Tag Archives: Sin

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.

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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.

As Simple And As Difficult

One of my most recent songs was entitled “Just An Honest Prayer.” I struggle a lot with the story Jesus tells of when the King will separate the sheep and the goats–those who helped “the little guy,” and those who did not. I struggle with this because I want to do more to help people than I physically or financially am able to. It sometimes leads me to thinking that what I do, or even what I am, is not enough.

On Saturday I went to the monthly meeting of our Carmelite community. My epilepsy happened to be acting up that morning. I don’t have violent seizures, but I “space out,” and I can’t process language, or communicate easily. A few of our members noticed, and were able to calmly help me out until it was under control. At some point during the meeting, I noticed a picture I hadn’t ever noticed before. It was a black and white image, like a photograph, of the wounded face of Christ. Through that image I felt like He was saying to me, “I’m here. I’m with you.” The members of my community who were able to help me through my “brain fuzz” were great, but more than anything, what Jesus silently said to me was extremely moving and calming.

I’ve been listening to the podcast “Catholic Stuff You Should Know” for a long time now. Their most recent episode was, in a sense, about hospitality. An idea they presented was that hospitality is about receiving well, as much as it is about being a good host. I realized that I am not good at receiving. I don’t like being helped, especially if I need help. I realize that this is a symptom of pride. I’ve asked the Lord more than once to take my “brain fuzz” away. His answer has been, “No,” and I think I know why. To make me into who I’m meant to be, He needs me to need help. Also, if I didn’t have unpredictable fuzz, I’d be able to do more than I’m able to do now, and because of that, I likely wouldn’t be making the music I am, and I wouldn’t be able to offer my suffering to God with Jesus’ suffering.

Saturday ended up being a fabulous day. Dad got me a “Romantic” sandwich (broccoli, cheddar cheese, avocado, garlic, and spices) from Life Alive in Salem, and we headed to Maine. I went to Mass with my dad and Godfather that afternoon, got my favorite chicken sandwich at my favorite restaurant in Bridgton Maine for dinner, and that night, I saw the most beautiful sky I’ve ever seen. Our house up there faces south, looking down a hill at some trees, and the river beyond. The sky was bright because the moon was nearly full. The clouds were long and streaked, running north to south, and the sky looked striped. There were also smaller, thicker clouds that were dark, but bright on the edges. My dad was the first to notice it because I had been looking at the fire we had started in our yard. He pointed it out to me, and I was absolutely captivated. I didn’t want to look away. I realized that this sky was a gift to my family. Not everybody would look up.

Finally, when I went to bed that night, I started praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. This is something I try to do every day. As I started praying, though, God spoke in my heart and asked me, “Do you really believe in the power of My mercy?” I said, “Yeah, I do. Help me to believe it more.” I have a habit of praying for everybody but myself. That’s not a good thing. I need His mercy and His help as much as anyone else. As I said, I’m not good at receiving help, and I’m especially bad at asking for it. That night, I prayed for myself, though, and He showed me something.

Often when I pray, I say something that ultimately translates to: “What do you want/need me to do?” I ask partly out of gratitude for everything He’s done for me, but part of it is that I frequently fall into the false belief that I have to “earn” all of it. Saturday night, He didn’t let me ask the question. In a sense, He let me see myself through His eyes, and I was surprised at what I saw. I didn’t see the mess I thought I would. I just saw me. I was even more surprised to see Him. I shouldn’t have been surprised at that. I had taken communion just a few hours earlier. I saw very clearly that, yeah, I’m a sinner, but I also saw very clearly, that He took the blame for my sins, and accused me of nothing. He looked at me as my Savior, and saw the one He saves.

Last night I went to Adoration. I don’t go as often as I would like, but I’m going to try and go more regularly, because I often find myself going with tears in my eyes, and leaving with a smile on my face. At the front of the church I went to–I didn’t go to my home parish–the Eucharist was on the altar, as it always is at Adoration, the Crucifix was on the wall behind it, as it always is, but the Divine Mercy Image was very prominently in view on the wall just to the left. I know that when I look at the Eucharist, or an image of Jesus, or what have you, I’m looking at Love. Last night, I realized more deeply that I was staring at Mercy.

In my song “Just An Honest Prayer,” the third verse and chorus go as follows:

I know I need a Savior
‘Cause I can’t do this, my Lord
And I know I am broken
‘Cause trusting You isn’t easy
But I’m ready to be honest
I so want to believe
I want to be with You in Heaven
So Help my unbelief

(Chorus)
You know the world is broken
When saying “I love you” is hard
Even when you want to
And even when it’s true

Trusting the Lord should be the easiest thing. He is Love itself. We don’t find it easy because our world is broken, and we are broken. I once read something along the lines of: Mercy is where love meets need. I am spiritually weak, and I’m not very nice to myself sometimes. Saint Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians that he is content in his weakness because the Lord revealed to him that His power is made perfect in human weakness. In other words, He can, and often does use our weaknesses for our own good and His glory.

