Why You Should Read Books

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

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

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

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

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

Now And Then

Earlier today, as I went to the table to eat lunch, an odd prayer came to me. Someone I know is sick, and I don’t know yet if it’s the coronavirus or not, but I asked that Jesus would take care of her. Then I said, “This is the worst thing you will have got us through.” Then a question came to me that really seemed to come from Him. He seemed to ask, “Is this worse than before you knew me?”

I thought about how things were even just a month before I did know Him. At the time, I was lonely. I have amazing friends. I have an awesome family. The classes I was taking were really interesting, and I loved my teachers. All the same, I was lonely. I thought I needed a “soul mate.” At the time, that meant I needed a boyfriend and eventual husband. When I applied to a Christian college it was because I saw that the people there seemed weirdly happy. They seemed to have something that I didn’t that was making them happy, and I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted it with a vengeance.

Though I had gone through CCD (Christian Child Development) until I was seventeen, I didn’t know who Jesus was. I only had a vague notion that there was a god who I was “supposed to” believe in, but by my junior year of high school, I didn’t. It only took around two and a half months at a Christian college to convince me that Jesus was an actual Person who really cared about me. It followed, in my mind, that I should ask Him for what I thought I needed. I did pray, but no young man came. One night in October, I distinctly remember the words, “Please… I love you!”

For a long time I’ve tried to figure out why I said “I love you.” It was at that moment that the loneliness died. The “I love you” was really “I love you, too.” What I realize in retrospect is that I had built up some walls that had to be broken down to let His love in. Back then, He loved me, and I didn’t know it. Back then, Heaven was touching earth in the Eucharist and I didn’t know it. Back then, terrible things could happen, and before I was a Christian, I was kind of a stoic; I didn’t want anyone to see me cry, and I had no one to cry to.

While I ate lunch, I compared then to now. Now I know Heaven touches earth; God touches me when I receive the Eucharist; God speaks to me and forgives my sins through the priest when I go to confession. Now I know that He’s closer than touch because He’s not bound by the Sacraments, but I see Him every day because I watch daily Mass online, and it’s driving me crazy. Now I see what He’s doing in priests and doctors and kind people in general. Now I know that He didn’t create, nor does He want death, and I know it makes Him sad, and the fact that He’s sad makes me sad. I concluded that, yeah, now is worse than then. The thing is, I know Him now, and I know He’ll get us through this. Maybe the “us” is my family or yours, or maybe the Church, or our country, but He will.

Let me just conclude with this:

and this

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.

How To Erase The Smudge

Redemption stories are popular, but they’re usually more obvious or straight forward in fiction than in real life, and naturally, the main character is the focus. Real life redemption stories are usually much more nuanced because real life people are more complicated than they are in fiction. If a person messes up or does something that hurts them or others, it can take a lot to make things right. Furthermore, redemption doesn’t look the same for or to everyone.

More often than not, redemption is more like a web than a ladder in the sense that one doesn’t simply climb out of a mess they’ve made. It takes the assistance, and sometimes invasion of other people. From a quick Google search, I found this definition for redemption: “the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.” For a kid, this usually translates to having to say “I’m sorry” to a sibling or a friend they’ve wronged in some small way. A lot of times for adults, the thing being regained might be their reputation, or in worse cases, their freedom after committing a crime and spending some time in prison.

Sometimes, redemption looks like regaining right-standing with a specific person or group of people who have been wronged. In this case really, the focus of a person’s real life redemption story seems to actually be the person wronged. Everyone is part of a redemption story, whether it be their own or someone else’s. It is easy to assume that one’s redemption has to be earned, and to some degree, I think it does because it involves regaining a person’s trust; but redemption is only possible when forgiveness is offered. This means that it isn’t always possible, and why forgiveness is so important.

