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.

A Beggar At Home

A few nights ago I had a nightmare. I don’t usually have them, but within the past couple of weeks I’ve had two. Boredom, bad news, and an over-active imagination are a bad combination. Saturday morning, I had a hilarious dream. The dream was that it was all over. We were done with the “plague.” My friend had an even bigger music studio, and as Barnes and Noble has Starbucks in the store, the studio had a Burger King, so I was eating chicken nuggets at the music studio.

My mom has invented what I call Apocalypse Pizza. To make Apocalypse pizza you use Naan bread, olive oil, mozzarella cheese, and whatever other toppings you like. For me, it’s peppers and onions. It’s really easy to make and everyone in my family likes it. The problem? We’ve been eating almost nothing but Apocalypse Pizza for several days, or maybe a week. When I finished doing my Morning Prayer yesterday, and went to the kitchen, she said, “Do you want pizza?” I couldn’t forget my dream, so we went to the Burger King drive through.

Since I ate lunch in the car, we took a little drive to see if anyone was out, what was still open, etc. There’s a small lake close to where I live in Massachusetts. It’s a little weird because it’s in the middle of the town and is surrounded by pavement and business. It’s a very popular place for people to take a walk. It’s so popular that the Mayor asked people to refrain from “walking the lake.” When we went over there yesterday, it was packed.

We are creatures of habit, and as Americans, we don’t like being told what to do. Furthermore, humans are social animals, and “social distancing” and “quarantining” can be downright stressful. We’ve been asked to make sacrifices. No one likes sacrificing because it means discomfort. What’s more is that there are many cases when one has Covid-19 and has no symptoms. In these cases, one might assume they are perfectly healthy, visit a friend, young nephew or niece, grandparent, or whoever who is vulnerable that person ends up getting it, and getting it bad. It is better to assume one has it.

I’m really bored. I can’t do a really significant part of my work because I can’t go to the studio. I sympathize with those who absolutely have to go out to go to work, but to those who see this as an accidental vacation, please; as of yesterday, we have 304,826 confirmed cases of this in the United States. Please don’t walk the lake. Please don’t bring your kids to the playground. Please don’t go to the beach. We’ve been asked to stay at home until the end of April. We will likely be asked to stay at home for longer than that. This “plague” will die out sooner than later if everyone would just stay home.

It does mean making at least some of your own food instead of getting takeout all the time. It means finding more ways to entertain yourself and your kids because you can only watch so much Netflix. It might mean making your own coffee instead of going to Starbucks. I get that it’s inconvenient. I completely get that it’s a little lonely. I’m not asking this of you from the outside. I am asking this of you as somebody who is doing these things, too. I am asking this of you as somebody who can’t see her friend, and can’t fully celebrate the most important holiday of her faith.

Sacrificing and discomfort does suck. Being told what to do sucks. You might not be a man or woman of faith, and you might believe that this life is all there is. I won’t try to persuade you otherwise here. Still, you are being forced to sacrifice; your gym is probably closed, the restaurants you like are probably closed, and you are probably working from home. For me, I can stay home and stay inside because I can offer that as a sacrifice to my God. If you don’t know, or don’t believe that God exists, I’m begging you to make that same sacrifice simply for the good of the rest of the world, or even just to make your life more enjoyable.

Please, consider the beggar.

Thanks.

Love Carries Me

On Saturday, the Lord made a mark on me that can’t be unmade. Saturday was the monthly meeting of our Carmelite Community, but it wasn’t like any other we’ve had this year. On Saturday I received the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and was officially admitted into formation. This signifies that I am officially part of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, I am consecrated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel (and through her, in a particular way, Our Lord), and I am dedicated to imitating Mary in humility, chastity, and prayer; contemplating our Lord. On Saturday, the Lord made me more His own than I already was.

Last week was a little chaotic. Nothing especially crazy happened, at least on a basic level; I was just busy, so I didn’t get to my reading for Saturday’s formation until Friday. Along with the reading were some reflection questions, and one of those questions was simple and to the point; why do you want to be a Carmelite? I knew my answer almost immediately; I want to know Him more, and be more His.

With mixed emotions I sometimes remember when I daydreamed about what my wedding might have looked like. For various reasons, I know that marriage is not in the cards for me. The Lord has other plans, and that’s just fine. After my clothing ceremony on Saturday, which I had with one other woman, several others made their First Promises (which for nuns/friars would be like temporary vows), and one made his Final Promises (which would be like perpetual vows), and I found myself thinking about that like a wedding ceremony.