As I said earlier in my post, I often want to help “the little guy” where I can’t. Jesus says that “blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” I remember once I was at an open mic. I don’t remember what song I had been intending to play, but the guy who played before me got on stage and said, “This song is about how basically life is terrible.” I was up next and I said, “I wasn’t actually planning on playing this song, but the song I’m about to play is called, ‘Good In Things,’ and it’s about how everything is inherently good because God is good, and He made it.” My dad said he saw a woman at a table nearby with a look on her face like I had just “saved” her with that song. I don’t really know what he meant by that, but it made me happy to know I had made someone else happy.

It feels good to help people. Praying for people and making music that people can relate to and find joy and comfort in is about the extent of what I can do. At least that was what I thought until I heard the episode of “Catholic Stuff” on hospitality. I think part of being merciful actually means allowing people to help, and being grateful and humble about it. Everybody needs help in some way, at some point. Not everyone can do everything all the time. Maybe part of being merciful is allowing yourself to be “the little guy.”

A few days ago, I actually got some great advice. Someone who knew I was a musician told me that Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “do something beautiful for God.” They said if I wanted to glorify God, I should sing only for Him. God isn’t expecting of me what I can’t do. I can make songs that give people hope; I can be grateful when I need help, and in that, I can give someone else the joy of being helpful; I can take the time to pray that many others can’t because I don’t have a “conventional” job; I can offer God my suffering with Jesus’ suffering because I have a cross to carry that many others don’t. I can do all that.

Yesterday I realized that there’s something else I can do, and so can everyone else. It felt like God dropped a love bomb on me on Saturday, so I wrote a short post about it on Facebook. Then I realized I could do more than that. I wrote in my song, “You know the world is broken when saying ‘I love you’ is hard.” In another song I wrote, “We are fighting a war You’ve already won.” Both of these are true. Jesus saved the world, yes, but He’s still in the process of saving it, too. We’re meant to be a part of that. Saying “I love you,” or giving an honest compliment, or what have you, can be weird or awkward, so we don’t, even when we want to, and even when it’s true.

It’s easy to say to ourselves, “They already know, so I don’t need to say it.” I realized that, actually, yeah, we still need to say it. Even if we already know it, we need to be reminded. We’re really good at finding the flaws in ourselves, and when we find those flaws, it’s relatively easy to start thinking “I’m not lovable.” So yesterday, I started dropping love bombs. I looked through my contacts and decided on the three people I thought most needed a reminder. I did the same thing today, and I ended up having pretty nice conversations with a couple of people I haven’t talked to in a while. I just started with “Hey! Happy Thursday! I love you!” It was a little awkward, but it turned into something beautiful. The world is broken, but we can be a part of fixing it, and it’s as simple and as difficult as saying “I love you.”

Certain Death

This is a fictional reflection of the Gospel reading from this past weekend: the story of the woman caught in adultery. Most of it I made up since only a small part of her story is told in the Gospel. I just thought it would be interesting to see what might have taken place after she walked away.

We had only just got married, Isaac and me. Then he left. He didn’t really say where he was going. Just on business. He was a merchant: had some things to sell. He was a smart man. He would buy things that smiths and carpenters and other people made or grown, and then sell them for profit, but he had to travel a lot. It made me lonely. So that was how I ended up with Michael.

We were only friends at first, but then we were more than that. People got suspicious since he would come to our house a lot. People started asking questions. I kept getting strange looks in the market, and our neighbors would even avoid me. I could tell they at least thought we were up to something. I told Michael that we had to stay away from each other for a while, and we did. It didn’t really work out, though.

He came to me late one night. We were both feeling lonely. The thing was, he had been set to be married a year before, but his fiance got sick and died. It would have been alright, except that my neighbors were noticing, and that night, Isaac came back. I didn’t hear him come in. I hadn’t expected him to be coming back in the night. He threw Michael out of the house, and he didn’t press charges against him, but he was very angry with me. He slept in a different room, and the next morning, he brought me to the authorities, and they took me to the temple. I was so scared.

There was this new teacher, though who was there, and for some reason, the Pharisees didn’t like him. I was terribly afraid of him because he seemed to have some kind of authority. They said to him that the law said they should stone me, which I knew was right, but they asked what he would say. I don’t know why they asked him, but then he did something scary and weird. He asked me my name. I told him it was Elizabeth. He wrote my name on the ground, and he wrote what I’d done. Then he said that if any of them didn’t have any sins, they could kill me. He gave them kind of an odd look, and I didn’t really know what it meant, but they started walking away. When maybe half of them were gone, he bent down to where he’d written, and wiped it away with his hand.

There were some people left, but they walked away slow, too. When nobody was left, I was still scared. I didn’t know if I should leave or stay or if he was going to do something or what, so I just stood there. I felt pretty awkward, and I was embarrassed of the whole thing, and I kind of wanted to cry, and I didn’t dare look at him. He said, “Hey, look at me.” I didn’t dare not, so I looked him in the face, and he smiled. “Has nobody condemned you?” he said, and I said, “No.” I looked away because I still felt bad. He walked over to me, and touched me, so I looked at him again. He smiled and said, “Neither do I. Now go. Make amends with your husband, and don’t do this again.” I nodded, but I couldn’t say anything. I just walked away.