The person wronged has scars, sometimes really terrible ones, but whether they know it or not, the person in need of redemption also incurs them as a result of what they’ve done. If someone asks for forgiveness, and it isn’t granted, their wound will likely be made worse. This can often result in them doing something else that hurts them or another person, or adopting bad habits. Sometimes someone will realize they have done something wrong to a specific person or group of people, but will attempt to redeem themselves in a way that does not involve asking for forgiveness. The problem with this approach is that a particular problem (a wound) is not engaged with, and cannot be solved (healed).

Redemption is a relational matter. If a person attempts to redeem himself/herself without asking forgiveness, they are ultimately ignoring the real problem. This could be a simple matter of forgetting that they did something wrong, or they could not realize that there was a problem in the first place. In this case, it is a matter of perception. What might be a serious grievance to one person, might be trivial to another. Either way, the problem needs to be dealt with, and in that case, the person who has been hurt might need to be the one to initiate a conversation. Unfortunately, that means looking at old scars that don’t want to be looked at, and it might not mean that the person in need of forgiveness even asks for it.

Either way, forgiveness must be offered, and ultimately, regardless of whether the person in need of redemption asks for or even accepts it or not, for wounds to be healed, it needs to be granted. This is because, as already stated, redemption is a relational matter, and a person’s redemption story isn’t ultimately about them. A person’s redemption story is about the person wronged. When forgiveness is not granted, old wounds fester and remained unhealed. When it is granted, even if it takes a while, at least for the person wronged, the problem can be allowed to slip into the past, and no longer has to remain an ugly smudge on the present.

Too Good To Be True

It occurred to me earlier that there was a period of time when actually, there wasn’t a song to sing in the dark. Starting on Holy Thursday night, and all through Christ’s Passion, hope waned, and as He lay in the Tomb, all through Holy Saturday, it died. After His Resurrection, many of His disciples didn’t recognize Him at first. I’ve often wondered about this, but I think it’s for two reasons. He came back in His Glory, so even though He would presumably look like the same person, there would be something different about Him. Also, though His disciples had seen Him bring people back to life (the little girl, the widow’s son, and Lazarus), the idea that He Himself could come back to life was probably just too good to be true.

That idea of “too good to be true” stuck with me. I remember hearing about the Divine Mercy message and reading some of St Faustina’s diary, and how at first it all seemed amazing, but then it started to seem “too good to be true.” How could a God of such Wisdom and Justice, which He truly is, be so Merciful? One of the promises of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, for example, is that the Lord will grant whatever a person asks for as long as it is compatible with His will. It seems, then, as long as what a person asks for is good, the Lord will grant it, even if it takes a while.

Along with this and others, He made twelve promises to anyone who had devotion to His Sacred Heart, these being:

1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state in life.
2. I will establish peace in their families.
3. I will comfort them in their trials.
4. I will be their secure refuge during life, and, above all, in death.
5. I will shed abundant blessings on all their undertakings
6. Sinners will find in My Heart an infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Lukewarm souls will become fervent.
8. Fervent souls will rapidly grow in holiness and perfection.
9. I will bless every place where an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honored.
10. I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
11. The names of those who promote this devotion will be written in My Heart, never to be blotted out.
12. I promise thee, in the excessive mercy of My Heart, that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months, the grace of final penitence; they shall not die in My disgrace nor without receiving their Sacraments; My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.

Sometimes I remind myself of these promises and am always amazed by them, but the Lord doesn’t speak idly, and He doesn’t break His promises. He made these promises to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century. During that time in France, there were problems in the Catholic Church. The Church had fallen pray to rigorism. Rigorist priests would withhold absolution (refuse to forgive sins) if it seemed to them that a person was not truly sorry, or if they were imprecise in how they gave their confession. By extension, they maintained that Communion should not often be received because they believed it was unlikely that many were in a state of Grace. At the same time, the Jansenist Heresy was also widely held, which maintained that God actively gave Grace to some, which automatically meant their salvation, and actively withheld it from others, which automatically meant their damnation.

