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.

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.”

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.

Celebrate Anyway

Last night my dad and I watched The Giant Mechanical Man. It was a cute, simple romance about two quirky people who fall in love working at the zoo. As it started, I smiled and I realized something. I told my dad, “This is the first time I’ve smiled in, like three days.” I haven’t left my house in a week, and I didn’t realize how hard that would be. It’s hard not to watch the news when you’re stuck inside with not much else to do. The news is never hopeful, so at dinner time I go to the kitchen where my mom has the TV on and hear about more cases and more deaths because of of the Corona virus.

My plan for this Lent was to give up a game I play on my phone and read The Way of Perfection by Saint Teresa of Avila. Then my dad decided to give up shows and movies. Since he’s my movie buddy, I did, too (we watched one last night because it was a feast day in the Church). Then the Virus got serious and we quarantined ourselves. I’m a very picky eater. My mom has been pretty creative about food, and I have to give her serious credit. Still, I very much miss takeout.

This past weekend was the first in a very long time that I didn’t receive the Eucharist. I’ve been telling myself that this waiting will make receiving Him for the first time once this is all over that much sweeter. I had planned on at least going to Adoration and praying with my friend at the studio, but everything has been shut down. The priests at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy have been streaming the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3:00 every day, and I’ve made a commitment to do it with them. My Lenten plans got seriously messed up, but I’m doing the best I can.

I prayed a lot last weekend wondering, since I couldn’t go to Mass, what I should do. A strange idea came to mind, and I think it was from the Lord. The Mass is, among other things, a celebration, and I got the sense that I was supposed to “celebrate anyway.” I struggled with this. I reminded myself that priests are still celebrating the Mass with or without the people there. I tried. I thought, “What do you need to celebrate…? Usually when you’re celebrating something, you need food and people.” I ate a cookie. I was not in a celebratory mood.

This thought that I should celebrate anyway has stuck with me, though. When things started getting really serious, I realized that we wouldn’t be celebrating Easter–at least not at our parish. Ultimately, that doesn’t change facts. At the Easter Vigil, which I’ll watch online, I’ll still say, “Christ is risen,” and it’ll still be true. My mom will probably make cookies, but it’ll just be the four of us–my parents and my brother and me; no aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, or grandparents. I’ll make a spiritual communion, and eat a couple of cookies.

I won’t feel like celebrating. That isn’t the point, though. The point is to honor and worship the Lord; our God who beat death and who can certainly beat this stupid virus. I think there’s more to this, though. When things like this happen, the question is bound to arise: why does a good God let bad things happen? I have wondered that myself in the past. This time, though, it just isn’t a factor for me. I know that a) He doesn’t want our suffering b) He’s with us through it, and c) He can bring about some greater good(s).

When Boston and then Portland suspended Mass in their dioceses I was, and still am upset. Then I remembered a book that sits on my desk. I pray Morning and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the official public prayer of the Catholic Church, every day. I’m not cut off from the Church–the Body of Christ. This especially feels like a lifeline. My personal prayer lately has been, “As long as You’re here, I’m here,” because I know He is faithful. In a way, it’s more of a promise to myself than to Him. He is faithful to me, so I have to be faithful to Him. He’ll be with me–with all of us–through it, but we have to go through it.

I think this is an opportunity, albeit an unpleasant one, for us to really do some self-evaluation, spiritually speaking. I worried when I heard Mass was being suspended. Unfortunately, I think there will be some with “lukewarm” faith who will just “drop out,” and won’t come back. I decided that I would do the opposite. I decided that I would “lean in,” and intensify my prayer. I have to since I can’t receive the Eucharist. I discovered a live stream of perpetual Adoration on YouTube. It seemed too weird, or not “authentic” at first, and then I thought, “A computer screen isn’t going to stop You from doing what You do,” so I’ve gone to internet-Adoration a couple of times this week.

Several saints have written about consolation and desolation; in other words, when God seems very present and seems to be “love-bombing” you, and when you can’t exactly “feel” Him, or when you just don’t get any warm-fuzzies when you pray. The latter can happen particularly when external things aren’t going well. They ask this question: do you love the “gits” more than the Giver? I think He might be using this time when we’re cut off from the Eucharist to ask that question.