Study Notes 1 (May 2020)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one owes me anything (paraphrased from St Therese)

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

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.

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.

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.

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.