It wasn’t normal, what he’d done. I was still really anxious while I walked home. I had to go through the market to get there, and I hoped I wouldn’t see my husband until that night when he got home, but he saw me at the same time I saw him. We both stopped for a couple of seconds, and then he started walking over. He didn’t look angry. I couldn’t really tell anything by the look on his face. I didn’t know if I should try and get away or wait for him, really. I didn’t have time to decide, though. He caught me, but he wasn’t angry.

“I’m so sorry for what I did,” he said. “Can you forgive me?”

I wanted to say, “You just almost got me killed!” but I didn’t. I told him what had happened. I said, “There’s a new teacher. He got even the pharisees to go away.”

“Who is he?” Isaac said.

“I don’t know,” I said, “but you could ask around and find out.”

“Okay,” he said, and then he said again, “Can you forgive me?”

I thought of what the teacher had done, and finally, I said, “Yes, I forgive you.”

It took us a little while, but eventually, things got back to normal. We found out that this teacher’s name was Jesus, and that he’d done quite a few strange things. I was glad of it, though. They were all good strange things. A few months later, by chance, Isaac had to go away again. This time he said I should stay with a cousin. I thought that was a good idea, so I did. It turned out that my cousin knew some of the teacher’s followers. That’s how I got to know some of his friends, and I finally got to know him.

The Way Of The Cross

I was going to read through someone else’s meditations on the Stations of the Cross. Then I remembered that I’m a Catholic writer with a vivid imagination, so I thought I’d write my own.

The First Station: Jesus is condemned to death.

I know why this is happening. He doesn’t have to die. He’s dying because we’re weak; because we’re sinful; because there’s a huge, dark chasm between us and His Father, and He wants to bridge that gap. He’s dying because He loves us, and He desperately wants us to love Him back. Still, He doesn’t have to die. I just feel like this could have, really should have happened another way. Who am I in this scenario? If it were me, would I, like Pilate, knowing Jesus was innocent, be a coward and let Him die? Would I be one of the soldiers? If so, would I just do what the others were doing and beat Him and insult Him? Would I have the courage to at least question the others? Would I be one in the crowd practically cheering Pilate on? Would I be one of His friends who ran away? Would I be a silent friend who stood by at a distance? How close am I really willing to get? I don’t like these questions, but they’re there. This is what my sins cost Him, and this is the price He’s willing to pay for my soul. I am grateful, but I know I can never thank Him enough.

The Second Station: Jesus receives His cross.

I know that sins are heavy. They hurt. When I realize I’ve done something particularly wrong, I feel it. It makes me sad, and it makes me ashamed of myself. I physically feel that guilt. That’s just for one person; that’s just for me. Jesus, who is fully human, had to carry my own sins, but everyone else’s, too. Even the thought is terrifying. On top of carrying all the sins of everyone ever, He was brutally beaten and insulted, He had to carry the instrument of His own physical death. Through all of it, He was silent. I can’t even fathom that. It would make me so angry. We are quick to be angry, particularly at Judas, but had he even hoped for the Lord’s forgiveness, he would have been forgiven. Jesus wants to forgive us, but the weight of our sins makes us afraid to go to our Savior. That’s exactly who He is: our Savior, and we can trust Him. He desperately wants us to trust Him.

The Third Station: Jesus falls the first time.

God fell. The strongest Person in the universe fell. He wasn’t weak. He was brave. He is brave. He was willing to fall for us. He was willing to fall for me. He was willing to die for me. Thinking of Him falling kills me because I can’t do a thing about it. I can’t go back in time and make it right. We say that after Original Sin was the “fall.” He didn’t have to fall. He could have stopped all of this. He allowed Himself to fall. He was doing His Father’s will, but it was a choice, too. This is what our fall cost. This is what it looks like. God is willing to fall with us. He’s willing to come down to our level. If we’ve fallen as low as it’s possible for a human to fall, God will find us there.

The Fourth Station: Jesus meets His Mother.

To be sinless in a sinful world must have been strange, both for Jesus and his Mother. Obviously this whole ordeal was terrible for Him, but His Mother, who was, and is, the closest person to His Heart, had to watch the whole thing. I imagine her being there would have been a comfort for Him. Would it not also have been painful? She had to suffer, too. She had to watch her Son suffer and die for sins that were not her own. A part of me wonders how she could have been there and not be resentful, but of course, I know. She would have known that it was worth it. I’m grateful that she was there to comfort Jesus since I can’t be. What would I even say if I could be? Neither “Thank you,” nor “I’m sorry this is happening to you,” seem to cut it; and what can just a glance really say? Somehow I think she could say it all with just a look.

The Fifth Station: Simon helps Jesus carry the cross.

