Tag Archives: Reflection

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.

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Lent: Prayer; Fasting; Alms-giving

I’m just a couple of days into Lent. I never like it per se, but I always try to make it productive and helpful in my spiritual growth. Lent is about Fasting, in other words, sacrificing in some way for God, focusing on prayer more, and alms-giving, or generosity. I initially decided to give up coffee because I Really. Love .Coffee. I figured out that it costs about $2 to buy a cup of coffee, and since Lent is forty days, I’ll give $80 to a charity through our church.

Then I realized I could do a few other things. I play this dumb game, 2048 on my phone. I realized that I spend kind of a lot of time on it, just when I have to wait, or whatever. I didn’t realize just how much time I spend playing it. So I cut that, too. Then I realized that I spend an awful lot of time “curiosity questing,” which basically means watching a lot of lectures and what not on YouTube, or listening to several hours worth of podcast episodes. I cut that, too. I went a little hard-core this year.

It feels awkward, but somehow I’m finding it easier than expected. On Wednesday after work I ran into the question “Uh… what do I do now?” I could have read, but at the moment, I’m reading The Divine Comedy, which requires the capacity to think. My brain was sort of shot at that point, so I had two options: video games, or prayer. I opted for the latter. For the record, it’s not because I’m some holy woman. It’s because I didn’t feel like playing any of the games I have. I actually ended up checking out some stuff from FORMED. I realized, maybe a bit too slowly, that it’s basically Catholic Netflix.

I ended up checking out a series called “Into The Desert.” It’s actually quite good, and it’s about a type of prayer called Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading. Basically, there are four steps to it, but one is supposed to start by simply reading a bit of Scripture, meditating on it, and then praying with that in mind. I’ve been working on that over the past couple of days. There aren’t too many episodes, and they’re not too long, so I figure I’ll watch the rest of these and see where things go. A suggestion I read for something to do over Lent is to carefully read the Gospel of Mark since it’s the shortest and most concise. I’m trying to use what I’ve learned so far while reading the Gospel. I think it’s been a fruitful experience.

I also decided a while ago that I’d commit to praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary every day during Lent. I woke up around five this morning, and couldn’t fall back asleep, so I read and prayed for a while. Sometimes I do the Rosary with a recording that uses Scripture verses. I got to the verse where Pilate says to the crowd, “I’m innocent of this righteous man’s blood. See to it yourselves.” I thought, “If you don’t do anything to stop something bad from happening to an innocent person when you very well could, you’re definitely guilty.” It then hit me that I’m guilty, or at least I’ve been guilty.

I know I’ve probably been there. I know there have been times where I could have stopped something bad, or at least inconvenient from happening to someone, and I did nothing. The thing is, I can’t think of any concrete examples. I think we’re blind to it. I can think of a time recently when I did do something. I’ll be getting a new wheelchair soon, so my dad and I went to the hospital recently to meet with someone who needed to show me some features, figure out exactly what I want, and get some measurements. While we were in the waiting room, there was a woman with a fussy kid in a stroller. She was the kind of kid who would drive any normal person, myself included, crazy.

My inclination was to ignore them. The kid was seriously bored and whiney, and refused to indulge in any of the things her mom offered her to alleviate the boredom. I was bored, too. We had to wait I while. I didn’t have my phone, or it was dead, so I asked my dad to help me get my Rosary, which I normally have in my bag. Apparently I had left it at home. The kid’s mom, I could tell, was getting frustrated, so I said, “Hey, kid… you want a ride? You can ride on the back of my wheelchair, or sit on my lap if you want.” The kid didn’t respond, and her mom kindly declined, but I could tell she was at least vaguely relieved and grateful for some offer of help. Thus we commiserated.

Sometimes commiseration is all you can offer, but commiseration, I know from experience, is better than nothing. I sometimes wonder why Saint John or Mary–Jesus’ Mom–never said anything while standing by the cross. They couldn’t have said, “It’ll be okay.” He was dying. Yeah, He was going to rise from the dead, and Mary probably knew that, and maybe John kind of knew that, at least in theory, but the fact of the matter was that He was dying. All they could do was stand there so He knew, and could see that somebody cared enough to stand there.

In the video I watched today, Dr. Tim Gray talked about how prayer is about relationship, and intimacy with God. He said that God is love, and if we are to converse with, and know God–know Love–we have to know how to love. He said that before Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He talked about alms-giving; charity; generosity. After He talked about prayer, He talked about fasting. Particularly, when talking about fasting, He explains that we’re not supposed to look miserable and whine about it while we’re doing it so that people will see that we’re doing it and believe that we’re holy by default.

