Tag Archives: Spiritual

Friends In High Places

I’d like to preface this by saying that if you’re not Catholic and/or don’t understand devotion to Mary, you should read my previous post first.

This is prayed at the end of the Rosary. It took me a while to memorize it, but I’m glad I did. It’s a comforting prayer.

“Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope; to thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious Advocate thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the Blessed Fruit of Thy womb Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary, pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

The monthly meeting of our Carmelite community was this past weekend, and our reading was very focused on Marian devotion in our Order. The first Carmelites saw Mary as a Mother, yes, but also as a Sister; someone to model in their devotion to the Lord. This is encouraged in the Church in general, but I think it’s easier said than done. Realistically, she’s not mentioned a whole lot in the Gospels, and she doesn’t say much. I think maybe that’s the point, though. She watched Jesus, and her last words in Scripture were “Do whatever he tells you.”

God is a Trinity–Three in One–oriented to and as Love. He is also an all-knowing Creator. He created humanity not because He had to, but because He wanted to. He modeled humans after Himself, which meant that we are not solitary beings; we need community. This comes in various forms, but the most natural form is that of a family. Parents and siblings are the first community anyone ever experiences. I grew up in a pretty cookie-cutter family; a mom and dad who love each other, and one brother who I get along with, and I’m really grateful for that.

Of course not every family is like that, and not all family is blood. There are plenty of men and women I call “Uncle” or “Aunt” who I’m not actually related to. At Baptism, every child is given a Godmother and Godfather who are entrusted with the spiritual nurturing of their Godchild, along with the parents. Also, at Baptism, we are made no longer orphans, but children of God. We have a Divine Father, and in Jesus, a Divine Brother. God doesn’t stop there, though. While we don’t have a Divine Mother, we do have a spiritual Mother. Because we are God’s Children, because Mary is Jesus’ mother, and because Jesus is God, she is our mother, too. Without Jesus, we are orphaned sinners, but because of Him, we have a Father, and a Mother.

Honestly, I’m totally a “daddy’s girl.” In a lot of ways I’m a more feminine clone of my dad, and devotion to Mary took some getting used to. It seemed like a distraction. Thinking about my own family, though, we’re a complete disaster without my mom. The fact of the matter is, Mary played a part in making Jesus who He is, at least on a human level. She guided His growth, learning, and maturity, and she was always involved in His life. Since our goal in life is ultimately to be like Him, and to be with Him, and since she is our spiritual Mother, she can have that motherly influence on us, spiritually. In a similar way, I am not my Godson’s natural mother, but I can help him grow and mature on a spiritual level.

I think looking to Mary as a model is helpful because simply looking to Jesus all the time can sometimes be terrifying, exhausting, and perplexing. I mean that in all sincerity. Sometimes when reading the Gospels, I find myself thinking, “Why would you do that?” Jesus does and says things that from a flawed human perspective often don’t make a whole lot of sense. Looking to Mary can be helpful because I can say to her, “What is He doing?” And as a patient mother, she says, “Just trust Him. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You don’t have to have Him figured out. Just follow Him. I’ll help you.”

Even as His mother, Mary didn’t have Him figured out. When He went missing for three days in the Temple, she asked Him, “Why would you do this?” I don’t think it was accusatory. I think she was asking the same question as me: “What are you doing?” I like the “Hail Holy Queen” prayer because sometimes Jesus’ answers to prayers is “no” when I ask for healing for myself or for someone else. Sometimes bad things happen and despite the fact that I know He can turn evil into a greater good, I don’t have the strength or the hope to stubbornly praise Him anyway. Instead, I can go to Mary and say, “I don’t have it in me, so pray for me; praise Him for me; carry me ’cause I can’t follow Him on my own.”

A lot of times, if I’m in a bad spot, I’ll ask Jesus to “be my River,” and to “carry me,” but I mean it in a different sense. In this metaphor, I imagine Jesus as the River that will get me out of said “bad spot,” and ultimately to Heaven, but Mary is a boat. I’m a good swimmer; I naturally float, but after a while, I do get tired. Obviously it’s not a perfect metaphor because when I fall, the Lord stops, cleans me up, and helps me get going again. If I’m upset about something, He’ll stop and help me through it. He’s a good friend. At the same time, He is trying to carry me Home, and sometimes, He’s not as gentle as I’d like. It may be cliche, but it’s true that the Lord loves me just as I am, but He loves me too much to let me stay this way; He’ll comfort me, but He won’t coddle me. That’s why it’s helpful sometimes to have friends in Heaven to lean on, especially a Mother.