Simon was a stranger. He didn’t know Jesus. To him, Jesus was just a guy–a criminal for all he knew–who was too physically weak to carry that cross. Jesus, in His humanity, needed help. Still, Jesus is God, and God needed help. I keep coming back to the fact that things could have happened differently. Again, this is a moment that looks like weakness. From a strictly human perspective, I suppose it is. Truthfully, though, it’s a moment of love. Throughout this ordeal, what Jesus needed most was love. This time, Jesus initiated it. He allowed someone to help Him in His weakness. He needed to love someone because very few people were loving Him. I expect that changed Simon a lot, and I expect by the end of their short encounter, He loved Jesus. I wonder if anything was said between them. I wonder what I would have done had I been in Simon’s place. If Jesus had been a stranger to me, and I had been there at the time, would I have agreed to help? Would I have refused? Would I have seen Him for who He really was? Would I have spoken to Him? Would I have listened and responded had He said anything to me? There were people there who knew Him from before. They were watching from a distance, but after seeing Him fall, no one thought to help. They were afraid to help. What makes me most uncomfortable is the thought that I might have been afraid to help. In the end it was a stranger who helped Him, and it wasn’t exactly willingly. Jesus said that when we help “the least of these,” we’re helping Him. More often than not, “the least of these” are strangers. I need to remember that when I am given the chance to take the place of Simon.

The Sixth Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus:

Veronica was brave. At this point, there was very little anyone could do. I sometimes find myself wondering about odd details like what the weather was like that day. Usually I picture the sky being overcast, but what if it wasn’t? What if there wasn’t a cloud in the sky? That would almost make the whole thing worse. What if the sun was shining bright on the whole bloody mess to show it in all its evil cruelty? For the most part, it was horrible, and awful, and cruel, and evil. Then out of nowhere, Veronica steps out of the crowd and offers Jesus what little comfort she could. I don’t even know if they had known each other from before. Maybe she was a stranger, too. Maybe this small act of kindness put her in danger. Maybe it cost her greatly, but to her, it was worth it. I think she knew who He was. Because of that, He shared something of Himself with her in a particularly special way. Jesus wants to do the same for us. He loves us. If we love Him, directly through devotion and prayer, or by helping “the least of these,” we do for Him what Veronica bravely did. Sometimes that’s what it takes. Sometimes it takes bravery. Let us be brave, and when we aren’t feeling brave, we can ask her to pray for us.

The Seventh Station: Jesus falls a second time.

Was this fall worse than the first? What was the cause of it? was it something specific? was it something external, merely physical, or was it some particularly horrible sins? Was it the weight of World War II? Was it the weight of all the abortions happening today? Was it the weight of two millennia of people rejecting His love? Why did He fall? When I think about it, I want to help Him up. I want to end His suffering, but that’s because I know Him. I know that this second fall was my fault. I ignored Him for a long time. I rejected His love for a while. I want to help Him up because I know Him. Do I want to help strangers up when they fall? Do I try? Do I at least pray for them? I can at least do that. Sometimes I forget to, and that, too, I think, is part of why He fell this second time. He will fall with us and for us as many times as it takes to show us who He is and how loved we are.

The Eighth Station: The women of Jerusalem weep for Jesus.

Jesus encounters another small act of love. All these women can do is weep for Him. Sometimes that’s all we can do when we encounter horrible things, especially injustice. Here Jesus shows His strength. He tells the women not to weep for Him. He offers them some comfort, and tells them that they should weep for themselves. They love Him. They are loyal to Him. Being loyal to the Lord, and staying loyal, is sometimes difficult. The first several centuries after Christs’s death were dangerous for anyone who would be called His followers. It more often than not meant a bloody death not unlike His own. For some, this is still the case. For many, though, calling yourself Christian usually means being seen as strange, and sometimes being shunned by colleges or neighbors. For the most part, it’s mostly dangerous to our image. What is most important to us? Our God, or our ego; our reputation? I imagine this is what He meant. Still, had I been there; had I been one of those women, I would have wept for Him. Maybe it was all He could say because He had to keep walking, but I would want Him to see that what He was doing mattered to me, and it matters to me that He still suffers for our sins.

The Ninth Station: Jesus falls a third time.

He fell because He was exhausted. Not only was He carrying the sins of the world; not only had He been tortured and insulted; not only was He carrying the physical weight of the cross; He was certainly being spiritually abused, too. This was the Devil’s last stand. He knew that Jesus was our Savior, and he knew that he had lost this war. He tried, nonetheless, to bring the Lord down. This was the last battle. Yet again, I want to do something. I see in my mind the Lord on the ground, bleeding and exhausted, and I wish there was even a word I could speak to Him. I wish I could take His hand, even for just a moment and give Him an ounce of comfort. I don’t know what gave Him the strength and courage to get back up, but He did. Maybe it’s this desire, and that of so many others that gave Him what He needed to get back up. I hope so. He has to know that I love Him. I know He knows that, but when you love someone, you tell them. Tell Him what He already knows, but desperately needs to hear.

The Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of His clothes.

What more could they–what more could we–do to Him? We could do this. We stripped Him of His clothes, but in so much of what we do, we sometimes unknowingly strip each other of our humanity. Jesus said to love our enemies. In this moment, we were His enemies. He didn’t hate us. He loved us. Ultimately, we aren’t meant to have enemies. If we have enemies, we see them as just that: enemies. We don’t see them as people. This comes out more subtly, in so many ways, however. Our sinful nature leads us to see others as objects of pleasure, or as convenience items, or as inconveniences to be disposed of. Even at this moment, Jesus did not see us this way. He saw us as people in need of redemption. Even at our worst, He loved us, and even at our worst today, He still loves us.

The Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the Cross.

One of the final things Jesus does before His death, as He is being nailed to the Cross, is to ask that we be forgiven. We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know that we were killing God. Still, He was human. Sure, He wasn’t sinful, but we had done everything humanly possible to hurt Him and shame Him, and He still loved us. Before any of this, He gave us the Eucharist, knowing this would happen, so that He could always be a part of our lives. Why He would want to be part of my life, after what my sins cost Him, is beyond me. That’s not how God is. That’s who He is. He is greater than any evil this world can throw at Him. He is greater than my fear, my confusion, my weakness, my sinfulness, or anything else. He simply loves me. Maybe it doesn’t make sense, but love doesn’t have to. It just is.

The Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the Cross.

God is dead. God is dead, and I killed Him. It didn’t have to happen this way. He didn’t have to die to save my soul; to save humanity. He died for us to show us what we’re worth to Him. No matter what the world says, and no matter what I think because of that, God says I’m worth dying for. Still, God is dead, and my sins killed Him. I am tempted to feel guilty about this, and when I sin, I rightly do. He doesn’t want me to carry that guilt, though. He doesn’t want me to carry the shame. He already did that. He wants me to come to Him, and ask forgiveness. He wants to forgive me. He wants to be with me. That’s why I can look at a crucifix and say, “Thank you,” though I’m tempted to leave things at “I’m sorry.” Don’t just leave things at “Thank you,” though. Thank Him for the sky. Thank Him for hot water. Thank Him for the ability to read this. Even small things are so meaningful to Him, and that, too makes it worth it.

The Thirteenth Station: Jesus’ Body is given to His Mother.

This is a very human moment. Mary was Jesus’ mother. She had just lost her Son. It seems wrong that a person’s child should be the first to die. I’d like to think she knew what it meant, and I believe that she knew He would rise again. Nonetheless, her Child had died the most horrible death possible. He had suffered the most a human could suffer. If I were in her place, I’m not sure I would have had the hope I knew she had. I think again to the friends who ran away. Would I be with them, or would I be with Mary to receive Jesus’ body? What would I say to her? There probably would be nothing to say. I don’t think a single word of comfort would really be available, not when God is dead.

The Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in a tomb.

The finality of it just seems weird. What would I do, not knowing that this was not the end of the story? I think I’d be in shock. Death wasn’t supposed to happen; isn’t supposed to happen. It is meant to seem strange because it isn’t right. Yet God is willing to go even this far to save us. He died so that, in the end, we don’t have to. Jesus died and was laid in a tomb, and most thought that this was the end. Those in power hoped that this was the end. Time and time again, through the centuries, we are proven wrong. God is never outdone. The finality seems weird because it’s like an unresolved chord at the end of a song, or a spot on a canvas that hasn’t been painted, or the end of a story that hasn’t been written. Knowing that this isn’t the end of the story, but the sad end of a chapter, gives us what we need when we must hope against hope.

Thou Shall Not Kill

My dad and I have been binging on “The Walking Dead” lately. We’ve just got to the part where the crew has escaped Terminus, and have met with an Episcopalian minister named Gabriel, and of course, Rick asks his questions: “How many walkers have you killed? How many people have you killed? Why?” Gabriel replies, in order: “None. None. The Lord abhors violence.”

The sixth commandment in the ten, which is basically God’s moral road map is, “Thou shall not commit murder.” In some translations, The Bible does say “Thou shall not kill.” I take that commandment to mean, “Do not take an innocent life without purpose or cause.” For example, I am opposed to hunting simply for sport. I am not opposed to hunting for food. Furthermore, violence, and even the killing of another purely in self defense is absolutely permissible.

If you haven’t seen “The Walking Dead,” Terminus is a bad place. It basically is like a factory farm. The people who run it have turned to cannibalism. They trick people into going there, promising “sanctuary and community,” and then kill them and eat them. Rick and his crew (the main characters), are tricked into going there, but they destroy and escape the place, at which point, they run into Gabriel who takes them in at his church. The problem is, some people who ran Terminus survived and tracked them down. Inevitably, there is a showdown at the church. It also comes out in the midst of things, the dead started being zombies, Gabriel got scared, and locked people out of his church. He panicked, and they were eaten by walkers.

Of course he feels guilty about this. He did not take innocent lives, but he allowed innocent lives to be taken. Jesus is often referred to as “the new Adam.” I heard an analogy once. Satan is sometimes referred to as a dragon. When Adam blamed Eve for what he did, it was like he was shoving her in front of the dragon to save himself. When Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross, it was like He jumped in front of the dragon to save His people. Gabriel rightly says in the show that he made a choice; he chose to play the part of Adam.