In fact, Jesus says that we’re meant to be discreet about what we do when it comes to fasting, charity, and prayer. We’re not supposed to brag about it, and we’re not supposed to whine about it. Realistically, the things I dropped this Lent were just habits that can be broken or adjusted. I think I’ll permanently drop 2048. I’ll definitely be having a cup of coffee on Easter, though. The “curiosity questing” just needs to be monitored better, so this will certainly help with that. I’m glad I’m really cutting all of it down, though because I’m already, just within the past two days, praying a lot more, and I think, being more thoughtful about it. Anyway, that’s it for now.

Holy Waiting

This Advent is a little different for me because I’m, in a sense, waiting for a new coming of my Savior into my life, but I’m also awaiting the birth of my godson, who is due in January. The baby shower was on the first Sunday of Advent, and it was a good party. A lot of people were there. I normally don’t do super well with crowds, so I helped amuse a couple little kids who were there and helped make some decorations for the baby’s room. We had a two hour drive home, so I spent some of the time praying the Rosary. At some point, the phrase “holy waiting” popped into my head. My initial thought was, “I hate waiting.”

I’m naturally curious, so I did give it some consideration, “How could waiting be holy?” Waiting is tedious and boring. I am obviously not alone in this sentiment. Then another thought popped into my head: “couldn’t any activity be holy, provided it’s not sinful in itself?” I was teaching my CCD students last week, and I mentioned that I’m a songwriter. I told them that most of my songs are, in some way, about God, prayers to God, or about things that God is or has been involved with in my life. In the studio, my producer and I pray before we get to work, and it’s obvious to us when God starts really working his magic. In this way, I do think that working on my music is a holy activity.

Truthfully, though, the idea of waiting being holy is hard to wrap my head around. Then again, there are different ways of waiting. Waiting for me usually involves mindlessly trying to beat my high score on 2048. I could spend the time reading scripture or praying, but honestly, when I’m waiting, I just don’t want to have to think that hard, or really at all. I want to kill the time so it feels like it’s going by faster. The fact of the matter is, though, I’m not “killing” the time, and it’s not going by any faster. I am wasting the time I’ve been given. Advent is precisely a time for waiting, and I think it’s a time for making waiting a holy occupation.

I’ve been waiting for my godson with his parents for a long time now, but in hindsight, it’s seemed like the time has gone by insanely fast, and I’m just really excited to meet him. I am not patient, but I think, in some way, waiting to meet him has made me a little more patient. I think to understand how waiting could be holy, though, we have to take a look at what Mary did during the first Advent. She waited, but I don’t think she worried. I checked out a reflection on this by two priests and a nun, who emphasized all the interruptions of the personal plans of Joseph and Mary during that time.

From the get-go, Mary was planning to marry Joseph. That was complicated when she was asked to be the mother of God, but she said, “yes.” That again was complicated when Joseph realized that she was pregnant, but not by him, and they had to have a difficult conversation. He was planning on “divorcing her quietly,” which would have been the kind and honorable thing to do, but he was then asked by an angel to be Jesus’ foster father. Things went pretty smoothly after that, but they weren’t a wealthy family by any means, it was the first century, and anything could have gone wrong at any point during the following several months. The point is, they trusted God, and it didn’t–until Mary was eight and a half months pregnant and they got the news they had to go to Bethlehem. That was not going to be an easy journey, but still, they trusted God. They had to trust God the whole way because they didn’t know where they were going to stay, or where or when Mary was going to give birth. In the Gospels, however, there’s no indication that either of them panicked or worried too much at any point.

There’s no knowing for sure what could have been going through their heads at any given point, but obviously, they would have had normal human concerns. To not worry at all would have been abnormal. Humans have needs and concerns that are unavoidable. The point is, they didn’t let those concerns take over. They knew that God would take care of them. In the reflection video I watched, they talked about waiting with God instead of waiting for Him to do something. They also emphasized the importance of being vulnerable and being still with Him.

Earlier today, while waiting for my mom to run a couple of errands, I sat in the car and just prayed, out loud, about nice, simple things. I have a tendency to only talk to God when something is freaking me out or when I or someone I know needs something. Today I told Him that the sky He made was beautiful, and later, while eating my lunch, I just talked about food. I told Him that I’d like to know what He ate when He was here on earth because He knows what I like, but I don’t know what He liked. Maybe taste preference wasn’t much of a luxury He could afford, especially when things were getting dangerous for Him, but I’d still like to know. Maybe it’s not the greatest example, but we were waiting–just waiting and talking. That is priceless time that is not wasted.

All that brings me back to the question of “how can waiting be holy?” I think it’s less abstract than I originally assumed. Talking to God while sitting in the car makes sitting in the car holy. I think one doesn’t even necessarily have to be praying for waiting to be a holy activity, though. I remember the night my dad and my aunt went and waited with my grandmother over the couple of days before my grandfather died. I wasn’t there, but I don’t think they talked much. They just waited and loved each other and him. I think that was holy waiting, too. I think simply hoping is a kind of holy waiting.