Queen Mother

This past summer, I did a personal retreat in preparation to consecrate myself to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. If you’re not Catholic, that will probably have sounded like gibberish. The Virgin Mary has a lot of titles in the Catholic Church. One of those is “Our Lady of Mount Carmel.” The first Carmelites put themselves under Her protection, along with, it goes without saying, the protection of the Lord. The Carmelite Order originated in the Middle Ages in the context of a European feudal system. The way a feudal system worked was that a person would put himself under the patronage of a lord or lady. The man would serve his lord or lady and the patron or patroness would protect his or her servant.

During the crusades, when warriors went east from Europe, doctors and spiritual leaders went with them as support. a group of men decided to stay in the Holy Land and settle on Mount Carmel, living largely as hermits. Eventually, due to invasion by Arabic groups, they were forced to leave the Holy Land and return to Europe where they continued their way of life under the Rule of Saint Albert, who was the Bishop of Jerusalem at the time the Order got started in the mid 13th Century. While looking at the date, one might wonder when devotion to Mary got started. Mention of Mary in Christian worship started as early as the 3rd Century, just about 100 years after the Gospels were written

It should be noted that in ancient times, in various cultures, including ancient Israel, the queen was not the wife of the king: she was his mother. Often, the queen-mother would be sort of an advocate for the people to the king. In the Catholic Church, Mary is seen as this Queen Mother, and our Advocate. If Jesus is the King of the Universe, it makes sense, given His culture, that His Mother would be our Queen. A lot of people outside the Catholic Church ask why we pray to Mary and the Saints. We believe that our life on this Earth is a journey and a sort of challenge to authentically grow a loving relationship with God. We don’t come into the world perfect. We’re tainted by original sin, so we have to, with His help, strive for perfection. To be clear, it’s the Lord who gets us to Heaven, but our striving matters because it makes us truly His.

Our striving may end when we get to Heaven, but our life doesn’t. We’re still ourselves, and we still have relationships with people who are still on the journey. When we pray to Mary or Saint Peter or Paul, or someone else, we’re just talking. Often, when we pray to someone in Heaven, it’s to ask them to pray for us. It’s no different than asking a living friend or family member, except that we know the Saints in Heaven to be very holy people; we know that they are close to God. Being His Mother, we know that Mary is very close to God.

Still, many wonder if Catholic devotion to Mary is a little “over the top.” I get it; I thought this way for a long time. There is, however, Scriptural support for devotion to Mary. First, consider the wedding at Cana. The party ran out of wine. Mary noticed, and mentioned it to Jesus. Given that Jesus Himself was devoted to His mother, He changed the water into wine. If you need more evidence that Jesus was devoted to His mother, however, just consider the incident when He got lost in the Temple in Jerusalem. After He was found, He went home with His parents and, as Scripture says, “was obedient to them.” Even as He is dying on the cross, He makes sure that His mother would be cared for by John. He also makes a point to say that she is meant to be John’s Mother. John does not use his name in the way he writes his Gospel. He uses the name “the beloved disciple.” in the Catholic Church, this is interpreted to mean anyone who follows the Lord. Therefore, it is understood that, at the cross, Jesus had me in mind as His beloved disciple, and gave his mother, not only to John, but also to me, and the whole Church. This makes sense because the Church is the Body of Christ.

There are also references to Mary in the Old Testament, and elsewhere in the New Testament. By way of a few examples, Mary is prefigured by several Old Testament women. First, Mary is considered the new Eve, as Jesus is considered the new Adam. Eve is considered the mother of all the living, and she was unfaithful to God. Mary is considered our spiritual mother in God’s New Covenant, which He established through Jesus’ sacrifice, and she is faithful and trusting. Next, God promises descendants, and ultimately, a dynasty to Abraham. While He makes this promise to Abraham, it can only come to fruition through Sarah. Similarly, Jesus cannot come to live and die for us as a Man, except through a human mother, so while God’s promise of salvation isn’t achieved by Mary, she does participate in it. Finally, Bathsheba, the mother of the wise king Solomon is an advocate for him, and also rules alongside him as queen-mother, mirroring Mary’s role as she rules alongside her Son. There are many more examples, some more obvious than others, including the woman described in the book of Revelation.

