through Saint Faustina, Jesus conveyed, in new and really amazing ways, his message of mercy that we will always need. She was a nobody, and now, just about a century later, she is super well known. This is just one example of what God can do, and I trust that.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

P.S. I may be renaming the blog in the near-ish future, but don’t worry, I’m still here, and I’ll still be writing largely the same stuff.

Holy Week (Monday)

This week is Holy Week. Friday is Good Friday. Even though I know what comes after, I’m dreading it because of what happened on that day 2,000 years ago. This post is not about that, though. What I intend to do, Monday through Friday of this week, is to write precisely about what Good Friday tried to destroy. Life. What I mean is that Good Friday stood for Death. It stood for hopelessness.

Probably some, and possibly many will take my posts this week as political. I urge you not to. Some of the things I will post about are tied to political issues, but they are not political issues in themselves. All that being said, I’ll get started on my first topic.

What does it mean to be pro-life? What does it mean to live life to the fullest? These two questions are closely related. As many readers already know, I am pro-life. Yes, I do strongly oppose abortion and the death penalty, but that is not the extent of what it means to be pro-life. It means supporting discussion and if that fails, civil disobedience when it is necessary. It also means helping disadvantaged people in constructive ways that build relationships and boost confidence. It involves being creative. It requires time, effort and sacrifice. My dad used to use a cliche every so often: “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. If you teach him how to fish, he will eat for a lifetime.” Do I always know how to “teach a man to fish?” Nope. Am I always capable of it? Nope. I do, however, think that there are people who are willing and able, and that this is the best solution to dealing with a multitude of social and economic problems. Again, this is getting borderline political, so I’ll leave it at that.

However, none of this addresses what it means to be pro-life on a spiritual level. One of the most commonly known things that Jesus said to his disciples was, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” Jesus is our connection with God the Father. Another Christian cliche is that we’re meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Relationships are a two-way street. He can chase us forever, but if we’re not interested, he won’t force us to pay any attention to him. To be spiritually alive means to enjoy the relationship that Jesus is offering us. To be pro-life from a spiritual standpoint, then, is, I think, to simply encourage people to acknowledge the invitation, and if they choose to pursue things further, to help them along. People never have only one relationship. Everyone has to ask for advice or direction in many relationships. A relationship with God is no different. What strengthens a relationship with God is worship (both individual and communal), prayer, and reading. Even fiction can help. Let God enjoy life with you, whether it’s playing with your pet, or taking a walk, or eating too much ice cream.

This addresses my second question. What does it mean to live life to the fullest? To an extent, this is a matter of opinion and preference. However, it also depends on one’s personality in general, and one’s overall situation. Some are happy living with the bare necessities, while others strive for extravagance. However, when one cannot attain what they want or need, living life to the fullest means accepting what one has and what one can attain. It also means being able to adapt and go outside one’s comfort zone. This will mean something different for every person. Sometimes it will mean watching a movie in a genre you might not usually pick. Sometimes it will mean skydiving. Lastly, living life to the fullest means allowing one’s self to let loose, and let go of one’s ego. It means learning to laugh at yourself with genuine joy.

Of course living life to the fullest also has a spiritual dimension. To address this aspect of it, I think I need to ask another question. What constitutes a full or fulfilled life? Every person will have a different answer for this, but I think it is possible to find a partially objective answer. Every human requires and seeks a handful of things in life. These are reflected in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, with physiological/biological needs being the most basic, and self-transcendence being the highest. Self-transcendence refers to the need to give oneself to something outside of oneself. As an example, he specifically refers to spirituality. Maslow also describes his idea of self-transcendence as “ends rather than means” to oneself, significant others, and even the cosmos. In other words, oneself is something sought after by things outside oneself. God seeks us out. God is infinite and perfect. We are not. God has no actual need for us, but he has a desire for us. It seems that to respond to that desire positively is exactly what Maslow means by self-transcendence.

