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.

Gethsemane 2020

Thursday marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum. We’ll celebrate the institution of the first Eucharist and the Lord’s entry into Gethsemane. For many, this time of quarantine feels a bit like our own Gethsemane. We’re cut off from what we’re used to. The news is overwhelmingly bad. The number of cases continue to grow by the thousands. In Gethsemane, Jesus was left alone to take on the weight of the world.

In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for hours. I live in New England where we have the world’s best doctor’s and hospitals. Medicine and medical research will eventually get a handle on this disease, but prayer will help those doctors and researchers, whether they know it or not, and it will carry us through this.

The Fathers at the Shrine of the Divine Mercy have been putting a lot of encouragement on Facebook. Something that I’ve had to have drilled into my head by them, as well as Pope Francis himself is that God is merciful and understand the circumstances. Before Mass was suspended and churches were closed, I realized I had to go to confession. Then I couldn’t. God had to use several voices to convince me that I was forgiven because I really am sorry and intend to go to confession As soon as I can.

When I first joined the Carmelites, I was naturally curious, and I already knew a little about Saint Therese of Liseux, so last year, my mom and I listened to her autobiography in the car. After that it was like she wouldn’t leave me alone. She kept dropping quotes on my Facebook page, or I would accidentally find references to her in searches of completely different topics. At my clothing ceremony, the congratulation cards my community members gave me all had her picture on them.

In some ways, Saint Therese reminds me of myself. She’s playful and innocent, but also stubborn in her faith. On Saturday I came across another quote. She said that it is obviously grace when we receive the sacraments, but it can also be a source of grace when we can’t. I’ve had to think about it, but I think she’s right. Not being able to receive the sacraments means having to trust the Lord more, and to appreciate the sacraments more. You can’t miss what you’ve always had easy access to.

God doesn’t let bad things happen for no reason. When bad things happen, it’s usually because He can bring some greater good(s) out of them. I wondered what good(s) could possibly come from a pandemic. That had me stumped. Bishop Robert Barron had some insight into this. It’s hard to know if there’s an “umbrella” good for all of humanity in this, and if there is, it might be unrecognizable for a while. It is easier to see personal goods that have come of this. For me, the goods aren’t even difficult to see. There are really several goods that have come of this for me.

1. I’ve learned that God’s mercy and love are even deeper than I previously understood or believed.

2. Since I gave up shows and movies for Lent, I’ve had a lot more time to read. Granted, I’m reading a ridiculous fantasy story, but I enjoy reading, and I often lament that I don’t have enough time to. Really I do, but I end up watching Netflix instead.

3. I’ve come to better appreciate things I took for granted before: my health, takeout, going to the studio, Saturday night Netflix party with my friend, etc.

4. I know more clearly what I really want. When Mass got suspended, I said to the Lord, “I don’t even want Heaven; I just want You.” It seemed weird saying that, and I second-guessed myself. I’ve been praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy with the priests at the National Shrine at 3:00 every day, and they have the Eucharist exposed. I realized that for half an hour every day, I can at least see Him, and I realized that this in itself is His Mercy. Yesterday, it came to me again, and I realized that if Heaven was an empty room with just Him in it, then that is sincerely what I want.

5. I’ve actually been able to talk to my extended family more than I did before. Since we started our virtual book club, I’ve been talking to my aunt, two cousins, and my grandmother once a week, and because we’re using Zoom, I can actually see their faces instead of just reading texts.

6. I’ve been seeing people use social media to connect with each other and make each other laugh instead of pointing fingers and spewing political nonsense.

When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, He asked His Father, “Take this cup from me.” I’ve been asking the Lord for the same thing. God could have sent lightning bolts from heaven and zapped all of Jesus’ enemies so He wouldn’t have to endure the Cross. Jesus Himself said He could summon an army of angels to defend Him. Instead, the Father allowed the Jewish authorities and the Roman soldiers to exercise their free will, and Jesus allowed them to do this to Him so that humanity could be returned to right-relationship with God.

This is our Gethsemane, and probably for a multitude of reasons, the Lord is allowing it. That is not a reason to stop praying. Prayer keeps us connected to our God, and while it might not bring an immediate end to the pandemic, it can help individuals, it can help us in smaller, personal ways, and it will bring this to an eventual end. I’m convinced of that.