All of this really is to say that Mary matters. St. Louis De Montfort makes the bold claim that devotion to Mary is the “surest, easiest, shortest, and most perfect” way of becoming a saint; in other words, of getting to Heaven and being close to the Lord. This is because if we let her do what a mother does–take care of Her children–she can teach us and help us to be like Jesus. She doesn’t do anything on her own. She is just as human as I am. Anything miraculous she does, she does by the power of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t completely unexpected since Jesus’ disciples performed miracles in the Gospels. When she asked the angel Gabriel how she was to conceive Jesus since she was a virgin, he explained to her that the Holy Spirit would “overshadow” her. This was a marital act, and Mary is considered to be the spouse of the Holy Spirit, so by her faith, and by His grace, she’s able to do a lot.

This leads me back to my first point. Back in July I consecrated myself to Mary. This hearkens back to the idea of putting myself under her protection as the first Carmelites did in the context of a feudal system. I dedicated myself to her because she can walk with me and guide me as I walk with Jesus, and chase Him to Heaven. I wrote out my consecration as follows:

I, Katie Curtis, a repentant sinner and servant of my Lord, Jesus Christ, entrust myself to you, Mary, my Lady of Mount Carmel. I ratify in your hands my baptismal vows, and resolve, with your help, to follow Jesus more closely and perfectly than ever before. I give you my heart. Keep me in your heart, and help me be attentive to Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls. Help me to love Him with your purity, and the crazy love that He deserves.

I give you my everything; my body, my soul, my goods, both interior and exterior, the value of my good actions; whatever you ask of me, that I may be brought closer to my Love, and my Lord. Help me to always trust Him, and always know and do His will. I entrust myself to you, as Jesus did, and I give you permission to do your work in, through, and around me, to make me a saint.

The simple version of that is, “Mom, I’m gonna trust you to teach me how to be like my Divine Brother.” I can trust her with that because she raised Him, and when He got older, she observed everything He said and did, and “pondered it in her heart.”

Just a couple of weeks ago, I took up the Rosary again. I had picked it up a few years ago for a few reasons, but then my devotion petered out. I picked it up again simply because I felt prompted to by the Holy Spirit. The Rosary might seem like a mindless recitation of repetitive prayers, and done wrong, it can be. Done right, though, the repetition of the “Hail Mary” isn’t the point. The point is to focus on the mysteries. I was prompted to focus on the “Sorrowful” mysteries that day, which walk you through the Lord’s Passion: The Agony in the Garden, the Whipping at the Pillar, The Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, and the Lord’s Death on the Cross. The Rosary’s repetitive prayers themselves are mostly there as a time keeper, but the Rosary itself helps one view the Mysteries of the Lord’s life through a Mother, or at least a beloved family member’s eyes.

In fact, the “Hail Mary” prayer is Scriptural. The angel Gabriel, on his appearance to Mary says, “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you!” and when Mary appears to Elizabeth, Elizabeth says, “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The complete Hail Mary prayer is this: “Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” What we’re saying by praying this is, “Mary, you’re a holy woman; you’re the mother of Jesus. Please pray for me.” By praying the full Rosary, I’m saying, “Jesus really matters to me. You were there; you witnessed His life. Help me to understand His life and how to love Him best.”

Some might argue that focusing on Mary takes the focus away from Jesus. In some sense, yeah, that’s kind of true. In the same way, however, you could say that admiring, talking to, hanging out with, and seeking advice or prayers from your friend, pastor, or whoever, who you think is a very holy person takes your focus away from Jesus. Ultimately, however, if you’re trying to be a holy person, in modeling yourself after someone you admire (a friend, a church leader, a canonized saint, or Mary), you’re still focusing on Jesus because you’re still trying to be like Him and get closer to Him, as they are.

Never Left Behind

On the way to the studio this past week I realized something. A little over a year ago, on a Wednesday night, I picked up my phone to look at Facebook or something equally as pointless, and the words and melody to my song “Heart Of Love” popped into my head. I remember it was a Wednesday because my studio sessions are usually on Thursdays. We were about halfway done working on what I expected to be a single when I came in with my new song, knowing it was good, and knowing we had to do something with it.