Advent is a time for hope because we’re reminded of the first Advent, and we’re once again, waiting for Christmas. Jesus’ coming into the world to save us was a historical event, but we revisit it every year not just to remember it, but because we can personally invite Him into our lives again, in a new way, as our Savior. Saying “yes” to His love, or to anyone’s love isn’t something we do once. The “holiday season” is chaotic, and truthfully, it kind of drives me crazy. It probably drives you crazy, too. Try to find some space in that craziness to be still, wait with God, and to be vulnerable and honest with Him. That, I think, is holy waiting.

I Give Up. I Can’t Do It. I Need Help.

I’m not always aware of my sins, but when I become aware of particularly problematic ones, it sucks. I realized something tonight, though. I think I only figured out what my problem is with God’s help. I have a habit of interpreting things rather literally. Because of that, I’m a little obsessive about being perfect. That’s problematic when I also want to be humble. I start doing really well, but as soon as I realize this, I get prideful about it, thinking I’m getting good at the whole holiness thing. Then of course I mess up, and it really brings me down.

Jesus said to be his disciple I had to pick up my cross, deny myself and follow him. For a long time I’ve thought that meant accepting what difficulties the world threw at me, and trusting God to get me through them. I still think that’s part of it, but what God helped me to understand tonight is that I can’t carry my cross by myself. No matter how hard I try to be holy; no matter how hard I try to be perfect, without his help, that cause is lost. To follow my Lord, I have to accept my weaknesses, I have to accept that I deal with certain fears and temptations, I have to accept that I’m not perfect, I have to accept that he sees my sins and loves me anyway, and at some point, I have to give up and let him take over.

The fact of the matter is, Jesus needed help to carry his cross. His was a physical one, and in that time, he was experiencing physical weakness and pain. He could only carry it so far before Simon had to help. My cross is a spiritual one. My cross is believing that I can be perfect on my own. I can’t, and earlier tonight I gave up. I gave up and I prayed. I basically told the Lord that I’m not perfect. I want to be perfect, but I can’t, and that bothers me. I told him that I want to give up and let him help me. Letting him help is hard for me. I’m actually the type of person who really doesn’t like help from anyone, unless I really need it. I have enough sense to know that I simply can’t do certain things. This is one of those things I simply can’t do. I give up. I need help. That is my prayer. “I give up. I can’t do this. I need help.” Jesus had Simon to help carry his cross. I have the Lord himself to help carry mine.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Advent Reflection Notes (Week Three And Four)

I decided to lump these since there is only one video for the fourth week of Advent and it’s actually just all the speakers praying through the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary together. These videos aren’t really all that long, so I’ve been trying to watch them all in one go so I have the ideas fresh in my mind for the blog posts. Anyway, here are my notes.

1: God is a mountain mover, but he moves mountains under two conditions: a) it has to be his will, and b) it has to be for my good. Furthermore, what we perceive as mountains are sometimes only things we put in our own way, and sometimes we only need to change our perspective.

2: God is our Father. A Father provides and protects, and we are always God’s children.
-I woke up around 5:00 yesterday morning after having the most terrifying nightmare of my life. I am not exaggerating. For a little while I just prayed like a crazy person, but I was so freaked out that it just wasn’t helping, so I went through the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary, but that didn’t help either, so I prayed like I normally do again. I was starting to calm down a little at that point, but by then almost an hour had gone by, and I actually felt like calling my dad to lay in bed with me for a bit like a little kid would. I didn’t because It was insanely early and it would have been kind of weird, but what I really wanted was to feel like I wasn’t alone. Last night I was still actually afraid I was going to have trouble getting to sleep, so I went to bed with the necklace I designed that symbolizes God’s love in a special way for me. I had got it blessed by my priest, so it made me feel safer, kind of like a security blanket.

3: Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Peace in this sense is a “sense of harmony brought about by restoration of relationship with God.”
-I’m going to play with this idea of harmony. I’m a very musically minded person, and harmony is just amazing to me. I love to sing, and harmony makes everything better, in my opinion.
-What exactly is harmony between a person and God? I think it has to do with a number of things, but for this I’ll stick with the music analogy. Harmony would be like a great songwriter/composer taking the foundation of something, and letting a student play with it. God picks the key and the chord progression and the words, and the overall structure of a song, and gives me a guitar, and tells me to put something on top of it. It can be whatever I want. I can choose to play something in the key he’s playing in, that stylistically makes sense, or I can just yuck it up because I want to play my own thing. Our free will choices essentially create or allow for harmony or disharmony.

