Remember And Sing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why You Should Read Books

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

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

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

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

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

Works Of Mercy, Quarantine Edition

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

The Corporal Works of Mercy are:

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

The Spiritual Works of Mercy are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Study Notes 1 (May 2020)

I’ll be having online formation on Saturday with two members of our Carmelite Community. I was going to take notes on a regular text document, but then I decided to share my notes on my blog for two reasons. The first is that I’m the most disorganized human alive and thought they might be easier to find if I put them on here. The second is that others might find them useful, or at least interesting.

This month (May 2020) we’re studying the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

The Beatitudes can be split into 3 groups according to the Purgative, Illuminative, and Unitive Way (spiritual growth, Saint John of the Cross)

Purgative:
1: blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted
2: Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied
3: Blessed are they who suffer for justice’s sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven

Illuminative:
4: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy
5: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth
6: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God

Unitive:
7:Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven
8: Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God

Carmelites promise to be spiritually poor so that nothing stands between us and God
-To do this one must practice the virtue of detachment
-detachment = “holy indifference” to goods as an end in themselves
-this can mean monetary, or worldly goods (money, entertainment, food, etc), or spiritual goods (friendship, consolations in prayer, etc)

We must not put pride or importance on the good we do, but focus on the good we must learn to do

To be poor in spirit means to have all and disregard it for the sake of another (surrender)

No one owes me anything (paraphrased from St Therese)

Keep in mind why you do the things you do
-scrupulosity is bad
-don’t follow rules for the sake of following rules

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 Time Of Mercy

Four years ago, Pope Francis declared a Jubilee of Mercy. I have a weird memory. I can remember what we did in my first guitar lesson, but my mind is foggy when it comes to just a few years ago. I do know that a lot has happened in the past few years, but I don’t remember what happened in what year, etc.

Last month, the Vatican granted an emergency plenary indulgence because of the coronavirus. This forgives sin, but also any punishment due to sin. A lot of people can’t receive the Sacraments because they’re sick, or because they’re stuck at home, or because there’s no churches open near them. That doesn’t mean we’re cut off from God’s mercy.

Fr Chris Alar at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy explains the extremely simple way to receive this or to offer it for someone else. If you have the virus, if you are caring for someone with the virus, or if you are praying for those with the virus, all you need to do is one or, some, or all of the following:

A: Watch the Mass online
B: Pray the Rosary
C: Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy (my favorite)
D: Pray the Stations of the Cross
E: Some other devotional prayer

You also need to go to confession, if possible, and if not, make an act of contrition (I’ll explain), and receive communion, if possible, and if not make a spiritual communion (I’ll explain). Finally, you need to pray for the intentions of the Pope (just pray an “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” and a “Glory Be,”) and have no attachment to sin.

A few days ago I had to read several articles and watch the video from the Shrine several times, and pray about it to actually believe it. It’s so simple and such a kind gift of God given through the Church. I expect I’m not alone in that I sometimes wake up too early in the morning, and can’t fall back asleep because I’m immediately thinking too much. I texted my cousin who I knew wouldn’t be awake yet because she lives in a time zone three hours behind mine, read the aforementioned articles, scowled at the wall, and then said (in my soul), “Can we talk?”

The Lord pointed me to Luke 5 when He gets into Peter’s boat. He tells Peter to cast his net into the lake, and Peter says, “I’ve been fishing all night and haven’t caught anything, but I’ll do what you say.” He casts his net and catches more fish than he can physically carry in his boat alone, so he needs James and John to help. He then says, “Leave me, Lord. I’m a sinful man.” Jesus then says, “Don’t be afraid. You will now be fishing for people.”

Peter had been fishing all night and hadn’t caught anything. When he does what the Lord says, he catches more than he can carry himself. Mercy has been defined as love in action. Jesus saw that Peter’s boat was empty, so He miraculously filled it. I think Peter recognized this as an act of mercy, and I think he feared that mercy. There have been times when I have feared God’s mercy. It can be tempting to think, as Peter thought, “His mercy is too good for me,” and to push Him away. That’s the opposite of what He wants, especially right now.

I started being “fuzzy,” meaning my epilepsy was acting up, so I offered that for an end to the pandemic. Then I finally got up, ate a very weird breakfast, and did my Morning Prayer. I actually laughed because the antiphon (line you say at the beginning and end of each psalm) for the first psalm was, “Have courage, my son; your sins are forgiven, alleluia.” I’m a girl, but I got the point.

I mentioned the Jubilee of Mercy a few years ago. I think this will be a year most of us will remember much more than 2016. Obviously this is a crappy time for most people. Many are sick, many have died, and many know someone who is suffering, who has been sick, or even someone who has died. Our family knows someone who just lost his mom, and someone else who is just getting over the virus.

I really do think this is a time of mercy, though. God really is close to those who suffer, and He is a God who provides. He always hears and answers our prayers. Sometimes, the answer is “No,” and that’s hard to hear. I, like many others have been praying for the “plague” to go away, and the answer has been, “Not yet.” This is a broken world in which even the worst happens; a world in which lives are lost. It might not be much of a consolation, but in this time, the indulgence really is a gift. It remits all sin, but also all punishment for sin. If offered for the dead, they won’t face purgatory. Again, I know it doesn’t take away the separation, the hurt or the tears, but it should be a source of hope.

God does not want our suffering, and He did not create death. Many are asking why God is letting this happening, and I don’t have a satisfying answer. It isn’t satisfying to believe that He always brings some greater good(s) out of every evil, even if it’s true. The fact of the matter is, we might not ever even see what good does come of this. God sees a bigger world than we do, on a longer timeline. It can be tempting to turn away when things are terrible, especially when this has personally affected us, but don’t. He loves you more than you could know or even understand, and wants to comfort you.