Obviously, with “The Walking Dead,” we’re talking about a fictional character in a hypothetical end-of-the-world situation. In real life, we are faced with the same choice. It can apply to what we do with our time, who we choose to associate with, how we choose to talk to strangers, friends, or family, what we choose to do when we make mistakes, what we do with our emotions, and really anything else in the present moment. How we live matters.

In a Catholic Mass, we begin with a general confession, and a prayer for mercy. We admit that we have sinned in what we have done, and what we have failed to do. It’s that second bit that always gets me. I don’t speak when I should. I don’t write when I should. I don’t pray when I should. I don’t act when I should. I fail to do a lot of things, or I do them too late. The Mass begins in this way because our sins have consequences. I think I do believe in the butterfly effect, in a sense. Good and bad things we do or fail to do, even if they’re seemingly insignificant, effect other people.

I’ve avoided writing about this for a while because I haven’t known how. When I heard about the “Reproductive Health Act,” which was passed in New York last month, I did several things. I wrote a short, but well thought out post on Facebook, I wrote to several Massachusetts Lawmakers because I wanted them to at least know how I felt about it, and I prayed. I had trouble at first because I didn’t want to be honest with God, but then I told Him the truth. I asked Him how He could have allowed it to happen. I told Him that I didn’t want to, but I blamed Him. I cried, and had a tantrum. When I was done being angry, I listened, and I understood.

He let it happen because He loves the people who do terrible things enough to let us do them. God, our Heavenly Father who is Goodness, Love, and Peace, gave us free will. He loves us enough to let us choose evil; he lets us fail; he lets us learn; he gives us infinite chances to turn back and be forgiven. What’s more is that He can take the worst things possible, and still make good of them, even if it takes a long time. God redeems. It’s who He is. It took me a little while, but I’ve forgiven because Jesus taught me how. That doesn’t mean I have to be okay with this evil law. Any civil law that allows anyone to take an innocent life directly violates God’s law, and is, therefore, evil. Abortion is evil.

It is marketed as freedom; it is marketed as a reasonable choice; it is marketed as responsible, even. I don’t understand the circumstances or thought process that leads people to choose this. That is why I want to make clear that God loves the people who make this choice, no matter the circumstances, and He gives every sinner infinite chances to repent. God hates sin, but He loves every sinner. That being said, it’s still a choice. It’s always a choice, and it’s never the right one.

What people need to understand is that God makes choices, too. When a woman is made pregnant, it’s because God has chosen her to bring life into the world, and He’s decided that the person being created should exist. God is intimately involved with bringing life into the world. At the moment of conception, God breathes a soul into a person. That is precisely what a person is; a body and a soul. Abortion is packaged into a strange category called “women’s rights.” I am not a feminist. I am a humanist. Let us defend human rights. Men and women should be equal across the board. I agree with that. When abortion is packaged along with women’s rights in the pursuit of that equality, it essentially gives a woman the right to murder, as long as the person she’s killing hasn’t been born yet. Some will argue that to “abort” a child would be a responsible choice because the child might have some kind of disability. Another argument is that the biological mother will not be able to afford a child. There is always the option to put the child up for adoption.

To choose abortion would be to take an innocent life without purpose or cause. A pregnancy is sometimes really inconvenient. It might jeopardize a relationship or an income. To anyone reading this, you are inconvenient. I am inconvenient. Every human being is inconvenient. I don’t think Jesus thought of us as convenient when He came to be with us, love us, teach us, lose many of us, and die for us. Any real relationship is inconvenient. We have to make sacrifices to help our friends or spend time with our families. Nine months is a long time, but to anyone considering abortion, it’s not really that long considering the length of an entire lifespan. It literally is the difference of life and death. Choose life. Remember this, too; God loves you.

American Idols

I never watched the show “American Idol.” When “The Voice” came out, which was basically the same thing, I watched some of that. I do like to see people’s talents. I had an interesting conversation with my producer recently about my talents and his. I’ve said it before, but I can confidently say that I’m a good songwriter, and my talents have improved over time. I’m an okay singer, and again, I’ve got better over time. My producer is likewise, amazing at what he does. He can take the bare bones of something I’ve written, so melody, lyrics, and harmony if I’ve planned it ahead of time, and turn it into a ridiculously awesome song.

When I was in middle and high school I would probably say that, in some ways, I worshiped various musicians. I think humans are naturally inclined to worship something, and if it’s not God, it’s a band, a sports team, money, the leader of their political party, or maybe a pantheon of these things. I’ve come to realize that something people idolize these days is time. Personal time is a high priority for people. I get it. if I had all the time in the world and no relationships or consequences to think about, I would spend eons playing video games and reading fantasy books.

As it is, I do have relationships and consequences to think about, so I don’t do what I am naturally inclined to do. What or who we worship is a choice, and choices have consequences. What’s frustrating is that none of the CCD students I teach attend Mass. They are all completely obsessed with whatever sports team they’re on, and of course, practice is on Sunday. I’m not frustrated with the kids. Their parents have made a game into an idol. They really had no choice. I’m frustrated with the parents, though, because they have chosen their idols, and they are passing those idols onto their children, and that’s dangerous.