Jesus said that to be His, we would have to take up our crosses and follow Him. Easter couldn’t have happened without The Agony in the Garden. In Gethsemane, Jesus was scared, He was lonely, and He was terribly sad. To varying degrees, I think these are things we’re all feeling right now. This Sunday, Easter will still liturgically be celebrated, and we have to find ways to celebrate at home because Jesus is still risen. We don’t know exactly how long our Gethsemane will last, whether it’s weeks or months, but at the end of this, we will go back to the studio, back to the gym, back to the salon for a much needed haircut, back to school, back to work, back to each others’ houses, back to the movies, and we will go back to church.

I think Saint Therese is right in saying that there is a grace in this. In Gethsemane, an angel came to comfort Jesus. We’re not alone because He’s still here to comfort us. He doesn’t abandon His friends. Trust Him, and use this time. Slow down, pray, and look for greater goods. I’ll leave you with this:

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.

The Hard Choices

I’ve written a few things lately that I’d like to explain more deeply. Recently I wrote a post on why Catholics go to confession with a priest. I’ll summarize by saying that it’s also called the sacrament of Reconciliation, and essentially a person is speaking to Christ Himself in the sacrament, but we also speak to the priest who represents the Church, who we also need to be reconciled with.

My last post was a reflection on my journey back to the Catholic Church after being agnostic for quite some time. I mentioned two important points that I want to go deeper into. The first is that I didn’t know for a long time what sin is. The second is that I didn’t understand that the Eucharist literally is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.

Further, I explained recently what an examination of conscience is; that being an honest look at one’s self through the lens of the Ten Commandments. Through these commandments, as well as the beatitudes, and Jesus’ teaching in general, God, who is Truth, and Goodness itself, has revealed His will, which is by nature, always good, and always perfect. We can’t always know God’s will perfectly. Because of our own nature we are limited, but we do know what is generally good, and what is not. Sin is essentially saying, “God, I know what you want. What I want right now isn’t what You want, but I’m gonna do it anyway.” If we consciously make this choice, we are taking ourselves out of communion with God and the Church, which is why we go to confession.

When we receive the Eucharist at Mass, we call it communion. Because, as Catholics, we believe the Eucharist is literally Christ Himself, we must be in a state of Grace. In other words, we must not be in a state of mortal sin. Having any sin at all on us is obviously not good, but some sins are worse than others. For example, lying under oath in court is obviously worse than telling a “white lie” to surprise someone on their birthday. This is the difference between venial or “small” sins and mortal or “deadly” sins.

It used to be the case that confessions were much more readily available. Today it’s often the case that the only time to go is right before Mass. That doesn’t change anything about the sacrament itself, but it somewhat changes a dynamic of it. It used to be much easier and reasonable to go to confession if one knew of and felt guilty for venial sins. Now that isn’t so much the case. One can have their venial sins forgiven if he/she truly is sorry and admits their guilt directly and spiritually to God. Further, receiving the Eucharist “washes away” the guilt of venial sin. This cannot be taken for granted, and it is why we collectively acknowledge our sins at the beginning of Mass.

At this point, it should be noted that sins can only be forgiven if a person actually feels remorse for what they have done (or failed to do). Further, it must be pointed out that venial sins are not always entirely intentional, and are often the result of simple human weakness. Mortal sins are called such because three things must factor in. 1) It must be grave/serious matter, 2) it must be done with full knowledge and awareness, both of the thing being done, and the gravity of the action (decision, etc), and 3) it must be committed with deliberate and complete consent.

The ultimate point I want to make is that one should not receive communion if they know they are in a state of mortal sin. I bring this up because many choose to receive anyway. This is problematic for the Church in general for a few reasons. First, every Christian, is a member of the Church, which is the mystical Body of Christ, which means that when we sin, we’re hurting ourselves spiritually, and we’re offending our God, but we’re also hurting each other at least spiritually.

It’s also like saying “I love you” without actually meaning it. As Saint Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, we really should correct our fellow Christians. This means pointing out sinful choices and actions. Obviously this should be done with kindness. In today’s culture, it is a daunting task, even if our purpose is to lead people back to Christ.

Our culture tells us two really dangerous things. First it tells us there is no objective good; there is no black and white; anything goes. Then it tells us that everything we do matters: where we work; what we do; whether we go, or have gone to college; what we wear; what we do for fun, where we go; what we say; and we have to do it all right. Unfortunately, this leaks into our spiritual life. Sometimes it can lead us to be not entirely honest with God, or even to avoid Him at times. It can also tempt one to “get in line” to receive communion, even when one is fully aware that he/she shouldn’t.

