Remember And Sing

Late last night I read yesterday’s Mass readings. The first was Acts 16: 22-34. It’s about when Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi. Verses 25-26 say, “about midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose.” I remembered that this had been the Scripture that initially inspired my song Nothing Else.

While Paul and Silas were hoping, questing, and teaching people about Jesus, they were imprisoned. In the middle of the night, though, they still prayed, and they still sang songs; they worshiped Him. I don’t remember what the “bad thing” was that compelled me to write this song. Lately I’ve had writer’s block. I tried for a few minutes, then just sang a few lines from the prayer I wrote five years ago.

You let us know you’re listening;
let us know you’re listening.
This is why we sing;
we sing.

You let us know you’re listening;
let us know you’re listening,
so in the dark we sing;
we sing to you.

You let us know you’re listening,
so we sing for joy.
Because you are good, Lord,
we sing.

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.

I haven’t actually listened to a whole lot of Christian music lately. I’ve been trying to write my own original music, or blog posts, and I often find music distracting. The rest of Nothing Else is about wanting to be alone with God, especially when everything is falling apart, or at least seems like it is.

Paul and Silas were in a pretty bad situation, but at midnight, they sang; they hoped, and there was an earthquake. Acts continues the story and tells of how the jailer and his family were converted to Christianity after speaking to Paul and Silas.

This past Monday, the Governor of Massachusetts announced that we will start phase 1 of re-opening the state. Cardinal Sean O’Malley also announced that churches in the Archdiocese of Boston will begin re-opening. Around a year ago, I wrote my song Victory. The chorus goes: “You are my new dawn/ so here’s my hallelujah/ I sing your victory song/ the King of Heaven Come.” The news of churches re-opening, and Masses starting again really feels like I’m seeing the pale light just before dawn.

Being able to go back to church, for a lot of people, is going to feel like the end of “war.” For a lot of people, it isn’t. A lot of people are still sick, jobless, worrying about a family member, worrying about keeping their business afloat, or worse. We still have to be “social distancing.” This isn’t over. Remember that. Remember them. Remember too, though, that there are things to celebrate. Find that song to sing in the dark, look for the light just before the dawn, and sing “Hallelujah.”

Second-First Communion

Our God is a God of second, and third, and thousandth chances. Jesus said to forgive seventy times seven times. This actually isn’t about forgiveness, though. This is about second chances we actually don’t usually get. I made my first Holy Communion when I was six, or maybe seven. I had no idea what was going on. I had no idea that Jesus was in the Eucharist, and I did not appreciate the gravity or significance of what was happening. Mostly I remember having to deliberately go slow down the aisle between rows of pews so the priest could put, what I thought, was a weird, tasteless wafer in my mouth.

The Lord was sometimes mentioned in passing at home to enforce morality or to explain things we didn’t understand, but beyond that, God wasn’t really part of our life at home. In retrospect, I’ve sometimes lamented that I didn’t appreciate that I was having my first encounter with the God and King of the universe in an average suburban town, in the first grade. When I agreed to be confirmed in high school, it was largely because my parents wanted me to. My classmates and I were catechized very poorly, and I didn’t know what I was agreeing to, or what I was receiving.

For most Catholics who are serious about their faith, two of the most significant moments are their first Communion, and their last. There are times when people voluntarily decide not to receive communion for moral reasons, or because they didn’t fast for an hour before Mass, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like a big deal because they can easily go to confession and even go to daily Mass the following day.

On the other hand, there are still places in the world where Catholics don’t have priests available and can’t often receive the Sacraments. I understand now how awful that feels. In this, though, I’ve learned two things. When this is all over, it’ll be like receive my first Holy Communion again, only this time I’ll actually know what’s happening. From this experience I’ve also learned that true Love is worth waiting, and worth suffering for.

Saint Paul says in Romans that someone might occasionally have the courage to die for a righteous person, but Jesus loved and died, not just for His apostles, His faithful disciples, and His friends, but also for the men who killed Him, the thousands who have walked away through the centuries, the people who have done unspeakable things, for every rebellious teenager, every militant atheist, every confused agnostic, and even for me. To Him, I’m worth the Cross, and to me, He’s worth the “house arrest,” the tears, the boredom, and the waiting, no matter how long I have to wait.

What I think can escape a lot of people is that the Mass is a sacrifice. We are taking part in Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, and uniting ourselves to that Sacrifice as His mystical Body. Because we take communion at almost every Mass, it usually doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. Having to stream it and not being able to receive Him is starting to make it feel like a real sacrifice. Across the board, in many religions, the center of worship is sacrifice.

Jesus is called the Lamb of God, referring to the Passover Lamb. At Passover, the ancient Jewish people would take a lamb into their house and care for it for a week before sacrificing it to God and eating it. They had to make sure it remained unblemished, which meant caring for it almost like a pet. The point was to grow some affection for it. I have known the Lord for fewer than ten years, but but I have a real affection for Him, and though I know He’s still right here, I do feel a kind of absence, and I think that’s the point. He already knows everything about us, but I think we don’t always know ourselves so well. I thought at first this was, in part at least, His way for testing our faith. That doesn’t exactly make sense, though. I think it’s more likely that this is His way of showing us a clearer picture of who we are and what our priorities and affections are. The longing hurts, but the second-first Communion will be so worth it.