Jesus revealed to Saint Margaret Mary that all of this led people to fear rather than love Him. He told her that this hurt His Heart greatly because He desperately wanted (and obviously still wants) a relationship with people, and to grant mercy to everyone, especially through the Sacraments. The Church endorses and promotes this devotion, as crazy as it sounds.

There were a few dark hours in our history when there was no spark, and no song to sing. Then the Lord came back and started the wildfire that still burns. In light of His Resurrection, I wondered why things often seem too good to be true. It was literally the best thing that could have ever happened. In fact, by natural understanding, it couldn’t happen, but it did, and throughout history, He’s been revealing in different ways what all of it really means. We’ve got this idea that something can be “too good,” I think because so much bad happens, and I think it’s because it’s easy to forget that the ultimate Good already did happen. Because we’re messy humans, many regard it as literally unbelievable. With that in mind, I’m not sure I think anything can really be too good–if it is intrinsically good and pure–to be true.

Identify Your Weakness

A few days ago I wrote about the difference between losing something and giving something. In particular, I wrote about how losing something can be quite scary, but giving isn’t. I wrote about this in regards to what it means to give my life to Jesus. I mentioned in my post that what bothers Him most is when people don’t appreciate His sacrifice and all He’s given us. What also really bothers Him, as He revealed to several saints is when people simply don’t trust Him. I read about this in “Consoling the Heart of Jesus,” as I mentioned in my previous post. Practically, to trust the Lord means to praise and thank Him, and to carry our crosses with Him.

What I didn’t write about in my previous post was something I realized earlier this week. Jesus said to come to Him as we are, sins and all. He loves us no matter what, and that love doesn’t waver or change. He doesn’t love us any less when we mess up, even if we seriously mess up. What I realized early this week was that I wasn’t trusting Him. I’ve been afraid of some things, and I hadn’t been willing to let Him take care of them.

My parents bought a house in Maine a couple of years ago. At first it looked like a fun project. The house was basically an empty shell, infested with rodents, and was about to fall down. Over the past two years, my parents, through my mom’s cousin, who is a contractor and carpenter, have been restoring it. Why am I afraid of it all of a sudden? My dad will be retiring in ten years or so. What if my parents want to permanently move to middle-of-nowhere Maine? I don’t drive, and the only people I know up there are some extended family members and my Godparents.

What’s more is my parents are in their fifties. What will happen when they’re too old to take care of my physical needs?

My best friend and my brother are graduating from college this year. That makes me nervous because two of my cousins, who I used to hang out with quite often, moved quite far away after graduating. I don’t want to lose my friend and my brother. I’m an introvert, and honestly, making new friends isn’t the easiest thing for me. To be clear, I have made new friends, but they’re not like the friendships I’ve had since childhood.

Just last fall I joined the Carmelite community in Danvers. I’m tied to my parents. Though we only meet once a month, I don’t want to fall into a situation where I can’t go to the meetings anymore. Sure, I might be able to keep pursuing the spirituality on my own, but I love that community.

Soon I’ll be releasing my second album. I’ve put a lot of effort, and a lot of prayer into these songs. We pray before every session, and I mean it when I say that I want my music to be for God’s glory. I think just recently, the worry has come to my mind: “what if no one hears this stuff?”

These worries started with what things might look like once the house was finished. My first mistake was not talking to God about it in the first place. It just escalated from there. I went to confession on Thursday, and talked to our priest about it. I told him that I was really sorry for not trusting Jesus, and I said, “I’m just… I’m just afraid…” He interrupted me. He said, “You’re afraid of the future. That’s normal.” He said to remember the story of the prodigal son. Normally people think about the younger brother who squandered everything, but came back repentant, or the older brother who was faithful to his father, but was resentful of his father’s love for his brother. People don’t think enough about the father. The father loved both his kids, but was especially merciful to his younger son because he was more in need of that mercy.

That’s how God is. I was seriously sorry for not trusting Him, in light of what I have recently learned. I also know that, in confession, the priest is acting and speaking for Jesus. He told me to look up the “serenity prayer.” Most people know part of it. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” There’s a whole other part, though.