4: Back to the basics: “Take up your cross and follow me.”
-For me this probably means learning to be more patient, first of all.
-Recently, God taught me, and my priest reemphasized to me that God can take the tiny little nuggets of what I’m capable of giving him and make them into something huge. Worded differently, I need to learn, however long it takes, to not want to be a hero.
-There’s something I need to do that I’ve been avoiding for a very long time. I don’t exactly know how to do it, and I don’t exactly know what the short term or long term consequences will be, but it’s for the good of someone I love very much. That’s a bit terrifying.

5: The Holy Spirit is the source of tradition and renewal.
-It kind of seems like the world wants to do away with tradition. We used to have crazy traditions in our neighborhood, but a lot of that has died out. At the same time, I think remnants of those traditions have held on, and new traditions have grown out of them. It seems to me that humanity needs both, especially spiritually. I think sometimes the world doesn’t like traditions, especially religious traditions because they seem like they don’t make sense, even if we do have explanations for them.

6: How did Mary experience the first Advent?
-She lived it through desire and expectancy. These feelings don’t contradict each other.
-Thirsting for God’s gifts enables us to better receive them. Impatience makes it harder to handle this thirst properly.

7: Love is sometimes chaotic and messy (my paraphrase).
-True love is sticking with the one(s) we love even when/if it’s scary.

8: We don’t always get supernatural guidance, even on really big important things.
-This is kind of confusing. Joseph didn’t have to obey the call to register for the census, but he decided this would be the most pleasing to God. Mary decided following her husband would be the most pleasing to God. I guess I sort of expect him to just tell me what to do on everything. I kind of like being told what to do.

Advent Reflection Notes (Week Two)

I’ve already watched the videos for week two, and I didn’t find them that insightful, except for one done by a priest named Father Nathan Cromly. These are a few points that were in his video that I’ll expand with my own thoughts a bit.

1: God prepares us by making us wait, and making us thirst for him.
-I think this touches on one of the points that stuck with me from last week. It reminds me of the quote from Saint Padre Pio: “I’ve been praying for something for twenty years, so I’m beginning to have hope.” Father Cromly says that it can be very tempting to despair and give up on faith in our current culture, especially if we don’t know many or any others who practice our faith. It’s easy to look at the problems in the world and wonder where God is or what he’s doing, but God wants us to dare to hope.

2: God isn’t afraid to disturb our sense of peace.
-In a recent post, I talked about how I really don’t know exactly how one would prepare for the coming of a king, let alone the King of the Universe. This point is definitely true for me because I’ve grown a lot spiritually in the past few years, and as I grow, I feel a desire to be holy very strongly, and sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to put the things I like into terms that make sense, or even to know if they’re dangerous to my spirituality. For example, I’ve been watching the show Daredevil with my dad on Netflix. The story is super interesting, but the symbol for the superhero/protagonist is the devil, and there’s a lot of problematic language in the show. Granted, the protagonist is Catholic, so I’m assuming the irony in that was meant to be simply amusing and innocent, but it still strikes me as possibly problematic. I have a harder time overlooking the language, but part of my problem is that I can’t help watching this show from a writer’s perspective, and in that sense, it’s really good. The point I’m trying to make is that figuring out how to take on the world is exceedingly complicated.

3: God comes into our lives to expand what we think is possible
-Yesterday I was still wrestling with the feeling that what I had to offer the Lord would never be enough. Again, this hearkens back to the parable of the goats and the sheep. Out of the blue, while my mom and I were in the car headed somewhere, I sort of felt him ask me, “Do you doubt what you can do or what I can do? Do you doubt my mercy?” I was speechless for a minute, then all I could manage was, “Sorry… I don’t doubt it any more.”

4: What does it mean and what does it take to unconditionally say “yes” to God like Mary did?
-This is a tough one because I know from experience that it often means being totally socially weird. For me, at least, it has meant getting used to being weird, accepting it, and celebrating it. I know that it also means doing things I don’t like sometimes, or doing things I could never initially see myself doing. When I first volunteered to teach fourth graders, I never actually thought I’d like it. Actually, I like teaching the little kids more than the high school kids. I started with high school kids, though, and even then, it was kind of on a whim, and I just went with it. If it weren’t for my epilepsy, I might consider trying to get a teaching degree and teaching theology at a Catholic school.

I would also just like to mention something I read the other day. Jesus appeared to Saint Faustina several times, and in one of these apparitions, he gave her a prayer that would greatly help in the salvation and conversion of souls. The prayer is, “O blood and water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a font of mercy for us, I trust in you.” I’ve been praying for a few people for around four or five years at least. Ultimately, I guess that’s not really a very long time, but sometimes it feels like forever. Still, this revelation to Saint Faustina kind of reminds me of Saint Padre Pio’s quote. I like to tell people that I can swim a mile. After the first half mile, I’m exhausted, but I make it the second half because I’m more stubborn than I am strong.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!