A Beggar At Home

A few nights ago I had a nightmare. I don’t usually have them, but within the past couple of weeks I’ve had two. Boredom, bad news, and an over-active imagination are a bad combination. Saturday morning, I had a hilarious dream. The dream was that it was all over. We were done with the “plague.” My friend had an even bigger music studio, and as Barnes and Noble has Starbucks in the store, the studio had a Burger King, so I was eating chicken nuggets at the music studio.

My mom has invented what I call Apocalypse Pizza. To make Apocalypse pizza you use Naan bread, olive oil, mozzarella cheese, and whatever other toppings you like. For me, it’s peppers and onions. It’s really easy to make and everyone in my family likes it. The problem? We’ve been eating almost nothing but Apocalypse Pizza for several days, or maybe a week. When I finished doing my Morning Prayer yesterday, and went to the kitchen, she said, “Do you want pizza?” I couldn’t forget my dream, so we went to the Burger King drive through.

Since I ate lunch in the car, we took a little drive to see if anyone was out, what was still open, etc. There’s a small lake close to where I live in Massachusetts. It’s a little weird because it’s in the middle of the town and is surrounded by pavement and business. It’s a very popular place for people to take a walk. It’s so popular that the Mayor asked people to refrain from “walking the lake.” When we went over there yesterday, it was packed.

We are creatures of habit, and as Americans, we don’t like being told what to do. Furthermore, humans are social animals, and “social distancing” and “quarantining” can be downright stressful. We’ve been asked to make sacrifices. No one likes sacrificing because it means discomfort. What’s more is that there are many cases when one has Covid-19 and has no symptoms. In these cases, one might assume they are perfectly healthy, visit a friend, young nephew or niece, grandparent, or whoever who is vulnerable that person ends up getting it, and getting it bad. It is better to assume one has it.

I’m really bored. I can’t do a really significant part of my work because I can’t go to the studio. I sympathize with those who absolutely have to go out to go to work, but to those who see this as an accidental vacation, please; as of yesterday, we have 304,826 confirmed cases of this in the United States. Please don’t walk the lake. Please don’t bring your kids to the playground. Please don’t go to the beach. We’ve been asked to stay at home until the end of April. We will likely be asked to stay at home for longer than that. This “plague” will die out sooner than later if everyone would just stay home.

It does mean making at least some of your own food instead of getting takeout all the time. It means finding more ways to entertain yourself and your kids because you can only watch so much Netflix. It might mean making your own coffee instead of going to Starbucks. I get that it’s inconvenient. I completely get that it’s a little lonely. I’m not asking this of you from the outside. I am asking this of you as somebody who is doing these things, too. I am asking this of you as somebody who can’t see her friend, and can’t fully celebrate the most important holiday of her faith.

Sacrificing and discomfort does suck. Being told what to do sucks. You might not be a man or woman of faith, and you might believe that this life is all there is. I won’t try to persuade you otherwise here. Still, you are being forced to sacrifice; your gym is probably closed, the restaurants you like are probably closed, and you are probably working from home. For me, I can stay home and stay inside because I can offer that as a sacrifice to my God. If you don’t know, or don’t believe that God exists, I’m begging you to make that same sacrifice simply for the good of the rest of the world, or even just to make your life more enjoyable.

Please, consider the beggar.

Thanks.

On Purpose

Yesterday my eyes decided to misbehave. Because of my medication, sometimes when I’m hungry, my eyes get “bouncy.” I was trying to read, but nature had other plans. I sat in my room with my eyes closed for at least half an hour and prayed because there wasn’t much else I could do. There were some things on my mind, so I laid it out for the Lord, and I said, “Take my hunger and my bouncy eyes and my boredom for an end to the pandemic.” Do I think my little suffering can singlehandedly end a pandemic? Of course not. I can, on the other hand, unite my little suffering to that of Christ’s on the Cross to help, in at least a small way, and I know that others are doing the same.

Next week is Holy Week, and it’s the first time I won’t be celebrating it in a church. My life is a little easier than it might be for a lot of people because I actually do some liturgical prayer every day. This year will be weird for me, though because I very much look forward to the Easter Triduum; Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night. I don’t want these three days to feel like any other three days at the end of any given week.

I mentioned in my last post that my plans for Lent got pretty screwed up. I hadn’t intended to, but because my dad did, I gave up movies and shows. I’ve been aimlessly poking around Facebook more than necessary, and I just finished reading the first installment of a really strange fantasy story and purchased the sequel on my Kindle. Instead of reading The Way of Perfection, I started reading Ascent of Mount Carmel by Saint John of the cross and started a virtual book club with my mom, aunt, grandmother, and cousins in which we’re reading Pride and Prejudice.

