Study Notes 1 (June 2020)

Blessed are those who hunter and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied
Excerpted in part from the writings of Sr. Patricia of Mary Magdalene

Historical context: The Jews hungered for liberation from Roman rule and a restoration of the Davidic kingdom
-they wanted a savior who would liberate them

There is still injustice in the world, and the innocent and vulnerable still hunger for a “savior”

Justice is one of God’s attributes, along with Mercy, Love, Beauty, Compassion, Goodness, etc
-humans are made in the image and likeness of God with free will to distort these attributes

“As contemplatives, it is our ideal and goal to ‘feed the hungry’ through our prayer, to ‘quench thirst’ through our meditation, and to appease justice through penance and sacrifice.”

The hunger for justice builds/strengthens the virtue of patience

“Our first and primary model for this virtue is Jesus Himself. The ultimate example of injustice was this loving and forgiving Savior being slapped, spat upon and nailed to the cross by the very people He came to save. Yet, the richest example of patience was His silent humility as He accepted the insults and physical blows to His most precious cheeks. If ever there had been a time for the vengeance and justice of God, it was then.”

“…patience is the main intermediary between justice and mercy.”

“If justice is thought of in its good or proper aspect, it will lead us to the hunger and thirst spoken of in the beatitude: a hunger and thirst that desires to feed the starving, assist the downtrodden, bring freedom to the oppressed, instill peace where there is strife, establish unity and fellowship among all peoples.”

“As contemplatives, our “action” is prayer. As contemplatives, our prayer should be
continuous, night and day, without ceasing. We, like St. Therese, should be missionaries of justice by our example of honesty, integrity, morality, and spirituality in a world hungry for all of these.”

“Being just doesn’t only mean being severe in punishing the guilty, it also
means recognizing good intentions and rewarding virtue.” St Therese

 

Second-First Communion

Our God is a God of second, and third, and thousandth chances. Jesus said to forgive seventy times seven times. This actually isn’t about forgiveness, though. This is about second chances we actually don’t usually get. I made my first Holy Communion when I was six, or maybe seven. I had no idea what was going on. I had no idea that Jesus was in the Eucharist, and I did not appreciate the gravity or significance of what was happening. Mostly I remember having to deliberately go slow down the aisle between rows of pews so the priest could put, what I thought, was a weird, tasteless wafer in my mouth.

The Lord was sometimes mentioned in passing at home to enforce morality or to explain things we didn’t understand, but beyond that, God wasn’t really part of our life at home. In retrospect, I’ve sometimes lamented that I didn’t appreciate that I was having my first encounter with the God and King of the universe in an average suburban town, in the first grade. When I agreed to be confirmed in high school, it was largely because my parents wanted me to. My classmates and I were catechized very poorly, and I didn’t know what I was agreeing to, or what I was receiving.

For most Catholics who are serious about their faith, two of the most significant moments are their first Communion, and their last. There are times when people voluntarily decide not to receive communion for moral reasons, or because they didn’t fast for an hour before Mass, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like a big deal because they can easily go to confession and even go to daily Mass the following day.

On the other hand, there are still places in the world where Catholics don’t have priests available and can’t often receive the Sacraments. I understand now how awful that feels. In this, though, I’ve learned two things. When this is all over, it’ll be like receive my first Holy Communion again, only this time I’ll actually know what’s happening. From this experience I’ve also learned that true Love is worth waiting, and worth suffering for.

Saint Paul says in Romans that someone might occasionally have the courage to die for a righteous person, but Jesus loved and died, not just for His apostles, His faithful disciples, and His friends, but also for the men who killed Him, the thousands who have walked away through the centuries, the people who have done unspeakable things, for every rebellious teenager, every militant atheist, every confused agnostic, and even for me. To Him, I’m worth the Cross, and to me, He’s worth the “house arrest,” the tears, the boredom, and the waiting, no matter how long I have to wait.

What I think can escape a lot of people is that the Mass is a sacrifice. We are taking part in Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, and uniting ourselves to that Sacrifice as His mystical Body. Because we take communion at almost every Mass, it usually doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. Having to stream it and not being able to receive Him is starting to make it feel like a real sacrifice. Across the board, in many religions, the center of worship is sacrifice.