Twelve songs later, I have an album, but I wouldn’t have it if God hadn’t dropped “Heart Of Love” on my head. Something every Christian prays at some point in their life in one way or another is, “Lord have mercy on me.” What I didn’t realize was that this album is an answer to that prayer. I realized this because unfortunately, our society has a few specific marks that one generally must have by about their mid twenties that qualify them as a “real” adult. What I mean by this is that our society has determined that every person has a base value, and depending on what “marks” one has by a certain age, one is determined to be more or less valuable; more or less “real.” These marks tend to be 1) if one has earned a degree and has at least a relatively well-paying job 2) one is confident and chaste as a single person (oddly enough for our culture), or they are in a steady, healthy relationship 3) one has their own apartment, or one is paying rent to their parents with the expectation and prospect of eventually moving out.

Given my circumstances, I have none of these “marks.” While it’s true that I am confident and chaste as a single woman, because it is not entirely by choice, by the estimates of our society, it seems not to “count.” This leaves me with a dilemma. I know my worth as a child of God. I have also internalized my perception of how the world sees me as a disabled woman. I know that I will not move out of my parents’ house, at least in the near future. Because my art and my skill at writing doesn’t make a tangible profit, I don’t have what society considers to be a “real” job. There have been times when it seems I have been regarded with pity or condescension. I know that this is how I have perceived things, and my perception can be faulty. Nonetheless, this gets internalized; I look at how I don’t have these “marks,” and I see myself as less “real;” less valuable than the friends and acquaintances who have these “marks.”

About three weeks ago, I got started working on an article that I initially did not want to write. I started the writing and research, nonetheless, because I felt that the Lord wanted me to write it (it’s still in the works). On Friday, I was hit once again by the fact that  because I don’t have a paying job, in the eyes of society, my work, despite the fact that it is work, doesn’t really “matter.” It’s “cool” that I write music, but because I’m not a well known songwriter or a touring artist, the compliments are sometimes perceived to come with a note of pity or condescension, whether it’s meant or not. I wrote in my last post about how our culture fosters a tendency to regard others with skepticism, and I admit, my perception is that of a skeptic.

I prayed about this before going to the studio, and it hit me that the world may not see my work for what it’s worth, and I may not see it for what it’s worth, but the Lord does. The Lord said to me, almost audibly, “What you write matters to me.” I recently wrote about the Let It Go Box, which I’ve decided to rename the Redemption Box. In short, you hand something over to God, and let Him take control of it and redeem it.

I realize that over time, though we never really talked about it, I gave Him the blog a long time ago. While working on what I thought would be a single, my friend and I prayed; we handed it over, though the Box wasn’t a concept at the time, and that single became an album. Over the past year, I’ve wondered often why God chose me to work on what I know is really His project. I realized that this project didn’t need to exist; He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t need my blog or my music to save the world. He gave me things to write because that is what I’m capable of doing, because I’m good at it, and because He cares about me. He gave me something to do because He knows I love Him in a way that only I can, and because I want to help.

This is His mercy. Mercy is when someone sees another suffering, and does something about it. He sees when others devalue me, or when I devalue myself, and  He asks me to write something, or helps me write a song, and in doing so, He reminds me that what I have to say matters. He reminds me that He is my God, He loves me, and He will never leave me behind.

Love Carries Me

On Saturday, the Lord made a mark on me that can’t be unmade. Saturday was the monthly meeting of our Carmelite Community, but it wasn’t like any other we’ve had this year. On Saturday I received the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and was officially admitted into formation. This signifies that I am officially part of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, I am consecrated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel (and through her, in a particular way, Our Lord), and I am dedicated to imitating Mary in humility, chastity, and prayer; contemplating our Lord. On Saturday, the Lord made me more His own than I already was.

Last week was a little chaotic. Nothing especially crazy happened, at least on a basic level; I was just busy, so I didn’t get to my reading for Saturday’s formation until Friday. Along with the reading were some reflection questions, and one of those questions was simple and to the point; why do you want to be a Carmelite? I knew my answer almost immediately; I want to know Him more, and be more His.

With mixed emotions I sometimes remember when I daydreamed about what my wedding might have looked like. For various reasons, I know that marriage is not in the cards for me. The Lord has other plans, and that’s just fine. After my clothing ceremony on Saturday, which I had with one other woman, several others made their First Promises (which for nuns/friars would be like temporary vows), and one made his Final Promises (which would be like perpetual vows), and I found myself thinking about that like a wedding ceremony.