The serenity prayer in its entirety goes as follows: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference; living one day at a time, enjoying each moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He (Jesus) did, this sinful world, as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right, if I surrender to His will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.”

He told me to look this up when I left confession. He also said, “You’re wearing Mary’s medal. Ask your Mother for help.” Mary is Jesus’ mom, but she’s also my spiritual mom. I forget that sometimes. Most of the time, I pray to my Brother. Jesus is my Brother because, through baptism, I am God’s daughter. I also usually pray to Jesus, however, because He knows what being human is like. He knows what it feels like to lose friends. He knows what it feels like to be scared.

After confession, I lurked in the church for a bit since, during Lent, Adoration is available at my home parish, and there were some people there praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, so I did that with them. Then I went to the Studio since my studio time is always on Thursday nights. I was still in a bad mood on the way there, and I was planning on just working on editing. We have to get it done at some point, anyway. That’s not what we ended up doing. We pray to start our sessions, and I ended up spilling the beans. I mentioned inadvertently that I had been in a bad mood on the way there, and because he’s nice, he asked, and I couldn’t really help telling Ken why. Then I somehow figured something out. I said, “I think the Devil is screwing with me.” We prayed about that, too, but instead of spending the time editing, we started working on something else.

On my new album there will be a remix of a single I released a few years ago. The chorus goes as follows, “This is a song to sing in the dark/ This is enough, a spark to start a fire/ This is a prayer you answer with love/ ‘Cause you are God, and you are with us.” The original is about as simple as you can get: acoustic guitar, bass, and shaker for percussion. The remix will be a full-on ’90’s style rock version. I was planning on just working on editing because I was feeling deflated; defeated that night. God had other plans. He gave me a song to sing in the dark. Ken played guitar loudly, and even though my voice was kind of dead, I belted the words I had written years prior. “You let us know you’re listening/ So we sing for joy/ Because you are good, Lord/ We sing.”

I’ve recently become more acquainted with the psalms as I’ve been praying a handful of them every day for several months. Though I had not been thinking of it when I wrote the song, Psalm 139 comes to mind; in particular, verses 11-12 go as follows. “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me and the light around me become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Nothing can hide us from God’s love. I repented, and He renewed my song to sing in the dark. He made it louder.

What I’ve learned from this is that it’s important to identify our weaknesses and give them to God, because if we don’t give them to God, the Devil can exploit them. Admitting we have weaknesses is not fun. I’m the kind of person who likes to be a hero. I like to pretend I’m invincible. Then, when it turns out I’m not, two things can happen. Either, I can let God have my weakness and take care of it, or I can try to take control of something I have no control over, and when I fail, beat myself up about it, or worse, let the Devil beat me up about it.

What are my weaknesses? To start, physical stuff: what most call “disabilities.” Fear of failure, and fear of the future are two big ones for me. Fear of isolation pops up sometimes. Confidence, or lack-there-of is also sometimes an issue. Jesus said that to be his disciples, we had to carry our crosses. Nobody’s crosses look exactly the same. Jesus had Simon to help carry His cross. We have Jesus Himself to help carry ours. In the Stations of the Cross, we reflect that Jesus fell three times. He actually couldn’t carry the cross entirely on His own. If He couldn’t, we certainly can’t. That’s where trust comes in.

Fear of the future, or maybe just “the unknown” is probably my heaviest load, and it’s probably the thing I have the most trouble letting Him help with. The craziest thing is, God often doesn’t help unless we give Him permission. He wants to help, but sometimes we don’t let Him. A lot of times we don’t let Him. I try to remember in our prayer at the studio to say, “Lord, where we need to get out of the way and let you do the work, just get us out of the way.” This Thursday, I was intending to wallow in what I thought was defeat and just do the boring but necessary work of audio editing. That wasn’t what was immediately necessary. What was apparently necessary at the moment was a song to sing in the dark. God got me out of the way and gave me that. Maybe it’s just a spark, but God can start a fire with just a spark.

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.