As I said, if you are unable to receive the Sacraments, you should make an act of contrition and a spiritual communion with the intention of receiving the sacraments as soon as possible.

An act of contrition is simply saying you are sorry for your sins directly to God. This can be in your own words, or a more formal prayer. This is one I say in the confessional:

O my God I am sorry for my sins. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. With your help I intend to do penance and sin no more.

An act of spiritual communion is simply inviting the Lord into your heart, and you can do this anywhere at any time. This is one I make since I watch Mass online.

My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love you above all things and desire to receive you into my soul. Since I cannot, at this moment, receive you Sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself to you. Never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.

Even if you weren’t in the habit of going to daily Mass before, I’d encourage you to make a spiritual communion every day. When Jesus gave the Divine Mercy message to Saint Faustina, He emphasized to her that He desperately wanted His disciples–all of us us–to trust Him. Making a spiritual communion, I think is a way of saying, “Jesus, even in this mess, I trust you.” This isn’t a wall; it’s a tunnel. It might be a long, scary tunnel, but He’ll get us through it. One thing that has seriously helped has been the Liturgy of the Hours. Because I’ve been praying the same psalms for over a year now, I’ve internalized many of them. Psalm 42 comes to mind these days. It’s written from a place of exile where it seems like the world is falling apart. The writer isn’t afraid to complain to the Lord, but he ends with:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my help and my God.

What We Say In Silence

I didn’t write over the Triduum this year. Normally I do, but I was an emotional train wreck. I cried for most of the Easter Vigil Mass. I had taken a nap earlier on Saturday, so I wasn’t exactly tired. At 12:30, then, my dad and I started one of the Harry Potter movies and went to bed around 3:00.

Normally for us, Easter looks like getting up and having a feast with a bunch of relatives from New Hampshire and Maine. We had our book club on Friday, and planned to meet online for a bit. We talked about food and boredom and pets. Instead of our usual pile of food to feed an army, we got an order from Buffalo Wild Wing, and my mom ordered a chocolate cake and a carrot cake. After we chatted online, my dad and I watched the next Harry Potter movie. Then I went to pray.

It seemed like the Lord was asking, so I said, “I’m not angry with you. I just don’t know why this is happening, and I don’t know what you’re doing, and it’s kind of freaking me out.” That day I had Joy Of The Lord by Rend Collective stuck in my head despite not having listened to it in a while. The Chorus ends with, “In the darkness I’ll dance, in the shadows I’ll sing/ The joy of the Lord is my strength.” I thought about the first Easter. The disciples were together behind locked doors, afraid and uncertain about what even the next hour might bring. That felt familiar.

I imagined myself in that room with them. Most of them had fled and abandoned the Lord; all of them thought He was dead and that the previous three years of their lives had been a waste. They all knew that they were in very real danger. I imagined sitting there, and suddenly Jesus walks through the closed and locked door. Chairs are knocked over; people shout, but He raises His hand in blessing and says, “Peace.” In His language, though, it would have been “Shalom.” For some reason every fiber of my being hyper-focused on that “Shalom.” I wasn’t simply imagining this anymore; I was praying it.

In my meditation, He walked over to me, got down to my level (because I was sitting in a chair, sort of stunned), and showed me His hand. Instinctively, I took it, and it was like everything disappeared, even time. It was like He was silently saying, “I’m still here.” I waited for Him to do something; I was letting Him drive the bus at this point. I thought the scene would continue and He would show His scars to His disciples because that’s just what would happen next, but nothing else happened. For a moment, I thought about letting go so things could progress like they do in the “story,” but it was almost like He silently said, “You don’t have to,” so I didn’t.

When I finally opened my eyes and looked at my phone, I was surprised to see how much time had passed. I told Him that it feels like the world got pulled out from under me. Then I realized that His world had got pulled out from under Him, albeit in a different, and much more painful way, but He knows what it feels like to be thrown into all-of-a-sudden chaos. I also realized that He came back with scars.

I don’t think anyone is going to come out of this unscathed. Those who don’t contract the virus are still worried about their kids’ education, their financial situation, the health of their loved ones, their own mental health, their spiritual well being, or simply what the future as a whole will look like. For better or worse, this is changing us. The first thing Jesus said when He came back to His disciples was “Shalom.” For some reason that felt like I had found a point of gravity and I suddenly wasn’t just spinning off in space, bouncing off of asteroids. It felt like I had found a star and could rest there. Even though it wasn’t a physical touch, He held my hand and silently said, “I’m still here.”

Today I was thinking about constants and how valuable they are. My stupid bird still sleeps under my ear and screeches at the kids playing in the yard next door. I still play the same stupid video game with my dad. We can still watch Harry Potter. The water is still running. The lights still work. I can’t see my friend, I can’t go to the studio, I can’t go to Mass, and that stuff is scary. Most importantly, though, Jesus, the God and King of everything is still here. It’s a lot easier to listen to the chaos because it’s all over the news and social media and even in our heads and it can drive us crazy.

Yesterday, I started my meditation not really knowing what to expect. Early on, when things started shutting down, I was nervous, but said, “Okay, Lord, you got this,” but of course I’ve been listening to the chaos. Last night, in my meditation, the Lord stopped everything and said, “Shalom.” He’s done it before; He can calm the storm, and He can catch us when we’re sinking. It might still rage around us, but we can find His peace in our souls. Hold onto that Easter moment. Let Him hold your hand, and let Him be your star.