For me, Final Promises is five years away, and I have so much to learn, but I want that. I find that the closer I get to the Lord, the more I want Him. That seems counter intuitive, but I think it makes sense given that He is infinite Love, and I’m finite. I think I’m finally beginning to understand really that He is my only satisfaction. Every good thing that exists has a limit. Every beautiful, fun, hilarious, heartbreaking, glorious story has an end; eventually the coffee in the cup runs out; my favorite songs fade to silence; one day I will have to return my bird to the Lord. God’s Goodness, and everything that comes with that; His Beauty; Mysteriousness; Faithfulness; Compassion; these have no limit, and my thirst for Him can never really be quenched.

The Scapular I received on Saturday is meant to be an outward sign of an inner change. I don’t feel different per se, but I know that I am different. I’ve changed a lot in the past year, and it wasn’t like I was hit with a lightning bolt on Saturday, but it was like hearing the Lord say, “I see the choices you’ve made for Me. Thank you.” I recently came across an explanation of what it means when Jesus says “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Me.” To deny yourself means to choose what God wants when what you want is something else. I realized that this past year, I’ve done that. I’ve changed things about my life that if the Lord hadn’t called me to Carmel, I probably would not have.

Promises, to me at least, seem very much like wedding vows. I had a thought the other day that I can love the Lord in a particular way precisely because I’m a woman. Obviously men love the Lord, too, but I imagine it’s a love of deep friendship and loyalty. Of course I have these same feelings, but I think because I’m a woman, I can love Him in a kind of romantic sense. There’s so much language in Scripture about the Lord’s relationship with His people being like that of a lover and His beloved. In fact, the Church, is often referred to with feminine language. When the Lord finally comes, there is language in Scripture of a wedding feast.

For a long time, I was wary of this kind of language. I wondered if I was allowed to love the Lord in this way. The fact of the matter is, though, I think I’m kind of supposed to. It’s not a the same as a “normal” or “usual” romance (for lack of a better word) between a man and a woman, but it is a kind of romance. Increasingly, there’s this ache in me because I want so badly to physically feel Him and audibly hear His voice. I want to sit somewhere with Him, and maybe not even talk about anything, but physically see Him with my eyes. Simply put, I want Him.

I’ve been a member of our Carmelite Community for a year now. I invited the priest who suggested I check this out in the first place (Father Patrick), and he came and concelebrated (was a copilot for) the Mass, and I invited my Godfather who came all the way from Maine. I hadn’t wanted to make a big deal of this, but my Community did. I was buried in really wonderful gifts from everyone. People didn’t just give me cards, but people had put thought into the things they gave me, and the things they wrote.

After October’s meeting I had a meeting with the leaders of our community who asked if I definitely wanted to continue my formation. I immediately said “yes” because I’ve enjoyed our meetings and I’ve been interested in what we’ve been learning about, and certainly, I’ve grown closer to the Lord through prayer. For a month, at different times I had taken it as a given that I would continue; at other times I was sincerely excited. For a week before Saturday, I had different feelings.

I had the feeling that it was wrong, and I grew increasingly nervous, but I also had the suspicion that these feelings were not natural. I ended up talking to Father Patrick on Wednesday, and he agreed with me that the devil was messing with my head. I mention this because I was incredibly nervous before the ceremony on Saturday, but I knew for sure that it was natural, and after the ceremony, I was, and still am insanely happy.

I think for the first time really, it feels like I know where I’m going. For a long time, that wasn’t the case. If life is a journey, though, I know where I want to get to, I know where I don’t want to go, and now it kind of feels like I finally have a spiritual road map. The crazy thing is, I’ve only been a Christian, let alone a Catholic for seven years or so. What the Lord can do in less than a decade is kind of insane. The beautiful thing is that I know that it’s been love that has carried me to where I am today. At times that’s been the love of learning things, at other times it’s been the blind leap of faith to chase the Lord, and at times, it has literally been Love Himself picking me up and carrying me because there have been times when I’ve needed Him to.

Building The Box

I don’t like to talk or write about this because it’s a sensitive thing for me, but a few people I know are dealing with some heavy stuff, and I think this could help. I’m writing it for them, but I’m posting it here because maybe it will help some others as well.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I have muscular dystrophy and epilepsy. About ninety percent of the time this is almost irrelevant unless I forget that I need my ramp to get into the mosaic store to get supplies, for example. Occasionally, because I happen to wake up “on the wrong side of the bed,” or for some other small reason, it gets to me, and though I hate to admit it, I’ll have times when I feel sorry for myself. About a month ago, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and because I couldn’t make my own coffee and had to wait, I got a little pissed off.

