Remember And Sing

Late last night I read yesterday’s Mass readings. The first was Acts 16: 22-34. It’s about when Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi. Verses 25-26 say, “about midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose.” I remembered that this had been the Scripture that initially inspired my song Nothing Else.

While Paul and Silas were hoping, questing, and teaching people about Jesus, they were imprisoned. In the middle of the night, though, they still prayed, and they still sang songs; they worshiped Him. I don’t remember what the “bad thing” was that compelled me to write this song. Lately I’ve had writer’s block. I tried for a few minutes, then just sang a few lines from the prayer I wrote five years ago.

You let us know you’re listening;
let us know you’re listening.
This is why we sing;
we sing.

You let us know you’re listening;
let us know you’re listening,
so in the dark we sing;
we sing to you.

You let us know you’re listening,
so we sing for joy.
Because you are good, Lord,
we sing.

This is a song to sing in the dark.
This is enough, a spark to start a fire.
This is a prayer you answer with love;
cause you are God, and you are with us.

I haven’t actually listened to a whole lot of Christian music lately. I’ve been trying to write my own original music, or blog posts, and I often find music distracting. The rest of Nothing Else is about wanting to be alone with God, especially when everything is falling apart, or at least seems like it is.

Paul and Silas were in a pretty bad situation, but at midnight, they sang; they hoped, and there was an earthquake. Acts continues the story and tells of how the jailer and his family were converted to Christianity after speaking to Paul and Silas.

This past Monday, the Governor of Massachusetts announced that we will start phase 1 of re-opening the state. Cardinal Sean O’Malley also announced that churches in the Archdiocese of Boston will begin re-opening. Around a year ago, I wrote my song Victory. The chorus goes: “You are my new dawn/ so here’s my hallelujah/ I sing your victory song/ the King of Heaven Come.” The news of churches re-opening, and Masses starting again really feels like I’m seeing the pale light just before dawn.

Being able to go back to church, for a lot of people, is going to feel like the end of “war.” For a lot of people, it isn’t. A lot of people are still sick, jobless, worrying about a family member, worrying about keeping their business afloat, or worse. We still have to be “social distancing.” This isn’t over. Remember that. Remember them. Remember too, though, that there are things to celebrate. Find that song to sing in the dark, look for the light just before the dawn, and sing “Hallelujah.”

Why You Should Read Books

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

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

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

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

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

Works Of Mercy, Quarantine Edition

Lately I’ve been thinking about the Works of Mercy because of the very real circumstances people are facing due to the pandemic. The Works of Mercy are split up into two categories: Corporal, and Spiritual. As Christ’s followers, we’re meant to do these things in imitation of Him. He says in Scripture, “What you do for the least of these, you do for me,” and He speaks of many of the Works of Mercy.

The Corporal Works of Mercy are:

  1. Feed the hungry
  2. Give water to the thirsty
  3. Clothe the naked
  4. Shelter the homeless
  5. Visit the sick
  6. Visit the imprisoned or ransom the captive
  7. Bury the dead

The Spiritual Works of Mercy are:

  1. Instruct the ignorant
  2. Counsel the doubtful
  3. Admonish the sinner
  4. Bear with wrongs patiently
  5. Forgive offenses
  6. Comfort the afflicted
  7. Pray for the living and the dead

It is important to do all of these things as much as we can, but I want to focus on the Corporal works of Mercy for now. In Quarantine, we can still fairly easily do the Spiritual Works, online, in our bedrooms, in our basement, in the shower, or what have you. We can talk to friends and family online and while we’re all in uncharted territory and maybe suffering emotionally, we can comfort each other.

The other Works are often harder to do in general. I think right now, though, they are especially important. Right now, depending on where one is, it is more difficult to get resources (food, cleaning products, etc), and where many are losing their jobs, it is important to do what we can to help. This may mean, if we can, donating to food banks, for example.

As one progresses through the list, it seems that the Works get noticeably more difficult. Again, it is relatively easy to “clothe the naked” because one can donate hand-me-down clothing. To shelter the homeless is probably the most difficult, but I think, possibly the most important. I think with much more free time on our hands it is easier to become more introspective, and even selfish. Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves. This literally can, and should mean the people living next door to us. If we know they are struggling to pay the rent, for example, and we know they have quarantined for several weeks, for example, it would be merciful to either offer them a room to stay in for free, or simply offer financial assistance.

To visit the sick and imprisoned are both extremely dangerous right now, but they remain important things to do. I think in this case, it is important to use technology to offer friendship and comfort, even from a distance. Especially where hospitals and prisons are some of the most dangerous places, it is important to be a source of hope to those who are scared. Obviously this is no substitute for being there in person, but it is still necessary.

Lastly, though it’s a bit of an ugly thing to think about, it is a Work of Mercy to bury the dead. I think this means a couple of things. It means making sure a person dies with dignity, and it means making sure they are honored at their burial. To be clear, when I say that a person should “die with dignity,” I do not mean that assisted suicide should be an option. I mean they should be respected and taken care of until the moment of death. No matter what condition they are in, they are a valuable human being. When I say that they should be honored at their burial, I mean that they should have a proper funeral, regardless of how many people can attend.

Right now, the world seems a bit out of control. It can be tempting in such a world to fall into a purely survivalist mindset. It is in such a world, however, when mercy is needed most. It is extremely important to teach the faith, and to pray for people, for example, and if this is what we can do, we have even more of a responsibility to do it, but if we have the means, freedom, and ability to provide for the physical or financial needs of those less fortunate than us, it is vitally important to help. It is a sign of our own humanity, and a recognition that the life of the other is just as important as our own.

I have defined “mercy” before as “love in action.” Another definition, however, is “kindness to those who don’t deserve it.” This is God’s love for us; He didn’t owe us anything, but He came to save us; He died for us. It doesn’t matter if you “owe” anything to your friend, or even a stranger living across town. If we are to be like God; if we are to arrive at Heaven’s gate, we need to be merciful, too. I did not cover every way in which we are to do these Works of Mercy, but they need to be done. This is a time to be creative and to love each other as God loves us.

Study Notes 2 (May 2020)

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

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

Immediate thought: It is tied to compassion

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

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

The Holy spirit is the Comforter

This longing/mourning builds the virtue of Hope

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

Thought: The more He gives, the more I want

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

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

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

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.