However, there is one aspect of this that I have not addressed. In both sections on our relation to God, I have primarily focused on what God gets out of it. What do we get out of it? I think the best way to close this off is to address that question personally. Strengthening my relationship with God has made me more creative, more outgoing, more honest, more altruistic, and more patient. It has raised my self-esteem, and given me immense comfort when things aren’t going quite right. It has made me more positive and less egotistical. That all has happened in the span of seven or eight years. I certainly won’t claim that my life is perfect, but it’s good.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

 

 

Complementary

I had an interesting conversation with a new acquaintance a few weeks ago. I haven’t really thought too much about it, but I thought it would be worth sharing. Our conversation, of course, started with small talk, but for some reason, we both felt very comfortable with each other, and I found out in a fairly short amount of time, that this person was also Christian.

The interesting part of this is that she and I had very different views of things like science, philosophy, mythology and logic going into the conversation. It also turned out that she and I came to faith through very different means, had different upbringings, and were part of different denominations within Christianity. All this being said, I want to explain, in particular, my view of science and logic, as well as some broader sociological issues from my personal Catholic point of view.

As I mentioned in a recent post, there was a time (mostly through middle and high school) when I was Catholic in practice, but Agnostic in belief. I went through the motions without actually knowing what any of it meant. A lot of this has a lot to do with where I grew up, who I hung out with, and what my education was like.

I grew up in a suburban town in Massachusetts where the political standpoint on many issues tends to be relatively liberal, and the line between church and state is drawn boldly. When I was a kid, the most important things in my family’s life were our extended family in Maine, and my education, including the cultivation of my imagination. Often, these things superseded God entirely, so our church attendance was infrequent, and we didn’t really talk about God at home.

My education as a kid was delivered from an atheistic standpoint. I went to public school, and no one, kids or teachers, talked about God. Therefore, my initial understanding of Truth was from a scientific and mathematical standpoint. 1 + 1 = 2. The Big Bang created the Universe. God was there somewhere, sure, but at the time it didn’t really matter to me. Then when I got what you might call the equidistant of an internship in high school developing a disability advocacy program, I ended up working with a devout Jewish guy, my brother’s age, and a Muslim woman,  who I’d guess was in her twenties, and it was interesting to work with people of other faiths who were also far more invested than I was.

Then I went to a Christian college, as I have previously mentioned. Although we were saturated with the culture and Christian worship, I ended up taking a few philosophy classes where the whole point was to think logically and atheistically. All of this comes back to my conversation a few weeks ago. My acquaintance was surprised that I put so much faith in physics, for example. However, this also relates to another question she asked me. She asked, “So how do understand Greek mythology, since it was once an actual belief system?” I told her that this was a belief system based on what was inferable and observable at the time. I put faith in science because it can prove what is inferable and observable to be true. I also explained that I have never thought God and science were at odds, and that God often works through, natural, scientifically verifiable means.

One last thing I would like to add is that I have come to understand that a belief system has stages, and is personalized invariably by everyone. What I mean is that the primary stage of one’s belief system informs their secondary, their secondary informs their third, etc. Specifically this refers, in my case to my understanding of science through Christianity, my understanding of politics and culture through both, and my understanding of economics through all three. In other words, certain beliefs hold priority over others, but they all inform each other to some degree. If science can help me understand what God is doing, then great.

What I Know

It’s taken me a long time to write this post. I’ve been feeling for a long time that God wants me to tell people about him. I didn’t want to tell people what they’ve probably already heard a thousand times. This is simply what I know about God.

I know that God answers prayers.

Truthfully, he doesn’t always do this in the way I expect or the way I want. The cliche is true. God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes I have to wait, and sometimes I even forget about what I prayed for, and he answers anyway. I try very hard to be a peacemaker. Because of that, I haven’t got into too many fights. I’ve witnessed some pretty deep resentment among people I love, though. I’ve prayed about it, and the problems have been resolved. God always provides. I have epilepsy, and while my medication prevents me from having full seizures, I still have symptoms. Usually this is because I’m too hungry or I’ve spent too much time on the computer, so most of the time I can get rid of them just by changing my behavior. However, sometimes it’s out of my control. In these situations, I often pray, and the problem often goes away. Sometimes I just need something small. I need to make sure I wake up on time or I do something stupid and get my wheelchair stuck and need someone to rescue me. There are so many examples I simply can’t list them all. When I pray for small things, however, God often answers those prayers almost instantly. I have to mention however, that sometimes God’s answer to a prayer is “No” because it’s the best thing for you. It’s also important to remember that God works in real time. God can make difficult, complicated things happen, but because they are difficult and complicated, they will take time–sometimes years. One example I do want to mention, though is that when I was in middle school, my cousin had Cancer. It was treatable, but it definitely wasn’t easy. One night he told my aunt that he really felt like he was going to die. I desperately wanted him to live, so I prayed hard, and soon after, things changed drastically.