After sulking in my room and praying for a while–really for far too long–I snapped out of it, and I realized I needed to find a way to deal with the ten percent of the time when it is a problem. I needed something practical, so I built a box with a lock, decorated it, and made a key, which I promptly handed over to Jesus. Then I said “This is the Let It Go Box. I’m going to put stuff in here, and I’m giving you the key so that once something’s in here, I’m not allowed to touch it.”

For me, it’s not a physical box. It’s something I made in my head. I initially had the idea of getting a physical box and writing things down on pieces of paper to put in it, but I knew that I’d be too tempted to open it. I did get a physical key that I wear on my necklace chain and got it blessed. When you get something blessed, it means that thing is “set aside” for God to use. For me, having a physical key to symbolize that I handed it over has been helpful. I also wrote a list. It’s ultimately “dependence” that makes me so angry at times, and I knew I couldn’t hand that over all at once, so I broke it up. I wrote all the things that I can’t do on my own that annoy me the most, and it took me a few days, but I eventually managed to hand all of it over.

There are many instances in the Gospels when Jesus uses an unpleasant, difficult, painful, or even tragic situation to bring about some good, and to glorify His Father. One instance is when he heals a blind man. In that instance, His disciples ask, “Did this man sin, or was it his parents?” Jesus responds by saying (I’m paraphrasing), “This isn’t the product of anyone’s sin. It happened so that God may be glorified.” Then He heals the man, which indeed, brought a great good out of a bad situation, and obviously, by the miracle, glorified God. I reflected on this last week, and it occurred to me that He must somehow be doing the same thing with my situation.

Obviously I’m not perfect, and occasionally things that I can’t do, or can’t do strictly on my own start to bug me. The real key is one carefully crafted in prayer, but I wear the symbolic one to remind myself that I’m not allowed to take it back. The fact of the matter is, I have the patience of a gnat and the pride of a lion, so when I have to wait for someone to help me with X, Y, or Z, I remember the key, and offer the waiting and the fact that I need help in the first place to God to do with as He sees fit, or if there’s something pressing–if someone I know is suffering in some way–I’ll be more specific.

The key has actually taken on meaning in the weeks since I gave it away. Revelation 3:20 says, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” Yesterday I was meditating on the fact that the Mass is going on somewhere in the world at all times. Since the Eucharist is truly Christ Himself present in the world, it means He’s never really left; He’s just not here in the same way. I haven’t looked for it, but I’ve heard that images inspired by Revelation 3:20 usually depict the “door” without a handle on the outside.

The key I gave away initially went to the Let It Go Box. Since then, it’s become the key to my heart, and my door has a handle and a lock on the outside. I find myself at various points throughout the day saying, “You hold the key to my heart. Do with me what You will.” It’s been incredibly helpful.

At this point, I should probably do some explaining. In a sense, I probably did things a little backwards, or at least came to understand things in a backwards way. I gave the Lord permission to start “housecleaning,” as it were, a long time ago. Up until now, though, He’s had to “knock” when He wanted to come in. By way of advice, I’ll put it this way: if your heart is a house, then the Let It Go Box is in a room set aside as a workshop for the Lord. You have to let Him in to have access to the workshop. Since giving Him the key, for me at least, it’s like He’s become a Resident, and not a Guest. If you’re not ready for that, you can give Him the box, and permission to work in the workshop as a Guest. What I mean by this is that once something is in the Box, it’s not like it just stays there. It doesn’t lay dormant. He’s doing something with it or to it. What that is, I don’t know.

My next advice is to get a key and get it blessed by a priest. I got a piece of jewelry; it doesn’t actually open any lock, but I have it with me at all times, and it’s pretty. Maybe it would be helpful for you to get the key to your house or your car blessed because actually using it might be a good way to remind you of what it’s for. The physical key isn’t the point, though; the physical key is a symbol. The real key is one you have to carefully craft in prayer. When I say you have to be careful, I mean it. Giving this key to the Lord means whatever you put in the Box is no longer yours.

Lastly, you should be thoughtful when building the box. If having a physical box is more helpful for you, then build or buy one. Make it personal, though, regardless. If you get a physical box, decorate it in some way, and remember that you’re giving the box to the Lord along with the key, so get that blessed, too. If you don’t use a physical box; if it’s something you construct in your heart’s workshop, actually think about it: how big would it be? What would it be made of? What color would it be?