This only matters, however, if we really believe that the Eucharist is Christ Himself. Jesus’ teaching in John 6 expresses it perfectly. He says in verse 33, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…” Then emphasizes it. He says:

48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “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. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Later, at the Last Supper, he says, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” He does not clarify to mean that the Eucharist is a symbol. He is speaking literally and emphatically.

Some take issue with the idea that the Mass is a sacrifice. It does not mean that Jesus is suffering again. It means we are being made present at His once-and-for-all sacrifice. The reason we receive the Eucharist again and again is that by this experience, Christ can offer us the Grace of His sacrifice again and again, making us spiritually stronger, and closer to Him.

He is also offering us His Love. Jesus died to redeem humanity, but He also died for each one of us individually; to save each one of us. He loves every person uniquely. Jesus is God, but He is also a man. From a perfectly human perspective, He knows what rejection feels like. We can understand this because presumably, everyone knows what rejection feels like on some level. When we choose sin, and even if we choose to receive the Eucharist indifferently, we are actually rejecting, or at least ignoring the One who deserves it least.

Back In Time

Not everyone, but a lot of people re-watch or re-read the same movies/stories again and again. I am one of those people. I wrote this story a long time ago, but I want to re-visit it. It’s a bit sensitive, so I won’t explain why. This is the story of my move away from, and back to my Catholic faith. When I wrote this story the first time, it wasn’t really focused specifically on the Catholic aspect of my faith. It was much more about how I simply didn’t think I needed Jesus, and how He proved me wrong. This will focus more specifically on why I believe the Catholic faith is the true faith. Without further adieu, I’ll start at the beginning.

I was born and baptized Catholic. I was raised loosely Catholic. I went to Catholic education classes once a week after school or on Sundays, depending on the year, and I received the Sacraments of initiation (Eucharist and Confirmation), but faith wasn’t emphasized in our family. We didn’t pray together, and even though we went to church, its significance was never really explained. My education was poor at best, so it felt like a tedious obligation that I didn’t understand.

For a long time I believed in God, and I believed in Heaven, but I didn’t know that I should or even could have a relationship with Him, I didn’t know that He loved me personally, and I didn’t really know what salvation was because I didn’t know what sin was. Despite all of that; despite not knowing who God was, at least when I was a child, I had a sense of what God was. I at least maintained the notion that God made the Universe and everything in it.

As I got older, this slowly faded away for a few different reasons. I went to public school, and because faith wasn’t emphasized at home, I never understood that faith and reason could coincide. I never understood that, for example, things like the “Big Bang” and evolution could be friends with Biblical Creation. I slowly began to reject Christian (though not specifically Catholic) ideas. I simply didn’t know what Catholic interpretations and doctrine were.

I have always been an eccentric person. I always had imaginary friends as a kid, and I have always loved stories. When I was especially young, I found the real world to be boring. I couldn’t run around like other kids, so I often projected things from my imagination into the real world. This, too, I think, led me to at least implicitly reject Christianity, so by the time I was in middle school–around the age of eleven–I was agnostic, though I didn’t have a word for it until later.

Middle school, naturally was terrible. It’s terrible for everyone, but it was more so for my friends and me for a few reasons. I was “off limits” because I was “the kid in the wheelchair,” but some of my friends were mercilessly picked on. Even though I did not know Him for several years, God made me with an empathetic heart, and this meant the bullies were chased by the kid in the four-hundred-pound wheelchair. If I caught them, I would park on their feet, and not move. Therefore, I was the recipient of less direct bullying. I was simply treated as if I did not exist.

It did not help my self-esteem that I was in the “special-education” program, even though this simply was not necessary. Through elementary and middle school, I had an “assistant” in the classroom with me even though, as I said, this was unnecessary. If I dropped a pencil, or what have you, I was fully capable of asking a fellow student for assistance. It was not until my freshman year of high school that I was taken out of the program after I personally wrote a letter explaining why their “assistance” was simply annoying.

This is an important part of the story because when we got to high school, one of my friends was getting more and more involved in sports, and therefore had less and less time to hang out, while another of my friends ended up going to a private high school. The first friend also ended up getting a girlfriend, and I realized that boys could be more than friends. I also realized almost immediately that, being “the kid in the wheelchair,” I had about zero chance of ever having a relationship beyond friendship.

My self-esteem was low, and my friends had less time for me. In middle school, we spent nearly every Friday night together. When high school began, that was not the case, and I spent many Fridays alone, and I cried a lot. I was lonely, though I didn’t want anyone to know, so I kept it in, which was obviously not healthy.