Jesus is called the Lamb of God, referring to the Passover Lamb. At Passover, the ancient Jewish people would take a lamb into their house and care for it for a week before sacrificing it to God and eating it. They had to make sure it remained unblemished, which meant caring for it almost like a pet. The point was to grow some affection for it. I have known the Lord for fewer than ten years, but but I have a real affection for Him, and though I know He’s still right here, I do feel a kind of absence, and I think that’s the point. He already knows everything about us, but I think we don’t always know ourselves so well. I thought at first this was, in part at least, His way for testing our faith. That doesn’t exactly make sense, though. I think it’s more likely that this is His way of showing us a clearer picture of who we are and what our priorities and affections are. The longing hurts, but the second-first Communion will be so worth it.

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.

On Purpose

Yesterday my eyes decided to misbehave. Because of my medication, sometimes when I’m hungry, my eyes get “bouncy.” I was trying to read, but nature had other plans. I sat in my room with my eyes closed for at least half an hour and prayed because there wasn’t much else I could do. There were some things on my mind, so I laid it out for the Lord, and I said, “Take my hunger and my bouncy eyes and my boredom for an end to the pandemic.” Do I think my little suffering can singlehandedly end a pandemic? Of course not. I can, on the other hand, unite my little suffering to that of Christ’s on the Cross to help, in at least a small way, and I know that others are doing the same.

Next week is Holy Week, and it’s the first time I won’t be celebrating it in a church. My life is a little easier than it might be for a lot of people because I actually do some liturgical prayer every day. This year will be weird for me, though because I very much look forward to the Easter Triduum; Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night. I don’t want these three days to feel like any other three days at the end of any given week.

I mentioned in my last post that my plans for Lent got pretty screwed up. I hadn’t intended to, but because my dad did, I gave up movies and shows. I’ve been aimlessly poking around Facebook more than necessary, and I just finished reading the first installment of a really strange fantasy story and purchased the sequel on my Kindle. Instead of reading The Way of Perfection, I started reading Ascent of Mount Carmel by Saint John of the cross and started a virtual book club with my mom, aunt, grandmother, and cousins in which we’re reading Pride and Prejudice.

This Sunday is what’s usually called “Palm Sunday” in the Catholic Church. This is because the Gospel reading mentions that people came to greet Jesus carrying palm branches. This is only mentioned in one of the three Gospel readings, though. The Church’s liturgy runs on a three-year cycle, and the other two readings that are used mention branches, but not specifically palm branches. The point is that the people came to present themselves to Jesus. So on Sunday, I’ll get a branch from a bush in my yard, watch Mass online, and make a spiritual communion, like I have been.

I miss going to the church and seeing it decorated for a specific liturgical season. I miss the liturgical music, even if it isn’t performed well all the time. I miss the sign of peace. I miss what I now realize has been the Church’s guidance on what to do and when to do it and how on a given day. I miss the Sacraments, and I miss Adoration. I know I’m not alone in this. I think there are some things we can do to make Holy Week resemble something of what it should be, and I have a few suggestions.

  1. look online to see how you can live-stream Palm Sunday, Good Friday, The Easter Vigil, etc.
  2. For Palm Sunday, get a branch from your yard; make it as close to a “normal” Palm Sunday as possible.
  3. For Holy Thursday, Jesus said, “Couldn’t you sit with me for an hour?” Find a live stream perpetual adoration and sit with Him for an hour. I said it before; a computer screen doesn’t stop Him from doing what He does.
  4. Make Good Friday suck on purpose. I’m gonna cut myself off from social media, coffee, and maybe even music. I’m also going to watch the Passion of the Christ. Make it real. It was definitely real for Him, so make some sacrifice(s) and unite your sacrifice(s) to His.
  5. Find a live stream Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday Mass, and find some way to really celebrate. If you gave up movies for Lent, watch one you’ve been wanting to for a long time. More than that, though, praise and thank the Lord, ’cause He beat sin and death and saved your soul. Totally rock that. If you play, grab a guitar and make some noise. If you don’t, make a playlist for Him.

These are just some ideas. I hope this helps, and I hope we get back to normal soon. Stay inside, stay healthy, and have an epic Holy Week.

Weird Love

My brother spent two nights this week making a stuffed-animal spider for his girlfriend because apparently she likes spiders. Friday is a good day for Valentine’s Day. I imagine they have something planned for tonight. This afternoon I listened to the Stations of the Cross, and though I couldn’t physically “attend,” I watched daily Mass online. In one of His revelations to Saint Faustina, Jesus promised that He would give great graces to whoever would reflect on His Passion in the 3:00 hour. All this week, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do for Him today, but honestly, what do you do for the God of the Universe?