When you’re finished, prayerfully hand the box over. If it would be helpful, write something down and put that somewhere. Either way, you’re agreeing on something with the Lord, and He’ll be faithful to your agreement. Some things you won’t be ready to put in the Box right away. That’s okay. Maybe you’re like me and it’ll be helpful to break a big thing up into smaller things and start putting those smaller things in slowly.

I’ve since found the Box extremely helpful, and even small things have gone in it. Being able to spiritually put things in a container, even though mine isn’t a physical one has been a huge relief. Even though I’m not allowed to take things out, He is, and He can transform those broken things into something beautiful. I don’t know what He’s making, but that’s okay. It’s a matter of trust, and I can trust Him with the things in there. Build the box and give it to Him. You’re not obligated to put stuff in it, but I really think you should.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Nothing Into Something

Although I generally think abstractly and look at the big picture, when it comes to certain important issues, I can be at least reasonable, if not totally logical. The reason I say this is that I’ve been anxious lately. This is mainly because I’m impatient and I’ve had difficulty getting a meeting with my priest to discuss some things. I really want to figure out where I’m going or what I’m supposed to be doing or who I’m supposed to be talking to in terms of my next step in my spiritual life. While I’m waiting for my priest to call or email me, I’ve started doing some of my own research. He has suggested some things to me, so I’m not totally flying blind at this point.

In doing so, I’ve realized some things. The first is something I absolutely can handle and fix easily. I need to approach prayer better. In other words, I need to approach it less as an extra to-do list, and more as a structured activity that I’m doing with my God and Friend. The second thing is that I see myself as too broken for this. That is not an easy fix. When I say “broken,” I don’t necessarily mean sinful. I know that I’m spiritually messy like anyone else.

The fact of the matter is, I still have insecurities from when I was younger. Before college, I was one of the most unpopular kids in school. I was not actively picked on. Instead, kids acted like I didn’t exist. They ignored me. This made me feel like a waste of time and space. That makes it hard to accept that the God of the Universe might want me to be his in a particularly special way.

This, however, is tied to my other fear. I was treated the way I was for two reasons. The first was that I was friends with kids who were actively picked on, and I stood up for them. The second, however, is likely because I am disabled, and therefore, odd by default to any elementary or middle school kid. I question why God would want someone to intimately follow and serve him who is physically incapable of doing quite a lot of things.

I’ve probably explained this before, but my book started as a thought experiment. I was working on another project and hit an impassible wall. I said, “Well, I can’t stop writing,” so I just started writing off the top of my head. I ended up writing a very strange creation story. I thought it was interesting, so wrote another story. Two stories turned into four, so I wrote a list of ideas for more stories. I wrote some more and resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t a list. It was a table of contents. I wrote some more, and shortly after I had written a few more stories, I prayed. “Lord, this is complicated. If this is going to be a book, I’m going to need your help. It’s yours if you want it.” Apparently he wants it, because he keeps helping.

Jesus died for me, so I have to live for him. I owe him my life, but I owe him more than that, and I don’t know what I can really give him. That’s ultimately what scares me. When it comes down to it, though, the truth is that love scares me. His love scares me. What’s really scary is that I can say, “No.” I’m not going to, but the choice scares me. The fact that I had a choice scares me. The fact that I ignored the choice for too long annoys me. The fact of the matter is, I started down this road when I was twenty one, but I didn’t know where I was going. Now I know a little better. I’m saying, “Yes.”

I have to remind myself that Jesus doesn’t always choose the most capable, exciting, influential people. His first followers, and many of the saints were basically nobody’s in the beginning. One of my favorite saints, Saint Faustina, started as a poor farm kid. She had trouble finding a convent that would accept her because in the early twentieth century in Poland, where she lived, a nun had to have a dowry. She didn’t, but finally the mother of a convent said she would let her in if she could pay for a habit. It took her a while, but finally she saved enough to pay for it. Through Saint Faustina, Jesus conveyed, in new and really amazing ways, his message of mercy that we will always need. She was a nobody, and now, just about a century later, she is super well known. This is just one example of what God can do, and I trust that.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

P.S. I may be renaming the blog in the near-ish future, but don’t worry, I’m still here, and I’ll still be writing largely the same stuff.