I didn’t make my Confirmation until my Junior year of high school, so I was going to Mass with my parents, but again, to me it was little more than a tedious obligation. After making my Confirmation, I still went, largely out of habit. I eventually learned the word “agnostic,” and I remember the moment when I acknowledged, in a sense, prayerfully, that I didn’t know if God existed or not, and I didn’t think there was a way to know. At the same time, I think there was a part of me that always hoped He did.

That year, I also started looking for colleges. I didn’t really want to go to college but that was just “what you did.” I had been playing guitar and writing (mostly terrible) songs for two years at that point, and although deep down I knew it was unrealistic, I wanted to be a touring artist. Luckily, the realistic part of me won, so I looked. I knew I’d have to commute, so I looked at places nearby. I immediately hated several of the places we visited. I can’t even explain why. Then we ended up at Gordon college.

Gordon was a Christian school, which made me a little nervous, but there were students there, and they all seemed weirdly happy. The faculty we met were also weirdly happy and weirdly nice. It was like they had something that I didn’t, and I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted it, so I applied. I got in, and because of my GPA, I got a scholarship.

Nothing about the “Christian-ness” of the school was off-putting, though I initially thought it was “weird.” We were required to go to “chapel” three times a week, which was fine, and eventually, I came to look forward to it. It was there that I discovered actually “good” Christian music. The only Christian music I had ever encountered was liturgical music, which was, at least at our parish, uninteresting and poorly “performed.” I eventually became a fan of a handful of Christian artists. I also learned to pray. My thinking rather quickly became, “If all these people believe, then maybe (eventually ‘probably’) God does exist.” My thinking also quickly became, “If God answers prayers, then I should pray for a boyfriend.”

That was my desperate prayer from August to mid-October. Despite this, I still didn’t actually know who God was. One night in October 2011, I was at a really desperate place. I was very lonely, and I was praying, as usual, that God would help me find love. It seemed like a prayer from me to Him because the words came very clearly, and seemingly from my own mind, but for the first time in prayer, the words “I love you” came to mind. I think, actually that He used my thoughts to say that to me because after that I felt a sense of peace that I had never felt before. That was the moment when I definitively became Christian.

That “I love you” was what I had been looking for all along. I was able to see clearly that I had empty spaces that only God’s love could fill, as cliche as it sounds. As I said, that was the definitive moment when I became Christian, but it took some time to decide what kind of Christian I was. I began “curiosity questing” on YouTube. I eventually came across a talk by Father Mike Schmitz entitled “The Hour That Will Change Your Life.”

That talk convinced me of two things: first, God quite literally loves the Hell out of me, and second, that the Eucharist quite literally is the body and blood of Christ, and if I receive the Eucharist, I am receiving God Himself into my very being. That meant I was definitely Catholic. It also meant I had a lot of learning to do, so I did more “questing,” and paid more attention at Mass. Our priest kept mentioning “Adoration,” and I eventually became too curious to resist, so I went one Thursday night, and was hooked. I had no idea what was happening, so I just sat there for an hour.

Confession was also available at the time, but I didn’t go for several weeks, or more likely, months. I still didn’t entirely understand what sin was, but I was beginning to learn what things were sinful, and I at least understood that sin was offensive to God. One night in Adoration, I was in a bad mood. I had learned at this point that Adoration was simply a time to sit and talk, or simply be with Jesus. I don’t remember why I was in a bad mood, but seemingly on an impulse, I asked, “Who am I to You?” His response came to me as a thought in my own head. He said, firmly but kindly, “My daughter.” If I remember correctly, I think that was the first time I went back to confession, and really the first time I had ever gone completely voluntarily. The relief I got from that was inexplicable. It was after that that I began to live my faith as my own person.

Looking back on this journey is strange because sometimes I feel like I’ve gone nowhere. When I look back, it’s relieving to see actually how much I’ve changed. In a song I wrote earlier this year I express this in the line: “I never thought I could fall this far.” I mean I never thought I could fall this far in love. In another song, a backing line expresses the idea that you have to fall to fly. I like Saint Therese’s “Little Way” because it’s largely about falling trustingly and letting God catch you.

It’s Not Really That Complicated

This morning I did what’s called an “examination of conscience.” It’s basically a self-assessment based on the ten commandments, and it’s ideally done relatively often. My family and I came back from vacation this past Sunday. I hadn’t done much of anything other than sleep, eat, and read Lord of the Rings over the course of two weeks. It was honestly a little boring, and that is my kind of vacation. Because I did nearly nothing, I began to question where I was at, spiritually.