I’ve had more seizures than usual this week. It’s more annoying than anything because if it happens around when I go to bed, it completely knocks me out, and then four hours later–so around 4:OO AM–I wake up and can’t get back to sleep for at least a couple of hours. I woke up this morning before the sun, tried in vain for a few minutes to go back to sleep, accepted defeat, and decided to pray the Rosary. Since it was already Friday, I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries.

My mom and I went to a Mexican place for lunch today, and the sky was cloudless as we drove there and to a bakery to get a cake for later. It seems so simple, but the sky is probably my favorite thing that God has created. Sometimes it seems like He speaks to me in His sky. It must have been a couple summers ago now that I saw, for the first time, a blue diamond in the sky. I was in my driveway, starting out on, or coming back from a “wander,” and a white cloud formation came into my vision. It was shaped exactly like that: a blue diamond. Since then, a beautiful blue sky, with or without clouds, has been dubbed a “Blue Diamond Sky.”

Recently it occurred to me that I’ve occasionally been disappointed if I don’t get my blue diamonds, so I made up a game. Every day, God gives me a sky because until the end of the world, there will be one. Every day, I give that sky a name–blue or no blue–clouds or no clouds, but a blue sky is always a Blue Diamond. Usually, if I can’t think of a unique name for a gray sky, it’s a Glory Sky because blue or gray, the sky still speaks of God’s glory.

The Gospel reading today was from Mark. Jesus healed a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. Sometimes I have an automatic reaction to these healing stories. He hasn’t healed me–at least not physically. Today I looked at myself and thought, “Lord, you can be glorified in this.” Saint Francis of Assisi is probably best known for once saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” I was introduced to my Lord by fellow students in College, and no one outright “preached” to me. If a gray sky can speak God’s glory, then so can my wheels or my weird brain.

Interestingly enough, among others, there are several Saint Valentine’s who are considered patrons of epilepsy. Saint Paul is also one of these. In fact, it’s speculated that Saint Paul had epilepsy, and this is what he called the “thorn in his side.” He says, “I asked the Lord to take it away,” but the Lord didn’t. The Lord told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Jesus accepted weakness. God chose human weakness even to the point of the worst kind of death, and in fact, God the Father rose Him from the dead.

One of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary is the Crowning With Thorns. I confess that Jesus Christ is my King. This is the crown my King wears. I love language, and though my medication prevents me from having really nasty seizures, I do have various symptoms. One of those symptoms is that I lose the ability to use or understand language. If Jesus is the Word of God, it means that for a short time, God was silenced. After that, though, He was glorified; He conquered the grave, and 2,000 years later, little people like me won’t shut up about it. His power is made perfect in weakness. I don’t know what that means for me, but I know that I am weak, I know that He answers my prayers, and I know that He loves me in a way that doesn’t even make sense.

I Am Yours And You Are Mine

This year, although it was His birthday, Jesus gave me two gifts for Christmas. He reminded me of something He said to Saint Faustina, who was a Polish nun and mystic just before World War II. He appeared to her many times and explained much to her about His mercy. Before going to the vigil Mass on Christmas Eve, He reminded me of one revelation in particular. He had said to her, and by extension, to me, “My mercy is greater than your sins and those of the whole world.” This meant a lot because I have a tendency to sometimes get a little crazy, over analyze everything I do, think, and say, and assume I’m doomed. To me what He really seemed to be saying was, “I love you. Don’t be afraid. Just come to me.”

For most of Christmas Day, we hung out with family, ate junk food, and generally had a good time. That night, however, I turned my focus back to the Lord. I knew I should meditate on the incarnation, and I realized that it tends to be something I pass over. It’s a necessary part of the story, but realistically, it’s a strange one. Usually, in mythology, when the “gods” interact with humans, they don’t present themselves like our God does; they don’t present themselves as small, helpless, and vulnerable. I realized that I’m kind of uncomfortable with the whole thing. It occurred to me that I could ask for help, and I prayed to Our Lady, Jesus’ mom since she understands it better than anyone else can.