This Sunday is what’s usually called “Palm Sunday” in the Catholic Church. This is because the Gospel reading mentions that people came to greet Jesus carrying palm branches. This is only mentioned in one of the three Gospel readings, though. The Church’s liturgy runs on a three-year cycle, and the other two readings that are used mention branches, but not specifically palm branches. The point is that the people came to present themselves to Jesus. So on Sunday, I’ll get a branch from a bush in my yard, watch Mass online, and make a spiritual communion, like I have been.

I miss going to the church and seeing it decorated for a specific liturgical season. I miss the liturgical music, even if it isn’t performed well all the time. I miss the sign of peace. I miss what I now realize has been the Church’s guidance on what to do and when to do it and how on a given day. I miss the Sacraments, and I miss Adoration. I know I’m not alone in this. I think there are some things we can do to make Holy Week resemble something of what it should be, and I have a few suggestions.

  1. look online to see how you can live-stream Palm Sunday, Good Friday, The Easter Vigil, etc.
  2. For Palm Sunday, get a branch from your yard; make it as close to a “normal” Palm Sunday as possible.
  3. For Holy Thursday, Jesus said, “Couldn’t you sit with me for an hour?” Find a live stream perpetual adoration and sit with Him for an hour. I said it before; a computer screen doesn’t stop Him from doing what He does.
  4. Make Good Friday suck on purpose. I’m gonna cut myself off from social media, coffee, and maybe even music. I’m also going to watch the Passion of the Christ. Make it real. It was definitely real for Him, so make some sacrifice(s) and unite your sacrifice(s) to His.
  5. Find a live stream Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday Mass, and find some way to really celebrate. If you gave up movies for Lent, watch one you’ve been wanting to for a long time. More than that, though, praise and thank the Lord, ’cause He beat sin and death and saved your soul. Totally rock that. If you play, grab a guitar and make some noise. If you don’t, make a playlist for Him.

These are just some ideas. I hope this helps, and I hope we get back to normal soon. Stay inside, stay healthy, and have an epic Holy Week.

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.

The Battle Of Helm’s Deep

Church is sometimes awkward. This past weekend was the celebration of Christ the King. Our priest is really good at making things plain and simple. He said we all had to just stop and ask ourselves who or what is, or is going to be our king in the end. He said there are ultimately two questions one needs to ask in deciding who or what our king is going to be: 1) can this person or thing love me unconditionally, and 2), can this person or thing protect me? The choice is ours. That’s a complicated choice, and it’s one we often have to make more than once. I’ve made my choice, and I’ll continue to make the same choice. Jesus is my king. The reason our priest’s homily was awkward for me was that it brought something else to mind. I have to trust my king.

I have made my choice, and I will continue to make the same choice, as I said. Jesus is my king, and I trust Him. The problem is that I’m having trouble trusting the church hierarchy. He’s pointed out to me that He has allowed those in charge to have the power they have. That kind of means I have trouble trusting His patience and wisdom. I’m reminded of a scene from Lord of the Rings. It’s before the battle at Helm’s Deep. The people of Rohan are drastically outnumbered, and the king asks one of his servants, “Who am I gambling?” The servant, who is arming him for battle says, “You are our king, Sire,” To which the king responds, “And do you trust your king?” The servant says, “Your men, my Lord, will follow you to whatever end.”

Right now, I kind of feel like one of the soldiers of Rohan. I kind of feel like we’re outnumbered. In the end, Rohan won that battle, and I know we’ll win this one. I do trust my King, but I want to trust Him more. That was my awkward prayer at church yesterday. There is no other person or thing–not my parents, not my brother, and not my bird–who can love me absolutely unconditionally. Everyone has a breaking point. That’s a fact. My family can protect me from most things, but not everything; not death, and certainly not the consequences of sin. Only Jesus can do that, and I will worship only Him.

I wrote a while ago about the wedding at Cana when Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to. I hadn’t thought about it then, partly because it wasn’t related to the point I was making, but they do exactly what He tells them, despite the fact that it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. “They’re out of wine? Okay, you guys, fill those empty jars with water.” There’s no indication that the servants know what He intends to do, or even what He’s capable of. They just do it. Maybe it’s simply because they are servants and are used to just doing what they’re told, whether it makes sense or not. I think those servants are actually an excellent model for how we are supposed to relate to the Lord. Things get messed up. That’s okay. He can fix it, and He wants us to help. That’s actually pretty simple.

Despite the often strange and extreme lengths Jesus goes to to show us His love, we’re pretty slow to recognize it. When I became Christian, I didn’t have any really serious Christian friends. Luckily, when God made me, he made a stubborn woman, so I prayed. I prayed for years about this. It did take years, but now I do have faithful Catholic friends, and though it took me a little while to recognize it, I really am grateful. If we are facing the Battle of Helm’s Deep, then this is my declaration, “I will follow my King to whatever end.”

Autumn Hero

I published my song, “Autumn Hero” on Bandcamp recently, and shared it on Facebook. However, I haven’t shared it with my readers here, yet. Most of you are familiar with my writing endeavors, but perhaps don’t know a whole lot about my music. I just finished making a lyric video for my new song, and thought you all might like to hear it. This song was actually sitting around in the “what-do-I-do-with-this” corner of my universe for at least a year, if not two, but didn’t start production until about two months ago. Despite the long wait, here it is.