As best I can remember, I have done an examination of conscience twice before. I’m afraid of doing it, not because I’m afraid of God’s justice, but because I don’t like looking at my sins. Before I did it this morning, I took a pen and a piece of paper, and I prayed. At the top of the paper, I wrote “I am good. I am beautiful. I belong to Jesus.” I wrote that because I thought I’d be writing a laundry list of ugly things. Then I asked Saint Faustina, who was the catalyst for the Divine Mercy devotion, to pray for me, I asked my guardian angel to be with me, and I asked the Blessed Mother to walk me through it. I also asked the Lord to be gentle with me, because He is gentle.

If you’re not Catholic, those first prayers might seem a bit weird. As Catholics we believe that we are connected to the entire Church, even after death. That means we can talk to, and even be friends with the saints in Heaven, and the righteous souls still working toward perfection in Purgatory. I won’t get into Purgatory here, partly because there’s plenty about it on the internet, and partly because it’s not the point of the post. The point is, I can ask Saint Faustina, who knows so much about God’s Mercy to pray for me, as a friend on earth might pray for me. I can ask my guardian angel to do whatever he needs to in this situation, because I don’t know exactly what that is. I can ask Mary, Jesus’ mom, and by extension, my spiritual mom (again, there’s a ton about this online) to just walk with me through it, before I even start.

A self-assessment is difficult, especially when it comes to the spiritual life. It means I have to look at what I don’t really want to see. I remember realizing for the first time that what I wanted most was to become a saint. To be a saint means attaining perfection. Part of that means looking at what I don’t want to, asking for God’s forgiveness, and letting Him help me. It means figuring out what I can do to change where I can, and mostly it means letting Him work on me, whatever that might look like. It’s hard for me to deal with the fact that He does most of the work. It’s hard to let go of control.

Recently, I realized that God’s Mercy doesn’t always look like what one might expect. I realized that often, His Mercy looks like making sure there’s a time and place for me to go to confession when I need to. I didn’t find a four-page laundry list of sins. I found four things. It’s one thing to be able to make the self-assessment and be honest with myself; it’s another to actually go to confession and state how I’ve gone wrong out loud. I know that I’m really going to Jesus, and I know that I will receive His Mercy. I just don’t like having to verbally admit that I’m not perfect.

The Lord knows that I’m as jumpy as a rabbit, but He also knows that I will go because if I’ve sinned, it means I’ve hurt my most intimate friend.  He’s been kind enough to make sure the priest I go to is gentle. Nonetheless, going to confession makes me anxious. I’m not alone in this. The last thing the priest says is “Go in peace.” The feeling after confession is amazing because sin is heavy, and it quite literally feels like that load has been taken away.

This is why not forgiving someone is such a huge problem. When we pray the “Our Father,” we ask the Lord to “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Our forgiveness and mercy is meant to be exactly like His–infinite. It doesn’t mean it has to be immediate because forgiveness is sometimes hard (when you’re not God), but it has to come around eventually. God wants to forgive, but we do have to ask for it because that’s part of a genuine relationship.

I should acknowledge that there are two different kinds of sins. Small (venial) sins can be forgiven simply if we pray for forgiveness, and if we really are sorry. More serious (mortal/deadly) sins are what we have to go to confession for, but sometimes it’s helpful to go to confession even for smaller stuff. An inevitable question is, “Why do Catholics have to go to confession at all?” The Church is the Body of Christ and we’re all spiritually connected. That means that stuff I do, even if it doesn’t obviously affect anyone, does have a spiritual effect on the whole Church, myself included, and because we are connected, it hurts the Lord, too.

As a member himself, the priest is, in this context, a representative of the Church, as well as a representative of Christ, through whom Jesus administers the sacraments. That means when I go to confession, I can acknowledge that I’ve hurt the Church, I’ve hurt myself spiritually, and I’ve hurt Jesus, and because God is Mercy, He can take the load from me. I still have to do some sort of penance, though, because I did make a mess in the first place. An analogy might be a brother and sister playing together get into an argument, so the sister breaks the brother’s toy. The sister then feels bad and says she’s sorry. The brother forgives her, but the toy is still broken, so the parents decide that the money to pay for a new one has to come from her allowance.

None of that is to say that I’m still guilty after confession. Penance should be natural if I really am sorry because out of love, I should make amends for causing hurt. Because we are God’s adopted children, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re a massive, crazy, dysfunctional family, which is seriously awesome. I have written a post before about “agape” love. It’s love that simply wills the good of the other. It’s the kind of love that, by nature, looks outward. We should be attentive to our inner spiritual lives in order to most effectively maintain this agape love.