For me, Final Promises is five years away, and I have so much to learn, but I want that. I find that the closer I get to the Lord, the more I want Him. That seems counter intuitive, but I think it makes sense given that He is infinite Love, and I’m finite. I think I’m finally beginning to understand really that He is my only satisfaction. Every good thing that exists has a limit. Every beautiful, fun, hilarious, heartbreaking, glorious story has an end; eventually the coffee in the cup runs out; my favorite songs fade to silence; one day I will have to return my bird to the Lord. God’s Goodness, and everything that comes with that; His Beauty; Mysteriousness; Faithfulness; Compassion; these have no limit, and my thirst for Him can never really be quenched.

The Scapular I received on Saturday is meant to be an outward sign of an inner change. I don’t feel different per se, but I know that I am different. I’ve changed a lot in the past year, and it wasn’t like I was hit with a lightning bolt on Saturday, but it was like hearing the Lord say, “I see the choices you’ve made for Me. Thank you.” I recently came across an explanation of what it means when Jesus says “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Me.” To deny yourself means to choose what God wants when what you want is something else. I realized that this past year, I’ve done that. I’ve changed things about my life that if the Lord hadn’t called me to Carmel, I probably would not have.

Promises, to me at least, seem very much like wedding vows. I had a thought the other day that I can love the Lord in a particular way precisely because I’m a woman. Obviously men love the Lord, too, but I imagine it’s a love of deep friendship and loyalty. Of course I have these same feelings, but I think because I’m a woman, I can love Him in a kind of romantic sense. There’s so much language in Scripture about the Lord’s relationship with His people being like that of a lover and His beloved. In fact, the Church, is often referred to with feminine language. When the Lord finally comes, there is language in Scripture of a wedding feast.

For a long time, I was wary of this kind of language. I wondered if I was allowed to love the Lord in this way. The fact of the matter is, though, I think I’m kind of supposed to. It’s not a the same as a “normal” or “usual” romance (for lack of a better word) between a man and a woman, but it is a kind of romance. Increasingly, there’s this ache in me because I want so badly to physically feel Him and audibly hear His voice. I want to sit somewhere with Him, and maybe not even talk about anything, but physically see Him with my eyes. Simply put, I want Him.

I’ve been a member of our Carmelite Community for a year now. I invited the priest who suggested I check this out in the first place (Father Patrick), and he came and concelebrated (was a copilot for) the Mass, and I invited my Godfather who came all the way from Maine. I hadn’t wanted to make a big deal of this, but my Community did. I was buried in really wonderful gifts from everyone. People didn’t just give me cards, but people had put thought into the things they gave me, and the things they wrote.

After October’s meeting I had a meeting with the leaders of our community who asked if I definitely wanted to continue my formation. I immediately said “yes” because I’ve enjoyed our meetings and I’ve been interested in what we’ve been learning about, and certainly, I’ve grown closer to the Lord through prayer. For a month, at different times I had taken it as a given that I would continue; at other times I was sincerely excited. For a week before Saturday, I had different feelings.

I had the feeling that it was wrong, and I grew increasingly nervous, but I also had the suspicion that these feelings were not natural. I ended up talking to Father Patrick on Wednesday, and he agreed with me that the devil was messing with my head. I mention this because I was incredibly nervous before the ceremony on Saturday, but I knew for sure that it was natural, and after the ceremony, I was, and still am insanely happy.

I think for the first time really, it feels like I know where I’m going. For a long time, that wasn’t the case. If life is a journey, though, I know where I want to get to, I know where I don’t want to go, and now it kind of feels like I finally have a spiritual road map. The crazy thing is, I’ve only been a Christian, let alone a Catholic for seven years or so. What the Lord can do in less than a decade is kind of insane. The beautiful thing is that I know that it’s been love that has carried me to where I am today. At times that’s been the love of learning things, at other times it’s been the blind leap of faith to chase the Lord, and at times, it has literally been Love Himself picking me up and carrying me because there have been times when I’ve needed Him to.

How To Erase The Smudge

Redemption stories are popular, but they’re usually more obvious or straight forward in fiction than in real life, and naturally, the main character is the focus. Real life redemption stories are usually much more nuanced because real life people are more complicated than they are in fiction. If a person messes up or does something that hurts them or others, it can take a lot to make things right. Furthermore, redemption doesn’t look the same for or to everyone.

More often than not, redemption is more like a web than a ladder in the sense that one doesn’t simply climb out of a mess they’ve made. It takes the assistance, and sometimes invasion of other people. From a quick Google search, I found this definition for redemption: “the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.” For a kid, this usually translates to having to say “I’m sorry” to a sibling or a friend they’ve wronged in some small way. A lot of times for adults, the thing being regained might be their reputation, or in worse cases, their freedom after committing a crime and spending some time in prison.