I know his love is intense.

I was born with Muscular Dystrophy. Because of this, I couldn’t run around and play on the playground with the other kids when I was little, so God gave me a playground in my head. I constantly made up stories and characters and drew pictures and made up better reasons for why snow fell instead of what science told me. This playground in my head is always getting bigger and bigger as I continue to write stories and learn about philosophy and contemplate my place in the world. Eventually, however, I realized that my imaginary playground wasn’t enough. I am asexual. In short, I find sex repulsive. This was very confusing for a lonely high school student who wanted love and didn’t understand it. I thought I needed a boyfriend. At the time I believed in a god, but not necessarily a God one could have a relationship with, so I prayed that I would find love. In retrospect, I realized that a part of me, though not necessarily a conscious part of me, knew that I needed God. I was confirmed as a Catholic in the first few months of my Junior year. Though I had not exactly intended to, I kept going back to church for no real discernible reason. It wasn’t until October of my Freshman year of college that I knew he loved me. I went to a very Christian school and as a requirement, went to chapel services three times a week. It was the first time I had heard contemporary worship music, and that made something click. Still, I was lonely, but one night I prayed and the part of me that needed God somehow became conscious and I said “I love you” basically by accident. As soon as I said it, I felt an overwhelming feeling of love and peace.

Over the next several years I learned many things, though how I learned some of them isn’t entirely clear. It took a while for it to sink in, but I learned that Jesus loved me and had me in mind when he took on the sins of the world. He took on my sins, too. I learned that it’s not enough to love God. You have to trust him, and I do. I learned that God loves us no matter what, and he always will. Jesus hung out with people that his contemporaries literally wouldn’t talk to and wouldn’t even touch. He said that he didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it. That means a lot. I learned that the more time I spend with him, and the more I come to know him, the more I need him. I learned that his love is unfair in the most perfect way. Most importantly, I learned that God made a way for us to literally see and touch him in the Eucharist, and this will last for all time until he comes back.

I know that God has a sense of humor.

If you had told me in my Freshman year of high school that I would be considering being consecrated to God, I would have told you that you were crazy. If you had told me that I would start going to Church every day, I would have told you that you were crazy. I didn’t know God. I didn’t like the Church. It was lame and boring, and Catholics were all old and annoying and judgmental. If you had told me that I was going to go to a Christian college and major in English, I would have told you that you were crazy. Even if you had told me what kind of music I would be writing, I would have told you that you were crazy. I wanted to be in a punk rock band. If you had told me I was going to write a novel, I would have told you that you were crazy. I tried twice and gave up twice. Among my closest friends, I am the only practicing Catholic, and I was the first to graduate college. I find irony hilarious. You would be laughing too, if you knew just how much irony I’ve lived through.

I know God’s voice.

Some people at my school said that they felt a connection to Jesus from the age of five. It took me literally twenty years and then some. I know God is infinite, and I know God is love. Love is patient, and love is kind. God has infinite patience. His sense of time is not like ours, but he still had to watch me wander around without knowing him for what, to me, was a long time. God’s call is not like a voice in my head. It’s more like I feel him pulling on my soul. I can resist. I can ignore him, but I don’t want to. At the moment I’m feeling the pull, I can’t always put it into words, but I usually can eventually. After I was confirmed I felt the pull, and it was like he was saying, “Stay with me, okay?” The pull has become more and more obvious as I’ve come to know him better. It’s not the same for everyone. He relates to everyone in the way that makes the most sense to them.

I know that sometimes God gives us more than we can handle.