Today I taught the kids about Ash Wednesday. It’s early, but the lessons kind of jump around all over the place. I explained to them that God loves us enough to die for us. He made His choice. No matter what, we are worth that to Him. I explained to the kids that the ashes are a sign of acknowledging our sinfulness, but they’re in the sign of a cross because God claims us as His, sins and all. I don’t know how to get that to sink in, but I’m trying.

Still, I know that soccer is more important to them than God is. I was the same way as a kid. The trouble is, you can’t just tell someone that God loves them and they’ll magically believe it. You have to choose to believe something, and even then, we’re meant to have a relationship with God. To these kids, God is a stranger, and the thing is, he’s not intrusive. He waits for our invitation. I only offered an invitation when I had nowhere else to turn. Misery was what it took for me. I don’t want these kids to have to go there.

I started rereading the book of Jeremiah. I wrote a post about this a long time ago, but Jeremiah was speaking on God’s behalf at a time when Israel had turned to many idols. It was also a warning. God said that the Babylonians would come and take them as captives if they didn’t repent, particularly of their idolatry. God allowed their defeat and exile because they didn’t acknowledge Him as their God. If they had asked and said they were sorry, God would have somehow helped. My guess is that might have looked like another nation allying themselves with Israel or something.

Some might construe this as God being petty. Actually, it’s as if you completely ignored your best friend right in front of them, even as they’re speaking to you, and instead, made conversation to a napkin. Your friend would certainly be offended. Because they loved you, they would try to get your attention, try to repair the relationship, and try to get you to see their hurt and get you to apologize, but eventually, that friendship would break. That’s what happens when we find or create idols.

No one likes to talk about Hell. I don’t like to talk about Hell. Sometimes as Christians, we have to. What people don’t realize is that Hell is a choice. We have so much freedom as human beings, and not enough people realize it. The difference between Heaven and Hell probably isn’t what a lot of people think. The difference is, eternal life with perfect happiness and love, or eternal life without it. God is Love. To choose to worship something else is to choose a loveless life.

Don’t get me wrong, leisure is important. If we don’t take time to relax, or do something enjoyable, we’ll lose it. That’s a given. All I’m really trying to say is, remember who loves you most, and make Him your number one priority. It’s not that hard. One thing I think people get hung up on is, they think about prayer as one more thing to get to. Prayer is just an ongoing conversation. You can talk to God when you’re watching a funny movie, for example. Comment about it to Him; laugh with Him. Talk to Him at work like you talk to your coworkers.

Idolatry is probably the easiest sin to commit. I think most people have the misconception that God is loud and scary. He’s not; at least not usually. On the other hand, the idols of the world clamor for our attention, and it’s easy to get sucked in. Luckily, our God is merciful, and we have the sacrament of penance. We can go to our Father and say “I’m sorry,” and He forgives us. There’s a misconception about this, however. Many wonder why we have to go to a priest. First of all, we can and should say we’re sorry to God right away. We go to a priest because he forgives us on behalf of God, but also on behalf of the Church.

The Church is the mystical body of Christ, so when an individual sins, we’ve not only hurt our own souls, but we’ve hurt the whole Church. A good analogy is to think of sin as an injury. A venial, or what we might think of as a “small” sin, is like a small cut that we can put a bandaid on and it’ll heal on its own (as long as we apologize to God). A “bigger,” or mortal sin is like if you got a bigger cut and needed to get stitches, so you go to a doctor. That’s what the priest does in a sense. He gives you stitches for your soul.

We’re not on our own. We are responsible for our own souls, but also the wellbeing of the Church in general. Many Christians don’t realize this, and I think that’s part of the reason the Church suffers. No two Christians are truly strangers, even if they’ve never met. A forty-year-old Christian man in Africa is my brother, despite the fact that I don’t know his name or anything about him, because we have the same Heavenly Father. I think that’s what I love so much about the Church, and what makes idolatry so dangerous. God unites us. Idols divide.

Do You Trust Me?

Isn’t it annoying when you forget to do something, or make the same silly mistakes over and over? Isn’t it even more annoying when a parent or a spouse or someone reminds you how to do it right over and over? I actually have a pretty terrible memory, so when you’re me, this happens a fair amount, or at least it used to. I’ve been good about simplifying things so I don’t have to remember details as much. I’ve also been pretty good at delegating things to people who can take care of stuff better than I can.

There is one thing that I haven’t quite mastered yet, and I can’t really give it away to just anyone. That one thing is worry. Two weeks ago I started going to worship thing at a church one town over. I was used to going to Adoration at my church where everybody sits in silence and prays silently for an hour. Occasionally there would be quiet music, but not always. When our priests got reassigned this past spring, and while our church is still transitioning from an individual parish to a collaborative with the other Catholic church in our town, weekly Adoration was put on hold. I missed it a lot.

Finally I decided I needed to find some place to go. I occasionally go to Mass at this church, so I decided I’d go there. I went two weeks ago, and it was not what I expected. I loved it, but it certainly took me outside my comfort zone. There was lively music, and the people sang along and danced. There was also a quiet time when someone read from Scripture, or something Jesus revealed to a saint. I decided to come back this week, and this time I knew what to expect. I prayed when I got there that God would help me come out of my comfort zone, and by the end, I was comfortable enough to dance and yell.