Sometimes, redemption looks like regaining right-standing with a specific person or group of people who have been wronged. In this case really, the focus of a person’s real life redemption story seems to actually be the person wronged. Everyone is part of a redemption story, whether it be their own or someone else’s. It is easy to assume that one’s redemption has to be earned, and to some degree, I think it does because it involves regaining a person’s trust; but redemption is only possible when forgiveness is offered. This means that it isn’t always possible, and why forgiveness is so important.

The person wronged has scars, sometimes really terrible ones, but whether they know it or not, the person in need of redemption also incurs them as a result of what they’ve done. If someone asks for forgiveness, and it isn’t granted, their wound will likely be made worse. This can often result in them doing something else that hurts them or another person, or adopting bad habits. Sometimes someone will realize they have done something wrong to a specific person or group of people, but will attempt to redeem themselves in a way that does not involve asking for forgiveness. The problem with this approach is that a particular problem (a wound) is not engaged with, and cannot be solved (healed).

Redemption is a relational matter. If a person attempts to redeem himself/herself without asking forgiveness, they are ultimately ignoring the real problem. This could be a simple matter of forgetting that they did something wrong, or they could not realize that there was a problem in the first place. In this case, it is a matter of perception. What might be a serious grievance to one person, might be trivial to another. Either way, the problem needs to be dealt with, and in that case, the person who has been hurt might need to be the one to initiate a conversation. Unfortunately, that means looking at old scars that don’t want to be looked at, and it might not mean that the person in need of forgiveness even asks for it.

Either way, forgiveness must be offered, and ultimately, regardless of whether the person in need of redemption asks for or even accepts it or not, for wounds to be healed, it needs to be granted. This is because, as already stated, redemption is a relational matter, and a person’s redemption story isn’t ultimately about them. A person’s redemption story is about the person wronged. When forgiveness is not granted, old wounds fester and remained unhealed. When it is granted, even if it takes a while, at least for the person wronged, the problem can be allowed to slip into the past, and no longer has to remain an ugly smudge on the present.

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.

The Eternal Question

About a week ago, I was in the car. I do a lot of praying in the car because the car is boring, and I don’t drive, so I don’t have to pay attention to the road. At the time I had been thinking about the difficulty of balancing work and prayer. The Lord reminded me of the time he spent with Martha and Mary. Martha had been working to make everything perfect for the Lord, while Mary just sat with Him. Martha got annoyed with her sister, and Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

At the time, I had been thinking about spending too much time producing art or music, even if it is for God’s glory, and not actually spending enough time with Him. Earlier today, I was worried about a deeper, spiritual problem I’ve been facing, so I went to my room and prayed, but I did something that was definitely out of the ordinary. I said, “Can you just tell me a story?” I don’t really know how I did it, but I sort of let Him take control of my creativity, and this is the story He told me.

There was once a little girl who lived in a house with her mom and dad. They were loved by their friends and neighbors and they lived a very normal life. On an ordinary day, the little girl came home from school and sat on the floor to play. All of a sudden everything disappeared except for the square of floor she was sitting on. Above her there was nothing. Below her there was nothing. Behind her there was nothing, and in front of her there was nothing. To her left and her right, and in every direction besides, there was nothing. Everything she had ever known was gone. She was there, and the square she sat on was there and that was it. She was sad because everything she knew was gone, and as the square started to disappear, she became scared. She was worried because if the square was gone, she might fall into nothing forever. As the square disappeared, she reached out for Me, and I caught her, and brought her to myself and kept her there.

Then he asked me a question.

Is that okay?

I thought it was a weird story, but the strangest thing was that when everything disappeared, I felt this sense of peace. His question really seamed to be: “If literally everything else was gone except Me, would you be happy with that?” I’m realizing as I write this how weighty a question that is. That is literally a life or death question. When we die, we literally lose everything this world has to offer: everything we own; the place where we live; all the money we may have; even the identity this world gave us. When we die, we’ll face that question. Our answer determines where we spend eternity. I didn’t fully realize that when He initially asked the question, but I didn’t have to think about it. My answer was, and still is absolutely “Yes.”

I mentioned in my previous post that I deal with scrupulosity. It kind of means I have spiritual OCD. I get caught up in the “rules” while trying to be perfect, and I lose sight of the actual point of my faith, which is to have a loving relationship with the Lord. For a while now, I think it’s been like when Peter walked on water. He had faith enough to try something that absurd. For a moment, he was able to do it, but he saw that the water was getting rough and the wind was picking up. He lost sight of Jesus for just a moment, and he started sinking, but all he had to do was ask for help, and Jesus caught him. I’ve been so busy trying to be perfect, that I lost sight of the Person I’m trying to be perfect for. With His weird little story Jesus reminded me that He will catch me when I fall.

Love That Chooses Hurt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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