Oddly, she seemed to ask a question: What is intimacy? The first thing that came to mind was more what intimacy–at least a kind of intimacy–does; two people come together and life is created. Then she seemed to ask, “what would spiritual intimacy be, then?” I figured it would be when two souls came together. She seemed to follow with, “where does that happen?” Then it hit me: the Eucharist. The Eucharist is literally the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. In John 6, Jesus says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him,” and also, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Before His Passion, Jesus prays that He would have the same kind of closeness with His followers (friends) as He does with His Father. It’s the Eucharist that allows for this kind of closeness, and without the Incarnation, this wouldn’t be possible; we wouldn’t have Him.

I receive the Eucharist at Mass every week, occasionally more than once a week, and I never fully understood that what my Lord wants is intimacy with me. I looked up a dictionary definition for the word, and “intimacy” is actually close familiarity or friendship, and does not necessarily imply any kind of sexual relationship. I finally had time to read and think this past weekend, and I found a podcast called Understanding the Scriptures, which is based on a book written by Dr. Scott Hahn.

Frequently, the teacher, Carson Weber came back to the concept of a Covenant. A Covenant, in a Biblical sense, is much deeper than how one might understand a contract. A covenant is a sacred, familial bond that makes the members of the covenant intrinsically one: I am yours and you are mine. In a contract, the members are making promises to exchange goods or services and are pledging to fulfill those promises on their word alone. A covenant invokes the name of God as one’s witness. A contract is breakable and eventually ends when the promises have been met. A covenant cannot be broken, but it can be violated, which only hurts the people involved, and it has no expiration date.

In the Creation narrative, it says that God rested on the seventh day. What this really means is that He made this day holy, and covenanted, or bound Himself to His creation, and particularly His people. It was, and is a sacred bond of love. This is why marriage is a sacrament; it makes a man and a woman one; not just on a physical level, but also on a spiritual level. Marriage between a man and a woman also mirrors the spiritual marriage of God and His people: “They will be my people, and I will be their God.” While a contract and a covenant are quite different, they are similar in that they both have terms. The difference is that the terms of a contract are negotiable, while the terms of a covenant are not. This is where the “rules” that people tend not to like come from. God sets the terms of the covenant, and what He is doing is telling us how we are to love Him and love each other. Ultimately, if we are faithful to these “rules,” it will be for our good, and results in interior peace, but it takes practice.

At the Last Supper, Jesus says, “this is the cup of my Blood, the Blood of the new and everlasting Covenant…” What He is doing is renewing the Covenant with His people that was violated, and is still violated over and over. God first made a covenant with Adam who only really had two tasks, to take care of and protect the Garden, and Eve. When God Covenanted Himself to Adam, He made him in His image and likeness. This is the most important detail because it is this “likeness” that intrinsically changes Adam: it makes him not just a creature, but a son of God. When he and Eve violated the Covenant, they effectively forfeited their kinship with God. Adam initially failed when he did not protect Eve from the devil’s temptation, and then, when he did not defend her when God questioned her. Instead, he stayed quiet and then blamed her. Jesus undid this when He sacrificed Himself for us.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, he takes onto Himself all our sins, weaknesses, and failures, and in His innocence, takes our place to face God’s Judgment. As He is dying, He defends us and prays, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” Adam failed to take care of and defend Eve, his bride, while Jesus, on the other hand, heals, teaches, and redeems His bride: the Church. In the New Covenant, He essentially gives us two commands, as Adam had his two: “Love one another as I have loved you,” (John 13:34), and also, after His Resurrection, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

The Lord teaches many things in Scripture and through the Church, but probably the most important thing is His teaching on the Eucharist. Because of this teaching, literally thousands of people left Him because, as it says in John 6, people thought this was a difficult teaching to understand or accept. After His Resurrection, though, those who did accept it received an amazing promise: Jesus will always be faithful to us. While we partake of the Eucharist communally as a Church, we also partake of it individually. Before we do, we have to ask ourselves two questions: have I loved like Jesus loves? Have I lived my faith so others see it and hear about it?

The scary thing is that in the Eucharist, Jesus makes Himself as vulnerable, if not more vulnerable than an infant. He offers me His everything; He gives me His Heart, and that means I can hurt Him if I haven’t been faithful. This is why I freak out, and why He offers me mercy in so many ways, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession), so that when He says “I am yours,” I can say, “I am Yours,” and really mean it.

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.