During the quiet time, one of the readings was about worry. In fact, the final sentence was a command: “Do not worry.” That struck a chord with me. I’ve heard it a thousand times in a thousand ways, but I still worry. As I sat there, though, Jesus said to me, “Give it to me.” Obviously I didn’t hear Him with my ears, but I know what He would sound like. Those words were full of compassion, and love, and, surprisingly to me, sadness. It bothers Him when I don’t let Him “worry for me,” in a sense. That’s crazy to me.

Worry is a twofold problem because it is distracting, and it builds on itself. It leaves us with unanswered and often unanswerable questions. Lately, of course, my biggest worry has been about the current state of the Church, and what on earth our future might look like. This is actually a pretty complicated issue on a personal level because it becomes a matter of trust. Jesus promised that He would always be with us, and that, though we would face major difficulties at times, the Church would not fail in the end. The question then is, how much do I trust that promise? I think when He spoke to me on Monday, it was also a kind of reassurance. Though I hate to admit it, I intellectually knew that Jesus is still here and working constantly to make things right again, but I wasn’t emotionally feeling it, and a part of me had to be reminded that evil will not win. Jesus has the final say, so I choose to trust Him.

Fluent In Goodness

This past Friday I was up in Maine again with my parents. They were talking to my mom’s cousin (our contractor) about some issues with the house, which ended up all being okay, and about progress in general. While they did that, I went down to the river across the street, and sat on a platform and went through a bunch of my ordinary daily prayers. When I finished most of the structured stuff, I just started talking.

I realized that I talk to God about things I worry about, or things I need, or what have you, but I almost never talk to Him about “normal” stuff. In my last post, I talked about how I hear God’s glory in thunder. Friday in Naples Maine was hot, sunny, and breezy, and I absolutely love that. People were headed down to the lake in their boats while I was sitting on the platform, and they were having a grand time. Eventually an epic squirt gun battle broke out.

The first Creation story in Genesis is written in a poetic, systematic form. The world is constructed in six days, and after each thing God created, He saw that it was good. I looked at the shiny golden rocks at the bottom of the shallow river, the clear blue sky, the emerald shine of the sun in the trees, and it reminded me of the intrinsic goodness of everything. I was also anticipating hanging out with my godfather later that day, which is always a good time. We went to the same little gas station pub we usually go to and descended upon a horrifyingly large pile of chicken wings and french fries. We ate most of it. It seemed to me that there was something intrinsically good about that, too–not just the food, but simply being way too excited about it with my godfather. I saw God’s glory in all of what happened on Friday.

I’ve mentioned before a guy by the name of Bishop Robert Barron. He has a lot of short YouTube videos on a plethora of subjects, and I highly recommend them. In at least one or two of them, he has mentioned a quote by Saint Irenaeus. “The Glory of God is man fully alive.” The obvious question is: what does it mean to be fully alive?

He associates this with freedom. Bishop Barron explains that, to most, freedom is associated with self-expression. In other words, as I tend to render it, it is “freedom to,” while a more Catholic idea of freedom, as I render it, is “freedom from.’ What I mean is, it’s freedom first, from sin, but also, freedom from fear, anxiety, and a myriad of other human annoyances. Religious practice, in a sense, is also “freedom to,” however. Bishop Barron uses the example of learning a language. The more fluent a person is, and the more expansive their vocabulary, the freer they are to use that language. In Catholic terms, this means being free to act and express oneself as a child of God.

God’s nature in itself is goodness and love. He loves his creation, and he loves humans most of all. To love someone means to desire their happiness, and want what is best for them. Since God knows everything, He knows what will make all humans happy. To achieve Heaven essentially means to achieve what will make one most happy. Obviously being free is part of being happy. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, this means practicing a certain set of objective rules, standards, or whatever one likes to call them, to become “fluent” in goodness, because God created humanity according to his own nature.

Forgive Yourself As God Forgives You

I usually go to Mass on Saturday afternoons instead of Sunday mornings at our church. This Saturday I showed up a little bit early because I had decided to go to confession. I woke up that day with this thought in my head: “Forgive yourself as God forgives you.” I can hear over and over that God forgives without limit, but hearing it like this helped me to understand it better. Jesus told his disciples when He entrusted His mission to them to love others as he loved them.

The fact of the matter is, there are times when I feel like I shouldn’t be forgiven for one reason or another. I’ve messed up one too many times, or I’ve done something that must be beyond redemption. I know I am forgiven, but it often seems downright ridiculous. I’ve said before that I’m really hard on myself. I’ve been told multiple times that I’m too hard on myself. That in itself is problematic.

Forgiveness involves two people. God offers forgiveness, and I have a choice. I can accept His forgiveness, or I can continue being overly scrupulous and feeling sorry for myself. Accepting His forgiveness inherently involves forgiving myself because I’m His. If I’m going to live like Him, I have to forgive like Him, and because I’m messy, it means forgiving myself, and seeing who I am past the mess.