You read that right. It’s a matter of trust. The month before finals in the second semester of my sophomore year of college was a nightmare. I was overworked and got very little sleep. On top of that, the dosage of my medicine wasn’t right and I was dealing with some nasty epilepsy symptoms. During that time I had one prayer: “Get me through this.” That year Tenth Avenue North released their album “The Struggle.” Through the month of April I practically had their song “Worn” on repeat. That song made me feel like I wasn’t alone, even though it’s about a completely different kind of struggle than what I was going through. The point is that I knew I couldn’t make it through on my own. I trusted God. It was my turn to say “Stay with me, okay?” and he did. I passed all my classes, and after finals, went home and slept. On occasion God has asked me to do the impossible. He has asked me to do things that I am terrified of doing. I’ve found that I can’t do these things unless my answer is “I’ll do it, but I need your help because nothing else is gonna make it happen.” If I don’t do the impossible for him, I often can’t do the simpler things that I want to do. This may seem unfair, but God wants what’s best for us, and he wants us to be happy. If we want what God wants, and if we do what he wants, we will be happy. This doesn’t meant that we’re robots. God has an individualized plan for each of us. We are all unique, and God uses and relates to all of us differently. He understands our quirks and desires and fears and preferences and works with us in the way that will cause the most good and the most happiness for us and for the people around us.

I know that God is emotional.

Jump to any part of Scripture, and you will find that things people do please God or make him angry. In the Gospels we see Jesus having fun at a wedding celebration. Later on, he gets angry at the people who were buying and selling animals in the temple. The night before his death, he stays up and prays because he’s afraid. God feels what we feel, and what we do matters to the Father who knows us and loves us more than anyone else ever could. He loves us even though we’re broken. He loves us despite everything we’ve thought or done, and he forgives everything. He’s willing to go to extremes for us because he wants us to love him back. To many, the story of salvation sounds unbelievable; crazy. To me it often sounds unbelievable and crazy. I don’t understand all of it. It’s not possible to. That’s the whole point of faith. God is way smarter and way more loving than any human ever. He gave us stories and metaphors and teachings in his Word, but he also gave us the Church so we would never be alone in our faith, and he gave us souls that will lead us to him if we allow them.

Wicked Cool!

In a recent post I said that I have decided to officially dedicate myself to Jesus. I’m happy to say that that’s still the plan. I’ve been learning a lot lately. Apparently, there are several different ways in which I can do this. It’s a little intimidating because there are apparently a bazillion different orders of nuns and Sisters who all do different stuff and follow different philosophies and what have you. I also learned, as of last night, that there’s a thing called a “consecrated lay person.” Basically, as far as I can tell, there are three different categories of religious life, and my first step is to figure out where I fit best. At the moment, I like things about all of them.

The first is that of cloistered nuns. These are generally ladies who live together away from secular society and dedicate their lives almost entirely to prayer. They live extremely simply, which allows them to not be distracted by outside influences.

The second is another group of Sisters who generally live together, but are much more a part of society, doing work to help people, etc.

The third group are “consecrated lay people,” which are people (dudes and ladies) who have chosen to forgo marriage and family life in order to serve Jesus as best they can. Like nuns or Sisters, they take official vows in the church, but don’t necessarily live together and tend to have “regular” jobs.

I like the idea of removing myself from the distractions of the world and focusing entirely on God, but I desperately want to help people in any way I can. I don’t think I’m very good at praying. The fact of the matter is, I probably need to “practice” more. I’m also realizing that I want to serve God, and I want to be free. I want structure, and I want to be able to randomly change and randomly do things. I know serving God doesn’t mean I’m not free. I just don’t presently know what the solution is or what the best fit is for me. Maybe, once again, I’ll end up doing something I never saw coming.  I am leaning towards one particular thing, but I’m not going to say what it is yet here. I have to see if it’s right first.

Last night I watched an awesome video by Father Mike Schmitz. At least for me, that guy is a rock star. It was actually the first time I’d ever even heard of him, but I ended up watching several hours worth of his stuff.. actually I listened whilst playing Minecraft. He’s funny and brilliant. But anyway… the point he was talking about was that love is physical, and love is a gift. When you love someone, you want to give them all of you. This can mean a lot of different things, in different relationships. He asked the question: what does that mean when we’re talking about a relationship with God? Obviously an infinite, omnipotent God doesn’t have a body–at least not now.

Two thousand years ago, he did. Jesus came to Earth as a finite person. He was both fully God and fully human, and he had every single person ever in mind. That’s why he gave us the Eucharist. In the Eucharist Jesus is giving us all of him. When we literally eat the body of Christ, we become one with him. It’s literally Jesus. I “believed” this, but I didn’t understand what it meant until I started thinking about being a religious person. He literally gives his entire self to me. I want to give my entire self to him. I have to.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!