The Problem Of “Them”

My dad and I have been re-watching the Marvel movies leading up to “End Game” and the new Spider Man movie. We found a list that goes through them in an actual timeline that starts in the 1940’s with the first Captain America movie, and ends in the present day. I love super hero movies. In fact, I pretty much like any story that involves an obvious battle between good and evil. I like to see the “good guys” win.

It’s a really simple, but enjoyable story premise. We’re presented with it over and over, starting when we’re as young as five years old. At face value, that’s fine, and even good to an extent. Good and evil do exist; they are real things. The problem is when the lines between good and evil get blurred. The problem is when this story premise gets translated into “us” and “them” in our daily lives.

As I’ve mentioned before, Last fall I joined the Carmelite community in Danvers MA as an aspirant. It means I’m a newbie. For months, when talking about things we do, I would say “they” do X, Y, or Z. I’ve consciously had to train myself to say “us” and “we.” Our other members have been fabulous in making me feel welcome, and that I am part of the community, even though, as an aspirant, I’m not yet officially a member.

Last week my family got a letter from Social Security. It was vague at best, and said  they had detected something that might affect my disability stipend. It said if we had any questions to call the number they provided. We gave them a call, and no one answered. We gave them another call today because the letter said if they didn’t hear from us, they would call us today at 10:30, but they didn’t. Finally someone answered, and said that they would call us back before 3:30, but they didn’t. I mentioned in my last post that I am prideful, and don’t like to be helped. I particularly don’t like getting a disability payment. My mom took care of the phone calls today. It’s a good thing she did because if it had been me, things would have got ugly. I don’t normally have a foul mouth, but I told my mom to “tell them to cut the shit… Gimme the phone.” She didn’t.

So I went to the next option. I posted on Facebook, “Our government is run by idiots.” A minute later, I deleted it. I realized that I fell into the problem of “us” and “them.” I used to think I wasn’t allowed to be angry when I pray. That mentality, luckily, is long gone. After deleting my post I said, “Sorry, Lord, I’m just pissed off and looking for someone to blame.” I was looking for “the bad guy.” The real problem is in the system itself. It’s a system that fosters apathy, and it’s no one’s fault in particular. On the same token, though, it’s a system that fosters the “us” vs “them” mentality. I, and I imagine many others on disability have a tendency to see those working for the social security system as “the enemy,” while those same workers see us as, in a sense, “enemies” because we’re at best, inconvenient.

No individual within this messed up system is my “enemy.” What is it that I really want? I want to be left alone. What do the people in the office likely want? Me out of their hair. I recently went to confession because I was having trouble forgiving. I know that, in confession, I’m meant to talk with the priest as if I’m talking directly to Jesus, so I said, “I’m not sure I totally get forgiveness. I feel like I can forgive, but it’s more than a feeling, right?” He said, through the priest, “Yeah, it’s about letting it go. If you feel like you can do that, you can leave it in this room.” It seemed simple, and in that moment, I was able to leave it behind. The trouble is that it’s just as easy to pick it back up. It’s easy to pick it up because blame can evolve and mutate, and it’s easy to pick someone out as “the bad guy.”

The “us” vs “them” mentality; the idea of good vs evil is built into human nature. It’s a survival instinct. We weren’t always at the top of the food chain. That’s fine. God created us to be like Him, though. He built us with a consciousness that can understand right and wrong. He knew that we would eventually get to the top of the food chain, and on a human-to-human level, we’re not supposed to have enemies. The spiritual always trumps the natural, but our survival instinct is still there, and it causes us to be jealous of colleagues or friends; it causes us to categorize people where we shouldn’t; it causes us to see people who support certain political positions, religious beliefs, or whatever else, as “the bad guy.” It can cause us to see ourselves as “outsiders,” even when this is completely irrational, only because we’re new to a community, club, group, school, job, or even family.

Normally I don’t try to write my posts really as “advice” because mostly I just think too much. I think I do have actual advice this time, though. 1) Try to use “us” and “we” more than “They” when referring to a group of people you’re involved in, whether it’s your church, your workplace, your school, or another community. 2) Figure out who you haven’t forgiven, or who you see as an “enemy,” and figure out how to “let it go.” It can help to find a place to leave it, but it’s not necessary. It can be super helpful, though not always necessary, to leave it in confession (if you’re Catholic). 3) Pray for those perceived “enemies.” It can be a bit difficult to get started, but it can eventually feel really relieving.